Sites Of The Word

Thy Word is a LampPresent day evangelicals, sadly, lack Biblical literacy. We could probably spend a great deal of time discussing the various reasons for this tragedy (and make no mistake, it is indeed a profound tragedy), and we’d come away feeling quite erudite and perhaps a little smug. It might be more helpful, therefore, if I offered links to a few websites that provide assistance in understanding what Scripture teaches.

GotQuestions.org is an excellent site for new Christians as well as for “senior saints.” You need only to type in a keyword (such as “grace” or “transubstantiation”) for the search bar to prompt several questions. I have minor disagreements with their four-point Calvinism as opposed to all five points, but overall I highly recommend this site for providing answers to questions about Scripture.

If you’d like a free online Bible with a wide variety of translations and study aids, check out Biblia.com or BibleGateway.com. To my frustration, both sites offer translations and paraphrases that should really be avoided, but if you use solid translations like the ESV, KJV, NASB or the NKJV, you should be fine.

Really adventurous Bible students might want to try BibleHub.com, which has a dazzling (if not overwhelming) variety of Bible Study tools. To be truthful, I haven’t spent much time using BibleHub yet; I think I’d better start investigating its features, though. Thankfully, it only offers legitimate translations of God’s Word, so you won’t get confused by a misleading paraphrase.

Praise the Lord that we live in a time when technology gives us so much access to Bible Study tools! I appreciate being able to dig in to God’s Word and learn how to properly apply it to my life in ways that honor Christ.

Multiplied To Me

How can I be indifferent to Christ’s wonderful work on the cross? I know, all too well how completely sin enslaved me. But I praise the Lord for confronting me with the horrible truth about my sinful condition because I then recognized the treasure of His mercy. Today’s hymn celebrates that mercy.

Total Depravity Introduces Grace

Ladies Study 01Most people (Christian and non-Christian) recoil at the doctrine of total depravity, supposing that it means that Calvinists regard all humans as garbage piles with no capacity to exhibit goodness of any sort. But critics of this doctrine fail to understand its historical meaning and, more importantly, its Biblical basis. For this reason, I want to briefly examine it today, knowing that we can’t understand the Gospel without first understanding why mankind needs salvation.

I located a concise and helpful explanation of total depravity at GotQuestions.org, and I want to begin by offering it.

While often misunderstood, the doctrine of total depravity is an acknowledgement that the Bible teaches that as a result of the fall of man (Genesis 3:6) every part of man—his mind, will, emotions and flesh—have been corrupted by sin. In other words, sin affects all areas of our being including who we are and what we do. It penetrates to the very core of our being so that everything is tainted by sin and “…all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” before a holy God (Isaiah 64:6). It acknowledges that the Bible teaches that we sin because we are sinners by nature. Or, as Jesus says, “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.” (Matthew 7:17-18). (Source)

As this quote indicates, the doctrine points to our inability to overcome the effects and power of sin apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. I’ve found great insight into this matter through studying Ephesians 2:1-3:

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.  (ESV)

Paul, as he usually does in his letters, gives us some extremely rich theology to sort though, and I wish time would permit me to examine the entire passage (verses 1-10). Today we’ll limit ourselves to these three verses (particularly verse 1) in order to understand the practical effects of total depravity. These introductory verses prepare us for the Gospel by reminding us of exactly why we need good news in the first place. Much like Romans 1:18-32, they describe the human condition in decidedly unflattering terms.  In order to understand Paul’s indictment on unredeemed humanity, we must look at the various charges he makes.

Very bluntly, Paul declares in verse 1 that unbelievers are dead in their trespasses and sins. That word “dead” comes from the Greek word nekros, which derives from nekus–the word for corpse. According to The Complete Word Study Dictionary, Paul uses the word in Ephesians 2:1 as a metaphor of a state “in opposition to the life of the Gospel.” In short, non-Christians, being corpses, lack any ability to respond to God.

Sin caused our spiritual deadness (see Genesis 3:1-24, 1 Corinthians 15:22 and Romans 5:12-17). It makes sense, then, that unregenerate people would be completely incapable of responding to the Lord. Additionally, we understandably lack both the ability and the  motivation to  “make ourselves right” before a holy God.

Verses 2 and 3 go on to say that, because we are dead to God apart from the life we receive from the Holy Spirit upon conversion, we live under the influences of other sinful people, our own selfish desires and demonic forces. While we may exhibit many traits that approximate goodness, we simply do not have the resources to merit our own salvation. The sin nature we inherit from Adam affects every area of our being, making it impossible for us to meet God’s standards of holiness.

Thankfully, God has provided the means of redemption through the shed blood of Jesus. We’ll talk about His salvation often in the  course of this blog, so I won’t elaborate on it now. Today let me conclude by stating that the doctrine of total depravity shows us why His blood, shed on our behalf, is so precious.

