Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Year-End Beginning

It's time for another progress report on the face I'm painting with Painter Lite:
Okay, so I'm not John Singer Sargent! I'm learning to use Painter Lite, though, and maybe I'll improve as time goes on. If not, I'm still enjoying myself.

I'll work on her hair next week. Although hair challenges me, I find it the most interesting part of painting. Playing with color to create texture and sheen enlivens my imagination, and gives my painting a sense of personality. I look forward to seeing what I can do with hair in Painter Lite, given that it doesn't  have filters like Paintshop Pro has.

Yet, the lack of filters requires me to create effects the way traditional painters do. No more short-cuts or hand-holding! Now I must use brushes, colors and canvas (adjusted, I admit, as I manipulate settings in the software program) to develop my paintings without relying on cut-out shading, blurs, drop shadows or any of my other Paintshop Pro tricks. I am moving onward.

This painting merely begins my journey into new realms of digital painting, so I really shouldn't be surprised at it's crudeness. As I learn the program, gaining experience with the brush tips themselves and their various interactions with the canvas, perhaps my paintings will become...well, works of art!

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Importance Of Smelly Preaching

A friend from church posted this picture on his Facebook feed yesterday. It definitely contrasts the seeker-sensitive posture of 21st Century churches. In our day, we minimize the seriousness of sin (if we mention it at all), sometimes even denying that certain behaviors should even be considered sinful in the first place. After all, we reason, we must make the Lord attractive, so people will actually want to come to our churches (and, as a result, fill our offering plates).

Making church appealing to our friends and family may be good salesmanship, but it doesn't fulfill the Great Commission. Jesus never told us to sign up young, potentially affluent, wage-earners to fund our building projects. He instead commanded us to make disciples by passing on His doctrine and calling others to obey Him (Matthew 28:16-20). Part of making disciples necessitates helping people acknowledge their sin and move toward repentance.

Such demands repel those people whom the Lord has not called to salvation. But the elect, who mourn over their sin because they know how deeply it offends the Savior, will embrace such preaching as a portal to eternal life. Indeed, Paul and his co-workers observed this very principle, and mentioned it to the church in Corinth:

14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? ~~2 Corinthians 2:14-16 (ESV)

Preaching, whether in a church setting or in personal evangelism, can't afford to coddle sin. God's servants don't sell a product; we proclaim the truth--including the fact that the Lord, being perfect in Holiness, cannot and will not tolerate sin among His people. Wondrously, He shed His blood to atone for the sin of those who believe, providing us the grace to live in holiness! May we have the courage to declare the whole gospel, trusting the Holy Spirit with the results.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

His Glories Now We Sing

On this last Lord's Day of 2013, what better than a hymn enumerating some of the many reasons to recognize Jesus Christ as the King of creation? As this hymn swells with praise for Who He is and what He's done, it sweeps us into worship.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Disney In A Supporting Role

This past Monday, John took me to see Saving Mr. Banks.

The trailer indicates that the movie is a fun representation of Walt Disney's efforts to convince P.L. Travers to sell him the rights to her character, Mary Poppins, causing most people to miss the PG-13 rating and expect a feel-good family movie. It does have a happy ending, as well as several fun moments and good humor. It even has some deeply touching scenes such as when her limousine driver opens up to her about his physically disabled daughter.

But the movie tells a deeper story of a woman dealing with childhood hurts stemming from her father's alcoholism and her mother's unsuccessful suicide attempt. Hardly suitable subject matter for young children!

That said, I do recommend  Saving Mr. Banks to adults and mature teens. The story, though dark in places, holds your attention as P.L. Travers faces her past. The fun moments in the rehearsal room not only offer the audience respite from the writer's private angst, but they allow it to enjoy the familiar songs from Mary Poppins from a different perspective.

Tom Hank's portrayal of Walt Disney more than lived up to my high expectations, but Emma Thomson eclipsed his performance as, in the role of Pamela Travers, she wrestled with gruesome childhood memories. I've always admired Thompson's acting, but I'd never seen her give any other character quite as much depth and texture.

If you want a wholesome family movie, rent Mary Poppins. But if you want a date night, Saving Mr. Banks offers entertainment plus plenty of good discussion matter afterward. John and I look forward to buying the DVD as soon as it goes on sale.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Walk Away By Following Self

I follow two "deconversion" blogs. The author of one blog still considers himself a Christian, but he rejects conservative doctrine in favor of a theology that embraces homosexuality and permits him to interpret Scripture through the grid of personal experience. The other believes she's on the road to atheism, certain that her reasoning abilities demonstrate the Bible's fallacies.

Both depend on themselves to determine truth.

Truth, however, relies on objective facts, not personal intuition. For that reason, I cling to the accounts of Christ's resurrection,  which people in the First Century could easily verify. If the disciples had merely fabricated the resurrection, their gospels wouldn't have mentioned the sealed tomb and the Roman guard. Paul wouldn't have mentioned the 500 men who saw Jesus after His resurrection. And, as cowardly as these guys were around the time of the crucifixion, it makes no sense to suppose that they would allow themselves to be martyred if they knew they were lying. The evidence for the resurrection quiets all doubt.

From the point of accepting the historical  fact of the resurrection, I can then reason that Jesus obviously has to be Who He claimed to be--God Incarnate. Subsequently, all the other points of doctrine fall into place. Thus,  my faith is founded on historical evidence, not on my self-contrived ideas, my experience or fluttery feelings I get when I think spiritual thoughts.

The "journeys" of the two bloggers I read (interesting that they both use the term "journey") sadden me because they've both chosen to measure truth by themselves. Thankfully, God has grounded His truth, not in subjective human feelings, but in historical fact that lends itself to investigation. I pray that these bloggers would set aside their self-worship long enough to examine the evidence and accept the truth.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

She Shows The Need For Christmas

When we turned on our local news this morning, we heard about a woman in Barnstable (MA) who gave her neighbors a ride to pick up presents that Toys For Tots had collected for their children. Once the toys had been loaded into her car, she sped off, leaving her neighbors to call a taxi to get home. They confronted her, then called the police. The police only recovered some of the stolen toys.

Of course her actions evoke outrage. They should!

But at the end of our righteous indignation, perhaps we should recognize her behavior as the logical conclusion of taking Christ out of Christmas. When we focus on material things, it shouldn't surprise us when greed overtakes reason. Scripture teaches, in no uncertain terms, that man is hopeless depraved and unable to do good.

