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Thoughts on introspection and journaling

DebbieLynne Kespert wrote a great piece about journaling the other day. I recommend it. I linked to it below, too.

Journaling is the act of consistently writing down one’s thoughts, feelings, and events in a notebook, as the definition goes. Some people do that to track growth, or to leave as a legacy to coming generations, or to vent. Journaling is distinct from many other kinds of diaries, like food diaries people keep for medical reasons, or weather diaries farmers keep, stress or anger management diaries, and the like. Journaling expressly focuses on one’s conscious inner thoughts, sensations, and feelings. It is a method of emotional self-examination.

I’ve never gotten into journaling. I like to experience the day and then move on. As someone on the autism spectrum, I’m not that in touch with my feelings anyway, seeing them as not precisely unnecessary, but usually as unhelpful. Yet many others see journaling as very helpful–

Ever wondered why history’s great minds including Isaac Newton, Abraham Lincoln, Andy Warhol, Leonardo Da Vinci, Marcus Aurelius, Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill, Benjamin Franklin, Ernest Hemingway, George Bernard Shaw and Maya Angelou would spend so much of their precious time writing things that will never be seen by another soul? … Many famous creatives, writers, innovators and original thinkers of our generation keep journals— for many, it is a creative necessity, for others, a place for exploration, and for some an art form in and of itself. (Source)

For Christians, some self-examination is good. It is worthwhile to examine one’s self to see if one is in the faith. Scripture admonishes us to do just that. (2 Corinthians 13:5, 2 Peter 1:10-11).

In the Christian spheres, Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, kept a diary and also wrote letters constantly. Those became his autobiography after he died. The great theologian Jonathan Edwards kept a journal. In it, he penned his famous 70 resolutions. As the pastors say at the Netherlands Heritage Reformed Congregation, “these resolutions were birthed out of his felt weaknesses and known deficiencies, not his personal attainments. They represent, therefore, his sanctified, biblically-conditioned aspirations.”

My personal journal: In my journal below, I am trying to figure out from the Bible
about the different resurrections.

Christian journaling can be very good.

However caution abounds. Ligonier says that self-examination is important, but must be done rightly. Faulty self-evaluation, the passage tells us, is an obstacle to walking by the Spirit. If after examining ourselves we “conclude that we are superior to others” the self-examination is faulty, but alternately if we conclude that “if we consider our gifts inferior to those of others, thinking we are unable to assist burdened believers” it is also faulty.

So the Bible does call for some self-examination to be done, and there is a right way and a wrong way to do it.

But is a good thing, ever too much of a good thing? It can be. In her article, Journaling: The Pitfall We Should Recognize, DebbieLynne Kespert says that she journaled for 17 years, venting feelings, writing experiences, and meditating on her disappointments, her frustrations and her fears. Then she had an epiphany. She wrote:

So when someone uses a personal journal to ruminate on their feelings, should it surprise us that we wind up wallowing in self-absorbtion? Self-absorbtion, however, is the antithesis of Biblical Christianity. Christ demands that His followers actually die to ourselves for His sake.

It’s the tendency of sinful man to wallow in self-absorption to begin with. Journaling only increases that tendency. Excessive navel-gazing is not good as it takes our eyes off Jesus, upon whom we are supposed to fix our eyes. (2 Corinthians 4:18, Hebrews 12:2).

Jared Mellinger wrote about excessive self-examination in his piece “Self-Examination Speaks a Thousand Lies. He said,

Unhealthy introspection is a daily threat to our joy in Christ. Many of us tend to examine ourselves in a way that is excessive, inaccurate, and leads to discouragement. God calls us to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5; Lamentations 3:40), but healthy self-examination is a difficult and dangerous duty. The flesh seizes self-examination as an opportunity to turn our thoughts against us. Introspection is deceptive because it often looks like we’re doing the right thing: we’re not indifferent to our sin — we want to seek it out! But when that introspection makes us self-absorbed instead of Christ-absorbed, we undermine our faith.

Providentially, Randy Alcorn wrote an interesting piece a few days ago as well. It didn’t center on journaling per se, it was about self-control, but it speaks to the where we want our mind to go:

What is your mindset? Do you dwell on selfish, envious, jealous, bitter thoughts? Or do you dwell on what pleases God? Do you focus on God, His Word, and His mighty works on our behalf, or do you focus on woes and misfortunes and abuses suffered at the hands of others? According to Scripture, the choice is yours.

The choice is yours. Journaling can be good when the Christian employs self-control during the introspection process. Do you journal? Do you enjoy it? Has it become simply a way to focus attention on one’s self? Let me know int he comments what your experience has been.

Further reading:

The End Time: Is Christian journaling Good or Bad?

Throwback Thursday: Are there codes in the Bible?

This essay first appeared in November 2010 on The End Time

I hear people all the time say that there are bible codes. That there is some secret, esoteric knowledge hidden within the 66 books of the bible that only people perspicacious enough can unlock and benefit from. This is bunk. God is not the author of confusion and He laid everything out plainly within those pages, so that His knowledge, plan, and wisdom for us would be clear.

