Monday, January 28, 2019

The Dalai Lama Meets with Students from the USA & Israel

Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India - This morning, His Holiness the Dalai Lama met with a group of 51 students and 6 staff members of Kivunim. This department of Hebrew College offers an academic gap year program for North American High School graduates based in Jerusalem with field trip visits to 11 other countries. His Holiness welcomed them to Dharamsala—his home for the last sixty years.

"All of us seven billion human beings are mentally, emotionally and physically same,” he told them. “Whether you are a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian or belong to any other faith, there is no difference in the way we are born or the way we die. We begin our lives basking in our mother’s affection, without which we would not have survived.

“Scientists have evidence that basic human nature is compassionate. They have also found that the opposite, constant anger and hatred, weaken our immune systems. Therefore, just as we teach physical hygiene to preserve our physical health, in order for people to learn how to maintain a happy, peaceful mind, they need to learn emotional hygiene—how to tackle their destructive emotions.”

His Holiness explained that he is committed to promoting basic human values because of his concern that people should be able to lead their lives in joy and peace. In this connection he is also committed to encouraging religious harmony because, despite differences in their philosophical views, all major religious traditions convey a similar message of love and compassion, patience and tolerance and so forth. He acknowledged that belief in a merciful creator God is a powerful basis for viewing our fellow creatures as brothers and sisters. Being responsible for your own actions, as taught among non-theistic traditions, has a similar effect.

His Holiness mentioned how sad he feels to see conflict in the name of religion:

"Religion is supposed to bring people closer together, so it’s unthinkable that it should be used create conflict. It is particularly sad when members of different denominations of the same religion, such as Sunni and Shia Muslims, quarrel with each other, however this doesn’t seem to be a problem in India.”

Although he has retired and passed his political responsibilities to an elected leadership in 2011, His Holiness remains deeply concerned about keeping Tibet's rich culture and language alive.
"As far as the Nalanda tradition is concerned, its approach to reality, which depends on the use of reason, is scientific and unique among Buddhist traditions."

Regarding the need to protect Tibet’s ecology, His Holiness reported that scientists have told him that because the natural environment at high altitude is more fragile, when it is damaged it takes much longer to recover.

“Historically, according to Chinese documents, Tibet, Mongolia and China were independent nations in the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries,” His Holiness remarked. “However, the past is past. We need to take account of the reality today. We are not seeking separate status for Tibet. We are prepared to remain with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), provided there is mutual benefit. I have great admiration for the spirit of the European Union that puts the common interest ahead of the interests of its individual members.”

His Holiness answered several questions from the audience and posed for a photographs with them before returning to his residence.

original link & photos:

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Seriousness of Sentimentalism: Three Ways of Seeing the World, Part 1

By Reverend Mark Hunnemann

I want to do a 3-part series on how to view the world: sentimentalism, cynicism, and gratitude—the last of which is, though it is not a comprehensive response to these other two, it is a good beginning to seeing the world through biblical spectacles.

We are ‘Glorious Ruins’ as Francis Schaeffer so aptly put it; glorious because we are made in God’s image, and ruins because of the Fall and our rebellion against our Creator. In this 3-part series I am going to look at two enemies of the Christian faith: sentimentalism and cynicism. Sentimentalists, as we’ll see, fixate on the ‘glorious’ aspect, and cynics the ‘ruin’ part. Or Jesus said that we should be ‘wise as serpents and innocent as doves’ (Matt 10); again, sentimentalism focuses on the second part and cynicism focuses on the wise as serpents. They are both destructive of biblical Christianity, and on a spectrum they are polar opposites, they pull in opposite directions. However, the cure is to not to mix one with a bit of the other. In that case, we no longer have a one-headed monster but a two-headed monster! (cynical sentimentalist or reverse!)

We all have laughingly groaned about some overly sentimental cards we may have received, but that barely scratches the surface of what we are looking at. It goes much, much deeper than shallow cards.

Sentimentalism may sound sweet, nice and innocuous, but in its strong form, it truly is destructive of our faith because it renders Christ's death unnecessary, as we’ll see. I believe that sentimentalism is incredibly huge in America/UK and is having an enormously corrosive effect on our culture and the truth—but very few see it for what it is because it is so NICE. (reminds me of the beautiful side of evil) It is massive in scope and I’m convinced that it is thoroughly under-evaluated, under-analyzed, and under-appreciated for the negative impact it is having on culture and the church. Why? Again, because on the surface, it appears and sounds so sweet and nice, especially compared to some foes of the faith that are more militant—like paganism or atheism. Strident atheistic critics of our faith are much more easy to spot and to respond to.

Both sentimentalism and cynicism are like glasses through which we view all of reality; they are worldview glasses. Some of you wear glasses but you are not aware that you are looking through them when you wear them. You may take them off to clean them or go to the optometrist to make sure that you are seeing clearly. And that is what we need to do—clean our worldview glasses; take a long, hard look at how these ‘glasses’ of sentimentalism effects how we see everything. It effects how we see ourselves, our inner life and emotions, reality, God, His redemption, our relationships, ect. Remember that sentimentalism has become ubiquitous and can be seen in every aspect of American culture; art, media, politics, entertainment, relationships, etc. Its devastation is all the more insidious and dangerous because it sounds so lovely on the surface. I won’t have the time to dissect how it has effected culture in all respects because it is enormous, and because some of it depends on human taste and subjectivity (e.g. art).

