Monday, March 30, 2015

Reformation Study Bible Review - Ligonier Ministries


Today I received my long-awaited Reformation Study Bible (2nd Edition) from Ligonier Ministries.  I have the 1st Edition, but I wanted this one due to all the things they added - and boy, am I glad I did!  My Bible is their white hardbound edition - but the hardbound also comes in vivid red.  I am contemplating buying the red hardbound edition when the NKJV version is released in the fall of 2015.

I collect different study Bibles in various versions.  I have yet to own a NKJV version.  I am looking forward to the fall when it is released by Ligonier Ministries.  The Bible I'm currently reviewing above is the ESV version.

The first thing I noticed about this Bible when I took it out of the shipping box was that it's a BEAST.  This Bible is so packed full of new content, it is literally thicker than any other Bible I own.  It is as thick as my thumb is long.



 


It comes without a dust jacket (thank goodness!) and instead, has a lovely box.  Along with the Bible is a small booklet outlining what's inside.


I was floored when I found out what is packed into this Bible.  First of all, they have the Apostle's Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Westminster Confession, the Westminster Larger (and Shorter) Catechism... the list goes on.


Along with the creeds and confessions, they've added many topical articles by well-known teachers of Scripture.



There are copious maps scattered about the text, not just in the back, which I love.  Snippets of theology appear in dark grey boxes on certain pages.  This Bible doesn't just help you read Scripture, it helps you STUDY Scripture.



The text of Scripture is in a single column while the study notes are in three columns underneath.  This was done for ease of reading, as the previous edition of this Bible had two columns of Scripture text.

I am in awe of everything they give you in this Bible.  And as if that wasn't enough, each Reformation Study Bible has it's own registration code.  If you register your personal Bible online, you get even MORE, including these online resources:


EBooks, teaching series, subscriptions, and more.  Ligonier didn't merely fashion a new edition of the ESV Bible, they gave the layman a SEMINARY.  I am speechless.  This Bible retails for anywhere from $40 - $45 depending on where you buy it.  This price, in my opinion, is shocking considering the content that's at your fingertips.  The history of the Bible, the history of the church, hermeneutics, apologetics...  My mind is blown.  I knew this Bible would be good.  I just didn't know how good.

The binding of this Bible at first glance looks odd - the pages seem "wrinkly".  This might turn off some people, however, I have since come to learn this book is bound with Smyth Sewn binding.  It is not glued to the spine, rather, it is stitched together.  That means this Bible will likely not fall apart any time soon.  For a book this size, that is VERY good news.


The drawbacks are what you might expect.  This mammoth book is quite heavy.  It is not for the casual Bible reader, but the serious student of Scripture.  I am unsure if this Bible will fit in a store-bought Bible cover.  Perhaps an extra-large sized cover.  I know for a fact it would not fit in a large cover.  If a Bible cover doesn't matter to you, the box would be enough to protect it on the shelf.

The pages are extremely thin.  There are over 2500 pages in this volume, and I'm assuming thin paper width was considered to keep the book a reasonable size.  Highlighters would be fine, but I'd be nervous to underline any text on the pages with a pen.  I would also caution anyone who flips through their Bible vehemently - these pages cannot be flipped with too much gusto without chancing creases, folds, and likely rips and tears.

In other words, this is not the Bible of an in-the-moment street preacher, this is a Bible that will stay in the study.  However, I believe the 2nd Edition of the Reformation Study Bible will be an invaluable tool for anyone who wants to delve deeper into the well of theology.  For everything that comes with this book, including the online resources, you cannot get a better study Bible for the price.

Well done, Ligonier Ministries.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Fun Kid's Devotional Activity for Psalm 98:4


I've written a fun devotional activity for anyone with young children.  It's designed to get the child interested in Bible study as well as getting them to think of God as a personal Being who wants a relationship.  I pulled Bible verses from the Psalms with my own daughter this week to improve her handwriting skills, but I soon realized we were actually doing devotionals.  So I decided to write this one out and share it and see if others enjoy it as much as we did.

It's not too profound, it is for children, after all.  The underlined passages are prompts for you to say in order to get the child to think about the Bible verse, while the indented passages are what to do and expect from the devotional.  I hope you try it and have fun with it.  This can be adapted to the level of the child, from one just learning how to read and write, to an older child learning cursive and more about God.  You can even print it out and elaborate upon it.  If you do go through this with your child, I would love to hear anything else you might have done with this activity, as I'm sure more creative types and actual teachers might have more input on the subject.  Let's teach our young ones about our awesome God!

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0Q0XawU_4DUWWhJUUdSellHZW8/view

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Saying No to the World and Yes to Jesus - My Testimony



I don't believe I've ever actually told this story.  Many people who know me know I used to write erotic romance before I repented and returned to the Lord.  I feel now it's time to dust off my testimony and let everyone know what actually "happened" to me five years ago (wow, five YEARS?!).  Hopefully someone out there can find peace in my story, and know that it's okay to say no to the world and yes to Jesus.  :)

~*~*~

The sky was the limit.  I had nowhere to go but up.  Everything was coming up roses.  In 2010, I was on the cusp of making a name for myself in the eBook romance industry.  Ever since I was a little girl, it has been a dream of mine to become a published author.  

My parents divorced when I was young, and I wanted true love to last.  I was always drawn to romance and its 'happily ever afters'.  I wanted to write stories where love wins.

