"We see, in many a land, the proudest dynasties and tyrannies still crushing, with their mountain weight, every free motion of the Consciences and hearts of men. We see, on the other hand, the truest heroism for the right and the greatest devotion to the Truth in hearts that God has touched. We have a work to do, as great as our forefathers and, perhaps, far greater. The enemies of Truth are more numerous and subtle than ever and the needs of the Church are greater than at any preceding time. If we are not debtors to the present, then men were never debtors to their age and their time. Brethren, we are debtors to the hour in which we live. Oh, that we might stamp it with Truth and that God might help us to impress upon its wings some proof that it has not flown by neglected and unheeded." -- C.H. Spurgeon . . . "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." John 8:31, 32 . . . . .


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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Atheists in the Pulpit: The Sad Charade of the Clergy Project

by A.M. Kisly

Atheists in the Pulpit?!?
Why Don't They Just Quit?

There's a new little "self help" group called, The Clergy Project. The Clergy Project was made possible through a donation from The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. According to their website, "The purpose of The Clergy Project is to provide a safe haven for active and former clergy who do not hold supernatural beliefs."

In a June article entitled, Church Pastors Become Atheists, "More than 200 church leaders across the country now say they no longer believe in God, including a Houston-area pastor who was one of the first to publicly announce his decision. Mike Aus, who was pastor at Theophilus church in Katy, made that announcement during an appearance on a Sunday morning show on MSNBC."

“Preachers Who Are Not Believers” is a stunning and revealing report by the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, under the direction of Daniel C. Dennett and Linda LaScola. Dennett, of course, is one of the primary figures in the “New Atheism” — the newly aggressive and influential atheist movement that has gained a considerable hearing among the intellectual elites and the media.that lays bare a level of heresy, apostasy, and hypocrisy that staggers the mind. In 1739, Gilbert Tennett preached his famous sermon, “On the Danger of an Unconverted Ministry.” In that sermon, Tennett described unbelieving pastors as a curse upon the church. They prey upon the faith and the faithful. “These caterpillars labor to devour every green thing.”
If they will not remove themselves from the ministry, they must be removed. If they lack the integrity to resign their pulpits, the churches must muster the integrity to eject them. If they will not “out” themselves, it is the duty of faithful Christians to “out” them. The caterpillars are hard at work. Will it take a report from an atheist to awaken the church to the danger? - A. Mohler
Atheists in the Pulpit: The Sad Charade of the Clergy Project 
Albert Mohler, President, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Thursday, August 30, 2012


“It is hard to think of any other profession which it is 
so near to impossible to leave.” That is the judgment of Richard Dawkins, perhaps the world’s most famous living atheist, as he welcomes unbelieving pastors to join the Clergy Project, a group designed to help unbelieving pastors make their way out of the ministry. Apparently, some are not moving out very fast.

Dawkins explains that the Clergy Project “exists to provide a safe haven, a forum where clergy who have lost their faith can meet each other, exchange views, swap problems, counsel each other — for, whatever they may have lost, clergy know how to counsel and comfort.” Dawkins, who once held one of the world’s most coveted academic posts, has now reduced himself to addressing small gatherings of atheists and celebrating a motley crew of pastors who have abandoned the faith — even if some have not abandoned their pulpits.

The Clergy Project’s own statement is even more blunt, describing itself as “a confidential online community for active and former clergy who do not hold supernatural beliefs.” Most people, believers and unbelievers alike, are no doubt in the habit of thinking that the Christian ministry requires supernatural beliefs. That assumption is what Richard Dawkins and the Clergy Project want to subvert. More precisely, they want to use the existence of unbelieving pastors to embarrass the church and weaken theism.

This past Sunday, The New York Times Magazine told the story of Jerry DeWitt, once a pastor in DeRidder, La., and later the first “graduate” of the Clergy Project. He is now the executive director of a group known as Recovering from Religion, based in Kansas. DeWitt told the magazine of his struggle as an unbelieving pastor. “I remember thinking,” he said, “who on this planet has any idea what I am going through?”

As the story unfolds, DeWitt tells of being the pastor of a Pentecostal church. What readers will also discover, however, is that even by the time he assumed the pastorate, DeWitt “espoused a more liberal Christianity.” Though he never earned a college degree, he educated himself by reading authors such as Carl Sagan, an atheist astronomer, and Joseph Campbell, a proponent of the mythological. Later, he read Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, key figures in the New Atheism. By the time he had read Dawkins and Hitchens, “even weak-tea Christianity was becoming hard to follow.”

When he found that he could no longer pray for his own parishioners or preach a coherent message, DeWitt resigned, preaching his last sermon in Cut and Shoot, Texas, in April 2011. Now he travels the country organizing Recovering from Religion local chapters and working with the Clergy Project.

The magazine also told of Teresa MacBain, once a Methodist preacher in Tallahassee, Fla., and now another trophy of the Clergy Project. The magazine simply states that MacBain “resigned from her pastor’s position in Tallahassee and went public as an atheist.” That is a very strategic example of under-reporting the story. As National Public Radio reported, MacBain first told just about everyone but her church of her atheism.

“I am currently an active pastor and I’m also an atheist,” she said. “I live a double life. I feel pretty good on Monday, but by Thursday — when Sunday’s right around the corner — I start having stomachaches, headaches, just knowing that I got to stand up and say things that I no longer believe in and portray myself in a way that’s totally false.”

Of course, she didn’t have to say such things at all. She could have resigned and spared herself and her church the hypocrisy. MacBain told NPR of her experience with mounting doubts, and then of her “eureka moment” when she realized “I’m an atheist. … I don’t believe.”

On March 26, 2012, she stood before the American Atheists convention in Bethesda, Maryland and told the 1,500 attendees, “My name is Teresa. I’m a pastor currently serving a Methodist church — at least up to this point — and I am an atheist.” As NPR reported, the crowd hooted and clapped for more than a minute.

NPR and The New York Times Magazine attempt to portray MacBain and DeWitt as victims. MacBain presents herself as unnerved by the fact that her church fired her and did not appreciate her declaration of atheism behind their backs at a convention hundreds of miles away.

The Clergy Project and similar efforts are rooted in a 2010 study undertaken by Daniel C. Dennett and Linda LaScola of Tufts University. Dennett is one of the major figures in the New Atheism. He argues that belief in God once served an important evolutionary purpose, but does so no longer. Religious belief, he argues, is a vestigial remnant of our evolutionary past that modern humanity must overcome. He is hardly a neutral and dispassionate observer.

Nevertheless, Dennett and LaScola conducted and published a study known as “Preachers Who Are Unbelievers.” In that study, a small sampling of atheist or unbelieving pastors were considered, along with five representative profiles. These pastors clearly are not believers, at least in any orthodox or recognizably Christian sense. They spoke openly and in considerable detail about their unbelief, with the ministers explaining how they had abandoned any confidence in biblical Christianity.

Why didn’t they just resign? Most shockingly, some openly spoke of losing their salaries as the main concern. So much for intellectual honesty.

Dennett and LaScola made a very interesting and important observation in their research report. They acknowledged that defining an unbelieving pastor is actually quite difficult. Given the fact that so many liberal churches and denominations already believe so little, how is atheism really different? In the name of tolerance, the liberal denominations have embraced so much unbelief that atheism is a practical challenge.

In the words of Dennett and LaScola: “This counsel of tolerance creates a gentle fog that shrouds the question of belief in God in so much indeterminacy that if asked whether they believe in God, many people could sincerely say that they don’t know what they are being asked.”

The Clergy Project gets to the point more concisely, defining its membership as “active and former clergy who do not hold supernatural beliefs.” Nevertheless, this definition suffers from the same problem. Many liberal ministers hold to no supernatural beliefs, but they also tenaciously hold to their pulpits without admitting atheism.

The Clergy Project is a parable of our times, but it is also a pathetic portrait of the desperation of many atheist and secularist groups. They are thrilled to parade a few trophies of unbelief, but do they really believe that these example are serving their cause? They celebrate a former Pentecostal preacher with no education, who was already a theological liberal when called to his church, and who then educated himself by reading Sagan, Dawkins and Hitchens. Seriously?

