This Ends All Fear And Doubt

We understand that Jesus forgives our sin at the point of our conversion. That’s a joyous realization for the sinner who correctly sees his or her wretched state and consequently appreciates the Lord’s mercy and grace to take those sins on Himself in order to extend pardon. We rightly praise Him for declaring us to be righteous before a holy Judge, all because of His blood shed on our behalf.

But will His precious blood also cover sins we commit as Christians? Many people genuinely struggle with fear that they’ve presumed on His grace once too often, or that their ongoing battle with sin gives evidence that they never experienced true salvation in the first place.

Dear sisters, if such doubts torment you, I encourage you to study 1 John to evaluate whether or not you’re really saved. Ask yourselves if your ultimate trust is in your own righteousness or in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you believe His blood atoned for your past sins, you can rest assured that it also covers your present and future sins.

I’ll write at greater length about this matter in an upcoming Autobiography With Purpose post as well as when I blog about the Perseverance of the Saints. But for now, please draw comfort from this beautiful hymn.

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Saturday Sampler– June 5 Through June 11

Five Easter BabiesIn her Abandoned to Christ article, June Proclaimed LBGT Pride Month, Sunny Shell makes a compelling case for praying that God will extend mercy to President Obama. Whether or not you agree with his policies (obviously I don’t), you should pray for his salvation regularly.

In Confirmation Bias: Why You Protect Your False Beliefs, Steve Kozar (who writes the Messed Up Church blog for Pirate Christian Media) helps us examine whether we base our beliefs on the Bible or on what our favorite Christian speaker teaches. His article reminds me why personal Bible Study is so important.

Like Rachel, I Don’t Have Enough Faith. Find out why that’s a good thing.

Cripplegate narrates Spurgeon’s account of The Woman Who Needed to Simply Believe as an encouragement to people who doubt their salvation.

Mike Leake, in his article Jennifer Knapp, Trey Pearson, and the Cross We Bear, hit the nail on the head. Whether we struggle with homosexuality or some other life-dominating sin… Wait! Why should I tell you Leake’s conclusion? Check out his blog post for yourself.

Kim Shay (blogging at Out of the Ordinary) has a terrific suggestion for summer reading. She encourages women to lie On the beach with a commentary. Check out the comments section to see  my response.

Tim Challies draws from both personal experience and, more importantly, the authority of Scripture as he explains Why I Am Not Armimian. As an extra bonus, he shows that true Reformed Theology actually promotes evangelism.

Can I write a Saturday Sampler without linking to a Michelle Lesley blog post? Probably not. And her article, 10 Ways Godly Women Can Help Improve the Spiritual Health of their Churches definitely merits mention!

Is rape really a legitimate reason to seek an abortion? Before you dismiss that question as hard-hearted, you might want to read My birthmom was raped. Even if you don’t bother with the article, please watch the video below:

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Where The Spotlight Goes: Ephesians 2:1-10 Bible Study

This post continues our Bible Study series on Ephesians 2:1-10 exploring the Gospel. Last Thursday, we saw that we are born hopeless sinners, enslaved to Satan’s rule as well as to our own sinful impulses. This bad news, though painful, prepares us for the Gospel.

The doctrine that all men and women stand utterly condemned as wretched sinners in the sight of a holy God understandably plunges us into despair.Today, however, we’ll look at the pivotal verse in the passage to discover the Good News of the Gospel. Let’s review verses 1-3, this time adding verse 4 to apprehend the transition in thought:

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, ~~Ephesians 2:1-4 (ESV)

I realize that verse 4 breaks off mid-sentence, but that itty-bitty verse overflows with more content than I can adequately cover. We’ll chew on it as much as we  can today, but then we’ll need to progress to the rest of the text.

Notice, first of all, those two lovely words, “But God.” Paul uses them to shift the spotlight from our totally wretched condition to the  glorious Lord and His power to transform us. With these two small words, He shows Himself to be the active agent in our salvation process. Remember that verse 1 pronounces us “dead.” God needs to do everything regarding our salvation because our sin-saturated natures leave us as spiritually lifeless corpses, completely incapable of effecting our own salvation. We would be hopeless…but God has intervened!

He has intervened by contrasting our moral bankruptcy with His richness in mercy. Specifically, He shows the “immeasurable riches of His grace” in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:7). Paul has previously explained “the riches of His grace” as having come through Christ’s blood (Ephesians 1:7), through which He forgives our sins.

Mercy refers back to our sinful condition, as Adam Clarke explained: “As they were corrupt in their nature, and sinful in their practice, they could possess no merit, nor have any claim upon God; and it required much mercy to remove so much misery, and to pardon such transgressions.”

