Monday, October 31, 2005
Our shameless generation
Of course, shame is not always a laughing matter. During my childhood in the 1960s, I enjoyed the great benefit of being brought up with a goodly amount of good ol' fashioned moral virtues such as shame. Yes, my friend, shame is a good thing. Although the situation that leads up to one's shaming is generally a bad thing, proper shame is good and right because it serves as a reminder that we have willingly (or sometimes unwillingly) violated a moral or social standard of God or man. If I have sinned against God or my neighbor, it is good that I am ashamed if my shame helps to lead me to repentance, and it is far better to be ashamed for cause than to sin in a shameless manner.
In Genesis, immediately after the Fall of Man, we read of the very first manifestation of man's new guilt before God: Adam and Eve, realizing for the first time that they were naked, sewed together fig leaves to make themselves aprons. They had sinned against the commandment of God, and thus felt shame for the very first time in human history. Although their sin obviously put them in the wrong, they were nonetheless right to be ashamed because they stood guilty before their Holy God.
Shame obviously does not always lead to repentance, but shame does accompany guilt, and the awareness of one's guilt is necessary before one will see the need for repentance. This is why the Law ought to be preached alongside the Gospel: I cannot rightly understand why I stand in need of a Savior when I am not aware of my guilt before God. Guilt and its accompanying shame isn't sufficient to work repentance in a sinner's heart, but it is an essential beginning.
Therefore, I'd like to suggest that one of the most fearful trends in American society is its outright shamelessness. Admittedly, sin and vice of all kinds have always had a thriving existence in our society, but in past generations those who indulged in such wickedness possessed enough shame that they pursued their pleasures more or less in secret. This behavior of course didn't make them righteous, but it did at least signal an awareness that what they doing stirred up at least a small amount of shame. How things have changed since then! Perhaps on account of the post-Freudian drive in psychology and related sciences to eradicate guilt and shame, we now live amongst a generation that betrays little or no shame for their deeds. Far from being ashamed, people will now offer often eloquent defenses of their conduct: "I only do it with a consenting partner" or "I'm not hurting anyone but myself" or even "I was born this way." Behavior that was once held to be morally suspect at best, or wicked at worst, is now nothing more than a lifestyle choice. For shame we have traded shamelessness, and for liberty, license.
As I close, I would like to submit an antidote to the vice of shamelessness: the virtue of modesty. I use the word modesty in the sense of "formality or propriety of manner." In contrast to the license that's practiced by the shameless man, the modest man will take care to conduct himself in a proper manner. I am not speaking merely of propriety as defined by the written and unwritten standards of human society, but far more importantly the standard of Scripture. The righteous man, far from granting himself the license to do whatever he pleases without shame, will take care to ascertain what behavior God requires, and will therefore take pains to conduct himself accordingly. In so doing, he will serve as a living testimony of the evil of the increasingly shameless generation in which he lives.
Thursday, October 27, 2005
But yet as bad as it was, Katrina could have been much, much worse. The New Orleans death toll, once predicted to rise into the tens of thousands, turned out to be less than a thousand, still a devastating toll to be sure, but much, much less than it could have been. Morever, the forecasted epidemic of Katrina-related disease has largely failed to come to pass, perhaps because the "toxic soup" that had been feared to be brewed from Katrina's floodwaters fell well short of the often dire predictions. Also, the economic fallout has been less than what had been expected. In my area, gas prices peaked at just over $3.00 per gallon, but have since moderated to $2.45, not much higher than they were before Katrina and Rita did their damage. All in all, it seems to be apparent that the direst predictions of devastation have failed to come to pass. Compared to what could have been, or even compared to what did actually come to pass with the recent earthquake in Pakistan and India, it seems as though God's mercy was abundantly evident insofar as the death and destruction wrought by the late hurricanes is concerned.
In fact, as I think back on the many disasters and near-disasters the US has suffered in my lifetime, I am struck by the thought that they could have been so much worse! I am not the only person to have noticed this. I have heard of others who have said that this fact is proof of God's special favor towards the US. To an extent I agree, so long as we rightly define the basis of God's favor. Has America been spared so much calamity because it is somehow morally superior to other nations? Does God compare the US to other nations and say, "The US isn't perfect, but it's better than other nations, so I'll be kind to them." Quite the contrary! Instead, I would submit that the US is just as wicked and depraved as any nation. My country has shed an untold amount of innocent blood. As a nation and as a people, our hands are far, far from clean. Before God, our supposed righteousness is a heaping pile of smelly, filthy rags.
