I’m Not Joni

joniMy mother always looked at Joni Eareckson Tada (the famed Christian writer/speaker/artist who became a quadriplegic due to a diving accident at age 17) with a little jealously. Joni had financial advantages that I didn’t (plus an able-bodied husband) to give her steady personal care. I, on the other hand, require government assistance and constantly struggle to keep Personal Care Attendants. Joni could earn money without jeopardizing any benefits; I can’t.

But my mom, because she wasn’t a Christian, couldn’t make an accurate comparison between me and Joni. I believe the years have helped me see differences between Joni’s life and my own that matter far more than financial stability. To my surprise, these differences make me wonder if perhaps Joni should be the jealous one.

Joni Eareckson Tada has effectively used her disability, as well as her chronic pain and her battle against breast cancer, to minister to hurting people. The Lord has used her books, speaking engagements, artwork and singing to bring hope to many people. For years, I eagerly followed her ministry. I’ve met her on four occasions, and felt a bit star-struck the first three times. Joni indeed exemplifies how a Christian woman can use her disability to honor the Lord.

But I’ve never really appreciated it when admiring friends, well-meaning though they are, compare me to Joni. I’ve often threatened to write a  book titled I’m Not Joni.

Instead, I write an obscure little blog called The Outspoken TULIP  that focuses on the importance of sound doctrine, problems in the evangelical church, the Protestant Reformation and concerns over false teaching. Once in a while, I mention my disability, but only as a peripheral fact of life that I can’t exactly hide. But my blog reflects my passion for God’s Word and for leading women to contend for the faith.

Joni, I believe, suffers tremendously. She often recounts, in speaking engagements, how she typically wakes up in the morning telling the Lord she just can’t endure another day of quadriplegia and asking Him to let her borrow a smile to greet the ladies who get her up. Sometimes I wake up asking the Lord to let her wake up cheerful and  smiling. It must be terrible to begin so many days consumed with the weight of disability.

In  contrast, I have an awfully hard time (even during debilitating migraines) thinking that I really suffer. I compare myself to  disabled people in Third World countries, many of whom don’t even have manual wheelchairs, much less customized power wheelchairs that zip all over downtown Boston with and without the augmentation of public transportation.

I compare myself to Joni, who can’t even wake up cheerful.

Clearly, I’m nothing like Joni Eareckson Tada, and I don’t think I’d trade my life for hers.I admire her love for Jesus, of course, and praise God for the ways her organization, Joni and Friends, serves people afflicted by disability worldwide (though I’m not necessarily endorsing it at this point). But I am different from her in many respects. Please, join me in praying that she wakes up comfortable tomorrow morning.

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Hey Jude –Three Unsavory Characters With Unsavory Motives

bible-and-darknessPeople who warn against popular evangelical pastors and speakers/writers who mishandle  or outright distort the Word of God typically receive the criticism that we engage in character assassination. I agree, in part, that we must be careful not to judge another person’s heart. We don’t have the Lord’s omniscience, and therefore we must temper whatever discernment we  may have with humility.

Yet the book of Jude unapologetically evaluates false teachers by pointing to their characters. Those of you who have been following these Monday Bible Studies on Jude’s epistle will remember that Jude writes with a singular purpose: he wants Christians to stand for sound doctrine. Interestingly, he spends almost his whole letter describing the characteristics of false teachers rather than than comparing their doctrinal errors to good teaching. The verse we’ll examine today certainly focuses on the motives of false teachers by holding them up against three Old Testament apostates.

We’re studying Jude 11 today, but of  course we need to read it in context.

Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” 10 But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. 11 Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. 12 These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. ~~Jude 8-13 (ESV)

In comparing apostate leaders with Cain, Balaam and Korah, Jude very deliberately comments on the motives driving their corrupted “ministries.” The notorious actions of all three men exposed their wicked hearts, and Jude attributes their evil motives to false teachers who infiltrate the Christian Church.

He begins with Cain, whose story appears in Genesis 4:5-10 (I really need you to click the links to my cross-references so you can fully appreciate Jude’s allusions). As Hebrews 11:4 explains, Cain failed to offer a sacrifice of shed  blood, preferring to come to God on his own terms. When the Lord rejected his sacrifice, Cain grew so envious of Abel that   he murdered him.

