Flashback Friday: A Right Proclamation Of The Gospel

Originally posted February 17, 2017:

93a68-wordjudgesheart

Yesterday I watched a YouTube video featuring people I personally know from my Charismatic days.  I managed to get past their “God told me” claims by remembering how often I used to phrase my own experiences in those words. In listening to Charismatics, I want to keep in mind that   many of them, though deceived, are genuinely my brothers and sisters in Christ. After all, I walked in those same deceptions for most of my Christian life.

Toward the end of the video, however, they invited unsaved members of their audience to begin their “adventure” with Christ. They assured people that Jesus Christ offers freedom from sin (which He does) and personal fulfillment. According to them, Jesus waited, hoping people would reach out to Him and receive all that He had for them. They read a prayer that made vague reference to being a sinner and committing their lives to Christ. Those who said that prayer were instructed to sign a copy, write the date and keep it in their Bibles in case Satan questioned their salvation.

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It’s Not An Avoidance Tactic To Focus On The Gospel

Monument splattered with blood

If you’re on social media (particularly Reformed social media), you’ve seen the pleas to redirect or focus from the mayhem around us and to preach the Gospel. You’ve heard respected pastors like John MacArthur insist that the Gospel is the only real answer to the various problems that have torn Western society apart in just a few short months.

Perhaps you smirk a little when someone says that the Gospel answers the issues that have crippled our nation. COVID-19, racism, police brutality, LBGTQ issues, abortion and the 2020 election are all extremely important. Regardless of your political beliefs, you may feel the urgency of these matters. So the cries to keep the spotlight on the Gospel may seem flimsy. Some may even consider it as an avoidance tactic.

To such a point, may I respectfully suggest that all these matters actually stem from a neglect — if not a rejection — of the Gospel? If anything, the craziness of 2020 clearly demonstrates our desperate need for the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Add This To Your Wish List

Do you have an Amazon Wish List? Or perhaps a wish list at some other online store? Shortly after Thanksgiving each year, my sister and I email Christmas wish lists to one another, carrying on a tradition our mom started when we were young teenagers.

I have a spiritual wish list too. Actually, it consists of several variations of only one item. I want to please and honor the Lord.

Of course, I fail miserably at mortifying my sin nature. Just when I think I’ve made significant progress in overcoming a persistent sin (usually anger), I explode again. This past week has been especially bad in that respect, I’m grieved to tell you.

Like all Christians, I long for a heart that praises my God both in what I say and how I live. It disturbs me that non-Christians see me behave in ways that bring dishonor to Him. It disturbs me even more that I dishonor Him in the first place.

Do you also struggle with sin that pops up over and over? I’m pretty sure you do. We can praise God that Jesus Christ took the sins of all who believe in Him on Himself and gave us His righteousness in their place. Indeed, that great exchange motivates me to desire a heart that reflects His character. Is such a heart on your wish list?

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A Few Thoughts About Thinking: “Tons Of Wicked Little Thoughts Merrily Appear”

Boston, May 2015

When I was little, John F. Kennedy’s administration popularized Learner and Lowe’s Broadway play, Camelot. My father, always the one to buy fashionable items, purchased the record album, featuring the original cast. Hence I grew up knowing and loving all the songs (rarely understanding their full implications).

Early in the story, Guinevere sings about “the lusty month of May” “when tons of wicked little thoughts merrily appear.” In contrast to the sexually charged lyrics, the lighthearted tune creates a feeling of innocence. Those tons of wicked little thoughts can’t really be that wicked, the music assures us.

Tell that to Guinevere years later as her merrily wicked thoughts lead her to adultery so vile that it destroys King Arthur’s kingdom.

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Flashback Friday — Worthiness: Ours Or His?

Originally posted April 19, 2018:

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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Unnecessary Complications To God’s Work

Even before my first engagement failed, I knew I had sabotaged the relationship with my anger, just as he had sabotaged it with his sin patterns. Understanding that I could only take responsibility for my end of the impasse, I moved (temporarily, I thought) back to California in hopes of finding the root cause of my anger.

I knew I wouldn’t have a successful marriage to that man as long as I couldn’t manage my anger. (The marriage would have failed anyway because he was a false convert, but at the time I wouldn’t acknowledge that fact.) I honestly believed I’d fix the relationship by fixing myself.

I wanted psychological counseling with Christian undertones.

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How Often Is Anger Really Righteous?

When Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple (Mark 11:15-17), He expressed righteous anger. Those money changers not only exploited the poor by charging exorbitant fees, but they desecrated the house of the God Who commanded His people not to steal. Jesus had good reason to demonstrate His anger against their corrupt practice!

That said, most of us frequently claim that our anger is righteous when deep down we know it’s tainted with selfishness. I’ve often deceived myself into thinking that I could call my violent temper tantrums “righteous indignation” instead of confessing my pride and lack of self-control.

Even on those rare occasions when our anger actually is righteous, expressing that anger usually doesn’t do a great deal to promote godliness.

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Throwback Thursday ~~ Journaling: The Pitfall We Should Recognize

Originally published May 16, 2018

Little blonde angel

Between the autumn of 1977 and the spring of 1994, I kept a personal journal. I’d write about a wide variety of topics, ranging from Scriptures I’d read in my Quiet Time (frequently taken out of context and misapplied) to practical jokes I played on my friends. For the most part, however, I wrote about my disappointments, my frustrations and my fears. Toward the end of that 17-year period,  I realized that journaling served mainly to fuel my self-pity. For that reason, I abruptly quit writing it.

