Saturday Sampler: June 11 — June 17

Bezier Flower SamplerLike Michelle Lesley, I’d never heard of Karen Ehman, but based on The Mailbag: Did Jesus Really Teach Karen Ehman’s 3 Step Life Plan? I don’t think I’ll bother. In addition to examining questionable aspects of Ehman’s teaching, Michelle shows us the importance of keeping everything we read in context.

Praise the Lord that Jennifer at One Hired Late In The Day pays attention to her Bible! She supplies Some Encouragement for Marrieds & Parents in response to the Social Gospel and its call to radical living.

Is The Bible A Love Letter From God? Stephen Altroggie of The Blazing Center says no. Find out why he disagrees with this popular view of God’s Word.

Lysa TerKeurst is, from what I’ve read, a false teacher. I’m still researching her, but I know enough about her to be very wary of her. Sadly, she’s announced this week that she’s decided to divorce her husband, alleging he’s been unfaithful. In response, Leslie A. of Growing 4 Life has written Some thoughts on ending a marriage. I appreciate Leslie’s balanced, compassionate approach to this matter. This is not a time for self-righteousness or glee, but a time to pray for Lysa’s repentance.

Highlighting two very different incidents from Martin Luther’s life, Allen Cagle writes If he is inviting me to my death, then I will come for Parking Space 23. Even if you don’t normally like history, this article is an inspiring portrayal of courage. Don’t cheat yourself out of it!

As a woman with a disability, I resonate with Elizabeth Prata’s Two or more good things about having a disability in The End Time. It’s not a typical Elizabeth Prata essay, but I love the way she points to the Lord’s goodness and sovereignty in giving us various trials.

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In Celebration Of John’s Fifth Year Since Cancer Surgery

2012 was probably the most difficult year John and I have endured in our marriage. That February, his doctors found cancer in his colon. During his recovery from a colonostomy that next month, he suffered a heart attack that delayed the colon restructuring surgery for six weeks.

John, as a Polio survivor, uses a ventilator to breathe, causing everybody tremendous concern that he might not make it through surgery. I definitely struggled to trust the Lord to protect him. Yet as WordPress publishes this post, we’re attending a party at our church to celebrate the fifth anniversary of his surgery (the actual anniversary was this past Monday).

As I thought about what hymn to post this week, this simile hymn about trusting Jesus seemed the most appropriate. As you listen, please join us in rejoicing in the extra time God has given me and John. He is so faithful!

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Does Suffering Provide Intimacy With Jesus

Over the last forty plus years, I’ve had a lot of exposure to Joni Eareckson Tada. I’ve read her books (well, some of them), listened to her radio show and have met her personally four times. In many respects, I admire the woman, and I applaud much of the work that her ministry, Joni and Friends, does to bring the Gospel to people afflicted by disability. To my disappointment, my cassette tapes of her singing wore out, and I can’t find her albums on mp3 format (if any of you know where I could get them, please put a link in the comments section or on The Outspoken TULIP’s Facebook page).

Although I’m still a fan of Joni’s singing, during the past six or seven years little things about her theology have sort of nagged at me. Please don’t misunderstand: I’m not saying Joni’s a false teacher on the level of Beth Moore, Joyce Meyer or Ann Voskamp. The bulk of her teaching lies well within the boundaries of orthodox Christianity. All of us have blind spots, and perhaps my quibbles with Joni reflect blind spots in me. So I beg you not to misinterpret this essay as a denunciation of this woman.

At the same time, a few unrelated things about her have made me more cautious about her ministry than I used to be. I’ve been praying about my concerns for several months, knowing that things simply weren’t right.  The other day, however, I watched a YouTube video that made me think seriously about her teaching and its influence on me. As a result, I believe I need to address an element of her teaching that troubles me.

Here’s the hour-long  video, for those who would like to see it:

Whether you watch it or not, I want to explain why it bothers me.

In her talk, Joni began with a statement that I’d heard her make many times over the last forty years. In essence, she said that she wouldn’t trade her quadriplegia for anything because of the intimacy it has given her with Jesus. From there, she proceeded to describe various instances in which the Lord has comforted her in her suffering, encouraging those in her audience to likewise find His comfort during their times of hardship.

This type of thinking inspires people, most assuredly. I’ve found it inspiring on more than one occasion. But as I mulled it over the other day, it occurred to me that Joni had taken a by-product of suffering and was presenting it as suffering’s main purpose. While she frequently inched close to the truth that God allows and uses suffering with the primary purpose of glorifying Himself, she’d always revert back to the benefits of suffering to her. As a result, she (I believe unintentionally) communicated a self-centered view of Christianity rather than a Christ-centered one.