Next, Jude likens false teachers to Balaam, the mercenary “prophet” in Numbers 22-25. Balak, the king of Moab, paid Balaam to curse Israel. When that failed, Balaam undermined Israel by drawing them into sexual immorality. Balaam knew the Lord’s decrees, but he   saw that he could make money by perverting, or even flat-out denying, them.

Finally, Jude mentions Korah, who tried to usurp Moses’ leadership position, as we see in Numbers 16:1-32. Korah rebelled, ultimately,  against God’s appointment of Moses, presuming to place himself in spiritual authority over Israel.

Using these three examples, Jude asserts that false teachers exhibit envy, material greed and self-appointed authority. They are motivated to promote their aberrant teachings by these character flaws. The Holy Spirit inspired Jude to instruct believers to identify these traits. Yes, that  sounds horribly judgmental, but clearly the Lord wants Christians to cultivate that degree of discernment about false teachers.

I’d balance this point, dear sisters in Christ, by saying that we shouldn’t understand this Bible Study as giving us carte blanche to judge the motives of everyone we encounter. Before we analyze a false teacher’s motives, we must determine that he or she teaches falsely by the fruits of his or her teachings and life (see Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:15-20). Jude’s point, in  verse 11 of his epistle, is that polluted character lies at the root of consistently false teaching. False teachers, consequently, should fear God’s punishment.

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Prone To Wander

In January, I’ll celebrate 46 years of salvation. This longevity, please note, has absolutely nothing to do with any effort or obedience on my part, and absolutely everything to   do with the Lord’s faithfulness.

Left to myself, I know I would have been tantalized by the deceitful promises of sin and false doctrine many times over. I have, on more than one  occasion, told God point blank that I wanted to leave Him. But even as I spoke those words, I knew I could never really turn from Him. His goodness and His truth held me fast to Him. And, beneath all my rebellion, I’m so grateful that He keeps me in His hand.

The hymn I feature today rejoices in the Lord’s faithfulness to keep us from straying from Him. May He tune all of our hearts to sing His grace.

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Saturday Sampler: November 20– November 26

Vexel Rose TrioResponding to a recent Tweet by Joyce Meyer, Elizabeth Prata writes Should we shut off our minds? in her blog, The End Time. As far as I’m concerned, we should probably shut of Joyce Meyer.

How can I resist directing you to Narrow Minded Woman’s piece, Psalms, Hymns, & Spiritual Songs: “How Firm a Foundation” when she features my all-time favorite hymn? “What more can He say than to you He has said?” Ladies, God’s Word really is sufficient!

And while we’re on the subject of church music, Jennifer at One Hired Late In The Day writes Hymns and the Power of Music to Teach. Oh how I wish every music leader would read this wonderful blog post and take it to heart!

 Calvinism Is Not Hyper-Calvinism asserts Josh Buice of his Delivered By Grace blog. He includes a helpful timeline on church history and the development of Reformed doctrine, as well as  demonstrating that true Calvinists invest in evangelism and missions.

This article by Pastor Colin Smith on his blog, Unlocking the Bible, appeared back in June, but it still offers wonderful counsel by reviving Four Warning Signs You May Be Wandering from the Truth.

Sarah Eehoff Zylstra’s report,  New ‘Fairness for All’ Proposal Seeks Compromise Between Religious Liberty and Gay Rights, appearing in the Gospel Coalition Blog raises interesting questions. Could such a compromise really be enacted? If so, would if even work?

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A Dead Turtle Is Better Than No Turtle At All

turtleYesterday might have been a painful day for people who have experienced loss. The Christian blog posts extolling all the reasons we should give thanks may have felt like slaps in the face to those who grieve during this holiday season. I understand.

If you’re going through a difficult time, please bear with me, considering the possibility that what I have to say, despite its humor and whimsy, might actually encourage you. You’ve undoubtedly heard 1 Thessalonians 5:18 quoted a lot this past week, but I want to quote it again.

give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  (ESV)

On this day after Thanksgiving, allow me to tell you a Christmas story from my childhood that demonstrates how thankfulness can transform disappointing circumstances into times of rejoicing.

