10.01.2013

Should Christians Practice Yoga?

"But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; 
abstain from every form (or appearance) of evil."  
1 Thessalonians 5: 21-22

The Question is Asked... 

In February of this year, my husband worked as the sound engineer for EQUIP Ministries, an annual conference held for Christian teachers of all walks of life, from Sunday school teachers to ministers and everything in-between. After the event wrapped up, we had the honor of meeting and conversing with Christian apologist Eric Barger. We spoke at length about the direction of our country, the direction of the church, and a few questions that were on our minds at the time.

One of the questions we had been struggling with concerned decidedly "Eastern" practices (martial arts and yoga, specifically) and how I had believed that my "Scripture-centered yoga routine" helped heal my body and aided in our efforts to conceive. It wasn't until about a week before our discussion that I felt a giant question mark elbowing its way into that area; I had given a lot of credit to the yoga routine I had adopted and how it helped us get pregnant, but in retrospect, I wondered how much it actually deserved that praise.

Eric was very clear about yoga: NO. There is no such thing as "Christian yoga" or "non-Hindu" yoga. The fundamental intent of yoga is to obtain oneness with the universe through yoking with Hinduism's highest god, Brahman.  I asked how the positions could be harmful if, while doing them, I wasn't following what the instructor was iterating - empty your mind and breathe in strength and light, breathe out fear and negativity - but rather was focusing on my daily devotional and using the time as God-centered prayer meditation. He chuckled, "I've talked with so many Yogis who laugh in the face of that mindset, as well as the whole idea of this new 'exercise yoga' fad! They've been very clear that there's no breaking the two apart; with the positions comes the spirituality."

After a long discussion about yoga, its place in the New Age movement, and other implications, he directed me to his website which lists links and resources covering just such concerns. And, with that, I sat on my hands for several months before finally listening to the Holy Spirit's motivations and looking a little more into what seemed to me like nothing more than harmless stretching. 
(Romans 3:4)

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"Glossy" yoga, stripped
of its spiritual roots.
What's the harm in a little stretching?
(Because that's what they tell us we're doing - just some very intense stretching.)

Once I gave up trying to justify my actions, set in my routine and content to continue feigning ignorance, the answer was clear. What's the harm in "a little stretching?" The fact that yoga is not just "a little stretching" at all! Marcia Montenegro said it best in her 2004 article, "Yoga: From Hippies to Hip":
"Yoga has become so well packaged as an exercise that people even believe this was the original intent of yoga, often calling yoga 'stretching exercises.' People in the U.S. and other Western countries often do not realize that the yoga they call an exercise, actually hatha yoga ("ha" means "sun" and "tha" means "moon"), is just one of many forms of yoga designed for specific spiritual purposes."
But don't just take my or Ms. Montenegro's word for it - Hindu teachers the world over have spoken out against yoga's popular and "spiritually confused" status in YWCAs and gyms across the Western world:
“The simple, immutable fact is that yoga originated from the Vedic or Hindu culture. Its techniques were not adopted by Hinduism, but originated from it
The effort to separate yoga from Hinduism must be challenged because it runs counter to the fundamental principles upon which yoga itself is premised
Efforts to separate yoga from its spiritual center reveal ignorance of the goal of yoga."
          Professor Subhas Tiwari of Hindu University of America,
                                                   HinduismToday.com – 9/13/09
Even the Hindu American Foundation has taken a firm stance on the inseparability of yoga and its spiritual goals.[1] [2] Suffice it to say, all of the research that I did on yoga's roots and its fundamental intent led continually to the same conclusion: The physical exercises of yoga, however seemingly detached from Hindu spirituality, are designed specifically to prepare the body for the spiritual changes which yoga produces. Even the routines of the less overtly spiritual yoga offered at your local gym are fundamentally based on a series of postures that are offered to the 330 million Hindu gods.

With each new resource, the belief that one could somehow separate the mystical meditation from the physical stretches dissolved further, to the point that I finally saw the truth: the physicality and the spirituality go hand-in-hand. PERIOD.

So, what about the spiritual implications?

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Opening the door...to what?

While there may not be a "demon behind every bush," there genuinely are spirits, good and bad, behind every spiritual door we choose to open. This is why God warns us in 1 John 4:1 to "test the spirits" before opening ourselves and trusting things (whether it be in our daily practices, in prophecy, in entertainment, or otherwise). So, we have to wonder: what spirits are we potentially inviting into our lives by opening the spiritual door to our very beings through yoga?
Yoga's sole purpose is "enlightenment," defined by the Hindu religion as union with Brahman, Hinduism's highest god; in fact, the very word "yoga" means "union" or "to yoke" with the false gods of Hinduism. Yoga aims at complete numbness of the mind with the ultimate goal of transforming human consciousness in order to experience the Hindu god, which is a false god. That numbness of mind and exit from your physical being that yoga and deep meditation strives for opens the spiritual doorway, leaving the yoga practitioner vulnerable to whatever spirits come through that door...even (and more likely than not) unwanted ones.

