Category Archives: Christianity

Dedicating Babies

Yesterday we had the privilege of participating in the dedication of our youngest grand daughter. I know many Christian traditions baptize infants, but we practice “believer’s” baptism instead, which means a person is baptized only after they make a personal commitment to Christ as their Lord and Savior. (The closest thing I can think of—although it’s actually different—is “confirmation” in churches that do practice infant baptism.) In many countries (not only through the centuries but still today), people are not considered true believers (or persecuted as such in hostile countries) until they are baptized, but that is not why we defer baptism. We believe that baptism (and communion) do not have saving value in themselves (“sacraments” which confer saving grace on a person). We believe people are saved by faith alone—their own faith, not their parents—and that baptism is an outward witness to an inner conversion experience that happened instantaneously when the person believed in Christ and accepted Him as their Lord and Savior.However, we do strongly believe in committing ourselves to bringing up our children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (teaching them about God and his ways), and to this much-prayed-and-hoped-for end—that our children will believe in God and choose Christ for themselves—we dedicate our children to the Lord, committing ourselves as a spiritual community to praying for and participating in the love and training of our children. So, yesterday several babies were dedicated, and among them, not only our grand daughter, but our daughter-in-law’s sister’s baby too! What a very special day of solemnities and joy! Brianna comes from such a big family that we ended up celebrating in two homes afterward, so Elanor got her own cake. Being just six months old, she’d never had cake before but was bound and determined she wanted to try it…and…why not? It met with complete approval, and I hope and pray that as she learns more about the ineffable mysteries and goodness of God, she will be even more delighted and pleased!

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him
(Psalm 34:8).

Thoughts on Cremation and Afterlife from Visiting Kathmandu’s Pashupatinath Temple

Have you ever experienced a cremation ceremony?The Pashupatinath Temple, where we watched people being cremated,   is on the Bagmati River, which flows into the Ganges River
and is considered the most sacred river in Nepal. The Pashupatinath Temple is really a complex that includes 518 temples
and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  The original temple (the oldest in Kathmandu) was built around 400 BC, although the beautiful present-day temple was erected in the 15th century
after the earlier temple was destroyed by termites. Pashupati is the name of one of their 330 million gods,  and if my understanding is correct, Hindus believe he is one of the manifestations of Lord Shiva, one of the three principle deities of Hinduism.  There are so many threads I’d like to follow from this experience, but perhaps the most profound impact came from watching people being cremated.  Wisely (given the intense heat and population density), it is traditional for a person to be cremated immediately, on the day of his death.  (One tradition that I wish Americans would adopt is this:
The entire family takes 13 days together to mourn after their loved one dies.)

There are several rituals that occur before the family arrives with their deceased loved one to the Bagmati River, like wrapping the corpse is in two representative colors: white (for purity, purified with cow urine) and orange (for holiness). The corpse is carried to the edge of the river on a bamboo ladder, where the feet are repeatedly washed or sprinkled with water from the river for the purpose of purifying and beautifying the body.           Friends and family members form a line to pay their last respects,         and most of them participate in pouring ghee (oil) into the person’s mouth.                  They also often leave gifts of paper money or flowers.     Next, an elaborate funeral pyre is constructed on one of the concrete slabs using sandalwood (if possible, because of its fragrance), and the body is laid on it.  If it is a man who dies, the oldest son is responsible as the kartā (person who cares for the dead relative) and lights the fire, which begins with the mouth.  If it is a woman, her youngest son takes on the responsibility and honor of kartā.  To make the fire hotter and ensure that the entire body is immolated, the body is covered with straw and often smeared with butter or sugar. Because of the (now illegal) Hindu practice of “Sati” (where the wife had to be burned too if her husband died as a way of honoring him), today all the women leave the area before the body is burned,  but the kartā and other men watch over the cremation, which can take 3+ hours.  After the body and wood are completely consumed, the kartā sweeps all the ashes into the river and washes down the platform so it’s ready for the next funeral.  Although beliefs and customs vary (as they do in every religion), my understanding (from our tour manager and other sources I studied) is that cremation is a way of returning the body to the earth.  Hindus believe that the world consists of 5 elements: Air, water, earth, sky, and fire, and the cremation process includes all five elements, returning the body to the earth from which it came.     However, Hindus believe that although the body will die, the soul does not.  If the person lives a life with good “karma” (intentions and actions) that will lead them either to a higher station in life when they are reincarnated or to “heaven,” and if the person leads a life of bad karma, they will be reincarnated into a lesser form of life (such as an animal or lower) or hell. At the temple, there were a number of sadhus and aghora (monks who desire to become holy by ascetic practices.)  They were more than happy to pose for photos (as long as we gave them money), but I think they are often shunned by many Hindus and seemed very strange to us as Westerners.  In contrast to Hindu beliefs, I would like to share the Christian perspective, which includes purification by the blood of Christ, not holy river water, and offers regeneration through faith in Christ rather than reincarnation. Also, the Bible holds out the hope of eternal life as a gift after this present life ends, not because we’re justified by our ability to live out such good karma that we no longer need to be reincarnated, but by grace, based on the righteousness of Jesus Christ on our behalf:Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men. For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men” (Titus 3:1-8, emphasis mine).

