From My Archives: In Eve’s Footsteps

3d383-ladies2bstudy2b03My schedule is a little different this week, therefore diminishing my time for blogging. Please enjoy this article  from May 2016:

Eve’s fatal encounter with the serpent and subsequent rebellion in eating the forbidden fruit is such a familiar narrative to me that sometimes I fail to comprehend all of its implications. But an article in the January/February 2016 issue of Modern Reformation sent me back to the text in Genesis 3. Simonetta Carr’s article, “East of Eden,” tells the story as if through Eve’s words, comfortably familiar (as I said) until I reached  this paragraph:

As wonderful as the Garden was, the serpent convinced me we could have much more, right then and there, without waiting for God’s timing. The serpent appeared to be our friend, but he was strange. He could speak our language and seemed to know more than we knew, but I didn’t give it much thought then. It was an enticing prospect of having our eyes opened, of being like God and knowing more than what God had revealed.

The story continues as she heartwrenchingly wrestles with the realization that Able died and Cain suffered banishment as a result of her rebellion in eating the fruit, and I don’t mean to misrepresent the point Mrs. Carr intended her article to convey. At the same time, the paragraph I just quoted sparked my thinking concerning women and our attraction to mystical adaptations of Christianity.

Specifically, the closing phrase of that paragraph captured my attention.”Knowing more than what God had revealed.” Was that Eve’s motivation? Had Satan promised her revelation beyond the words of God, insinuating that what God had spoken to her and Adam wasn’t sufficient? Fascinating questions! I went to my Bible to verify this interesting possibility. Genesis 3:6 had my answer.

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. (ESV)

That phrase, “the tree was to be desired to make one wise,” gave me confirmation Simonetta Carr had indeed offered a profound insight. Despite the intimate fellowship that she and Adam regularly enjoyed with God, Eve liked Satan’s suggestion that they could possess knowledge beyond what He had revealed to them.

That idea made me think of the mysticism that pervades many evangelical churches today. Although many men get sucked into this terrible trend, it appears to be the most pronounced in women’s ministry. Immediately I think of Beth Moore’s claims of revelations from God and Sarah Young’s book, Jesus Calling. I also remember countless women’s retreats and Bible Study meetings where leaders encouraged us to “allow” the Holy Spirit to reveal Himself, not in the pages of Scripture, but “personally” during times of “listening prayer.”

All too often, evangelical “Bible” teachers send the message that the Bible only goes so far in showing us what we need. Typically (and I speak from both personal experience  and first-hand observation), evangelical women receive subtle pressure to understand their psychological wounds and/or to  experience God emotionally. They may certainly start with a Bible verse that “ministers” to them (i.e., that gives them goosebumps), but they must then seek “more.”

One example of the mysticism evangelical teachers push on women comes in the form of “intimacy with God.” Jesus must be their “Lover,” especially if they’re single. Beth Moore and Ann Voskamp both urge women to enjoy “romance” with Him…with Voskamp  boldly advocating erotic expressions of such romance. Sometimes single women are actually shamed for wanting a flesh-and-blood husband when Jesus “offers” them emotional and even sexual satisfaction.

That spiritual rush, of course, exceeds the limitations of mere Bible study. As with other forms of evangelical mysticism, this intimacy with God suggests that we need more than what He has given us in His Word. But didn’t Eve plunge all of creation into decay and death precisely because Satan convinced her that she needed to digest the knowledge of good and evil? Didn’t he persuade her that God’s Word didn’t give her everything she needed?

Evangelical women fall for the same stale lie that Satan first told Eve. Thankfully, we can trust that God’s Word really does supply everything necessary for us to live on this side of heaven.

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. ~~2 Timothy 3:14-17 (ESV)

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From The Archives: Unnecessary Self-Analysis

I originally published this blog post on January 30, 2016.

The Lord, for reasons known only to Him, kept me single until a month before my 49th birthday. His decision  troubled me greatly, to say the least.

During those anguished years of singleness, “Christian psychology” made its way into the church I’d joined. Consequently, I felt compelled to analyze my desire to marry, much as my friends tried to analyze  their same sex attractions.  Borrowing from that church’s use of psychological models, I reasoned that uncovering the underlying cause of my longing for a husband would unlock ways that Jesus could directly provide me with romantic fulfillment.

You may have guessed that my quest never yielded the answers I sought. I struggled with enormous self-condemnation because Jesus didn’t satisfy me. So of  course  I then searched for explanations regarding my apparent resistance to Him. I read countless “Christian” books on co-dependency, emotional dependency, inner  healing, and all sorts of other psychological blocks to “receiving God’s love.” But my  desire for marriage stubbornly remained.

