The Tenderness Of Our Shepherd

Who doesn’t love the tenderness of Psalm 23, in which King David pictures the Lord as his Shepherd? Having himself been a shepherd before Samuel anointed him King of Israel, David well understood how thoroughly a shepherd needed to care for his sheep. This understanding gave him beautiful insight into God’s love for His sheep.

Even in our largely metropolitan culture, something about the imagery of Psalm 23 resonates with us. David’s words evoke a sense of intimacy with the Shepherd that sets a believer’s heart at rest while it fills an unbeliever’s heart with yearning. Jesus guards us from our stubborn wandering, leads us to peaceful places, corrects our errors, nourishes us and promises us eternity with Him. How could we fail to see His love? Psalm 23 assures us of His intimate care.

Following the progression of thought in this beloved psalm, today’s hymn elaborates on the various ways our Lord expresses His love and care for us. Please enjoy this gentle hymn as you reflect on how your Shepherd lovingly attends to you.

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Is Your Soul Hidden?

In trials, we don’t always sense God’s protection. Feelings  of vulnerability overwhelm us until He seems distant and deliberately uncaring. I know. Far too often, I’ve endured difficult circumstances that made me wonder if I really mattered to Him.

Of course, He always brought me through those trials, abundantly proving both his faithfulness and how deeply He loves me. And of course I felt ashamed and embarrassed for doubting Him. I saw, in the hindsight that is so clear, how wonderfully the Lord protected me from turning away from Him in bitterness and anger.

Indeed, Jesus is a wonderful Savior, hiding the souls of His beloved to preserve us until He brings us Home. Today’s hymn challenges me to look, not at my trials, but to Him, trusting that He’ll cover me with His hand.

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According To Scripture: Study #4 On The Resurrection

He Is Risen

Okay, sisters in Christ, we lost last week in terms of this Bible Study series, so let’s not waste any more time in our study of 1 Corinthians 15. To refresh our memories and maintain a sense of context, I’ll once again quote the first eleven verses of the chapter in preparation of discussing verses 8-11.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. (ESV)

Last time, we looked at Paul’s impressive catalogue of eyewitnesses to Christ’s resurrection, but now we turn to a final witness: Paul himself. Immediately in verse 8, the apostle shows his humility by emphasizing that he hadn’t walked with Jesus during His earthly ministry as all the other eyewitnesses had. For this reason, he compares himself to an aborted child.

I’m going to be really honest here and admit that I don’t understand why he uses a word that means an aborted child. Every commentary I read spent time highlighting the definition of the Greek word in this verse, but none of them adequately explained its significance beyond the concept that it demonstrates Paul’s humility. He acknowledges that he didn’t spend time with Jesus in the way the others had, and that fact makes him feel awkward about claiming to be an eyewitness to the resurrected Christ.

He maintains, however, that the risen Lord did in fact appear to him (Acts 9:3-18, 2 Corinthians 12:1-6).  As awkward as he feels in numbering himself among men who followed the Lord throughout His earthly ministry, Paul refuses to waver from his testimony that, just like the others, he qualifies as an eyewitness to Christ’s resurrection.

His awkward feelings become compounded in verse 9 as he confesses that, prior to his conversion, he actually persecuted Christians. He accepts God’s grace in calling him to be an apostle, but he readily admits that he doesn’t deserve such an honor. His humble attitude serves as a powerful example to those of us who might boast about our salvations. Paul remembers his past and therefore has an acute awareness of God’s grace toward him.

His past convinces him of his unworthiness to be called an apostle (one qualification of apostleship was being an eyewitness to the resurrected Christ). He resolutely remembers what he’d done against God’s church before receiving God’s gracious gift of salvation.

In fact, he points directly to the grace God has shown him in verse 10. Having just confessed his unworthiness, he firmly acknowledges that God’s grace has indeed made him an apostle (Ephesians 3:7). His unworthiness doesn’t negate God’s calling on his life. To the contrary, his untimely spiritual birth coupled with his history of persecuting Christians increase his appreciation of God’s grace.

Notice, in verse 10, that Paul has responded to the grace he’s been shown by working more extensively than the other apostles. His youth (relative to theirs) and the broader scope of his missionary journeys naturally resulted in a heftier resume. Therefore, God’s grace had enabled him to work harder. He presents this fact simply.

Yet he quickly adds that his work comes, not from himself, but as a  consequence of God’s grace. He insists that the Corinthians look to Christ rather than to him. Recall, if you please, that Paul opened this passage by emphasizing the primary importance of the Gospel. The last thing he wants is to shift attention back to himself! God’s grace, and only God’s grace, permitted Paul to see the resurrected Christ.

Verse 11 strengthens his resolve to direct attention away from himself and back to the Gospel that he outlines in verses 3 and 4. As helpful as eyewitnesses are, they mustn’t distract us from the Gospel itself. And because the Gospel requires center stage, Paul considers it immaterial to care about the pedigree of who preaches it. Whether the original disciples preach or he does, he wants people to hear the Gospel and believe it.

