Sunday, August 31, 2014

Vacation And God's Grace

Neither John nor I can travel anymore without putting our health at risk, but we seriously need a vacation. As a solution, we've kept September free of all but one medical appointment (pesky oncologist!) in order to take two day-trips a week (weather permitting). Additionally, I plan to blog less so that I can do more drawing and reading.

I praise the Lord for graciously making this vacation possible. Come to think of it, every blessing I enjoy testifies to His marvelous grace toward me! That being the case, I decided that this week's hymn should celebrate His freely bestowed grace.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Plan For Tomorrow Morning

Reading through Ecclesiastes continues, for the most part, to depress me as Solomon drones endlessly on about the futility of life. I guess a life devoid of the Lord does lack meaning. Having been a Christian since age 17, however, I find it difficult to empathize with Solomon's meditations of emptiness. Consequently, the first section of chapter 5, which discusses responsibilities toward God, offered me welcome relief.

Verse 1 particularly caught my eye.
Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. (ESV)
Consulting various commentaries confirmed my hunch that this verse supports the primacy of listening to the faithful preaching of God's Word (with an intent to obey it) over ritualistic sacrifice. Applied to present-day evangelical worship services, this verse encourages keeping sermons, not singing, as the focal point. 

Singing, confession and prayer still hold important places in corporate worship, to be sure, but hearing God's Word preached by a man who handles it properly prepares us to live out the coming week in ways that honor Christ. As we prepare for church tomorrow, therefore, let's pray for our pastors to preach clearly and honestly, and let's listen attentively with a commitment to act on what we hear.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Deb's Grand Slam Celebration Of John's 65th

We had our reasons to celebrate John's 65th birthday a week early, none of which need to take up precious space here. I had, in an effort to win the ficticious Wife Of The Year award, decided to give John a Tour of Fenway Park as his birthday gift this year. So, we caught the Green Line at Park Street. Getting off at Kenmore, we saw the iconic CITCO sign assuring us that we'd almost reached Fenway Park.
When we arrived at Fenway, I wanted a photo of all the American League Championship and World Series pennants.
Ain't that a pretty sight? But, because the Red Sox  broke "The Curse of the Bambino" and have won the World Series three times since I moved to the Greater Boston Area (John credits me for reversing the curse), I also required a photo of "my" pennants.
We missed the 12:00 Tour by mere minutes, which gave us time for an Italian Sausage. At 1:00 our group assembled, and one of the guides determined to take us separately (some silly detail about us needing elevators instead of stairs).

Our  tour started on the Concourse level, with our guide telling  us that Fenway, completed in 1912, holds the title of America's oldest ballpark. I felt a thrill getting my first glimpse of the playing field.
I watched the ground crew cover the infield in preparation for tomorrow night's Tom Petty concert. I couldn't help thinking how enormous a Major League diamond is compared to the wheelchair softball diamond I played on (second baseman) during my senior year of high school. Very exciting!

We joined the group (at least 50 people, I'd estimate) to hear about Tom Yawkey, who purchased the Red Sox in 1933. Okay, I didn't retain as much information as I normally do on Freedom Trail, Literary and Museum of Fine Arts tours...but hey, this was John's tour! I concentrated on admiring the field.
 All those people comprised just under a third of the tour group. People from all over the world come for the hourly tours of Fenway, with  some groups as large as 80 people. Frankly, it troubles and saddens me that more people seem interested in touring a baseball park than in Freedom Trail tours, but I digress...

Next, we took an elevator up to the Green Monster, which serves to protect the car dealership on Lansdowne Street from fly balls (broken windshields make it awfully hard to sell cars, doancha know). The views from up there thoroughly delighted me!
 Look at this:
We reluctantly left the Green Monster, moving  toward the Press  Box. On the way, we  stopped at one more section on the 5th Level, where John photographed a wonderful view of the Boston Skyline.
Our tour concluded in the Press Box, giving us a view of the Red Seat. On June 9, 1946, Ted Williams hit the longest home run to that date, sending the ball to Section 42, Row 37, Seat 21. Look down and left from the Ford sign.
Can't see it? Ha! Guess I'll show off my photo editing skills. Try it now:
I returned home with a very happy husband who can't stop smiling. Something tells me I'd better save up money to take him to a day game next year. After all, I'd like to win that fictitious Wife Of The Year Award two years in a row!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Not So Fragile A Salvation

Until recently, I had a habit of understanding Scripture verses or passages in isolation from their contexts. Most evangelicals, sadly, do the same thing, but I really shouldn't use that shameful fact to excuse my bad habit. Having majored in English Literature, I certainly ought to have understood not only the importance of context in interpreting the author's meaning, but also the dishonesty of taking a passage away from the author's broader train of thought.

