Sunday, May 31, 2015

Stop The Distractions

So often throughout the years, I've allowed ministry, church activities and (during my years as a Charismatic) spiritual experiences to distract me. Frequently I'd find myself forgetting the very Gospel that caused me to become a Christian in the first place. The hymn I've chosen to feature today reminds me to look back to the cross. Nothing else matters!


Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Faith That Didn't Work

Facing deep disappoint in how God had ordered her circumstances, my friend seriously considered trying other religions. Her sorrow added weight to her voice as she bitterly told me, "Christianity doesn't work."

At that point, she needed compassion rather than theological discourse, and the Lord gave me enough sense to simply share her grief (Romans 12:15). In time, the Lord enabled her to accept her situation, and He restored her faith in Him without any assistance from me. He never granted her request, but He taught her to love and trust Him even when He chose not to meet her expectations.

Throughout the years since that painful conversation, her pronouncement that "Christianity doesn't work" has troubled me. I don't like the underlying attitude that following certain behaviors places the Lord under obligation to answer our prayers according to our specifications. Yes, I'm well aware of my own horrid attempts at manipulating God when John had cancer three years ago...and I feel great shame over my fist-shaking tirades against Him. Like my friend, I had to repent of wanting Christianity to "work."

Sometimes, the Lord kindly answers my prayers favorably, as He did by pulling John through his heart attack and cancer surgery. At other times, He chooses to disappoint  me in order to accomplish His greater will. In those hurtful times, He reminds me that He created me to serve Him. Whether Christianity "works" for me or not, may I be faithful to use my life for Him.

Friday, May 29, 2015

For Whom?

The arrangement of words fascinates me. I love writing complex sentences, even though today's fast-paced and semi-illiterate culture generally prefers small, staccato ones that require less chewing and digestion, because they capture so much thought within their woven patterns. And I like the power of brevity. Sometimes, I like writing simply because I wonder at the way my fumbling words end up actually making something that people enjoy reading.

As you can see, the act of writing carries narcissism with it. I think most writers, if they're honest, have to admit to feelings of ego-gratification as they use words, grammar and punctuation to formulate their thoughts, ideas and emotions. Maybe charity should persuade me to assume other writers write from more altruistic motives than I do, but I lack such charity because  Scripture says too much about the human bent toward self-flattery.

Yet the Lord, being gracious, redeems my tainted motivations for writing by allowing me to write about Him. My ego may continue to linger, necessitating that I confess my pride and vanity, but the Lord displaces it by blessing me with a desire to honor Him. I find myself praying that my readers will notice Christ, rather than me, as I use words to highlight His glories. When all is said and typed, after all, He will return to establish His kingdom, where we will finally worship only Him.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Purple Cow Approaches To Homosexuality

Several weeks ago, during a sermon on Colossians 3:1-4, our pastor made a comment that helped me understand why such a high percentage of people who participated in ex-gay ministries like Love In Action (the one for which I worked) eventually fell back into homosexuality. Before I show you this Scripture and explain how my pastor's remarks turned on the proverbial light bulb in my head, however, let me briefly review the way several of my friends rationalize their return to the lifestyle.

Many of them claim now that God created them gay and that the Scriptures that appear to condemn homosexuality need to be understood in light of circumstantial qualifications. They interpret the prohibitions as pertaining to gang rape, pagan temple prostitution and sexual exploitation of children and adolescents, maintaining that "loving, committed" same-sex relationships escaped the notice of those who wrote the Bible.

A free PDF ebook, God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew, exposes the fallacies in such arguments, so I won't take the time to reinvent the wheel today. The Bible clearly condemns homosexual behavior, just as it condemns a wide variety of other attitudes and behaviors that demand gratification. No sin, including the sin of homosexuality, should be tolerated.

So many attitudes and behaviors have such a tremendous hold on us that sometimes we feel that we simply can't overcome them. My pastor showed us, however, how a Christian can gain victory over stubborn sinful habits.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. ~~Colossians 3:1-4 (ESV)
As we set our minds on the Lord, rather than fixating on whatever sin we can't seem to overcome, that sin loses its power. Putting it in less positive terms, when we focus on dealing with a life-dominating sin, we actually feed that sin all the more. 


By way of illustration, suppose I told you to break your obsession with purple cows by examining your childhood to discover why you find purple cows so fascinating. Obviously, you'd spend even more time visualizing purple cows, and praying that the Lord would help you overcome your obsession. If you then joined a group of purple cow addicts, you would talk about purple cows every time your group met. Additionally, if you entered a residential program with other purple cow addicts, you would most likely think about purple cows all the more. Instead of keeping your eyes on Christ, and how you could best magnify Him, most of your energy and thoughts would revolve around purple cows.

