Emmanuel Has Come

Israel labored under oppression in Biblical times. It cried out for the Promised Messiah. Yet, unable to discern that He would have a first and then a second coming, they failed to recognize Him.

This haunting hymn, however, reminds me that Christ will rescue His true people, Jews and Gentiles alike, from the ultimate oppression of sin and eternal damnation. His promises to Israel’s faithful remnant extends to those of us who, although we are Gentiles, believe in Him as a result of His grace.  As we await His return, let’s rejoice that He came to Israel the first time.

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Saturday Sampler: November 27– December 3

squirrel-samplerGlen Chatfield of The Watchman’s Bagpipes writes a  heartfelt and extremely balanced article entitled “Gays,” Lesbians, and “Transgenders” — What Do I Think About Them? Admittedly, it’s probably a longer blog post than it needs to be, but Glen reminds us of some salient attitudes that  Christians ought to hold when discussing homosexuality.

Could you explain the Gospel to an unbeliever? If not, read An 8 Point Summary of the Gospel! by Lisa Morris on her Conforming to the Truth blog. You can even download the material as a free booklet. I love the fact that she presents the Gospel almost entirely from God’s Word.

Stop Excommunicating Yourself from the Lord’s Supper says Josh Buice of Delivered By Grace. His article shows us the difference between Scriptural self-examination and wrongfully disqualifying ourselves from an ordinance that Jesus commands His people to observe.

Excommunication, however, should happen when a church member refuses to accept Biblical correction, as we see in Denny Burk’s post, Why churches may need to excommunicate “affirming” members of the congregation. Although Burk writes specifically about those who minimize, ignore or deny the sinfulness of homosexuality, much of what he says also applies to all forms of false teaching.

On  her blog, One Hired Late In The  Day, Jennifer gives a practical example of how to evaluate things we hear and read through the lens of Scripture. Her blog post, Filtering Ideas Biblically, reiterates the necessity of saturating ourselves in God’s Word.

Jason Vaughn, writing for Parking Space 23, demonstrates how to understand the Gospel narratives in  Context: The Key to Unlocking the Gospels. Okay, I know I harp on the importance of context a lot, but maybe this essay will help you see how reading Scripture in its own context can help us better understand and apply its truths.

Writing for She Disciples, Kimberley Cummings provides Scriptural reasons for Overcoming Empty Optimism as well as Biblical ways to cultivate an optimism that has its basis in the Lord. Because social media inundates us with fluffy platitudes that imply that we can handle the world in our own  strength, this article really needs our attention.

When will evangelicals stop trying to hear God’s voice in addition to Scripture? In Rick Warren: Forget Sola Scriptura, But There is “Plus Scriptura, Pulpit & Pen’s Bud Ahlheim compares Warren’s recent post on four ways God supposedly speaks to Christians with the apostle Paul’s words to Timothy on the sufficiency of Scripture. Ahlheim’s article should be read by everyone who claims to know Christ!

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What Do We Expect?

thelordismystrengthwoodcarvingYesterday, my Facebook and Twitter  newsfeeds brimmed with outraged and frightened Status updates from  Christians upset that Buzz Feed had “outed” HGTV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines for attending a church that calls homosexuality a sin. While I have concerns about Joanna Gaines, I agree with my social media contacts that their church affiliation should not have any bearing on whether or not they should continue doing their show.

So yeah, they’re being persecuted for belonging to a church that takes a Biblical stand on homosexuality. And yeah, the persecution is entirely unfair. Our country’s Constitution guarantees Freedom of Religion, and their beliefs about homosexuality should not cost them their careers.

Obviously, I happen to agree with their pastor: homosexuality indeed is a sin.

But the social media posts I read yesterday trouble me just as much as Buzz Feed’s attempts to silence evangelicals. Have we forgotten that Jesus promised us that standing for Him and His teachings would necessarily invite persecution. I could cite multiple Scriptures substantiating my point, but today I’ll limit myself to just one.

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’ ~~John 15:18-25 (ESV)

As citizens of the United States of America, Christians have become accustomed to worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ openly and proclaiming His Word without fear of serious reprisal. Throughout history, however, few genuine believers have enjoyed such luxury. And in our own times, many Christians in Communist, Socialist and Islamic countries worship with the understanding that they could suffer censure, property loss, imprisonment or death for Christ’s sake.

Our Founding Fathers may have promised us free exercise of religion, and certainly Christians should take advantage of those dwindling freedoms as long as possible. But Jesus never said that the world would cheer as we stood for His truth. By all means, we must continue saying that God created sex to be enjoyed only within a monogamous, heterosexual marriage. We should say other things based on Scripture, that the world doesn’t like.

But we should never confuse Constitutional promises with Biblical promises. The persecution that Chip and Joanna Gaines currently face is normal Christian life. Rather than being surprised and outraged, we really ought to consider this as an expected consequence of following the Lord. It won’t be easy or pleasant, granted, but God’s grace will carry us through.

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We’re Not The Gospel

be-the-gospel

Present-day evangelicals like the famous quote by Saint Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.” Sadly,  I first heard this quote from the pulpit of a church I attended. Sadder still, the pastor quoted it several times, encouraging us to practice “friendship evangelism.” Looking back, I have to wonder why an evangelical, at least one that (as a pastor) presumably had enough theological training to understand the distinctives of Protestant doctrine, would  quote a Catholic mystic.

If you think seriously about it, the quote has absolutely no Scriptural basis! It sounds very nice, I agree, but it implies that our conduct, in and of itself, can lead another person to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Speaking as a sinner, I certainly know that my day-to-day life won’t save anyone! I must use words, and specifically the Word of God, to proclaim the Gospel, directing people away from me and to the risen Savior. As the apostle Paul wrote:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, ~~1 Corinthians 15:1 (ESV)

Now, ladies, how can simply living a holy lifestyle, without ever mentioning Christ’s death, burial and resurrection possibly communicate the Gospel to anyone?

