Sunday, December 31, 2006

Universal Unspoken Questions

Here is a comment sent in by “Anonymous”: how is it possible to love God, if you do not have this so-called love in you, what is it, where does it come from, how do you get it, or how much does it cost, i accepted Christ 12 years ago, and according to you, i have wasted my time, 12 years of my life trying to please God, and a lot of money in church, this tells me that God does not accept everyone, only the ones he wants. if love is a gift from God, then the Bible is a lie he gives it to certain ones only, this would mean it is immpossible for me to go to heaven, because i do not have this so called love.

“Anonymous,” your excellent, candid and down-to-earth questions are worthy of being published in the main section of this blog for the sake of others that may have the same questions.

First of all, it sounds like you are a member of organized religion. That is one strike against you. Exposing what is kept silent by religion is what this blog is all about. Enough of that. The whole Christian faith is based on a mutual love between God, Jesus Christ and His disciples (us). Even though human love is powerful—e.g. love between husband and wife or parents and their children—Godly love makes that love look wimpy; however, it is nice to know that someone loves you and that you love in return.

Godly love is similar, except that God is the one who dictates how to love and who to love since He created us; therefore, He is the one who knows what is best for us. Much of my adult life, I have been looking for human love to satisfy a deep inward need to be loved. And no matter how genuine that love of another was, be it parents, siblings, mate, etc., sooner or later, one way or another, it always fell short. Human love or Godly love cannot be fabricated. You see, human beings are love beings, in that love is the only attitude that truly satisfies. To put it another way, love makes us feel needed, wanted and important.

All those words and I didn’t even start to answer your first question. Love for God/Christ is to obey His commands. John 14:21. “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.” John 14:24. “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.” John 15:10. “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love.” Obedience to Jesus Christ and love for Him are inseparable. That is the main atrocity organized religion is guilty of. “Obedience” is a dirty word to them, and is avoided as much as possible. In fact, even though obedience (good works) can never save anyone, it is the crucial evidence that a person’s faith is genuine. John 15:8. “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, SHOWING yourself to be my disciples.”

There are dozens upon dozens of hard-edged verses that are avoided by religion per se. I have written on those verses several times; the latest is in post # 170: “Crimes in Christ’s Name Exposed.” If a person doesn’t have a desire to start to obey those commands, there is no way in hell he can have love for God or God have love for him. Many of those verses sound ridiculous and impossible to implement. And yet there is a reason for every single one of them. They are not in the New Testament just to make things hard for His disciples.

I am answering your questions in a roundabout way. When you said you don’t have this love in you, I say, “good for you for being honest with God and with yourself.” You asked what it is. It is a response to God’s call, displayed by obedience. It is evidence that His disciples believe God and desire to obey Him. You asked where it comes from. It comes from God, in response to your belief. You asked how you get it. It comes from belief in what Christ said. You asked, how much it costs. Not a red cent, only your complete life devoted to promoting the cause of Christ.

You said that God does not accept everyone, only the ones He wants. That is a lie. God accepts everyone who believes in what His Son did for humanity. But it doesn’t end there. As previously mentioned, evidence of that belief is obedience to His commands. No obedience, no love or Salvation. You said, He accepts only certain ones. Wrong. It is more than possible for you to go to heaven if you go along with His plan. But if you stay on the course you are now on, most likely you may end up in . . . .

The best advice I can give you is to read the New Testament. Read it and reread it, and never stop reading it. Highlight certain verses that you want to be reminded of. Keep reading it or get a set of the New Testament C Ds and listen to them every day until it becomes an intricate part of your life. As you get acquainted with what God desires, start to change your life according to what Christ commands. And before you know it, guess what? Your love for God will gradually manifest in your life, and God’s love for you will become real. But before all this can come about, you must have a desperate need for all that God has for you. Another suggestion: It might seem difficult, but it will do you much good if you separate yourself from the church you have been attending for 12 years. By all means, stop giving your hard-earned money to people who unknowingly are sending many to hell.

Here is the answer to your main question: How do you get to love God? Here are two human analogies: You are in a burning building screaming at the top of your lungs; flames are shooting out of every window. You are as good as dead. One brave fireman/lady throws a soaking wet blanket over his/her body and darts inside in an attempt to save you. As he/she comes out of the burning building with you safely wrapped inside the blanket, people start shouting with joy. In the process, the fire person was severely burned. The burns were so bad that he/she died on the scene.

Miraculously, he/she is revived. How would you feel about that person who was your savior? You would love that person and feel indebted to him/her for the rest of your life. Now I ask: Where did that love come from? Answer: from the gratitude and appreciation for being saved by this person.

That is exactly what Jesus Christ (God) did for you. By His death on the cross, He saved you from the pains of eternal hell. Where is your gratitude? Is the occurrence a reality to you? If you truly believed it actually happened, you would automatically love Him for the rest of your life. The question is, what type of belief do you have concerning Christ saving you? I would say that you don’t, at this time, have the belief needed to make that event a reality.

Here is another analogy: Most young children love their parents. Why is that? Their parents love them and therefore care for their every need. Where did that love for parents come from? You guessed it. Children know it would be almost impossible to live without the loving care of their parents.

God is called The Father of all who believe and obey in what He commands. Why would anyone not love the one who is their heavenly Father? Good question, because their heavenly Father is not a reality to whomever. Belief/faith is the quality that makes The Father a reality. He becomes our Father if we obey Him, and God counts obedience coupled with belief as LOVE for Him. John 14:23-24. “Jesus replied, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.’”