I quite well know, of course, that temptations (of any kind) don't automatically vanish just because we fill our minds with Christ and His concerns. Furthermore, I sincerely doubt that my pastor had any intention of implying a simplistic approach to dealing with sin. All Christians, if we're honest, experience life-long battles with our sin natures, including the apostle Paul (see Romans 7:7-25). I'd even venture to say that our most predominate struggles with sin usually involve illicit sexual desires. So please don't interpret me as saying that someone can vanquish homosexuality merely by concentrating on the Lord.

Yet, Scripture certainly does teach that keeping our minds on the Lord and walking in the Spirit does tend to crowd out fleshly impulses. Returning to our illustration, when I occupy myself with looking for ways to love the Lord and extend His love to others, I have less time to fill my thoughts with purple cows. I may still experience an inordinate fascination with them, but they no longer overwhelm my thoughts.

As my pastor preached on Colossians 3:1-4, it dawned on me that Love In Action and other ex-gay ministries actually defeated themselves by placing men and women in environments that kept homosexuality constantly before them. Yes, they needed people to acknowledge that they fought a heart-wrenching battle, particularly if they never developed an attraction to someone of the opposite sex. But how I wish their local churches had gently and patiently accepted them as fellow sinners who, like other Christians, needed to dwell on the wonders of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Annie Says It Best

Don't expect me to offer any profound insights today. We called my sister late last night and talked about her upcoming visit next month (when John and I will take her to a Red Sox game), and I got excited. Consequently, it took me hours before I drifted off to sleep, and now I just plain don't want to type.

Perhaps tomorrow.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Works Prepared

With this post, I conclude my teaching on the Gospel in Ephesians 2:1-10. Because I've been actually teaching (as opposed to merely sharing personal insights), I need to make this a ladies-only post. Thanks for understanding.

So, ladies, we have seen a lot about God's  grace in taking us from our death in sin to life in the resurrected Christ. To refresh our memories, as well as to examine verse 10 in its proper context, let's look at our passage one final time.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (ESV)
Again, Paul places emphasis on Christ, attributing any good works we perform to God. Strong's Greek Dictionary says that the  Greek word "poiema" (here rendered "workmanship") means "a product,that is, fabric (literally or figuratively): - thing that is made, workmanship."

According to Vincent Word Studies, the Greek construction of the phrase, "we are His workmanship" decidedly refers to God as the active agent. Notice that the  next phrase, "created in Christ Jesus" clarifies the idea that the "workmanship" denotes the new creation He forms at  the time of our conversion (2 Corinthians 5:17). When we consider that, prior to  salvation, our base instincts locked us into a lifestyle of depravity (remember verses 1-3), we marvel that now God calls us His workmanship.

Further, God creates as new creatures in Christ so that we can perform good works. Good works, then, follow regeneration rather than cause it. And the Lord has even prepared those good works "beforehand," which Ephesians 1:4 tells us was "before the foundation of the world."  A good cross-reference for this idea of predestined works is Romans 8:29-30.

Perhaps Titus 2:11-14 offers the best commentary on Ephesians 2:1-10, especially as it illustrates repentance from the decay described in Ephesians 2:1-3 and to the good works of Ephesians 2:10.
 
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. ~~Titus 2:11-14 (ESV)
As in Ephesians 2:5 and 8, God's grace ushers in the gift of repentance (see Acts 11:18). (Incidentally, the phrase, "all people," means that salvation extends beyond the Jews to all ethnic groups.) In Paul's words to Titus, we see a clear picture of God's grace enabling believers to turn from sin because they live in expectation of Christ's return. Such expectation, of course, arises from the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Faith always expresses itself in repentance from sin and to holiness.

Ephesians 2:1-10 doesn't mention the redemption that Jesus secured for us by shedding His blood on the cross (Ephesians 1:7 and Colossians 1:20), but we can't really talk about grace apart from the cross. Although this study ends at verse 10, Paul does clarify in Ephesians 2:11-13 that Gentiles have acceess to  God's promises through Christ's blood, just as Jews do. What amazing grace! And what Good News!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Ireland, SCOTUS And The Freedom To Preach Biblically

In light of both Ireland's decision to legalize same-sex marriage yesterday and next month's United States Supreme Court ruling that may well legalize it in all 50 states here, I believe this video shows the probable repercussions facing churches. I wish the person who put the video on YouTube had titled it more accurately. Still, the discussion touches on some critical implications of same-sex marriages for which we should prepare ourselves.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Glory Of Failures

A friend of mine posted on Facebook that he felt like a failure. Predictably, several people responded with well-intentioned comments aimed at making him feel better about himself, assuring him that God doesn't see him that way and encouraging him not to let his frustrations define him. As I pondered their remarks, I recognized that they wanted to bolster his self-esteem.

