The Luxury Of Limiting God

Soveregn GodMost professing Christians would affirm, without hesitation, belief in God’s control over every aspect of His creation. Yet various comments I read on social media or hear in church sometimes cause me to question the average believer’s faith in His sovereignty. Certainly, my own struggle with the sin of worry betrays that I have difficulty trusting His ability (or at least His willingness) to manage situations.

For example, we pray for loved ones to come to Christ, but then we devise all sorts of schemes to manipulate them into the Kingdom. We convince ourselves that their salvation depends on our testimony rather than God’s election.

On a bigger scale, we work tirelessly on political campaigns, desperate to reestablish America’s “Christian” heritage…even if it means voting for people outside the evangelical camp. (Donald Trump? Really?) We have convinced ourselves that Scripture gives us a mandate to fight for our religious liberties.

As American Christians approach a time of overt persecution, however, we desperately need to understand that God maintains complete control. We see our culture’s moral disintegration, and quite rightly grieve that sin seems to reign so defiantly. Although grief is indeed an appropriate emotional response, however, that grief must  never degenerate into despair. The same Lord that purified Israel and Judah by means of the Babylonian Captivity has His purposes for His Church through the impending opposition knocking on our door.

More than ever, Christians will need an understanding of God’s sovereignty. Let’s start with me. I can no longer afford the luxury of thinking that human will has the power to restrict His activity or dismantle His plan. Contrary to popular evangelical thinking, the Lord is not a Gentleman. If He does abandon us to our own rebellion against Him, He does so in order to bring about His great plan.

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 25 As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
    and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
26 “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
    there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’” ~~Romans 9:14-26 (ESV)

We all too frequently regard circumstances as the whole story, neglecting the fact that God is orchestrating a much bigger picture. We forget that He not only has an eternal plan to display His glory, but He controls all the moving parts that bring that plan to fruition. Yes, He will judge sin, bringing all His wrath against everything that dares to shake a fist at Him, but even that terrible judgment will  magnify His glory. And He needs  no help from us.

Holy Intolerance

cropped-cropped-cropped-cropped-tulip-header12.jpgJesus told His followers:

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. ~~John 15:18-19 (ESV)

Sadly, the evangelical church of the 21st Century seems to have forgotten His words, sometimes expressing shock and dismay that mainstream media, liberal politicians, the university system and public schools overwhelming display blatant hostility toward anything remotely connected with Christianity. And, while Christians absolutely should stand firm for Biblical morals and principles, seeking to preserve the type of culture that (at least outwardly) adheres to those values, we really shouldn’t be surprised by the world’s animosity toward us. They hate us, pure and simply, because we remind them of His holy intolerance for sin.

Certainly, the culture is increasingly bullying Christians, and none of us enjoys it. Furthermore, we grieve to see our American government, in its painfully obvious attempts to appease homosexual activists, Planned Parenthood, environmentalists and other groups, enact laws and render judicial decisions  designed to erode Christianity’s influence. Yet Christians must understand that our marginalization from the Public Square is actually an indication that we successfully reflect the Lord Jesus Christ!

Handle With Care

Bible contextHe often served as an elder in the church, and even in years when he wasn’t on the elder board he wielded tremendous influence. I remember him telling us how bank employees spend a great deal of their training time examining and handling actual money with the goal of becoming so familiar with it that they can easily spot a counterfeit bill. Yet he used his influence to put the church on an unbiblical path, endorsing teachings and methodologies that smacked of pragmatism.

I still scratch my head over how someone who claims to be immersed in God’s Word can buy into so many deceptions. Yet I look at my own life and see how peer pressure and sloppy Bible study habits influenced my understanding of Scripture for many years.

On January 1, 2013, I began reading the Bible at Genesis 1:1 and Matthew 1:1. I completed the Old Testament last week, and hope to finish my second reading of Mark Thursday. I went very slowly, taking notes, highlighting with color codes according to themes and occasionally consulting commentaries (usually more than one, to avoid bias). I wanted a good overview of God’s dealings with His people. He gave me that, and so much more!

