True or False: Is Your Theology of Suffering Biblical?

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Suffering can be a pretty heavy topic, so as Christian women, it’s important that we have some good tools in our theological toolboxes for understanding and handling suffering in a biblical way the next time it happens to us or someone we love. One thing that can help us to have a good theology of suffering is to understand some of the ways we, and others, might approach suffering in an unbiblical way.

A Proper Perspective of Suffering

Have you ever heard someone ask the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” It seems like, when you’re sharing the gospel with somebody who’s a tough nut to crack, this is something they always bring up. “If your God is so good and so loving, why does He allow innocent children and nice people to suffer?” It’s actually such a common question that there’s an official name for it. This concept is called “The Problem of Evil,” or theodicy. And I’m sure lots of us have wondered about that, too.

The thing is, that question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is flawed. R.C. Sproul Jr.¹ answers it this way: “Why do bad things happen to good people? That only happened once, and He volunteered.” The point is, bad things don’t happen to good people, because there are no good people except Jesus. None is righteous, no not one.

Maybe we should be asking why good things happen to bad people. God would be completely justified in sending every one of us to Hell, right here, right now, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. He does not owe us a blooming thing, and certainly not all the blessings He has been gracious enough to shower upon us- blessings we have been thankless enough to take for granted. We are beggars at the table of the King. To say, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” shows us just how entitled, arrogant, and oblivious to our sin we are.

I say all of that because we’re about to look at two different categories of suffering, and I want us to be mindful of our position before God so we don’t start off on the wrong foot thinking that we don’t deserve suffering. Instead we should be grateful to Him for blessing us and sparing us so much suffering- especially, as Christians, for sparing us an eternity of suffering.

Two Types of Suffering

When somebody says the word “suffering,” do any of the following types of negative scenarios come to mind?

Spending time in jail for committing a crime.

Your husband leaving you because you had an affair.

Grieving the loss of your child because you drove drunk with her in the car and got into an accident.

Losing your job because you were late to work every day.

My guess is that’s probably not the kind of thing that initially pops into your mind when you hear the word “suffering.” Why? What do all those scenarios have in common? They’re all a result of personal sin. You deserve” for those things to happen to you, whereas you don’t deserve” to spend time in jail for a crime you didn’t commit, or for your husband to leave you because he had an affair, or to lose your child to cancer, or to get laid off work because the company is struggling financially.

So there are two types of suffering: the type we “deserve”- something that’s a natural or logical consequence of our own sin, and the type we “don’t deserve”- something that’s due to someone else’s sin, or an “act of God,” or “just one of those things.” (And, please understand, when I say “deserve” or “don’t deserve”- that’s just shorthand for the way we perceive these two different kinds of suffering. We think we deserve or don’t deserve whatever is happening to us, but those words have very little to do with whether or not we actually deserve or don’t deserve what happens to us.)

We tend to understand suffering we feel is deserved. It may be just as painful as “undeserved” suffering, but it intuitively makes sense to us when we suffer the consequences of our own sin.

It’s that so-called undeserved suffering that we’re going to focus more on today that’s a lot harder, because in addition to the pain you’re going through, there’s always this sense of “Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this?”

Because we have a lousy theology of suffering.

How? Let’s take a little quiz. 

Pop Quiz: True or False Theology of Suffering?

Answer each of these questions “true” or “false,” then scroll down for the answers.

1. Scripture promises that if Christians walk obediently with the Lord, life will go well for us.

2. I’m suffering because God is punishing my parents for their sin, or God is punishing me for my parents’ sin.

3. I’m suffering because God is punishing me for my own sin.

4. I’m suffering because Satan is attacking me.

1. Scripture promises that if Christians walk obediently with the Lord,
life will go well for us.

False. That’s pretty much what the prosperity gospel (or Word of Faith heresy) teaches- if you just obey well enough, pray hard enough, have enough faith, believe hard enough, whatever enough, everything will go your way. You’ll always be healthy, God will prosper you financially, your wayward child will come back to the Lord, etc.

And it’s partially based on Scripture, but it’s based on out of context Mosaic covenant Scripture. The Mosaic covenant was kind of an if/then thing. God said: If you obey Me, I’ll bless you, your families, your fields, your flocks, your finances, your fighting men. If you disobey me, I’ll curse you in all of those areas. As New Testament Christians today, that’s not the covenant you and I have with God. Through Christ, we are under the covenant of grace. And Christ says,

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
2 Tim. 3:12-13

For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Matthew 5:45

In the world you will have tribulation.
John 16:33

Anybody who tells you “Come to Jesus and He’ll give you a problem-free life,” is lying to you. You’re going to suffer in this life. Everyone suffers. It’s just a question of whether you’re going to suffer with Jesus or without Jesus.

2. I’m suffering because God is punishing my parents for their sin,
or God is punishing me for my parents’ sin.

False. Years ago, I knew a precious lady who was conceived via incest. She had a number of pretty serious chromosomal medical problems, she had been physically and sexually abused as a child, and, as if that weren’t enough, she’d had relatives tell her in some pretty cruel ways that she was God’s punishment to her parents for their sin.

Ladies, I know there are at least a few of you who have had some really sad and scary things happen to you at the hands of another person- maybe your parents or a boyfriend or your husband or possibly even an adult child. And I want you to hear me- God is not using you to punish or get back at someone else, and He’s not punishing you for their sin. God deals with each person individually about her own sin.

