Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Mystical Quicksand Evangelicals Love

Pastor Mike Abendroth of Bethlehem Bible Church in West Boyleston, Massachusetts delivered a challenging, and very direct, message in response to Sarah Young's best selling book, Jesus Calling. I implore my dear readers to invest 15 minutes in the following video, and to seriously consider Abendroth's perspective.



Sunday, September 28, 2014

Abigail Adams--Much More Than Fenway (Part II)

Yesterday, I started recounting the excursion John and I made to Peacefield, the home of John and Abigail Adams. If John's birthday tour of Fenway deserved a comparison to a grand slam, my birthday tour of Peacefield can justifiably compare to a Red Sox World Series victory. Caroline, the park ranger who guided us around the property, happened to be the director of that house, yet she treated us as royalty!

I ended yesterday's post with this photo of John and me admiring Gilbert Stuart's portrait of Abigail during her time in the White House:
Actually, this painting is a second copy. Even so, seeing it thrilled me so much that I consider it my favorite  photo from the entire experience.  Should I have pretended that my wheelchair broke down so I could spend more time gazing at it? Okay, the  Lord hates every kind of falsehood, so I guess not. (Sigh!)

Other portraits of Adams family members hang about the room, so that the collection includes one First Lady (Abigail), two Presidents (John and John Quincy) and an ambassador during the Civil War (Charles Francis). This picture of "Nabby" (John and Abigail's daughter, also named Abigail) also resides in the Long Room:
Caroline then showed us the portrait over the mantlepiece, explaining that mantlepiece paintings hold the place of highest honor. Rather than a portrait of a family member, as one might expect, a portrait of  Dr. Joseph Warren (the dear friend of John and Abigail's who died fighting the Battle of Bunker Hill) occupies the esteemed spot.
From the Long Room, Caroline took us through the garden to see the rosebush that Abigail brought back from England in 1788. Though currently not in bloom, the bush (actually two bushes) yields white and red roses to remind Abigail of the houses of York and Lancaster in the Wars of the Roses.
We concluded the tour in the library that Charles Francis built to house the 12,000 books belonging to John and Abigail. The desk you see is the desk John used as a young lawyer preparing his cases (including, I presume, his successful defense of the King's soldiers in the Boston Massacre) and also as a statesman writing the Constitution of Massachusetts (which served as a model for the U.S. Constitution).
I opened yesterday's  blog post by  talking about the biographical novel about Abigail Adams that my mom let me read 30-some years ago. How fitting, then, to end the tour with books! John's birthday tour of Fenway offered tremendous fun, but my birthday tour of Peacefield reminded me of two wonderful women who have made profound impacts on my life.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Abigal Adams--Much More Than Fenway (Part I)

Back in the early 1980s, my mom gave me four biographical novels about First Ladies. The ones about Rachel Jackson, Dolley Madison and Mary Todd Lincoln interested me to a degree, but the novel about Abigail Adams totally captivated me! The early scenes of her life in Braintree (such an interesting name for a town, I thought) filled me with wonder, and her amazing devotion to her husband John inspired me. When I moved to the Greater Boston Area in 2002 to marry my own John, I thrilled to live in the same area where she lived. Idolatry? I pray not. But I do  get excited about her.

I enjoyed taking John to Fenway for his birthday last month, but I  admit to struggling with jealousy. I had my "landmark birthday" last year, so this year's birthday promised to be a major let-down. Still, yesterday's weather was absolutely gorgeous, so I expressed a desire to go to Quincy, where John and Abigail Adams set up their post-Revolutionary War home, Peacefield (part of Adams National Historical Park). Immediately (and to my surprise), John cancelled long-held plans so that we could go!





We visited Peacefield back in 2003, but only toured the garden outside. Which satisfied us, though I remember very little of what the ranger told us. Although I hoped a ranger might speak with us briefly yesterday, I prepared myself to simply wander about the property for a few moments. And indeed, I delighted just to see Abigail's house.







Two rangers, Carol and Caroline, met us at the gate, determined to get our wheelchairs on to the property. Once we'd told Caroline about my mom introducing me to Abigail and my love affair with Abigail as a result, she made up her mind that I would have a very special tour!



Both rangers wanted their pictures taken with "Abigal's #1 Fan," presumably because most visitors to Peacefield and the other two Adams houses know little about the Adamses (and certainly haven't read multiple biographies as I have).
Carol  
Caroline

Carol left us to  lead a tour group, so Caroline took us around the grounds as she and I traded stories and trivia about Abigail. I enjoyed simply being outside Abigail's rooms. 