Looking back, I easily see that romantic fulfillment was an idol. Mercifully, the Lord did eventually bless me with a marriage far beyond my expectations, for which I praise Him. But what if He hadn’t?

Scripture says that God  created us for His pleasure and purposes, not so that He could cater to our “felt needs.”

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
    and by your will they existed and were created.” ~~Revelation 4:11 (ESV)

The King James Version says “and for thy pleasure they are created.” So, while my marriage extends happiness as a wonderful by-product, the Lord actually brought it about to glorify Himself. If He had chosen to keep me single, He would have also done that for His glory. My emotional gratification really matters little in comparison to how He chooses to glorify Himself through me.

As post-modern evangelicals shift increasingly toward a gospel that requires the Lord to meet our emotional needs, we lose sight of the true Gospel that revolves around Him. The Lord primarily cares about making us holy. He died in order to take the wrath of God that rightly belongs to each of us so that we, as a corporate Church, might be His eternal Bride. Thus, His purpose in redeeming us goes far beyond our temporal happiness.

When we then shift the emphasis from His eternal joy to what we can get out of Him in this life, we cheapen the Gospel. In fact, dear sisters in Christ, we cheapen Christ. The hours we waste in psychological counseling could be used in studying and applying Scripture as we seek to live in holiness before Him.

“Christian” psychology, by offering non-existent answers to questions we have no business asking in the first place, subtly shifts God into the role of our Servant. Even though He does graciously bless us, we must break out of our insidious attitude that He has an obligation to fulfill us emotionally. We exist to please Him, and we can rejoice that He takes pleasure in us.

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The Trouble With Emphasizing Our Woundedness

Michele SmithThere’s something comforting in hearing someone confess their flaws and vulnerabilities, isn’t there? If she’s as imperfect and broken as we are, she makes us feel better about ourselves. Therefore, we gravitate to her blogs, books and/or conferences, knowing that she’ll make us feel good. She’ll assure us that God thinks we’re awesome, that He wants to date us and that He validates all our feelings. As He met her in her woundedness, so He will meet us in ours.

Lately, I’ve confessed, not cute little flaws in my character, but outright sin. Maybe you feel that I’m more approachable because of my transparency. That’s flattering to me, I’ll admit, but it’s also a little troubling.

If I use self-disclosure as a means of attracting followers, the focus goes to me. That’s not going to benefit either me or my readers. It may make me feel important and influential, but it probably does little to build the kingdom of God. And the possibility that I’m building my personal empire rather than investing the abilities He gives me in advancing His kingdom terrifies me.

The apostle Paul gives a glimpse into how the Lord will judge believers. Please read the following passage with the understanding that it refers to God judging how to reward Christians, not about salvation. Jesus Christ has already determined salvation by His death on the cross. The judgment in this passage focuses on whether believers have used our natural and spiritual gifts for Christ’s honor and glory.

11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. ~~1 Corinthians 3:11-15 (ESV)

(No, that’s not about Purgatory.)

When a Christian uses ministry to draw attention to herself, she’s failing to build on the foundation of the Lord Christ Jesus. Her fan base may believe she’s a personal friend to each one of them because she’s been so authentic about her brokenness. They wouldn’t mind having a cuppa with her while she empathized with their brokenness.

I have no problem with a Christian blogger, writer and/or speaker extending empathy to hurting women. Please don’t misunderstand me on that point. God’s Word specifically commands us to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). But at some point, the empathy must lead to Christ. Sin must be confronted and the Gospel must be presented in its entirety. Above all, Jesus must be exalted.

So much so-called ministry these days revolves around making people feel good about themselves, prompting bloggers, writers and  speakers to parade their flaws and vulnerabilities without discretion. But many times their veneer of authenticity covers us a thirst for applause instead of a desire to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. And they forfeit eternal rewards.

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Saturday Sampler: June 25 – July 1

Polygon Flowers SamplerAlas! After 500 years, the Roman Catholic Church still resists the Protestant Reformation. Tom of excatholic4christ gives chilling evidence of this fact by writing Coming soon to a Protestant church near you: the “Ecumenical Rite of Mass”. In this piece, he explains some of the reasons why Protestants mustn’t participate in such activities.