Ezekiel 18 is a fantastic passage that explains this very clearly. Verse 20 says:

The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

Now we do sometimes suffer as a result or consequence of someone’s sin. If a drunk driver hits your car and kills your child, you and your child have suffered as a result of that person’s sin, but that suffering isn’t God being punitive against anyone.

And, really, if you think about it, all suffering is the result of someone’s sin, whether it’s someone directly responsible for the suffering, like the drunk driver, or whether it goes all the way back to the sin of Adam and Eve with something like disease or a natural disaster that entered the world due to their sin. We suffer things like that simply because their sin causes us to live in a broken and fallen world.

3. I’m suffering because God is punishing me for my own sin.

False. 

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
Isaiah 53:5

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:5

If you are a genuinely regenerated believer, Christ was punished for your sin, past, present, and future. He took the punishment for your sin so you wouldn’t have to. 

But even if you’re not a believer, what is the penalty for sin? Romans 6:23 says,

For the wages of sin is death…

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
2 Peter 3:9

If you are not a believer, the fact that you are still alive and walking around on this planet, no matter what kind of circumstances you may be going through at the moment, is God’s grace to you. Because the moment you draw your last breath is when the punishment for your sin begins.

Now, certainly, both saved and lost people can suffer as a direct consequence of their own sin, but the purpose of that suffering is not retributive. It’s not to punish. 

4. I’m suffering because Satan is attacking me.

OK, that was kind of a trick question because the answer is: it doesn’t matter whether or not your suffering is caused by Satan because God is sovereign. Nothing happens outside His control. Let’s take a look at part of Job 1. (If you’re not familiar with Job, the quick back story here is that Job was very godly and very rich.)

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
Job 1:6-12

Who was attacking Job here? Satan. Who allowed Satan to attack Job? God. Could Satan have attacked Job if God had told him he couldn’t? No. Does anything in this universe happen that God doesn’t have control over? No. Your heart won’t beat one more time, you won’t draw one more breath, you won’t think one more thought unless God permits it.

And the same is true with your suffering. Even if Satan is the one behind it, he can’t do a thing to you unless God allows him to. Martin Luther once put it this way: “Even the devil is God’s devil.”

And what’s more, you’ll never know for sure in this lifetime whether your suffering was caused by Satan or it was a gracious gift of God. Look back over that passage in Job. How do we know it was Satan causing Job’s suffering? Because God revealed it to us through Scripture. But where was Job when this conversation was taking place between God and Satan? He was down there working his farm and enjoying his family. He had no idea where this terrible suffering came from all of a sudden.

A lot of people these days seem to have the idea that if you’re suffering, it’s caused by Satan and if your life is going great, that’s God. But that’s not always true. Remember, it was the will of God to crush Jesus, and Jesus learned obedience by suffering. Sometimes that kind of thing is God’s will for us, too, and for good reasons. Even Job saw that: 

And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Job 1:21

Job knew that whatever came his way was because God allowed it, and that God had good reasons for it.

 

So if those are not reasons for suffering, why does God cause or allow suffering to come into our lives? Check out God’s Good Purposes in Suffering.


¹I’m aware that R.C. Sproul, Jr., in the last couple of years, has committed sins which led to his stepping down from ministry. I have included his name here for quote attribution purposes only.

Throwback Thursday ~ Context Message Me

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Originally published December 3, 2013gettysburg-veterans-public-domain

Yesterday, I saw several friends and organizations re-posting this article (and others like it) on Facebook. The gist of the article is about teaching the Gettysburg Address to students in a “stand alone” sort of way without teaching that it has anything to do with the Civil War.  As a teacher myself, this seems utterly ridiculous to me. How can students grasp the full meaning, depth, and impact of the Gettysburg Address without knowing the history and events that led up to it, who wrote and delivered it, the people to whom it was delivered, and why it was delivered? Yes, a few things can be gleaned merely from the text itself, but is that all we want our students to learn about the Gettysburg Address? Are we satisfied for them to merely skim the surface of this document and leave with a superficial (and likely, incorrect) understanding of it, or do we want them to dig in and learn all they can about it?

And then it hit me:

What many of us would not abide in the classroom,
we embrace in the sanctuary.

Week after week, many Christians sit under pastors and Bible teachers who fail to preach and teach God’s word in context. A verse from one book is thrown in here, a half verse from another passage, there, like so many sprinkles on top of an ice cream sundae.

No mention is made of the historical (pre-Exile or post-Exile?) or cultural (Was this written to Jews or Gentiles?) context of the passage.

Prescriptive (thou shalt/shalt not do X) passages are conflated with descriptive (here’s what happened to this particular guy) passages, leading to confusion over law, grace, and precisely what it is that God wants from us.

Promises that were never meant for 21st century Christians (because they were written only to a specific person(s) at a specific time) are ripped away from their intended audience and plastered, bait and switch style, onto you and me. (I’ve always wondered why Jeremiah 29:11 is preached as applying to today’s Christians, but verses such as Jeremiah 29:17-19 are not.)

Pastors and teachers treat individual Bible verses and brief passages as “stand alone” items rather than showing how they fit into the immediate context of the surrounding passage and book, while simultaneously neglecting to show how those Bible tidbits fit into the broader, complete story of the gospel revealed across both Testaments.

