Modern evangelicals seem desperate to believe that God speaks to them personally. The moment anybody challenges that possibility, hackles rise, claws come out and defensive arguments commence. A mere 50 years ago, claiming to receive messages from God signaled mental illness, but today those of us who don’t believe God speaks outside of Scripture are considered unbalanced by our brothers and sisters in Christ.
How can we determine whom to marry, which job to take or what car to buy unless the Lord speaks to us? After all, He spoke to Abraham, Moses, Isaiah and Paul. We have the same Holy Spirit that they did, making it perfectly reasonable to assume that He can also speak directly to us. We can measure our thoughts, impressions, dreams and/or visions against Scripture. If they’re from God, His Word will confirm it. Right?
Before we discuss the problems with interpreting our experiences as messages from God, I’d like to relay an actual story. I personally knew the couple involved. but obviously need to hide their identities. The woman has given me permission to share their story.
John, although he has his moments, is very easy to love. The thought of needing an older woman to teach me to cultivate affectionate feelings towards him amuses me, because those feelings come without much effort on my part. Hopefully most of my married readers can say the same thing about their husbands.
Sadly, many wives don’t have this sort of testimony. Sadder still, even Christian marriages can struggle, with wives experiencing difficulty maintaining affection for their husbands and children. We’ll get to reasons for such problems momentarily, but first we need to go back to Titus 1 for a look at the culture in Crete. Understanding the people Paul originally directed his instructions to gives us clarity on how his instructions apply to 21st Century Christian wives.
In Titus 1, Paul commissioned Titus to appoint elders across the island nation of Crete. These elders would need the ability to deal with troublemakers, whether those who taught false doctrine or those who lived in self-indulgence. Paul reminded Titus that the inhabitants of that island generally lived in flagrant rebellion against God’s laws.
13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. ~~James 3:13-18 (NASB95)
Who could, in good conscience, insist on bringing a pregnancy to term if doing so would cause the mother to die? Wouldn’t the mother’s death also result in the death of the unborn baby? Perhaps not always. But probably in most cases. Truly pro-life people would want to save one rather than let both mother and baby die.
Truly pro-life people also know that abortions for this reason occur very rarely. According to Table 2 in an article on why women have abortions in ScienceDirect, 3.8 women in the United States during 2004 cited “the health of the mother” as the reason for ending their pregnancies. At first glance, that statistic may surprise you, perhaps even challenging your stand against Roe v. Wade. Should we endanger 3.8 American lives simply to overturn a 1973 court decision? Do we really consider unborn lives as more valuable than the lives of women? That sort of attitude doesn’t sound very pro-life. Critics of the pro-life movement, in fact, raise the question of abortion to spare the mother’s life precisely because it indicates hypocrisy on the part of those who oppose abortion.
I want to refute this line of argumentation on two fronts: from logic and from the experience of a personal friend.
The atheist wanted nothing to do with the Christian perspective on depression. She knew what secular psychology teaches and what medical doctors believe. Convinced that professional counselors alone possess the qualifications to address an issue like depression, she publicly ridiculed the possibility that habitual self-pity could be a root cause of depression. When I stated personal experience of overcoming depression by repenting of self-pity, the atheist reacted angrily, interrogating me about my credentials and scolding me for suggesting a link between the two conditions. Her rage surprised no one.
When Christians who have studied both secular psychology and Biblical counseling raise our objections to psychological approaches, all too often we are dismissed as uneducated idiots who have absolutely no right to our beliefs. The atheist will demand that we have clinical training according to secular standards, as if secular standards supersede Biblical truth.
For the atheist, secular standards indeed seem authoritative. I get that. Someone who rejects God quite naturally would reject the authority of God’s Word, and Christians shouldn’t expect otherwise.
If you’re a mom sending your child off to college, undoubtedly you’re worried about him or her being pressured to abandon Scriptural values in favor of philosophies that seem more enlightened and scientific. If you’re a college student, you may wonder if you’ll be able to withstand the constant assaults on Christianity. Even many Christian schools offer liberal doctrine that draws people away from sound Biblical teaching.
I well understand those concerns. In fact, I believe they’re valid. Even when I went through college in the 1970s, I struggled to maintain my Biblical views in the face of ideological challenges. The second semester of my sophomore year, in particular, caused me tremendous spiritual turmoil when I took both a philosophy class and a psychology class. Thankfully, Paul’s counsel to the Colossians served as my anchor during the semester. As far as I’m concerned, every college student should make Colossians 2:8 her motto.
I once heard someone ask a pastor what to do when Bible reading seems dry. The pastor answered (quite seriously, I’m sorry to say), “Just keep reading until something jumps out at you.” He went on to explain that a verse that catches our attention is what the Holy Spirit has for us that particular day.
Never mind the context. Never mind the intent of the human author, or the way his original readers would have understood the verse. Above all, never mind that God spoke that verse very specifically, with a meaning that doesn’t change in order to accommodate our individual circumstances. All too often, professing Christians read the Bible with the expectation that they can arrive at a personal, subjective interpretation.