But yet, I remain persuaded that God has continued to be pleased to show mercy to the US, not because of our works, but solely because of His good pleasure. God is sovereign over all affairs of men, and as such holds the power to lift up and cast down nations as He sees fit. Although the US has done much wickedness, and may well be more guilty than most of the sins of self-righteousness and hypocrisy, yet God continues to show mercy to its people. God's reason for His mercy is hidden to us, but yet the fact of it is evident.
So what are we to do? Should we thank God that we are better than other men? God forbid, for we are in no way more righteous! Instead, we ought to respond to His mercy in humility and repentance. Scripture and history alike make it plain that God's patience is great indeed, but we know not when His patience will be exhausted. Mercy is an altogether undeserved gift, one that ought not be trifled with. It may be withdrawn at any time without any advance notice.
Therefore, I call upon my fellow US citizens to heed the mercy of God, and turn back to the Lord with repentance. We ought to call upon Him, pleading with Him to graciously send a true revival to our land: not a false "revival" marked by false signs and lying wonders, but a true revival marked by bold Gospel preaching and a national turning away from sin. We ought to take hope from the Lord's mercy, but we ought never presume upon His mercy, for we know not when He will remove it.
For my friends in other nations, you too may take hope even if God's mercy seems to be less evident in your land. If darkness is great in your nation, then I encourage you to call upon the Lord all the more to plead that He would show mercy to your nation. The Lord is patient and long-suffering, delighting in mercy, so He may well be pleased to revive your nation! Even if your nation has never known abundant Gospel light, who knows? Call upon Him in hope, and ask Him to call many people unto Christ in your land. So long as Christ's return tarries, there remains the hope that God will smile upon your nation and call many Elect unto Himself.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Thoughts on building a bridge
Since then, I've not had occasion to enjoy such an immersion into the fellowship of strangers, but yet the lessons I learned back then continue to benefit me. Of these lessons, perhaps the most useful has been that I don't need to look or act like a person in order to be his friend. Our backgrounds and philosophies may be very different, but if we can find something to build a bridge between us, those differences can mean a whole lot less. Although it's good and right to respect the customs of both neighbors and strangers to a certain extent, there's no need for me to try to turn myself into a carbon copy of the person whom I wish to befriend. Garden variety respect can go a long, long way to building a bridge.
Another thing that I've found to be useful may seem counter-intuitive: rather than try to adopt someone else's culture, get to know your own. As I've taken the trouble to get to know Western fine and popular arts, I find that many non-Westerners actually respect me more. Perhaps that's because they see in me the same kind of love of my culture that they see in themselves. Obviously, a xenophobic viewpoint would have quite the opposite effect, as that would imply that I think that only my way is good and right. Instead, I strive to respect what is good and proper in my culture as well as in the cultures of others.
As for customs that contradict the Christian Scriptures, I obviously avoid making any kind of endorsement, but strive to express kind and tactful disagreement when it's appropriate to do so. Although taking such a stand inevitably entails the risk of offense, in practice I find that I can often avoid undue offense in such cases on account of the enthusiastic respect I show for the customs of which I can approve.
Thus, I find that I'm well equipped to befriend people who are very different from myself. Just as there's no need for me to have plastic surgery to change my appearance to better match that of my friends, there's no need for me to turn myself into a carbon copy of the strangers who are closer to home. For instance, I don't need a single body piercing or tattoo before I can treat my local "bod-mod" fan with kindness and respect. He most likely doesn't expect me to look or act like him anyway. Instead, it's generally more than sufficient to look beyond the surface--food, drink, clothing, cosmetics, etc.. After all, that's how I want folks to treat me, so shouldn't I treat others accordingly? So, if you can't handle spicy food or you lack the inclination to get your body pierced, don't let that stop you from being a friend to the stranger who's in your midst.
Friday, October 21, 2005
Kicking the habit
For me, leaving the church was relatively quick and easy, albeit not without pain. Although each of the churches I regularly attended was classical Pentecostal, I was heavily influenced by Word of Faith teachers such as Kenneth Hagin. After my pastor preached a sermon that exposed the bankruptcy of the WoF and I read "A Different Gospel" by D.R. McConnell, my questions and doubts began in earnest. My previous openness to all manner of spiritual gifts was quickly replaced with a new zeal for discernment. I was no longer content to unquestioningly receive every prophecy, but instead felt that I ought to test each one against my understanding of Scripture. As I did so, I became painfully aware that the vast majority of the "manifestations" at my church were at best well-meaning piffle ("I love you and have a wonderful plan for your life") and at worst heretical garbage (e.g., a prophecy in which we were exhorted to pay greater homage to the Virgin Mary). On no occasion did the pastor or worship leader offer any rebuke to even the worst of these prophecies. When I shared my concern with the pastor about one of the worst of the prophecies, he agreed that it was in error but that if we were going to allow the Spirit to do His work that we had to allow a little wildfire. He went on to warn me of the danger of entertaining a critical spirit. Thus, the same man who'd been instrumental in getting me to think about charismatic doctrine and practice was unprepared to exercise the same discernment that he himself had promoted from the pulpit. Feeling as though I was caught between the proverbial rock and hard place, I concluded that there was no point in my attending that church any longer.
