Friday Flashback: Opened Eyes And Ageless Words

This post originally appeared in The Outspoken TULIP in February of 2016. Its message continues to be relevant, giving me a desire to repost it today.

Bible Mask framedPsalm 119 extols the Word of God by using pithy couplets to illustrate its various effects on individual believers. I love the psalmist’s way of presenting various facets of Scripture. He reminds me of an expert jeweler carefully appraising a rare and exquisite diamond. Whenever I read this psalm, I gain a deeper appreciation for Scripture, knowing that it’s God’s way of revealing Himself to His people.

Several verses in this psalm have been meaningful to me throughout the years, and I wish I could write about each of them. But one verse stands out as the key, first to the psalm, but also to Bible reading as a whole.

Open my eyes, that I may behold
wondrous things out of your law. ~~Psalm 119:18 (ESV)


The psalmist relied on the Holy Spirit, rather than his own intellectual abilities, to give him a clear understanding of Scripture. Notice his prayer for God to open his eyes, expressing his human inability to fully understand what God says. This dependence on God’s Spirit finds support in Paul’s words to the church in Corinth:

6 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. ~~1 Corinthians 2:6-16 (ESV)


When a regenerate believer comes to the Bible, the Holy Spirit helps him understand the text. Notice, however, that the Spirit doesn’t speak apart from or outside of the Word, but rather that He enables us to understand it. The Spirit doesn’t bury truth in the way Gnostic religions (that reserve esoteric knowledge for an elite group) do, but He recognizes that those who reject His authority over them simply won’t “get it.” Submission to Him gives us a willingness to accept His precepts.

Additionally, our dependence on the Spirit doesn’t excuse us from reading God’s Word in context. He won’t isolate a fragment of Scripture to give it a “personal meaning.” His Word may be veiled to those who have no intention of obeying it anyway, yet in it the Lord speaks clearly and says the same thing to all believers from every generation. What He said to the First Century Christians continues into the 21st Century unaltered, applying to each of us equally. No secrets. No private whispers.

Yet without the Spirit’s assistance, we can read Scripture only as another piece of literature. We may find certain portions beautiful and inspiring, but we’ll fall short of letting its words transform our thoughts and lives.

So, as I approach Scripture, I pray for God to open my eyes to the wonders of His Word, so that He can teach me to better love and obey Him. Certainly, I have a responsibility to use my intellect as I study, and I do my best to engage my mind by reading in context, taking notes and consulting commentaries. But as I do these things, I also ask Him to teach me, as He has taught believers through the ages, by opening my spiritual eyes. I trust Him to honor my prayer.

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Oh I Assure You, Christ’s Literal Resurrection Matters

Romans 10 9For reasons I really can’t recall, I decided I’d judged the Presbyterian church (PCUSA) that I’d grown up in a bit harshly since becoming a Christian. So on Easter Sunday 1975, I returned, hoping to settle back in and make it once again my church home. Its proximity to my house enabled me to drive my motorized wheelchair to services, thus eliminating the ongoing struggle to procure transportation.

Being PCUSA, the church tried to be innovative even as it retained a certain degree of liturgical order.  That Easter Sunday, for instance, the pastor and the seminary student who did his internship at the church staged a rehearsed debate in place of the sermon. The question up for debate: Was Christ’s resurrection literal or figurative?

I don’t remember the arguments on either side, nor can I tell you if either man bothered to substantiate their points with Scripture. But I most definitely remember the pastor walking front and center stage at the end to offer the ultimate conclusion that he wanted us to draw.

Whether the resurrection was literal or figurative, he informed us, didn’t matter. All that mattered was that Christ lived in our hearts.

The minute he gave the benediction, I spun my wheelchair around and headed home without speaking to anyone. I was far too angry to exchange pleasantries with people. The mishandling of God’s Word and the denigration of Christ’s resurrection infuriated me.

43 years later, it still infuriates me!

The literal, bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is the central doctrine of the Christian faith. 1 Corinthians 15 details its critical importance to every believer.

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. ~~1 Corinthians 15:12-19 (ESV)

A figurative resurrection of Christ would mean that heaven is equally figurative, and thus following the Lord is, in the end, pretty much inconsequential. We might as well live according to our own desires if we can interpret the resurrection any way we see fit. I mean, what’s the point of forsaking sin and denying self if there’s no hope of eternal life with Christ?

Praise the Lord, He did rise physically from the dead, with a glorified body that His eleven disciples literally handled (Luke 24:36-43, 1 John 1:1). Each of those men, as well as countless men and women who believed their preaching, suffered persecution and often martyrdom for proclaiming the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Really, would anyone willingly face death for something figurative?

I don’t regret leaving that PCUSA church after that rehearsed debate in 1975. I only regret my cowardly failure to tell them why I withdrew my membership. I wish I’d had the intestinal fortitude to declare to them that the literal, bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ matters very much. That their eternal position absolutely depended on whether or not they believed in it.

