Sunday, December 21, 2014

More Than Wheelchair Dancing In The Driveway

Early in my walk with the Lord, the theology packed into Christmas carols--the very carols I'd sung every December without really understanding--surprised and fascinated me. I'd never noticed, until the Holy Spirit regenerated me, how boldly and joyously these familiar carols proclaimed the doctrine of the Incarnation.

After my first Christmas as a born-again believer, I'd often relish the theological truths of these carols at odd times of the year, usually when I'd wait in the driveway for my friend who came to help  me write my homework (I was still in high school). I can remember singing loudly to the hills as I spun and wove my power wheelchair around, as if to imitate a figure  skater. The words  gave praise to the Lord as they drew my attention to His  deity encased in humanity.

One Christmas hymn in particular grabbed my imagination as I twirled and serenaded those gentle California hills. It exploded with such rich doctrinal nuggets that, 43 years later, it continues to surprise me with glimpses of Scriptural teaching. I've disciplined myself this year to save it until this last Sunday before Christmas, having been taught to save the best for last. My prayer is that you'll listen with a fresh appreciation for what it shows about Christ.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

"Christmasy" Feelings

My PCA decorated our Christmas tree at my direction last night. I had hoped getting the tree up and playing Christmas hymns would make me feel more  "Christmasy," but I don't think it has.

I got most things done earlier than usual this year, which surprises me because I come from a family notorious for procrastination. Every Christmas Eve, Mom banned me from the dining room while she feverishly wrapped way too many presents for me, all the while complaining that December 24th had snuck up on her quite unexpectedly. Perhaps I've "reversed the curse." At any rate, only a few small tasks remain, and I feel very confident that even those will be completed in plenty of time.

I've already blogged a few times about the Incarnation. That astounding doctrine, of course, constitutes the  very heart of Christmas, though few people really grasp it.  They have a vague idea that Christmas celebrates the birth of God's Son, but they have difficulty making the connection that Jesus is God the Son Who came to die for our sins.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. ~~Philippians 2:5-11 (ESV)
As I age, the wonder of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us eclipses the excitement of wreaths, trees and presents. Perhaps my lack of "feeling Christmasy" actually means that I feel less excited about the secular aspects of Christmas because the true significance of the holiday captures my attention. Or could it possibly be that I find myself enjoying the Christmas spirit more deeply than ever?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Enshrining Grief

Sometime last week, I calculated that today would be 25 years since my friend Bob died from AIDS. For several reasons, his passing played a pivotal role in my life...most significantly, beginning my journey away from Charismatic theology. I praise the Lord for using Bob's death in that way, and had planned to share some of that story today. But the Lord allowed me to have an interaction earlier this week that changed my focus a little bit. So I want to write about grieving.

My friends will attest that I took Bob's death very hard. In the early months, that was okay in some respects, and I appreciate  the people who accepted me on that level. As the year progressed, I made an outward show of moving on with my life, but inwardly I clung to grief as my identity.

Worse, I made Bob into an idol. I forgot about all the differences between me and Bob, and stubbornly ignored his commitment to the very doctrines that his death (or rather, his mom's response to his death) called into question. In my mind, Bob became exactly who I wanted him to be. Had he lived, I told myself, our relationship would have been everything I wanted it to be.

Worse still, my eagerness for heaven shifted from my desire to see Jesus to a longing to be reunited with Bob. It shames me to type such an admission. Now I've exposed some of my heart's depravity, and I  can see how greatly I dishonored the Lord Who purchased me with His blood for His own pleasure.

Instead of idolizing Bob (who, in reality was a very imperfect man much different from me), I needed to worship and adore Christ Jesus. Had Bob lived, I certainly would have seen his character flaws, as well as all the disparities in our personalities. The Lord still would have brought me out of Charismatic theology, and as a result Bob would have bitterly disappointed me.

The memory of a departed loved one often gets distorted by our grief, causing us to  refashion them into who we want them to  be. Furthermore, we delude ourselves into thinking that, if they had lived, they would have loved us perfectly and made us happy. We don't give others a chance to love us, nor do we remember that Jesus alone loves us with absolute perfection.