Reading Scripture in a way that follows the writer's progression of thought has helped me make better sense of passages that once seemed problematic. In my Quiet Time yesterday, I encountered one such passage, which I had often used to support the idea that, if I sinned badly enough, I could actually lose (our forfeit) my salvation.
26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. ~~Hebrews 10:26-31 (ESV)
If this passage were self-contained, I indeed would have been correct in believing that my sinful works possessed an ability to sever me from the grace of God. And that idea appealed to my pride by permitting me to take credit for maintaining my salvation. I kept myself in His grace through my obedience, thank you very much! Oddly, I convinced myself that realizing the fragility of my salvation demonstrated my humble attitude.

The letter to the Hebrews, however, makes quite  an opposite statement when read in its entirety with an understanding of its historical background. Its writer had noticed that a number of Jewish converts continued to offer blood sacrifices to atone for their  sin, completely missing the message of the Gospel (that Jesus made a once-for-all atonement for sin by shedding His blood on the cross). These professing "believers" knew this great truth, but continued to sin by trusting in the rituals of Mosaic Law.

By continuing to rely on animal sacrifices, these Jews who claimed to be Christians treated the precious blood of Christ with a contempt that absolutely infuriated the Holy Spirit. Their stubborn dependence on their own efforts to please God mocked Christ's  work on the cross, ensuring their damnation. No animal sacrifice could save them.

Similarly, my attitudes of self-righteousness could have made a mockery of Christ's shed blood. Thankfully, the Lord has brought me to repentance by showing me that I must depend exclusively on what He did for me on Calvary...not on  anything I suppose I do in "obedience" to Him. The context of the letter to the Hebrews lets me rest securely as I trust Jesus for my salvation.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The View! The Feast! The Marriage!

To formally celebrate our twelfth anniversary, John and I dressed up yesterday and headed toward the Prudential Tower. We'd made a lunch reservation at The Top Of The Hub on the 52nd  floor, and got a table with a romantic view encompassing (among other things) the Zakim Bridge, Beacon Street and the State House, Boston Common and Logan Airport.
You may want to  download that photo, pull it into a photo editor and view it at 100%. Use your pan tool to move it around.  I apologize that the Zakim Bridge wasn't in John's vision range, but I enjoyed looking at it!

For lunch, we shared the George's Bank Haddock "Rockefeller," which John insists surpasses any fish meal he's ever had. He loves fish, making his praise of the meal quite significant. I very much enjoyed the blend of flavors and textures myself.
We struggled to decide between the Boston Cream Pie and the Cherry Cheesecake for dessert, so John ordered both. (Not healthy, I know, but oh!--so yummy.)
Can you see the Boston skyline around the side of the Boston Cream Pie? I love details like that.

We had, in short, a glorious anniversary celebration, enjoying the city and (more importantly) each other. We can't afford The Top Of The Hub ordinarily, and don't really mind simple lunches at Quincy Market, B.Good or even Subway. But we have a marriage so special that it warrants celebrations as lavish as yesterday's. I suspect you'll agree.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

An Imperfect, Joyous Wife

August 24, 2002
My sister took that picture twelve years ago today, not long after a pastor friend of John's pronounced us Man and Wife.

Wife. At age 48, after decades of wrestling with the Lord and falsely believing He wanted me to remain single and miserable, I became John's wife. I took his last  name, moved 3000 miles from my family and  friends, and adapted my life to his. I struggled with submission, saw more sin in my life than I expected to see, and slowly let go of my past  to join his present. Yet over the years of being a terribly imperfect wife to an almost perfect man, I've grown in my gratitude that the  Lord has blessed me with the joy of being John's Wife.
August 24, 2014

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The "Who" Of Our Praises

For various reasons, I choose to post this weekend's hymn a day early. I love its focus on the Lord as it rejoices in His  various attributes. Contemporary evangelical culture, in both preaching and  music, can often neglect rejoicing simply in the various aspects of  His nature by instead emphasizing His ministry to us. As wonderful as that ministry is, however, we must keep Him, not His acts of kindness toward us, as our object of worship.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Against Fuzzy Gospels

The article by Brian Johnson that I posted yesterday mentions Rick Warren's anemic presentation of the Gospel. This problem should not be minimized, especially when it risks plunging people into false conversions. Johnson writes:
Warren’s weak theology and misuse of scripture is significant and replete throughout his material.  Conspicuously absent in “The Purpose Driven Life” is a clear definition of what it is to be born-again. There is no question in my mind that this is one of the reasons it remains on the best-seller lists.  Perhaps the following quote is as close as Warren comes to explaining what it is to be redeemed:

“God won’t ask about your religious background or doctrinal views. The only thing that will matter is, did you accept what Jesus did for you and did you learn to love and trust him?” (Warren: 34).