10 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” ~~Romans 3:10-18 (ESV)

The Barnstable woman did something absolutely despicable, but nothing that should surprise anyone who takes the Bible seriously. Rather, she epitomizes the very necessity of God the Son taking on human flesh and shedding His blood in payment for our sin. Apart from Jesus, each of us is just as corrupt; our corruption just isn't as visible or socially unacceptable as hers.

Praise God that a Savior, Christ the Lord, was born!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Not The World's Christmas

As Christmas approaches, I think of the moral and spiritual disarray spreading through Western society. Some people may vaguely acknowledge Christ's birth, though they have relatively little interest in what His Incarnation means and almost no interest in how it impacts their lives. This year, we collectively vilify a reality TV personality for his biblical stand, calling his statements outdated. Really? Don't we see how we thumb our nose at the Lord, even as we profess to celebrate His birth?

I enjoy the lights, the presents and the food as much as anyone, and I love our Christmas tree with its subtle scent of  pine. But the wise men who followed the star to Bethlehem set the example of worship that I desire to maintain at Christmas...and throughout the year.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

It Drives Angels To Worship

At the heart of Christmas lies the profound mystery of  God becoming Man, entering this broken world through the womb of a virgin. The wonder of His Incarnation drives me to worship, just as it drove hosts of angels to burst into praise and adoration when they announced His birth to the shepherds in  the fields of Bethlehem.

My all-time favorite Christmas hymn, which I've saved for this last Sunday of Advent, postulates that the angels who heralded Christ's birth celebrated the miracle of God's Incarnation. I love how the lyrics linger on that point. As you watch this video, join me (as I, in turn, join the angels) in worshiping the Incarnate Deity.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

I Had Nothing to Do With It

From my perspective, I sought Christ from a young age, wanting to know what His Father looked like, whether or not astrology was compatible with  Christianity, and why Jesus died on the cross. My parents' church presented  Bibles to the Sunday School children on the completion of third grade, and I read mine often...although haphazardly. As I reached puberty, I became interested in paranormal phenomena and the occult, always finding reasons to reconcile them with  God as I understood Him.

My parent's church was liberal. In Youth Group, they explained that Jesus died on the cross because,   like Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr., He preached about love and social justice. Little was said about His resurrection. Nothing about His deity.

He eventually brought me into contact with Christians who shared the Gospel with me, and He began transforming me into His child. For decades, I tried to take some type of credit for "accepting" Jesus and "making Him my Lord and Savior," wanting commendation because I'd "made a decision for Him." I failed to recognize that He had had His hand on me, even as I flirted with demonic teachings like astrology, to draw me to Himself. I'll never understand why He brought me to salvation, but I now know that He did so with no help from me. 

Her Face Is Becoming

Just wanted to show the progress on my watercolor painting using Painter Lite:

Friday, December 20, 2013

Deviant Christians

No true Christian would deny the crucial importance of putting God's Word into practice. Practical application demonstrates trust in His authority, and a willingness to act on that trust. The entire epistle of James focuses on the necessity of proving our faith by acting on the commands of the Lord.

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. ~~James 1:22-25 (ESV)

In emphasizing practical application, however, Christians dare not ignore the foundational place of sound doctrine. If someone misunderstands the Bible's teachings, or adulterates those teachings with other philosophies and spiritual disciplines, his deviation from Biblical doctrine will ultimately result in a life that draws him away from obedience to the Lord.

A popular teaching may very well seem consistent with Scripture, particularly if it's supported by Bible verses that are wrenched from their context and manipulated into mere proof texts. But, as the following graph illustrates, an idea that begins as only a  small deviation from God's Word will, if followed, take a person extremely far away from truth.

Christians, because we are still encumbered with fallen sin natures, can allow false teachers to lure us into all sorts of deceptions. Most of these deceptions start as innocent misapplications of Scripture (barely perceptible), only to lead us miles away from Biblical Christianity.  To protect us from such departures from truth, the Holy Spirit prompted Paul to counsel Timothy:
Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. ~~1 Timothy 4:16 (ESV)
Many translations render this verse, "Watch your conduct and your doctrine." Indeed, Christian conduct flows out of Biblical doctrine. Until we learn to properly interpret God's Word, mastering its great doctrines, how can we hope to apply it correctly. By all means, the Lord wants His people to put our faith into action, proving that our faith is authentic. But let's make sure to apply those principles that Scripture actually teaches.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ability Isn't Necessarily Calling

Though I'd rarely admit it, I've always struggled with a desire to preach and teach God's Word. Society makes it difficult for women like me, who have abilities in communication coupled with a passion for the great doctrines of the Bible, to resist the compulsion to seek teaching ministries. Our secular counterparts have broken all kinds of glass ceilings in politics, medicine, academia, law and business, assuring everybody that women can do everything men can do...and probably better.

Christians, I'm sorry to say, have followed the world by opening positions of church leadership to women. Even otherwise conservative churches that would never accept a woman as their senior pastor  make seemingly innocuous compromises. As adamantly as they'd deny it, churches that allow women to take leadership in corporate worship or teaching men prefer  current traditions to the Bible's clear instruction in 1 Timothy 2:11-12.

And Jesus reprimanded the Pharisees, not for obeying God's law, but for replacing it with the traditions of their time.

Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” ~~Mark 7:1-12 (ESV)
Since Paul wrote 1 Timothy 2:11-12 under the direction of the Holy Spirit, shall 21st Century Christians nullify it to replicate secular culture's new norm of feminism? Or should we humbly accept Paul's prohibition on women exercising ecclesiastical authority, trusting that the Holy Spirit included the prohibition in the canon of Scripture for His purposes? I have made my choice.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Mourning

On December 18, 1989, my friend Bob lost his battle with AIDS. Or maybe he won it, since he found emancipation from his body that so frequently had sent him to hospitals and the rest of the time  chained him to various medications. When I tearfully lamented that I'd expected God to heal him, someone pointed out that God had given him the ultimate healing.

That statement provided little solace at the time, mostly because I focused on my loss rather than Bob's gain. As my Bible Study group gathered at my house that evening for a Christmas potluck, I resented the lights on the tree and the laughter that punctuated the various conversations. Earlier that day, I'd begged our Bible Study leader to  cancel the party, but he said there wasn't enough time to notify everyone. Eventually, I burst into tears, and someone pushed me to my room so I could cry. I'd successfully ruined the party.

Christmas that year intruded on my grief. All the lights and presents and joyful voices at church only intensified the pain. Bob was gone. Christmas merriment? Bah humbug!

