I have a life spattered and muddied by my own rebellion against a holy God. Left to my own devices, I would have utterly no hope of cleansing myself from their contamination. So I treasure the gracious blood of Jesus, knowing that His love led Him to wash away each of my sins! Today’s hymn celebrates His compassion in purifying me.
The Lord, for reasons known only to Him, kept me single until a month before my 49th birthday. His decision troubled me greatly, to say the least.
During those anguished years of singleness, “Christian psychology” made its way into the church I’d joined. Consequently, I felt compelled to analyze my desire to marry, much as my friends tried to analyze their same sex attractions. Borrowing from that church’s use of psychological models, I reasoned that uncovering the underlying cause of my longing for a husband would unlock ways that Jesus could directly provide me with romantic fulfillment.
You may have guessed that my quest never yielded the answers I sought. I struggled with enormous self-condemnation because Jesus didn’t satisfy me. So of course I then searched for explanations regarding my apparent resistance to Him. I read countless “Christian” books on co-dependency, emotional dependency, inner healing, and all sorts of other psychological blocks to “receiving God’s love.” But my desire for marriage stubbornly remained.
Looking back, I easily see that romantic fulfillment was an idol. Mercifully, the Lord did eventually bless me with a marriage far beyond my expectations, for which I praise Him. But what if He hadn’t?
Scripture says that God created us for His pleasure and purposes, not so that He could cater to our “felt needs.”
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.” ~~Revelation 4:11 (ESV)
The King James Version says “and for thy pleasure they are created.” So, while my marriage extends happiness as a wonderful by-product, the Lord actually brought it about to glorify Himself. If He had chosen to keep me single, He would have also done that for His glory. My emotional gratification really matters little in comparison to how He chooses to glorify Himself through me.
As post-modern evangelicals shift increasingly toward a gospel that requires the Lord to meet our emotional needs, we lose sight of the true Gospel that revolves around Him. The Lord primarily cares about making us holy. He died in order to take the wrath of God that rightly belongs to each of us so that we, as a corporate Church, might be His eternal Bride. Thus, His purpose in redeeming us goes far beyond our temporal happiness.
When we then shift the emphasis from His eternal joy to what we can get out of Him in this life, we cheapen the Gospel. In fact, dear sisters in Christ, we cheapen Christ. The hours we waste in psychological counseling could be used in studying and applying Scripture as we seek to live in holiness before Him.
“Christian” psychology, by offering non-existent answers to questions we have no business asking in the first place, subtly shifts God into the role of our Servant. Even though He does graciously bless us, we must break out of our insidious attitude that He has an obligation to fulfill us emotionally. We exist to please Him, and we can rejoice that He takes pleasure in us.
A little over a month after I returned to California from Wales (and a ten-day vacation in London), I sat at my typewriter excitedly ready to write my first counseling letter for Love In Action. The letter I had to answer brimmed with confusion and heartache. The writer’s husband had just told her that he struggled with homosexual feelings.
Suddenly, despite all the reading I’d done and all the instruction Anita had given me, I crumbled under the weight of inadequacy. I stared at the blank piece of paper in my typewriter, wondering how to fill it. As I prayed, the Lord helped me to remember those Bible Studies back in my high school years. Kent had taught that the Bible could answer any situation.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. ~~Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)
Once I determined that Scripture would form the basis of my counseling, the words filled the pages easily. At the end of the week, I handed in three letters, all of which satisfied the office staff that I could handle the responsibility.
Like any new worker, I made a few missteps in those early days, such as sympathetically agreeing with one emotionally abused wife that divorce might be her best option. That particular letter brought the first of only two actual corrections I received during my twelve years on staff. Gently but firmly, Anita informed me that, as a representative of Love In Action, I must never recommend divorce.
By the end of that summer, Love In Action asked me to go beyond writing to friends and family of homosexual “strugglers” (as we called them) to writing strugglers themselves. At that point, I’d grown fairly familiar with the ministry’s basic teachings. Once in a while I’d find myself taking Scriptures out of context in order to substantiate those teachings. I rationalized that I was helping people, and I still affirmed the Bible’s authority.
As time progressed and leadership applauded my use of God’s Word (although I actually misused it), I grew more comfortable with the practice. Leaders from other ex-gay ministries under the Exodus International umbrella began to notice my articles in the Love In Action newsletters, and none of them questioned my use of God’s Word. I enjoyed my notoriety, and praised the Lord that He allowed me to be the “Dear Abby” of the ex-gay world.
To be fair, I believe I honestly wanted to uphold the Bible in my counseling letters, and there were many times I used it accurately. I regret much about my self-serving attitude that led me to take Bible verses out of context, but I hope that God used me in spite of my failings to draw people to His Word.
The doctrine of Unconditional Election bothers people because it eradicates the possibility of free will. Its detractors typically object that without free will, we are nothing more than robots who come to God involuntarily rather than out of love. That caricature, however, misses the point that human beings really can’t claim to be free agents.
But Scripture never teaches the idea that we have free will. As a matter of fact, Jesus informed the Pharisees of their slavery to sin, adding that the Son must set a person free (John 8:34-36). Indeed, the Holy Spirit liberates those who abide in Jesus from sin’s dominion over them (Romans 8:2). Any freedom we have, argues the apostle Paul, comes with slavery.
20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~~Romans 6:20-23 (ESV)
Jesus sets us free from sin. Apart from Him, we have no freedom other than the freedom to disobey Him in any way we choose. That enslavement to sin doesn’t make us Satan’s robots. But it certainly renders us powerless to choose to follow Christ unless He graciously chooses us.
We desperately want to share His glory by supposing that we freely decided to follow Jesus. I all too well understand that desire because
I’ve fought I fight the temptation to couch my salvation testimony in phrases of self-congratulation.
