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Liberation Letter
December 17, 2015

I rarely publish articles by guest writers, but do make occasional exceptions. One exception I am always glad to make is when Tim Keesee, one of my favorite writers, offers to send one of his dispatches my way. Here is one he prepared just a few days ago.


Temple Square
Salt Lake City
December 6

Took a walk downtown tonight. The air was cold and clear—so clear there were glimmers of the snow-crusted Wasatch in the distance. Temple Square was ablaze in Christmas lights, and big banners declared “A Savior Is Born!” A caroling troupe of Mormon missionaries from Brazil were singing Charles Wesley’s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” The Temple itself—this mecca of Mormonism—glowed in soft white light, but to me it resembles a great sarcophagus. Behind the Temple is the Tabernacle, and the soothing sounds of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir spilled out and filled the crowded square with music. The promise of warmth and a pew where I could sit and write has drawn me inside the Tabernacle.

Nowhere is the chameleon-like character of Mormonism on display more than at Christmastime. After a richly-orchestrated, pitch-perfect “O Holy Night,” one of the Mormon “apostles” is now preaching. He started out by awarding Luke a brief honorable mention for providing us an account of the Christmas story, but after dispensing with this lip service, he went on to “another record” in The Book of Mormon. It was some of Joseph Smith’s make-believe about Samuel the Lamanite and the Nephites in America at the time of Jesus’ birth, etc., etc. The blind leading the blind, and the ditch here that they’ve fallen into is lined with Christmas lights, yet it is horribly dark.

The Jesus that the Mormons here sing of and speak of isn’t the Jesus of the Bible. The Jesus of the Bible is in the Bible. The Mormon Jesus is in The Book of Mormon. This Jesus was fabricated in the 19th century and is a son of God. He’s the brother of Lucifer, and their father and mother came from another planet and started the process—a kind of cosmic pyramid scheme—whereby faithful Mormons can become gods themselves. And even have their own planet! I’m not making this stuff up, but Joseph Smith sure did.

Sitting here, seeing and hearing all this, has pulled back the curtain of memory for me to a time many years ago when I clearly and urgently shared the Gospel with my Mormon aunt who was dying of cancer. It seemed as if I were describing the radiant wonder of a sunrise to a person born blind. Later, when I attended her funeral, which was presided over by her Mormon elders, it was miserably hopeless and the atmosphere as dismal as some of the Hindu temples I’ve been in. Standing there beside her casket with her dark priests mumbling their nonsense was the first time the reality of hell truly struck me. The death and blindness and darkness and lostness of the place stood in such stark contrast to the liberating, life-giving power of the cross-centered Gospel.

This morning that Gospel—the Gospel of grace, the Gospel that is the power of God unto salvation—was preached in downtown Salt Lake City. We took joy in the worship of Jesus when we sang:

All the Redeemed washed by His blood,
Come, and rejoice in His great love!
O Praise Him! Alleluia!
Christ has defeated every sin.
Cast all your burdens now on Him!
O praise Him! O praise Him! Alleluia!

There are only about 2% evangelical Christians in a population of a million in the Salt Lake Valley, but the Gospel works here, too. Men and women are shaking off the chains of Mormonism by the power and grace of God. I met a sister this morning who has experienced just such a deliverance. She shared with me her resignation letter from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The letter had such a Martin Lutheresque “here I stand” clarity about it! My newborn sister wrote to the Mormon bishop:

I have given this matter considerable thought and prayer.  I understand what you consider the “seriousness” and the “consequences” of my actions. I am aware that the church handbook says that my resignation “cancels the effects of baptism and confirmation, withdraws the priesthood held by a male member and revokes temple blessings.” I also understand that I will be “readmitted to the church by baptism only after a thorough interview.”

I have come to this decision after careful study of the Bible, especially in the New Testament. I am convinced that the Bible is complete and that there was no apostasy because Jesus Christ alone is the Head of the Church, and His words are completely trust worthy when He said that He would keep and preserve it. He said that “not even the gates of hell shall prevail against His church.” (Matthew 16:18) I also believe that no man is good enough to have seen God, not even Joseph Smith (John 1:18). Since Jesus Christ is the only Mediator between God and man (I Timothy 2:5), I can no longer look to self-appointed “Mediators” or “High Priests” in the LDS church. “Jesus Christ is the only Way the Truth and the Life, no man comes to the Father through anyone but Jesus Christ” (John 14:6).  He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End (Rev. 1:8). The teachings of Mormonism are not the teachings of Christ, and I wish for you to read the New Testament in the Bible and find for yourselves the true teachings of the Gospel.

