Sometimes It Causes Me To Tremble

Intricate Boarder 01YouTube has almost everything! Including R.C. Sproul’s Holiness of God series, which John and I have been watching all weekend.

The Lord’s timing in getting me interested in watching this series couldn’t be more fascinating. Throughout 2017, I’ve opened my private prayer time by worshiping God for His holiness and recalling the opening scene in Isaiah 6.

 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!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” ~~Isaiah 6:1-7 (ESV)

Perhaps that’s a familiar passage to you. I hope so in the sense that I hope you read your Bible regularly and thoroughly. But I hope it’s not so familiar to you that you gloss over it without trembling at the description of God’s powerful, almost dreadful, holiness.

And yes, I realize I blogged about holiness less than two weeks ago, quoting this same passage. In that article I focused on how casual we are toward God in contrast to Isaiah and the apostle John. Although they trembled and fainted when they encountered God’s holiness, we consider Jesus our buddy who will overlook our sin and give us whatever we ask.

Today I want to briefly remark that truly coming into contact with the holiness of God confronts us with our sinfulness. When we recognize His absolute purity and see His separation from even the slightest degree of corruption, we can’t help but also see our wretchedness in comparison. Isaiah certainly saw the contrast, and immediately wailed over his unclean condition.

The Lord cleansed Isaiah by applying a burning coal to his lips. While we shouldn’t interpret Isaiah’s experience as allegorical to our own, may I suggest that cleansing us from our sin also requires pain. In our case, it’s often the pain of separating from sinful habits, relationships or situations that corrupt our souls.

Encountering God’s holiness demands that we repent of our unholiness. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit Himself empowers this repentance as we walk in obedience to Him. Our flesh won’t like this obedience any more than Isaiah liked the searing coal on his sensitive lips, but the joy of having the Lord make us holy is well worth it.

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Who Should Come And Worship?

The hymn I present today may begin with angels, but it quickly moves to various groups of human beings. Each stanza highlights a unique aspect of doctrine that compels that group (and by extension, all of us) to come and worship.

As Christians, we now have the responsibility of calling people from all walks of life to come and worship. True, only the elect will respond, drawn by the Holy Spirit, but the Lord has decreed that we be His instruments in putting forth the call to salvation. Since God alone knows whom His elect are, we must proclaim the Gospel to all people, just as angels from the realms of glory did.

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Saturday Sampler: December 10 — December 16

Snowmen Sampler

SharaC, who blogs at Into the Foolishness of God already looks forward to the new year in her article, Cheers To The Simple Things. She has a fresh alternative to those pesky New Years Resolutions that none of us keep anyway.

How much do you know about pearls? The End Time author Elizabeth Prata shows us their value in New Testament times, as well as why they held such high value, in her magnificent essay, Pearls in the New Testament. Not only does Elizabeth inform us, but she fills us with wonder at God’s intricacies.

I’ve got to agree with Tim Challies as he identities the 5 Most Ridiculous Books to Ever Become Christian Bestsellers. Whether you watch the short video or read the transcript, you’ll see clear examples of discernment as Challies examines these popular, but woefully unbiblical, pieces of evangelical literature.

Pope Francis, eager to protect God’s reputation (doncha know), wants to change the English translation of The Lord’s Prayer from “lead us not into temptation” to “do not let us fall into temptation.” Denny Burk writes Is the Pope right about the Lord’s Prayer? to raise the possibility that the pope’s modification may actually undercut confidence in the sovereignty of God.

In a study of Romans 12:1-2, Judy Allen gives us A Lesson from Paul on Transformation on the Unlocking the Bible blog. Her brief, but comprehensive, study takes the mysticism out of God’s transforming work in Christians.

Erin Benziger’s series on “acceptable” sins in Do Not Be Surprised has certainly convicted me! Now she concludes it with The Cure for ‘Acceptable’ Sins by directing us back to the reasons for God’s grace and His wonderful ability to transform us. If you’ve read any articles in this outstanding series, please avail yourself of this capstone piece.

Growing 4 Life by Leslie A. always delivers gems such as Enjoying the Ride. Leslie narrates her recent misadventure of a family outing (what could go wrong looking at Christmas lights?), and finds a splendid application to remind us of God’s sovereignty.

Although I’m still in the process of vetting Fred Deruvo, I’ve pretty much agreed with his articles on his Study – Grow – Know blog. In Knowing God’s Will: Focusing on God or Satan?, Deruvo discusses the practice of deliverance ministry from a Biblical perspective. His insights are so needed in today’s evangelical circles.

Evangelicals, and particularly Reformed evangelicals, are grieving the loss of R.C. Sproul this past Thursday. At the same time, we rejoice that Dr. Sproul is in the Lord’s presence. Naturally, many people are publishing tributes to him on the Internet. I can’t begin to read them all, but I hope you’ll read John MacArthur’s post, R.C. Sproul, on the Grace To You blog.

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With Sadness And Joy: A Tribute To R.C. Sproul

R.C. Sproul
Photo from Ligonier Twitter page

During the weeks that our Bible Study leader would be absent, our group watched R.C. Sproul’s Holiness of God video series.  Since our teacher would return on the last week of the series, we decided to welcome him back with a practical joke. So we substituted my mom’s Dancing Grannies exercise video for the Sproul video.

