As long as I can remember, I believed in God. I was brought up Roman Catholic and considered myself a Christian. Although I did not attend Catholic grade school, at age seven I was sent to catechism classes in preparation for my First Holy Communion. I did not understand what it was all about, but I figured this “sacrament” was a big deal based on the number of youngsters enrolled in the Saturday morning class, the explicit instruction given by the priests and nuns, and the emphasis my family placed on it. I memorized rote prayers and answers from the Baltimore Catechism and, with great “fear and trembling,” made my first confession to a priest. At last, dressed in a miniature “bride of Christ” garment with a lacy white veil, I received my First Holy Communion. With rosary, prayer book, and Scapular in hand, I felt as pure and holy as a seven-year-old can feel.
But, even at this young age, it seems God had given me a measure of discernment. I remember questioning our instructor nun as to how the Catholic Church (mere humans) could determine a matter like “indulgences” (specified time off from the “purifying” fires of Purgatory) as a reward for the recitation of certain prayers. It made no sense to me.
One night when I was around twelve, I awakened to yet another fracas. I tiptoed past their partially ajar bedroom door to view him pointing a handgun at her. To my horror, I heard her mutter, “Go ahead, and pull the trigger. I don’t give a (blank)!” I returned to bed terrified, heart pounding, listening for the shot; which thank God, did not come. Often my mother was forced to bundle my younger sister and me into the car in the middle of the night in order to flee my stepfather’s inebriated insanity.Another dichotomy was evident in our home. I observed that church attendance and reciting “holy card” prayers and the rosary fostered a sense of comfort and consolation for my divorced, remarried mother, even though as a divorcee she was not allowed to receive communion. Yet, regularly she sought solace also in alcohol, indulging in all night drinking bashes with my stepfather. These usually degenerated into vulgar insult and belligerence bouts for him, and crying jags for her. Our home was often terrorized by his fits of alcohol-inflamed aggression.
A turning point occurred when I was sixteen. As the result of a freak car accident, I suffered a brain concussion and skull fracture, permanently losing the hearing in my right ear. Doctors said I had been “lucky,” since the basil fracture might have caused death, epilepsy, or paralysis. I soberly pondered God’s purpose in sparing me, and began to take Him more seriously. I reflected that perhaps God had “knocked some sense into my head”!
It was a day of emancipation, jubilation, and even trepidation when, at eighteen, I said goodbye to my volatile home life and boarded a train bound for new beginnings: college in a southern state where my real father lived. In the sanctuary of my mind, he had become my “knight in shining armor” through his caring correspondence, birthday and holiday gifts, and now, the prospect of asylum from the environment of my childhood. I had seen him only twice in the fifteen years since my parent’s divorce. As the train chugged southward, my mind buzzed with nervous anticipation. I knew I was heading toward the unknown: college in an unfamiliar area and life with a virtual stranger who was also, strangely, my father. Yet, I believed anything would be better than the lunacy I had left behind.
I was wrong. Four months later, my “knight” crashed from his pedestal, shattering my life in the carnage. During Christmas vacation of my freshman year, my “recovered alcoholic” father stormed out of the house in an unprovoked fit of temper, returned with a bottle of whiskey, and then sexually molested me. Incredulity, shame, guilt, silent outrage, heartbreak, and mortification silenced me from telling anyone of the unspeakable incident.
Although I did not yet know the biblical doctrine, this experience, together with my volatile upbringing, was teaching me the harsh reality of mankind’s depravity:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”1 “As it is written, ‘There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.’”2
I returned to college feeling like damaged goods, humiliated and stunned at being so inexplicably betrayed by one I had so admired and trusted. Shortly afterwards, my father unexpectedly died, allowing no opportunity for reconciliation.
During subsequent college years, I struggled to find meaning, direction, and purpose in life, sensing something essential was missing. I regularly attended Sunday Mass, but also visited other churches to see if they had any answers. I especially was drawn to the quiet, contemplative “Time Out” sessions held at a campus Evangelical church when someone would read Scripture or an inspirational piece in the semi-darkened sanctuary. My roommate and I began reading the Bible aloud together at bedtime. Little did I know that through all of this, the Spirit of God was preparing a way in the “wilderness” of my life.3
I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and returned home to begin my adult life in earnest as a reporter for a daily newspaper. One day, a trusted male coworker covertly planted some shockingly raw pornographic material on my desk. I was stunned, again feeling sexually desecrated. It seemed the world was a sordid, perverted, God-forsaken wasteland. Was there no real “knight” – no one to save me?
