The Hidden Reefs In Worship Songs

Jude famously wrote his epistle to warn believers against false teachers. He used several strong images to describe them, ensuring that his readers would understand the danger these teachers presented. Let me quote a couple of verses with these images.

12 These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. ~~Jude 12-13 (NASB95)

He begins by calling them hidden reefs. Living in the First Century when travel depended on boats and ships, Jude undoubtedly knew how unseen reefs could tear up a sailing vessel before the sailors even knew a reef was there. He chose this image to emphasize his point from verse 4 that false teachers come into churches under the radar, avoiding detection by blending in with church culture. Often, Christians don’t realize they’ve been deceived by these false teachers until it’s too late. These figurative hidden reefs shipwreck the faith of unsuspecting souls.

In the 21st Century, false teachers seem to be all over the place, requiring that we know the Word of God backwards and forwards. To this end, it’s imperative that we submit ourselves to churches in which our pastors not only preach with faithfulness to Scripture but also encourage us to rightly divide the Word. In most cases, familiarity with the Bible is the best defense against falling into deception.

This past week, however, I learned that sometimes even the best shepherds can unintentionally let a stray wolf wander into the fold. This potentially serious mistake usually happens when they put too much trust in leaders of the music team.

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I No Longer Think I’m Moses Jr.

During my years in Charismatic churches, I frequently heard that Christians possess the same Holy Spirit that worked through the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles. I quite agree. The way we applied that belief, however, now troubles me. We expected that His presence in our lives meant that we had the power to perform miracles, and certainly that God would speak to us personally. Long after we abandoned the miracle idea, we clung to the conviction that God augmented Scripture with personal words.

In the past 30 years, the idea of hearing directly from the Lord has seeped into non-Charismatiic churches. In the 90s, Henry Blackaby’s book, Experiencing God, swept through Southern Baptist churches, insisting that all believers needed to hear from God regularly. In fact, the book said, failure to hear direct and personal words from God indicated definite problems. Beth Moore introduced Blackaby’s ideas to her audience, which transcends denominational boundaries, and now it’s almost universally assumed that every Christian should hear from God independent of the Bible.

This trend disturbs me for a number of reasons, causing me to write more posts about it than I can count. I’m dumb enough to think that people will see how unbiblical this teaching is. Sadly, I periodically bump into the reality that people don’t want to surrender their perceived experiences.

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Flashback Friday: Why I See A Connection Between Charismatic Teaching And Occult Practices

Originally published May 23, 2019:

Growing up in the 1960s, I had exposure to many occult and New Age influences. My mom, although she in some respects had turned away from her Christian Science upbringing, introduced me and my sister to horoscopes, Ouija boards and yoga. The liberal Presbyterian church (PCUSA, of course) encouraged my fascination with occult and paranormal phenomena. On a youth group ski trip the pastor’s daughter read our palms.

Very soon after that ski trip, the Lord graciously brought me to Himself, and within a few months He allowed people to confront my interest in astrology. Over the next few months He helped me renounce other forms of occult and New Age practices.

But readers of my Autobiography With Purpose series will recall that I attended Pentecostal and Charismatic churches for the first 31 years of my Christian life. True, after 18 years the Lord showed me that the sign gifts ceased when the Canon of Scripture was completed, but He let me remain in the church for several more years. Throughout those 31 years, I occasionally observed random incidents that reminded me of my occult past.

At the height of my embrace of Charismatic teaching,  for instance, I read some books on inner healing to augment my ministry with Love In Action. One evening, as I poured over LeAnne Payne’s book, The Broken Image (which, just to be clear, I do not recommend), a  close friend and co-worker came by my house to deliver stuff from the office. (I worked from home because the office was up two flights of stairs.) Instead of greeting him properly, I looked up from the book and complained, “A bunch of her stuff reminds me of the occult.”

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Hospitals And Speaking In Tongues

Although I came home from the hospital on November 5, my ten-day stay weakened me so much that I am just beginning to regain my ability to type. My diagnosis was initially anemia and malnutrition, but during my stay I developed a blood infection. I returned home with a Hickman port, which allows visiting nurses to give me daily IV antibiotics.

But let’s not make this article another update on my health, okay? I do appreciate your prayers during my absence, and I want to assure you that I am doing better. At the same time, I prefer to focus this post on something the Lord taught me while I was in that hospital bed.

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Flashback Friday — Journaling: The Pitfall We Should Recognize

Originally published May 16, 2018:

Little blonde angel

Between the autumn of 1977 and the spring of 1994, I kept a personal journal. I’d write about a wide variety of topics, ranging from Scriptures I’d read in my Quiet Time (frequently taken out of context and misapplied) to practical jokes I played on my friends. For the most part, however, I wrote about my disappointments, my frustrations and my fears. Toward the end of that 17-year period,  I realized that journaling served mainly to fuel my self-pity. For that reason, I abruptly quit writing it.

