How Good Is Good Enough?

When we pick back up in Job 2:11, Job is sitting in the dirt, covered in sores all over his body, mourning the loss of his ten children and all his livestock and possessions, having shaved his head in grief. His wife has just told him to curse God and die because she too has just experienced the same losses. We are privy to the heavenly conversation between God and Satan, but Job and his wife were not. They don’t know why any of this tragedy has struck. They are dumbfounded.
Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar come to visit Job to show him some sympathy and comfort. They wailed and wept and tore their robes and sat in ashes in silence next to Job for seven days. These are some dedicated friends – not just acquaintances that offer Job a few platitudes, but true friends who mourn with Job in his greatest despair.
In chapter three, Job curses the day he was born, wishing that he had died at birth instead of going on to live a life in which he would lose everything precious to him. Then in the following chapters, Job’s three friends take turns telling him why they think he has suffered so much. They all three agree that Job’s suffering must be due to some sin in his life. As they argue back and forth, Job insists that he is righteous, that he has done nothing wrong.
We know the truth. Job was a righteous man and God had full confidence that Job’s faith was strong enough to withstand the tests that he endured. Even God called Job blameless and upright! We also know that in all of Satan’s efforts to get Job to curse God and die, Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. But we also know that Job wasn’t perfect – there’s only one man who has ever been perfect. So what was the standard by which God judged Job as “blameless and upright”?
Job was judged against the Law. He kept most of God’s commands and laws and made sacrifices continually for him and his children in case any of them had sinned. Job worked really hard to stay in right standing with God because he loved God and wanted to please Him.
This leaves us wondering if we too have to work hard to meet God’s “acceptable” standard. Job was good – do we have to be as righteous and blameless as Job in order for God to deem us righteous?
The answer is NO!
So what’s the difference? The difference is Jesus.
God is perfect and He cannot tolerate sin, but all of us have sin! Romans 3:23 says that we’ve all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. So back in the Old Testament, people had to follow the law and make sacrifices for their sins in order to atone for them. They could even make sacrifices for the sins of other people! (Do you ever wish you could do that???) Job sacrificed for his kids in case any of them had sinned! Sin requires punishment. It requires a sacrifice. This is the good news! God’s plan all along was to show us our need for redemption and for Someone to pay the price for our sin. He did that by giving the people of the Old Testament the Law. It shows us that we can never measure up. We can never be good enough or do enough good things to be righteous on our own. We need another way!
So the GOOD NEWS is, the GOSPEL is, that God provided another way. He sent Jesus to pay the ultimate price for our sins – to make the sacrifice once and for all so that we wouldn’t have to follow the law and make the sacrifices any more. Jesus paid for all of our sins when he died on the cross. But there’s more – Jesus didn’t stay dead! He rose from the grave on the third day and revealed himself to his disciples and many others as he walked the earth. Then he ascended back into heaven.
So Jesus paid the price for all of our sin. We know that. So why do we still feel the need to be good all the time? To make sure we’re checking off all the boxes and doing all the right things? God created each of us with this desire, so it’s not an accident. This desire, instead of pointing us to work work work work, is supposed to point us to our desperate need of Jesus. When you feel the urge to do good and be good and say all the right things, when you beat yourself up because you’re just not getting it right, remember that this is supposed to remind you to look to Jesus!
Job was a righteous man because of his sacrifices under the law.

We are righteous women because of the sacrifice of Jesus!

Blessed Be Your Name: Job 1:6-2:10

As you’re cracking open your Bible in preparation to study Job today, you may be tempted to try and figure out just how this book applies to your life. You might be tempted to make it personal and draw some parallels. But before you do, remember to ask yourself, “What does this say about God?” I hope that you’ll be encouraged by the two clear attributes of God that we find in this passage. Remember, the Bible is about God! Now go ahead and read Job 1:6-2:10 and then keep reading here.
This portion of chapter one opens in God’s heavenly throne room when the sons of God (angels and other divine beings), and Satan come before the Lord. God asks Satan where he has come from and he confesses that he has been wandering around the earth. And then the strangest conversation happens. Check back to 1:8. 
Who suggested that Satan should consider Job?