Pastors and Bible teachers, myself included (and, believe me, I’ve failed many times in this area, too) are to care for those who sit under our teaching by doing our best to handle God’s word correctly (2 Timothy 2:15) and by preaching and teaching, as Paul put it, “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27). May we as teachers not merely skim the surface of God’s word, but proclaim the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth. And may our hearers demand nothing less.

Mark: Lesson 6

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Previous Lessons: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Mark 4:

Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that

“‘they may indeed see but not perceive,
    and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.’”

13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

21 And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? 22 For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” 24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. 25 For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. 34 He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him.37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”


The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.


Questions to Consider

1. Briefly skim back over Mark 1-3, noticing major events and themes and what these events and themes tell Mark’s gentile audience, and us, about who Christ is. What is the theme, or main point, of chapter 4? What does it tell us about the nature and character of Christ?

2. What is the main activity Jesus is engaged in (sleeping, praying, teaching, preaching, healing, eating, etc.) in verses 1-34? In verses 35-40? In one sentence, summarize the central truth Jesus was teaching in verses 1-20, 21-25, 26-29, 30-34, and 35-41. What is the difference between the way Jesus taught in verses 1-34 and the way He taught in verses 35-41?

3. What is a parable? How many times is the word “parable” used in chapter 4? Examine verses 10-12, 24-25, and 33-34. What did Jesus say about why He taught in parables? Look at these verses through the lens of verses 14-20. What is the difference between the ability of the “good soil” hearers to understand the parables and the ability of the “bad soil” hearers to understand them? (11-12) What do verses 9 and 23 mean? Is Jesus talking about literal, physical hearing or understanding and accepting? Why did Jesus make absolutely certain (34) His disciples clearly understood the explanations of the parables?

4. In your Bible, find and examine the cross-reference(s) for verse 12. Would “those around Him with the twelve” (10) have been familiar with the Old Testament passage Jesus was quoting? What was happening in Israel at the time these Old Testament passages were written? Knowing the history of Israel, what would Jesus’ disciples have inferred that Jesus was saying about the spiritual condition of those who would dismiss and fail to understand the meaning of His parables?

5. There are four parables in this chapter. How many of them revolve around seeds? What does Jesus say the seed represents in each of these parables? (14, 25, 30) What other passages teach spiritual truths through the illustration of seeds? Why might Jesus have chosen agricultural parables when teaching the people?

6. Why might Jesus have wanted to leave (35-36) the already assembled crowd? What do verses 35-41 teach us about Jesus’ authority over creation? What would this authority have demonstrated to His followers, and Mark’s gentile audience, about Jesus’ equality with God? Compare Jesus’ initial reaction to the storm (38) with the disciples’ initial reaction (38,40)? What does the question, “do you not care,” (38) reveal about the disciples’ faith, their understanding of Jesus’ love for them, and their understanding of Jesus’ earthly mission? How did Jesus use this incident as a “teaching moment”?

7. How do each of these parables and the calming of the storm fit with, undergird, and flesh out Jesus’ “mission statement” in Mark 1:15: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”?


Homework

In Mark 4, we see Jesus teaching in two different ways: formal teaching through instruction and parables (1-34) and taking advantage of a teachable moment (35-41).

Not all of us are called to formal teaching, but we all have moments during our daily lives when we can seize circumstances and harness them into an opportunities to share the gospel with a co-worker, apply Scripture to a situation with our children, or model Christlikeness to the watching eyes of strangers.

Think back over the last week. Was there a situation you could have used as a “teaching moment” with someone? Reflect on how you might do things similarly or differently if that situation arises again, and ask God to help you be on the lookout for more teaching moments this week.

Advertising Redux

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Update (June 6, 2017): After about seven months of participating in WordAds, I’ve decided to opt out. I don’t know what you’re seeing on your end, but I’m seeing ads for all kinds of false teachers and their ministries and products (I guess the WordPress bots aren’t very discerning! :0) so that has got to go regardless of any income it might generate for me.

You may still see ads on various articles from time to time (see second paragraph below). That’s all WordPress’s doing. I have no control over that and can’t opt out of it. If the ads bother you, I’d recommend an ad blocker or a tech fix (both mentioned below).


Hi Y’all-

As you may or may not have noticed, I recently qualified for an advertising program called WordAds, which is offered through the host site of my blog, WordPress. I allow WordAds to run ads on my site (at the end of the first article on the home page, and at the end of every subsequent page you click on) and they pay me a modest sum (depending on how many people see the ads) in return. I haven’t received any income from WordAds yet, so this is a trial run over the next few months to see how it works and whether or not it’s worth it.

In the past (without alerting me or giving me any remuneration), WordPress has run ads on my more heavily trafficked articles. In the last seven years (since 2011, when I joined WordPress) I’ve received only three or four reports of an ad being biblically inappropriate. Last week I received one more report. So, I thought I would rerun the article that follows (originally published July 26, 2015, and updated to include information about WordAds) to provide a little more insight as to how this all works. Should you need to review this information in the future, there is a link to the original article under the “Welcome- Start Here” tab at the top of this page.


Thanks so much to those of you who have alerted me that inappropriate ads (containing material that conflicts with biblical values) occasionally appear on my site.