I believe in Jesus Christ alone for my salvation and that nothing I do can save me. This does not mean that I am not ready to work for God and do anything in my power to promote the Gospel, but it means that those works are not what save me only Jesus Christ has saved me from sin and death.

May there be many more such liberation letters. May the mailboxes of the Mormons’ churches, temples, and tabernacles be stuffed with them because of “All the redeemed washed by His blood” who are now rejoicing in His great love! God, do this for your glory!

Be sure to look at Tim Keesee’s book Dispatches from the Front along with his films of the same name.

November 30, 2014

This morning I am thrilled to bring you a guest article from my friend Tim Keesee of Frontline Missions and the excellent DVDs Dispatches from the Front. This is an article he prepared in honor of John Bunyan’s birthday on November 28.


On the Rail near Bedford, England

Beads of rain race along my window as my express train speeds through the mist back to London. My mind and pen are racing, too—I have seen and heard so much in Bunyan’s Bedford.

Took a train this morning to Bedford to walk where John Bunyan walked—for him it was a path of suffering that included 12 years in prison for Christ’s sake. Yet from that lonely cell came one of the greatest books, The Pilgrim’s Progress. After more than three centuries, it lives on in over 200 languages worldwide. But it’s more than a book—it’s Bible and biography in one. It smells of the dungeon and glows with the Gospel. I recall during the Soviet times seeing underground printed copies of The Pilgrim’s Progress—the treasured pages bound by hand, and the boards covered with wallpaper. With so much love and risk wrapped up in that dangerous volume, it was a book that could rightly be judged by its cover.

Bunyan’s book has blessed the world, but in Bedford, little remains from his life and long imprisonment. The church meeting place in his day was a barn where Dissenters worshiped. It has long since been replaced by a beautifully-appointed chapel with a museum next door. In the garden between them, the remains of those who heard him preach rest beneath moss and marble. The home Bunyan shared with his wife and children—which stood for over three centuries—could not stand up to a bulldozer when “progress” came rolling through a few years ago.

A minute’s walk from Bunyan’s church, the site of his jail is marked by a sidewalk tablet. The pavement is pocked with gum and crowded with shoppers hurrying past. I expect most of them are ignorant of the one who from that very spot wrote, “The parting with my Wife and poor Children hath often been to me in this place as the pulling of the Flesh from my Bones.” At any moment Bunyan could have walked out a free man—all he had to do was promise not to preach. But this he could not do.

The charges against him in 1660 were precisely what house church pastors in China, Vietnam, and across central Asia face right now—holding “illegal meetings.”  But John Bunyan had to preach the Gospel—not in defiance of men but in devotion to God. It was a calling that would cost him dearly, especially in the separation from his wife and four children, including a blind daughter. In his spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Bunyan wrote from prison,

I found myself a man encompassed with infirmities; the parting with my Wife and poor Children hath often been to me in this place as the pulling of the Flesh from my Bones; and that not only because I am somewhat too fond of these great Mercies, but also because I should have often brought to my mind the many hardships, miseries and wants that my poor Family was like to meet with should I be taken from them, especially my poor blind Child, who lay nearer my heart than all I had besides;  oh, the thoughts of the hardship my poor Blind one might go under, would break my heart to pieces… yet, recalling myself, thought I, I must venture you all with God, though it goeth to the quick to leave you. O, I saw in this condition I was as a man who was pulling down his house upon the head of his Wife and Children; yet, thought I, I must do it, I must do it.

The years passed, and so did Pilgrim’s trials—the Hill of Difficulty, the lions, the wounds of Apollyon, the chains of Giant Despair, and finally through dark water to the Celestial City. It was a path that Bunyan knew very well—and a way already worn by nail-scarred feet. This hard, lonely place was once made brighter by “the fellowship of His sufferings.” There in Bedford Jail, Bunyan wrote and worshipped in pain and took comfort in His company.

Bunyan

September 24, 2014

Last month I posted a list of recommended blogs by and for Christian women. At the end of the post I made a parenthetical remark that many of the blogs I follow had gone cold in recent months. A short time later I received an email from three women who blog: Hannah Anderson, Courtney Reissig, and Megan Hill. They asked if they could speak to the issue, and I was glad to have them do so. Here are their thoughts on blogs gone cold.

