Why Do I Prefer To Call Myself A Worm?

A few weeks ago, I had an interesting conversation with the gentleman who sometimes plays the piano at church. We had sung only traditional hymns that morning (we normally sing a mixture of hymns and contemporary praise songs), and I wanted to express my absolute delight at the experience.

The conversation meandered to the subject of updated hymns. There are one or two I like, but their lyrics haven’t been altered. I don’t really object to an updated tune. The pianist and I agreed, however, that some of the adapted lyrics that have cropped up over the past five or ten years tend to water down a hymn’s doctrinal content.

He  gave the example of substituting the phrase, “for sinners such as I,” in place of the original “for such a worm as I.” As he saw it, the image of a worm more strongly communicates who we are in comparison to the holy and righteousness Lord. It emphasizes the astonishing grace Jesus showered on undeserving sinners through His crucifixion.

I agreed with him! The lyric reveals His extravagant kindness by pointing to our total depravity. Praise God, YouTube still has a rendition of the hymn with the original phrase intact.

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Where Do We Find Assurance Of Salvation?

Broken Heart CrossIf you’re like me, you’ve probably experienced serious doubts about your salvation. Such doubts generally arise in response to falling back into familiar patterns of sin. As you see yourself committing the same ugly sin, even decades after your conversion, you have to ask yourself whether or not you were ever  really saved in the first place.

In one respect, you and I definitely should ask ourselves this question when we find ourselves committing the same sin habitually. Children of God at some point start to resemble the Father’s holiness (1 Peter 1:14-21, 1 John 3:4-10). Sadly, many people who claim to be Christians do persist in unrepentant sin, often rationalizing their rebellion and sometimes even believing that God approves of what they do. I know: I’ve done it.

Seeker-sensitive churches compound the problem by producing false converts who embrace an idealized concept of Jesus without submitting to the true Christ’s authority. These false converts see no need to repent and have no concern for personal holiness.

So yes, sometimes our sin should cause us to wonder if the Lord has truly done a work of regeneration in us. If we live without regard to His holy standards, some honest self-examination is most likely necessary.

But others of us, despite genuinely loving the Lord and wanting to obey Him, manage to get sucked back into sin on occasion. From our perspective, it seems like a habitual pattern because we repeat the same old sins time after time. We grieve every time we do it, fully aware that we’ve dishonored Him. Even if nobody else ever finds out what we’ve done, we know that we’ve violated His commands.

Like the apostle Paul in Romans 7:13-21, we hate our sin. We yearn to please the Lord, knowing that our sin put Him on the cross. How can we be so ungrateful? Why did we act like children of the devil, dragging our glorious Lord through the mud while we selfishly gratified our flesh?

As we fixate on the horrors of our sin, we accept Satan’s accusations that we’re nothing more than hypocrites. Because those accusations carry an element of truth, we believe his lie that we never really had salvation. We despair.

Sisters, we forget that assurance of salvation can never come from us. Paul wrote Romans 7 precisely to demonstrate that we don’t have any righteousness in and of ourselves. Looking at ourselves can never give us assurance!

Ah, but look at Paul’s  concluding paragraph in Romans 7:

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. ~~Romans 7:21-24 (ESV)

Paul doesn’t deny his wretched condition, but he ultimately clings to Jesus Christ as his deliverer. He remembers that Christ paid for all his sin (every ounce of it) by shedding His blood on the cross. Of course, Paul’s not excusing sin or implying that God’s grace gives Christians permission to indulge in sin. Rather, he’s encouraging us to rest in what the Lord has done for us.

Sin should trouble a Christian’s conscience. We should live lives of repentance, earnestly desiring to reflect our Heavenly Father’s holiness as we declare the Gospel to a dying world. But, when our sin breaks our hearts, let’s shift our gaze to Jesus, finding assurance in Him.

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We Stand Forgiven

The Gettys write such wonderful 21st Century hymns, don’t you think? The melodies encourage our voices to soar at just the right places to reigned Scriptural truths the the lyrics so eloquently express. As a descendant of Irish immigrants, I don’t exactly object to the hints of Celtic phraseology, either!

But I mostly love the solid theology woven throughout their songs. Within that sound theology, they convey amazing passion and adoration for the Lord and His grace towards us.

The Power of the Cross, arguably one of the Gettys’ most popular hymns, sets forth brilliant theology in depicting Christ’s atoning work at Calvary. It touches on several significant aspects of that event, culminating with its marvelous implications for believers. Most powerfully, the refrain continually circles back to the assuring words: “We stand forgiven at the cross.”

And I so cherish that forgiveness!

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Aren’t You Glad He Never Leaves Us?

This past week, I encountered people who were seriously hurting. Sadly, they aren’t Christians, and respond very little when John and I try talking to them about the Lord. It hurts to see them in such emotional pain, especially knowing that they reject the One Who could carry them through their trials.

It makes me appreciate the Holy Spirit, Who stays with me through good times and bad. My attitude, of course, doesn’t always reflect an awareness of His presence, but He doesn’t let my lack of faith limit His faithfulness to me. He proves Himself dependable time after time! And He assures me, through Scripture, that He will actually use my trials to produce His holiness in me.

Today’s hymn seems appropriate after a week of weeping with those who weep. Whether you weep or rejoice, I pray that it will encourage you to remember His loving presence in your life.

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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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