Looking back, I see my selfish attitude that Christmas, as well as my unwillingness to focus on the Lord. He had rescued Bob from the suffering of living with AIDS. Bob now could fully adore Christ the Lord without distraction, celebrating His life, death and resurrection as he beheld His glorious Face. While the world merely celebrated Christmas, my friend Bob celebrated Christ!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Responding At The End Of Reason

The  Gospel of John starts boldly! "In the beginning was the Word...and the Word was God...and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us." John, the disciple who enjoyed the closest friendship with Jesus, gave us the most direct (and therefore the most startling) statement of Jesus' deity. Where some consider the Son of God as being distinct from God the Father, John's Gospel confronts us with God the Son.

This Incarnation, like the Trinity Itself, bypasses human intellect, leaving us uncomfortable with our inability to comprehend the Creator of all things "reducing" Himself to inhabit His virgin mother's womb. Offended by this apparent assault on our reasoning capabilities (as if we have some sort of right to equality with God), many of us invent false theologies that deny Jesus' deity...or badly distort it. Ever prideful, we demand a God that yields to our understanding--not one Who confronts us with our cognitive limitations.

Yet, John knew Jesus. He knew Him enough to be convinced that He was the very God of all creation. John had watched Jesus die on the cross, and only days later had eaten a fish breakfast with Him after His resurrection. The resurrection, more than any of the other miracles, verified Jesus' claim to be God. Intellect must always bow to fact, especially when fact defies intellect.

So we can best respond to the Incarnation, not by analyzing it or by trying to explain it, but by coming to the Lord in worship and adoration. With our intellects, we discern the overwhelming evidence for His resurrection, and from that point we reason that His claim to be God in the flesh is irrefutable. But then, trying to figure out  how He could at once be fully God and fully Man must be set aside, letting us kneel at the manger.

Friday, December 13, 2013

More Than Syntax And Grammar

A writer needs, before anything else, to read other writers. Reading shows a writer how words can give shape and texture to otherwise abstract ideas  going beyond dry lessons on syntax and rules of grammar. More importantly, reading sparks a writer's imagination by compelling him or her to contribute to the vast and intricate conversation that weaves through human history.

My writing accepts blogging as its primary venue, so I turn to other blogs for both instruction and inspiration. Humility may not be one of my primary character traits, but I do understand that other bloggers have much to teach me.

One such blogger is Lydia, a friend of a friend of mine. Her blog, Lydsloookonlife, honors the Lord as she muses on sports, wine, food and her experiences with Cerebral Palsy. Typing with one hand, Lydia can only manage one post a week, but each post skillfully unites seemingly disconnected thoughts and images to illustrate great truths from Scripture.

Currently, her posts focus on Advent, explaining the significance of each candle as she delights in the various aspects of the Savior's birth. Regardless of whether you come from a liturgical background or not, you'll find her Advent posts inspiring as Lydia draws you to Scripture and the Lord Himself.

Lydia writes thoughtfully, sometimes using gentle humor and always depending on God's Word as her final authority. Her posts are amazingly long (especially when you understand that she types slowly and without the aid of a headstick or mouthstick), but her easy conversational style makes you eager to keep reading. In short, I dearly hope you'll celebrate Advent by becoming acquainted with http://lydslookonlife.wordpress.com/. You need not be a writer to benefit from her wonderful blog.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Amended Poinsettias

When will I learn that  graphics for print need to be lighter, and less condensed, than graphics for the web? When I printed out the poinsettia today, it looked positively garish! So I did some quick revisions, and produced this:

Don't you wish God would correct our flaws so quickly?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Poinsettia Challenge

With the birthday of a family member only a week away, you'd think I'd have enough sense to use a drawing I'd already completed for her birthday card. Well, but I knew she likes poinsettias. And once the idea of making her a birthday card depicting a poinsettia had lodged itself in my pretty little head, nothing else seemed worthy of consideration.

Since poinsettias never ranked very high on my list of favorite Christmas decorations, however, I felt ill-prepared to draw one. So I Googled images of them, and commenced my work Sunday afternoon. When I looked back at the pictures later that evening, I saw that I'd done it all wrong, so I started all over again yesterday.

I finished drawing it today. It turned out to be a fanciful rendering, but I like it! Perhaps, if I can overcome my tendencies toward procrastination, I'll manage to draw a more realistic poinsettia for next year's birthday card. In the mean time, I'll content myself in the knowledge that I accepted a challenge and learned from it. And, after all, learning from challenges, no matter what the context of each challenge, causes growth.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

He'll Still Come

Still observing Advent, I'm thinking of the centuries upon centuries that Israel's faithful waited for the promised Messiah. When He came, few recognized Him.

 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. ~~John 1:11 (ESV)

John 1:11 is, in my opinion, the most heart-wrenching verse in the Bible! But, like Israel, many Gentiles (including those who honestly believe themselves to be Christians) also close their hearts to Him, preferring to make Him a mere addendum to spiritual systems of their own design.

Thankfully, the real Jesus continues to offer Himself to those who truly want Him. As Israel prayed for His first coming, so we can individually pray that He'll come as the Ruler of our lives. He will free us, not only from sin's eternal consequences, but from its power to keep us from Him. And He will come again to take those who truly belong to Him to live in His Kingdom.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Vindication Doesn't Last

As a young teen, I'd take immense satisfaction in listening to mom scold my sister for fighting with me. Sometimes, Mom went so far as to declare that  I was right. Let me tell you, I'd absolutely bask in the feeling of vindication! Alas, Mom always cut my basking short by turning to me, with her frown of disapproval still in place, to utter the dreaded phrase: "And as for you, young lady..."

As I transition from yesterday's blog post to today's, I chuckle a little as, like Mom addressing faults on both sides of those sibling rivalries between me and my sister, I  now intend to challenge the very people I defended yesterday.

I still stand by my conviction that those who chronically vent about their problems desperately need patience, understanding and compassion. Scripture demands as much:

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. ~~1 Thessalonians 5:14 (ESV)

Having said that, I'd like to speak from my own struggles with self-pity and venting. Besides enumerating my many woes (real and perceived) to anyone who would listen, I kept a journal for 14 years in which I'd frequently lament my lot in life. At long last, the Lord helped me realize that both these practices merely perpetuated my misery, to the point that my co-workers had to confront me for generating a negative atmosphere at the office.

Far from offering true ventilation, my habitual complaining kept me so focused on my problems and disappointments that I refused to see God's goodness to me. Essentially, the more I vented, the more I compounded my self-pity. Slowly, and with way too many failures to be obedient, I've turned away from  chronic venting, even refusing to keep a private journal.

