Category Archives: Religious Issues

Claim Your Truth

This morning’s devotional reading from You Are the Beloved by Henri Nouwen expressed beautifully what I was trying to say yesterday. In fact, he says it so much better than I did that I decided to write it out for your encouragement!

February 12  Claim Your Truth

It seems crucial that you realize deeply that your worth and value does not depend on anyone else. You have to claim your own inner truth. You are a person worth being loved and called to give love, not because anyone says so…but because you are created out of love and live in the embrace of a God who didn’t hesitate to send his only son to die for us…Your being good and worthy of love does not depend on any human being. You have to keep saying to yourself: “I am being loved by an unconditional, unlimited love and that love allows me to be a free person, center of my own actions and decisions.” The more you can come to realize this, the more you will be able to forgive those who have hurt you and love them in their brokenness. Without a deep feeling of self-respect, you cannot forgive and will always feel anger, resentment, and revenge. The greatest human act is forgiveness: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” Forgiveness stands in the center of God’s love for us and also in the center of our love for each other. Loving one another means forgiving one another over and over again.

Love,
Henri

If you struggle with feeling loved, self-respect, and/or forgiveness, please consider getting this daily devotional. It’s full of encouragements for understanding God’s inexpressibly wonderful love for us and all the blessings and freedoms that flow from allowing his love to overwhelm us!

“O The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” (—S. Trevor Francis, 1875)

“O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!

“O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o’er His loved ones, died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth, watcheth o’er them from the throne!

“O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best!
’Tis an ocean full of blessing, ’tis a haven giving rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, ’tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!”

Leaving Mormonism but Growing in Grace

Although I virtually never read books that counter other religious viewpoints, I have begun reviewing books for Kregel Publications. I think they produce some outstanding Christian resources, and their recent release, Leaving Mormonism: Why Four Scholars Changed Their Minds, intrigued me. The few Mormons I know are clean living and service-minded. In fact, there are many Mormons who serve in our military, and my military kids have become good friends with several because of their moral standards and family values. Therefore, I wondered why four Mormon scholars would take such a strong stand against the teachings of their church.

When Mitt Romney was campaigning for the Republican presidential ticket, I remember sharing the gospel with a Mormon gentleman on a flight home from the West Coast. He expressed such warm agreement that I assumed the Mormon church must have changed a lot in the past forty years. Perhaps it wasn’t a “cult” after all. Perhaps it’s just another branch of true Christianity. Or, so I thought!   The book is deep and wide. I was blown away by how much I didn’t know. Each of the four scholars trace their own life experience of loving the Mormon Church  (some whose lineage can be traced back to the times of Joseph Smith) but growing into such an appreciation for the Bible as the true Word of God (which they go to great lengths to support) that they could no longer believe Mormon doctrines. Why? Because at their heart, many Mormon teachings run contrary to what the Bible says. Consider just a few essential doctrinal contradictions:

“The Lord created you and me for the purpose of becoming Gods like Himself” (Brigham Young).

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (The Bible, Revelation 4:11).

“The Spirit of God fell upon me to a marked extent and the Lord revealed to me, just as plainly and the sun at noon-day, this principle, which I put in a couplet: ‘As man now is God once was; As God now is, man may be'” (Lorenzo Snow, Latter Day Saint (LDS) apostle and prophet for three decades).

…we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge” (The Bible, 1 Corinthians 8:4-7).

A “plurality of gods exist…There is an infinite number of holy personages, drawn from worlds without number, who have passed on to exaltation and are thus gods” (LDS Apostle Bruce McConkie).

And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he” (The Bible, Mark 12:32).

“One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation” (LDS apostle and prophet for four decades, Spencer W. Kimball).

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

As Cory Miller points in the book, “One can be wrong on every other nonessential Christian doctrine and still go to heaven. But no matter how sincere one is, if one is wrong on the doctrines of God and salvation, one could be sufficiently wrong to lose one’s soul. In this Mormonism does not provide a path to the reality of the good life, eternal happiness in the knowledge of God.”