 

 

What’s the Cost for An Asian Harvest?

Ready to be blessed and challenged…to have your heart broken but also filled with joy? If your heart bursts with the love of God and you have a passion to share his love with others so that they, too, might experience salvation by faith in Christ, you’ll love this book. Through Paul’s ministry, millions have received Bibles over the past twenty-five years.  Although his story is monumental compared to the quiet, quite insignificant path of my life, I really resonate with his love for Jesus and his desire to share God’s good news, and I’m hoping you will too!

Paul wasn’t just your average kid. He suffered from a loveless home life and was such an underachiever that one of his high school teachers told him his life was “a waste of oxygen.” From his days as a high school dropout in New Zealand and living as a homeless kid hiding out on the top of a public toilet in Australia (in an effort to keep warm and evade vagrancy charges), through his conversion and life of walking by faith, Paul tells his amazing story of grace with humility, candor, humor, and passion.

Some of the low lights include his first job scrubbing toilets, his first “apartment” (chicken coop) with a stench so awful that some of his friends refused to visit, the night he almost died from altitude sickness in the mountains of Nepal, green flies for lunch in Indonesia (and the discovery that mangy dogs served as the family dishwashers by licking the bowls clean), the years of harassment from his exposing a pedophile posing as a minister, and a sudden stroke that left him with only half a brain. Some of the highlights include his challenging romance with the love of his life, all the miraculous ways that God provided for him through the years (despite specific instructions from God that he never ask anyone but God for money), and the great joy of working in his Father’s vineyard so that others may come to know the love of God.

Was it worth the cost? Paul says, “I have been the beneficiary of a completely lopsided exchange. I handed Jesus my futile existence, and in return He gave me a life of purpose and fulfillment…If all the pain and struggles we endured were necessary to open the doors to fruitful service for Jesus, then it was all worthwhile, and those experiences have proven inconsequential compared to the overall plan of God in my life.”

I will very gladly spend and be spent for you” (2 Corinthians 12:15).

I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields;
for they are white already to harvest
” (John 4:35).

 

 

 