They cite, for example, Bullinger, who derived a whole system of meanings from numbers in scripture. Some numbers do have meaning, but not to the extent Bullinger worked up. And anyway, Bullinger believed that the soul died between life and resurrection. He was also an ultradispensationalist, believing that (among other things) the church did not begin at Pentecost but at Paul’s conversion. Um…no.

In another code, “The Bible Code”, it is purported in a paper by Yoav Rosenberg that there was strong statistical evidence that biographical information about famous rabbis was encoded in the text of the Bible, centuries before those rabbis lived. Wikipedia says of the method of extracting the meaning from the coded language is

“the Equidistant Letter Sequence (ELS). To obtain an ELS from a text, choose a starting point (in principle, any letter) and a skip number, also freely and possibly negative. Then, beginning at the starting point, select letters from the text at equal spacing as given by the skip number. For example, the bold letters in this sentence form an ELS. With a skip of -4, and ignoring the spaces and punctuation, the word safest is spelled out.”

No again.

Of course, the primary fault with Bullinger’s numerical code and Rosenberg’s word codes is that the Holy Spirit is taken out of the equation. Believing in codes means man in his own mental acuity can unlock the secrets of the bible, the Spirit is not needed…which is exactly the opposite of what God said would be so.

The question is, “Are there hidden codes in the bible?” The answer is NO. John Macarthur addressed this question quite well, here. His short answer is below.

One of the foundational qualities of the Bible is its clarity (sometimes called perspicuity). That means Scripture’s main teachings are plain enough to be understood without the need of special expertise or church-sanctioned interpretations. 

The Bible frequently speaks about its own clarity. Psalm 119:130 says, “The unfolding of Thy words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” The average person who humbly reads the Bible can say, “I have more insight than all my teachers, for Thy testimonies are my meditation” (Psalm 119:99). Psalm 19:7 teaches, “The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” 

The idea of hidden codes in the Bible contradicts all of that by limiting accessibility to the real message of the Bible to so-called experts who can decipher the cryptic messages God “hid” in the Scriptures. But such “experts” aren’t needed because the Bible contains no hidden codes. 

One hidden-code theory works like a common word-search puzzle–hidden messages are supposedly embedded diagonally within the Hebrew text. But that’s as foolish as turning your daily newspaper into a word-search puzzle and expecting to find meaningful stories hidden in it. Newspapers aren’t written to convey messages in secret code, and neither was the Bible. Both should be read using ordinary rules of language. 

Of course there are concepts in the Bible that are hard to understand–even the apostle Peter admitted that (2 Peter 3:15). But the way to discover the meaning of those hard passages is not by seeking out hidden messages, but by engaging in diligent study that accurately handles the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). 

Take heart! The Bible is clear and even the most untrained reader can understand it. God wants you to understand the Bible, and He has provided the Holy Spirit as a guide. After all, “man does not live by bread alone, but…by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3).

The LORD is not the author of confusion (1 Cor 14:33) but reveals Himself to one and all. If you have the Holy Spirit in you, you have an equal chance to understand what He wrote in it as anyone else. As MacArthur said, prayer, study, and diligence will “unlock” His Word. Not codes. If you believe codes exist in the bible then you accept that the Spirit is out of the equation and people like Bullinger have extra advanced knowledge that you must rely on HIM to unlock for you. No, let it not be so!

What is blasphemy, exactly?

One thing I get tired of is the culture blaspheming the Lord.

Psalms 74:10 O God, how long shall the adversary reproach? shall the enemy blaspheme thy name for ever?

Deuteronomy 16:21 – “Do not set up any wooden Asherah pole beside the altar you build to the LORD your God,”

Barnes’ notes on blasphemy:

The word “blaspheme” originally means to speak evil of anyone; to injure by words; to blame unjustly. When applied to God, it means to speak of him unjustly; to ascribe to him acts and attributes which he does not possess; or to speak impiously or profanely. It also means to say or do anything by which his name or honor is insulted, or which conveys an “impression” unfavourable to God.

Eaton’s Bible Dictionary: sacrilege-

The sin or crime of violating or profaning sacred things; the alienating to laymen, or to common purposes, what has been appropriated or consecrated to religious persons or uses.

In 2 Corinthians 6:16 Paul was urging the new believers not to join in with the wicked and the profane, not to attend the festivals where vestiges of the old false gods and the vibrancy of the new false gods still were worshiped openly. He said not to join in any way with their sacrilegious activities. Believers must separate from these activities, soundly and firmly, visibly and demonstrably. Paul wrote: “What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

John MacArthur:

The issue here is an issue of sacrilege. All false religion is demon worship. Listen, now remember an idol is nothing. You can carve an idol out of wood, you can make an idol out of stone, you can make an idol out of silver, you can make one out of gold. You can do whatever you want to paint one on a wall. You can form one out of marble, whatever it is. When you’re done with it, it’s nothing. But the religion and the ideology that it stands for is the teaching of demons. It is lies from the pits. It is the doctrines of demons coming from seducing spirits. So that what happens is demons impersonate the idol and you worship a demon in the idol, though you don’t know it. It is a demon who creates the religion, who conducts the relationship with the worshiper. It is demon communion.

