Category Archives: Religion

A Weird Turn of Thought

Again, it’s one of those days where two seemingly disparate thoughts become intertwined in my mind. They give rise to a third idea for exploration.

Thought 1

Hospice is a powerful tool. It helps the terminal die with dignity, not by suicide or assisted suicide or homicide, but by letting the diseased body shut down naturally with some palliative support for pain. It helps those who love the terminal come to peace with the impending separation and move through the stages of grief in a healthy way.

Thought 2

Some Christians are at times unkind to those they perceive as sinners, even to those they perceive as completely spiritually dead. While rightfully so they want to guard their hearts and minds, they forget that absenting from the spiritually terminal truly ends all hope.

Synthesis

What if Christians, even only a handful, started to look at those who were really deep in sin as not yet dead, but in need of spiritual hospice? In this case, to preserve the will to live  and keep a connection with believers until it truly is too late. Is that sacrilegious?

If some Christians would commit to simply loving the sinner or those that are perceived as spiritually dead, would it make a difference?

By love, I don’t meaning telling the person that sin isn’t sin or that wrong is right. What I mean is to hang out with them and do something they enjoy that doesn’t violate the conscience of the Christian. Keep in touch, even when other Christians disappear.

Temporarily, stop measuring their worth by the actions that look Christian-like, and begin to see them as the unique creatures they really are. Find that one attribute that is radical and wild and different and praise God for the uniqueness in creation of that individual.

No, in my past I haven’t live up to this. And yes, periodically, the enemy does a most excellent job of rubbing my face in my failures.

But what if just a handful of us committed to loving just one person that was considered unworthy of love by everyone else, selected by God’s decision not the will of other frustrated Christians?

If there is hope as long as there is life and breath, could we live the kind of life that reflected Jesus so another would choose Jesus?

Our God is the God of the miraculous and the impossible. With Him all things are possible.

So, just for tonight, I will hope that the answer is, “Yes.”

A Letter, Post Mass Disappearance…

Author’s Note: It’s a little disconcerting lately to see what’s coming out in the theaters. I’ve only recently begun to understand the evangelical Rapture concept (although I did try to explore an analogy in my piece on counterfeit money), and there’s a flood of movies about post-Rapture events. Meanwhile, while my super-spiritual older church members get lost in a pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib argument, I’m wondering about practicalities. What happens to my house if my family and I all go? What happens to my dog if Jesus only takes people? What if I go and some are left behind–how will they keep things going for up to seven years? After I wade through all those, I am left with the idea of a different kind of piece. Enjoy–or not, depending on your beliefs.

Imagine it is nearly a week following an unexplained mass disappearance. You’ve watched my home for days, and seen no one enter or leave. The cars haven’t moved. The government has sent the military out to control the paranoia and hysteria of the masses, and local citizen militia groups are gunning the government teams and running raids for supplies. Finally, hunger and fear overtake you, and you move closer to the house. Tucked under a light, you see an envelope in a plastic sleeve, with the words “Open this if people have magically disappeared.”

Shaking from hunger and fear and thirst, you pull the letter out and feel it to be heavier than you would expect. You tear open the entire narrow end, and a house key tumbles to your feet as you pull out a letter.

Darting your head to ensure no one sees you, you snatch the key, open the door, and sit down on the computer chair. The computer is still on, and the television is loudly blaring the news. You open the letter, and this is what you read.

************************************************************

Dear friend,

I’d imagine if you’re reading this, things outside are pretty scary. As much as I care enough about you to want to personally help you through this, I suspect I and my family are someplace far more pleasant.

First, I want you to freely use any food or supplies in my home. I won’t need them where I am, but you will probably need some help to get through the next three to seven years. Also, you may use our vehicles if they still function. Any cash if it has any value in wallets, purses, or mugs is yours as well. I wouldn’t suggest our credit cards or bank accounts–as you can see, things have been a little lean.

