Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Not A Cosmic Bell Boy

If a sociologist examined current day evangelical culture, would he or she find Biblical Christianity? Or would that culture display a narcissism, depicting God as a cosmic Bell Boy Who exists for the purpose of making life comfortable, trouble-free, and even prosperous? Sadly, the latter possibility is  more likely to be what the sociologist would observe.

The clergy bears much of the blame for this distorted image of Christian life. Sermons often focus on how God offers the only true satisfaction. Pastors urge their congregations to repent of sexual immorality, drugs, alcohol and other vices because those behaviors hurt them, keeping them from all the blessings that God desires to give them. Sin, therefore, is little more than a barrier to a life of happiness and abundance, and should be shunned in order that believers can enjoy "abundant life."

Going deeper into what descends from 21st Century evangelical teaching, our sociologist would discover copious evidence that Christianity is primarily concerned with maintaining the egos of the faithful. Many pastors and Christian writers carefully promote self-esteem as being essential to Christian development. As a result, following Christ degenerates into just another spiritual path to personal reassurance, allowing believers to value themselves and feel comfortable in letting Jesus focus His love and attention on them.

As an example, Rick Warren's book, Purpose Driven Life, opens with the statement, "It's not about you." From there, however, Warren launches into 40 chapters (quoting Scripture from multiple translations and often out of context) explaining the ways in which knowing God's purpose for their lives, while advancing God's Kingdom, will ultimately benefit them. Despite his startling opening statement, Warren delivers the subtle message that, once they learn God's purpose, they indeed will experience deep satisfaction...making it all about them after all.

Joel Osteen is a bit more blatant, proclaiming that, if we obey God, people can live their "best lives now." God, in Osteen's world, promises prosperity in this life, making Himself a means to an end. Through Osteen, our sociologist might conclude that Christianity centers on worldly success, as believers use faith to bring about desired results. Again, God's job appears to be that of catering to the wants and perceived needs of His creatures.

But Christian leaders don't bear sole responsibility for corrupting and diluting the Gospel. Although Bibles and good study materials are increasingly available both electronically and in hard copy, Biblical literacy even among those who have been Christians for multiple decades is breathtakingly low. Even people who attend churches that offer deficient instruction (and in certain parts of the country, Bible-believing churches are few and far between) have access to websites that provide sound doctrine. A few can be found on the left sidebar of this blog, under the heading "Christian Thinking."

The Bible does present God as an incredibly loving Father who eagerly blesses His children, even in this life. Very frequently, He does grant petitions, clearly demonstrating His joy in providing over and above what His children ask of Him. He loves His creation. So please, don't interpret this post as implying that He is unconcerned with His followers. In truth, His love for humanity took His Son to a Roman cross so that He could shed His blood to atone for human sin. He offers those who believe in Him eternal life, where they can behold His Face, finally and forever free from their propensity to sin.

But His wonderful promises, as much as they benefit believers, are ultimately given for His glory. Everything He does is a reflection of Him. Rather than existing to serve His creatures, then, He has created His people to glorify Him.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. ~~1 Peter 2:9 (ESV)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Interruptive Reminder

When Google interrupted my first attempt at blogging this afternoon, I took the opportunity to reassess my subject matter and concluded that I'd broached a topic that required more  time, prayer and consideration, so I actually welcomed having to stop typing and sign back in. During that interim, I remembered what I'd originally planned to write, so I happily began my second draft. At that point, my virus protection software suspended operations again, prompting me to go offline completely while it added updates. At that point, time had dwindled. No extensive post would be possible today.

Interruptions annoy me. I like my plans, such as they are, and don't appreciate people or circumstances that have the ill-mannered audacity to fold, spindle or mutilate them. But the Lord often uses these moments of interference to remind me that all of creation really doesn't revolve around me, despite my conviction that it ought to conform to my every whim. I forget that I am here for the Lord, not the other way around.

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
   to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
   and by your will they existed and were created.”
                        ~~Revelation 4:11 (ESV)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

You're Cordially Invited To Brag

A few months back, Ron Edmondson invited his readers to post links to their blogs, accompanied by descriptions, in the comments section of that post. I loved his idea, and actually found one of my favorite blogs (The Cheese Was On Sale) through those comments.

So, I'm paying it forward by opening my comments up to you, giving you an opportunity to promote your blogs by commenting on this post. You may not gain readers. Then again, you may! As long as your blog is clean, I'm happy to offer this platform to you! So c'mon...introduce yourself. People may find that your blog is one of their favorites.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Home, Now and Forever

Boston. Well, technically we'll be there this coming Thursday, but we'll spend the whole time in a medical consultation, which doesn't exactly cut it as a Boston Adventure according to my way of thinking. Yet, perhaps I'll get glimpses of this city that I love, depending on where the paratransit van picks up and drops off other passengers. You can bet I'll be looking for familiar, beloved sites...and wishing we could enjoy them rather than crowding into a doctor's office.

