Why Study Doctrine?

Doctrine can seem like a cold, dry concept, something stuffy theologians fuss over when they should be trying to reach others. We’re more excited by a group study on relationships or parenting or womanhood or just about anything rather than a doctrinal study. We don’t usually approach our time in the Bible or church rubbing our hands eagerly anticipating what doctrine we’ll learn about today. We’re usually looking for help, encouragement, affirmation. We want to feel something. But feelings don’t last. If I get a warm fuzzy spiritual feeling in my devotions, that can dissipate in seconds when someone crosses me or something goes wrong. Winsome sermons and books may inspire me for a short while, but unless there is meat to them, that inspiration won’t last.

But doctrine is vital. You can hardly read a NT epistle without coming across a mention of doctrine and warning against false doctrine. If we think of sound doctrine as a manifestation of God’s truth and character, we can in turn worship Him by knowing and sharing the doctrines of His Word.

A.W. Tozer once wrote that “there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God.”

So what are some advantages to studying right doctrine in the Bible?

Doctrine leads us to true worship. When we don’t worship God for Who He truly is, then we are worshipping a god of our own making, and that is idolatry. Now, of course, all of us are imperfect in our knowledge of Him and are, or should be, ever growing in Him, and He’ll correct our understanding along the way. But that is different from not knowing Him for Who He is due to neglect or misapplication of the Word.

Doctrine increases our intimacy with God. We can’t know Him aright apart from what He has revealed of Himself in His Word. As we learn more of Him, we love Him and worship Him more, and what seemed like “dry doctrine” then does become something that warms and thrills our hearts as the Holy Spirit brings that truth to mind.

Doctrine protects against error and therefore the wrong path. For example, years ago when cult leader David Koresh was in the news, I watched an interview with someone from his compound. I was shocked to hear her say that she was impressed that he knew his Bible so well. Nearly everything he brought from the Bible, he twisted. Knowing doctrine would have kept this person and others from being deceived by him and others like him.

Doctrine bolsters our faith and confidence in God.  Recently I was troubled by a question I had no answer for that cast doubts on God’s character. I still don’t have an answer for it, but I rested on the previously studied truth that He is good, righteous, kind, and merciful.

Doctrine meets our deepest needs at the most basic level. If I am feeling lonely, what most helps except the truth that God is present everywhere, even with me? If I am afraid, what helps most but meditating on God’s power? When a trial comes and people feel forsaken, what most comforts but the precious truth that God will never forsake us? If I am feeling ashamed, sinful, and unworthy, my only help is turning to the only One who can wash away my sin and remind me that I am in Him and beloved by Him.

Doctrine is stabilizing. “So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14, ESV). I’ve known women and read women who do just this, float around with whatever is popular with little discernment. 2 Timothy speaks of “silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” who are “lead captive” by a whole host of wrongdoers in the “perilous last days” (2 Timothy 3:1-7, KJV). By contrast, Titus 2 exhorts us to “speak thou the things which become sound doctrine” (v. 1, KJV).

Doctrine determines deeds. Our beliefs affect our behavior. When a lie seems the only way out of a tough situation, what keeps us from it but the knowledge that it will displease a God whose essence is truth? Even the Titus 2 admonition to older men and women is couched in the context of sound doctrine.

Doctrine honors God. He is the one who determined what sound doctrine us. If we love Him we should want to know what He says and live accordingly. It’s so important to Him, He inspired John to write, “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works” (1 John 1:10, ESV).

Doctrine is not an end in itself. If it is, then it does become dry and stale. The point of doctrine isn’t to line up our beliefs in neat, orderly systems and leave them there. The point is to know God better, serve Him in the ways He desires, and minister His truth to others.