On one level, I understand how she would put such an emphasis on self. Those of us with severe physical disabilities live in worlds where large networks of people provide various services to us, ranging from intimacies like bathroom routines to impersonal acts like driving paratransit vehicles. In all these situations, our needs necessarily take priority. Understandably, we become accustomed to being the center of attention. Not surprisingly, therefore, we see the Lord as the ultimate Person Who takes care of us.

And the Lord indeed does take care of us. Our disabilities render us wonderfully dependent on Him in ways that most able-bodied Christians don’t get to enjoy.

But.

As much as disability (or any suffering) facilitates intimate dependence on Jesus, and as wonderful as that intimate dependence may be, it’s really not the point. Later in her talk, Joni imagines a conversation she’ll have with Jesus in heaven. As she walks hand-in-hand with Him, He points to her wheelchair and tells her all the ways He’s used her because of it.

That’s not how I picture heaven.  I imagine being before Him, overwhelmed by His glory and greatness. When I see Him face-to-face, I seriously doubt I’ll think about myself at all, unless it’s to grieve over the many ways I will have failed to honor Him. Frankly, I won’t be thinking about my disability in heaven. I’ll be too fascinated with Jesus and His magnificence to think about myself!

Does my disability give me an intimacy with Jesus that I wouldn’t have enjoyed otherwise? I have absolutely no idea. Furthermore, if it does, that’s an added benefit. He’s sovereignly blessed me with Cerebral Palsy for purposes that glorify Him, and any intimacy that I have with Him because of it comes a a bonus. I tremble at the thought of teaching young women to regard suffering as something God allows in their lives for their sake.

Joni Eareckson Tada is not a false teacher, but I do believe her emphasis on self could reinforce the narcissism that plagues evangelical communities today. In a time when professing Christians need to turn attention away from self in order to proclaim the excellencies of the Lord Jesus Christ, we don’t need teachings that encourage self-focus…even as a means of coping with suffering.

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The Beauty Of Christ’s Blood

As Mom unpacked my suitcase, I told her stories about Easter Seal Camp Harmon, sorry that I’d never go back. At age 18, I’d found that all the adult campers had intellectual disabilities, and as a result the counselors gave me more attention (I could converse on their level). Reluctantly, Mom agreed that it would be unfair to the other campers for me to continue going. We kept talking, both enjoying our time of bonding.

Finally she unpacked a large red cross attached to a cord so that I could wear it as a necklace. I explained that the counselors had helped me make it in Ceramics class, and that I’d painted it red to remind me of the blood Jesus shed for my sin. Looking a little disgusted, Mom blurted out, “Well, that’s rather ghoulish!”

Perhaps the world, like Mom, has difficulty understanding why Christians regard Christ’s blood-stained  cross as a thing of beauty. Perhaps, if  I didn’t know what it symbolizes, I might also find it a bit ghoulish. But a year and a half before I applied red glaze to that cross with  my mouthstick, the Lord used a high school friend to show me that He had shed His blood on the cross in payment for my sin.

In the law given through Moses, God required that the blood of innocent animals be shed to atone for sin. Leviticus describes those  bloody sacrifices in such detail that most Christians can’t make it through the book. The writer of Hebrews, thankfully, helps to explain why the Jews offered such horrible sacrifices:

18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. ~~Hebrews 9:18-22 (ESV)

God takes sin so seriously that only blood provides full atonement. We, on the other hand, sin so naturally and with such ease that we think a simple (and not necessarily heartfelt) apology should do the trick. We forget that God is so absolutely holy that He cannot tolerate the  least amount of impurity. Even the smallest, most socially acceptable sin offends Him so deeply that it requires the death of something.

Or Someone.

And in His inexplicable mercy, God the Son willingly shed His precious blood, knowing that it provided a much more lasting atonement than the blood of sacrificial animals. Again, the writer of Hebrews explains:

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
    but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
    as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”
When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. ~~Hebrews 10:1-14 (ESV)

Jesus shed His innocent blood in atonement for the sin that you and I commit simply because we’re born sinners. In so doing, He simultaneously satisfied justice and showed mercy to all who believe on Him. Oh, I know it boggles our limited human minds, and I also know I can’t explain it as thoroughly as I’d like. Nevertheless, I pray you’ll see that, far from being ghoulish, the blood stained cross of Christ radiates the powerful beauty of Christ’s love for us.

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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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Saturday Sampler: October 30 — November 5

Tulip Sampler 02Get comfortable, because Gary Giley’s Discernment and Revelation on the Southern View Chapel website takes time to read. But if you want to understand why people like me believe that the Holy Spirit speaks exclusively through Scripture, you’ll find comprehensive and compelling evidence for our position in this article. Make time to read it, please.