 First, let me say very strongly that I am NOT coming down on emotions or sentiments. We need emotions to be human and they are a lovely part of life. Nor am I criticizing strong expressions of strong emotions/sentiments—just think of the emotional life of our Lord and how He showed deep emotion or sentiment (e.g. tomb of Lazarus). So, the issue is not emotions/sentiments per se, but a selfish or twisted use of them.

Let me define sentimentalism, and then you will see the need for concern. (I need to give credit to Dick Keyes from L’Abri who helped in this study) In it’s strong form it consists of three things: first, there is a denial of evil, sin, ugliness, dirtiness, brokenness and complexity; second, emotions are self-referential—emotions turned in on themselves (I’ll explain this shortly); and lastly, emotions do not lead to action, especially if it is self-sacrificial or costly in any way.

There is an inner coherence or twisted logic that holds these three together, though they may be experienced individually at times.

Let’s look at each one and then show how they collide with biblical Christianity. The first aspect of sentimentalism is the denial of evil, sin, suffering, ugliness and complexity. What it wants and sees instead is: goodness, niceness, sweetness, peace, and simplicity. In fact, it’s watchword is ‘niceness.’ It does not want to face the ugly side of life. It refuses to see it. It will do all in its power to mask, trivialize, or downplay the harsh realities of life in a fallen world.

That is not real life in the fallen world, and sooner or later they will have a very rude awakening to the harsh edges of God’s world. We may deny evil and sin but we cannot escape living in God’s world. But this sin and ugliness denial is so very prevalent, and it starts young. Think of the message of Barney and Friends—all areas of life are covered with a pink cloud of optimism and PC values. Disney has created a similar world, which is also devoid of God, sin and redemption. Our kids are being exposed to a sentimental view of life from early age. Sesame Street and Kaptain Kangaroo had real kids without scripts and things went bump. Even classical children’s stories that speak of evil step-parents are being downplayed. We want stories that always have happy endings but that is not life in the real lane.

Let me give an adult example. Joseph Goebbels was the Minister of Propaganda for the Nazi Party from 1933-1945. He had a fascinating strategy for masking the evil that was becoming increasingly ensconced in that culture. On State radio he mandated the music. One might think that he would have played Wagner and military marches but instead he required the playing of non-stop syrupy and sappy love songs. Hour after hour, year after year, Goebbels played these love songs while all the while all around them Hitler was turning their country into a police state based on racism. The people’s perception of profound evil was being affected and distracted by this relentless barrage of sentimental music, which blinded the people seeing what was right in front of their noses. The trivialization and denial of evil, ugliness and suffering through music was state controlled and very effective in controlling the masses.

I am amazed that after the bloodiest century in the history of mankind (170 million non-combatants were slaughtered by Communists) we are experiencing this profound evil denying worldview.

Immediately it is apparent how this radically impacts one’s ability to see a need for a savior. If we deny sin and evil, then there is no need for a savior; Jesus becomes an irrelevant nice guy or even a joke. Sin is the whole reason Jesus came into the world, so if we deny or trivialize sin then we will not see a need for a savior. They may like Easter (because of its positive energy) but not Good Friday. Do you see how serious this is? And we are talking about a view of the world that has become enormously popular, and aspects of it have entered the church as well. Not so sweet and innocuous as it first sounded is it? It is sending many to hell because it is undermining the entire message of redemption; no sin, then no need for a savior. With these glasses, the gospel seems primitive and obscene.

But it is not just salvation. It blinds people to the true suffering that people are going through. This mindset is reflected in what is the life goal for many: personal peace and affluence; just leave me alone and I don’t want to see the ugly underbelly of your life. I read recently that one woman said that all she wanted from life was to be drama free and to have fun and laugh. That is a recipe for not only wasting one’s life here but for losing it eternally.

The mega-popular authors and pastors alike often avoid speaking of dark themes which the bible speaks so frankly about. We live in a terribly broken and fallen world, in which we are glorious ruins. However, sentimentalism is: we just want to have fun and no drama in relationships. They fixate on the glorious aspect to the total neglect of the ‘ruin’ that has befallen all of us.

A singer songwriter from NC is James Taylor who is internationally famous. And the song which jumpstarted his career in 1970 was ‘Fire and Rain.’ This song is about drug addiction/heroin withdrawal, suicide, career slide and emotional collapse, as he was institutionalized a few times. Nevertheless, at a large fund raiser 40 years later, there was Taylor grinning as he sung this song about horrible realities but brought back sentimental feelings for the audience—they were grinning and swaying. There was a total disconnect between the awful lyrics and our wanting to squash harsh reality and focus on sentimentalism. That is an example of musical sentimentalism. I hate to face the ugly side of life so leave me alone.

This avoidance of the ‘ruin’ is what is driving many people’s fanaticism about fitness. Fitness is wonderful and I enjoy it, but for many, they do not want to think about the ugliness of death, so they throw themselves into all kinds of activities that distract them from thinking about the inevitability of death. Instead of doing the rational thing and making sure we are ready to die well, we avoid and deny it. In truth, we are not ready to live well unless we are first ready to die well…it will always be haunting us. So, sentimentalism denies or mutes the harsh realities of life, like sin, brokeness and suffering. They don’t have a corner on denial of evil; paganism and a host of other -isms deny evil too.

