Visions of Holiness

Few of us (perhaps none of us, actually) really comprehends God’s holiness. We read Isaiah 6 without really visualizing the ground shaking and the Temple filling with smoke as the Lord, attended by angels who declare His holiness, reveals Himself in such a way that Isaiah crumbles under the weight of his sinfulness. How many of us, however, honestly believe we would be so completely undone if we experienced a vision of how holy the Lord really is?

Yet in His compassion  and grace, the Lord has shown us that the same holiness that brings us to our knees in repentance also fills us with wonder. We worship this thrice holy God joyfully, admiring His splendor and relishing His glory. And so we sing today’s beautiful hymn with eager anticipation of enjoying His holiness throughout eternity.

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Giving Permission To The King

Cinderella's  ClosetThroughout the bulk of my Christian life, I’ve heard the following sentiments:

“God is a Gentleman; He won’t violate your will.”

“Give the Lord permission to work in your life.”

“You need to get out of the way in order for God to work.”

“Let go and let God.”

You’ve undoubtedly heard these same ideas, and maybe you’ve even said them. They sound very reasonable, and even a bit spiritual. Many celebrity evangelicals routinely teach them, urging us to partner with God as if He’s helplessly wringing His hands as He waits for us to participate in whatever He’s doing.

Now, I understand that the Lord chooses to work through human beings much of the time. He calls Christians to obedience, especially in regard to proclaiming the Gospel to all creation. The same letter of Paul that declares God’s sovereignty in determining who should be numbered in the elect (Romans 9:6-26) also pronounces His decree that the elect should come to faith by means of evangelism (Romans 10:13-17). In that sense, He indeed uses our obedience as the means of accomplishing His purposes.

But we make a grave mistake if we assume that a lack of cooperation on our part in any way hinders or prevents the Lord from carrying out His will. In truth, He has all power. Nothing any of us does, even at our highest points of rebellion, can possibly block Him from doing exactly what He wills.

From the time Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, men and women have tried to claim control over God. We cherish the notion that we somehow allow Him to have His way in saving us and then in working in our lives. Proudly, we believe He stands immobilized, waiting patiently until we grant Him permission to move.

Look again at Romans 9.

19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? ~~Romans 9:19:24 (ESV)

Who do we think we are? Do we seriously believe the sovereignty of God depends on our will or behavior? Does the King of kings and Lord of lords bow in subjection to us? Scripture certainly never portrays Him as such a dependent weakling, nor does it suggest that He gives us authority over His dealings in our lives.

We need to repent of our arrogant attitudes. Let’s stop flattering ourselves that anything God does hinges on our attitudes or actions. If sovereignty really belongs to Him (and it does), then He will do anything He wants to do with or without our permission.

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From The Archives: Unnecessary Self-Analysis

I originally published this blog post on January 30, 2016.

The Lord, for reasons known only to Him, kept me single until a month before my 49th birthday. His decision  troubled me greatly, to say the least.

During those anguished years of singleness, “Christian psychology” made its way into the church I’d joined. Consequently, I felt compelled to analyze my desire to marry, much as my friends tried to analyze  their same sex attractions.  Borrowing from that church’s use of psychological models, I reasoned that uncovering the underlying cause of my longing for a husband would unlock ways that Jesus could directly provide me with romantic fulfillment.

You may have guessed that my quest never yielded the answers I sought. I struggled with enormous self-condemnation because Jesus didn’t satisfy me. So of  course  I then searched for explanations regarding my apparent resistance to Him. I read countless “Christian” books on co-dependency, emotional dependency, inner  healing, and all sorts of other psychological blocks to “receiving God’s love.” But my  desire for marriage stubbornly remained.

Looking back, I easily see that romantic fulfillment was an idol. Mercifully, the Lord did eventually bless me with a marriage far beyond my expectations, for which I praise Him. But what if He hadn’t?

Scripture says that God  created us for His pleasure and purposes, not so that He could cater to our “felt needs.”