My New Knight
Since my junior year, I had been dating a childhood friend. John was an intelligent, “tall-dark-and-handsome” all-American type from my subdivision. I had liked him ever since he had given me rides on his go-cart and taught me how to shoot a bow when we were adolescents. We had ridden bikes together with the neighborhood gang and attended the same high school. John had attended a U.S. military academy and now had returned home to study chemistry. I delighted in his levelheaded common sense, unpretentiousness, and humor. And his family seemed refreshingly “normal.”
` When John eventually proposed marriage, I believed our union had been ordained in heaven, partly because he surprised me with the exact engagement ring setting I had secretly admired, despite our pact not to spend his limited funds on such “frivolity.” We dutifully attended the Catholic “Cana” marriage preparation classes. We had a modest but storybook wedding, and began what I anticipated would be life lived–“happily ever after.” However, less than a decade later, our heavenly marriage had spiraled into a diabolical pit.
Following John’s graduate studies and U.S. Naval submarine duty, we returned to our home state. On the outside, things appeared storybook perfect. By now, we had two children (a daughter and a son), a home of our own, a dog, a steady income, and were active members of our local Catholic parish. John was a hard-working, faithful, dutiful husband and father.
I was occupied part-time in my chosen profession, writing for our community newspaper. Yet, on the inside, I was plagued by a gnawing emptiness. I blamed our marriage. Trying to “fix” things, I dragged John to a “marriage encounter” seminar. When that did not help, I hauled him to a “Christian” marriage counselor, who ultimately had no solutions either, even tendering divorce as a viable option! Disheartened, I began to follow an all-too familiar pattern by anesthetizing my emotional pain with alcohol. John’s bewilderment at my disconsolation turned from concern to frustration, then to exasperation, and finally to chillingapathy. He was doing everything in his power to make me happy, but it was not working. My “knight” could not rescue me. The theme song of my life seemed to be the melancholy refrain by Peggy Lee,“Is That All There Is?”
It was during this critical period that God intervened in two extraordinary ways. First, in 1975, my editor asked me to interview a local realtor, named Mary, for a feature story. Due to impending deadlines, I conducted a telephone interview. Yet, even through the phone wires, Mary’s vibrant faith rocked my world. It was unlike anything I had ever witnessed – not a “Sunday only” kind of religion, but a startlingly authentic, every-fiber-of-her-being certitude in God that struck a plaintive chord deep within me. It was as though she knew Him!
Not long afterwards, my journalistic curiosity was intrigued by a bizarre story claiming evidence of an actual photograph of “Jesus” in the clouds, reportedly taken by a passenger during a potential airliner crisis. Pursuing a “lead,” I contacted a woman named Linda to learn more. To my chagrin, I discovered that Linda was a religious wacko! She talked incessantly and fanatically about Jesus, punctuating her patter with a bevy of Bible verses. I could put down the phone, go start supper, come back, and she would still be talking about Jesus. It was as though she knew Him.
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me…” Who can explain God’s sovereign grace? Jesus said, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.4
For weeks, Linda, a former Catholic, kept phoning me to talk about Jesus! Trying to be polite, I would listen briefly before making excuses that I had to go. One day she invited me to visit her new church. I thought, No way! Yet, days later, on July 24, 1977, I inexplicably found myself meeting Linda in the church lobby.
During the service, the Spirit of God seemed to settle over me like a celestial comforter. I was deeply moved by the congregation’s spontaneous worship, praise choruses, and ardent prayer. It was as though they all knew God!
Then, at the close of the service, the pastor said the words that would change my life forever:
“Perhaps you have been trying to make your life work out every way you know how… and it is just not working. Maybe you have tried everything in your power to make things better… and nothing has helped. Are you ready to surrender your life to Jesus Christ, to ask Him to be the Lord and Savior of your life?”
The pastor’s words penetrated my heart like a divinely directed scalpel. I felt they were spoken to no one in the church but me! How did he know my burden? As tears flowed down my cheeks, I silently cried out for Jesus to be my Lord and Savior.
