Beyond Our Reason

Lady Reading BibleThe  Gospel of John starts boldly! “In the beginning was the Word…and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” John, the disciple who enjoyed the closest friendship with Jesus, gave us the most direct (and therefore the most startling) statement of Jesus’ deity. Where some consider the Son of God as being lesser than God the Father, John’s Gospel confronts us with God the Son.

This Incarnation, like the Trinity Itself, bypasses human intellect, leaving us uncomfortable with our inability to comprehend the Creator of all things “reducing” Himself to inhabit His virgin mother’s womb. Offended by this apparent assault on our reasoning capabilities (as if we have some sort of right to equality with God), many of us invent false theologies that deny Jesus’ deity…or badly distort it. Ever prideful, we demand a God that yields to our understanding–not one Who confronts us with our cognitive limitations.

Yet, John knew Jesus. He knew Him enough to be convinced that He was the very God of all creation. John had watched Jesus die on the cross, and only days later had eaten a fish breakfast with Him after His resurrection. The resurrection, more than any of the other miracles, verified Jesus’ claim to be God. Intellect must always bow to fact, especially when fact defies intellect.

So we can best respond to the Incarnation, not by analyzing it or by trying to explain it, but by coming to the Lord in worship and adoration. With our intellects, we discern the overwhelming evidence for His resurrection, and from that point we reason that His claim to be God in the flesh is irrefutable. But then, trying to figure out  how He could at once be fully God and fully Man must be set aside, letting us kneel at the manger.

No Tame Baby

Scenes of Bethlehem, the manger, singing angels or “the little Lord Jesus asleep on the  hay” give us warm feelings, and  may even help us remember why we celebrate Christmas. Bethlehem Christmas 2012 And boy howdy, we certainly need reminding! We get so caught up in all the secular aspects of the holidays that we pretty much forget that we’re commemorating Christ’s birth.

Or if we do actually remember why we celebrate Christmas, we usually romanticize the story. More than that, we separate it from its larger context. We keep our adoration on the innocent Babe, vaguely aware that He is somehow holy. But we get a little bit uncomfortable with acknowledging His deity and understanding that He took our sins upon Himself when He suffered and died on the cross. In short, we prefer  the Baby in the manger to the Lord and Savior Who calls us to repent and follow Him.

We ignore the clear Gospel declaration that the angels made when they announced Christ’s birth to the  shepherds.

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” ~~Luke 2:8-14 (ESV)

Christ the Savior–not only to oppressed Israel, but also to all people! Therefore, He offered a salvation that encompassed far more than Rome’s occupation of Israel. As Savior to all people (meaning all national groups rather than every individual), Jesus ransoms us from the tyranny of sin.

If salvation has to do with sin, we then face the fact that we are sinners. I agree with my church’s doctrinal statement that identifies  all humans as sinners “by nature and by  choice.” The angels announced Christ as the Savior Who would go to the cross as our substitute, shedding His  blood to appease the righteous wrath of the Father.

The angels also proclaimed Christ as Lord, thereby declaring  His deity. The Baby in Bethlehem’s manger created the heavens and the earth. After dying on a Roman cross, He  would rise  from the dead as proof of His mastery over sin and death. Consequently, He deserves worship for all eternity, and one glorious day He will take His redeemed people to His kingdom.

The Baby of Christmas rules the universe,  calling all creatures to bow before Him as He judges the secrets of our hearts.

Autobiography With Purpose: Off Track Thinking

Graduation CeremonyAs I mentioned Monday, I enrolled in a psychology class during my second year at Dominican University. Although I majored in English Literature with an emphasis on writing, the  school mandated that all students take a number of classes outside of their field. Psychology had always sounded interesting to me, and in that era (1975) it was a popular discipline. What could I lose?

The professor (who, to our amusement, appeared to be a neurotic little man) concentrated the curriculum on Gestalt Theory and Transactional Analysis. Although I remember little about either theory (after all, it was 40 years ago!), I can’t forget the pressure I felt to gaze inwardly at myself.

As I went through the course, I saw a disparity between what I read in I‘m OK, You’re OK, and what I read in the Bible. I couldn’t put my finger on why I sensed such tension, other than Scripture’s teaching that all of us are born sinners, so I didn’t articulate my concerns well, either in class or in conversations with my professor. Therefore, everyone questioned the validity of my discomfort. At my professor’s urging, I tried to integrate the two, but I knew deep down that I couldn’t really do so without compromising God’s Word.

I tried to cling to Colossians 2:8.