As I got older, I found Christ.  Rather, He found me.  I was a lonely young girl.  I needed Him.  He knew it, even if I didn't at the time.  I can still remember that childish prayer that humbly asked Him to save me.  I wanted to be a Christian more than anything - I wanted Him.  I don't know the date, but I remember the elation that rushed through me after praying that prayer.  The world was different somehow.  I was a new creation!

Despite that prayer to become a daughter of God, my dream of becoming an author was always separate from Him.  I used to stare out my bedroom window, imagining myself at a book signing or seeing my own stories on the bookstore shelves.  In order to make that dream happen, I took a typing class in high school to learn the keyboard as well as an advanced English class and a creative writing class.  I was always picked to read my piece in front of class.  One of my stories won a ribbon at a writing fair.  Everyone seemed to enjoy my stories.

However, I'd never written a novel-length book. When I first decided I wanted to try my hand at being an author, I wanted to be a straight fantasy author.  Nothing fascinated me more than castles, dragons, fairies, and the like.  I dug out one of my old short stories from my childhood and expanded upon it.  It took me eight years to finally finish it, but it had somehow turned from straight fantasy novel into a fantasy romance.

I’ve always been a hopeless romantic.  I’d read romance novels ever since my sister left her old books behind on her sojourn to college, so I wasn’t ignorant of them.  I enjoyed the connection of the characters, the theme that love conquers all, and of course, that they always lived happily ever after.  That’s what I enjoyed the most.  I wanted and needed the characters to find their happy ending, because nothing is a guarantee in real life.  

Since I was a Christian, however, I didn’t know how this would play out for me.  I wasn’t too comfortable writing the more intimate, steamy scenes, but I still wanted to write romance.  My first few books as a professional author were Christian romance, and I enjoyed writing them.  I was rejected at a few Christian publishing houses until I was accepted at a now-defunct Christian e-book publisher.  Of course, when I was first published, we didn’t have fancy things like “e-book readers” and “iPads”.  And no one wanted to read on their computer.

My family and friends always asked when I would “really” be published.  No one bothered buying my books because they didn’t want to read on their computers.  Apparently none of my real life friends are romantics.  No one I know reads romance.  But that didn’t stop me from wanting to write it.  

Unfortunately, Christian romance e-books had no following at the time, and I made no money whatsoever.  It just didn’t seem worth it to me to go through the time and effort to write the book and publicize it when no one was interested in buying them.

So I took stock and asked myself what sells?  Mainstream romance.

By then, a few publishers had heard my name from certain online websites and forums we all chit-chatted on, and I’d convinced one of them to take a look at a new mainstream romance I was working on.  She loved it and contracted me within a week.  I was off and running!  

At this point, I was able to suppress the nagging voice inside my head that I was compromising my beliefs.  I justified it by telling myself the Song of Solomon in the Bible is basically a romance novel, right there in the Word of God!  If God created sex, and sex is a beautiful thing, then what I was doing wasn’t so bad.   

Once my popularity grew, so too did my ideas for plots.  When you’re not restricted by plotlines and limitations on how far the characters can go with each other (as in Christian romance), the sky’s the limit on what you wanted to do.  It was so much fun.  

And through it all, I was praying for God to guide me.  I wanted His hand in my writing at all times.  I didn’t want to be doing anything out of my own desire or will, I wanted to do it because this is what God willed for my life.  I’d always dreamt of becoming an author.  Now I was here, and God was my pilot.   

The ironic thing was that I’d suppressed the voice of the Holy Spirit within myself so much, I was literally blinded to what I was doing.  My books regularly featured couples sleeping together before marriage, openly cussing, even with the Lord’s name, and other lude behaviors.  But it was all in the name of entertainment.  It wasn’t anything I was doing myself, this was all fiction.  There, again, was my justification.  Its just fiction.  What could it hurt?  

After the Kindle became popular and more and more people bought smart phones and tablets like the iPad, the market for e-books skyrocketed.  All they needed was a platform to take off, and take off they did.  I suddenly found my books up on Amazon and I was getting more and more popular.  I was definitely numb to the content in my books, and that was very dangerous for my spiritual life.

I submitted a few of my manuscripts to more popular publishers in New York and London, but every time I was rejected.  I was so disappointed and I wondered what God was doing here.  I’d ask Him for guidance.  I wanted my success to be on His shoulders, but time and again, doors were shut that I was sure would have welcomed me.  

So I continued on with what I knew, giving my freshly-written books to the publishers with whom I had already been contracted.  My horizons weren’t expanding as much as I wanted them to, even though I was known at the houses I was with.  Perhaps this was my pride shining through.  Other more famous authors had it made.  They had huge followings with successful book signings, and here I was, writing (what I felt were) good books.  My fans loved them, but publishers were still closing doors to me.  I didn’t understand what God was doing, because of course, my career was in His hands. I got caught up in that world of dog-eat-dog, and I wasn’t making as much money as I would have liked.  I’d complained about it to my publisher one day, and she mentioned how well her erotic romances were selling.  People love those hotter books with unmentionable jargon.  

I just happened to have a great idea for a series, and if I made them hotter, perhaps I could publish them under the erotic romance banner of my publishing house and do an experiment of sorts.   

I wanted to see just how well erotic romance sells.  

Well, it didn’t take long to get my answer.  I was suddenly making two, three, four times more than I had made previously.  I concluded if you wanted to make any good money in romance that could actually pay the bills, this is what you had to do.  