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If We Love Those In Heaven

Spotlight on God

This past Wednesday I introduced the topic of whether or not our deceased loved ones look down on us from heaven. This topic touches everyone; we’ve all lost at least one special person, and consequently we feel the powerful desire to cling to the relationship. We crave assurance that that person still loves us. That we matter to them.

Please understand that I really do understand that craving. When my friend Bob succumbed to his battle with AIDS, I found myself believing that he watched me from heaven, perhaps even more attentive to me in death than he’d been in life. In a sense, his death allowed me to feel closer to him. In my mind, he was now always with  me, focusing his love on me.

Dear sisters, do you see my self-centered attitude here? I wanted Bob’s attention to center on me rather than on the Lord.  I disregarded the truth that he now beholds Christ in all His glory — a wondrous sight that will consume him (and me) for all eternity!

As mortals still locked in sinful bodies, we tend to forget Christ’s preeminence in His creation. I realize I quote Colossians 1:15-20 often, but this passage has so profoundly transformed my understanding of heaven that I want to again draw your attention to it.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (ESV)

Although Paul didn’t write Colossians 1:15-20 specifically in reference to heaven, the concept of Christ’s centrality in His creation should clue us in to the fact that creation revolves exclusively around Him. That being the case, it seems to me that heaven strips away everything that distracts from Him. Therefore, those in heaven with Him must be consumed with adoration of Him.

Doesn’t it seem selfish, then, to expect our loved ones in heaven to divide their attention between the Lord and us? Wouldn’t we want them to delight wholly in Him, completely liberated from all other concerns?

And do we seriously want to compete with the Lord for their attention?

I challenge you to think carefully about that last question. As harsh as it sounds, I believe it brings us to the heart of the matter. In repenting of my fantasies about Bob watching over me from heaven, I’ve had to confront my tendency to rival the Lord for Bob’s attention. Not a pretty admission, but a true one.

We continue to love those who go to heaven ahead of us, as well we should. But let’s love them enough to rejoice that they behold the beautiful face of the Savior. And let’s love our Savior enough to rejoice that our loved ones can worship Him without distraction. One day, we will join them in that glorious devotion to Christ.

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Who Our Departed Loved Ones In Heaven Watch

Spring in Boston May 9 2011 001The night John survived his cancer surgery, a family member attributed his survival to his sister, who had lost her own battle with cancer nine years earlier.

I had just been through one of the most emotional days of my life, and I was too exhausted for a theological conversation on the state of the dead, so I swallowed my annoyance and mumbled something about God’s faithfulness. But the remark troubled me then and it troubles me still.

It troubles me even more when evangelicals (who claim to know Scripture) talk about their departed loved ones looking down on them from heaven and perhaps even intervening in their circumstances. A nominal Catholic understandably makes such fanciful assumptions, as my family member did, but people who say they read and believe the Bible really should know better.

Before I go on, let me acknowledge that when someone close dies, it’s natural to want to continue the relationship. I occasionally catch myself trying to talk to my mom, almost four years after her death (and I have no evidence that she ever turned to Christ). So I really do understand why people want to believe that their loved ones still hear  and observe us. It’s painful to accept that our loved ones no longer participate in our lives.

But even leaving aside the issue of those who die without Christ, I see nothing in Scripture to indicate that those in heaven maintain any concern for us. Since they behold the Lord in all His glory, wouldn’t He be the singular focus of their attention? Consider this passage from Revelation.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” ~~Revelation 7:9-10 (ESV)

As much as we’d like to think that our loved ones gaze lovingly down on us from heaven, I believe we miss  the whole point. Our loved ones in heaven behold the face of the resurrected Savior, Who captivates all their attention simply by being Who He is! Would we even want to distract them from such a magnificent preoccupation?

John’s sister had nothing to do with him making it through a surgery that, because of his disability, should have ended his earthly life. But make no mistake: there was most definitely heavenly intervention. God the Father Himself watched over John, guiding the surgical team. Like our loved ones in heaven, I can glorify and praise God for mercifully granting me a few more years with my husband. The Lord deserves all the glory, as John’s sister surely would tell us.

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A Counterfeit Discernment

Charismatic BibleWe all want discernment. Definitions of discernment vary according to theological convictions, of course, with Charismatics believing that it entails mystical gut feelings that supposedly identity some level of spiritual warfare and/or demonic activity.

I think specifically of a friend of mine in Memphis who believed God had given her the gift of discernment. During my first few months in the nursing home, she noticed that another middle-aged resident had befriended me.

This resident happened to use thick glasses that greatly magnified her eyes. Admittedly, she wasn’t a Christian and tended to use gossip as a way of establishing her importance, so she obviously wasn’t the sort of person I should have as a best friend. But nursing homes don’t allow for much socialization,  so I accepted the resident’s friendship. She also needed a friend, after all.

One day my self-proclaimed discerning friend came to visit. With a knowing look on her face, she informed me that she sensed a demonic spirit in the resident who had befriended me. She claimed she could “discern” it in the resident’s eyes.

Should I mention that a year later this “discerning” woman attended a Benny Hinn meeting, believing that God would use Hinn to heal her diabetes?