God. Not Satan. God suggested that Satan consider Job.
John Piper explains it this way: A robber goes into a jewelry store with a gun and a mask, demanding all of the fine jewels and precious stones. The jeweler says, “Well how about this one, my biggest and best diamond? Would you like to have that one?” Now logic would lead us to conclude that if we were being robbed, we would not want to give the robbers suggestions about more things they could take from us. How interesting that all of this was God’s idea, not Satan’s. 
In 1:9, Satan brings an accusation against Job, saying that the only reason he remains faithful and fears God is because God has protected him and blessed him. He challenges God by saying that if he took all of that away from Job, he would curse God to his face. So God gives Satan permission to take away all that Job had as long as he didn’t touch Job himself. This brings us to the first thing we learn about God in this chapter:
God is sovereign.
He is completely in charge of every bit of what happens. Does this mean that God sometimes allows bad things to happen to us? Yes. He did it when he sent the flood that killed everyone but Noah’s family. He did it when Jonah got swallowed up by the great fish. He did it when Job lost everything he had. We don’t always know WHY, but we do know that God causes all things to work for good for those who love him.
In 1:13-19, Job loses everything he has because unbeknownst to him, God has placed him and all of his possessions and family in the hands of Satan. In verse 20 we see that Job grieved and then he fell on the ground and worshiped. Job had this interesting perspective that the name of the Lord should be praised when He gives and when he takes away.  In all of it he didn’t sin or blame God.
As if all this weren’t enough, it happens again! The angels and Satan come before the Lord and God has the same conversation with Satan. Only this time Satan accuses Job of remaining faithful only because he wasn’t allowed to touch his actual body. So God, in his sovereignty, tells Satan that he can touch Job’s body, as long as he spares his life.
So immediately Satan goes out and strikes Job with a terrible skin disease.
Some of you may remember when I battled 9 months of chronic hives. I was covered from head to toe with incredibly itchy red welts that nearly drove me out of my mind. I saw every specialist possible, changed my diet, went through all kinds of tests, including skin biopsies, blood tests, and allergy tests. Nothing worked. The only thing that gave me any relief was a steroid that had terrible side effects. I was miserable and itchy and in pain. One day it stopped and hasn’t come back since. I still don’t know why that happened, but I know I can trust that God does!
Now Mrs. Job is another important character in this story, but we are left mostly wondering about her because Scripture doesn’t tell us much. In fact, it only gives us a few lines of what she has to say. This woman has also lost all of her livestock, her livelihood, her servants and worst of all, every single one of her children. She doesn’t have the same response as her husband because she tells him he should curse God and die.  Job refuses to do that, of course. Mrs. Job had to suffer all of the consequences of her husband’s test. She wasn’t privy to God’s conversation with Satan. She didn’t even have any idea that it was her husband’s test and she sure wasn’t passing it if it had been hers. She was just suffering through a test that was meant for someone else. Sometimes that happens to us too.
So this week we leave Job and his wife, possessionless, childless, bald-headed and in ashes, scraping his skin and worshiping. Quite a place to be.
But this leaves us with one looming question. If God, in his sovereignty, allowed bad things to happen to Job (and Jonah and Noah and so many others), could he do that to me too?
The answer is our second point.
       God is unchanging.

Malachi 3:6 says “For I, the Lord, do not change;”. James 1;17 tells us that the Father of lights does not change like the shifting shadows. Hebrews 13:8 says Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.
So the fact that God is unchanging means that the same God that allowed Jonah to be thrown into the ocean and sent a flood to destroy the earth is the same God that you and I serve today. He has not changed. If he wants to allow struggle and pain and hardships in your life, he will do it. If he sees fit to allow suffering to come upon you, for sickness and disease to ravage your body, he can do it. He has not changed.
But here’s the kicker: The same God that allowed Jonah to be thrown into the ocean is the same God that sent the whale to carry him safely to shore. The same God that allowed the earth to be destroyed by a flood also sent the ark to carry Noah’s family to safety. The same God that allowed sickness and disease and suffering and disaster to come to Job is the same God that (SPOILER ALERT!) will reveal himself in a mighty way to Job at the end of the book, restoring his home, his wealth and his family.
The same God that allows suffering and painis the same God that gives grace in the midst of it.

He is Sovereign.
He is unchanging.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Now listen and worship!  Sovereign and Blessed Be Your Name

A Purpose in Suffering

As we cracked open our Bibles this week to the Old Testament book of Job, some of our ladies began to ask some very thought-provoking questions. One asked how we could possibly know that word for word conversations between Job and his pals are exactly word for word. Was there a little court reporter sitting in the wings, typing all the dialogue? Another question arose about the sovereignty of God and why the Old Testament paints him in a sometimes terrifying way while the New Testament paints him in a more gentle, loving way. I love all of these questions because it means that we are digging deep in God’s Word, not just scratching the surface. If you’d like to study Job with us, I have plenty of extra books you’re welcome to purchase. It’s easy to follow along on the blog and study on your own! I hope you’ll join us in digging deep into this story of a righteous man who had everything stripped from him and had to decide if he would stick with God or turn away.