I had already suppressed the voice of the Holy Spirit with my other books.  But the moment I began writing erotic romance, I kicked Him into the darkest closet of my heart and threw away the key.  I could hear Him banging on the door every now and again, but the ends justified the means, and I found myself praising Jesus with one hand while writing erotic romance for titillation with the other.

And for some reason, I was cool with this.  For quite awhile.  I suppose it’s that feeling of fun when you rebel against something.  You know you shouldn’t do it, it’s forbidden fruit, but doing it and getting away with it is rather thrilling.  And since I was always praying about my success, it had to be condoned by God…right?  

My erotic books were met with high praise.  Of course, that’s more fuel for the pride fire.  I was good.   I was finally getting my name out there as a romance author, and I was finally making good money.   

Thank You, Lord!  God was looking out for me.  I’d found my niche. I typed happily along, content in my blinded stupor of pride and vanity.  I still prayed, but my time was eaten by homeschooling, chores, writing, and being a wife and mother.  I had no time for God other than a passing word of greeting.  I never read the Bible, and obviously, never went to church (other than Easter and Christmas.)  However, I still listened exclusively to Christian music and belted out the tunes at the top of my lungs while driving or doing chores.  Our God is an awesome God!  Our God reigns!  Lord I lift Your Name On High!  


But I just couldn’t see the burning hypocrisy within myself.  My husband rebuked me when I first started writing mainstream romance.  He was aghast and a tad embarrassed that his wife wrote such things and published them.  But being full of pride, I didn’t listen to him.  I was going to do what I wanted to do.  Becoming an author had been a lifelong dream of mine, and no one, not even my husband, was going to stop me from fulfilling it.  

My husband wouldn’t have cared if I’d become an author of straight fantasy or science fiction, or even women’s fiction.  But writing descriptive, intimate romance was crossing a line.

I regret not submitting to my husband.  However in my mind, I was a grown adult, and I was going to do what I wanted with my life.  So not only was I full of pride, greed, and vanity, but I had a spirit of disobedience (to both God and my husband), and a deep selfishness.  In order to keep peace in the home, my husband relented, and away I went.  

I still didn’t see his rebuke as being concern for doing the right thing, but rather, as an affront to my childhood dreams and an oppression of sorts.  Since the Holy Spirit was essentially “bound and gagged” within the dark closet of my heart, I once again justified my desire to write romance due to my lifelong dream.

But with the addition of writing erotic romance to the mix, the banging on that closet door grew louder and louder.  I had started out as a sugar-sweet Christian romance author who’d somehow turned herself into a full-on, unrepentant erotic romance author.  I was proud to claim Jesus in online chats with fans, but my actions were anything but Christ-like.  

One thought led to another and another until a slow, consuming conviction began to overtake me.  I’d forgotten something about belonging to God.   

I am not my own – I was bought with a price (1Corinthians 6:19-20).  

Eventually, God takes back what is His.  

It didn’t take long before the Holy Spirit exploded out of the shadowy closet of my heart in a breathtaking array of Power and Glory.  God was through with being silent, He was about to take me to task and there was nothing I could do to stop Him.  I could only be stunned as I suddenly remembered my Scripture.  

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. ~Revelation 3:19

And repent I did.

~*~*~ 

“For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” ~Hebrews 12:6 

I repented, all right, but I tested the waters to see just how much slack God would give me.  Don’t all misbehaving children do this?  Don’t they test their parents to see just how much they can get away with without getting into trouble?

“All right, Lord, I will stop writing erotic romance.”

NO, I WANT MORE.

“You’re right.  My mainstream romance still has cussing and fornication.  I’ll cut that out too.  My plots will only feature married couples, therefore the intimate scenes won’t be sinful.”  (Seriously, I was bargaining with the Most High.)

NO, REBECCA, God said.  GRAPHIC SEX SCENES ARE ONLY THERE FOR ONE REASON – TO AROUSE YOUR READER.

I sighed.  He could see right through me.  “Oh, You’re riiight.”  I think I may have stomped my foot and rolled my eyes.  “But the money’s very good, Lord.  And I have a lot of fans.”

I DON’T CARE.

Taking a deep breath, I must have pinched the bridge of my nose.  “So You want me to quit writing romance all together, is that what You’re saying?”

YES.

“Seriously?”

YES.

“I mean, You’re serious right now?”

REBECCA, He replied, DO YOU LOVE ME?

“Of course I love You, Lord.”

THEN QUIT.

I wrestled with the Holy Spirit back and forth about this for a few weeks.  But in the end, I decided He was right and that I needed to bow out quietly and not write any more new books.  The decision was actually freeing.  I hadn’t realized it, but I had been feeling more and more uncomfortable while doing edits for my books.  What had once taken me hours to do now took me a month or more.  In all honesty, I didn’t feel like I’d made the wrong decision to quit writing.  Despite my push-and-pull with God, I knew this was absolutely 100% the right decision.

Little did I know that God wasn’t through with me yet.

REBECCA?

“Yes, Lord?”

YOU NEED TO PUBLICLY RETIRE.

Oh no. He knew I had no intention of declaring what I’d decided. “What?” I replied, trying my best to sound innocent. 

YOU NEED TO DECLARE TO YOUR READERS YOU’RE RETIRING FROM WRITING EROTIC AND MAINSTREAM ROMANCE.