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

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

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I’m Not Joni

joniMy mother always looked at Joni Eareckson Tada (the famed Christian writer/speaker/artist who became a quadriplegic due to a diving accident at age 17) with a little jealously. Joni had financial advantages that I didn’t (plus an able-bodied husband) to give her steady personal care. I, on the other hand, require government assistance and constantly struggle to keep Personal Care Attendants. Joni could earn money without jeopardizing any benefits; I can’t.

But my mom, because she wasn’t a Christian, couldn’t make an accurate comparison between me and Joni. I believe the years have helped me see differences between Joni’s life and my own that matter far more than financial stability. To my surprise, these differences make me wonder if perhaps Joni should be the jealous one.

Joni Eareckson Tada has effectively used her disability, as well as her chronic pain and her battle against breast cancer, to minister to hurting people. The Lord has used her books, speaking engagements, artwork and singing to bring hope to many people. For years, I eagerly followed her ministry. I’ve met her on four occasions, and felt a bit star-struck the first three times. Joni indeed exemplifies how a Christian woman can use her disability to honor the Lord.

But I’ve never really appreciated it when admiring friends, well-meaning though they are, compare me to Joni. I’ve often threatened to write a  book titled I’m Not Joni.

Instead, I write an obscure little blog called The Outspoken TULIP  that focuses on the importance of sound doctrine, problems in the evangelical church, the Protestant Reformation and concerns over false teaching. Once in a while, I mention my disability, but only as a peripheral fact of life that I can’t exactly hide. But my blog reflects my passion for God’s Word and for leading women to contend for the faith.

Joni, I believe, suffers tremendously. She often recounts, in speaking engagements, how she typically wakes up in the morning telling the Lord she just can’t endure another day of quadriplegia and asking Him to let her borrow a smile to greet the ladies who get her up. Sometimes I wake up asking the Lord to let her wake up cheerful and  smiling. It must be terrible to begin so many days consumed with the weight of disability.

In  contrast, I have an awfully hard time (even during debilitating migraines) thinking that I really suffer. I compare myself to  disabled people in Third World countries, many of whom don’t even have manual wheelchairs, much less customized power wheelchairs that zip all over downtown Boston with and without the augmentation of public transportation.

I compare myself to Joni, who can’t even wake up cheerful.

Clearly, I’m nothing like Joni Eareckson Tada, and I don’t think I’d trade my life for hers.I admire her love for Jesus, of course, and praise God for the ways her organization, Joni and Friends, serves people afflicted by disability worldwide (though I’m not necessarily endorsing it at this point). But I am different from her in many respects. Please, join me in praying that she wakes up comfortable tomorrow morning.

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Hey Jude –Three Unsavory Characters With Unsavory Motives

bible-and-darknessPeople who warn against popular evangelical pastors and speakers/writers who mishandle  or outright distort the Word of God typically receive the criticism that we engage in character assassination. I agree, in part, that we must be careful not to judge another person’s heart. We don’t have the Lord’s omniscience, and therefore we must temper whatever discernment we  may have with humility.

Yet the book of Jude unapologetically evaluates false teachers by pointing to their characters. Those of you who have been following these Monday Bible Studies on Jude’s epistle will remember that Jude writes with a singular purpose: he wants Christians to stand for sound doctrine. Interestingly, he spends almost his whole letter describing the characteristics of false teachers rather than than comparing their doctrinal errors to good teaching. The verse we’ll examine today certainly focuses on the motives of false teachers by holding them up against three Old Testament apostates.

We’re studying Jude 11 today, but of  course we need to read it in context.

Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” 10 But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. 11 Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. 12 These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. ~~Jude 8-13 (ESV)

In comparing apostate leaders with Cain, Balaam and Korah, Jude very deliberately comments on the motives driving their corrupted “ministries.” The notorious actions of all three men exposed their wicked hearts, and Jude attributes their evil motives to false teachers who infiltrate the Christian Church.

He begins with Cain, whose story appears in Genesis 4:5-10 (I really need you to click the links to my cross-references so you can fully appreciate Jude’s allusions). As Hebrews 11:4 explains, Cain failed to offer a sacrifice of shed  blood, preferring to come to God on his own terms. When the Lord rejected his sacrifice, Cain grew so envious of Abel that   he murdered him.

Next, Jude likens false teachers to Balaam, the mercenary “prophet” in Numbers 22-25. Balak, the king of Moab, paid Balaam to curse Israel. When that failed, Balaam undermined Israel by drawing them into sexual immorality. Balaam knew the Lord’s decrees, but he   saw that he could make money by perverting, or even flat-out denying, them.

Finally, Jude mentions Korah, who tried to usurp Moses’ leadership position, as we see in Numbers 16:1-32. Korah rebelled, ultimately,  against God’s appointment of Moses, presuming to place himself in spiritual authority over Israel.

Using these three examples, Jude asserts that false teachers exhibit envy, material greed and self-appointed authority. They are motivated to promote their aberrant teachings by these character flaws. The Holy Spirit inspired Jude to instruct believers to identify these traits. Yes, that  sounds horribly judgmental, but clearly the Lord wants Christians to cultivate that degree of discernment about false teachers.

I’d balance this point, dear sisters in Christ, by saying that we shouldn’t understand this Bible Study as giving us carte blanche to judge the motives of everyone we encounter. Before we analyze a false teacher’s motives, we must determine that he or she teaches falsely by the fruits of his or her teachings and life (see Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:15-20). Jude’s point, in  verse 11 of his epistle, is that polluted character lies at the root of consistently false teaching. False teachers, consequently, should fear God’s punishment.

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