After getting a good laugh, we of course switched back to the correct video.

Sadly, I don’t remember anything else about viewing the series, though I have vague recollections of writing about it in my journal. What a shame!

Roughly twenty years passed before my next introduction to Dr. Sproul. It’s hard to be involved in Reformed Theology without encountering Sproul, particularly on YouTube. This past year’s celebration of the Protestant Reformation’s 500th anniversary made his Internet presence even more prominent. If ever a person embraced the Reformation and all it stood for, it was R.C. Sproul.

Perhaps we don’t appreciate a person’s impact on us until they’re gone. That’s one of the many perversities of fallen human nature, I suppose. But, although I didn’t follow Sproul as closely as other people have,  I can’t help feeling a sense of loss. Christianity lost one of its most articulate and powerful voices yesterday, and the  vacuum looms large.

Yet I also feel joyful. In the past few years I’ve watched R.C. Sproul decline physically. Despite his ever present humor (especially in the company of John MacArthur), his deterioration was obvious. As John and I followed the prayer requests that Ligonier put out on their blog and Twitter, I couldn’t help praying that God would mercifully take him Home. I praise the Lord that Sproul’s physical suffering has ended.

But even more than that, I rejoice that Dr. Sproul is with the Lord he served so faithfully and loves so passionately. We have no idea of the wonder he’s experiencing right now. But he beholds the beautiful face of Jesus, and sees the reality of everything he taught. Indeed, R.C. Sproul finally sees the holiness of God.

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When Disabilities Keep Us Away From Church

IMG_4362New England winters mean that cold temperatures keep me and John pretty much housebound. Both of us have respiratory issues (he uses ventilators 24/7) and I have increased muscle tightness that makes it difficult to operate my power wheelchair . As a result,we miss a lot of church between the months of December and March.

Even in good weather, the unpredictability of the paratransit system combined with my evening Personal Care Attendant’s schedule prohibits us from active involvement in midweek Bible Studies and ministry opportunities in our church. We’d both dearly love to serve our wonderful church family, but our circumstances simply prohibit anything beyond Adult Sunday School and Sunday services (unless there’s something directly after the service).

Thankfully, our pastor and elders understand our physical limitations and treat us as valued members of the body. One elder visits during the winter months, often bringing hymnals and the Lord’s Supper while another elder and his wife allow us to be honorary grandparents to their four children. That attention helps us feel connected, as do the online audios of our Sunday School class and our pastor’s sermons.

But it’s not the same as being there.

Several of my fellow bloggers periodically write about the importance of regular church attendance and the necessity of actively serving in a local church. I agree with everything they say. Although reading their posts causes pain because of our particular circumstances, I cheer them on for admonishing Christians to be actively involved in their local churches. Scripture calls for such commitment.

24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. ~~Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)

When I hear able-bodied people say they skipped church to do something recreational, to sleep in, or because they just didn’t feel like going, it angers me. Do they have any idea how heartbreaking it is to cancel our paratransit reservations Sunday after Sunday because the thermometer won’t move above the mid-thirties? Do they know what I’d give to serve on the Missions Committee or as a deaconess? Despite my current reservations regarding AWANA, it crushes me to hear the leaders beg for workers because I can’t volunteer.

I write this article, not to make anybody feel sorry for me and John (throughout our decades of being single, the Lord blessed each of us with opportunities to serve our respective churches), but to encourage you to be active in your churches as much as you possibly can. Sunday services aren’t an obligation; they’re a joyous privilege!

This winter, as in the other 15 winters of our marriage, John and I will rejoice in God’s faithful provision of online teaching and visits from church friends. The Lord will take excellent care of us, as He always does. But we look forward to that first warm Sunday morning when we’ll drive our power wheelchairs into that Sunday School classroom and into that worship service. There’s nothing like being with our brothers and sisters in Christ!

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A Dalliance With Hypocrisy

Bible Shadow

What a wonderful feeling to wake up having my blog post completely mapped out, including cross-references! Such a thing rarely happens, so I tingled most of the morning with anticipation.

The idea came to me after I went to bed last night. In bed, I can’t hold either a physical Bible or my computer, but that didn’t bother me. I knew the passage I’d use. I’d look it up after my devotional reading in the morning, and then I’d write a fantastic post that would surely impress my readers.

Successfully avoiding the temptation to replace my regular reading with blog research, I deliberately slowed my pace to make certain that I properly understood the passage in my devotional reading. I took careful notes, making sure I read each verse in context. At last I finished. Confidently, I located the passage for my blog post and began reading.

Oh no! In my prideful little mind, I had merged two distinct instances from Jesus’ life. The entire premise of the post I’d planned had no historical basis. For a naughty moment, I tried to figure out ways to make my narrative work, only to realize that doing so required mishandling the very Word of God.

What a vile thought! How could I consider such a thing?

Thankfully, the Holy Spirit convicted me right away, making it abundantly clear that the blockbuster post I’d concocted in bed last night couldn’t be written. At least not with any sense of integrity. Obviously, any attempt to write such a flagrant misrepresentation of Scripture (besides being absolutely ridiculous) would be the height of hypocrisy.

Actually, the temptation happened much more quickly than this account indicates. I’ve only realized the seriousness of it by typing it all out. I don’t believe I really would have attempted to mangle God’s Word that badly.

So I didn’t know what to write today. I considered not writing at all, or reblogging something from my archives. I decided that humbling myself and confessing my dalliance with hypocrisy might help you appreciate the importance of handling Scripture respectfully. The more I think about it, the more I realize that Paul’s instruction to Timothy also applies to lowly bloggers.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. ~~1 Timothy 2:15 (ESV)

God’s Word must never be manipulated to suit our convenience. Scripture is nothing less than the very Word of God, and therefore deserves to be treated with the utmost respect. Perhaps the Lord used my self-serving moment of folly to remind me to handle His Word reverently and with the awareness of what a valuable treasure it is.

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The Culture Is Hostile — Who Cares?

The Lord is my Refuge

We live in a time when it doesn’t take much effort to see the proliferation of wickedness. Until recently, Christians in America and Western Europe have enjoyed nearly universal acceptance, causing us to feel great dismay that our culture now increasingly rejects Biblical standards of morality.

Indeed, Western culture does exhibit growing hostility toward Christianity. And those of us who grew up in a time when society encouraged at least a nominal expression of Christian values find that hostility somewhat shocking.  As a result, we vacillate between the two extremes of wanting to “take back America and for Christ” and whimpering in despair. While neither extreme befits a true believer, the second one demonstrates an inability to trust the Lord.

The opening verses of Psalm 11 vividly illustrates how our fear of prevailing evil can cause us to forget God’s  protection of us. Look at these verses with me:

 In the Lord I take refuge;
how can you say to my soul,
    “Flee like a bird to your mountain,
for behold, the wicked bend the bow;
    they have fitted their arrow to the string
    to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart;
if the foundations are destroyed,
    what can the righteous do?”

The Lord is in his holy temple;
    the Lord‘s throne is in heaven;
    his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.
The Lord tests the righteous,
    but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. ~~Psalm 11:1-5 (ESV)

In this passage, David refutes alarmists who suggest that the forces of evil could potentially overpower God’s people. He reasons that the Lord, Who is his refuge, may well test our faith with adversity, but that ultimately He will triumph.

Notice that David doesn’t mention any power that believers supposedly have to overcome the wicked. Rather, he directs our attention to the Lord, Who reigns in heaven. Too often, in considering the apparent success of secular humanism, we tend to believe that the battle depends on our effort (particularly in terms of gaining political power), but David reminds us that God is on  His throne. Instead of trusting ourselves and then wailing helplessly over our impotence, we must find encouragement in His sovereignty.

 

 

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Please Don’t Believe Discernment Ministries Without Doing Your Homework

Shadow Bible

A few years ago, people started questioning whether or not self-proclaimed discernment bloggers, as well as those who do discernment podcasts, were really as discerning as we claimed to be. At first, I really didn’t appreciate such doubts. Frankly, I liked the feeling of being “in the know” about false teachers and errors in evangelical circles. I didn’t want anyone telling me to be careful about what I wrote.

I was contending for the faith and being a good Berean as I tipped sacred cows. So were the bloggers I followed. God was, I believed, pleased with my efforts to uphold His Word in the face of growing apostasy and compromise among evangelicals. So calling discernment ministry into question pretty much threatened me.

But before you suppose I now stand against all discernment ministry, take a deep breath. I still grieve over many ways that evangelicals deviate from sound doctrine, and I definitely believe many popular teachers need to be clearly exposed and rebuked. I stand by Elizabeth Prata on her exhaustive research on Beth Moore, I value Michelle Lesley’s compilation of false teachers and I appreciate Leslie A’s series on developing discernment skills. I hope you’ll avail yourselves of each of these excellent resources.

However, over the past six months I’ve noticed serious problems with several discernment podcasts and blogs popular with segments of the discernment crowd. At this writing, I’d prefer not to name names for a variety of reasons. In particular, doing so would promote gossip rather than edify my readers, especially because I’m just beginning to collect my thoughts on these matters.

All the social media bickering between these parties disheartens me. Worse, some of these people have presumed to judge whether or not those who disagree with them are actually saved.  Does God permit us to make such determinations about people who seem to genuinely love the Lord and obey His Word? If so, what criteria may they utilize in making these determinations?

In short, it appears to me that many self-proclaimed discernment bloggers and podcast personalities lack discernment.  Their ministries revolve more around establishing themselves as authorities than around directing people back to the Lord and His Word.

When reading or listening to discernment representatives (including The Outspoken TULIP), please maintain an attitude of skepticism. Hold us up to Scripture, both in our content and in our manner of delivery. Research our claims by going to reputable sources (and no, Wikipedia is not a reputable source). Make sure any snarkiness we exhibit is the exception rather than the rule in how we present our arguments.  None of us gets it right 100% of the time; please make sure that you examine what we say by checking our facts.

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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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