From Genesis 3 to Revelation God’s assessment of all mankind is that we are sinners: ‘for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’(Rom. 3:23) So, this aspect is a total denial of reality, as we know and experience it, and most importantly as God declares it to be. Our feelings are not the ultimate criterion of truth; God’s Word is. Our experience is to be sifted through the bible and not vice versa.

Second, sentimentalism is emotionally self-referential; emotions are turned inwards. Its directing your emotions towards your own emotions, so you are the subject of the expression of your emotions. What I mean is that we are more concerned about our experience of our emotions than we are for the people who we are emoting to because of their pain. Instead of feeling true sadness for a person who is suffering, the sentimentalist feels good about themselves that they are expressing sad emotions. So, what may look like feelings for others, really may have ‘me’ as their object. For example, do I really love this person or do I love how this person makes me feel? And what happens when they don’t make you feel good about yourself? Sentimentalism has done great damage in relationships and marriages because true love is not the goal—self sacrificing love. Many on dating sites speak of initial chemistry, how this person makes me feel? It is fine and good to be attracted to the one you want to marry but how will this chemistry handle the first argument you get into, when they no longer make you feel good? As a former pastor who has performed many weddings, I really like the classic vows because they force one to think through all the possibilities of when your spouse may not be ‘chemistry on fire’ anymore; for better/worse, richer/poorer, sickness/health, til we are parted by death.

It has been said that sentimentalists see all of reality revolving around them. Whatever happens, their response is always: how does this affect ME? It is a terrible situation where they cannot even acknowledge that there are other people, and an entire external world, which is outside of them.

A biblical example of self-referential feelings is King Hezekiah. In Isaiah 39 Isaiah rebukes the king for his hubris in showing all his riches—he tells the king that his country will be utterly destroyed. And Hezekiah’s response? Classic self-referentialism—‘what you have said is good.’! He had positive emotions because all the devastation would occur after he died. Incredible selfishness.

Another example is Tennyson’s long poem entitled ‘In Memorium’ which is about the tragic death of his 22 year old best friend Arthur Hallum and sister's fiancée. It is 50 pages long but hardly nothing is said about the dead man; we learn nothing about Arthur Hallum; it is all about Tennyson’s reflections on HIS emotional response to this tragic death; his struggle with his emotions and doubts about his faith. It is all self-referential; its all about his feelings about his friends death but nothing is said about the man himself. It’s all self-referential; the dead man is lost in the shuffle of his emotional turmoil.

The media is very good about eliciting an emotional response from the audience that makes them feel good about their emotional response of feeling bad. It is all about making one feel good about the fact that they have expressed themselves; pride in one’s emotional response. It is quite twisted.

Have you ever told a friend about a trial you are experiencing, only for them to reply how this inconveniences them? ‘I had a flat tire’. ‘Oh what a bummer because I wanted to borrow your car tomorrow.’ That can get old real quick for those on the receiving end. Or take the counselor who feels the need to be needed, and so he does not really want you to get healed. Pastors sometimes do this too; need to be needed.

Worst, perhaps, is when a person has heard potential or real devastating news regarding their friend's health. But they express extravagantly (perhaps on Facebook) how much it has kept them up at nights, but you have not even heard from them. They are more concerned about how noble they feel about the sadness they feel for your devastating news.

Those who are on the receiving end of such self referential emotions feel like prey; they can tell that its more about the other person and their feeling pleased about themselves, than a proper compassionate concern for you. After such an encounter the true sufferer may likely have a ‘hunted’ look on his face—he has fallen prey to this persons selfish quest for emotional self-validation as a ‘caring person.’ The reality is that they are emotional vampires.

This of course flies in the face of countless biblical texts about putting others before oneself. It is also destructive of true expressions of genuine compassion. Jesus was quite indignant about those who did good things for show. This aspect undermines all true compassion and turns people into selfish folks…deep down, shallow people. However, I need to add that we all struggle with hypocrisy at some level.

The third aspect of sentimentalism is that our emotions do not lead to appropriate action; especially if that action is sacrificial or costly. If we refuse to see evil and our emotions are self-referential, then it only makes sense that that person is apt to close their eyes to evil/suffering and do nothing.

I heard the story of wealthy couple in 19th century England and they go to the theatre on a cold wintry night. They are both moved to tears about the story of a poor person who is belittled and battered by uncaring rich folks. Meanwhile, the carriage driver who drove them is outside and almost froze to death while waiting in the cold. He forgot to clean the snow off the step of the carriage and the woman got snow on her shoes. The husband gets verbally abusive and furiously horsewhips the driver for this oversight. They are totally oblivious to the disconnect between their response to a play and how they treat their driver in real life. They can weep at a play but have no compassion on the poor man outside, nearly frozen to death—sentimentalism can elicit strong emotion but it does not lead to costly expressions of love.

For the sentimentalist, their strong emotions stop with their emoting and feeling good about their emoting. They don’t feel any compulsion to reach out to anyone who is need, especially if they have to roll up their sleeves to do so. If there is no evil, and if the feelings we do have are self-referential, then it only makes sense that that person is not likely to do anything to help.