MacArthur was speaking of Manasseh in 2 Kings 21:1-4-

Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years. His mother’s name was Hephzibah. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had destroyed; he also erected altars to Baal and made an Asherah pole, as Ahab king of Israel had done. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. He built altars in the temple of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “In Jerusalem I will put my Name.”

He put the idols back into the Temple where the name of the ONE HOLY God’s name resided! One of the false gods they worshiped idolatrously was Asherah. Those old gods are NOT GONE. Satan still perpetuates them, or recycles them. In Josiah’s day it was Asherah. In Paul’s day it was Diana. In our day, Molech has become “Abortion.” The queen of heaven mentioned in Jeremiah 7:18 and  Jeremiah 44:17-25 is now Mary, Co-redemptrix of the Catholics.

GotQuestions explains that blasphemy is:

to speak with contempt about God or to be defiantly irreverent. Blasphemy is verbal or written reproach of God’s name, character, work, or attributes.
Blasphemy was a serious crime in the law God gave to Moses. The Israelites were to worship and obey God. In Leviticus 24:10–16, a man blasphemed the name of God. To the Hebrews, a name wasn’t just a convenient label. It was a symbolic representation of a person’s character. The man in Leviticus who blasphemed God’s name was stoned to death.

The truth is, every time we misrepresent God in word or in behavior, we blaspheme. It’s not just actively worshiping a stone false god that enacts a blasphemy but our own misrepresentation of Him. He is holy and perfect. We should be careful, oh so careful, to ensure that our lives and our words represent Him rightly as the God He is.

Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders? (Exodus 15:11).

majestic

heaven

Earlier this week I reviewed the notable book Christy, the novel based on a true story of a woman teacher set in the fictional Appalachian village of Cutter Gap, Tennessee, in 1912. It was released as a faith book, and as such, aside from the wonderful descriptions of the scenery and well-drawn mountain folk characters, I reviewed it on that basis. It came up short.

One issue I’d had with the theology in the book was the ending. It ended with an illness and a trip to heaven, lengthy descriptions and all of what appears on the other side. In one scene, the character peering beyond the veil sees her friend who had died previously, noting that her worry lines were removed from her face and her youthful appearance and bounce in her step as she cavorted among the hillside flowers. The problem is that we don’t have our resurrection bodies yet, and no one knows what we “look” like in the current intermediate state, dead but awaiting resurrection into glorified bodies.

Leaving Christy aside for a moment, I’d like to focus on heaven tourism in general. It’s a cottage industry of late, many authors tout their trips to heaven, having claimed a visit there. Or hell, some have said they went to hell and returned to tell the tale.

heaven tourism panorama 3.jpg

Heaven is God’s abode. It is where he sits enthroned in majesty and power. It is where the holy angels worship Him, where the souls of the dead abide, where things are expressed and seen that no man may utter, as Paul noted in 2 Corinthians 12:4.

was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell

And yet, they tell.

Foremost, heaven is God’s abode. It’s where He dwells in His home.

Now, you, dear reader, have a home. You love your home. You pay for it, upkeep it, decorate it, raise children in it, have your life in it. As humble or as grand as your home may be, it’s yours and you are rightly proud of it.

Let’s imagine that you have a friend, maybe she lives across the country or she is an internet friend. She has never been in your home. She has never seen a photo of it. You’ve described it to her in words a few times, here and there but she has has no real knowledge of what your home is like in any real way.

Now let’s say that your friend has a popular blog with a million subscribers, or writes a book that sells millions of copies. She writes about your home. She writes that you have diamonds sewn into your curtains so as to make the sunlight twinkle as it streams in. You have gold faucets and a gold dipped bathtub, in which you bathe nightly in milk and honey. She writes that you have special light bulbs to make a lovely yellow-gold glow in the home, even though that costs you $1,000 a day. She writes that you have a thousand butlers lining the driveway to simply wave at you as you drive in, and an elevator pad to lift you and your car to the third floor of your home where when you step out, you are given champagne and a tiara served on a ruby-edged silver platter.

All these are fanciful lies, of course, but your friend wrote it anyway. She never referred to any of the letters you had written, describing your home the few times you mentioned it. She simply went forward and made up ridiculous scenes and wrote stupendously outlandish claims. Now she is getting rich from the lies.

How would you feel? Angry? Violated? Upset?

How does GOD feel when these people do that about HIS home? When people never consult the Bible, His love letter written to humankind, with the actual scenes from the Homeowner describing what it is like? How does He feel when people make money off their outlandish lies about His home?

We know the biblical reasons that the heavenly tourism books and blogs are wrong. No man has seen God…no man may express…No one who has No one has ascended into heaven except the One who descended from heaven… (John 1:18, 2 Corinthians 12:4, John 3:13).

I live in a two-room apartment all of 400 square feet. It is humbly filled with second hand furniture and hand me downs. I am proud of it and I like how it looks. I want it to appear homey and be comfortable in case someone comes over to visit. I’d feel angry and upset if someone wrote about what my home looked like if their writing was full of lies and delusions. That’s treachery. When such lies involve God’s home, it’s blasphemy.

