Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Prayers From Ancient Lips

A month or so ago, our pastor preached a two-part sermon called Prayer Worthy Of An Apostle, which he based on Colossians 1:9-11:
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, (ESV)
The Lord has used that sermon to change the way I pray for people. Fewer of my prayers center on temporal matters as I concentrate more on asking the Lord to help people grow  in spiritual knowledge that they can apply to their lives. 

After nearly 44 years of being influenced by a "consumer" approach to the Lord, I realize that He is less concerned with adjusting our circumstances than He is with building godly character. I know I easily attest to His priorities now, when much of my life goes relatively according to my wishes. But I hope people pray the same things for me that I now pray for them. As much as my flesh still wants God to do my bidding, I see how that attitude perverts my relationship with Him by mistaking Him for the servant that He calls me to be.

If you pray for me, please ask the Lord to increase my understanding of Scripture so that I will grow in discernment. Further, please pray that I will apply what He teaches me in His Word so that I can please Him. Such prayers won't necessarily make me comfortable, but they will go a long way in helping me serve Him effectively.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Eavesdropping On My Readers

If my regular readers could converse among themselves about my two-day absence from this blog, the discussion might go as follows:

"What happened to DebbieLynne's usual Sunday hymn?"

"I would have thought she would have at least posted something Monday to explain herself. She has such a strong sense of accountability, you know."


"Last time something happened to prevent her from typing, she dictated a post to her husband."

"Wasn't that when she caught her arm in the door at Wendy's?"

"Well, if she had done that again, surely she would have dictated another post to John...if only to poke fun at herself."

"Or to garner sympathy."

"DebbieLynne wouldn't do that!"

"You must be a new reader. If you'll go back through the archives, you'll find several self-pitying posts. Remember the incident with the security guard at Quincy Market? She milked that one for days!"

"Yeah...but I think the Lord brought her to repentance on that score. Lately she seems less focused on herself and more focused on Him."

"Not that I particularly liked her Sunday hymns. Kinda boring."

"I agree. I like contemporary praise music myself."

"But DebbieLynne has made a valid point about the theological value of hymns. She's been trying to make us think about what we sing. So it's strange that, on the last Sunday of the year, she didn't post one."

"And even stranger that she didn't post Monday."

"I hope she's okay..."

Rest assured, dear readers--I'm fine. Yes, I spent Sunday mostly in bed with a sinus headache bad enough to make  me sick to my stomach. Yesterday I managed to type two short Tweets, a Status Update on Facebook, a few Facebook comments, and some Bible Study notes. But I couldn't have managed a blog post.

Anyway, the thought of writing the tongue-in-cheek dialogue that you've just read kept me from feeling guilty about my involuntary neglect of my blog. Hopefully, you found it entertaining.

As for my Sunday hymn, I admit to feeling disappointed that I couldn't post it. It would have gracefully ended my 14-month practice. You see, my stats show, all to clearly, that my readers continue to have little interest in hymns.  Although this disinterest saddens me, I realize that the Lord must convince each of  you individually that the music we use in worship must convey good doctrine. I'll write more posts about that matter in future posts, but I have grown tired of my subtle approach.

So, let's get this blog moving again! We'll see what happens with Sundays, but I trust the Lord to give me some creative way to honor the Sabbath. For now, however, I need to rest. Remember,  I'm still recovering.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Heart Exposed By Clever Words

Sometimes I start typing, not sure what I want to blog about, but absolutely certain that I feel like flinging words into cyberspace if only for the sake of keeping my writing skills limber. When I was a high school freshman, my Creative Writing teacher advised the class to write something every day...even if we only managed a single sentence. She gave us that direction on the first day of school (September 2, 1969). I remember little else that my high school teachers supposedly taught me, but I've never forgotten that advice.