Really?  If that is true, then the Mormons should take great comfort.  After urging his readers to believe God chose them and receive the Holy Spirit for power to “fulfill your life purpose” (Warren 58), he offers a little prayer that will save people. According to Warren, here is how you are saved: “I invite you to bow your head and quietly whisper the prayer that will change your eternity, ‘Jesus, I believe in you and I receive you.” Then he makes this promise, “If you sincerely meant that prayer congratulations! Welcome to the family of God!” (Warren: 59) 

Where is the wrath of God against sinners?  Where is the atonement of the blood of Christ?  This is one example of Warren’s weak theology.
Compare Warren's wishy-washy prayer to this powerful Gospel presentation by Steve Lawson:

Lawson faithfully presented the complete Gospel message, sharing the bad news that makes the Gospel good news. Notice how much doctrine He included. The doctrines of man's sinfulness, Christ's substitutionary atonement, His resurrection, hell and others make up this message. These doctrines are necessary...essential.  Contrary to Rick Warren's warm and very fuzzy assurances, God indeed will ask if we depended on these doctrinal truths.

We must take salvation much more seriously than Rick Warren seems to. False conversions may fill pews and offering plates, but the eternal implications make me shudder.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Examining Rick Warren

The video  on the LCD screen took my enthusiasm for Rick Warren's 40 Days of Purpose campaign and tossed it out the window. I could very easily see his unapologetic distortion of Scripture. Years earlier, I had mishandled Scripture in similar ways, and my past sin of doing so (or more accurately, my repentance from such dishonesty) gave me a sensitivity to the practice. That Sunday morning marked the beginning of my distrust for Rick Warren's teaching.

That memory rushed back to me today--nine years later--as I read Brian Johnson's article, An Examination of Rick Warren's Teaching on "Exponential Growth." Johnson spotted the same distortions that made me squirm. Please make time to read Johnson's article. I pray it will help you understand why I hold such deep concerns about Rick Warren and the Church Growth Movement.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Futile Treasures And Pleasures

Today I started reading Ecclesiastes, which left me feeling a bit depressed. I know the Lord included it in His Word for a reason, and consequently wants me to read it, but it certainly zaps me of inspiration. So perhaps you can regard this post as  a complaint against today's serving of manna.

I'd been feasting on Hebrews for a few days, really understanding it for the first time in my life, and I'd just finished chewing on Proverbs. After such rich fare, Solomon's protracted ruminations of life's futility put a bad taste in my mouth. Of course, when I reach the end of the book I'll realize that it teaches us to look beyond this life to the glories of eternity with Jesus.

Perhaps Ecclesiastes bothers me because my flesh stubbornly clings to the idea that this present life offers me something  substantial. Through Solomon's pessimistic words, the Holy Spirit refutes that misplaced hope by demonstrating that all our earthly treasures and pleasures eventually fade away. My flesh resists that truth.

Ecclesiastes reminds me of my two years in the nursing home. Each day, the nurses got us up, fed us, helped us rid our bodies of waste and (after a few hours) put us back to bed.  I at least had a job to go to...but most of the residents had nothing  but empty days of monotonous routine. The nursing staff dutifully kept them alive without giving their lives meaning.

Those of us outside nursing homes have various occupations and entertainments to distract us, but we really simply feed, relieve and rest our bodies with the same pointless monotony that engulfs people in those institutions. We have purpose only if the Lord directs our lives, using us to bring Him glory. Thankfully, those who know the joy of His salvation have all eternity to serve and worship Him for the wonders of Who He is!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Stating The Doctrines

Since my dental appointment took up most of today, and we'll be in Boston tomorrow seeing John's cardiologist, I decided to share the Doctrinal Statement of First Baptist Church in Weymouth, Massachusetts. John and I are in the process of joining this church, and we fully agree with this Statement:

1.  We believe that the Bible is God's Word, that it was written by men divinely and uniquely inspired, that it is absolutely trustworthy and has supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.

2.  We believe in the unity of the Godhead, eternally existing in Three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

3.  We believe in God, the Father, Creator of heaven and earth, perfect in holiness, infinite in wisdom, measureless in power.  We rejoice that He concerns Himself in the affairs of men, that He hears and answers prayer and that He saves from sin and death all who come to Him through Jesus Christ.

4.  We believe in Jesus Christ, God's only begotten Son, conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, sinless in His life, making atonement for the sin of the world by His death  on the Cross.  We believe in His bodily resurrection, His ascension into Heaven, His high priestly intercession for His people and His personal, visible return to the world according to His promise.

5.  We believe in the Holy Spirit, who came forth from God to convince the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment, and to regenerate, sanctify and comfort those who believe in Jesus Christ.

6.  We believe that all men by nature and by choice are sinners, but that "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."  We believe, therefore, that those who accept Christ as their Lord and Savior will rejoice forever in God's presence and those who refuse to accept Christ as Lord and Savior will be forever separated from God and suffer eternal torment in Hell.