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. (NASB)

But as I continued in the class, I felt my Biblical convictions erode. Furthermore, I felt powerless to combat the erosion.

As you’ll remember, that year also brought me popularity with the other kids on campus. So it really wouldn’t  surprise me if some of my growing acquiescence to the psychology course came from a desire to maintain my social position. But in any case, I knew I had a backslidden heart.

Over that summer, I rallied a bit spiritually, and decided not to take any more psychology classes. At that time, I saw little difference  between Catholic and Biblical theology, so I enrolled in a class on Thomas Aquinas to fulfill my Religious Studies requirement.

My Religious Studies professor, Father Conrad, saw my Protestant affiliation as an opportunity to demonstrate the fundamental difference between Catholic and Protestant theology to the class, since the majority of them (having been raised Catholic) knew little about Protestant theology. We had read the Question “Whether to believe is meritorious” in Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, and he naturally assumed  I would take issue with it.

In part, I wanted to have fun with Father Conrad. He and I had  a playful friendship, and I loved throwing him off his game. But Aquinas had appealed to my pride, disarming my intellect with the comforting possibility that maybe I had contributed to my salvation after all. So when Father asked for my response to the Question, I saw a perfect opportunity to both mess with his mind and answer honesty (with my priorities decidedly in that order).

“Well Father,” I began in a tone signaling my intention to draw things out, “when I started reading this question, I was prepared to disagree. But as I followed his line of reason, I realized he might be right.”

Father Conrad’s stunned expression and ensuing loss for words sent the entire class into fits of laughter. After class, several of us assembled, gleefully recounting how stymied he had been and how I’d thrown a monkey wrench into his lesson plan.

As funny as the incident was, however, it led me to believe that doctrine had little importance. I’d often say that salvation came through faith in Jesus, but not through doctrine. Sadly, I held to that philosophy well beyond my graduation in 1977, often attending Mass on Fridays during Senior Year and seeking spiritual counsel from Father Conrad instead of the leaders at Church of the Open Door.

In many respects, Dominican was good for me, and I cherish the memories. Still, I ignored Colossians 2:8, despite my supposed repentance after the psychology class. As I’ll show in future installments of this series, it would be almost four decades before the Lord completely restored me to sound doctrine.

U–Not You

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The U in T.U.L.I.P. caused me to disdain Reformed theology for most of my Christian life. I well understood that it stood for Unconditional Election. It meant that I took no part in my salvation–that God chose to save me from the “foundation of the earth” apart from anything I could ever do to please Him.

This approach to understanding salvation attacked my pride (though I never would have admitted it at the time). I knew that Jesus died for my sins, taking the punishment I deserved, and I did understand that good works couldn’t get me to heaven. Yet I believed that I had accepted the Lord as an act of my own free will. As He had offered Himself to me, so I believed that I had chosen to accept His offer.

Many, and perhaps most professing Christians take this type of stance on salvation. Some of them do genuinely trust in the shed blood of Jesus Christ for their salvation, so I believe we must guard against automatically judging them to be false converts. At the same time, we might humbly direct their attention to various Scriptures which teach Unconditional Election.

Romans 9 makes the clearest case for Unconditional Election. Although many other Scriptures support this doctrine, I only have time today to discuss this one passage.

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

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. ~~Romans 9:6-18 (ESV)

In context, this passage is about God’s choosing to show mercy first on Israel, and now on Gentile Christians. I don’t deny this point. But most Bible scholars also argue that the passage teaches election of individual believers. Consider, for example, John Calvin’s commentary on verse 11 alone:

11. For when the children, etc. He now begins to ascend higher, even to show the cause of this difference, which he teaches us is nowhere else to be found except in the election of God. He had indeed before briefly noticed, that there was a difference between the natural children of Abraham, that though all were adopted by circumcision into a participation of the covenant, yet the grace of God was not effectual in them all; and hence that they, who enjoy the favor of God, are the children of the promise. But how it thus happened, he has been either silent or has obscurely hinted. Now indeed he openly ascribes the whole cause to the election of God, and that gratuitous, and in no way depending on men; so that in the salvation of the godly nothing higher (nihil superius) must be sought than the goodness of God, and nothing higher in the perdition of the reprobate than his just severity.