I don't follow that advice  strictly, although in recent years I've tried to blog almost daily. Usually, I approach this blog with a definite plan. I'll want to communicate something that I believe the Lord has brought to my attention, praying that His Spirit will use my feeble words to minister to someone and to glorify Himself. But I do have days like today when I just want to write for the sake of seeing where my words want to take me. On days like today, I pray that those words, as they dance across my computer screen will end up honoring the Lord rather than showcasing my writing abilities.

Jesus said that our words reveal the condition of our heart.
33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” ~~Matthew 12:33-37 (ESV) (emphasis mine)
What do my words (spoken or written) reveal about the abundance of my heart? Do they expose an egotistical fascination with my own ability to "turn a phrase," or do they demonstrate a love for Jesus that refuses obscurity? Due to my stubborn sin nature, my ego always taints anything I do. but hopefully I find it increasingly difficult to write without mentioning the Lord. In spite of all my self-focus, I do desire to glorify Him with my words. I wouldn't mind if that desire intensified, mind you, but I praise Him for His grace to give me any such desire in the first place.

I like playing with words to see how far I can take them. Building them into cadences and textures that release my thoughts satisfies something deep inside me, allowing me a liberation that my Cerebral Palsy otherwise denies me. Yet if those words, in all their cleverness and occasional brilliance, divorce themselves from adoring Jesus and advancing His kingdom, they waste time and bandwidth. And I don't want the sort of heart that such wasteful words would reveal.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Truth By Incarnation

Wednesday, while working through 1 John 4, I noticed a startling remark about the relationship between the doctrine of the Incarnation and the ability to discern between good and faulty teaching.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. ~~1 John 4:1-3 (ESV)
Before I offer my thoughts on this passage, I really want to clarify that  agreement with the Incarnation isn't the only criteria for discernment. 1 John  4:6, for instance, elaborates that false prophets don't rely on the apostles' teaching as being God's Word, and 2 Peter 2:18-19 tells us that they use sensuality to attract followers. I could go on, but I really just wanted to make the point that 1 John 4:1-3 gives us only one of several tests for evaluating spiritual teachers and their messages.

That said, the apostle John insists that belief in God coming as Man is essential Christian teaching. Right away, his plumbline eliminates groups like the Mormons and  Jehovah's Witnesses from consideration as  viable Christians. But I see something even deeper in this passage.

First, we must recognize Christ's divinity. We do so, not merely by verbally confessing an intellectual assent that He is God (although such assent must obviously occur), but by demonstrating faith in His deity by obeying His commands. Do we accept His authority, or do we twist and cherry-pick His Scripture to suit our own agendas? Believing that Jesus is God necessitates that we obey Him.

Secondly, we must recognize His humanity. If He had merely appeared as  a Man, as He occasionally  did in the Old Testament (please excuse me from citing references here, but I'm having a hard enough time typing today without that extra work), His death on the cross wouldn't have been an actual sacrifice. Therefore, any denial that He lived and died as a flesh-and-blood Man undermines the very heart of the  Gospel.

That birth that we celebrated yesterday means so much to the  Christian narrative, and any  corruption of its meaning distorts the Christian faith. Even subtle denials of His Incarnation can spiral into heresy that could plummet us into eternal damnation. Thankfully, God's Word reveals Jesus in His full deity and His full humanity, allowing us to know the truth. We can praise Him that, in giving us the gift of Himself, He also gave us the  gift of distinguishing truth from error.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Time To Simply Enjoy

What does one blog about on Christmas Eve? Especially when all the other Christian bloggers devote their posts to various Christmas themes to such an extent that I decide not to click the links. I love reading about the Incarnation, certainly, but a point comes when I just need to stop reading and start digesting what I've already read. I imagine that, if I feel this way, my readers probably have similar feelings.