So the definitive answer to “how do you get it?” is that your belief needs serious work, and it will come when you make every effort to keep your mind and soul on the things of God. And one of the best ways to do that is to become intimately acquainted with the New Testament.

If you decide to go along with those aforementioned words, and you have more questions—I am certain you will—throw them at me. I need a good challenge once in a while, like the ones you just gave me today. May God bless you with all you allow Him to give you. jc Check the comment section below. “Anonymous” presented further and more complete details, and I gave my response.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

# 181: Christian Perfection

# 181: Christian Perfection Over the years, quite often, I have heard this Christian adage: “No one is perfect.” That seems like an open-and-shut case, and yet that statement is true and at times is false. Those who believe it is true lean on that alibi in an attempt to “cover their tush,” while other sincere believers may be demonstrating their need for a Savior, Jesus Christ. But it doesn’t end there.

The word “perfect/ion” has several implications in the New Testament. And yet, most are referring to excellence of certain Godly qualities. This post will explore them; then we may be able to acquire a more complete understanding of God’s truth as it pertains to the Christian life.

Let us first examine the fact that Scripture says every disciple of Jesus Christ is perfect, making the above saying also untrue. Listen to this one: Hebrews 10:14. “. . . because by one sacrifice he HAS MADE PERFECT forever those who are BEING MADE HOLY.” [emphasis added]. Exactly what does this verse mean? Simply put: God the Father freely considers as perfect in His sight all who have made a commitment to believe Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. That is astounding; of course, “being made holy” implies only those who are/will be continually striving to experience higher levels of holiness. Scriptural evidence: 2nd Peter 3:14. “. . . make every effort to be found SPOTLESS and blameless and at peace with him.” Luke 13:24. “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” [emphasis added]

Now the question remains: How should we respond to God’s action, in that he gave us an undeserved status of perfection? Our main reaction must be to make it our sincere desire to attempt to live up to the perfection given to us by the creator of all things, God Almighty. Before anyone can start to live in that manner, one must, wholeheartedly and with every fiber of strength he/she can muster up, believe our new holy status is an ACTUALITY (for real) and not just holy words. When one makes every effort to truly believe they possess a perfect standing with God, then and only then will/must one’s life start to change dramatically.

What if a person merely says she/he believes their new standing with God, but whose life changes little or not at all? Then what? That is concrete evidence for the lack of genuine belief in his/her initial response, and/or lack of belief that God sees him/her as perfect.

Belief in what God has said and done is the motivating factor for acquiring holiness (living a life of love for God, which is evident by obedience to Christ’s teachings). These are the words of Jesus. John 14:23-24. “Jesus replied, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.’”

God does not want us to merely be in a perfect honorary position with Him, via the perfection He freely gave us; more importantly, He also wants us to experience that perfection. Matthew 5:48. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Here are several ways to increase one’s level of perfection: Ephesians 2:10. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We do these good works not as a means of justifying ourselves—we have already been justified—but as a result of our belief in the perfection God freely gave us. Here is more evidence of how God sees us: 1st Corinthians 6:11. “But you WERE washed, you WERE justified, you WERE sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” [emphasis added]. Matthew 19:21. “Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”’

This last verse sounds kind of nonsensical; that is the reason that kind of talk is rejected in our modern culture by organized Christianity. They say that verse pertains only to a very few extremely wealthy people, which is truly a destructive lie. But still, the logic behind it is embraced by the true family of God. Logic says: it is almost impossible for a wealthy person to be obedient. The second MOST crucial/imperative command in Scripture is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and still have more than enough of whatever, while others go without. Said another way, the aforementioned is also a prerequisite to becoming a disciple of Christ, when he said “THEN come, follow me.” Jesus in essence is saying that in the Kingdom of God on earth, equality is the norm. Repeating, there can be no wealthy disciples while another doesn’t have the basic essentials. Generous Christians who are obedient to this command are experiencing Godly love, and exposure to Godly love is to touch the hand of perfection. That doesn’t mean that tomorrow, one cannot acquire a greater degree of Godly perfection.

Here is an aspect of the word “perfect” which may be difficult to understand in this power-hungry society. 2nd Corinthians 12:9-10. (The Lord speaking and the Apostle Paul’s response): “But he [the Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made PERFECT in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I DELIGHT in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak [adverse worldly circumstances], then I am strong.” [God’s power is activated]. Who in their right mind desires to be weak? Only those who are out of their mind, for Christ’s sake.

Jesus Christ desires us to rely on Him and his strength when promoting His cause; thus, when His power is being exerted in our lives, it gives us a greater degree of perfect (we are made stronger). We can possess Christ’s strength when everything seems to be falling apart in our lives (hostile conditions occurring) without many worldly accolades to rely on; whereas, when we have many great human attributes, qualities and characteristics in our back pocket, as it were, we attempt to use our own meager strength to do His work. That may be one of the reasons Christianity is in the pitiful shape it is in. Therefore, the word “perfect,” when used in this context, implies growing in strength to do God’s work, because of Christ’s power resting on us, or better yet, allowing Him to make us more perfect as He works through our bodies.

In this next verse, the word “perfect” is used in a way that is contrary to the aforementioned uses. Philippians 3:11, 13. (The Apostle Paul speaking): “. . . and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made PERFECT . . . Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.” Because of the supernatural powers that Christ was using through Paul, some envious peers badgered him, saying his (Paul’s) Godly power to heal materialized because he was raised from the dead.