“I suppose I could—”

AND, the Lord continued, interrupting my thoughts, YOU NEED TO CONFESS WHY.  YOU NEED TO CONFESS ME.

**crickets**

The excuses were forming in my mind.  I was scared to do this.  How could I do it?  People didn’t just end a promising career for God!  And if they did, they certainly didn’t declare it!

Then God’s next words floored me.

IF YOU RETIRE FROM WRITING WITHOUT DECLARING WHY, YOU ARE NOT GIVING ME THE GLORY FOR YOUR DECISION.

That realization sucked the wind out of my sails.  If I didn’t go public with why I was retiring, I wasn’t giving God any of the glory, honor, or praise for my choice.  If I kept everything quiet, no one would know why I quit, and God wanted me to claim Him as my First Love before all of my fans.

I didn’t obey Him for a few weeks.  I still wrestled with what He wanted me to do.  I mean, this was BIG.  I had confessed to be a Christian online a few times.  I’d even written a handful of Inspirational romances.  I knew my fans were aware of my beliefs.  But this was different.  This was standing up for my beliefs.  This was throwing away the world and putting on Christ!  And quite publicly, I might add.

But it was all for God’s glory.  I knew He had a plan.  He is sovereign.  So I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and did what He told me.

I went on my website, I went on my Facebook, my Twitter, and made a few videos on YouTube explaining the situation.  I told folks of my decision to retire and Who I was doing it for.  And you know what?  I wasn’t met with ONE negative response. 

In fact, I was approached by quite a few other authors who’d felt the same way as I did!  When I spoke up for what I believed, I had given them the courage to do the same.  A lot of my fans left my friends list, but the majority stayed.  And I realized something.

God wanted me to change my focus.  It was His will all along for me to become quasi-famous in the eBook industry so that I would have a small following He could reach when I retired.

I remember friending a few Christians on Facebook and Twitter, but all these Christian folks were doing nothing more than praising Jesus.  Like” if you love Jesus!  While giving God praise is absolutely admirable, where were the meat and potatoes?  I was tired of the milk. 

Like a light bulb going off, I knew what God wanted me to do.  He wanted me to use my Facebook page as a ministry of sorts.  Everything I was learning and studying, He wanted me to share with my fan base.  From being bold and courageous for God, to the Gospel, to the Trinity, to baptism, and to songs and pictures I adored. 

But even greater than this was the fact that God Himself had shaken me awake from my spiritual slumber.  Retiring from writing mainstream romance was only the tip of the iceberg.  He’d just been cleaning house.  What really amazed me was the fact that I was emerging out of the wilderness in my walk with God and stepping over into the deep, abiding, unfailing love of my Creator.

Over the course of the next five years, I have been on an incredible journey.  The Lord has been on a mission to restore the years the locusts have eaten.  This blog is a testament to that.  Since 2012, I have annotated 46 books of the Bible, leaving 20 more to go before I finish the whole thing.  Theology is my bread and butter.  I adore learning about my God.  I love diving into things others find boring. I read old preachers, listen to countless sermons and podcasts, and study many doctrines as a Berean.  I'd rather know the doctrine for myself than be told by someone and blindly believe.

God has done a great work in my heart, all because I decided I loved Him more than the idol of my childhood dream.  I had allowed my desires for success to overshadow what was truly important.  I was selfish and vain, bragging about how many copies I'd sold or a new amazing review.  The drive for more money launched me into compromising my beliefs.

You could say I did achieve my life's goal.  I had become a published author.  I had just begun to scale the mountain of popularity and the world was my oyster.  All I had to do... was write more.  I had plenty of plot ideas.  I would have been set these past five years.  If I had continued on that road, I would likely be in a very comfortable place right now.  But God showed me my childhood dream was an empty one without Him.  It was definitely a learning experience for me.  I had achieved what I set out to do, but it was never enough.  I wanted more fame, more money, more accolades.

The world will tell you that anyone can accomplish their dreams if they put their mind to it.  And they're right - many people have done so.  But accomplishing your dream is peddled around like some kind of Shangri La - "If I live my dream, I will be happy, content, pleased, and at peace.  My life will be complete."  But that is a lie.  Whether you are in the valley or on top of the mountain, you are still you.  You cannot outrun yourself.  If you're miserable now, you will be miserable then.  Joy does not depend on your circumstance - joy is a state of being. 

I have found my Joy in Christ.

While God had me lay down my romance novels, He did not have me give up my writing.  Through this blog, my Facebook, and the books I've written on Christianity, I now write for a different purpose - His Glory.  And let me tell you, this is much more fulfilling!  I won't get rich, I don't hear many accolades, no one reviews my work, and I'm not in bookstores, but I'm doing work for His Kingdom, which is far better.  I'm no longer seeking worldly gain, I'm storing up treasures in Heaven.  Christ has refocused my talent to serve Him and I am overjoyed.  I may not know how many people I reach or how many lives are changed by what I do, but He's told me simply to scatter the seed - He does the watering.

Hopefully this post has given a little more insight into my journey in the Lord.  He's not through with me yet, and I can't wait to see what He has in store in the future.  What I have learned through all of this is that God is greater than anything I can dream.  When we focus our dreams Godward and live our lives for His Glory, amazing things happen.   