What about respecting the honor and dignity of the Holy One of Israel? The Ancient of Days who sent His Son to die a cruel death and be separated from His Father and become a curse, so that He can make a way for us to be given a heavenly home? Do we disrespect it with fanciful tales of imaginary joyous reunions and large gates and sunlight on a hill? With lies and imaginings? Is this how we repay Him who is preparing a place for us?

Please avoid books and essays about visits to heaven. They are lies upon lies and they are not only unbiblical, they dishonor the Homeowner, our precious and loving Father God, His Son Jesus, and His Holy Spirit.

Further Reading

The End Time: Heaven tourism books are bad; some heaven books are good

A Justin Peters video teaching: Heavenly Tourism (one hour)

Tim Challies on the topic of Heaven Tourism

Are there too many conferences?

Christians today have many opportunities to attend any conference of one’s choosing. Might I say a plethora of choices?

There’s conferences for men.
T4G. Sing! MLK50. TGC West Coast. G3. Cutting It Straight. ShepCon. LigCon. Right Now.

There’s conferences for youth.
Passion. Urbana18. RiseUp. GraceLife Youth conference. Salt & Light. Momentum. Ignite. KingdomYouth.

There’s conferences for women (mostly false).
Living Proof Conference. Unwrap the Bible. IF:Gathering. The Word Alive. Women of Joy. Love Life by Joyce Meyer Ministries. Women of the Word. Women of Purpose. Extraordinary Women.

There’s conferences for (mostly) false teachers and (mostly) false Christians.
Bethel Conference. Catalyst Conference. Amplify. Charisma.

Of course there are many more. And many more on other continents. Conferences (and their simulcasts) are a thriving cottage industry in the global church. And of course each conference has its own claims of how good and necessary it is for you, the pastor/man/woman/youth/church planter/missionary/any demographic to attend.

  • The Outreach Summit is unlike any other church leader conference. Only at The Summit will you meet and hear from the pastors of the most innovative and fastest growing churches in America.
  • The Gateway Conference desires to share practical wisdom for cultivating real growth by …
  • MinCon quickly gained the reputation as a conference of excellence, offering an incredible hands-on experience at an affordable price for teams and churches all across the Pacific NW.
  • Catalyst West is a 2-day conference to help leaders like you build great churches, grow strong teams, and be a catalyst for change
  • We’ve gathered some of the nation’s best leaders to share their wisdom with you. (Small Town Pastor’s Conference has a list of leaders different from the other conference sharing wisdom with you…)
  • We’ve gathered some of the nation’s best leaders to share their wisdom with you. (Right Now Conference has different speakers than the other conference sharing wisdom with you…)
  • We hope that during your time with us, you will be able to relax, build new relationships, and leave more excited about this calling than ever before.
  • When you discover how to leverage your talents as an entrepreneur, leader, or pastor, you cultivate a more meaningful impact in your business or leadership endeavors. (This was a PASTOR’s conference…not a Google or Amazon business practice gathering, believe it or not)

Some of the ones I read sound like a business model more fitting for Google or AT&T than a church.

Is it too much of a good thing? Is it possible that there are too many conferences that, mixed with the good ones, the bad ones draw away congregants and introduce false notions? Can even the good ones be potentially problematic? I believe so. Though there are many good conferences, I believe the time has come to be more discriminating and skeptical of what today’s Christian conference is offering. Please bear with me as I share some thoughts on why many conferences can be dangerous to one’s spiritual health.

1. False confessions

A few years ago as I followed David Platt taking the reins of the International Mission Board as President in August 2014. Known for his dedication to missions, Platt was to speak at the annual Student Missions Conference at Urbana in St. Louis MO in December 2015 (as he usually does each year.) The conference is aimed at college students. Curious, I tuned in. The conference’s own language describes it as a “catalytic event” in a “sacred space”. A catalytic event means they want to use the speeches, emotional reactions from music, and teenage momentum to get attendees to DO something in missions. The conference is the catalyst for that. It’s their aim.

Though the conference is not aimed at non-Christians because it’s a mission oriented event and not an evangelistic conference, the organizers acknowledge that non-believers do attend. Therefore at the conclusion of the main event, speakers put out a Gospel call to make a decision for Christ. At Urbana 15, Mr Platt asked attendees who had decided for Christ to raise their glowsticks and wave them. It was later stated that 681 students did.

Is this how people come to the cross and enter the kingdom? By responding to a one-hour lecture and deciding, and waving a glowstick? Perhaps the Spirit did use the event to regenerate some, but in high-emotional and religious-pressured environments, at events where youths are separated from parents and other adults, is a concoction rife with potential for false conversions. I had a hard time believing that 681 people were converted at once, though @UrbanaMissions claimed 681 were by calling them new Christians. The same thing happens at the youth-aimed Passion conference. Photos, and more explanation about Urbana 15’s decisional regeneration and pronouncement of new believers, here.

2. False Doctrine

At far too many conferences lay the potential to propagate false doctrine. Churches are supposed to be tightly closed. There are membership standards, behavioral expectations, stringent qualifications for leaders, and biblical discipline. In the best of worlds, that is how it’s supposed to work. Because it used to be hard for satan to get into the pulpit, satan develops ways to get around that. The Sunday School curriculum, the Children’s Ministry leader, the book clubs for woman, the church library, parachurches. And now in modern times, with travel so easy – conferences. I don’t think I need to use many specifics here, you know what I’m talking about.

