Daily Archives: May 2, 2016

5 Ways to Know if You are Backsliding

Posted at Reformation Scotland:

Many think of backsliding as falling into open sin, a life of unrepentant wordliness or virtually departing from the faith. It may be that such, however, are only backsliding from a false profession and making this more apparent. Backsliding also includes falling back from certain truths, principles and standards. But we must be concerned about spiritual backsliding or backsliding in heart (Proverbs 14:14). It is dangerous because it is far more subtle. Failure to go forward and to grow spiritually means to slide back, because there is no standing still.

George Hutcheson gives practical teaching as to how we can identify spiritual backsliding. We need to test whether we are backslidden from what we have had, or might have had in the past or else from what others have attained. The following are some clear tests:

1. Lack of Growth.

Are you growing in grace? You must “beware lest…being led away with the error of the wicked” you “fall from your own stedfastness”. You must rather “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:17-18). There is no standing still in the Christian life. If there is no growth in fruit or in the root, there is no progress in sanctification. Lack of growth in putting sin to death and being humbled for your shortcomings, you are certainly someone who is backsliding.

2. Lack of Heart Religion.

Many need to test whether religion has transferred from their hearts to their heads. Some who were once full of sap, are now sapless. Those who had powerful impressions on their souls of the life and power of religion now only have bare, tasteless notions and speculations. Those whose progress has halted forget to consider the spiritual condition of their heart and how few close communications they share with God. How tasteless, sapless and lifeless to such are religion and religious duties! They have an understanding of misery and mercy, of sin and a Saviour; but it is like a dream. These are things they can consider without their hearts being moved at all or only very little.

Conrad Mbewe: “Let’s revive the lost art of Christian polemics.”

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The tragedy on today’s ecclesiastical landscape is the number of heretics who are thriving inside evangelicalism. They are having a field day and hardly anyone is raising a voice against them. Behind closed doors we all seem to agree that these “brethren” are spreading serious error. But as soon as the door opens and one of them walks in, suddenly, we seem to be unsure and would rather be silent for the sake of Christian love.

This begs the question, “How should we as Christians respond to the many wrong teachings that surround us, especially those serious heresies being propagated by people who are in the church?” This is an important question because we are living in days when the very nature of evangelical Christianity is being turned upside down. This is especially true because of those who are teaching what we call “the prosperity gospel” in its various shades…

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12 Ways to Sit at Jesus’ Feet (When You Have Neither Quiet Nor Time)

Despite our best plans, there are times when life gets chaotic. Before the birth of my kids, I found that practicing the spiritual discipline of sitting at the Lord’s feet was simply a matter of time management and will power. I was even a bit judgmental towards those who didn’t “make it happen.”

Then the kids came.

My first son had trouble gaining weight, and I had to adopt a wearying, around-the-clock feeding schedule. When he was four-months-old, we discovered we were expecting our second son – thirteen months after the first. My husband was a charter pilot at the time, working hard to build his hours, and was gone a lot. I was exhausted, and I quickly found out that no amount of time management or will power would allow my devotional life to look the way it did before.

Two Bible Stories

There are two stories that come to mind when I think about the idea of “sitting at the feet of Jesus.” The first is probably the most common association: the story of Martha and her sister Mary found in Luke 10. Martha invites Jesus into her home, but she is “distracted with much serving.” In contrast, Mary sits at the Lord’s feet, listens to his teaching, and is told that she has “chosen the good portion.” There were days as a young mom when this story haunted me. I wanted to cry out, “Lord, I want to sit at your feet and learn from you, but I can’t get a break from the serving!” Mary’s freedom to put aside the housework and sit and learn from Jesus seemed to me like an unattainable luxury.

But there is another story. I found comfort in knowing that Jesus’ followers faced a similar dilemma. When the disciples were with Jesus in his ministry around Galilee, we read in Mark 6:31 how “many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” How relieved they must have felt when Jesus says to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). Time away alone with Jesus? Away from these needy crowds? Yes, Lord! Let’s leave now!

When Plans Change

But things didn’t work out that way. They went away in the boat to the desolate place, only to find it swarming with five thousand men with women and children. So instead of quiet rest, they had another day of ministry. I can just hear the exasperation in their voices as they ask Jesus at the end of the day to “send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat” (Mark 6:37). That same exasperation can be heard in my voice: “Okay, Lord, the kids are all in bed, the dishwasher is loaded, I’m ready to spend time with you…just us.” Then someone throws up, or a friend calls in a crisis, or the dishwasher floods the kitchen. No rest now. There’s more work to do.

After serving the crowds their food, Jesus “made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd” (Mark 6:45). I can only imagine the disappointment in the disciples faces. What happened to the quiet rest? The precious one-on-one time they were hungering for?

