Posted in theology

God doesn’t leave you alone to figure it out

I follow Ayanna Mathis on Instagram. She puts together a good word of encouragement and exhortation. Here is another one by Ayanna.

By ayannazariya
GOD’S INSTRUCTIONS COME WITH HELP 

Have you ever felt like you’ve been given a task to do that you felt alone in? Maybe you can recall a time when given an assignment in school in which the instructions were very detailed, but you still felt like you lacked the support you needed? Or perhaps you were in a position in which you had to give instructions for a task, but the person on the receiving end of those instructions felt like they couldn’t ask for help or they just didn’t know how…

I want to encourage you to know that God is neither extreme. He doesn’t give instructions without help or help without instructions. His Word gives us parameters to work within, and His Spirit promises to never leave us and to always guide us as we journey through this life, fulfilling the instructions of God. They aren’t arbitrary. They aren’t so secret that they can only be known by certain people. God from the beginning of time has been making Himself known in ways unimaginable. And He also continues to do so today.

We live in a culture and time where Christian messages can tend to get away from our dependency on God when preaching sermon points that can leave you feeling as if this walk is all up to you. I’m here to remind you that it’s not. God’s good work didn’t start with your capability nor does it end with it. He goes FIRST, every single time. He went ahead of you, first with Jesus, laying down His life so that you may live, flourish, know Him and eternally live with Him. He went FIRST when you wanted to take temptation’s bait and sin your way until you could do nothing other than repent, by giving you a way out before you got started. He GOES FIRST, every single day, showing up for you, even when you can’t show up for Him.

Why?

Because He’s a good God, who is also so much wiser, stronger, knowledgeable, powerful, gracious, loving and merciful than you are. And that’s a blessing, friends! Be encouraged. Don’t let the pendulum swing towards legalism or apathy when it comes to living out God’s instructions outlined in Scripture. Know them well so you don’t do the most, or the least. Undergird ALL of your efforts, with the knowledge that God extends help ALWAYS! —-end Ayanna Mathis

instruct verse

Posted in theology

The wind blows

By Elizabeth Prata

The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3:8)

I lived in Maine for almost 30 years. It’s cold. It’s windy. A fun trip we’d take was to the top of Mt. Washington Observatory in the White Mountains of nearby New Hampshire. That is a place known for its wild and erratic weather, and for holding the record for most of the 20th century for highest ever recorded wind speed of 231 mph.

When you live in and near the mountains and there is a lot of wind, you notice that many of the trees are stunted. It’s hard for them to grow in severe conditions. There’s actually a “tree line”, the line where trees stop growing and at higher elevations and it’s just scrub and rocks to the summit.

You also notice that the trees are bent away from the wind. Trees are actually structures, and wind creates a heavy load against them. Constant aerodynamic drag eventually sculpts or molds the tree. The tree’s resistance declines and it conforms to the direction of the wind. Like these trees:

Wind_bent_tree,_near_Golden_Gap,_Dorset_-_1990s_(16644330374)
Photographer: Andrew Bone from Weymouth, England. Wikimedia CC
800px-Windswept_tree_on_Big_Island,_Hawaii
Windswept “Bent Tree” on Big Island, HI. Photographer- mccready. Wiki CC

We might look at a windswept tree and notice it standing tall. We might return in 30 years and notice that it has conformed to the prevailing wind and it’s been shaped. However, if we were to return to the mountain top or the field where the tree is every day, we would not notice the slow transformation of it.

It is like that with us. The Holy Spirit slowly transforms His people. He chips away at our resistance. Day by day in increments not seen, we are being transformed into Christ’s likeness. If we knew someone as an unregenerate person, celebrated their salvation, but then went to work in another country for 30 years, and then returned, we would notice a massive change in their character, morals, spirit, and mind. But it’s something one does not notice as much day by day. We cannot see the Spirit but we know where He has been by the people He has conformed.

