The False Comfort Of Pope Francis

Thoughtful BoyIf you haven’t yet seen the video of Pope Francis assuring a grieving child that his atheist father went to heaven (because said dad allowed all four of his children to be baptized), I suggest that you Google it. Not because it should soften your stance on either the Roman Catholic Church or on Christ’s claim to be the only means of salvation (John 14:6), but because it puts forth a question that Bible-believing Christians absolutely must face as we console the bereaved.

Obviously, the pope failed to give the little boy either a Catholic answer or a Biblical one. I’d guess that many bloggers (both Christian and Catholic) are burning up their keyboards explaining why this pope erred in his response to the boy. As well they ought! But I want to explore an angle of this situation that probably hasn’t received the attention it requires.

As I watched the video, I cried. Since my dad died when I was 10 and my sister was 7, I understand some of that little boy’s heartache and confusion. He loved his daddy, and he desperately needs some way of coping with a loss that he can’t understand. Although I care passionately about sound theology, I also passionately believe that heartbroken children must be treated with compassion, and in age-appropriate ways. So despite my manifold disagreements with the Catholic Church in general and Pope Francis in particular, I appreciate the man’s tenderness toward a hurting child.

Alas, compassion never excuses perverting truth. And the truth is that good works don’t admit anyone into heaven. Pope Francis offered that poor little boy a false assurance about his father’s eternal state. Far worse, he reinforced the erroneous notion that salvation rewards human goodness. As a result, he inoculated the child (as well as everyone else in the audience) against the truth that salvation comes through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Pope Francis should have allowed for the slight possibility of a deathbed conversion, but then he should have moved the focus to God’s perfect justice. As a just Judge, the Lord deals with each person justly, and according to His eternal purposes. Although we lack the prerogative to make a definitive declaration about anyone’s eternal destiny,  we can encourage those who grieve to trust God’s authority to make the right decision.

At that point, it would have been best to acknowledge the pain of the very real likelihood that the loved one won’t be in heaven. When my mom died, many people suggested a deathbed conversion, and I admit that possibility. But the most comforting comment I received came from a man at church who said, “I’m so sorry. That must be hard.” Rather than offering a comfort that may or may not be true, this man acknowledged that I faced Mom’s death Biblically, despite the sadness involved. His words affirmed that my pain over her probable rejection of the Gospel is legitimate. Pope Francis should have given the little boy that sort of validation.

From there, we should gently remind the grieving person of his or her own responsibility to repent of sin and believe that Jesus died to bear the punishment for the sins of all who believe in Him. We can’t do anything about our departed loved ones other that trust that God will glorify Himself in how He judges them, but we certainly can make our own election sure by believing in Him.

In situations such as the one with this sweet little boy, of course we must extend compassion. But true compassion never sugarcoats truth with a false gospel. That little boy deserved so much better.

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Jesus Doeth All Things Well

This past week, I struggled with the sin of worry. Disability forces me to be dependent on government programs (never a good thing) and one of those programs didn’t seem to be operating properly. Thankfully everything got sorted out Friday, but until then I battled to trust God’s sovereignty.

In the midst of the struggle, I came across a lesser known Fanny Crosby hymn that the Lord used to both convict me of my sinful anxiety and assure me of the Father’s care for me. I share it here as a reminder to myself, but also as an encouragement to you. Whatever befalls us, we need to trust that Jesus really does all things well.

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Saturday Sampler: April 15 — April 21

Critter Sampler 02

Personally, I enjoy reading the Old Testament prophets, though I must admit that I didn’t really understand them until recent years. Ryan Higginbottom sees that many Christians often neglect these books of the Bible. Write for Knowable Word, he outlines What We Miss When We Skip the Prophets in an effort to keep us from a lopsided intake of Scripture. He even coaches us on ways to approach these books.

In The Chains of “Cool”, appearing in Growing 4 Life, Leslie A has no difficulty speaking the truth boldly! Toward the end, you’ll possibly feel a bit breathless, but only because you’ll know she’s right in standing against evangelical compromise.

Reflecting on a recent diagnosis, Doug Wilson muses on The Obedience of Cancer in Blog & Mablog by directs attention back to God’s sovereignty. He exhibits true faith in his trial — faith that convicts me of sin concerning my own reactions to adversity. Please do pray for Doug and his family as they walk through this time of trusting God’s wisdom.

Standing firm for the Lord means we must Buck the current. Elizabeth Prata draws from her personal experiences of living on a boat to demonstrate this spiritual principle in her blog, The End Time.

Responding to a comment he overheard in a restaurant, Scott Slayton of One Degree to Another informs us Why You Should Study Theology. Now, before you decide that this article is probably full of mothballs, why don’t you give it a try? It might surprise you!