Here is the reason why: Acts 14:19. “They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.” Repeating, that was the reason some thought his GREAT COURAGE and supernatural powers came as a result of him being raised from the dead, and therefore couldn’t die again in a human body. I truly believe that stoning did kill Paul—did/could anyone ever survive a stoning?—and God, in response to the prayers of the disciples, gave him life, but not the final resurrection; but just like when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

Therefore, when Paul used the words “made perfect,” he meant literal eternal perfection. This is the only time the word “perfect” was used in that context.

While we are on the subject of being raised to life, which has little to do with perfection, I present several verses that have mystified me and millions like me for many years. These verses are only in the book of Matthew and not in the synonymous books of Luke or Mark. Matthew 27:52-53. “The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” I ask, then: What happened to them? Also, I ask, in an event as significant as that, why wasn’t it mentioned in the other two harmonious gospels? Many theologians believe the book of Mark was written first; then Luke and Matthew were, in many ways, copies/holy plagiarism since many identical verses appear in all three Gospels.

Here is one theory for the reason those two “off-the-wall” verses were in Matthew and not in the other gospels: an overzealous scribe-turned- disciple—a scribe is a person who was taught to copy Scripture verbatim—wanted to counter the story that Jesus was not resurrected and that His disciples took the body of Jesus, as stated in Matthew 28:12-13, and 15. “When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, ‘You are to say, “his disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were sleeping.”’ . . . And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.” Just remember, this is holy speculation, even though it makes more logic than to leave us in silence as to what happened to all those holy people.

I am of the belief that when a single verse pops up that seems a bit contrary to all else said on any subject, it is best not to give it too much credence even though it is in God’s Holy Book. If you think this theory is all hogwash, give me a better reason for the above incident.

In ending, the punch line is that when the word “perfect” is mentioned in the New Testament or in this blog, most often it means some sort of Godly excellence, or the perfection that God prematurely bestowed on all true believers, and not the ultimate perfection we will receive in eternity.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

# 180: The Diversity of Christmas

This post will tell the history—the good and the not-so-good—of the most popular holiday in America. First, the history: The main quote is from the Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia. Christmas: “Scholars believe that it is derived in part from rites held by pre-Christian Germanic and Celtic tribesmen to celebrate the winter solstice. Christian festivals, generally observed by Christians since the 4th century, incorporate pagan customs, such as the use of holly, mistletoe, Yule logs, and wassail bowls [used for much drinking]. The Christmas tree, an evergreen trimmed with lights and other decorations, was derived from the so-called Paradise tree, symbolizing Eden of German mystery plays. The use of a Christmas tree began early in the 17th century in Strasbourg, France, spreading from there to Germany and then into northern Europe. In 1841, Albert, Prince Consort of Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, introduced the Christmas-tree custom to Great Britain; from there, it accompanied emigrants to the United States. Meanwhile, Dutch settlers had brought to the new world the custom of celebrating St. Nicholas Day on December 6, and they especially celebrated St. Nicholas Eve, when gifts were given to children, of whom the saint was patron. British settlers took over the tradition as part of their Christmas Eve celebration. Santa Claus, the name of the legendary jolly, red-garbed old man, who in the United States is said to make and distribute gifts and greeting cards, is a corruption of the Dutch “Sint Nicolaas”.

The lack of one person in the origin of Christmas was Jesus Christ. He was not mentioned once in all the early history of Christmas. I am not certain when the official name “Christmas” was given to that holiday, but I do know that somewhere along the line, Christ, the nativity scene, and December 25th as the day of the baby Jesus’ birth were later incorporated into the holiday. Going to the Roman Catholic Church on that festive day became a tradition; thus the name “Christ-Mass” was shortened to “Christmas”–the word “Mass” indicated/s that the “Roman Catholic Holy Eucharist” would be served (bread in the form of a round thin wafer, and at times, wine). Also, many Bible scholars seem to agree that the birth of Jesus was sometime in late September in the year 3 or 4 A.D.

The good: What would life be without Christmas for most children in America? They get several weeks off from school, which is looked forward to all year long, and then they get all the presents under the Christmas tree along with other amenities (travel, special privileges, etc.) that come with that holiday. If anyone attempted to take Christmas away from children because of its pagan origin, there would be the most gigantic revolt this country has ever seen, and all by the little folks. And I am certain that parents would also put up a big stink. Without Christmas, adults wouldn’t have a paid holiday—no excuse to drink and get a little tipsy, rewarded by a big head in the morning; no rich food to gain a few unwanted pounds, and then have to diet for the next few months; no good excuse to have a merry time and be your uninhibited self; no maxed-out credit cards or debts; just think the thought of no Christmas with all the hustle and bustle, with no Christmas music or cheer, no stupid presents from friends and relatives. That could give most adults a good reason to start the mother of all demonstrations. What about the merchants? They are the ones who benefit the most from Christmas. In fact, many commercial establishments earn more money—as we go deeper into debt—during the Christmas holiday season than they do the rest of the year. Therefore, regardless of the origin, or who in the early festive era was left out of Christmas, I will unequivocally say that it is here to stay.