We started our study with the basic facts of Job. This book was most likely set in the time of the patriarchs – think Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Bible isn’t written in chronological order. If it were, Job would most likely be found early in between the first few chapters of the book of Genesis. Job and his peers lived in the land of Uz, which today is the northern portion of Saudi Arabia. While no one knows exactly who wrote it, it was probably passed down orally for a while before it was written down. (This is what birthed the question about the little court reporter!) We can’t discount the fact that all Scripture is literally God-breathed. Meaning, even stories that were passed down orally, like Job or the story of Creation itself, are the literal words of Almighty God. 1 Peter 1:21 tells us how these prophets were carried along by the Holy Spirit as they spoke and wrote the words of God.
The first and last sections of Job are written as prose, like a story being told. But the many chapters in between can be read as poetry. Many scholars believe that this is because of the way the book of Job was passed down orally over the generations. Poetry was easier to remember!
So why is this book included in the Scriptures? What purpose does it serve? There are several purposes. Old Testament Law was set up with a system of justice and fairness – an eye for an eye, if I kill your donkey, you can kill my donkey, etc. Job shows us that this is not always the case anymore- a new way is coming. We can never atone for our sins on our own – Someone would need to pay the price. This changes the whole system of “justice”. Second, the book of Job shows us the absolute sovereignty of God. Nothing that happened to Job happened without God specifically allowing it. Every single detail passed through his fingers before it came to Job. God is sovereign over all.
As we looked at Job 1:1-5, we discovered the character of Job – noble, upright, righteous, wealthy, rich, the greatest of all the people in the east. Job feared God and turned away from evil. And yet in the middle of his great worldly prosperity, Satan took it all away from him.
Before we go any farther, I want to acknowledge that many of you today are in the midst of painful situations. Maybe you’ve just gone through a painful time or maybe you’re in one now. If that doesn’t describe you then you can be sure that your painful time is coming. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know all the reasons for your pain and I’m certainly not trying to make assumptions about what you’re going through. If you’re hurting, I’m so sorry. I hope that our study of the book of Job will bring you comfort and encouragement.
As we read Scripture, we must remember that this is a book about GOD. Don’t read Job and immediately ask yourself how it relates to you. Instead, ask yourself “What does this say about GOD?” If we come at Scripture from this stance, it shines an entirely different light on every single thing, including suffering. Here’s what we can learn from the first chapter of Job. 
Your suffering has a purpose.
When it comes to suffering, there are two very similar purposes:
1.     Satan desires to destroy your faith.
2.     God desires to strengthen your faith.
When you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, your faith will either be strengthened or destroyed. Here’s the key: the direction your faith takes in suffering will depend largely upon the strength of your faith beforethe storm ever comes. That means the time you spend with the Lord now, when everything is fine, will have a large impact on the strength of your faith when trials come. The stronger your faith when things are going well, the stronger your faith will be when things are going badly. What will happen to your faith when the trials come? Will it be strengthened or destroyed? 
Another theme I see emerging in the book of Job is this:
Suffering always reveals who and what you worship.

Where is your treasure? In chapter one of Job, we see the most prosperous man in the east lose everything he holds dear. Yet in his grief, he worships. How can this be that in the midst of incredible pain and suffering, Job worshiped? This man valued God above his possessions, even above his children. He was ready to weather the storm because he had not put his possessions or his children or any other thing in the place that only God was meant to occupy in his heart. God was already on the throne of Job’s heart, so when everything fell away, Job’s faith in God remained steadfast.
That is not to say Job didn’t hurt. He tore his robes and shaved his head! He truly grieved over the losses he experienced. But in grieving the loss of his livelihood and his children, he didn’t sin. In his despair he remained true to the One who is Faithful and True.
As you read and study the book of Job, keep one thing at the forefront of your mind. This book, despite its name, is not about Job. This book is about God. What can we learn about His character through this book? Who is He? What are His attributes? What is He like? Why is He trustworthy?Remember, the whole Bible is about GOD and it was written so that we can know Him better. A benefit to knowing Him better is that we will rest in the shadow of his wings as the storms swirl around us.

I’d like to close with something from my own time with the Lord. Read Psalm 18. As you read this passage, ask yourself what this says about God. You’ll find so many attributes of our great God that I hope it will leave you hungry for more.