In the process, many passages I had always misinterpreted and misapplied became much clearer. The Lord has taught me how to read His Word in context and not to personalize promises that He intended specifically for Israel or for the apostles. He has helped me stop cherry-picking feel-good passages. Sure, I have much more to learn in my daily Bible study, but these past three years have made an enormous difference in how I understand Scripture.

As I decide on a reading/study plan for 2016, I pray that the Holy Spirit will show me how to better evaluate things I read and hear against His Word. Like the elder I mentioned earlier, I’ve always handled Scripture frequently. But now I pray to handle it well!

Autobiography With Purpose: His Homosexuality Changed My Life

Broken HeartShortly after my college graduation, I noticed Trevor (not his real name) in the  “Body Life” group I attended on Sunday nights. I think he’d been attending  Church of the Open Door for quite a while, but I’d been too preoccupied with school to pay attention. Body Life groups had restructured over that summer, however, so there he was. There I was.

When the pastors gave Trevor the responsibility of organizing the 1977 Christmas program, somehow he and I came up with the idea that I’d write a short play for it. (For a first effort at writing drama, it was lousy.) Predictably, working on the play increased my contact with this man.

By the night of the performance, I’d fallen completely in love with Trevor, certain that he was perfect for me. At that time, very few men in the church had college degrees, which I mistakenly considered necessary in a husband. Trevor’s degree in performing arts therefore made him my educational equal. I also found his non-conformist mannerisms (which I attributed to his theater background) decidedly appealing. And when he shared his insights from Scripture, my heart melted!

One of the pastors counseled me to show interest in Trevor, encouraging me to invite him to dinner. Mom really set a nice table that night. After that, he and I often sat together in church. Yet he seemed to be content with only a deep friendship. When we talked about marriage, he spoke in general terms rather than about us.

One summer afternoon we met because I’d thought God had given me a revelation that both of us had problems with self-esteem. I had planned to ever so carefully reveal that my struggle came from being almost 25 and still waiting for a guy to notice me. (I know…really smooth!)

Trevor spoke first, speaking shocking words that shouldn’t have surprised me. “I have homosexual tendencies.”

Trevor, I should mention, wasn’t physically handsome. Not ugly, mind you, but he would have been type cast as a Caucasian Steve Urkle…only a bit more effeminate.  So I thought he simply needed assurance that a woman could find him attractive.

I didn’t talk about myself that day, muttering that I saw my struggles as trivial compared to his. We continued our friendship,  and he took me to a theme park for my 25th birthday. But by early December of 1978, he finally realized that I loved him. A month earlier, he had gone to help establish Open Door’s church plant in San Francisco, so he wrote me a letter saying he thought he shouldn’t see me anymore.

For a year, I fed my anger and self-pity. In a Tuesday night Bible Study, I latched on to 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 as a promise that the Lord would use my heartache over Trevor to minister to others.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (NASB)

I had a final face-to-face conversation with Trevor in January of 1980 (set up by a mutual friend). I praise the Lord that Trevor said, “Deb, it’s not your disability; it’s mine.” He felt trapped by homosexual desires that he hadn’t acted on, and sorry that he couldn’t love me the way I wanted to be loved. As we parted, he said bitterly, “I hope someday I’ll hear that the Lord used this mess.”

In future installments of this Autobiography With Purpose series, I’ll show how the Lord indeed used Trevor’s homosexuality to propel me into ex-gay ministry.

Remembering The Basics

Contemporary Christianity can easily lose sight of the basic Gospel. We get distracted by all sorts of side issues, many of which deviate from sound doctrine, so that we forget the centrality of the Lord’s death, burial and resurrection. That’s why I appreciate today’s hymn.

Jesus Doesn’t Need To Keep Calling

Image1Over this past week’s celebration, I saw a Christian from a solid, Bible-believing church (the church I attend, actually) give someone a set of  Jesus Calling books for Christmas. Admittedly, this lady hasn’t been attending the church very long, but all the same, her lack of discernment troubles me.

Later in the day, I commented that God speaks to us exclusively through the Bible. She agreed enthusiastically, although fifteen minutes earlier she had been talking about a sign God had given her in response to a prayer. I shook my head, both grieved and frustrated by the obvious disconnect in her thinking. She needs good discipleship.