Caroline, however, wanted to get us into the Long Room, where portraits of various family  members populate the walls. Time today won't allow me to display all the photos we took in there, but I must show you this one that Caroline took of me and John admiring the famous portrait of Abigail that Gilbert Stuart painted during her time as First Lady.


And time indeed forces me to stop writing today. After church tomorrow, I'll show you the rosebush Abigail brought back from England and the 12,000-book library that John and Abigail accumulated.

At dinner last night, I looked over to John and, with tears in my eyes, said, "That was my Fenway!" John agreed that we knocked it out of the ballpark.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Perhaps

I could have made time to compose an in-depth blog post instead of reading other blogs and magazine articles this afternoon. Assuredly, I would have felt more productive, and could have congratulated myself for "an afternoon well spent."

But perhaps my hunger for self-congratulation (to say nothing of my absolute lust for applause from my readers) needed today off. Perhaps reading the thoughts and perspectives of others did me more good, and made it harder for me to call attention to myself. Perhaps the Lord, understanding that Song Of Solomon just left me unresponsive this morning, wanted me to explore the riches of His Word through the eyes of other bloggers.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

One Passage, Wrongly And Then Rightly Preached

In two months, I would leave that church anyway, since marrying John necessitated moving from San Rafael, California to Boston, Massachusetts. Even so, the rambling, 80-minute message by the guest speaker left me literally weeping. His delivery, which included physically humiliating our pastor, offended pretty much everybody. Sadly, however, I seemed to be the only one who objected to the actual content of what he taught.

He chose Ephesians 4:11-16 as his text:
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (ESV)
Sadly, he followed the Scripture-twisting script of extreme Charismatics in order to make this passage say that doctrine must be rejected for the sake of unity. Did he, in his efforts to promote the New Apostolic Reformation, realize that he taught precisely the opposite idea of what Paul meant in this passage?

This past Sunday, one of the elders from our current church preached on this same text. At first, remembering that horrible evening twelve years ago, I flinched as John opened my Bible. But the elder taught the passage correctly, presenting unity as a result of proper teaching. Unity, it turns out, doesn't require a minimization of doctrine. On the  contrary, God provided First Century apostles and prophets, followed by evangelists, pastors and teachers since then, to teach us how to be the Church.

Uniting over the foundational doctrines of the First Century apostles and prophets as faithful evangelists, pastors and teachers minister God's Word to us keeps the Church from  fragmenting over doctrinal error. Proper doctrine aligns us under Christ's leadership because faithful men explain His Word and enable us to access His Word for ourselves. (Faithful women can teach other women, as well as teaching children.) Rather than casting doctrine aside, as the guest speaker that night suggested (for 80 long minutes), Christians must rally around true doctrine, carefully mining Scripture and treasuring every nugget and gem.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Inconvence Of Doctrine

Over the past five days, I've been reading a lot about unity, beginning with an article advocating that Christians best achieve said unity by sweeping aside doctrinal differences. Having spent my first 31 years as a Christian in a interdenominational fellowship, this view of unity hardly presented me with new ideas. In fact, only in the last 13 or 14 years have I begun to value sound doctrine. As I grow in my understanding of Scripture, I now believe that correct doctrine actually creates Christian unity.

I plan to spend the next few blog posts explaining the necessity of proper doctrine in unifying Christians as well as challenging the false  unity that so many popular evangelical teachers and churches promote. Sadly, much of my day got swallowed by trying to download a program that I now must learn to use, leaving me tired and short on time. Consequently, I can only briefly introduce my topic today.

The best introduction, it seems to me, may be to establish what the word "doctrine" means. Dictionary.com defines it this way:


noun

1.
a particular principle, position, or policy taught or advocated, as of a religion or government:
Catholic doctrines; the Monroe Doctrine.
2.
something that is taught; teachings collectively:
religious doctrine.
3.
a body or system of teachings relating to a particular subject:
the doctrine of the Catholic Church.
(Incidentally, Dictionary.com should adorn every blogger's browser.)

Every church or group of believers (whether they recognize it or not) embraces some sort of doctrine. Even the teaching that I read about the supremacy of unity over doctrine is, in fact...well, doctrine! That truth, though terribly inconvenient, remains inescapable.