Perhaps some people can journal without focusing on themselves. Those people should certainly maintain journals! Their journals offer rich treasures to those who read them. But I suspect, especially in this culture that exalts feelings and believes in following psychological principles, that most people use their journals for the purpose of venting.

After 17 years of venting my feelings, I woke up to the fact that venting only keeps a person’s attention fixed on his or her problems. Venting through a journal is even worse, in my opinion, because the act of writing slows down the thought process, prolonging the focus on a subject. So when someone uses a personal journal to ruminate on their feelings, should it surprise us that we wind up wallowing in self-absorbtion?

Self-absorbtion, however,  is the antithesis of Biblical Christianity. Christ demands that His followers actually die to ourselves for His sake.

34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” ~~Mark 8:34-38 (ESV)

Popular evangelical teachers promise us “our best life now” and romantic dates with Jesus, urging us to get in touch with our feelings. They advise hurting women to stay home from church on Mother’s Day and write their feelings out “to the Lord.” What horrible advice!

Honestly confessing our feelings to the Lord is one thing. Job, David, Jeremiah and Jesus all had times of pouring their hearts out to God. But in so doing, they invariably wound up acknowledging His sovereign right to order their circumstances according to His will. They ultimately turned their eyes away from themselves and back to Him.

If you keep a personal journal that revolves around your disappointments, frustrations and fears, please consider the possibility that it may be locking you into patterns of self-absorbtion. If possible, turn your journal into something your descendants can read to find Christ. Let them see that, no matter what your circumstances, He remains faithful and deserves the glory.

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I’d Almost Forgotten That People Still Think God Speaks To Them Directly

Maybe a blessing of the current controversies about John MacArthur opening his church and feminism creeping into Reformed churches is that I haven’t been hearing as many claims about personal words from God. I spent decades in churches and parachurch ministries where such expectations were normative, making it kind of surprising that I’d now be shocked to come across them. But when a friend on Facebook shared a word that God had supposedly spoken to her, it indeed caught me off guard.

In a way, I’m glad it surprised me. How refreshing to think that people depend on the Bible rather than personal revelation to hear the Lord speak! He certainly speaks to me each morning as I open His Word and work through it in context. In the past few years that I’ve approached Scripture using proper hermeneutics, the Holy Spirit has taught me more about spiritual things than I’d ever learned when I believed God spoke to me apart from Scripture.

Apparently I’ve grown accustomed to hearing Him speak through His Word.

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Flashback Friday: A Right Proclamation Of The Gospel

Originally posted February 17, 2017:

93a68-wordjudgesheart

Yesterday I watched a YouTube video featuring people I personally know from my Charismatic days.  I managed to get past their “God told me” claims by remembering how often I used to phrase my own experiences in those words. In listening to Charismatics, I want to keep in mind that   many of them, though deceived, are genuinely my brothers and sisters in Christ. After all, I walked in those same deceptions for most of my Christian life.

Toward the end of the video, however, they invited unsaved members of their audience to begin their “adventure” with Christ. They assured people that Jesus Christ offers freedom from sin (which He does) and personal fulfillment. According to them, Jesus waited, hoping people would reach out to Him and receive all that He had for them. They read a prayer that made vague reference to being a sinner and committing their lives to Christ. Those who said that prayer were instructed to sign a copy, write the date and keep it in their Bibles in case Satan questioned their salvation.

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Flashback Friday: How Do We Hear The Holy Spirit?

In honor of the Truth Matters Conference on the sufficiency of Scripture, I thought this article  from August 31, 2017 might be appropriate:

Voice Of GodCharismatics have claimed personal words from God for years. That figures, since the bulk of charismatic theology (despite their insistence to the contrary) depends on exalting experience over Scripture. In light of that fact, I can almost expect them to believe that God speaks apart from the written Word of God.

A Facebook conversation with someone from the Charismatic church I belonged to in California reminded me recently that a primary argument for God speaking personally pits the living Holy Spirit against the “dead letter” of the Bible. It’s not a denial of Scripture’s authority. In this person’s mind, it’s not even a denial of Scripture’s sufficiency (though that’s pretty much exactly what he’s doing). Rather, it apparently adds a personal relationship with the Spirit that Scripture somehow can’t provide.

Of course, my friend hastens to add, the Spirit never contradicts Scripture. Which raises the question: Why would He then need to speak apart from Scripture in the first place? Why not trust Him to speak through the Bible He inspired?

The mere suggestion that God’s Word is a “dead letter” needing augmentation with personal experiences absolutely chills me. That very idea completely ignores what the Bible says about itself.

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)

As we read God’s Word, the Holy Spirit uses it to convict us of sin, instruct us in righteousness and reveal Who the Triune God is. Through Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us what to look for in a spouse, how to conduct ourselves in business, how to order our families and what His Church should do. Above all that, He shows us His nature and His priorities. He lets us   know what angers Him, what pleases Him and what honors Him.

