The Methodist Church

“Methodism was founded by John Wesley, an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church. Wesley lived and died an Episcopalian and had no intention of organizing a new church. The Methodist Episcopal Church came into existence in this manner: John and Charles Wesley, with Whitefield and about a dozen other students at Oxford formed themselves into a society for the purpose of overcoming the formalism and ritualism of the Episcopal Church and to stimulate piety and spirituality among its members. Other societies were organized and because of their methodical manner of life they were called Methodists. The appellation obtained currency and upon the death of Wesley these societies banded together under a conference and became known as the Methodist Episcopal Church, although they for a time considered themselves a part of the Episcopal Church.” Churches of Today (p.57)

At the time of L.G. Tomlinson, the author of Churches of Today, there were nine English divisions of the Methodist church and fifteen different Methodist churches in America. The aspect that changed each church is not described, neither is it applied to the text of Churches of Today. When reading it I thought, there really needs to be a chart comparing the branches of Methodist churches and what they believe, but that was probably an impractical task for a book writer to do in the 1920’s. I am left scratching my head not knowing which issues are to be associated with which church. There’s a question that the Methodists answer: does it matter to God that churches separate and disjoin and branch away in their own independent communities? I think the Methodists are people who believe that God dwells across denominations and their churches are one of the many among the elect. Let us explore some of the issues presented by Tomlinson, along with commandments in the Bible itself, and discover if the Methodists adhere to these teachings:

Lord’s Supper (also called Holy Communion or The Eucharist in other divisions)

On page 65, Churches of Today states, “That it is not necessary to observe the Lord’s Supper each week. The Methodists commune once each quarter”. Tomlinson argues that the Methodists are wrong for not recognizing communion every week. It does not seem they do. I would recommend a person go to the Methodist churches in his or her area to judge the common practice of the individual body. The Free Methodists and the United Methodists, two separate bodies of Methodists, have their own teachings which are laid out in exhaustive texts, each known as the Book of Discipline. The instructions in their books lay out the style in which they perform the Lord’s Supper, and according to the 2011 edition of the Book of Discipline for The Free Methodist Church (USA):

“The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament of our redemption by Christ’s death. To those who rightly, worthily and with faith receive it, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ; and likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ. The supper is also a sign of the love and unity that Christians have among themselves. Christ, according to His promise, is really present in the sacrament. But His body is given, taken and eaten only after a heavenly and spiritual manner. No change is effected in the element; the bread and wine are not literally the body and blood of Christ. Nor is the body and blood of Christ literally present with the elements. The elements are never to be considered objects of worship. The body of Christ is received and eaten in faith.”

They perform the ritual of communion in the Methodists’ known “methodical manner”, having the partakers reciting in unison a prayer led by an ordained pastor or elder before partaking of the eating of bread and wine/juice (some Methodists have wine, while others have grape juice. Did you know that Welch’s grape juice was originally made for Methodists who were uncomfortable with wine?)

Full Membership

Another point Churches of Today argues is the fact that in the Methodist church, there must be a 6 month probation of a new member before he or she can gain full membership status, and that is wrong. I noticed in my research, it appears the Free Methodist Church’s 2011 Constitution has no mention of a timeframe of how long members must be tested. That probably means they have updated their rules since Tomlinson wrote his book, which is a common practice for the church leaders to gather once every four years and make corrections to the Book of Discipline. It may be that the older arguments against the church are outdated because of the fact Methodists are always progressive about their ideals. Therefore, the Churches of Today book is not an updated view on modern day Methodists on their requirements for membership.

Baptism of Unbelievers

The Free Methodist church states, “Baptism is a symbol of the new covenant of grace as circumcision was the symbol of the old covenant; and, since infants are recognized as being included in the atonement, they may be baptized upon the request of parents or guardians who shall give assurance for them of necessary Christian training.” Following it states, “They shall be required to affirm the vow for themselves before being accepted into church membership.” It is true the Free Methodists themselves believe that infants are incapable of knowing they are members. But in the Methodist tradition, baptism is a reassurance for the parents who have anxiety for the child’s discipleship or acceptance into the church.  It is almost like a rite of passage which children are not denied from entering. It seems the Methodists still have the value that the church can baptize unbelievers, at least when it comes to infants, which on the Methodists’ behalf are not unbelievers, just like they are not believers either, because they are infants who have not yet decided. There is room for debate on this subject though since it’s so important.

Legalism

As I study it appears that legalism is the base of the Methodist church. Legalism is a word that is thrown around a lot by churches and many times it is used as a negative reason not to attend that church. Even the church I was raised in is known to be legalistic, and members leave as a result of the strict adherence of rules. The Methodist church may also fall in this trap, due to their dependence on liturgy and formal rituals. However, there are many points where Methodists are right, and they have successfully carried out the Great Commission for hundreds of years, as they are still surviving today. Their lampstand continues to burn, like in Revelation 2:1-7 to the church of Ephesus, Jesus Christ the star holder says:

“This is what you must write to the angel of the church in Ephesus:

“I am the one who holds the seven stars in my right hand, and I walk among the seven gold lampstands. Listen to what I say.

“I know everything you have done, including your hard work and how you have endured. I know you won’t put up with anyone who is evil. When some people pretended to be apostles, you tested them and found out that they were liars. You have endured and gone through hard times because of me, and you have not given up.

“But I do have something against you! And it is this: You don’t have as much love as you used to. Think about where you have fallen from, and then turn back and do as you did at first. If you don’t turn back, I will come and take away your lampstand. But there is one thing you are doing right. You hate what the Nicolaitans are doing, and so do I.

