Women Embracing Faith

Thinking Through the Bible

Summer Thoughts June 13, 2011

Filed under: devotional — womenembracingfaith @ 6:55 am

It is important to remember that getting the main point from a scripture passage enables us to apply that book or passage correctly. Application gives life to these old words. The Holy Spirit uses these principles like a sword to pierce deeply into our thoughts, hearts, bodies–our very essence. Let’s meditate on some practical implications from the books we’ve studied together: Galatians, Philippians, Isaiah. Some thoughtful reviewing never hurts….

Every period in life has its tribulations. Each day has enough for us to deal with. That is why we’re encouraged not to worry about tomorrow, but to ask God to take care of us today…Give us this day what we need. What do you need today to stand firmly together as Galatians and Philippians encourage us to do?

Personal joy in the midst of your trials?

This kind of joy comes only from our relating with a loving and faithful Father. If you are seeking this unique joy, think about what kind of Father God is….. He powerfully created this beautiful world for us to enjoy….and he sustains and keeps it all holding together in spite of Satan’s prowling around and the sin that weighs down upon us all. He has provided a wonderful Savior and a righteousness to us that we do not deserve or earn….just a free gift. ” Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name in all the earth, as it is in heaven.” Someday the whole earth will sing for joy as God redeems his creation–buys it back and, in justice, purifies it from all sin and its consequences. What a day of rejoicing that will be! Just thinking about it can give us joy during very bad everyday problems. “Rejoice in the Lord, and again I say, rejoice,” Paul urged. He did not mean “think positively about your problems.” That might be helpful at one level, but spiritual joy is different. It comes with relating.

This kind of thinking about rejoicing in spite of today’s problems is one way to stand firm together. Help someone to do that today.

 

Summer Reading: Galatians and Philippians May 31, 2011

Filed under: Galatians,Philippians — womenembracingfaith @ 4:26 pm

A nice way to spend a summer evening.

Perhaps you’d like to read Galatians and Philippians, along with my commentary, this summer. You can print all the lessons on each by scrolling down categories; then right click to print. The lessons print from the most recent to the first–backward. Just start at the end to get to the beginning.

Both these books will help you deal with your church relationships. Perhaps that is just what you need right now. The main application of both books is an encouragement to stand firm.

In Philippians, Paul urges us to stand firm together through our personal joy in the Lord. That is why there is much about rejoicing in that book.

In Galatians, Paul urges us to stand firm on justification by faith alone while maintaining a loving spirit with others.

What does standing firm look like to you?

The “together” and the “loving spirit” are sure important parts of this. They have helped me stick it out with the local church as my husband and I have sought to understand the gospel and to find a group committed to it. Both books need to be read with these principles in mind, instead of separating oft-repeated verses from this theme of standing rooted, grounded, balanced, TOGETHER FOR THE GOSPEL.

 

Catechism? How Old Fashioned Is That? May 12, 2011

Kate and William were married in Westminster Abbey.

 In 1649, “The Westminster Confession of Faith” was adopted by an assembly of Protestant clergy who agreed on this summary of the Bible’s teachings. The House of Commons called for the meeting and set forth the task and then approved their work. They met in a room adjacent to where the Royal Wedding was held. If you go to this link, you can see all about the Abbey and the Jerusalem Room: http://www.westminsterabbey.org

A larger and a shorter list of questions and answers were written as a teaching tool so these statements could more easily be understood. The idea was to teach the Scriptures through this question and answer method. It worked well for centuries. We have quit using this method. Could it be a tool we could pick up again?

James Packer, an Anglican theologian, believes it is time we picked it up again. I do too. The teaching technique is to ask a “closed” question that requires a specific answer. These are not questions designed to get the preschooler thru teenager to think deeply and creatively. There is a specific answer that is “right.” It is a method useful for conquering bodies of material. For instance, I used this same method to teach high school government and history. “What year did the War Between the States end?” Who led the Army of Northern Virginia? Whose murder contributed to the beginning of World War I?” At first, the seniors thought it was a joke. I was only in my early 20’s and looked younger, so they thought the whole class was going to be a joke! It all worked out in the end and they learned what “oral recitation” required. Just a few minutes a day—of terror for some; a joke for others. Later we would work on thinking logically and creatively.

That was a long time ago! I would still use it today. In fact, I use the method every Sunday with my pre-school Sunday School class. We have twelve Catechism Questions to learn during the year. They are simplified versions of the Westminster Catechism that Dr. Packer advocates.

Here are some sample questions from the Shorter Catechism:

“In how many persons does this one God exist? In three Persons.” (Great Commission Publications for Toddlers).

“Is any man able, either of himself, or by any grace received in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God? No man is able, either of himself, or by any grace received in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God; but doth daily break them in thought, word, and deed.” (Shorter Catechism, #149).