In honor of Reformation Day, Sharon LaRue of Chapter 3 Ministries invites Protestants and Catholics alike to study Reformation Day and the Doctrine of Justification. Its wonderful that Sharon’s health allowed her to blog for this important occasion.

I don’t know if reading The Woman in the Wheelchair Who Thought She Could Not Be Saved by Jordan Standridge on The Cripplegate makes me sad or angry. Both, I think. But it also  makes me grateful for the Reformation, which restored the Bible’s teaching that Christians are justified by faith, not works on penance. Whatever caused that woman’s disability didn’t cripple her nearly as much as the damnable teachings of the Roman Catholic Church!

Rosaria Butterfield became a Christian in 1999. Her conversion cost her a prestigious  academic position as a professor of English Literature and Women’s Studies, and it also convinced her to renounce her lesbian lifestyle and prominent position as an LBGTQ activist. Her background lends power to her recent piece in The Gospel Coalition Blog, Love Your Neighbor Enough to Speak Truth: A Response to Jen Hatmaker.

Adding to the Jen Hatmaker conversation, Denny Burk writes, Yes, let’s remember who’s watching this conversation. Are we really going to manifest a compromised caricature of “Christianity” for the sake of political correctness?

Writing for She Disciples, Kim Wine offers insight into Why You’re Not Changing Even Though You’re a Christian. I appreciate Kim for basing her practical counsel firmly in the Word of God.

In his article, 10 Reasons Why the Reformation is Not Over, Josh Buice of Delivered by Grace encourages us to persevere in preaching the Gospel. I completely agree! As long as professing Christians distort the Gospel and propagate false teaching, the true Church will need to continually reform herself.

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Inconsequential Disability

img_0501Clearly, Cerebral Palsy affects every area of my life to one degree or another. I don’t really care for that fact, but there you have it. I’ve accepted the reality that my disability shapes and controls how I live in such a variety of ways that I could most likely write an interesting blog exclusively on that topic. If we throw John’s Polio into the mix, maybe we could get a good book deal going.

A lot of Christians with disabilities use their disabilities as platforms for ministry. Joni Eareckson Tada, of course, instantly comes to mind as the most notable example, although I’ve known others that also serve their fellow disabled people. Over the course of my life, I’ve made a few attempts at involvement in disability ministry…primarily because other people thought I should.

But, to be brutally honest, I’m simply not interested in disability. Not even my own disability, despite its pervasive nature. If I write about it now and then, I generally do so out of necessity, aware that I can’t totally avoid the subject. Even as a blogger, I need to help my readers understand why my posts are so short; typing with a headstick (especially in conjunction with the  involuntary movements of Cerebral Palsy) means that I can’t produce 1,000 word essays every day. Yet, I only mention this fact because I need to.

Some people have suggested that I’ve always avoided disability ministry out of denial. I’ll admit that I want, in some  ways, to distance myself from disability,  but  charging me with denial seems a bit ridiculous. C’mon folks, I married a man who also uses a wheelchair! I can hardly be accused of running away from disability when I deal with both his and mine. I married John, accepting his disability (just as he married me accepting mine), fully aware of the many implications involved.

Occasionally, yes, the Lord uses my disability (or John’s) to give me insight into a Scriptural principle, and I have no problem writing about those instances. If I can exploit my disability to bring glory and honor to the Lord Jesus Christ, I won’t hesitate to take full advantage of the opportunity. But, for the most part, my blog rarely mentions wheelchairs, headsticks, Personal Care Attendants or any of the oddities that come with having a severe physical disability.

My true passion is teaching women the importance of good doctrine. Writing a blog about disability issues might get me a bigger audience (particularly if I hinted here and there about my sex life, I suppose). But I see a much greater need in the Body of Christ than telling people how to handle temporal suffering. Actually, I seldom consider myself as afflicted anyway, especially when I remember Christians in other countries who are being tortured, imprisoned and killed for their faith in Jesus Christ. Those people suffer infinitely more than I ever have.

The disability I really want to blog about has nothing to do with Cerebral Palsy, and everything to do with  spiritual health. With evangelicals increasingly minimizing the importance of the Bible in favor of emotional experiences and distorted ideas of Jesus, I desire to challenge the fads and false teaching that cripple God’s people. Believe me, ladies, these handicaps have far more eternal consequences than whether or not I can walk. Therefore, I reserve the right to focus on the clear teachings of Scripture, not on disability, praying that Christ will receive the glory.

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