“If you have ears, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. I will let everyone who wins the victory eat from the life-giving tree in God’s wonderful garden.” (CEV)

Reconciliation with God

Churches of Today states an argument I believe is essential in our spiritual walk, otherwise we will choose to fall from God because of our misunderstanding:

“XXIII. That Christ was in the world to reconcile His Father to us. (Art. 2, Book of Discipline)

“THE BIBLE:

  1. The exact opposite is true. Christ was in the world to reconcile the world to God (II Cor. 5:18.19; Rom. 5:10).”

“Death-Bed” Repentance

“How can anyone,” said Nicodemus, “be born who has already been born and grown up? You can’t re-enter your mother’s womb and be born again. What are you saying with this ‘born-from-above’ talk?”

Jesus said, “You’re not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. When you look at a baby, it’s just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit.

“So don’t be so surprised when I tell you that you have to be ‘born from above’—out of this world, so to speak. You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.”

John 3:4-8

Repenting of one’s sins and entering into heaven while on the deathbed is a universal debate. Pro debate argues God’s love and grace is willing to redeem one when dying. The anti debate argues Jesus strictly stated that “unless a person submits to…” the spirit and baptism, they cannot enter the kingdom of God, and that strict statement is final; there is nothing a sinner can do on his deathbed while preparing for his last breath to ensure he goes to heaven except wake up from his death, ask for water, and be baptized. It is a debate that continues. Who am I to have an opinion on such a grave matter? Therefore, I leave the debate to continue, while sharing the truth of John with you. If you don’t understand the above passage, I recommend finding other versions besides The Message. I simply chose it today because The Message is always approachable and interesting.

There are so many other debates that Christians can have. I merely touched on a few. But I sincerely hope it has done something for you. Strengthening the churches is my mission. Releasing the tension in our talk, I believe, will help us walk the walk. At least that is my prayer.

 

 

 

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The Presbyterian Church

Over the course of the week, Kat and I have been delving into the teachings, the doctrines, and the ways of the Presbyterian Church. Last study, Kat said that trying to understand the beliefs of the Baptists was a “maze of uncertainty”. The Baptists and Presbyterians both worship the Godhead, like other branches in Christianity, but each worship differently.

I promised two weeks ago I would study the book Churches of Today (by author L.G. Tomlinson) and update on what has changed since the book was written. Kat told me while fixing lunch, after having done research the modern way (online), that the book’s contents feel a bit outdated, but only in one real way: “Modern Christians have molded their words to counteract the image that other denominations stereotype them as.” In simpler words, churches have altered over time because of the arguments leaders have and the way culture has changed. The way the church is viewed by the members also has a great impact on what happens in the church to overturn (or not overturn) old traditions.

Origin


 

“…Calvin, however, never founded a distinct denomination, but he preached and put into practice the principles which underlie all Presbyterian Churches… The Westminster Association, which was in session from July 1, 1643, to February 22, 1649, framed the Westminster Confession of faith, which became the doctrinal foundation of English and American Presbyterianism. Francis Makemie, who is called the ‘Father of American Presbyterianism’, organized the Rehoboth Church in Maryland in 1684.” –Churches of Today

Not all Presbyterians strut their history on their church websites and informative sites. I doubt that every church to come across touts their Calvinistic views, or even knows who John Calvin is other than the fact their religion is based after his beliefs and they follow those beliefs to stay within their denomination. Many of the churches are much more focused on present day, as in their members, their outreach, and their good-standing ideals.

Sacrament: Lord’s Supper


Churches of Today says:

“PRESBYTERIANISM TEACHES:

“…the Lord’s Supper does not need to be observed weekly.”

Now, the great thing about the Bible is it never changes whether it’s 1927 or 2018 or 2029. The Word of God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Let’s place the foundation of the Lord’s Supper by finding where it starts in the Bible, to see why it is a sacred practice:

The Old Testament “sacred bread” practice:

Leviticus 24:5-9 (CEV), “The Lord said, Use your finest flour to bake twelve loaves of bread about four pounds each, then take them into the sacred tent and lay them on the gold table in two rows of six loaves. Alongside each row put some pure incense that will be sent up by fire in place of the bread as an offering to me. Aaron must lay fresh loaves on the table each Sabbath, and priests in all generations must continue this practice as part of Israel’s agreement with me. This bread will always belong to Aaron and his family; it is very holy because it was offered to me, and it must be eaten in a holy place.”

The New Testament practice of the Lord’s Supper:

Acts 20:3-12 (CEV), ”Paul was about to sail to Syria. But some of the Jewish leaders plotted against him, so he decided to return by way of Macedonia. With him were Sopater, son of Pyrrhus from Berea, and Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica. Gaius from Derbe was also with him, and so were Timothy and the two Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus. They went on ahead to Troas and waited for us there. After the Festival of Thin Bread*, we sailed from Philippi. Five days later we met them in Troas and stayed there for a week.

“On the first day of the week we met to break bread together. Paul spoke to the people until midnight because he was leaving the next morning. In the upstairs room where we were meeting, there were a lot of lamps... 

”...After Paul had gone back upstairs, he broke bread, and ate with us. He then spoke until dawn and left...”

*NOTE: The Festival of Thin Bread was a holiday observed by the Jews near Sabbath time.

The Presbyterians are always stressing individual conscience; to each his own when leading the church. The Lord’s Supper is one of the two Sacraments they follow (the other one baptism). I saw many saying they practice communion on a once per month basis, but there are variations in divisions.

Sacrament: Baptism


 

My findings were that Presbyterianism allows for a baptized believer of any denomination to come and partake in the blessings of their church, albeit that person was baptized in the name of God in three parts (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). They have infant baptism and adult baptism, either sprinkling or immersion, and have ordained leaders that take care of the ritual.