In all thy ways, acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths. ~Proverbs 3:6      


~~Becka 

Friday, January 30, 2015

I Never Knew You; Depart from Me


I don't know about you, but these words spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 7:21-23 are some of the most horrifying words in Scripture.  As a young girl, I used to be terrified, wondering if I was going to make the cut.  If these guys didn't get in to Heaven, then what chance did I have?  I would constantly measure myself and think well, maybe it's not for us to know until we stand before Him on That Day.  Will we be worthy enough to enter in?

We are told in 2 Corinthians 13:5 to test ourselves to see if we're in the faith.  I've been pondering this verse for a few days and posted on my Facebook page for others to test themselves.  For whatever reason, I recently thought of those in Matthew 7 who cry out, "Lord, Lord!"  What disqualifies them from the Kingdom of God?  And can we compare ourselves to them in order to know if we're in the faith?

Ever since that question took root, I knew I'd have to do a study on these verses.  So with some prayer and contemplation, I want to share what I've learned on the subject.

First, Christ lays out the fact of it - not everyone who calls Him Lord, Lord shall enter the Kingdom, BUT he who does the will of His Father.  What is God's will for believers?  That can be found in John 6:29: "that you believe in Him whom He has sent."

We also know elsewhere in Scripture, that those who do the will of God are part of Christ's family (Mark 3:35). Therefore, some who claim, "Lord, Lord" are not in Christ's family.  They also have no faith in Him.  Because of this, they are not born again.  We know from 1 John 5:12 that only those who have the Son of God have life.  These do not have the Son of God.

Now, Christ expounds further on what He has just laid out.  He gets more specific for a purpose, otherwise true children of God would seriously question their own salvation.  Let's take apart these people's excuses from Christ's example and see why they don't measure up to a true Christian.

They say the word, "Lord, Lord" twice, as if to accentuate to the Lord Himself that they really mean it.  In biblical times, repeating something twice had much significance.  If Christ said, "Truly, truly", it meant, "Hey, listen up, this is important."  They then tell Jesus they have prophesied, cast out demons, and have done mighty works in His name.  Let's outline what these things are, first and foremost.

Prophesying can mean two things - you're either foretelling the future as a prophet of God, or you're giving interpretation of Scripture, such as a pastor exposits verse by verse.  

Casting out demons can mean either demon possession, or someone "driving out" the "demon" of sickness or addiction, etc. 

Mighty works means just that, great things such as a big tent revival, reaching millions on TV, or being a missionary to the nations.

Now, let's contrast all these things against the original statement Christ made, that only those who do the Father's will shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  We already know these people do not have the Son and therefore do not have life.  This means whatever "prophesying" they were doing, it was false.  Thus, they are false prophets.  God has some very choice things to say against false prophets in Jeremiah 23.  We know there are no more prophets like Isaiah and Elijah, because God no longer talks to us in that way.  We have been given the full revelation of God in Jesus Christ Himself.  This is proven by Hebrews 1:1-2. So we know out the gate anyone claiming further prophecy of God for the future -- that isn't in chapter and verse -- is a false prophet.  Otherwise, their words would be on par with the Word of God, and we're just not willing to call their prophecies "Scripture".

If these people are pastors or teachers expositing Scripture, then they are either interpreting the Bible in the wrong manner, with the wrong intentions, or with doctrines of demons.

Casting out demons could have been for show, or perhaps deceit on the demons' part to give "validity" to this person's "ministry" to serve their own purpose.  However, Christ told His disciples in Luke 10:20 NOT to rejoice that the demons obeyed them, but to rejoice that their names were written in Heaven.  Because these people bring up the demons obeying them, it would be safe to assume they never rejoiced that their names were written Above.  In other words, pride filled their hearts that demons obeyed them, and they never humbled themselves to rejoice in their salvation.

The mighty works show these people rely on their own strength and righteousness.  They have pride in themselves.  They believe their accomplishments will impress the Lord and get them a pass into the Kingdom - like the Pharisees - banking eternity on themselves instead of surrendering their lives to the finished work of Christ.  Their works have won them much acclaim in life so as to make them comfortable in death, only to find out they weren't saved at all.  These aren't just works, but "mighty" works, assuming big, flashy works hold sway in God's courtroom (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).  This means they have no knowledge of grace.  They underestimated Heaven's currency.  Their "mighty works" are a pittance - filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).  Their works cannot make them perfect.  They are not covered in Christ's own perfect righteousness. 

Now, notice how these people say they did all these things "in Your name".  We know they're not in the family of God.  Therefore, they have taken the Lord's name in vain.  Only one who is a citizen of the Kingdom of God can actively and productively do things in Jesus' name.

Notice too how these people do not seem to accept the Lord's Judgment upon them, assuming there must be some mistake.  Instead of accepting His will as His child would do, they argue with Christ!  This arguing is very telling.  Perhaps they also "argued" with Scripture or didn't quite believe or teach what it said in full.  Perhaps that is why they are false prophets, because they chase after their own lusts and what they wanted Scripture to say.  Because of this contrary attitude, they prove Jesus is not the King of their hearts, for their argument is surely the correct one.  "Didn't we...?"

Questioning Jesus' Judgment is questioning the Word of God.  This reveals the very first sin of Adam and Eve.  These that stand before Christ at the Judgment have questioned Christ's integrity.  "He must be wrong.  Didn't we do all these things?  There's a mistake!"  This also insinuates they believe He might be fallible.  And it's obvious they have no fear of God if they're willing to argue with the Judge of all the Earth once their sentence has been read.