I had no more understanding of what was taking place (i.e., spiritual birth) than an infant understands its physical birth. I did not realize that Jesus once had told a very religious man: “…Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”5 I did not know that the Bible clearly states salvation cannot be earned; that it is a gift of God, given by His grace through faith: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”6 “But after that the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”7
I also did not realize that by receiving God’s gift of salvation I had just passed from having a religion to having a vital relationship with Jesus Christ. Now that I was a believer, I could know Him and fellowship with Him. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”8
I also did not know that in that divinely ordained moment, my heart had become radically different than my mother’s, my stepfather’s, or my father’s, whose hearts were still enslaved to sin. All I knew was that my life, which was hell-bent for destruction, needed a savior, and I sought him in Jesus Christ. I sensed an enormous weight had lifted from my life.
The words on the cover of the church bulletin that day read: “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts.”9 Only God knew how significant this verse would become in my spiritual pilgrimage.
Linda urged me to begin reading the Bible, starting with the Gospel of John. As I did so, the words seemed like they were written personally to me! I did not realize that as a believer, I now had God’s indwelling Spirit enabling me to understand the very words of God: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned… For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.”10
My spirit soared as I read of God’s great love revealed in the only true Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Through tears of awe, I realized my Savior had prayed for me: “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.”11
I phoned Mary (the lady I had interviewed) to share what had happened. She rejoiced and directed me to a ladies’ Bible study. Appropriately, the study was on “love.”12 I discovered that God’s concept of agapē love was not a feeling but a sacrificial commitment: an unconditional giving to those loved, despite all. “For God so loved (agapaō) the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”13 When I learned God’s pattern for marriage, based on First Peter, chapter three, I comprehended with horror my own contribution to the near destruction of my marriage, and was brought to my knees in repentance. “Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.”14 I begged God to help me become a wife pleasing to Him and to the husband He had given me. “A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones.”15
A Three Strand Cord
Within weeks, I discovered to my delight that a friend from my church, Jeanne, had also experienced the new birth. She informed me of a unique spiritual leader who had recently relocated to our church. The day I met Catherine (not her real name for reasons you will later understand) I felt I was in the presence of a truly godly woman. A striking, stately, lady with dark, luminous eyes, Catherine spoke reverently and lovingly of her Lord Jesus like He was her most intimate companion. Her large, Jerusalem Bible was tattered with use. She had an amazing grasp of Scripture. Most impressively, she could instantly transition from conversation (talking to people) to ardent, eloquent prayer (talking to God) using her own words – not the rote prayers of the Roman Catholic Church. I was awed. Friends regularly stopped by or phoned her for godly counsel and prayer.
Our threesome began meeting weekly to pray for spiritual renewal in our church. One of the first scriptures Catherine shared was, “…a threefold cord is not quickly broken,”16 explaining that she believed God had brought us together for a reason. Our prayer group drew others, and eventually became so large we had to move it to the church. More people came. I learned to strum guitar and lead worship.
I became deeply involved in Catholic parish life, playing my guitar for Mass and teaching CCD (Confraternity of Catholic Doctrine) to teens as preparation for their Confirmation. I used the classes as a springboard to share the gospel. I attended a national conference on Catholic spiritual renewal and was amazed to witness thousands gathered to praise and celebrate Jesus. It seemed God’s Spirit was moving mightily, answering our prayers, and blessing our denomination, our local church, and our prayer group with spiritual awakening. But, I soon experienced a Roman Catholic doctrinal “reality check.”
As a CCD teacher, I attended a conference sponsored by the Archdiocese. There, I was confronted with a double dilemma. First, I watched the general session begin with a costumed native American Indian, complete with headdress, chanting and dancing on stage around a fire, using an eagle feather to invoke blessings (smoke) to the four corners of the earth! Secondly, I attended a workshop entitled, “A Mediation on the Book of John.” The teacher, from a “holistic” health center, directed us to close our eyes and meditate on “the ‘third eye’ in the center of our forehead” as we listened to a John Denver recording! We were instructed to send “our healing energy” into the world.
However, the biggest shock was that not one of the attending priests, nuns, brothers, or teachers questioned this bizarre, blasphemous exercise. Incensed, I wrote a letter to the Archbishop questioning the orthodoxy of such offerings. Months later, my reply came from the conference director, stating that the Catholic Church “recognizes the validity of other spiritual philosophies.” His response left me disconcerted. For the first time, I deliberated about leaving the Catholic Church, and prayed God would make the answer crystal clear to me, because I feared such a move would cause an earthquake in my marriage and family.