Although it was relatively easy to leave the charismatic church, it wasn't nearly so easy for me to give up on charismatic doctrine. Looking back, my problem was that I'd built my faith upon the wrong foundation: my personal experience rather than Scripture. For years after leaving the church, I desperately clung to the prophecies, visions, and healings as proof that God wasn't through with me yet, and that He would one day deliver me and use me again. On the flip side, I felt very much betrayed by the church. My zeal to throw out the spiritual bathwater (without harming the baby) only grew, but I'd seen that the churches that shared my belief in the charismatic gifts were utterly lacking in any kind of discernment. Although I somehow knew that I'd have to return to church sooner or later, my bitterness and disillusionment was great indeed, so for at least five years I didn't ever seriously consider finding another church.
This will probably come as no surprise, but my personal spiritual life during this season was poor at the start and only declined as time passed. My faith was still based upon my experiences, and I looked at the Scriptures as "old hat", so I hardly read the Bible at all. I did pray after a fashion, but my prayer time degenerated into angry rants against God's dealings with me and desperate pleas for Him to stop making me so miserable. Like a drug addict going through withdrawal, I continued to crave my old spiritual highs, but my cries for deliverance went unheeded. The heavens were as brass to me, as though I was a stranger to God and God was a stranger to me. For five years, maybe more, this dark season dragged interminably on. Although I considered myself to be a believer, there was little or no fruit that would have led anyone to suspect that I was. In fact, my spiritual life was so dismal that I'm now of the opinion that I wasn't converted until after my "withdrawal" from charismania.
In speaking of the redemption that Jesus Christ purchased for His Elect, Paul tells us that "where sin abounded, grace abounded much more." A good thing, too, because were it not for sheer grace I'm certain I would have remained in my spiritual dungeon to this day! My anger against God and bitterness towards the church was such that He ought to have cast me aside permanently, but instead He had pity on me, a wretched sinner.
In retrospect, I think my final recovery from charismania began at the very beginning--my real conversion--because it wasn't until then that I began to realize that I really was a wretched sinner who, far from deserving any kind of favor, deserved nothing but condemnation from the hand of a Holy God. Moreover, I began to see that I could never put 100% confidence in even the most real of my supernatural experiences, so I made a deliberate choice to put them on the shelf. At this point, I wasn't prepared to give them up entirely, because I wasn't yet sure of what was true and what was false. Instead, I told God that I was giving my experiences back to Him, and that if I was to put any trust in them that He'd have to make it exceedingly clear that they were from Him. When I did this, I had no idea that I'd end up giving up on my experiences permanently. Also, I made the commitment that, unless God gave me clear affirmation to the contrary, that I was only going to trust what I could know for certain: the Scriptures.
At this point, more changes came into my life. The most pivotal was the unexpected decision of my landlords to sell their house. They lived in the first story, and rented the second story to me. I had no desire to go through the uncertainty of a new landlord, so I considered the options of moving to another apartment or buying the house from my landlords, but neither option appealed to me. Even though I'd had absolutely no desire to own my own home for its own sake, I ended up buying a house simply because it seemed like the best use of my financial resources. This was the first decision I'd made in years without relying on a "still small voice", and my move to a new house in a new community directly set the stage for my return to church, but that, as they say on TV, is another story. :-)
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
A lasting reminder
In my charismatic days, I fancied myself to be the recepient of many "words from God." Although these "words" covered a variety of different subjects, the ones that were nearest to my heart had to do with my, er, love life. In fact, I held on to no "word" longer than the one that revealed to me whom I was to marry.
The lady in question had been a leader of my college Christian fellowship. For a season we frequently prayed with each other, and we got to be close enough that many folks thought we'd eventually marry. However, strife and conflict eventually entered into our relationship, not to mention a year-long absence when I left to teach at ORU in Tulsa, OK. Things were quite tense between us at the time I returned to Illinois, and we didn't make up until just a couple of months before she graduated and moved back home.
It was only after the gal moved back home that the "words" began. First, it was revealed to me that she would return after a season and together we'd be instrumental in a revival that was to come to my area. Later, this revelation was confirmed in some detail through at least two additional witnesses. At this point I was engaged in an ongoing written correspondence with the gal, and things seemed to be heading in a hopeful direction.