God’s Got This

Hard to believe this month we will see democracy at its finest moment as “We the People” take to the voting booth to cast our votes for the next President of the United States of America. To say this is a tumultuous time in our nation would be an understatement. But you know, every four years is “the biggest election we’ve ever experienced”. The path of our great nation continues or resets every four years. Some of those years have been our greatest moments and some would be considered only a small flicker of light. I remember Ronald Reagan as a young boy. I remember watching him, even though I really didn’t understand what all this political stuff meant at the time. He commanded attention and he was a great leader. I remember in 1986 when he spoke on the Challenger Shuttle explosion. He was my president then and at age nine, I knew it.
My parents played an informative role in my political views. They never missed a beat when it came to elections and they made sure I knew how and why they voted. They also taught me the meaning of Romans 13:1-7. That passage weighs heavy on my heart the closer we come to approaching November 8thand the change of power that will occur in January. For me to say that we have two virtuous people of character and high moral standing running for office would be…well…overstating the truth like a bass fisherman who caught a minnow but says he landed a 15 pound monster. I’ve heard many times over through the process, “This year, it is the lesser of two evils.” But that is not a great Biblical worldview approach to what we face. Evil is evil and it does not come in degrees or stages. What we have this year are two fallen people who profess one thing and do something completely different. Sound any different than people we’ve met in the Scriptures? Moses was a murderer, David an adulterer, Solomon loved too many women…yet God used each one of them.
Ultimately, this is how Paul weighs government authority in Romans 13:1-7. (Read it!) 
·      Everyone is to submit to the governing authority.  It is a command that Paul gives the church. To submit to the authority of the government is to submit to God.
·      There is NO authority except from God, and those who exist have been instituted by God. God is sovereign and His rule is sovereign in the affairs of this world.
·      To help illustrate Romans 13, Daniel concludes from King Nebuchadnezzer’s dream that God is in control, setting up and taking down kings to accomplish His perfect will. Daniel 2:27-44 &: Daniel 4:17-27
·      Paul wants you to understand that “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; He directs it like a watercourse wherever He pleases.” Proverbs 21:1. So the tyrant Roman Emperors (who were NOT Christian) like Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, had ascended to power with God’s permission, actually by His direction. According to Romans 13, they were even “instituted by God.” The three emperors mentioned above were the emperors most likely alive while Paul is writing Romans. Nero was notorious for burning Christians in his courtyard for light at night. Yet Paul can write Romans 13, and inform us to submit to the governing authority…interesting isn’t it?
So, however the election turns out, on November 9thwe, The Church, will carry on because Jesus will be on His throne, and all these issues we face today will one day be subject to Him and placed under His feet. So be encouraged, and do not let your soul be downcast.
But is there ever a time for rebellion? We do have precedent in Scripture that we can resist if the government ever decides to force us to act contrary to God’s will. In Acts 5:29 Peter stands and says, “We must obey God rather than men.” Peter was not defending marriage or the unborn or lower taxes or gun laws or free trade. Peter just wanted to share the gospel.
On moral issues and in life, we win when we share the gospel. The key to changing our nation is not a Christian in the White House, though that certainly would help. But what will change our nation is a consistent witness of the gospel with proclamation and life-style witness. What we say and what we do must match up and we do this with the power of the Holy Spirit as we surrender ourselves to God’s will.
So pray before you go and vote on November 8. But also pray after you vote! Pray and ask the Lord to stir and awaken the Church in the United States of America. Pray and ask that God will return to our Oval Office the characteristics of a Christ follower…but remember…man will always disappoint us, but for those who call on Jesus as Lord, we will not be disappointed.
I pray this has caused you to think a bit, and I hope you have prayed about your decision. I know I have agonized over this entire election cycle. But God’s got this…no matter what…God’s got this.
Dr Chris Irving
Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church of Gonzales

Redemption Received: Gomer’s Story

It may take you a few minutes to find the book of Hosea in the Old Testament, but I promise it will be worth the time to read it. Hosea isn’t one of those books we go to often, but the story we find there is a tale of love and redemption and the relationship between Hosea and Gomer will leave you in awe of the redemption God offers me and you. I really want you to read it for yourself – if you don’t have time for fourteen chapters and want to read the condensed version, just read this:


Hosea 1:2-10, 3:1-3, 6:1, 14:1-2    
Hosea was a prophet who lived and ministered sometime between 753BC and 687BC. He was a mouthpiece for the Lord during a time when people didn’t have Bible apps on phones in their pockets. God commanded him to marry a sexually immoral woman – a prostitute, an adulteress, a harlot. Probably not quite the match that Hosea was anticipating. He obeyed the Lord (willingly? bitterly? We don’t really know.) He took Gomer as his wife and together they had three children, Jezreel, “No Mercy” and “Not My People”. What names! It might’ve seemed to Hosea that he was being punished by the Lord with a harlot wife and children who weren’t loved. 
But God had another plan.
You see, Gomer’s life was not about her. Neither was Hosea’s about him. God wasn’t concerned with their happiness or their prosperity. He wasn’t bothered with their reputations, their social standing or their positions. Gomer and Hosea were put on this earth to illustrate the redemption story of God’s people. Gomer and Hosea point us to Jesus’s redemption of you and me. They were made for something bigger than themselves.
Hosea took Gomer for a wife but it wasn’t long before she went back to her old way of life. Promiscuity seemed more alluring to her than faithfulness. Most men would’ve washed their hands of such a “dirty” woman, but Hosea pursued Gomer. My favorite words in the whole book of Hosea are found in chapter 3, verse 2 when Hosea says, “So I bought her”. God told him to go get her back. She came at a price though and Hosea came ready to pay up. He bought her back from the pit she had chosen and redeemed her again. 
The whole idea that God loves us so much that he would find us in the midst of our sin, the pit that we have deliberately chosen, is an idea I have a hard time wrapping my head around. But just as Hosea paid the price to redeem Gomer, Jesus Christ has redeemed us on the cross by paying the price with his own blood. There’s nothing good in you or me that makes us worthy of such redemption and that’s the beauty of it. It’s a gift. Free. We can’t earn it and we don’t deserve it. Gomer didn’t deserve it, but Hosea bought her back. You don’t deserve it but Jesus bought you back.
Hosea 6:1 says,
Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.