Now imagine the multiplication of His work among an entire congregation. Like this:

Wind_bent_trees_-_panoramio
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Holy Spirit is amazing. He is always at work, conforming, transforming, changing, producing fruit. Yet He is invisible, and only always points to Christ.

Our one God in three Persons…the Trinity…God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, worthy to be praised.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14).

Posted in discernment, Uncategorized

The wind blows where it will

I was years and years upon the brink of hell—I mean in my own feeling. I was unhappy, I was desponding, I was despairing. I dreamed of hell. My life was full of sorrow and wretchedness, believing that I was lost. ~ Charles Spurgeon as a teenager

wind

Charles Spurgeon’s torments in wanting to be saved are well-known. Spurgeon knew he needed salvation because of his sins, but also knew he couldn’t decide to save himself. He needed the external specific call.

He didn’t just sit around and wait though. He read his Bible, he prayed, and he sought- resolving to visit every church in his district one at a time, repeatedly.

John Bunyan’s experience was similar. In his spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, he was tormented by his sin and knew he needed Jesus. He read his Bible, tried various things, until he realized conversion is all of God, election. He wrote,

With this scripture I could not tell what to do: for I evidently saw, unless that the great God, of His infinite grace and bounty, had voluntarily chosen me to be a vessel of mercy, though I should desire, and long, and labour until my heart did break, no good could come of it. Therefore this would stick with me, How can you tell that you are elected? And what if you should not? How then?

O Lord, thought I, what if I should not indeed? It may be you are not, said the Tempter; it may be so indeed, thought I. Why then, said Satan, you had as good leave off, and strive no farther; for if indeed, you should not be elected and chosen of God, there is no talk of your being saved; For it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth; but of God that showeth mercy.

By these things I was driven to my wits’ end,

But Bunyan didn’t leave off, and didn’t sit and wait for grace to drop into his lap as Spurgeon didn’t wait around for grace to fall into his lap. Though conversion is only from Jesus, the sinner can prepare, inquire, be active. Bunyan kept reading the scriptures, pleading, and praying.

At one point in his faith journey, Bunyan had been wracked with torment, and he laid down to rest and nap. He had a dream that he was trying to get thru a wall to go from the cold side of a great mountain into the sun on the other side. Eventually he found a passageway but it was exceedingly narrow. He got his head in, barely, and wriggled his body sideways, very narrow and could hardly get thru. He realized he had dreamed of the narrow gate. He wrote,

that none could enter into life, but those that were in downright earnest, and unless also they left that wicked world behind them; for here was only room for body and soul, but not for body and soul and sin.

But what now? Bunyan asked. What if one is not elected? And if one was elected, how would one know that salvation had come? Bunyan again-

Neither as yet could I attain to any comfortable persuasion that I had faith in Christ; but instead of having satisfaction here, I began to find my soul to be assaulted with fresh doubts about my future happiness, especially with such as these: Whether I was elected. But how if the day of grace should be past and gone? By these two temptations I was very much afflicted and disquieted, sometimes by one and sometimes by the other of them.

The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3:8)

We don’t know who will be saved or when. We can’t control the wind.

We can see its effects, though. Here is my favorite Paul Washer story. It’s 3 minutes and I think it will bless you. It seems to me to be a good example of the Wind moving in a soul. When one isn’t saved one can read the Bible and read it and read it, but it will not make sense because one cannot discern spiritual things, as the verse says-

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. (1 Corinthians 2:14).

But when the wind moves in a man’s soul, it moves so we can see the effect! Suddenly the scales fall and the Bible’s verses have extreme meaning!

The wind blows where it will…but keep praying for salvation for your dear lost ones, and keep looking for fruit in those who say they have felt the Spirit move in them. Tomorrow, more on fruit.

 

Posted in bible reading plan, Uncategorized

Bible Reading Thoughts: What are the reins?

I will bless the LORD, who has given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons. (Psalm 16:7)

I am not sure what this means but the poetic language moves me. Here is Matthew Henry on it:

He repeats the solemn choice he had made of God for his portion and happiness (v. 5), takes to himself the comfort of the choice (v. 6), and gives God the glory of it, v. 7. This is very much the language of a devout and pious soul in its gracious exercises.