Leaving Mormonism not only lights the way for understanding the clear teachings of the Bible about the person of God and the way of salvation, it’s also one of the most scholarly books I’ve read in recent years on apologetics,  defending of the authenticity of Scripture and the reasonableness of faith in God no matter who you are. So, if you are a Mormon, love a Mormon, or are interested in sharpening your own spiritual sensibilities, please consider reading Leaving Mormonism!

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (1 Timothy 2:15).

But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).

 

Would You Like to be Able to Avoid the Greener Grass Syndrome?

I don’t believe any marriage between two human beings can be made “affair-proof” any more than any product is 100% waterproof or unbreakable. Do you?

For instance, I have a nephew who heard that his mother’s diamond ring was “unbreakable,” and so he was surprised (and distraught) when he hit it with a hammer and broke it. Humans are frail, fragile creatures capable of great love…and great failure. Only God is perfect and unfailing in his faithfulness. Still, I think this book is an excellent resource for couples, not only those who have failed to keep their marriage vows, but also for those whose love is (at present) strong and steady.

The author, Nancy Anderson, had an affair early in their marriage, although she and her husband walked the painful path through confession, forgiveness, restoration…and have now been married forty years. That makes her more and less qualified to give advice, but before you stop reading based on her character being suspect, let me share what her father had to say when he heard that she was planning to file for a divorce: “No, you’re not!…Happiness has nothing to do with it…You’re acting like a selfish child, and we won’t support you in this separation. The only way we’d ever support you is if you’d exhausted all possible ways to save your marriage.”

Hard words from a girl’s father, but isn’t that exactly what we should all say in such a situation? I thought the book was worthwhile just for the example of how God will intervene when godly parents stand on biblical principles rather than caving in to their kids’ wishes.

The book explains the difference between saying you’re sorry and asking for forgiveness, the importance of earning trust, and the power of “planting hedges” of protection around your marriage that are rooted in Christ. I’m going to share the six “hedges,” but only to inspire you to read the book, not so you think you know everything and therefore don’t need to study further!

Anderson uses the mnemonic device, HEDGES:
*Hearing: listening and speaking with patience and understanding
*Encouraging: helping each other
*Dating: keeping it fresh and fun
*Guarding: agreeing on your boundaries—and enforcing them
*Educating: becoming an expert on your mate
*Satisfying: meeting each other’s needs

Nancy shares a plethora of ideas about how to build safety and health into your marriage…ideas I liked so well that I’ve been implementing some of the ones that were new to me! Also, she includes excellent teaching on “Affair Repair” and how to recover when there’s been a major breach in the relationship.

Whether you’re trying to figure out what went wrong or would like to build a stronger, sweeter, more satisfying marriage, I highly recommend this book. What a great way to start out the new year!

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
(Romans 12:9)

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).