Certainly, during the course of a day, the Holy Spirit will bring Scriptures and/or Scriptural principles to our minds that we can apply. Even then, please notice, He’s speaking Scripture. He doesn’t, as some claim, direct us to brush a stranger’s hair or purchase an extra bottle of milk. Rather, He commands us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love others as much as we love ourselves.

Until we obey everything He tells us in His Word, what would be the point of Him speaking personally to us?

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Spiritual Warfare And Daring To Rebuke Satan

spiritual-warfare

There’s a popular notion, particularly in Charismatic circles, that Christians possess the same authority over Satan and demons that Jesus conferred on the First Century apostles. This line of thinking ignores the key point, however, that the apostles received the ability to perform signs and wonders in order to authenticate the Gospel until the New Testament canon could be completed.

Back in November of 2016, I wrote a Bible Study series on the book of Jude for this blog. Because someone recently challenged a statement I made regarding the nature of spiritual warfare, I thought I’d adapt the study I wrote on verses 9 and 10 as a response.

My challenger objected to my remark that spiritual warfare is about resisting temptation rather than about rebuking Satan. He cited Titus 2:15 (out of context, of course) as substantiation for the practice. Um, that’s a gross misinterpretation and misapplication of Paul’s instructions to Titus. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy!

Jude addresses the practice of rebuking the devil more directly than any other New Testament writer,so I believe we best serve this topic by looking at his words. Remember that Jude (a half-brother to Jesus) writes his epistle in order to delineate the characteristics of false teachers. We going to discuss verses 9 and 10, which 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)

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.

Maybe we should let that last point sink in. Instead of believing that the Lord gives all Christians the authority to hurl comments at Satan and his minions, shouldn’t we take note that false teachers perform and advocate this sort of behavior? If rebuking the devil identifies a person as a false teacher, perhaps we shouldn’t encourage it.

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. Let’s trust the Lord to rebuke Satan while we concentrate on resisting temptation and closing our ears to Satan’s lies.

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Throwback Thursday: Sending Something You Can’t

Originally published  September 8, 2016:

lilacsMany people, in all innocence, assure their friends that they will send “good,” “positive,” or “healing” thoughts to suffering people. Occasionally, they combine these thoughts with prayers, although typically they serve as substitutes for prayer. Recently I’ve been in some online conversations with fellow evangelicals about the meaning and appropriateness of this sentiment, and those interactions have caused me to think about whether or not Christians ought to use this phraseology.

In fairness, let me begin by acknowledging that many Christians (and indeed many non-Christians) use this type of phrase simply to express the idea that they’re sympathizing with the hurting person. I get that point. Perhaps they’ve heard these phrases and figure they’re nothing more than an updated way of saying “thinking of you.” What’s wrong with keeping up with the current vernacular?

When I hear this type of phrase, however, I generally connect it with either New Age philosophy or Charismatic theology, both of which tend to promote ideas that humans possess “creative” power. New Agers would say that all people have this power, whereas Charismatics would restrict this power to those who are “baptized in the Holy Spirit.”

Back in my Charismatic days, for example, someone in leadership over me said that she  considered a good thought to be equal to a prayer. At the time, I struggled with her comment, finding it both attractive and disturbing. Attractive, because praying doesn’t come easily for me. Disturbing because Scripture nowhere supports such an idea.

Thirty-one years later, I no longer feel attracted to the idea that thoughts have any  sort of metaphysical power. As I see it, the basic concept attributes abilities to man that belong exclusively to the sovereign Lord. In doing a preliminary Google search, I discovered that these types of phrases have their origin in a New Age practice known as Distance Healing.

Consider the following excerpt from a New Age blog post (which, please note, I do not endorse) entitled Sending Your Love From Afar: The Power of Distance Healing.

Visualize the person you want to heal. Feel the divine energy moving outward from you to that person. Do this from a state of mind of total relaxation and acceptance, meaning you do not doubt the effectiveness. You simply allow divine energy to do its work.

Icky-poo! Clearly, this method of “sending good thoughts” relies on the same lie that Satan told Eve in the garden:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. ~~Genesis 3:1-7 (ESV)

Even as Spirit-filled Christians, we must take great care to remember that we are not “little christs” in the sense that we have power to heal or alleviate the suffering of others,  especially by sending positive thoughts. Only the Almighty God has that kind of power. When we claim that our thoughts can have a healing effect, we essentially commit blasphemy.

Again, I realize that many people don’t understand that phrases about sending healing, positive or even good thoughts carry connotations of New Age ideology.  I’ve written this essay, not to shame anyone who has uttered these phrases without knowing their connection to Distance Healing, but to avoid them from this point forward, lest anyone mistakenly associate us with this worldly and demonic philosophy.

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