Making a good use of it. God having given him counsel by his word and Spirit, his own reins also (his own thoughts) instructed him in the night-season; when he was silent and solitary, and retired from the world, then his own conscience (which is called the reins, Jer. 17:10) not only reflected with comfort upon the choice he had made, but instructed or admonished him concerning the duties arising out of this choice, catechized him, and engaged and quickened him to live as one that had God for his portion, by faith to live upon him and to live to him. Those who have God for their portion, and who will be faithful to him, must give their own consciences leave to deal thus faithfully and plainly with them.

All this may be applied to Christ, who made the Lord his portion and was pleased with that portion, made his Father’s glory his highest end and made it his meat and drink to seek that and to do his will, and delighted to prosecute his undertaking, pursuant to his Father’s counsel, depending upon him to maintain his lot and to carry him through his undertaking. We may also apply it to ourselves in singing it, renewing our choice of God as ours, with a holy complacency and satisfaction.

Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 763). Peabody: Hendrickson.

So, one does their best to adhere to God’s statutes, acting in His best interest and according to His will. Where we stumble, we repent. And then in the night seasons, let the conscience percolate, giving space and room to the Spirit to convict, admonish, encourage, or bring things to mind. Is that how you see the verse too?

night
“Night”, by EPrata
Posted in encouragement, Uncategorized

Bible Reading Plan thoughts: Lavish Love

loveIn our Bible Reading plan today we are progressing through Romans. We are to read today chapters 5-6. Romans, a book that a famous pastor had said he thought is the greatest philosophical treatise of any kind ever written down anywhere. (Sorry, I forget which pastor said it). Romans certainly is demanding, and the thoughts I have about the first few chapters, especially the interplay between the Law & Grace, are immature and unformed. I dare not offer anything of my own because I don’t think it would be of value.

But except for this: Romans 5:5

and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

I love the visual picture here, God’s love is a liquid poured out, gushing, lavishly splashing into our hearts. And that love is the Holy Spirit Himself, who is God. He is said to be almost the forgotten member of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is introduced in this epistle. And here he is shown to be a full member of the Triune God and a token of God’s love for His people lavishly given to us.

Before salvation: Enmity. War. Rebellion. Struggle. Uncertainty.
After salvation: PEACE

Preacher S. Lewis Johnson said of this passage

So the apostle’s argument is this. We were enemies. When we were enemies, when we hated God, when we did not want him to minister to us, he came to us, and through the alluring power of the Holy Spirit, he wrought within us, in his own mysterious way, a change of our wills, a change of our disposition, so that the thing that we did not want we ultimately came to want. We, who hated him, by the work of the Holy Spirit, were reconciled as the Holy Spirit brought to us the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. As he says, “When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son.”

The Holy Spirit’s part in this is that He draws us to Jesus, and He dwells in our hearts to sanctify us, each one of us, throughout our post-salvation lives. What joy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Further reading

John MacArthur, article The Ministry of the Holy Spirit

GotQuestions: What does the Holy Spirit do?

Posted in discernment, Uncategorized

A move of the holy spirit & Christian emotionalists

We hear a lot about the big moves of the Holy Spirit. We see Youtube clips of young millennials falling to the floor, or standing with arms upstretched in front of smoke filled stages, pulsing lights, glitter, laughing and sobbing. Afterward they smile tiredly, saying “The Holy Spirit really moved!” Or, “The Holy Spirit really showed up!”

As an aside, I dislike that phrase, ‘The Holy Spirit showed up.’ It’s crass. It’s akin to attending a funeral and saying to the bereaved, “So your wife croaked, eh?’ The Holy Spirit doesn’t ‘show up.’ He isn’t hailing a taxi running late, throwing a scarf around his neck while jumping out of the cab and huffing into the church. The Spirit doesn’t ‘show up’. The Holy Spirit governs the universe.