My family is a one income family, so I allow WordPress to run ads on my site as a way to bring in a little extra money. Normally, the ads that run are family friendly, but a few times, readers have reported seeing ads that are inappropriate. I want to assure you that I do not select these ads, nor am I given an opportunity to approve or reject them.

I have contacted WordPress about the ads. This is the response they sent me:

“We endeavor to make sure that no inappropriate ads are shown, but occasionally some do make it through. If you or any of your visitors see inappropriate ads, we ask that you (or they) take a screenshot of the ad and forward it to us at wordads@wordpress.com.”

Since I don’t always see the same ads on my end that you see on yours, I would be most grateful if you would alert WordPress in this way should you ever see an ad that’s inappropriate (you can also click on the “About These Ads” link above the ad itself). Sending polite feedback to WordPress – which, to their credit, they have requested – is the best way to get them to keep their advertising appropriate for all of their sites, not just mine.

Additionally, one of my Facebook friends offered this advice:

“Often if people are using Facebook apps or 3rd party apps, such as are used for games, those kinds of ads show up. Different ads for different users. Google is able to customize the ads based on Internet activity. When I blocked 3rd party cookies and all apps, the questionable ads on my feed and Internet activity disappeared.”

Also, if you are bothered by ads on the sites you visit (not just mine), your browser may offer a free ad blocker that will reduce or eliminate them. I use Google Chrome as my browser, and installed uBlock Origin a while back. It has been very helpful.

I apologize for any inappropriate ads you have seen in the past or may see in the future. It is my desire that my blog glorify God and be a place where biblical values are upheld.

The Mailbag: Remarriage After Salvation

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Prior to getting saved, I had married and then divorced. Once I became a Christian, I married my second husband. God has blessed us with children and we have been married nearly twenty years. What is your take on a second marriage when your first is before becoming a Christian?

Whew, this is a tough question! It’s a really good one to ask, too, because the simple act of wondering about it indicates a desire to be obedient to God and an understanding that, in most cases, divorce is a sin- one that God takes just as seriously as other sins. And I think we forget that sometimes because divorce has become so prevalent in our culture and, sadly, even the church.

The reason this is a tough question is that there’s no particular Bible verse that specifically says, “Yes, it’s OK for you to marry again if your divorce was prior to your salvation,” or “No, it’s not OK.” So, we have to glean what we can from the Scriptures we have.

There are two main topics we need to examine here: what the Bible says about divorce and what the Bible says about salvation. We need to work backwards a little bit, so let’s start with divorce.

It is helpful to start off by reading what Scripture says about marriage and divorce. The central passages are Genesis 2:18-25, Malachi 2:13-16, Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew 19:3-9, and 1 Corinthians 7:10-16. The Bible specifically cites two¹ biblically allowable grounds for divorce in the New Testament: adultery and abandonment by an unsaved spouse.

God does not require divorce in these situations. Indeed, as far as it depends on the Christian spouse who has been sinned against, and is possible, forgiveness and reconciliation – especially in light of how much Christ has forgiven us and reconciled us to Himself – should be the goal. I personally know of marriages that survived these situations and have brought much glory to God and hope to other couples as a result. Yes, it’s excruciatingly hard. No, it’s not fair. It was hard and unfair for Jesus to go to the cross for our sin, too, but He was willing because of His love for us and for the Father.

Seeking a divorce for reasons¹ other than these two – such as irreconcilable differences, “falling out of love,” etc. – are not allowed by Scripture for Christians.

But our sister asking the question wasn’t a Christian when she got divorced. How does that factor in?

Here, we need to recall the nature of salvation- the foundational differences between a lost person and a saved person. First Corinthians 2:12-14, John 14:23-24, Hebrews 11:6, and Romans 3:9-20 help us understand that – while a lost person might sometimes be able to outwardly behave in a way which appears to comply with Scripture – that’s not obedience to God. Obedience is an action of the heart that is made possible only by the transformation and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Only saved people are transformed and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, which means only saved people can obey God and His word. So, not to over-simplify, but, basically, everything lost people do is sin because they are in a spiritual state (devoid of the Holy Spirit) that renders them unable to be obedient to God. This means that our reader’s divorce was sinful – regardless of whether or not it was for one of the two biblical reasons – because all of her behavior prior to salvation – divorce, driving a car, giving money to charity, eating breakfast – sprang from a heart that belonged to her father, the Devil.

(I know that’s pretty heavy, so if you’re not grasping it, or find yourself in disagreement, I’d encourage you to go back and read over the Scriptures I’ve hyperlinked above.)

But when someone repents and trusts Christ as Savior, all of that sin gets wiped out instantaneously. The old has gone, 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us. Salvation is more than just new life, it’s also a death. It’s a death to sin. Death to the old man, the old desires, the old ways, the old thoughts. That whole sinful ball of wax gets crucified – nailed to the tree – with Christ, and dies. Including that divorce.

And when Christ resurrects us from that death, we are born into a new life. Baptism is a beautiful, visible picture of this invisible spiritual truth: we are buried with Christ in baptism and raised to walk with Him in newness of life. The old has gone. The new has come. A new life. A clean slate. Life has just started for this sister. There is no biblical reason she should not have married a godly husband.

In closing, there are a few things that don’t pertain to this particular reader’s question (since her divorce, salvation, and remarriage are already a done deal), but which might be pertinent to others in similar situations.