Then the first proposition is, — “As the blessing of the covenant separates the Israelitic nation from all other people, so the election of God makes a distinction between men in that nation, while he predestinates some to salvation, and others to eternal condemnation.” The second proposition is, — “There is no other basis for this election than the goodness of God alone, and also since the fall of Adam, his mercy; which embraces whom he pleases, without any regard whatever to their works.” The third is, — “The Lord in his gratuitous election is free and exempt from the necessity of imparting equally the same grace to all; but, on the contrary, he passes by whom he wills, and whom he wills he chooses.” All these things Paul briefly includes in one sentence: he then goes on to other things.

Moreover, by these words, When the children had not yet been born, nor had done any good or evil, he shows, that God in making a difference could not have had any regard to works, for they were not yet done. Now they who argue on the other side, and say, that this is no reason why the election of God should not make a difference between men according to the merits of works, for God foresees who those are who by future works would be worthy or unworthy of his grace, are not more clear-sighted than Paul, but stumble at a principle in theology, which ought to be well known to all Christians, namely, that God can see nothing in the corrupt nature of man, such as was in Esau and Jacob, to induce him to manifest his favor. When therefore he says, that neither of them had then done any good or evil, what he took as granted must also be added, — that they were both the children of Adam, by nature sinful, and endued with no particle of righteousness.

I do not dwell thus long on explaining these things, because the meaning of the Apostle is obscure; but as the Sophists, being not content with his plain sense, endeavour to evade it by frivolous distinctions, I wished to show, that Paul was by no means ignorant of those things which they allege.

It may further be said, that though that corruption alone, which is diffused through the whole race of man, is sufficient, before it breaks out, as they say, into action, for condemnation, and hence it follows, that Esau was justly rejected, for he was naturally a child of wrath, it was yet necessary, lest any doubt should remain, as though his condition became worse through any vice or fault, that sins no less than virtues should be excluded. It is indeed true, that the proximate cause of reprobation is the curse we all inherit from Adam; yet, that we may learn to acquiesce in the bare and simple good pleasure of God, Paul withdraws us from this view, until he has established this doctrine, — That God has a sufficiently just reason for electing and for reprobating, in his own will.  293

That the purpose of God according to election, etc. He speaks of the gratuitous election of God almost in every instance. If works had any place, he ought to have said, — “That his reward might stand through works;” but he mentions the purpose of God, which is included, so to speak, in his own good pleasure alone. And that no ground of dispute might remain on the subject, he has removed all doubt by adding another clause, according to election, and then a third, not through works, but through him who calls. Let us now then apply our minds more closely to this passage: Since the purpose of God according to election is established in this way, — that before the brothers were born, and had done either good or evil, one was rejected and the other chosen; it hence follows, that when any one ascribes the cause of the difference to their works, he thereby subverts the purpose of God. Now, by adding, not through works, but through him who calls, he means, not on account of works, but of the calling only; for he wishes to exclude works altogether. We have then the whole stability of our election inclosed in the purpose of God alone: here merits avail nothing, as they issue in nothing but death; no worthiness is regarded, for there is none; but the goodness of God reigns alone. False then is the dogma, and contrary to God’s word, — that God elects or rejects, as he foresees each to be worthy or unworthy of his favor.  294

Of course people view election as arbitrary and unfair. God’s Word never explains His criteria for choosing some and not others. We hopefully concede that not one of us deserves anything less than His wrath, and yet it seems to us that there should be some reason that He saves some and condemns others. Our fallen wisdom concludes that, in His foreknowledge, He knows who will accept Him and who will reject Him. We clutch this reasoning tightly in our fists because we demand a way of understanding God’s methods.

We also demand to feel a sense of control. Actually, this demand for   control lies at the heart of why we dislike the doctrine of Unconditional Election. We crave a sense of control!

But as we study Scripture, coming to terms both with God’s sovereignty and our Total Depravity, the doctrine of Unconditional Election transforms into a beautiful mystery. Why did He show grace to me? Knowing that I did nothing to achieve His election of me fills me with wonder at His grace. I don’t know why He has  shown me such compassion in giving me the faith to believe in Christ, but my inability to comprehend His purposes only causes me to love  Him more.

Opened Too Soon

 It seemed, to my ten-year-old mind, very reasonable. As I gazed longingly at the cheerful array of packages, all wrapped in decorative red and green paper, I wondered what treasures awaited me. I wasn’t quite sure Mommy had been altogether justified in commanding me to wait. And, after all, it was Christmas Eve, so what difference would it really make if I opened my presents early? I mean, they really were addressed to me!

So, I scooted over to the Christmas tree, and found a present addressed to me from one of the high school girls that volunteered at the school for “orthopedically handicapped” children that I attended. It was a flat package, leading me to conclude that it as a more grown-up gift. The prospect of a grown-up gift reinforced the idea that I was old enough to determine when to open Christmas gifts!