Sadly, she can’t understand my speech and she gives me reason to think that she believes I have intellectual disabilities (she’s not online, so she doesn’t read my blog). Additionally, she’s older than I, and therefore I wonder if she’d have the humility to accept instruction from me if I wrote her weekly letters? Maybe. Doing so would mean not blogging as often, but it might help her develop discernment.

As I see it, the Number One need Christian women have is Biblical discernment. (Men also need it, but I know Scripture limits me to teaching women.) Although I don’t believe women are stupid, I do think that we tend to let emotions affect our reasoning. As a result, we gravitate to mystical experiences as supplements to the Bible.

We forget that God’s Word needs no supplement. Consider the apostle Peter’s claim:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. ~~2 Peter 1:3-4 (ESV)

And lest we suppose that we can arrive at”the knowledge of God” through personal experiences, Peter insisted that even his very real experience of witnessing Christ’s Transfiguration found validation only in the “sure word” of Scripture.

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. ~~2 Peter 1:16-21 (ESV)

According to verse 3, then, God has already finished speaking with the completion of the Bible. Therefore, we must approach things like Sarah Young’s book by asking ourselves why we need a new word from the Lord.

Sarah Young’s book, Jesus Calling claims that Young wrote down words as she “listened” to Jesus. In an October 25, 2013 article in The New York Times entitled “A First-Person Defense of Writing in Jesus’ Voice,” Mark Oppenheimer demonstrates Young’s double-speak in trying to uphold Scripture as a closed canon while representing her words as His.

“I decided to listen to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever I believed He was saying,” Ms. Young writes in the book’s introduction. She qualifies her project by writing, later, “The Bible is, of course, the only inerrant Word of God; my writings must be consistent with that unchanging standard.”

But then she tacks back the other way: “I have written from Jesus’ point of view; that is, the first person singular (‘I,’ ‘Me,’ ‘Mine’) always refers to Christ. ‘You’ refers to you, the reader, so the perspective is that of Jesus speaking to you.”

Either way, the average reader will most likely accept the Jesus Calling books as the actual words that Young heard from Jesus.  In future posts, I hope to compare a few passages from Jesus Calling to Scripture, but for now it’s enough to ask whether or not we should read a book that suggests that it contains new revelation from the Lord.

I submit, dear sisters in Christ, that the possibility of Jesus speaking personally to us (whether through Sarah Young’s books or in our own prayer time) appeals to our flesh. But if Peter’s correct, the Lord has already given us everything we  need to live godly lives. I pray for the lady from my church to understand this truth.

Veiled In Flesh

As I prepare to take two days off from blogging, I will share my favorite Christmas hymn today. I love this hymn for its bold affirmation of of the Incarnation.

How amazing that the very God who created the heavens and the earth (John 1:3) and sustains His creation (Colossians 1:17) left His Father’s throne in order to become a helpless Infant! He did so for the express purpose of dying on a Roman cross to atone for our sin.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. ~~Philippians 2:5-11 (ESV)

Christ’s Incarnation fills me with wonder! My finite mind can’t begin to figure out how He lived as a Fetus, an Infant, a Boy and a Man without ceasing to be God. But then, I shouldn’t try to figure it out. Instead, I should follow the example of the angels in today’s hymn who heralded His birth.

Undistracted Christmas

Christmas calls us, first and foremost, to worship Christ. Not surprisingly, our increasingly secular culture, with its growing animosity to the Lord and all He stands for, tries desperately to have a December holiday that marginalizes Christ.

The angels who heralded His birth to the shepherds in Bethlehem knew, however, that the Child born that night deserved universal worship. He came as God Incarnate–the King of kings Who will someday return to reign over His creation.Though His birth was undeniably obscure, all of heaven understood its significance: the Lord of heaven and earth had come to liberate His people from their own sin!

Thus, Biblical Christians persevere through the secular distractions of the season, convinced that presents and family and decorations (while nice) must never eclipse Christ. This season should renew our desire to give Him the praise, honor and adoration that only He deserves, as today’s Christmas hymn reminds us.