The Brutal Truth

Horrible Beautiful CrossWhen John had cancer five years ago, I tearfully begged  his surgeon to find a way to treat it other than surgery. His tone of voice showed more impatience than compassion as he gruffly answered, “I’m trying to save your husband’s life!” His apparent arrogance offended me. And more significantly, I whole-heartedly believed that, due to his breathing limitations from having Polio, surgery would certainly kill John faster than the cancer would.

In my opinion, surgery represented a ruthless, almost savage, approach to John’s cancer, and I desperately wanted a gentler way of dealing with it. Again, I tried to reason with him. By that time, John had been severely weakened from a heart attack, so the doctor informed me (again with an apparent  lack of compassion in his tone), “Without the surgery, he only has weeks to live.”

Surgeons have to steel their emotions, or else they probably couldn’t face the  life-and-death nature of their profession. If both his tone and his decision smacked of brutality, he wanted me to understand the even greater brutality of colon cancer. He would take great risks, even those that deeply upset me, in order to save my husband.

I’ve been accused, many times in my life, of being  harsh in my presentation of doctrine. Instead of approaching false doctrine with negativity and anger, why don’t I try a gentler, more positive approach? Why not have the compassion that Jesus had?  The gentleness that Paul instructed Timothy to have?

Gentleness indeed has its place, especially with people who recognize their sin and know how  desperately they need a Savior. Once the Holy Spirit used Scripture to expose the the utter depravity of my heart, convincing  me that I deserved nothing but eternal separation from God in hell, the mercy and kindness of Jesus dying on the cross in my place filled me with joy! But that joy  could never  have come until I  came face-to-face with my spiritual  cancer.

I’d been active in my church, quite convinced that my religious activity guaranteed my acceptability to  God. My gentle pastor never confronted sin in my life. In fact, he assured me of my salvation, not because Jesus died for me, but because he saw me as a “good girl.” His gentleness ignored the cancer of sin that would have damned me to hell if Jesus hadn’t  led me to some harsh, uncomfortable passages in the Sermon on the Mount.

Like the brutal truth that saved John’s physical life five years ago, brutal truth brought me into eternal life. So if my posts seem brutal and unfeeling, think back to John’s surgeon….and realize that he showed great compassion after all.

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A Prayer We All Should Pray

Recently I read that someone, in a critical tone, asked why so many Christian songs and hymns focus on the cross. I’m not quite sure what the point of the question was, so I’ll resist the temptation to speculate on the motives behind the question. But it saddens me that the person didn’t know how Christ’s atoning sacrifice has purchased God’s pardon, allowing wretched sinners like me to enter heaven to live eternally with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Hymn writer Fanny Crosby certainly understood the value of the cross, as well as the necessity of constantly reminding ourselves that Christ’s work on it is the only basis for our salvation. In the hymn featured below, she prayed that Jesus would keep His cross always before her. Perhaps more  of us should pray that sort of prayer. And then sing hymns that remind us that we mustn’t glory in anything other than the cross.

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Tolerance, Embracing And Making Proper Distinctions

Rainbow Bible02When did the definition of tolerance change? It used to mean putting up with disagreeable circumstances or people despite your personal feelings about them. As a child with Cerebral Palsy, for example, I was taught that, even though I didn’t like my leg and back braces, I needed to tolerate them during school hours. I didn’t have to celebrate them. As a matter of fact, I had perfect freedom to voice my distaste for them as often as I wished. But I had to tolerate them by wearing them. Even to church and Sunday School.

Tolerance in the 21st Century, apparently, means something far different. Particularly with respect to the LBGTQ community, tolerance now requires enthusiastic agreement with their lifestyles, even to the point of finding new ways of interpreting God’s Word in order to embrace those lifestyles.

Meanwhile, of course, those who stand firm on Scriptures that call homosexuality a sin don’t deserve any tolerance from society. We must be corrected, marginalized or silenced. Our pastors must be threatened with prison if they preach forgiveness for anyone who repents of same sex relationships. Christians who refuse to participate in same sex weddings have been successfully sued, with some actually losing their businesses because they wouldn’t compromise their convictions.

To those readers who belong to the LBGTQ community, please understand that I (and the vast majority of Bible-believing Christians) accept you, just as we accept heterosexuals who engage in sexual sin. We call your behavior sin, certainly, just as we call premarital sex, adultery and divorce sin, but we affirm that Christ can cleanse you as thoroughly as He has cleansed us.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. ~~1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV)

Apart from Christ, I am sexually immoral, an idolater, greedy and a reviler. I hardly have the moral superiority to look down my nose at lesbians, transgendered people or homosexuals when I remember my own sins. And if you don’t want the Lord to take you out of your sin, I’ll still accept you. I can tolerate your lifestyle. I can enjoy your company, and might even treat you to lunch in Boston.

But I can’t condone anyone’s sin, regardless of whether you’re gay or straight. I’ll love you enough to say that you need to repent as much as I need to repent. Although I tolerate your lifestyle, I must lovingly warn you that, when Jesus returns, He won’t tolerate anyone’s sin.

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Not Afraid To Fear The Lord

Serious Little Boy01Evangelicals in the past 50 or so years have carefully minimized (or avoided altogether) the subject of fearing God. When, in the course of a group Bible Study, they inadvertently encounter verses about fearing God, they cough out a few sentences about simply revering Him before rapidly moving on to more manageable verses.

Fearing God isn’t politically correct anymore, even among Bible-believing Christians. We much prefer dwelling on the Lord’s goodness, compassion and love. That way, we keep Him much more approachable, even when we persist in our pet sins. Even more to the point, we make Him more attractive (we think) to non-Christians when we evangelize them. Talking about fearing Him, we reason, makes Him less marketable.