The Clergy Project is a magnet for charlatans and cowards who, by their own admission, openly lie to their congregations, hide behind beliefs they do not hold, make common cause with atheists, and still retain their positions and salaries. Is this how atheists and secularists groups intend to further their cause? They are getting publicity from the media to be sure, but do they think it will win them friends?

Ministers struggling honestly with doubts and struggles are in a different category altogether. Doubt will lead to one of two inevitable consequences. Faithful doubt leads to a deeper embrace of the truth, with doubt serving to point us into a deeper knowledge, trust, and understanding of the truth. Pernicious doubt leads to unfaithfulness, unbelief, skepticism, cynicism and despair. Christians — ministers or otherwise — who are struggling with doubt, need to seek help from the faithful, not the faithless.

Christianity has little to fear from the Clergy Project. Its website reveals it to be a toothless tiger that will attract media attention, and that is about all. The greater danger to the church is a reduction in doctrine that leaves atheism hard to distinguish from belief. And the real forces to fear are those who would counsel such a reduction.
Read more!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

MYSTICISM IN THE CHURCH: Contemplative Prayer And Her Evil Sisters

By A.M. Kisly

Biblical Prayer Vs. Mysticism

Centering Prayer, Contemplative Prayer, Prayer Labyrinth, Soaking Prayer, Sozo Prayer and Lectio Divina? What are they and why are they dangerous?

I’ll tell you what they are; they are inventions of man, not of God! It is man buying into the same old lie from the beginning that He can achieve spirituality without God.

Surely there are some who will say, not so! Many false teachers and their followers will claim that these are in fact Christian practices and should be embraced by every believer. They will list their reasons, write books on the subject and lead great multitudes in the practice of it. The less learned will embrace their teachings because the name of Jesus is repeated over and over again; or their teachers will convince them because they are doing it in the Name of God. Friend, if what we are doing isn’t God’s way, then we should not be doing it at all! All that is done in the Name of the Lord must be according to His terms, not ours. If it isn’t in scripture….then it isn’t of God!

Today we are all so enthralled by the words of famous men and authors. We spend a great deal of time buying up their books and devouring them with our minds. We ponder their lofty ideas and quote them often because we are so impressed by their intellectual knowledge and zeal. Yet above all the famous men on earth, the most famous still remains the Lord Jesus Christ. He is very God and very man! He is the Word of God become flesh and the Savior of the World. Surely it is His words that shall remain true to our hearts. Surely it is His words that we will proclaim, ponder upon, and share with others.

I must admit I am dismayed at the lethargy in the Church. If a new novel hits the bookshelves they are purchased immediately, read within a day or so and discussed among friends, internet social venues or even the pulpit. A new Christian band puts out their latest album…we buy them up and listen to them over and over again. Within a couple of days we have every word memorized and can’t seem to get the songs out of our head. But the Word of the Living God remains untouched, save for Sunday morning church services. What a foolish thing it is to trifle with God’s word.

Listen, the biggest problem in the Church today is that we have neglected God’s word. If we would become stents of the Word of God we would not be led away by every wind of doctrine that comes our way, and the Church would not be in chaos or dwindling in numbers, the church would be strong, the Church would be light and salt and an effective witness of the testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The topic is prayer. How we pray matters a great deal. What we pray also matters a great deal. We must come to God on His terms or He will not receive us at all. This is true of redemption and salvation…there is but one way, this is true of the Christian life…there is but one way…this is true of worship, and offering and prayer and the communion table. All must be done according to His will or not at all.

There is a great example of this in the Old Testament. Remember the story of Cain and Abel? (Please read Genesis 4) Abel’s offering was accepted by God because He obeyed the word of God and brought his offering by faith. We cannot say the same for Cain. Cain’s offering was rejected, because he was full of pride. He disobediently devised His own way of worship, and offered it to God. Though his offering was acceptable IN HIS OWN EYES, it was rejected by the Lord. The end result was rotten fruit. His offering was rejected, his heart was corrupted, his fruit rotten and as a result he destroyed not only his brother, but himself. Cain murdered Abel and God cursed him…

What is going on in the Church? Is the Church even reading, studying, or teaching the Word of God? Has the body of Christ become so defiled that we can no longer clearly define biblical Christianity or understand the teachings and doctrines of the Bible? Modern Christians no longer have to obey God’s word? Modern man’s “new” spirituality is better than God’s original design?

Church pews are filled with those with itching ears listening to whatever they want to hear, self indulgent, bible illiterate, compromising, rebellious believers! Will we continue on Cain’s path or will we be like Abel, offering to God by faith our obedience and trust, according to His will all that He so deserves and is worthy of?

Why is there so much confusion? Why are so called Christians following every wind of doctrine? Do they care about God at all? Do they care about God’s will, His holiness, His purposes and His ordinances and commands? Is Our Creator so blind that that He cannot see what is happening in the Church? Don’t deceive yourself, He sees, He knows, and He is angry! Yes, our Loving God is Angry with sin and the sinner every day!

I don’t want to get off topic, so let’s talk about prayer. How prayer has become such a tool of Satan, I will never understand, but there it is, and we must correct this.

The Word of God clearly explains the purpose of prayer and how we are to pray. It is not a mystery. It does not need to be modernized, nor merged with other false religious practices and heretical teachings. What shame has fallen on the Church for allowing false teachers a platform in which to teach those things which are opposed to God? What unspeakable defilement has crept into the most intimate place of fellowship of prayer with our God? Jesus said,

“It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” Matthew 21:13

Oh the money changers, with their trinkets, their scams and their own devises, defiling the house of God.

There is a growing list of various practices of prayer that are plaguing the church. The names you may be familiar with, but they include: Centering Prayer, Contemplative Prayer, Prayer Labyrinth, Soaking Prayer, Sozo Prayer and Lectio Divina.

All of these various forms of prayer have specific meaning and spiritual purpose, all of which have nothing to do with the biblical definition of prayer. We will discuss what are they and why are they dangerous, but first it is important to talk about what prayer is.

What is prayer?

It is coming before the presence of God as you lay before Him your complete self in confession and dependence. As one writer puts it, “It is the place where pride is abandoned, hope is lifted, and supplication is made. Prayer is the place of admitting our need, of adopting humility, and claiming dependence upon God. Prayer is the needful practice of the Christian. Prayer is the exercise of faith and hope. Prayer is the privilege of touching the heart of the Father through the Son of God, Jesus our Lord.” -- CARM

Scripture tells us that we are to pray and worship with the spirit and with understanding. Praying and worshipping God "in spirit" means with reverence, attentiveness, and having the right purpose of honoring God, while understanding what we are doing.

In 1 Corinthians 14:15 we read, “What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.”

Hebrews 12:28-29 says, "Let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire."

In showing reverence and respect to God, we will not be indifferent, inattentive, and taking lightly that which should be considered serious.

In 1 Peter 1:15-16 we read, "But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in your conduct, because it is written, Be holy for I am holy."

A few things about prayer

In prayer we show our total dependence on God who created all things and by Whom all things continue to exist. So, in prayer we give praise, honor, glory and reverence to His name for His greatness and goodness. We recognize Him as the source of all blessings. It is also the outpouring of our hearts desire.

In Romans 10:1 the apostle Paul says, "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved." Our prayer must come from our heart.

Who does God hear?

Aside from our initial salvation experience, prayer to God is only reserved for those who are obedient children of God. We are told in John 9:31, "Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth.” There are people whose prayer God will not hear. Isaiah 59:2 says, "But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.” Sin separates us from God. We must come in humility, confessing our sin and receiving God’s forgiveness that our fellowship may be restored and that our prayers are not hindered.

God warns us in Proverbs 28:9; “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.” God looks with disgust at the prayer of one who is habitually and obstinately rejecting His ordinances and refusing His instruction. We often think about those outside of Christ who harden their hearts toward His will, yet even in the Church “they hear his words, but they will not do them.” (Ezekiel 33:31, 32) What a pitiful situation it is for us when our prayers become disgusting to God. “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.” 1 Peter 3:12  Don’t fool yourself, God is always watching. The watchful eyes of the Lord are on us and He longs to hear our prayers. What a wonderful promise.

What about our attitude?