I ripped the paper eagerly, unveiling a framed, illustrated copy of the Girl Scout Laws (I had recently “flown up” from Brownies to Girl Scouts). I read:

The Girl Scout Laws
1. A Girl Scout’s Honor Is to be Trusted
2. A Girl Scout Is Loyal
3. A Girl Scout’s Duty Is to be Useful and to Help Others
4. A Girl Scout is a Friend to All, and a Sister to every other Girl Scout
5. A Girl Scout Is Courteous
6. A Girl Scout Is a Friend to Animals
7. A Girl Scout Obeys Orders
8. A Girl Scout is Cheerful
9. A Girl Scout is Thrifty
10. A Girl Scout is Clean in Thought, Word and Deed.

As I read, Mommy (who also happened to be the leader of my Girl Scout troop that year), entered the room, and the feelings of guilt started. She knelt beside me and said reprovingly, “You broke laws 1, 7 and 10.” Suddenly, the present my friend had given with the intention of affirming my good standing as a Girl Scout became my accuser. It reminded me, every time a looked at it, that I had been untrustworthy.

I don’t remember any more of the incident, but I learned never to open Christmas gifts early again. I never wanted my impatience to spoil another present.

So many of us are like I was as a ten-year-old. Feeling entitled to the things we want, we seize them instead of waiting for the Lord to bestow them in His time and His way. Premarital sex, of course, is the obvious example of opening a gift before the time, but I think there are hundreds of ways besides that to run ahead of the Lord. When I catch myself going ahead of Him, or thinking I have a better plan than His, I remember how it felt to open that Christmas present. Cheating isn’t worth it

Autobiography With Purpose: Two Lives In One

College Senior YearIn September of 1973, I began my freshman year at Dominican College of San Rafael (which has since been renamed Dominican University of California). Just before the first week of classes, Mom informed me that she didn’t want me to embarrass her by engaging in evangelism on campus. After all,  it might offend the nuns who taught there.

I didn’t obey her fully, I’m happy to say. To my regret, however, I toned down my evangelistic efforts to such a degree that I found myself compromising my walk with the Lord and losing my zeal for Him.

Actually, I got through the first year without sacrificing too much integrity. I did write a paper on Erasmus in which I’d planned to show that humanism opposes Christianity; I ended up being persuaded that the two could co-exist. Perhaps writing that paper and succumbing to my philosophy professor’s point of view began a theological erosion that softened my Biblical convictions.

But my sophomore year brought the most serious difficulties.  Two factors, my inclusion in a popular group of students and a psychology class that taught Transactional Analysis, converged to pull me away from my dedication to the Lord. Even though I continued to read my Bible and attend church and Bible Study, my  commitment to the Lord receded as I invested in my social and academic life at Dominican.

I will go into greater detail about the ways my psychology class, my religious studies classes and the overall Catholic atmosphere of Dominican weakened my Biblical convictions in my next autobiographical post. Today, however, let me concentrate on the effect popularity had on me.

I had continued attending the Pentecostal church most Sundays, and Kent’s group on Tuesday and Sunday evenings. (Thankfully, the Pentecostal church had pretty much given up on their attempts to heal me.) But when Kent’s ministry announced plans to merge with Church of the Open Door in May of 1974, I left the Pentecostal church. Despite a more stable church affiliation, however, I allowed my friends at Dominican to dominate my affections.

In contrast to my social marginalization in high school, college placed me among the kids that pretty much constituted Dominican’s social hub. Although I wouldn’t participate in their obviously sinful behaviors (notably going to the bar they frequented), I readily embraced their more subtle sins of gossip and complaining. Their acceptance meant more to me than pleasing the Lord did.

Outwardly, I presented myself as a solid Christian. But often in   my Bible reading, I’d come across a passage that all too accurately described my rancid duplicity:

Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,

This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.

But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. ~~Matthew 15:7-9 (KJV)

By my junior year, I regained a desire to be more obedient to the Lord. I even shared the Gospel occasionally, though not as boldly as I’d shared it in  my high school years. I told myself that I had set a precedent that I couldn’t reverse. In reality, however, I simply wasn’t willing to give up my social position.

Ironically, only one girl in the cliche genuinely liked me. After graduation, she was the only one (until the advent of Facebook) to maintain contact with me. So I could have been bolder in proclaiming the Gospel! More importantly, I should have been the same girl at school that I was at church.