When we compare the original, core purpose of yoga with God's desire for our lives, there is glaring conflict. God wants us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds through His Word (Romans 12:2). He does not want us to empty our minds to experience Him; quite the contrary, actually! He wants us to dig into His Word daily, both by reading our Bibles as well as through our daily walk and acts of worship.

So, contrary to what I had for so long believed, God will not honor your yoga routine any more than he would accept food that had already been sacrificed to idols. Is yoga a sin? Perhaps not, but consider 1 Corinthians 8:1-13:
"Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God. So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled [how true is this in today's world??]But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. 
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol's temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 
When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall."
The words of the apostle Paul (inspired by God) are very clear here about how we are to lead others to Christ. Eating food that appears to be sacrificed to idols - or, in this case, taking part in a ritual that prepares the body to accept false gods - serves only as a stumbling block to those around us. It stands to reason, then, that if God does not want us to partake in activities that lead souls astray, he would not "meet us" during our yoga routines. 

And so, any spiritual experiences we feel in the midst of a yoga routine are not inspired by the Holy Spirit, but by something else entirely. Certainly we do not want to open the door to anyone other than the One True God!

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3 things to consider:

1. Well-known New Age guru Deepak Chopra admits to purposely sanitizing yoga to make it more palatable to "...evolve [yoga] to a secular spirituality that still addresses our deepest longings." [4] As Christians, our deepest longings are fulfilled through our relationship with God the Father through accepting Jesus Christ as Savior. Filling that God-shaped longing with anything less (in this case, the "peace" or "enlightenment" sought through yoga) is not only a disservice to our walk with Christ, but also teetering dangerously on the edge of spiritual upheaval. 

2. Romans 12:1 says we are to offer our body as a living sacrifice to God. Yoga practitioners do something similar by practicing the various yoga postures, as these postures were originally conceived of to open the individual to the 330 million gods of the Hindu faith. Acts 15:29 tells us to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, among other things; if we are to abstain from food offered to idols of false gods, shouldn't we treat our very souls as something even more precious and abstain from practicing postures and poses whose original intent was to offer our bodies to these false gods?

3. The very idea of seeking out enlightenment as defined by Hinduism and yoga runs counter to Christianity. "Enlightenment" in this context does not mean "full and complete knowledge or comprehension of a situation"; rather, enlightenment is defined as moksha. "Moksha" is the final extrication of the soul and the end of the suffering involved in being subject to the cycle of repeated death and rebirth.[3] As Christians, we know that once our worldly walk is complete, there are no "do-overs." We are created in God's own image (Genesis 1:27) with one soul and one life to live.

And, even if the "enlightenment" sought was "full and complete knowledge or comprehension of a situation," it would still conflict with God's teachings and purpose for us. Evidence of this can be found in the very first book of the Bible. In an effort to be like God, Adam and Eve were tricked into eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and subsequently brought the curse onto all of mankind (Genesis 3).

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So, why should we avoid yoga?  
(everything is lawful, but not everything edifies, right?)

1. It can affect our spiritual walk.
The angels of God are at war with the powers of darkness. Satan and his minions will use whatever they can to get to us. And while they can't possess believers, as we are filled with the Holy Spirit the moment we trust our salvation to Jesus Christ our Messiah & Savior, they CAN affect us & our spiritual life if we let them. I believe that they are more than capable of using a pagan religious practice we have convinced ourselves is "only exercise" to negatively affect our impact as soldiers of Christ.

2. Because our God covets our time.
As with any spiritual matter, we should look at what both sides have to say about it - what do the Hindus say about it, and what does the Bible say? It is tempting to entertain worldly arguments, but truly those only serve to muddy the waters. The Hindus say it is spiritual and that it is worship; God abhors the worship of false gods (demons, Deut 32:17); therefore,we should avoid yoga.

3. “I mean not your own conscience, but the other man's...”