Therefore, since every group naturally unites around doctrine of some kind (even the doctrine that purports  to suppress doctrinal differences), the true question becomes how a group decides which tenants they will emphasize and which they will leave to individual conscience. Intellectual honesty demands that we look at the debate in such terms. And I intend to pick up our discussion at this point Wednesday.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Never Too Young

The Lord saved me when I was 17 and far more innocent than  I considered myself to be. Yet I wished, and still wish, He'd saved me at an even earlier age. My friends who grew up in Christian homes and experienced genuine conversions at tender ages have a touching purity about them.

But even they came to Christ painfully aware that they had sinned. They knew that, despite their purity in comparison to most people, God could see the rebellion in their little hearts. These children, just like people who have become Christians later in life, had to trust completely in the shed blood of Jesus to atone for their sin.

The hymn I've chosen to feature today joyously confesses that we can come to God only by standing on the solid rock of Jesus Christ. The lyrics convey powerful theology. That power only increases, at least in my opinion, by the sweet child's  voice in this rendition.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Preach The Word Or Quote Catholic Mystics?

So, given the urgency of proclaiming the Gospel, why do I object so strenuously to Kerry and Chris Shook's new book, Be The Message? Frankly, the first tip-off that this book wouldn't exalt the Lord came when I heard that Rick Warren  had written its forward. My discomfort increased as I researched the Shooks and discovered that his blog uses a variety of Bible translations and paraphrases, depending on what point he wants to make at any given moment. And when John and I watched one of his sermons on YouTube, we saw a man-centered pragmatism that used Scripture sparingly and with the purpose of bolstering self-esteem.

The first chapter of Be The Message begins with the famous quote by Saint Francis of Assisi: "Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words." I have to wonder why an evangelical, at least one that (as a pastor) presumably had enough theological training to understand the distinctives of Protestant doctrine, would base a book on a quote by a Catholic mystic.

Furthermore, the quote has absolutely no Scriptural basis!

Our behavior can, and definitely should, adorn the gospel. Long-time readers of this blog know how adamantly I believe that Christians must lead lives that demonstrate obedience to the Lord. Titus 2:11-14 makes it  clear that a true reception of God's grace leads to a lifestyle of repentance and obedience. But our personal integrity, despite its critical importance,  can only communicate the deception that human morality gains God's approval...unless we accompany that behavior by verbalizing the Gospel.

People must hear that all have sinned, and no amount of moral reform can atone for our transgressions. They need to hear that Christ shed His blood on the cross to appease God's righteous wrath, and that the Father raised Him from the dead as  evidence that He accepted His sacrifice. They need to be told that only by trusting His finished work on the cross can they escape eternity in hell. Our behavior, in and of itself, not only fails to communicate that message, but could even potentially send the false message that we can earn salvation by how we live. And that, dear readers, would be the worst possible message.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

This Little Window

As global unrest gathers momentum, I see a greater urgency to proclaim the Gospel. I don't know how soon Jesus will return to bring final judgement on the world, but world events lead me to suspect that Western Christians have little time left  to speak (and write) freely about the Lord.

Perhaps I discern this situation wrongly. But even if I do, people die every day and enter a Christless eternity while professing evangelicals focus on receiving blessings and filling pews with warm bodies who happen to have deep pockets.

The Lord has indeed blessed us in this little window of human history by giving us Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other forms of social media. What powerful tools for declaring the Person and work of Jesus Christ! Yet some of my Christian friends have told me point-blank that they use social media for their  "down time," preferring not to post things that might start spiritual discussions or offend their non-Christian family and friends.

Okay. They can make that choice. I think, however, that they may regret wasting the wonderful opportunities that social media currently offers to Christians. Time may not allow us to publicly post the Gospel much longer, and I'd like to see people take advantage of social media while we can. If Christ indeed does return soon, the very non-Christians that we'd rather not offend will need to have heard the Gospel.
As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. ~~John 9:4 (ESV)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Mistaken Responsibility

God's message indeed came in human form...in the Person of Jesus Christ. In fact, the writer of Hebrews insisted that God spoke with finality through Jesus.
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.~~Hebrews 1:1-4 (ESV)
Notice that this short passage describes God's message as Christ's deity, His atoning death for humanity's sins and His resurrection. Through Jesus, God communicated the hopelessness of pleasing Him through human effort and the glorious hope of His forgiveness because Jesus shed His sinless blood in order to appease God's holy wrath. God showed His acceptance of Jesus' sacrifice  by raising Him from the dead and (according to John 3:16) applies the benefits of Christ's work to those who believe in Jesus. We call this narrative "the Gospel message."