Our prayer group was excited to learn that a Crusade was coming to town. Catherine and I took training to lead follow-up groups. Longing for my husband to know Jesus, I fasted and prayed that he would attend the Crusade. My prayers were answered! John not only attended, but to my utter delight, responded to an invitation! As he made his way down the stadium steps and into the dazzling lights of the infield, I followed at a distance. Imagine my blessed amazement when I saw that among the hundreds of people streaming about, the individual who walked towards John to pray with him was the same pastor who had led my prayer of salvation at Linda’s church! I rejoiced that now, at last, John and I would live “happily ever after.”
But sadly, nothing seemed to change. John showed no spiritual interest beyond Sunday Mass. As Catherine and I led the “Nurture Groups” subsequent to the Crusade, John was among the dozen or so Catholics who attended, but we saw little spiritual vitality among any of them. I bought him a Bible, but it lay unopened. He dodged other believers, calling them dogmatic.
Once for All?
Meanwhile, the more I read Scripture, the more I discovered serious discrepancies regarding Catholic doctrine. While Catholics certainly believe that Jesus is the Son of God and is called a Savior, what that means to them is precariously ambiguous and confusing. There is no clear message of Jesus’ mandate to be “born again”17 in the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Catechism suggests, rather, that spiritual birth is automatic upon water baptism. Moreover, there exists an underlying emphasis on “works” for one’s salvation. I saw no biblical substantiation for the doctrine of Purgatory, veneration of Mary, or praying to saints (the New Testament clearly defines all born-again believers as “saints”). I found no substantiation for a priest to “absolve” sins in confession and dole out penance when the Bible clearly assures us: “Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only?”18 I saw that the Apostle Peter himself called all believers “priests:” “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”19 I realized that it was not Peter, but his profession, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,”20 that was the “rock” upon which the universal church is built.
Most importantly, the Bible refutes the very centerpiece of Roman Catholic dogma, the “Sacrifice of the Mass:”
“Wherefore he [Jesus] is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such a high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself. For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore.”21
After I learned this, I could no longer watch Christ being fallaciously “sacrificed” at every Mass. I could no longer utter the phrase voiced during the consecration: “May the Lord accept this sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of His name, for our good, the good of all His holy church.” I even questioned whether the consecrated host was the “real presence” of Christ as maintained by Catholic doctrine, or simply a remembrance.
“…That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.”22
About this time, God brought to my attention the existence of a local Christian research and apologetic ministry. Alarmed by my encounter with unbiblical doctrines at the CCD conference, I desired to learn to discern God’s truth from aberrant theology. I began volunteering my time with this ministry.
Catherine, who by now had become my closest friend, joined me in this endeavor. Under the wise tutelage of its director, we were taught the dangerous doctrines of the New Age Movement, Latter Day Saints (Mormons), Watchtower and Track Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses), and scores of other Scripture-twisting methodologies. I took seriously the words, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”23
I readily accepted the Bible as the standard of truth because Jesus declared it to be so: “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.”24 I realized I had to apply this same standard to the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. I became increasingly concerned about “born again” Catholics who appeared to rely more on experience and popular religious custom (tradition) than on Scripture.
For example, many of my Catholic colleagues unabashedly advocated devotion to the “Virgin Mary.” The apparitions supposedly occurring in Medjugorje, Yugoslavia, had captivated many. Some even made pilgrimages to these sites. This troubled me deeply. I knew Jesus had diverted praise of his mother in the Bible. “And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked,’ But he said, ‘Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.’”25
It became increasingly apparent that much Roman Catholic doctrine was arbitrary, based on human decrees, and often contradicted the Bible. For example, I learned Pius IX had declared the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary in 1854, maintaining Mary was conceived without sin, which is clearly a biblical contradiction of, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God…”26 Mary’s prayer in Luke also vouches for her having sinned, “And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.”27 If she were sinless, she would have no need of a savior. Another example was the dogma of Papal infallibility decreed at the Vatican I Council in 1870. I continued to seek God’s guidance, praying, “Lord, if and when I am to leave the Catholic Church, please make it very clear to me.” Then in the spring of 1990, during a week John was away on a trip, what I believed were three indicators occurred in rapid-fire succession:
(1) The local Christian radio station aired a series doctrinally critiquing the unbiblical policies of our local archbishop,
(2) The director of the apologetic ministry simultaneously recommended I visit a local Evangelical pastor, with whom he had recently become very favorably acquainted,
(3) A concerned Christian friend gave me a taped message exposing many of the fallacious Roman Catholic doctrines I had already found troublesome.
