Because 2018 Will Happen One Day At A Time

The Lord ministers to us faithfully, but He never hurries us through life. Our impatience, especially in trials, often wishes He would push the Fast Forward button, but clearly He has lessons to teach us along the way.

Today’s hymn seems appropriate as we approach a new collection of 365 days. Like every year, the one that stretches ahead of us promises great joys and difficult troubles. But, like He’s done in all past years, the Lord will go with us through each situation, leading us to see His sovereignty.

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Saturday Sampler: December 24 — December 30

bible-sampler

In a devotional study based on 1 Timothy 6:6, Pastor Colin Smith of Unlocking the Bible examines various pitfalls of material wealth. Why is Godliness with Contentment Great Gain? recalibrates our perspective on`our possessions.

It’s that time of year! But before you adopt a Bible reading plan that you’ll abandon once you hit Leviticus, consider John Chester’s approach in Reprise: You Don’t Need A Bible Reading Plan; You Need A Philosophy, which appears in Parking Space 23. Personally, I probably won’t implement all his suggestions, though I heartily agree with his overall concept.

Sometimes, however, people really need the accountability of a definite reading plan. For such people, Denny Burk offers A Plan to Read through the Bible in 2018 that may help. I’m not certain I agree 100% that we must read the entire Bible each and every year, but we should do so more often than not in order to gain context. The plan Burk recommends might encourage you to overcome any fears of tackling Genesis through Revelation this year.

Still undecided on how you’ll read God’s Word in the New Year?  Michelle Lesley of Discipleship for Christian Women links to a wide variety of Bible Reading Plans for the New Year – 2018 for our consideration. Whether we choose one of these plans or adopt a philosophy of Bible reading, make it your priority to stay in Scripture regularly and systematically, remembering that it’s the very Word of God.

Abigail at Hope and Stay reflects on resolutions in her essay, A New Year’s Invitation: Resolved, to Tear My Heart to Shreds. She rightly convicts me to examine my own progress in killing sin.

Returning to the topic of Bible reading plans, Leslie A of Growing 4 Life introduces The G4L 2018 Bible Reading Challenge by explaining why Bible literacy is so important. Even if you have already selected a reading plan, her insights on the priority of spending time in God’s Word deserve attention.

As I’ve said before, the Church needs more people like Elizabeth Prata who boldly declare the truth! In her essay, Doing my best to puncture the balloon that Ladies Ministries try to inflate for The End Time, she takes on the self-esteem teaching that so many popular women teachers propagate.

 

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New Year’s Resolutions Remind Us

2018 ResolutionsLast year at about this time, I wrote a post explaining my reasons for not making New Year’s resolutions. In it, I made the point that repentance should be a daily practice for Christians rather than annual resolutions that we can’t keep anyway.  I still believe that’s the more Biblical attitude.

I find the concept of New Year’s resolutions sort of interesting, though. Despite the fact that most resolutions concern themselves with superfluous matters with little eternal significance, the whole idea indicates a deep-down sense that we don’t quite live the way we should. We almost acknowledge that we have sin in our lives.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, ~~Romans 3:23 (ESV)

We may even quote that verse in a self-justifying manner that implies we’re no more sinful than anybody else. Sure, we have a few character flaws, but doesn’t everybody? And our little New Year’s resolutions, even if we break them by January 20th (which we probably will), surely demonstrate a willingness to own up to our shortcomings.

Of course, by mid-January, life has resumed its dull rhythms, and we’ve all but forgotten those resolutions. We’ve also forgotten that we have flaws (really sins, though we’d prefer not to use such terminology) that require correction.

But perhaps the problem goes even deeper. If we’ve actually sinned, it follows that we’ve violated God’s standards. That premise leads to the idea of His authority to judge us. And if He does show us the mercy of forgiveness, He has a claim on us. Either way, He has us in His debt, and we don’t like it. New Year’s resolutions are much more comfortable than coming to Him as sinners in need of repentance.

Making New Year’s resolutions can be fun, so please enjoy your Christian liberty to make them as part of celebrating the holiday. But don’t use them as a substitute for dealing seriously with sin. The Lord will show mercy as we repent and trust Him to change us. Let’s resolve to live in repentance throughout the coming year.

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A 2017 Retrospective You May Not Expect

Medieval TowerOnce again, presumably to increase traffic to their blogs, bloggers have been producing their Top Ten lists of their most popular articles of 2017. Once again, I’ve decided not to follow suit.