I wondered the question, “Does an infant who is baptized get re-baptized as an adult, or are they baptized once and that’s final? Does the church encourage believers who were baptized as infants another choice, or do they discourage any guilt that may happen?” I ask this question because I am a Christian who was baptized a second time; I did not feel secure in my original baptism at age 9. To this day, I do not know if I needed to be re-baptized to gain entrance into heaven. My family tells me I knew Jesus Christ the first time I was immersed in water, and I did not need a second baptism, but fear gripped my heart and once I was baptized again (after prayer and counsel) it hasn’t been an issue in my spiritual walk. If nothing else, it gave me assurance in my faith and for that I am thankful I did it. But this question for the sake of Presbyterians is on my mind: do Presbyterians feel assurance in their early baptism? My studies have uncovered the answer that one baptism is what the church believes is a good-standing ideal. Quoting Reverend Roy R. Bennett,

“Baptism was instituted by Christ as a perpetual ordinance until the end of the age. This sacrament signifies a person coming to faith and belonging to Christ and is to be administered only once. The sign used is water and is correctly administered by pouring or sprinkling. Salvation is not inseparably connected with baptism nor is the effectiveness of baptism tied to the time of its administration.”

Churches of Today argues against infant baptism:

“THE BIBLE:

“1. Without faith it is impossible to come to God (Heb. 11:6)

“2. Faith cometh by hearing (Rom. 10:17)

“3. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved (Mark 16:16)…

“4. There is not one mention of a child ever being baptized. The household converts were preached to, showing they were old enough to hear.”

Presbyterianism doesn’t really teach that infants are baptized because they are sinners, need salvation, and understand their need for repentance, in fact, infant baptism is almost more for the parents than for the child. It is a sign that the church and God approves of the baby, and they consider it a seal of God’s faithfulness and love, at least according to the rhetoric used on church websites.

However, it is true that infant baptism was a practice established after the apostles’ early church. It was not a practice started by Jesus Christ. Some argue that Jesus holding the children, accepting them, and saying not to turn the little ones away is validation to keep infant baptism in practice.

Predestination


 

Predestination is a debate many religions hold, not only Christianity. Much of the debate in the Christian realm comes from the teachings of John Calvin, also known as Calvinism or Calvinistic views. The Westminster Statement of Faith (the teachings upheld by traditional Presbyterian church leaders) holds to the view that some persons are predestined to receive God’s grace, while others are predestined to damnation, God having not only foreseen it but also purposed it. These views come from the Bible — yet denominations that are anti-Calvinistic argue that it is perverting Scripture to say that we do not have a personal choice, and that God destined and made us either for glory or ruin.

A concern I have is whether Presbyterians believe that God predestined souls to come to him depending on the person. Many of their modern churches focus so much energy on individual conscience, diversity, and allowance of choice-making. Many of those churches hold liberal/progressive values (in the political sense) like pro-choice women’s rights, which marriage partner, school choices, etc.  But if our choices are not a part of our destination (meaning our choices do not change God’s plan for our eternal life), then why make choices at all? If that were the case, we would simply wait for the Lord to tell us whether we were chosen, and if we were invested in the journey of winning God’s trust (if indeed it could happen), maybe we would try to live righteously to prove that we belong to him; but if the predestination statement means what I think it means, it could also be true that a righteous person who prays and follows God in every way would live their whole lives, never being heaven-bound; or is it more, they would never have felt the desire to pray in the first place, because they were destined for hell and never got the power of the Spirit within?

The paradigm of Calvinism is a bit confusing. Again, “a maze of uncertainty” as you try and understand the rhetoric of the church.

Romans 8:9-39 (bold-type added by me) tells the truth for us in detail:

“You are no longer ruled by your desires, but by God’s Spirit, who lives in you. People who don’t have the Spirit of Christ in them don’t belong to him. But Christ lives in you. So you are alive because God has accepted you, even though your bodies must die because of your sins. Yet God raised Jesus to life! God’s Spirit now lives in you, and he will raise you to life by his Spirit.

”My dear friends, we must not live to satisfy our desires. If you do, you will die. But you will live, if by the help of God’s Spirit you say ‘No’ to your desires. Only those people who are led by God’s Spirit are his children. God’s Spirit doesn’t make us slaves who are afraid of him. Instead, we become his children and call him our Father. God’s Spirit makes us sure that we are his children. His Spirit lets us know that together with Christ we will be given what God has promised. We will also share in the glory of Christ, because we have suffered with him.

“I am sure that what we are suffering now cannot compare with the glory that will be shown to us. In fact, all creation is eagerly waiting for God to show who his children are. Meanwhile, creation is confused, but not because it wants to be confused. God made it this way in the hope that creation would be set free from decay and would share in the glorious freedom of his children. We know that all creation is still groaning and is in pain, like a woman about to give birth.

”The Spirit makes us sure about what we will be in the future. But now we groan silently, while we wait for God to show that we are his children. This means that our bodies will also be set free. And this hope is what saves us. But if we already have what we hope for, there is no need to keep on hoping. However, we hope for something we have not yet seen, and we patiently wait for it.

”In certain ways we are weak, but the Spirit is here to help us. For example, when we don’t know what to pray for, the Spirit prays for us in ways that cannot be put into words. All of our thoughts are known to God. He can understand what is in the mind of the Spirit, as the Spirit prays for God’s people. We know that God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves him. They are the ones God has chosen for his purpose, and he has always known who his chosen ones would be. He had decided to let them become like his own Son, so that his Son would be the first of many children. God then accepted the people he had already decided to choose, and he has shared his glory with them.