People concerned about right doctrine can seem pesky and picky, and, true, it’s too easy to be that way. We shouldn’t be nitpicky just to be so. But we should “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB), and as kindly and gently as possible bring His truth to bear in our conversations and interactions. We have to remember to let our speech be always “with grace” (Col. 4:6) and to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). We don’t need to “pounce” on every comment or reference another person might make, but graciously seek what the Lord might have us say. We also have to distinguish between clear doctrine and those areas where good people can differ or personal preferences.

II Corinthians 3:18: “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (KJV). We “behold Him” through His Word. And, the more we behold Him, the more we are changed into His likeness.

Learning doctrine doesn’t necessarily mean digging up systematic theology books, though some might like to do so. In our everyday reading and Bible study, it means looking for the truth about God when we read. The Bible is so much more than moralistic stories (“Be like Joseph and Daniel; don’t be like Jonah and Judas”). Look at what God is doing in the passage, what we see of His character and wisdom in what He is doing.

So, don’t be dismayed by that word “doctrine.” II Timothy 4: 3-4 says, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” That is a warning to us not to turn away from sound doctrine, but also possibly an admission that sound doctrine needs to be “endured.” Learning doctrine may not always feel warm and fuzzy, but the Holy Spirit will use it in our lives in blessed ways.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Wise Woman, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire)

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The Highest Calling?

Have you ever heard someone say that being a preacher is the highest calling? Or that being a wife and mother is the highest calling for women? I have. But I don’t recall the Bible making those claims.

In my own youth, during invitation times at the end of a service, the call was usually for salvation, surrender, or “full-time” Christian service. The last just seemed like “the ultimate,” the natural progression of someone who wanted to live all out for God. I heard one youth pastor say that even though he knew God could use anyone in any profession, he didn’t like to acknowledge that during an invitation lest it stop the momentum of the invitation geared toward getting people to surrender to God’s call in their lives (as if God’s call depended on momentum and not the Holy Spirit’s working.) I’ve known young women who only wanted to marry a preacher, evangelist, or missionary, as they felt that was the best way to serve the Lord with their lives – even the only way in their minds. I know one mom who strenuously objected to the jaunty little song, “I’m a policeman dressed in blue,” especially the line “No one has a better job than mine” because she wanted her child to aspire higher than that (I always took that line to mean he loved his job.)

There is certainly a hierarchy of leadership and roles within Christendom, with pastors being the leaders in their church. I Corinthians 12:28 says, “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.” But I don’t think it indicates one calling is more special to God than another. The very next verse goes on to say, “Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?  Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?” No one has all the gifts: the Bible teaches that everyone uses his gift to work together to edify the body of Christ.

In the preparation of the tabernacle, God “called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship” in gold, silver, brass, cutting and setting stones, and carving (Exodus 31:1-6). God’s best, highest calling for Bezaleel was this kind of work.

When my youngest was in high school, the pastor of the church associated with the school once brought out the need to train the whole body of Christ, not just those in “full-time” Christian service. He cited an incident in which his good friend, who was his back surgeon, was at a meeting where the speaker urged that everyone should be in gospel ministry, and then ironically spoke to this doctor afterward about needing to make an appointment with him because of some health issues he was having.

Every Christian is called to full-time ministry. No matter what our vocation, we’re called to be fully Christian 100% of the time. That doesn’t mean if someone is a firefighter or banker he should neglect his work to witness or counsel people. The Bible has multiple verses along the lines of “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” (Ecc. 9:10) and Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;  Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart;  With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men” (Ephesians 6:5-7). People aren’t going to listen to the words of our testimony if we’re slacking off in our work.

But full-fledged Christians can have a great ministry in whatever line of work they’re in. My husband has been able to talk to people in the course of his work who would never come to church and who would be guarded around a pastor. When we took my father to the hospital in critical condition, it was a blessing to me to see several among the staff who had attended my Christian college.

Likewise, we read or hear some say, or at least seem to indicate, that being a wife and mother is a woman’s highest calling. I think such rhetoric may have sprung up in response to the devaluing of marriage and motherhood over the last several years. But where does that leave single, childless, or empty-nest women?