You get the idea, don’t you? If you are a Baptist, “The 1689 London Confession” would be very helpful for you. I found it very useful to have copies of both around the house. Look for them in old bookstores or online at Albris.com. Once, I found Luther’s Catechism in an old store in a small midwest town. He was also known for his relationship with kids. I always used the ones with scripture verses to back up each section so I could look it up myself. I’m not very structured and the churches we attended never used catechisms and my girls went to secular schools so we never memorized many of the questions and answers. But, hopefully, they remember some and know the principles behind them, and how to look them up when a question arises.

KEEP YOUR TOOLS HANDY

Figure out a way you could use catechism. Talk it over with your friends. I think this teaching tool will really help, but we have to pick it up and use it. Does it really matter that some might consider it “old-fashioned?”

My book Old Paths for Little Feet has a chapter on tools to keep handy. ( See pages 101-105.) You can purchase it at http://www.cvbbs.com.

 

The Best Wedding Dress Of All May 2, 2011

Filed under: applications,Galatians,Isaiah — womenembracingfaith @ 11:38 pm
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The Bible is written, like all good literature, with lots of similes and metaphors. Visual images to help us remember spiritual principles. As you think about The Royal Wedding of Kate and William, think about this:

“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations (Isaiah 61:10-11).

Galatians has taught us that the gospel dispels all our notions of being good enough to be accepted by God. Paul’s argument is that noone can keep the law perfectly enough. Princess Catherine and Prince William can never have a perfect enough life together to earn salvation in the end. Even royalty must relay on faith in Christ Jesus. No one’s deeds will ever cut it. The history recorded in the Old Testament vividly shows this. Salvation is by “hearing with faith–just as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Galatians 3:5-6).

It is important to your spiritual health to realize this righteousness is “counted” to you. You have been dressed up in pure deeds, thought, desires just as Kate and William were attired in such beautiful clothes for their wedding. Paul explains this as “imputed righteousness.” It is “alien” to us; foreign to our human nature. It is something we must put on. The clothes are all laid out before you. They are the perfect life, motive, desires of Jesus. In Romans 4, Paul even quotes a Psalm to explain this “covering:”

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blesssed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin” (Psalm 32:1-2 quoted in Romans 4:5-8).

So remind yourself of this principle when your conscience condemns you, sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly. When you’ve lied about your mother-in-law; snapped your husband’s head off; blew up at the kids again; failed to train your children. Turn from your sin and rejoice in the righteousness of Christ Jesus. The rejoicing is important. What you rejoice about is crucial. It is not all about you. It is not your being perfect that saves you. Isaiah wrote that God takes delight in his people who are so dressed up (see chapter 62).

Of course, these clothes do not give you a license to sin, to do whatever you wish, to be self-absorpted. Instead, thinking about the righteousness and sacrifice of Jesus is to lead to praise and thankfulness–to a song in your heart. What are you singing today?

Or are you seeking to dress yourself in doing better than some do, not lying TOO much, staying sexually pure except for those little thoughts every now and then, etc etc. Paul tried all that, you know. Working himself into heaven by keeping laws. He was tripped up by his covetous thoughts, and then realized he really did need a Savior and these clothes.

As you remember this principle, the focus becomes more on God than on you. It is Jesus who has bought these beautiful clothes for you. God will even cause you to praise Him….to be thankful He delights in you. Your responsibility is to rejoice in Him. Here is where knowing the doctrine and thinking about it affects how we feel, as well as what we do. Jesus’ purity and perfect fulfilling of the law is the best wedding dress of all. Even more exquisite than Kate’s.

 

The Importance of Context To Application April 25, 2011

Filed under: applications,Galatians — womenembracingfaith @ 2:19 pm
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READING GALATIANS
Please read Galatians 5-6

It’s hard to take a fresh look at familar passages that have been misused and misinterpreted. This is certainly one of those. I’m writing this blog chiefly for women who want to think as they read the Bible. Not to toss out feelings, behavior, life and heart issues but to figure out the doctrine first and then apply it to all those areas. Doctrine first; then experience.

Doctrine simply means “teachings.” This includes looking for what the Bible says about its major themes of redemption and God’s gracious sovereignty. Over the last thirty years, I’ve heard a lot of things taught from these chapters that violate looking at the theme of Galatians and that of the Bible as a whole. This omission has resulted in jumping into subjects that are not covered in this letter. It has been said that John Calvin had the ability to go as far as a passage allowed, and remain quiet on what was not clear. To be silent where the scripture was silent. Failure to do that has led many into applying “stretches of the truth,” leading to mistakes in application to the heart and life. It is hard to put those teachings out of our mind when we study a passage for ourselves.