Our attitude in prayer is very important. God is not impressed with our pride and arrogance. The scriptures tell us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. Jesus spoke a parable in Luke 18:9-18 about two men who went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood with great pride in himself thanking God that he was not like the tax collector, and then boasted about his works. When the tax collector prayed, he was standing afar off. He did not lift his eyes to heaven, did not boast about himself and all he had done, but asked for mercy. Quite a contrast! Jesus goes on to explain that those who exalt themselves will be abased and those who humble themselves will be exalted. James 4:6 says, “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”

Since our prayers are directed to God and not to man…they should not be uttered with flowery speech in order to impress those around him. In so doing God will not be listening…your prayers are empty, hypocritical. Read Matthew 6:5, 7.
There are many other scriptures that deal with prayer, but I will stop with this next warning as it is what we are discussing in this article.

Vain repetitions, mantras, empty minds and hearts……

In scripture, we are warned not to use vain repetitions. Idle babbling of the same words again and again has no purpose. It isn’t thoughtful, nor heartfelt; but rather cold, empty, superstitious and without any true love for God. “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” Matthew 6:7
GOD DOES NOT RECEIVE MINDLESS PRAYER! It’s interesting that Jesus compares this practice to the prayers that the heathen pray.

Listen, All prayer, whether verbalized, sung or silent, should come from the heart and be addressed to God, not for self, not for an audience.

Jesus model of prayer for His followers was not intended as a ritualistic prayer, but rather a guide for praying “after this manner”. (See also Matthew 7:7-11; 9:38; 17:20-21; 18:19-20; 21:21-22; 26:41; Lk 18:1,7; Jo 14:13-14; 15:7,16; 16:23-24)

Jesus model of prayer teaches us to begin our prayers by acknowledging our Creator and His purposes for His creation. Please notice that we are to FOCUS on GOD and His purposes…not emptying our minds so that we can feeeeeel His presence and hear His voice. Do we not hear God’s voice in His word? Is not His guidance found in His word?

David prayed in Psalm 119:105, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”
When Jesus prayed to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed, “Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” Luke 22:42

The Christian life is all about laying down our lives, picking up our cross and following Jesus. His word provides spiritual nourishment, doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. As for God, His way is perfect.

One of my favorite passages of scripture has to be Psalm 19. David sings this prayer…and actually it is like the model prayer. Praise to God for His works, His Word, His plan from the beginning…The heaven’s declare the glory of God, but all come short of the glory of God (Romans 1:20). From Creation to now, God is unchanging! Those who fail to see the Creator through His creation….they will be without excuse. For God is the Creator and we are His created beings and though sin separated us from God, through the blood of Jesus Christ we were redeemed and through our salvation we are a new creation. Let’s not repeat the original sin…disobeying God’s word, and devising our own way.

Now let’s take a look at this grab bag list of man made rituals and occultic practices: Centering Prayer, Contemplative Prayer, Prayer Labyrinth, Soaking Prayer, Sozo Prayer and Lectio Divina.

What are they and why are they dangerous?

Are all these various forms of prayer biblical? Do they in fact line up with scripture. I have borrowed these descriptions from gotquestions.org to give us a very clear understanding of what they mean and to explain why they are not biblical. I realize that this is not exhaustive, so I would encourage you read up on your own. There are plenty of articles that have been well researched on this subject. I would encourage you to research this further.

Since part of the problem in the Church is the attitude that well, “we don’t do that here so I won’t worry about it”, the scriptures tell us to be vigilant about false teachings and practices. It’s time the Church start speaking out about these types of heresies, and to be able to clearly explain why they are not biblical and why they should not be accepted practices in the Church.

Centering Prayer – What is it?

“Centering prayer,” is a meditative practice where the practitioner focuses on a word and repeats that word over and over for the duration of the exercise. The purpose is to clear one’s mind of outside concerns so that God’s voice may be more easily heard. After the centering prayer, the practitioner is to sit still, listen for direct guidance from God, and feel His presence.

Although this might sound like an innocent exercise, this type of prayer has no scriptural support whatsoever. In fact, it is just the opposite of how prayer is defined in the Bible. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6). “In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (John 16:23-24). These verses and others clearly portray prayer as being comprehendible communication with God, not an esoteric, mystical meditation.

What is Contemplative Prayer?

Contemplative prayer, by design, focuses on having a mystical experience with God. Mysticism, however, is purely subjective, and does not rely upon truth or fact. Yet the Word of God has been given to us for the very purpose of basing our faith, and our lives, on Truth (2 Timothy 3:16-17). What we know about God is based on fact; trusting in experiential knowledge over the biblical record takes a person outside of the standard that is the Bible.

Contemplative prayer is no different than the meditative exercises used in Eastern religions and New Age cults. Its most vocal supporters embrace an open spirituality among adherents from all religions, promoting the idea that salvation is gained by many paths, even though Christ Himself stated that salvation comes only through Him (John 14:6). Contemplative prayer, as practiced in the modern prayer movement, is in opposition to biblical Christianity and should definitely be avoided.

The following video is on Contemplative/Centering Prayer and Emergent Church - Author Ray Yungen (A Time of Departing, For Many Shall Come In My Name) explains contemplative prayer, the heretical teachings of Thomas Merton and many others.

What is a Prayer Labyrinth?

A labyrinth is a path which leads, via a circuitous route, to the center of an intricate design and back out again. A labyrinth’s route is unicursal; that is, it has only a single path. Unlike a maze, a labyrinth is designed for ease of navigation, and it is impossible to get lost within one.

A prayer labyrinth is a labyrinth used to facilitate prayer, meditation, spiritual transformation, and/or global unity. The most famous prayer labyrinths today include an ancient one in the cathedral of Chartres, France, another in the cathedral of Duomo di Siena, Tuscany; and two maintained by Grace Cathedral, an Episcopal church in San Francisco. While prayer labyrinths have been used in Catholic cathedrals for centuries, the past decade has seen resurgence in their popularity, especially within the Emergent Church and among New Age groups and neo-pagans.

Labyrinths have been used by a wide variety of cultures for at least 3,500 years. Evidence of ancient labyrinths exists in Crete, Egypt, Italy, Scandinavia, and North America. Ancient labyrinths had what is usually called the “classical” design of seven rings, or circuits. They were decidedly pagan in function: many labyrinths were dedicated to a goddess and used in ritualistic dances. The Hopi Indians saw the labyrinth as a symbol of Mother Earth, and the hundreds of stone labyrinths along the Scandinavian shoreline were used as magic traps for trolls and evil winds to ensure safe fishing.

In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church adapted the labyrinth for its own purposes within its cathedrals. The classical form gave way to a more intricate design of 11 circuits in 4 quadrants, usually called the “medieval” design. Within Catholicism, the labyrinth could symbolize several things: the hard and winding road to God, a mystical ascension to salvation and enlightenment, or even a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for those who could not make the actual journey.

The modern “rediscovery” of the labyrinth and its use in church settings is celebrated by groups such as The Labyrinth Society and Veriditas, The World-Wide Labyrinth Project. According to these groups, the labyrinth is a “divine imprint,” a “mystical tradition,” a “sacred path,” and a “sacred gateway.” The stated purpose of Veriditas is “to transform the Human Spirit,” using “the Labyrinth Experience as a personal practice for healing and growth, a tool for community building, an agent for global peace and a metaphor for the blossoming of the Spirit in our lives” (from the official Veriditas website).

According to Veriditas, walking a prayer labyrinth involves 3 stages: purgation (releasing), illumination (receiving), and union (returning). Purgation occurs as one moves toward the center of the labyrinth. During this stage, one sheds the cares and distractions of life and opens his heart and mind. Illumination occurs at the center of the labyrinth; this is the time to “receive what is there for you” through prayer and meditation. Union occurs as one exits the labyrinth and involves “joining God, your Higher Power, or the healing forces at work in the world.”

Proponents of prayer labyrinths speak of using the labyrinth to become enlightened, realigned with the universe, and increasingly empowered to know one’s Self and to accomplish the work of the soul. Some, such as Dr. Lauren Artress, president of Veriditas, also speak of the “many levels of consciousness” which touch the worshiper in a labyrinth, including the consciousness that he is “one of those pilgrims walking in the early times. It feels like it’s from another time; it doesn’t feel like it’s in this life” (from an interview with Dr. Lauren Artress on the official Veriditas website).