The not-so-good: Although Christmas is supposedly a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ in the USA, most non-religious people also engage in its personal benefits. First, atheists, who don’t believe in Christ or God , still they buy their children presents, and may even have a Christmas tree, eat a big meal, go on vacation to see relatives, and the like. Most get paid for the holiday without working. As it seems, Christmas could be a big event even for nonbelievers. Second, people who do not categorize themselves as atheists yet wouldn’t step foot in a church might call themselves Christians since they think they live in a “Christian country.” At Christmastime, they engage in most of the same activities as church-going Christians do and reap its benefits and joys. Third, the Jewish community, although they don’t believe Jesus Christ as their promised Messiah, are the biggest benefactors of Christmas in a financial way. Jews own more corporations in America, and maybe the world, than any other religion or race. I believe Mormons come in second, at least as being the richest “Christian” church in America. Therefore, Christmas is a holiday when many in the Jewish community just can’t wait to celebrate by going to the bank the day after Christmas with big bucks in their satchels. Fourth are the non-Christian-religions: people such as Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. who live in America celebrate Christmas by taking advantage of the amenities it offers to Americans; still, they don’t believe in Jesus Christ other than possibly as a prophet or some historical figure. So, what is wrong with that? I am certain they still look forward to Christmas for having the day off, and maybe even a big meal, and of course like others, they enjoy the discount on merchandise the day after Christmas. As one can see, Christmas, though sacrilegious in the eyes of devout Christians, is not that bad for the secular folks. Here is a little-known fact about birthday celebrations in the Bible. Did you know that only two times in the whole Old and New Testament were birthdays celebrated? Both were the occasion for executions. In the New Testament, it was when King Herod was celebrating his birthday; he had John the Baptist beheaded at the request of his stepdaughter. Matthew 14:6-12 and Mark 6:21-25. In the Old Testament, as Pharaoh was celebrating his birthday, he had the chief baker hanged just as Joseph had predicted. Genesis 40:20-22. This is a ghastly history of Biblical birthdays. It seems to indicate, when it comes to birthdays in the Bible, that birthdays should not be a time of joy but of gruesome murders. So I ask, is the celebrating of birthdays a good/holy event, let alone for the birth of our Lord and Savior?

There is a large class of people in America that, if asked, would classify themselves as Christians. For example: If people are not atheists since they believe there is a God, yet are not secular or orthodox Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, or Hindus, they believe they must be Christians since Christianity is the prevalent religion in America. I am certain that this type of Christians-by-name-only won’t be affected by the disturbing information of Christmas being of pagan origin. But the question I ask is how genuine Christians should respond to the fact that their favorite Christian holiday was not originally based on the birth of their Savior. This is an extremely difficult question. Who has the correct answer/s?

First and foremost, I don’t think little children should be told outright that there is no Santa Claus. Let them learn on their own as they get older, because for kids, Christmastime is the most exciting time of the year, to say the least. Older children, as they start to understand the importance of Jesus Christ in their parents’ lives, should be told how Christmas originated, and go easy on their reaction. Remember, they still are kids. Christmas as a holiday for kids is okay. But with the commercialism of Christmas along with all the money spent on that holiday, it could/should be classified as a secular holiday by leaving Jesus out of the holiday. That may sound sacrilegious to some, but I am certain Jesus would approve of having His image removed from that materialistic and gluttonous holiday, without doing away with the holiday altogether. This is a difficult question to grapple with, and there is no absolute answer. There is a religious group (Jehovah’s Witnesses) that did not celebrate Christmas years ago. I am not sure if they still refrain from celebrating it. I am certain it is/was tough on their kids, especially in school, when all the other kids are talking about Christmas and presents. I ask you, the readers, to give me your input as to what is right for kids and adults. I think I know what is best for adults; it is a personal decision for every true believer.

For people who understand what pleases Jesus Christ, and only for that group, here is my thinking on Christmas: Most, if not all, of the money spent on gifts, food, travel, drinks and whatever else is spent on Christmas should be given to those who are without the basic necessities at Christmas, regardless of race, creed, color, or religion. Better yet, that giving would be more memorable, of greater value, and more meaningful if it was done on a personal basis (one-on-one), thus circumventing organized charities. Then, a day or two before Christmas, adults, and especially their children, could go to preselected homes to give toys, money, food, clothing or whatever is needed. This giving experience by children will leave an indelible mark on their memory. Will they do the same as they grow older? There are several ways you can find out who is in need; contact the Welfare Department, the Salvation Army, Goodwill, or get in touch with the local newspaper and ask if they can put a small article in their paper to see if anyone knows of families in need. If the family needs groceries, go with them to a supermarket and buy what they need. If you smell alcohol or tobacco, in their home or on their breath, it is best not to give money. If they need their rent to be paid, make a check out to the landlord; if they need clothing, toys, or grown-up presents, go to several department stores, etc. This could be expensive. To help one or two families may be all one can afford. The following year, you may be better organized and able to do much more. If you are doing this with the right motive, God will bless you more than you can ever imagine, although not necessarily in a monetary way. His blessings are spiritual. When doing this good work, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing (don’t tell anyone what you have done, not even the IRS), or it may lose some of its value in the sight of God. Then, on Christmas, stay home and treat it as any ordinary day—though a very special day spiritually—by praising and thanking God for giving you and yours an active desire to help the needy. There is one stipulation: The recipients of these gifts must be told that the gifts are from Jesus Christ Himself and that we are only His helpers doing the delivering. If Christmas was celebrated in that manner by even a few of God’s people, for them, I would call it a Christmas which God would be pleased to glory in. However, He would still be unhappy with the remainder who celebrate Christmas in the ordinary, secular, and self-centered way. Actually, I am certain there are holy people who are already doing that kind of giving, but only for those in need in their own church. But it could easily be expanded to all the poor in the United States and then to the world. To make it truly Christ giving, there must be no administrative cost, only Christian volunteers.