Since Mom (who had been widowed when I was 10) was dating her first boyfriend since Daddy at the time, it must have been my 12th Christmas. She surprised me and my sister with a pair of box turtles (which, in 1965, were legal pets in California). I can remember going out to the tree and seeing that shallow, bright yellow tub that housed our new pets.

One turtle was very active, at least insofar as turtles can be active. I don’t recall how we determined that it was meant for my sister, and speculation on that point would detract from this story. I do remember gently prodding the sedentary turtle–my turtle–thinking he just needed a wake-up nudge. When he failed to respond, I moved him a bit more forcefully.

My 9-year-old sister, skilled in diagnosis, said matter-of-factly, “I think he’s dead.”

We made a few more futile attempts at getting him to move before I agreed with her conclusion. At that point, my wails of lament began! Of course, my crying awakened Mom, who came flying down the hall to see what on earth was wrong!

I’m not sure what happened next. I just remember being in the bathroom, weeping inconsolably, when Mom’s boyfriend arrived for Christmas breakfast. Seeing my pre-teenage dramatics, he looked inquiringly at Mom and grunted, “What’s wrong with her now?”

Mom sighed, “Her turtle died.”

“Is that all?” he bellowed with laughter. He turned to me and said, “Cheer up. A dead turtle is better than no turtle at all!” We all burst into laughter at his unique perspective, and enjoyed the rest of that Christmas.

Long after that boyfriend disappeared from our lives, Mom, my sister and I often comforted ourselves in minor disappointments with the mantra, “A dead turtle is better than no turtle at all.” Despite its macabre tone, it reminded  us to be grateful, no matter what.

I realize,  of course, that a  dead box turtle hardly compares to real trials such as a  miscarriage, a spouse with cancer or a lost job. All too often, life throws things at us that  hurt unbearably, and I’d never trivialize such instances with my quip about dead turtles. The same Bible that  commands us to give thanks in everything also commands us to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). Even in standing for truth, the Lord calls us to act with  compassion and sensitivity towards those who genuinely hurt.

That said, those who grieve mustn’t wallow in their grief. I know, all too well, how easily we can   shake angry fists at God when His decrees run counter (or even threaten to run counter) to our desires. Almost five years ago, my husband came very close to death. Had I lost him, the Lord still would have called me to thank Him for John’s salvation, as well as for allowing me to be married to such a godly man.

Thankfulness doesn’t come easily for anyone. But, when we look away from our disappointments and to the Lord Jesus Christ, we find reasons to cultivate thankfulness. I don’t know if anyone is reading this essay with a broken heart today, but I do know that even that woman can find compassion as she remembers Christ’s love for her. Even through her tears, she can thank Him, trusting both His sovereignty and His love for her.

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The Labyrinth And The Narrow Way

narrow-wayBeing inept at face-to-face evangelism, I admit to handling things poorly when I spotted the man drawing the labyrinth on Boston Common last week. I’ve been seeing those odious things littering the Common all year, and have felt anger at these symbols of mysticism and contemplative prayer. So I opened the conversation declaring, “That’s disgusting!”

Maybe not the best opening line. As I said, face-to-face evangelism isn’t my forte.

Nevertheless, it opened the conversation, in which he insisted he wasn’t a pagan (I never said he was) and that he was a Christian (I never said he wasn’t). I kept pleading with him, “You don’t have to do this! Jesus died so you could pray directly to God!”

Finally, he looked directly at me to ask, “And how do you pray?” I began telling him how I go straight to God, adoring Him for His attributes and  confessing my sins…at which point the man interrupted to pronounce, “Your God is too narrow!”

At that moment John joined me and took the lead. Sadly the guy had no interest in interaction with John, despite the fact that John’s much more winsome than I’ll ever be, and he dismissed us quickly.

I’ve since thought about his accusation that “my” God  is too narrow. In his mind, narrowness is a negative quality. Like many others I’ve witnessed to over the years, he expected me to feel shamed by the word “narrow.”