Perhaps as a throwback to the old goddess worship, many prayer labyrinths contain feminine symbols in the center. Dr. Artress recognizes the symbolism and speaks freely of connecting with the “sacred feminine” in a labyrinth and of the need to view God as both a “he” and a “she.”

Are prayer labyrinths biblical?

No, they are not! Not only are labyrinths never mentioned in the Bible, but they also conflict with several biblical principles of worship and prayer.

1) God seeks those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24; Philippians 3:3; Psalm 29:2). Proponents of prayer labyrinths speak of “body worship” and the goal to employ all five senses in worship. But body worship is not a biblical concept. We live by faith, not by sight, and worship is not a sensuous, physical activity; worship is a matter of the heart, expressed in praise and service to God. For the New Testament believer, worship has nothing to do with external trappings such as lighting candles, kneeling at an altar, or walking in circles.

2) Prayer is not to become ritualistic (Matthew 6:5-8). Dr. Artress says that “ritual feeds the soul” and recommends repeated, regular trips through the labyrinth. If ritual were truly food for the soul, then the Pharisees of Jesus’ day should have been the best-fed souls alive—after all, their religious system abounded in ritual and tradition. Yet Jesus rebuked them on more than one occasion for the deadness and hypocrisy of their religion (Matthew 15:3; Mark 7:6-13).

3) Every believer has the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). Many who walk prayer labyrinths are seeking special insight, new revelation, or a discovery of “the God who’s within” (Dr. Artress, op cit.). Such an emphasis on mysticism and esoteric knowledge comes dangerously close to Gnosticism and New Age thinking. The Christian has no need of mystical experience or extra-biblical revelation: You have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth” (1 John 2:20).

4) God is near to all those who call upon Him in truth (Psalm 145:18; Acts 17:27). No ritual, including walking a labyrinth, can bring anyone any closer to God. Jesus is the way (John 14:6). Repentance and faith are what is required (Acts 20:21).

5) The Bible is sufficient to make the Christian holy, wise, and completely proficient for his work in this world (2 Timothy 3:15-17). To say that, in order to find real power, we must add mysticism or tradition to the Bible is to denigrate God’s Word and the Spirit’s work through it.

Historically, labyrinths were rooted in paganism and incorporated by Catholicism. Now they are promoted by the Emergent Church and others who seek an open spirituality apart from the Bible. Paul’s warning to the church should suffice to keep us focused on Jesus and avoid empty ritual: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

What is Soaking Prayer?

Since the 1990s there has been an increased focus on mysticism within various segments of Christianity. Bordering on the esoteric, these mystical experiences broaden the division between a "factual faith" and a "felt faith," and threaten to replace sound biblical teaching with emotion-driven response. Soaking prayer is one such mystical activity. It is described as resting in God's presence. This is accomplished by playing some gentle worship songs, either sitting or lying down, and praying short, simple prayers for an extended period of time, but otherwise keeping your mind free of other thoughts. At the point when you sense God's presence through some type of manifestation like tingling skin, a sensation of heat or cold, or even a gentle wind seemingly blowing through your body, you are to just "soak" in that presence.

Although that might sound a little strange to some, it does not immediately come across as being necessarily bad. However, the rule by which we measure our experiences in life is the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and when soaking prayer is examined accordingly, we find that it comes up wanting for biblical support. Nowhere in the Bible can a model of prayer be found that soaking prayer follows.

Prayer in its simplest form in the Bible is calling on the name of the Lord (Genesis 4:26), and in each instance where it is found in Scripture, it is descriptive of communicating with God. Soaking prayer starts that way, but quickly devolves into a trance-like meditative state. This is when soaking prayer ceases to be biblical and becomes more like a New Age practice or something an adherent of Hinduism would participate in.

There is no denying that experiencing the presence of God can be powerful and life changing. It is not the goal of soaking prayer that is biblically off base; it is its methodology. Soaking prayer focuses on obtaining a spiritual high by seeking out the presence of God through mystical exercises. In this, it is very similar to "contemplative prayer” and contemplative spirituality, which are equally unbiblical. Biblical prayer is talking to God with His will in mind (1 John 5:14). A biblically praying believer already understands that God's presence is always with him (Psalm 139:7; Matthew 28:20; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 1 Thessalonians 4:8; 2 Timothy 1:14), and he doesn’t need to experience any type of physical sensation to prove it.

What is Sozo Prayer?

Sozo prayer, or Sozo ministry (from the Greek for “save” or “deliver”) is defined as “a unique inner healing and deliverance ministry in which the main aim is to get to the root of those things hindering your personal connection with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Sozo was created by a group of people from Bethel Church in Redding, California, and modeled after spiritual practices observed at revivals in Argentina. Sozo is strongly mystical in its approach and relies heavily on ideas about God and the Holy Spirit that are not based on biblical fact.

Sozo prayer requires the presence of a mediator / guide, who is trained to walk participants through a time of prayer and reflection that is supposed to facilitate intimacy with God. Intimacy with God is definitely something to be sought; however, the method of attaining intimacy via a journey through the subconscious is questionable at best. Intimacy with God is achieved by Bible study, prayer, regular church attendance, and obedience, not by a mystical “journey” through our past. The Bible warns us to be discerning and wise, and not to be fooled (Hosea 14:9; Hebrews 5:14). The Bible and the Holy Spirit—not our subconscious thoughts or a fallible human being—are our connection to the counsel and the voice of God (John 17:17). Many types of ungodly mystical practices include the presence of a “spirit guide,” but the Bible tells us that our connection to the Father is a direct connection, mediated by Christ (1 Timothy 2:5) and guided by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). No other spirit guide is necessary.

The methods and practices of Sozo are of human invention and require human instruction, without reference to Scripture. In fact, Sozo is much closer to new age mysticism than to Christianity. Participants are encouraged into a mild trance state, while being “led” into a series of mental / emotional rooms or stages where, by connecting to their own deeper feelings and thoughts, they believe themselves to have a new experience with God. Whatever participants feel has happened to them, the Bible tells us it is dangerous to open ourselves up to something that has not been sanctioned by God (Ephesians 4:11-14). Preaching and teaching, evangelism, and the practice of anointing a person with oil, or laying hands on them, for instance, are all shown in Scripture to be spiritually safe and useful. But Sozo prayer does not have that kind of “backing”. It’s kind of like taking a drug that isn’t approved by the FDA. It might not damage you, but why take the risk?

In another part of the Bethel Sozo website, one of the goals of Sozo is to enable participants to “heal your relationship with God to enable you to fulfill your destiny.” But the Bible tells us that a Christian’s destiny is death to self and obedience to Christ through faith in His power and saving grace (Luke 9:23; Ephesians 2:8-9). The things that make us one with God are produced by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22), and a Christian does not need to be led on a mystical prayer journey to attain them. Every believer is conformed to Christ’s image by His power and has already been blessed with “every spiritual gift in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 1:3).

In summary, we do not believe that Sozo ministry / prayer is a godly practice or something that is needed, or helpful, for a believer’s fellowship with God. Sozo is much more closely related to mysticism and spiritism than to true intimacy with God. True intimacy with Him happens by illumination of the Word of God by the Holy Spirit and fellowship with Christ as we show love for the Father through obedience to and imitation of Him (Ephesians 5:1).

What is Lectio Divina?

Lectio Divina is Latin for "divine reading," "spiritual reading," or "holy reading" and represents a method of prayer and scriptural reading intended to promote communion with God and to provide special spiritual insights. The principles of lectio divina were expressed around the year A.D. 220 and practiced by Catholic monks, especially the monastic rules of Sts. Pachomius, Augustine, Basil, and Benedict.

The practice of lectio divina is currently very popular among Catholics and gnostics, and is gaining acceptance as an integral part of the devotional practices of the Emerging Church. Pope Benedict XVI said in a 2005 speech, “I would like in particular to recall and recommend the ancient tradition of lectio divina: the diligent reading of Sacred Scripture accompanied by prayer brings about that intimate dialogue in which the person reading hears God who is speaking, and in praying, responds to him with trusting openness of heart.” Lectio is also said to be adaptable for people of other faiths in reading their scripture—whether that be the Bhagavad Gita, the Torah, or the Koran. Non-Christians may simply make suitable modifications of the method to accommodate secular traditions. Further, the four principles of lectio divina can also be adapted to the four Jungian psychological principles of sensing, thinking, intuiting, and feeling.