This is why sentimentality is so dangerous because it is all about niceness and warmth. It is very easy for Christians to overlook because it looks so sweet and kind and we are used to getting worked up about raving atheists, like the late Christopher Hitchens. But to realize that much we value is being undermined by niceness is a strange shift of gears for us. The bible is full of warnings about the dangers posed by sentimentalism. The following passage from James captures and condemns all three aspects of sentimentalism.

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

First, in this text James is condemning the attitude that denies in practice the reality of suffering because they are looking squarely at folks who are nearly naked and starving but seem to look right past it. They do not take seriously another person's suffering; they don’t see it. But since it is a sin of omission and not commission it is easy to overlook. But sins of omission are a brutal reality in a sentimentality soaked culture. Second, they seem to feel quite good, smugly self-satisfied and self-congratulatory about their emotional and verbal response. However, their shallow and self-centered emotions do not result in any action at all; it would cost them something—like interrupting their supper. They neither clothe nor feed them. Instead they feel quite content with uttering a pious cliché and slamming the door in their face. To this James says that that kind of faith is dead. And it critiques all 3 aspects of sentimentalism.

Do you see how sentimentalism is not just confined to Hallmark cards? It is an entire worldview that has America and the west in a tight death grip. With its categories, the redemptive work of Christ is rendered useless and unneeded. If there is no evil and man is basically good then who needs a savior? That is why we must hammer home the law to reveal that all of mankind is in desperate need of a savior.

Not all three aspects of sentimentalism are present in every situation; sometimes it may just be just one-like the first aspect. But that in itself is enough to dissuade anyone from looking seriously at the gospel. The church is not immune to this dust of death which is settling everywhere. All three aspects have crept in the back door. The Christian bookstores are filled with bestsellers which make people feel good about themselves; shallow in theology but rich in sentimentalism. Some mega pastors virtually deny sin and evil by not mentioning it from the pulpit. ‘If you only have enough faith, then you can make your suffering go away’, then like Job’s counselors we may become blind to people’s true suffering—throwing sentimental biblical clichés at them. We feel in clichés and talk in clichés. Not enough worship music mentions the blues and becomes biblically imbalanced.

The beguiling attractiveness of sentimentalism is that it can be mistakenly connected with fond memories of a loved one. Please, I am NOT saying that we should be cold and emotionless robots. It all depends on how we define sentimentality. My deeply fond memories of my deceased parents and siblings are a profound sentiment of mine. But deep sentiments is not to be equated with an -ism, in this case sentimental-ism. In most instances, the root word is perfectly fine until the suffix ‘ism’ is added.

In close, I want to reiterate how massively sentimentalism has infiltrated our society and the insidious damage it has done, and continues to do. It is wrecking havoc in every area of life. But the tragedy is that this tsunami leaves hardly a trace of even a wake, because it is not being seen. Our glasses are fogged. It is truly the child of the angel of light; a ‘nice sin’ of omission.

Next week—cynicism.

Mark Hunnemann is the author of Seeing Ghosts Through God's Eyes: A Worldview Analysis of Earthbound Spirits. It's also available in eBook forma

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Dalai Lama Visits the Bodhi Tree

Participating in Prayers by the Bodhi Tree
January 17, 2018

Bodhgaya, Bihar, India - His Holiness the Dalai Lama left the Tibetan Monastery under a sunlit blue sky this morning. He drove the short distance to the Mahabodhi Stupa, where the Great Prayer Festival of the Nyingma Tradition began today. This was His Holiness's third visit to the Stupa during his current stay in Bodhgaya. Once more he stepped through the stone railings surrounding the inner circuit on the west side next to the Bodhi Tree and walked round to the inner sanctum, where he paid his respects before the statue of the Buddha and lit a lamp. He then completed his circumambulation, smiling and waving to people gazing through the railings, and took his seat facing the Bodhi Tree and the Seat of Enlightenment. To his left sat Lamas like Kathok Getse Rinpoche and to his right the current Ganden Tripa and his predecessor and others. Hanging before them were two thangkas depicting the fourteen Dalai Lamas.

In association with the ongoing Prayer Festival Namgyal Monastery had organized a collection of prayers and praises to be recited in gratitude to the line of Dalai Lamas. They began with a praise to the Buddha known as a ‘Daily Practice in Three Parts' and continued with Tsongkhapa's ‘Praise to the Buddha for Teaching Dependent Arising', the ‘Supplication to the Buddha known as Drumbeat of Truth', the ‘Praise to the 17 Masters of Nalanda', the ‘Clouds of Ambrosial Blessings' by Trulshik Rinpoché, which reviews the qualities of the line of incarnations of Avalokiteshvara that include the Dalai Lamas, the ‘Invocation of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas' with its associated rite of ablution, the ‘Cloud of Offerings', the ‘King of Prayers' (the Samantabhadra Prayer), the ‘Invocation of the Dharma Protectors of Tibet, the ‘Sages' Song of Truth—a Prayer for the Spread of the Teachings without Sectarianism', the ‘Words of Truth' and the ‘Prayer for the Flourishing of the Dharma' by the Buddha.

The whole recitation was concluded with a verse composed by His Holiness :

May whatever is undertaken by those malevolent beings—
Be they visible or invisible—who due to their perverse aspirations
In the past, are hostile to the Buddhist teachings,
Be uprooted by the truth of the Three Jewels.

