Autobiography With Purpose: The Move To Memphis

KDSH 1995I woke up on July 4, 1995 as a nursing home resident in Memphis, Tennessee, a little more than six months after the rest of Love  In Action had relocated there from San Rafael. “What have I done?” I asked myself.

A little over two years earlier, John Smid (who became Love In Action’s director in 1991) announced that, in response to a vision God had supposedly given him, he’d begun the process of moving the ministry. I wanted to point out the foolishness of making such a drastic decision–especially one that would have a major impact on at least 20 lives–on a subjective vision, but I understood the futility of doing so. Instead, gesturing toward my wheelchair, I said, “Well, obviously I can’t go.”

Over the next few months, as the rest of the staff excitedly anticipated their future in Memphis, I tried to remain stoic. I reminded myself that, even though John erred  by basing this decision on a subjective vision, the Lord evidently had His reasons for not blocking it. Therefore, I determined to trust that God willed this move to happen. Of course my heart broke at the thought of being separated from the ministry I loved, and occasionally I allowed my disappointment to show. But I clung to my belief that the Lord was  having His way.

One night, after a conversation with a co-worker that triggered my feelings of impending loss, I found  myself praying from the depths of my  being, “Lord, let me go to Memphis!” My prayer shocked me. I’d  thought I’d accepted the fact that, when the ministry moved, I’d remain in San Rafael. But as soon as that prayer came out of me, I knew the Lord had shown me my own heart.

I didn’t tell anyone about my prayer, nor did I consider the possibility that God would actually grant my request. After a few days, I put it out of my mind and got back to the business of correspondence counseling and writing for the Love In Action Newsletter. After all, they hadn’t moved yet, so I figured I should enjoy my job as long as I possibly could.

In the spring of 1994, John Smid called me to ask if I’d consider living in a home for disabled adults in Memphis. Would I? Exhausted from the revolving door of Personal Care Attendants that I’d gone through since the spring of 1993, I embraced the opportunity as an answer to all my prayers at once! I remembered my shocking prayer a   few months earlier, utterly amazed by the Lord’s graciousness to answer it.

Although the rest of Love In Action left San Rafael early in the morning on December 5, 1994, I was still on the waiting list for admission to Kings Daughters and Sons Home. I worked long-distance as I worked on my Medicaid application that would allow me to reside in a Tennessee nursing facility, and in May of 1995 I spent five days in Memphis visiting the Love In Action office, Central Church and KDSH. Finally Kings Daughters and Sons called to say I needed to be there on July 3.

As I woke up on July 4, the reality that I’d become a nursing home resident hit me as I faced a gruff CNA who seemed uninterested in pleasantries. But I trusted that, once I started working and got involved in Central Church, I’d have little to do with the nursing home. Jesus had brought me there; He would make it good.

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A Bedtime Prayer

Usually I post a hymn here each Sunday. In scrambling to find one to post, I typed “Fernando Ortega” into my YouTube search box last night and discovered his charming song, “Jesus King of Angels.” Simply put: I fell in love with it!

Does it qualify as a hymn? I don’t know. Certainly, it extols Christ for both His infinite power and His personal love, so I believe we could get  away with calling it a hymn. But at the very least, it’s a touching and compelling bedtime prayer suitable for children and adults alike. May we fall asleep tonight trusting His care for us

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End Times Or Not–It’s Time!

The world spirals more and more into chaos. Although Christians in every generation have believed Jesus would return in their lifetimes, current events suggest to me that He may come within the next few decades. Don’t interpret that statement as a prophecy, however. I claim neither prophetic powers nor a clear understanding of eschatology.

Having made my disclaimer, permit me to make my main point. Regardless of whether the Lord returns before I publish this post or comes 2000 years from now, I see an urgency for Christians to proclaim the Gospel! Yes, I believe the Bible teaches the doctrine of election, but I also believe the Holy Spirit chooses to bring those He elects to salvation through the faithful proclamation of His Word (Romans 10:14-17). Furthermore, I believe hearing God’s Word confirms the non-Christian’s guilt before God, rendering  him or her incapable of charging God with injustice (Romans 9:14-33). In either case, the Lord emphatically declares that His Word will accomplish His purposes (Isaiah 55:10-11).