Such is life, apparently.

I'm so thankful, however, to live near a city that evokes such passion in my heart. It astounds me that, in leading me to the husband I'd always envisioned, the Lord also brought me to Boston, where I feel settled.

I've only lived in three other places (four, if three months in North Wales counts), and I always found myself longing to be elsewhere. I figured my chronic homesickness was a longing for heaven. I still have that longing, as I know I'll be with Christ and finally liberated from my sin nature. But I also like actually enjoying where I live instead of always wanting to be somewhere else. As long as I live in this life, waiting for Jesus to take me Home, it really is nice to be so delighted with the place He's appointed as my earthly home.

The joy I have here is multiplied as I anticipate my eternal Home. For all it's wonders, you see, Boston is still badly broken, defiled by liberal politics and (even worse) liberal theology. Its beautiful historic church buildings (so magnificent in their architecture) hold congregations that stray from doctrinal purity in favor of politically correct philosophies. The Puritans of 1630 would indeed not recognize their own churches. So, mingled with my pleasure in this amazing city is grief that it has turned from its Biblical foundation. No, this city I so happily embrace is, despite its many splendors, far from all that Jesus is preparing for his people. My love for Boston gives me a slight idea of how totally joyous I'll be in my eternal Home.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

He's Still My President

It's no secret, as far as I know, that I'm as conservative in my politics as I am in my theology. Well, okay. maybe not quite as conservative politically, but a great deal more conservative than I used to be. And most people probably know how disturbed I've been by most of the policies that President Obama has implemented during his three years in office. I've tried, in wanting to honor the Lord, to keep this blog from too much political commentary, and I've been especially careful not to speak ill of the President.

Scripture tells us to honor those in civil authority. Peter wrote:

13 Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— 16 as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. 17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. ~~1 Peter 2:13-17

When President Bush was in office, obeying this command wasn't all that difficult for me. President Bush allowed Congress to pass some legislation that shouldn't have passed, becoming truly conservative only in his last year (when it was too late). As far as Iraq, I'm still not thoroughly convinced that it was a mistake to go in there, but I suppose we'll never really have answers to that. (Please avoid using my comments section to debate Bush's policies either way.) For the most part, however, I liked Bush, so praying for him came easily. Honoring him was a joy.

President Obama's election filled me with fear, and he has done far worse things than I envisioned when I cast my ballot for McCain. Having said this, I have disciplined myself to pray for God's blessing on President Obama, asking particularly that he would lead our country well, and that his wife and children would be blessed.

Such praying doesn't feel comfortable to my flesh, which frankly prefers that he continues to fail in his presidency. This is, after all, an election year, and a sudden moderation in his administration could block a Republican victory in November. So, before anyone "admires" my "spiritual maturity," please understand that my attitude comes solely from the Holy Spirit's control in my life. He alone enables me to seek President Obama's welfare and success at a time when my carnal nature wishes to celebrate his failures and pray for his political demise. Despite the plethora of reasons I disagree with him, he's still my president.

The Lord had Peter affirm the Christian duty to honor government authority at a time when Nero was throwing Christians to the lions. The apostle knew first hand that First Century government was hostile to Christianity, and sanctioned tremendous persecution against those who lived faithfully to the Lord Jesus Christ. So his instructions in 1 Peter 2:13-17 can't be dismissed by Christian Republicans in 21st Century America who still enjoy (despite their erosion) religious liberties that people in apostolic times would have found incredible! If this apostle could honor Nero, I see no reason to dishonor President Obama. Disagree, absolutely. Vote against him in November, without a doubt. But I pray I will oppose his presidency without disrespecting him so that I can remain in obedience to the Lord.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hectic Silence

Monday, though my schedule was wide open, I chose to ignore my blog and my email correspondence responsibilities in favor of other social media, thus wallowing in an unproductive day. I knew my choices were self-indulgent and displeasing to the Lord (ironic, since He is the Lord, and really has ultimate claim on how I spend my time), but I simply felt like doing my own thing, disregarding all the ways He had given me to serve Him. I comforted myself with the idea that I could blog the following day, and consequently no one would take very much notice.

Then yesterday happened. Of course, I'd rather keep details private, but the big picture is that John spent the day in the Emergency Room. Don't worry--he's okay. His ailment will mean a few doctor visits and blood tests, but the situation is manageable.

But I had to stay home alone, not knowing how long John would be away, or who would be able to assist me with supper until he could get home. So I put out pleas on Facebook and email, asking prayer for John and company for myself. Quite quickly, a friend from church sent me a message on Facebook, saying she'd be over in 45 minutes. Soon after, a friend from another church emailed, offering to help with supper. After my friend from church arrived, a friend from a third church called to ask if I still needed help.