For a while this week I considered compiling a list of the five blog posts I believe were my most important this past year. Although the one I considered the most important happened to be far and away the most popular essay in the history of The Outspoken TULIP, for the most part the pieces I really wanted people to read received the lowest amount of views. If I listed them here, I doubt readers would be any more attracted to them now than they were when I originally published them.

I felt particularly disappointed that my year-long series on the Protestant Reformation didn’t interest many readers. Granted, I remained indifferent to that point in history for many years myself. In writing those articles, I guess I forgot how long it took for the Lord to wake me up to the monumental significance of what the Holy Spirit accomplished through Luther, Calvin, Tyndale and others in the 16th Century. Therefore I felt impatient with readers who didn’t share my newfound passion for the Reformation.

Since October 31, I’ve pretty much backed away from writing about the Reformation, largely because I know that people are even less interested in it now that the 500th anniversary has passed. Certainly, my posts since then have drawn more views. If I had any business sense, I’d get the hint that people want to read about discernment and longings of physically disabled women more than about old dead guys standing for the recovery of Biblical doctrine.

But if pragmatism is a major cancer in the 21st Century church, surely Christian blogs dare not practice pragmatism in determining content. I wish more people would read my Reformation posts instead of posts that they think might offer some juicy gossip.

As I’ve said before, we can learn the most about discernment through studying the Protestant Reformation. The Reformers teach us how learning and properly applying Scripture leads to true discernment. Although we might think that the Reformation, being 500 years behind us, can be tucked away with our high school history books, the truth is that we desperately need its lessons.

This week, bloggers are presenting retrospective lists looking back on 2017. And that’s entirely appropriate. But for Christians, isn’t it even more appropriate to look back to the Protestant Reformation for instruction on how to discern sound doctrine? I hope you’ll read some of the essays I wrote about the Reformation this past year (click “The Reformation” link in my Categories index). I’d much rather you read some of these articles than my Top Ten posts.

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Rejoicing Like The Prostitute

Forgiveness

Every time I read the first few verses of Psalm 32, I remember the joy I experienced as a new Christian.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
    whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
    and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
    my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

I acknowledged my sin to you,
    and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
    and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah ~~Psalm 32:1-5 (ESV)

The relief of the Lord’s forgiveness absolutely exhilerated me, flooding me with a desire to pour out my gratitude. I of course served the Lord imperfectly (to say the least), making myself more obnoxious than useful to the Kingdom, but my zeal came from sincere motives. Jesus had forgiven me, changing my eternal destiny from the torments of hell (which I deserve) to the joys of heaven. For that extreme mercy, I adored Him then and adore Him even more today.

God’s forgiveness isn’t something we should take lightly. The person who truly understands the enormity of his or her sin appreciates His forgiveness in ways that someone who doesn’t take sin seriously never will.

When we believe in our own supposed goodness, thinking that we somehow merit salvation, we end up robbing ourselves of tremendous joy. We expect God’s forgiveness, almost viewing it as an entitlement rather than a gift that calls us to love the Giver.

We most clearly see this principle demonstrated in Luke 7:36-48, which I beg you to read. Jesus, in this passage, was dining at the home of a Pharisee named Simon when a known prostitute entered the house. Coming up to Jesus, she began bathing His feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. This unwelcome interruption confirmed to Simon that Jesus couldn’t possibly be a prophet! Otherwise He would have realized what a contemptible creature was touching Him.

Look at the Lord’s response to Simon’s secret thoughts in telling, and then applying, this parable:

41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” ~~Luke 7:41-48 (ESV)

Jesus knew exactly who touched Him! He knew the gravity of her sin, and her horrendous reputation. But He also knew her sorrow over her sin, and her faith that He would forgive her.

I identify with that woman. Knowing the vileness of my sin, and yet the wonder of His forgiveness, brings me immense joy and causes me to love Christ. From the backdrop of Luke 7:36-48, I can claim Psalm 32:1-5 as my testimony. I can experience the blessings of forgiveness because I know how desperately I needed forgiveness. And I know He has been gracious.

 

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I Can’t See God’s Grace Without Seeing Who I Am

NegativeNobody particularly enjoys reading about human sinfulness or God’s wrath. We much prefer blog posts that celebrate His goodness, love and mercy. I’m stating the obvious, of course, but I do so because I suspect some readers may believe I take some misanthropic pleasure in writing about God’s judgment.