This is our eighth lesson on Galatians. By now, saying that Justification by Faith Alone is the theme of this book is redundant. It’s clear, isn’t it? So any application made here must relate to this theme. In chapter 5, Paul does get into application. He is telling them to be careful how they stand up to false teachers. To watch their own attitudes and words and actions. He wanted them to be led by the Holy Spirit and to note the difference between Christian behavior and that of the person who doesn’t have the hope and promise of the Spirit’s presence (Galatians 5:15-26). The promise of the Holy Spirit’s work in their life has been a sub-topic all along, and he gets into the Spirit’s work in our lives toward the end of chapter five. But, this is not a treatise on sanctification or how we are made more holy in this life. It is in the context of how to act and be while standing firmly on the doctrine of justification.

Taking verses out of context, isolating them so to speak, can lead to major error. “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14). This is a classic one to take out of this context on justification. It has been used over the years by those who sever the Old Testament from the New. “You’re not under the law,” they say. “You are freed from all that. We live in a different time, a new dispensation. Just listen to the Spirit; he will lead you to do what is right.” Now you know this passage is about not adding one little thing to what Christ Jesus has done on the cross for us, not about whether the Old Testament is useful for today or not. In fact, Paul uses the Old Testament examples to prove his points about Justification by Faith. To tell us to belittle the Old Testament into just a historical book of the Jews violates even using it like Paul did here. But, to say you can do what you feel like is also way out of context.

Another frequently mis-used verse is, “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal. 5:18). His point is to encourage us not to gratify our own desires while standing firm on the gospel. He is not counseling us to toss out the Old and do what we wish in a new era. But, if you take that verse out of the chapter and quote it, you could conclude that all you need now for life and Godliness is the Spirit’s leading disregarding the Old Testament or even the Ten Commandments.

Paul tried to make the point here that in standing up to false teachings we need to be very careful and watchful of ourselves. Not to seek gratification of our own desires (such as a desire to look smart), but to think of others and to remain kind, gracious, providing for gospel teachers, doing what is good. Christians have the hope of being gradually renewed by the Spirit, but these warnings about sin are very real. The Bible’s themes of Renewal and Redemption are a backdrop to Galatians’ theme of justification through faith alone. One day the universe would be renewed back to how He created it in the first place. But, in the meantime, we need to be carefui how we act, think, and what we desire–even when opposing wrong teaching. He acknowledged how the need for grace remains even though we have the promise and hope of the Spirit. Paul ended this letter on that note: “Grace …be with your spirit..”

My reason for bringing all this up is I want you to think as you read the Bible. To reconnect with historical Christianity and the faith of the Apostles. Don’t take a verse out of its context, memorize it, and then use it as a sword against others or yourself. Instead, do your best to grasp the meaning of the writer before you apply the passage to how you feel, think, act, worship, live. Spiritual experience follows right thinking, not the other way around.

Paul wrote Galatians five to seven years before he wrote to the Romans. His theme in Romans is the same as Galatians, and just as clear. That is why Martin Luther was so struck by the contrast between his works-oriented Catholicism and Justification by Faith Alone as he read Romans. There is more detail in Romans, and a careful study of it would benefit you now after this Galatian study. May I recommend Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ multi-volume set or one book from it?

I hope these lessons on Galatians profited you. Perhaps a reading of Matthew Henry’s commentary on Galatians would help you with your applications. He died before getting to Galatians, but a group of like-minded men followed his technique and finished the New Testament for him. It has been widely used since the early 1700’s.

My belief is that we, as Christians, do best when we study a specfic book while we are reading other portions of Scripture. That is why I like the system of Bible reading put out by Banner of Truth. You have to adapt it to your current lifestyle and pressures and do what you can. But, this system works to help you think and feel and apply as you read.

 

Living With Promise and Hope April 19, 2011

Filed under: Galatians — womenembracingfaith @ 5:56 am
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READING GALATIANS

Read 5:13-6:10

Don’t you think most people would say they would like a life of freedom, hope, and promise? Paul’s defense of the gospel includes an appeal to these universal longings of us all. Justification by faith is, he wrote, a call to liberty. We are free from the necessity to prove we are good enough to make it to heaven. I am reminded of another old hymn, “Nothing to the cross I bring;simply to the cross I cling.” He urged these churches in Galatia to stand together on this freedom, and not allow anything to be added to the gospel. Otherwise, they are obligated to keep all the Old Testament laws perfectly and they will fail in that, and thus, lose their liberty. “Live like free men, not slaves,” he said.

All along he has reminded them of Jesus’s promise of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 3:14). They are to not only live like Issac, a free, rich man, but they are to live as children of the promise. They are to live as children of Abraham, even though none of them were Jewish. “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness” was both a promise and hope for them. “All other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand…” Christ is the Rock on which we stand. He give promise of righteousness and hope of eternal life. And now, as Christians, they had the additional promise that the Holy Spirit will encourage, enlighten, guide, and strengthen them (John 15:26-16:10).