As it worked out, the friend who came serves with us on our church's Missions Committee, which was slated to meet at our apartment last night. I'd decided not to cancel the meeting, figuring it would give me something to do if John didn't come home. So my friend and I talked, prayed, cleaned John's wheelchair, enjoyed the Mexican Lasagna that John had defrosted, tidied the living room, talked some more---all interspersed with phone calls from concerned people and the man from church who had driven John to the hospital.

Around half an hour before the meeting, John's companion called with the very welcome news that they'd get home for most of the meeting! Although my friend had been willing to spend the night with me if the hospital kept John, we hoped he could come home. What a welcome he got, with both my friend and the committee chair taking his power wheelchair down to the car, and the rest of us cheering when he entered the apartment!

Our meetings are never very stuffy, since the six of us have worked together for several years, but the exhilaration of having John home, combined with John eating his first meal of the day while we discussed budgets and which missionaries could speak at church on which Sundays, took us to a new level of informality. Rest assured, we did business. It just felt like a party.

So...even though I was quiet online, yesterday swirled with activity, emotion, and learning how many friends we really have. Yes, my hookey-playing Monday was wrong, especially in its presumption that yesterday would allow me to cover my tracks. That said, silence my not always indicate quietness. So, with me, I guess you never know!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Unwanted

This weekend, I'd rather not blog, thank you very much. Facebook, Twitter and other assorted attractions distract me, and they frankly require a lot less effort. But this blog, once my baby, has grown into my child, needing constant care and direction as it matures into something serious. I am committed to it, and my transient desires to pursue other activities must not usurp that commitment. At least not two days in a row!

C'mon, it's only a blog. Not a real child who needs to be clothed and fed and protected!

Well, that's sort of my point. As much as I assume responsibility for my blog, it's nothing like assuming responsibility for a tiny human life, even when that life hasn't yet exited the womb. Disposing of a baby may help fund Planned Parenthood (although that's not a laudable accomplishment, either), but it betrays a selfishness so much deeper, so much more sinister, than wanting a break from blogging. Sure, a pregnancy may be unwanted, but once it begins, commitment must prevail over selfish desires.

39 years ago today, the Supreme Court twisted the 14th Amendment, which was originally written to reverse the Dred Scott decision by granting full citizenship rights to blacks. Under Roe vs. Wade, unborn children were determined by the Court (the Court, mind you--not medical doctors) not to be actual persons, thereby applying the 14th Amendment exclusively to the mothers. Boggles the mind, doesn't it?

Admittedly, I've never experienced a pregnancy, unwanted or otherwise, so I can't fully empathize with women who, for whatever reason, conclude that abortion is their only alternative. That being said, children must always be valued, even when such valuation expresses itself in adoption. Going through pregnancy is difficult, yes, but the little life in that womb is, despite the Supreme Court's declaration on January 22, 1973, still a human life that demands commitment from his or her mother...at least during the  nine months of gestation.

Friday, January 20, 2012

One Reason I Love Being Irish

For Christmas, my sister gave me and John one of  those calendars that has a page for each day, decorated with a saying. The theme of this calendar is Irish sayings. Some are funny, some offer interesting Irish trivia, some extol drinking (I dislike those) and a few are inspirational.

Wednesday's offering was an Irish blessing. It reminds me of my relationship with John, and the commitment we've made to each other, so I decided to share it.


A Wedding Prayer

By the power that Christ brought from heaven,
Mayest thou love me.
As the sun follows its course,
Mayest thou follow me.
As light to the eye,
As bread to the hungry,
As joy to the heart,
May thy presence be with me,
Oh one that I love,
Till death comes to part us asunder.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Terrible Anniversary

In 1980 (or was it 1979), a group of us from my church's Singles Ministry eagerly signed up to attend a two-day seminar featuring theologian and intellectual giant Francis Schaeffer. If I was told the topic of the seminar, I don't recall the preparation. I just knew seeing Schaeffer live was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I'd be foolish to pass up!

I didn't know it would radically change my perspective so radically that I would, 15 years later, finally abandon my affiliation with the Democratic Party over the watershed issue of abortion.

Schaeffer presented a five-part film series that weekend entitled Whatever Happened To The Human Race, which he made with C. Everett Koop (who would subsequently become Surgeon General for the Regan Administration). Using Roe vs Wade as a starting point, they explored the ramifications of abortion, as well as the lesser acknowledged practices of infanticide and euthanasia.

I entered the weekend as someone who gave little thought to abortion, other than thinking it was unfair that some women discarded their unborn children while I would never have the joy of being a mother. But that weekend taught me how sacred human life is, even before birth. The thought that women would abort children with physical defects particularly distressed me. How much I would have missed if a doctor had discovered my disability before my birth and had convinced my parents that I would have such a "low quality of life" that abortion was the most "humane" route! In short, since that seminar, I've never wavered from my pro-life convictions.