That isn’t to say that we should present the Gospel in a dispassionate manner, announcing that people can’t come to salvation apart from the Father’s drawing (John 6:44). Usually, the  time for explaining the doctrine of Total Inability comes after a conversion. Notice, for example, that Peter omitted it in his impassioned sermon at Pentecost.

37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. ~~Acts 2:37-41 (ESV)

Yes, ladies, in verse 40 Peter (speaking in the power of the Holy Spirit, mind you) actually admonished his audience to save themselves. Was he ignorant of Jesus’ words in John 6:44 and the many other times Jesus spoke of Total Inability? I highly doubt it! Rather, he saw the urgency of proclaiming the Gospel. His sense of urgency compelled him to emphasize human responsibility. He knew that no one could exercise that responsibility apart from the Lord’s intervention, but He also knew that the elect would respond to his exhortation.

Peter believed the Lord would return in his lifetime. Accordingly, he proclaimed the Gospel in basic terms, knowing that he  could offer more complete instruction if the Lord tarried.

At this point in my life, I no longer hold myself responsible for convincing people to believe the Gospel. I pray, certainly, and I proclaim the Gospel, but then I trust the Lord with the results. The urgency I sense has little to do with muscling people into the kingdom and everything to do with being faithful to the Lord.

These may indeed be the last of the last days. I sincerely hope so. But if the Lord plans to wait a few millennia more before His triumphal return, it still holds true that we live in extremely troubling times. Sadly, many people who profess to be Christians have fallen into doctrinal error, sinful behaviors or both to such a degree that they also need the Gospel. Therefore, we must never lay it aside or allow “Christian” fads to obscure it. We must declare it boldly, prayerfully, and with assurance that the Holy Spirit will use it to bring salvation to His elect.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. ~~Romans 1:16 (ESV)

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Apple Carts And Presuppotitional Evangelism

Bible Mask MedievalJust as I’d planned to offer a series of blog posts arguing for Christianity from sources apart from the Bible three years ago, Cripplegate’s Mike Riccardi had to go and challenge my thinking with his February 8, 2013 blog post, Presuppositional Apologetics: An Evaluation. While I nurture the hope that my more serious readers will click the link and read the entire article for themselves, I’d better confess that I click links in other people’s blogs only about 30% of the time. That character flaw of mine being the case, allow me to quote the portion of Riccardi’s post that upset my apple cart, and then make a few comments on how I have since reassembled my Granny Smiths:

…the presuppositional apologist has the advantage of never having to pretend that reality isn’t the way it is. Notwithstanding the unbeliever’s disagreement, from a purely objective standpoint, God actually does exist. He actually is who He says He is. He actually did create the world in six days. And the Bible actually is His infallible and inerrant Word. It is a good thing, therefore, to reason as if all of those things are actually true and not merely likely or probable.

 

Both evidentialism and classical apologetics require the apologist to (temporarily, and for the sake of argument) surrender presuppositions about the world that are actually true in order to have their discussions. This is surely an epistemological weakness. But it is also a practical weakness. Surrendering those presuppositions—especially that the Bible, as God’s revelation, is the starting point for knowledge—denies in practice what the apologist is aiming to prove; namely, that God exists and His Word is authoritative. The apologist should not deny by his methodology the very thing he desires to persuade his hearers to believe.

 

In fact, this is consistent with the way the Bible itself speaks about the existence of God and the integrity of His Word contained therein. Scripture is clear that God has not left these matters open for debate. God never presents Himself in Scripture as a proposition to be coolly evaluated and decided over. Nobody ever gets to tell God, “Wait a second, let me see if You really do exist.” He simply asserts, “I AM WHO I AM.” Trying to evaluate the evidence for God or for the veracity of Scripture apart from Scripture is an endeavor on the order of asking to measure a meter stick. We do not measure the instrument of measurement; it does the measuring.

How ’bout them apples? As I read that passage, my mind went back 41 years to a Bible Study I attended as a new Christian.  The teacher, an American Baptist minister with a zeal for teaching the Bible to hippies and teenagers who had come to the Lord through the Jesus  Movement of the 1970s, told us, “Just share the Word; God will speak through it.” I held that bold confidence in Scripture for several years, even through the intellectual demands of college, confident in that pastor’s assurance that Scripture is God’s Word, whether or not a non-Christian accepts its authority.