1. This reader did not ask whether or not she should leave her second husband (nor does she want to- she is happily married). She already knows that would be wrong, and she’s correct about that. We don’t fix one sin by committing another.

2. If this reader had asked me this question prior to marrying her second husband. I would have urged her to first explore the possibility – depending on the circumstances¹ and with intense pastoral counseling – of reconciliation with her first husband. That is what 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 is all about.

3. Marriage is a huge thing. Divorce is a huge thing. Remarriage is a huge thing. Whatever your particular situation might be, search the Scriptures about it, ask God for wisdom and direction, and get wise counsel from your pastor.

4. This was a challenging question to answer. I’d like to thank my husband and two of my pastor buddies for their help. Thanks, guys. Y’all are awesome!


¹Physical and sexual abuse within marriage is a serious issue, but it was not a factor in this particular reader’s question, so I am keeping the scope narrow and not addressing the issue of abuse in this article. If you are being abused, please get yourself and your children to safety and seek help. If you know someone who is being abused, help her.

If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

8 Unbiblical Notions Christian Women Need to Be Set Free From

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Your recent article on prayer really helped me. I was always taught that prayer was a two-way conversation. For years, I would talk to God and wait for Him to talk back to me, but He never did. I thought it was because there was unknown sin in my life, or that I didn’t have enough faith, or that God just wasn’t interested in me. It’s so freeing to know the truth.

Comments like this from readers are always bittersweet for me. It makes me practically giddy to hear from Christian women who have been set free from false doctrines they’ve been taught, but it also grieves me deeply to reflect on the years they spent thinking they were somehow deficient as Christians or doubting God’s love for them simply because they were taught, and believed, unbiblical notions and ideas.

Let’s see if we can dispel a few of those today:

1. Prayer is this big, complicated, mystical thing.
Nope. Prayer is simply talking to God about whatever is on your heart. What’s made prayer complicated is the unbiblical teachings that have grown up around it such as praying in “tongues,” listening prayer, contemplative prayer, sozo prayer, soaking prayer, etc.

8 Things You Need to Know about Prayer

2. “Women’s Ministry” equals fluff and silliness.
There’s nothing wrong with having a little fun from time to time. Hey, we all need to blow off steam, right? But if cookie exchanges and teas and painting parties and dress up parties and sleepovers and makeup parties and fashion shows and movie nights are all your women’s ministry does, it’s unhealthy. And it’s not really a ministry, either. If something is a “ministry” it should exist to point people to Christ and disciple them once they get to Him. Your women’s ministry should include ministry of the Word, discipleship, Titus 2-type mentoring, evangelism, comfort ministry (to the ill, shut-ins, new moms, new members, etc.), serving the church, encouragement, supporting your pastor and elders, and so on.

Mary and Martha and Jesus and Women’s Ministry
How to Survive a Wimpy Women’s Ministry

3. Women’s Bible study- great balls of fire, don’t get me started.
♦ A Bible verse (or half a Bible verse) plus an inspiring story from the author’s or someone else’s life is not Bible study. Bible study is picking up your Bible and studying it.

Bible Study
Bible Studies

♦ If you’re hosting a women’s Bible study, you do not have to use books and DVDs written by someone else. In fact, I would recommend against doing so. Get someone who is able to teach – yes, it could even be a man – and study a book of the Bible from beginning to end.

You’re Not as Dumb as You Think You Are: Five Reasons to Put Down that Devotional and Pick Up the Actual Bible

McBible Study and the Famine of God’s Word
Can you recommend a good Bible study for women/teens/kids?

♦ One reason I recommend against using “canned” women’s Bible studies is that the vast majority of them (95% in my estimation- not an exaggeration) teach false doctrine. When you walk into LifeWay the first thing you’ll see is the best sellers shelf, and the majority of those books are written by false teachers such as Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, Christine Caine, Lysa TerKeurst, Sarah Young, and others.

Popular False Teachers

♦ If you do decide to occasionally do a book study, you do not have to use one written by a woman. In fact, if you want a book that’s doctrinally sound, you have a much better chance of finding one written by a man than by a woman, sad to say.

A Few Good Men: 10 Doctrinally Sound Male Teachers
A Few MORE Good Men: 10 Doctrinally Sound Male Teachers

4. Faithful church attendance isn’t that important.
If you think you don’t need church or that you can skip it whenever something more fun comes along, your thinking isn’t biblical. God thinks it’s important enough for His people to gather regularly for worship that He emphasizes it throughout the entirety of Scripture- Old and New Testament. Get your heiney in the pew every week, honey, and find a place to serve.

7 Reasons Church is Not Optional and Non-Negotiable for Christians

5. I am woman, hear me roar.
♦ Beth Moore and many other female teachers who rebel against Scripture by preaching to and teaching men in the church say that they are doing so “under their husband’s and/or pastor’s authority”. Neither your husband nor your pastor has the OK from God to allow you, or any other woman, to teach men in the church. God says women aren’t to teach or hold authority over men in the church, and when God says no, no one has the authority to say yes. Furthermore, there isn’t a single passage of Scripture that allows any man to give any woman this type of “under my authority” dispensation to teach men. To say that it’s permissible for a woman to teach men “under her husband’s/pastor’s authority” is just as biblically absurd as saying it’s OK for a woman to lie, commit adultery, gossip, or steal “under her husband’s/pastor’s authority.” Sapphira sinned under her husband’s authority and look what happened to her.