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
    and by your will they existed and were created.” ~~Revelation 4:11 (ESV)

The King James Version says “and for thy pleasure they are created.” So, while my marriage extends happiness as a wonderful by-product, the Lord actually brought it about to glorify Himself. If He had chosen to keep me single, He would have also done that for His glory. My emotional gratification really matters little in comparison to how He chooses to glorify Himself through me.

As post-modern evangelicals shift increasingly toward a gospel that requires the Lord to meet our emotional needs, we lose sight of the true Gospel that revolves around Him. The Lord primarily cares about making us holy. He died in order to take the wrath of God that rightly belongs to each of us so that we, as a corporate Church, might be His eternal Bride. Thus, His purpose in redeeming us goes far beyond our temporal happiness.

When we then shift the emphasis from His eternal joy to what we can get out of Him in this life, we cheapen the Gospel. In fact, dear sisters in Christ, we cheapen Christ. The hours we waste in psychological counseling could be used in studying and applying Scripture as we seek to live in holiness before Him.

“Christian” psychology, by offering non-existent answers to questions we have no business asking in the first place, subtly shifts God into the role of our Servant. Even though He does graciously bless us, we must break out of our insidious attitude that He has an obligation to fulfill us emotionally. We exist to please Him, and we can rejoice that He takes pleasure in us.

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The Trouble With Emphasizing Our Woundedness

Michele SmithThere’s something comforting in hearing someone confess their flaws and vulnerabilities, isn’t there? If she’s as imperfect and broken as we are, she makes us feel better about ourselves. Therefore, we gravitate to her blogs, books and/or conferences, knowing that she’ll make us feel good. She’ll assure us that God thinks we’re awesome, that He wants to date us and that He validates all our feelings. As He met her in her woundedness, so He will meet us in ours.

Lately, I’ve confessed, not cute little flaws in my character, but outright sin. Maybe you feel that I’m more approachable because of my transparency. That’s flattering to me, I’ll admit, but it’s also a little troubling.

If I use self-disclosure as a means of attracting followers, the focus goes to me. That’s not going to benefit either me or my readers. It may make me feel important and influential, but it probably does little to build the kingdom of God. And the possibility that I’m building my personal empire rather than investing the abilities He gives me in advancing His kingdom terrifies me.

The apostle Paul gives a glimpse into how the Lord will judge believers. Please read the following passage with the understanding that it refers to God judging how to reward Christians, not about salvation. Jesus Christ has already determined salvation by His death on the cross. The judgment in this passage focuses on whether believers have used our natural and spiritual gifts for Christ’s honor and glory.

11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. ~~1 Corinthians 3:11-15 (ESV)

(No, that’s not about Purgatory.)

When a Christian uses ministry to draw attention to herself, she’s failing to build on the foundation of the Lord Christ Jesus. Her fan base may believe she’s a personal friend to each one of them because she’s been so authentic about her brokenness. They wouldn’t mind having a cuppa with her while she empathized with their brokenness.

I have no problem with a Christian blogger, writer and/or speaker extending empathy to hurting women. Please don’t misunderstand me on that point. God’s Word specifically commands us to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). But at some point, the empathy must lead to Christ. Sin must be confronted and the Gospel must be presented in its entirety. Above all, Jesus must be exalted.

So much so-called ministry these days revolves around making people feel good about themselves, prompting bloggers, writers and  speakers to parade their flaws and vulnerabilities without discretion. But many times their veneer of authenticity covers us a thirst for applause instead of a desire to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. And they forfeit eternal rewards.

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After Two Years, The TULIP Maintains Its Mission

cropped-cropped-tulip-header12.jpgYesterday marked the second anniversary of The Outspoken TULIP. I’d blogged for nine years prior at the now deleted The Things That Come Out Of My Head on Blogspot.com, but the Obergefell decision legalizing same sex marriage left me wondering when Google would pull the plug in retaliation for my politically incorrect views. I figured paying for a WordPress blog might prolong the time I’d have before censorship silenced me.