To the main point regarding big moves of the Spirit. Successive years of successive generations of younger church-goers have twisted Hebrews 11:1’s statement of what faith is:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Into –

Now faith is the substance of things we’ve come to tangibly possess, the evidence of things seen and experienced.

Spurgeon had something to say about these “Christian emotionalists” in Sermon 898, A Word with Those Who Wait for Signs and Wonders,

And when the people were gathered thick together, he began to say, This is an evil generation: they seek a sign... (Luke 11:29-30)

There are some, and these are generally the most uneducated, who expect to experience remarkable dreams or to behold singular visions. Others we have met with, who suppose that in order to being saved they must feel some very peculiar physical sensation. Now you must not look for this. You must not put physical contortions or sensations as a test before the Lord, and say you will not believe in Him otherwise.

You seek what is quite unnecessary. What do you want a sign for? You want, you say, a token of God’s love. What token of God’s love to you can ever be wanted, now that He has given His only-begotten Son, first to live on earth, and then to die in pains extreme, the just for the unjust, “that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”! I blush for you, that you should ask any token of God’s love while Jesus Christ is before you…

I must tell you what is more, you are acting the part of an idolater. What does an idolater do? He says, “I cannot believe in an unseen God; I must have a golden calf or an image, that I can see with my eyes and touch with my hand.” You say just the same. You cannot believe God’s naked word, you demand something you can feel, something you can see. Sheer idolatry.

You might feel an overwhelming sense of joy, or peace, or well-being, or love for Jesus at times. These emotional times can occur when prayer is answered, providence is seen, worship is genuine, or Bible reading has deepened your view of the Savior. Strong emotion is good and appropriate. But to rely on such moments as proof of the Spirit’s presence casts a vain hope upon the shores of the Rock which stands above all. Your sure faith is in Him and His word that reveals Him.

Depending on signs is seeking a golden calf of experience over faith.

If you’re looking for a move of the Spirit, a miracle, sign, or wonder, there are many that we can name which exalt Jesus. Unsaved men are helpless and unable to come to God unless the Spirit draws them. (John 6:44). He saves by grace. Any new believer is a miracle, because they cannot save themselves. Sanctification is a miracle of God, because only by the Spirit can we resist sin and grow in His likeness. Providence is a miracle of God because He sustains the universe by the power of His word every minute, and He ordains every event that happens to all 8 billion people on earth at every second.

Stop looking for glitter dust falling from the ceiling, for personal prophecies, and visible signs when we already have the redemptive, sanctifying, providential work of the Lord occurring all over the world every second.

I’ll leave John MacArthur with the last word-

For all those true believers who love the Lord, the promise is a wonderful promise. … I think it’s time in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ to give honor to the Holy Spirit, to worship Him, to love Him, to ascribe to Him the glory that He is due and to stop the nonsense that brings dishonor on His holy name.

pic

Posted in discernment, Uncategorized

How does the Holy Spirit lead us?

On Facebook last night I’d posted a mini-discernment lesson regarding a tweet Beth Moore had written advocating a process for distilling whether a prompt from the Holy Spirit is legitimate or if it’s your own imagination. I wrote the following in response to her tweet:

moore tweet

Beth Moore is an alleged ‘Bible teacher’. She has 753,000 followers on Twitter alone. The following comment is something she taught a few hours ago on Twitter. Nothing in the Bible says what she taught and teaches. What solid and credible Bible teachers do is teach their pupils to go externally and seek the source of all truth, the Word of God. Moore teachers women to go internally and rely on mystical warnings, feelings, and prompts. What Moore is actually teaching is the insufficiency of scripture and the sufficiency of ourselves in obeying personal feelings.

If Moore was a true Bible teacher she should have written that we seek wisdom from the Bible and follow its commands. We do not rely on the timing of mystical feelings in order to make decisions. We don’t even have to wonder if it is our imagination if we read it in the Word of God. Here is what she should have written-

“Take caution not to override a command of the Lord in His word. Pray persistently in seeking the strength from the Lord you need to obey what is written. Mind the Lord and His statutes.”