Lay people, single people, and childless women are not “second class” in the kingdom of God. God has something for each of us to do with the gifts, personality, and life situations He puts us in. God’s highest calling for is unique to each individual.

(Sharing with Inspire me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Wise Woman, Testimony Tuesday, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire)

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The Bible and Slavery

Perhaps you’ve been troubled, as I have, by wondering why the Bible doesn’t condemn slavery outright. Over the years I’ve come across several thoughts and quotes that have helped me in my own understanding of it.

I found that the Bible actually does condemn kidnapping and selling people: “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death,” Exodus 21:16. “Enslavers” (in the ESV, “menstealers” in the KJV), defined by BibleGateway.com as “those who take someone captive in order to sell him into slavery,” were listed alongside liars and immoral people as sinners in 1 Timothy 1:8-11.

The main type of slavery mentioned in the Old Testament came about because of a debt that could not be paid in any other way, something like an indentured servant (which makes more sense than a debtor’s prison, where there is no hope of paying off the debt). In the MacArthur Study Bible notes for 1 Kings 9:21-22, John MacArthur says “The law did not allow Israelites to make fellow-Israelites slaves against their will (Ex. 21:2-11; Lev. 25:44-46; Deut. 15:12-18.)” But people could offer themselves as slaves to pay a debt. Slaves were to be released after 7 years (Deuteronomy 15:12): they weren’t ruined for life. They were not to be sent away empty-handed when they were released: they were to be supplied “liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the Lord your God has blessed you, you shall give to him” (verses 13-14). Masters were told, ‘You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today” (verse 15).

There were also cases of slavery by one nation conquering another, and there were differences in dealing with slaves from other cultures. One source I read said that when one nation conquered another in those times, the conquered citizens were either killed or enslaved. Thankfully that is no longer the case for the most part, although there are areas of the world where it still is.

Slavery in the NT is usually this latter type. In Be Complete (Colossians): Become the Whole Person God Intends You to Be, Wiersbe says:

Slavery was an established institution in Paul’s day. There were sixty million people in the Roman Empire, and many of them were well-educated people who carried great responsibilities in the homes of the wealthy. In many homes, the slaves helped to educate and discipline the children.

Why didn’t the church of that day openly oppose slavery and seek to destroy it? For one thing, the church was a minority group that had no political power to change an institution that was built into the social order. Paul was careful to instruct Christian slaves to secure their freedom if they could (1 Cor. 7: 21), but he did not advocate rebellion or the overthrow of the existing order.

Something should be noted: The purpose of the early church was to spread the gospel and win souls, not to get involved in social action. Had the first Christians been branded as an anti-government sect, they would have been greatly hindered in their soul winning and their church expansion. While it is good and right for Christians to get involved in the promotion of honesty and morality in government and society, this concern must never replace the mandate to go into all the world and preach the gospel (Mark 16: 15).

He shares how Christian masters and slaves were being instructed to treat each other in the epistles was a radical departure from the way things were in the Roman world at that time. He goes on to say:

The gospel did not immediately destroy slavery, but it did gradually change the relationship between slave and master. Social standards and pressures disagreed with Christian ideals, but the Christian master was to practice those ideals just the same. He was to treat his slave like a person and like a brother in Christ (Gal. 3: 28). He was not to mistreat him; he was to deal with his slave justly and fairly. After all, the Christian slave was a free man in the Lord, and the master was a slave to Christ (1 Cor. 7: 22). In the same way, our social and physical relationships must always be governed by our spiritual relationships.

Similarly, in the introductory notes for Philemon in the MacArthur Study Bible, John MacArthur says:

The NT nowhere directly attacks slavery; had it done so, the resulting slave insurrection would have been brutally suppressed and the message of the gospel hopelessly confused with that of social reform. Instead, Christianity undermined the evils of slavery by changing the hearts of slaves and masters. By stressing the spiritual equality of master and slave (v. 16; Gal. 3:28; Eph. 6:9; Col. 4:1; 1 Tim. 6:1-2), the Bible did away with slavery’s abuses.