The pit that you may find yourself in is not one that is too far to receive the gift of redemption. There’s nothing too bad, nothing too terrible that God will not redeem. He gave his only son, Jesus, so that he could pay the price for you, even while you were still in that pit. Don’t stay torn and struck down. Turn to him and he promises to heal you and bind you up. What a precious promise!
And keep in mind that your story is not about you. It’s all about Him and His redeeming love.

Oh Be Careful Little Ears: How Today’s Women are Being Deceived

Remember that little song from when you were a kid?

Oh be careful little ears what you hear,
Oh be careful little ears what you hear,
For the Father up above is looking down in love,
So be careful little ears what you hear!

There has never been a more important time for us to be careful with our eyes and our ears and our hearts than right now. There is a war being waged against us, but it’s not what we’re expecting. Most of us aren’t even in the battle.

I’ve never been real big on spiritual warfare – I’ve left that to the “fanatics” of Christianity for the most part. But I’ve noticed something lately that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. The war waged against us is absolutely not a struggle “against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

Now hear me out…

I’ve always been a big fan of our Christian sub-culture. I love Christian music, Christian literature, Christian movies and Christian conferences. But here lately, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of influences in this Christian sub-culture that are leading us astray and most of us don’t even recognize the subtly twisted truth we’re being fed.

I was listening to a Christian radio station last week that played a little testimonial recorded by one of its listeners. The woman told a story of how she was an “overcomer” because she had been poor and destitute, driving a beat-up old car and headed for certain demise, when she met a couple of pastors who later ended up giving her $50,000 for a Mercedes. The DJs praised God for the way this woman “overcame” her circumstances with her new car. Check 1 John for specific references to Scripture that address being an overcomer. Each time you’ll see that as believers we overcome sin and death and the evil one, not poverty and the lack of a car. It’s a slight twist of Scripture. Indeed, we are overcomers. But if you aren’t grounded in the truth of Scripture, if you don’t know what the Bible says, you’ll gain a terribly wrong perspective on this concept of overcoming.

Yesterday I watched a video posted on Facebook by a very prominent Christian author/speaker/blogger that many of my friends adore. It was a video taken at the “Belong” tour that just this year replaced the old “Women of Faith” conferences. What surprised me is that this video showed a band performing a decidedly secular song at this event. I really liked their sound, so I checked out their website to learn more. I was disappointed to see that (although they could be believers), there was no evidence on their website that the members of this group are followers of Jesus. Their music is secular and their message is secular. They claim to be very involved in volunteering in humanitarian causes, but never claim to be Jesus-followers.

That led me to wonder why a conference marketed to “Christian” women, following in the footsteps of “Women of Faith” would put a secular band on their main stage. (Please note here that I have absolutely no problem with secular bands in general and I have many on my own playlists.) Instead of choosing from all the many Christian bands with Scripturally sound lyrics, this conference chose to present a couple singing a catchy love song on the stage. I love catchy love songs. But on the stage of a “Christian” event? I was surprised they went that direction.

So I checked out the website for the “Belong” tour. I was super disappointed to find that the name of Jesus was only written on their website once that I could find (in Jen Hatmaker’s bio). The mission stated on the website is for every woman to know that she is not alone and that she matters. Much is made of women being their “true selves”, and there is no mention of the good news that Jesus offers to sinners. This message of mattering seems so good. And at the conference it is quite possible that they did point people to the message of Christ. (I don’t know – I wasn’t there!) But the definite message of Scripture in Luke 9:23 is that in order to follow Christ, the believer must deny herself, take up her cross and follow Jesus. As a Christ-follower there is no room for me to be true to myself. My self is full of sin. Instead of being true to myself, I need to deny myself and embrace the new creation that I am in Christ.

Here’s the problem I see with the radio station and the conference I referenced. Many of us have slowly and without realizing it, replaced our personal relationship with Jesus for things that look like “good, Christian” things. We read blogs and books and attend churches and conferences and listen to radio stations and albums that are meant to encourage us in our walk with Christ, but were never supposed to replace our relationship with him. We’ve been satisfied with these replacements of Scripture for so long that we hardly even notice when these things become more and more un-Christlike.

I certainly am not trying to say that K-Love is evil or Jen Hatmaker is leading us all astray. But if we are taking everything that we hear from the Christian sub-culture and its representatives as gospel truth, we need to reevaluate our spiritual lives. And upon reevaluation of our spiritual lives, if we find that we have neglected our own personal relationships with Jesus due to our acceptance of all other things claiming to be “Christian”, it is time to repent and change things.