”What can we say about all this? If God is on our side, can anyone be against us? God did not keep back his own Son, but he gave him for us. If God did this, won’t he freely give us everything else? If God says his chosen ones are acceptable to him, can anyone bring charges against them? Or can anyone condemn them? No indeed! Christ died and was raised to life, and now he is at God’s right side, speaking to him for us.  Can anything separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, suffering, and hard times, or hunger and nakedness, or danger and death? It is exactly as the Scriptures say,

‘For you we face death
     all day long.
 We are like sheep
 on their way
     to be butchered.’

“In everything we have won more than a victory because of Christ who loves us. I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!”

Westminster Statement of Faith


 

The main reason why Presbyterianism is different than other Christian faiths is for the Westminster Statement of Faith. This document (founded in 17th century England) was not meant to replace the Bible, neither does it hold the authority of the Bible in their view. Instead, it was a document made to accompany the Bible: maybe a little explaining, a lot directing, and a lot answering questions… also elaborating on the original sacred text, the Bible. Their statement of faith is not unlike “The Baptist Faith and Message” which is the guide of Baptist churches, but also each a very unique set of words. To have a summary on the basics, I found this document, A Summary of the Westminster Statement of Faith by Reverend Roy R. Bennett, to be very helpful as a reminder of what the long text had.

In a personal story, I had a close relationship with someone who had trouble with Christianity and the dogmatic principles they advocate. It stifled her love for God. She no longer believes. Her fall from faith was due to the division between Christians. Why did that have to be? She thought it was better to leave God instead of feel pain and misery. What could the churches do differently to help her understand? Give her the truth about Jesus Christ. Why did they not “snatch her from the fire” while she had the chance? They let her fall through the cracks. Did I personally do enough? These convictions still lay close to my heart.

A soul’s destiny is the hugest subject that the Christian faith is about. How we define sin, faith, salvation, baptism, and fellowship is everything, and how we reach others depends on everything we teach them. What I said and what I did that may have caused a rift in my friend’s salvation is everything, and for that I’m sorry. To her, I betrayed friendship, becoming another Christian bigot, hurting our love. My words taught Jesus, but my insistence that she was in sin taught her low self-esteem, when in reality, the first sin was in the church. That is why we should be careful what we teach.

After reading Roy R. Bennett’s summary of the Westminster, it concerns me again what Presbyterians believe about our destiny (“God’s Eternal Decree”). Take the book of Job for example. It takes a trained eye to read the whole text of Job with the full speeches of Job, his friends (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar), the mysterious man Elihu, and God himself, the Almighty, and understand the meaning. But the Lord is straightforward when he says to Eliphaz, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” God spoke personally to Job’s friend and confirmed their speeches were wrong and deserving of wrath, and yet if Job was willing to sacrifice for them, which in Job 42:9-10 it confirms Job prayed for them and the Lord accepted his prayer; Job was their mediator, standing before God on their behalf; they were forgiven because of their obedience to God. This proves that their action was capable of altering the outcome. Someone can argue, “God knew Eliphaz would obey, and so he was one of the ‘elect’ – that is why God says that he will not deal with him and the others according to their folly.”

However, take King Solomon as another example. In 1 Kings 11, verses 1 through 6, it says (eloquently in the VOICE, italics added by the VOICE):

King Solomon loved countless women from other countries—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, Hittites—as well as Pharaoh’s daughter.

“All the countries of the king’s lovers were heathen countries that the Eternal One had warned the Israelites about: “Do not mingle with them, and do not allow them to mingle with you. They will corrupt you and lead you away from Me. They will seduce your hearts to follow their own gods.” But Solomon clung to these lovers. He had 700 royal wives, as well as 300 mistresses. And his wives and mistresses seduced his heart away from God.

Solomon followed the Lord during youth and middle age, but when Solomon was an old man, these women seduced him into following other gods. His heart was led astray and no longer completely belonged to the Eternal One, his True God, as his father David’s heart did. Solomon pursued Ashtoreth (the Sidonian goddess) and Milcom (the abomination of the Ammonites). Solomon abandoned his lifelong integrity and committed evil in the eyes of the Eternal. He did not follow Him completely, as his father David had.”

I will say, in the Summary of the Westminster Statement of Faith, in section 4, it says regarding creation, Adam, and Eve, “God endowed this first couple with the ability to obey His command as well as the freedom of will to choose otherwise, making them capable of a fall.” It seems the Presbyterians do confirm free will, and they do acknowledge the need for obedience, and it may not be an issue to argue. Their doctrines do make the Bible appear contradictory at times, which other denominations do not experience with their faith journey. The Westminster Statement of Faith accentuates certain verses in ways that make the Bible enigmatic and hard to grasp.

What it says about Jesus Christ seems completely Biblical (meaning they accept Jesus as Lord, part of the Triune God, and Savior and Redeemer, and he was born to virgin Mary and was connected to the Father God during his walk on earth) and that is a truth worth celebrating.

 

The Baptist Church

“So much confusion exists today because of division that the honest seeker after truth finds himself in the maze of uncertainty.” (Quote from Churches of Today, by L.G. Tomlinson.)