At least, it did away with them in instruction: it condemned mistreatment of other people in general with specific instruction on how slaves and masters were to treat each other, which rose above the standard of the times. But it took many years for the system to change. Some thoughts in regard to that:

1. God does not generally deal with everyone’s sins all at once, individually or as a people. I remember a few years after I became a Christian feeling convicted over something that I would not have thought twice about in my earlier life and being glad that God didn’t show me everything that was wrong right off the bat. That would have been so overwhelming. But as I read more of the Bible and sat under good teaching, I grew in Him, and then became more aware of things that didn’t please Him that I needed to confess and forsake. In the Bible there are things pointed out as sin in Exodus that aren’t mentioned in Genesis. Polygamy was tolerated for a time, though it was not how God designed marriage, and specific instruction was given later. In the gospels, Jesus goes beyond the mere letter of the law (thou shalt nor commit adultery) to the inner workings of the heart (if you look lustfully, you’re guilty. Matthew 5:27-28). As people have had more history and received more light, they’re more responsible.

2. God redeems people, not institutions. A former pastor said this about a different modern-day situation, but it applies here as well. As Warren Wiersbe put it in Be Faithful  (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon): It’s Always Too Soon to Quit!:

Was Paul hinting in Philemon 21 that Philemon should do even more and free Onesimus? For that matter, why did he not come right out and condemn slavery? This letter certainly would have been the ideal place to do it. Paul did not “condemn” slavery in this letter or in any of his letters, though he often had a word of admonition for slaves and their masters (Eph. 6:5–9; Col. 3:22—4:1; 1 Tim. 6:1–2; Titus 2:9–10). In fact, he encouraged Christian slaves to obtain their freedom if they could (1 Cor. 7:21–24).

During the American Civil War, both sides used the same Bible to “prove” their cases for or against slavery. One of the popular arguments was, “If slavery is so wrong, why did Jesus and the apostles say nothing against it? Paul gave instructions to regulate slavery, but he did not condemn it.” One of the best explanations was given by Alexander Maclaren in his commentary on Colossians in The Expositor’s Bible (Eerdmans, 1940; vol. VI, 301):

First, the message of Christianity is primarily to individuals, and only secondarily to society. It leaves the units whom it has influenced to influence the mass. Second, it acts on spiritual and moral sentiment, and only afterwards and consequently on deeds or institutions. Third, it hates violence, and trusts wholly to enlightened conscience. So it meddles directly with no political or social arrangements, but lays down principles which will profoundly affect these, and leaves them to soak into the general mind.

Had the early Christians begun an open crusade against slavery, they would have been crushed by the opposition, and the message of the gospel would have become confused with a social and political program. Think of how difficult it was for people to overcome slavery in England and America, and those two nations had general education and the Christian religion to help prepare the way. Think also of the struggles in the modern Civil Rights movement even within the church. If the battle for freedom was difficult to win in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, what would the struggle have been like back in the first century?

3. God often works from the inside out. Some of the quotes above touch on this concept, but in addition, in Be Faithful, Wiersbe says, “Christians in the Roman Empire could not work through local democratic political structures as we can today, so they really had no political power to bring about change. The change had to come from within, even though it took centuries for slavery to end.”

It does seem that, long before the Civil War, people in general and Christians in particular should have realized the problems with slavery and certainly should have realized that just because slavery was in the Bible doesn’t mean it was an example we should follow. There are examples not to follow in the Bible as well as examples to follow. Someone once said that the “Golden Rule” alone, “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31), should have been enough to stop people from having slaves.

In the Civil War era, and likely before, some people used passages in the Bible about slaves being beaten as justification for their mistreatment of slaves (Solomon Northup tells of a situation like this in Twelve Years a Slave). But I think by and large those passages are just expressing what would happen in those days to disobedient slaves rather than justifying slavery and beatings. To pick out isolated verses to justify slavery as it was before the Civil War is to misuse the Bible: reading the whole Bible and reading in context within the big picture would avoid that problem.