Both those who offer unsolicited advice and those of us who wallow in our problems need to kneel before the cross in humility and repentance. Much like me and my sister in our early adolescent years, both camps of people need to own their error. At that point, Christians can work together for the Lord's glory.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Too Important For Another's Pain

Why do we respond to people who  repeatedly vent by 1) offering unsolicited advice and 2) by getting frustrated and angry when the people venting choose not to follow the advice that, after all, they never requested? I'll admit  that listening to someone continually rehash the same complaints year after year, while making little effort toward improving either the situation or their attitude can  get wearying. (But that's tomorrow's blog post.) In our desire to  "help," or to shut the person up, I believe we often forget to show compassion.

When people hurt, they long to feel understood. Even when they bring problems on themselves, they seek out sympathy...or at least acknowledgment and validation.

Certainly, there comes a time for compassion to lead to confrontation. We mustn't coddle sin, lest we lead the person further into the sin of self-pity. At the same time, Scripture commands that Christians deal with another person's physical or moral weaknesses by demonstrating attitudes of gentleness and forbearance.

 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. ~~Galatians 6:1-3 (ESV)

If I'm honest, I'll admit that I'm too selfish to listen to someone else's chronic venting. I'd much prefer to shift the conversation to my supposed expertise on the matter, so the person can gratefully thank me for solving their problem with my abundance of wisdom. That way, I get to bask in the notion of my spiritual superiority, reminding myself (and perhaps others) of my important role of dispensing God's wisdom. All the while, I grieve the  Holy Spirit with my insensitivity to broken, hurting people.

Monday, December 2, 2013

35 Years Of Christmas Greetings

Operation Christmas Letter has dominated my day, as is appropriate. I have my graphics ready,  so tomorrow I plan to actually write it.

My Christmas letter tradition began in 1978, when I realized the impracticality of writing the same information in Christmas cards using a mouthstick and an electric typewriter. One person complained that it seemed impersonal (now she sends Christmas letters which consist solely of grandchildren photos and no text), but she may not have understood that I send Christmas greetings to roughly 100 people each year. By the mid 1980s, people looked forward to the letters, which evolved as I included half-toned photos.

Naturally, the advent of personal computers, and then email, took my letters to new levels, making me less dependent on family and Personal Care Attendants to address, stamp and mail them for me. A few people have complained, claiming they consider it more personal to receive them in the regular mail. That's all well and good, but their preferences don't take into account that sending letters snail mail places extra demands on those who have to help me.

Operation Christmas Letter allows me to reflect on the Lord's goodness over the past year, to appreciate my many friends and family members, and to focus on the amazing doctrine of the Incarnation. Far from a dreaded chore, producing these letters fills  me with joy and gratitude. Tomorrow will be a good day!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Ancient Prayer Renewed

On this first Sunday of Advent, how could I not think back to ancient Israel longing for the promised Messiah? And I grieve that, when He came, most of them failed to recognize Him. Yet He did come, offering salvation to Jew and Gentile alike.

He lived a sinless life, only to offer Himself to be executed as a common criminal. Yes...He voluntarily allowed Himself to be nailed to the cross, where He shed His blood to atone for the sins of all who believe in Him. On the third day, He rose again, signifying that God the Father had accepted His sacrifice.

Now His followers await His Second Advent, when He will gather us to our heavenly Home. At last, His true Israel (those Jews and Gentiles who trusted exclusively in His shed blood for our righteousness) will experience the satisfaction of our longing. Like ancient Israel, we now pray for Emmanuel  to come.

Friday, November 29, 2013

An Extra Hymn To Cover My Procrastination

I know it's not Sunday. But I need to focus attention on  drawing Christmas clip-art for our annual newsletter and assorted Christmas cards. As usual, I'd promised myself I'd draw Christmas stuff throughout 2013, and as usual, I broke that promise. So here I am, taking time away from blogging, Facebook and Twitter in order to make drawings that I could have (and most definitely should have) been making for the past eleven months. So, though it's only Friday, I've decided to post an extra hymn today, before I begin posting Christmas hymns on each Sunday of Advent.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Puritans I Won't Invent

Did I promise a post discussing the faith of they Mayflower Puritans? Well, yeah...in my cockiness and self-assurance, I thought such a post would flow from my headstick with relatively little effort, particularly since I identify with Calvinist theology. But as I started researching their beliefs, noting several differences between 1620 and 2013, the Lord used my studies to humble me.

In short, I'm not sufficiently acquainted with the Puritan's doctrines to offer an explanation of them. Not now.

This inadequacy on my part doesn't mean, however, that I am permanently disqualified from writing about their beliefs. Rather, it means merely that I need to read more, with the goal of representing them accurately. What I'd like them to be, I learned today, differs from who they actually were. Most of these differences, admittedly, touch on relatively minor points such as their rejection of hymns in favor of singing Psalms, though I feel disturbed by their practice of infant baptism. But clearly, these Puritans defy my idealized vision of who they were, so it will be a while before I can portray them honestly.

Be assured that I will continue studying the Puritans of New England, and that I look forward to introducing them to you. Let's just be sure that I introduce you to real Puritans, and not Puritans that I invent to suit my own agenda,

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Wonderful Problem Of Digital Art

I've been working on my watercolor project in Painter Lite. You remember the preliminary pencil sketch I made for this project, don't you? If not, I'll post it again to refresh your memory:

Since doing that initial sketch, I've decided the nose was too big, the mouth was odd, the eyes were too small and the chin was much too long and pointy. I spent three hours today modifying those features and painting in the skin base color.

She looks better, huh?

With Christmas fast approaching, I should set this painting aside to work on Christmas card illustrations. I also have our annual newsletter to illustrate and write. For both of those projects, I'll use Paintshop Pro. I'm familiar with PSP, so I'll be able to work a little more quickly...and with more confidence.

Trouble is: I downloaded CorelDRAW Home and Student-Suite x6 last Friday, and all I want to do is play with it! What a happy dilemma!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Pure "Hypocrites"

Freedom Trail guides, Duck Boat drivers and drivers of the various trolley tours in Boston pretty much all take apparent pleasure in pointing out the "hypocrisy" of the New England Puritans. "They came to America seeking religious freedom," these guides announce in voices tinged with disdain, "yet they persecuted Baptists, Quakers and members of other churches." (When John tells them that he and I subscribe to many of the doctrines the Puritans held, they fall all over themselves assuring us that they appreciate the Puritans' contribution to America's beginnings.)

To better understand the Puritans' intolerance of other Christian denominations, we must go back to Elizabethan England. The Church of  England  had rejected the Papal authority of Roman Catholicism, but did so primarily in order for Henry VIII to divorce Catherine of Aragon. The Anglican Church retained many vestiges of Catholicism, much to the dismay of the Separatist Puritans who adhered to the reformed teachings of John Calvin.