Come Out of Her
As I prayerfully sought God’s direction in Scripture regarding this critical decision, I encountered some powerfully significant passages. “Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship (self-made religion), and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.”28 “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men… Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.”29 And, most convincingly, “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, ‘Come out of her, my people.’”30
I arranged a meeting with the recommended pastor. As we talked, I perceived a refreshing spiritual affinity rooted in the desire for God’s truth. I believed God was saying, “It’s time… Come out of her, my daughter.” That Sunday, I attended the Evangelical pastor’s church, believing God was calling me to remove myself from the false religious system of the Roman Catholic Church. It was a bold move, and I knew there would be repercussions, but I did not realize how severe they would be.
\When John got home, my “defection” hit him like a slap in the face. He refused to hear my reasons or read explanatory material. The tension in our home became obvious as we began to attend separate churches. Our children, now numbering three, did not know what to believe or where they belonged. “Religion” was a taboo topic. Catholic friends, and particularly extended family, quietly disapproved. I began to understand Jesus’ caution: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.”31 One consolation was that one of my “threefold” friends, Jeanne, left the Catholic Church the same week I did and joined me at the new church.
But Catherine was a different story. Over lunch, I candidly informed her of my decision and reasons, offering some substantiating literature and tapes. She was polite, but soon returned the materials, asking that I not give her any more. My heart sank as she informed me that she intended to stay in the Catholic Church. “It’s where my husband is and where God wants me,” she said resolutely. I feared this rift would strain our relationship, because I had believed our friendship was based primarily on our mutual love of God’s truth. However, more importantly, I feared it would affect her relationship with the Lord.
Life and Death
“There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”32 God’s truth as revealed in His Word is the dividing line between the ”right way” and “the way that seems right” but leads to death. God instructed His people:
“See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; In that I command thee this day to love the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgements, that thou mayest live and multiply; and the Lord thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest to possess it. I call heaven and earth to record this day against you that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore, choose life, that thou and thy seed may live: That thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days….”33
Following Catherine’s fateful declaration, I witnessed with grief the unraveling of her and her family: a family that was greatly esteemed and respected in the Church and community. First, Catherine’s husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Convinced this was “for the glory of God” and that God would heal him, Catherine intensified her prayers and Catholic pieties such as rosaries and novenas. Her husband’s condition worsened. Ignoring judicious counsel, they accepted a job transfer to another state. His condition deteriorated; he became unable to work, and the uprooted family was sadly bereft of support from distanced but caring relatives and friends.
Next, Catherine determined her husband should try alternative medical treatment, necessitating numerous trips to Texas – all to no avail. Within a year and a half, he died. At the funeral, Catherine clung to me, tearfully divulging how she felt like “a general who had lost not only the battle, but the whole war.”
Tragically, that is not the end of this story. A year later, I visited Catherine after she had relocated in our area. To my dismay, I observed a woman in an emotionally and spiritually precarious state. This once confident and capable woman expressed frustration, exasperation, and desperation in trying to manage her home and children. She related stories of dating men twice her age and others half her age. She voiced irrational fears regarding the supposed presence of a “poltergeist” in her condominium. Most regrettably, she lamented a disconcerting “spiritual dryness,” saying she no longer “got anything” out of Mass attendance.
On a happier note, she expressed gratitude that our friendship had withstood religious differences, revealing that most of her “former Catholic” friends no longer had contact with her. I agreed, but candidly acknowledged that things were not exactly the same. I divulged my disappointment at her not scrutinizing biblically the doctrines of Roman Catholicism, noting I had always believed the banner over our friendship was truth.
I drove home that day deeply disturbed by the confused, defeated woman I had just seen. Catherine seemed adrift in a quagmire of spiritual uncertainty; yet, she was still clinging to the rudder of Roman Catholic familiarity and security. She seemed like the doubtful individual described: “…For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.”34
Several months later, I awoke one morning with a particularly heavy heart, recalling our conversation and grieving anew over the situation. I wrote Catherine a note, explaining that the reason I had been so forthright during my visit was that I loved her and loved the Lord, and I yearned for her to walk in the light of God’s truth. I picked a bunch of Forget-Me-Nots from my garden, sealed them in plastic wrap, and tucked them in the note. On the way to the post office, I prayed that God would open her heart.