Social media certainly has a grip on teenagers and young adults. If you have teenaged kids, perhaps you worry about their infatuation with Facebook, Snap Chat and text messages. Although your concerns definitely have great validity, Kristen Hatton, in a post for The Gospel Coalition Blog, suggests that Social Media Isn’t Your Teens’ Biggest Problem.

In What does a true revival look like? Part 1, The End Time‘s Elizabeth Prata takes us back to the Great Awakening to show how God worked to bring people to repentance.

Yes! Mary Liebert of The Verity Fellowship reminds us that Exposition Is For Women, Too. This message simply can’t be overstated, especially when so many women’s Bible Study groups focus on emotions and girl talk. Ladies, God makes His Word as available to us as He makes it to men.

In his article for The Gospel Coalition Blog, Jay Harrison exposes The Hypocrisy of Phariseephobia. I have noticed the same phenomenon, but Jay’s personal struggles with homosexuality give him greater credibility in calling out this sin. His thoughts should inspire all of us to repentance.

Eric Davis, in a truly exceptional post for The Cripplegate, absolutely nails a major problem with psychology. Fictitious Forgiveness: Why We Cannot Forgive Ourselves brings out a number of ways that the myth of self-forgiveness clashes with Biblical Christianity. The Lord used almost all of Davis’ points to convict me of my arrogance in this area.

I hope you won’t miss Comparing Modern Day Evangelism to What the Bible Teaches by Leslie A. of Growing 4 Life. Her observations are challenging, and most of us certainly need those challenges. I definitely do!

For an interesting angle on judging, take a look at Peter Stayton’s essay, Why I Need My Friends to Judge Me, on his blog One Degree to Another. I won’t spoil it by hinting at how he approaches the subject other than to say I’ve never seen it quite this way before.

Should I Feel God’s Presence in My Life? asks R.C. Sproul on the Ligonier blog. As a former Charismatic, I greatly appreciate this little glimpse into Sproul’s life, as well as the resulting wisdom.

Allen Cagle, blogging at Parking Space 23, probably writes Receiving Criticism primarily to his fellow pastors, but all Christians can benefit from the Scriptural principles he presents. As the Internet sets us up for hostile attacks from those who disagree with us,  these principles can help us handle criticism in godly ways.

 
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Why High Self-Esteem Threatens Your Eternity

Faint CrossIn one respect, I don’t want to write yet another essay on why Christians should avoid psychology. Any regular reader of my blog knows quite well that I believe mixing psychology with a form of Christianity necessarily compromises the Gospel. Can I really add to everything I’ve been saying these past two years?

Listening to John MacArthur’s Grace To You radio broadcasts this week made me think that I actually do have more to say on this topic. MacArthur spent an entire broadcast comparing psychology’s emphasis on improving self-esteem with Christ’s demand that His followers deny themselves.

23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? ~~Luke 9:23-25 (ESV)

Psychological therapy, for the most part, seeks to make us feel better about ourselves and more in control of our lives. Even when we do actually identify a pattern of thought or behavior as sin, Christian psychology encourages us to diffuse our guilt by trying to figure out the root causes of our struggles. Often, counselors guide us to blame our parents for our sinful habits (I saw this practice a lot during my time in ex-gay ministry). The realization that someone else is responsible for our sin makes us feel better about ourselves, thereby boosting our self-esteem.

Nifty little system, huh?

Except for the fact that high self-esteem  blocks us from accepting our abject sinfulness and our consequent need for a Savior. Oh, it’s fine to give lip-service to the idea that He somehow saves us from hell, but as our self-esteem grows, we find it hard to believe that we really deserve eternal damnation. We even convince ourselves that Jesus saved us because He saw something in us worth saving.

But the Lord explicitly says that going after Him requires self-denial. One aspect of self-denial is admitting our worthless conditions apart from Him. Ephesians 2:1-10 shows us that our salvation points exclusively to God’s grace toward us despite our wretchedness.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ~~Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV)

The Gospel emphasizes our wretchedness and the Lord’s incredible grace toward us. Psychology blunts His grace by dulling our understanding that we are actually sinners, completely unable to escape the judgment of hell. High self-esteem lowers or appreciation of His wonderful mercy in giving us the faith to receive salvation.

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Why I Wanted More Than Scripture

Victoria PaintingTo my shame, I like to talk about myself. Everybody does, I suppose, but I see it as one of my character flaws. Wouldn’t it be much better if my conversation revolved around the Lord and His Word?