Looking back, they got something better. They heard his teaching (Mark 6:34). They prayed with him (Mark 6:41). They got to serve alongside Jesus as he performed one of the greatest miracles of his earthly ministry (Mark 6:42). And they sat with Jesus and with the people who Jesus loved (Mark 6:39). They ate with Jesus, and they walked away with a personal basket full of broken pieces of bread and fish (Mark 6:43). After he sent them off in the boat, dismissed the crowd, and went up to the mountain to pray, he displayed his glory as he walked out on the water toward them (Mark 6:48).

That long day, over two-thousand years ago, was hectic and tiring and, by all appearances, did not go as planned, but the disciples sat with Jesus, broke bread, were witnesses to his glory, and were changed forever.

12 Ways to Sit at Jesus’ Feet

Yes, Mary chose the good portion, and when I have a choice, quiet time with the Lord is a priority to me. But when that is not possible, I’ve learned that “sitting with Jesus” is still his desire for me, it can happen when there is no time to sit, and when there are too many voices interrupting the quiet.

The key, for me, has been fostering an attitude of discipleship in the midst of the chaos, and an eye to search out the community of believers who can help me. If my heart is teachable, if my ears are open to hear truth, I can learn from Jesus in many different scenarios—as can you, weary disciple!

Here are 12 ways to sit at the feet of Jesus, none of which require a designated “quiet time”:

1. Go to church.

It may sound simplistic, but worshiping with a community of believers that have committed themselves to the Lord and to each other has been the most instrumental means of encountering Christ I have experienced. When I’m tired and stressed, I need to go to church.

2. Learn from good friends.

I often ask my good friends what God is teaching them through his Word. A heart eager to sit at the Lord’s feet asks, “How is the Lord guiding and instructing my brothers and sisters? Could what they are learning apply to me as well?”

3. Attend Bible study in any state of preparation.

I can think of no better place for the weary servant than in the company of believers, with the Bible open on our laps, learning together from the Lord. I’ve learned to humble myself and admit that I don’t always have it all together, which frees me to receive the benefits of study from those who have come prepared.

4. Pray in community.

I’ve learned to take full advantage of the prayer time I do have, at meals, before school, and during my kids’ bedtime. My children often tease me that I pray longer for dinner than anyone they know, but there is no rule that routine prayers have to be short and formulaic. I’ve also enjoyed a regular meeting with other moms from my children’s school. We pray, often interrupted, while the little ones play, but I leave refreshed, knowing I have just spent time in the presence of the Almighty.

5. Pray Scripture.

While we should be cautious about praying with vain repetition, I have found great comfort in short prayers in Scripture (“Lord, save me!” from Matthew 14:30; “Repent and believe in the gospel” from Mark 1:15; “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” from Luke 18:13) and long prayers (Psalm 119; Ephesians 1:15-23; Colossians 1:9-14).

6. Worship as a family.

I often use a Bible reading plan written by Robert Murray M’Cheyne, which has daily readings for both “secret” and “family.” The ideal day would contain both. The un-ideal day may include just one. I’ve grown to love reading the Bible with my family, as there is great joy in “sitting at the Lord’s feet together.

7. Commune through the Lord’s Supper.

There is a reason this ordinance is called communion. In the most chaotic seasons of my life, I’ve grown to cherish it deeply. There is something so tangible and real and gospel-centering about the wine and the bread. I’ve let the congregation “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” for my benefit, and listened and learned from Jesus through it.

8. Create a plan for the little time available.

I’ve learned it is helpful to be accountable to some kind of plan for sitting at the Lord’s feet, especially when time is limited. For me, this has included Bible reading plans, weekly homework from a community Bible study, small group prep work. I don’t use idle time well, so it is best not to leave my devotions open-ended. Likewise, when I am afforded more time, I’ve found it helpful to memorize longer passages of Scripture to “stock the shelves” of my mind for moments when I can’t read it myself.

9. Read or listen to the Bible wherever possible.

With the benefits of a smartphone, it is possible to read God’s Word while waiting for the dentist, to listen while driving, or to do both while in the bathroom. The hungry need to look for food where they can find it.

10. Meditate on one verse at a time.

I’ve found that mindless activities like folding laundry, walking the dog, washing the dishes, or exercising are perfect moments to ponder and reflect on verses I know by heart. Prayerfully asking the Lord for understanding, I’ve found some of my most memorable spiritual “ah-ha” moments to be in very unorthodox settings.

11. Listen to expository sermons.

Sermons that seek to draw meaning and application directly from the scriptures have been a huge means of God’s grace in my life, and, with the gift of technology, we don’t have to limit our weekly sermon intake to Sunday mornings. Like the difference between a salad and a smoothie, I know it’s good for me to chew and swallow the deep things in God’s Word on my own, but when I can’t, I’m grateful for those who have put it all in a glass for me.