Conservative female bloggers tend to publish less consistently than their male counterparts. Three women writers explore the reasons why.

True Success (Hannah Anderson)

Back in August, Tim Challies posted a helpful list of theological blogs by and for women. At the end, he noted that several blogs had “gone cold,” questioning when and whether the writers would return. As a female theological blogger myself, I smiled and thought, “Of course, they have.”

There are many reasons that blogs go cold—neglect, attrition, or simply a lack of focus—but  one reason that conservative female bloggers struggle to publish consistently is because we tend to blog outside organized ministry while our male counterparts write from within it. Certainly, not every male theological blogger is employed in ministry, but many do serve as full-time pastors, directors of para-church organizations, seminary professors, and students preparing for a theological career. You don’t find many male engineers, doctors, mathematicians, or police officers blogging in this same niche.

On the other hand, the majority of conservative female bloggers do not blog from a ministry context. Rarely are they employed by a church; they are not even pursuing a “career” in this field. By and large, they are lay women—homemakers, teachers, graphic designers, and writers who simply have an aptitude and interest in theology.

I do not mean to suggest that male bloggers in ministry are blogging “on the clock” but simply that their day job and their blogging flow together naturally. The opposite is true for their female peers. Conservative female bloggers must actually devote more time to covering the same topics because they do not naturally arise from their work week. For example, my day job is as a wife and mother; if I decide to respond to the latest theological snafu, it’s not because I need to understand the nature of sanctification in order to get the laundry done. But if I were a pastor, I would need to understand it and could justify the time to study it out.

The tension between our “day jobs” and blogging is not a problem so long as we don’t evaluate a blogger’s worth based on productivity alone. In my own life, I’ve had to accept that God has called me to be both a stay-at-home mom and a writer. I must believe that His providence is wise enough to have placed me at this nexus for a reason—perhaps to show that theology is for all of life, for both men and women.

But accepting this tension also means accepting the fact that I will be less “productive” than my male counterparts. It means learning to multi-task and not being surprised when I find myself listening to “The Future of Protestantism” while decorating an Angry Bird birthday cake for my 5-year-old son. (True story.)

Thankfully, in God’s kingdom, productivity is not everything. My success as a blogger is not found in my stats, my regularity, or how many posts go viral. My success is found in being faithful to His call and believing that He uses the weak—even irregular—things of the world to accomplish His eternal purposes.

A Time for Everything (Courney Reissig)

For me, there is no other place where I feel the limitations of my varying seasons like writing. While both genders are constrained by their seasons, women are confronted with it more acutely. So much of our writing in the blogosphere is born out of our life experiences, and though helpful, there are some life experiences that do not afford the time needed to write about them (i.e. small children, pregnancy, caring for aging parents, etc.). 

August 22, 2011

I mentioned a short time ago that my parents are committed readers of biography (which makes Christmas and birthday shopping really easy). A couple of years ago I bought them a copy of David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning life of Harry Truman. My mother was particularly taken with the biography and its subject and I’ve since enjoyed hearing her reflections on Truman. I asked her if she would write some reflections and what follows is the result. I loved reading it and hope you will too!


McCullough TrumanTo my great surprise, I have come to heartily respect a New Deal Mason. And who is that? Harry Truman—someone I knew little about until I recently received the Truman biography by David McCullough. I am trying to learn more about American history, specifically the history of the twentieth century, so I took it on willingly. I became fascinated by this man almost immediately. Who doesn’t love to read the obscure beginnings of someone destined for fame, and try to understand the hows and whys of his life?

The golden thread that runs through Truman’s life, from first to last, is that of an honorable, incorruptible character. The tributes paid to his integrity would be unbelievable did they not come from so many people over such a long span of time. Here is a sampling, from everyone from his housemaid to Winston Churchill:

A fellow military officer from World War One said he was, “…one of the cleanest fellows morally that I ever saw or know….he was clean all the way through.”

Vietta Garr, a servant in the Truman home for many years said, “I never heard a squabble the entire time I was with them. I have never seen Mr. Truman angry.”

His long-term secretary said, “Never in all the years I worked for him did I ever see him lose his temper. He was always soft-spoken and very considerate to his staff.”

Winston Churchill called him a “man of exceptional character.”

And, from General Marshall, “The full stature of this man will only be proven by history. … It is not the courage of the decisions that will live, but the integrity of the man.”

When Dean Acheson, his final Secretary of State, asked him to speak at Yale, he said, “it is not what he says but what he is which is important to young men, and gets communicated.”

