Unnecessary Self-Analysis

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.

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Autobiography With Purpose: The “Dear Abby” Of The Ex-Gay World

Dear DebbieLynneA 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.

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It Hurts Our Pride

Park Street ChurchThe 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!

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Political Impotency

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:

Tweet On Pro Life Trump

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.

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Holy Yoga’s Contortions

Twisting ScriptureHave 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)
If Genesis 1:31 is  Boon’s sole reason for assuring her viewers that God is  pleased with them, she exhibits a definite disconnect from the very Bible she claims to love. Our intrinsic depravity breaks His heart! He showed immeasurable mercy through Jesus’ death on the cross, certainly, loving us even as we hated Him, and I rejoice in that mercy. But I must always recognize that He extended mercy precisely because of my innate incapacity to please Him.

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.

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I Woke, The Dungeon Flamed With Light

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.

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Youth Group Needs More Than Fun And Games

Serious Little Boy01On a pleasant spring morning in 2001, I met several friends (with whom I served in a multi-church Youth Group) to caravan from San Rafael, CA to Sacramento, CA for a one-day Youth Specialties seminar. Sitting though a day of learning crazy games meant to somehow engage kids so that we could then speak to them about Christ slightly disturbed me, but I managed to convince myself that I was just middle-aged and needed to update my thinking.

The afternoon lecture, however, troubled me more seriously. The speaker referred to the standard model of “Facts, Faith,  Feeling,” in which pastors and youth workers used to present the facts about the Gospel, encourage the kids to respond with faith and assure them that feelings would follow.  In post-modern America, the speaker argued, that model no longer works. Post-modern kids rely on experience. Therefore, they need to feel God first.

Um…no. Remember Romans 10:17, which says that faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ. Feelings, judging from what I’ve seen in reading Scripture almost daily for 45 years, only appear now and then, with Christian joy and peace  abiding in each believer regardless of emotional fluctuations.

I have growing concerns that most youth groups in 21st Century churches inadvertently teach kids that church is more about giving them a good time than about helping them know the Lord. A few weeks ago, for instance, a youth group leader from another church told me that their group only has actual Bible studies twice a month, and even on Bible study nights they reserve time for games and refreshments.

This youth leader felt frustrated that the kids in the youth group exhibit a growing disrespect towards the youth pastor when he tries to teach the Word. She can’t understand why the kids can’t sit quietly through a 15-minute Bible study.

I answered that an hour’s Bible study every week would probably be more productive. Teenagers appreciate being treated as adults, and they will usually rise to expectations when we ask them to do so. Admittedly, some wouldn’t attend if leaders focused on expounding the Bible. But I seriously doubt the ones who wouldn’t come for the Word have a genuine interest in the Lord anyway.

Games and fun activities have their place, and a monthly activity never hurt anyone. But when youth group emphasizes fun experiences with the goal of getting kids to connect God with euphoric feelings, a church has done them a terrible disservice. It has, in essence, obscured the Gospel.

Like anyone else, teens need to be confronted with God’s holiness and their innate sinfulness. From there, they need to hear that Jesus bore the punishment for their sins on the cross, and that He rose again to give them eternal life. They must be equipped to stand against the temptations of this present world by dying to themselves. Many times, obedience to the Lord will require them to go against their feelings. Youth group, instead of entertaining them, bears a sacred responsibility to prepare young men and women to live in ways that honor Christ.

In order to encourage teenagers toward maturity in Christ, youth groups absolutely must ground them in Scripture. Accordingly, Bible study has got to take center stage! As Christianity becomes less and less accepted in American culture, our young people will need to have a grasp, not on subjective feelings, but on objective truth. Only by building on the foundation of God’s Word can they withstand the storms of persecution that lie ahead.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” ~~Matthew 7:21-27 (ESV)

Leading young people (or anyone, for that matter) to use mere feelings rather than the historical facts taught in Scripture and verified by other sources does them an enormous disservice. Emotions that embrace Christ one moment may shun Him the next. Hormone-driven teens struggle even more than adults do to evaluate life without feelings affecting their judgement. Contrary to the teaching at the Youth Specialties seminar, kids must build their faith on the bedrock of biblical truth, not the shifting sands of how they  feel. So must adults, actually.