Back at the Tibetan Monastery His Holiness met with a group of 170 professionals from all over Vietnam.

“Whatever your specific occupation, whether it brings benefit or does harm depends on your motivation,” he told them. “If you’re self-centred, working as a teacher may seem to be good, but the reality may be different. As I said, everything depends on your motivation. The Buddha always emphasised that we need to purify our minds, so we need to analyse what kinds of mental state are helpful and which bring us trouble.

“Mental afflictions like anger, hatred and jealousy are harmful because they disturb our peace of mind. Medical researchers have also observed that constant anger and fear undermine our immune system. To reduce anger we need patience and tolerance, but the most effective step is to cultivate warm-heartedness. In addition, it’s important to think about the oneness of humanity—how we are all the same in being human. Because I think of myself as just another human being, with nothing special or different about me, whoever I meet I also think of similarly as another human being, no matter what their race, faith or nationality might be.

“Buddhists accept the idea of life after life and the key to achieving a good rebirth in the future is to lead your present life in a meaningful way. And that entails doing no harm and being of help to others.”

original link & photos:

Friday, January 18, 2019

Why Don’t I Feel Like I Am Saved? If I Am Saved Why Don’t I Feel Like It?

By Reverend Mark Hunnemann

Continued from:

Imagine you have a very rich uncle, and when he died you are informed by his attorney that he left you 100 million dollars. Suppose this happened but when you heard the news you refused to believe it; it seemed unreal—too good to be true. So, for several months the full amount of the money was in your bank account but you made no withdrawals on it; it just sat there unused. That would be sad and unfortunate wouldn’t it, especially if you are struggling mightily just to make ends meet? You are a millionaire many time over but it has not made a bit of difference in your life; indeed you live as if you were a pauper when you are incredibly rich!

Similarly, by virtue of our union with Christ, we have NOW at our disposal all the spiritual riches imaginable, including the firm assurance of our eternal salvation; look at this verse in Ephesians.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, (Eph.1:3)  He HAS blessed us…with every spiritual blessing. Pretty amazing deposit in our spiritual bank account! But how many of us live in light of this blessed truth? Lack of assurance will certainly make one feel like a spiritual pauper, but having assurance is heaven on earth!

In his lovely prayer which begins at v.15 Paul basically prays that we would deeply understand the fullness of the riches we have received in Christ. He knew that it was easy for Christians to live as if they were spiritual paupers, when we have no idea of how spiritual wealthy we are now. Like the rich uncle who died and left his inheritance, we have been left an incalculable inheritance in Christ but most Christians devalue or are unaware of how blessed we are in Christ. This ‘richness’ would certainly include the full assurance of faith; a deep sense that our faith is real and that God will not let us go. I said last time, that Christians with a robust assurance live as if they were experiencing heaven on earth!

How can we grow in our assurance? I touched on this last time but there are more issues to address.

First, we must not confuse the foundation of our salvation with its superstructure. Justification (foundation) is an eschatological reality; it is the verdict of the last day brought forward into our present experience. It is complete and nothing can be added to it. Justification is complete and perfect the moment we believe, and cannot be augmented or diminished. Sanctification is the superstructure built on top of this and sanctification IS progressive. But justification is final, complete and irreversible.  Justification is the Last Day declaration of ‘not guilty’ as well as the perfect righteousness of Christ imputed to me. Please see the first segment which argues for the perseverance of the saints—without this foundation, it is impossible to attain to full and robust assurance.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)  Where does your faith come from? God.

We are justified by faith alone but our faith contributes nothing to our justification—it is 100% God’s gift to us—that could not be more clearly stated in above text. Faith is the instrument by which we lay hold of Christ. Yet the very folks who quote those verses all the time to show that we are not saved by good works, often do not see that it also indubitably affirms that we did not generate that faith; it was a grace gift from God. Faith is the empty mouth that feeds on Christ, or the empty hands that receive God’s free gift. The faith you express to receive justification is given to you by God; it is not self-generated from your flesh. Please listen: as long as we think that WE generated faith and it contributes to our justification/salvation, then instead of: experiencing weak faith which should lead to rejoicing in a strong Christ…when we experience weak faith it leads to loss of assurance of our salvation. So, when we experience bouts of weak faith, let that lead us to the object of our faith—an omnipotent Christ! We are not saved by faith in faith but faith in Jesus Christ. No matter how weak our faith may be, does not diminish one iota the strength of the object of our weak faith—King Jesus! Our assurance lies in the strength of our Savior and not the strength of our faith.

In some circles there is such a strong emphasis on remembering your conversion, that those who are uncertain about the timing of their salvation are then led to doubt the reality of their salvation. But as with physical birth where it is not important that we remember our birth, but the important thing is that we are alive now, and that entails that we most certainly were born physically! Similarly, you may not remember the moment of your conversion (I don’t) but the important issue is this: am I spiritually alive now? That is all that is needed for assurance of salvation.

Second, inconsistent obedience will lead to lack of assurance. Do we think that the indwelling Holy Spirit will give us inner comfortings regarding our salvation, when we are living in unholiness and grieving Him? A sweet and robust assurance is connected to striving for holiness. We are certainly not speaking of perfection, but a passion to please God in all areas of life. Low levels of personal holiness will lead to low levels of assurance of salvation.

