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With Sadness And Joy: A Tribute To R.C. Sproul

R.C. Sproul
Photo from Ligonier Twitter page

During the weeks that our Bible Study leader would be absent, our group watched R.C. Sproul’s Holiness of God video series.  Since our teacher would return on the last week of the series, we decided to welcome him back with a practical joke. So we substituted my mom’s Dancing Grannies exercise video for the Sproul video.

After getting a good laugh, we of course switched back to the correct video.

Sadly, I don’t remember anything else about viewing the series, though I have vague recollections of writing about it in my journal. What a shame!

Roughly twenty years passed before my next introduction to Dr. Sproul. It’s hard to be involved in Reformed Theology without encountering Sproul, particularly on YouTube. This past year’s celebration of the Protestant Reformation’s 500th anniversary made his Internet presence even more prominent. If ever a person embraced the Reformation and all it stood for, it was R.C. Sproul.

Perhaps we don’t appreciate a person’s impact on us until they’re gone. That’s one of the many perversities of fallen human nature, I suppose. But, although I didn’t follow Sproul as closely as other people have,  I can’t help feeling a sense of loss. Christianity lost one of its most articulate and powerful voices yesterday, and the  vacuum looms large.

Yet I also feel joyful. In the past few years I’ve watched R.C. Sproul decline physically. Despite his ever present humor (especially in the company of John MacArthur), his deterioration was obvious. As John and I followed the prayer requests that Ligonier put out on their blog and Twitter, I couldn’t help praying that God would mercifully take him Home. I praise the Lord that Sproul’s physical suffering has ended.

But even more than that, I rejoice that Dr. Sproul is with the Lord he served so faithfully and loves so passionately. We have no idea of the wonder he’s experiencing right now. But he beholds the beautiful face of Jesus, and sees the reality of everything he taught. Indeed, R.C. Sproul finally sees the holiness of God.

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Forced Vacation From Our Perspectives In Titus Bible Study Series

Bible And WorshipYou may have noticed that I didn’t blog last Tuesday or Wednesday, and that Thursday I repurposed an article from my old blog, The Things That Come Out Of My Head. Since Easter, I’ve had a particularly vicious cold that has really wiped me out! I felt better Friday, which emboldened me to write the opinion piece on Hillsong, and consequently ushered in a relapse of my symptoms.

Therefore, John and I agreed that I probably shouldn’t write a Bible Study on Titus until next Monday.  I don’t like breaking my momentum, but neither do I like feeling run down. I look forward to getting back into our study next week, since Titus 2 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. Please plan on joining me when I resume this study. You might want to review the installments on Titus 1 (or read them for the first time) in preparation for Chapter 2.

 

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The Personal Side Of An Ex-Gay Pioneer

frank-worthenFrank Worthen was well-known in Charismatic, ex-gay circles, and probably would have be a bit puzzled at being eulogized in a blog that stands for Reformed Theology. Or maybe amused, now that I think about it. Inconsistencies often amused him. Actually, many things amused him, which was a big part of his charm, if you ask me.

Frank, an associate pastor at Church of the Open Door in San Rafael, California, was my pastor. As founding director of Love In Action (the ex-gay ministry I worked for), he was also my  employer. In the past 20 years, he was simply my friend. I say “was” because things changed this past Saturday.

Frank went Home to Jesus Saturday morning, February 11, 2017 after a fairly brief battle with cancer. He would have turned 88 on February 24.

Other bloggers, who knew Frank better than I, have already written about his courageous founding of the ex-gay ministry model, and this tribute by Joe Dallas is arguably the most definitive. He characterized Frank as a hero for offering hope to men and women trapped in homosexual sin. Frank himself had escaped the homosexual lifestyle after 25 years of it, and dedicated the rest of his life to ministering to others with that struggle.

Joe’s essay does a wonderful job of celebrating Frank’s accomplishments in ex-gay ministry,  and I’d be wrongfully intruding if I tried to add to his words on that topic. I instead want to make a couple comments on Frank’s marriage to Anita and on his sense of humor. Those two very human aspects about him, as prevalent as they were, haven’t been mentioned much this week, as people have focused on his ministry, yet those two things epitomized him as a man.

Frank enjoyed life well enough as a bachelor, investing himself in Love In Action. But when the Lord brought Anita into his life, he absolutely blossomed! Since their wedding in late 1984, his smile rarely left his  face.

He immediately put Anita to work in the Love In Action office. I know he did so partly because he liked being with her 24/7, but he did it mostly because she fell in love with the ministry. Sometimes he’d joke that she loved the ministry more than she loved him. He adored her, obviously doing anything in his power to please her.