This Gospel message assuredly affects how believers live. We realize, first of all, that the Lord purchased our pardon at the very high price of His own blood (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Through His Holy Spirit, He enables believers to live in obedience to God's righteous standards (Romans 8:1-8, Galatians 5:16). But our obedience, as essential as it is for Christians,  merely provides evidence that we have believed the Gospel and have consequently experienced the Holy Spirit's transforming power.

The very fact that changes in our behavior results from the Holy Spirit's power (in contrast to our own efforts) makes the idea that we can "be the message" absolutely ridiculous. Wasn't our innate inability to be what God calls us to be the entire reason for Christ's crucifixion and resurrection in the first place? He has to be God's Word precisely  because we can't.

Monday, September 15, 2014

No Putrid Message, Please

Kerry and Chris Shook's Be The Message updates the old cliche, "Preach the Gospel--if necessary, use words." Let's talk about that idea from a Biblical perspective. I'll refer to several Scriptures, so please click the links; quoting so many of them directly in one blog post might put me in danger of violating the ESV copyright permission. But we need to examine the Shooks' premise in light of what the Word of God teaches.

I agree that a person's behavior, in general,  demonstrates his true beliefs.  James 2:14-26 indeed maintains that  "faith without works is dead." Jesus Himself warned that He will reject those who call Him Lord while actively disobeying His commandments (Matthew 7:21-27). The Shooks must be commended, therefore, for their desire to address the obvious disconnect between what evangelicals profess to believe and how we actually live. The non-Christian world sees our hypocrisy, and uses it as an excuse to reject Christ.

That said, our good behavior, in and of itself, can only (at best) lead people to ask us about the Lord (1 Peter 3:15). Of course, we should remember the broader context of this verse. 1 Peter 3:8-22 offers guidelines to Christians in the midst of suffering for their commitment to  Christ. The First Century believers to whom Peter originally wrote amazed their critics by clinging to Jesus when simply renouncing Him would have liberated them from persecution. They did far more than live good lives. They proclaimed Christ in an empire that made such proclamations punishable by death.

Their potential martyrdom went far beyond "right living." Good behavior certainly reflects God's standards for personal holiness, but without accompanying words about the grace of God that transforms a sinner, such good behavior degenerates into self-righteous morality that the Lord considers putrid (see Isaiah 64:6).

Rather than "being the message" by presuming that our actions will magically attract people to the Gospel, let's actually open our mouths and tell people the Gospel. The Word of God, not our morality, has the power to kindle saving faith!
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. ~~Romans 10:14-17 (ESV)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Precious Moments Of Spiritual Sanity

In my saner moments, I realize that I contributed nothing to my salvation. Oh, I used to love telling people how "I" accepted Jesus, completely ignoring passages like Ephesians 2:1-10 (that passage teaches that I was dead in my sins until the Lord gave me faith to receive His saving grace). But in my precious moments of spiritual sanity, the Lord allows me to understand that I owe my salvation completely to Him. Therefore, I scratch my head in bewilderment, baffled but deeply grateful that He chose to save me.

The hymn writer Isaac Watts, back in 1707, wrote about the awe (hence his word, "aweful") he felt at being invited into the Lord's house. Listen to his lyrics of gratitude, and let them draw you into a saner moment of worship.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Redirecting The Message

During a typical day, I'll read several blog posts, some of which I'll post on Twitter and Facebook. Usually, these posts kick-start my own thoughts, and I'll blog my responses and additional thoughts, hopefully doing more than simply regurgitating what I've read. For the most part, I believe I've benefited from the information and perspectives of other Christian bloggers. They sharpen my understanding of Scripture, and sometimes help me see more clearly why various trends in evangelical circles disturb me.

Today, however, I want to comment on a new fad that just begins to position itself on the spiritual horizon. Full disclosure: an off-handed remark Mike Abendroth made on Tuesday's episode of No Compromise Radio alerted me to the book that most likely will spawn this fad throughout evangelical churches, so I can't claim to be the first to recognize the coming bandwagon. But my fellow bloggers, as far as I know, have yet to discover this little aberration.

Pastor Kerry Shook and his wife Chris have co-authored a book called Be The Message. The premise, which sounds Biblical enough, promotes finding integrity between what we claim to believe and our day-to-day behavior. Okay, I can get behind that. Far too many professing Christians blaspheme the Lord's Name by continuing to live in rebellion against His commands.