And, finally, Eric Sevareid looked back on Truman with these words, “…It’s character, just character. He stands like a rock in memory now.”

And where did his noble bent of mind come from? From a mother who was unbending in her desire that he “be good”, and from extensive exposure to historical heroes and to the Bible–which he had read twice by the time he was twelve years old. Truman was by no means a Christian–rather, he was a committed Mason–but he loved the ethics of Scripture and tried his best to live by them. His respect for Scripture, as he understood it, was both deep and sincere. As with his great hero, Andrew Jackson, he kissed the Bible at both of his inauguration ceremonies.

July 05, 2011

One of the many gifts my parents bequeathed to me is a love of history. I have not seen my parents read many Christian living or spiritual growth books, but I have seen them read countless biographies and histories. One of my great joys is to buy them books for birthdays and Christmas (and any other occasion I can think of) and then to talk with them about what they’ve read. My mother recently read the new biography of John MacArthur and during our subsequent discussion I asked if she would consider writing down a few of her major takeaways. She was kind enough to do so. So what follows is written by my mother, Barbara Challies. Enjoy!


John MacArthur BiographyI read Iain Murray’s recent biography of John MacArthur after my husband received it as a gift. As my reading tends to be mostly about, and by, “dead white men,” I had little direct knowledge of MacArthur, who is still very much alive. I did, however, know him by reputation and held him in the highest regard for the wonderful consistency and forthrightness I heard of from others. So, when Tim asked me to write a brief response to Murray’s book, I did it gladly, but as a MacArthur neophyte.

I had expected to read of a man who loves God’s word with his whole heart and is determined to serve him with all biblical faithfulness. That is exactly what I did find. What I did not expect to find, and I am speaking with all honesty, is someone so very interesting. Why was I surprised? To be honest, I think it is because he is a nice-looking man with a nice-looking wife and children from a big church in California. I thought “they” were mass-marketed, with little appeal to this serious (ex-patriate) Canadian.

So what have I found interesting about this man? If you don’t mind, that is what I will deal with in a few brief paragraphs. I take for granted you are familiar with his excellent, biblically-based theology.

Insight = Bible + History

The first thing is the level of his insight. Love of the Bible and a love of church history—MacArthur has both—always make people insightful. They enable a bottom-line, “essence of the essence” judgment of issues that seems prophetic. In reality, it is the weighing of alternatives on a very finely balanced biblical-historical set of scales. What seems effortless is really the product of much reading and contemplation. MacArthur, as a very young man, was able to see and articulate the problem with the modern American church—easy believism and lack of holiness. When the charismatic movement began to become mainstream, he spoke out against it on the basis of the bedrock of “Scripture Alone,” and his knowledge of similar movements in the past which had harmed the church. He saw immediately that Scripture and experience could not stand as fellow conduits to knowing God. One must engulf the other. Similarly, with Evangelicals and Catholics Together, MacArthur quickly grasped that the essential question—What is a Christian in the first place?—was left unaddressed. The essence of his understanding of each of these issues is so simple that it is easy to underestimate the complete clarity needed to reach them. Again, I will say it is the cumulative effect of immersion in biblical study and church history.

Family

November 12, 2010

A few weeks ago I blogged a short series that told of how I came to know the Lord and, from there, how I became Reformed. Part of my background is being raised by Christian parents. A little while ago my mother wrote out her testimony and shared it with the family and it struck me that her testimony is an important part of my own. Just a few days ago my sister posted it to her blog and, well, that struck me as a great idea. So I will do the same. Here is the story of how my mother came to know the Lord. It is written in the present tense, but begins a few decades ago…

*****

I am sitting on the Voyageur bus on the way to Lennoxville, Quebec.  I have decided to take a few days and figure out whether or not I can find a reason to continue to live.  If not, I will kill myself.  This is not a hasty or emotional decision.  I simply hate life, the tiresome process of getting through another long and meaningless day.   I feel like Sisyphus of the Greek legends, condemned every day to attempting to roll a huge rock uphill, only to have it roll back again and again.  I can not bear it any longer. 