Diana Severance, in her essay for Biblical Woman, asks us to seriously consider The Cost of Saying “I Am A Christian” in a culture that hates the Gospel. We might not think we’ll ever endure physical torture for the Lord. Perhaps we should think a little harder, and then remember His grace that carries believers through even the most extreme persecution.

Drawing from this week’s airline tragedy, Stephen McAlpine shares a powerful illustration of our urgent need to constantly keep the Gospel in view. Paying Attention Is On The Nose is important reading for those of us who feel so familiar with the Gospel that we fumble to apply it properly during times of crisis.

If women shouldn’t preach or teach in mixed company, what can we do to serve the Lord and our churches? Michelle Lesley offers great insight in Unforbidden Fruit: 3 Ways Women MUST Lead and Teach The Church on Discipleship for Christian Women.

I’m generally not a fan of The Christian Post (it’s hardly a bastion of discernment), but John MacArthur: Evangelical Christians Today ‘Tolerate False Gospel,’ Avoid Sanctification for ‘Relevance’ by Leah MarieAnn Klett epitomizes so much of why 21st Century evangelicals miss the boat that I believe you need to read it.

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Friday Flashback: Opened Eyes And Ageless Words

This post originally appeared in The Outspoken TULIP in February of 2016. Its message continues to be relevant, giving me a desire to repost it today.

Bible Mask framedPsalm 119 extols the Word of God by using pithy couplets to illustrate its various effects on individual believers. I love the psalmist’s way of presenting various facets of Scripture. He reminds me of an expert jeweler carefully appraising a rare and exquisite diamond. Whenever I read this psalm, I gain a deeper appreciation for Scripture, knowing that it’s God’s way of revealing Himself to His people.

Several verses in this psalm have been meaningful to me throughout the years, and I wish I could write about each of them. But one verse stands out as the key, first to the psalm, but also to Bible reading as a whole.

Open my eyes, that I may behold
wondrous things out of your law. ~~Psalm 119:18 (ESV)


The psalmist relied on the Holy Spirit, rather than his own intellectual abilities, to give him a clear understanding of Scripture. Notice his prayer for God to open his eyes, expressing his human inability to fully understand what God says. This dependence on God’s Spirit finds support in Paul’s words to the church in Corinth:

6 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. ~~1 Corinthians 2:6-16 (ESV)


When a regenerate believer comes to the Bible, the Holy Spirit helps him understand the text. Notice, however, that the Spirit doesn’t speak apart from or outside of the Word, but rather that He enables us to understand it. The Spirit doesn’t bury truth in the way Gnostic religions (that reserve esoteric knowledge for an elite group) do, but He recognizes that those who reject His authority over them simply won’t “get it.” Submission to Him gives us a willingness to accept His precepts.

Additionally, our dependence on the Spirit doesn’t excuse us from reading God’s Word in context. He won’t isolate a fragment of Scripture to give it a “personal meaning.” His Word may be veiled to those who have no intention of obeying it anyway, yet in it the Lord speaks clearly and says the same thing to all believers from every generation. What He said to the First Century Christians continues into the 21st Century unaltered, applying to each of us equally. No secrets. No private whispers.

Yet without the Spirit’s assistance, we can read Scripture only as another piece of literature. We may find certain portions beautiful and inspiring, but we’ll fall short of letting its words transform our thoughts and lives.

So, as I approach Scripture, I pray for God to open my eyes to the wonders of His Word, so that He can teach me to better love and obey Him. Certainly, I have a responsibility to use my intellect as I study, and I do my best to engage my mind by reading in context, taking notes and consulting commentaries. But as I do these things, I also ask Him to teach me, as He has taught believers through the ages, by opening my spiritual eyes. I trust Him to honor my prayer.

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Worthiness: Ours Or His?

Rich In Mercy

The logic goes that Jesus died for us because He saw something in us worth saving.  That perspective certainly sounds reasonable, and I’d venture to say that every one of us would love to believe it. Doesn’t it thrill you to think that the Lord saw something special and valuable in you? That you were worth saving?

Once again,  however, this interpretation of Christ’s death subtly shifts attention from Christ’s mercy and grace to us. It neglects the wretched condition of our souls by insinuating that we actually deserved God’s notice.  In fact, it pretty much implies that He had an obligation to save us. Could we even say that He is lucky to have such magnificent people in His kingdom?

As much as the idea that we possess something of intrinsic value appeals to us, nothing in the Bible supports it. On the contrary, God’s Word repeatedly emphasizes our unworthiness as a backdrop to His wondrous grace.Let me take you back to Ephesians 2:1-10 for a moment.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ~~Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV)

Verses 1-3 paint a particularly nasty picture of us, don’t  they? By  nature, it says, we were children of wrath. What value could a child of wrath, dead in sin and ruled by fleshly passions, possibly have? Why would a holy God have any compelling reason for shedding His innocent blood for any of us?