Grief is normal, and we never completely get over a loved one's death. But grief must never slide into idolatrous memories, and we mustn't wallow in it endlessly. The Lord may take away  a dear loved one, but He leaves several others who  both love us and (more importantly) need our love. When we fixate on a departed loved one, we can disdain people who still live...people who care deeply for us. We send the message that they matter a great deal less to us than our deceased loved one. In our grief, we harden into a selfishness that hurts others.

We also harden ourselves towards the Lord by putting our loved one in His place. We usually deny this fact if  someone has the courage and love to confront us, refusing even to admit it to ourselves. But deep down, we know. And we also know, deep down, that our insistence  on defining ourselves by our bereavement in turn grieves the Holy Spirit.

My life seemed to have lost all joy 25 years ago. But 17 years ago, the Lord graciously brought John into  my life. Had I clung to my fantasies about Bob, I would have missed the love of my life, as well as all the ways God has used this marriage to draw me closer to Himself. I praise Him for breaking me out of the grief that encased me.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

My Pastor Doesn't Care (And I'm Glad)

The Lord has blessed our church with a pastor who loves our church. In the brief time that we've known him, he's demonstrated a deep concern for the congregation as a whole, as well as for individual members. He has shown touching compassion toward me and John, especially regarding John's health issues.

Our pastor also loves the Word of God, and loves it with a passion that refuses to water it down to accommodate popular evangelical trends, worldly attitudes or sinful behaviors.  His preaching reveals his complete unwillingness to compromise Scripture. He really wouldn't do well in the Church Growth Movement, since he apparently disdains the marketing techniques of people like Rick Warren, Bill Hybels and Jim van Yperen. In his most recent sermon, my pastor had the audacity to insist that a church shouldn't be structured around surveys or consensus, but rather should follow the Biblical pattern that Christ laid out through His apostles.

Sometimes, my pastor steps on toes when he preaches. One Sunday, after he preached a sermon that "happened" to address some sin that I'd been entertaining all week, I accused him of reading my diary. John told him once, "Your preaching makes me uncomfortable...and I want more!"

Please don't misunderstand me and accuse me of worshiping my pastor. Such idolatry really doesn't interest me. But I do want to praise God for His grace to bring me and John under the care of a pastor and board of elders who desire to obey the Lord rather than structuring a church that would appeal to any  specific demographic. These men have no interest in fitting into the general culture. And this freedom from catering to popular opinion liberates them to proclaim God's Word with integrity, even when it offends people.

Love is kind, according to 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, but it also grieves at wrongdoing and takes joy in truth. Sometimes, love needs to override sentimentality for the purpose of holding fast to Biblical  convictions. In the process, feelings get hurt. Homosexuals hear that God considers their lifestyle abominable. People who base their spirituality on mysticism hear that their experiences lack  validity. And rage-aholics like  me will hear that Jesus likens our angry outbursts to murder. Love demands leaders (or any brother or sister in Christ) to confront our sin whether we like it or not.

I don't enjoy it when my pastor says something that forces me to see sin in my life. But praise the Lord for blessing me with a pastor and elders that desire my holiness more than my emotional comfort. They don't care if they hurt my feelings...because they love me.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Thoughts Resulting From A Song

Christmas hymns can jump-start my brain, getting me to think through (or, more honestly, attempt to think though) the implications of God coming as a Baby. Songs like Mary, Did You Know can start me on endless mental journeys as I try to imagine the One Who created vast galaxies as an embryo in the womb of a young girl.

The practicalities of the Incarnation raise amazing questions. How could Mary and Joseph teach the Word of God (John 1:1-14) how to speak? How does a young couple raise God? Did  Jesus attend Hebrew School already knowing the Torah, and did He work to memorize the Psalms with His brothers? When He ate the Passover lamb each year, did He anticipate that Good Friday afternoon when He would suffer and die as the Lamb of God Who would take away the sins of the world (John 1:35-36)? And the questions multiply, alternately intriguing me and frustrating me with the complexities of Jehovah, the very Sustainer of all creation (Colossians 1:17), depending on His mother for His basic needs.