So let's simply celebrate today and tomorrow. I saw a  different aspect to the Incarnation during my Quiet Time this morning, but I can write about it Friday. Today, I just want to bask in the wonder of God  coming as a Newborn as I exchange gifts with my in-laws. I praise Him for His first coming, and look forward to His return. And I pray, dear readers, that He will bless your Christmas as you celebrate.
Merry Christmas from me and John

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Eigtht Hours Of Inconvenience And A Lesser Known Aspect Of Christmas

If you've clicked to this blog post expecting another grand celebration of Christ's Incarnation, today's offering may disappoint you. Yesterday's "quick trip" into Boston to see John's Nurse Practitioner wound up being an eight-hour ordeal, mostly focused on either waiting for The RIDE or, once it finally came, creeping through traffic at the pace of an arthritic turtle. All that for a 15-minute consultation that didn't yield the encouraging news we'd expected.

Then last night, our apartment never cooled down, making sleep difficult. Living on the third floor often presents this problem. My hot flashes and night sweats complicate matters, of course. Anyway, a grocery  bag now hangs heavily under each eye--eyes that are most likely bloodshot.

I feel completely uninspired to write about God becoming flesh.

Yet, one result of the Incarnation is Jesus' ability to understand all the difficulties and frustrations that accompany being human. While His main mission revolved around dying on the cross to atone for our sin, Scripture also states that He shared human experience in order to better understand our plight.
14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. ~~Hebrews 4:14-16 (ESV)
We normally don't emphasize this aspect of the Incarnation because Scripture doesn't emphasize it. And  I have, in my history of self-centered theology, twisted this passage to legitimize my frequent dances with self-pity by reimaging Jesus into a puppy-eyed Sympathizer Who agreed that life had given me the short end of the stick. Looking back, I can see how  badly I misconstrued that passage.

Yesterday, I should have remembered that Jesus knows what discomfort and inconvenience feel like. The poor judgments of those who scheduled our trip into Boston were light compared to the unrelenting sin committed by each and every human being except the divine Man Who hung on the cross to pay for those sins. In fact, Jesus understands our sufferings a whole lot better than we understand His. Yesterday I grumbled and complained and pouted, whereas Jesus, on the cross, committed Himself to His Father.

Jesus knows, even better than we do, the trials of being human. The Incarnation gave Him that humbling experience. So the eight dreadful hours John and I endured yesterday should deepen my appreciation of His Incarnation as I praise Him for willingly suffering because of my sins.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

More Than Wheelchair Dancing In The Driveway

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

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

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

Saturday, December 20, 2014

"Christmasy" Feelings

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

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

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

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Enshrining Grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Thoughts Resulting From A Song

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 14, 2014

But I Adore ALL Babies...

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

Now, as a Christian, I understand.

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

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

Saturday, December 13, 2014

No Comment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 12, 2014

With Too Much Me

This afternoon, to satisfy my curiosity about how I've used this blog over the past 8 1/2 years, I read a few blog posts that I'd written in my first few years of  blogging. Decidedly lackluster, for the most part. Not too bad theologically, despite the obvious self-focus.

Sometimes, I feel trapped by myself. As much as I want to turn my gaze completely on the Lord, my thoughts and conversations always snake back to me. Yes, the habit grieves the Holy Spirit. It robs Him of His glory, and goes against so many Scriptures that I don't even know which one to quote! Worst of all, I know this battle against self-love, like all my other battles against sin, won't end until Jesus takes me home.

This struggle reminds me of a sonnet by Victorian poet Gerard Manly Hopkins:
THOU art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners' ways prosper? and why must
Disappointment all I endeavour end?
  Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes
Now, leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build—but not I build; no, but strain,
Time's eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.
Hopkins and I make the same mistake of trying to please God through our own efforts. We might understand that, as a convert to Roman Catholicism and a Jesuit priest, Hopkins would assign himself responsibility for his own sanctification. What's my excuse? As a Bible-believing Christian, don't I know that Jesus provides my victory, even over my selfish sin nature?