To have genuine compassion and empathy for the poor, I believe it would be beneficial—though undesired—to have/make an opportunity to live in God-inspired poverty oneself. This Bible verse comes to mind from Luke 6:20, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God/Heaven.” Now I am sure some are saying that I must be off my rocker.

As a child, I was raised in the poorest of poor conditions. Let me elaborate: My mom and dad were from the Old Country. They came to this country without a cent to their name. My mom was not allowed to go to school since she was too valuable on the farm, and therefore could not learn how to speak or read a word of English. My father could speak only a few words of English. He was a cripple, and was therefore limited as to what type of work he could do. My sister and I were born in that type of environment. The sad part is, it wasn’t bad enough to be poor, not being able to speak English, but ignorance about what life in America was about made it even worse. Therefore, now that I am an adult, I know firsthand the pain and suffering of being poor and ignorant. Possibly adults can understand why they are poor, but try to explain poverty to a child.

Let me tell you of two incidents from my childhood which are vivid in my mind. My mother sat me on an old trunk to put some winter clothes on me. As she was dressing me, I asked her, as best I could (of course, I was not speaking English), “Mama, whata Santie Clausie givea me for Christmis?” She didn’t know how to respond. She reached for a small ceramic container which was sitting near the trunk. It was made up of a black girl and boy; they looked like they were drawing water from a well. Again, not knowing what to say, she gave that ceramic piece to me and said, “This is all I have to give you; we have no money.” I must have thought to myself, How could I play with that? I didn’t want that ceramic figurine because it had been in our house for a long time, and it didn’t seem like a Christmas present to me. I am certain the pain she had for the little boy she loved more than the world was much greater than my broken heart.

Here is another heart-breaking story about Christmas: I am not certain if it was the same year as the above incident. My sister and I were going to bed in an uninsulated, drafty attic–that was the only place we had to sleep. It was Christmas Eve; I was two years younger than my sister. In order to prepare for Santa, my sister got one of my mother's old stockings and neatly draped it over the back of an old chair and put it near her bed. I told her there was no Santa Claus. She argued with me, saying there was. When morning came, you’ll never guess what happened. Her Christmas stocking was still empty. If I remember rightly, she cried and cried. I am not sure if I cried along with her, but I am sure making up for it now. They say men aren’t supposed to shed tears; crying is reserved only for sissies. Well then, I guess I must be a sissy. Case in point: These stories are not mine only; they belong to every poor child that doesn’t get at least one nice present at Christmastime. Therefore, one can understand why only poor children truly know the inexpressible sorrow of being without at Christmastime, with no happy endings in sight. As you can possibly tell, when Christmas is combined with poverty-stricken families, especially with young children, I become a bit effusive.

In conclusion, as we examined Christmas from many angles, it is good, in one way or another, for all except those in desperate financial need. We as Christians can change that, if even a little this year, and hopefully more in years to come. With Jesus Christ doing the giving through our efforts, that generosity may/will bring some of the unloved poor into the reality that Christianity may be for them also. Remember, God loves the poor. We should also love the poor by allowing Jesus Christ to do His giving through us.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

# 179: Disciple: the Forgotten Word & House Church

Webster’s definition of disciple: “a pupil or follower of any teacher or school of religion, learning, art, etc.” Why don’t we who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord, call ourselves disciples of Jesus Christ instead of Christians, believers, brothers, etc. Disciple is mentioned over 300 time in the New Testament; the word believer/s is mentioned approximately 20 times; the word brothers/s, as brothers in Christ and not blood brothers, almost 300 times; the word sister about 6 or 7 times; the words ‘The Way” as used in Acts, 5 times; the word Christian/s 3 times.

Some will say, “That it’s all semantics.” And that is mostly correct. But more realistic, the word disciple has a negative connotation: to be disciplined in the ways of Lord. Who really want to be disciplined according to ALL He commands? It is a crying shame, from the looks of things, especially in the U.S., it doesn’t seem like many. The word Christian has various meanings to complex mortals: one born in a Christian family; one who goes to a Christian church; one who believes that Jesus Christ saves all who call themselves Christians, regardless what type of life they live, since no one is perfect; one who is not an atheist, Jew, Muslim, etc. therefore, must be a Christian. The reason those who call themselves Christians is because it is a good and holy name, making them feel holy, of sorts. In other words, the word ‘Christian’ becomes a catchall for those who want to put on a holy perception/heir about themselves. Here are a few definitions the dictionary gives for Christian: “a decent respectable person; humane and decent; having the qualities demonstrated and taught by Jesus Christ . . .” [But, I say, without the commitment needed to become a real Christian]”

Here is another reason why many Christians are in the “spiritual” condition they are in: It is being brutally blunt, but it must be said. Many American Christians and clergy are overweight, obese e.g.Pastor John Hagee, of Trinity Broadcasting Network--a disgrace to the profession--and physically out-of-shape. The reason: they lack the discipline to eat healthy foods, while overeating. No discipline to engage in a moderate amount of daily exercise/workout, which takes physical effort; one of the most avoided of all activities. But even just as destructive to a disciplined life is living with health sucking stress; in fact stress is the most unnatural and destructive attitude we can harbor.

That unhealthy type of living brings on a myriad of other degenerative and deadly diseases-–a great bonanza for the greedy pharmaceutical and doctors, who capitalize on our misfortunes. These physically lazy Christians reject discipline. Consequences: their non-disciplined living habits rub-off on their Christian life. They say “We’ll take it if you make it easy, sweet and fast.” It is easy say, “I believe in Jesus Christ,” but most difficult to be spiritually disciplined according to all that God commands--I am not talking about the 10 commands in the Old Testament. In fact, for some undisciplined believers, it may be impossible to admit it, or extremely difficult to change or even modify their lifestyle. That may be the core reason the word ‘disciple’ has been replaced with the word Christian.