Frankly, I can appreciate that sentiment. I also would rather read (and write) about God’s grace. I like thinking about how much He loves me. I don’t want to be  confronted with my wretchedness, or to realize my utter dependence on Christ’s righteousness because I have no righteousness of my own. Humility often feels distinctly distasteful to me.

Scripture, however, has absolutely no interest in making people feel good about themselves. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit inspired the prophets and apostles to compose scathing indictments against humanity.

10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” ~~Romans 3:10–18 (ESV)

Clearly, the apostle Paul’s compilation of Old Testament Scriptures doesn’t exactly paint a pretty picture of the human race. Yet he doubles-down on the theme of human depravity all the way through Romans 7 so that his readers will comprehend our desperate need for a savior.

Romans 7, as a matter of fact, spotlights Paul’s personal struggles against sin, escalating to a point of hopelessness just before he presents the only hope of deliverance.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. ~~Romans 7:21-25 (ESV)

Our wretched condition, repulsive as it is, allows us to see how precious God’s love, mercy and grace really are.

Sadly,  postmodern Western society has not only bought into the lie that people are basically good, but it perpetuates that lie in a plethora of ways. To make matters worse, evangelicals now adapt their theology to accommodate that lie!

Consequently, I emphasize human depravity in my articles with the goal of accentuating how glorious the grace of God truly is. Until we come to terms with our inescapable wretchedness, we regard His goodness lightly. Sometimes we even convince ourselves that He owes us His love (a ridiculous proposition).

I long to write posts praising the Lord for His unfathomable grace and mercy. As a woman who has seen her own vile rebellion forgiven, I well know that I best understand the wonder of His grace when I face the ugliness of who I am apart from Him.

 

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Veiled In Song, Good Teaching See God’s Incarnate Deity

Few Christmas hymns are as beloved as Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. Featured in A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s A Wonderful Life, this hymn reaches millions of people each year, enjoyed by Christians and non-Christians alike.

The almost universal love for this hymn delights me because it teaches a boatload of Biblical doctrine easily and in a pleasurable manner. In particular, it proclaims with incredible clarity that God came to earth as Jesus, the newborn King.

The various repercussions of His Incarnation dance throughout the song, teaching us so many glorious truths about the Lord. How many doctrines can you find?

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Saturday Sampler: December 17 — December 23

christmas-sampler

In his OnePassion Ministries blog, Steve Lawson alternately brings us to tears and gives us belly laughs with his personal memories of R.C. Sproul. The R.C. I Knew portrays several sides of Dr. Sproul, all of which are endearing.

I’ve often emphasized, at this time of year, that Jesus was born for the purpose of dying for our sin. But Amy Mantravadi, in her essay entirely Christ Was Born for More Than Death, fills out the story by reflecting on the Lord’s righteous life. We need to remember the whole Gospel, not just the Readers Digest version.

The author of A Peculiar Pilgrim writes The Truth About Love as a challenge to the postmodern interpretation of what it means to love. As conservative as I believe myself to be, even I see remnants of worldly love in myself as a result of reading this article.

‘Tis the season for final exams, and Elizabeth Prata of The End Time seizes on the theme by writing about the respective Final Exams that believers and unbelievers will eventually face. In all the frivolity of the holidays, perhaps this sobering essay can keep us  grounded.

Jordan Standridge had planned for months to visit St. Andrews Church in Florida on December 17. In his moving and surprising article for The Cripplegate, he recounts The First Sunday Without R.C. Sproul in that church. Burk Parsons, now St. Andrews’ pastor, used the situation to demonstrate the benefit of church as usual.

There is no other name by which we must be saved insists Sharon Lareau of Chapter 3 Ministries. Sure, most Biblically literate Christians know that fact, but a little reinforcement never hurts.

Winter often brings discouragement and depression, even amid the joyous season of Christmas. In Clang! The Harsh Notes of Discipline, Sophie McDonald writes about God’s purposes in bringing us through difficult circumstances. See this encouraging blog post based on 1 Peter 1 on the Unlocking the Bible website.

Don’t miss Michelle Lesley’s beautiful Christmas essay, The Shepherds’ Gospel. Absolutely magnificent!

The author of Eternity Matters skillfully refutes liberal theologians with his article Leopard Theology: Not as fun as it sounds. Those of you who seriously care about Biblical discernment would do well to read this one to learn how a high view of Scripture helps us detect error.