The writer of Hebrews, after  chronicling the great heroes of the faith, shows me that Jesus is the key to overcoming even the sin of self-focus.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. ~~Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)
If Jesus is the Perfecter of my faith, He asks only that  I confess my  egotism and rely on  His Spirit to  change me. He, in His faithfulness, will supply the grace I need to turn   my attention back to Him.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Where Worship Belongs

Yesterday, I blogged about the Lord being the focus of worship. Scripture makes this focus necessary by insisting not only that He created all things, but that He created them for Himself so that He might be preeminent. Just this past Sunday, our pastor preached on this very topic as he approached Colossians 1:15-19. Let me expand a bit on the text to provide a  fuller context.
11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. ~~Colossians 1:11-20 (ESV)
I love this passage primarily because it teaches the amazing doctrine of Christ's deity, as well as the doctrine of  His Incarnation and His atoning work on the  cross. These words  certainly draw me into an attitude of worship  as they show me Who He is and what He has graciously done. These words also remind me that everything  He has created exists for no other purpose than to bring glory to  Him.

Practitioners of so-called Holy Yoga would say that their form of yoga allows them to worship the Lord more fully. Much to my frustration, their website no longer explains what Holy Yoga actually is, but Chris Lawson of Spiritual Research Network found this quote (which I remember reading) on an earlier version of the Holy Yoga website.
Holy Yoga was created to introduce physical worship of the Lord through prayer, breath work and movement to all seekers and believers in Jesus Christ, regardless of denomination...The purpose of the ministry is to introduce people to yoga as a form of collective (mind, body and spirit) worship…as well as certifying teachers through the registered yoga school (RYS) of Holy Yoga…to facilitate Christ-centered classes in their individual churches, studios, and community spaces....Our sole purpose at Holy yoga is to introduce people to a unique and powerful yoga experience centered on our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To deepen the experience, Holy Yoga classes are practiced to contemporary motivational Christian music...Yoga is NOT a reliegion; it is a practice of mind and body control. When led by scripture, prayer and worship poses; it is a practice that encourages patience and cultivates an understanding of what God can manifest in our physical and emotional bodies. 
That closing sentence betrayed the inconvenient fact that Holy Yoga is more about experiencing physical and emotional manifestations of "God" than about Biblical  worship. But according to an article by Christian  Apologetics & Research Ministry (CARM) entitled Should Christians Practice Yoga?, this focus on experience pretty much sums up the primary goal of yoga.
The problem is that yoga is religious in nature.  The point of the practice of yoga is to unite oneself with God.  Take this quote from the Yoga Journal: “Connecting the mind, body, and breath helps us to direct our attention inward. Through this process of inward attention, we learn to recognize our habitual thought patterns without labeling them, judging them, or trying to change them. We become more aware of our experiences from moment to moment. The awareness that we cultivate is what makes yoga a practice, rather than a task or a goal to be completed. Your body will most likely become much more flexible by doing yoga, and so will your mind.”4  As one can see, Yoga is more than just a physical exercise.  We as Christians do not want to make our mind more flexible.  We do not want to leave our mind open to false teaching.
Today, I will leave out any discussion of yoga's worship of Hindu gods (although  I hope to address that matter at some point) and instead emphasize the point that yoga, "'Christian" or otherwise, subtly shifts the focus from the Lord to self. As I watched video after video on the Holy Yoga  website, the preoccupation with "meeting God on your mat" came up several times. Although you have to pay the  big bucks before accessing anything that explains exactly how Holy Yoga enables you to better experience the Lord, it indeed indicates that  a wonderful experience awaits you on your mat.

Scripture always presents worship as adoring and praising the Lord. Often, such adoration does engage our emotions, but those experiences come as by-products of worship. I don't need yoga when I have Scripture to tell me about Jesus. Instead of mystical experiences that make me feel degrees of ecstasy, let me learn to die to myself and use my life to serve and glorify Him.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

From Rancid To Worshipful

John MacArthur's Grace To You radio program has recently been highlighting various ways that Christians can, and should, bring glory to God. The Lord has used these lessons to challenge the self-focused attitudes that I've incorporated into my supposed worship of Him. As much as I hate to admit it, far too often I have the same rancid attitude that Victoria Osteen touted as a virtue not long ago:
I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we're not doing it for God-I mean, that's one way to look at it-we're doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we're happy.
Ahem! Mrs. Osteen and I  miss the entire point of serving God when we turn obedience into a means to self-fulfillment. Certainly, serving Him does lead to joy, but not the narcissistic happiness that she implies. If we obey Him for our own benefit, we betray a lack of concern for His glory. And that lack of concern misses the entire point of worship. Worship centers completely around Jesus Christ.