2 Timothy 3 warns us that there are people who have the false appearance of godliness and will try to worm their way into the homes of weak women. Friend, don’t be that weak woman. Open your Bible. Search the Scripture. Refuse to fall victim to the subtle twists of the truth that are popping up throughout our Christian sub-culture.

Oh be careful little ears what you hear.

Click here to read more from me about 2 Timothy 3 and Weak Women and Worms.

PS – If you did attend the Belong tour or plan to, PLEASE let me know if the gospel of Jesus Christ is preached there. I pray that it will be!

Abide.


Have you ever tried to produce fruit without abiding in the vine?

I am the vine; <span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-26693J" data-link="(J)” style=”box-sizing: border-box; font-size: 0.625em; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;”>you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that <span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-26693K" data-link="(K)” style=”box-sizing: border-box; font-size: 0.625em; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;”>bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5
Today’s blog is going to focus on two things: producing and abiding.
PRODUCING.
Are you a Christ-follower? If you are, you should be producing fruit. The problem? Too many of us are producing fruit without abiding in the vine. That means we are producing spoiled, rotten, nasty fruit. It may look nice on the outside, but inside, the fruit is putrid. 
Think about fruit – not apples and oranges, but biblical fruit. Can you name them? Galatians 5:22 tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Each one of the fruits listed in Galatians 5:22 is a character quality that an even an unbeliever can possess. We’ve all known good, loving, patient, gentle people who have no relationship with Jesus Christ. So what makes this fruit of the Spirit different than plain old good character? I’m so glad you asked!
ABIDING.
Your good character qualities are not the fruit of the Spirit unless you are abiding in the Vine. Your faithfulness is just your faithfulness without the power of the Holy Spirit. Your goodness is just your goodness. And you may look good and faithful for a while. The things you do and say may look like fruit, but if you’re not abiding in the vine, your counterfeit-fruit will not last.
A few weeks ago, I decided to do what I thought was a really good thing. Let me tell you, I was about to produce some “beautiful” fruit. I just knew this fruit was going to really help a certain someone and it was going to give God some glory and it was going to just be really good fruit. Only it didn’t work out that way. Despite my good intentions, this fruit that I produced, that I thought looked so beautiful when I produced it, was totally rotten on the inside. I hurt someone that I really love, completely unintentionally, all in the name of producing fruit! At first I didn’t understand what had gone wrong. I thought I must’ve really misunderstood a prompting of the Holy Spirit because THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE GOOD FRUIT!
Then I opened my Bible.
I read,  “Abide <span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-26692I" data-link="(I)” style=”box-sizing: border-box; font-family: ‘Helvetica Neue’, Verdana, Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 0.625em; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;”>in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”
And just like that, I realized that I was producing my own fruit, completely apart from the vine, so it wasn’t actually even fruit at all. I hadn’t prayed, I hadn’t read Scripture, I hadn’t sought the Lord at all in this situation. I acted completely in my own flesh to produce imposter-fruit that looked sweet and fresh on the outside but was completely rotten on the inside because it had not grown on the Vine. Leave it to Scripture to show me my desperate need for a Savior!
Surely I’m not the only one. Have you ever done so much good that you thought “Surely God will be pleased with all of this good stuff I’m doing!” and then realized that it was all empty? That will happen when we produce our own fake-fruit. It fades so quickly. It leaves us empty. Sometimes it even hurts the ones we were hoping to help. 
Here’s the good news: This person that I hurt came right to me and told me I’d done some damage and then, get this, offered me immediate forgiveness. This person knew somehow that I didn’t mean to cause pain, but wanted to let me know I had so that it didn’t permanently hurt our relationship. Oh, I am so grateful.
So of course that made me think of our Father, who offers us forgiveness and reconciliation when we come to Him, admitting that all these GOOD things we’re doing without abiding in Him, are all for nothing. 
Make a quick mental list of all the good things you’ve done lately. I know most of my readers – you’re all pretty good people! I bet those lists could go on for miles. But in Philippians 3:7-9, Paul tells us, 
“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss<span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-NIV-29429M" data-link="(M)” style=”box-sizing: border-box; font-size: 0.625em; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;”> for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing<span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-NIV-29430N" data-link="(N)” style=”box-sizing: border-box; font-size: 0.625em; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;”> Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law,<span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-NIV-29431P" data-link="(P)” style=”box-sizing: border-box; font-size: 0.625em; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;”> but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness<span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-NIV-29431Q" data-link="(Q)” style=”box-sizing: border-box; font-size: 0.625em; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;”> that comes from God on the basis of faith.”
All that fruit-producing you’re doing on your own is garbage because your righteousness will never come from you. Your righteousness can only be found in Christ. Only in the work that He did on the cross. So friend, check your heart. Are you abiding DAILY in the vine, allowing Him to produce His fruit in you or are you super busy producing your own fruit?  As painful as it can be, allow the Vinedresser to prune the branches in your life that aren’t producing Holy Spirit Fruit. Decide now to abide in Him and just wait for His beautiful fruit to be produced in your life. 