Third, a misunderstanding of affliction or suffering will lead to problems with assurance. If you ask people how they know if God loves them, many will refer to His blessings as the evidence of His love. But what happens when God’s providence becomes hard and difficult? What happens when there is a ‘crook in the lot’? Do we base our apprehension of God’s love on our circumstances? If so, then we are in trouble because we live in a fallen world in which the godliest are promised by Jesus that we WILL experience suffering in this life. Circumstances neither indicate one's character (as Job’s wretched counselors assumed) nor are they indicators of God’s attitude towards us. God’s providence is mostly a mystery to us, and it often has harsh realities—we live in a terribly broken world in which we (and our loved ones) get sick and die. If you live long enough, you will experience suffering of some kind. The cross, and not our circumstances, is God’s evidence of His love for us.

In fact, many people will attest that their lives got more complicated and more painful after they believed in Christ. When the Holy Spirit indwells us, then that is when the warfare begins between indwelling sin and the indwelling Christ. The Lord promised peace IN the problems, not a guarantee of a route around the problems.

Lastly, the devil will throw up hindrances to assurance. He is a better theologian than most people. He knows that a true believer cannot be damned, so he will do all he can to make them doubt their salvation and drive them to despair. The Holy Spirit will convict you to lead you to repentance, but the devil ‘convicts’ to accuse—“You cannot be a Christian if you act or talk like that.” To which we reply: look to Jesus—He is my righteousness.

Building your assurance. In addition to things said in previous message, let me say this: make it your first priority of the day to GET YOUR HEART HAPPY IN THE LORD (George Mueller said this). What I mean is:  read your bible every day and ask God to touch your affections and to apply it to your life, with the expectation of coming away with your heart happy, assured and energized by the Holy Spirit. This is a general rule of thumb because there are valleys when darkness abounds and it is difficult to find happiness.

There are 3 areas that we should apply the bible in order to maximize its effectiveness in assurance: orthodoxy (right belief), orthopraxy (right action) and orhtopathos (right affections or feelings). Different denominations tend to be strong in one area but weak in the others, but biblical faith that leads to full assurance will need to be applied to all three. Reformed folks (like myself) tend to focus on orthodoxy but often neglect orthopathos. If you read the psalms or Philippians (e.g.) then one can see a strong focus on right belief and actions leading to proper feelings (e.g. joy—depending on what emotion the text calls for), and vice versa. There is a web of mutual reciprocity; they mutually influence each other.

Please be aware of the close connection between the physical, emotional and spiritual. If one is suffering chronic and acute physical pain, then it often affects the emotional and spiritual, and vice versa. Depression can make assurance a difficulty.

Lastly, let me mention meditation, which is a lost art. Biblical meditation is a way of abiding in Christ moment by moment. We take a verse or thought and think about it during the day and maybe even mutter to yourself about it. Unlike eastern meditation which is content-less and focuses on nothing or some placid scene, biblical meditation turns over and over in the mind some particular thought you gleaned from your daily reading of God’s Word. This helps immensely in bringing all 3 foci together (orthodoxy, orthopraxis, and orthpathos). By meditating on God’s Word we abide in Christ and the Holy Spirit assures us supernaturally of our status as God’s children, as He delights to work in conjunction with the written Word.

Next: how to deal with depression, loss and suffering.

Mark Hunnemann is the author of Seeing Ghosts Through God's Eyes: A Worldview Analysis of Earthbound Spirits. It's also available in eBook forma

Friday, January 11, 2019

Assurance of Faith: Its Importance, Hindrances and How to Increase it

By Reverend Mark Hunnemann

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Cor 13) Here and elsewhere the Lord urges us to test ourselves to make sure that our faith is real and sincere. The stakes are too high to make a mistake about this as the consequences are eternal. It breaks my heart to say this, but millions will die thinking they are saved but will wake up to their unspeakable horror in hell.

We must find a middle ground between being too shallowly self-assured on the one hand, and engaging in morbid introspection on the other—what the Puritans called having ‘an ingrown eyeball.’ Periodic self-examination is not only healthy, but it is commanded in scripture. However, I wonder how many professing Christians take the time to reexamine their faith to make sure it is genuine? On the other hand, there are many sincere believers who are tormented with lack of assurance, but it is rarely discussed in much detail these days.

Many sincere believers will die with a lack of salvation and this is sad. Having assurance of salvation is not necessary to be saved as some believe; but assurance is necessary to enjoy ones salvation and be most productive. By the way, John Calvin did not teach that assurance was of the essence of saving faith as some have asserted for centuries. There has been an extended dispute that he differed from the Westminster Confession on this matter but he didn’t. He defines faith, but then spends the rest of the chapter saying that nobody has this kind of faith! In fact, they are dealing with 2 different issues: Calvin was defining saving faith, and chapter 18 of WCF is about assurance of salvation. I only mention this because academics debate this and say: see they cannot even agree on this central issue. I am amazed at how many godly men I admire who misunderstand Calvin at this vital point. Whether assurance is of the essence of saving faith or is simply to be strongly preferred is of immense practical import.

Nor does assurance lead to presumption as others believe because all of our hope and confidence is based in Christ and the gospel as we shall see. How can those clinging to Christ be either proud or lax in their obedience? It is unthinkable.

