Flashback Friday: Thankful Beyond Compare

Originally published March 8, 2016:

Swan and Ducks

Throughout my life, I’ve fallen into the sin of ingratitude. For the most part, I succumbed to this sin as a result of comparing myself with able-bodied people. I can remember the envy I nurtured in my heart during my two years in Memphis, listening to my co-workers talk about their homes and marriages, and feeling resentful that I was single and living in a nursing home. When they encouraged me to be grateful for a roof over my head, food in  my belly and people to get me up each morning, you bet I felt like smacking them! But, as angry as I was that I couldn’t have the goodies that they had, I was even angrier that their comments exposed my sin of ingratitude.

Rather than comparing myself to my co-workers, I believe the Lord wanted me to compare myself to the blind, non-verbal quadriplegic two doors down from me whose mother wouldn’t even touch him when she visited. Or the woman who had been disabled when a drunk driver smashed into her car, killing her baby and damaging her mind and body so severely that her husband immediately  filed for divorce. Or all those with Cerebral Palsy that had spent their entire adult lives in that roach-infested place, with no hope of getting out. Had I contrasted my life to theirs, I think I would have been much more grateful for all the Lord had given me.

Scripture frequently has to tell us to thank the Lord for His blessings precisely because we naturally gravitate toward ingratitude. We convince ourselves that, compared to certain others, we don’t receive what life supposedly owes us. Or, to put it in terms we’d never admit, we don’t receive what God supposedly owes us.

Our real problem is that we have an inflated opinion of ourselves coupled with a deflated view of the Lord. Rather than recognizing that we actually owe Him everything, both because He created us and because He shed His precious blood to pay the penalty for our sin, we demand that He cater to our desires. I say “we” because I still allow myself to dabble in the sin of ingratitude. I’ll cast the first stone at myself, but I seriously doubt that I’m the only one guilty of taking His goodness for granted.

With that being the case, we all need the Bible’s reminders to praise and thank the Lord for His goodness to us. Psalm 100 is one of many passages of Scripture that directs me to praise and thank Him.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
    Serve the Lord with gladness!
    Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the Lord, he is God!
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
    and his courts with praise!
    Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever,
    and his faithfulness to all generations. ~~Psalm 100 (ESV)

It helps me to compare myself to that quadriplegic young man in the nursing home. But that might not be the most Biblical approach to cultivating gratitude, now that I think of it. Instead of comparing ourselves with people more fortunate or less fortunate than ourselves, perhaps we’d do better by focusing on Who God is and how graciously He cares for us.

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The Annoying, Acceptable Sin Of Complaining



As Mom’s car crossed the Richmond-San Rafael bridge that early afternoon in 1970, my sister and I knew were only minutes away from the train station. We also knew that Granny would probably stay for about a year, primarily to help care for us while Mom worked. We dreaded it, but not because we’d have to share my bedroom during the time Gran stayed. Okay, maybe bunking together bothered us a little — both of us had reached our teenage years by then, and had gotten used to our respective privacy. But we had a much greater concern. One that we hadn’t voiced to our mother until the car carried us across the bridge.

I can’t remember which one of us had the courage to address the proverbial elephant in the room, but one of us finally asked the question that had been consuming our thoughts for weeks: “Is Gran going to complain all the time again?”

Mom chuckled, more out of sympathy than amusement. “Honey,” she replied, “I don’t think Granny is happy unless she has something to complain about.”

We groaned, anticipating an unpleasant year. It never occurred to us that we were actually complaining about our grandmother.

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His Wrath Makes His Love Even More Beautiful

Years ago (before Facebook, Twitter or blogging existed), I used to send out group emails in which I addressed a variety of Christian topics. At one point I warned against a popular evangelism and discipleship program that distorted the Gospel so horribly that non-Christian groups were adapting it to advance their false teachings.