Maybe he needed such bolstering, but the conversation just didn't square with Scripture. In my 44 years of reading and studying the Bible, I've never come across any instances of the Lord telling people to feel good about themselves. Yes, He told them that He loved them, and even that He would work through their weaknesses and failures for His glory, but He never so much as suggested that we have any worth apart from Him. As a matter of fact, the apostle Paul wrote about the things that, prior to his conversion, gave him a sense of self-esteem as if they deserved only contempt.
For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.  ~~Philippians 3:3-11 (ESV)
Despite all the reasons Paul had to pat himself on the back, he knew that he'd be better off dwelling on the righteousness that Christ had given him. His pedigree and accomplishments made him successful in the sight of his First Century Jewish culture, but he disdained them in the light of the Lord.

I don't enjoy facing my many failures, admittedly. Such confrontation hurts my pride! But that pride needs to be wounded, and in fact that wound must  be mortal! Self-esteem will keep me from acknowledging my dependence on the Lord, therefore robbing Him of the glory. It will prevent me from looking to Him in my failures and therefore watching Him turn my failures into His successes. Please...if I feel like a failure, don't decide that you'll best demonstrate compassion by building up my self-esteem. Instead, direct me back to the Savior.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Wanna Hear About John's Deep, Dark Sins?

John embodies many godly qualities, and his commitment to obeying God's Word has made a dramatic impact on my attitudes and behaviors. I hope I grow up to be like him. He has no idea of how the Lord uses him to mold me into a Christian who lives increasingly in purity.

But I live with John. Along with his many virtues, I see his faults. Like everyone else, my husband sometimes falls in to various sins, reminding both of us that even he desperately needs a Savior.

If you're honest, you'll have to admit that my last paragraph aroused your curiosity, and you secretly hope I'll write a nice, juicy expose parading his deep dark sins. Actually, as our culture more and more celebrates "transparency," we come to expect wives to complain about their husbands, adult children to talk about the  mistakes of their parents and workers to gripe about their bosses. And Christians may sincerely believe that, in revealing the "unvarnished truth" about others, they protect themselves from idolizing that person. Or, more accurately, from the appearance of idolizing that person.

I'd rather run the risk of people judging me for idolizing my husband than sin against him and the Lord by disrespecting him. If anything, I need to show greater respect for John, both publicly and privately. Thankfully, John's love for Christ and his pattern of obedience to Scripture provide me with enough raw material to keep me from dwelling on his flaws. After all, I'm too busy owning up to all the ways the Lord needs to deal with me!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Too Familiar For Praise?

This post continues our Bible Study series on Ephesians 2:1-10 exploring the Gospel. Since I will actually be teaching as opposed to merely offering my perspectives, I respectfully ask that men other than my husband and my pastor (both of whom have spiritual authority over me) refrain from reading these studies. Thank you.

Today, ladies, we can finally study verses 8 and 9 of our passage. As usual, I want to quote these verses with the verses leading up to them so that we can keep them in proper context.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. ~~Ephesians 2:1-9 (ESV)
Most evangelicals can accurately quote these two verses without much thought. And that lack of careful deliberation can cause us to veer from the very Gospel that they proclaim. Paul wrote them, as we plainly see by their content and context, to emphasize that God assumes full responsibility (and therefore deserves full credit) in the salvation process.

Paul repeats his statement from verse 5 that salvation occurs "by grace." But rather than assuming that we know what the word "grace" means, let's turn to The Complete WordStudy Dictionary, which opens its article on grace with this paragraph:

cháris; gen. cháritos, fem. noun from chaírō (G5463), to rejoice. Grace, particularly that which causes joy, pleasure, gratification, favor, acceptance, for a kindness granted or desired, a benefit, thanks, gratitude. A favor done without expectation of return; the absolutely free expression of the loving kindness of God to men finding its only motive in the bounty and benevolence of the Giver; unearned and unmerited favor. Cháris stands in direct antithesis to érga (G2041), works, the two being mutually exclusive. God's grace affects man's sinfulness and not only forgives the repentant sinner, but brings joy and thankfulness to him. It changes the individual to a new creature without destroying his individuality (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:8-9).

But now Paul seems to  contradict himself by making grace (and therefore salvation itself) conditional on human faith...which of course is completely true! John 3:14-18 maintains without equivocation that every person's eternal destiny absolutely depends on the exercise of faith. Jesus said, in John 5:24, that faith exempts us from judgment and allows us to pass from death to life. In fact, Paul said in Romans 10:9-10 believing that God raised Jesus, Whom we confess as Lord, from the dead, guarantees salvation.