I thought that it would be obvious that Moore is teaching something extra-biblical. Obvious.

I was wrong.

I received several comments, one of which asserted that I’d misunderstood the tweet. While it’s always possible I misinterpret an author’s intent within the confines of a 140 character tweet, in this case I’ve studied Moore’s work widely enough to know that I had not done that in this case. I also thought the tweet was plain enough in its assertion.

Another commenter tried to to convince me that there was room for direct revelation. She knows there’s room, she said, because though 99% of the time scripture is enough, sometimes God speaks “very clearly” to her and she knows it’s Him because what He says comes true according to her wishes and wants at the time.

If scripture isn’t sufficient 100% of the time, it is not sufficient at all. God is not speaking clearly or audibly to anyone in any form, not in…

whispers
prompts
leadings
warnings
impressions on our heart
‘told me’
spoke audibly

…because the Bible says that God has spoken though His Son, who IS the Word. (Hebrews 1:2)

Peter said personal experience is never a proper validation of God’s authority, because the word is more sure. (2 Peter 1:19). I notice in these kind of discussions that people assert that it must be God is telling them stuff because what they wanted is coming true. However I notice it never seems to be the case that ‘the Lord told us very clearly one of us will die from cancer’, or ‘the Lord told us very clearly that we will never have children,’ or ‘the Lord told us very clearly that I should stop sinning via pornography.’ No, the direct leading of the Spirit people claim they receive are never that kind, the type that brings bad news against their wish list or commands the person to slay their besetting sin.

Worse, women who claim “He told me very clearly that…” means the woman is claiming prophet status – which elevates her to a position she does not have. Moreover, it discourages other women who have not had the privilege of “hearing directly from God”. They begin to doubt their situations when they aren’t given such personal, clear commands.

One commenter did ask a good question, which formed the basis for this post. She asked, “Where does the Holy Spirit come into it?” Her question is a good one, but a sad one. An entire generation of women have been taught by the Beth Moores etc. that we should expect to be directly (or audibly) led by God, that they do not know what to be led by the Spirit actually means. So here is a post on what it means to be led by the Spirit.

We know the Spirit does lead us. One verse in particular comes to mind, Romans 8:14, where it says so.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.

Now, the Holy Spirit does guide us and convict us and teach us and help us but not in a way we know at the time. You might look afterwards and say, gee, that sure was from the Lord. But at the time, we cannot, must not, rely on feelings, prompts, whispers, inclinations, or imaginations, and attribute them to God. That is dangerous because the flesh is at war with the Spirit. One can never really know if it’s the flesh or not. We are commanded not to obey the flesh, but to slay it. (Mt 16:24). Just because Beth Moore teaches that if the feeling hangs around long enough it must be God is ridiculous on the face of it. The flesh is persistent. Very persistent.

It’s also mysticism and divination to follow promptings and claim they were from God. How can we interpret? We can’t, we’re sinful. So while the Spirit leads, His main ministry is to point to Jesus, who is the Word. John 16:14. That’s why a good teacher also points to the Word, which is more sure.

Here is John MacArthur on the Romans verse 8:14, with a very simple explanation of the Spirit’s leading:

How does He lead us? Two ways. Externally, by the Scripture – externally, by the Scripture, Psalm 119:18: “Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things from Your law.” Show me the truth of Scripture. Externally by Scripture, internally by sanctification. Those two ways. Externally, Scripture; internally, sanctification.

Therefore, there’s no need for a teacher such as Moore to teach an extra-biblical process for figuring out if the prompting is imagination or not.

Sinclair Ferguson at Ligonier Ministries has a good take on leading by the Spirit, which concurs with MacArthur’s in terms of the main leading of the Spirit being illumination of the scriptures. Remember, the point of the Spirit’s ministry is to point to Christ – who is the Word. (John 16:14, 1 John 4:2).