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Discernment: What’s Love Got to Do with It?

Michelle Lesley says this so much better than I ever could. I can only add that the fear of being “unloving” traps people in deception. Perhaps it’s self-love, not godly love, that keeps us from telling people the truth!

Michelle Lesley

discernment love

…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…
Ephesians 4:14-15

Christians who know what discernment is have a variety of perspectives about how it should be practiced. Should we teach about false doctrine at all or just make sure our church is teaching sound doctrine? Should we name the names of false teachers or speak about them anonymously? Should we warn people away from false teachers or just pray for them privately? What’s the biblical precedent for using a stringent tone when speaking of those who teach false doctrine?

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the phrase “speaking the truth in love” from Ephesians…

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Autobiography With Purpose:What Would Anita Say?

In WalesBefore I move on with this autobiography, I need to lay a little background. I had gone to Living Waters Bible College in North Wales wounded by a relationship  with a heterosexual man. Yet that disappointment, as much as it broke my heart, didn’t have the deep impact that loving Trevor had inflicted on me. I clearly remember telling God that if I had to choose between this new relationship and the opportunity to minister with Love In Action (an ex-gay ministry affiliated with my church), I wanted to be a correspondence counselor for Love in Action.

Of course, I had never actually told Frank Worthen, the founder and director of Love In Action, about my desire to work for the ministry. I guess I assumed that he wouldn’t consider me qualified for the job. Of course he saw me at all the Tuesday night Bible Studies, Friday night prayer meetings and Love In Action parties, but he also knew about the relationship I wanted. I pretty much figured that he’d be amused by my aspirations, but that he’d encourage me to use my writing abilities elsewhere.

Interestingly, the directors of Living Waters operated on the premise that God had placed me in the College to prepare me for ministry with Love In Action. During that  first two weeks each student in the school had to declare a topic for their “project”–a research paper to be completed by the end of our three months there. When I requested to do mine on Freemasonry, the director said he believed studying the root causes of homosexuality would better prepare me to work for Love In Action. With that pronouncement, I embarked on the course of openly pursuing ex-gay ministry.

Frank, it turned out, was scheduled to teach at the school early in March (accompanied by his new wife, Anita). That meant that I needed to write him a letter by the first week of February to ask for an interview while he was there. I wrote said letter while fighting great fears that Frank and Anita would reject my proposal, and, with a gulp to summon my courage, put it in the mail.

Throughout that February, I enjoyed my life at Living Waters. As March approached, I knew that working for Love In Action would be my only reason for wanting to return to California. Yet I knew my disability precluded me from remaining at the school. On the day Frank and Anita were to arrive, I cried incessantly at the thought of returning home without the position at Love In Action. Obviously, I lacked the perspective that, regardless of the Worthen’s decision, the Lord would have His purpose in returning me to California.

When the Worthens arrived, Frank informed me that Anita would meet with me the next afternoon. Understand here that the Anita of 2016 is a much softer, gentler woman than  the Anita of 1985. Because I knew how blunt and hard Anita could be, as well as how Frank hated to disappoint me, I concluded that he had relegated the task of rejecting me to her.

As I sat with her in the dining hall the next afternoon, she was blunt — but not in the way I had anticipated. Her first words were: “When you start this job, these are the things you need to know.”

Of course, I wanted to jump up and down with sheer delight! But I managed to remain calm as she explained my duties and then preceded to counsel me on how to be a single woman. But as she left, and my curious friends came in to ask whether or not I had gotten the position, I rejoiced without restraint. Despite my improper focus, the Lord had shown His great faithfulness. I had a reason to go home.

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