This upcoming fact, most likely, is the main reason some/many Christians don’t want to be classified as disciples: Through the years, as I traveled through the religious circuit of churches, I would hear many church-goers . . . . say, “ I am a Christian but not a disciple.” Let me quote just one verse that explicitly says that belief is not true. Jesus speaking; Matthew 28:19. “Therefore go and make DISCIPLES of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them [disciples] to OBEY everything I have command YOU.” [emphasis added]. Even with the mountain of evidence in this verse and many like it, some believe when Jesus was giving those seemingly impossible commands, they were meant only for the 12 disciples. These Christian sluggers were taught they could become ‘believers’ in Christ without having the burden of being disciples. The only thing is, Jesus had many more than 12 that were following Him, and all that followed Him were called disciples. Like the 72 disciples He sent out ahead of himself to the towns and villages. Check Luke 10:1.

How did such a beautiful word like ‘Christianity’ get so corrupted? And how could such a descriptive word like ‘disciple’ get buried in the dark halls of mediocre religion? As early as the first century the clergy quickly learned that sweet honey draws more flies than vinegar. And the New Testament contains much that is not palatable for those who are fudging their way till graduation. The New Testament is a God-send--as difficult as it may seem--for all who are continually searching for more of God’s truth, so they can live it and bring much needed glory to the Father.

One of the problems is that most Christian books and those that read them (preachers) that espouse Christian protocol, were reared in the mediocrity of modern Christianity. Just propagating an easy does it, all smiles, half-baked, money making religion.

Here is one stark truth that tells all: if a person–regardless how esteemed he/she is in Christian circles, is not actually experiencing the Christianity truth (the life of Jesus) they can never in a million years, write or preach the complete truth of the gospel message, including all the hard-edged verses; and there are many. That is what this blog is all about, with no excuses. If you like only Christian honey, you will detest most of what is written hear-in. Some accuse me of having the easy job of just writing this blog while doing nothing else. That is a flat lie. I cannot boast of what my ministry consists of, or it would be worthless in the sight of God.

If you do any cooking, the next time you are making a salad, put your salad dressing to one side, instead, add vinegar and honey/sugar, mixed with a little olive oil, spicy Italian cheese, chili powder, a little onion, garlic, etc. You will have a healthy, scrumptious mouth watering salad. In other words, the mixture of sweet and tart of God’s Word makes an excellent combination.

The question I pose is this: are you a Christian and a disciple? If you truly believe you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, then this blog is just what the doctor ordered. The only problem is, living as Christ commands is not in vogue. Quickly, you will be look-on as an outsider, a religious nut, an eccentric, etc.

What is in style is to go to church dressed in one’s Sunday best, say a prayer, sing a song, listen to a ear-tickling sermon, shake a few hands and be on one’s way, believing one has done his/her weekly duty as a devout Christian. When home, get on with the daily routine which, most likely has nothing to do with promoting the cause of Jesus Christ to this lost world. That type of “Christian” life has been going on for so long, that most don’t know any better/different.

I, many times said to myself, don’t those church going naivete ever read the New Testament? What about obedience to God’s commands. There are so many, many verses that teach obedience to His commands is super imperative. Beyond faith in Jesus Christ, without obedience, discipleship, and genuine love for God, there is no Salvation. They, most likely, are the most redundant type of verses in the whole of the New Testament, and the most ignored.

As many of you have already figured out, the ignoring of what the New Testament commands, by the majority of professing Christians, inspired the genesis of this blog. And what bugs me is when confronted with the truth as recorded in the Good Book, there is very little, if any change in devotion by the vast majority of church goers. I am talking about intelligent, educated, honest, loving people. How can they be so ignorant of what God requires? If anyone has a good answer to that question, please send me the answer. If you are in that ignorant category, God says, “Shame on you.”

When it comes to Christ’s disciples--did you notice I didn’t say Christians--getting together to share each others experiences, good and bad news, and whatever else is new, is essential. As in the days of the New Testament, the groups should be small, as not to lose intimacy. In Hebrews 10:25 the disciples are encouraged to get together, so they can encourage each other in whatever ways are needed.

Large church buildings, as we see in every city in America, are not mentioned in the New Testament. It mentions only small groups meeting in various places, mostly in the homes of the disciples (house churches). Here are a few of small gatherings mentioned in the New Testament:

Acts 2:2. “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole HOUSE where they were sitting.”

Acts 16:13. “On the Sabbath [Saturday the 7th day of the week] we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer.” Click on # 137: Something to Remember.

Romans 16:5. “Greet the church that meets at their house.”

1 Corinthians 16:19. “Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the brothers that meet at their HOUSE.”

Colossians 4:15. “Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her HOUSE.”

Acts 20:8. “There were many lamps in the upstairs ROOM where we were meeting.”

Philemon 2. “. . . to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your HOUSE.”

That is the way it should be. And the reason is because in a church gathering the disciples must be allowed to express themselves in many ways. Other than individual social interest, members must correct, encourage, show empathy, help any in need and admonish whatever members are out of line with Biblical commands. That is impossible in a large group. Every disciple must get to know each other in as many ways as possible. They are all members of one family, God’s family. As in a worldly family, everyone knows all other members weakness and strengths. For spiritual success, that also must be the case in our house churches. Disciples have a responsibility for each others spiritual and material welfare. That is the reasons all churches must be confined to small groups in house churches. For that reason, when it comes to churches, big is bad in the sight of God.