Such an approach seems counter-intuitive, I realize. And, as non-Christians often eagerly charge, it smacks of arrogance. Christians prefer more evidence-based apologetics because they give us a semblance of humility. Yet shouldn’t we be humble enough to risk the ridicule of non-Christians because we believe that the Lord speaks authoritatively through His Word? (See, for example, Hebrews 4:12.)

Riccardi’s post goes on to make the point that the non-Christians who argue that defending our faith by appealing to the Bible is  nothing more than circular reasoning (and therefore not credible) fail to take into account that their own reasoning is just as circular.

For example, if I ask a rationalist for evidence for his credence in rationalism as an adequate theory of knowledge, he’s going to give me a reason. Or if I ask a naturalist for evidence for his credence in naturalism as an adequate theory of knowledge, he’s going to give me a summary of observable facts of nature. They’re turning to their “Bible,” if you will. But when they demand evidence of Scripture’s genuineness and we Christians give them a Bible verse, they shout, “Circular reasoning!” But that’s no more circular than what they do. It’s simply remaining consistent with one’s own epistemology.

See, rationalists appeal to reason as the source of knowledge. That’s what makes them rationalists. Naturalists appeal to nature as the source of knowledge. That’s what makes them naturalists. But Christians must appeal to the Scriptures as the source of knowledge. That is what makes us Christians. We should not, therefore, surrender what makes us distinctively Christian in our epistemology. Besides, if I’m trying to help an unbeliever understand that the Word of God is the supreme authority for the lives of all people, what higher authority could I appeal to in order to demonstrate that? There isn’t one!

Why should non-Christians intimidate us into using their presuppositions? Although the evidence for Christianity certainly finds credible support in scholarship beyond the pages of Scripture, that scholarship must remain a secondary validation. Since all Scripture comes from God the Holy Spirit, we Christians don’t need the world’s methods for authenticating it.

Perhaps Riccardi, instead of upending my apple cart, brought me back to the cart that I’d been taught to push as a teenager. How I’ve allowed myself to adopt a lesser apple cart sadly doesn’t perplex me, because I’ve allowed myself to accept the delusion that I need a world that is blind to the things of God to legitimize my faith. Praise God for using Riccardi’s blog post to remind me that  I can reason from Scripture with confidence.

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Is Lawson A Closet Arminian?

Yellow Tulip Mask FramedRecently, a reader challenged my use of the Steve Lawson video on my What Is The Gospel Anyway? page, charging that Lawson seemed to emphasize personal responsibility in his presentation. My reader generally likes Lawson, but she thought that this particular video made him sound more Arminian than Reformed. She made her comment several weeks ago, and since then I’ve been preparing to respond in a full-sized blog post. Her  difficulty with Lawson’s presentation, as well as my decision to feature it on an obviously Reformed blog, deserves more than a brief reply in my Comments section.

Again, my reader felt that Lawson emphasized a person’s free will instead of God’s sovereignty. I agree! He begged non-Christians to willfully commit themselves to the Lord Jesus Christ, trusting only in His shed blood to atone for their sin. He pointed out that if they reject His free offer of eternal life they by default choose eternal damnation for trampling the precious blood of Christ under their feet. He said nothing about God’s sovereignty in electing His own from the foundation of the world, nor did he say that they could believe in Him only if the Holy Spirit gave them the faith to believe.

But let’s go to back to the passage I quoted in my last article, and from there do a little reasoning.

18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. ~~2 Corinthians 5:18-20 (ESV)

Notice the word “implore” in verse 20. Vines New Testament Dictionary, in writing about the Greek word used here says:

It is used for every kind of calling to a person which is meant to produce a particular effect, hence, with various meanings, such as “comfort, exhort, desire, call for,” in addition to its significance “to beseech,” which has a stronger force than aiteo (see ASK).

Paul, who in no way denied  God’s sovereignty, implored people, wanting his words to result in their actions. He saw no contradictions between trusting the Lord to act on their hearts and expecting them to act on his urging. From this instance, as well as numerous other New Testament passages, I believe we can fairly conclude that God’s sovereignty does not preclude human responsibility. On that basis, I think Lawson was within Scriptural bounds in his insistence that his hearers make a response to the Gospel.

Additionally, Lawson knew that his words had no chance of persuading anyone to come to Christ in and of themselves. He was trusting neither in his oratorical skills nor in the free will of those who heard his message to effect anyone’s salvation. But he knows that the preaching of the Word softens the heart of the elect and hardens the heart of the damned. Those who are not elect cannot therefore claim that God unjustly condemns them. They have heard the Gospel — and heard it forcefully — but have turned away from it in favor of their own pursuits. Therefore, God’s justice is confirmed.