The actual practice of lectio divina begins with a time of relaxation, making oneself comfortable and clearing the mind of mundane thoughts and cares. Some lectio practitioners find it helpful to concentrate by beginning with deep, cleansing breaths and reciting a chosen phrase or word over and over to help free the mind. Then they begin with the four steps:

Lectio - Reading the Bible passage gently and slowly several times. The passage itself is not as important as the savoring of each portion of the reading, constantly listening for the "still, small voice" of a word or phrase that somehow speaks to the practitioner.

Meditatio - Reflecting on the text of the passage and thinking about how it applies to one's own life. This is considered to be a very personal reading of the Scripture and very personal application.

Oratio – Responding to the passage by opening the heart to God. This is not primarily an intellectual exercise, but is thought to be more of the beginning of a conversation with God.

Contemplatio - Listening to God. This is a freeing of oneself from one's own thoughts, both mundane and holy, and hearing God talk to us. Opening the mind, heart, and soul to the influence of God.

Naturally, the connection between Bible reading and prayer is one to be encouraged; they should always go together. However, the dangers inherent in this kind of practice, and its astonishing similarity to transcendental meditation and other dangerous rituals, should be carefully considered. It has the potential to become, and often does become, a pursuit of mystical experience where the goal is to empty and free the mind and empower oneself. The Christian, on the other hand, uses the Scriptures to pursue the knowledge of God, wisdom, and holiness through the objective meaning of the text with the aim of transforming the mind according to truth. God said His people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6), not for lack of mystical, personal encounters with Him.

Those who take this supernatural approach to the text can disconnect it from its context and natural meaning and use it in a subjective, individualistic, experiential, even name-it-and-claim-it way for which it was never intended. Here is where lectio and gnosticism dovetail into one. Christian gnosticism is the belief that one must have a "gnosis" (from Greek Gnosko, "to know") or mystical, inner knowledge obtained only after one has been properly initiated. Only a few can possess this mystical knowledge, limiting the number of those "in the know." Naturally, the idea of having inside information is very appealing and makes the “knower” feel important, special and unique in that he/she has a special experience with God that no one else has. The “knower” believes that the masses are not in possession of spiritual knowledge and only the truly “enlightened” can experience God. Thus, the reintroduction of contemplative, or centering, prayer—a meditative practice where the focus is on having a mystical experience with God—into the Church. Contemplative prayer is similar to the meditative exercises used in Eastern religions and New Age cults and has no basis whatsoever in the Bible, although the contemplative pray-ers do use the Bible as a starting point.

Further, the dangers inherent in opening our minds and listening for voices should be obvious. The contemplative pray-ers are so eager to hear something—anything—that they can lose the objectivity needed to discern between God’s voice, their own thoughts, and the infiltration of demons into their minds. Satan and his minions are always eager for inroads into the minds of the unsuspecting, and to open our minds in such ways is to invite disaster. We must never forget that Satan is ever on the prowl, seeking to devour our souls (1 Peter 5:8) and can appear as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), whispering his deceptive lies into our open and willing minds.

Finally, the attack on the sufficiency of Scripture is a clear distinctive of lectio divina. Where the Bible claims to be all we need to live the Christian life (2 Timothy 3:16), lectio’s adherents deny that. Those who practice “conversational” prayers, seeking a special revelation from God, are asking Him to bypass what He has already revealed to mankind, as though He would now renege on all His promises concerning His eternal Word. Psalm 19:7-14 contains the definitive statement about the sufficiency of Scripture. It is “perfect, reviving the soul”; it is “right, rejoicing the heart”; it is “pure, enlightening the eyes”; it is “true” and “righteous altogether”; and it is “more desirable than gold.” If God meant all that He said in this psalm, there is no need for additional revelation, and to ask Him for one is to deny what He has already revealed.

The Old and New Testaments are words from God to be studied, meditated upon, prayed over, and memorized for the knowledge and objective meaning they contain and the authority from God they carry, and not for the mystical experience or feeling of personal power and inner peace they may stimulate. Sound knowledge comes first; then the lasting kind of experience and peace comes as a byproduct of knowing and communing with God rightly. As long as a person takes this view of the Bible and prayer, he/she is engaging in the same kind of meditation and prayer that Bible-believing followers of Christ have always commended.

One last question to those embracing the practices of false religions: Where in scripture are believers instructed to empty their minds in order to connect with the supernatural world? Name one example in the entire Bible. There are many examples throughout scripture of men and women praying…Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Daniel, Hannah, Job, Paul and our Lord Jesus Christ and none have ever emptied their minds and chanted mantras to communicate with God.

Contemplative Spirituality in all of its various forms, promotes a mystical experience with God, an experience that God opposes. All unbiblical practices concerning God are counterfeit and evil. Why tempt God? If God hath not said….then do not eat of it! 

The bible tells us that as believers, we are to have the mind of Christ. In the book of Romans we are instructed, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Romans 12:2

We can know what is true, what is good, what is acceptable, and the perfect will of God IF we are searching the scriptures. If you are a Christian who is not reading the word of God, you are making yourself vulnerable to every sort of deception. Stop toying with God. He has given you His word to read and to study, and to guide you in every area of life. God is the One who holds our eternal destiny in His hands, He has prepared the way…now walk ye in it!


Borrowed from gotquestions.org

See also:


The TRUTH under FIRE: TTUF Profiles On: Robert Muller "FORTH ...


A CRIMSON CAPLET - The Global Glue of a Unified Spirituality

Read more!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Beyond The Crescent Curtain

by A.M. Kisly

For those of you interested in MISSIONS, I'd like to introduce to you a wonderful ministry called IN HIS FIELDS with founder, David LeCompte.

I met David several years ago when he came out to our church to share of the work he was doing in the Middle East. David LeCompte was born and grew up in a rural community in southern Alabama. For the past twenty -five years, he and his his family have shared the Gospel throughout the Middle East and the Northern Caucasus region of Russia.

David’s passion is to go where few others go. From Chechnya to Afghanistan, he and his family have served in many of the most challenging regions of the world sharing their faith with the hurting and forgotten. He is an accomplished author, speaker and serves as the President of In His Fields.

Recently, David visited our church and gave a wonderful teaching and updates regarding the work of the Lord and the conversions to Christianity taking place throughout the Middle East. He states that God is moving in the Land of Abraham, and that countless Muslims are Coming to Christ.

This historic revival taking place in Iraq is another wonderful example of the great spiritual awakening that God is creating all across the Middle East and the Muslim world. For the past ten years, thousands of Muslims have come to Christ from within some of the strictest Islamic communities on earth. Believers from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Indonesia are now surfacing to tell of their glorious conversions to faith in Christ. This sovereign move of God is a continuation and fulfillment of God’s heart for the nations that he began on Pentecost. If one will observe God’s word carefully, Acts 2 clearly shows that the early Church was made up mainly of indigenous believers from many of the countries that today we know as the Islamic Middle East. Long before Islam, the faith of these regions was predominately Christian.

I believe God is a God of completion. As his Church was born in the Middle East, I believe these people will, and are, seeing a great revival again. As Christianity was spread throughout Europe, then the Western world, then Asia, God has brought and will continue to bring full circle his plan on earth. The last great revival on earth is happening among the peoples of the Islamic world and the Middle East.

David has written a couple of books that are available on his website. In his book, Beyond The Crescent Curtain, he reveals God’s heart for the seemingly forgotten people of the Middle East. The love of God is shining brilliantly into the spiritual darkness of the Islamic world as a growing number of Muslims are coming to faith in Christ. Many are crying out for a personal relationship with God, and He is answering their prayers.

The following is an excerpt taken from this book:


Excerpt: "Beyond The Crescent Curtain" – ch.1

CHAPTER ONE: The Tomb of Imam Ridha

Mashhad, Iran

After months of painstaking preparations and years of prayer, my colleague Phillip and I were finally standing on Iranian soil. The long British Airways flight from London’s Heathrow Airport had only fueled our excitement and anticipation. As far as we knew, we were among the first Americans to visit Iran in nearly twenty years.