The ridiculous conferences are easy enough to spot, and even the solid ones have a hard time maintaining the gate these days, as the issue with Grace To You/Grace Community Church & TGC West Coast recently showed us. Executive Director of GTY, Phil Johnson, said of the of GCC Elders’ decision to bow out of hosting TGC West Coast’s “Enduring Faithfulness” conference was ultimately that,

Some of the seminars featured points of view or speakers that stand in stark opposition to what we teach at Grace Church and Grace to You. Other seminars seemed merely to miss the point of “enduring faithfulness” entirely, and some were also arguably tangential to any core gospel truths. We felt the seminars collectively failed to convey what is most necessary for cultivating true, steadfast faith.

3. Too Many Speakers to Vet

In the past, conferences used to feature just a few well-known speakers. By “well-known” I don’t mean celebrity pastors, but faithful pastors who have endured long and have a proven track record as to their doctrine. Nowadays, some conferences feature up to 200 speakers. While you could look up the keynote speakers to check, though that in itself is time consuming as the roster of keynote speakers grows, it is impossible to “vet” all the speakers of breakout sessions. So when one of the members of your church attends a breakout session, it could be led by someone who is teaching an unbiblical doctrine, or one that your church does not hold. As a matter of fact, given the times we live in and the methods satan uses, this is likely. In fact, this was one of the reasons that Grace Community Church elders decided to bow out of hosting The Gospel Coalition West Coast Conference. Though they had trust in the keynote speakers, a number of other speakers were added afterwards. As Phil Johnson explains, this was problematic.

Some of the seminars featured points of view or speakers that stand in stark opposition to what we teach at Grace Church and Grace to You.

Below on the left, a screenshot of the recent MLK50 conference speaker lineup, on the right, The Gospel Coalition West Coast Conference this coming October 2018. How is a parent/husband/discerning person supposed to vet all of them? Can’t.

4. Many Conferences Feature Stretched Complementarian Boundaries

One of the most hotly contested areas of doctrine in church culture (and secular culture) today is the role of women. The correct biblical stance is that women are not to be teachers of men, leaders over men, or pastors in the local church. They are not to have authority over men. (1 Timothy 2:12). However, women can teach children, or other women, or in a home setting as Priscilla did with Aquila. This tiny bit of leeway has given satan an inch, and he has taken it by a mile. I’ve noticed over the recent years how many women are now speakers at mixed-gender conferences. Young women at that.

At Delivered By Grace, Josh Buice hits the nail on the head:

While women are permitted to discuss biblical theology in a mixed group setting such as a Sunday school class, women teaching children or other women (Titus 2), or in a private setting such as with Apollos’ instruction that was gleaned from meeting with Priscilla and Aquila—biblical teaching, when among the church as a whole or a mixed audience should be led by men. It seems clear that Paul was addressing an issue that was taking place in the life of the church and needed to be corrected.

When it comes to teaching men in our present day, we have the conference culture that often stretches these complementarian boundaries. This is a dangerous practice, since conferences are designed to strengthen the church and to in many ways model what the local church should be promoting in their local assemblies—ie., expository preaching, sound biblical theology, and other important, if not essential, practices. Therefore, to have women stand and open the Bible and teach a group of men in a conference setting is not beneficial to the Church represented in the conference from many different local churches. Such stretching of the boundaries is a common practice in our day and we should be cautious when we see women teachers invited to speak to a mixed audience.

5. We are being made merchandise of

2 Peter 2:3 says that the false teachers will exploit the believers and make merchandise of us. Barnes’ Notes says,

Make merchandise of you – Treat you not as rational beings but as a bale of goods, or any other article of traffic. That is, they would endeavor to make money out of them, and regard them only as fitted to promote that object.

There are conferences that have a goal to teach well, and to serve hard. Shepherds’ Conference is one that I know of. But too often the case is the opposite. There is a reason many conferences’ blurbs sound like an entrepreneurial business advertisement- because they are a business. The larger the conference gets the more the organizers have to recoup money from renting the venue, paying accommodations and travel expenses, or the like. The false teachers flock there to flog their book, sell their latest book. Tee shirts, trinkets and more is all for sale.

I attended one conference where the food vendors inside the arena were selling food at fantastical prices. Simple game day type food like pizza and hot dogs were for sale at high prices. Perhaps the organizer had nothing to do with this and could not prevent it, but the atmosphere left one feeling, well, exploited. We had just arrived after a long drive, had no time to go anywhere else for food, and the conference was about to start. We were trapped and had no alternative but to pay the demanded prices.

Just as the money changers at the Temple began as a good idea, soon filthy lucre made its way into the courtyard and what started as a service soon became exploitation. It is no different now.

I think conferences can be great. Pastors can gather with other pastors and be refreshed. The ebullience of youth can accomplish much when properly directed. Woman believers, many of whom are stay-at-home moms, can collect with other women and be edified.