I arrive at the bus station in Lennoxville, and begin the walk along College St. to the university.  I really don’t know why I am there.  I just hope I can think clearly away from home.  I arrive on campus and go along to the hub of the building, the vestibule in front of the theatre.  I am sitting there waiting for Godot, for who knows what.  Along comes someone I know.  It is John Challies.  We were not really friends while I attended Bishop’s.  But we had had some interesting conversations along the way.  We had even gone out on one date. He was always part of the artsy, Bohemian crowd, with a reputation as the campus cynic.  I was more conservative.  He comes right over to me and obviously wants to talk.  And talk he does.  About things I had never heard of before, at least as part of real life – about God and the Bible, about sin and Christ.  What in the world is this?  I listen but I am not happy.  I wish he would stop talking and go away.  I have absolutely no sense that this is the answer to my heart’s cry.  None whatsoever.  Stop it!  The only comment I remember later is one he made toward the end of our time together.  I have shared with him my despair.  He says, Barbara, I think God has great things in store for you…What?…And he extracts a promise from me to go and have dinner with him two nights later…I don’t want to, but I am polite and say I will.

October 11, 2010

It is Thanksgiving in Canada today. And while I’m stuffing myself with turkey and other stuff, I’m turning the blog over to a guest blogger. Nancy Leigh DeMoss prepared this article, a look at the way spiritual change takes place in the life of the Christian. As it happens, I’ll be spending this coming weekend in Fort Worth with Nancy and her ministry for the True Woman conference.

*****

Recently I ran into a woman I had not seen for several weeks. I hardly recognized her. Her hair, normally blonde, had turned completely white. The transformation was dramatic. All it took was forty minutes and some bleach.

If only spiritual transformation were that easy. Just read a book, see a counselor, attend a conference, make a fresh commitment, shed a few tears at an altar, memorize a few verses … and, presto, out comes a mature, godly Christian.

To the contrary, the experience of many believers looks like this.

Commit. Fail. Confess.
Re-commit. Fail again. Confess again.
Re-re-commit. Fail again. Give up.

After all the struggle and effort, we tend to want a “quick fix”—a once-for-all victory—so we won’t have to keep wrestling with the same old issues.

In my own walk with God, I have discovered some helpful principles about how spiritual change takes place.

1. Deep, lasting spiritual change rarely happens overnight. It is a process that involves training, testing, and time. There are no shortcuts.

We hear of people being dramatically delivered from drug or alcohol addiction, and we may wonder, “Why doesn’t God do that for me? Why do I have to struggle with this food addiction, with lust, worry, and anger?”

Before the children of Israel could possess the Promised Land, they had to drive out the pagan nations that occupied Canaan. Ultimate victory was assured if they would “trust and obey,” but it would take time. “I will not drive them out in a single year,” God said. “Little by little, I will drive them out before you” (Exodus 23:29-30).

God is committed to winning the hearts and developing the character of His people. That requires a process.

July 17, 2010

I have returned safely from my week away (more about that on Monday) but first I have one more short guest blog for you. This was sent to me by Tim Turner, the Principal Designer and founder of Subsplash and one of the creators of The Church App. Tim and I have been working together on some interesting and forthcoming projects. As I begin to reflect on my week away from all digital technologies, I appreciated Tim’s words of gratitude for them.

*****

We’re a spoiled bunch. As 21st century techno-geeks, we have gadgets that give us everything at our fingertips. We break into fits of rage when we have to wait 2 seconds for page-loads, the Twitter Fail Whale, and the occasional commercial on Pandora. We throw a fit when we don’t have perfect 3G coverage on our iPhone 4. It’s so easy to get upset about these things. And it’s even easier to rationalize it. I know this because I do it.

Not only do we suffer from “Chronological-Snobbery,” as C. S. Lewis calls it (thinking that because we’re the latest, we’re also the greatest), but I would also pose that we suffer from Technological-Snobbery (thinking that we deserve the perfected latest and greatest).

We should really take a minute to chill out and remember God’s grace and blessing. We are at an amazing point in history and we should celebrate that with humility. We get to experience some extraordinary advances, especially as Christians. To read the Bible, we don’t need to walk mile upon dusty mile to read a handwritten scroll. We can flip open our phone and access 40 different translations, with cross-references, notes, commentary, devotions, and more. We can access decades of sermons from many incredible Bible teachers and churches both in audio and video forms, all on-demand anywhere in the world. Having all these resources available to us at the tap of a finger is a great and wonderful blessing that we should not take for granted. It’s important that we not put ourselves in the middle of the iUniverse—even though our phones are called iPhone. It’s not about us. It’s about God and His work that he’s doing through Jesus and His church. People are meeting Jesus and we’re experiencing His Truth in amazing ways. If that takes an extra 2 seconds, I’ll try to be ok with that.