However, trouble was at hand. It began with a most hopeful letter from the gal. She'd somehow gotten the impression that I was going to come to visit her, and additionally asked me to send her a few specific items via mail. At the time I was quite timid, and she lived very far from me in a foreign country, so I'd never seriously considered undertaking a visit, but I did go ahead and send her a package with the items she'd requested. A few weeks later, I learned from a mutual friend that my package had arrived but that it had been "sabotaged." In a panic fueled by the various stories of persecution I'd heard her tell in the past, I decided that it would be better for her if I stopped corresponding with her and wait for her to get back in touch with me when it was safe for her to do so.
From this point on, I began to wait, and wait, and wait. Since I had a "word" from God, or so I thought, I "knew" that everything would work out sooner or later. I was quite convinced that my eventual union with her was a done deal, and I acted accordingly. On one occasion, I snubbed another gal who was obviously attracted to me simply because God had told me I was to marry someone else! In spite of occasional doubts, I was determined to wait upon the Lord, so I did so for quite a few years.
While I waited, I heard nothing from the gal of my "word", but I did maintain occasional contact with the aforementioned mutual friend. After I'd waited for several years, I got a phone call from this friend. She told me that she'd heard from my prophetically intended. She'd mentioned me in such a way that indicated that she was angry with me, but yet she hadn't made it clear to our friend exactly why she was angry with me. Thinking that the way was now clear for me to get back in touch with her, I got her address from our friend and sent her a few letters, but received no reply. In my very last letter, I asked her forgiveness for any offense I may have caused, and explained that I wouldn't write any further unless she replied to me. She never did.
Obviously, this disappointment was one of the bitterest of my life. I had invested a lot of time in waiting for this dream to come to pass, but now I was finally waking up to the fact that I'd been deceived either by the devil or by my own imagination. What's more, the years I'd spent on waiting on this dream were spent on nothing. All that time, I made little or no effort to get acquainted with anyone else. Thus, this foolish dream is the #1 reason why I'm still single to this day.
However, God as always showed me much mercy even in the midst of such folly. For starters, He'd spared me from what would have been a very bad match. You see, this gal had a very strong, even overbearing personality, whereas my tendency at the time was to be weak and passive. Needless to say, such a combination would have been disastrous for the health of a long-term relationship. Also, God graciously kept me far from overt sexual immorality during this period, and has in fact preserved me to this day. Finally, He graciously used this disappointment to turn me away from vain dreams and towards the Scriptures. More than anything else that I experienced in charismania, it was this failed dream that led to my personal Reformation.
To this day, this great disappointment continues to have a major impact on my life. As I've already mentioned, it's the #1 reason why I've not yet married, because I spent my twenties waiting for a dream instead of searching for a wife, and didn't get around to searching with any earnestness until I reached my late thirties. The fact is that the vast majority of single gals are in their twenties, so on a number of occasions I've found that gals who are otherwise of good spiritual and moral quality are simply unsuitable for a guy of my age and maturity. To further complicate matters, since I gave up my dream so late, I've been learning how to play the "mating game" about twenty years later than is normal. Thus, to the younger set I'm too old, and to the older set I'm often thought of as awkward or unpolished. This is not to say that I've given up all hope of finding a suitable mate--with God all things are possible--but that these very real difficulties are constant reminders of the foolishness and folly of trusting a spurious "word of the Lord."
God has promised to work all things together for the good of His Elect. In spite of my ongoing difficulties, I can testify that He has done so in my life. In fact, the nature of my folly was such that it is a constant reminder of the danger that awaits me should I ever fall back into it again. Thus, it serves as a "check" against putting my trust in anything save the Scriptures. Moreover, it fuels my fervent desire to warn others against trusting any dream, vision, intuition, or "word" save the Scriptures alone. Although God has graciously guarded me from much harm, the consequences that remain for my charismatic folly are sufficient to keep me ever mindful of the vital importance of Sola Scriptura: the Scriptures alone!
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Shortly after I started attending my first Pentecostal church (A/G), I was befriended by a single mom. She had an eleven-year-old daughter. For several months, this lady had me to her apartment for dinner on numerous occasions. She was a very sweet and kind person, but she was instrumental in turning me on to a number of false teachings and practices. One summer day, I was visiting and noticed that much of her daughter's legs were covered with bruises. Her mom explained that she'd fallen off her bicycle a while back and the bruises had been slow to heal. Afire with zeal for divine healing, I asked permission to lay hands on the girl's legs and pray for healing. I visited several times over the next few days, each time noticing a substantial improvement in the girl's bruising, until finally the bruising had entirely disappeared. The healing, although gradual, was sufficiently rapid that we all agreed that we had just seen a miraculous healing.