Northup also said of one kind, Christian master, whom some might wonder at having had slaves, “The influences and associations that had always surrounded him, blinded him to the inherent wrong at the bottom of the system of slavery. He never doubted the moral right of one man holding another in subjection. Looking through the same medium with his fathers before him, he saw things in the same light. Brought up under other circumstances and other influences, his notions would undoubtedly have been different.” Booker T. Washington said something similar in Up From Slavery, not excusing slavery, but understanding that the economic system and years of history had masters firmly enmeshed in the system.

Thankfully God raised up people like William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln and others who worked against slavery until it was finally broken, at least in England and America. Unfortunately it still goes on in other areas, and even in our country people enslave others in other forms, like the horrible sex trafficking trade. I have no idea how to help, but Scripture encourages us to:

Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked. Psalm 82:3-4

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Isaiah 58:6-7

Before I leave this subject, there is one more aspect I must consider. Throughout the Bible, our relationship with God is described in various aspects: father/child; shepherd/sheep; groom/bride; king/subjects, and others. I wrote more on this here. One of those aspects is a master and slave or bondservant. Some have said that because we’re God’s children, we’re no longer slaves, and there is a sense in which that is true. But all through the New Testament, Paul, Peter, James, and Jude, who very much preached our sonship in Christ, also called themselves servants. Jesus Himself was called a servant and took on a servant’s duty when he washed the disciples’ feet, even though He was the Son of God (Philippians 2:5-8).

In the Old Testament, there was provision for a situation in which a servant who was due for his freedom but wanted to stay with his master because he loved him could be bound to his master forever. I think this is one picture of our relationship with Christ. He doesn’t forcefully snatch us up or forcibly make us obey Him. He wants us willingly to yield ourselves to Him out of love for Him and acknowledgement of Who He is. It is an atrocity for any man to think he has a right to own anyone else, but God does “own” us, because He created us and because He paid the price for our sin. But He wants us to yield ourselves in complete trust and obedience to Him. And He wants us to serve others in love (Galatians 5:13). We were “servants of sin” before believing in Christ; now He wants us to become “servants of righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18).

Studying out what the Bible says about our servanthood would probably take another blog post, but it involves realizing that He is Lord, that He takes care of all our needs, that we owe all to Him, that we really have no rights apart from Him, that He deserves our all.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45

And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Mark 9:35

If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.John 12:26

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth. 2 Timothy 2:24-25.

For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 1 Peter 2:15-16.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. Galatians 5:13.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:10-11.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8

Some other good sources on this issue:

Does the Bible Allow For Slavery?
Why Was Slavery Allowed in the Old Testament?
Why Was Slavery Allowed in the New Testament?
A Bondservant of Jesus from My Utmost For His Highest

(Sharing with Inspire me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Testimony Tuesday, Tell His Story), Woman to Woman Word-Filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire)

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Finishing Well

I am reading in Chronicles just now. Though it has a reputation for being pretty dry, it actually has many great truths in it. Chronicles covers the history of the kings of Israel and Judah from the time of Solomon until the Babylonian captivity. Most of the kings were bad, in that they did not follow Jehovah God in the way He prescribed, and many followed idols and false gods instead. Most of the few who did start out well did not finish well. And though “finishing well” is probably not what “the” theme of the book is, it stands out for consideration.

Solomon, for all his wisdom and all the blessings he experienced during his early reign, fell away when his many wives led him to other gods.

“Asa did that which was good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God” (II Chronicles 14:2), was marvelously helped in battle after prayer, took down idols, removed even his own mother from her position because of the image she made. But in later years he sought the help of a pagan king instead of God and even imprisoned the prophet who came to warn him (16:1-10). He ended up with diseased feet for which he did not seek the Lord at all.