This loss of intimacy as a result of church buildings, large and small, most likely, is responsible for Christianity as it is today. Formalities tend to replace spontaneity. And without spontaneity, separation will be the result. Just to hear the same person preach a sermon each week, instead of different disciples giving their vantage point, weakness, strength, desires, needs, etc. whenever, is what makes family life what it is.

If a few disciples desire to start a house church, the disciple’s values must be fairly similar. Of course, just to bring big church rhetoric without obedience to God’s commands into a small group will give intimacy, but without Godly substance. There are not many disciples around that could/would leave the comfort and ways of organized religion, just to let the New Testament be their guide.

The problem is there aren’t many churches that don’t claim the Bible as their guide. And at the same time leaving out many verses that are difficult and seemingly impossible to implement. Instead they are content to preach holy-bull. That is their crime against God.

Only those disciple who truly love and obey God-–not those that merely say they love Him--are the ones who will have the desire and ability to obey ALL the teachings of Jesus Christ. One cannot love God without obedience and one cannot obey God without love for Him; they are inseparable. John chapter 14:24. “ He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.”

I will leave you with this Scriptural reminder in Acts 14:21, to prove that even new converts to Christianity are disciples. “They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples.” We also must considered new converts as disciples. Anyone who belongs to Christ is a disciple. No ifs, ands, or buts. The song goes like this: “How do I know? The Bible tells me so.”

For more information on the house church, click on # 96.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

# 178 Birds of a Feather Flock Together

Most of us like to be in the company of our own kind (people with whom we have many things in common) or with people we love, emulate or highly esteem. That is only natural. There is a law that governs our actions, "The law of attraction," in which one person draws others to oneself. Another person is attracted/drawn by another. With very few exceptions, the same is true in the insect world and in the animal kingdom. We all were preprogrammed that way in the beginning by God’s nature.

That is also true of other physical objects. For example, the clouds have their own power of attraction. Have you ever gazed at the sky as a thunderstorm is about to form? Here is what happens: Under certain atmospheric conditions, a cloud that is slightly larger than the surrounding clouds, starts to attract smaller ones to itself. Meteorologists call that “when a storm is building." Within a short while, that cloud has made the sky overcast. It grew that much, that fast. The stronger clouds overpowered the weaker ones.

Then there are the universal laws of "gravitational pull" we experience here on earth. A large solid object (earth) attracts smaller ones. The smaller ones (people, etc.) cannot get away from the drawing power of the larger one without help from an anti-gravity source (airplanes or rockets). That is the reason we don’t/can’t float away into space. The uniform gravitational pull of the earth keeps us secure on its surface. If the universal attraction was not constant, just a little bit stronger, it would be exceedingly difficult—if not impossible—for us to move from one place to another. And at the same time, the moon would come crashing into our planet, and possibly the gravitational pull of the sun would suck our planet into itself.

If that constant pull was just a little bit weaker, the sun would not have the strength to keep us at a constant distance from itself. We would float away into space and away from the warmth of the sun that makes physical life possible; in fact, our sun would not continue its orbit around the Milky Way galaxy, but float around wherever. If that were the case, there would be no galaxies or solar systems. The whole universe would be a big bunch of floating debris, and it would be absolutely useless.

There is a law that is similar in the spiritual realm. All that is holy will automatically be drawn to God the Holy Spirit. How does this happen? Once a person makes a commitment to believe and live as God requires, that person’s spiritual faculties will start to be influenced by God in the person of the Holy Spirit. That attraction between God and the individual is the connection which makes a person a follower of Jesus Christ. Some church groups call that the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:9. “And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” The Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Truth are one in the same.

Then, think about this: Humans give off invisible vibrations which consist of attributes/qualities/thoughts which may produce identical emotional reaction in others whose spiritual antennaes are in tune to similar qualities. Some describe it as people with the same vibes or soul mates; therefore, they tend to get along well. This principle is also the same in mob violence. What many would not do when alone, when in a crowd, the overwhelming influence of hatred, etc. in that crowd persuades them to act according to the prevalent attitude.

In the spirit realm of God, there is one quality that is the most powerful and important of all—not that all others are not important—which is holiness. The end result of Christianity is holiness: becoming more and more holy every day. Those who possess this God-type holiness are the ones that God the Holy Spirit draws to Himself. Holiness is something in which a person cannot trick God just by going to church, saying holy words, and acting holy, while secretly engaging in an unholy/ungodly life (living according to worldly standards.)

Let me clarify one thing. Actually, we are made perfect and holy, sanctified and justified, in God’s sight. That is God’s work. 1 Corinthians 6:11. “. . . But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Did you notice that verse is in the past tense? Once we realize we are recipients of a priceless gift which was given to us free of charge, gratis/by grace, then if our commitment was for real, we will, because of Godly influence, start to live a holy life; it is impossible not to start changing. God the Holy Spirit has that much effect when we are actually drawn to Him. John 12:32. “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself.” The word "men" also includes women and children, but excludes all that don’t belong to Him.

