A Familiar Christmas Hymn With A Wonderful Surprise

When I first started playing this version of O Come, All Ye Faithful on YouTube, I didn’t really like the sound quality. As my husband will attest, I’m finicky about the hymn videos I post each Sunday.

They must, of course, contain sound doctrine, but they also need to include certain verses, have specific wording, be pleasing to the ear and have good graphics. I also avoid artists that I know represent bad theology (like Hillsong).

I can’t always meet all my criteria. While I never compromise on doctrine or artists, sometimes I settle for boring graphics or slight updates in lyrics. Rarely will I tolerate poor sound quality.

So, as verse 1 played on YouTube, I began moving my mouse cursor up to the “Back” button in order to search for a version I would like better. But before I could reach it, verse 2 startled me. I’d never heard it before.

I love its bold pronouncement of Christ’s deity.  What could possibly get to the heart of Christmas more than an unashamed declaration that God Himself was born in that manger? Listen to this familiar Christmas hymn and enjoy the wonderful surprise of verse 2.

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Saturday Sampler: December 3 — December 9

penguin-sampler

Let’s begin with Pastor Colin Smith’s encouraging post, Three Ways Your Faith is Tested When God Says “No” in Unlocking the Bible. Drawing from God’s refusal to allow David to build the Temple, Smith explains ways that personal disappointment can actually develop our maturity in Christ.

The Santa Claus dilemma always catches Christian parents this time of year. You young moms out there might appreciate reading The Mailbag: What should we tell our kids about Santa Claus? by Michelle Lesley. I like her Biblical and practical approach, especially in preserving the fun of Christmas without lapsing into sin or doctrinal error.

Andrew Gutierrez, in an article aimed primarily at youth leaders in The Cripplegate, admonishes us Thou Shalt Not Create Little “Christian” Narcissists. I include it here because all of us struggle with narcissism, and consequently would benefit from applying the principles that Gutierrez sets forth.

In the present climate of accusations against public figures, even pastors are subject to scrutiny. As Tim Challies demonstrates in Do Not Admit a Charge Against an Elder, Except..., churches have guidelines for disciplining their leaders in the pages of Scripture. Don’t miss this balanced and Biblical treatment of a crucial matter in today’s church.

Once again, Erin Benziger nails it with Acceptable Sins Not Excepted: Pride in her Do Not Be Surprised blog. She has a gentle, but firm, caution for those of us in the Reformed camp that needs to be heeded.

In this season of giving, Lesley A. of Growing 4 Life encourages us to continue Serving All, All the Time. It’s refreshing to come across an essay elevating the practical application of God’s Word.

What Do We Really Know about the Three Wise Men? asks Mark Ward in his article for the Logos Software Blog. He uses this question from his own children to give us a practical lesson in separating fact from tradition as we interpret familiar Scriptures.

Writing for Parking Space 23, Greg Peterson directs our attention to A Christmas Song that Doesn’t Belong … But Does. He does more than simply informing us of some hymn writing trivia (although that’s quite fascinating in and of itself); he causes us to rejoice in all of Christ’s promises to bring salvation.

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Holiness Is Anything But Casual

Awful Glory

Holiness carries connotations of stuffiness. Typically it conjures up images of dour old spinsters sanctimoniously reading their King James Bibles as they pass judgment on anyone who tries to enjoy life. Not exactly appealing, even to the best of us.

Generally, we don’t like thinking too seriously about God’s holiness either. We don’t mind singing popular praise songs that mention it, mind you. We just prefer not to delve deeply into its implications.  That reluctance comes, in large part, from instinctively sensing that facing His holiness inevitability means confronting our unholiness.

Indeed, the prophet Isaiah had an encounter with God’s holiness that completely devastated him.

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” ~~Isaiah 6:1-4 (ESV)

How different Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord was from 21st Century claims of God appearing to people in visions or speaking to them. The accounts I’ve heard, even of God supposedly speaking personally to them, rarely included remarks of wonder at His presence, and almost never mentioned any conviction of sin. In fact, they usually expressed a casual attitude, practically ignoring His holiness altogether.

