Familiar Psalm, Unfamiliar Hymn

Tragically, one could argue that hymns in general are unfamiliar to most professing evangelicals. But I digress.

Psalm 23 is well-known, even among non-Christians. Almost any movie with a funeral scene includes a minister somberly reciting its words as mourners gather around the grave, allowing avid movie buffs to subconsciously memorize it regardless of their religious views. And those who identify as Christians definitely find comfort in its beautiful imagery.

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” We draw strength from these words, as well as the words which follow them. Often we speak them to ourselves in times of crisis, assuring ourselves that — despite the most unspeakable circumstances — our Shepherd continues to guide and protect us. We take solace in knowing that we “will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Last Sunday I encountered a hymn based on Psalm 23 that I’d never heard until then. I’m guessing it’s unfamiliar to many of you. Perhaps it might give you fresh perspective on this psalm that we know so well.

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There’s Suffering, And Then There’s Suffering For The Gospel

Young Lady 01My Cerebral Palsy naturally drew me to the various Bible verses on suffering when I was young. And my friends often read those verses to me during times of frustration and discouragement. Ministries to people with disabilities characteristically use those verses in their books and seminars.

A few of the Scriptures used in ministering to the disabled (and others who experience profound suffering) actually do apply to such situations. Please understand that I support using them when we can do so without violating their context. Hurting people need assurance that God cares about their struggles. That He has a purpose in allowing them to suffer.  Certainly, using God’s Word to extend comfort and encouragement must never be overlooked or disdained.

But lately I’ve been thinking about how often evangelicals focus those Scriptures on the types of suffering that don’t really discriminate between Christians and non-Christians. Many non-Christians sit in wheelchairs, go through divorces, bury loved ones and lose jobs just before the holidays. Yet God’s promises don’t apply to them.

You see, most of the New Testament Scriptures about suffering address a particular type of suffering. They specifically target suffering persecution for the sake of the Gospel.

Let me offer an example of a passage I often turned to for comfort when I was young.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. ~~1 Peter 1:6-7 (ESV)

I grabbed on to the phrase, “various trials,” quite confident that Cerebral Palsy fell somewhere under that umbrella. I appropriated that promise with gusto! Clearly, the Lord would reward me, simply because I spent my life in a wheelchair, right?

Wrong!

When you read 1 Peter in its entirety, you find that he wrote this letter to persecuted Christians who suffered because of their stand for Jesus. They had been scattered throughout the known world, fleeing from those who would kill them for the crime of being Christians. Yet many of them still ended up in regions that were hostile to the Gospel — and therefore hostile to them.

Peter wrote his first letter to these beleaguered Christians, reminding them that they weren’t merely strangers in their adopted countries. They were also (and perhaps more profoundly) aliens to the world system that hated Christ. As such, they would most likely suffer persecution again.

1 Peter is really written as an encouragement to Christians on how to conduct themselves in environments that didn’t tolerate their commitment to Christ. In this context, the various trials he mentioned specifically referred the sufferings they endured for the Gospel.

As 21st Century culture grows in animosity toward Christ and those who represent Him, we must expect to suffer for Him. And it’s that suffering (rather than suffering because of disability, bereavement, divorce or job loss) that this passage addresses. Certainly, it applies to us. But let’s be sure to make the proper application.

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It’s All Grace

I love the Doctrines of Grace, don’t you? That our perfectly holy God, for no reason other than His glory, would open my rebellious heart by calling me to salvation just plain amazes me! It humbles me.

You see, I did everything to earn damnation.  And absolutely nothing to deserve spending eternity in heaven enjoying Christ. Even my faith in Him, on which my salvation depends, is a gift from Him. From start to finish, I owe everything to God’s grace.

With Reformation Day only 10 days away, I want to post a hymn (albeit a modern hymn) focusing on God’s grace to me. To all who believe in Him. May He use it to remind each of us how incredibly gracious He is.

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The Joy Of The Reformation

Post Tenebras LuxIt’s customary, for some reason, to depict the 16th Century Reformers as dour old men with no sense of joy. Actually,  as a Charismatic I was encouraged to characterize Calvinists as humorless legalists who worshiped doctrine rather than enjoying vital relationships with Jesus. This mischaracterization of Calvinists quite likely stemmed from an ignorance of both Reformed Theology and church history.

The 16th Century Reformers rightly took the motto, Post Tenebras Lux (after darkness, light), to describe God’s wonderful work of restoring sound doctrine to His people.  The light of God’s Word had at last dispelled the darkness of Roman Catholicism, and the Reformers preferred persecution and death to compromising their theology. Does that mean they idolized theology over the Lord? Does that sound joyless?

Not to me! If you’ll examine Martin Luther’s life alone, you’ll discover that he suffered enormously during his time as a Roman Catholic monk, always fearful that his works of penance and his fastidious observances of the sacraments never pleased God. He went so far as to declare that he hated God because nothing he did satisfied Him.

And essentially, Luther was correct. Our works of human righteousness have no hope of appeasing God’s holy wrath. The Holy Spirit inspired Isaiah to confess:

We have all become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
    and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls upon your name,
    who rouses himself to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
    and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. ~~Isaiah 64:6-7 (ESV)

Luther felt the crushing weight of that truth. That weight was compounded, however, by the Roman Catholic system that insisted on penance, sacraments and the threat of Purgatory.

But in reading Romans 1:17‘s declaration that the righteous shall live by faith in the original Greek, rather than in the Latin Vulgate, he discovered the key! As R.C. Sproul explains in Justification by Faith Alone: Martin Luther and Romans 1:17:

Now there was a linguistic trick that was going on here too. And it was this, that the Latin word for justification that was used at this time in church history was—and it’s the word from which we get the English word justification—the Latin word justificare. And it came from the Roman judicial system. And the term justificare is made up of the word justus, which is justice or righteousness, and the verb, the infinitive facare, which means to make. And so, the Latin fathers understood the doctrine of justification is what happens when God, through the sacraments of the church and elsewhere, make unrighteous people righteous.