Don't worry! Paul hastens to add that even faith comes as God's gift to us. As we read this comment, it helps to remember that this passage began by saying that we were dead in the sins that characterized our lives (Ephesians 2:1-3, quoted above). Dead people simply have no internal resources that would enable them to produce faith. Remember  that, when Simon Peter correctly identified Jesus as "the Christ, the Son of the Living God," Jesus informed him that only God the Father could have given him that revelation (Matthew 16:13-17). Similarly, Acts 16:14 speaks of God opening Lydia's heart to the Gospel.

Perhaps Paul best demonstrates how God gives us faith in Romans 10:13-17:

For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." 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? 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!" But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. ~~Romans 10:13-17 (ESV)

The Holy Spirit sovereignly uses His Word, faithfully preached, to generate faith.

Verse 9 strengthens Paul's point by contrasting "faith" with "works." Please consider Paul's comment in Romans 11:6 that the very idea of grace necessarily excludes works...including the "work" of faith. Faith, being something that we receive from God's hand, in no way becomes a reason to suppose that we, although dead in our transgressions, could claim any part in our salvation.

Scripture, in fact, makes no allowance for any boasting on our part. We receive salvation, not by any human effort, but as a result of a faith that the Lord Himself supplies to us. Therefore, we find no way to congratulate ourselves, and we certainly can't take pride in what Christ has done for us. I like how The Believer's Bible Commentary puts it:

In contrast to works, faith excludes boasting (Romans 3:27), because it is non meritorious. A man has no reason to be proud that he has trusted the Lord. Faith in Him is the most sane, rational, sensible thing a person can do. To trust one's Creator and Redeemer is only logical and reasonable. If we cannot trust Him, whom can we trust?
These two familiar verses, which so many evangelicals rattle off so easily, should turn our thoughts to our  complete dependence on the incredible grace of our Almighty Lord. Why He condescends to save any of us, and especially a wretch like me, only causes me to adore Him more. I pray you'll have the same response.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Monday, May 18, 2015

Two Tiny Degrees

Our living room thermometer reads a comfortable 76 F. A few moments ago, I went into our bedroom, and noticed that it felt hot. Well, yes, I guess I did flirt a little with John, but that's not the kind of "hot" I mean. Before I returned to the living room, I glanced at the bedroom thermometer and saw that it registered 78. Once I came back to my living room desk, the temperature, though just two degrees cooler, provided  much appreciated relief.

Amazed by the noticeable difference that two little degrees make, I thought of how the tiniest deviation from Scripture can lead to soul-damning heresy. Not that anyone understands every single point in the Bible, but we should know the basics well enough to sweat a little under the heat of error.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

He Has Made It Well With My Soul

Should I blame years of participating in churches that avoided firm doctrinal stands on questions about eternal security, or should I blame my proud assumption during those years that I possessed ultimate control over my salvation? I tend towards the latter, based on my pride over "giving my life to the Lord" in the first place. But either way, I still struggle, when I sin in certain ways, with fear that my sin will disqualify me from admission to heaven.

Now that Scripture has finally convinced me that genuine Christians cannot lose, nor can they forfeit, salvation, my bouts with sin sometimes cause me to fear that I'm a false convert. My longsuffering husband patiently offers Scriptural correction each time I question my salvation, and I praise the Lord for allowing me to marry a man who won't permit me to interpret truth through my fickle emotions.

Slowly, the Lord has helped me shift my attention from my many sins to His finished work on the cross. His blood doesn't merely cover sins I committed prior to my conversion. Colossians 2:13-14 assures me that Christ has paid my entire debt! In rejoicing over this liberating truth the other night, I thought about verse 3 of the hymn, It Is Well With My Soul. May I grow ever more secure in what Christ has done on my behalf.

Friday, May 15, 2015

He Does It For His Sake

This post continues our Bible Study series on Ephesians 2:1-10 exploring the Gospel. Since I will actually be teaching as opposed to merely offering my perspectives, I respectfully ask that men other than my husband and my pastor (both of whom have spiritual authority over me) refrain from reading these studies. Thank you.

Various personal circumstances have delayed my ability to work on this series, and today I managed to study no more than verse 7. I wanted to do more with it than I did, but the limitations of Cerebral Palsy and being over 60 interfered. That said, this study of verse 7 encourages me. I  hope you'll take the time to look at the cross-references I'll provide, as they offer deeper insight into the text.