To the world, spirituality should broadly encompass everything (except, of course Biblical Christianity). People of the world celebrate inclusiveness, certain that God accepts people on their self-prescribed terms. And hey, that view of God sounds really nice! Sadly, however, that view diminishes the Lord to a mushy Being Who adapts Himself to our personal preferences. Worse, we believe in our own divinity, which practices like the labyrinth can help us  discover.

Jesus made it clear that following Him and receiving salvation actually requires narrowness. Look at His words near the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount:

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. ~~Matthew 7:13-14 (ESV)

To clarify this statement, Jesus later told His disciples:

I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. ~~John 14:6 (ESV)

Talk about narrow! These claims really go against everything that tolerant, broad minded people want to believe. To believe that salvation comes exclusively through the Lord Jesus Christ places us under His authority, and consequently means that we must worship Him on His terms rather than our own. And we don’t like that idea.

But narrowness also offers protection. When I had surgery to loosen my leg muscles as a teenager, I had casts on both legs for six weeks. Those casts confined me to bed when I otherwise would have been enjoying the summer driving my power wheelchair  around town with my puppy.  But they also protected my muscles from healing improperly (and undoubtedly kept me out of trouble).

Spiritually, the Lord’s narrowness protects us from false teaching and demonic influences. Although the broad way appears more enjoyable, it actually keeps us from teachings that would damage our souls. The Lord, being more knowledgeable than we are regarding spiritual forces, confines us to Himself and His plan of worship to guard us against destructive practices that we can’t understand.

So yes, “my” God is, in one sense, narrow. But if anyone expects me to feel shame over His narrowness, I must disappoint them.

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Frankly, I World Have Preferred The Vacuum

catholic-mass2Today’s post, I’m sorry to say, won’t be the post I’d hoped to write. I’m trying to research the development of Roman Catholic teaching, particularly leading up to 1517, in order to better understand (and thus present to  you) why the Reformation needed to take place. Before you roll your eyes and complain that I’m boring, however, consider that we can better appreciate the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Reformation by knowing why the Church needed reform in the first place.

I’ve learned that Roman Catholicism in general is a very complex religion. The Roman Catholicism of 1517 has added complexities due to its political power and its need to tax the faithful for the purpose of building St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. I find myself asking where the Papacy came from? How did the doctrine of Purgatory develop? Why did the Roman Catholic Church teach that people had to perform acts of penance?

The Protestant Reformation didn’t happen in a vacuum, but rather it came about by God’s sovereignty as He awakened people to the ways that the Roman Catholic Church had  corrupted the Gospel with teachings that wrongfully made salvation contingent on human effort.  Although Scripture plainly teaches that Christ alone is the propitiation for sin (1 John 4:10, just to name one verse) and that He is the only mediator between God and humanity (1 Timothy 2:5-6), Catholicism insists on an elaborate system of merit  and priestly authority for its adherents to secure salvation.

Martin Luther originally objected to Roman Catholic doctrine because it exploited poor people by having them pay money so that their departed loved ones could escape Purgatory earlier. But the selling of indulgences was, in actuality, a surface issue. It merely highlighted the sad fact that Catholic teaching deviates from Scripture.

Three years ago, the folks at The Cripplegate blog posted an excellent presentation entitled 5 differences between Catholic theology and the gospel, which offers a brief, easily read, comparison between the two schools of thought. Since I doubt my ability to improve on their post, I’d strongly encourage you to read it for yourselves. Although the writer fails to use Scripture in demonstrating the Biblical gospel, those who are familiar with basic Protestant teaching should be able to see flaws in Roman Catholicism.

The Reformers, like Luther, understood the discrepancies between Rome and the Bible. Yet, he  suffered excommunication and exile, firm in his stance that Scripture must be preferred over both tradition and Papal pronouncements. In his own defense, he said:

Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.“On May 25, the Emperor issued his Edict of Worms, declaring Martin Luther an outlaw.

Would that 21st Century Christians had Luther’s unwavering passion for God’s Word!

Along with other great reformers, Luther pointed Christians back to Scripture’s authority, rejecting the notion that the Pope’s pronouncements held equal weight to God’s Word. His cry of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) serves as one of the lynchpins of reformed theology.  Obviously, I’m deeply committed to this lynchpin, and praise the Lord for Luther’s role in making the Bible accessible to all Christians.

