Monday, March 30, 2015

House Arrest Ends

Tomorrow, we plan to meet John's mom at The Cheesecake Factory, and Thursday John has a CT scan in preparation for an appointment with his oncologist next Monday. As April progresses, we have other necessary appointments, plus a date with another couple at the Museum of Fine Arts. We look forward to some Boston Adventures this spring, summer and fall, as God permits, and eagerly anticipate taking my sister to a Red Sox game at Fenway in June.

I've gotten used to writing daily blog posts. This winter (which kept us away from church for a total of 18 Sundays as well as keeping us housebound in general) ensured that I had plenty of time to write, so I took full advantage of our "house arrest" to develop this blog. I hope the Lord has brought people closer to Himself through my daily missives. He has definitely used the discipline to keep me focused on His Word!

Rest assured that I have no intention of hanging up my blog. But spring seems to have arrived...we hope. And its belated arrival plunges us into activity (both desirable and undesirable) that separates me from my keyboard. After three months of blogging almost daily, it will seem strange to skip days. But I'll get used to it!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Voices Responding

The crowd  cheered as they lined the path with palm branches. "Hosanna!" they cried, "Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord!"

Only a few days later, the Man they had heralded as their long-awaited Messiah stood silently before them as a pathetic figure. He'd been savagely beaten and whipped by the Jewish Counsel, and by Roman soldiers, and wore a  crown of thorns that dug mercilessly into His brow. When Pilate asked what should be done with their King, the very voices that had cried in joy, "Hosanna in the highest!" called angrily for His crucifixion.

Before I judge that crowd in First Century Jerusalem, I must own that I easily mock Jesus when I rebel against His Holy Spirit. Yet His precious blood atones even for that cruelty, drawing me to repentance. As He died on that cross, He ransomed even me. And so, I shout in celebration, "Hosanna! Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord!"

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Belated Thoughts On Lent

As a growing number of evangelicals observe Lent, some evangelicals take the position that it's a matter of Christian liberty. They appeal to Romans 14, which admonishes us against judging each other's convictions. And, to a certain extent, perhaps they have a valid point. If they observe it with an attitude similar to my attitude in wearing hats to church out of reverence, how can I--indeed, how dare I--pass judgment?

Lent, they claim, serves as a reminder of Christ's humility in sacrificing Himself for us. Okay, but why should that reminder be so shallow as giving up a food or habit between Ash Wednesday and Resurrection Sunday, knowing full well that we'll resume the practice as soon as we leave the church parking lot after Easter services? I can't help wondering if people believe (at least secretly) that their Lenten self-denial in some way commends them to God.

Thinking about Lent reminds me of Paul's words to the Colossian church:
20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. ~~Colossians 2:20-23 (ESV)
When the Lord called us to die to self as a condition of following Him (Luke 9:23), He meant actual death. And spiritually, Christians must die to the demands of our sin natures (Colossians 3:5-10). The superficial self-denial of Lent comes no where near the demands that following Jesus requires, but rather inflates our egos with the false assurance of self-righteousness.

If a Christian observes Lent with a true attitude of wishing to honor Christ, I will not judge his heart. But I suspect that most evangelicals who are climbing back to Roman Catholic traditions observe Lent almost as a sacrament. That being the case, I have difficulty accepting Lent as something consistent with the faith that our Reformation forefathers suffered and died for. Further, I believe Paul would have opposed it, much as He opposed the ascetic practices that threatened the Colossian church. Let us die to sin, and be ready to die for Christ, rather than indulging in a 40 day fast each year.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Our Sin As A Backdrop

To fully appreciate Christ's death on the cross, we need to sense our utter sinfulness. Jesus died, not because we in any way merit His favor, but precisely because of our complete inability to do so. As long as we cherish any thoughts that we contribute to our salvation in even the slightest degree, we minimize His glory.

In desiring to glorify Christ for dying the death that you and I deserve, we cannot omit discussion of our depravity. At the same time, we need to keep the focus on Him by praising Him for His sacrifice on our behalf. Our wretchedness serves merely as a backdrop for His grace...much as black velvet accentuates the luster of a pearl.