Then for Christ's rebuttal.  "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!"

Most people think of these words as relational.  These people didn't have any intimacy with Jesus.  They didn't even have any passing knowledge of Him through the revelation of the Scriptures.  If they did, they would have known that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  They wouldn't have doubted His judgment.  They wouldn't have had to unravel their laundry list of why they should be granted entrance into Heaven.  Because they didn't know Christ, they had no relationship with Him which means no prayer life, no study life, and were likely led by mystical feelings and their own false prophecy.

"Knew" in this passage is Strong's #1097, which is "ginosko" in the Greek.  It means to become known, to understand, to know, to become acquainted with, or its sometimes used as a Jewish idiom for sexual intercourse.  It is safe to say, then, that the Lord had no familial relationship with them.

However, it also means something much, much deeper.  "I never knew you."  This assumes not EVER, not just within the span of their lives, but in eternity past.  Christ never knew these - He never FOREknew these as outlined in Romans 8:29-30.  This means these were never called by the Spirit, never written in the Lamb's Book of Life, and never known by God.  

WOW. 

Ultimately, when Christ says, "Depart from Me", what He truly means is, "You have had your reward."

Matthew 6:2, Matthew 6:5, Matthew 6:16

These people might have been able to fool men in life, but they cannot fool the One who can search hearts and minds (Proverbs 15:11). 

Therefore, let us review the traits of these who cry out, "Lord, Lord!"

* They had not love.  They were resounding gongs and clanging cymbals.
* They had not the Son, which means...
* They had not the Father (1 John 2:23)
* They relied on their own works of righteousness for salvation.
* They argued with the King of Glory.
* They questioned the Word of God.
* They had no fear of God.
* They had no prayer life.
* They didn't study the Scripture.
* They didn't trust in Christ's finished work.
* They didn't believe in the grace of God.
* They gave no glory to God for their "mighty works" and took the glory for themselves ("Look what we did!") 

All of these are glaring reasons for why Jesus did not know them.  All of these are excellent examples that we can compare ourselves to in order to test ourselves and see if we're in the faith.  Brethren, we do not need to be worried that we'll "accidentally" fall in to the Lord, Lord crowd.  If you do not resemble them, you will not be counted among them.  These words are not for God's true children.  They are for the charlatans and the ones who only pretend at being disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.  They have fooled others and maybe even fooled themselves, but hopefully God will open their eyes to their deceit and compel them to surrender and rest upon His finished work by His grace alone.

It is my prayer that God opens all our eyes in these trying times to return to our First Love.  And not just because we don't want to go to Hell, but because it is our earnest hope and our greatest desire to be with Him in eternity future as our Beloved Bridegroom and the Lover of our souls.  If the desire of our hearts is to be with Him where He is, no matter the cost to us in this life, then rest assured, we are known of God.

Praise the Lord.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The God of My Dreams - An Essay in Three Parts

 
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  ~~2 Corinthians 4:6


PART ONE

 "The Good Lord's got a soft spot in His heart for this family."  

I heard those words more than once growing up.  My Dad was fond of saying it.  What's interesting to me is that when he said it, we were struggling financially after his painful divorce.  He never told me how bad off we were, but his words always seemed prophetic when, more than a once, the random two bucks he placed on a KENO game returned a $150 gain.  Despite our lack, the Lord did provide.  Even though my mother left and didn't provide any monetary support, Dad always had a way of looking on the bright side of things.  Thinking back now, he likely did so for my sake. 

Now that I'm grown, I often wonder about our family line.  I wonder, because it really does seem like God has a soft spot for us.  My sister and I came to Christ on very different roads.  Our children all love the Lord.  My life in particular seems almost "sculpted" from the start, and I can see God's hand in a great many things of my youth.  My maiden name is "Goodwin", which I found was the surname of two very prominent Puritans, John & Thomas Goodwin, in 1600's England.  Our family tree can be traced back to Daniel Goodwin, who was born in England in 1620, and later emigrated to America.  He was born in Suffolk, England, and the Puritan Goodwins were born in Norfolk, England, not too far from Suffolk - about 40 miles.  I can only assume the name "Goodwin" wasn't exactly common in those days (it's not common in these days either).  But unless I can find birth records that far back in England, it's only speculation to say Daniel, John, and Thomas Goodwin were related in any way, even though they were contemporaries with the same surname in the same rough area of England.  Perhaps they were distant cousins or maybe the Puritan Goodwins were uncles.

Exciting, all the same, to think that my family might have a Puritan in our line.  I even own one of Thomas' most famous works, "The Heart of Christ".  I often daydream about the Puritan Goodwins, and wonder if they prayed for future generations.  I wonder about my great-grandfather, George K. Goodwin, who was a pastor in Vermont in the late 1800's.  Did he read his own contemporaries, Charles Spurgeon, J.C. Ryle, and D.L. Moody?  Did he pray for future generations?

I do know God blesses those who seek Him individually.  Even if I am vaguely related to the Puritan Goodwins, that doesn't help me in my own salvation or knowledge of God.  I need to accept God for myself.  I need to seek Him for myself.  No one's testimony can lend any weight to my own, even if I was related to the Apostle Paul himself.  