Needless to say, this incident was more than sufficient to encourage me to do more of the same kind of thing. Usually, the "results" my wishful thinking imagined were far better than the reality, but on at least one other occasion I received a better result. On that occasion, I was leading prayer in a small prayer circle during our church service. An older gentleman had asked that we pray for his grandson who'd been diagnosed with a very serious condition (I think it was spinal menningitis, but my memory is cloudy on that point). The boy wasn't physically present because he was in the hospital. In good charismatic style, I rebuked the disease and commanded it to leave in the name of Jesus. A week later, the gentleman got up to offer testimony. He shared the story of how his grandson had been airlifted to a major hospital in Chicago for more extensive treatment, but when he arrived, the doctors checked him out and said, "Why did you send this boy here? There's absolutely nothing wrong with him." I'm not aware of the boy's subsequent medical history, but at the time this alleged healing was considered to be one of the more major miracles that our church had seen in quite some time.
Although all of this seemed very exciting and encouraging at the time, it didn't have a good effect on me. Most critically, it didn't take long for me to adopt the "going to see the doctor is for the weak in faith" mentality of the faith teachers to whom I was listening. This didn't have a very good effect on my health. I even went so far as to put off visits to the dentist for several years. Why go to the doctor/dentist/whatever when I had the right to divine healing in the Atonement? Another bad fruit of my charismatic beliefs was a lack of compassion for the sick and suffering. All too often, I found myself looking down on the afflicted as being weak in faith, disregarding Christ's own teaching that the weak were the very people to whom I ought to minister. As in the case of the extraordinary provisions I shared the other day, the spiritual fruit of the alleged miracles of healing I'd seen turned out to be 100% rotten.
After leaving my last charismatic church, it took quite a number of years for me to reject this thinking and seek professional help for my physical problems. Although I regret my foolish presumption which caused all sorts of needless worry, expense, and discomfort, God in His mercy spared me from lasting consequences for my negligence. Although I wasn't in the greatest shape, say, six years ago, I've since become more diligent about diet and exercise, and I've visited the doctor for several (thankfully minor) maladies. Although I've adopted the practice of using ordinary means to tend to my physical health, I'm happy to report that I feel better today in my mid-forties than I felt as a twenty-something charismatic! However, I don't give myself or any doctor the glory for this improvement, because I recognize that every good and perfect gift comes from my Heavenly Father, who is the One who--whether through means or without means, whether in this life or in the life to come--heals all my diseases. At no point in my physical recovery has God intervened in a miraculous manner, but at every point His sovereign control has been evident. As I learn to trust God both in times of prosperity and times of affliction, I find that I grow far stronger in faith than I ever was as a "health and wealth" charismatic.
Monday, October 10, 2005
In one instance, a good friend of mine came over to my apartment. She was in tears on account of an bounced check and told me of how she needed a certain amount of money to balance her checking account. Rather than humbly seek God to ask her to meet my friend's need, I used my best charismatic style to rebuke the devil and decree that my friend's checking account be balanced. After "praying", my friend went back to her apartment (just a few minutes walk), only to come back again with good news. When she'd gotten to her apartment door, she found an envelope that someone had left there. Inside was enough cash to balance her checking account plus a little more.
Later that same year, I was scheduled to take a road trip during a long weekend holiday, but when the time for my vacation came around, I discovered that I had very little cash on hand. (I was rather poorly paid that year.) I didn't let that stop me, however. I emptied out my coin jar and counted out around $100, enough for gas and food for my "to" trip, but not enough to cover the trip back. Being a faith person, I set out for my trip anyway, trusting (or presuming) that I'd get the money to make the return trip. Upon my arrival at my friend's house, I got my answer: a check was lying on the bed. It was the refund for a deposit I'd made for a moving van several months before, and it was more than enough to pay for my return trip. Although it was money that was coming to me sooner or later, it certainly came to me at the perfect time.
At first glance, it might not be obvious what's wrong with these stories. After all, God does graciously provide for His people, and He sometimes does so in surprising ways. However, if you consider the tremendous amount of spiritual pride I carried in those days, not to mention the unscriptural manner in which I "prayed", I think there's quite another explanation for these occurences. Although I did hold gainful employment during this period and I was a fairly diligent worker, my overall attitude was one of laziness and entitlement. I did what I had to do to please men, but little employment during this period and I was a fairly diligent worker, my overall attitude was one of laziness and entitlement. I did what I had to do to please men, but little more. Moreover, I'd bought into the charismatic "health and wealth" teaching, so I believed that God had obliged Himself to provide everything I needed without my having to lift a finger. With these incidents, I didn't offer God humble thanks, but instead I rejoiced at the successful application I'd made of my faith. Moreover, they taught me that diligent hard work wasn't necessary for success: all I had to do was "name it and claim it."