Tomorrow marks the 39th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. In those 39 years, more American lives have ended on abortion tables than on battlefields, with relatively little outrage. I wonder, all these years later, why Schaeffer's message--the message that turned my thinking around and burns within me 23 years after I exited the doors of that seminar--hasn't penetrated this nation. I grieve for all those lives that have ended before they began, and pray that it won't be another 39 years before this decision is reversed.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Give Me The Bad News First

The concept of grace, and even forgiveness appeals to everyone. After all, who doesn't love the thought that God reaches out with loving arms, assuring us that He'll accept us unconditionally? What a delight to know that I don't have to earn His favor, and that nothing I do can severe me from His love (Romans 8:38-39).

To truly enjoy His grace, however, we must begin with a deep awareness that we do not, cannot, and can never hope to please Him. In short, we must come to terms with our depravity. And, in this age of cultivating self-esteem and exalting human potential (even in supposedly Christian contexts), the idea that we are inherently sinners absolutely repulses us. As much as I acknowledge my sinfulness, both publicly and when I'm alone with the Lord in my prayer closet, part of me persists in trying to refute Scripture's pronouncement that only the shed blood of Jesus Christ can make me right with God.

Yet in Mathew 5:3-6, Jesus taught that only those of us who see our moral bankruptcy, grieve over our corrupt hearts, and hunger for His righteousness to replace our own unrighteousness will experience the amazing wonder of His mercy and grace.

3 Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
       4 Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
       5 Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
       6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
   
The Lord wasn't listing a set of attitudes to which Christians should aspire. Rather, He was describing the broken attitudes necessary for receiving salvation (I believe verses 7-10 describe the transformation effected by grace). Until we own our moral impoverishment, knowing how totally sin enslaves us, the real miracle of grace escapes us.

I am most amazed by God's lavish grace when I'm  confronted with the kind of person I am apart from Him. The bad news about myself makes the Good News of His grace in dying for sins that I commit that much sweeter!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Care And Feeding Of Blogs

As John posted in his blog, I Ponder Today, yesterday and this morning weren't fun. I'll not reinvent the wheel by writing my slant on the matter, other than to say my husband is much more wonderful than he thinks I am. So yeah, we've kissed and made up!

But this morning's portion of the "discussion' consumed a good two hours, minimizing the time I could invest in blogging. In the past several months, you see, I've come to understand that blogging involves more than putting my own posts out there. It also requires reading other blogs and commenting on them. And reading the blogs of other people who post comments on the blogs I read.

Then there's reading blogs posted on Twitter and Facebook, perhaps commenting on them. In all this reading, I develop ideas that may (or may not) morph into my own posts, and I also learn from the writing styles of my fellow bloggers. All through school, writing teachers emphasized that the best way to learn the craft of writing is to read. Since blogging is my genre, then, I need to study other blogs, learning what approaches to blogging draw followers, and how I can emulate those approaches while maintaining a unique quality that makes my blog worth reading.

Commenting on posts encourages my fellow bloggers. I know this is true because I like receiving comments--even negative ones. A comment means I've made you smile, or cry, or think...or pray. It shows me that my post successfully reached through your computer, cell phone or iPad to  get your attention. So, if I enjoy feedback from my readers, it seems reasonable to assume that other bloggers would appreciate comments from me.

But additionally, when I post a comment, I'm publicizing my own blog, expanding my audience. I mean, I blog, not only for personal enjoyment (though it is pleasurable, to be sure), but because I believe my blog is (most of the time) actually worth reading.

Today, I devoted less time to blogging than I'd planned. But my primary job is to be John's wife. I guess blogging really should take a back seat to working through marital conflict and (even better) making up after the conflict ends!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Getting it Wrong--Making It Right

Yesterday, while posting about a passage of Scripture with great excitement over something I'd noticed while studying the Bible Saturday, I happened to look a little more carefully at the passage. Oh dear! I'd completely misread it, and the entire premise of my post, while perhaps still valid, could no longer be substantiated using that Scripture.

I'm still thinking about the idea I wanted to present, but obviously I need to study a bit more before hurling it out into cyberspace. God's Word is precious, and I don't want to mishandle it by twisting it into the shape of my preconceived ideas. I got it wrong yesterday, so I deleted my blog post.

To rectify the situation, I'll stay in Scripture, waiting for the Holy Spirit to give me clarity on the matter. Really, that's the only reasonable response!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Displaying The Pearl

All humans love the idea that we have something inherent in ourselves that pleases God. We firmly believe we bring something to the salvation table. In dealing with the presumption that we can contribute to our salvation, I'd like you to think of Jesus as a perfect Pearl. (I love pearls.). That image, of course, should remain limited to the analogy I present here--I don't mean to start a new teaching about Jesus being a Pearl! But consider, for this moment, how your life would best show off His beauty. What about you best displays Him?


