More Blessed Than the Virgin Mary

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As a kid I loved this time of year for all the reasons most children do. My romance with Christmas followed me all the way into my teen years as well.

However, things took on a whole new perspective in December of 1972. On the 14th of that month in that year the wind of the Holy Spirit blew powerfully into my life. I was born again. Jesus saved me and has faithfully kept me now these forty-one years. I find the season all the more gratifying since with it comes my spiritual birthday and the anniversary of the gift of gifts, my regeneration and union with Christ. Thanks be to God.

I say without equivocation that this makes me and any other blood-bought child of God more blessed than the blessed virgin Mary. Don’t get me wrong. Her privilege in bearing the Son of God put her in a distinguished, one-of-kind category. The angel greeted her with tiding of her station with the words “Hail, favored one!” (Luke 1:28). Her cousin Elizabeth greeted her later in that same chapter with the words “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42). Indeed. Who can even begin to imagine what it must have been like to travel Mary’s journey as the mother of Jesus?

That said, the fact remains, Jesus Himself made one thing very clear about the relative privilege between her station and that of anyone like me who belongs to Him by faith. I refer to Luke 11:27-28.

As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

I don’t think Jesus meant to dismiss outright the extraordinary responsibility embraced by His earthly mother. Rather He sought to impress upon His followers the enormity of blessing that comes with receiving God’s grace in salvation. No privilege remotely compares in this life with God’s tuning your heart to sing His grace and tendering your will to obey the Scriptures.

Jonathan Edwards put it this way:

Great was the privilege which God bestowed on the blessed virgin Mary, in granting that of her should be born the Son of God; that a person who was infinitely more honorable than the angels, who was the Creator and King of heaven 220px-Jonathan_Edwardsand earth and the great Savior of the world, should be conceived in her womb, born of her, and nursed at her breast, was a far greater privilege than to be the mother of the child of the greatest earthly prince that ever existed. But yet, surely that was not so great a privilege as it was to have the grace of God in the heart, to have Christ, as it were, born in the soul, as Christ himself does expressly teach us.

From the depths of my heart this December 14, 2013, I rejoice by His grace to have God in my heart, Christ as my King, born in my soul, and pray humbly for that same grace to keep me for another year and for as long as I shall live.

How Great Is Our God?

Last October Nancy and I visited a church  we’ve never attended before near our mountain retreat during our annual fall vacation.

The pastor preached a message from the book of Hebrews. He concluded from the numerous warning passages in places like Heb. 2:1-3 that believers in Christ can lose their salvation. Controversy notwithstanding and readily admitted, he outright dismissed the doctrine of eternal security placing the responsibility for our future destiny on our own heads.

From there we went immediately to the close of the service with the singing of Chris Tomlin’s tune How Great Is Our God. Normally I sing that song, which I enjoy very much, with passion and energy. After that message however I lacked the usual gusto. The preaching didn’t build my faith in God who keeps His own to the end but rather sought to dampen that faith. Hence my question mark at the end of this blog post title.

I have since recovered by revisiting the rest of Scripture by which we must interpret the warning texts in Hebrews, including chapters six and ten, considering them as means of grace God gives to help Christian’s persevere. For the overwhelming testimony of divine writ is that what God begins He completes (Phil. 1:6). He who keeps Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121). The One predestined, also calls, justifies and glorifies – note the past tense in Rom. 8:30 which speaks of future glorification so certain as if it has already taken place. Jesus refers to His own as doubly secure in His and the Father’s hands from which no one may snatch us (John 10:28-29).

Peter speaks of believers as those who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation to be revealed in the last time (1 Pet. 1:5). Jude calls us the kept for Jesus Christ (Jude 1) and ascribes blessing at the conclusion of his letter to Him who is able to keep us from stumbling and present us blameless before the presence of His glory (Jude 24).

The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith calls this doctrine the perseverance of the saints and states this from the Scriptures about it in paragraph two:

It is on no free will of their own that the saints’ perseverance depends, but on the immutability of the decree of election, which in its turn depends upon the free and unchangeable love of God the Father, the efficacious merit and intercession of Jesus Christ and the saints’ union with Him, the oath of God, the abiding character of the Spirit’s indwelling of the saints, the divine nature of which they are partakers and, lastly, the terms of the covenant of grace.  All these factors guarantee the certainty and infallibility of the saints’ perseverance.

Now if my friend in Idaho had preached something of that nature from the Bible during my visit last fall surely my singing of Tomlin’s tune would have been more robust as it normally is!

This day of days during each year I value the biblical doctrine of perseverance more than ever because I observe my spiritual birthday. Thirty-nine years ago today I professed Christ at age twenty in my Pennsylvania living room. I got up this morning all these years later still believing the gospel, still fighting the good fight, still running the race, still keeping the faith, not because of any resolve that resides in me but because of the keeping power of my great God in which I implicitly trust.

I look forward to declaring the same praise a year from now on my fortieth birthday should the Lord grant length of days.

Suddenly I have a desire to listen to some Chris Tomlin.

Reflections on My 38th Birthday

No, I haven’t gone into denial about my age. I refer to my spiritual birthday. Thirty-eight years ago today, by God’s grace, I trusted in Jesus Christ. Due to His keeping/preserving power I have never looked back in my walk with Him.

Each year on this significant date in my journey I reflect in some way on what God has done and where He has me in my pilgrimage toward the celestial city.

It started early this morning with this Operation World entry regarding spiritual conditions in Uzbekistan:

Uzbekistan’s government relentlessly persecutes the Church. Dynamic and evangelism-oriented churches, especially Uzbek churches, are particularly targeted. Uzbek Christian leaders have extensive files on them compiled by the 14 different government agencies that monitor religious activity. Persecution tactics include: public humiliation, property seizure, book and Bible-burning, expulsion of Christian students, dismissal of Christian employees, arrests (followed by beating and torture) under the flimsiest of pretexts and massive fines for first offences [sic] (up to 50 times the annual salary), (p. 874).

Upon reading that I wondered, What if God in His sovereignty had determined that I should have lived out my days in a place like that? He could well have. Acts 17:26 teaches us this truth: And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.

I found myself filled with gratitude for His kindness in putting me in a place like the US where free and abundant access to the gospel is more than not the norm.

From there I went to my reading in J. C. Ryle’s Holiness with this confirming thought:

How thankful we ought to be that we live in a land where the great remedy for spiritual thirst is known, in a land of open Bibles, preached gospel, and abundant means of grace, in a land where the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice is still proclaimed, with more or less fullness, in twenty thousand pulpits every Sunday! We do not realize the value of our privileges. The very familiarity of the manna makes us think little of it, just as Israel loathed ‘the light bread’ in the wilderness (Num. 21:5). But turn to the pages of a heathen philosopher like the incomparable Plato, and see how he groped after light like one blindfolded, and wearied himself to find the door. . . . Turn to the accounts which trustworthy travelers and missionaries give of the state of the heathen who have never heard the gospel. Read of the human sacrifices in Africa, and the ghastly self–imposed tortures of the devotees of Hindostan, and remember they are all the result of an unquenched thirst and a blind and unsatisfied desire to get near to God. And then learn to be thankful that your lot is cast in a land like your own. Alas, I fear God has a controversy with us for our unthankfulness!

I have no wish for a controversy with God over anything. I am indeed thankful that my lot is cast in a land like our own.

Are you?