These Puritans sought to "purify" the Anglican Church. Of course, their attempts at reform resulted in persecution so severe that they fled to Holland, settling in Leyden for twelve years.

Life in Leyden challenged the Separatists, who struggled to learn the Dutch language. They were mostly farmers in England, so Leyden's textile mill based economy proved difficult for them in terms of securing employment. Additionally, political tensions between Holland and Spain engendered concerns about another Spanish Inquisition targeting non-Catholics.

Yet the freedom of religion in Holland posed the greatest threat to the Puritans. Dutch culture, as a result of its religious tolerance, produced a morally lax atmosphere,  causing the Puritans deep concern that their children would stray from the faith. Consequently, the eventual migration to America promised an opportunity to establish a community centered on their understanding of the Bible, as well as opportunities to evangelize American Natives.

So, although the Separatists originally left England to seek religious freedom in Holland, twelve  years in Leyden taught them that too much religious freedom threatened the purity of their faith. Certainly, their tactics in dealing with other expressions of Christianity upon settling in  New England failed to exemplify God's compassion, the charge of hypocrisy that Boston tour guides so enjoy making  betray an ignorance of history. Let the record show that, far from being hypocrites, the Puritans sought to maintain the purity of their faith.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

He Forgets Not His Own

Living in Massachusetts has deepened both my understanding and my appreciation of the Separatists who landed in Cape Cod on the Mayflower in 1620. In the coming week, I plan to write about their reasons for coming to The New World, their beliefs and their Thanksgiving feast after that first brutal winter. The main story, of course, will be familiar to my American readers. But I believe I can offer some lesser-known facts that, because they're as politically incorrect as most Christian facts are, few people know.

Sunday, however, is a day for worship. So, please enjoy this charming video of a beloved Thanksgiving hymn:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Green Parasol And John Singer Sargent

Our friend Linda, for various reasons  not important to this blog post, owns a wheelchair van that allows her to take me and John on outings. This past Thursday, the three of us went to the Museum of Fine Arts to see the John Singer Sargent Watercolors exhibit. Normally, I associate Sargent with oil paintings such as The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit.
The idea of Sargent working with the medium of watercolor so intrigued me that I could hardly wait to see it!

The exhibition was huge, covering his renderings of Italian architecture, the canals of Venice, Bedouins in Jerusalem and rock quarries where sunlight flashes off white marble. Since it's late today, I'll limit my discussion to three paintings he did of his niece and her companion, all set at Simplon Pass in the Swiss Alps.
Simplon Pass: The Tease amused me with its playfulness. The young girl tries to distract her friend, who clearly would prefer to read her book in peace. Reclining figures fascinated Sargent, so he apparently enjoyed capturing their girlish interaction.
Sargent continues the theme in Simplon Pass: Reading, this time cutting away all but a suggestion of the Alps to concentrate attention on the girls. Both girls look up from their books as the reclining girl invites the viewer into the conversation.
Finally, Simplon Pass:  The Green Parasol betrays Sargent's fixation with his niece's parasol. And who can blame him? It catches the summer sunlight with its translucence, creating a romantic backdrop for the girl. I love it!

All Sargent's watercolors, though different from his equally wonderful oil paintings, show his romantic side. But these three especially communicate that part of him. I've come away loving his work more than ever, and grateful to have seen him in a way I never had before.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Completely Unoriginal, Praise God!

If I think I can write something truly original, I merely demonstrate an inflated ego. Naturally, I'd love to believe I have a unique contribution to make to humanity, and most writers probably harbor similar hopes of producing new insights that will "rock" the world. That's part of why we write. Sure, we claim we simply love the craft of placing word together in interesting patterns. In some respects, we indeed do. But secretly, each of us dreams of saying something entirely new.

Scripture flies in the face of such hubris:

What has been is what will be,
    and what has been done is what will be done,
    and there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there a thing of which it is said,
    “See, this is new”?
It has been already
    in the ages before us. ~~Ecclesiastes 1:9-10 (ESV)

Who am I to presume that I can press the right combination of keys on my computer to fabricate an idea that has never occurred to another person in the entirety of human history? Don't people who claim such revelation generally end up forming false doctrines? Although it could, I suppose, be interesting to concoct some sort of philosophy or theology that took on the appearance of novelty just to see how many people would actually fall for it, I really don't want that sort of notoriety.

Let me go down as someone who wrote out of a desire to reinforce and honor what God has already said in His Word. I bring no fresh perspective to it. In fact, shame on me if I dare to think that there could possibly be a fresh perspective on anything as timeless as God's Word.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Disdain Of Squirrels

Boston reached 67 degrees yesterday. The rain ended well before 10:00am, prompting us to catch the bus and then the subway for a day downtown. Despite the pleasant temperature, breezes kept it cool enough that we concluded Back Bay would most likely be more comfortable than the parts of the city near the water. So we took our wheelchairs along Boyleston Street to have lunch at the Prudential Center.

Coming back through the Public Garden on our way to catch the Commuter Rail home, we spotted a couple feeding some squirrels.
Now, in our experience, the squirrels in Boston can be less than cooperative, so their willingness to eat from the gentleman's hands somewhat surprised us. Then again, not many acorns have fallen this year,  so perhaps the little varmints feel forced to comply with any humans generous enough to offer free food. At any rate, their uncharacteristic humility definitely warranted a photo!

Seeing us, the gentleman decided to attempt luring a squirrel to eat off my shoe. One squirrel, although somewhat interested in the food, had reservations about approaching a strange woman in a yellow wheelchair.
Unruffled by the squirrel's disdain, the gentleman persevered in his attempts to interest the squirrel in taking food from me. Patently, he made gentle sounds to attract the animal's attention, encouraging it to investigate the situation. After lengthy and careful deliberation (making me nervous about missing our train), the squirrel allowed the gentleman to persuade it.
How often do we, like obstinate squirrels, scorn what the Lord offers us?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

It's Still Now

November has brought a dullness to New England. The brilliant  foliage that lit up the woods outside our living room window faded two weeks ago, leaving some trees bare and others void of any real color. The clouds stretch a gray canopy above, deliberately accentuating the glum mood. Winter is approaching,

What a fitting metaphor for turning 60! The splendors of my last decade, when marriage and the joys of discovering Boston blazed with enchantment, now begin to fade as I witness the complications of aging with a disability. I know my years on earth are dwindling, and that I may not have many more Boston adventures with John left. Low oxalate, low fat dietary restrictions erode the pleasure of eating, and the specter of cancer returning to John never quite leaves.