Verses 4-7 answer that question. The Lord lavished His salvation on us in order to display the riches of His grace and kindness. Our salvation points, not to any imaginary worth on our part, but to His generosity in saving such undeserving sinners.

The purpose of our salvation, then, is to showcase the Lord’s character. What a wonderful God He is to extend that degree of compassion on worthless sinners who merit nothing but His wrath. Although nothing about us commends us to Him, Jesus willingly went to the cross to accept the Father’s wrath — wrath that we deserved! His atoning sacrifice highlights His graciousness and compassion, revealing what a loving God He is!

He is the worthy one, not any of us. Worship (which means the ascribing of worth) goes totally to Him. How utterly magnificent that He would choose to love vile creatures like us! The more we understand that we had no value in and of ourselves, the more we want to worship Him for His inexplicable mercy and grace.

Verse 10 completes the beautiful picture of God’s grace in saving us, declaring that He regenerates us into His workmanship. Though we have no worth of our own, Christ gives us His worth, graciously using us as His agents of good works. At this mercy, we can only praise Him.

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Reformed Theology: What, Why And How?

Background July 2016 2On two unrelated occasions lately, people have asked me to explain Reformed Theology. Since I refer to it frequently both in conversations and in blog posts, it seems reasonable that I devote some time to writing about it.

GotQuestions.org has a helpful introductory article directly answering What Is Reformed Theology?  Because I’m old and tired, I’d rather not exert myself writing something that someone far more conversant in the topic than I has already written. I will add only that my page, Explaining My TULIP, reinforces the explanation of Reformed Theology that GotQuestions.org provides.

Perhaps the more intriguing question would be “Why are people embracing Reformed Theology?” In the past two decades, men like R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur and John Piper have popularized it, drawing many evangelicals (including yours truly) to self-identify as Reformed.

I can answer only for myself, and my schedule demands even more brevity than usual. My bottom line reason for joining the Reformed camp is that its teachings align better with Scripture than the Armimian and Charismatic teachings I once believed.

Or tried to believe. Throughout my 30+ years as an Armimian Charismatic, I always had a nagging feeling that I was trying to force Scripture into those molds. Upon marrying John, however, I began listening to John MacArthur’s Grace To You radio broadcasts. He said things that I’d always thought but suppressed because churches I attended taught otherwise.

A series of events led me, by God’s providence, to blogs like Pyromaniacs and Do Not Be Surprised, both of which influenced my reading. These led me to still more Reformed blogs, books and podcasts. Eventually,  the Lord used Mike Abendroth of No Compromise Radio to help us find a church with Reformed Baptist leanings.

Although I’ve learned a lot in the past ten years of embracing Reformed Theology, it’s been like finally coming home. At last, I understand that I’d read Scripture correctly all the while, and didn’t need to impose on it the interpretations I’d been taught. In short, Reformed Theology has brought me back to God’s Word.

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When Discernment Blocks Devotion

Discernment Cross

The apostle John, in the book of Revelation, begins with letters from the Lord to seven churches in Asia Minor. He addressed the church in Ephesus first.  As someone interested in discernment ministry, I believe this particular letter especially challenges me, so I decided to blog about it in hopes of benefiting any of you who share my interest in this field.

I’ll quote the whole letter in order to provide proper context.

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.

“‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’ ~~Revelation 2:1-7 (ESV)

At first glance, this church sounds like a discernment blogger’s dream! They definitely didn’t tolerate false teachers, and bore persecution with an enviable steadfastness. They cared passionately about truth and devoted themselves to contending for the faith. Surely such zeal for God’s truth deserves abundant praise and admiration!

And the Lord indeed did praise them for their commitment to His truth. Yet He also called them to repentance, threatening to shutdown their church unless they did so.

In their zeal for truth, the Ephesians had forgotten to love Him.

Discernment ministry had become an idol, distracting them from Him. Oh sure, they worked tirelessly to uphold His name, but they focused so intently on defending truth and refuting false doctrine that they inadvertently lost their sense of awe and wonder over Christ Himself.  They forgot Him!

Of course, that pitfall could happen with any ministry. I’ve gotten so busy with various church activities that I’ve neglected to delight myself in the Lord for His own sake. Perhaps most Christians have. This sin isn’t unique to discernment ministry.

That said, John did write this letter to the Ephesians in the specific context of standing against false teachers, indicating that those of us who engage in discernment ministry need to exercise greater vigilance. We can assure ourselves that we contend for His faith precisely because we love Jesus, and in many cases that’s quite true. In many other cases, however, we’ve fallen in love with discernment ministry for its own sake, just as the Ephesians did.

Reading Revelation 2:1-7 has caused me to examine my heart on this matter. Frankly, I squirmed more than a little as I read it. I pray for God’s grace to keep my heart fixed exclusively on Him. That way, whatever discernment He graciously gives me will cause me to love Him all the more.

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