Perhaps you might immediately think of your good deeds. You've given to charitable causes, worked in Christian ministry, raised relatively behaved kids, driven elderly neighbors to doctor appointments, sent Christmas cards every year, all while maintaining good health habits to show everyone that you know your body is the temple of the Lord. Your organization and efficiency dazzles everybody. How much you do for Him.

Against such a backdrop, the Pearl can be seen, but you compete with Him for attention.

Or maybe He's given you talents, such as a good singing voice or the ability to paint beautiful landscapes. Your blog has over 500 followers, most of whom gush endlessly over your knack for "turning a phrase." Your signature cherry pie is always requested at church potlucks, or people crowd around you because your sense of humor is legendary. How creative you are for Him!

Against such a backdrop, the Pearl can be seen, but you compete with Him for attention.

Ah, but it's possible that your piety impresses Him. You were a virgin until your wedding night, and would never flirt with anyone but your spouse. You have filters on your computer, you refuse to be alone (even in an elevator) with a member of the opposite sex, and you don't buy underwear at Victoria's Secret. Furthermore, you avoid products that exploit workers in Third World sweat-shops, you never drink so much as a glass of wine, and you would  never dream of jay-walking...even in downtown Boston. How moral you are for Him!

Against such a backdrop, the Pearl can be seen, but you compete with Him for attention.
Actually, I see my own attention-grabbing attitudes in all three of these pictures. Hopefully, you see yourself as well. If we choose these backdrops of self-righteousness, we may convince ourselves that we best display the Pearl, but the reality demonstrates otherwise. As long as we claim anything good about ourselves, we minimize the Lord's role as Savior.

Jesus is a Pearl, not because our "goodness" displays Him, but because He turns our wickedness into a backdrop for His mercy, grace and love.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I Do It!

Although many years have passed, the memory of the child frowning with insistent determination remains vivid. Nearing her second birthday, she was developing a sense of autonomy, causing her to react to her mother's attempts to help her by screwing up her reddened face and shrieking, "I do it!" Typical of a toddler, she'd punctuate her personal declaration of independence by kicking and swatting, pretty much forcing her mother to back off and allow her to accomplish the task without adult intervention.

So many adults behave that way toward God, seeking salvation, spiritual well-being and purpose through human effort. Prayers, meditation, good deeds and/or spiritual exercises promise that they can achieve God's presence, favor, karma or blessing through their own efforts. Human potential...isn't that the article of faith? When all is said and done, God is really an extension of them, so their rituals release that which is divine in them.

They may couch their human potential faith in Biblical terminology, even acknowledging that (in a certain sense) God is outside them, but even then they believe that He somehow depends on their actions. Or they may draw more on Eastern Mysticism, employing yoga, breathing techniques, or Tai Chi to release whatever "spiritual entity" that dwells within them. Attempts at altruism may be their chosen vehicle, or religious practices like prayer beads. Even daily Bible reading, done with the attitude that getting through a certain  amount of chapters per day, can be perverted into a way to merit God's applause.

But God simply isn't impressed with our attempts to reach Him. From His perspective, human potential is, frankly, putrid to Him.

But we are all like an unclean thing,
      And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags;
      We all fade as a leaf,
      And our iniquities, like the wind,
      Have taken us away. ~~Isaiah 64:6

The phrase, "filthy rags" means menstrual cloths--eww! Not a very flattering image of human efforts to actuate God's power, is it? This ugly verse, however, is only one of many to expose humanity's helplessness to  redeem itself. God cannot accept human offerings (unless they come with humble acknowledgment that even those offerings originally come from Him) because He will not share His glory. He declares that we cannot do it. That we are intrinsically helpless...completely dependent on the Lord.

Yet, wondrously, that very helplessness opens the way for Him to reach us.

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. ~~Romans 5:6

He calls us to lay aside our repugnant endeavors to attain His favor, blessing or power, realizing that He does it! His work on the Cross finished everything, and His Resurrection from the dead gives us power that comes only from Him. We can kick and scream like tyrannical babies all we want, and He may abandon us to our delusions of autonomy. But the true Christian finds peace in surrendering to the Lord's soothing reassurance: "It is finished."

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I'm Smarter Than I Look

When we first moved into our building, a couple down the hall took an interest in us. Somehow, the husband got it into his head, however, that my disability extended to my intellect. He'd talk with John on an adult level, but changed the pitch of his voice and the scope of his vocabulary when he addressed me. We had him read samples of my writing in hopes that he would realize that I had normal intelligence, but he only said they were "very good." The article did nothing to convince him to treat me as an adult.