What is the assurance of faith? It is the belief that I believe; faith that I have faith. It is a robust, deep and joyful conviction that I truly am united to Christ by faith. It has rightly been said that a deep sense of assurance leads to a sense of heaven on earth, amidst our frailties and attacks. It is the joy unspeakable of which the NT speaks. Do you enjoy this assurance or is it intermittent or even lacking then I pray you attain this precious pearl.

Some folks know all the cognitive facts of the gospel, and have truly rested in Him, but cant seem to get assurance that they have faith in their hearts. And this torments them.

Just as we should avoid the marriage guru who says that “if you only follow the 5-steps that my wife and I follow then you can have a wonderful marriage”, so too, we need to not be an ‘assurance guru’ because there is no cookie-cutter approach that equally works for everyone. We are individuals.

The gospel comes to every person the same way but it finds different hurdles or obstacles in every person. I think that we underestimate how deep people are psychologically and how that factors in their quest for assurance of salvation. Some have been so psychologically abused that they hardly have the emotional framework to fathom that God really loves them and that they really love Him. These issues have to be factored in and sometimes need counseling to process the pain. Otherwise, there will remain some blockage which will prevent the full flow of salvations joy. Some of you have experienced horrendous pain and that needs to be addressed as well.

It is an individual quest. John Doe’s assurance is fine for him but it won’t help me—I need assurance for me. And the same is true for YOU.

Have you ever heard of ‘referred pain’ in medicine? It is where one feels pain in one area of the body but the source of the pain is elsewhere. The complicated network of muscles and nerves cause the pain to ‘show up’ far from its true origin. Similarly, I have found that problems with assurance rarely have to do assurance itself but with something else. That is, the problem with assurance is ‘referred pain’—symptoms of an ailment whose origin lies elsewhere, and a good physician of the soul will enable them to isolate the true source. In the meantime, the problems with assurance are very real and terribly painful.

Let us briefly look at a few hindrances to assurance of salvation and how to deepen it; they are connected.

1. Let me first mention those who have false assurance and how that can be unmasked. Many think that if they made a ‘decision’ early in life but then live and believe any way they want for 50 years, will not inherit salvation, as only those who pursue after holiness and persevere to the end will be saved. Likewise, a lack of the Fruit of the Spirit is an indicator that one’s profession is empty. We are not talking about perfection but there must be some reality of the Spirit moving and changing a persons life for them to be truly saved. As Luther said: we are saved by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone. Only a lively trust in Christ is saving faith. Easy believism leads to easy assurancism, which is deadly.

2. The first hindrance to a robust salvation is setting the bar too high. Some think that unless they have some extraordinary revelation from God, some constantly intense feeling—then they cannot be saved. Surely a saved person will ‘feel like it.’ I am not downplaying the significance of feelings but our feelings can ebb and flow with our blood sugar or amount of sleep we get. One area that is often overlooked is ‘orthopathos’—right feelings that should flow from our reading of God’s Word and our love for Him. But the foundation for our salvation are God’s promises and not our feelings. True salvation will include: orthodoxy (right belief), orthopraxis (right behavior) and orthopathos (right feelings). To acquire and grow in assurance then we need to tend to all three.

If your feelings are lacking ask yourself this question: how consistent am I in reading God’s Word and prayer? There is no time when I feel more assured of my salvation than when I am immersed in God’s Word. The key to deep assurance is not extraordinary experiences but normal means of grace which would include the Lord’s Supper. But we need to take them seriously on a daily basis; bible study and prayer. These do not increase our salvation but they do increase the assurance of our salvation.

3. Perhaps the most common source of lack of assurance is fuzziness regarding justification. Justification is what theologians call an eschatological reality brought into the present. That is, the moment a person professes faith in Christ, the verdict of the Last Judgment is declared upon them—immediately and irreversibly. No amount of sanctification of 50 years of righteous living can add one iota or diminish one iota the perfect righteousness of Christ imputed to me. When justified, two things occurred (a double exchange); my sins were imputed to Christ and His perfect righteousness is imputed to me.(2 Cor.5:21) Why didn’t Jesus just descend on Good Friday and die for our sins? Why the Incarnation and all the moment by moment perfect obedience to the Father and to the Law for 33 years?

Christ lived a life of perfect obedience to the Law for a reason. Most Christians think that salvation includes only the forgiveness of sins, but that is only half the blessing—half the gospel! Being forgiven would place us back in the garden but it would not give us a positive righteousness. Jesus was born and lived 33 years of perfect obedience to the Law so that He would then transfer that robe of righteousness to us the moment we believe. It cannot be augmented or diminished, nor can it be lost. We must not think that our sanctification will add anything to Christs righteousness because if we confuse our sanctification with our justification, then we will commit the same error as Rome. Justification will then become a process of growth or diminishment—that is terrible news. Justification is not a process but a declaration; the sentence of the last Day rendered in the present, which is so good that it is beyond words to describe how lovely that is! Looking at Christ as our righteousness is the only proper basis for assurance. We can sing for joy that we have assurance because of all Christ has done for us!

As Luther said, we are simul Justus et peccator—'at the same time righteous and sinful’. In ourselves we will have the remains of indwelling sin until we die and are glorified. But ‘in Christ’ the Father sees the perfection of His Son. He sees us as holy and righteous as Jesus is! For a Roman Catholic this is almost blasphemous but it is only the perfect righteousness of Christ that will stand up under the scrutiny of the thrice holy God on Judgment Day.