Feeling Empty? Open Your Bible!

It’s the time of year I dread the most. I went out to my garage this morning to do some laundry and was almost instantly drenched in sweat. My kids have been running wildly (and oh-so-very-loudly) through the house playing hide and seek and I don’t have the heart to force them outside with a heat index of 114. By 9am, they were begging me for “something fun” to do and were sadly surprised to find that I am not their summer-entertainment-coordinator (which is actually what birthed the hide-and-go-seek game). Our calendar for June contained lots of fun things like Camp, Vacation Bible School and a trip to the beach, but July and August seem disturbingly empty, which only means many more slow days like this one are ahead. We’ll be checking things off of our summer bucket list, but even a trip to get a snow cone takes a mere 30 minutes, leaving me approximately eleven and a half blessed hours of the day to get through. I love my children with every breath in me and I try so hard to enjoy these fleeting years, knowing one day I’ll miss them. But I thrive on routines and schedules and the long, slow days of “nothing-to-do” really get to me. Honestly, I’m feeling pretty empty today.

So last week’s Open Your Bible group time really struck a chord with me when I read this quote,

“Don’t let your emptiness keep you from coming to the well. Come to the well to be filled.”

The story of the woman at the well in John 4 is not a new one for most of us, but I don’t think I’d ever read this one in this light before. If you haven’t read it yet, go now! This Samaritan woman was at Jacob’s well to draw water that would quench her thirst temporarily. Soon she would want more. But Jesus offered her his living water, a water that would satisfy forever.

The question was asked of us, “What would it be like to stop nourishing our lives with good intentions and empty wells?” Too many of us are looking for a drink of plain old tap water when the King of Kings is offering us his living water.

This week, make it a point to come straight to the source of God’s Living Water by opening your Bible. Any other attempt to satisfy your thirsty soul will leave you thirsty for more. John 4 would be a pretty good place to start – Go ahead, open your Bible!

The Glorious Revealing of our Glorious God: Open Your Bible Week Two

As we are working through the Open Your Bible series, there’s one topic that is covered in Week Two that I couldn’t let pass by without stopping for a bit to explain. (If you’re studying with us, check out page 20.)
I think that we’d all agree that God is pretty mysterious, right? You can live an entire lifetime growing closer to him and you’d only know just a small part of Him. He wants us to seek him and find him and know him more as he reveals himself to us.
First of all, a technical definition of the revelation of God is this:  an uncovering, a removal of the veil, a disclosure of what was previously unknown. More specifically, God’s manifestation of himself to humankind in such a way that men and women can know and have fellowship with him.

In real-life terms, God’s revelation is the way he shows himself to us in a way that we can know Him more and grow in our relationship with him. 
We’re going to go pretty deep for a few minutes, so brace yourselves! 
There are two generally accepted ways that God reveals himself to us. The first is through general revelation, also sometimes called natural revelation. This is when God reveals Himself to us through creation. Psalm 19:1 says “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” We stand in awe of God’s creation because it is tangible evidence of his existence and his care for us.  Romans 1:20 says “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” All of creation testifies and proclaims the glory of God.


The other type of revelation is called special revelation. While general revelation through creation is available to all people, God’s special revelation is a bit different. It is available to specific people at specific places and specific times. Let’s think of this type of revelation as having three stages.
The first is Jesus. God revealed himself to a specific group and number of people during a specific time period while Jesus walked the earth. This was very specific revelation. 
The second stage of revelation is Scripture. God has revealed himself through his written word, the Bible. Because Scripture is whole and complete and inerrant, we have everything that God intended to reveal to us at our fingertips on the pages of Scripture.
The third stage of revelation is the illumination brought by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit helps us understand the written words that God has given us on the pages of Scripture. 
Not many of us would disagree with the idea that creation proclaims the glory of God or that Jesus is the perfect revelation of God or that God has revealed himself to us through his Word. It’s that third stage that we tend to have differing views on – the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Here’s what I believe this part of God’s special revelation boils down to.
For Non-Believers: The first thing the Holy Spirit does for the non-believer is bring about a conviction of sin. If you’ve never given your life to Jesus, gotten saved, asked Jesus into your heart…If you’ve never made Jesus your boss, there’s no time like the present. I’d love to talk to you more about that and start with you on your journey hearing God speak to you and following Him in obedience.