Recapping The Unreformed Martin Luther

Written by an analytical German with the head of a theologian and the wit of a radio journalist, Andreas Malessa’s The Unreformed Martin Luther delves into the myths and materialities of one of the world’s most monumental men: Martin Luther. Malessa cleverly wrote this book in part to celebrate the 500th anniversary of this “Man of the Second Millennium” who ended the Middle Ages by posting ninety-five theses on the palace church door in Wittenberg. Wait—that was a myth!  In not one of Martin’s 121 volumes of collected publications, letters, table talks, sermons, and songs does he ever mention nailing his theses on the door. The fact of the matter was, when a professor (such as Dr. Luther) wanted to engage in public debate, he submitted his paper to the dean of the university. From there, history reveals that Luther’s handiwork ended up on the desk of the pope, who was not pleased.Do you know much about the life of Martin Luther? If you want a fascinating look into sixteenth century culture and church, I highly recommend reading The Unreformed Luther. I found myself shocked (many times) and touched (at many—but other—times) with the life and times of this mountain of a man. For instance, when Martin’s sister died suddenly (likely from SIDS), Martin’s mother believed it was the fault of a neighbor lady whom she had summarily beaten to death. What? How could that happen?? (Martin did write later: “There is nothing more powerful in the world as superstition, but before God it’s an abomination.”)I knew Luther opposed selling indulgences (and that is not a myth), but I had no clue how evil this practice actually was. We’re not talking about hoping for pardon from venial sins (like failing to feed the cat on time), but Markus Menner was absolved from perpetrated homicide! Tetzel himself was an adulterer who even trafficked indulgences for sins yet to be committed. No need to fear God’s judgment or look to him for mercy, for a (high) price, no sin was so egregious but that you could be assured the freedom to commit it without fear of retribution from God or man. This undermined the entire foundation of our faith and the gospel of salvation through Christ. I’m glad Luther had the guts to stand up against this ghastly blasphemy!However, Pope Leo X (who was in the midst of building St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome) and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, did not appreciate Luther’s objecting to their financial and moral management styles, and so the hunt began. Luther was “kidnapped” by friends, who hid him in Wartburg Castle, where he spent his time feverishly translating the New Testament into German. Was it the first German translation? No, Malessa points out that there were already seventy-two partial translations, but Luther’s was the first complete translation. Oh, and did he really throw an inkwell at the devil’s head? No. Another myth. (If you don’t believe me, read the book!)Why did Luther go to all the trouble to write a Bible in German? Because he disbelieved the myth that salvation can be earned through indulgences or even good deeds, and he believed that if the people could have a copy of the Bible in their own language, they could read the truth for themselves. Salvation is a free gift of God’s grace to be received by faith in Jesus Christ as our redeemer from sin. This is clearly taught in the Bible (which even the Roman Catholic Church has recognized since the turn of this century through the writings of Pope John Paul II).Did Luther really say, “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise!”? What is recorded as his response to being asked to recant is this: “…I am overcome in my conscience by the passages of Scripture and trapped in the Word of God. Therefore, I cannot and will not recant because it is neither safe nor healthy to act against the conscience. God help me. Amen.”  Fact or fiction? “Katharina von Bora, the nun who became his wife, was spirited away from her convent inside a herring barrel.” Fiction, but the facts surrounding their marriage totally charmed me, and one of the delights for me in reading The Unreformed Martin Luther was in learning that he was a devoted husband and father…the kind who changed diapers and washed them out! If you like touching romances, you’ll find one in this book!  🙂 In the course of demythifying Martin’s life, Malessa addresses over two dozen commonly held (and cherished) traditions surrounding the life of Luther, everything from “Did he eat while he preached?” to “Was he a boozer and a warmonger?” If you want to know, get the book! In fact, if you enjoy history and want a deeper look into the man behind the Reformation, this is an excellent resource! Martin Luther died on February 18, 1546, and 427 years later to the day, Alan and I were married after I waltzed down the aisle with “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” as my bridal processional. As Martin Luther’s great hymn has always been a favorite of ours, I would like to end this review with the words of his most glorious anthem.

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
(~Martin Luther, inspired by Psalm 46, sometime between 1527-1529)

A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing.
Our helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe.
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing,
Were not the right man on our side,
The man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He.
Lord Sabaoth, his name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him.
His rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure.
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers
Not thanks to them, abideth.
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also.
The body they may kill,
God’s truth abideth still.
His kingdom is forever…

(All photos from Wikipedia, except the first, which is—of course—a photo of the book!)

Rise Up, My Love (249): Rescue

Song of Solomon 7:12 Perhaps you’ve heard about the man who dreamed he saw a beautiful grassy field full of flowers where men and women and children were all playing and laughing. It was a perfect summer day, full of sunshine and warmth. Some of the men were playing ball with their sons, and the women and their daughters were sitting in circles here and there on the grass making daisy chains to wear in their hair. It reminded the man of the wonderful fellowship that Christians enjoy together, and he felt a warm glow inside him.