“Joash did that which was right in the sight of the LORD all the days of Jehoiada the priest” (24:2), but after Jehoiada died, Joash fell away to the point of killing Jehoaida’s son (24:19-27).

Amaziah “did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, but not with a perfect heart” (25:2). He received great help from the Lord when he did things His way, yet instead of continuing to follow Him, he “he brought the gods of the children of Seir, and set them up to be his gods, and bowed down himself before them, and burned incense unto them.  Wherefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against Amaziah” (25:14-15).

Uzziah, “as long as he sought the LORD, God made him to prosper” (26:5), and “And God helped him against the Philistines” and other enemies, “and his name spread abroad even to the entering in of Egypt; for he strengthened himself exceedingly” (26:7-8). “And his name spread far abroad; for he was marvellously helped, till he was strong. But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the LORD his God, and went into the temple of the LORD to burn incense upon the altar of incense” (26:15-16). The NASB puts it this way: “But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the LORD his God.”

Josiah was one of Judah’s best kings, leading a revival after the book of the law was found during temple repairs, yet he went to battle and “hearkened not unto the words of Necho from the mouth of God” and ended up dying of wounds received in that battle.

Will I forget the things I knew, like Solomon did, and be led away by other loves, or will I keep my first love? Will I forget from whence my help comes, like Asa did, and look for help elsewhere? Will I fall away after my spiritual mentors are gone, like Joash? Do I serve God with a perfect (complete) heart, or am I holding anything back, like Amaziah? Will I be lifted up with pride like Uzziah? Will I neglect to listen to wise counsel from God’s Word, like Josiah?

May I heed the warnings and lessons in these examples. May God save me from these and other failures and help me to keep my eyes on Him and to finish well.

(Adapted from the archives)

(Sharing with Inspire Me Mondays, Literary Musing Monday, Testimony Tuesday, Tell His Story, Wise Woman, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire)

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“That’s Just the Way I Am”

When my youngest son was small, he was a real chatty little guy. In fact, sometimes he could talk too much. I didn’t want to squelch his openness with people or his ability to strike up a conversation, as those are valuable traits (which don’t come naturally to me!) But on the other hand, no one wants to be around someone who talks incessantly. Once he was talking to the wife and mother of a visiting missionary family at church who was trying to soothe a fussy baby and graciously step away from him, and he kept chatting merrily on. When I tried to suggest that perhaps he was talking a little too much, he flashed his bright smile and said, “That’s just the way God made me.”

“Well,” I thought, “What do I say to that?”

After a while the Lord did bring to mind a few principles to share with him, such as the fact that God made us to eat, yet it is wrong to eat too much or the wrong things; God made us to sleep, but warns against loving sleep too much and being lazy, etc. He gives us responsibility to use our natural bent and inclinations in the right way. We talked about the warning signs that you’re talking too much — when other people look bored, sleepy, or glazed, or when they’re trying to step away or start another conversation with someone else, etc.

I’ve heard variations on that response from time to time. I used to really struggle under the leadership of someone who was not good with details: when he overlooked something that caused problems, frustrations, more work, etc., for the people under him, he’d just smile and say, “You’ll have to forgive me, I’m not good with details. I’m just not wired that way.” I’ve heard someone apologize for an angry outburst by saying, “I’m sorry, I just have a bad temper.” I’ve known people who think they have the spirituals gifts of prophesy or exhortation to harshly lambast a person or movement (and take great pleasure in doing so), forgetting that “the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (II Timothy 2:24-25).

When my middle son was in about the 6th or 7th grade, he was lamenting that he studied for spelling tests and yet still received disappointing grades, and a classmate hardly studied at all and yet made A’s. I explained that everyone has an aptitude for certain areas, and this friend obviously happened to have an aptitude for spelling. He brightened, thinking that since he didn’t have a natural aptitude for spelling, he didn’t really have to worry about it. I had to say, no, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to work on your spelling: in fact, in means you have to work harder!