Hindus believe it is a holy act and have been outspoken to this end. As such, we can no longer claim ignorance, and should therefore avoid yoga so as not to use our liberty to the hurt of others. (1 Cor 10:23-33)

4. To avoid being a stumbling block to Christian brothers & sisters AND unbelievers alike.
“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol's temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.” (1 Cor 8:9-11)

“Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.” (1 Cor 8:13)

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?”... “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:13, 16b)

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Our world runs rife with the lies of the evil one, perpetuated by a culture seeking something more, but running in the wrong direction. Striving always for self-fulfillment instead of residing in God's perfect grace, is it any wonder that our country is sprinting into darkness? Jesus said "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me" (John 14:6, NASB). Not through yoga. Not through meditation. Not even through church membership. Through JESUS. Accepting anything less is a farce.

My prayer is that you do not take what any one person says as incontrovertible fact - not even me! Test EVERYTHING against scripture. Ask the questions that too many are afraid to ask and in all things seek the truth that God has to offer. Never judge things against the standards of this world, for the world lies. The Word, however, never lies.

And so, I leave you with this:
"When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD; and because of these detestable things the LORD your God will drive them out before you. You shall be blameless before the LORD your God. For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do so."
Deuteronomy 18:9-14
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Citations:
[1] "Yoga Beyond Asana: Hindu Thought in Practice." Hindu American Foundation. Hindu American Foundation, 2013. Web. 
          16 Sep 2013. <http://www.hafsite.org/media/pr/yoga-hindu-origins>.
[2] "Take Back Yoga." Hindu American Foundation. Hindu American Foundation, 2013. Web. 16 Sep 2013. 
          <http://www.hafsite.org/media/pr/takeyogaback>. 
[3]  Olson, David. "Remember yoga's roots, Hindus ask." The Record [North Jersey] 17 Feb 2011. Web. 16 Sep. 2013. 
          <http://www.northjersey.com/news/116383134_Remember_yoga_s_roots__Hindus_ask.html?page=all>.
[4] Miller , Lisa. "Clash of the Yogis." Newsweek. 14 May 2010. Web. 16 Sep. 2013. <http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2010/05/15/the-clash-of-the-yogis.html>.

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Scripture to consider:
2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1
"Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?  What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be heir God, and they will be my people."
              "Therefore come out from them
                and be separate,
                                                                      says the Lord,
                Touch no unclean thing,
                 and I will receive you."
                "I will be a Father to you,
                 and you will be my sons and
                 daughters,
                                                         says the Lord Almighty."
Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20
"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (talking about sexual immorality, but this is applicable here, too)

1 Corinthians 10:18-22
"Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord's jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

1 Corinthians 10:23-31
"Everything is permissible" - but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible" - but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it."

If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience' sake - the other man's conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."

Colossians 2:8
"See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ."

1 Timothy 4:7-8
"Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come."

1 Timothy 4:16
"Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers."

1 Peter 1:13-16
"Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy.""

1 John 4:1
"Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world."

Romans 12:1-2
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed b the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will."

Acts 15:29
"You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meet of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things."

1 Thessalonians 5:21-22
But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form (or appearance) of evil.

Deuteronomy 18:9-14
When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD; and because of these detestable things the LORD your God will drive them out before you. You shall be blameless before the LORD your God. For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do so. 

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Suggested Reading:
Entertaining Spirits Unaware by Eric Barger & David Benoit

7 comments:

  1. Asking this as respectfully as possible; you say that even the act of stretching etc. is connected to the Hindu religion, therefore Christians should only do exercises that have no connection to any faith/practice etc. other that what you would find in the Bible? That either narrows things down drastically or gives couch potatoes license to stay out of the gym/dojo etc.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey, Dave.

      First off, thanks reading and considering what I've found through my research into this topic. You ask a good question, and I realize now I may have been a bit unclear in what I was trying to communicate in the beginning of the article. I suppose I should have stated it as such:

      “What's the harm in a little stretching? (because that's what they tell us we're doing – just some very intense stretching)
      Once I gave up trying to justify my actions, set in my routine and content to continue feigning ignorance, the answer was clear. What's the harm in “a little stretching?” The fact that YOGA is not just "a little stretching" at all! Marcia Montenegro said it best...” etc.

      And actually, now that you point that out, I may go ahead and edit that portion in order to avoid future confusion, so thank you!

      I will move forward and answer your question, with the understanding that the “little stretching” that I was referring to are the thousands of poses collectively called “yoga” originated by Hindi yogis and practiced worldwide by Hindus and unassuming fitness enthusiasts alike.

      The poses and postures in the yoga practice have been specifically created to worship the false gods of Hinduism, with its end goal being “enlightenment” or union with Brahman. The yoga instructor at your local Y (as well as many other well-meaning but ill-informed yoga devotees) will argue that it is not worship and is merely "exercise," but Hindus and yogis the world over are incensed by the spiritual sterilization of their religious practice. In fact, The Hindu American Foundation website is one of many Hindi websites that features several articles, links, and resources offering instruction as to how today's Hindus should "take back yoga."