12. Sing Scripture, especially the Psalms.

One of the benefits of having young children is the exposure I’ve had to the wonderful Scripture-based music that is available now. From Sunday school and VBS songs to the Seeds Family Worship CDs, it’s easier than ever to soak in truth and lift praises unto the Lord wherever you are.

Ten years after the birth of my first child, I’ve learned there are days when the concepts of “quiet” and “time” are nowhere to be found. I’ve also learned that, no matter what the day holds, the promise of James 4:8 remains: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” When the desire of my heart is to “choose the good portion” and learn from my Lord, he is faithful to teach me in many capacities.

In what other ways do you sit at Jesus’ feet?

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GTY: Answering Tough Questions About Forgiveness

Luke 17:3-4

Code: B160502

by John MacArthur

Forgiveness can be very hard to grant—even Christians commonly wrestle with it. I am convinced that many, if not most, Christian counseling sessions are related to struggles with forgiveness. It is a subject that does pose difficult questions. Today, we’ll consider some of the major ones.

What is the difference between true repentance and a mere apology?

Genuine repentance always involves a confession of wrongdoing and a willingness to make things right. An apology often takes the form of an excuse.

The word apology comes from the Greek apologia, which literally means “a speech in defense of.” Apologies are often nothing more than self-defense: “I’m sorry if you took offense, but . . . .” Genuine repentance is properly expressed in an admission of wrongdoing and a plea for forgiveness: “It was unloving of me to say that. Will you forgive me?”

Be wary of using merely apologetic language in place of genuine repentance.

Is repentance necessary for forgiveness?

There are some sins for which forgiveness is completely unconditional. In Galatians 6:1 Paul wrote, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” The idea conveyed by the word “caught” is that the person was caught unawares or trapped by the sin; that it was not premeditated.

Jesus had the same kind of sin in mind when He said, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions” (Mark 11:25). There is no mention of seeking out the offending person; the forgiveness is immediate and then prayer can continue. For such unplanned, unintentional lapses into sin the principle that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8) applies, because love “does not take into account a wrong suffered” (1 Corinthians 13:5).

But there are some sins that are to be forgiven only if the sinner repents. These are willful, premeditated, habitual sins, sins that have become the pattern and direction of the sinner’s life. These are the sins that call for the church discipline set forth in Matthew 18. Yet even these sins, when there is genuine repentance, are to be fully and freely forgiven.

In cases where there is no repentance on the part of the perpetrator, what is most important is that bitterness does not gain a foothold in the heart of the victim. There are times when you may not get the chance to profess or demonstrate forgiveness because of a remorseless wrongdoer. But you can maintain a forgiving disposition in your spirit and move on in life free from longings for vengeance and vindication. Too many people go through life crippled by resentment and their determination to cling to it.

How should we handle repeat offenses?

Jesus answered this question expressly in Luke 17:3–4: “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” Again, our forgiveness is supposed to be lavish, enthusiastic, eager, freely offered, and unconstrained—even for repeat offenders. After all, we are all repeat offenders against God.

What if you think the offender’s “repentance” is a sham?

Jesus’ words in Luke 17:3–4 are problematic for some. One author paints a hypothetical scenario based on that passage where an offender intentionally punches an innocent person in the nose. After the first offense, the offender asks for, and receives, forgiveness. Moments later, in another unprovoked attack, he punches the same person in the nose a second time. The cycle is repeated a third time, and a fourth, and so on, with the bully professing repentance each time and the victim granting forgiveness each time.

But that is far too wooden an interpretation of Jesus’ words. Our Lord was not suggesting that the disciples should throw discernment out the window when it comes to evaluating a person’s repentance. Nothing in the context of Luke 17:3–4 suggests that the offense Jesus had in mind was deliberate or that the repentance was feigned.

In fact, it is important to be wary of feigned repentance in cases like the hypothetical one just described. Such deliberately repeated offenses, especially when accompanied by phony repentance, are evidence of a profoundly evil character and a cynical hatred of the truth. John the Baptist was justified in refusing baptism to the Pharisees until they showed the reality of their profession of repentance (Matthew 3:8).

Nonetheless, even after multiple offenses, the offended person must be prepared to forgive—eager to forgive—unless there remains some very compelling reason to doubt the offender’s profession of repentance. Even the hardest and most deliberate offender should never be permanently written off; rather, complete forgiveness and reconciliation should remain the offended person’s goal.

To whom should we confess our sins?

Confession of guilt must always be made to God. Confession is also owed to whomever our sin has injured. The arena of confession should be as large as the audience of the original offense. Public transgressions call for public confession; private sins should be confessed to God alone.