He happily accepted the new entity of “Frank and Anita” as leaders of Love In Action, though she clearly submitted to his leadership. Once,  with a characteristic twinkle in his eye and chuckle in his voice, he told me, “Whatever Anita wants, Anita gets.” Yet I knew these weren’t the words of a henpecked husband. He gave willingly to his wife out of joy. He saw her as the asset to his ministry that she truly was.

In short, he deeply loved and treasured his wife. Without her, he still would have had a powerful testimony, reaching thousands with his message of freedom from homosexuality. But she added a dimension of joy to his life that enhanced his work. I love Anita for many reasons, but I’m especially grateful that  the Lord brought Frank such delight through their marriage.

Frank, being mild-mannered, had a dry, subtle wit.  Curiously, he could also be a little outrageous. I remember, for example, the 1985 Exodus Conference in San Francisco. A group of gay activists had threatened a protest on Wednesday night, making several of us apprehensive. Some of us gathered at the site where they’d scheduled the protest, waiting for them. After 30 minutes, it became evident that they’d changed their minds. While most of us sighed with relief, Frank was visibly disappointed. “I wanted to see the show,” he explained (again with that characteristic chuckle). He was serious!

My theological differences with Frank in no way diminish my respect for him. He loved the Lord, and he spent most of his life proclaiming the truth that Jesus Christ offers freedom from all sin, including the sin of homosexuality. Quite properly, everybody is remembering him for that message right now. But I hope they’ll also remember his joyous marriage and his wonderful sense of humor. Those two things are what endeared him to me.

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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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My Mother-in-law

Pink RosebudJohn’s mom passed away yesterday afternoon, at just about the time I published my blog post. John and I had spent about four hours over there (she’d been staying with family members who took excellent care of her), but John needed to come home to rest.

During the last moments I was in the room, John read Romans 5 to her and prayed over her, thanking God for giving him such a wonderful mother.  She couldn’t respond, but I trust that she heard him. It was a sweet moment to witness, and I thank the Lord and John for letting me be there.

She’d been ill for a while, so it wasn’t unexpected. Many of my absences from blogging occurred because I joined John in visiting her. He went over almost every day this past three weeks; I went less often, but was there Saturday and yesterday. I count it a privilege to have been there this weekend.

She loved my digital art, and pink was her favorite color, so I’ve illustrated this post with a rosebud I drew for one of the birthday or Mother’s Day cards I’d made for her. Hopefully, that will honor  her memory.

My mother-in-law loved people, and loved having fun. She’d look for any excuse to meet people for lunch, preferably at The Cheesecake Factory. She considered shopping a recreational activity, and loved hunting for bargains. I’ll miss making her laugh and watching her enjoy Big Band music. Thanks for all your prayers. Please pray for John.

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He’s Wrong–Pray For Him

Pray For AmericaYes, I’m horrified that President Obama has ordered public schools to make bathrooms available according to a child’s perceived identity rather than his or her biological identity.  Horrified, but not at all surprised. Maybe a little angry at his bullying approach to the matter, especially when I think back eight or nine years to my mom’s complaints that President Bush acted unilaterally in many of his decisions.

President Obama has not, in my opinion, been good for the country. I knew he was trouble when he first ran for president in 2008, and prayed furiously that he’d never see the inside of the Oval Office. Over the years I’ve watched him force various parts of his agenda on the American people, circumventing the Democratic process. In short, I’m not exactly this president’s biggest fan.

As a Christian, however, I refuse to rejoice in my president’s failings. I feel repulsed and infuriated that Donald Trump’s butler thought somebody should shoot Obama. Even though I strongly oppose both the president’s policies and his methods, I refuse to disrespect him. Rather, I choose to pray for him in obedience to Scripture.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. ~~1 Timothy 2:1-2 (ESV)


During the Bush administration, evangelicals quoted this passage with great enthusiasm, and found it easy to pray for a man who championed biblical values. But the apostle Paul wrote in a time  when Rome ruled the world, persecuting Christians for daring to proclaim that Jesus had greater authority than Caesar. Thus, praying for the welfare of those who persecuted and oppressed them probably didn’t come naturally. Their obedience to pray for their ruthless and heathen leaders must have demanded much more resolve than 21st Century American Christians need to summon in praying for Obama.

Sadly, American evangelicals often confuse politics with Christianity, as if voting Republican is an essential tenet of our faith. Certainly, the Word of God should inform a Christian’s political views. For instance, my belief that babies are fully human from the moment of conception makes it next to impossible for me to support a pro-abortion candidate. As I said yesterday, my performance in the voting booth must reflect, as best they can, Scriptural values and priorities.