Rejoice! He’s Coming Again!

Israel suffered bitterly, first during its 400-year exile in Egypt and later the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. They yearned for their promised Messiah to deliver them. And, while those who are Israel in name only reject the fact that Christ made His first appearance 2000 years ago, the Jews who have accepted Him look forward to His restoration of their Promised Land when He returns.

I’m not well-versed in eschatology like Fred Butler or Elizabeth Prata, so please don’t press me for details on this restoration. But I praise the Lord that His first coming provides assurance of His second (and final) coming. Yet I rejoice in knowing the remnant of Israel that belongs  to Him will one day have their long-awaited Emmanuel.

True Christians also long for Christ’s return. As our culture increasingly celebrates sin, and as Islam nears its goal of world-domination, those who honestly follow Christ and believe Scripture can count on experiencing persecution. Like the true Israel, we long for Christ to deliver us. Today’s Christmas hymn reminds me that our Emmanuel will return to restore His Church. Yes–I rejoice!

Their Sin Wouldn’t Excuse Mine

1 Co 13I probably shouldn’t blog today. This morning, I heard something about a church I used to attend that, although it didn’t  surprise me, made me angry. I fear that, in my fury, I might slander the church. Not a good idea.

Internet communications make it so easy to type out every angry thought and then publish it for all the world to read. In the process, innocent people get hurt and we dishonor the Lord. We may state perfectly true facts and make completely accurate assessments, but in the process we run the risk of gossiping and slandering.

There are times, of course, when we must speak out against unbiblical teachings and practices, especially when a church (or person) claims to  follow Scripture. Perhaps, when I gain some distance from today’s conversation, I can find a way to comment on the underlying issues in a manner that reflects godly character.

And the Lord holds me responsible to behave in accordance with His character and His work in my life. In fact, all of us who call ourselves Christians bear this responsibility. In the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul lays out a sumptuous explanation of who we  are in Christ. Those magnificent chapters overflow with descriptions of the Lord’s mercy in transforming us from corpses  enslaved by our own sin into members of His family who will experience spiritual blessings beyond our wildest imaginations. Then, in Chapter 4, Paul begins speaking about our response to His grace.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. ~~Ephesians 4:1-3 (ESV)

Later in the chapter, Paul mentions some specific ways of exhibiting that humility and  gentleness.

25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. ~~Ephesians 4:25-32 (ESV)

At this point, I know the Lord places  parameters on how I handle my anger toward my former church. Yes, they’re making terrible choices in how they do things, and those choices betray their low view of Scripture. Certainly, their choices retard the spiritual growth of those under their care, and most likely presents a weakened view of the Gospel. And I should be angry at their compromises!

But my anger must not give me license to sin. In time, I probably will find appropriate ways to write about the issues this church raises, and I pray that the Holy Spirit will help me do so in a way that pleases Him. Righteous anger must never express itself in sinful actions. If I  honestly care  about honoring Christ, then I need to ensure that I don’t dishonor Him myself.

Death Of A Vision

On December 18, 1989, a very special friend of mine lost his battle with AIDS. Reportedly, Jesus appeared to him that morning, telling him it was time to go. So, surrounded by his mother and friends from her church, he took off his oxygen mask. He lingered until 11:00 that night, listening to the prayers and worship songs of those who had gathered in his  hospital room. At that point, his cousin told me, he said he again saw Jesus, and then  he drew his last breath.

Over the next few months, his mother called me several times. In one conversation, she told me that Jesus had given her a vision that He now employed her son in heaven as an intercessor for people living with AIDS. Her vision was confirmed, she added, by an acquaintance of hers who independently experienced the “exact same” vision.

This vision offered me a measure of comfort as I grieved. It offered a sense of purpose to a death that otherwise held no meaning that I could understand. So I embraced it.

I continued serving with Love In Action, and its AIDS support group, frequently praying for those who had tested positive for HIV. One night, while praying with particular intensity, I found myself praying to my deceased friend as if, because the visions cast him in the role of an intercessor for those with HIV, he was some sort of intermediary between me and the Lord.

My misdirected prayer amounted to necromancy! Deuteronomy 18:10-12 clearly prohibits this practice, so my actions horrified me. I instantly repented, and have never again prayed to any being except the Lord.

My sin of praying to a dead person caused me to begin questioning the assumptions of the Charismatic movement, beginning with visions and prophetic utterances. I began searching the Bible and reading John MacArthur’s book, Charismatic Chaos. I began my journey away from Charismatic teaching, learning to evaluate my subjective experiences by Scripture rather than forcing patch-work fragments of Bible verses (in conveniently selected versions) to lend credibility to my experiences.