However there are dangers to be considered. When believers are away from their home church, especially youths and women, satan can enter in more easily. Remember what happens to the limping gazelle in all the wildlife programs. Separated out from the herd, they are vulnerable. (1 Peter 5:8)

False doctrine spread by false teachers or unknown or unvetted teachers can be propagated in their lectures or their books. These seeds of evil can be brought home and planted in the home church. Boundaries can be stretched, poor models of lifestyle presented, discontent sown. Please consider carefully when desiring to attend a large conference. Many are good. But of late, they can more often be an entrepreneurial business opportunity for the organizers, and you their potential merchandise … or spiritual target.

 

Play the lyre, sweep the house, it’s no good….

And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him. (1 Samuel 16:23).

Since the Lord rejected Saul as king, He withdrew His Spirit; and Saul received an “evil spirit.” The identity of this “evil” spirit has been disputed. Some believe that it was a demon. Others argue that it was a troubling spirit causing emotional disturbance (see Judg. 9:23). Some have suggested that the Lord permitted Satan to afflict Saul as punishment for his sin (see 2 Sam. 24:1 with 1 Chr. 21:1). What is clear is that this spirit was sent by the Lord (see 1 Kgs. 22:20–23) to show that Saul had been rejected. It caused Saul to experience bouts of rage and despondency. Christians do not have to fear that the Lord will remove His Spirit from them, since the Spirit is the believer’s permanent possession (Rom. 8:9, 12–17; Eph. 1:13; 4:30). Holman concise Bible commentary (pp. 114–115).

I wanted to note in this passage that the evil spirit came and went. The situation was different in the Old Testament, in that the believers were not given the Spirit to indwell them. In the NT, we are. Once indwelling, we can never again be lost nor will the Spirit depart. However if we are is absent the Spirit, no amount of moralizing behavior will keep the evil spirits away. Eventually they enter in. Or eventually, they return.

You see this expressed in the New Testament verse of Matthew 12:43-45.

When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.

The house being swept is the person deciding to straighten up and fly right. “I’ll be good!” they say, “I’ll be moral.” they promise. But without the Spirit’s seal in us, the evil will return at some pouint, and the person will be even worse off.

Think of drug addicts who leave rehab only to do worse drugs in their relapse. The drunk who had yet to hit bottom but hits a new low on the way down. The dieter who puts on more weight after the diet than before. The flirt who acts on his flirtation this time. The unaided flesh can’t be restrained.

As for Saul, Matthew Henry said:

How much better friends had they been to him if they had advised him, since the evil spirit was from the Lord, to give all diligence to make his peace with God by true repentance, to send for Samuel to pray with him and to intercede with God for him! then might he not only have had some present relief, but the good Spirit would have returned to him. But their project is to make him merry, and so cure him. Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible

Curing your evil without the Spirit is hopeless. Saul did not seek Him, and attempted to use music as a symptom reliever. Play the lyre, sweep the house, try and try again. You can only cover up symptoms for so long. We all need the only cure, the final cure: Jesus and His Gospel.

sweep

Book Review: America’s beloved novel, “Christy”

christy final
Above: The copy I am reviewing has a cover as in the upper left. The one I read as a teen is upper right. The lower left is the Kindle edition cover using a photo of the real Christy, (Leonora Whitaker), and lower right is another version of many covers that have been published in the last 50 years. Christy is still going strong.

According to this Wikipedia summary, the book Christy,

Christy (1967) is a historical fiction Christian novel by American author Catherine Marshall, set in the fictional Appalachian village of Cutter Gap, Tennessee, in 1912. The novel was inspired by the work of Marshall’s mother, Leonora Whitaker, who taught impoverished children in the Appalachian region when she was a young, single woman. The novel explores faith, and mountain traditions such as moonshining, folk beliefs, and folk medicine. Christianity Today ranked Christy as 27th on a list of the 50 books (post-World War II) that had most shaped evangelicals’ minds, after surveying “dozens of evangelical leaders” for their nominations.

christy facts

These facts are amazing to me. Source

The book is listed as historical fiction, but the author Catherine Marshall said she drew heavily on her mother’s life for the actual events recorded in the book. For the events that did not occur in Mrs Whitaker’s life AKA Christy, such as the typhoid epidemic, the author researched diligently to present a historically accurate event that was true to the times and the place.

I love a teacher story so even though the book deals with many theological themes, I read it as an unsaved teenager for the teaching part, and enjoyed it fabulously. I got a notion a few years ago to revisit the book now that I am saved, in order to enjoy the theological parts as well. When I came across it at a Library Book Sale, I delightedly bought it.

On GoodReads, Christy has an average rating of 4.21 collected from 43,635 Ratings. There are 1,494 Reviews. Most of the reviews are 4 or 5 star. Wow.

On Amazon there are 76 ratings & reviews, and all of them are 5 or 4-star except for two ratings that reported a Kindle glitch.

I was hopeful.

I should know better.

Though thousands of people have given the book highest ratings, I must sadly depart from the crowd. I have three minds about the book Christy.

The Good, the Bad, the Upshot

1. As a secular story, it is an extremely well-written, absorbing (500-page) book that would capture any reader for the vivid descriptions of the majestic mountain locations and the well-drawn characters. The history alone and deep knowledge of lives lived in a long-ago time is enough to recommend the book. It definitely makes an impression from the first page.