Fencing Off the Forbidden Fruit Tree
Jill in the Pulpit

Ten Things You Should Know About 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and the Relationship Between Men and Women in the Local Church at CBMW

Egalitarians are often so vehement in their insistence that women should teach men and hold authority over men in the church, that they are essentially saying that the only way a woman’s service or leadership in the church can have any value is if it’s exercised over men. I’ve heard many of them turn up their noses at the idea of teaching women and children and other forms of service (that don’t involve teaching or authority over men), in a haughty “we’re better than that” kind of way.

No way.

Have you seen the garbage women and children are being taught in the church under the guise of “Sunday School” or “Bible study”? Women’s and children’s classes at your church are in desperate need of women who are doctrinally sound and able to teach. What about the need to visit church members who are in the hospital or shut-ins? How about record-keeping, working in the sound booth, welcoming visitors, serving on committees, mowing the church’s lawn, participating in outreach activities, fixing a meal, chaperoning youth activities, hosting a visiting pastor or missionary? There’s a ton of important and valuable work for women to do in the church. We don’t have time to worry about teaching and holding authority over men. Let the men worry about that.

Servanthood

6. My feelings and opinions reign supreme.
Uh uh. Not if you’re a Christian, they don’t. That’s how lost people operate. If you’re a Christian, you’re not entitled run your life or make decisions by any opinion other than that of your Master. What He says – in His written word – goes. Period. Regardless of how you feel about it or whether or not you agree with it. That means if a “Bible” teacher you really like is teaching things that conflict with Scripture, you dump her. You love Mr. Wonderful and want to marry him, but he’s not saved? Nope. You’re a woman who’s certain God has called her to preach? No way. Your husband has said no about something, but you want to do it anyway? Forget it.

The Bible is our Authority
Bad Fruit, Diseased Trees, and the Authority of God’s Word

7. If something or someone claims to be a Christian, it is.
I suppose at some point in Christian history, there might have been a time when, if someone handed you a “Christian book,” it was a pretty safe bet it was doctrinally sound. Or if someone said she was a Christian, you could be fairly certain she was truly born again.

Not so much these days.

You cannot take at face value that someone who says she’s a Christian is using the Bible’s definition of Christianity and has been genuinely regenerated. You cannot trust that just because something is sold at LifeWay or another Christian retailer that it’s doctrinally sound. You can’t assume that just because someone is a “Christian” celebrity, writes “Bible” studies, speaks at “Christian” conferences, and has a large following, that she’s handling God’s word correctly (or at all) and teaching you biblical truth. There’s just too much false doctrine running rampant in evangelicalism and too many people who believe and teach it.

Don’t be a weak and naïve Christian woman. Jesus Himself said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven…” There are many people who draw near to God with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him. It is God’s will for you to be a good Berean and to test everything according to Scripture. We will know the truly Christian from the false by their fruits, not their platitudes.

8. Sugar and spice and everything nice- that’s what Christian girls are made of.
That’s not a Bible verse, but rather and unspoken rule among most Christian women. Somewhere we’ve gotten the idea that Christian unity or love means “being nice” to people. We’re always smilingly sweet and never say anything that might hurt someone’s feelings or could rock the boat at church.

Are we to be kind? Yes. Are we to do our best not to hurt others? Of course. Should we be making waves over every little thing that rubs us the wrong way? Absolutely not.

But neither is it loving to see a Mack truck bearing down on an oblivious sister in Christ and refrain from yanking her out of harm’s way because it might dislocate her shoulder. It is not unity to see Satan deceiving a friend through sin or false doctrine and not plead with her to turn to Christ and His word because she might think we’re rude. And that’s the situation we often find ourselves in at church or with Christian friends.

Was Jesus – our perfect example of love – being unloving, unkind, hateful, or divisive when He rebuked the Pharisees, cleared the temple, or said, “Get behind Me, Satan!” to Peter?

Love for the brethren isn’t “being nice.” It’s caring so much about a fellow saint that we want what’s best for her in Christ. Sometimes that requires being firm, confrontational, or demonstrating “tough love.” People’s eternities and spiritual health are at stake. How loving is it to stand aside and let a sister waltz into Hell or struggle for years on end in her walk with the Lord because she’s living in sin or believing false doctrine? “Being nice” isn’t a fruit of the Spirit. It’s time we stop being nice and start being biblical.

I Can’t Sit Down, Shut Up, and Play Nice
Discernment: What’s Love Got to Do with It?

Do you believe any of these unbiblical notions? If so, set them aside, repent, and believe and practice what Scripture says. Any time we believe something that’s in conflict with God’s word, it’s a hindrance to the abundant life and growth in Christ that He wants to bless us with.

False doctrine enslaves. It places a yoke of confusion, anxiety, and “try harder” on the shoulders of those who embrace it. Christ did not set us free from sin so that we might turn right around and become captives to a new, pseudo-Christian type of sin: false teaching. It is for freedom and a healthy spiritual life that Christ has set us free.

Throwback Thursday ~ Churchmanship 101: Training Your Child to Behave in Church

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Originally published January 30, 2015

churchmanship-behave

they all walked sedately into the church. The first clang of the bell rang out when they were on the steps.