Relations between Iran and the United States had been hostile ever since fifty-three American hostages were taken captive on November 4, 1979, and held for more than four hundred days at the U.S. embassy in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. But after a long and bitter hiatus, relations between the two countries had begun to thaw in 1998 as President Clinton and Iran’s newly elected president Mohammad Khatami made public overtures toward restoring diplomatic relations.

Now that the United States was seeking to establish a more cordial relationship with Iran, the militant Islamic government had cracked the door open for American visitors. Taking advantage of the warming political climate, Phillip and I jumped at the chance to visit Iran. It would be an adventure few other Americans would experience in a lifetime, and one of my first encounters with Muslims in the Middle East.

Officially we were visiting as tourists, hoping to lay the initial groundwork for bringing Christian tour groups to Iran to explore historic biblical sites around the country. But our tourist visas hadn’t been easy to secure. To convince Iranian officials to issue the visas, we had to assure them that we would be visiting several of the country’s historic sites. One of the sites on our list was the tomb of Imam Ridha in Mashhad, a city on the remote plains of eastern Iran near the Afghanistan border.

The timing of our visit couldn’t have been better. On the day of our tour, more than 130 million Shiite Muslims would be celebrating the Holy Day of Ashura to commemorate the massacre of the prophet Hussein (grandson of the prophet Muhammad) and seventy of his clerics in AD 580. And Imam Ridha’s tomb just happened to be located at one of Islam’s most sacred sites: the Imam Reza Shrine.

For Shiite Muslims, a pilgrimage to the Reza Shrine is second only to the yearly pilgrimage—or hajj—to Mecca, the pinnacle of religious piety in Islam. As many as twenty million pilgrims flock to the shrine each year to pray and pay their respects at the tomb of Imam Ridha. Seventh in a succession of Shiite holy men, Imam Ridha was martyred in AD 818—a victim of poisoning—and buried in Mashhad, which literally means “a place where martyrs are buried.” I had also heard that ever since the miraculous healing of the sultan’s son in AD 1150 after he touched the tomb, the sick and disabled throughout the Muslim world came in droves to Imam Ridha’s tomb in hopes of being healed.

Soon after our arrival in Tehran, Phillip and I took an early morning flight to Mashhad to tour the sacred shrine. When we stepped off the plane—an old Russian Tupolev jet that comprised most of Iran’s domestic air fleet—we spotted a young, black-haired man standing at the bottom of the roll-away metal stairs, holding a small sign that read: Mr. Phillip—Mr. David. This had to be our official Iranian tour guide.

As we approached, the young man smiled in greeting. “Hello! My name is Bakir. Welcome to Mashhad!”

Another young man walked over to a small white car and opened the door.

“This is our driver, Ghazi,” Bakir said, escorting us to the waiting car. “We are happy you have come. You will enjoy your time here in Iran, especially in Mashhad.”

After loading our bags in the trunk, Ghazi took his seat behind the steering wheel and maneuvered the car toward the exit.

Bakir turned to us with a smile and said, “We will take you first to have tea, and then we will visit the Imam Reza Shrine during the noon prayer time.”

Ghazi drove through a maze of dusty streets for several miles and then parked in front of a small shop with bags of tea and spices stacked outside. We followed Bakir into the shop and descended a steep staircase that spiraled down into a cavernous room with vaulted ceilings supported by cracked marble pillars. Several old men were sitting on Persian rugs, silently smoking hookah pipes (glass water pipes used for smoking tobacco). Their dark eyes glanced in our direction as Phillip and I lowered ourselves onto an ornate carpet spread across the floor.

Bakir and Ghazi left us for a few minutes to order cups of hot tea and wafers. Gazing around the smoke-filled room, I noticed several large copper pots in various spots and wondered whether they had some particular use or were merely decorative.

When our hosts returned, we sipped our sweet tea and shared stories about our families. Bakir and Ghazi talked animatedly talked about life in Iran and made us feel very welcome.

Soon Bakir glanced at his watch and said, “It is time to begin our journey to the shrine.”

Phillip and I smiled at each other. It was hard to believe, but in less than thirty minutes, we would become two of only a few Westerners to ever visit a sacred Islamic shrine on one of the holiest days of the year for Muslims. I had no idea what to expect, but I had a feeling it would be an experience I’d never forget!

As we drove through the crowded streets toward the Reza Shrine, taxis cut in front of us, honking their horns and then screeching to a halt as the traffic slowed abruptly. How any driver could maneuver in such a crush of vehicles was beyond me, but in the Middle East, it was a matter of survival. Maneuvering through the chaotic Iranian streets made driving in the States seem docile in comparison, but our driver handled the car with ease.

Knowing from experience that it was best not to pay much attention to the hazardous driving conditions, I gazed out the window at little roadside shops, closed for the observance of Ashura. Women cloaked in black from head to toe hurried along the streets with children in tow. Old men congregated on street corners, smoking and observing life happening around them.

During the ride across town, Bakir fulfilled his duties as our tour guide, pointing out monuments to Iran’s war veterans, government buildings, theaters of culture—as well as his favorite restaurants. The pride he felt for his country resonated in his voice.

Looking down the street, I saw two large domes rising into the sky. At the same moment, Bakir gestured toward the domes and said with a huge grin, “That is the shrine of Imam Reza! Is it not a sight to behold?”

I had seen photographs of the shrine in travel magazines and thought it was beautiful, but nothing could compare with seeing it in person. The larger dome was a stunning sapphire blue that took my breath away. The smaller golden dome, illuminated by the brilliant sun, was dazzling. Two golden minarets jutted into the sky nearby. Bakir drew our attention to several other minarets scattered around the shrine—fourteen in all, including the gold minarets that marked the site of Imam Ridha’s mausoleum. From these minarets, the Islamic call to prayer blared over loudspeakers five times a day, summoning the faithful throughout Mashhad to come to the mosque out of reverence for Allah.

Large crowds were making their way toward the shrine on foot as our guide slowed the car and searched for a place to park. Phillip and I breathed a sigh of relief when we emerged unscathed from our whirlwind trip through town.

Escorted by our guide, we walked quietly across an expansive concrete courtyard toward a row of arched entryways. White, green, and red gemstones created a tapestry of color on the shrine’s outer walls, sparkling like a Persian silk carpet against the sky. Passing under one of the arched entryways, we found ourselves in one of seven courtyards that spread like a maze throughout the shrine. The most elaborate was the central mosque courtyard, with three cascading fountains where worshipers performed their ritual cleansing before prayers.

As we followed the burgeoning crowd toward the central courtyard, Bakir informed us that the shrine also contained several libraries filled with a variety of Islamic writings, ancient scrolls, and copies of the Koran and the Hadith (a collection of sayings and traditions from the prophet Muhammad and other holy men).

Passing through another entryway, we entered the mosque courtyard, where white-bearded old men were gathered around fountains of sparkling water, washing their arms and feet as they readied themselves to enter Allah’s presence. Young men stood at a respectful distance, waiting in silent reverence for their turn to prepare for prayers.

Phillip and I positioned ourselves near one of the courtyard walls. We knew that as Westerners we probably stood out in the crowd, but we wanted to remain as inconspicuous as possible, watching the events unfold at a respectful distance.

Bakir was eager to show us the shrine, but he wasn’t sure whether Americans were permitted to enter the most sacred part of the shrine, where the tomb of Imam Ridha was located. Phillip and I were the first American tourists he had escorted in Mashhad, and he was worried that the religious authorities might punish him severely if he allowed us to visit the tomb.

At the stroke of noon, the call to prayer echoed from the minarets as the masses filed into the sprawling courtyard for prayer. Pious women, draped from head to toe in traditional black chadors quietly entered through a separate archway to the right of the men’s entrance. Armed Iranian police stood tensely at entrance, their fingers twitching nervously on their Kalashnikov automatic rifles. Their presence assured the crowd that no terrorist would settle old religious scores that day.

As the prayers began, row after row of men knelt in unison and then bowed with their faces to the ground as the mullah (teacher) directed worshipers from an elevated pulpit. The intensity of the moment was electrifying.