7.  We believe in the church - a living, spiritual body of which Christ is the head and of which all regenerated people are members.  We believe that a visible church is a company of believers in Jesus Christ, buried with Him in baptism and associated for worship, work and fellowship.  We believe that to these visible churches were committed, for observance "till He come," the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper; and that God has laid upon these churches the task of persuading a lost world to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and to enthrone Him as Lord and Master.  We believe that human betterment and social improvement are essential products of the Gospel.

8.  We believe that every human being is responsible to God alone in all matters of faith.

9.  We believe that each church is independent and autonomous, and must be free from interference by any ecclesiastical or political authority; that, therefore, Church and State must be kept separate as having different functions, each fulfilling its duties free from dictation or patronage of the other.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Don't Forget Grace

We can all use reminders of how magnificent God's grace is, and how much we depend on it! This praise song provides such a reminder. As you listen, let His Spirit bring you into an attitude of thanksgiving for the unmeasured grace Jesus has made available by shedding His blood on the cross.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Don't Obscure The Lord

Sometimes I want to write solely for the sake of cleverly arranging words and phrases, delighting as their cadences and nuances animate them. Watching words flow from my headstick, through my keyboard and on to my monitor amazes me. Despite the frequent groping when my ideas resist confinement to my vocabulary (or maybe because I persevere in the groping), successfully taming those thoughts satisfies me.

Twelve years ago, I wrote five or six chapters of an autobiographical novel based on my two years in a nursing home for physically disabled adults of all ages. I quit writing when memories of sexual sin in that environment began playing with my emotions and making their way onto the pages. The story, so close to the truth of my experience in that place, ventured into an area where I knew I dishonored the Lord.

Earlier this week, I read the first few pages of my novel. The quality of writing surprised me, tempting me to return to the project. It had potential! But the problem remains that the culture among residents there bends  steadily away from the Lord, even among those who claim to love Him. So, although my writing shone brightly on those pages, I don't see a way to write the story in a way that glorifies God.

Writing simply to experience the thrill of molding words that may, if I'm talented enough, draw readers into my world offers a certain allure. The act allows me to transcend my Cerebral Palsy--as if controlling words makes up for the dependence on others for my basic necessities of daily life. It gives me a sense of power.

Yet I understand that my writing must shun the trap of being about me. God gave me this ability, not to inflate my already inflated ego by impressing prospective publishers, but so that He could use me to glorify Him. These words that I manipulate must never, by their artful arrangements, develop a texture so rich that it distracts readers (or me) from Him. I pray regularly for the ability to write creatively and skillfully. I also pray that any creativity or skill my writing possesses will only serve to magnify the wonderful Lord I love.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Railroads And Mouth Blisters--A Different Boston Adventure

This summer, we've had several trips into Boston, and even one into Harvard, which all refreshed us. Few, however, gave me much fodder for blog posts, so I left those Adventures largely unreported, unwilling to resemble a 5th grader writing on "What I Did This Summer." Most of you will thank me (fans of Beth Moore and Rick Warren will undoubtedly wish I had written more about our excursions).

Our Boston Adventure yesterday, however, definitely merits attention. Although we got off the  subway at South Station expecting little more than to buy peaches at the farmers market at Dewey Square followed by lunch at either Quincy Market or B.Good, those lack-luster plans changed when John spotted a sign advertizing a free guided tour of South Station. I'd been wanting to take one of those tours for a few years, so he didn't have to twist my arm!
On December 30, 1898, Boston mayor Josiah Quincy III dedicated South Station. Two days later (New Year's Day, 1899), trains began running on the 27 above-ground and 5 underground tracks. Today, only 13 tracks remain.

The building's neo-classical fascade, built of pink granite from Connecticut, peaks at 100 feet.The Elevated Railway that once ran between it and Dewey Square ceased as a result of The Great Molasses Flood of 1919.

In the 1970s, various factors led to plans for demolishing the building in favor of erecting something more "updated." Thankfully, the people of Boston raised enough of a protest that, in 1975, the National Registry of Historic Sites listed it, giving it protection.

The tour continued, with stories of the bowling alley and movie theater once housed in the   building before it was truncated, World War I inductees learning that the war had ended upon their arrival at the station and John adding that his grandfather had been the engineer on the last steam engine to pull out of Boston 1953. I could show you more pictures of the tour, but then why would you take it?

Besides, I still need to tell you about our lunch at  Rosa Mexicano in the Seaport district. Again, I'd been wanting to try the restaurant for quite some time because the Greater  Boston Area has a notable lack of Mexican food.