But, wait. Now he gave them a warning:

Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word:’You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But, if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another (Galatians 5:13-15).

Ah…here is the rub. If they weren’t careful, they would go after these false teachers with a vengence, and instead of acting with love and kindness, they would “bite their heads off.” Then, people would take sides, provoke one another, envy others, and strife would be the order of the day. Things would quickly get out of hand. There was an orderly way to stand firm, Paul said. It was to not listen to those twisting the gospel, to realize how false teaching would spread, and to support scriptural teachers and share with them. After all, they were to live as people who had these promises of righteousness, eternal life, and help from the Holy Spirit. They were not slaves to their sinful desire to have their own way and pre-eminance over others. If they continued to live as free people who were led by the Holy Spirit to love others, they would see themselves acting in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness ….. (Galatians 5:22). And this would give them even more liberty, promise, and hope.

DO YOU LIVE IN LIBERTY, WITH PROMISE AND HOPE?

This passage is chiefly about life in the community of the local church. But, we can apply it to our family life as well. There is a sense of standing up for the gospel in our immediate and extended family. Of cultivating a climate of freedom to believe in the promises and hope of the Scripture–even if others disagree. But, always acting and speaking with gentleness, kindness, love, and, of course, self-control and putting up with one another. You are free to be led by the Spirit, to sow the seeds of spiritual things, instead of always tending to rivalries between children, divisions between in-laws, someone’s controlling the family by fits of anger or drunkenness, or even sexual immorality. God will give your spirit grace through His Spirit.

What would sowing spiritual seeds look like in your family? Could you regain a spirit of liberty and hope as you stand on the promises?

“The north wind brings forth rain, and a backbiting tongue, angry looks. It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife (Proverbs 25:23-24).

As Paul asserted with confidence, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers.”

 

Standing On the Promises April 14, 2011

Filed under: Galatians — womenembracingfaith @ 4:39 am
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READING GALATIANS

Please read Galatians 4:8 to 5:12

Galatians was written in the late 40’s, probably 48-49 A.D. The gospels had not been written yet, nor any of the other Pauline letters. It is a defense of the gospel. As we have clearly seen, Paul was trying to show that salvation and eternal life cannot be earned in any way; it is free to those who discover they have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. No one can keep all the laws of the Old Testament, or even the Ten Commandments which Jesus applied to our hearts and thoughts. Paul showed how futile it was to expect any act or ritual to be complete or good enough to earn us the right to be in a relationship with God. He used both their experiences as pagans, (worshiping the gods of their imagination and participating in astrology), and the biblical example of the Old Testament laws to show the futility of ritual or rules providing salvation. This letter is a defense of the good news that God has all along had a purpose and plan for our salvation through faith in Christ Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection and what these accomplished. He wanted them to stand firmly on this promise and hope.

To make sure they understood this, he used the Old Testament story of Abraham’s extra-marital sex with Hagar, an Egyptian slave Sarah. Sarah was old and barren. God had promised her a child, but after years of waiting, she decided she’d better add something to that promise. She urged her husband to have an affair with Hagar. A child was born who ended up being thrown out of the family and sent out into the Sinai desert. Paul used this story as an allegory to show that if Sarah had stood firmly on the promises made to her and Abraham this tragedy need not have occurred. Sarah, like us, was free to trust in the promises. He urged them to remember this story which showed the consequences of not trusting in God’s grace. Resentment led to persecution which led to Hagar’s exile and later international strife. If only Sarah had just kept on believing in God’s promise to her. Paul was so worried about the consequences to them if they thought circumcisim should be added to their faith that he got quite emotional. “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” he said (Gal. 5:12). For their own good, he wanted the people in this church to stand firmly on the promise of salvation through faith alone.

“So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
…For you were called to freedom, brothers” (Galatians 4:31-5:1; 5:13).

There was an old hymn we sang when I was a child. It had a catchy tune so I loved pounding it out on the piano. The words might stir up your heart to love these promises of life, righteousness, freedom, grace, and hope. It is easier to stand firmly when there is a song in your heart.

“Standing on the promises of Christ my King, Thro’ eternal ages let His praises ring;Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing, standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises that cannot fail, When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail, By the living word of God I shall prevail, Standing on the promies of God.

Standing on the promises of Christ the Lord, Bound to Him eternally by love’s strong cord, Overcoming daily with the Spirit’s Sword, Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I cannot fall, Listening every moment to the spirit’s call,
Resting in my Saviour as my all in all, Standing on the promises of God.” (R. Kelso Carter, 1849-1928)