An explanation for what you’re going through… this disappearance is what used to be called the Rapture. The idea was that Jesus was going to love His people enough to snatch away all who truly loved and served Him so they would not have to completely endure what’s coming. If you can find a Bible (check the bedrooms or desks), this is described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

I hope you’re not a person who thought himself a Christian. It must be so hard and surprising if you were to not have left with us. I wish I could say the rest of your time would be rosy.

There is a leader coming. He will look all fun and games and good times and good deeds, but he’s not. He is Satan in the flesh. He will give a special sign that you must have to use the Internet, buy food, get medical care. Please be careful. If you take whatever it is, you won’t get another chance at eternity (Revelation 13:11-17).

I’m not sure I buy the 666 part in verse 18. Somehow, I think it’s a really old code that we no longer understand. While I never played games with it, I think too many overly feared it.

Anyway, depending on how the Father did plan getting us out and sending all His anger at once in the Tribulation, you have three to seven years you’ll need to survive. I don’t know how you’ll do it; at most, you’ll have a month of supplies here. Because we’re a family, you might be able to stretch it to six months depending on where we were in our monthly budget.

Whether you ever knew Jesus or thought you did, I would suggest you read the Gospel of John and make Him your Friend now before you go any further. I know you’re probably angry and confused and blaming Him would be easy (and He’s got good shoulders for it). However, you’ve only got one more chance at eternity. Although the entire book of Revelation says it’s going to be really hard, and you may even die if you get to know Jesus, it’s going to be better than you will ever know. Because the times are so turbulent, I would do it sooner rather than later.

Agape and phileo.

PS–If my little dog is there and alive, be sure to love him and care for him. He’s even more confused than you.

No Communion for You!

This is one of those “deep” pieces for Christians only dealing with Catholic and Protestant relations. If you’re prone to anger, just stop here. Also, if you need fluff and unicorns and rainbows, stop here.

Communion has always been a touchy subject, even for those shepherds in all denominational pews with finesse and people skills. While most Protestant denominations take a “Come as you are as long as you believe in Jesus” approach, Catholics are a demanding crowd. You must be in union with the teachings of the Church, you must be free of all mortal sin (serious, premeditated decision to commit a major sin), you should not (notice I didn’t say cannot) receive Communion in any denominational pew but your own.

Latin rite Catholics are not permitted to receive with any Protestants or with Greek Orthodox Catholics, but may in the absence of a local parish receive with Russian Orthodox or Polish Catholics. Feel like you need a flowchart diagram or decision tree yet?

Why is this? Why is it that the one moment when we should have the most unity and love for each other and for our Lord that we fall apart?

Aside from the work of the enemy of our souls and pride, it has to do with interpretation of Scripture. Two passages are in focus here: John 6:25-59 and 1 Corinthians 11:23-32. I prefer to use the New International Version, Complete Jewish Bible, and a Catholic version of the Bible to get a full flavor of the passages. I would encourage you to do the same before continuing.

Our Catholic brothers and sisters believe that Communion literally is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus. The priest prays a prayer calling down the Holy Spirit, and in that moment with those words, the bread and wine mystically and substantially become the Real Presence of Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit (this is transubstantiation). Since God can tolerate no sin, you’re supposed to approach the altar for Communion only if you accept and genuinely try to live Catholic teaching. Literally, Catholics eat Jesus in hopes of growing closer to Him and His teachings.

Lutherans have a similar belief.  However, Lutherans tend to believe that the believer’s faith plays a part (consubstantiation).

I believe (but have not had deep training) that most other Protestants see Communion emblems of bread and wine as just symbolizing the Body and Blood. Figuratively, as we eat, we are to be humbling ourselves before God and choosing unity with our Christian brothers and sisters.

What do I personally believe? I don’t know.

As a writer, I understand both the figurative and literal perspectives. I can’t imagine something that is just a symbol making anyone so sick they would die. And yet, I accept that Jesus could act just the way Catholics believe He does with transubstantiation without wanting to call them vampiric cannibals for following Jesus’ commands.

Without falling into legalism, I want to believe whatever Jesus wants me to believe. He’s left His Word. To know what I should believe, I would have to understand the Greek and Aramaic of the day. I would have to understand tense and language structure to know whether like English the decision about figurative and literal is based on the rhetorical situation and context.