I find myself here, in the maze of uncertainty, as I emerge from researching the beliefs of the Baptist church.  Fortunately for me, I believe Galatians 2:17-21 as it reads “If we are those who desire to be saved from our sins through our union with the Anointed One, does that mean our Messiah promotes our sins if we still acknowledge that we are sinners? How absurd! For if I start over and reconstruct the old religious system that I have torn down with the message of grace, I will appear to be one who turns his back on the truth.  But because the Messiah lives in me, I’ve now died to the law’s dominion over me so that I can live for God.  My old identity has been co-crucified with Messiah and no longer lives; for the nails of his cross crucified me with him. And now the essence of this new life is no longer mine, for the Anointed One lives his life through me-we live in union as one!  My new life is empowered by the faith of the Son of God who loves me so much that he gave himself for me, and dispenses his life into mine!  So that is why I don’t view God’s grace as something minor or peripheral.  For if keeping the law could release God’s righteousness to us, the Anointed One would have died for nothing.” (TPT)

Baptists allow for every person to have their own interpretation of the Bible, so everyone will have a differing slant to their belief in salvation and grace and what God requires, but typically they will follow a statement of convictions which summarizes their beliefs, known as “The Baptist Faith and Message”.  The differences and similarities are all seen when a general search is done on the Internet.  One example is that some Baptist readings state that The Lord’s Supper should be taken quarterly or yearly, but some Baptists online also argue the case that it should be observed every week.

Looking at the websites of some Baptist churches all around the world, it can be seen that they are very direct in what they believe.  They are all very organized.   They know what they believe, and they list it out for visitors to see.


God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit

Baptists believe that God is the one true God, the creator of the universe, and that he shows himself through the Holy Trinity: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Furthermore, Jesus, the Son of God, was born of a virgin, he lived a sinless life, he died on a cross and then was resurrected 3 days later, and that His blood washes away the sins of humanity. Now, Jesus sits at the right hand of his Father, God, and acts as a mediator, an intercessor.  We are allowed a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and don’t need the priests of the old law any longer because as believers in Christ, we have received the Holy Spirit who fills us and makes us holy temples of God.

This is true, as you can see in the following scriptures.

God the Father

"...being one body and one spirit, as you were all called into the same glorious hope of divine destiny.  For the Lord God is one, and so are we, for we share in one faith, one baptism, and one Father.  And He is the perfect Father who leads us all, works through us all, and lives in us all!"   Ephesians 4:4-6 (TPT)
"So Jesus said, 'I speak to you timeless truth. The Son is not able to do anything from himself or through my own initiative.  I only do the works that I see the Father doing, for the Son does the same works as his Father.  Because the Father loves his Son so much, he always reveals to me everything that he is about to do. And you will all be amazed when he shows me even greater works than what you've seen so far! For just like the Father has power to raise the dead, the Son will raise the dead and give life to whomever he wants.  The Father now judges no one, for he has given all the authority to judge to the Son... I speak to you an eternal truth: if you embrace my message and believe in the One who sent me, you will never face condemnation, for in me, you have already passed from the realm of death into the realm of eternal life!  ...For the Father has given the Son the power to impart life, even as the Father imparts life.  The Father has transferred to the Son the authority to judge, because he is the Son of Man."  John 5: 19-22, 24, 26-27 (TPT)

Jesus the Son

 "Throughout our history God has spoken to our ancestors by his prophets in many different ways.  The revelation he gave them was only a fragment at a time, building one truth upon another.  But to us living in these last days, God now speaks to us openly in the language of a Son, the appointed Heir of everything, for through him God created the panorama of all things and all time.  The Son is the dazzling radiance of God's splendor, the exact expression of God's true nature - his mirror image!  He holds the universe together and expands it by the mighty power of his spoken word.  He accomplished for us the complete cleansing of sins, and then took his seat on the highest throne at the right hand of the majestic One.  He is infinitely greater than angels, for he inherited a rank and a Name far greater than theirs.  For God has never said to any angel what he said to Jesus: "You are my favored Son, today I have fathered you." And this: "I will be the Father to him, and he will be the Son to me."  Hebrews 1:1-5 (TPT)
"He longs for everyone to embrace his life and return to the full knowledge of the truth.  For God is one, and there is one Mediator between God and the sons of men - the true man, Jesus, the Anointed One.  He gave himself as ransom-payment for everyone.  Now is the proper time for God to give the world this witness." 1 Timothy 2:4-6 (TPT)

Holy Spirit

"But when the Spirit of Christ empowers your life, you are not dominated by the flesh but by the Spirit.  And if you are not joined to the Spirit of the Anointed One, you are not of him.  Now Christ lives his life in you! And even though your body may be dead because of the effects of sin, his life-giving Spirit imparts life to you because you are fully accepted by God.  Yes, God raised Jesus to life! And since God's Spirit of Resurrection lives in you, he will also raise your dying body to life by the same Spirit that breathes life into you!"  Romans 8:9-11 (TPT)
"We carry this confidence in our hearts because of our union with Christ before God. Yet we don't see ourselves as capable enough to do anything in our own strength, for our true competence flows from God's empowering presence.  He alone makes us adequate ministers who are focused on an entirely new covenant.  Our ministry is not based on the letter of the law but through the power of the Spirit.  The letter of the law kills, but the Spirit pours out life." 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 (TPT)

God-Inspired Truth

Baptists believe that the Bible is the absolute truth, and it must be obeyed.  They do not rely on creeds or doctrines to tell them how to act, and they believe that any doctrine written by man can – even subconsciously – replace the laws of God.

"Every Scripture has been written by the Holy Spirit, the breath of God. It will empower you by its instruction and correction, giving you the strength to take the right direction and lead you deeper into the path of godliness." 2 Timothy 3:16 (TPT)
"For we have the living Word of God, which is full of energy, and it pierces more sharply than a two-edged sword.  It will even penetrate to the very core of our being where soul and spirit, bone and marrow meet!  It interprets and reveals the true thoughts and secret motives of our hearts.  There is not one person who can hide their thoughts from God, for nothing that we do remains a secret, and nothing created is concealed, but everything is exposed and defenseless before his eyes, to whom we must render an account."  Hebrews 4:12-13 (TPT)

The two ordinances- Believer’s Baptism and The Lord’s Supper

Baptists believe there are 2 things ordained by God: baptism and the Lord’s supper.  To the modern Baptist, it is a sin for a believer in Christ to not be baptized or partake of the Lord’s supper. They are symbols of a believer’s faith: Baptism symbolizes the believer’s death to sin in comparison to Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection; The Lord’s Supper is a memorial to Christ’s death, and also symbolizes the believer’s anticipation to His coming again.