 

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Christmas For Bloggers: Christ’s Example Put To Practice When There’s Nothing Original To Say

Bethlehem Green tintSometimes familiarity does breed a sort of contempt. Boredom is, when you really think about it, a type of contempt for the blessings of life and the opportunities to serve the Lord and people with the talents and abilities He gives us. Boredom loses the sense of wonder, yawning at events that should overpower us with awe.

Even the most devout Christians can approach the Christmas account with boredom, and therefore with contempt. We’ve heard it all so often, from the Holy Spirit causing Mary to conceive to the wise men following the mysterious star. We know about the Old Testament prophecies of Messiah, the angels appearing to lowly shepherds and Christmas making Easter possible.

Sadly,  even the amazing truth of God coming to earth as a helpless infant can lose its impact over time.

Bloggers can struggle at this time of year, feeling pressure to come up with fresh angles to the story. What can we say that hasn’t already been said? How can we capture people’s attention and lead them to a renewed sense of awe? And really, how can we rekindle our own sense of awe?

Several of my fellow bloggers have managed to write essays that have given me insights into Christmas that I’d never had before this year. I appreciate those insights, and have grown in my understanding of the Incarnation because of their blog posts. Thank you, ladies, for teaching me more about the glories of God in human form, and His plan of redemption.

But the things I’ve learned during this Christmas season are only mine to ponder this year — not mine to write. Perhaps next December, when I’ve lived with those concepts for twelve months, I can relay them with my own passion, but right now I’d do little more than parrot what my sisters have written. I fear I’d be flirting with plagiarism.

So what can I contribute to the Christmas conversation in 2017? Nothing particularly novel, I’m sorry to say. Although my fellow bloggers have graciously nudged me out of my boredom with the familiar (praise God), I don’t feel equipped to do the same for my readers without impinging on bloggers that I deeply respect.

Jesus came as the obedient Son of our Heavenly Father. Paul, in this passage so frequently quoted at this time of year, describes the Lord’s humility as both a wonder in itself and an example for Christians to follow.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 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 2:3-11 (ESV)

I could have taken ideas from my fellow bloggers, reworded them cleverly and passed them off as my own.  Only a few people would have noticed, and several readers might have been impressed with my supposed originality. I would have essentially stolen other people’s work to gain attention for myself.

Instead, I shared one article on Twitter and Facebook (both my personal page and The Outspoken TULIP page). You’ll find the rest on last week’s and tomorrow’s Saturday Sampler. These bloggers did outstanding work, and therefore deserve full recognition.

Meanwhile, may I remember that God Himself became a Man in order to die a humiliating death so that He could bring salvation to those who believe in Him. Any sacrifice I   could purport to make obviously pale in comparison to His humility, but the magnificent example encourages me to avoid selfish ambition.

So, even though other bloggers roused me out of my boredom with Christmas, I come to you empty handed this year. And perhaps my inability to offer any unique perspective can remind all of us of our wondrous Savior Jesus Christ Who emptied Himself for our salvation. O come, let us adore Him!

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Shepherds In The Museum

Nativity

The Nativity by John Singleton Copley

After almost a month of not being able to leave our apartment, John and I took advantage of yesterday’s mild weather by visiting the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. We focused primarily on European art, but inevitably wound up in the Early American section (my favorite).

We had been looking at several European depictions of the Nativity by Flemish, Italian and French artists prior to going to the American galleries. We felt amused by renditions that made the Christ Child look like a stiff idol of wood, puzzled that Joseph appeared as a balding man in his seventies, and grieved that the artists emphasized Mary over Jesus.

So when we saw John Singleton Copley’s The Nativity in the Early American galleries, we more than appreciated the realism (well, except for Mary wearing a clean white garment after just giving birth) and the obvious reverence of Christ.  John noticed that Mary looked tired from delivering her firstborn, but also as if she pondered the miraculous event of bringing the Messiah,  her Savior, into the world.

John also noticed the young shepherd in the left foreground, pointing to the Babe with wonder as he tells unseen others that he sees Christ the Lord, just as the angels had predicted.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. ~~Luke 2:8-20 (ESV)

I believe Copley captured Luke’s narrative exquisitely, don’t you? What a treat to see this pictorial encapsulation of the Christmas story at this wonderful time of year!

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