But first let's go back to the text itself, shall we?
 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. ~~Ephesians 2:1-7 (ESV)
Paul begins verse 7 with the assuring statement that  God will, in the ages to come, give a fuller revelation

  • of the immeasuarable riches
  • of His grace
    • in kindness toward us
    • in Christ Jesus
Commentators differ on whether the "ages to come" denote succeeding generations of Christians who would understand the Ephesians' conversions as a demonstration of God's rich mercy or to the ages that will begin when Christ returns. The former interpretation finds support in 1Timothy 1:16, where Paul claims His own conversion as  an example of God's mercy. Compare Titus 3:4-7, which states that the believers in the church Titus pastored experienced the same mercy as did the Ephesians. Yet 1 Peter 1:3-13 implies that God will display His mercy and grace at the time that Christ reveals Himself universally. I tend to favor the  latter understanding because Christ's return is part of the Gospel.

God's purpose in showering believers with grace and mercy benefits us, but ultimately it refers back to His character. Vincent's Word Studies says that the grammar of the Greek phrase translated here as "He might show" implies that God does all this for His glory first, and then for our benefit.

The Lord showed similar mercy to Israel, not because they deserved it (they certainly didn't!), but for the sake of His reputation (Ezekiel 36:21-23, Deuteronomy 7:7-8, Psalm  106:8, Psalm 115:1-2, Ezekiel 20:41). God bestows His mercy on us, just as He did on Israel, out of concern for His reputation among unbelieving nations. For this reason, as well as because of the way verse 7 flows from preceding verses, I tend toward the opinion that these "immeasurable riches" will coincide with Christ's return when all will see Him (Matthew 24:30).

Notice that God shows "the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us" in the Person and work of Christ Jesus. Again, Paul insists that we did nothing to merit God's favor, but Jesus gives us all these blessings because we are in Him. Accordingly, we take  joy in Christ, honoring Him for making such treasures available to us.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Thursday Quotation

"I frankly confess that, for myself, even if it could be, I should not want ‘free-will’ to be given me, nor anything to be left in my own hands to enable me to endeavour after salvation; not merely because in face of so many dangers, and adversities and assaults of devils, I could not stand my ground …; but because even were there no dangers … I should still be forced to labour with no guarantee of success … But now that God has taken my salvation out of the control of my own will, and put it under the control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to His own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him.

Furthermore, I have the comfortable certainty that I please God, not by reason of the merit of my works, but by reason of His merciful favour promised to me; so that, if I work too little, or badly, He does not impute it to me, but with fatherly compassion pardons me and makes me better. This is the glorying of all the saints in their God"  (The Bondage of the Will).

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Privileged Un-Mother

Sometimes the blessings God gives me in this life make  me wonder whether or not I'll receive many rewards in heaven. As John and I made our way to catch a bus to Boston yesterday, I again thought of my exceptionally privileged life. We had declared the day Un-Mother's Day (since I have neither a mother nor children), and my wonderful husband decided to celebrate by taking me to the exhibit, Leonardo da Vinci and the Idea of Beauty at the Museum of Fine Arts.

The exhibit included sketches by Michelangelo, doubling my sense of awe. When I studied High Renaissance Italian Art as a college freshman, I never really thought I'd see works of Leonardo and Michelangelo in person. Yet yesterday I wheeled through the gallery, savoring the drawings and remembering that art history class.

As much as I'd love to show you all the photos John took of the exhibition, time constraints direct me to limit myself to sharing only a few of Leonardo's works. This Head of a Young Woman charmed me.
Her demure  innocence comes across in  her  diagonally downward gaze, accentuated by the soft motion of her curls. Motion fascinated Leonardo, who did many scientific studies in addition to his artistic works. Accordingly, the exhibit included large replicas of some of his studies (including his backward writing), taking me  back to an oral presentation my friend and I made in college.
Along with these replicas, the gallery also displayed the actual Codex on the Flight of Birds, and in the same case, two small self portraits.

Leonardo not only studied motion; he also found anatomy interesting. His study of Horses' Hindquarters reveals his delight in examining what muscles do in various positions.
I thought that study perfectly captured the majestic power of horses...something that always thrills me. But his Drapery on a Seated Figure excited me even more! Notice how Leonardo used light and shadows to model not only the fabric, but the human figure underneath the fabric.
 Absolutely splendid! But even more splendid was the sketch serving as the anchor piece of the exhibit. Leonardo drew A Young Woman as a preparation for an angel in his painting, The Virgin of the Rocks.
This sketch has been called the most beautiful drawing in the world, and has been compared to the Mona Lisa for her mysterious expression. I hated to leave it, and only did so because I knew other people would want to see it. Sigh -- sometimes it's hard to practice unselfishness!