Today, my pastor's sermon broke through my melancholy, reminding me that I still have much to offer the Lord. He hasn't yet called me Home because He has more for me to do here. Through the dullness, with my years of more vigorous ministry behind me, the Lord reminds me that He also makes winter snow sparkle.

So I close with this hymn that celebrates the wonder of loving Jesus:

Saturday, November 16, 2013

In The Beginning Was The Pencil Sketch

I've begun a digital portrait using Painter Lite, and I thought it might be fun to let you watch its progression. Here's my pencil sketch:

Friday, November 15, 2013

Reason And Ego

It had probably been a year since I'd read her blog. And I only noticed her blog yesterday because Google, after signing me out, took me to my Reading List. She had both changed the name of her blog and decided to use her given name in place of the pseudonym I'd always known, arousing my curiosity. I clicked the link, finding that she'd changed much more than mere names.

She's on a journey, she says, away from Christianity.

A few of my readers also read her blog, so I'll respectfully ask them not to post comments specifically about her. She needs our prayers.

This post concerns itself with the bigger issue of seemingly committed Christians falling away from the Lord in varying ways and degrees. Some, like the blogger I've mentioned, no longer self-identify as Christians. Others, however, merge error with truth and insist that their new-found versions of Christianity is  more "authentic."

All these people have fallen for the same old tired lie that truth goes beyond Scripture, and that we can attain it by our human reason. Certainly, the Lord blessed us with minds, and He wants us to employ our reasoning abilities as we study His Word in ways that build our faith. The apostle Paul, in fact, evangelized by reasoning from the Scriptures (please click this link for examples). Good, honest thought should always be encouraged as we approach the Bible.

Danger comes, not in thinking in and of itself, but in presuming that our human intellect surpasses God's wisdom. Our opinions seem reasonable, but His truth trumps any theories and suppositions we care to make. The humility of confessing that He is God and we are merely His creations must remain guarded, lest we fancy ourselves to be His equals. As much as it pains our pampered little egos, His thoughts greatly exceed anything our puny minds can conjure up.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts. ~~Isaiah 55:6-9 (ESV)

God the Holy Spirit made His thoughts known to the men who, under His inspiration, gave us Scripture. We do well to actively meditate on Scripture by studying, applying and sharing it. Let's choose that approach instead of judging its validity against the false standard of our own ideas, remembering that, as our Creator, He has the final say.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Cessationist And The Holy Spirit

Charismatics often charge that cessationists don't believe in the Holy Spirit. This charge, not surprisingly, has intensified considerably since the Strange Fire Conference last month. Charismatics assume that believing that certain gifts ceased at the close of the  Apostolic Age necessarily means a rejection of the Holy Spirit Himself.

Yet Scripture demonstrates that God deals with His people differently at various people at different points in history. For instance, for the 400 years between Malachi and John the Baptist, He remained silent. Similarly, during the Apostolic  Age, He spoke to the apostles to instruct them on the doctrines of the  New Covenant. So despite the fact that  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8), it's equally true that God varied the ways  He spoke to people (Hebrews 1:1-2). With Jesus as His final Word, God needed only for the apostles to complete the  canon of Scripture.

The gifts of healing, tongues and prophecy authenticated the apostles' authority to bring   God's Word. Interestingly, those gifts diminished, even in the book of Acts, as the apostles built the  Church. Additionally, 1 Corinthians (the only epistle to discuss the functions of these gifts) was written in about 55 A.D., still quite early in Paul's ministry. As he wrote further epistles under the direction of the Holy Spirit, those gifts became less and less necessary.

Yet, the waning of those gifts by no means indicates a cessation of the Holy Spirit's activity in the Church. First of all, He alone causes regeneration (John 3:1-8). Without Him giving us the ability to understand and believe the Gospel (1 Corinthians 2:14-15),  we could not hear the Word of Christ which saves us (Romans 10:14-17).

Beyond salvation, the Holy Spirit lives within believers (Romans 8:9-11), empowering us to resist our sinful inclinations in favor of displaying His fruit (Galatians 5:16-24). Those who battle against temptation (as I do) absolutely depend on the Holy Spirit to keep us pure and obedient because we know all too well how desperately weak we are apart from Him.

Believing that the Holy Spirit has ceased to operate in certain ways now that the Bible has been completed certainly shouldn't be misconstrued as a denial of His power and activity. Charismatics focus on outward  manifestations of His ministry--manifestations that were only temporary, having the specific purpose of establishing the apostles' authority. But, as a cessationist, I cling to the Holy Spirit, fully dependent on Him  for both my salvation and the ability to live the Christian life. Deny Him?  Never!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Expanding My Art Studio

Two weeks ago, Corel sent me an email offering Painter Lite (which is normally priced at $69.99) for $9.99. I hemmed and hawed for about an hour, knowing that the program was primarily designed to be used with a Wacom Tablet. Of  course, a tablet and stylus wouldn't work for me, but I finally looked at the Tech Specs and found that a PC with a mouse could operate it...just not with the same nuances which stylus pressure achieves.

The kaleidoscope feature intrigued me, so I played with it as soon as I installed the download. Within two days, I'd created the tile that forms the basis for my blog's new background.

Once I'd designed the tile, I saved it to my PaintShop Pro tile folder. Then, in PSP, I set it to a 45 degree angle, reduced its size to 25% and created white blinds to provide texture. I really liked the result!

After having that fun, however, I realized that I needed to back up and start learning the program. When I first got Paint Shop Pro 8 back in 2003, it took a while before I created anything of note. So I figure that now I should acquaint myself with Painter Lite's brushes, features and effects before attempting any serious projects.

And today, I learned that CorelDRAW is on sale...

Sunday, November 10, 2013

See His Banners Go

In recognition of Veteran's Day tomorrow, I decided "Onward Christian Soldier" would be the appropriate hymn to feature this week. As you  listen and reflect on the lyrics, please remember that Christ defeated sin and Satan when He shed His blood on the cross, and when He rose from the dead!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Unsatisfactory Scripture

Mostly in those years when I accepted Charismatic theology (but also in later years), I considered the Bible to be less than satisfying. Oh, with my mouth I'd insist that Scripture possessed everything Christians needed to know, but when I struggled with personal issues, I'd search its pages and find my heart yearning for something "deeper." Prophecy, psychology, or "words of knowledge" promised to augment God's Word.

My battle to tame my temper provides an example of my dissatisfaction with Biblical principles. I dutifully read all the passages condemning anger, as well as the ones encouraging self-control. Yet they didn't seem to offer guidance on how to keep  from exploding into fits of rage when I'd feel irritated or threatened. I believed I needed to understand childhood trauma that caused my root of anger. Additionally, I went through "deliverance" from a demon of anger that had supposedly possessed me. I read Christian books and articles, looking for mystical experiences with Jesus that would free me from my anger and transform me into a woman of inexhaustible patience.