Thus, the fruit of these extraordinary provisions, like that of all of my charismatic experiences, was rotten: pride and laziness. What's more, they contributed to my general drift away from Scripture reading and true prayer. My experiences were 100% real, but they were 100% rotten. The charismatic practices worked, but they ended up driving me further away from the Christ of the Scriptures.
Since those days, I've learned that God does bless His people, but He does so through ordinary means, especially hard work and diligent effort. Money no longer grows on trees for me, but yet on many occasions I'm blessed by an unexpected mercy from God's gracious hand. On such occasions, I find myself compelled to humble gratitude rather than arrogant boasting. As I strive to be more pleasing to God in my work, He in turn blesses me with greater favor with men. I'm now enjoying a period of prosperity, but I realize that I may one day have to endure a period of want. Whether I enjoy prosperity or suffer want, I pray that God will continue to give me the grace to trust Him to provide for me as I strive to obey His Word.
Friday, October 07, 2005
The fruit of Personal Experience
These proverbs, and others like them, well express the prevailing philosophy of today: pragmatism. No longer does it matter how one goes about pursuing a goal or tackling a problem. Instead, all that matters is the end result.
With all due respect to those who insist that the Charismatic Movement and its cousins (Classical Pentecostalism, Third Wave, etc.) are nothing less than an end-times outpouring of God's Holy Spirit, this supposed move of God is in practice the incarnation of pragmatism in nominally Christian garb. Once you get past the veneer of Scriptural prooftexts, mostly from Acts and 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, the authority on which Charismaticism is based is Personal Experience. Anyone who spends much time in Charismaticism has at least one dramatic experience to share. Although few charismatics would claim that every experience they've had was a certifiable encounter with God, most have at least one or two such experiences that, for them, are the preeminent reason why they hold their charismatic gifts and beliefs to be true.
In my days as a charismatic, I had more than a few experiences. They included, but were not limited to:
Although in each case I could point you to Scriptural texts that seemed to validate my experience, my faith in my baptism in the Holy Spirit was in reality grounded upon these special experiences. Together, they were the foundation of my faith. In those days, I read my Bible only rarely, except to open it randomly to find a "word from God." Why would I do otherwise? Why spend the time and effort in reading, much less studying, a 2,000 year old book when God Himself was so evidently speaking to me directly in so many ways?
Of all the charismatics I knew at that time, I had more reason than most to believe that God's hand was upon me in a special way. During the (seemingly) good times, the spiritual good times came often, and often came with great power. If anyone had been blessed with evidence for the truth of the perpetuity of the charismatic gifts, it was me.
But yet, after several years of such experiences, I'd left church entirely, and didn't return to church until several years more. By the time I returned to church, I'd given up on all of my dreams, visions, and gifts and had resolved to put my trust only in the written Word of God.
During my time away from church, I came to see the true fruit of my experiences. No, I didn't come to question their reality. Many of them were very, very real. In fact, I had witnesses present at the time of many of my experiences who could corroborate my account of them. They were not figments of my imagination.
I didn't give up on my charismatic experiences because they weren't real. Instead, I gave up on them because, as the passage of time proved, they had produced terrible fruit! This was my spiritual condition when I left the Charismatic Movement:
Such was the fruit of my powerful spiritual gifts. I literally came within a hairs-breadth of apostasizing from the Christian faith, or else in fact I hadn't been in the faith at all. Far from being receiving blessings from God, I had instead heaped judgment on myself. This was the fruit of my very powerful Personal Experience. In contrast to the testimony of so many in Charismaticism, I found that my Personal Experience was based not on truth but on a lie: a lie that was often based on real, validated experience, but a lie nonetheless because its fruit was evil rather than good.
In the weeks to come, I hope to share about some of my experiences with Charismaticism in greater detail. By so doing, I hope to give testimony against the pragmatism that is behind the faith of many charismatics. Although it is only the Word of God as applied by the Holy Spirit that can truly change a man's heart, I hope it will nonetheless be profitable to expose the true nature of the real experiences that I'd once held so dear.
Thursday, October 06, 2005
Through all my trials, God has taught me many good and useful lessons. He's taught me patience and perseverence, and He's taught me how to fulfill my responsibilities when my strength is less than 100%. Situations that used to cause me a considerable amount of fear and anxiety don't faze me nearly so much now. All in all, I can see that God's strength has indeed been made perfect in my weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). Moreover, I have enjoyed many small mercies from the Lord throughout these trials. Just as He promised, He has given me the grace to endure them all.
As if this weren't enough, God has lately been showing me yet another mercy. Thanks to the advice of a couple of doctors combined with some insights I found on the Internet, I've found what appear to be lasting solutions to much of my main physical issue. This has resulted in a degree of physical strength and comfort that's greater than what I can remember even in my youth. Yes, in some ways I feel better today than I felt when I was in my early twenties.