Conversely, I once had a friend who was persuaded that I had a genius IQ. She repeatedly told people, despite my equally repeated corrections, that I had a Master's Degree (the truth being that I didn't have the necessary grades to get into graduate school). She imagined me as a straight A student, and would have been incredulous that I muddled through college with only a sprinkling of As (mostly in my major), ample Bs, four our five Cs, and a D in Latin that haunted me from my first semester. She'd made up her mind that I held a Master's Degree and should have joined Mensa, and refused to consider the fact that I'm average.

Clearly, neither my neighbor nor my friend, even though each was quite resolute in their opinion of my intellectual capabilities, saw me as I truly am. They had each constructed an image of me that made them comfortable. Neither was willing to adjust their perception of me, even in the light of evidence that repudiated their mistaken beliefs.

Similarly, so many people decide Who God is according to their human ideas of Who they want Him to be. If they can envision Him their way, they can control Him rather than surrendering control of their lives to Him. His Word becomes contingent on their opinions, so that His commands soften into suggestions that, if circumstances dictate, can be conveniently disregarded. Like my neighbor and my friend, they choose to cling to a self-fashioned image of God, and would really rather not be disturbed by the Bible's presentation of Him.

Yet, opinions of God's nature cannot alter Who He actually is. The Bible is not governed by what we think, but instead is meant to govern our thoughts, transforming us into people that look at life through His perspective and live in conformity to His will. Above all, we must set aside our comfortable notions of Who we think He ought to be so that we can worship Him as He truly is.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. ~~John 14:6

Monday, January 9, 2012

Our Savior, In Person Part II

Yesterday, I too hurriedly introduced J. Gresham Machen's book, Christianity And Liberalism, in which Machen defends Biblical theology against modern reconstructions of the faith. I regret posting such a truncated discussion of Machen's book. I failed to explain my delight in his remark that:

The Christian doctrine of the atonement, therefore, is altogether rooted in the Christian doctrine of the deity of Christ.

 To understand my excitement, perhaps you need to know that I've always been completely fascinated with the doctrine of the Incarnation. Contrary to liberal theology as explained by Machen, Jesus' deity is much more literal than a Man Who merely embodied noble ideals which He then passed on to His disciples. Nor was He divine in the way that, as liberal scholars would have him be, all men have a certain "divinity" (oh dear!). The real Jesus, while being an actual Human Being who ate and slept and bled and died, also created the universe and reigns over it. As God, He is loving, yet hates sin. He is merciful, and yet a righteous Judge Who cannot, in His holiness, tolerate deviation from His standards.

To understand the wonder, indeed the power, of what He accomplished by dying on the Cross, it's imperative to possess a Biblical view of His deity. Already, I've outlined some attributes that testify to Christ's deity, but those attributes best demonstrate themselves when they're discussed in opposition to the liberal concept of "God."

Clearly, I can't quote Machen extensively without violating copyright laws (and anyway, then you wouldn't be inspired to read his book), but I wanted to paraphrase his description of how liberal theologians characterize God. To them, He is not so much an actual Person (with an intellect, emotions and a will), as He is a unifying spirit. Machen writes:

God, at least according to the logical trend of modern liberalism, is not a person separate from the world, but merely the unity that pervades the world.

So according to liberal theology, Jesus' deity reduces to an embodiment of whatever represents "God" to a given individual, and His death, instead of paying the penalty for sin, minimizes itself to an inspiring example of noble self-sacrifice.

Yet, God most definitely is three Persons in one being, distinct from His creation. He alone has claim to divinity. To say Jesus is fully God and fully Man, then, is a mysterious statement that our Creator and Ruler took up residence in the womb of a girl in Nazareth, was born as a Human infant, lived to teach His precepts and died an agonizing death to take the punishment for sin in the place of you and me. Do I understand all these things? Only partially. But I know they're gloriously true!


This glorious truth leads me to Jesus, the Person who is my Savior, and I rejoice in this statement by Machen which I'll share in closing.

The fundamental thing is that God Himself, and not another, makes the sacrifice for sin--God Himself in the person of the Son who assumed our nature and died for us, God Himself in the Person of the Father who spared not His own Son but offered Him up for us all. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Our Savior, In Person Part I

J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937) deplored the liberal theology that had begun to infiltrate Princeton Seminary, where he served as Professor of New Testament between 1915 and 1929. As a result of his dispute with Princeton, he formed Westminster Theological Seminary in 1929. His book, Christianity and Liberalism (1923) offers a clear contrast between orthodox Christian teaching and the liberal approach to God that I grew up with in a PCUSA Presbyterian church. Reading his book has helped me better understand my childhood church, confirming the Lord's guidance in calling me to leave it four years after I gave my life to Him as a teenager.