2. As a faith story aimed at many Christian women, it stands alone in stark contrast to many books of its genre published today, in a good way. Modern faith stories have trivialized today’s woman in her struggles with a chosen career, uncertainty of effectiveness in missionary work, her doubts about what she believes, romance, mentoring, friendships, and more. Today’s faith stories usually include the silly main character (usually an antiques dealer or a florist) encountering a short-lived, superficial bump in the road made out to be a monumental struggle, a passing glance at some trite beliefs, and finishing with a direct whisper from God telling the girl to go marry Joe, and they lived happily ever after. Christy, on the other hand, delves into strong rapids swirling with rejection, fear, uncertainty, God’s plan, romance, death, marriage, and love for neighbor under adverse circumstances. It has guts. It has grit. To that end, it’s a true mission story.

3. As a faith story, it is a theological train wreck. I can’t recommend it at all based on the number of false theologies it introduces. There’s mysticism, Quakerism, direct revelation, biblical errancy, social justice, moralism, and more. Though there is mention of Jesus, more often the author chooses to use a generic name such as the “Authority”, or simply “Someone.” Someone? I was reminded of the verse in Acts 17:23, the monument “To An Unknown God”. Though the characters wrestle with evil, a lot, sin is never ever discussed. The main character is shocked by the level of superstition and darkness in the people to whom she is ministering, but the solution of the Gospel is never raised. They just try harder to get the people to be moral and to love well. God’s sovereignty is not presented, but man’s free will is.

The short version is that the book Christy: Heavy Social Justice + A Good Dose of Mysticism + A Dash of Moralism = A book the world loves

The long version is that the book is not “just fiction.” The novel presents itself as a theological faith story, and as such, it’s incumbent on us to review that faith and compare to the Bible. Here are the nuts and bolts.

The copy from which I’m quoting is Mass Market Paperback from Publisher Avon, published June 2006. On page 103, Christy seeks advice from her mentor, a Quaker woman named Alice. Now, please understand, that Quakerism, or as it used to be known, quietism, “does not reflect a biblical approach to spiritual life,” as John MacArthur is quoted. Much is made of Alice’s quiet spirit, her centered approach, her great still pools of eyes that looked piercingly at you and spoke of the ‘inner Light”.

Matt Slick writes of the Quaker beliefs and practices, that they believe in general (though there are many different manifestations of people populating the Friends’ Society) that the Bible is a guide but subordinate to direct revelation, they do not practice communion nor baptism, women can and are leaders and elders, (on Page 332 the pastor in the book deferred to Alice the Quaker to preach a funeral to the gathered community), salvation can be lost, and there is no such thing as total depravity. Never mind the complicated justification explanations. There is not talk of repentance since sin is downplayed. As a matter of fact, they believe sinless perfection can be achieved in the flesh. Many of these threads are overtly or subtly brought out in Christy.

In the book, on page 308, Alice teaches Christy that not only spiritual blessings but material blessings can be gained if we just “claim them.”

God has all kinds of riches for us. Not just spiritual riches either. His promises in the Bible are His way of telling us what’s available. But this plenty doesn’t become ours until we drive our stake on that particular promise and thus indicate that we accept that gift. That, Christy, is ‘claiming.’

This is a strange conversation to be having when the poverty around them was so dire that the unsanitary and impoverished conditions of a cabin she was visiting and its inhabitants made Christy vomit. Just ‘claim riches’? For shame, Miss Alice.

A few sentences later, Alice explains the problem is evil exists and not to compromise with it. She said we must fight it. How? “Listen for His orders on strategy against evil…” She did not instruct Christy to seek that advice from His word.

Subtly, the Quaker character steers Christy away from specifics of the Bible, mentioning the Bible a lot but not consulting it as the Word of God filled with Holy Spirit life and solutions to today’s issues. Given today’s young women who already have a tendency to listen for direct whispers and heavenly advice, the subtle dismissal of God’s word as authoritative and final is troubling and I would not put this book in front of young women for that reason alone.

Love is the key for Quaker Alice, and for the book’s characters in general. Not repentance. Yes, love is important. However the character teaches that we can have Jesus’ friendship “only if we are willing to let go our resentments and our hating and our feuding and our our name-calling and our shooting and love one another.” [emphasis theirs]. In essence, our works (loving well) brings Jesus to us, which is consistent with Quaker theology. The closest the character got to the Gospel in her sermon was to say to “trust our Friend, and He will root out bitterness and replace it with love.” We need more than trust, but to repent and believe. (Mark 1:15).

These theologies were evident in the book, spoken through this main character Miss Alice. This is what “Alice” was teaching “Christy” and thus, the reader.

The pastor in the story was a man who was not settled in his beliefs. He didn’t seem to be saved at all, as a matter of fact. In the end he seemed to give up the pastorate completely. He wrestled with many theological problems, and not the hard ones, either. He did not believe in biblical inerrancy, taught that the soul goes to sleep after death, wasn’t sure about our resurrection after death, (but humans are probably immortal because the flowers come back every spring, don’t they?) didn’t believe in Jesus’ miracles because they very likely have a natural explanation, and how one lives is more important than what one believes. “Dogma isn’t important. It’s the results in the community that count. As for the Bible, it’s an amazing book, the best book of wisdom that we have.” Pragmatism at its best.

