By the way… Should We Seek Visions, Dreams, and Personal Messages from God?

My friend and I are going through the Book of Acts right now and we just discussed Acts 16:6-15 yesterday morning. In Acts 16:9-10, Paul receives a vision from God. Here’s the passage from the ESV.

And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

I think it’s of the utmost importance that we handle the Bible accurately. We need to not miss what’s there, but we also need to be sure we aren’t adding anything in that’s not there. You can read all of my notes from our study of Acts 16:6-15 by clicking here, but I wanted to share one quick note about these two verses. Let me know what you think. (This is quoted from the blog post on my other blog.)

A note on visions, dreams, and messages sent from God
Every place in Scripture where God communicates directly with someone, like he did here with Paul, there was no mistaking that God was communicating, and there was never any doubt as to the message God was communicating. Many today will try to figure out clues and hints and “nudges of the Spirit” in order to discover what God is secretly trying to tell them. There is no biblical support for this method of determining the will of God. If God tells someone something directly, its source and message are unmistakably clear. We have no record in the bible of God being ambiguous. God doesn’t drop hints and demand that we be “tuned into his Spirit” before we can accurately know his will for us. God’s will is plainly laid out in the writings of Scripture and it’s in Scripture that we will find it. If he wants to speak to us directly, he’ll do that (though I believe that is exceedingly rare) and he’ll not require any kind of mental or spiritual gymnastics to figure out what he’s saying.

I believe that determining God’s will is pretty simple—at least the parts of his will that he wants us to know. It also makes sense that God would want to be very clear on something as important as his will. Why would God want to cloak it in secret clues and ambiguity? I think there are basically only two steps that require satisfaction when determining God’s will in any specific circumstance.

Fist off, we have plenty in the Bible concerning his will for us.

  • We are to avoid getting drunk.
  • We are to be honest in our business dealings.
  • We are to look to the interests of others.
  • We are to seek unity and peace whenever possible.
  • We are to avoid sexual immorality.
  • We are to only marry another Christian, and it must be a member of the opposite sex.
  • We are to study God’s Word every day.
  • We are to gear our very lives toward the spread of the Gospel.

These (and many others besides) are very clearly laid out in the Bible. If you want to know how to deal with a difficult boss or co-worker, the Bible speaks directly to that. Figuring out God’s will for that is as simple as reading what he’s already said on the topic.

Second—and this is only if the first step doesn’t cover our specific circumstance or decision—we are to seek the wisest course of action. Something may not be sinful, but it may not be wise. As much as possible, make the wise decision.

If these two steps are satisfied, you are free to do anything you want to do. If it doesn’t violate the moral will of God, and it’s within the realm of wise choices, go ahead and do it. You are free in that regard.

You may ask, “But doesn’t God’s will play any part in the specifics of my decision making?” Yes it does, but beyond the two steps stated above, God’s providence is not something you need to figure out before making a decision. If God wants to close a door, he will. You don’t have to figure that out first.

This is a very quick treatment of the topic. I haven’t done much proofreading or polishing, and I haven’t mentioned the different passages of Scripture that some people claim speaks to this area (Gideon’s fleece, God’s still small voice, etc.), but I wanted to get this out there. If it comes up again, and if time permits, I may develop this further. Until then, if you have any thoughts, questions, or objections, I’d love to hear them.

By the way… What Part of the Worship Service is Not Worship?

Photo: Ricardo Camacho

Photo: Ricardo Camacho

One of the 15 Worship Decisions We’ll Regret, according to this article, is…

“Making worship and music exclusively synonymous.”

What that means is that many people refer to the musical portion of a worship service “worship” to the exclusion of the other parts of the service. How many times have you heard someone say in a worship service something like, “We have some announcements to make and then we’ll get back to worship.” By worship they mean music, of course.

I really wish leaders would stop doing this. Which part of a worship service would you be willing to say is NOT worship? Anything that is not worship should not be included in the worship service. That includes the sermon, the giving of offerings, prayer, testimonies, and even announcements. All of these elements, along with music, are to be done in a worshipful manner and are a part of worship.

If you asked the leader that uses “worship” to mean “music” if they think that other parts of the service are not worship, they will probably say they don’t think that. If pressed they may even agree that all parts of the worship service are worship. So why use “worship” in a way that is misleading and that takes away from the rich meaning of the term?

But, really, it shouldn’t even stop with the worship service. I heard someone say that for a Christian, worship is coextensive with life. Nothing in our lives should be done in a manner that is not done to the glory of God. Whatever we do should be done with worshipful hearts: our work, doing the dishes, playing sports, and, of course, singing.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
1 Corinthians 10:31

People Do Not Drift Toward Holiness — A Quote

People do not drift toward Holiness.

Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.

We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.

D.A. Carson (1999). For the Love of God, Volume 2

The Superiority of the Sacred Scriptures — A Quote

The power which is peculiar to Scripture is clear from the fact that, of human writings, however artfully polished, there is none capable of affecting us at all comparably. Read Demosthenes or Cicero; read Plato, Aristotle, and others of that tribe. They will, I admit, allure you, delight you, move you, enrapture you in wonderful measure. But betake yourself from them to this sacred reading. Then, in spite of yourself, so deeply will it affect you, so penetrate your heart, so fix itself in your very marrow, that, compared with its deep impression, such vigor as the orators and philosophers have will nearly vanish. Consequently, it is easy to see that the Sacred Scriptures, which so far surpass all gifts and graces of human endeavor, breathe something divine.

John Calvin (1559). Institutes (I, viii, 1)

If Death Ends All — A Poem

—Unknown soldier, killed in World War I

If it all be for naught, for nothingness at last,
Why does God make the world so fair?
Why spill this golden splendor out across the western hills,
And light the silver lamp of eve?
Why give me eyes to see, and soul to love so strong and deep?

Then, with a pang this brightness stabs me through,
And wakes within rebellious voice to cry against all death?
Why set this hunger for eternity to gnaw my heartstrings through,
If death ends all?

If death ends all, then evil must be good,
Wrong must be right, and beauty ugliness.
God is Judas who betrays His Son,
And with a kiss, damns all the world to Hell, —
If Christ rose not again.

By the way… How Dedicated Are You to Your Beliefs?

question“If you’re wrong about any particular belief, would you want to know?”

This is a serious question that we should all ponder concerning the various beliefs within our worldviews, or even concerning our worldviews themselves.

The bottom line of this is another question:

Are you more dedicated to your belief or to the truth?

How difficult would it be to let go of a particular belief if you were presented with compelling evidence that it was wrong?

May I suggest that, while it’s easy to change some beliefs, it’s always difficult to give up those closely-held beliefs. But I think we should seek to constantly grow in our knowledge and understanding of what’s true. I’ve had to give up beliefs from time to time, replacing them with what I found to have better evidence or more compelling reasons to believe. Sometimes I’ve had to give up beliefs that were precious to me and it took time and effort to do so. But the alternative is to maintain a belief in something that I no longer had good reason to believe.

It’s one thing to unknowingly believe something that’s not true; we all do that. It’s something else entirely to knowingly cling to a lie.

At times it can be painful, and sometimes costly, to change a belief we hold dear, but I think it would ultimately be more costly to maintain what we know to be a lie, or to strive to avoid and deny evidence that it is a lie.

Have you ever had to give up on a particular belief or set of beliefs after being presented with good reasons to believe otherwise?

Inductive Study Methods Being Taught to Our Young People

I sat in on part of our church’s middle school discipleship group last night and I have to brag on them a little bit.

Spurgeon said, “Whether we teach young Christians truth or not, the devil will be sure to teach them error.” Our youth pastor, Joshua Haynes, teaches our young Christians truth. Last night he was teaching these kids about studying the Bible. He was teaching these middle schoolers inductive study methods. How cool is that! And he wasn’t just teaching the basic 3 principles—Observation, Interpretation, and Application—hoping that they’d someday be able to put them into practice, you know, when they got older and more serious about studying Scripture. He was digging deep into what these principles mean, why they’re important, and how to do them. And the kids were really digging it.

They are still on the first principle, Observation. The pastor had my wife, Debi, come in and speak a bit about observation, and to give a demonstration that she has given to the adult ladies at our church a couple of times. She had multiple items on a tray and asked the kids to write down as many observations that they could about what they saw in 2 minutes. She then used the items to show that what they see at first glance might turn out to be different upon further reflection. This ties into good observation skills when studying the Bible.

Pastor Joshua then talked to them about the 5 Ws that we should all be asking of the text: Who, What, When, Where, Why. He broke each one down and gave examples of how they could use each question. Afterward, he broke them into small groups and had them practice this on a passage of Scripture.

I am so excited that our youth group is getting such great training by Pastor Joshua and his volunteers. So often churches will try to dumb down good solid teaching to younger teens, but I think that’s a huge mistake. Kids are smart, and they can grasp these concepts. Some of it may end up being a challenge for them, but that’s certainly not a bad thing.

I feel certain that these kids, under this type of training, will soon be better prepared to properly study Scripture than many adults in many churches today. It would benefit us all to learn the same study techniques and to put them into practice daily as we seek to know God’s Word and glorify him as a result.