If figurative and literal were based in tense with language structure, I would assume the scholars would have figured that out by now. If not, maybe I’ve given some ancient linguistic PhD candidate his or her doctoral dissertation project.

If figurative and literal language are contextually based on the environment and culture of the day, then I will have to pray and take it on faith that if I make the wrong decision I have done so with a clear conscience and will be covered in mercy, grace, and Christ’s Blood.

Catholic Corporal Works of Mercy Painted for Protestants

Having sat between the denominational worlds for so long, I tend to ask very uncomfortable questions that Catholic priests don’t like to hear (hence why it’s one of my former denominational pews). My very favorite has always been:

If you can’t use Tradition as an explanation because it’s not acceptable and considered as hearsay, how do you from the shared Scriptures alone justify your teaching? (yeah, I was not very popular at all)

Since I never received satisfactory answers, I always had to study Scripture on my own and ask hard questions of all the Protestant pastors in my friend network (yeah, I could be ornery). But with the advent of the Internet and Google-like searches, I’ve gotten more independent.

I thought in this piece and the next I would take Catholic works of mercy and see if using just the Protestant canon, I could prove them in alignment with Scripture, thus providing a common bonding ground for me and my family members who are still in the Catholic denominational pew.

There are two kinds: corporal and spiritual. Because I’ve found you can’t reach someone on an emotional and spiritual level until their physical needs for shelter, food, and water are met, I thought I’d start with the corporal works of mercy.

According to the website by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, corporal works of mercy actually are directly advised by Jesus’ teachings. They teach us how to treat others as though Jesus is incognito in them.

They are the following:

  • Feed the hungry
  • Give the thirsty a drink
  • Shelter the homeless
  • Visit the sick
  • Visit the prisoners
  • Bury the dead
  • Give alms to the poor

Since the Bishops claim these are embodied in Jesus’ teachings, I will initially limit my study strictly to the Gospels.

I contend that the first five are directly cited by Jesus in His teaching on His return and the final judgment in Matthew 25:31-46. Those who are granted entry into Heaven complete these works almost without thinking. Of particular focus are verses 34 through 40:

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take your inheritance, the Kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you made me your guest, I needed clothes and you provided them, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the people who have done what God wants will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you our guest, or needing clothes and provide them? When did we see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’ The King will say to them, ‘Yes! I tell you that whenever you did these things for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did them for me!’ (Complete Jewish Bible)

That leaves giving alms and burying the dead.

I started with giving alms because I thought that would be a no-brainer. However, in the versions I typically use to study, it wasn’t so easy. I had to arrive at it in a circuitous thought pattern.

At the end of John 13, we have the scene of the Last Supper. Jesus has told Judas to do quickly what he must. The disciples were confused, but in verse 29 we see how they interpreted Jesus’ statement to Judas:

Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. (New International Version)

The fact that the disciples thought one of the things Jesus told Judas was to give something to the poor indicates that Jesus might have done this quite often. No one, despite the confusion, argued or stopped Judas.

If the King James Version is reviewed, Matthew 6:1-4 discusses not only giving alms but how to give alms in a proper way that is pleasing to God. Other versions, including Douay-Rheims, Complete Jewish Bible, and New International Bible, do discuss giving to the poor or needy, but alms are not directly mentioned.

That leaves burying the dead. This one is hard. The only places where the Scriptures seem to mention burying the dead as discussed by Jesus (excluding Jesus’ own burial post-crucifixion) are in Matthew 8:21-23 and Luke 9:57-62. These seem to be parallel passages. Jesus does not appear to be commanding his followers to bury the dead; it seems almost like He wants instant obedience and discipleship, that is “Drop it now and run after Me.”

That said, many commentaries suggest that Jesus was looking at a follower with a very high call and vast potential in his life. Jesus was challenging that follower to stop coasting and doing the minimal to get by, buried in the simpler activities of life, and step up to a deeper level of service and discipleship.