In the book of Revelation, the apostle John gives us a few glimpses of the pure worship that will happen in heaven. Let me give you one example:
11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped. ~~Revelation 5:11-14 (ESV)
None of the worshipers makes any mention of self, but rather total attention gravitates to the Lamb (Jesus Christ). He is the entire reason they loudly praise Him. They don't do it to whip up their emotions so that Christ can enjoy their happiness, although they undoubtedly feel tremendous joy. Instead, their joy is secondary to the glory that rightly belongs to Him.

The Lord has used MacArthur to rouse me out of my self-centered attitude to remind me that God created me to bring pleasure to Him. May I start living with that frame of mind, knowing that He deserves all the praise. And may the joy I take in serving Him glorify Him all the more by demonstrating His incredible love and generosity.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Reasons To Avoid The Topic Of Yoga

We'll get back to examining yoga later this week. Christians need a good understanding of its nature and qualities because it now makes subtle inroads into churches that claim adherence to the Bible. So, even though I know quite well that people will disagree with my opposition to this practice (just as they disagree with my opposition to other trends that threaten doctrinal purity), I believe I must speak out against it.
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. ~~Ephesians 5:11 (ESV)
If you want to know the truth, writing about yoga exhausts me physically and emotionally, mostly  because I sense the importance of documenting my findings. Yesterday, I experienced some bizarre computer glitches as I tried to cut-and-paste the quote from The Guardian article--it took at least 20 minutes. Spiritual warfare? I really wouldn't be surprised.

Three or four years ago, I had a nice folder on yoga in my Firefox bookmarks. This morning I realized that, when I got a new computer two years ago, that folder went bye-bye. Consequently, I'll need to look for the articles all over again. I can find them, rest assured, but doing so means a few hours of work that I hadn't anticipated.

Then there's a comment from a friend that, instead of looking for a devil  in every  corner, I should concentrate on God's goodness. In part, she has a point. Certainly, I desire to glorify Him through my writing, and an over-emphasis on the problems plaguing the 21st Century church could distract people from Him. Having recognized that potential distraction, however, I don't want to commit the opposite error of ignoring false teaching that will lull people into a different gospel. How could keeping quiet when I see professing brothers and sisters in Christ contaminate the Gospel with Hinduism possibly reflect His goodness?

I can find many "reasons" to avoid writing about yoga (or Beth Moore) (or Gay Christians) (or any of the other aberrations I  see the evangelical culture embracing). But the Lord has given me a passion for His purity, and that passion demands that I stand for truth by refuting error. Yes, I pray that He will help me glorify Him as I tackle the subject of yoga by demonstrating how He alone is truth. But I also pray for courage and stamina to say what needs saying, even when people dislike it.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Making Yoga Non-Hindu

A friend of mine, who teaches Holy Yoga, insists that the yoga she teaches has nothing to do with Hinduism. She and her students use Christian music and meditate with open Bibles. Indeed, Brooke Boone's Holy Yoga website (which I do not endorse) emphatically states that yoga predates Hinduism (though they provide no documentation supporting this claim), and therefore should not be associated with any particular religion.

Should we take Holy Yoga's word for it and adapt yoga to Christianity? I don't think so.