That same afternoon I got a call from a mutual friend. In somber, hesitant tones she ventured, “Cindy have you heard about what happened to Catherine?” She had committed suicide that very morning! Her teenage son came home from school to find her lifeless, asphyxiated body in their automobile in the garage. She left five fatherless, and now motherless children, and two grandchildren.
Watch Your Doctrine
Does doctrine matter? Paul warned Timothy: “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.”35 As much as I would love to have rescued Catherine, I believe I did what I could. The outcome was ultimately in God’s hands: “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.”36
The worst onslaught to the gospel of truth was yet to come. Catherine’s small, private funeral was only for immediate family and close friends. The celebrant, a local priest, consoled mourners with the “assurance” that Catherine was “now at peace in heaven because she had a relationship with Mary, the Mother of God.” My spirit recoiled at these deceptive, heretical words.
While in the Catholic Church, I never paid much attention to those who venerated Mary. But lately, I had been involved in investigative research, writing and speaking regarding the megalomania surrounding Marian apparitions such as Medjugoria, Fatima, Guadalupe, Lourdes and countless others. I was horrified to learn the truly demonic underpinnings of this cultic phenomenon that diverted devotion from Christ to “Mary” and espouses “unto another gospel: which is not another.”37 The Apostle Paul wrote: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”38
A “relationship with Mary” is not the way to eternal life. Jesus stated clearly, “…I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but (except) by me.”39 How much plainer can it be said? As my research disclosed blatantly blasphemous messages, reportedly from “Mary,” I anguished over the multitudes (including children) that through the years have been duped by such devilish deceit. I came to understand the significance of Paul’s words, “And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.”40
I grievously lament the destruction of a life, a family, a testimony, and a witness whose faith was in a religious system that ultimately failed to supply the answers and stability necessary for the storms of life. “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.”41
Unless the Lord Builds…
By God’s grace, my own marriage was still limping along. Initially, I did all the wrong things, trying to pressure, cajole, and guilt-trip John into spiritual vitality. At last, I realized I could not play the role of the Holy Spirit; John’s spiritual destiny was between him and God. I resolved to intercede for him and with God’s enablement, try to be the best wife I could be, focusing on my own walk with the Lord. “Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.”42
It took twenty-two years and three painful trials—John calls them “being taken out to God’s woodshed” but glory to God, He captured John’s attention, and his heart! In what was a landmark testimony to God’s faithfulness, together, we were baptized by immersion, the summer of 2002. During my public testimony, I intimated that God had given me such a spiritual “head start” because He knew John is a quick learner! Praise God, all of our children and their spouses have come into the Shepherd’s fold. Apart from God’s amazing grace, I have no doubt our marriage and family would have crashed onto the shoals of disaster; but thanks to Him, our foundation is solidly established on the rock, which is one’s knowing, trusting, and obeying Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ did not promise life would be easy for his followers. In fact, He said just the opposite. After teaching about the truth-illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit and the imperishable “complete joy” that His followers would experience, Jesus warned his disciples, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”43
The Lord Jesus cautioned His disciples to “count the cost” of following Him, “…whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.”44 As a believer, I soon learned the “cost” of following Jesus. Many times, clouds of dejection pressed in on me after being ridiculed for my beliefs by those dearest to me. But I drew comfort from Jesus’ words: “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”45
Suffering for righteousness’ sake is part of a believer’s life. “For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.”46
The way of discipleship is sometimes challenging, but Jesus leads us. He picks us up when we fall and encourages us on toward holiness. “…But I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.”47 I had learned these lessons.
It has been a remarkable journey learning to possess the “promised land,”48 with many “Ebenezer stones” marking my way.49 I have indelibly learned that “Jesus saves” by grace, through faith, 50 every step of the way: past, present, and future.