While I appreciate the concerns of my reader, I stand by my decision to include Lawson’s video on that page. If God uses it to produce faith in just one person, I will praise Him for sovereignly working through Lawson. Rather than focusing on Reformed doctrine, we should all focus on the power of the Gospel to save those who are elect.

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Full Bellies, Starving For Truth

At The Cross“No one wants to hear about God’s wrath,” the young pastor explained to my friend. Then he added, “We help the poor in our community as a demonstration of His love.”

Look, I have nothing against helping the poor. In fact, if more  churches provided such services, less of us would be forced to rely on government programs. So as you read this essay, please don’t misunderstand me as saying that Christians shouldn’t care for the needs of those less fortunate than themselves. Yet I believe we must keep practical ministry secondary to our primary commission to declare the Gospel.

And whether we like it or not, declaring the Gospel first necessitates telling people that they’re sinners who deserve God’s wrath. I agree with the young pastor that no one enjoys hearing about their sin, nor do they like being confronted with the fact that their sin consigns them to an eternity in hell. And Christians don’t relish the duty of proclaiming that part of the Gospel message, if you want to know the truth.

But, dear sisters in the Lord, we don’t get to pick and choose what aspects of the Gospel we present in our evangelism. As ambassadors of Christ, we bear the responsibility to tell people the Gospel in its entirety, aware that we represent Him rather than ourselves.

18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 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. ~~2 Corinthians 5:18-21 (ESV)

If we offer a message of reconciliation to God, we must begin by helping people understand that such a reconciliation indeed needs to take place. Most non-Christians and Christians-in-name-only simply don’t believe that God takes their sin seriously enough to send them to hell. They may admit that they’ve done some bad things here and there, but they reassure themselves that the good they’ve done outweighs the bad. Consequently, all our talk about Jesus showing His love by dying in their place strikes them as absurd until we show them that they’ve offended a holy God.

The beauty of God’s love shines through the fact that Jesus willingly shed His blood on the cross, bearing His Father’s fury over the sin that you and I committed. That act, more than anything else, epitomizes His love.

It’s wonderful when churches run soup kitchens and pregnancy resource centers. And praise God for missionaries who dig wells and build orphanages. But when people deliberately repress part of the Gospel in order to attract people to their services, they no longer represent the Lord. Leave humanitarian work to secular agencies unless you do it in a way that offers people the eternal hope of Jesus Christ.

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Autobiography With Purpose: And Tongues Shall Cease

All four Church of the Open Door, San Rafael pastors summoned me to the church office that spring day in 1991,  dismayed by my growing renunciation of Charismatic theology. One of them, who had been particularly close to me in the early 80’s, was bewildered by my change of heart. He opened the conversation by asking point-blank what had happened.

I explained that my journey began shortly after Bob Winter died. Over the next few months, his mother called me several times to talk about Bob, and how the Lord was comforting her through her bereavement. 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.

Bob’s death had left me devastated.As a result, his mom’s 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, eager for its consolation.

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.

Shocked to catch myself praying to anyone but the Lord, I stopped and asked His forgiveness. I realized that 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. As I examined MacArthur’s analysis of the passages that Charismatics commonly use to defend their practices, I could better understand their proper contexts.

I stopped my charade of “praying in tongues,” for example, because it in no way resembled the gift of tongues that the Holy Spirit bestowed at Pentecost (see Acts 2:1-11). And, just as MacArthur’s book noted, I saw that the miraculous gifts of tongues, prophecy and healing diminished as the church grew. My studies convinced me that God had intended those gifts only for the Apostolic Age.

The pastors listened to my defense, but uniformly disagreed with my conclusions. They made a few attempts to reason with me, mostly by misapplying Bible verses and appealing to personal experiences. When they saw my resolve to walk away from Charismatic theology, however, they realized that I couldn’t be swayed. Although they’d never heard of anyone going from Charismatic to non-Charismatic, they couldn’t help appreciating that I’d based my position on God’s Word.

We decided that I would continue as a member of Church of the Open Door as long as I held my  beliefs without causing division.

With that, I continued 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. Since that meeting with the pastors, the Lord has solidified my stance on this issue, and He’s shown Himself faithful to increase my understanding of His Word.

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