My father's branch of Goodwins ends with him.  He has no sons and my sister and I both married.  After pondering all of this, I have come to the conclusion that for reasons of His own, God is dealing abundantly with me.  Perhaps it's because as the youngest of the two Goodwin sisters, I am the last "fruit" of this branch of the Goodwin line.  Or perhaps it's because He blesses me for seeking Him.  Or perhaps...it's due to His good pleasure.

With that said, now the point of it all: I have amazingly lucid dreams.  Dreams so real that like the Apostle Paul, I sometimes have no idea whether I'm in the body or in the spirit.  This is not to say they are prophetic - I do not believe I am a prophet by any definition of the word.  I do not believe God reveals any more revelation to any one person as He did through Isaiah or Daniel.  The final prophet was Jesus Christ (Hebrews1:1-2).  The dreams I have seem more... for me.  For my own peace of mind and my own edification.  These dreams cannot be asked for, they seem to fall whenever the Lord wills.  I have already told you about my demonic dreams and spiritual warfare.  But I have never told you about my godly dreams.

The one I'm about to share is the most thrilling dream of my life.  I don't know how any other dream can top it.  I don't even know why the Lord allowed me to have it, other than the goodness and mercy of His everlasting grace.  I've kept this dream close to my heart for so long, that it seems as if I'm sharing a glimpse into the most intimate part of me.  All I ask is that you please do not scoff, and know this was a dream, nothing more.  Any speculation is my own.

In this dream, I saw the face of the Lord Jesus Christ.



PART TWO


November, 2013

I have no idea what specific day it was, only that it was late November when I had my dream.  We were preparing for Thanksgiving dinner, and had company visiting for the holiday.  It seems odd to me that the Lord gave me this dream during these days, considering how the busyness of the holidays keeps me from prayer and study much of the time.  Planning, preparation, and visitation with friends and family make it nearly impossible to slip away on my own, and I often feel parched and lean in my soul.

In other words, I had the most amazing dream of Jesus on a day when I barely thought of Christ at all.  Perhaps that was by design.  Like any other night before, I laid down and went to sleep.

The dream began in a dry, dusty atmosphere, hot and sticky.  It was about midday and the heat was palpable.  There was commotion all around me, and I didn't know what it was at first.  But like the lens of a camera, everything came into focus.  And like you do in dreams, I simply knew where I was.  Judea.  The time of Christ.  The commotion was a huge crowd, and they were pressing in to see Jesus.

Then I realized I wasn't walking.  I was being carried, and lovingly so, like a groom carries His bride.  There were no biting fingers digging into my side, and no struggle to hold my weight.  The One holding me was expending no effort.  I knew in a heartbeat Jesus carried me.

His right hand was under my shoulders and his left cradled my knees.  He didn't look at me, but He gazed straight ahead, as if He had a destination set in His mind.  He was in no rush, but strode down the dusty street with purpose.  The crowds parted for Him, like I imagine the Red Sea had parted for Moses.  They surrounded us and closed in behind Jesus as He passed.  But while they jostled each other, no one in the crowd jostled Christ, and therefore I was not jostled.

As I lay prone in Jesus' arms, I took a good, long look at His profile.  His face was tanned.  Dirty.  Sweaty.  I couldn't get a good look at His eyes because He wasn't looking at me, but they were squinting in the bright sun.  I saw His beard; it was dark, but unremarkable.  Not short-cropped, but not long either.  I don't remember much about His hair.  It might have been under a shawl.  I remember thinking He wasn't strikingly handsome, nor was He ugly.  He was...normal.  Like any other face in the crowd.  

What I found myself staring at, rather, transfixed by, was a small, but prominent, dark freckle on His right cheek.  It was high up on His cheek bone, about halfway between His cheek and His hairline.  I marveled at it.  "The Lord has a freckle!" I shouted in my thoughts.  I couldn't believe it.  For whatever reason, like a dream sometimes does, my entire field of vision and concentration centered around that freckle.  Even in my dream, I knew the Lord was sharing a part of Himself with me that isn't common knowledge and it blew me away.

Without another thought, I hooked my hands behind Jesus' neck and leaned up in His arms.  I don't know why, it was spontaneous and shocked even me.  Perhaps I wished to show Him my appreciation for what He'd shared with me.  Ever-so-gently, I gave Him a soft, lingering kiss on His freckle.  



PART THREE


The dream changed.  No longer was it hot, oppressive day, now it was cool, dark night.  While the scene was drastically different, I knew it was the same dream.  Only this time, I wasn't in Judea, I was...in space...on a ladder looking down upon the earth.  The sun was to my back, and what I could see of the planet was in the shadow of night.  The ladder itself was somehow grounded on the land far, far below, yet it was leaning against white, puffy clouds that couldn't possibly be part of earth's atmosphere.  It was the kind of ladder you lean against a house rather than an A frame.  I was standing on the second to last rung at the very top.

The ladder was wobbly.  I don't know if it was due to the rotation of the earth or my own minute movements, but I was scared of falling.  My awareness kicked in, and I realized I was hugging Jesus this time rather than being carried by Him.  My arms were around His waist and my head was on His chest.  I was scared that if I let go of Him, I would surely fall.

Then, for the first time, I heard His voice.  

"LOOK AT ME."

It was kind.  It was soft.  It was loving.  It was a command.

I didn't want to look at Him - not because I didn't WANT to see Him, but because the ladder wobbled too much.  I was too afraid of falling.  But I couldn't disobey.  I didn't want to disobey.  So overcoming my fear, I looked up.  And the moment I did, I forgot about the ladder.  I looked full into the face of Jesus Christ Himself.