This mercy comes as a result of God’s love…or, as Vincent Word Studies says. He saves us “in order to satisfy” His  love.

Again quoting Clarke: “God’s infinite love is the groundwork of our salvation; in reference to us that love assumes the form of mercy, and that mercy provides the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. And therefore the apostle adds, Ephesians 2:5 : By grace ye are saved – it is by God’s free mercy in Christ that ye are brought into this state of salvation.”

As we think about God’s love as the chief cause for His mercy, it helps to reflect on the nature of His love. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 provides the classic description of God’s love, including (verse 6) His grief  over sin and joy over truth. Love can’t ignore justice. But Jesus satisfied justice by His death (1 John 2:2) Thus John 3:16 affirms that God gave (or sacrificed) His Son, requiring nothing more than that we rest our faith in Christ.

So that tiny phrase, “But God,” turns out to be huge! God transforms us from our lifeless enslavement to sin into recipients of His mercy and love. He assumes all the responsibility for bringing about this astonishing transformation, making it entirely appropriate for all the glory to go to Him.

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Showing Off The Lord In My Marriage

Mr & Mrs K Old Fashioned MaskDuring those very long, uncomfortable years before the Lord blessed me with John as a husband, 1 Corinthians 7 gave me a sense that my singleness, as uncomfortable and undesired as it was, at least had a purpose. Although I confess to throwing way too many pity-parties about the matter (if I didn’t confess to it, many people who knew me back then would submit comments making sure my true attitude was known), I resolved to make my singleness count for God’s Kingdom by plunging into every ministry the church made available to me. Whether or not I always had pure motives or right doctrine in these endeavors, granted, is fodder for debate, and digresses from my point today.
This morning, in my search for something to share in today’s blog post, I came across an essay I wrote six years ago on 1 Corinthians 7:29-35. I thought it perfectly complemented the article I wrote yesterday! I’m revising it a little, hopefully giving it  more clarity, but I believe the basic principles remain compelling and encouraging to all Christian wives. First, let me quote the passage:

29 This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, 31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. (ESV)

Obviously the apostle Paul made the point in verses 32-35 that unmarried people don’t have the worldly distractions from serving the Lord that married people have. In one sense, that’s true. Both John and I were able to be much more active in our respective churches before we married.
As married people, however, we can cultivate the same dedication to the Lord as our single counterparts presumably have.  The key is in verse 29. Living in attitude as if we were single, while not neglecting our spouses by any means, we are to regard our marriages as tools for advancing Christ’s Kingdom. Our marriages, though they indeed can produce the by-product of happiness, exist primarily as an example to a watching world.
To be specific, marriage is a metaphor of Christ’s relationship with His Bride, the Church. Ephesians 5:22-33 is absolutely pivotal in how couples must model this relationship.

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (ESV)

Okay, not politically correct. Get over it. I’m more interested in being obedient to God, as Scripture reveals His will, than in living in a way that appeals to popular trends. God has well-defined marital roles. Not that men work out in the field while women stay in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant, but that men love their wives sacrificially while women choose to follow their husband’s leadership. In living out these roles in obedience to Scripture, we demonstrate Christ’s relationship with His Church.
John  and I, because of our disabilities, have several people who see our marriage close up. I guess I could complain about the supposed pressures of living in a fishbowl (as celebrities often do in rationalizing their divorces), but really, I’m excited that God has entrusted us with such a beautiful responsibility! Our Personal Care Attendants see John helping them to dress me as a tender, daily expression of his love for me. They see my feeble efforts to follow John’s leadership, and hear my apologies when I fail to respect him. Hopefully, despite my shortcomings, we model a Christian marriage.
If we don’t set a good enough example now, we can make doing so the purpose of our marriage. As 1 Corinthians 7:29 says, time is too short for us to focus merely on enjoying our marriage. Yes, we should enjoy it, and I’m sure this blog reflects how thoroughly John and I delight in ours. But even our joy must have a greater purpose of showing people the grace and faithfulness of Jesus Christ.

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Autobiography With Purpose: A Desire To Believe The Best

MistyWeddingJoyOur wedding on August 24, 2002 was small and simple, partly because John tires easily and partly because we focused more on preparing for marriage than on planning the wedding. Looking back, I regret only that the ceremony didn’t emphasize our desire to serve Jesus as a couple more than it did. We made two fleeting references to the last sentence of Joshua 24:15, “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” It could have been more Christ-centered than we made it.

Due to John’s inability to travel, our honeymoon consisted of day trips, with a Boston Harbor cruise as the highlight. The following Sunday we began regularly attending Brookville Baptist Church (which now calls itself Brookville Bible Church.)