We had a very personable waiter, Gregory, who loved the fact that I've been coaxing John off his bland New England diet by introducing him to the flavors of Mexico. He decided to have some fun with John by having him try  various salsas ranging from mild to mouth-blistering. The following pictures tell the story:
Getting Hot
Really Hot     

Very Hot
Mouth Blister Hot
Had we not taken the tour of South Station, we most likely would have eaten at usual. But as much as we like B.Good, both of yesterday's Adventures delighted us! We arrived back at South Station too late for our customary Pinkberry Frozen Yogurt, but three of our "train buddies" were on our Commuter Rail car home. Come to think of it, we'd never before ridden with all three!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Rick Warren's Subject

Listening to Rick Warren preach raises a fundamental question. On the one hand, he denounces self-centeredness, while on the other hand he presents Scriptural principles as a means of obtaining spiritual benefits for ourselves. Despite his claim in The Purpose-Driven Life that "It's Not About You,"  his sermon entitled "Transformed: How To Get Closer To God" presents closeness with God in terms of "feeling His presence." Thus, he subtly makes things "all about you."

To be fair, Warren stayed surprisingly faithful to his text, Luke 15:11-24 (the story of the Prodigal Son). Because he typically uses Bible verses in fragments and out of context to bolster his points, the fidelity to the text caught me off guard. Too bad he doesn't handle God's Word that honestly more often!

That concession made, I still noticed Warren's overarching message that closeness to God has more to do with our spiritual well-being than with the Lord's honor and  glory. In the very beginning of his sermon, he makes it clear that his "50 Days Of Transformation" series (the sermon I watched today being the second in the series) would help me change things about myself that I don't like. What about changing things about myself that grieve the Holy Spirit? The sermon neglects to mention anything along those lines.

The 50 Days Of Transformation webpage on Saddleback Church's Community Blog clearly states the man-centered focus  of the campaign:

Starting in January, thousands of churches across America will begin Pastor Rick’s new seven-week small group study, Transformed. In addition, we will begin the new weekend series, 50 Days of Transformation. Together, this exciting new group study and weekend series will show you how real change—lasting change—can actually happen in your life.
Every small group member will receive a free leatherette-bound workbook, which includes message notes, small group studies, personal goal-setting worksheets, and 50 daily inspirational readings.

Do you see anything about the  Lord there? Neither do I. The free leatherette-bound workbook sounds kinda cool, but again, what does that have to do with God's glory? For all Warren's talk about avoiding a self-centered life, so much of his preaching and writing keeps the spotlight on us, with God as our most devoted Fan. That humanistic thrust makes it difficult to believe that Warren accurately understands (let alone preaches) the Gospel.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The T.U.L.I.P. Gospel

Errands consumed most  of today, leading me to post this YouTube video in lieu of typing a post.  I pray that it will clarify my Reformed beliefs...and, more importantly, help you understand the Gospel.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Yesterday's Close Encounter With Rick Warren

Yesterday I watched a YouTube video of Rick Warren giving a motivational speech preaching a sermon on renewing your mind, using Romans 12:2 as his springboard Scripture. He made several excellent points about sin beginning with how and what we think, and for a while I found myself considering the possibility that I've misjudged him. The longer I listened, however, the more I noticed that he emphasized our responsibility to manage thoughts, even saying outright that God leaves it to us to obey Him in that matter.

By the end of Warren's sermon (characteristically peppered with Scriptures used out of context and in a variety of translations) I couldn't deny that he exalted human ability to resist sin while barely mentioning the Holy Spirit's role in sanctification. Admittedly, I have a history of  making the same error. But my history, and subsequent repentance of that error, perhaps increases my sensitivity to the error.

Certainly, I commend Warren's desire for people to avoid sin. Yet pride is the most grievous sin of all. And Warren's sermon, by maximizing human responsibility and minimizing the necessity of depending on the Lord's power to produce obedience in us, appeals to human pride. I came away missing any sense of God's glory.

Perhaps I shouldn't judge Rick Warren on the basis of one sermon, even though yesterday really wasn't my first encounter with his teaching. I do plan to watch more of his videos. I also plan to read more about his doctrine. I've had enough first-hand experience with him as a result of being in a church that went through his 40 Days of Purpose campaign, however,  to find his caviler treatment of Scripture alarming. The baptized self-reliance that I noticed yesterday (in addition to other problems I've noticed throughout the years) only deepen my  concern that he fails to honor the Lord in his ministry.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Simple, Rich Lyrics

How easily, and sometimes carelessly, we talk about Jesus as our Savior, forgetting the high  cost He paid to accomplish our salvation! The hymn I've selected to feature this week reminds me of all He suffered, willingly and patiently, in order that we might spend eternity praising Him.

As you contemplate the simply stated, yet extremely rich, theology embodied in each stanza, you  may find that you can't resist worshiping Him. Indeed, like the person who composed the lyrics, you may come away joyfully anticipating that glorious day when those of us who have put faith in His shed blood to atone for our sin will stand before His throne. On that day, we will see more clearly than ever what an amazing Savior Jesus is!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

My Mom's Inventive "Secret"

For 22 years, my mom worked as an Eligibility Worker for Medi-Cal (California's version of Medicaid). She'd often come home laughing uncontrollably, signaling that she had a funny story to tell at the dinner table. Although I loved all her Medi-Cal stories, one story towers above them all for both its splendid humor and the way it demonstrates Mom's brilliance in helping someone save face.