Perhaps some people can journal without focusing on themselves. Those people should certainly maintain journals! Their journals offer rich treasures to those who read them. But I suspect, especially in this culture that exalts feelings and believes in following psychological principles, that most people use their journals for the purpose of venting.

After 17 years of venting my feelings, I woke up to the fact that venting only keeps a person’s attention fixed on his or her problems. Venting through a journal is even worse, in my opinion, because the act of writing slows down the thought process, prolonging the focus on a subject. So when someone uses a personal journal to ruminate on their feelings, should it surprise us that we wind up wallowing in self-absorbtion?

Self-absorbtion, however,  is the antithesis of Biblical Christianity. Christ demands that His followers actually die to ourselves for His sake.

34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” ~~Mark 8:34-38 (ESV)

Popular evangelical teachers promise us “our best life now” and romantic dates with Jesus, urging us to get in touch with our feelings. They advise hurting women to stay home from church on Mother’s Day and write their feelings out “to the Lord.” What horrible advice!

Honestly confessing our feelings to the Lord is one thing. Job, David, Jeremiah and Jesus all had times of pouring their hearts out to God. But in so doing, they invariably wound up acknowledging His sovereign right to order their circumstances according to His will. They ultimately turned their eyes away from themselves and back to Him.

If you keep a personal journal that revolves around your disappointments, frustrations and fears, please consider the possibility that it may be locking you into patterns of self-absorbtion. If possible, turn your journal into something your descendants can read to find Christ. Let them see that, no matter what your circumstances, He remains faithful and deserves the glory.

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Flashback Friday: It’s Just A Small Little Sin

Originally published November 29, 2017:

Coffee Stained Wedding Gown

The Gospel teaches that men and women are sinners by nature and by choice, unable to stand in the presence of a holy God. But that same God, in the Person of Jesus Christ, came to earth and lived a sinless life before voluntarily suffering a painful crucifixion during which He accepted His Father’s wrath, thus atoning for the sins of all who would believe in Him. Three days later He rose from the dead, signifying that the Father accepted His sacrifice as well as assuring believers of eternal life in His presence.

The Holy Spirit regenerates Christians by enabling us to believe in Jesus Christ as the only Savior. This faith is immediately demonstrated by an attitude of repentance as an acknowledgment of Christ’s  authority over us.

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.~~John 3:16-18 (ESV)

Believers know these things backwards and forwards…or at least they should. Sadly, most 21st Century evangelicals don’t readily articulate the Gospel when asked to do so. Even more tragic, many who claim to be Christians live as though Jesus exists to serve them when they ought to recognize themselves as His slaves.

As I see it, a major reason that evangelicals misunderstand and pervert the Gospel stems from difficulty accepting the fact that we actually need a Savior in the first place. Surely we aren’t that bad! And doesn’t  our good outweigh the mistakes we’ve made?

Think of it this way. It’s your wedding day, and you take your expensive white gown out of the closest. Laying it on your bed, you notice a few small spots. Coffee stains!  Your bridesmaids try to comfort you, pointing out that most of the  gown is still white. People probably won’t even notice those tiny brown stains,  they assure you with soothing voices.

But you know (and so do they) that the dress is ruined.

Even the smallest sin ruins us when we measure ourselves against God’s holy perfection. Everything else about us may be pristine, just like a wedding gown, but the yards of white linen and tulle can’t  atone for those tiny coffee spots.  And all our self-perceived goodness can’t make us acceptable to God.

That’s why Christ’s death on the cross is such good news. He paid the penalty for our sins, clothing is in His righteousness. He presents us to the Father in His purity, as though we’d never soiled ourselves.

If you haven’t yet placed your faith in Him,  I beg you to stop trusting the notion that your so-called good outweighs your sin. The stain may appear small to you, but it leaves you with damage that only Jesus can repair. Once you recognize your desperate need for the salvation that only He can accomplish, the rest of the Gospel falls easily into place.

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Beautiful Writing Should Be More Than Beautiful Writing

John and I, remembering that we met online 22 years ago, celebrated Valentine’s Day by watching You’ve Got Mail. Some time ago, I blogged about how I love the writing in this movie, and Friday night I again found myself wishing that The Outspoken TULIP afforded me the opportunity to write the sort of things that the characters in the story wrote to each other.

I couldn’t resist wondering how I might sneak in an occasional post that centered merely on writing for the sake of writing. Who knows? Some of my readers might enjoy it!

As I searched YouTube for a hymn yesterday, I decided on a contemporary one that I learned through our church. I chose it because of its clear picture of God’s grace in bringing sinners to salvation. But as I reviewed various versions of videos, I was mesmerized by the beautiful writing in this hymn. After watching You’ve Got Mail the night before, perhaps I felt particularly aware of how the hymn writer organized the words. At any rate, I couldn’t help marveling at  the power in the phrases.

The hymn writer did something that the characters in the movie could never have done — he used beautiful writing to honor and glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. If I want to write beautifully, may I write beautiful words that draw attention to His grace.

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