What I really needed, of course, was to obey the Holy Spirit, Who has given me a spirit of self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). I could choose to walk in the Spirit's ways, which He outlined in the Bible, or I could choose to walk in the flesh. Walking in the Spirit doesn't erase my fleshly feelings of indignation, but it trusts the Spirit's power to help me respond to irritations as He would have me respond.

God's Word not only teaches us what the Lord expects, but it points us to the power of God's Spirit, Who enables us to obey. We need no "deeper" knowledge, nor do we need psychology. Scripture guides us to the risen Christ, Who in turn raises us from bondage to our sin natures. Really, what more could we possibly need?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Facebook Faces Me Toward Eternal Blessiings

Over on Facebook, people have resumed the November ritual of making daily Status Updates citing reasons we're thankful. The exercise certainly has its benefits, especially in this culture which encourages complaining over gratitude. And, because I struggle with feelings of entitlement which foster ingratitude, I've joined the club by making my daily posts. I hope the practice will help me cultivate a grateful heart toward the Lord.

I've noticed, in scrolling through all the Facebook posts, how often my friends and I express thanks for temporal blessings like jobs, husbands, children and help finding car keys. All our temporal blessings do, of course, come from a generous and gracious God Who deserves our acknowledgement and gratitude, so I do believe it's more than appropriate to thank Him. In fact, woe to us who take His kindnesses and provisions for granted. And even more woe if we dare to imagine that we've provided for ourselves!

Although we should thank the Lord for the many wonderful blessings He gives us in this life, I've started wondering whether or not I understand the value of eternal blessings. Actually, the Holy Spirit used a study I did on 1 Peter over two years ago to begin the slow process of shifting my focus from temporal to eternal treasures.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. ~~1 Peter 1:3-5 (ESV)

Like all too many 21st Century Christians, I readily lose sight of eternal blessings by over-focusing on what the Lord does for me in the here and now.  Yes, God should receive thanks for His abundant care for me in this life, but He wants me to take even greater delight in His kingdom, and in spiritual blessings.

As I said, my progress in shifting my attention from this life to heaven has been slow and unsteady. So in my Status Updates on Facebook this Thanksgiving month, I'm making efforts to thank the Lord for salvation, Scripture and other eternal blessings. Occasionally, I'll post thanks for my PCAs or my husband, and such posts definitely have merit. But I want to train myself to gaze past temporal blessings so that I set my mind on eternity.  Anyone care to join me?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Boston's Wicked Good

Several weeks ago, ABC's Emmy Winning reality show Shark Tank updated viewers on Wicked Good Cupcakes In A Jar, saying that the company had a location at Faneuil Hall as a result of partnering with Kevin O'Leary (one of the Sharks). Being the Boston lovers that we are, John and I eagerly rushed to Faneuil Hall, intrigued with the concept of jarred   cupcakes and excited that they were in "our own backyard." But we circled the first floor of Fanueil Hall, not finding any cupcakes in jars or otherwise among the merchants.

John also searched the food vendors in Quincy Market's main colonnade. Again, no cupcakes showed themselves. We figuratively scratched our  heads, bewildered by our inability to find Wicked Good Cupcakes. Once my doctor asked me to go on a low-fat diet, we started eating at B'Good and Viga during our Boston visits--choosing turkey burgers and grilled chicken (both without cheese). We'd get a mini frozen yogurt from the Pinkberry stand at South Station as an alternative to  cannolis. Quite honestly, we'd forgotten about Wicked Good Cupcakes.

Yesterday, as much as I wanted clam chowder, I understood that a turkey burger would be in my best interest. B'Good, however, teemed with people, so I suggested getting a turkey burger at the Cheers Replica in Quincy Market. As I drove down the South Canopy toward Cheers, a pale pink kiosk caught my attention...I'd found Wicked Good Cupcakes!

The turkey burger, even with the added sauteed mushrooms, wasn't very filling. I suppose we should have waited until we got to South Station and had Pinkberry, but we really wanted to try Wicked Good. I know my doctor occasionally reads my  blog, and I know she'll disapprove, but I had to give in...just this once. Perhaps I was wicked. But oh, that cupcake was good!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

And Anyway, It Helps Maintain My Girlish Figure

Physically, I'm tired. Today, blogging is pretty much the last thing I want to do (sleep being the first). I guess the sudden release of pressure regarding the PCA situation signaled a message to my body that it can relax now, so the adrenalin let go.

As much as I love typing, it's really hard physical work, as I use my legs, back, arms and neck in concert with each other  to maneuver my headstick around my keyboard. I choose this exercise willingly, despite the effort (which, in the past few weeks, is intensified by different positioning in my wheelchair while a potential pressure sore heals) because I love blogging. This blog helps me reach out beyond the walls of my apartment to a vast world, allowing me to share my love for the Lord. And He is worth it!


We just interviewed a woman who has a stable living situation in our town, only an adult daughter, is available for the hours needed (as well as to back up my weekday morning attendant), and could get here in a blizzard. We related well, and she understood my speech. Her reference checked out. So...WE HIRED HER!!! Thank all who prayed. Pray that we can be a good witness to her.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Hiccups And Hurricanes

This latest trial regarding a weekend PCA, with its numerous false hopes, sharp detours and time consumption, has me internally screaming, "I want my life back!" And I laugh at myself, thinking that I should know, after 36 years of dealing with the constant and bothersome responsibilities of  adulthood (adulthood being defined, for me, as beginning the day after my college graduation), that these problems are my life!

I thought I understood by now that life consists of fun and despair, of pleasant meadows and stormy seas. Struggles and hardships don't interrupt life; they contribute to its texture. Indeed, Jesus said:

In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world, ~~John 16:33 (ESV)

My disability presents abundant opportunities for frustration, but I'd guess that everyone else has trials equally heavy and copious. Real life, this side of heaven, surges with hiccups and hurricanes, all meant to show us how powerless we are. In our desperation, more than in our joy, we cry out to the Lord, fully cognizant that He alone  can calm the storms. And knowing that the storms make us long for eternity with Him.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Bulwark Never Failing

I love God's timing! It's been a discouraging weekend, with three wonderful prospects for the weekend PCA job all needing to bow out of accepting the position and The RIDE giving us an impossibly early pick-up time that forced us to cancel going to church for the second week in a row. All  extremely discouraging. Sometimes, it just doesn't pay to be disabled!