The entire book (at least the 3/4 of it that I've read thus far) has given me much food for thought, both about the errors of my childhood church and about a lot of wrong doctrine that has been seeping into evangelical churches in the last 30 years. This evening, I only have time to share one quote from his powerful book, but this quote took my breath away when I  read it yesterday.

The Christian doctrine of atonement, therefore, is altogether rooted in the Christian doctrine of the deity of Christ. The reality of an atonement for sin depends altogether upon the New Testament presentation of the Person of Christ.

Machen writes these words having just explained that adherents to liberal theology don't understand the doctrine of atonement in the same way that Biblical Christians do. To them, His death is reduced to an "inspiring" example of self-sacrifice, rather than God Himself, at a specific point in history, bearing the penalty for sin.

More tomorrow.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Beyond Limits

As I start typing, I'm very conscious that dinner time is a little more than an hour away. What an unreasonable  time to begin blogging! In fact, half an hour ago, I'd concluded that it was really much to late to start writing. My head is brimming with ideas that require much exploration. Certainly too much to be explored as I tap one key at a time with my trusty headstick. So I posted on Twitter, posted on Facebook, retweeted and commented, all the while feeling hungry to really write.

So I sit at my computer, rebelling against time-constraints because I'm filled with excitement about the Lord and His Word. Our Bible Study group met this afternoon, kicking off our study of Colossians. We only made it through the first two verses, but they were packed with all sorts of  insight. Paul's apostleship. His relationship with Timothy. His imprisonment in Rome. Who saints are. The nature of sainthood. Who the faithful are. And all these matters against an historical backdrop.

After the group left, I read a bit in J. Gresham Machen's book, Christianity and Liberalism. Couldn't stop highlighting passages, especially when Machen explained the relationship between Christ's deity and His atoning death on the cross! I've got to blog about that part of his book!

Oh, but not now. Supper will be soon, and then I must sign time sheets for my Personal Care Attendants. But my thoughts joyfully multiply, pulling me up to heaven, and compelling me to at least mention some of the wonderful truths from Scripture that have captured my attention today. I may not be able to blog about any of them at length, but I've defied time by offering a quick overview. In so doing, I've successfully pushed beyond times limits, if only just a little.

Friday, January 6, 2012

How You Frame A Thing

All else failed in my search for inspiration regarding Paint Shop Pro, so I fell back on my default mode--making frames. I came up with four frames, which I'll display using the same photograph with each. I didn't use tutorials--it was more fun to tinker with various effects in Paint Shop Pro and to just see what happened.

I like the gold on white effect here. Does it sort of look Byzantine to you, or am I flattering myself?

This frame took the most time, but is my least favorite. Doing it was really fun, though, and it encourages me to try more intricate designs in the future.   So, while I can't say the result entirely thrills me, the process was extremely satisfying!

Using one of my patterns that I'd created last summer, I played with a couple reflection effects to come up with this frame. I know it's all wrong for this photo, but I do like it.
Ah, but this is my favorite, and best suits the photograph. It looks very complicated, but mostly I achieved it with a variety of Paint Shop Pro filters, using one on top of another. It probably took all of twenty minutes. Really!

As I look at this photograph, framed four different ways, I'm reminded that how you frame something makes such a difference! May my life, then, be framed by the Lord Jesus Christ.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Where Do Ideas Hide?

I'm not sure how many Paint Shop Pro tutorial websites I've bookmarked, but the combined number of tutorials they offer must loom into the thousands. So, my plan was to find a quick one, put my own spin on it, and proudly post it here to await your adoring comments. You would have left adoring comments, right? Well, maybe not.

My real motivation came from thinking this blog needs a visual post. Something to break up all the text I've been spewing lately. Additionally, I believe I need to devote more time to my digital art. I'm forgetting techniques, and I'm not growing as an artist. Yes, I'm well aware that my writing skills have developed nicely in recent months, which is great. All the better to reach you with, my dear! And, to be honest, I'm still uncertain as to how the visual arts can glorify God (though He's the greatest visual Artist ever).

Yet, I've always loved looking at portraits and landscapes, thrilling to paintings by Leonardo, Renoir, Monet, John Singer Sargent and (on a lesser scale) Kinkade. And I have a drive within me, unexplainable but quite insistent, to create pictures. Why I, so carefully groomed to be a writer, should experience such a pull to express myself visually, causes my puzzlement, most assuredly, and I have no idea where this compulsion originates. But my heart yearns to do something with Paint Shop Pro. Soon. Quickly.

I just can't find a tutorial to spark any ideas. I don't want a tutorial that I follow exactly, so that my creation would end up being a clone of the tutorial writer's. All I need is a suggestion. Perhaps a technique I've never tried, and one that I can tweak with a little experimentation. Well, if I fail to blog for a while, perhaps it's because I'm scrolling through tutorials, hunting for an idea.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Fruit Inspection

"A tree may always be known by its fruit, and a true Christian may always be discovered by their habits, tastes & affections." ~ JC Ryle

Isn't that quote tremendous ammo for judging your friends and neighbors? Well, in some respects discernment is mandated, and perhaps future blog posts can explore when such discernment should be employed...and with what attitude. But for now, I'd like to turn Ryle's pithy and challenging statement on myself.