But when evangelicals compromise Biblical standards for the sake of politics, they obviously turn politics into an idol. Refusal to pray for President Obama reveals their wicked rebellion against the Bible’s explicit command to honor our temporal leaders.

President Obama, despite his insistence that he’s a Christian, has demonstrated that he does not care about the Bible’s teachings–or at least that he will not let them rule his behavior. From that, I believe I can safely conclude that he isn’t genuinely saved. Therefore I believe I can rightly pray for his salvation. I can also pray that God will give him wisdom. And (because of people like Trump’s butler), I can pray for his protection.

Obama’s policies trouble me. Some of his actions horrify me, actually. But I pray that God will help him reverse his erroneous agenda, learn from his many mistakes and leave the White House in 2017 with a good legacy and a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Though any downfall he might experience (especially as he enforces transgender bathroom policies in public schools) would benefit my political party, I don’t allow myself to take pleasure in his failures. Not when I can pray that God will bless him.

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Where Worship Belongs

Even the most liberal of evangelicals would insist on the Lord being the focus of worship. Scripture makes this focus necessary by insisting not only that He created all things, but that He created them for Himself so that He might be preeminent. Less than a year ago, our pastor preached on this very topic as he approached Colossians 1:15-19. Let me expand a bit on the text to provide a  fuller context.

11 May you be 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.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. ~~Colossians 1:11-20 (ESV)

I love this passage primarily because it teaches the amazing doctrine of Christ’s deity, as well as the doctrine of  His Incarnation and His atoning work on the  cross. These words  certainly draw me into an attitude of worship  as they show me Who He is and what He has graciously done. These words also remind me that everything  He has created exists for no other purpose than to bring glory to  Him.

Practitioners of so-called Holy Yoga would say that their form of yoga allows them to worship the Lord more fully. I passionately disagree with that claim based on the fact that yoga (even when it’s dressed up with Bible verses and praise music) is Hinduism. Much to my frustration, their website no longer explains what Holy Yoga actually is, but Chris Lawson of Spiritual Research Network found this quote (which I remember reading) on an earlier version of the Holy Yoga website.

Holy Yoga was created to introduce physical worship of the Lord through prayer, breath work and movement to all seekers and believers in Jesus Christ, regardless of denomination…The purpose of the ministry is to introduce people to yoga as a form of collective (mind, body and spirit) worship…as well as certifying teachers through the registered yoga school (RYS) of Holy Yoga…to facilitate Christ-centered classes in their individual churches, studios, and community spaces….Our sole purpose at Holy yoga is to introduce people to a unique and powerful yoga experience centered on our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To deepen the experience, Holy Yoga classes are practiced to contemporary motivational Christian music…Yoga is NOT a religion; it is a practice of mind and body control. When led by scripture, prayer and worship poses; it is a practice that encourages patience and cultivates an understanding of what God can manifest in our physical and emotional bodies. 

That closing sentence betrayed the inconvenient fact that Holy Yoga is more about experiencing physical and emotional manifestations of “God” than about Biblical  worship. But according to an article by Christian  Apologetics & Research Ministry (CARM) entitled Should Christians Practice Yoga? (this title is a link), this focus on experience pretty much sums up the primary goal of yoga.

The problem is that yoga is religious in nature.  The point of the practice of yoga is to unite oneself with God.  Take this quote from the Yoga Journal: “Connecting the mind, body, and breath helps us to direct our attention inward. Through this process of inward attention, we learn to recognize our habitual thought patterns without labeling them, judging them, or trying to change them. We become more aware of our experiences from moment to moment. The awareness that we cultivate is what makes yoga a practice, rather than a task or a goal to be completed. Your body will most likely become much more flexible by doing yoga, and so will your mind.”4  As one can see, Yoga is more than just a physical exercise.  We as Christians do not want to make our mind more flexible.  We do not want to leave our mind open to false teaching.

Today, I will leave out any discussion of yoga’s worship of Hindu gods (although  I hope to address that matter at some point) and instead emphasize the point that yoga, “‘Christian” or otherwise, subtly shifts the focus from the Lord to self. As I watched video after video on the Holy Yoga  website, the preoccupation with “meeting God on your mat” came up several times. Although you have to pay the  big bucks before accessing anything that explains exactly how Holy Yoga enables you to better experience the Lord, it indeed indicates that  a wonderful experience awaits you on your mat.

Scripture always presents worship as adoring and praising the Lord. Often, such adoration does engage our emotions, but those experiences come as by-products of worship. I don’t need yoga when I have Scripture to tell me about Jesus. Instead of mystical experiences that make me feel degrees of ecstasy, let me learn to die to myself and use my life to serve and glorify Him.