One day, Mom went out to the waiting room to summon her client. The woman politely answered, "I'm waiting for Mrs. Simmons, thank you."

With equal politeness, Mom responded, "I'm Mrs. Simmons. Will you please come with me?"

"Oh no," the client objected, "the Mrs. Simmons I'm scheduled to see is the black lady!"

Mom gave her a puzzled look, but kept her cool, professional air. She sweetly explained, "I'm the only Mrs. Simmons here."

The client struggled to conceal her impatience as she firmly responded, "I beg your pardon, but I've been speaking on the phone  with the other Mrs. Simmons for the last two weeks. I can tell by her voice that she's black.

At that remark, my mom realized that her slight Southern accent often seemed more prominent when she spoke on the phone, and her client had apparently associated Southern accents with black people. Aware that several other people in the room had observed the exchange between her and the lady, Mom knew she needed a gracious resolution. Accordingly, she walked over to the woman and, as if sharing a confidence, whispered, "I pass for white."

Quite satisfied, and honored to be trusted with Mom's "secret," the client went to the interview room!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Doctrine: The Key To Worship

I  care about doctrine because it helps me know the Lord. Not a Jesus fashioned as I think he should be, or one who adapts himself to current culture, though believing in such a compliant and flexible Jesus appeals to me. Truthfully, I wouldn't mind tweaking the Bible here and there, making it just a little more comfortable, nor would I object to receiving extra-biblical revelations. But Scripture, studied in context and with a dependence on the Holy Spirit leads me to see Jesus as He actually is.

Do I  claim to know Him perfectly? No. In fact, I have only begun understanding the great doctrines of the Christian faith, partly because I  spent years in Christian groups that emphasized  experiential spirituality, partly because the days before the Internet made study materials less accessible to me (due to my disability and my finances), and mostly because I didn't mind "going with the flow" of whatever my church went after at any given season.

Following the crowd and swallowing the Kool-Aid proved easier than learning to distinguish good doctrine from bad. Also, the non-resistance ensured my acceptance with peers and those in leadership. Sadly, it also demonstrated that I worshiped my church more than I worshiped the Lord.

Now, as I read and study the Bible in context  (rather than scanning through it until something gave me spiritual goose bumps), the Lord reveals Himself. I watch His holiness in dealing with Israel, and His humility during His Incarnation. Currently, He confronts my sinful behaviors as I read Proverbs, and assures me in Hebrews that He intercedes on my behalf as the eternal High Priest. The doctrine of human depravity keeps me dependent on  Him, and the doctrine of His sovereignty strengthens my trust in Him. Scripture's great doctrines show me His perspectives on relationships, sin, faith, money and just about everything else in life.

Most importantly, Scripture teaches me (for the word "doctrine" means nothing more than "teaching") of Christ's preeminence in all creation. He is not a god who suits himself to my fancy. Quite the contrary, He is the holy yet gracious King Who allows me the privilege of serving Him for all eternity. The doctrines of the Bible display His  majesty, drawing me to praise and worship Him in thrilled anticipation of being physically in His glorious presence.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Harshness Of Protecting Babies

I've been told, in no uncertain terms, that my criticisms of popular teachers like Rick Warren and Beth Moore could cause young Christians to stumble. Of course, nobody has actually given me specifics on how or why my stands against false doctrine hurts baby Christians, and I doubt that I should speculate on the reasoning behind this assertion. In answering it, I  can only offer Scripture's persistent concern that both false teaching and false teachers be  exposed publicly.

These Scriptures sometimes convey a shocking harshness that most 21st Century readers find offensive. The apostle Paul, for instance, said all too vividly that the Judaizers (who taught that Gentile Christians needed to undergo circumcision) should be castrated (Galatians 5:7-12). And the apostle Peter minced no words in his condemnation of false teachers (2 Peter 2, entire chapter). The entire epistle of Jude sharply rebukes false teachers, describing them in horrible terms (Jude 10-13).

Even the apostle John, famous for his exhortations to practice brotherly love in his first epistle, had decidedly uncharitable things to say about how Christians should handle false teachers.
And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. ~~2 John 6-11 (ESV)

We give baby Christians Bibles that contain all the passages I've presented here, as well as many others that condemn false teachers. Why don't people consider it harmful to let baby Christians read those types of passages?

I believe that God the Holy Spirit, in His loving desire to protect baby Christians from error, purposefully inspired the apostles to call out the false teachers and the heretical doctrines that had infiltrated the First Century church. Rather than "harming" new believers, the letters of the apostles corrected errors (sometimes harshly) in order to protect new Christians from teachings and teachers that could undermine their faith. Therefore, although my blog never claims to be on par with God's Word, I believe it can follow Scripture's example of instructing new believers by calling out false teachers and doctrines.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

An Argument For Arguing

Does arguing among Christians present a  bad image of the Church to non-believers? Possibly. Certainly, arguing about petty matters such as head coverings for women  and  styles of worship music (notice I said styles, not content) reveals a carnality that doesn't  befit those of us who should dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of holiness. Those trivial quarrels definitely confirm allegations of hypocrisy that the more mean-spirited type of unbelievers delight in hurling against us. So yes, I agree that we must avoid disputes about such issues.