But suddenly, it was as if he were lifted up into the air so that he could gain a greater perspective. He realized that not 200 feet away from the group, just over the top of a grassy knoll and down into a little valley, there was a deadly precipice, and that a huge number of filthy, wretched people, dressed in rags and blindfolded, were stumbling about, moving in the general direction of the cliff. Every second or two one of these poor souls would fall over the edge and let out a bloodcurdling scream, which made the other blind people freeze in their places for a few seconds.

However, the terrible crying seemed to have no perceptible effect on the happy families who were enjoying each other’s company just over the hill, even though sobbing could be clearly heard. Sometimes one of the blind people would stumble and fall and knock another blind person over the cliff, or, as they began to fall, they would clutch at someone nearby and drag that person over the edge too, all the while crying out for help.

Finally, there was an especially agonizing cry, and one teenager did respond. He was playing ball with his father and two friends, and it was his turn to bat, but he dropped his bat and went racing over the top of the grassy knoll to see what was going on. He was horrified at the amazing sight of the seemingly numberless throngs of people cascading over the edge of the cliff with a roar as loud as the thundering of Niagara Falls. He tried to stop the terrible tragedy, but the edge of the cliff was so vast, and the number of people was so great, that he couldn’t begin to rescue everyone alone.

In desperation he cried out to his friends to come and help him. His father and the two boys came to the top of the knoll and looked down, but they just stared with a sense of helpless disbelief and didn’t even try to come. “Help me!” cried the boy again. “No!” called one, “It’s hopeless. Why even try?” “No!” replied another. “It must be their own faults; leave them alone.” “Come back,” cried his father. “You’ll never succeed, and you’ll just get yourself killed trying to help.”

Do you feel the stab of pain that pierced that young man’s heart? Where is compassion? Where is love? Are we all so self-centered that we can’t be bothered to go into our Father’s vineyard and help to reap the harvest of lost and dying souls who are crying out in their blindness and fright? Isn’t it worth giving our lives to save some? Isn’t that what Jesus did? Isn’t our willingness to suffer for the sake of the gospel a measure of our love and devotion to Christ?

Ah, beloved, the wife was responding to the need. Let us be like the faithful wife and enjoin our heavenly Savior to “let us get up early to the vineyards.”

“…pain is quiet, and love.
And even childbirth pains
Are soundless in themselves
So came our Lord,
Amid the pain, the ache, the dirt, the hate,
To tell of love.
And as He lived in love, giving it,
Knew the pain as well.” —Ellen Weldon in Essays on Love

The Life of Bri

Every once in a while I meet someone so special that I just have to share about them. The life of Bri is extremely different from The Life of Pi (even though Bri does love pie), but to me—it’s much more heroic! Brian came into our family’s life when he and my son Daniel sat by each other in a college class; Daniel was the youngest student (14?) and Bri was the oldest (44?).

Since that time, Daniel has become a dentist and Brian earned his PhD in pharmacology, but to this day we’re all still good friends. About 10 years ago, Brian (“Bri”) brought a peach pie to our home for a potluck, and Alan was so delighted with it that Bri started a tradition of bringing us two peach pies every August when the peach crop ripened. And then, about three years ago, he didn’t come. I learned later that his father had passed away, leaving him as the sole care-giver for his very aged mother. He no longer had any time to make pies (or do much of anything fun, for that matter), and so I’ve started making a peach pie for Bri each August!

Yesterday he came over for this year’s edition. His mom (who’s now not only frail and can’t walk but is also becoming demented) was delighted to hear that he was going to visit “Mrs. Peaches” and asked if they could have the pie for supper. You bet!  🙂

The truly touching thing to me is to see Bri’s devotion to his mom. He’s put aside everything that he enjoys and said that his goal is to be successful in taking good care of his mom for as long as he can. This is the polar opposite of The Life of Pi, which was filled with adventures. The Life of Bri is filled with quiet unadventures.