As we face up to the ugliness of our sin, we see the Lord's gracious beauty in allowing Himself to suffer the horrors of crucifixion. The inhabitants of heaven unceasingly worship Him for His work to ransom a people for Himself.
And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth.”
11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped. ~~Revelation 5:6-14 (ESV)
Jesus, Who shed His blood because you and I could never dream of earning the favor of a holy and righteous God, deserves highest praise for redeeming sinners as vile as we. The more we see our moral bankruptcy, the more brilliantly His beauty shines, calling us to praise and honor Him.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Few Words For The Greatest Love

The thought of once again writing about the way Christ's crucifixion extends salvation to those who believe in Him paralyzes me today. Eight days away from Good Friday, I know I need to write about His wonderful love for His Church, but I sit at my keyboard with no clue of what to say.

Perhaps tomorrow, the words will come. Today, however, I simply rejoice that my Creator lovingly endured the cross to pay the penalty for my sin. I'll praise Him for including me, a sinful wretch of a woman, as one of His elect--with only His blood to commend me to His Father. The wonder that He would give Himself for me is more than I can put into words today.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Joel Osteen And Heart Conditions

Some professing Christians get uncomfortable with the Biblical truth that salvation can come only through faith in Jesus Christ. Such a proposition smacks of a judgmental attitude that, quite candidly, makes Christians and the Gospel look bad. Who really enjoys telling people that, unless they trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and turn from sin in obedience to Him, they will spend eternity in hell? I don't!

Apparently, neither does popular televangelist and author Joel Osteen, as evidenced by this clip from an appearance he made on Larry King Live a few years ago:

Notice his refrain that only God can know another person's heart. By stating this fact, he more than implied that someone without faith in Christ could achieve salvation on the merits of an upright heart.

Like Osteen, many professing Christians offer the cliche, "Only God knows the heart" as an expression of comfort and assurance. By contrast, Jesus taught that the human heart, in and of itself, teems with all manner of sinful inclinations. Look at Jesus' words in this passage, and try to tell me with a straight face that God can accept a  heart that Jesus hasn't transformed.
20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. ~~Mark 7:20-22 (ESV)
If the heart defiles people, how can the thought that God knows it possibly reassure us that a non-Christian has any hope of salvation? Michael Horton, in his book, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church writes:
 But where Osteen seems to think that God’s judgment of our heart (like his record keeping) is good news, Scripture treats it as the worst possible report since “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9 NKJV).
The thought that God knows a non-Christian's heart ought to drive us to earnest prayer that the person will hear the Gospel. We must plead with the Lord for His grace to bring that person to salvation. And we must pray for opportunities to proclaim the Gospel. If God  truly knows a non-Christian's heart (and He does) then we dare not suppose that He would accept that person on the recommendation of an unconverted heart!

Indeed, the more the Holy Spirit exposes  the corruption of my heart, the more I rejoice that Jesus died in my place on the cross. He requires that I depend completely on Him for my salvation. I have no hope apart from Jesus precisely because He knows my heart.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Although Bunnies Distract

Snow still covers the ground and the temperature has just climbed to 37 degrees, yet this coming Sunday Christians and professing Christians will observe Palm Sunday. A week later (obviously), we will celebrate Christ's glorious resurrection.

Many people, of course, will distract themselves from the Gospel message by focusing on chocolate bunnies, colored eggs and ham dinners. Most will make obligatory trips to church, and perhaps some may come away with vague feelings of inspiration. A few, praise God, will genuinely understand the Gospel message that Jesus died in their place to atone for their sin and rose three days later so that He could give eternal life to those who trust in Him.

Christians commemorate the Lord's death, burial and resurrection throughout the year, recognizing them as so much more than the ushering in of spring. The apostle Paul identified these three events as the very core of the Gospel!
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. ~~1 Corinthians 15:1-8 (ESV)
We underestimate the absolute centrality of the death, burial and resurrection, undoubtedly because most pulpiteers litter their sermons with mysticism and psychological jargon. They give the Gospel honorable mention before rushing on to more "relevant" subject matter.

Yet how could anything possibly be more relevant than Jesus dying for our sin and rising again? I base my very life on the events of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, clinging to them as my source hope. Certainly, I enjoy fluffy white bunnies and baskets of dyed eggs. But I find sustenance in the heart of the Gospel.


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