Spirit of Light, by Sinclair Ferguson
Why, then, are Christians today—in contrast to their fathers—so thirsty to experience immediate revelation from God, when His desire for us is the ongoing work of the Spirit opening up our understanding through the mediated revelation of the New Testament? There seem to be three reasons:

1. It is more exciting to have direct revelation rather than Bible revelation. It seems more “spiritual,” more “divine.”

2. For many people, it feels much more authoritative to be able to say, “God has revealed this to me” than to say, “The Bible tells me so.”

3. Direct revelation relieves us of the need for painstaking Bible study and careful consideration of Christian doctrine in order to know the will of God. In comparison to immediate revelation, Bible study seems—to be frank—boring.

Lest we be brow-beaten and develop a kind of siege mentality as Reformed Christians, here are some things we should bear in mind about the work of illumination:

This is the divine method that produces authentic Christian growth, because it involves the renewal (not the abeyance) of the mind (Rom. 12:2) and it is progressive (it takes time and demands the obedience of our wills). Sometimes God does things quickly. But His ordinary way is to work slowly and surely to make us progressively more like our Lord Jesus.

The result of the Spirit working with the Word of God to illumine and transform our thinking is the development of a godly instinct that operates in sometimes surprising ways. The revelation of Scripture becomes, in a well-taught, Spirit-illumined believer, so much a part of his or her mindset that the will of God frequently seems to become instinctively and even immediately clear—just as whether a piece of music is well or badly played is immediately obvious to a well-disciplined musician. It is this kind of spiritual exercise that creates discernment (see Heb. 5:11–14).

In other words, the Spirit leads us by slowly conforming us to Christ-likeness through the application and illumination of the word in us. Our affections change. As MacArthur above said, by the word externally and by inner sanctification as the word works through us.

Now, is there such thing as impressions or promptings? Ferguson below then Phil Johnson below that, explain…yes…and no.

Ferguson from the Ligonier article above:

Well-meaning Christians sometimes mistake the Spirit’s work of illumination for revelation, which, unhappily, can lead to serious theological confusion and potentially unhappy practical consequences. But the doctrine of illumination also helps us explain some of the more mysterious elements in our experience without having to resort to the claim that we have the gift of revelation and prophecy.

Here the late John Murray spoke with great wisdom: “As we are the subjects of this illumination and are responsive to it, and as the Holy Spirit is operative in us to the doing of God’s will, we shall have feelings, impressions, convictions, urges, inhibitions, impulses, burdens, resolutions. Illumination and direction by the Spirit through the Word of God will focus themselves in our consciousness in these ways. (Collected Writings, I, p. 188).

Again, it’s through the Word.

Phil Johnson, Shepherds Conference 2002, “Super Seminar: Private Revelations”

Now, does the Spirit of God ever move our hearts and impress us with specific duties or callings? Certainly. But, even in doing that, He works through the Word of God. Experiences like this, impressions and all, are not in any sense prophetic or authoritative except as they echo what the Word already says. They are not revelation. Those sensations, those impressions, those feelings you get are not revelation, but they are the effect of illumination. When the Holy Spirit applies the Word to our hearts, and opens our spiritual eyes to His truth. And, we need to guard carefully against allowing our experiences and our own subjective thoughts and imaginations to eclipse the authority and the certainty of the more sure Word of God. This is a very practical application of the principle of Sola Scriptura.

Think about this…to what ever degree you seek private messages from God outside His Word, you have abandoned the principle of Sola Scriptura.

It is simpler and more direct to say something like “My husband and I decided to adopt 3 children” rather than “The Spirit led us to the adoption agency.” It’s more honest to say, “We decided to purchase the organ for the church because we adhere to the biblical principle of cheerfully giving” than to say “We felt led by the Spirit to drive down Main Street where we saw the organ store and God clearly told us to buy it.”

The Spirit leads us into sanctification, where we gradually and inexorably conform to Jesus’ likeness, not by having Him specifically give us explicit directions for certain actions at any given time. But what a joy to know He does lead us!