For Believers: Have you ever read a passage of Scripture that you’ve read a hundred times before, only to read it the 101st time and learn something completely brand new? Have you ever had a teacher point out something from Scripture that you’d never realized before? The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to the truths of Scripture in new and fresh ways all the time. Sometimes you read something from Scripture that seems to apply exactly to the situation you are in at the time. This is the illumination that the Holy Spirit brings.
There will surely be those of you that disagree with me on this – and that’s ok! My beliefs line right up with the idea that God has revealed everything He is going to reveal in Scripture. The Holy Spirit illuminates and guides and confirms the Scripture but does not reveal anything new. It’s ok if you disagree as long as you can back it up with Scripture! 
John MacArthur teaches, “The orthodox teaching of Christianity has always affirmed that God’s special, saving revelation to mankind is restricted to the teachings of the Scriptures.” He also says, “Scripture is a closed system of truth, complete, sufficient, and not to be added to (Revelation 22:18–19). It contains all the spiritual truth God intended to reveal.”
I love the quote on page 22 of Open Your Bible by Kevin DeYoung. “You do not need another special revelation from God outside the Bible. You can listen to the voice of God every day. Christ still speaks, because the Spirit has already spoken. If you want to hear from God, go to the book that records only what he has said. Immerse yourself in the word of God. You will not find anything more sure.” 
I also love the Scripture referenced on page 27, 1 John 2:27. “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie – just as it has taught you, abide in him.” The question on page 27 says “Is it possible for a person to sit down by herself and be taught the truth from God’s Word?” I hope you answered with a FIRM YES. 

We (as believers) have every bit of God’s revelation at our disposal. We have his general revelation – all of creation. And we have his special revelation – Scripture illuminated by the Holy Spirit. We don’t need any other thing. We don’t need any book, blog, teacher, friend, pastor, article, prophecy or any other thing to help us understand who God is and what He wants us to know. We have everything we need at our fingertips in the complete, perfect Word of God. So I challenge you today to seek him and find him and know him more as he reveals himself to you!

The Surpassing Worth of Knowing Christ Jesus: Open Your Bible!

If you were to take stock of the number of Bibles in my home, I’m sure the number would be at least in the twenties. We’ve got the ESV, NIV, KJV, NASB, HCSB, The Message, children’s Bibles, New Testaments, study Bibles and Bibles on every computer and mobile device. I am a Bible teacher and I am married to a Bible preacher. I was born and raised with a Bible in my hand and could hold my own in any Bible drill or Scripture memory contest. I truly, honestly, totally LOVE God’s Word.

So WHY, oh WHY do I fail to read it every day?

Here’s the answer I’ve come up with (and it hurts): I just really don’t want to.

I have a feeling I’m not alone here. In fact, I know I’m not. I sat with two other precious, godly ladies in our Bible study group on Wednesday who confessed to the same sin. We don’t read our Bibles daily. We had a bunch of reasons, most of which revolved around young children in our homes and busy-ness and exhaustion. One even confessed that she set up a notification on her phone’s Bible app that reminds her each day to read her Bible, but she often swipes it away and heads to Facebook instead. She’s not alone either. I can relate.

In the interest of full disclosure: I haven’t read my Bible today. Right now cartoons are blaring from the tv and with four kids home for the summer, someone keeps needing something every few seconds. Kids. I usually fill my days with appointments and errands and mothering. Busy. I’ll go to bed and honestly I’m not sure if I’ll read before bed either. Tired.

When you sift through all of the lame excuses and get to the heart of this particular issue, you’ll find that the reason I don’t open my Bible every day actually has nothing to do with my kids or that I’m too busy or that I’m too tired. It’s that I value other things over God’s Word. Stupid things like social media and tv and chores and hobbies. Good things like my husband and children and church and home. Remember what Paul says about that?

Did you catch that? EVERYTHING is loss next to Jesus. The bad things and the good things – All are loss compared to knowing Jesus. That means those precious kids He has entrusted to me on this earth are LOSS compared with Jesus. The items on my to-do list are worthless next to Him. Every excuse I can come up with for not seeking to know Him more is absolutely stupid because none of them can explain away the fact that ultimately I just put everything else before Jesus. It kills me to type that out in black and white.

But as they say, the first step to healing is admitting you need help, right? So would you join me in this journey to open the Bible? I won’t get it right 100% of the time and neither will you. But if we can begin to take steps that bring us closer to Jesus, we will discover the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus. And just like Paul, I’m convinced that everything else is loss because of the worth of knowing Him.

So guess what I just did? I ignored the cartoons blaring and the steady stream of questions and needs from the kids. I put my to-do list aside for just a minute and I opened my Bible. Technically, I opened another window on my computer, but hey, it’s the Bible! Are you on the computer right now? Your phone? Your tablet? I bet if you take just a minute, you can switch over to the Bible too! So, my friend, no more excuses. OPEN YOUR BIBLE!

I’ll be blogging through our summer Bible study called “Open Your Bible” by Raechel Myers and Amanda Bible Williams. You can get a book from me any time if you’re local or you can order one to be shipped to your doorstep from this link right here! I’d love for you to check out the She Reads Truth page to read an excerpt from this week’s group time. It’s so so good. Find it here