In the first place, the Hindu Wisdom website states otherwise:
Yoga is an integral part of the Hindu religion. There is a saying: “There is no Yoga without Hinduism and no Hinduism without Yoga." The country of origin of Yoga is undoubtedly India, where for many hundreds of years it has been a part of man's activities directed towards higher spiritual achievements. The Yoga Philosophy is peculiar to the Hindus, and no trace of it is found in any other nation, ancient or modern. It was the fruit of the highest intellectual and spiritual development. The history of Yoga is long and ancient. The earliest Vedic texts, the Brahmanas, bear witness to the existence of ascetic practices (tapas) and the vedic Samhitas contain some references, to ascetics, namely the Munis or Kesins and the Vratyas.
Well, you argue, perhaps this website, being Hindu, operates from a bias of wanting to claim yoga as its own. Before you draw that conclusion, however, please consider the points made by Ramesh Rrao in his article It Is Wrong To Deny Yoga's Hindu Roots in The Guardian:
Hindus are an accepting lot, and they believe that each should be able to follow whatever spiritual path they chose, according to one's "ishta" (desire) and "adhikara" (qualifications). And as one scholar elegantly put it, Hinduism itself was "a rolling conference of conceptual spaces, all of them facing all, and all of them requiring all", enabling it to accommodate everyone in this grand cosmic munificence, label or no label.

Alas, we love to categorise, and lay claim to God, goodness and "truth", and when those making monopolistic claims to these began to dominate the world and spread the idea of "religion" – branding, marketing and enlarging market share of souls harvested and converted – we found the people of India (the new name for the old Bharatavarsha) began to be labelled "Hindus" (an umbrella term to identify all those who adhered to Indian spiritual/religious traditions, not including Buddhism, Jainism, or Sikhism) and their vast "rolling conference of conceptual spaces" got neatly pigeon-holed as a religion – a religion, very soon marked and demonised as "heathen", "pagan", "kafr" and so on.

Thus, when a neophyte yoga student, hanging on to Jesus, anxiously queried: "Is yoga part of Hinduism?", the savvy marketer claimed that the origins of yoga were lost in myth and mystery and that there "was no indication that it was ever part of an organised religion", accomplishing two things simultaneously – reifying Hinduism as a "religion" in the sense of "Abrahamic religions", and denying it as the fount and foundation of yoga.
If Rao is correct, those who practiced yoga prior to the codification of Hinduism contributed to the foundations of Hindu philosophy. With that as the case, we can't, with any intellectual integrity, escape yoga's intrinsic relationship to Hinduism. Consequently, those who attempt to reinvent yoga into something compatible with Christianity violate both religions.

I understand that this small blog post can't fully substantiate yoga's Hindu origins, but hopefully it begins to build my case that Christians shouldn't participate in it. Sadly, many churches that claim to be Evangelical and Bible-believing have Holy Yoga or other forms of "Christian" yoga under their roofs. They forget the apostle Paul's words:
14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? ~~1 Corinthians 10:14-22 (ESV)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Song Of Wonder

Some Christmas carols, especially if we bother to sing beyond the first verses, offer such rich doctrine about the Person and work of Christ. The richer the theological content, the more they draw me into worship.

Accordingly, this version of We Three Kings fills me with adoration because it both proclaims Christ's deity and looks forward to His death, burial and resurrection. Additionally, the worship that these foreign kings gave to the Child remind me that Christ opened God's kingdom to both Jews and  Gentiles. Ponder this cherished hymn. I promise that, if the Holy Spirit lives in you, the lyrics will fill you with wonder and praise!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Blessing Of Failing At Yoga

In 1966, many people in Marin County, California (where I grew up) developed an interest in spiritual experiences other than traditional Christianity. In accordance with that spiritual climate and influenced by a co-worker who liked experimenting with the various trends of that era, my mom donned a black leotard and enrolled in a local yoga  class. (I have reason to suspect that other members of her church also took yoga.)

After a few sessions, Mom came to believe that, although I obviously couldn't do the poses, the breathing exercises would be good for my lungs. Additionally, she hoped the meditation might reduce my muscle rigidity caused by my Cerebral Palsy. So she canceled our babysitter and took us to class with her.

Being the type of twelve-year-old who eagerly embraced anything new and different (remember, in 1966 very few people had even heard about yoga), I felt really special because my family took yoga. I remember trying to teach some of the breathing techniques to a friend at school. Far from being resistant, I loved yoga!