The experience of seeing Leonardo's actual sketches indeed carried me to a feeling of the sublime. Again I wondered why the Lord allows me to have so many wonderful experiences. But as John and I talked about it, we realized that none of my privileged experiences, as fantastic and wonderful as they have been, can even begin to compare with the joy of spending eternity in heaven with the Lord. Whether I have rewards in heaven or not, I will spend eternity gazing at His marvelous face -- and that will be more than enough to reward me.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

What Joel Osteen Should Know

Jesus promised a life of struggle and death to self (possibly even physical death) to those who follow Him. According to John 15:8, the world will hate Christians precisely because it hates the Lord that we represent. Far from offering Your Best Life Now as Joel Osteen brazenly does,  Jesus maintains that our present suffering for Him only enriches our joy in eternity.

Enfield has a beautiful hymn of commitment to the Lord. This hymn reminds me of the high cost of following Him. But it also reminds me that He, as the greatest treasure I could ever hope to possess, is more than worthy any cost I might pay.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Lacking Sophistication

Abstract art generally annoys me. If that makes me anti-intellectual, then I suppose you can relegate me to the ranks of Philistines. But I choose not to hypocritically put on airs of appreciating paintings and sculptures that are nothing more than random lines, shapes and colors. I may, in my honesty, sacrifice a perception of sophistication. Oh well!

Yet I can't help liking Janet Echelman's "aerial sculpture" currently suspended over Boston's Rose Kennedy Greenway until October. One local morning news show offered an explanation of what the artist wanted to "say" through the piece, but I can't remember the "message." It's pretty. It's fun. Those two points, while very clearly exposing  my lack of urbanity,  satisfy me.


Friday, May 8, 2015

Beyond Mere Rescue From Hell

This post continues our Bible Study series on Ephesians 2:1-10 exploring the Gospel. Since I will actually be teaching as opposed to merely offering my perspectives, I respectfully ask that men other than my husband and my pastor (both of whom have spiritual authority over me) refrain from reading these studies. Thank you.

Even though we looked at verse 5 of our passage in some detail a couple days ago, we need to study it again--this time in conjunction with verse 6. By paring these two verses, we gain a richer view of how Christ's resurrection directly affects those of us who believe in Him. So let's review our text with verse 6 added, shall we?
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, ~~Ephesians 2:1-6 (ESV)
As we discussed Wednesday, God raises our dead spirits with the risen Lord. When we couple these two verses, we see our spiritual experience reflect Christ's physical experience (Ephesians 1:20). To clarify this point, look at Romans 6:4-5, in which the apostle Paul states very plainly that we positionally share in His death (because we put our sin nature to death) and in His new life. See Colossians 3:1-3.

I realize that Paul uses concepts that, apart from the aid of the Holy Spirit, we struggle to understand. Sometimes commentaries help, and John MacArthur's analysis of verses 5-6 certainly offered  me insight: 


raised us up together, and made us sit together. The tense of raised and made indicates that these are immediate and direct results of salvation. Not only is the believer dead to sin and alive to righteousness through Christ's resurrection, but he also enjoys his Lord's exaltation and shares in His preeminent glory.
in the heavenly places. This refers to the supernatural realm where God reigns. In Ephesians 3:10 and Ephesians 6:12, however, it also refers to the supernatural sphere where Satan temporarily rules. This spiritual realm is where believers' blessings are (cf. Ephesians 1:3), their inheritance is (1 Peter 1:4), their affections should be (Colossians3:3), and where they enjoy fellowship with the Lord. It is the realm from which all divine revelation has come and where all praise and petitions go.
MacArthur helps us catch a glimpse of the exciting reality that salvation isn't merely about rescuing us from the eternity in hell that rightfully belongs to us. Wonderfully, salvation assures us of a new life, even now, that gives us victory over sin and fellowship with the Lord. Later  (in verse7) we will see fuller implications of our union with  Christ, probably refering to our physical resurrection. What we experience positionally now, we will experience in totality then.

Note the qualifying phrase, "in Christ Jesus," which points to the exclusive nature of the Gospel. John 3:16 limits eternal life to those who believe in Him, and Jesus said quite explicitly in John 14:6 that He alone provides access to the Father. The apostle Peter declared in Acts 4:12 that there is no salvation apart from Jesus. Jesus can make this exclusive stipulation because He made atonement for sin, as we discussed a few days ago. Only He has the right to determine the criteria for escape the terrors of hell and to enjoy the wonder of heaven.