But Luther was looking now at the Greek word that was in the New Testament, not the Latin word. The word dikaios, dikaiosune, which didn’t mean to make righteous, but rather to regard as righteous, to count as righteous, to declare as righteous. And this was the moment of awakening for Luther. He said, “You mean, here Paul is not talking about the righteousness by which God Himself is righteous, but a righteousness that God gives freely by His grace to people who don’t have righteousness of their own.”

By going to the language that Paul actually used in writing the letter to the Romans, Luther found peace. He, as well as other 16th Century Reformers, learned from Scripture that Christ has paid the penalty for the sin of all who put their trust in Him!

How could the discovery of Scripture’s actual promise of justification by faith alone in Christ alone be anything less than joyous and exhilarating? The Reformers all entered this wonderful freedom, as do present-day Reformed believers. After the darkness of trying to atone for our sin, the light of God’s Word and its promise that we have forgiveness in Christ causes absolute rejoicing.

I would argue that the Reformers’ love and passion for Christ emanated from their return to Biblical theology. As they rediscovered the doctrines of grace in the pages of Scripture, the light shone brightly, leading them to know and love the Lord, Who had been in the shadows of Catholic tradition for almost six centuries.  To those Reformers, the theology that shed light on the Lord and His will caused them to rejoice in His remarkable grace. They gave Him all the glory. Indeed,  the appearance of light after darkness fueled their passionate love for Him.

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Who Made An End To All My Sin

When I sin, I typically question whether or not I’m truly saved. I reason that a saved person, while not perfect, really ought to exhibit some evidence that the Holy Spirit has transformed her. Usually, I momentarily conclude that I must be a false convert.

(Those episodes must drive my husband crazy.)

But eventually I come to my senses and remember that Jesus took care of my sin by His death on the cross. Yes, I should walk by the Spirit more than I do. Yes, my sin dishonors Him. And yes, in those moments I’m failing to reflect His holy nature. But even so, I need to focus on Him rather than on myself.

Last Sunday the Lord encouraged me through the second verse of “Before The Throne Of God Above” by shifting my gaze from the despair of having sinned yet again to the joy that Jesus paid the final cost for my sin! He made an end to it! Although He still calls me to repentance, He has freed me from the death sentence that sin requires.

Join me in looking upward to Christ. If you belong to Him, He’s made an end to all your sin, too!

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Flashback Friday: Our Teacher: Grace

3D CrossThis article first appeared in The Outspoken TULIP on September 5, 2016. I sure needed to read it today. Maybe you do too.

The doctrine of grace indeed teaches that Christians neither earn nor maintain salvation by our own efforts. Hebrews 12:2 identifies Jesus as “the founder and perfecter” of our faith, Who promised that those to whom He has given eternal life cannot be snatched from His hand (John 10:28). Therefore, a believer who lapses into sin, even for extended periods, has not lost his salvation because salvation depends solely on Jesus’ work on the cross. Our works of obedience contribute absolutely nothing to the transaction!

Some people, however, misunderstand the doctrine of grace to mean that we can give in to various temptations because God forgives us. That misunderstanding needs to be addressed. Not only does it deceive false converts into supposing that God tolerates their sin, but it ignores His holy nature.

In the past few years, the wonderful resurgence of Calvinist teaching has regretfully spawned counterfeit teachers who distort Scripture. Grace, in their eyes, becomes a permission slip to sin, particularly in regard to sexual behavior (though it’s also used to excuse other forms of sin). And such theological laxity leads to an acceptance of professing Christians allowing for premarital sex, cohabitation and “committed” homosexual relationships.

Scripture never presents such a view of God’s grace! As a matter of fact, the very apostle Paul who taught that grace emancipates us from the demands of the Law (Galatians 3:1-14) also insisted that grace leads us to live in holiness.

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. ~~Titus 2:11-14 (ESV)

As this passage demonstrates, the Lord doesn’t save us merely because of His mercy and compassion (although He certainly is merciful and compassionate). He wants His people to reflect His holiness, and consequently He gives us the grace that teaches us to reject our old patterns of sin (sexual and otherwise) in favor of living in holiness.

Grace changes us, so that obedience to the Lord becomes our objective. Not that obedience secures our salvation, but rather that it gives evidence that the Holy Spirit, Who lives in us, transforms our hearts so that we desire His holiness. We don’t dress sin up as something acceptable, expecting the Lord to smile indulgently down on our blatant rebellion against Him. Much to the contrary, we understand the magnitude of His grace, and therefore realize our indebtedness to Him. And, although we can never hope to repay our debt, gratitude swells in our hearts, filling us with a desire to honor Him.

The Lord paid completely for our salvation, and nothing on our part either brings it about or causes its revocation. But a cavalier attitude towards His grace betrays a lack of understanding that He is holy and has redeemed very unholy people. Therefore it undermines His very purpose in redeeming us! Praise Jesus that grace takes us out of sin and enables us to share in His holiness!

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A Webcast That Got My Attention — Bold Chinese Pastors Aren’t American Snowflakes

Chinese ChristiansJohn and I enjoy listening to The Dividing Line with James White (usually for different reasons). I’m pretty sure it’s John’s favorite, and it’s definitely mine.

Today we listened to roughly the first half of yesterday’s show, which started off with a discussion of the persecution Christians and Muslims are facing as the Chinese government has recently imposed religious restrictions on both groups. Truthfully, I  started out only mildly interested. But then White Continue reading