In reality, the Lord’s holy nature should cause us to tremble!

Think about the apostle John, who had such a deep friendship with Jesus during the Lord’s earthly ministry that he laid his head on Jesus’ chest. 70 years later this faithful man saw Christ in all His glory.

12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. ~~Revelation 1:12-17a (ESV)

John’s personal friendship with Jesus did not negate his sense of awe at being exposed to Christ’s unvarnished holiness and glory. There was nothing casual about it. Like Isaiah centuries earlier, John was overwhelmed by the Lord’s holiness.

God’s glory and holiness have a power and beauty that few men could handle. Only in our resurrected bodies will we be able to withstand such magnificence. And even then, I wonder if, like the holy angels in the Temple with Isaiah, we’ll cover or faces because of the brilliance of His holiness.

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Higher Than The Supreme Court And Longer Lasting Than Wedding Cakes

Same Sex Marrriage

When the United States Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage on June 26, 2015, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that there would be implications on religious liberty as a result.  I believe the very point of demanding marriage for a segment of society known for its astronomical rate of promiscuity had more to do with forcing people to approve of homosexuality than with equality. Furthermore, I believe a primary objective of LBGTQ activists centers on coercing Christians to renounce the Biblical standards of sexuality.

As I type this blog post, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments regarding a Christian baker in Colorado who, wanting to be consistent with his religious convictions, declined to bake a wedding cake for a same sex couple. While I’d love to see the Court rule in favor of the baker, I expect them to chip away his First Amendment rights. I also expect an overall rise in public hostility toward Christians who dare to take the Bible seriously.

That hostility has actually been simmering for quite some time, and it’s not exclusive property of the LBGTQ activists. Although I do believe responsible Christians must avoid conspiracy theories like the plague, I do understand that Scripture teaches us to expect increasing opposition as we draw closer to Christ’s return.

In reading Psalm 2 recently, I thought about the world’s derisive attitude toward Christians.

Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers take counsel together,
    against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
    and cast away their cords from us.” ~~Psalm 2:1-3 (ESV)

Verse 3 captures the prevailing animosity that the movers and shakers of 21st Century American culture (as well as Canadian and much of European culture) bears toward Bible-believing Christians. They see the Biblical view of sex as being restrictive. They actively work to break the bonds of monogamous, heterosexual marriage, casting away the cords of obedience to God’s Law in favor of gratifying their lusts in whatever way they choose.

In so doing, of course, they must silence anyone and everyone who reminds them of God’s standard for sexuality. They must force compliance.  They  require Christians to celebrate sexual sin.

But reading on in Psalm 2, I noticed that any victories they appear to gain are temporary.  The Lord promises,  quite literally, that He will have the last laugh.

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
    the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
    and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
    on Zion, my holy hill.” ~~Psalm 2:4-6 (ESV)

Things will become more and more difficult for Bible-believing Christians as time goes on. Obedience will be costly.  But in the final analysis, the Lord still reigns, and those who rebel against Him now will eventually bow in submission to His authority. We should pray for His enemies to surrender before that time of judgment, so that they might know His mercy and grace. But we need not fear that His plan will be thwarted. King Jesus has been set on God’s holy hill.

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The Scripture Made Me Ask Myself Some Uncomfortable Questions

PonderingWhat do you put on your prayer list? When you gather with other believers, what prayer requests do you typically make? If you’re like most Christians, you most frequently ask people to pray for your health, your job, your living situation or other temporal matters.  Ain’t nothing wrong with that! One pastor I had used to say, “If it’s big enough to think about, it’s big enough to pray about.”

Last week, I read a prayer request that the apostle Paul made in his letter to the Colossians.

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. ~~Colossians 4:2-4 (ESV)

He wrote  that prayer request from prison. That little piece of information really arrested my attention when I read it last week, and caused me to mull over what prayer requests I might send out if I were in a Roman prison, chained to guards day and night.  Based on my attitude during the two years I spent in a nursing home, I more than likely would have asked people to pray for things to alleviate my physical or emotional discomfort.