The Believers Bible Commentary concludes, "The key to verses 5 and 6 is the phrase, in Christ Jesus. It is in Him that we have been made alive, raised, and seated. He is our Representative; therefore His triumphs and His position are ours. George Williams exclaims, 'Amazing thought! That a Mary Magdalene and a crucified thief should be the companions in glory of the Son of God.'”
 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Grace Of Life

This post continues our Bible Study series on Ephesians 2:1-10 exploring the Gospel. Since I will actually be teaching as opposed to merely offering my perspectives, I respectfully ask that men other than my husband and my pastor (both of whom have spiritual authority over me) refrain from reading these studies. Thank you.

Again, we'll only get through one verse in our study today. But, like verse 4, verse 5 overflows with so much doctrinal content that we really need to spend time making sure we have a concrete understanding of Paul's terminology so that we can apply the principles in our daily lives. So let's go back to the text, this time adding verse 5.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— ~~Ephesians 2:1-5 (ESV)
Yesterday, we watched the spotlight move from our deadness of spirit to the riches of His mercy as motivated by His great love in sending His Son to die for our sin. Verse 5 continues the Gospel message by triumphantly declaring that God raised us from death (verse 1) to new life with Christ. 

Here, Paul brings in the resurrection. We could not have life apart from Christ's resurrection. (1Corinthians 15:20-23).  The resurrection of Jesus Christ is as essential to the Gospel as His shed blood on the cross.  Without compromising the literal facts of the Lord's crucifixion and resurrection, Paul demonstrates in Romans 6:5-11 (which I hope you'll read) that believers die with Christ to our sin natures and now live in His righteousness.

As Adam Clarke writes: 
God has given us as complete a resurrection from the death of sin to a life of righteousness, as the body of Christ has had from the grave. And as this quickening, or making alive, was most gratuitous on God’s part, the apostle, with great propriety, says; By grace ye are saved.

With that thought, Clarke takes us to the first of two mentions in Ephesians 2:1-10 that salvation is by grace. In studying Ephesians 2:5 this morning, I realized that Christians often throw the word "grace" around with the assumption that everyone understands its theological meaning.

I consulted a few Bible dictionaries, and found the most comprehensive explanation of grace in The Complete WordStudy Dictionary, which says, 
Grace, particularly that which causes joy, pleasure, gratification, favor, acceptance, for a kindness granted or desired, a benefit, thanks, gratitude. A favor done without expectation of return; the absolutely free expression of the loving kindness of God to men finding its only motive in the bounty and benevolence of the Giver; unearned and unmerited favor. Cháris stands in direct antithesis to érga (G2041), works, the two being mutually exclusive. God's grace affects man's sinfulness and not only forgives the repentant sinner, but brings joy and thankfulness to him. It changes the individual to a new creature without destroying his individuality (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:8-9).
Grace necessarily implies dependence on the Person bestowing the grace. Unable to effect our own conversion to Christianity because we are dead in sin, we must rely only on what Jesus did on our behalf. The Amplified Bible offers a helpful rendering of "by grace you have been saved." It reads, "it is by grace (His favor and mercy which you did not deserve) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ's salvation)."

So, bit by bit, Ephesians 2:1-10 gives us a handle on the Gospel. We'll take a breather tomorrow while John and I go to the North End, but we've made good headway. And we can rejoice in Christ's magnificent grace to raise us to life with Him.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Where The Spotlight Goes

This post continues our Bible Study series on Ephesians 2:1-10 exploring the Gospel. Since I will actually be teaching as opposed to merely offering my perspectives, I respectfully ask that men other than my husband and my pastor (both of whom have spiritual authority over me) refrain from reading these studies. Thank you.

Saturday, I left off with God's rather dismal assessment of the human condition, and then yesterday John and I trotted merrily off to Boston, leaving you dear ladies hanging in despair. Today, however, we'll look at the pivotal verse in the passage to discover the Good News of the Gospel. Let's review verses 1-3, this time adding verse 4 to apprehend the transition in thought:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, ~~Ephesians 2:1-4 (ESV)
I realize that verse 4 breaks off mid-sentence, but that itty-bitty verse overflows with more content than I can adequately cover. We'll chew on it as much as we  can today, but then we'll need to progress to the rest of the text.

Notice, first of all, those two lovely words, "But God." Paul uses them to shift the spotlight from our totally wretched condition to the  glorious Lord and His power to transform us. With these two small words, He shows Himself to be the active agent in our salvation process. Remember that verse 1 pronounces us "dead." God needs to do everything regarding our salvation because our sin-saturated natures leave us as spiritually lifeless corpses, completely incapable of effecting our own salvation. We would be hopeless...but God has intervened!

He has intervened by contrasting our moral bankruptcy with His richness in mercy. Specifically, He shows the "immeasurable riches of His grace" in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:7). Paul has previously explained "the riches of His grace" as having come through Christ's blood (Ephesians 1:7), through which He forgives our sins.