As you can imagine, I received tremendous pushback from many of my friends. The email that made the greatest impression on me came from a dad of one of my close girlfriends. He very forcefully defended the program, but not with the Word of God. Instead, he praised it because it emphasized God’s love and never mentioned His wrath. This an complained that he had heard fire and brimstone preaching all his life, and therefore he appreciated teaching that excluded all such negativity.

I felt disappointed by that man’s rejection of balanced Biblical teaching. But the email he sent reminded me that even professing Christians can fashion God into their ideas of how He should conduct Himself. And I admit that I’d prefer God to lay aside His wrath and concentrate on making me happy and comfortable. I suspect you share my preference. After all, most of us equate love with happiness and comfort rather than with wrath, don’t we?

In my last essay, I wrote about the Father’s love for us, basing my thoughts on John 3:16:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (NASB95)

It’s indeed a beautiful verse — arguably the most beloved verse in the entire Bible. How wonderful that the Father loves us so profoundly that He sacrificed His only begotten Son to keep us from perishing! Ironically, we can get so caught up in the splendor of this verse that we forget to ask ourselves some questions about it. Those questions need to be asked and answered if we want to really see the beauty of the Father’s love.

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The Father Started It

Typically, Christians connect salvation exclusively with Jesus. That connection makes perfect sense because Jesus is indeed our one and only Savior. Revelation 5:11-14 depicts Him as the object of angelic worship in heaven, and Colossians 1:13-23 unmistakably teaches that the entirety of creation revolves around Him because of His work on the cross. We rightly exalt Him for taking our sin upon Himself and applying His righteousness to us. As the old hymn says, “Hallelujah — what a Savior!”

Jesus, however, didn’t effect our salvation independently of the other two Members of the Trinity. Therefore, we ought to spend some time thinking together about the Father and the Holy Spirit in Their parts of saving us. So let’s begin by focusing on God the Father, shall we?

Most of us can quote John 3:16 by heart, properly understanding its message that Jesus died for us. We may have even recognized God the Father in these treasured words:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (NASB95)

Usually we read this verse with the emphasis on the Father’s love for us, which is certainly the emphasis Jesus intended when He spoke those words to Nicodemus. Love motivated the Father to provide His only begotten Son in order to atone for sin, and we have every reason to praise the Father for such a powerful demonstration of love. If anything, this verse illuminates the character of the Father, showing us the amazing depth and vastness of His love! How tragic it would be to gloss over this point!

Yet it would be equally tragic to stop at this point.

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Flashback Friday: Intimacy With God May Be Less Complicated Than You Think

Originally posted December 20, 2019;

Pensive Woman02

As my girlfriends and I approached our 30th birthdays, panic and despair set in. We watched other women in the church take wedding vows while we spent lonely Saturday nights without dates. We joked sardonically that we differed from trash because trash gets taken out once a week. (The men in the church failed to appreciate our humor.)

One friend met regularly with me for a while to talk and pray about coping with our singleness. She began encouraging me to develop intimacy with the Lord, explaining only that she sometimes fantasized about Him. I don’t know if those fantasies were romantic — and I don’t think I want to know. At the time, however, I desperately wanted Him to remove the pain and loneliness I felt.

My friend’s exhortations to cultivate intimacy with God left me with the impression that such intimacy came through mystical experiences. I assumed that I would feel His presence in a way that would obliterate my desire for a husband. Obviously, my motives for wanting intimacy with Him were entirely selfish.

Yet the Lord does call Christians to a type of intimacy with Him that has nothing to do with our romantic desires. Even better,  we don’t have to search for spiritual experiences in order to enjoy this intimacy. All we have to do is open a Bible.

In His last discourse with His disciples before His arrest, Jesus talked to them about the intimacy He would have with those who love Him.

18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. ~~John 14:18-24 (ESV)

Notice the relationship between loving the Lord and knowing His Word. He establishes that relationship because knowing Scripture reveals Who He is.