In my over 30 years in Charismatic circles, I’ve witnessed many other instances of people (usually women)  exercising the kind of mystical “discernment” that my friend in Memphis supposedly exercised in detecting a demonic spirit in the resident’s eyes. But this type of discernment, from what I see in Scripture, belonged to the Apostles. Notice that 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 lists the gift of discernment among the gifts that expired at the close of the Apostolic Age.

Rather than being a spiritual gift for post-apostolic Christians, Biblical discernment is a cultivated skill that all Christians can (and should) develop through reading and studying God’s Word.

 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. ~~Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)

The Word reveals Who the Lord is and how He thinks. Consequently, it enables us to discern good teaching from poor teaching, truth from error and wise decisions from unwise. For example, studying Scriptures about gossip would have been a better warning regarding the resident in the nursing home than a gut feeling based on glasses that magnified her eyes. And a good knowledge of Scripture would have made it obvious that Benny Hinn is neither a Biblical teacher nor someone with the gift of healing.

Let’s get over the idea that discernment is a mystical sensation that “gifted” believers possess. That misconception actually draws people away from God’s Word instead of helping them develop true discernment skills.

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Saturday Sampler: February 18 — February 24

pretty sampler

Whether you’re a busy mom or a career woman with a demanding schedule, Bible study is probably difficult for you. Abbey Wedgeworth of Unlocking the Bible offers a workable solution with The 3-5 Method: Studying God’s Word When You’re Busy and Tired. I think you’ll like her approach.

Writing for The Gospel Coalition Blog, Cameron Cole explains Why Youth Ministry in 2018 Needs a Reformation by reminding us of the Five Solas. His insight encourages me to hope that other youth directors will latch on to his ideas and lead teenagers to solid understandings of the Gospel.

What Does it Mean to Abide in Christ? Writing on behalf of Ligonier, Sinclair Ferguson extricates the concept of abiding in Christ from the mysticism that so many evangelicals attach to it. Praise God for this simple, Biblical explanation of this frequently misunderstood idea.

SharaC has an interesting essay in Into the Foolishness of God for those of us who keep thinking life should be perfect. Picking The Weeds recalibrates our expectations gently, but firmly.

Over on Study – Grow – Know, Fred Deruvo writes an intriguing study on Colossians 1:16 called Behold Your God: The Only Creator. His study is the second installment of a series on Colossians 1:15-20, where is one of my very favorite passages in the Bible. See how Deruvo applies this verse to Christian living.

I just knew I could count on Leslie A to write something in Growing 4 Life worth sharing in Sampler. Her Learn to Discern: What is the Best Way to Share What I Am Learning? certainly doesn’t disappoint! I needed to read this piece five years ago. Thankfully, she’s written it now, and I can continue learning godly ways to communicate the truth.

Michelle Lesley of Discipleship for Christian Women has a beautiful heart for pastors. Her post, A Word Fitly Spoken: 11 Ways to Encourage Your Pastor, supplies several easy ideas for letting our pastors know how deeply we appreciate their ministry. Why don’t you try one out tomorrow?

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Lord Almighty Or Cosmic Sex Partner?

Sweet FlowerAs I researched Ann Voskamp, I read several quotes in which she described her erotic encounters with God. I’ve decided to neither record those quotes here nor link to documentation containing them because they’re just too graphic (I know at least one of my regular readers is only 17, and shouldn’t be exposed to such imagery). Those who seriously doubt the veracity of my claims can easily do some Google searches — though I recommend it only if you really require evidence.

Frankly, I wish the critiques I read on her hadn’t used direct quotes. A few of them literally nauseated me. I hated her portrayal of the Lord Almighty, the Most Holy ruler of all creation, as if He was a character in a pornographic novel.

Tuesday I wrote about the dangers of regarding Jesus as a Boyfriend or Husband. Typically those fantasies (as perverted as they are) don’t entail a great deal of sexual content. Sadly, Ann Voskamp worsens the perversion with ideas about the Lord that no professing Christian should even consider. As Christians, we must always live in awareness that the Lord, above all else, is holy.

My greatest problem with Ann Voskamp lies in her apparent inability to understand God’s absolute holiness. Yes, there’s a sense in which He demands that we imitate His holiness, but in a more basic respect His holiness differentiates Him from His creation. Thus it differentiates Him from us. Because of His innate distinction from us, the very thought of viewing Him as a sexual partner borders on blasphemy.

The Lord deserves our worship as a holy God rather than our sexual fantasies about Him. We indeed enjoy the intimacy of knowing Him through His Word, but that wonderful intimacy has absolutely nothing to do with sexuality.

Ann Voskamp exemplifies the sensuality that, according to the apostle Peter, characterizes false teachers.

 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. ~~2 Peter 2:1-2 (ESV)

Women are excited by the idea of a love affair with Jesus, Who of course would be a perfect Lover. Women, however,  need the true Lord Jesus Christ, Who reigns in holiness and calls us to worship Him in purity. Let’s reject any teacher who would reduce our holy God to the filthy status of a sex object and instead worship Him in spirit and in truth.

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