      A good way to illustrate this to Christians would be that yoga is not something complementary to a set of beliefs - it's not the "Sunday School" to their "worship service." On the contrary, yoga is like the "communion" to their Christian faith; to practice yoga without the spiritual aspect would be akin to an unbeliever taking communion and saying "Hey, thanks for the cracker!", ignoring the inherent spiritual meaning and importance of the practice.

      “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we?” (1 Cor 10:21-22)

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    2. So, why should we avoid yoga? (everything is lawful, but not everything edifies, right?)

      1. It can affect our spiritual walk.
      The angels of God are at war with the powers of darkness. Satan and his minions will use whatever they can to get to us. And while they can't possess believers, as we are filled with the Holy Spirit the moment we trust our salvation to Jesus Christ our Messiah & Savior, they CAN affect us & our spiritual life if we let them. I believe that they are more than capable of using a pagan religious practice we have convinced ourselves is "only exercise" to negatively affect our impact as soldiers of Christ.

      2. Because our God covets our time.
      As with any spiritual matter, we should look at what both sides have to say about it - what do the Hindus say about it, and what does the Bible say? It is tempting to entertain worldly arguments, but truly those only serve to muddy the waters. The Hindus say it is spiritual and that it is worship; God abhors the worship of false gods (demons, Deut 32:17); therefore,we should avoid yoga.

      3. “I mean not your own conscience, but the other man's...”
      Hindus believe it is a holy act and have been outspoken to this end. As such, we can no longer claim ignorance, and should therefore avoid yoga so as not to use our liberty to the hurt of others. (1 Cor 10:23-33)

      4. To avoid being a stumbling block to Christian brothers & sisters AND unbelievers alike.
      “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol's temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.” (1 Cor 8:9-11)

      “Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.” (1 Cor 8:13)

      “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?”... “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:13, 16b)
      So, is there anything wrong with plain ol' stretching, or with a deep lunge? No. But don't do the Warrior 1 pose because of the reasons stated both in the article and simplified above.


      I hope that answers your question! Let me know if I was unclear or have any more questions and I will try my best to help.

      God's Blessings!
      Sarah

      Delete
  2. So, does Pilates fall into this same category or is it different?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello, Linda!

      I have not done extensive research into Pilates, so I am by no means an authority on the matter. However, the best I can tell from the Wikipedia article on the exercise regimen, it would seem to be of a different ilk. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilates)

      "The original six principles [of Pilates are] concentration, control, center, flow, precision, and breathing."

      While Pilates does seem to put a strong emphasis on mind-body connection, there is nothing inherently wrong with that, and the exercise itself was not created with the intention of being worship, which is the issue with yoga. However, given the prominence of mind-body connectivity, it would be very easy for an overzealous instructor to incorporate aspects of New Age thought such as mind/spirit control, visualizations, Hindu aspects of yoga, or Taoist aspects of tai chi.

      I would say the wisest thing to do when considering taking a Pilates class is to first research the philosophical leanings of the instructor. If the class is pure Pilates, there seems to be nothing wrong with the principles taught therein. If the instructor (or DVD as the case may be) incorporates New Age philosophies, it's probably best to look for another Pilates outlet.

      As always, though, don't take one person's word for it! Look around on the internet for information on Pilates, read your Bible for the Holy Spirit's leading, and discern for yourself! For "solid food is for the mature, who because of PRACTICE have their SENSES TRAINED to DISCERN GOOD AND EVIL." (Hebrews 5:14)

      In Christ,
      Sarah

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  3. What do you think about Praise Moves as an alternative?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Greetings, Laura!
      I'm afraid I cannot lend my own opinion or present any argument about what God's stance might be concerning Praise Moves, because although I have heard of it, I have neither had experience with the exercise program nor have I had an in-depth look at it. So, I will only say this: to do something or not do something because of an opinion espoused by man is by its very nature a man-made law; even if it agrees with Scripture, to do that is legalism. We are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that WE may "prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God," not to just put on the appearance of being transformed by following a set of rules and regulations (Romans 12:2). If what you have read in the material I have presented has convicted you about Praise Moves, pray about it, diligently search the Scriptures, discern for yourself between good and evil (Hebrews 5:14), and be willing to follow the Holy Spirit's guidance either way. And remember, our God is not a God of confusion!

      Be blessed, sister!
      Sarah

      Delete