The apostle Paul wrote:

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified ~~2 Corinthians 13:5

Before I evaluate another person's spiritual standing, Scripture compels me to do spiritual inventory on myself. Do I, first of all, believe the basic doctrines:

  • That God, though One Being, exists in Three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit
  • That humans are inherently sinful, corrupt in our very nature and unable to please God
  • That Jesus is fully God and fully Man
  • That Jesus was born of a virgin
  • That He died a physical death to atone for sin
  • That He was physically resurrected, and lives to intercede for His Church
  • That He alone saves believers from damnation on the basis of His shed blood
  • That His blood is applied only to those who believe in Him
    • That faith in Him, not human effort, brings about salvation
    • That faith in Him naturally expresses itself as obedience to Him
  • That He will return to take His Church to live with Him eternally
  • That those who reject Him will be eternally condemned to hell
  • That the Bible is God's written Word, infallible in its original languages
If I argue against any one of these basic doctrines, I need to sit back and seriously question my salvation. And my husband should ask questions about my salvation, as should the elders and pastor of the church I've joined. These doctrines are not negotiable, nor are they matters of opinion. Other doctrines are important, but true Christians can disagree on even important ones without being disqualified  from heaven's gates.

In addition to the fundamental doctrines, salvation can be judged by how I live. In saying this, I must be extremely careful to insist that my works can never bring about my salvation. Obedience, in and of itself, has no ability to save me! If I come to the Lord with an expectation that my behavior in any way qualifies me for heaven, I negate His sacrifice on the cross. Yet, if His shed blood doesn't fill me with gratitude to the point that I give Him His rightful authority to direct my thoughts, attitudes and behavior through the transforming guidance of His Word, I really should ask myself some hard questions. If I honestly believe in Jesus, my life should reflect His values, priorities...His very nature!

What does my life say about Jesus? Do other people identify me with Him? Or do they identify me with a lifestyle of selfishness and worldly thinking that, if it includes Him at all, tacks Him on as decoration? How I live won't determine my salvation, but it will certainly demonstrate whether my salvation is the real article.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Entirely Incidental Blessings

Shortly after our wedding, it occurred to me that God had satisfied my wish-list. Not one, but two nieces. Three months of Bible College in North Wales, where I lived with 39 other Christians, followed by an afternoon in Oxford, England (the weather cooperated to give me just the sort of day I'd wanted to have in Oxford). Twelve years on staff at Love In Action (an ex-gay ministry). And finally, a little over a month before my 49th birthday, the blessing I'd yearned for all my life: marriage to the man of my dreams! I pretty much informed God that, since He'd given me everything I'd ever wanted, He now had my permission to take me Home!

What an arrogant, self-focused attitude!

Don't misunderstand. I'm very grateful for all the wonderful, abundant blessings the Lord has lavished on me. He's not limited His generosity to those things listed in the first paragraph. Those items were the major "desires of my heart," but He has given me ever so many more temporal blessings (yes, the opportunity to live so close to Boston being predominate on the list). I do praise Him for His constant attention to my wishes, and treasure each as a reminder of His love, mercy and inexhaustible goodness. And maybe, by openly confessing His goodness toward me, I can attract others to Him, thus turning His kindness into something that glorifies Him.

Ah...and glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ is precisely why, nine years after that pinnacle blessing of marrying John, He hasn't taken me Home. He undoubtedly has more surprises in store for me (He's that sort of God), but if so, those tokens of His love are entirely incidental. He's extending my life, not for my sake, but that I might offer it to Him.

Post-modern evangelical "Christianity" has perverted the Gospel, reshaping it to be about how God (in a form of our own conception) can fulfill us. But that's an invalid understanding of Scripture. The Bible says that creation's purpose is to please Him! I'm married, not for my own happiness (despite the fact that marriage to John has made me happier than I ever dreamed possible), but so John and I could honor Him as a testimony of holiness.

People watch our marriage. Do we model Christian values like purity, self-sacrifice, perseverance and obedience to the Lord? Do our Personal Care Attendants see us work through our differences by turning to Scripture and applying its principles? Do people in Boston see that our love for each other goes beyond mere romance to embody wanting each other to honor Christ? Are we, as a couple and as individuals, telling anyone and everyone that He died for them? Our marriage is less about fulfilling me, and more about glorifying Jesus Christ, who gave us this marriage to fulfill His eternal purposes.

Jesus will, in His time, take me Home. But not until He's finished using me here.

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