Originally published January 25, 2018. My dear friend Ginny reminded me of this article after getting me up yesterday and witnessing the terrible pain I’ve been experiencing lately,
When doctors discovered that I had serious birth defects, they advised my mother to put me in an institution and forget she ever had me. According to them, I’d be a vegetable my entire life. (Thus John refers to me as his spicy little tomato.) Thankfully, Mom rejected their counsel, put me through college and lived to see me get married a month before my 49th birthday.
My mother didn’t raise a turnip, thank you very much!
All joking aside, I understand that the doctors sincerely believed they made a humane recommendation. Certainly, because they doubted that I had cognitive function, they concluded that I couldn’t possibly tell the difference between a loving home and an institution. And, more importantly (from their perspective), my parents would be spared the anguish of having a severely disabled child.
Mom knew that doctors aren’t God. They have limited powers in predicting an infant’s future. So she brought me home and proceeded to make my childhood as normal and happy as possible. When one teacher told her I’d never go to high school, she informed him that she fully intended for me to attend college. When my occupational therapist insisted that she tell me I’d never marry, she countered, “I can’t tell her something that I don’t know myself.”
Those chilling words, “Put her in an institution and forget you ever had her,” horrified my mother. They horrify me. They horrify everyone who hears the story, as well they should! Doctors have no right to predict a baby’s future and advise a new mother to put the baby away. Had Mom followed their recommendation, both of us would have suffered for the rest of our lives.
I praise God for His sovereignty in giving me a mother who refused to give up her dreams for me. Cerebral Palsy definitely has its challenges, I admit, but the Lord has blessed me with a joyful life.
13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. ~~Psalm 139:13-16 (ESV)
Thinking about the doctors’ prediction 64 years ago makes me think about present-day doctors who, on the basis of prenatal tests, recommend abortion to women carrying children with potential birth defects. Typically, they reason that such children, in addition to imposing an enormous financial and emotional burden on the family, would needlessly suffer a low quality of life.
But how can anyone accurately predict the future of a baby who is still in the womb, even if genetic testing indicates birth defects? Perhaps a child will be nothing more than a vegetable, but even then, God might have a purpose for that life. As a matter of fact, He used such a man to bring me to repentance of self-pity.
Usually, however, children born with birth defects exceed expectations and live full, productive lives. Aborting them simply because of possible disabilities (especially when the extent of those disabilities couldn’t possibly be determined until well into childhood) seems both arrogant and cruel. Using potential disability as a rationale for aborting a child is horrifying to me.
Actually, the rationale for aborting any child is horrifying to me.
As I’ve mentioned before, I had started posting these Bible Studies back in January. At the end of February, a compression fracture in my back forced me to discontinue it. About a month ago, I felt well enough to resume it, and I decided to run the original installments again just to reestablish some continuity. However, I’m augmenting these reruns with a few additional comments to provide clarification or because I missed something earlier.
Although we’re getting into the meat of Paul’s letter to the Colossians today, our text will demand that we look at some background information on the false teachings that he addresses. I aim to demonstrate how he uses sound doctrine, rather than direct discussion of the errors at hand, to steer the Colossians away from faulty theology and practices.
We’ll most likely only get through two verses in this installment of our study, but (as usual) I’ll quote the whole passage for the sake of context.
9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. ~~Colossians 1:9-14 (ESV)
If you take verses 9 and 10 at face value, you could get a fairly accurate interpretation of them. Definitely, Christians should pray for each other along these lines, getting beyond the superficial prayers for health, finances, marriages and other temporal matters. Therefore these two verses encourage us to pray for each other far more deeply than we generally do.
This past weekend, a pastor friend of mine posted the following on his Facebook page:
They said it would not affect me, my family or friends.They said it was none of my business. They said it would not negatively impact our society. But…Now it’s legalized. Now it’s flaunted in commercials, on the television, and in the movies. Now those screaming tolerance are intolerant of any who oppose. Now it’s affecting our health care costs, schools and everything in between. Now it’s demoralizing and seeking to redefine the family. Now it’s attacking men and demonizing men for being men. But…Now, as always, is the time to stand for Truth. Now is the time to live out righteousness, holiness and justice. Now is the time to promote all that is wholesome, good and moral. Now is the time!
Of course he wrote these words in reference to same sex marriage, which has opened a Pandora’s Box of anarchy throughout Western civilization. As you can see, however, the rebellion goes far beyond LBGTQ issues. The ideological left is successfully dismantling every aspect of Judeo-Christian values in America and in other countries.
Most evangelicals thought Trump’s presidency would slow the deterioration. Admittedly, part of me thought so too. But the last few months have pretty much destroyed that fantasy. In fact, the unbridled hatred of President Trump has probably poured gas on the fire. Defying conservative values has become a mandate for academia and Mainstream Media.
During an argument over politics several years ago, someone dismissed my convictions with the remark, “Well, your faith informs your thinking.” The implication was that I let my pastor dictate how I vote. Never mind that no pastor I’ve ever had would do such a thing. Apparently my Christian convictions rendered me incapable of thinking for myself.
In reality, the person arguing with me was heavily influenced by academia and liberal media. Her world told her what thoughts were acceptable and what thoughts should be rejected. I could have easily countered that her social circles informed her thinking.
Does anyone really think for herself? Maybe to a point, but outside influences always shape our thinking. We just need to decide whether we want those influences to come from a worldview that rebels against God’s values and purposes or whether we want those influences to come from the Word of God.