(Maybe I should back up just a bit. Bri had cancer at age twenty-three, and although the radiation treatment cured him, he’s suffered a lot of side effects, like kidney failure, etc. He’s now lived longer than anyone who’s ever had the disease and treatment he underwent, but life is very challenging for him even without the added difficulties of trying to care for his infirm mother!)

I am in awe of those amazing people who give up everything to care for others. Bri is one; Maggie and her daughter Em are another duo, who are giving way above and beyond to keep their husband/father in their home, even though he’s lost virtually all ability to move from his neck down. To a lesser extent, but still heroic, is the devotion of every parent to their children and the devotion of every person who cares for others. Mother Teresa is one supreme example, and to me, Jesus is the ultimate example. He laid down his life so that anyone who believes in him may have forgiveness and eternal life! May God bless and encourage each one of you who is sacrificially loving others for their well-being! It’s a God-work!

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

What Really Happened In Charlottesville, Virginia?

Last weekend, while Alan and I were strolling beaches and climbing sand dunes along Lake Michigan, a firestorm was enveloping Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Virginia. What started out as a protest against the removal of  the 100-year-old Robert E. Lee statue ended up as a brawl between two groups of extremists. Among the protesters were white supremacists, neo-Nazis, outlaw bikers, and KKK members (to name a few of the most egregious and radical). Among the counter protesters were Antifa, Revolutionary Communist Party, Redneck Revolt, and the Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council (again, naming a few of the most egregious and radical to my way of thinking). Do you identify with either of these groups? I do not.

Who told the police to “stand down” and let it happen? I guess we won’t know until the report comes out on September 6th. But, who failed to stop the brawl isn’t the biggest question. The biggest question is: “Who’s Causing the Trouble?”

It looks to me like angry fringe groups at both ends of the spectrum are causing the trouble. This isn’t a liberal vs conservative or democrat vs republican issue; this is an issue of two conglomerations of extremists who are restless and angry. However, it looks to me like the media is having a hay day trying to turn it into a smear campaign against conservatives and Trump. Come on, Americans. We need to pull together to stabilize our nation. This should be about good vs evil, not Trump vs the liberal press!

The right for a peaceful protest is a privilege of democracies. I’ve seen men on soapboxes at the corner of Kensington Park in London speaking their minds, and I’ve walked like a salmon swimming upstream beside a massive (and scary) protest in Lisbon, Portugal. People disagree with each other the world around, and much as I disapprove of what they believe sometimes, I am thankful to live in a country where people are allowed to express their opinions.On the other hand, the more I studied the Charlottesville tragedy, the more I’ve become convinced that it isn’t just differing opinions that cause problems. Violence commences when people stop obeying the laws of civil behavior and start taking matters into their own hands, which is completely against the clear teachings of the Bible. Jesus taught that we should “turn the other cheek,” not punch people in the face. In the events last weekend, there were two groups of extremists who became so angry and agitated that they stopped obeying the laws of our country (and God). Having a 20-year-0ld student kill one woman and injure 19 more is indefensible no matter how angry he might be.

Criminals need to be prosecuted. Laws need to be respected. If we’re going to be a country that provides “liberty and justice for all,” then that includes everybody…on both sides. Racism is heinous to me. To hate anyone based on their color or ethnic background is really just hating God, because He made us each the beautifully unique creation that we are, whether we’re from Syria or Israel or Germany or the heart of Africa. But, I don’t think we should kill racists. Do you? Aren’t we supposed to “overcome evil with good”?

Wake up, America! God calls us to love everyone, not just those we find attractive and with whom we agree. In the parable about the good Samaritan, Jesus pointed out that “our neighbor” (whom we are to love) is anyone with whom we come in contact who needs rescue. It’s easy to be critical of failure; it’s really hard to love. Can we choose love over hatred and try to be a part of the rescuers rather than armchair critics?

25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?

27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.

28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?

30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.

31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.

32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,

34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.

36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise. (Luke 10:25-37)