Yet I couldn't  seem to get the hang of meditating. I tried, but my active little mind simply refused to empty itself. And the breathing techniques demanded more effort than I wanted to make. After only a few weeks, the frustration at my inability to understand and achieve a meditative state led me to conclude that I couldn't do yoga. I still thought it was wonderful; it just wasn't for me.

I knew, even then, that yoga came from Hinduism. Back then, I believed all religions worshiped the same God, so I saw no contradiction between yoga and the liberal form of "Christianity" that my mom's church modeled. But soon after the Lord convinced me that Jesus alone provides salvation, I realized the demonic origins of all eastern spirituality. Though I didn't enjoy displeasing my mother, I had to renounce yoga, steadfast in my conviction that it represents darkness. Scripture commanded me to separate from it.
14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
17 Therefore go out from their midst,
    and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
    then I will welcome you,
18 and I will be a father to you,
    and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.” ~~2 Corinthians 6:14-18 (ESV)
Admittedly, I separated from yoga (and other new age practices) with a self-righteous attitude that now breaks my heart. I believe I could have honored Christ more had I demonstrated more humility. That said, I have no doubt that I must stand firm in my position that yoga and Biblical Christianity have absolutely nothing in common.

My inability to practice breathing and meditation did not embitter me toward yoga. During the five years between my last yoga class and my conversion to Christ, I wholeheartedly supported Mom's interest in yoga, and regretted my failure to grasp meditation. 

That failure, however, causes me to rejoice that God overruled my desire to practice even these two aspects of yoga. Looking back, I see how mercifully He protected me from demonic influences so that His Holy Spirit could reside in me. He amazes me as I think of how He kept me from false spirituality even before He brought His salvation to me!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Jeremiah's Contemporary Application

Jeremiah never really captured my attention in the past, except for the handful of verses (particularly Jeremiah 29:11) that I'd cherry-pick, wrench out of context and misapply as a personal promise. Actually, I'd spent decades reading the entire Bible in such a piecemeal fashion, bored with the history of Israel to such an extent that I had little interest in the prophets unless I could find verses or passages that offered me comfort or encouragement. In other words, I concocted a theology that, though I never would have admitted it, pretty much revolved around me.

I'll reserve a discussion on whether or not I lived as a false convert for another time. Regardless of  how genuine my salvation may or may not have been, I can testify that I now read the Bible much more honestly, making logical connections between history and doctrine. (Having majored in English Literature, I should have known  better.)

Anyway, I've been reading Jeremiah this week. I've only gotten through the first three chapters because I've taken so many notes. This book has captured my attention! And, as I read, I believe the Holy Spirit shows me more appropriate applications that I made in my cherry-picking days.

For example, this morning I worked through Chapter 3, in which the Lord lamented Israel and Judah's unfaithfulness to Him. In addition to applying the verses to my personal walk with Him by understanding the dangers of falling into false doctrine and idolatry, I also thought about how the professing church keeps flirting with other spiritual disciplines, sinful practices and quirky teachings, expecting the Lord to take them back without demanding repentance.
“If a man divorces his wife
    and she goes from him
and becomes another man's wife,
    will he return to her?
Would not that land be greatly polluted?
You have played the whore with many lovers;
    and would you return to me?
declares the Lord.
Lift up your eyes to the bare heights, and see!
    Where have you not been ravished?
By the waysides you have sat awaiting lovers
    like an Arab in the wilderness.
You have polluted the land
    with your vile whoredom.
Therefore the showers have been withheld,
    and the spring rain has not come;
yet you have the forehead of a whore;
    you refuse to be ashamed.
Have you not just now called to me,
    ‘My father, you are the friend of my youth—
will he be angry forever,
    will he be indignant to the end?’
Behold, you have spoken,
    but you have done all the evil that you could.” ~~Jeremiah 3:1-5 (ESV)
Jeremiah's immediate purpose, of course, was to indict Judah and therefore establish God's justice in punishing them through the Babylonian Captivity. But since His dealings with Israel and Judah serve as examples to the Church (1 Corinthians 10:6), we need to consider the ways that we commit spiritual adultery.