Baptism

To a Baptist, baptism is the step into a membership with the church community. To become a member of the church and receive the privileges given to the community of believers, a person must be baptized into the church.

"Peter replied, 'Repent and return to God, and each one of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus, the Anointed One, to have your sins removed.  Then you may take hold of the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For God's promise of the Holy Spirit is for you and your families, for those yet to be born and for everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.' ... Those who believed the word that day numbered three thousand.  They were all baptized and added to the church." Acts 2:38-39, 41 (TPT)

Lord’s Supper

Baptists also believe in the importance of memorializing Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross with the Lord’s Supper. You can read in Galatians 3:21-25 the importance of Jesus’s death. “Since that’s true, should we consider the written law to be contrary to the promise of new life?  How absurd!  Truly, if there was a law that we could keep which would give us new life, then our salvation would have come by law-keeping.  But the Scriptures make it clear that since we were all under the power of sin, we needed Jesus!  And he is the Savior who brings the promise to those who believe. So until the revelation of faith for salvation was released, the law was a jailer, holding us as prisoners under lock and key until the “faith,” which was destined to be revealed, would set us free.  The law becomes a gateway to lead us to the Messiah so that we would be saved by faith.  But when faith comes the law is no longer in force, since we have already entered into life.”  (TPT)

"Those who believed the word that day numbered three thousand.  They were all baptized and added to the church.  Every believer was faithfully devoted to following the teachings of the apostles.  Their hearts were mutually linked to one another, sharing communion and coming together regularly for prayer. " Acts 2:41-42 (TPT)

Stewardship

Baptists believe that because God’s grace is undeserved, believers in Christ should recognize their duty to share the gospel with the world.  They must serve God in the form of living sacrifices, by serving others in brotherly love.

"And as a spiritual father to you, I will gladly spend all that I have and all that I am for you!  If I love you more, will you respond by loving me less?"  2 Corinthians 12:15 (TPT)
"All the believers were in fellowship as one body, and they shared with one another whatever they had.  Out of generosity they even sold their assets to distribute the proceeds to those who were in need among them.  Daily they met together in the temple courts and in one another's homes to celebrate communion.  They shared meals together with joyful hearts and tender humility.  They were continually filled with praises to God, enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord kept adding to their number daily those who were coming to life."  Acts 2:44-47 (TPT)

Separation between the church and civil governments:

Baptists believe that the government which the church is under should offer religious freedom and protection to the believers, but that in return, the members of the church should respect and obey the laws that the government puts into place.  The government should not be in subjection to the church.  With that said, the government should keep in place certain morals in accordance with God’s laws.  (For example, laws against murdering.)  Believers in the nation’s government should always, through prayer, seek peace with other nations.  They should never push their religion off onto the people who they care for but allow freedom in their country. Baptists believe in Hell.  Believers will not fall from God’s grace, but one can see a believer’s true faith through his stewardship.

"Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah is God's spiritual child and has been fathered by God himself. And everyone who loves Father God loves his children as well. This is how we can be sure that we love the children of God: by having a passionate love for God and by obedience to his commands." 1 John 5:1-2 (TPT)
"'Show me one of the Roman coins.' So they brought him a silver coin used to pay the tax.  'Now, tell me, whose head is on this coin and whose inscription is stamped on it?'


'Ceasar's,' they replied.

Jesus said, 'Precisely, for the coin bears the image of the emperor Caesar. Well, then, you should pay the emperor what is due to the emperor. But because you bear the image of God, give back to God all that belongs to him.'"  Matthew 22:19-21 (TPT)

Pastors and Deacons

Baptists believe that men are placed over the church to advise the members.  These men must match the standards expressed in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9.  Once a believer becomes a pastor, he earns the privilege to admonish the church and lead it into God’s grace.  Deacons are civil servants, serving the members of the church with God’s guidance through the Bible.

"For those who serve in this way will obtain an honorable reputation for themselves and a greater right to speak boldly in the faith that comes from the anointing of Jesus!"  1 Timothy 3:13 (TPT)

As a Christian based after the Church of Christ, I don’t agree with everything that I read from the Baptist websites.  Many of them spoke truths; they all have the right intentions: to live under the forgiveness granted to us by our faith and obedience in Jesus Christ, spoken of in the Bible.                                                                                                                                             

Introduction into Book Study

A terrific fact about the deep library of old-fashioned books in my home is that there is much to be read and much to be learned, deriving from a place besides the computer’s internet. Although the internet is a vast resource of free information, facts are sometimes cheap and lies are spread without realization. It’s almost inevitable to get lost in a sea of shallow reading, and we seem to use Wikipedia as the master source. It’s almost like we (those existing in the digital sphere) read an article or source of information, and double-check those facts by going to the “common book of knowledge” that Wikipedia is, where we compare research there. We lean on Wikipedia as stability in that sea of shallow reading. The mental backbone of our minds: if Wikipedia has it, the facts are valid or probable.

So be it. It is what it is. But today, I have decided to “go astray” from that mainstream view we hold dearly by returning to the pages of a book with a 1927 copyright. It’s titled “Churches of Today”, by L.G. Tomlinson, which ironically, is nearly 100 years of yesterdays ago, making it no longer today, yet the book lives on addressing the exact problems we still have. Isn’t that the definition of a classic: a book that stays helpful after the test of time?