The Adult Sunday School classes stimulated me both intellectually and spiritually, helping me understand Scripture in its own context. After years of the subjective and experiential approach to Bible Study that I’d learned in Church of the Open Door, I felt like I’d found Paradise! I especially enjoyed classes about the historical reliability of the Bible’s manuscripts (did you know, for instance, that we have more manuscripts that authenticate Scripture than ones that authenticate the writings of Shakespeare?) and the classes showing evidence for Creation rather than evolution.

Though I’d been a Christian for over 30 years, Brookville’s New Members Class gave me an understanding of Christ’s resurrection that I’d never really seen before. Using nothing but Scripture, Pastor Jim helped me see the historical proof for the resurrection as  well as its significance. I’d always believed that the physical resurrection was true and an essential doctrine of the Christian faith, but the Lord used that class to solidify my belief in it. For that, I’ll always be grateful.

Pastor Dennis preached only once a month until Pastor Jim retired in 2004, but I loved his verse-by-verse exposition of Matthew! When he became  the Senior Pastor, I luxuriated in his sermons, thankful that he didn’t shy away from topics like hell or God’s wrath. The new associate pastor, Larry, made up for his awkward preaching by taking a personal interest in me and John.

As much as I loved contemporary praise music (having become a Christian during the height of the Jesus Movement), I loved Brookville’s balance of contemporary songs and traditional hymns. Open Door had pretty much gotten away from hymns by 1990, and singing them again at Brookville made me realize how much I’d missed them. I noticed their rich theological content in contrast to the shallow lyrics of praise music. And yet, I still loved the emotional tones of praise songs, so I praised the Lord for placing us in a church that offered blended worship.

Once in a while I saw little quirks in Brookville that caused some discomfort. At the time, I saw little wrong with the Beth Moore DVDs that I watched in the Women’s Bible Study (I figured anything that was Southern Baptist rather than Charismatic was okay), but I wondered why we were listening to her cutesy stories rather than studying the Bible. And Pastor Jim expressed surprise over my qualms about The Prayer of Jabez. Most of all, it disturbed me that Wednesday night prayer meetings largely focused on praying for better evangelistic strategies that would grow the size of the congregation and thus result in bigger offerings.

But I ignored my uncomfortable feelings about Brookville Baptist Church, knowing it was much more Biblical than either John’s last church or Church of the Open Door. Reminding myself that “no church is perfect,” I kept my gaze on all that I admired about it, desiring to believe the best as I adjusted to my new life as a married woman living near Boston.

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Unglamorous Discernment

Discernment BibleMost evangelical women would probably say that they have the spiritual gift of discernment. In Charismatic terms, the supposed gift manifests itself as an almost psychic sense about people or situations, typically indicated with a knowledgeable nod and a voice lowered in gravity. The discerning woman (or man) often claims direct revelation from the Holy Spirit, though some just rely on foreboding feelings and impressions. Charismatic discernment always has to do with detecting the presence of demonic spirits.

Non-Charismatics tend toward defining discernment in terms of distinguishing truth from error. Basically this definition is correct, but it often gets perverted into heresy hunting. I’ve been writing about that problem, perhaps because I struggle with that temptation. Those of us who understand how desperately present-day evangelicals need to discern between good teaching and bad doctrine tend to get so obsessed with exposing false teachers that we lose sight of our responsibility to emphasize truth.

But what does Scripture say about discernment? Very few discernment blogs actually explain what discernment is. I can think of several ways to approach this important topic, but I believe we best begin the conversation by looking at the relationship between discernment and the doctrines we learn from studying God’s Word.

11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. ~~Hebrews 5:11-14 (ESV)

The Hebrew Christians who first received the letter to the Hebrews had fallen back to Mosaic Law as a requirement for salvation, having forgotten the fundamental message of the Gospel. Simply put, they needed basic Bible teaching. Before they could tackle more  complex aspects of the Christian life, they needed foundational teaching that would develop their ability to discern between good and evil.

Discernment, therefore, is less a spiritual gift and more a quality that every Christian can — and should — cultivate by reading and applying God’s Word in all areas of life. As much as we might crave the excitement of “sensing” demonic activity  or exposing false teachers, true discernment revolves around Scripture and its revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Granted, this view lacks the glamor typically associated with discernment ministry. After all, studying the Bible, besides being plain hard work, is a solitary endeavor most of the time. Even pastors, teachers and writers only get to publicly show a fraction of what they learn when they open their Bibles and study aids each morning. But let me assure you that understanding Scripture in context and as the Holy Spirit intends will give us all the discernment we need.

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