The person who is not good with details is not excused from having to deal with them; in fact, he may have to work harder to handle them, or hire an assistant to help him. The person with a bad temper is not allowed to give it free reign because he can’t help himself. The shy or introverted person had to extend himself sometimes, even though it’s uncomfortable. Even spiritual gifts such as exhortation or mercy or giving have to be kept in balance. A person whose gift is giving for example, can’t run his family into debt or neglect their needs to give to others. He is responsible to exercise that gift in conjunction with other Scriptural instruction under God’s leadership. Scripture contains several passages of instruction concerning how to exercise spiritual gifts.

Understanding they way we’re “wired” does help us to know what direction to go in life, what ministries or vocations to choose, etc. For instance, I am not good with numbers: I can add the same list of numbers up three times and get three different answers — even with a calculator. So I would not look for a job as an accountant. I get rattled in a busy, noisy environment, so I wouldn’t likely work best there  – as a teen I lasted working for a fast-food place for only a week.

However, sometimes God does call people to do what doesn’t come naturally — Moses felt he could not lead or speak, yet God did not accept any of his excuses. Jeremiah said, “Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the LORD said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak” (Jeremiah 1:6-7). We think of the apostle Paul as bold and wise, yet he said, “And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom” — but he goes on to say, “but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (I Corinthians 2:3-5). Sometimes God uses people in the ways they seem to be bent, but other times He calls them to do something that doesn’t come naturally to them to show His power and His grace through them.

Whether dealing with a sin issue, a personality bent, or even a spiritual gift, “That’s just the way I am” is not a good excuse. God wants us to seek Him for deliverance from the power of sin, for power and grace to maintain right balances and to be diligent even in areas where we don’t have natural gifts, and for help to grow continually more Christlike every day we live. He does not want us to remain “just the way we are.” “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (II Corinthians 3:18). We’re changed….by beholding Him.

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See also: The means of change.

(Revised from the archives)

(Sharing with Inspire me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Testimony Tuesday. Wise Woman, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-Filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire)

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I Need Thee, Precious Jesus

I need Thee, precious Jesus,
For I am full of sin;
My soul is dark and guilty,
My heart is dead within.
I need the cleansing fountain
Where I can always flee,
The blood of Christ most precious,
The sinner’s perfect plea.

I need Thee, precious Jesus,
For I am very poor;
A stranger and a pilgrim,
I have no earthly store.
I need the love of Jesus
To cheer me on my way,
To guide my doubting footsteps,
To be my strength and stay.

I need Thee, precious Jesus,
I need a friend like Thee,
A friend to soothe and pity,
A friend to care for me.
I need the heart of Jesus
To feel each anxious care,
To tell my every trouble,
And all my sorrows share.

I need Thee, precious Jesus,
I need Thee, day by day,
To fill me with Thy fullness,
To lead me on my way;
I need Thy Holy Spirit,
To teach me what I am,
To show me more of Jesus,
To point me to the Lamb.

I need Thee, precious Jesus,
And hope to see Thee soon,
Encircled with the rainbow
And seated on Thy throne.
There, with Thy blood bought children,
My joy shall ever be,
To sing Thy praises, Jesu,
To gaze, O Lord, on Thee.

~ Frederick Whitfield

Mine, mine was the transgression

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This is an old hymn that we don’t hear much any more, but it comes to mind when I think of Christ’s death on the cross for our sins. I found a number of different translations and extra verses online (such as here), but this is close to the one I am familiar with.

O sacred Head, now wounded,
With grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded
With thorns, Thine only crown;
O sacred Head, what glory,
What bliss till now was Thine!
Yet, though despised and gory,
I joy to call Thee mine.

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered,
Was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor,
Vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

What language shall I borrow
To thank thee, dearest Friend,
For this, thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
Lord, make me thine forever,
and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
Outlive my love to Thee..

 -Bernard of Clairvaux