The Lord used my friend and his mother to teach me the critical importance of His Word, even when it challenges my theology. Over the 25 years since He began delivering me from Charismatic theology, I’ve had to relinquish some cherished experiences that I’d believed were personal revelations from Him, and the process has been humbling. But I rejoice in His faithfulness to correct me through His Word

Autobiography With Purpose: The Wounds Of Healing

DebTLHSIn order to explain the spiritual abuse that occurred during the two years that I actively  sought healing from Cerebral Palsy, I need to fill in a few background details to help you understand why I wanted the Lord to heal me. These factors may shed light on why I didn’t recognize that I actually suffered abuse.

First of all, my right hip dislocated when I was 15 or 16. (The reasons for the dislocation would distract from this narrative.) The adductor muscle spasms in my right thigh caused me such pain that my orthopedist put me on aspirin and Valium to keep me  as comfortable as possible. By God’s grace, I remember little of that experience, though I know I did suffer quite a bit. I had a failed surgery to correct it when I was 16; that failure made me resist proposals of more radical surgery.

In addition to the situation with my hip, I struggled with my social position. I turned 19 three weeks after beginning my senior year of high school, mostly because the school for the handicapped wouldn’t mainstream me until I was 14. I mention this fact only to say that I felt awkward. That sense of being older than my classmates dissipated somewhat because of my participation in  Kent’s ministry, but it always stayed beneath the surface. I saw my age, in addition to my disability in general, as  a hindrance to attracting a nice Christian guy.

When people introduced me to the idea of physical  healing, I wanted it badly! I believed it would make me more attractive to the opposite sex. And I really wanted my hip pain to end without having another operation that might not be any more  effective than the first one had been. So when the Pentecostal church I attended on Sunday mornings decided to devote an hour after each service to pursue my healing, I agreed eagerly.

A group of us from the church fasted every Saturday in anticipation of Jesus healing me the next day. Mom feared that I was anorexic, and sometimes ordered my favorite type of pizza to coax me into eating. When Kent began the Saturday meetings that included potluck dinners, I found relief from her pressure.

Each Sunday about ten people would remain after church to join the three pastors (one of whom had been paralyzed by a gunshot wound and required a wheelchair himself) in “discerning” the causes of my Cerebral Palsy. They believed that spiritual forces blocked the Holy Spirit from healing me.

Sunday after Sunday, the pastors rebuked me for lacking faith. In obedience to them I horrified my mom, my teacher at the special school and my physical therapist by going off my aspirin and Valium for a week. Another time, I went to a Kathryn Kuhlman healing service after informing all my non-Christian friends that they’d never see me in a wheelchair again. Those incidents, and others (like my attempts to walk on the lawn at high school) convinced them of my faith. Kind of…

Next, they interrogated me, thinking that the Holy Spirit couldn’t heal me because of unconfessed sin in my life. At that point, I destroyed all my occult paraphernalia, showing them my repentance. Satisfied that I was right with God, they informed me that God had shown them that Daddy had committed adultery. Although skeptical, I obediently confessed that. I confessed my mom’s sins as well.

When confessing the sins that my parents and I committed didn’t allow the Lord to heal me, the pastor in the wheelchair figured out that I must be demon possessed. He reasoned, “Only Satan could make something this ugly!” I tried not to take his words personally, but  being two years behind in school with no prospect of a date for the Senior Prom made it difficult. He had taught me that I was ugly.

As time went on, my pain grew worse. The Sunday afternoon healing sessions continued, often with the pastors staring into my eyes and yelling at Satan to come out of me. Meanwhile, my acceptance into college, combined with an awareness that I would soon need to increase my dosage of Valium, softened my heart toward having the surgery I had resisted for so long. After much prayer, the pastors agreed that God would probably heal my hip through the operation.

Indeed the Lord did use that surgery to alleviate my pain. Within six months after the operation I took my last Valium, and have been pretty much pain free since then.

But the abuse of being told I lacked faith, of having to confess my sins and the supposed sins of my parents, as well as the haunting pronouncement that my Cerebral Palsy rendered me ugly, remained with me for many years. It took decades to realize that God could have healed me without any efforts on my part to deserve that healing. Those Pentecostal pastors most likely meant well, but they damaged me theologically and emotionally. Even worse, their words and actions denied God’s sovereignty. Perhaps this slander of His character was the most abusive part of the whole episode.