Sometimes we will embrace a modified view of election that bolsters our pride with the assurance that we somehow merit our election. We concede, usually, that we don’t deserve God’s grace, so we’d at least like to think that we were smart enough, noble enough, and wise enough to merit His attention. We don’t mind believing that God elected us because He knew we’d have sense enough to accept Him. But God’s Word makes no provision for even that idea.
26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” ~~1 Corinthians 1:26-31 (ESV)
Ah…that takes us to the real objection to the doctrine of Unconditional Election: it humbles us. It leaves us no room to accept any credit for our salvation, leaving us completely baffled as to why He would choose us. And that bafflement, as it brings us to the sweetness of humility, causes us to worship the gracious and merciful Savior!
Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, like many past Republican presidential candidates, have been courting the “evangelical vote” in preparation for the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire Primary. I’ve had a bit of fun on Twitter posting my reaction to Trump’s recent declaration (clearly calculated to attract evangelical voters) of his pro-life position by tweeting this:
Okay, it was catty. But please don’t pretend it didn’t amuse you. But the fact remains that I question The Donald’s sincerity on this issue, and strongly suspect his 2011 shift on this issue comes from a need to influence evangelicals to carry him to the White House. He and Cruz both understand the power of the Religious Right.
Many evangelicals also understand their political power, and they all too frequently buy into the false notion that we can usher in Christ’s kingdom through the ballot box. Even though I generally join them in voting for conservative candidates and measures, however, I have no illusions that political action can bring about a Christian society. In fact, I don’t even think it should.
I base my reservations on more Scriptures than I have time to examine today, but I’d like to mention just one passage for consideration. The apostle John’s narration of the Lord’s trial before Pilate offers insight into the responsibilities of His servants to reform secular society.
33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” ~~John 18:33-37 (ESV)
Now, obviously this passage is more descriptive than prescriptive, but I believe it does reveal two important points. First of all, Jesus made it clear that His kingdom has nothing to do with this present world. His purpose centered on bringing the truth to His elect, not to demolish the Roman Empire that Pilate depended on for his position. Jesus could have mobilized twelve legions of angels to fight for Him (Matthew 26:53) if He had wanted to establish theocratic rule.
Secondly, this passage underscores His sovereignty. He had a purpose in delaying the establishment of His kingdom. And He still delays it. But that delay doesn’t mean that He wants His Church to use political muscle, nor does it mean that He will base His kingdom in Washington D.C. What arrogance to suppose that we have a mandate to make America a Christian nation.
Sure, we should vote in ways that reflect Biblical values, but we shouldn’t expect any earthly government to bring about the kingdom of God. All human leaders will disappoint us because they’re human and therefore riddled with sin. When we vote, let’s remember that point.
Have you heard of Holy Yoga? It’s a practice that claims to be “100% Yoga, 100% Jesus” (whatever that means). But how Christian is Holy Yoga? I’ve been investigating its website for several years now, and I’ve encountered a few points that expose its distortions of Scripture and its compromise with worldly philosophy.
The media section of Holy Yoga’s website includes videos that feature founder Brooke Boon giving brief teachings (called “meditations”) on various Scripture passages. These meditations aren’t any more disturbing than much of the drivel coming out of 21st Century evangelicals, but neither are they less disturbing. She uses “The Message,” a Bible paraphrase notorious for twisting God’s Word into politically correct feel-good platitudes, and from there going off into applications that focus more on human “potential” than on the Lord.
Therefore they are troubling, precisely because they present the same inverted gospel that’s growing more and more prevalent in the visible church. Boon encourages her followers, in one video, that “God is pleased with you.” As lovely as that sounds, she supports her statement with a partial quote from Genesis 1:31:
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. (ESV)
From this verse fragment, she extrapolates that “everything about you pleases God.” Excuse me? Is she speaking to people in general, as this text might indicate? If so, she’s forgetting Genesis 3, which tells of humanity’s fall from grace. Has she forgotten that, through Adam and Eve’s willful rebellion, the same creation that God proclaimed to be good became so thoroughly corrupted that Jesus had to redeem it by shedding His own blood? In and of ourselves, dear sisters, we do not please God.
Apart from Christ, according to the Bible, human beings are decidedly unpleasant to a righteous and holy God. The Bible describes us in very unflattering terms:
10 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” ~~Romans 3: 10-18 (ESV)
I do realize, however, that Boon’s intended audience was professing Christians. So in a sense, she could reasonably say, “God is pleased with you.” But not on the basis of Genesis 1:31! A better text might have been 2 Corinthians 5:21:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (ESV)
We please God because Jesus gave us His righteousness, not because He created us. Creation needed redemption, and the preciousness of our Redeemer is the only thing that makes us pleasing to God. Had Brook Boon said as much, basing her meditation on 2 Corinthians 5:112, her meditation would have been more accurate. Additionally, it would have placed the emphasis on the Lord’s goodness, not on our self-worth.
This is but one example of how Holy Yoga twists sound doctrine. It’s sweet to the ears, perhaps, but it ignores so much of the wonder of Christ’s glory. I watched several other Holy Yoga videos, all of which convinced me that Brooke Boon is deceived. Please join me in praying for her.
Sometimes a hymn has everything a girl could want! Recorded by Enfield–right there, that delights me. Fun to sing–definitely a selling point. Fabulous poetry–well, after all, I majored in English Literature.
But the most important (and dare I say, surprising) aspect of Charles Wesley’s hymn, And Can It Be, has got to be its vivid depiction of God’s sovereign grace in bringing a captive sinner to salvation. I love the rich theology that carries every line of the song as it adores Christ for His grace and mercy. Each stanza reminds me of how He took me from my wretched state and made me His joint-heir. That glorious display of the Lord’s amazing love is, by far, the real reason I love this hymn.