Yet matters of doctrinal purity require making a clear stand, precisely because an unbelieving world watches us so carefully. When they see Rick Warren offering them a "salvation" without repentance (for example) as he rakes in the bucks selling his Purpose-Driven merchandise, some of them undoubtedly conclude that his  "purpose" has more to do with himself than with honoring the Lord. Or (as another example) when Brooke Boon combines the Hindu practice of yoga  with Bible reading, surely some non-Christians  see the obvious contradiction.

Non-Christians aren't stupid! Many of them can see our doctrinal  compromises with their worldly philosophies. And, while they may in some respects welcome those compromises, they learn that we don't take the Lord or Scripture very seriously.

Consider the possibility that those who care enough to challenge people like Beth Moore or the Gay Christian Movement (just as two instances) might show an unbelieving world that Christians really do care about presenting truth accurately. Could we even show, by standing against teachings and practices which contradict or distort God's Word, that we love people enough to warn them when they drift into doctrinal error? Maybe the courage to tell other believers that a popular teacher or trend leads to deception might demonstrate to non-Christians that we love truth and desire for our brothers and  sisters to follow it faithfully.

For many years, my mom firmly believed my church blindly followed the pastor. Often, she accused church leadership of brainwashing me. But as she saw me study Scripture for myself and  consequently  challenge the leadership's  Charismatic teachings, she gained new respect for my spiritual integrity. Similarly, when John and I left the church that had supported us through our first twelve years of marriage, Mom respected us for our doctrinal stand. So did other non-Christians that knew why we left. As strange as it seems, non-Christians appear comforted by the thought of Christians choosing to follow Scripture, even when doing so goes against their church.

Additionally, and perhaps more to the point, we can't assume so much responsibility for whether or not non-Christians come to salvation. If God, in His sovereignty, elects someone to  salvation, even our worst blunders and stupidest sins can't block the Holy Spirit from reaching them. He uses us to proclaim His Gospel, yes, and most assuredly commands us to live lives that reflect His holiness. But, as John remarked during supper last night, we blaspheme Him when we suppose that our actions can result in causing anyone to miss out on salvation.

So, even though some disagreements among Christians expose our immaturity by displaying our silliness, taking stands for doctrinal purity communicates to the world that we hold God's Word in such reverence that we will contend for it, even against those within our ranks. Our commitment to truth won't prevent the Holy Spirit from regenerating anybody, and may even help people respect us for doctrinal integrity.

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. ~~Jude 3-4

Monday, August 4, 2014

Abandoned Dog Racing Tracks

When I lived in Memphis, Mom  came out to visit. She stayed in a hotel only two miles away from the nursing home (where I lived). On the Saturday of my visit, my friend James picked me up in my van, and we set out for Mom's hotel.

1995, of course, hadn't yet seen GPS devices, so we honestly believed the road we'd taken led to the hotel. But 15 minutes later, as we found ourselves on the bridge crossing the Mississippi River into Arkansas, James remembered that the road split way back near the nursing home. We had stayed on the wider, more traveled road, thinking it would get us to the hotel in downtown Memphis. Instead, it led us to an abandoned dog racing track in another state.

This story fluttered back into my memory yesterday as I thought about the various trends and teachers flooding the evangelical church today. At first, we don't notice any deviation from Biblical doctrine. In fact, we see these trends and teachers attract more people to church, and we conclude that the numbers signify God's blessing. Just as James and I assumed the broad, more populous road would take us to Mom's hotel, so evangelicals trust these popular movements and teachers to lead them to spiritual truths.

But often, the popular route ends up miles away from truth. Things that appear to  be Christian may actually lure people to a counterfeit spirituality. And popularity may, to our surprise, even serve as an indication of deviation from truth. Consider this passage from the Lord's own Sermon on the Mount:

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” ~~Matthew 7:13-27 (ESV)

The narrow gate squeezes  out false doctrine.  Though it's so much easier to jump on whatever bandwagon comes to "a church near you," Jesus holds us accountable to examine the quality (rather than the quantity) of each program and teaching. Beth Moore and Rick Warren, for example, may inspire millions of people to buy their books and attend their speaking engagements, but they manipulate Scripture to preach a  false gospel of  narcissism instead of elevating the Lord Jesus Christ. Similarly, the Gay Christian Movement concentrates on rewriting God's Word for the sole purpose of legitimizing their sexual  sin. 

