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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