In my next post on the Reformation, I’d like to look at the doctrine of Purgatory and the selling of Indulgences to explain why Luther wrote the 95 Theses that ignited the Protestant Reformation. Hopefully, I’ll find time to study the matter. Next Tuesday, however, John has an important appointment in Boston, so I’ll probably just post a video on the subject. At any rate, by October 31st, 2017, all of us should better understand the reasons for celebrating the Reformation.

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Hey Jude — Don’t Dialogue With The Devil

spiritual-warfare

Friday I blogged about spiritual warfare, a topic that I believe present-day evangelicals (particularly those in Charismatic circles) often misunderstand. Typically, we view spiritual warfare as rebuking Satan and demons. Elsewhere, I plan to write several articles examining the true nature of our spiritual warfare, but today’s Bible Study gives us an important warning against presuming that we have authority to command these diabolical enemies.

As we continue working through the epistle of Jude,  we encounter a pair of verses that emphasize the presumptuous attitude of false teachers who think they can command Satan and   his demons. We’re going to discuss verses 9 and 10, which, as usual, I want to quote in their proper context.

Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” 10 But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. 11 Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. 12 These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. ~~Jude 8-13 (ESV)

Verse 9 raises questions because Jude quotes apocryphal sources to demonstrate the simple point that contrasts the false teachers’ presumption with the humility of the archangel Michael. The commentators I read offered quite a variety of explanations for the account of the dispute over Moses’ body, many of which are interesting, but I found most of their discussions to be tangential to Jude’s main point. I appreciated the few commentators who argued that Jude wrote under the inspiration of the  Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16), and therefore we can trust the  veracity of the account.

Instead of getting hung up on where this story came  from or why Michael and the devil fought over Moses’ body, let’s give our attention to Jude’s meaning.

But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” ~~Jude 9 (ESV)

Jude’s purpose is to contrast the brashness of false teachers who dared to rail against the spiritual realm with the archangel Michael’s humility in deferring to the Lord in cursing the devil. This allusion should warn us not to think that we have the authority to rebuke the devil, since even the highest angel didn’t dare do so.

Michael surely would have had some measure of authority, given the fact that God dispatched him to fight Satan on other occasions (see Daniel 10:13 and Revelation 12:7 for examples). Yet he deemed it presumptuous to  rail against the devil on the basis of that authority. Jude’s point is that, since Michael didn’t rebuke the devil directly, false teachers greatly err in doing so. In fact, this sort of practice actually marks a person as a false teacher.

Jude goes on, in verse 10, to explain that the false teachers who rebuke the  devil don’t even know what they’re talking about.

But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. (ESV)

He shows the irony of their claims of mastery over the spirit world  when all the while their carnal natures consume them. Unlike Michael, who actually is a spirit, these people have limited knowledge of Satan and his demons, and as a result they lack the qualifications to enter into confrontations with them when they really should confront their own sinfulness.

Rebuking Satan appeals to human pride while providing a distraction from the true spiritual warfare of mortifying our sin and refuting false teaching. Jude 9-10, in exposing the wrong focus of those who rebuke the devil, reminds us to maintain a proper attitude.  I pray that today’s study will encouraged all of us to battle our own sin natures (which we do understand) rather than attempting to  address spiritual beings that we really don’t know.

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Wanting To Hear Him Speak

Do you open your Bible with an attitude of excitement, anticipating that the Lord will speak to you as you read and study it (in context, of course)? When your pastor got up to preach this morning, did you listen with expectancy, knowing that he would explain God’s Word in faithfulness to the text so that it would do its work of transforming you?

We can, and should, come to the Bible with an eagerness to hear from the Lord.  Through it, the Almighty God reveals Himself. He shows His greatness, His majesty and His holiness, while also affirming His love and compassion toward us. He lets us know His standards of right and wrong, but assures us of His grace in dying as our substitute to pay for our sin. In short, whenever someone reads or preaches the Bible correctly, the Lord does speak.

This hymn by the Gettys challenges me to approach Scripture with expectancy.I pray that it will have a similar effect on you.

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