As we read the Bible systematically and in context, we learn Who God is, how He acts and what He thinks. We see what He loves, what He hates and why he tolerates what He hates. We see His power in creation and His righteousness in judging. We see His wrath toward sin, His compassion toward the repentant and His unwavering commitment to His standards.

We see His humility in becoming a Man Who would die a criminal’s death in order to save those who believe in Him. And we see the powerful promise of His resurrection. We see His plan to return to earth, and then His ultimate plan to create new heavens and a new earth where His Bride will worship Him eternally.

He discloses all those things and more through His Word because He loves us enough to reveal Himself to us. The Bible allows us to have incredible intimacy with God — an intimacy so much more powerful than my friend’s fantasies.

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Flashback Friday: Not Afraid To Fear The Lord

Originally published May 19, 2017.

Serious Little Boy01

Evangelicals 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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A Living Illustration

John is grIaciously typing this blog post as I dictate to him from bed. Because I cannot type this entry myself, I will not include Scripture quotes or references — doing so would be difficult to teach John. Please don’t interpret this absence of Scripture as an abandonment of God’s Word.

Many nights I lay in bed half praying and half thinking. As someone who struggles with insomnia, I spend many hours in this lovely state of vacillation — and usually it pleases me. Throughout the years, my thoughts have covered a wide variety of topics ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, and often the ridiculous wins out.,

In recent weeks, my nighttime meditations have been a little sublime as I pray for the man sleeping next to me. Usually I begin by thanking the Lord that I am married at all. That gratitude morphs into a time of reflecting on the kind of husband that John is, provoking even greater gratitude.

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The Person Christmas Celebrates — Hymn 2

It’s no accident that my articles on this blog tend to emphasize God’s holiness. Unlike generations before us, present-day Christians care little about fearing the Lord, preferring to see Him as a Butler, a Buddy or (worst of all) a romantic/sexual Partner. Such casual attitudes towards the Creator and Sustainer of the universe very much require a counterbalance. I have no problem helping to provide that counterbalance.

Ah, but I must guard against being unbalanced in the opposite direction!

Providentially, I spent most of last week working through Psalm 103, in which David lists the Lord’s tender qualities. This psalm brings out His beautiful sympathy towards those who fear Him, illustrated by His commitment to completely separate our sins from us “as far as the east is from the west.” Out holy God is also our compassionate Father. Jesus is our sympathetic Friend.

Our sympathetic Friend should be celebrated this Christmas. As we remember Him coming into the world as a Man Who understands our frailties, we rejoice that He is our dearest Friend.

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Throwback Thursday: The Shocking Gospel Message

Originally posted September 11, 2018.

The Gospel and Love

The Gospel, in and of itself, isn’t about our responsibility to love other people.

Does that statement shock you? If so, you’re definitely not alone. Traditionally, the Christian culture equates doing good to others and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves with genuine Christianity. And without argument, Jesus and His apostles taught that the command to love others is second only to the command to love God.

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Regaining A Sense Of Wonder About God’s Love

Photo of the Public Garden in Boston

Back in the 1980s, I wrote and directed with the Drama Ministry at the church I attended. One year, three of us collaborated on a musical depicting Christ’s earthly ministry. I didn’t write the Last Supper scene, but the person who did write it included a hauntingly beautiful song entitled “How Can He Love Me?” The actor portraying John (the beloved disciple) sang it to expresses his amazement that Jesus loved him.

I don’t think many Christians wonder how the Lord could love them. The idea that God loves us is pretty much a given, even among people who don’t profess to be Christians. And in evangelical circles, we find it a little too easy to take His love for granted.

I know I do. Hopefully you’re honest enough to admit that you struggle with the temptation to have a lackadaisical attitude towards His love.

Why have we lost our sense of awe that God would love us? In pondering that question, I’ve come up with a two-pronged answer. Put simply, we’ve lost an understanding of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.

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