However, we can see that burying the dead was important to the Patriarchs of Judaism, whom Jesus would have studied and followed devoutly as He is Jewish. Burial was important to Abraham in Genesis 23. Sarah has died. While Abraham mourns, he also desires proper burial for his wife’s remains. So he requests land from his neighbors for the ancient Jewish equivalent of a cemetery. He pays for the land, and Sarah is buried in a cave on that land.

So, while I could only prove six of the seven works of mercy from Jesus’ own words, the seventh came from Scripture in the Torah that Jesus probably would have quoted from memory since childhood.

Interdenominational families can and should work together in performing corporal works of mercy to show unity in Christ and solidarity of purpose even if we can’t yet truly worship together fully.

Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh… Stayin’ the Same!

Recently, the news has been sensationalizing.. er, reporting about sexual scandal within the denominational pew of our Latin Rite siblings in Christ. They blame the rules about celibacy and chastity, they blame the traditions and ritualistic trappings, they blame the structure of the hierarchy.

Everyone acts like this ungodly behavior is so new it should shock and appall. And indeed, it should shock and appall.

In reality, this behavior is older than Greece and Rome. In fact, it goes all the way back to the garden when humankind as represented by Adam and Eve first told God that His rules sucked and they’d live their own way.

Even with the advent of Jesus and His all-sufficient death on the Cross followed by His Resurrection, misbehavior (or sin as it really should be called) continued. As the Gospel spread, some changed their wicked ways; others continued to perpetrate wickedness and just got more clever about hiding it.

Enter Boccaccio in the middle of the 14th century. He writes a book that is a collection of 100 stories about all the problems in his era. It’s called the Decameron. Ten travelers tell stories each day for ten days. Each day has a different leader for that day, and the leader picks the topic for the day.

I read it aons ago, and only one story ever stayed with me. It’s told on the third day as the last story. And I still feel great nausea to this day.

A non-Christian girl who is incredibly naïve decides to seek God in the desert as a hermit. She runs into a monk. The monk tricks her into allowing him to rape her by convincing her she will greatly please God if he (the monk) is allowed to help her “put the devil into Hell.”

She truly enjoys the “exorcism,” almost to the point of the monk’s physical destruction. But since she’s an heiress, she is kidnapped and forced to marry her kidnapper. She is devastated at her loss of the ability to please God through “exorcism.”

The village women are very concerned about the girl’s emotional health. So they get her to talk. When they learn of the “exorcism” routine, they reassure the girl that she will soon be able to please God following her marriage.

Well, now, isn’t it special? I believe those of you in the Latin Rite pew aren’t “allowed” to read this book as it’s “morally offensive.”

For those of us in Protestant denominational pews, it is a cautionary tale. We need to live authentic, open lives living up to the standard of God’s Word, which won’t pass away, and the life and choices of Jesus Christ, Who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We need to not carry tales when we hear of Latin Rite issues.

We need to be in prayer for our Latin Rite siblings. Pray for their shepherds to remain true to celibacy and the other high ideals they seek to live as they lead and guide God’s people. Pray for parents and children to be filled with the Holy Spirit and His discernment to be able to avoid the false shepherds with their empty promises and deceitful actions.

For those still Latin Rite, what can I say? The more things change, the more they stay the same. Your devotion to centuries of tradition and ritual, while at times not contrary to the Word, leaves you open to deception and maltreatment.

Be open to the leading of the Spirit to seek and support your good shepherds. Challenge the deacons, priests, and bishops to review the situations that have happened to find newer, more world-conscious ways of doing Confession, altar serving, and any other occasion that the enemy of our souls could use to destroy your future faithful.

If an idea, book, or topic is forbidden, find and explore it! Review it against the standards of God’s Word to find what your response should be (yeah, I guess you could use Tradition too–just don’t expect Protestant siblings to follow suit).

The secret things should be brought to the Light and explored. Further secrecy only leads to tragedy and perpetuation of abuse.

Why Christians Reject Reincarnation

We’ve all heard the jokes.