When the rise and fall of corporate prayers ended, thousands of frenzied supplicants scrambled to their feet and began rushing in mass toward the golden-domed mausoleum of Imam Ridha, writhing and pulsing in religious fervor. Some young men flailed themselves with chains, causing deep bruises to appear all over their bodies; others cut their foreheads with sharp swords until blood oozed down their faces. As they beat their chests and waved their arms, a passionate chant rose from their lips: “Oh, Hussein! Oh, Hussein!”

The wailing drowned out any chance of making myself heard, so I exchanged a wide-eyed glance with Phillip as we struggled to keep our feet in the press of sweat-sour bodies. What had we gotten ourselves into?

Somehow, in the confusion, we became separated from our guide. I could see him frantically gesturing to us from the courtyard as we were swept along into the bowels of the mosque by a surging tide of human flesh. Fighting desperately to stay close to Phillip, a wave of panic washed over me. Phillip and I exchanged wild-eyed looks as I prayed that God would get us out of there alive. Here we were, two curious Americans in very real danger of being trampled to death under the feet of faithful Muslims who were straining toward the site where Imam Ridha was entombed.

Crushed against a wall of bodies, I fought for air, gasping as I pushed myself up on my toes in a futile effort to see over the crowd. Claustrophobia enveloped me in a suffocating grip, and I wondered how much more I could take before I lost my mind.

Finally the interminable squeezing reached a pinch point, and the crowd spilled out into a huge room that held the imam’s tomb. With the shrine now in view, a new surge of intensity propelled the mob forward. A young boy, no more than ten or eleven years of age, seemed to float over the top of people, clambering his way to the front of the room.

All around us, worshipers fought to get closer to the tomb, hands clawing the air in desperation. People were weeping and wailing like tormented souls drowning in a dark ocean, reaching out for a single touch of this sacred tomb.

Helpless to fight the flow of the crowd, Phillip and I suddenly found ourselves facing the tomb. Hundreds of hands reached through the protective grillwork surrounding the tomb to touch and caress its ornate surface. Some worshipers tossed money—gifts for healing—through the bars.

The crowd roiled continuously, slowly forcing us away from the tomb as other worshipers took our place. Then the giant tidal wave of humanity that had engulfed us finally began to recede, carrying us through the exit into a tranquil courtyard of fountains and flowers on the opposite side of the shrine. We had narrowly escaped the jaws of death.

I glanced at Phillip, who looked as shaken as I felt at that moment. Running across the courtyard to meet us, concern written on his face, Bakir apologized profusely for what had happened to us. “Praise be to Allah!” he exclaimed. “You are safe! I feared you would be trampled to death, and I would be executed for failing to protect you.”

Following Bakir out of the shrine into the fresh air, I took a deep breath and rested my weary eyes on the expansive horizon. I had never been so thankful for open space in my life!

As Ghazi drove us back to the hotel, I tried to process what I had just experienced. On the surface, the frenzied scene at the tomb appeared to be nothing more than thousands of hysterical Muslims going through some meaningless, superstitious ritual. And yet I knew in my heart that it was so much more than empty ritual. The passion and devotion of these worshipers had been too real to shrug off or discount. I couldn’t erase the images of people pressing toward the tomb, faces on fire with passionate devotion, thousands of hands desperately reaching out to touch the sacred tomb, souls crying out to know Allah—and yet not finding Him.

I began to question my own devotion to God. I had always considered myself a passionate and devoted follower of Christ, and yet my devotion couldn’t compete with the faithful Shiite Muslims I had observed worshiping their God in unrestrained zeal. I suddenly felt ashamed. I had an intimate, personal relationship with the God of the universe that these followers of Islam were grasping for, and yet I felt as if I had been taking that relationship for granted. I had found the very One they were desperately searching for, but somehow I didn’t fully realize the priceless treasure I possessed.

I left the Reza Shrine with a deeper appreciation for my relationship with Jesus, but more than that, I had an epiphany that would transform the way I looked at the Muslim world. That day I realized that many Muslims go to extreme measures to please Allah not because they are blindly following the empty requirements of their faith but because they sincerely want to know the living God. They are searching for Him the only way they know how, and God in His unlimited grace is reaching out to them in Christ, just as He reached out to me.

As I pen these words, I am sitting on a little balcony near the Iranian border. More than ten years have passed since my pilgrimage to Imam Ridha’s tomb, but as I’ve reflected on my experience, I’ve come to realize that regardless of where people live, they are searching for something to believe in, something to be passionate about. We are all reaching out for Someone who will give us hope and deliver us from the despair of life and the guilt of sin.

The frenzied scene at the tomb that day in 1998 is how most Westerners view the Islamic world. It’s a world of extreme religious zeal and radical devotion to Allah that seems to border on insanity.

But is this the only face of Islam?

Certainly, the radical devotion to Allah is real, but if we are willing to look beneath the surface, we may discover that religious fanaticism is pointing to a deeper spiritual hunger. Many Muslims are longing to know God personally, and Islam is the only way they know to find Him.

The highest expression of a Muslim’s devotion to Allah is the yearly hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca, the holiest site in Islam. The fifth and final pillar of Islam, the hajj is required of all Muslims at least once in their lifetime. According to some estimates, more than two and a half million Muslims make pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, every year.

To take part in the hajj,1 pilgrims must purify themselves—enter a state of Ihram—by abstaining from sexual relations, refraining from arguing, fighting, or killing, and giving up shaving as well as the use of products like colognes or perfumed soaps. Many pilgrims take part in the ‘umrah, a second pilgrimage that begins about ten kilometers outside the city at the miqat or entry station to Mecca. There they must bathe to purify themselves and put on white garments called ihram. The women must remove their face coverings, and the men must wear seamless clothing.

As they begin their journey into the city, pilgrims recite the Talbiya Du’a: “Here I am at Your service, O Allah, here I am at Your service! You have no partner. Here I am at Your service. All praise and blessing belong to You. All dominion is Yours and You have no partner.”

All the way into Mecca, these Muslim pilgrims recite prayers and perform various rituals. When they reach the Masjid al-Haram Mosque, they perform the tawaf, marching seven times around the Ka‘ba—a large granite cube in the center of the mosque—while they recite prayers. According to the Koran and Islamic tradition, the Ka‘ba was built by Abraham and his son Ishmael. It is toward this altar that Muslims turn and pray each day, no matter where they are around the world.

As pilgrims walk around the Ka‘ba, they touch the Black Stone, a relic forming a cornerstone of the cube, which, according to Islamic tradition, fell from heaven and revealed to Adam and Eve where to build an altar to offer sacrifices to God. The altar became the first temple on earth.

Muslims believe that the Black Stone was originally dazzling white but has since turned black because of the sins it has absorbed over the years. As pilgrims circle the Ka‘ba, many stop to kiss the stone as an expression of respect for the prophet Muhammad. After this ritual, pilgrims often take a sip of sacred water—kam kam—thought to come from the well God provided for Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness to keep them from dying of thirst. The ‘umrah ends with the symbolic ritual of walking back and forth seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwa.

Although the hajj incorporates most of the ‘umrah rituals, it also includes trips to several locations outside of Mecca. First is a journey to the town of Mina, where pilgrims spend the night and then depart early the next morning for the valley of Arafat, where they worship God in the midday heat of the open desert, a vivid reminder of hell. The next stop on the hajj is the town of Muzdalifa, where pilgrims gather stones and then return to Mina to throw them at tall pillars, or jamraat, to symbolize the stoning of evil and the Devil. Following the throwing of stones, lambs are sacrificed as a ritual offering to Allah, and the meat is given to the poor.

As the days of the hajj draw to a close, pilgrims return to Mecca to march once more around the Ka‘ba, and then they head back to Mina, where they spend a few more days throwing stones at the pillars.

The final crowning event of the hajj is the Eid al-Adha, the feast of sacrifice in which pilgrims commemorate their father Ibrahim’s (Abraham’s) obedience to Allah when he was commanded to sacrifice his son on an altar. Although the Islamic version of the story portrays Ishmael, rather than Isaac, as the sacrificial lamb, it is actually quite similar to the biblical account. In the end, Allah provided a ram as a substitute for Ishmael, but Abraham’s willingness to give up his only son pleased Allah, proving the patriarch’s love and devotion.