This point brings us to our next section: a detailed discussion on why the doctrine of resurrection matters. As I mentioned last week, we’ll take a two-week break before tackling that section, but I wouldn’t mind if you read the whole of Chapter 15 between now and then, paying particular heed to verses 12-19. Please use the Comments Section here or on The Outspoken TULIP  Facebook page to ask questions or raise issues in these eight verses that you’d like me to address.

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I’m Neither A Mouse Nor A Man, But…

Head Stick Pics 007“The best laid plans of mice and men.” Isn’t that a line from Steinbeck? Since I haven’t touched a Steinbeck novel since college, and didn’t much care for his writing even then, I wouldn’t know.

At any rate, my best laid plans to produce the next installment of our 1 Corinthians 15 Bible Study series got derailed  because I got either a stomach bug or food poisoning yesterday, and therefore had approximately 73 emails to wade through today. Because I’m still tired from all the emotional uproar of needing a new Personal Care Attendant, John’s doctor appointment and being sick as a dog, I figure I can publish the next Bible Study on Monday if I skip writing an original blog post tomorrow.

So, ladies, look forward to a Flashback Friday post tomorrow, a very interesting Saturday Sampler Saturday, and hopefully a Sunday Hymn for May 27 (I’m not promising the hymn, but I’ll try). I really want to finish 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 before taking a break to accommodate my June 11 doctor appointment.

I apologize for failing to write a study this week, but I guess if mice and men can lay faulty plans, then I can. Praise God that His plans never get thwarted!

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Journaling: The Pitfall We Should Recognize

Little blonde angelBetween 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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Throwback Thursday: A Question Of Choice

Originally published on September 28, 2016.

cropped-cropped-cropped-img_4654.jpgGenerally, evangelism should present evidence of a person’s need for salvation, followed by an explanation that Jesus died as a substitute for that person, rising again as a guarantee of eternal life for those who would believe in Him. From there, evangelism should instruct the person to repent of their sin and put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. I have little doubt that I’ll write future blog posts elaborating on these points.

Neither John nor I came to faith as a result of such a presentation, however. Yet the Holy Spirit exposed us to Scripture, and worked through that Scripture to give us saving faith (please see Romans 10:17). I believe our rather unconventional conversions each testify to God’s Irresistible Grace.

An updated phrase for Irresistible Grace (and a phrase I used yesterday) is effectual call.” Both terms emphasize the idea that the people God elects for salvation will respond to Him. Obviously, I can’t type out all the verses and passages that substantiate this doctrine, but OpenBible.info provides this helpful compilation.

Our Armimian brothers and sisters, many of whom genuinely know and love the Lord, argue that Irresistible Grace violates the doctrine of free-will. I agree! The Bible, even in the verses that appear to teach free-will, consistently affirms the ultimate sovereignty of God. Therefore, He gives us a willingness to choose Him as a result of our regeneration.

In addressing the matter of the effectual call, it follows, we must maintain that the doctrine of free-will suggests that God is at the mercy of human choice. Arminians believe that God’s foreknowledge of who would respond to the Gospel determined who He included as His elect. I certainly used to embrace that theory. But eventually He confronted me with Ephesians 1:3-10.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (ESV)

Notice verse 4, which says that the Father chose us. It gives absolutely no indication that He looked helplessly down the “corridors of time” to see who would decide to follow Jesus. This passage depicts a God Who fully controls redemptive history (and all history, for that matter) according to His plans and purpose.

Making the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth dependent on whether or not or not we choose to be saved erodes His sovereignty. As a matter of fact, the doctrine of free-will pretty much transfers sovereignty to us. Isn’t that essentially blasphemous? I think so!

Additionally, the doctrine of free-will assumes that human beings possess an ability to choose to follow Christ. I’ll remind you, in considering this point, of Ephesians 2:1-3.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 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— 3 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.  (ESV)

These verses describe unregenerate people. In other words, this is who you and I were prior to becoming Christians (and who you are if  you don’t yet have saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ). Our physical bodies functioned, but we had no capacity or desire to  respond to the things of God. We lacked any ability to come to Him on our own volition (consider Romans 3:10-18). Consequently, we can only choose to follow Christ after the Holy Spirit does His regenerating work in us.

Of course, entire books devote themselves to refuting the doctrine of free-will, beginning with Martin Luther’s The Bondage of the Will (which I’m currently slogging through), so I hardly think that this minuscule article  will settle the question. But I wanted you to see the Scriptures that have most helped me work through this objection to Irresistible Grace.
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Jesus Doeth All Things Well

This past week, I struggled with the sin of worry. Disability forces me to be dependent on government programs (never a good thing) and one of those programs didn’t seem to be operating properly. Thankfully everything got sorted out Friday, but until then I battled to trust God’s sovereignty.

In the midst of the struggle, I came across a lesser known Fanny Crosby hymn that the Lord used to both convict me of my sinful anxiety and assure me of the Father’s care for me. I share it here as a reminder to myself, but also as an encouragement to you. Whatever befalls us, we need to trust that Jesus really does all things well.

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