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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It’s An Election Year, And Candidates From Both Parties Promise To Save The World

Silent FireworksUntil I was 42, I was a registered Democrat. Interestingly, I usually crossed party lines when voting for presidents, but for the most part I believed that Democrats cared about the underprivileged. I saw no inconsistency between my Christian convictions and my political convictions other than an increasing support of abortion within my party.

In my defense, back then the Democrats made room for pro-life voters. Currently, I might note, the Republican party still has room for pro-choice voters and politicians such as Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker. So please understand that, back then, I sincerity believed my faith informed my politics.

In 1995, the abortion issue caused me to switch my party affiliation. When John and I began chatting online three years later, he helped me understand why the Republican view of the economy better addresses poverty. Now I believe I’m affiliated with a party that better reflects Biblical values.

Having said all that, I’m troubled Read More »

To Save A Wretch Like Me

Our Christian life is victorious. Certainly we should celebrate our victory over sin and death, as well as the temporal blessings and answered prayers God gives us. Truly, we live lives that overflow with a quality of joy that non-Christians can’t begin to imagine!

But the real victory is our salvation. In and of ourselves, we’re miserable wretches, totally incapable of any godliness. Yet Jesus took our sin on Himself, giving us His righteousness in exchange! He made us His own possession, though we did nothing to merit His favor. What a stunning victory!

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The Drudgery And Privilege Of Prayer And Bible Reading

Flourishes04We’ve all had those days. We grudgingly open our Bibles because we know we should, but we’d really rather finish that crafts project or read another chapter in that novel.

If I can publicly admit to having days that I simply don’t want to spend time with the Lord, the least you could do is privately confess it to Him. After all, He already knows your secret thoughts.

Of course we feel guilty about approaching our devotions as if they were a chore like cleaning the oven. And I have no intention of alleviating our guilt. We need to come to terms with the fact that we fail to Read More »

Totally Dependent On Christ, And Happy To Be So

Wouldn’t it be terrible if obtaining and maintaining our salvation depended on our efforts? I would have lost mine decades ago! Actually, I never would have had it with the first place.

Praise God, Jesus Christ took pity on my helplessness, fully aware that nothing I could do would make me right with Him. In His mercy, He shed His innocent blood on the cross, declaring me righteous! What amazing grace!

Sometimes, however, I forget my absolute dependence on Him for my salvation. I’ll believe that He responded to my initial act of faith, or that He keeps me because of my obedience and service to Him. I’ll congratulate myself on how well I understand doctrine, how consistent I am in praying and how earnestly I praise Him in church.

In those times, I must remember that my righteousness is completely in Christ. What a wonderful reason to rejoice!

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Overlooked Posts From 2019: Riches We Forget About

This time of year, many bloggers share their most popular posts from the past 12 months. Ever the nonconformist, I’ve decided to celebrate the year’s end by featuring favorite articles of mine that my readers seem to have overlooked. Today I’m posting one I wrote back in August.

Untitled-1

Growing older should have changed my attitude about life on planet Earth. In some ways, it has. As my physical body degenerates, enjoying pleasures like going to Boston and  creating digital artwork demands greater effort, thus diminishing the attachment to those activities. Pretty soon, I’ll have only memories of such things.

In a brief conversation with a friend Sunday, she and I agreed that the Lord probably allows increasing pain as we age to help us loosen our hold on this life. Obviously, there’s no Scripture to support that theory, but it sure encourages me as I Read More »

Throwback Thursday: Opened Too Soon

Originally posted December 15, 2015.

64dd7-christmasgiftIt seemed, to my ten-year-old mind, very reasonable. As I gazed longingly at the cheerful array of packages, all wrapped in decorative red and green paper, I wondered what treasures awaited me. I wasn’t quite sure Mommy had been altogether justified in commanding me to wait. And, after all, it was Christmas Eve, so what difference would it really make if I opened my presents early? I mean, they really were addressed to me!

So, I scooted over to the Christmas tree, and found a present addressed to me from one of the high school girls that volunteered at the school for “orthopedically handicapped” children that I attended. It was a flat package, leading me to conclude that it as a more grown-up gift. The prospect of a grown-up gift reinforced the idea that I was old enough to determine when to open Christmas gifts!

I ripped the paper eagerly, unveiling Read More »

Jesus Gets Excluded From His Own Birthday Party

Christmas obscured

The last two days on Grace to You, John MacArthur has remarked that much of the world celebrates Christmas, but few people spend any time celebrating Jesus Himself. This fact bothers me most years, but this year I find it particularly irksome.

It’s not simply that the excitement of presents, food and activities overshadow serious reflection on the Lord. In a sense, I can understand how that happens. It’s not right, obviously, but I think even the most devoted Christian falls into that trap from time to time. In and of itself,  that sense of distraction doesn’t upset me very much.

But it deeply disturbs me to Read More »