For Muslims around the world today, elaborate religious rituals and observances are the only ways they know to reach out to God.2 Allah can only be appeased by works, and the extreme lengths that millions of Muslims go through each year to attain this goal testifies to their sincere desire to know God, however misguided their search.

Islam offers hope to thousands of Muslims who worship at Mecca and Ridha’s tomb every year, but most of these pilgrims have never heard about the true God. They have no idea that the God they seek with such sincerity and passion is freely accessible to them in the person of His one and only Son. These are the Muslims I’ve dedicated my life to reaching with the gospel of the true Prophet of God—Jesus."
Please remember to keep missionaries around the world in prayer as they lay their lives down to bring the Gospel to the lost in the uttermost parts of the earth.

If you are interested in this book, or supporting this ministry, please visit In His fields Ministry to find out how you can purchase the book or help support this ministry.
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Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Study in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans – “On the Road of Righteousness” Chapter Twelve: Part 1 – Practically Transformed

~ By James Fire

Chapter Twelve– Practically Transformed and Living Sacrifices

(Note: Due to the richness of this chapter, it will be divided up into three sections)


Having completed the trilogy of chapters in Romans (9-11) that deals with the nation Israel, her condition of unbelief as a nation, and yet always retaining by the grace of God, a believing remnant, and how the nation is distinct from another holy nation (the church), we now proceed to chapter Twelve where the apostle Paul picks up on a previous thread from the end of Romans chapter Eight. 

As previously mentioned, if the epistle to the Romans could be envisioned as a cathedral, chapter Eight would be its highest pinnacle; it glorifies the grace of God as well as the Spirit of God towards repentant sinners, who are transformed saints; as opposed to the relationship that the Holy Law of God has with sinful humanity. It exults in the love of Christ and how nothing (read that as “NOTHING”) can separate us from this Eternal, Almighty Love! All of the blessings and graces and benefits that God simply lavishes upon us, His children who are born of His Spirit (John 3:3-5) are manifested in this chapter full of such doctrines of truth, righteousness and grace.
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Tuesday, August 14, 2012


by A.M. Kisly


In 2 Corinthians 6, the Apostle Paul identifies two opposing worlds, two opposing realms or spheres or kingdoms or dimensions of life. One is described and characterized by righteousness, light, Christ, believers and the presence of God. The other is characterized, or described as lawless, dark, satanic, occupied by unbelievers and the presence of idols.
Two societies, two realms, two spheres utterly different, utterly distinct, completely incongruous and incompatible. And the Apostle says there is no possibility for people in these two kingdoms to be bound together in common work, no partnership, no fellowship, no harmony, no commonality and no agreement does or can really exist.

Scripture Studies from Romans 12:

In Romans 12:1, Paul exhorted us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God. However, in order to do that, we must be "transformed" so that we behave as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, rather than as one who belongs to the world. Thus, Paul exhorts us strongly to conform no longer, but be transformed and renewed.

He starts with the words "Do not". This is in contrast to the exhortation in verse 1, where he "urged" us to offer ourselves to God. In verse 1, he was telling us something that we, as Christians, should do; in verse 2, he is telling us something that we must not do. There are things that Christians are urged to do, and there are things that Christians are commanded to avoid. The words "Do not" constitute a command.

Thus we, as children of God, are not by any means to "conform" to this world. Peter tells us to "live as strangers here, in reverent fear" (I Pet. 1:17). He also calls God's elect "aliens and strangers in the world" (I Pet. 1:1; 2:11). Our new birth into the kingdom of God necessarily should cause us to feel as if we are strangers and out of place in this world. For instance, our values are different than those of the world. They desire material riches; we desire the riches of God. Moreover, our morals are different than those of the world. Their morals are based on what they consider right in their own eyes; our morals are based on the Word of God. Furthermore, our attitude toward death is different than those of the world. They see death as the end; for us, the death of our earthly bodies will bring us into the presence and glory of God.

Thus, our attitudes should set us apart from those of the world. Having been introduced into the glorious kingdom of God, a kingdom that will never perish nor diminish in its glory, what a shame it would be if we clung to this dying world.

Paul says that we should not conform "any longer", suggesting that we did conform to the world in the past. Men naturally conform to the world. Men strive for the approval and accolades of other men. But man has fallen. To conform to the world is to conform to those under the rule of the "prince of this world" (John 12:31), that is Satan. Since we naturally do conform, we must make a conscious effort to avoid conformance. It is not easy to be set apart. It brings hostility and ridicule from those of the world. "They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you" (I Pet. 4:4). They desire that all conform, because the saints who do not conform "are a sign to them that they will be destroyed" (Phil. 1:28). We convict them by pure lives set apart for God and they resent this.

It is "the world" that we are to avoid being conformed to. Note "the world" is different than the earth. The earth is the planet on which we live. "The world", as used in the Bible, is the secular, carnal system of existence that controls fallen man. John describes it as "the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does" (I John 2:16). We are not to "love the world" because "if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (I John 2:15). Also, "anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God" (James 4:4). Though we are commanded not to love the world or to be friends of the world, nevertheless, "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son" (John 3:16). Despite the fact that the world has turned its back on Him and followed evil, God, in his longsuffering, still has love for the world, enough love to give His Son in order to bring the world back to Him.

Paul says: "but be transformed". Yes, it is hard to avoid conforming to the world, "but" we are given an alternative. The world would tell us that because of God's prohibitions, we are somehow missing out on the joy of life. But Paul points out: "When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of?" (Rom. 6:20-21). Godless joy is fleeting. It may be satisfying for the moment, but later it brings shame. In the book of Job, this is summed up: "Surely you know how it has been from of old, ever since man was placed on the earth, that the mirth of the wicked is brief, the joy of the godless lasts but a moment" (Job 20:4-5). In contrast, Jesus says: "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete" (John 15:10-11).

Paul says to "be transformed by the renewing of your mind". Notice that he does not says to transform ourselves, but to "be transformed". The transformation does not originate in ourselves, but is accomplished by the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul writes to Titus: "He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5). Our role in the process is to seek and to yield to the renewal by the Spirit.

It is the "mind" that is to be renewed. Clearly, as can be seen from his writings, Paul does not view Christianity as a mindless, merely emotional religion, but a thinking religion. The mind is involved. Paul used his intellect to proclaim and defend his faith: "He reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks" (Acts 17:17). Likewise, Peter says to give "the reason for the hope that you have" (I Peter 3:15).

But, unfortunately, our minds have been corrupted by this fallen world and thus, need renewing. Note that it is the renewing of our minds that will lead to our transformation. "The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace" (Rom. 8:6).

Going on, Paul says: "Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is". Thus, the result of our transformation is the acceptance and approval of God's will. One cannot know the complete will of God for his life without being transformed. Conversely, if you are transformed, you will know what God's will is. If you live for God and not for the world, seek God and not the things of the world, then the will of God for your life will be revealed to you. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight" (Prov. 3:5-6).

Once you know God's will, Paul is confident that you will "approve" of it, for he says that you will "test and approve" it. The extent to which you desire to please yourself rather than to do God's will is the extent to which you still belong to the world. But if you would only "be transformed" so that you would be able to "test" the will of God, you will certainly "approve" of it. The Psalmist says: "Taste and see that the LORD is good" (Ps. 34:8).

Indeed, God's will is "good, pleasing and perfect". His will is "good" because it is always in our best interest. If we are in God's will, then all things will work together for our good (cf. Rom. 8:28). God loves us; thus, His will is for our good.

In the following video presentation, Pastor John MacArthur explains the importance of separating from the world.  In this exhortation, he states "It is a classic call by the Apostle to separation from unbelievers. And, in fact, that is the greatest challenge that you as a Christian have, and me too. Not to be bound together with unbelievers is our greatest challenge, to live a separated life is a tremendous challenge, particularly in a culture which is bombarding us with all of the elements of paganism.

It is not only our greatest challenge, it is our greatest source of joy and usefulness when we obey that command. The pure and the polluted share nothing in common ultimately. And the people of God cannot form intimate relationships with those who don't belong to God. All relationships like that are superficial. You cannot make a meaningful relationship with an enemy of the gospel. They live in a different world with a different and completely hostile and antagonistic leader."

Separating From Unbelievers - Pastor John MacArthur

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