Mercy refers back to our sinful condition, as Adam Clarke explained: "As they were corrupt in their nature, and sinful in their practice, they could possess no merit, nor have any claim upon God; and it required much mercy to remove so much misery, and to pardon such transgressions."

This mercy comes as a result of God's love...or, as Vincent Word Studies says. He saves us "in order to satisfy" His  love.

Again quoting Clarke: "God’s infinite love is the groundwork of our salvation; in reference to us that love assumes the form of mercy, and that mercy provides the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. And therefore the apostle adds, Ephesians 2:5 : By grace ye are saved - it is by God’s free mercy in Christ that ye are brought into this state of salvation."

As we think about God's love as the chief cause for His mercy, it helps to reflect on the nature of His love. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 provides the classic description of God's love, including (verse 6) His grief  over sin and joy over truth. Love can't ignore justice. But Jesus satisfied justice by His death (1 John 2:2) Thus John 3:16 affirms that God gave (or sacrificed) His Son, requiring nothing more than that we rest our faith in Christ.


So that tiny phrase, "But God," turns out to be huge! God transforms us from our lifeless enslavement to sin into recipients of His mercy and love. He assumes all the responsibility for bringing about this astonishing transformation, making it entirely appropriate for all the glory to go to Him.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Little Black Books And Bibles

The RIDE got us home quite late from church this afternoon, allowing me less time than usual to look for a hymn to post. But I came across this video clip of [a very young] Alistair Begg on how to have an effective  devotional time, and I thought I'd pass it on.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

First, The Bad News

This post begins our Bible Study series exploring the Gospel. Since I will actually be teaching as opposed to merely offering my perspectives, I respectfully ask that men other than my husband and my pastor (both of whom have spiritual authority over me) refrain from reading these studies. Thank you.

Typically people explain the Gospel by teaching from Paul's letter to the Romans, and I considered that approach for this study. But Ephesians 2:1-10 supplies the same information in a much more manageable format. Therefore, ladies, we'll be working through that passage. I want to post the whole passage now in order to orient us to the idea Paul wants to convey.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (ESV)
Paul, as he usually does in his letters, gives us some extremely rich theology to sort though, and it will take a few days to properly examine this passage. Today we'll start with the first three verses. These introductory verses prepare us for the Good News by first reminding us of exactly why we need good news in the first place. Much like Romans 1:18-32, they describe the human condition in decidedly unflattering terms.  In order to understand Paul's indictment on unredeemed humanity, we must look at the various charges he makes.

Very bluntly, Paul declares in verse 1 that unbelievers are dead in their trespasses and sins. That word "dead" comes from the Greek word nekros, which derives from nekus--the word for corpse. According to The Complete Word Study Dictionary, Paul uses the word in Ephesians 2:1 as a metaphor of a state "in opposition to the life of the Gospel." In short, non-Christians, being corpses, lack any ability to respond to God.

Sin caused our spiritual deadness (see Genesis 3:1-24, 1 Corinthians 15:22 and Romans 5:12-17). It makes sense, then, that unregenerate people would be completely incapable of responding to the Lord. Additionally, we understandably lack both the ability and the  motivation to  "make ourselves right" before a holy God.

Verses 2 and 3 of our passage elaborate on the human condition apart from Christ. Although I lack the time and energy to look at each clause Paul uses to illustrate the state of the unredeemed, let me draw your attention to a few key points.

Paul tells us, in verse 2, that we followed "the course of this world," meaning that we conformed to ideas and practices that originate from  man's  mind (and possibly demonic influences) rather than from the Lord. I see many self-professed Christians today embracing worldly values as they forget that cozying up to the world shows their hostility to God (James 4:4). Apart from Christ, therefore, our alignment with the world exposes us as God's enemies.

Need I expound on what Paul means by "following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience?" Didn't think so. Not a very affirming picture of the human spirit, but we need to face the truth of our natural inclination to follow Satan (look at Jesus' own words in John 8:39-47).

Paul's indictment of humanity continues in verse 3, particularly as he describes us as "carrying out the desires of the body and the mind." The New American Standard Bible renders that phrase, "indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind," which suggests that our servitude to  sin is quite  voluntary.

Paul concludes his portrait of the human race by proclaiming that we are "by nature children of wrath." None of us like seeing that our sin rightfully deserves God's wrath, but we absolutely must accept that horrible truth. As we come to terms with the bad news of our innate captivity to sin, we recognize the incredibly good news that Jesus died on the cross to accept the punishment for our sin!
 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. ~~Romans 5:8 (ESV)

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