After that, there was nothing to do but sit still till the sermon was over. It was two hours long. Almanzo’s legs ached and his jaw wanted to yawn, but he dared not yawn or fidget. He must sit perfectly still and never take his eyes from the preacher’s solemn face and wagging beard. Almanzo couldn’t understand how Father knew that he wasn’t looking at the preacher, if Father was looking at the preacher himself. But Father always did know.

From Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder¹

A hundred and fifty-ish years ago, this is how children were expected to behave in church. I love a good sermon, but I’m not sure even I could meet those behavioral expectations, and, these days, I certainly wouldn’t expect my children to. But fast forward from the 1800’s to 2015, and think about how you may have seen some children behave in church. It’s quite a bit different from Almanzo’s experience, wouldn’t you say?

I don’t think we need to dial things back a hundred and fifty years, though. A little fidgeting, a Bible dropped loudly on the floor, a few seconds of wailing while you frantically search for the lost pacifier, a bit of jabbering, none of these things are a big deal. But neither should a toddler be allowed to run up and down the aisles of the sanctuary for the bulk of the sermon. Eight year olds do not need to be crawling around on the floor between the pews playing with toys. Twelve year olds can reasonably be expected to stay awake, sit still, and pay attention during the service. We expect our children to obey us (and other adults) and behave properly in a variety of places: school, the grocery store, restaurants, on their sports teams, at scout meetings. Why, when the worship service is far more important than any of these, would we not require them to act appropriately in church? And when we require them to behave themselves in all these other venues but not in church, what are we teaching them about the importance of church, reverence, God?

But, if you’ll determine in your heart to train your child to control himself and behave appropriately during church, you might be surprised at all the blessings and benefits you encounter along the way.

What is appropriate church behavior?

That’s going to vary by age. Obviously, a three year old isn’t going to sit perfectly still for thirty minutes and take sermon notes. But, believe it or not, you can start (and I would strongly recommend) training your child from infancy that church is a place where we sit still, sit quietly, listen when it’s time to listen, and participate when it’s time to participate.

How do I train my child?

The first and best way to train your child is by modeling proper church behavior yourself. Does he see you singing enthusiastically during the worship time? Are you checking your makeup or Facebook during prayer? Are you visibly paying attention during the sermon? Constantly talking to your husband or a friend during the service? Your child will imitate what he sees and take his cues from you as to what is acceptable behavior.

Otherwise, you train your child in church the same way you would train him in any other situation. If you were at a restaurant, and your baby was crying incessantly, you would tend to his needs at the table, or, if you couldn’t, you would take him out to the lobby or outside until he calmed down. The simple act of doing so begins to plant the idea in his mind that a certain level of behavior is expected in that venue.

If your school aged child won’t sit quietly in his seat at school, the teacher administers the appropriate discipline, and, possibly, you do too, at home.

It’s the same way at church. You let your child know what is expected of him behavior-wise at church, praise him when he does well, and administer discipline when he disobeys.

A few helpful hints:

Infants and toddlers:
If your church offers a nursery, there’s no shame in making use of it. As a stay at home mom, I well remember the days when church was the only opportunity I had for a small breather from my children, adult fellowship, and hearing God’s word without interruption.

But if you want to have your infant or toddler in church with you, that’s great! Be sure your diaper bag is well stocked with anything you might need to keep a little one relatively still and quiet. Bottles, pacifiers, small snacks that won’t make too much of a mess, some small, soft toys (such as stuffed animals or board books- maybe even a special one that’s only for Sundays) that he can quietly play with in his lap.

Try to choose a seat on the aisle near a door in case you need to make a hasty exit. Also, try to sit somewhere where any noise your child might make won’t be picked up by the pastor’s (or other) microphone.

Older children:
Sometimes well meaning Sunday school teachers serve sugary snacks or other foods/drinks that might make your child jittery. If so, it may be more difficult for him to sit quietly during church. Check out the snack situation in your child’s class, and serve him a breakfast that won’t give him the fidgets.

Make a bathroom/water fountain pit stop before the service a weekly habit. If your child would benefit from running a lap or two outside before the service to work off some energy, make that part of the weekly routine as well.

Dress your child appropriately, yet comfortably for church. I still remember scratchy lace on some of my childhood Sunday dresses. And sitting up against the back of a pew or chair wearing a dress that ties in the back? Absolute torture when that knot dug into my spine. It’s kind of hard to sit still when your entire outfit is conspiring against you.

Get them started on taking notes during the sermon. Give your preschooler some crayons and paper and help him listen for something in the sermon he can draw a picture of (a sheep, Jesus, an angel, a garden…).

Lower elementary aged children might enjoy taking “tally mark” notes. Make a brief list of words your child is likely to hear during the sermon (God, Jesus, Bible, Love…) and instruct him to make a tally mark next to the word any time he hears it during the sermon. Some pre-readers can even attempt this if you draw a couple of small pictures instead of words (a heart for “love,” a cross for “Jesus,” etc.) Before church starts, try to guess with your child which word will get the most marks. After church, count up the marks and see if you were right. You may even want to do your own tally mark sheet during the sermon to model for your child what you want him to do.

Some churches offer a fill in the blank sermon outline in the bulletin. This is a perfect note taking activity for older children and tweens. They can also be encouraged to turn in their Bibles to all the Scriptures the pastor mentions, copy down a verse from the text of the sermon, or write down any questions that occur to them as they listen.