Tomorrow and Monday, I plan to revisit the topic of "Holy Yoga" as an example of spiritual adultery in the 21st Century professing church. Certainly, other pollutions also plague the church, and I hope to address them as best I can. Yoga among those who claim to belong to Christ sure ties in with Jeremiah 3! Like faithless Judah, today's church stubbornly dabbles with false spirituality, making careful study of Jeremiah both relevant and essential.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Gainsborough, Eric Garner, And The True Sanctuary

The Museum of Fine Arts allows  me to immerse myself in beauty. Yesterday, John and I meandered through it, stopping to savior items that pleased our eyes and reminded us of gentleness and refinement. For example, Gainsborough's romantic portrait of Mrs. Edmund Morton Pleydell (1765) draws my imagination back to London gentry, and I dwell on thoughts of a peaceful life.
My retreat into the rarefied world of fine art left me a bit unprepared for the Grand Jury's decision not to indict the New York police officer who put  Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold. As I watched the disturbing video, I found the Jury's decision extremely difficult to understand. I struggle to remind myself that the Jury  saw and heard much more evidence than I did.  I fight my urge to form an opinion until the findings become public.

The rawness of Eric Garner's last moments clash against the tranquil order of Gainsborough's portraits. Indeed, that entire museum usually insulates me from the sin that saturates the world.

Yet I will return to the museum, hungrily seeking its brief sanctuary from a world broken by its own stubborn refusal to surrender to Christ's rule. Moreover, I will look forward to Christ's Second Coming, when He will abolish all sin. In that Day, I will see beauty beyond anything Mrs. Edmond Morton Pleydell experienced in  her 18th Century London manor, for I will behold Jesus in His glory.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Perversion Of Humility

Jeremiah certainly sounded humble in his response to the Lord's initial call on his life.
Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” ~~Jeremiah 1:6 (ESV)
Indeed, I've always been taught to admire and emulate his humility. After all, compared to the Lord, even the most erudite theologian must admit that his writings betray an infantile understanding of spiritual truth. On that basis, shouldn't we applaud the young prophet's self-abasement?

This morning I read this verse in context, and noticed that Jeremiah's supposed humility not only failed to impress the Lord, but actually incited the Lord  to rebuke him. Granted, the Lord may have rebuked him gently, being sensitive to Jeremiah's young age (one commentator I looked at believed Jeremiah was about 14), but He nonetheless made it perfectly clear that the young man had the wrong focus. Look at the context of verse 6:
Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’;
for to all to whom I send you, you shall go,
and whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
declares the Lord.” ~~Jeremiah 1:4-8 (ESV)
For all his apparent humility, Jeremiah had his eyes trained on himself, completely ignoring the One Who had just called him into prophetic ministry. The Lord immediately shifted the attention away from Jeremiah's obvious inadequacies and back to Himself. He had  called Jeremiah to prophetic ministry, and consequently He would assume full responsibility for enabling him to perform that ministry.

As a matter of fact, the Lord had already said, point-blank, that He had appointed Jeremiah to prophetic ministry before the boy's conception. Pro-life people frequently use that verse in opposition to abortion, and rightly so. But that secondary application mustn't distract us from God's primary point that Jeremiah did absolutely nothing to acquire his  ministry. The appointment originated from the Lord long before Jeremiah's parents conceived him.

If Jeremiah did nothing to merit the Lord's  commission, what made him think that his youth and inexperience could prevent God from using him. As humble as his words in verse 6 appear, in reality he drew attention away from the  Lord and back to himself. He failed to see what, five centuries later, the apostle Paul saw so clearly:
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)
Regardless of how the Lord calls us to serve Him, let's guard against both boastfulness and false humility. Our abilities to serve Him come from His generous Hand, and our many inadequacies showcase His glorious strength.


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