Why did God spare my life when I was sixteen? Why did He rescue me from myself and sanctify my marriage? I cannot begin to fathom His mercy and grace, but I know I could not have heard his voice unless He had first opened my spiritual ears to hear His call.51
I know He had work to do in me: “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”52
I know He had work for me to do. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”53 These “works” have most recently manifested as my pursuit of becoming equipped as a biblical counselor. Yes, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart….”54 It has profoundly been the “joy and the rejoicing of my hear” to realize, minister, and advocate the inerrancy, authority, sufficiency, and supremacy of God’s Word as I have endeavored to remove the “beams” from my own eyes and help others to see the “motes” in theirs:
“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.’55
The Year of the Lord’s Favor
The Lord Jesus opened his public ministry with the words recorded in Luke 4:18-19, citing Isaiah 61:1-2,“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”56
To everyone’s astonishment, the Lord Jesus then proclaimed: “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.”57 His words were fulfilled in me when I cried out to Christ for salvation. I was poor and He opened to me the infinite riches of Christ; I was brokenhearted and He healed my soul; I was captive to my own sin nature and He delivered me; I was blind to eternal truths, and He gave me sight; I was bruised by the sinfulness of man, including a false religious system, and He released me. In 1977, He proclaimed “the acceptable year of the Lord”58 for this lost soul, and made her a child of God.
Thank God, I finally found my true “Knight” in shining armor, my Savior who will never fail me, leave me, forsake me, nor betray me—my precious and eternal Friend with whom I will live “happily ever after.”
“Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me?”59
Because of Jesus Christ I have been able to forgive my father and stepfather, honor my mother, reconcile my past, love and serve my husband, minister to others, and stand steady in the midst of life’s storms. In today’s vernacular, I came from a “dysfunctional” family; God calls it SIN—and His remedy is Jesus! Because of His redeeming grace, I am compelled to forgive those who sinned against me, since I myself am a sinner. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God…”60 “…He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone…”61 The ground is level at the foot of the cross.
Our trials can defeat and destroy us, or they can be God’s sanctification seminar. “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the Great God and our Savior Jesus Christ: Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”62
God has a purpose in our difficulties: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”63 The “good” for which God is working “all things” is that we become conformed to the character of Christ. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son.”64 Because of God’s magnificent plan, my life has purpose: to glorify God by being conformed to the image of His Son, and to serve Him now and forever. “For in him we live, and move, and have our being.”65
Because of Him, my life’s theme song has been transformed to an eternal, glorious refrain: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”66 “I will sing unto the LORD as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.”67
One final note: in the Bible, names are poignantly significant. I cannot help but marvel that my own name, Cynthia is Greek for “of the moon, celestial light.” The moon has no light of its own; it merely reflects the light of the sun. My heart’s desire is to forevermore reflect the light of the Son Jesus Christ the Lord!
1 Jeremiah 17:9
2 Romans 3:10-18
3 John 1:23
4 John 3:8
5 John 3:3 (all verses with bolding added for emphasis)
6 Ephesians 2:8, 9
7 Titus 3:4-7
8 Revelation 3:20
9 Jeremiah 15:16
10 1Corinthians 2:12-14, 16
11 John 17:20
12 1 Corinthians 13
13 John 3:16
14 Proverbs 14:1
15 Proverbs 12:4
16 Ecclesiastes 1:12
17 John 3:3
18 Mark 2:7
19 1Peter 2:9
20 Matthew 16:16, 18
21 Hebrews 7:25-28
22 1 Corinthians 11:23-25
23 Colossians 2:8
24 John 17:17
25 Luke 11:27, 28
26 Romans 3:23
27 Luke 1:46-47
28 Colossians 2:20-23
29 Mark 7:7, 13
30 Revelation 18:4
31 Matthew 10:34-36
32 Proverbs 14:12
33 Deuteronomy 30: 15, 16, 19
34 James 1:6
35 1Timothy 4:16
36 2 Timothy 2:24-26
37 Galatians 1:6-7
38 Galatians 1:8
39 John 14:6
40 2 Thessalonians 2:10, 11
41 Matthew 7:24-27
42 Psalm 127:1
43 John 16:33
44 Luke 14:33
45 Matthew 5:11, 12
46 1Peter 2:20-21
47 Philippians 3:12
48 Deuteronomy 30:15, 16
49 I Samuel 7:12
50 Eph. 2:8
51 John 8:47
52 2 Corinthians 3:18
53 Ephesians 2:10
54 Jeremiah 15:16
55 Matthew 7:1-5
56 Isaiah 61:1, 2
57 Luke 4:21
58 Luke 4:19
59 Hebrews 13:5, 6
60 Romans 3:23
61 John 8:7
62 Titus 2:11-14
63 Romans 8:28
64 Romans 8:29
65 Acts 17:28
66 Psalm 27:1
67 Psalm 104:33