And, speaking of questions, another fun activity is for each family member to write down a couple of questions, and their answers, from the sermon. Then, in the car on the way home, each person gets to ask his questions. Whoever gets the most correct answers gets to pick what’s for lunch (or bragging rights, or something else fun). It’ll keep EVERYONE paying attention, and it’s a great way to reinforce and discuss the sermon.

Attend church every Sunday. Not only is it biblical to attend faithfully, but children thrive on routine, and it will be easier for them to remember how to behave if they’re learning and practicing those behavior skills weekly instead of in a “hit and miss” fashion.

 

Training your child to behave well in church isn’t easy at times. I know. I have 6 children and we have raised all of them in church. But if you and your husband will invest the time and effort, everyone benefits. Your pastor will be able to preach uninterrupted. Your fellow church members will be able to worship undistracted. Once your child begins to behave himself better, you will be able to focus more on the service and be less frazzled. But most importantly, your child will develop the skills necessary for hearing and paying attention to God’s word being proclaimed, and what a blessing that will be to him now, and for the rest of his life.

What are some things that have worked well
to help your child behave in church?

 

¹Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farmer Boy  (New York: Harper Collins, 1933), 90-91

This article was Originally published under a different title at Satisfaction Through Christ.

Mark: Catch Up Week

Previous Lessons: 1, 2, 3, 45

I’m taking a little time off this week, so there’s no new lesson in our Mark Bible study today. I’d encourage you to review any of the previous lessons, re-read chapters 1-3 of Mark, revisit the homework assignments, or go back and spend more time on any point you felt didn’t get enough of your attention. Happy studying!

For Your Listening Pleasure

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Need some great, biblical material to listen to in the car, while you exercise, or when you’re doing the dishes?

Shepherd’s Conference 2017

The mission of the Shepherds’ Conference is to provide the opportunity for men in church leadership to be challenged in their commitment to biblical ministry and to find encouragement as together we seek to become more effective servants of our chief Shepherd.

You don’t have to be a pastor or church leader to enjoy good preaching from mighty men of God, and that’s just what you’ll get if you click here. Conference sermons from John MacArthur, Mark Dever, Steve Lawson, Phil Johnson, Paul Washer, and more! Also available as an iTunes app. (Translated into several languages, so share with your international friends!)

Pastors’ Talk Podcast

OK, so this one is aimed at pastors, too. But I’ve been “eavesdropping” and learning a lot. I would highly recommend this brief weekly podcast from 9Marks Ministries for pastors and church members. It’ll help you understand some of the things your pastor has to deal with, why he does things the way he does them, how a biblically healthy church should function, and so on. Maybe it’ll even help you help your pastor. Click here to listen. (Also available on iTunes.)

Happy listening!

The Mailbag: Should Christians Participate in Boycotts?

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I’m taking a few days off. Please enjoy this selected article.

This article was originally published on September 19, 2014 as part of my In Case You Were Wondering series, which was the “beta version” of The Mailbag (our regular Monday feature). 

Boycott

Should Christians boycott businesses or charities that financially support abortion, homosexual marriage, or other unbiblical things?

This question has gotten a lot of attention lately because of the ice bucket challenge and the ALS charity that funds embryonic stem cell research. I think whether or not to boycott a business or charity is something every Christian needs to decide for herself based on Scripture and her own conscience. Some good Scriptures to study to help with your decision are 1 Corinthians 8 and 10:23ff, and Romans 14:5-12.

Since there’s no one right answer to this question, I’d like to just share with you how I have come to handle it in my life, in case it might be helpful.

I used to do boycotts (I was on an e-mail list that was basically a constant call to boycott this or that business), but it got to the point where there were so many companies and subsidiaries of those companies that donate here and there to unacceptable causes that it was impossible to track all of them down and keep up with them all. Since I would have felt like a hypocrite for boycotting one company but not another, I amended my “policy” on boycotting:

1. I don’t boycott places where I get necessities for my family–phone company, grocery stores, gas stations, etc. If there were a very big public splash about one of these places supporting something unacceptable and I had another option, I might reconsider a boycott.

2. If there’s an alternative to a “boycottable” business, I take it. For example, I would not donate to Komen because they support Planned Parenthood, but I might donate to another cancer/breast cancer charity that doesn’t.

3. If it’s not a necessity and there’s no alternative, I probably wouldn’t donate/buy/shop there. For example, within the last 5 years, Starbucks has, among other very publicized pro-homosexuality actions, filed a brief against DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) and worked to support legislation in Washington state to legalize same sex “marriage.” Starbucks isn’t a necessity, and if there weren’t an alternative coffee place in my area, I would just do without. (Full disclosure- Starbucks is expensive and several miles from my house. My coffee maker is cheap and only several yards from my bed. So, I don’t go to Starbucks, but it’s because I’m broke and lazy, not because I’m boycotting.)

My way isn’t the perfect way, and there’s probably still some hypocrisy in it that I can’t see or reconcile, but it works for me.

For further reading:
Should Christians boycott companies that support anti-Christian policies? from Got Questions
Should Christians Boycott Boycotting? from The Gospel Coalition

Do you boycott any businesses for certain reasons?
How did you arrive at your decision to boycott?