The problem we face today and in the day of L.G. Tomlinson is that there are so many branches of Christianity, it seems no outsider (and even insiders have this problem!) can understand the raw truth of the Bible, found in a variety of churches, in a variety of arguments and views of the same gospel, without danger of being swallowed in false teaching; in the worst case, an outsider will face damnation – in the darkness – because he “never saw the light”.

Quoting the beginning of the foreword, we get to know L.G. Tomlinson’s voice:

“There is always a reason for the writing of every book. Indeed, if there is no good, impelling reason for writing a book it had better be left unpenned since the world is already full of good books and we find time to read so few of them.”

Such a well selected choice of words already. Reading further leads us to the number one purpose for his writing:

“To help those who are confused and lost in the way to find the light. So much confusion exists today because of division that the honest seeker after truth finds himself in the maze of uncertainty. This church says, ‘This is the way to believe and practice;’ that church says, ‘Our way is the right one to follow in matters of faith and discipline;’ still another says, ‘Neither of these ways is apostolic, come with us.’ To further add to his difficulty, the earnest seeker hears others say, ‘Oh, it doesn’t make any difference; one is just as good as another; all roads lead to the same place.’ This book is an honest effort to assist such persons to diligently compare the different churches with the Bible and thereby find which one follows the straight and narrow way that leads home, even though there be only a few that find it.”

What I will be doing with my multi-week book study is discussing the same things the author of Churches of Today discusses; I will use modern means of study via the internet to update the words in the book, but as I stated before I am not going to use Wikipedia; my study will be “new” and different from our already established mental backbone. Instead I will be researching individual church websites both locally and around the world for my sources on what denominations believe in modern words.

Our first study will be jumping to the 6th chapter on the Baptist church, what they believe and how their doctrine looks in light of Scripture. I believe the Baptist church is a great place to begin our study, because it has withstood a fair reputation and is a bit populistic in belief, meaning the doctrine of the Baptists are among the most approachable and commonly comprehended.

To set it straight, the main reason why I make this book study is for the purpose of celebrating virtues, while accepting  faults found in each denomination. Even in Christ’s churches, we cannot find perfection, nor will we find a church completely flawed if Jesus is Lord and Savior. Explanatorily, in Mark 9:38-50, Jesus Christ tells his disciples not to allow any person trusting in Jesus Christ to stumble, and to cut off any part of you that causes sin; he says that after one of his disciples judge another person over being different or “not one of them”. His disciple John noticed someone performing miracles in Jesus’s name, but that person was an alien to the disciples’ cause. That’s when Jesus warned strongly to not stop others from preaching the gospel and to “live in peace with each other”. That is the backdrop to my desires of celebrating and accepting the virtues and faults of Christians from all walks of life.

Nonetheless, the Bible tells us that God’s Word is absolute truth (Psalm 119:159-160, 2 Timothy 3:16-17), men and women are flawed beings in need of salvation (Hebrews 7:28, Romans 3:23), and doctrines are mankind’s corruptible attempts at obtaining righteousness (Colossians 2:20-23). Therefore, I will begin the study in a storm of joy, caution, consideration, and bewilderment at all that brings us closer to our Lord Jesus Christ.

1st Study: The Baptist Church

2nd Study: The Presbyterian Church

3rd Study: The Methodist Church

4th Study: The Anglican Communion (discontinued due to personal troubles)

Reality Check

An important topic came up in this weekend’s Sunday morning conversation.  “Your generation needs a reality check.  Kids believe in playing games all day.” The topic was idols and the generation’s dependency on them.

Let me quote Isaiah 44:9-10, 15-17, and 19, an explanation of what God thinks of idols: “All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless.  Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame. Who shapes a god and casts an idol, which can profit him nothing?…It is man’s fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill.  He also warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down and says, ‘Save me; you are my god.’ …No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, “Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?” (NIV)

Isaiah tells us that the items themselves are worthless.  We needn’t defend them against harsh words.  They aren’t sin. But at the same time, they can lead to sin.   Anything that you love unconditionally which gets in the way of your service for God is considered an idol.  If you love something too much to set aside when God calls, you should check your priorities.  That’s an idol: not the object itself, but your level of respect for it.

Anything can be idolized.  Do you love something that’s important to you? Ask God in humble prayer if its ok to feel your heart’s involvement.  Promise your loyalty to Him.  Check your life.  What’s important to you?  Do you love video/computer games, politically pushed values, or hyped movies? Youtube? Is personal nit-picks, team loyalty, or lucrative money-spending of high caliber in your life? Do you consider PhDs, pledges from trendy celebrities and TV publicity, or searches on the internet as a reliable source of information?  Listen for God’s answer: does any of this get in the way of God’s purpose for you?

2018 Begins with the Flu

It’s the beginning of a new year!  My wishes and prayers are that all of you have a blessed 2018.

The first Sunday of the year should be encouraging and bright with hope, but this year many people are suffering from the flu; some cases are even severe and life threatening.  Hospitals are having to turn people away, or set up tents because there are so many people who have caught the flu.

Let’s pray for all the people who are at home or in the hospital suffering from symptoms, and pray for the serious cases to be healed.

Also pray for Lacy, our father, and our little brother Jake, who’s come down with the flu; and for my health and Mom’s, so that we may stay free from the illness, and also that we stay strong enough to tend to the others as they get better.

I pray that God grant you with wisdom, peace, and love in the new year, and that He shows you His amazing mercy and power as you live each new day.

New Year’s Resolution: To Be Heaven Here On Earth

You are given the option for immortality. Do you take it or do you decline?