But Paul only sought prayer that he could further the Gospel!

How often do you pray for opportunities to declare the Gospel? I don’t pray such prayers often enough, even though I pray them a great deal more than I once did. (What might the Lord have done if I had prayed that way in the nursing home?) I could be mistaken, but I have a hunch that very few 21st Century Christians pray that way.

Those verses in Colossians challenge me. Do I take the Gospel seriously enough to pray for opportunities to proclaim it? Am I more interested in my comfort than in making sure that others hear what Jesus Christ did for them? These questions don’t feel good. Actually, they make me squirm. But they’re probably some of the most important questions I’ll ever ask myself.

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The Boring Way To Develop Discernment

Stained Glass WindowDuring October 2017, you couldn’t go online without seeing multiple blog posts about the Protestant Reformation. Actually, some of us started writing about it much earlier, hoping to build excitement (or at least interest) among evangelicals. We did so primarily because most professing evangelicals fail to appreciate — or even understand — the differences between Protestant theology and Roman Catholicism.

Many evangelicals simply don’t care. They prefer to minimize the importance of doctrine in favor of finding common ground with Catholics.

Even deeper, many evangelicals follow the wider culture’s general disdain for history. Having suffered through a Medieval History class in college with a professor who spoke in a monotone, I do see why people believe history is boring. His class bored me, and I marveled at the history majors who constantly raved about that professor. I suspect many people assume history is boring because they’ve also endured history teachers like that.

The predominate boredom with history frustrated me as I blogged about the Protestant Reformation week after week. By October 31st, I found myself feeling relieved that the 500th anniversary had passed. I looked forward to writing on more popular topics that might attract more readers.

I  wonder if other bloggers felt the same relief. It wouldn’t surprise me.

But I think folding up the Reformation and packing it away until next October 31st might do a great disservice to the body of Christ. Instead of bowing to the prevailing indifference to church history, we need to encourage our fellow evangelicals to understand why the 16th Century Reformers (not to mention Reformers before them) risked their lives to draw people back to God’s Word.

Professing Christians have once again moved away from the Word of God. That’s why they gravitate to popular teachers like Beth Moore and Joel Osteen. Interestingly, people who consider themselves to be discerning gravitate to blogs that expose these false teachers. And, in moments of weakness, I find myself writing articles that allow me to plunk Beth Moore’s name in the title, knowing that doing so will attract readers.

I wish that those who so eagerly seek to be discerning realized that the Protestant Reformation was the greatest example of discernment in Christian history. If anyone really wants to learn principles of discernment, the Reformation definitely offers the quintessential starting place. Why? Precisely because each and every one of the Reformers went back to Scripture. Many suffered martyrdom for their insistence on the authority and sufficiency of the Bible.

The hoopla over the 500th anniversary of the Reformation has given way to blog posts about celebrity sex scandals, Thanksgiving and now Christmas. The pressure to convince postmodern evangelicals that the actions of a German monk in 1517 have any serious meaning as we approach 2018 has subsided, liberating us to blog about subjects that readers crave.

Except we need, more than ever, to remember the Reformation, with its passion to bring God’s people back to His Word. Maybe I won’t blog about the Reformation every week, but I will most assuredly keep it before you, praying that you’ll understand its relationship to Biblical discernment. Hopefully you’ll begin to see how the Reformers teach us to evaluate popular teachers against God’s Word.

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Proclaiming God’s Glory

One of my favorite aspects of the Christmas season is that people tolerate — and sometimes even enjoy — hymns that celebrate Christ’s incarnation. What a glorious thing! Granted, many have little idea of what the hymns actually mean, but they sing them anyway.

Maybe we can use these beloved hymns as springboards for telling others that God the Son became a Man so that He could shed His blood to atone for the sins of all who will believe. For instance, the angels in the hymn I’m featuring today shout “Glory to God in the highest” because the Savior had been born. We can share this popular hymn and then explain why the angels had such tremendous joy. Joy that could cause our friends to sing their own praises to God.

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