Scripture, however, never seems all that concerned with the Lord’s marketability, nor with keeping us comfortable even in our disobedience. Even the beloved book of Psalms, which often consoles false converts with poetic assurances of God’s love and mercy, insists that we need to fear Him.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
    all those who practice it have a good understanding.
    His praise endures forever! ~~Psalm 111:10 (ESV)

Does fearing God mean feeling literally afraid of Him? Well, yeah. Sometimes such fear is highly appropriate, actually. Such fear acknowledges His authority to establish His standards of how Christians ought to behave, and to discipline us when we violate His standards.

In considering the fear of the Lord, we must clarify that genuinely saved Christians can fear Him without doubting His love for us. Hebrews 12:6 explains that, as our heavenly Father, He disciplines the ones He loves. I realize that postmodern parenting, influenced by psychological models, often consider it unhealthy for children to fear parents, but God graciously allowed me to grow up in a time when I both knew the security of my mom’s love and feared her discipline.

I was a willful child (and, to my shame, I’m still very willful). In school, I had no problem defying a certain teacher. If he chose to punish my disobedience, I was perfectly fine with that. But I always begged him not to tell my mom. He always did, once even going to her workplace! And, although she really wasn’t as harsh with me as he was, I feared her discipline far more than I feared his.

Fearing God helps me obey Him more consistently. I know He won’t revoke my salvation because of my sin, but I also know that facing Him in judgment and accounting for ways I squandered opportunities to serve Him will be painful. I fear dishonoring Him, even as I rejoice in knowing that I will spend eternity with Him.

Fearing God gives me discernment to live in a manner that pleases Him. It teaches me holiness. Maybe fearing Him isn’t fashionable in the 21st Century, and maybe psychologists would disapprove of my fear of Him, but the Bible recommends this holy fear. It calls it the beginning of wisdom.

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The Glory Of Failure: Please Don’t Build My Self-Esteem

Floating BalloonA friend of mine posted on Facebook that he felt like a failure. Predictably, several people responded with well-intentioned comments aimed at making him feel better about himself, assuring him that God doesn’t see him that way and encouraging him not to let his frustrations define him. As I pondered their remarks, I recognized that they wanted to bolster his self-esteem.

Maybe he needed such bolstering, but the conversation just didn’t square with Scripture. In my 46 years of reading and studying the Bible, I’ve never come across any instances of the Lord telling people to feel good about themselves. Yes, He told them that He loved them, and even that He would work through their weaknesses and failures for His glory, but He never so much as suggested that we have any worth apart from Him. As a matter of fact, the apostle Paul wrote about the things that, prior to his conversion, gave him a sense of self-esteem as if they deserved only contempt.

For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.  ~~Philippians 3:3-11 (ESV)

Despite all the reasons Paul had to pat himself on the back, he knew that he’d be better off dwelling on the righteousness that Christ had given him. His pedigree and accomplishments made him successful in the sight of his First Century Jewish culture, but he disdained them in the light of the Lord.

I don’t enjoy facing my many failures, admittedly. Such confrontation hurts my pride! But that pride needs to be wounded, and in fact that wound must  be mortal! Self-esteem will keep me from acknowledging my dependence on the Lord, therefore robbing Him of the glory. It will prevent me from looking to Him in my failures and therefore watching Him turn my failures into His successes. Please…if I feel like a failure, don’t decide that you’ll best demonstrate compassion by building up my self-esteem. Instead, direct me back to the Savior.

 

 
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Resurrection Benefits

This Resurrection Sunday, I’ve chosen a lesser known hymn to present to you. Although it’s not strictly about the Lord’s resurrection, it definitely highlights some of the ways we benefit from His having risen from His grave. Please enjoy this beautiful hymn and the glorious truths it proclaims.

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Familiar, Horrible And Beautiful

Horrible Beautiful CrossSo much has been said about Christ’s death on the cross that many people, even those who passionately love the Lord, can sort of glaze over. A good expose on Beth Moore would be more welcome right now, we secretly think.

A lot of our weariness with Good Friday blog posts, sermons and what have you results from familiarity with the story. We’ve read the accounts by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John  countless times, almost so often that we can recite the details effortlessly (and without much thought). As the saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt.”

But perhaps Good Friday also bothers us because it confronts us with the horrible truth that our sin nailed Jesus to the cross.  The more we read about the beatings, mockery and the physical anguish of crucifixion the Lord endured, the more we want to distance ourselves from the whole mess. Surely our sin can’t be that bad!

Surely it is!

Like it or not, ladies, even the Old Testament points to Christ’s crucifixion as the only means of atonement. Over 600 years earlier, the prophet Isaiah predicated that Messiah would suffer for the sins of the people.

4 Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all. ~~Isaiah 53: 4-6 (ESV)

When we look at the cross, we see our sin. And, since our pride wants to flatter us that we are actually good people who simply make a few mistakes here and there (hey, doesn’t everybody?), we prefer to ignore the implications of Christ’s crucifixion.

But as we acknowledge our sinfulness, the cross becomes beautiful, even in its horror. It reveals a Savior Who loves us enough to bear the wrath of God that we deserve! As Christians, we cherish the cross as Christ’s loving atonement for our transgressions against Him.

The crucifixion story, for all its familiarity, never ceases to fill Christians with both sorrow and joyous wonder. As we await the glories of Resurrection Sunday, we can praise the Lord for taking our sin upon Himself, setting us free from its consequences. As we rejoice in His inexplicable love toward us, the accounts by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John of Good Friday never get old.

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