In time, if the holiness which was graciously given to us because of our initial commitment, belief and faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, doesn’t continue to produce a holy life, that holiness was given in vain. Some large denominations believe otherwise. They believe "Once saved, always saved." There is no Scriptural evidence whatsoever for that false belief. Prove me wrong! There are DOZENS of verses that say the exact opposite. I will present just one: In this verse, the word “if,” presented twice, shows that a person’s relationship to Christ is conditional. John 15:5. “I am the vine: you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him [that is the spiritual connection that makes a person a Christian] he will bear much fruit; [obedience to Christ’s commands that produces holiness] apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”

For any church to teach contrary to that teaching is one of religion’s gravest crimes against God. With the lack of holiness, there can be no attraction or drawing of us to Jesus Christ. Holiness is not only the evidence of our love for God, but also the glue, if you will, that keeps us in the safe keeping of our Lord and Savior. But just as important, living a holy life is confirmation that our commitment to Christ is genuine. Said another way: Holiness can’t save anyone; still, it is the most necessary ingredient in the Christian life. Even grace, as wonderful as it is, can’t negate holiness. It is because of God’s grace that we have the desire and ability to live holy lives.

In short, if we are genuine Christians, it could be said that we will have two forms of holiness. The complexity of holiness is the combination of: 1) as mentioned in paragraph 8, the God-given holiness which is far superior to: 2) “acquired holiness,” living holy lives, which is a result of our love and obedience to all that God commands, etc. This next sentence is the most descriptive and important of all else in this post. Read it several times and keep it on the tip of your mind at all times. Our “acquired holiness” is a life-long process of activating our God-given holiness (that of Jesus Christ) so that we will actually be able to EXPERIENCE His holiness to a greater degree every day. The life of Jesus is or should be every Christian’s only role model.

To be holy means to be concentrated on and dedicated to the works of God; at the same time, it means to be separate from the things of the world; they may not seem evil or sinful in themselves, but they have nothing to do with holiness. A person cannot be a follower of Christ without living a holy life. They who belong to Christ are becoming holier as they continually grow into the likeness of Christ. Holiness is the combination/sum total of all other Christian requirements, qualities, etc. There are many, many Old and New Testament Scriptures that emphasize the absolute need for holiness in the Christian life.

We, with our sweet-talking words and smiles, can fool many of those around us, even ourselves. Also, we may be deceived/tricked into believing others are holy. One who cannot be deceived is the Holy Spirit. Ted Haggard deceived thousands in his 20 to 30 years in the ministry. But his preaching gives him away to anyone who truly knows the Lord. We have to be extra cautious aboutto what church we belong to and who we listen to. The Christian life is like going through a mine field. The land mines are placed where a person would least suspect they would be. Not organized religion, but the New Testament, with a little help from this blog, can help anyone figure out exactly where those land mines are.

One of the best ways to avoid false teaching, even if it doesn’t sound false, is to become intimately acquainted with what the New Testament teaches, and then adhere to that Godly intimacy with obedience to what it commands, regardless of how unnatural it seems, or what people like Haggard say. In their sermons, these heretics don’t include things like sin since they say, “The sin issue was dealt with by Christ. Anyway, people don't want to hear about that." That leaves the door wide open to live as one pleases, in the name of Christ. Then that false expression of the Christian religion is looked upon by unbelievers as a Christian hoax, or worse yet by many who see it as an easy way to slip into heaven while still having a hell of a good time (doing what comes naturally). Remember this: Sins that don’t seem like sins are the ones most likely to send us to hell. That could be one of the worst heresies in all of Christianity.

Another heresy that is prevalent in organized Christianity, which I have written about extensively, is the preaching that God wants all His people to be materially prosperous. That is a blatant lie. Anyone that is into that type of theology is for certain without the Spirit of Christ. Those people lack holiness, and without holiness there can be no drawing unto God. Rather, God desires all His people to be spiritually prosperous (His life).

There is no way we could ever make ourselves holy enough to be accepted by God. That is the exact opposite of what many religions are teaching in their attempts to live holy lives. We as Christians, as previously mentioned, are made holy by God’s grace. Grace means free of charge. There is a catch, however. Why does God give us His/Christ’s holiness? Answer: so that we can live holy lives. If we say we have accepted His gift of holiness and then do not start and continue to live holy lives (works), guess what? There can be no way Christ through the Holy Spirit can draw us unto Himself. He couldn’t even if He wanted to, because it is a violation of God’s law of attraction.

The end result of Christianity is living a holy life. That is what Christianity is all about.

Let me try to end with these thoughts: We have a wonderful God, don’t we? If, by some chance, we inadvertently and on a very rare occasion were to slip and miss the mark, no problem; God looks at our motives, desires and determination as much as our actions. And if our motives, etc. are in line with God’s purpose, we have someone who will speak in our defense: Jesus Christ the Righteous One. 1st John 2:1-2. Though this verse gives us hope if we were to sin, God’s kindness is not available when we use this verse as a catchall to live as we please, as some do by silently changing the word “if” into “when.”

Concluding thoughts: For those who desire to be the very best Christian they can be—that should be every Christian’s goal—it would be wise to reread the complete book of 1st John. He is an extremely holy Apostle and makes the sin issue very clear with no ambiguities. Actually, it would be a holy idea, if one has the time, to memorize the whole book of 1st John. It is only a few pages long.

To sum up, I hope: Another aspect of Christianity to consider is that we must make certain we are doing all that we should be doing; if not, the deadly sins of omission come into play. Whatever we are doing or not doing, we must always remember that “Birds of a feather flock together.” Laws cannot be broken or compromised, especially in the spiritual realm, where cheating may take a person where he/she doesn’t want to go: Ouch.

This post is easy enough to understand, even by unbelievers, but it cannot be put into practice unless that person is continually drawn by God. Where do you and I stand?