The Unpleasant Joy

Under BurdensFrom the way things look, I expect to go through the trial of looking for an evening Personal Care Attendant (PCA) within the next few weeks. I’ve gone through this process  countless times over the past 40 years, and I hate it. I realize that, compared to the suffering of disabled people in third world countries, I have no reason to complain about this trial, but I stubbornly compare myself to able-bodied Americans. So yeah, I’m dabbling my toes in the cesspool of self-pity.

Quite understandably, I struggle with fear that nobody will want a job with so few hours (and no, I really can’t offer more hours). I struggle with fear that I’ll have to settle for someone unpleasant and/or unreliable. I fear going back into a nursing home.  Additionally, I resent putting my schedule on hold (especially in terms of blogging) while I conduct interviews. Training isn’t fun either. And typically, I’ll go through two or three people who quit after the first few nights before I find someone who will stay.

In my indulgence of self-pity and resentment, however, I keep remembering Scripture’s call to consider trials from an eternal perspective. The Lord’s half-brother James wrote a well-known passage that pulls me into a more reasonable attitude toward my impending situation.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. ~~James 1:2-5 (ESV)

The Lord does care about providing people to put me to bed each night, but He cares even more about developing a godly character in me. The trial of needing a new PCA always confronts me with my physical vulnerability, which in turn humbles me by confronting me with  my total dependence on God. He teaches me to trust both His ability and His willingness to provide for my very basic needs in a way that most able-bodied people never get to experience.

Even more importantly, the Lord uses these trials to give me opportunity to govern my emotions. I can see from my initial reaction to  my PCA’s announcement that her family and financial pressures may require her to leave me that I still have a long way to go in exercising self-control. The Lord, I believe, once again allows me to go through this trial so that He can bring me into greater maturity.

This situation, in and of itself, inspires anything but joy in me from a natural vantage point. Ah, but Scriptures like James 1:2-5 show me the Lord’s  view of the matter, encouraging me to think of how I might glorify Him because of this trial. The joy doesn’t come from the grueling tasks ahead of me. But it does come as He uses all the inconvenience, struggle and frustration to make me more like Him.

New Doesn’t Always Improve

Ancient Boundary 02People from my generation will remember the much overused phrase, “New and improved!” (always with the exclamation point) that dominated television advertising. Madison  Avenue successfully persuaded Americans that anything new necessarily improved on older products or methods. This shrewd marketing tactic may be used  more subtly these days, but people continue to prefer new things to old. Sadly, many postmodern churches buy into that mentality.

Proverbs 22:28 lays out an interesting principle:

Do not move the ancient landmark
    that your fathers have set. (ESV)

When I read that verse last year, I wondered if it could apply to the current practice of updating doctrine that characterizes the  Church Growth Movement and other groups that adjust Scripture so that it complies with 21st Century culture. So, not wanting to interpret this  verse through the grid of my experience with churches that embraced various techniques to increase the sizes of their congregations, I turned to some of my commentaries.

The Believer’s Bible Commentary addressed the verse  by explaining its original (and literal) meaning, followed by its spiritual application for Christians:

22:28   The ancient landmark was a series of stones which indicated the boundaries of a person’s property. Dishonest people often moved them during the night to increase the size of their farm at their neighbor’s expense.
Spiritually, the ancient landmarks would be “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). The fundamental doctrines of Christianity should not be tampered with.

John Gill’s Commentary agreed, though with the wordiness and flourishes that I’ve come to expect from Gill.

Remove not the ancient landmark which thy fathers have set. Or, “the ancient border” or “boundary” (n); by which lands, estates, and inheritances, were marked, bounded, and distinguished; set by ancestors in agreement with their neighbours; which to remove was contrary to a law, and a curse is denounced upon those that did it, Deu_19:14; and was always reckoned a very heinous crime in early times; See Gill on Job_24:2. This was so sacred a thing among the Romans, that they had a deity which presided over those bounds, and had its name from them. Some apply this, in a political sense, to laws of long standing, and customs of long prescription; and others interpret it, in a theological sense, of doctrines and practices settled by the fathers of the church; which, if understood of Christ and his apostles only, will be allowed; but if of the ancient fathers of the church that followed them, it should not be received; since they were but fallible men, and guilty of many errors and mistakes, both in doctrine and practice.

Adam  Clarke, however, offered the strongest support for applying this verse to the preservation of tried-and-true doctrine.  His entry provided me with assurance that I had indeed made an appropriate connection.

Remove not the ancient landmark – Do not take the advantage, in ploughing or breaking up a field contiguous to that of thy neighbor, to set the dividing stones farther into his field that thou mayest enlarge thy own. Take not what is not thy own in any case. Let all ancient divisions, and the usages connected with them, be held sacred. Bring in no new dogmas, nor rites, nor ceremonies, into religion, or the worship of God, that are not clearly laid down in the sacred writings. “Stand in the way; and see, and ask for the old paths, which is the good way, and walk therein; and ye shall find rest for your souls;” Jer_6:16. But if any Church have lost sight of the genuine doctrines of the Gospel, calling them back to these is not removing the ancient landmarks, as some have falsely asserted. God gave a law against removing the ancient landmarks, by which the inheritances of tribes and families were distinguished. See Deu_19:14, from which these words of Solomon appear to be taken.