This is not just a physical benefit. Thanks to my aforementioned training in coping with limited strength, I find that as my strength approaches 100% that I can do much more than ever. This includes greater physical stamina to be sure, but I also feel freer to reach out to those around me with love and boldness. It's even helped me to post more often to this blog. :-) Much like the runner who trains while wearing a heavy weight on his shoulders so he'll be strengthened to run all the faster on race day, I can see how my "weight training" these last few years has been sufficient to strengthen me for the challenges and opportunities I enjoy today and will enjoy tomorrow.
My Christian friend, if you find yourself undergoing various trials, don't be discouraged! As Scripture teaches and as I can now testify, God is refining you and training you for greater fruitfulness, both in this life and the life to come. In my present case, God has granted deliverance in this life, but sometime in the future (if the Lord tarries) He will have me undergo a trial from which deliverance will come only with death. In either case, He will keep His promise to deliver the righteous from every affliction.
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
A dedicated follower of fashion
I'm sure I could think of other examples of my skill at picking high-tech bandwagons, but I'm sure you get the idea.
In a way, I suppose it's just as well. Perhaps my lack of prowess in following after what's new and exciting has been a factor in my growing interest in pursuing the tried and true. Whereas the staying power of a product or idea isn't always evident when it's new and fresh, the passage of time has a way of separating chaff from wheat. This may be why I find the average quality of the movies and music I enjoy from the 1930's and 1940's to be so much higher than that of what's more recent: the winnowing effect of time has already caused the dross from those years to be long forgotten, leaving only the good stuff to be enjoyed today. Likewise, in the realm of theology, wonderful works such as the writings of the great Reformers, the Puritans, and their successors have been remembered whereas works of lesser value have been forgotten.
Rather than be discouraged at my inability to keep up with leading edge technology and art, I find myself only growing in the conviction that life is far better lived on the trailing edge! Why mess around with stuff that will last no longer than today's fleeting fashions when there's stuff that's passed the test of time?
I think this is a lesson that certain segments of Evangelicalism would do well to learn. Especially within the charismatic and the seeker-sensitive movements, there seems to be an overarching love for novelty. Charismatics may call it "a fresh move of the Spirit", or a church-growth advocate may call it "what God is doing in the church today." During my Christian life, I've seen all sorts of things come and go: Promise Keepers, Prayer of Jabez, Toronto Blessing, Brownsville Outpouring, Passion of the Christ, Purpose-Driven Life, etc.. Without exception, these fads have passed and gone within five years or less. Some have brought greater numbers to the churches that sponsored them, but none of them have produced the truly life-changing results that they promised. Moreover, they have helped to encourage an ongoing trend within Evangelicalism away from God-centered expository preaching and towards man-centered hype and entertainment. All have tried in their way to meet man's felt needs, but none have truly confronted man's greatest need: for a Savior to deliver him from his well-deserved fate, eternal damnation.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that there's a degree of excitement to be enjoyed with jumping on a bandwagon, even when that bandwagon proves to go nowhere in particular. I don't regret my time as an OS/2 user, and I'll continue to enjoy my PalmOS PDA until it gives up the ghost and breathes its last digital breath. I suppose there's little harm suffered when I back the wrong horse in, say, the arts or high tech, but I would submit that the stakes are far higher when the Gospel is involved in the fad of one's choice!
Let me be perfectly blunt: God is not honored when His name is associated with fads and follies such as those I've named. He has ordained one and only one way for men to be saved: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This Gospel and the Scriptures which infallibly and sufficiently reveal it are all that is necessary to work out God's plan for mankind. It is an affront to Almighty God to attach His Holy Name to a passing fancy, especially when we have the audacity to claim that such a mere fancy is what God is doing today. God saves sinners through one and only one means--by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone--and faith comes not by skits or movies or plans or programs but by hearing the Word of God.
It is a small thing if we buy the wrong type of computer or listen to the songs of a one hit wonder, but it's a terrible thing if we dare to supersede God's ordained means and methods with ones of our own devising. It's bad enough that our culture is in love with fads and fashions, but it's devastating when the church replaces the preaching of the Gospel with folly and nonsense. In the case of my foolish technology investments, I was merely out time and money, but in the case of the Gospel, men's souls are at stake. Therefore, I call on the church to stop following after fads and to return to the plain and unadorned preaching of the Gospel!
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
Thanks, guys (and gals)!
What amazes me the most about all this, however, is that so many of you have decided to make reading my various rants a regular part of your Internet diet. I find this to be quite humbling, as it implies that I have taken on the responsibility of sharing my thoughts and observations in a manner that will honor God and edify my readers.