Rise Up, My Love (259): Robes of White

Song of Solomon 8:2 What about our thoughts of Christ? I have been mulling over my impressions of Christ for the past several weeks, and right now I will pause and try to share a little with you. Today is December 27, 2001 (obviously, this post was originally written many years ago!), and I’m looking out at 28” of fresh snow. After a record-breakingly warm December with green grass and violets popping out, the Lord sent us every child’s Christmas wish…over two feet of wonderful, fluffy snow…starting on the eve of December 23 and continuing ever since.  That is what Christ has done for the world around me, but it so perfectly pictures what he has done within me also. The world of my soul, withered and brown from the failure of selfish sin, was strangely warmed and made alive again by the power of his resurrection love and salvation. But, my child-heart’s wish is now coming true…I’m being robed in the dazzling beauty of his snow-white righteousness.  I remember as a young woman feeling like such a miserable failure. I was saved at twelve and loved the Lord intensely, eventually going off to a Bible college with the dream of becoming a pastor’s wife. However, I only found one “preacher boy” who interested me, and I was much too unconventional for him. After college I dreamed of serving Christ by becoming a Christian psychologist, so I married Alan, who’d been a friend since junior high days and seemed to be heading in the same direction. We happily began graduate school together, but then Alan promptly decided that he should go into medicine instead. When my dear husband started medical school and I began rearing our brood of children a couple of years later, I found myself feeling not only like an unclean and unworthy vessel, but like one that had become broken and cast aside. It was about that time that Psalm 68 became precious to me…almost a “life chapter” or something, and verse 13 just jumped out: “Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.”   It was as if the Lord was promising that, even though I felt like a useless, broken pot, he would transform me into a messenger of peace who could fly on wings of gold and silver. How could that ever happen? How will the Lord ever use me? I thought maybe Alan would become a medical missionary, or a Christian psychiatrist, and that I could help him with his work, but Alan never felt called to the mission field, and he went into internal medicine and began a normal practice here in America.   As the kids grew up and I saw what gems they were, I begin to think that perhaps the Lord intended for all of us to work together in some type of family ministry. Maybe. Our children are just beginning to blossom and choose careers, so it’s too early to know what the future may hold there. Still…little by little…year by year…one day at a time…with no more conscious thought than the earth gives to the changes going on within her…the Lord was working out his blessed will in me…carrying on that good work which he began so long ago.   It is God—not the earth— who ordains the weather. Oh, of course weather is inextricably intertwined with the earth, but if we get twenty-eight inches of lake effect snow, it’s because God made Lake Michigan, and God sovereignly decided that a cold front would pass over beginning two days before Christmas. “Mother Nature” is really created and controlled by Father God, and all that we are or do is because God has so ordained it for us.  And, it is also God who works out his sovereign will in us. Our job is simply to trust and obey the light he gives us, walking in the truth of God’s Word as illuminated by his Holy Spirit. It is God who changes us from a broken pot into a messenger of his love. It is God that makes us bright with the beauty of his snow-white robes of righteousness. Praise God from whom all blessings flow! Thank you, Lord, for your work in me. It was not by paths I would have chosen or through ways I planned, but you are slowly sanctifying and spiritually beautifying me…which is more than all I ever knew to want! As the songwriter expresses our hearts for God: “You’re all I want; You’re all I’ve ever needed… Make me know You are near.”

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).

 

 

Happy Halloween…and Even Better—Happy Reformation Day!

I was going to try to keep on task and write about Hindu cremations today,  but it’s snowing really hard and heavy—first snow of our winter—,
and that just changes everything, doesn’t it?  I can’t quite concentrate on 102° heat and the acrid scent of burning flesh   when I see swirling snowflakes out my window
and know there are jack-o-lanterns are sitting on our front porch.   Besides, we’re going to our kids’ (Dan and Brianna’s) annual Halloween Party tonight, and I can’t help but think about how much fun it’s going to be!  Last year we missed, because we were in South Africa touring Table Mountain and watching hippos duke it out on the Umfolozi River.  I thought about dressing like a hippo,
but I wasn’t sure how to bring along a river…Two years ago Sammy was dressed up like Super Man,  and now, it’s little Elanor who’s just learning how to sit! I’m not sure how the kids are going to be dressed tonight, but you can be sure Alan and I are superman-excited to see them!

However, there’s something way more wonderful that’s being celebrated today, and that’s the 500th anniversary of Reformation Day! Three of our kids and their families have converged in Germany and are in Wittenberg right now, joining in the wonderful celebration there. It may take a few days before I get any photos, but I just want to say how thankful I am for the work and insight of Martin Luther, who understood the supreme importance of translating the Bible into the common language so that we (all people) could read God’s words for themselves and understand His message about how to be reconciled to God and go to heaven! It’s not by being good (because none of us will ever be perfectly good), but by trusting in the One who is good and died in our place, Jesus Christ. Have you read the Bible? Do you believe in the One who will save us by His precious blood, “by faith alone”?

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10). (We are created by God for good works, but we are saved by faith in the good works of Jesus, so we never have to fear being rejected by God on the basis of our falling short of His perfect standard.)

P.S.—Just like snow changes everything, so does Jesus!
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).