Progressive evangelical churches almost boast in  their rejection of old ways, thinking that keeping pace with current cultural norms opens the door to effective evangelism. I can remember sitting through a series of sermons obviously intended to make us comfortable with the changes that leadership desired to implement. Predictably, the pastor used Scripture as a springboard for the “change is good” agenda rather that expositing it in its own context.

Admittedly, many of the churches that promote “new and improved” approaches to “doing church” manage to fill their auditoriums with young double-income families, but do they produce regenerate believers who understand sound doctrine that affects their every day lives? I don’t believe so. While some portion of their church bodies are legitimately saved, they often attract people who are doctrinally shallow and who make both moral and theological compromises.

Sometimes churches need to make changes, but those changes must draw people back to the Bible instead of forward to updated experiences. The Lord has already provided His plan for how churches should operate, and He doesn’t need our embellishments. Only by respecting ancient doctrinal landmarks can we  give the next generation the true  Gospel.

Blog Like A Lady

Ladies Study 04I have to say I’ve often believed that I knew more about Scripture than some of the male pastors and teachers I sat under. Sometimes, I actually did! I remember times I wished I could bump a guy out of the pulpit so that I could correct errors in his preaching. But of course, God’s Word clearly states that women have no business teaching mixed groups or holding positions of authority over men within the church.

11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. ~~1 Timothy 2:11-15 (ESV)

The question of women writing Christian blogs naturally arises as we wrestle with this passage, as I’ve already mentioned in my post, “I Can, But That Doesn’t Mean I Should.” This past week, my fellow blogger and online friend Elizabeth Prata wrote “What about a woman who blogs? Is she violating scripture by teaching men?” I passed her essay on to my husband, who agrees with pretty much everything she wrote.

Elizabeth’s article both offered me freedom and helped me establish boundaries in terms of The Outspoken TULIP. Certainly, I know men who could learn a thing or two from many of my posts, but they could also learn those things (and more than likely learn them better) by reading blogs authored by men. Sure, it flatters my ego when men let me know that they’ve read my posts. But I do this blog in order to honor the Lord, not to puff myself up.

Tony Miano’s post, “Christian Women Bloggers: Maintaining God-Intended Femininity,” is perhaps the most helpful contribution to the conversation on Christian women  bloggers that I’ve read to date. His point about behaving in ways that become femininity struck a chord with me. I want to be lady-like as I encourage women toward discernment.

So yes, I direct this blog toward women. If men read it, I pray they’ll do so with the goal of screening my theology before passing it along to their wives. God’s Word limits women to teaching women and children, and I want to remain as faithful and obedient to Him while using my natural gift of writing and my spiritual gifts of teaching and exhortation. I desire this blog to exalt Christ by both proclaiming and obeying His Word.

Blessings Lesser And Greatest

Courtyard at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Courtyard at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Yesterday, John and I took advantage of the one “good weather” day of this week by visiting the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum. As I often do when I take advantage of Boston’s myriad of historical attractions and cultural opportunities, I wondered why the Lord has given me so many earthly blessings. Living in the Greater Boston Area has definitely given me experiences that delight me, causing me to praise God for sovereignly bringing me here. Yet I know I don’t deserve His grace in bringing me to this magnificent part of the country.

In savoring the memories of yesterday’s excursion, I see an interesting juxtaposition between the rarefied privilege of seeing great art (including sketches by Michelangelo and Raphael) and the short passage of Scripture that John and I read earlier that morning.

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, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. ~~Ephesians 1:3-6 (ESV)

“Every spiritual blessing,” Paul says. And yet, I so easily content myself with temporal blessings like visiting the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum. It seems, actually, that most people, when we think of blessings, almost always think of the good things in life here and  now. Sometimes we even attribute those good things to God, rightly acknowledging His worthiness of our praise and thanksgiving. I have every reason to praise and thank Him for all that He does for me.

But as I admired the splendid courtyard at the Museum’s hub and gazed on the rich paintings and enormous tapestries, I realized that it was all worthless junk in comparison to the treasure of belonging to Christ. And Boston, the city I love with a passion, could never fill me with the joy and wonder of heaven, where I’ll finally see the face of my glorious Savior. How I worship Him, even now, for graciously saving my from my sin and clothing me  in His righteousness!

All the truly  wonderful things the Lord has allowed me to enjoy now seem so superficial when I measure them against the spiritual blessings that the Father gives me in Christ. Yes, I praise Him for yesterday’s visit to the museum. I had a fabulous time! But I praise Him even more for those spiritual blessings that I’ll enjoy in His eternal kingdom.