“When I die, I’m coming back as a man. They have it easy!”

“I wanna come back as a cat. I’m my own master, I make my own rules, no one’s gonna make me do anything.”

“I don’t care who or what I come back as as long as it’s not Bill Maher [or Bill O’Reilly or any other (in)famous person].”

These jokes are all based on the concept of reincarnation. It’s the basic idea that after death the soul can come back in a new form. The better you live your life, the better the form you get. If you’re crappy in life, your new form is going to be crappy too. Hindus, Buddhists, Celts, Greeks, and Taoists all had some belief in death and rebirth. The rules governing the form are culturally based.

Christians (at least those who accept that the Bible is God’s Word in its entirety even if we can’t clearly understand or comprehend its application to our lives) reject the notion of reincarnation. We have two primary verses on which we base this belief, one in Hebrews and one in Romans.

Hebrews 9:26-28 [International Children’s Bible]Then he [Jesus] would have had to suffer many times since the world was made. But Christ came only once and for all time. He came at just the right time to take away all sin by sacrificing himself.  Everyone must die once. After a person dies, he is judged. So Christ was offered as a sacrifice one time to take away the sins of many people. And he will come a second time, but not to offer himself for sin. He will come again to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Further, we gain additional support for Christ’s single death in Romans 6:9-10 [International Children’s Bible]Christ was raised from death. And we know that he cannot die again. Death has no power over him now. Yes, when Christ died, he died to defeat the power of sin one time—enough for all time. He now has a new life, and his new life is with God.

In the first passage, every person is given just one life to live. Even Jesus, as God Himself, only lived one life as the God-Man according to both passages. He died. He did not come back through reincarnation but through a supernatural act of the Father in reanimating, raising, and resurrecting the dead human shell in both passages. When He comes the second time, it will be as Himself in His one glorified body.

We get just once on this earth to make it good. Since we all sin, we have to accept we cannot fix ourselves and we cannot make it good alone. We have to accept Jesus’ death and resurrection as sufficient through His grace to cover us. We have to walk and talk with Him daily and learn His Ways. Otherwise, you would rather be a worm on the end of a fishing hook than face that judgment seat.

Mission Impossible: The Blessing War

One-two-three-four, I declare a blessing war!

Five-six-seven-eight, let’s prove Jesus truly great!

This is the impossible mission of every Christian, to reflect the glory of the risen Christ and to continue to write the next chapter in the ongoing saga of the life of the Church as documented by Luke in the book of Acts.

 

This message will not self-destruct. The sun and moon will pass away, but God’s Word remains forever intact, unchanging, and true.

 

To participate in this war, the challenge is simple: find the most annoying Christian you know, and begin to bless them.

  • Babysit the kids of a stressed parent
  • Buy a cute outfit for the single parent (or the child of a single parent)
  • Buy staples for the large family that looks more like a chaotic circus in number and lifestyle
  • Clean the house for someone who’s been sick
  • Give him or her a ride to work when the car breaks down
  • Give time to the charity they most support
  • Invite someone with no other family to a holiday meal
  • Make dinner for your pastor’s family
  • Offer to mow the yard
  • Offer to take him or her out for coffee
  • Pray a blessing over that Christian in the privacy of your home (the Aaronic is particularly generous)
  • Serve coffee to a recovery group
  • Take the nursery for a day
  • Take a newly beamed up stepparent out for a quiet day doing some refreshing activity
  • Visit that crotchety great uncle twice removed in a nursing home
  • Volunteer to chaperone the next teen road trip
  • Walk away silently and say nothing out loud about your frustration because you too probably have an area that annoys other Christians

 

Seriously, in the war to win souls to Christ, it’s all about perception. Do you love others the way Jesus did? If outsiders (those who don’t serve Christ) can’t see your love and your unity, they don’t see Christ and will not choose to serve Him. And that could have destructive consequences for an eternity.

 

PS — If you don’t like this post, you can thank my senior pastor for another wonderful sermon on applying the Bible to modern life. Any resemblance to persons living or dead may or may not be intentional.