Additionally, I wanted a more focused blog that would consistently draw attention to the Lord Jesus Christ rather than to my aimless musings or my digital art skills. Time to proclaim the Gospel and disciple younger women through the Internet is growing desperately short, making me less willing to blog for the sake of blogging.

The discipline of producing almost daily articles with solid doctrinal content (as opposed to narratives of my excursions into Boston, childhood memories and progressive views of my digital art projects interspersed with essays about Christianity) has proved more demanding than I anticipated. The demands surprised me because I’d been blogging on a similar schedule for three or four years with my previous blog. Until I started The Outspoken TULIP, I hadn’t realized how much of my blogging was mere fluff.

But if The Outspoken TULIP is more demanding, it’s also more gratifying. Although I’m not as erudite as many other bloggers in my niche, and my readership remains comparatively small, I love knowing that the Lord is the central Person of this blog. If my audience remains small, He still sovereignly reaches the ladies He wants to reach through my writing. I don’t get much feedback, which is probably just as well, but I trust that my investment in blogging honors Him.

I believe evangelicals of the 21st Century have by and large lost the sense that God has saved us for His honor and glory. As we’ve incorporated Charismatic teaching and psychological principles into our weakened version of Christianity, we’ve accepted the mistaken idea that God exists to heal our bodies, expand our bank accounts, make our marriages satisfying and remove all temptation from us. We conveniently forget why He calls us to Him in the first place.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. ~~1 Peter 2:9 (ESV)

Anyone can blog about the wonderful history of Boston. Plenty of digital artists can blog about their creations and explain the various techniques they use. But since the Lord has called me out of darkness into His marvelous light, shouldn’t I praise Him by using this blog to proclaim His excellencies? Sure, it demands a lot more thought and prayer, as well as the physical work of typing with a headstick and researching the Protestant Reformation, but if Christ allows me to honor Him through this little blog, I welcome this third year of The Outspoken TULIP! To God be the glory!

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My Messy Life Isn’t The Point (Even If It Means You’ll Have Cheesecake With Me)

44cb0-cross2bof2bgloryAuthenticity is apparently the latest evangelical craze, especially among women. When a blogger or teacher lets us see her “messy” life, she appears more approachable. Just like us, she has struggles with sin. What a relief!

The Bible unabashedly records the flaws of men and women commended as heroes of the faith. From Sarah and Abraham exploiting Hagar to the apostle Peter hypocritically reverting to Jewish legalism, otherwise strong believers in Sacred Text demonstrate the propensity toward sin that all humans possess. The most poignant example comes from none other than the apostle Paul:

13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. ~~Romans 7:13-20 (ESV)

Certainly, no teacher or blogger should give the impression that they’ve somehow risen above the temptations that “normal” Christians face. Doing so undermines the Gospel by insinuating that we can reach a point of trusting in our own righteousness!

At the same time, we can use “authenticity” as an excuse to showcase ourselves, rather than directing attention to the Lord Jesus Christ. An overemphasis on revealing our sins and weaknesses may really be a calculated attempt to attract followers. And certainly it denotes a preoccupation with self in place of adoring God and proclaiming His excellencies.

Two years ago, I discontinued a blog that, while it referred to Christ in almost every post, basically revolved around me. The Lord convicted me of my narcissism, leading me to start The Outspoken TULIP to focus women on Christ.

As our country moves toward persecution against Bible-believing Christians, we need less encouragement to feel better about our shortcomings. When bloggers and teachers prattle on and on about their “messy” lives, they subtly lull us into feeling better about ourselves instead of helping us recognize our need for Christ. He recedes into the background while the teacher or blogger assures us that we could have a gabfest with her over coffee and (if I’m involved) cheesecake.

As much as I want to make myself approachable, however, I’m more concerned with drawing my readers to Christ. Even more, I want this blog to honor Him, regardless of how readers feel about me.  I’ll gladly confess my sins when appropriate, and I definitely don’t want anyone thinking I’ve got it all together. But if this blog degenerates into something about me, it wastes my time and yours. Jesus Christ is the Person Who matters.

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