If I allow such thoughts too much free reign, they degenerate into the type of foolish speculation that the apostle Paul warned Timothy to avoid (1 Timothy 1:3-5). Such an over-dependence on human reasoning leads to the type of pride that undermines faith. Sometimes we can forget that, as mere creatures, we can't begin to think as deeply and broadly as God does (Isaiah 55:8-9), and we need to repent of such arrogance.

Having recognized the need to remain humble, we  can reflect on questions such as those I posed earlier as springboards to worship. Each time I think about the Almighty God wrapped in swaddling clothes like any other Jewish baby of that time, my heart trembles with awe. The One Who has true power, much greater than any earthquake, tornado or hurricane, became a helpless Infant. And He came to die for us, so that, in rising from the dead, He would quell the power of sin. These thoughts of Him fill me with the true wonder of Christmas.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

But I Adore ALL Babies...

Like most people from the Boomer generation, I've sung O  Come, All Ye Faithful since childhood. But until Christ's Holy Spirit put new life in me, the concept of adoring Christ seemed peculiar to me. True, all babies are adorable. I just couldn't figure out why the carol urged "the faithful" (whoever they were) to adore Baby Jesus.

Now, as a Christian, I understand.

At Christmas, all who enjoy God's grace which enables us to be faithful to Him turn our thoughts to Bethlehem, adoring the Word Who became flesh. While others rejoice in the outward festivities of the season with us, our joy goes so much deeper! We wonder at the idea of God coming as a baby, born of a virgin, so that He might live a sinless life and   shed His innocent  blood to atone for our sins.

Yes, we join all the citizens of heaven in adoring Christ the  Lord, confident that He deserves all glory. He has risen from the dead, and given us new life that  causes us to triumph over sin! Of course we adore Him!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

No Comment?

"Commentaries,"  began my friend with a disdainful edge to her voice,  "give man's opinion. Inductive Bible study, on the other hand, gives you God's Word without the filter of human interpretation."

I resisted the urge to point out that she hears a commentary every Sunday morning when  her pastor opens his mouth. In retrospect, I regret my silence. Perhaps saying something about sermons being commentaries might have challenged her to reconsider her stance on Bible study tools so that she could take advantage of insights by scholars such as Matthew Henry, Albert Barnes, John Gill and even  contemporary scholars like John MacArthur and William MacDonald. Instead, I muttered something about being thankful for software that gave me access to Bible study tools. Then I changed the subject.

Currently, my personal Bible study time primarily leans toward more inductive methods as I work through the Old and New Testaments with the goal of understanding Scripture's overall  context. I've learned more than I thought I would by studying this way, and I do think I'd developed an over-dependence on commentaries. But several times a week, I encounter a verse or passage that puzzles me. In those times, I consult two or three commentaries (never just one) to gain insight.

Using commentaries and other study tools reminds me that I often need help in understanding God's Word.  Unlike the commentators I read, I don't know  Hebrew and  Greek, nor do I know ancient history or First Century customs. Sometimes, therefore,  I need background information in order to accurately understand (for example) why God killed Uzzah for steadying the Ark (2 Samuel 6:6-7) or why the apostle Paul emphasized that all wisdom and knowledge is hidden in Christ (Colossians 2:2-3).

Indeed, we all have the potential to elevate commentaries to the level of Scripture itself, and in that respect I appreciate my friend's  caution. At the same time, too much inductive study holds the danger of subjective interpretation.

God gave us Scripture in order to reveal Himself. As we read and study it in an attitude of prayer, His Spirit speaks to us. But those of us who know neither the original languages nor the historical and cultural backgrounds may need the input of more advanced Bible scholars. Let's have the humility to at least look at the perspectives they offer, realizing that they each have flaws. As do we.
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. ~~2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV)


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