And on an on the deception goes, slowly and subtly leading evangelicals away from the Biblical Christ into a parody of Christianity as lifeless as those dog racing tracks in Arkansas. Perhaps my attempts to demonstrate how various trends and teachers steer people in wrong directions appear unloving and unnecessarily divisive as I "rip" cherished teachers and ideas. But love, if it's genuine, warns people that they misread maps and follow the traffic on the wrong road.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Because He Died For Me

So often, we get distracted from the basic Gospel message. We forget, ignore or deny the depth of our sin nature and our consequent inability to make ourselves acceptable to a holy and righteous God. In turn, we can struggle to appreciate the Lord's atoning sacrifice that, though we hate to admit it, gives us our only basis for salvation.

This beautiful hymn, which I heard for the first time last Sunday, reminds  me of how much Jesus has done to secure my standing before the Father.  I worship Him, rejoicing in His overwhelming generosity to pay for my sin, and on top of that to give me His righteousness. May the words of this simple hymn also inspire you to worship Him.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Negative Doctrine

Why do I choose to be so "negative" with my blog? Surely I'd be more effective if I'd stop criticizing trends and people in evangelical churches with whom I disagree, instead channeling my energy into more "positive" posts. After all, young Christians (and even non-Christians) may read this blog? What will they think if they see me shooting down well-known evangelical teachers? Doesn't my behavior cause division and discredit the visible church?

Over the next week, let's ponder these important questions. The points they raise deserve attention, but the slowness of typing with a headstick simply doesn't permit me to deal adequately with each issue (and other related issues) as adequately as I'd like in one fell swoop.

And no, I don't want to use my disability as a way to dodge questions. Doing so, admittedly, really tempts me, but I refuse to cheapen myself, and my concern for Scriptural integrity, by hiding behind my Cerebral Palsy. Yes, typing takes longer for me than it does for most bloggers, but I can still give reasoned accounts for my convictions. It just means several short posts as opposed to one lengthy one. And it means I will not allow my physical limitations to offer me a way to avoid those who challenge me.

I believe that sound doctrine, while it divides those who have a passion for truth from those who have a desire for spiritual experience, does unify the Body of Christ. That belief runs counter to conventional opinion, but I see the principle in Paul's letter to the Ephesians.

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. ~~Ephesians 4:11-16 (ESV)

According to the apostle, a correct understanding of the Bible's doctrine (or "teaching") unifies Christians against the various false teachings that constantly worm their way into the church. Unless people correct these doctrinal aberrations, the Body of Christ sustains so many compound fractures that its disabilities far surpass mine!

Therefore, if I call out trends and teachers who detract from Scripture's purity, I do so because I love truth. I may come across as "negative" and I may offend people. Assuredly, I won't make a huge difference, turning the tide and rescuing massive amounts of evangelicals from deception. But I want to  faithfully stand for truth.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Curious Mixture of Humble Honor

For a while, I'd set my heart on seeing the Magna Carta exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts. The July 23 gallery tour particularly interested me, but that day's 90+ degree temperature prohibited us from going. That Friday, we scheduled The RIDE to take us, but when we learned that it would be at least an hour late picking us up at the apartment (we called when it was 20 minutes late), we cancelled and took the T to the North End.

So we decided to go this past Wednesday. Our PCA would get us up early, and we'd catch the 9:30 bus to Ashmont Station. The wheelchair repairman changed those plans Tuesday by calling to say he'd bring my new joystick Wednesday.

But yesterday, our PCA arrived early, got us dressed and fed...and we made it to the bus stop on time! Two connections later (the Red Line to Park Street and the Green Line to Museum of Fine Arts), we wheeled into the museum and found our exhibit!

As I expected, the museum prohibited us from photographing that particular exhibit--for very good reason. One of only four remaining original copes, the document we saw dates  back to 1215. Its current tour of America leads up to its 800th birthday. Written on lambskin parchment in medieval Latin, it set the foundation of civil liberties in the free societies of Western Civilization, inspiring the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States and other great American documents. Such an international treasure demands the utmost respect.

I went to it twice, filled with an awareness that I'd been granted yet another great and rare privilege that few people experience.  I felt simultaneously honored and humbled to be in its presence, knowing its pivotal power in the course of history. My heart trembled from the profound realization that I beheld a rare document that, with a few strokes of a pen, radically changed much of the world.

I've felt that strange mixture of humility and honor at other times. Even before moving to Boston, I've seen the Lord bless me with opportunities that even most able-bodied people never get to enjoy. Those precious and amazing opportunities, of course, have multiplied and accelerated so much since I've been in Massachusetts that I sometimes fear I've had all my reward in this life.

Then, with relief and joy, I remember that my true reward still awaits in heaven, when I will forever gaze into the face of Jesus. Once I see Him, clothed in a splendor that defies my imagination, even something as awe-inspiring as the Magna Carta (an item well worth all the wait and effort we went through to glimpse) will dissolve into insignificance.


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