If you focus on yourself and forget about the imputation of Christs perfect righteousness then you are setting yourself (and sinfulness)up for problems with assurance of salvation. Satan will come along and accuse you that a true Christian would not still have so much sin remaining in them. Our assurance is based primarily on the gospel; the gospel of the dual imputation, which has largely been lost today by most pastors and preachers. In ourselves we are still sinful but we cling white-knuckled to the cross of Christ and His finished work…and HIS righteousness. Without that knowledge of double imputation the devil can make mince meat of your conscience; with it, we can be the more than conquerors that we are!

4.  If the beatitudes or the Fruit of the Spirit are being formed in you (not perfectly but some reality) then one can be assured that they have true faith. Or in 1 John, the apostle asks this very question: what are the marks of one who is truly saved, and he mentions several?  But my point here is simple: if you can see God slowly but surely changing your character then that should encourage you.

5. Then lastly, the Bible says that the Holy Spirit Himself bears witness with our inner self (Rom8) that we are God’s children. Some of you have forgotten what you felt like when you are unsaved, but on your lowest day of assurance as a believer, you have more assurance then a non-believer does on their best days. How can I say that? Because He changes our hearts—there is radical heart transplant in which He puts desires which were never there before. Notice how naturally we cry out “Father” when the unbeliever usually says ‘God.’

Service to God is influenced by assurance.

If a child is not assured that his parents love him then the motive for his obedience will be effected. ‘I must obey and then possibly they will love me… if I do this, do that, get an A on my report card, excel in sports, etc. Those who lack assurance will live in constant insecurity due to not knowing if they are well, secure. They may work very hard but it won't be with a smile..not with song in their heart. If a person is not assured that they are truly a child of God or may lose their salvation, then it cannot but help but have an psychological affect over a long period of time.

I wonder how many people on Facebook and elsewhere who have effective ministries are truly assured of their faith? One who is not assured will put too much of their self-worth and significance in their ministries. Since they are deep down insecure, then it may also rob them of energy for service. Many people are so inwardly bent and tormented about the status of their own soul that they hardly have any energy left to care for others around them. All their energy is consumed with self-worry about the state of their own souls, and sadly they may not even be aware of the fact that they are so self-absorbed—it has become so much a part of their psyches. Like a nervous hypochondriac they will waste all their time on self analysis, with little energy for God’s work.

But with a heart at rest in Christ, then one can be: 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Cor 15)

The bottom line, is that for a robust life of productivity for the Lord we need to have this heaven in our hearts of knowing that we know; believing that we believe; having faith that we have faith. The assurance of our salvation and that we have this saving faith! The Puritan Thomas Brooks (1608-1680) wrote perhaps the best book on assurance entitled: Heaven on Earth.

May the Lord give us this heaven on earth increasingly, for His glory and our comfort and joy.

Part two:

Mark Hunnemann is the author of Seeing Ghosts Through God's Eyes: A Worldview Analysis of Earthbound Spirits. It's also available in eBook forma

Monday, January 7, 2019

Dalai Lama Meets with an Interfaith Forum

Meeting with an Interfaith Forum

Bodhgaya, Bihar, India - Members of an Inter Faith Forum from Gaya, comprising Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Jains, Sikhs and Brahmakumaris came to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Gaden Phelgyeling today. The Secretary, AK Khan speaking on behalf of the Forum welcomed His Holiness to this sacred place once more. He told him that the Inter Faith Forum was established in 2001. Among their activities members visit each others’ places of worship and join each other in celebrating their festivals, acknowledging their common message of love and compassion. They reject terrorism at any level and work to encourage respect for all major religions.

“Spiritual brothers and sisters,” His Holiness said, addressing the group with a fond smile, “as I always say, we belong to the seven billion human beings. With two eyes, one nose and so on, we are the same; some of us just have more hair. Mentally we are the same, emotionally we are the same. Each one of us wants to live a happy, joyful life. In our childhood we learn that love and affection are a source of happiness as our mothers care for us.

“My mother was essentially kind. She would weep when she encountered people who were really poor, but always found something to give them. She was my first teacher of compassion. Now, scientists tell us, based on experiments I’ve seen, that basic human nature is compassionate. So, our education systems need to teach how to develop peace of mind, how to be a happy individual in a happy family and a happy community here and now.

“I sometimes ask if religion is relevant today and since everyone needs love and affection, the answer seems to be “Yes”. However, it’s crucial that members of different religious traditions live in harmony with each other. If instead we quarrel and fight, people are entitled to ask, “What’s the use of religion?” Therefore, we need to be active in promoting religious harmony. In June next year, there will be an All-India Muslim Conference in Delhi focussed on encouraging Sunnis and Shias in the Middle East and elsewhere to befriend one another.”

His Holiness remarked that if we follow religion properly, all our various traditions have the potential to bring about peace of mind. He added that paying lip service to tradition is not enough, nor should religion be a vehicle of exploitation; he insisted that we have to be sincere in our practice. He observed that materialistic education has brought many problems from too much competition to dividing people into ‘us’ and ‘them’. To counter this, His Holiness suggested it should be possible in India to combine modern education with ancient Indian understanding of the workings of the mind and emotions.

original link & photos: