My Dirty Little Heart And Grace

Originally published November 27, 2015, but slightly revised for clarity.

Young Lady 01

Today, January 20, 2023, marks 52 years since the Lord graciously saved me. Let me share my testimony — not as the Gospel, but as a small demonstration of His wonderful grace.


He had thick golden hair that sunlight would dance in. 52 years later, I can’t recall anything else about him, but at the time the slightest bit of attention from him produced exciting (and frightening) sensations that my 17-year-old body had never experienced. Thankfully, the severity of my disability held me back from making myself sexually available to him in the weeks before his deployment to Vietnam.

I fantasized that he’d get me pregnant so that he’d have to marry me when he returned from the war. As you might guess, however, he made no advances toward me. But 17-year-olds rarely live in reality, and so I clung to hope that I could have the sexual encounter when he came back to San Rafael, California (where I lived at the time). Once he wrote that first letter, providing me with his address, I could surely write letters that would make me irresistible! Couldn’t I?

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Self-Love — Does Scripture Really Endorse It?

No.

That’s right. I answered the question in my title immediately, and with only one word. By doing so, I probably killed any incentive you had to read a full blog post on this topic. But please stay with me. There’s a reason we need to look at this issue.

This question once again popped up on Twitter last week, making me heave a sigh of exasperation as people twist Scripture to accommodate the idea that Jesus advocated self-love as the prerequisite for loving others. (Mark 12:31 quotes Jesus as saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself”). The logic goes that we can’t properly love other people until we’ve learned to love ourselves. Therefore, we must first cultivate self-love. That cultivation, the logic continues, gives us the ability to love others. The argument concludes with the confident assertion that Jesus taught us to love ourselves.

There’s a modicum of truth to the premise that, to care for someone’s physical needs, you must first attend to your own. If my Personal Care Attendant neglects her health so that she can’t come to work due to illness, I’m stuck in bed until we can find an available backup. Obviously, I need her to take care of herself in order for her to take care of’ me.

But the concept of self-love goes well beyond the practicality of making sure you’re physically able to help others. Look at this opening paragraph from an article in Good Therapy:

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It’s A Good Time To Remember The Gospel

We’ve changed our calendars, put away the Christmas presents and started trying to keep our resolutions. Our brand spanking new Bible reading plans invigorate us. As with every January, we find pleasure as we anticipate making a fresh start. And that pleasure can motivate us toward positive changes that actually do honor the Lord. So Happy New Year, ladies! Let’s pray that 2023 will be a year of wonderful growth in Christ for each of us.

If January is a turning point moving us into the future, perhaps it’s equally a time to reflect on our relationship with God. Most of us are genuine Christians who may have gotten so caught up in doctrine that we’ve kind of lost sight of the miracle of our salvation. Others reading this blog may believe you’re Christians, but are really false converts depending on your own efforts to either achieve or maintain salvation. And a few of you don’t claim to be Christians, and read this blog for your own reasons. No matter which group you fall into, this is an excellent time to think about the Gospel and our response to it.

Let’s begin this discussion by simply going over the basic Gospel message. I’m drawing my main points from my page, What Is The Gospel Anyway?, which shares the Gospel briefly and succinctly. I want to expand on that page a little, perhaps helping you gain a deeper appreciation of salvation. Note: I posted that page before I switched from the English Standard Version, so all linked references in this post will be from that translation, whereas quotes will be from the New American Standard Bible 1995.

The English word “gospel” means “good news.” With Christmas being just over a week ago, we easily remember that the angels announced the birth of Christ as good news to all people (Luke 2:10-14). And Mark begins his gospel narrative by saying that Jesus entered Galilee preaching the Gospel of God (Mark 1:14-15). Clearly, the arrival of Christ and the kingdom of God is good news that deserves proclamation. That being the case, we should understand what the Gospel is and how we should respond to it.

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Christmas: The Teacher Of Humility

As a Christian blogger, I feel a different sort of pressure at this time of year than most people feel, especially when other bloggers start writing about Advent and Christmas before I can even digest my Thanksgiving turkey. I scratch my head at my reticence to join their ranks, particularly due to my fascination with the Incarnation. Wouldn’t you think that I’d be chomping at the bit to blog about the wonder of God becoming Man? But honestly, I’m just not interested in writing Christmas themed articles right now.

A lot of the problem comes from knowing that I don’t have anything original to say about the Incarnation. Or at least feeling as if I have nothing worthwhile to contribute to the conversation. In my pride, I demand that I come up with a fresh angle on it to dazzle my readers — skillfully displaying both my cultivated talents as a writer (my college professors would be so pleased!) and my grasp of God’s Word.

Did you catch the phrase, “In my pride?” What an ironic attitude to harbor after my pastor, in preaching through Ephesians, recently did an entire sermon on humility! Look at this passage:

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. ~~Ephesians 4:11-6 (NASSB95)

My pastor focused his sermon on the first three words of verse 2: “with all humility.”

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Is God Too Loving To Display Wrath?

Many people distinguish between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament, almost as if He was two different Beings. According to their theology, the New Testament version of God has evidently reformed His wrathful ways, becoming entirely loving to the point of indulging human sins. Anyone who suggests that God still expresses wrath is, as a reader of this blog recently stated, toxic.

Certainly, we’d all prefer to focus on God’s love. I would! Nobody really takes pleasure in the idea that they anger God when they sin against Him, especially if He reserved the right to unleash His anger in a day of final judgment. So we isolate His love and mercy, convincing ourselves that He’s put all thoughts of wrath behind Him. Thus we snuggle into a nice, comfortable view of God that insulates us from all fear of judgment. As Andy Stanley famously said, we can “unhitch from the Old Testament.”

Such “unhitching” may be convenient, but it has an arrogance about it that we ought to acknowledge. Essentially, discarding the possibility of God’s wrath tacitly declares that we have authority to determine His nature and, consequently, His behavior toward us. As we shape Him into what we think He should be, we make Him manageable and keep ourselves in control of our relationship with Him.

More to the point, does the New Testament really annul the wrath of God? A thorough reading of the New Testament quickly puts that notion to rest — especially once you get to Revelation and read about the judgments that God will pour out during the Tribulation. I’ll not cover that section of the Bible right now. Instead, let me go to a passage in Romans about God’s love in saving us from His wrath.

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Flashback Friday: What Can I Say About The Gospel That Hasn’t Already Been Said?

Originally Published June 21, 2019:

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Lately, evangelicals have been telling us that social justice is a “Gospel issue.” A recent comment on one of my blog posts suggested that the Gospel teaches us to have unity despite theological differences (a point worthy of its own article). These sentiments, as well as similar sentiments I’ve heard throughout the years,  prompt me to think that we need periodic reminders of what the Gospel actually is.

Most of you may decide not to read this article. Why waste time reading about something so basic? Do I have new insights into the Gospel? Perhaps a fresh take on it? Can I present it in a creative manner that makes it more interesting? More relevant?

No, I can’t. As a matter of fact, adding to the Gospel would lead me to damnation (Galatians 1:8). I have no interest in dressing it up for the purpose of making it more appealing and/or entertaining.

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A Portrait Of Humility That Speaks To

Years ago, a church John and I attended did a series on Christian marriage unlike any marriage teaching I’ve heard before or since. The pastor used passages about Christian relationships in general and applied then to marriage in particular. Although his approach seems novel, it actually makes a great deal of sense if we want to teach younger women how to love their husbands and children. Being childless, however, I’m uncomfortable saying much about dealing with children, so I’ll follow that pastor’s example by showing you a few Scriptures that you can use to love your husband in ways that reflect Christ.

In considering where to begin these discussions, I couldn’t get away from the familiar passage in Philippians 2.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.~~Philippians 2:5:11 (NASB95)

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Introduction To Love

According to Titus 2:3-5, older women are to teach younger women to love their husbands and children. We may think that’s a rather strange instruction. In our culture, we almost universally marry for love, and we can’t help feeling an incredibly deep affection for our children. The Greek word translated “love” in Titus 2:4 does in fact mean to have feelings of affection, which makes us wonder about this imperative. Why on earth, then, would older women need to teach younger women to love the very people whom they would love quite naturally?

As I’ve pondered this matter, I’ve begun thinking about love in general, and Christian love in particular. Loving husbands and children as the Lord would have us love them must go beyond the ways non-Christians love their husbands and children, it seems to me. As believers, we learn how to love by studying the ways that our Lord expresses His love.

This Holy Week directs our attention to Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross — the most powerful display of love in human history. Although none of us can ever hope to love anyone as powerfully as He loves us (because of our inability to atone for the sins of another person), we can still develop an understanding of love that we can approximate to a lesser degree in our relationships.

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Flashback Friday: The Gospel Can’t Be Shared Often Enough

Originally posted August 28, 2010:

Heavenly Cross

No matter how long, or how deeply, we walk with the Lord, we never outgrow the need to hear that Jesus Christ took our place on that cross, shedding His innocent blood in payment for our sins. As we mature in Him, of course we will pay attention to many other issues that Christians must face, as well we should. But we must keep the Gospel central in our hearts and minds as we glorify the Lord for His grace in saving us.

Some of you might disagree with this assessment.  You might even show me Hebrews 6:1-3.

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. (ESV)

Of course, that passage actually refers to professing Christians in the First Century who wanted to return to Judaism while still identifying as Christians. By no means is the writer suggesting that believers reach a point at which we no longer need reminding that Jesus died for our sins, rose again and saves those who repent and believe in Him.

Yes, most of my readers know the Gospel. Some may not, but the majority of you do. However, ladies, none of us can hear or read it too often. We all need to remember that we are saved, not because of anything we’ve done, but because Jesus Christ offered Himself to bear the wrath of God that rightfully belonged to us.

The apostle Paul reiterates the Gospel in almost all of his epistles. As much as I’d like to take you through each reference, time dictates that I limit myself to just one.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. ~~Romans 5:6-11 (ESV)

Did you notice that Paul addresses this passage to Christians? He preaches this very rudimentary message to people who have already experienced God’s saving grace, even though this passage can definitely be used in evangelism. Evidently the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to remind the Roman Christians of the Gospel, despite the fact that they had already been saved.

Remembering the basic Gospel keeps us humble as we recall the staggering weight of our sin and then the enormous beauty of God’s grace. When we allow other points of doctrine to relegate the Gospel to the background, we can easily start patting ourselves on the back. We begin secretly thinking of ourselves as God’s little darlings, even supposing that He saved us because we were worthy of salvation.

The Gospel redirects the praise and honor back to Christ. As we recount His grace in shedding His innocent blood for us, we can’t resist praising Him. We marvel that such a holy God would condescend to sinners like us.  Indeed, each time we think about Him on the cross, paying the price for our rebellion against Him, we adore Him all the more!

Finally, we should realize that we will spend eternity worshiping Him as the Lamb slain for us.

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth.”

11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!” ~~Revelation 5:6-12 (ESV)

If the Gospel will be proclaimed throughout eternity, what makes us think that we’ve grown beyond the need to hear it now?

We can never hear the Gospel too often! Let’s cherish it now, knowing that we’ll cherish it forever.

Flashback Friday: Where Do We Find Assurance Of Salvation?

Originally published July 20, 2017:

Broken Heart Cross

If you’re like me, you’ve probably experienced serious doubts about your salvation. Such doubts generally arise in response to falling back into familiar patterns of sin. As you see yourself committing the same ugly sin, even decades after your conversion, you have to ask yourself whether or not you were ever  really saved in the first place.

In one respect, you and I definitely should ask ourselves this question when we find ourselves committing the same sin habitually. Children of God at some point start to resemble the Father’s holiness (1 Peter 1:14-21, 1 John 3:4-10). Sadly, many people who claim to be Christians do persist in unrepentant sin, often rationalizing their rebellion and sometimes even believing that God approves of what they do. I know: I’ve done it.

Seeker-sensitive churches compound the problem by producing false converts who embrace an idealized concept of Jesus without submitting to the true Christ’s authority. These false converts see no need to repent and have no concern for personal holiness.

So yes, sometimes our sin should cause us to wonder if the Lord has truly done a work of regeneration in us. If we live without regard to His holy standards, some honest self-examination is most likely necessary.

But others of us, despite genuinely loving the Lord and wanting to obey Him, manage to get sucked back into sin on occasion. From our perspective, it seems like a habitual pattern because we repeat the same old sins time after time. We grieve every time we do it, fully aware that we’ve dishonored Him. Even if nobody else ever finds out what we’ve done, we know that we’ve violated His commands.

Like the apostle Paul in Romans 7:13-21, we hate our sin. We yearn to please the Lord, knowing that our sin put Him on the cross. How can we be so ungrateful? Why did we act like children of the devil, dragging our glorious Lord through the mud while we selfishly gratified our flesh?

As we fixate on the horrors of our sin, we accept Satan’s accusations that we’re nothing more than hypocrites. Because those accusations carry an element of truth, we believe his lie that we never really had salvation. We despair.

Sisters, we forget that assurance of salvation can never come from us. Paul wrote Romans 7 precisely to demonstrate that we don’t have any righteousness in and of ourselves. Looking at ourselves can never give us assurance!

Ah, but look at Paul’s  concluding paragraph in Romans 7:

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 7:21-24 (ESV)

Paul doesn’t deny his wretched condition, but he ultimately clings to Jesus Christ as his deliverer. He remembers that Christ paid for all his sin (every ounce of it) by shedding His blood on the cross. Of course, Paul’s not excusing sin or implying that God’s grace gives Christians permission to indulge in sin. Rather, he’s encouraging us to rest in what the Lord has done for us.

Sin should trouble a Christian’s conscience. We should live lives of repentance, earnestly desiring to reflect our Heavenly Father’s holiness as we declare the Gospel to a dying world. But, when our sin breaks our hearts, let’s shift our gaze to Jesus, finding assurance in Him.