So, thanks to one and all for visiting! Thanks especially for your encouraging and interesting comments. If you have opportunity, I'd be most grateful if you could remember me in your prayers and ask our Heavenly Father to give me wisdom to write whatever is most useful for my readers.
Monday, October 03, 2005
God is His own interpreter
In this kind of situation, it's inevitable that people will start to ask, "Why? Why New Orleans and the Gulf Coast?" Only God knows the full reason for His mighty act of destruction, but one thing is safe to say: He didn't unleash this storm where He did because the people who live there are any worse than the people who live anywhere else. The Scriptures are clear: all men bear the sinful nature and do the sinful deeds of their father Adam. By nature, those of us who are enjoying peace, prosperity, and sunshine in, say, the Midwestern US are just as evil as those who lived in the area of the recent disaster. Given the nature of mankind's rebellion against His rule, God would be perfectly just to wipe every one of us out. Thus, the question ought not be, "Why was God so severe against the Gulf Coast?" but rather "Why is God so merciful to those whom He spared such calamity?"
One reason why I wrote that article was in response to what I knew was coming from other voices: that Katrina was God's judgement against the sins of the people in the New Orleans area: gambling, drunkenness, and all-around debauchery. Well, here's a columnist in one of my local papers with her comments on one such voice:
Global warming is too logical an explanation for some people. Attributing such a catastrophe to atmospheric trends is unsatisfying to some hardcore religious cause-and-effect types. There are other reasons, they say, why New Orleans inherited the big wind.
An Alabama state senator, Republican Hank Erwin, wrote in a column he distributes to media outlets: "New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast have always been known for gambling, sin and wickedness. It is the kind of behavior that ultimately brings the judgment of God."
As for the good people who got hurt or killed, they were just in the way of the real targets, Erwin said.
It's not as if New Orleans hadn't been warned, he explained in his column, according to wire reports: "Warnings year after year by godly evangelists and preachers went unheeded."
In reply to Mr. Erwin's comments, I offer several of my own:
With all due respect to Mr. Erwin and his "godly evangelists and preachers", they ought to stop all talk of God's purpose behind Katrina, Rita, or any other natural disaster. It is for God and God alone to interpret His works of Providence. The fact remains: all men, not just those harmed by Katrina, stand equal as sinners before a Holy God. Rather than vainly speculate as to God's reasons for unleashing such an awesome storm, we would do better to thank God that He has not (yet) chosen to unleash similar devastation on the rest of this judgment-deserving race which we call mankind?
To the able arguments that have already been offered by Phil Johnson and Michael Spencer, I'd just like to comment that such drastic measures as patronizing the local tattoo parlor are hardly necessary to reach out to our lost neighbors. For one thing, fads and fashions are in constant flux, so our pierced missionary-wannabee is soon going to find himself without many pierced sinners to whom to be a witness. Besides, there are much easier ways to reach out to your neighbor. Granted, they're not nearly as visually dramatic as a pierced tongue, but they are tried and true. Above all, obey God's Law to love your neighbor as yourself. Treat that pierced, tattooed metalhead with kindness, gentleness, and respect. Try to overlook his outward appearance and grab hold of his heart. Be his friend, and speak with him accordingly. Perhaps he's adopted his peculiar appearance as a misguided defense mechanism for fending off people who don't truly care about him. If you'll be a true friend to him--remember that Jesus was known as a friend to sinners--I doubt that he'll mind your "straight" appearance.
A while back, I had the opportunity to converse with a young man in his early teens. He wasn't quite yet driving age, but yet his urge to ride some kind of motorized wheels was very strong, so he boasted about how he'd been riding a motorcycle around the country roads in his area. He was especially proud that the police hadn't caught him (yet). What's more, he boasted that just gotten himself a new tattoo. As he shared this intelligence with me, he kept talking about how cool these things were, so I figured I may as well reply in kind. I told him something along these lines. "So, you think that's cool! Any fool can get on a cycle and not get caught. Let me tell you what's cool. I've been driving over twenty years, and I've never been ticketed once. I obey the traffic laws, and I've not caused a single accident. Now, I think that's cool!" As I started to carry on in this manner, he did look at me rather strangely, but once I'd finished, he looked me in the eye and said, "You know what, I like you. You're different." I don't remember exactly how the rest of the conversation went, but I recall that it was friendly and respectful, albeit with noticably less boasting on the part of the young man. Although I'd never rode a 'cycle and had nary a tattoo, I'd approached him with respect, and quickly received his respect in turn.
My friend, there's just no need to make yourself into a "clone" of your neighbor to reach out to him. Just love him as yourself. Treat him with kindness and respect, and look beyond his outward appearance. There's no need to adopt today's fads and fashions to be an ambassador of Christ. Just love your neighbor, preach the Word, and trust God to do the rest.