Sometimes, however, talking about myself gives me the opportunity to tell people how the Lord has worked in my life. I’ve written several articles about the ways that evangelicals try to supplement God’s Word with mysticism and psychology, but perhaps I come across as not understanding why those practices attract so many professing Christians. Perhaps readers (especially those who haven’t read my Autobiography With Purpose posts) think I’m simply unaware of how God can use these practices to enhance Biblical principles. With such possibilities in mind, I’d like to tell you a little bit about my struggles with the sin of anger and my subsequent minimization of the Bible’s ability to address it.

Mostly in those years when I accepted Charismatic theology (but also in later years), I considered the Bible to be less than satisfying. Oh, with my mouth I’d insist that Scripture possessed everything Christians needed to know, but when I struggled with personal issues, I’d search its pages and find my heart yearning for something “deeper.” Prophecy, psychology, or “words of knowledge” promised to augment God’s Word.

My battle to tame my temper provides an example of my dissatisfaction with Biblical principles. I dutifully read all the passages condemning anger, as well as the ones encouraging self-control. Yet they didn’t seem to offer guidance on how to keep  from exploding into fits of rage when I’d feel irritated or threatened. I believed I needed to understand childhood trauma that caused my root of anger. Additionally, I went through “deliverance” from a demon of anger that had supposedly possessed me. I read Christian books and articles, looking for mystical experiences with Jesus that would free me from my anger and transform me into a woman of inexhaustible patience.

The magic bullet never materialized.

What I really needed, of course, was to obey the Holy Spirit, Who has given me a spirit of self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). I could choose to walk in the Spirit’s ways, which He outlined in the Bible, or I could choose to walk in the flesh. Walking in the Spirit doesn’t erase my fleshly feelings of indignation, but it trusts the Spirit’s power to help me respond to irritations as He would have me respond.

Obedience isn’t the easy way of dealing with sin. Often, it fails to change our feelings or remove our sinful desires. Instead, it requires us to deny the demands of our emotions, bringing them into submission to God’s commands. Certainly, the Holy Spirit empowers us to obey the Lord, but He doesn’t necessarily do so in ways that we find comfortable. And, frankly, we turn to mysticism and psychology precisely because we want a comfortable way of dealing with sin.

God’s Word not only teaches us what the Lord expects, but it points us to the power of God’s Spirit, Who enables us to obey. We need no “deeper” knowledge, nor do we need psychology. Scripture guides us to the risen Christ, Who in turn raises us from bondage to our sin natures. Really, what more could we possibly need?

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Saturday Sampler: June 4 — June 10

Bertucci Sampler
Sampler plate at Bertucci’s

Clint Archer posts Running for the  Reward: Comrades Marathon and the Bema Seat in The Cripplegate. Sometimes we Christians forget that rewards await us when we finish this life.

Reprising a column that she originally wrote in 2011, Marsha West of Berean Research chronicles the Purpose Driven dismantling of Christianity as  a testament to the many corrosive influences on the 21st Century church. Her comments on psychology particularly interested me.  In addition, she unmasks the resurgence of Gnosticism among evangelicals and explores Rick Warren’s affiliation with Robert Schuller.

Sometimes we ignore seemingly inconsequential sins, assuming the Lord also overlooks them. Tim Challies directs our attention to one such sin (grumbling about fellow Christians) in The King Is Within Earshot.

People commonly object to the doctrine of election because they infer that, if God elects some to heaven, He conversely elects others to hell. In The Cripplegate, Jesse Johnson writes Reprobation: Does God elect people to hell? as a way to demonstrate the logical fallacies of this argument. After you’ve read this piece, however, I strongly suggest that you read Reprobation Rejoinder by Mike Riccardi, also in The Cripplegate.

I’ve been disturbed, for the past few years, about the common perceptions professing Christians have regarding heaven. So it encourages me to read Heaven: The Biblical Version by Jennifer at One Hired Late In The Day. I feel less alone in my understanding of what the Bible teaches on the subject.

Denny Burk provides a sobering reminder that American Christians have already begun to face persecution. His article, Watch Bernie Sanders tell  a Christian that his faith disqualifies him from office, reminds me that we can no longer expect to be embraced by our culture. But Jesus repeatedly warned us that the world would reject us, so we really shouldn’t be surprised.

If you want to read something both fun and educational, look at The Mischievous Protestant’s Guide to Catholic Rome by Tim Challies. Now, why do you suppose my art history professor at Dominican University of California  (a school started by Catholic nuns) never mentioned the items in this piece.

In her essay for The Gospel Coalition Blog, Kendra Dahl shares The Lesson That Saved My Marriage to help us adjust our expectations of our husbands. I definitely needed to read her wisdom this week!

 

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