Only actual injuries require confession of a wrong. It would be inappropriate for a man who had a lustful thought to confess that thought to the woman who was the object of his lust. Confession in such cases should be made only to God.

That does not, however, rule out confession in every case where the victim is unaware of the offense. If you have quietly slandered someone, that person may be unaware of the offense. Nonetheless, the offense is real. It needs to be made right not only with those who received the original slander, but also with the person who was slandered, even if that person is not yet aware of the offense.

Should I confess my unfaithfulness to my wife, even if telling her about it may hurt her more than keeping it a secret would?

There is no doubt that in some cases confessing a sin may cause as much hurt as the offense itself. Nonetheless, I believe that in all cases the unfaithful party in a marriage relationship broken by adultery should confess the sin to his or her spouse.

Why? For one thing, it takes two people to commit adultery. The other party in the sin already knows about the offense. It compounds your unfaithfulness to share a secret with your cohort in sin but keep your spouse in the dark. The lack of total openness—the need to hide things and keep secrets—will continue to be a barrier to the proper unity of the marriage. Something as serious as a breach in the marital union cannot be repaired if the truth must be kept from your marriage partner. Failure to confess simply compounds lying and cover-ups. That sort of thing will eventually destroy the relationship, whether or not the adultery is repeated.

As difficult as it may be for both you and your spouse, you must deal honestly with a sin like this. If the offended spouse discovers the sin through other means, the hurt that is then caused will be drastically increased. You owe it to him or her to confess.

When is restitution appropriate?

Whenever an actual loss has been caused by a wrong, restitution is certainly appropriate. The granting of forgiveness for the guilt of the offense does not automatically nullify the need to make reparations, especially when the injured party’s loss is quantifiable. Whether the loss was caused deliberately (as in a theft) or accidentally (through some form of negligence), restitution should be made.

In some cases tangible restitution is impossible, and yet reparations need to be made. Lies should be confessed and the truth communicated at least as widely as the lie was. Slander needs to be corrected by a sincere effort to restore the offended person’s reputation and honor.

Restitution in all such instances begins with a humble confession of the wrongdoing and a willingness to do whatever is reasonable to right the wrong.

Is the forgiver obligated to forget the offense?

“Forgive and forget.” The expression has attained the status of a cliché, but is it true and biblically sound? Yes and no. There is obviously no way to purge the memory of an offense. And the more severe the offense, the more difficult it may be to keep the memory from coming to mind.

I’ve heard people suggest that God forgets our sins when He forgives. They usually cite Hebrews 8:12 (cf. Hebrews 10:17): “I will remember their sins no more.” Or Isaiah 43:25: “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”

But those verses don’t say God forgets our sins. They say He will not remember them. What’s the difference? To forget something is to have no memory of it. Obviously God, who is omniscient, has not lost His memory of our transgressions. Rather, He refuses to call them to mind. He promises not to bring them up.

And that is exactly what is involved in forgiveness. It is a promise not to remind the person of the offense.

(Adapted from The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness and The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Luke 11–17.)


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U-turn: a difficult spiritual maneuver – The Cripplegate

uturnEvery man feels like he’s a good driver. But there is one maneuver that is challenging to perform, even for the most skilled driver: the U-turn. Most men will avoid this humiliating admission of fallibility at all costs, leading to some lengthy and circuitous routes as we choose providence over cartography to guide us to the elusive destination.

The help-meet God gave male drivers is the GPS navigation system. It’s a cool gadget which tricks our egos into believing it’s manly to listen to a British woman tell us when and where we need to turn.

I was once driving from Napa to the San Fernando Valley, which is a straight shot on a major freeway. But I dutifully activated my GPS, just to be safe. The lady’s voice confirmed that I was getting on the correct freeway; then she kept quiet for six hours, lulling me into a false sense of security. Suddenly she piped up that it was time to take the next exit. But what GPS lady did not realize was that by now I was in a part of the city which I recognized, so her services were no longer necessary. I turned the volume off and kept driving, as captain of my car.

After about 15 minutes I no longer knew where I was. I sheepishly turned the volume back up. The lady was calmly telling me to make a U-turn. I detected a twinge of smugness in her serene imperative. I figured she was still trying to get me back to that exit, but that was way behind me now, so she obviously didn’t know what she was talking about. I ignored her and looked for the next exit, which never came. Eventually I looked carefully at the digital map and realized that the only way back was the humiliating U-turn. I obeyed every following instruction right until I heard her self-satisfied words “Arriving at destination.”

In the third chapter of Jonah 600,000 gentiles do what I should have done: the moment they are told to, they make an instant U-turn.

We can tweeze out of this narrative four examples on which we can model our repentance.

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