Yet Kerry Shook's blog skews the Biblical teaching, making human behavior, rather than the grace of God, central in the Christian's witness. Rather than proclaiming the Gospel that the shed blood of Jesus provides the only atonement for human depravity, Shook and his wife maintain a focus on how we can exemplify Christlike lives. Consider this excerpt from his September 10, 2014 blog post:
We will never really experience all those good things we have in Christ until we live the message we believe. God is calling His people to be the message, to live the sermon, so the world, that is sick of hearing sermons, may see a sermon lived out! How can we be the message? How do we experience the power of genuine faith at work in and through our everyday lives? If I am going to be the message I must ask and answer some tough questions and be honest with myself.
The emphasis elevates us, not Christ. The message showcases our works when it ought to declare His  gracious strength in the face of our weakness. Certainly, the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to consider his frailties to best display the power of Christ:
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. ~~2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (ESV)
My fellow bloggers will soon be writing their own critiques of Be The Message, and I eagerly anticipate their comments. Because most evangelicals will, predictably, rush to this latest "Christian" craze, we'll need to remind people that the real message is in Jesus alone.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Stop Looking For Joseph's Pants

This video came to me through Naomi's Table Google+ group this morning, and I knew I wanted to share it here. I completely agree that Christians need to stop rummaging around for Joseph's pants. Of course, you won't understand the allusion to Joseph's pants unless you watch the video. On that note, I'll commend you to R.C. Sproul:

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

My Good Day Sampling Three Centuries

As the Green Line conductor helped us off the trolley at the Museum of Fine Arts  stop yesterday morning, he said, "Have a good day!" I wanted to reply cheerfully, "Of course I'll have a good day...I'm going to the Museum!" As I see it, a day of enjoying beautiful art can't avoid being wonderful.

Once in the Museum, we noticed that a  free guided tour of the Art Of The Americas wing would start shortly. My long-time readers know, at this point, how much I love guided tours, and you also know that my husband spoils me rotten when it  comes to to things of this nature. Since we have declared September as our vacation month, I particularly felt that we should do something a little differently, so taking a tour offered a  perfect plan!
Our docent

Although John took several photographs during the tour (as well as taking excellent notes), I've decided against commenting on every piece the docent showed us. (After all, being on vacation extends to my blogging activities.) I will, therefore, discuss three pieces that I liked. Happily, I liked one from the 18th Century, one from the 19th and one from the 20th, so I can give a good representation of the tour without wading through too many details.

The Puritans of the 18th Century, while they didn't frown on painting entirely, tended to channel their artistic energies toward carpentry so that they created beautiful furniture. This stunning bookcase and desk demonstrates the Rhode Island love of the sea through its shell design:
Look closer, and you'll see a concave/convex pattern in the panels and drawers. I can't resist speculating that the pattern intentionally mimics the undulation of ocean waves, although our docent never said as much. Examine this detail (blurry only because the Museum can't permit flash photography) and see what you think of my theory.
Moving to the mid-19th Century, our docent introduced us to Fitz Henry Lane's painting, entitled Boston Harbor. Painted between 1850 and 1855, this portrayal of Boston Harbor at sunset gives the viewer a feeling of tranquility.
But Lane's sunset serves as a metaphor of the end of the clipper ship era. In the lower right corner of the painting, barely visible unless you look for  it, a small steamboat encroaches on the harbor to signal the coming of the Industrial Revolution. I've made a detail of the painting's corner, circling the steamboat with red.
If you still can't see it, click this link from the Museum of Fine Arts page on Lane.

The tour concluded with one of my favorite 20th Century paintings, Georgia O'Keefe's 1927 White Rose With  Larkspur  No. 2. I love the piece even more knowing that it hung over her bed until she gave it to the Museum in the 1950s.
The Green Line conductor quite probably tells most of his passengers to have a good day, meaning it sincerely each time. He has no idea,  however, what a fantastically good day I really had. Then again, I always have a wonderful day exploring the Museum of Fine Arts.


Monday, September 8, 2014

Reflecting On A Novel

Emily Of New Moon by Lucy Maud Montgomery tells the  story of  an orphaned girl forced to live with her two maiden aunts. Emily has a passion for writing. To her, it's as essential as breathing. I  believe my mom gave me this book, when I first developed an interest in writing, hoping I would cultivate a similar attitude toward writing.

As I reread the book this summer, I felt saddened that writing, though enjoyable, has always been a pursuit I could take or leave. I appreciate having the ability, certainly, and accept that I can best serve the Lord through crafting words into sentences and paragraphs. But I just don't share Emily's intrinsic need to write. And my lack of fire somehow makes me feel ashamed.

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