In the midst of all this frustration, I went to YouTube to find "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," the most famous of the hymns that Martin Luther wrote. I knew it would make a fitting end to my celebration of Reformation Day. As I considered the lyrics, I felt encouraged to see the Lord as my fortress during this latest siege of trouble.

Perhaps the Holy Spirit will also minister to  you through this majestic hymn:

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Big Deal Worth Celebratiing

Why is the Protestant Reformation such a big deal? Okay,  most of my readers take it for granted that I won't celebrate Halloween. But gee whiz, I've  devoted pretty much the entire week to Reformation Day, even though very few people have even heard of it...and fewer people care, Aren't Catholics and Protestants learning, almost 500 years after Martin Luther's act of rebellion, to minimize their differences, and even to learn from each other? What's the point of bringing  division?

The point hasn't changed since Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Whittenberg Door. Despite the curtailing of selling indulgences, the Catholic Church continues to insist that sacraments and good
works throughout adult life are necessary to ensure salvation. Further, the Catholic Church still officially believes in Purgatory, where souls must complete their atonement before entering heaven.

There are, of course, other doctrinal departures from Scripture inherent in Catholic teaching, but time constraints prohibit me from enumerating them today. My concern presently is with Luther's restoration of Bible-based Christianity to the world. He triggered a movement which, with the help of the printing press, made the Bible accessible to laity (he himself rendered a German translation). Thanks to him, Christians no longer are at the clergy's mercy. And, most importantly, we can rest in the assurance that Jesus made complete atonement for our sin. The Lord's atonement is definitely a big deal!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

One Little German Monk

As a young law student, Martin Luther abruptly changed course and entered a monastery, believing that St. Anne had protected him from a near-fatal lightening strike. Once he'd become an Augustinian priest, however, he  found  himself continually struggling to find assurance of  salvation.  He flung himself into fasting, penitence, and ritual, agonizing in his efforts to appease God. One of his mentors encouraged him to look to Christ alone. That,  Luther could not do. He'd been taught, by the Church of Rome, that God's favor must be earned (just as he had earned St. Anne's protection in the storm  by vowing to become a monk).

Seeing Luther's bright intellect, his superiors sent him to Rome, where he began noticing that the vibrant faith of early Christians had been replaced by the dead rituals of Catholicism. Disturbed by this observation, he felt further alienation from God, though he continued his priestly duties.

Upon arriving at the monastery in Whittenberg, Germany, Luther earned his doctorate in theology. This degree brought him into a teaching position at the University of Whittenberg. His preparations for his course on Paul's Epistle to the Romans revolutionized his relationship with the Lord by convincing him that faith was the only criterion for salvation. He wrote:

My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement 'the just shall live by faith.' Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning...This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven.
Once Luther experienced the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, he grew even more troubled by the Roman church's practices--particularly the practice of selling indulgences. On October 31, 1517, he nailed his 95 Theses to the University's chapel door. condemning the selling of indulgences as well as promoting the idea of justification by faith. Indeed, he considered the doctrine of justification by faith to be foundational to Biblical Christianity. At one point, he wrote:

In short, if this article concerning Christ — the doctrine that we are justified and saved through Him alone and consider all apart from Him damned — is not professed, all resistance and restraint are at an end. Then there is, in fact, neither measure nor limit to any heresy and error.

Rome, of course, did not appreciate Luther's theology. It regarded his teaching as an affront to papal authority, demanding that he recant. But Luther considered Scripture, rather than the pope, to be the supreme authority in representing God's truth, so he boldly accepted excommunication. Along with other Reformers like Calvin and Zwingli, Martin Luther brought much of Europe back to the Bible.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Main Issue

Luther objected to Roman Catholic doctrine because it exploited poor people by having them pay money so that their departed loved ones could escape Purgatory earlier. But the selling of indulgences was, in actuality, a surface issue. It merely highlighted the sad fact that Catholic teaching deviates from Scripture.

The folks at The Cripplegate blog have posted an excellent presentation entitled 5 differences between Catholic theology and the gospel, which offers a brief, easily read, comparison between the two schools of thought. Since I doubt my ability to improve on their post, I'd strongly encourage you to read it for yourselves. Although the writer fails to use Scripture in demonstrating the Biblical gospel, those who are familiar with basic Protestant teaching should be able to see flaws in Roman Catholicism.

The Reformers, like Luther, understood the discrepancies Rome and the Bible. Yet, he  suffered excommunication and exile, firm in his stance that Scripture must be preferred over both tradition and Papal pronouncements. In his own defense, he said:

Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.“On May 25, the Emperor issued his Edict of Worms, declaring Martin Luther an outlaw.

Would that 21st Century Christians had Luther's unwavering passion for God's Word! Tomorrow, as we celebrate Reformation Day, please remember that the Bible brought those brave Reformers to stand against Rome. And to stand for God's Word.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Guest Blogger...John Calvin

Time is short today, so (in celebration of Reformation Day) I'll simply offer this quote from the great reformer, John Calvin:

Those who, rejecting Scripture, imagine that they have some peculiar way of penetrating to God, are to be deemed not so much under the influence of error as madness. For certain giddy men have lately appeared, who, while they make a great display of the superiority of the Spirit, reject all reading of the Scriptures themselves, and deride the simplicity of those who only delight in what they call the dead and deadly letter. (Inst. 1.9.1)

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Christian Celebration Of October 31st

October 31st is coming, with its celebration of devils and witches defiantly raised against All Saints' Day. For years, I hated the day. Even now, although I have sympathy for the little ones who enjoy dressing up and collecting candy, I hate the essence of Halloween. Thankfully, however, October 31st also marks a pivotal point in Christian history.
Internet image

On October 31st, 1517, a German  monk named Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Whittenburg Church, denouncing the unbiblical practice of selling indulgences. This key event signaled the official birth of the Protestant Reformation, which sought to restore the Church to Biblical Christianity. While Luther wasn't the only prominent figure to decry Rome's deviation's from Scripture (or even the first), his actions galvanized reformers.

Along with other great reformers, Luther pointed Christians back to Scripture's authority, rejecting the notion that the Pope's pronouncements held equal weight to God's Word. His cry of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) serves as one of the lynchpins of reformed theology.  Obviously, I'm deeply committed to this lynchpin, and praise the Lord for Luther's role in making the Bible accessible to all Christians.

October 31st, as far as I'm concerned, has nothing to do with ghosts, but everything to do with the Holy Spirit raising up faithful men like  Martin Luther to defend  His Word. So, I celebrate Reformation Day, thankful that the Lord used that day to  move His church back to purity. Join me in making this coming Thursday a day to rejoice in God's grace.


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