These theologies were evident in the book, spoken through this main character. This is what “David” was teaching “Christy” and thus, the reader.

The missionaries wrestle with the problems of poverty and illiteracy and seek to solve them in human terms and works. On page 405, Christy is ruminating on the ideal (religion) versus the practical (everyday needs). She never sees the connection between the so-called “dogma” and the real life issues the people to whom they minister face. In their view, the people’s physical needs always outweigh their Gospel need, and they always will, because none of the three characters see man’s depravity as the root issue. Yet in fact, it’s the opposite: man’s spiritual need is much greater than poverty, illness, or illiteracy, as dire as they may be. Here on page 405 Christy finds the solution, which is no solution.

How would believing in the love of God solve problems like illiteracy of poverty for the highlanders? Now I saw the connection between Miss Alice’s certainty about the inner guiding Light and Grundtvig’s ideas. God did have a master plan for the Cove, and Grundtvig was saying that we could find that plan by looking deep into the human spirit.

Therein lies the rub. First, the characters try to solve the issues of the day by looking everywhere except the Bible. Second, did Christy come to the mountains to solve social ills, or to save souls? The social justice theology so prevalent at the turn of the last century was evident in the book, spoken through this main character. I’ll address social justice in a separate blog essay this week. Third, do we solve societal ills by ‘looking deep into our own spirit’? Or do we turn to THE Spirit and fall to our knees and ask Him to enter us as the seal of the guarantee, after repenting of our sins? We know the answer. Any place we look at in history where the Gospel took root, schools, orphanages, and hospitals sprung up, where prior to the Gospel, charity was little known.

The book ended with a trip to heaven, seeing people who had passed on, and reveling in the “Light”  -but no Jesus was evident. Sigh. I’ll address heavenly trips in a separate blog essay this week.

As for the book presenting theology and not being “just fiction”, here is Dave James, Ministry Coordinator for The Alliance for Biblical Integrity speaking of these issues regarding the book The Shack. Substitute the title of The Shack for the title Christy and you have the meat of the argument-

So, then how should we classify this novel?

Is it theological fiction?

Or is it fictional theology?

If it is fictional theology, then it is theology that has no biblical basis. That would make it heresy by definition. So, one can’t claim that it is fictional theology and still defend it as a basis for personal spiritual growth, comfort and encouragement.

But what about theological fiction?

If it is theological fiction, then wouldn’t it have something of a parallel in the genre of historical fiction? How does historical fiction work? In general, it uses (and must use) true historical events as a framework for the book. For example, no historical novel could ever put the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1950. If it did, then such a book would be relegated to “fictional history” – and no one would take it seriously from an historical perspective.

However, many people do take The Shack very seriously. And those who do take it seriously now view God differently than they did before. In other words, their theology has changed. But their new theology is not found in the Bible. And not only is this new theology not biblical, it actually contradicts the theology of the Bible. Therefore, any emotional or spiritual impact that The Shack might have is based on something other than the truth – which in other words, is a lie. Quite obviously, believers cannot base their spiritual growth on a lie. If they try to do so, something might happen, but it can’t be called “spiritual growth.”

I cannot overlook the absence of the Gospel in Christy, the lack of focus on sin, the silence of the need for repentance, the constant mystical direct revelation, the emphasis on inner truth derived from voices and whispers and not the Bible, and the exalting of a Quaker as the steadiest, most mature religious person in the book.

The author herself listed her main religious points of the book:

1. Just social service work – bettering the material situation – does not change people. It takes, in addition, the love of God,

2. God does not love just the ‘good people’, He loves all of us,

3. Let us be proud of our mountain folk and their great heritage.

The Shack has already come and gone. Christy, fifty years later, has staying power. It’s spawned spin off book sequels, two television series, and a TV-movie. It’s still in print. In the Morgan Gap (the actual Cutter Gap) an annual ChristyFest is held. Not recommended. Leave Christy in her mountains, and seek better, more theologically sound women to spend time with, be taught by, and to be inspired by.

I’d much rather read and re-read Gladys Aylward’s book The Little Woman, about her years in inland China as a missionary.
Elisabeth Elliot’s travails in Ecuador.
Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place.
Lottie Moon.
Amy Carmichael- A Chance To Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael by Elisabeth Elliot.
Give Me This Mountain by Helen Roseveare.
My Heart In His Hands: Ann Judson of Burma by Sharon James.
Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield.
A Reformation Life: Katharina von Bora by Rudolf Markwald.

If you like inspiring teacher movies and books, try these

Music of the Heart, movie with Meryl Streep
Mr Holland’s Opus with Richard Dreyfus
Dead Poet’s Society with Robin Williams
Stand and Deliver with Edward James Olmos
To Sir, With Love with Sidney Poitier, book by by E. R. Braithwaite
Goodbye, Mr Chips, with Robert Donat; book by James Hilton
The Water is Wide with Jeff Hephner (2006) AKA Conrack (1974 with Jon Voight), book by Pat Conroy
Akeelah and the Bee with Laurence Fishburne,book by James W. Ellison