Many things went through my mind in that moment.  I stared at first, as if trying to get my eyes to focus.  My thoughts were cloudy and confusion set in.  My spirit told me this was Christ!  But my eyes couldn't believe it.  I had seen Him on that dusty road.  He was dirty.  Sweaty.  And yet the Christ before me was porcelain.  Perfect.  His clothing was not coarse and threadbare, but gleaming white - so white I could see no shadows in the way the fabric draped and folded around itself.  The clouds surrounding Him emanated light, as if specks of silver floated within.  How could this be the same man I had seen on the dusty road?

And then, just as before, the dream honed in on one physical feature - the freckle high up on His right cheek.  I knew in a heartbeat this was the Lord.  "It is You!" I mentally cried.  My thoughts raced as I took it all in.  It was overwhelming to see Him like this, but I never thought to look away.  He smiled at me, as if pleased I knew Him and recognized Him.  His smile hit my heart like a freight train, and if I had been awake, I would have surely swooned.  After my revelation, I marveled at many things about Him.

He was so young!  Impossibly young, younger than any of the movies portrayed Him to be.  He seemed to be full of youth - not a child, obviously a man, but I couldn't reconcile the Ancient of Days with such a youthful gleam - it seemed a contradiction, and therefore I continued to stare.  His hair and beard were black and wavy, yet again, much shorter than movies portray.  His hair was no longer than His ears or the nape of His neck, not down over His shoulders.  Again, my perception of what I imagined He looked like was caught up in what I was seeing.  He looked nothing like I'd always thought!

Despite being unremarkable on earth while carrying me, here in this second half of my dream, He was absolutely glorious - the Chiefest among ten thousand - the most handsome and desirable man I'd ever laid my eyes on.  And yet, He had the same face.  But His face was different.  Yet it was the same.  It's hard to describe and maybe that's why the disciples had a hard time recognizing Him after His resurrection.  He was breathtaking.  The more I stared, however, the farther He seemed to become.  Even though I still held Him by His waist, it seemed as if He was getting farther away.

I knew His magnified beauty only shed the light on my repugnant sin.  The longer I stared, the more I became aware of the weight of His holiness.  I could feel the gulf between us, yet I still held fast to Him.

The one thing I'll never forget about Christ are His eyes.  I have no idea what their color was on earth, probably brown being that He was a Jew, but in Glory, it was as if His eyes could not decide whether they wanted to be blue or green.  The colors swirled together like sunlight on water.  Green-blue-greenblue-green-bluegreen-blue.  Perhaps that's why I stared - just to watch the wonder of His eyes, so young yet so old, gazing back at me with love and tenderness.  

I have no idea how long I stared at Yeshua.  He was obviously in His glorified state, but likely holding back most of His glory so I could look at Him.  He appeared as He might have to the eleven after His resurrection rather than to the Apostle John on the Isle of Patmos.  He didn't say another word, He simply smiled and allowed me to hold Him.  The moment I gazed upon Him, the scene of the ladder and of the earth seemed to slip away into nothingness.  It no longer existed.  It was as if He and I were all that existed in the universe.  There was no more threat of falling.  I felt rock-solid.

I have thought of this dream often in the year since I had it.  There seems to be many symbolic things happening at once.  The day, the night, Him carrying me, me holding Him, in the world, out of the world, in the flesh, and glorified.  I have wondered why the Lord gave me this dream unless He merely wanted to show me His face.  Obviously there is no way of knowing if Jesus actually has a freckle on His right cheek.  Maybe He does; maybe He doesn't.  But the dream used the familiarity of the freckle for me to recognize Him the second time I saw Him in the clouds.  Without that grounding, I might have continued to be confused about who He truly was.

His youth and His hair and His eyes have captivated me ever since.  I know He was only 33 in life when He was crucified.  But His perfection erased any wrinkles or pores or crow's feet He may have gained in the flesh, adding to the look of His youth.  It was as if He had perfect baby skin.  I have never thought of Jesus with black hair, usually because most movies and paintings have chosen European-looking brown-haired men.  And the length of it surprised me - I had always assumed it was longer.  It would seem the Gospel According to Matthew got it right:


I know in life, Christ's eyes were probably not blue or green.  But what fascinates me are accounts of others who've claimed to have seen Jesus, who testify of the same - such as child painter prodigy Akiane Kramarik and Colton Burpo's account in "Heaven is for Real".  I hadn't been influenced by these children before my dream, however, as I didn't have much interest into the color of the Lord's eyes until AFTER my dream.  I remember watching Burpo's movie randomly and getting chills when Colton described Christ's eyes.  Some people find these testimonies to be controversial.  I can't say whether or not either of these children have truly seen Jesus.  Like myself, I can only acknowledge that whatever they saw, it's between them and God.

I suppose I'll never truly know until I pass into Glory myself.  But until then, I can cherish this dream in my heart, even if my subconscious made it all up.  Whether it was only a dream or the reality of Christ, I have been blessed by what I saw, and the memory of it only serves to make me long for Heaven all the more.

In the words of Job, "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You." Job 42:5 

Praise the Lord.  Thank You, Jesus.  Whether real or a dream, I know You are Sovereign, and therefore it was Your will for me to experience it.  I pray this blesses others and inspires them to live for You.  

In Jesus' name,
Amen.