Mom eagerly shared with me this thought from the writer’s app called 1000+ Writing Prompts.  “This is the question we face every day.  God has given us the option for immortality, and it’s up to us to take it.”

It’s a good thought to begin the new year with.  You are given the option for immortality.  To choose Jesus Christ is to choose eternal life.  To deny Him is to decline the option for immortality.  Or more accurately, to accept a harsh damnation as your eternal fate.

“But because of your callous stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are [deliberately] storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will pay back to each person according to his deeds [justly, as his deeds deserve]: to those who by persistence in doing good seek [unseen but certain heavenly] glory, honor, and immortality, [He will give the gift of] eternal life. But for those who are selfishly ambitious and self-seeking and disobedient to the truth but responsive to wickedness, [there will be] wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and anguish [torturing confinement] for every human soul who does [or permits] evil, to the Jew first and also to the Greek, but glory and honor and inner peace [will be given] to everyone who habitually does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For God shows no partiality [no arbitrary favoritism; with Him one person is not more important than another]… on that day when, as my gospel proclaims, God will judge the secrets [all the hidden thoughts and concealed sins] of men through Christ Jesus.” Romans 2:5-11, 16 (AMP)

Eternal life is a mystery to a mortal’s mind.  Humans are born, they live, and they die.  It’s common knowledge that people can only dream of defying.  It is impossible to accurately imagine what eternity will be like.

“Some skeptic is sure to ask, “Show me how resurrection works. Give me a diagram; draw me a picture. What does this ‘resurrection body’ look like?” If you look at this question closely, you realize how absurd it is. There are no diagrams for this kind of thing. We do have a parallel experience in gardening. You plant a “dead” seed; soon there is a flourishing plant. There is no visual likeness between seed and plant. You could never guess what a tomato would look like by looking at a tomato seed. What we plant in the soil and what grows out of it don’t look anything alike. The dead body that we bury in the ground and the resurrection body that comes from it will be dramatically different.

“You will notice that the variety of bodies is stunning. Just as there are different kinds of seeds, there are different kinds of bodies—humans, animals, birds, fish—each unprecedented in its form. You get a hint at the diversity of resurrection glory by looking at the diversity of bodies not only on earth but in the skies—sun, moon, stars—all these varieties of beauty and brightness. And we’re only looking at pre-resurrection “seeds”—who can imagine what the resurrection “plants” will be like!

“This image of planting a dead seed and raising a live plant is a mere sketch at best, but perhaps it will help in approaching the mystery of the resurrection body—but only if you keep in mind that when we’re raised, we’re raised for good, alive forever! The corpse that’s planted is no beauty, but when it’s raised, it’s glorious. Put in the ground weak, it comes up powerful. The seed sown is natural; the seed grown is supernatural—same seed, same body, but what a difference from when it goes down in physical mortality to when it is raised up in spiritual immortality!

“…I need to emphasize, friends, that our natural, earthy lives don’t in themselves lead us by their very nature into the kingdom of God. Their very “nature” is to die, so how could they “naturally” end up in the Life kingdom?” 1 Corinthians 15:35-44, 50 (MSG)

Like a seed planted into the ground, the seed dies and is shed away as the plant begins to grow; that is how Paul describes our mortal bodies.  After we die, our spirit will be given a new heavenly body.  Our new selves will shine with splendor possibly even greater than the sun, moon, and stars.    And definitely much greater than our own weak and sinful earthly bodies.

“For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.” 2 Corinthians 1-10 (NLT)

In a common belief among many Christians, heaven is explained in the last chapters of the book of Revelation (chapters 21 & 22), but allow me to correct that belief with an awesome thought.  Or maybe I’m not correcting; more just expounding on the idea.  Try to imagine it like this…

WE are the description of heaven. Christ’s church is the Holy City, New Jerusalem.

Let me try to explain it for you:

When the book of Revelation (chapter 21) explains the new heaven and earth, it says “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’”  (vs. 2-4, NIV)  The description of the new heaven and new earth that John saw sounds exactly like something that Paul wrote to the letter to the church in Corinth, when he wrote “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy.  I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.” (2 Corinthians 11:2, NIV)  As Christians we-the church-are the bride of Christ, brought to Him in godly splendor because of the blood that He has shed for us.  And now, because we have the Holy Spirit, God can dwell in us and give us peace and comfort.  We no longer have to fear the destructive nature of death, because Jesus has redeemed us and reconciled us to God.

The explanation of New Jerusalem, found in Revelation 21, also points to our salvation through Jesus Christ.  The city is described with the language of the prophets: 12 gates, which the number 12 symbolizes God’s people, like the 12 tribes of Israel; the walls of the city has 12 foundations, each with the names of the 12 apostles of the Lamb, broadening God’s holy people to not only the Israelites, but also the children of the new covenant, which is everyone who accepts Christ as Savior. Each of the four walls of the Holy City has 3 gates on it- 3 is the number of God, the Trinity, and explains that there is no obstacle stopping anyone from entering into God’s presence. An angel measures the city and finds it to be 12,000 stadia in length, width and height- 12,000 is a multiplier of both 12 and 10.  The number 10 is, like the number of fingers and toes you have, the number of completion.   So by putting 12 and 10 together, it means that the city is made up of all of God’s people, not just some of them.  No one is left out.  The wall of the city was also measured and found to be 144 cubits thick, which is another use of the number of God’s people, since 144 squared is 12.  The measurements, the gates, and the brilliantly shining stones of the Holy City explains to us how precious Christ’s church is.  The church is literally heaven on Earth.  All people are welcomed into it, and once a citizen of God’s Holy City, New Jerusalem, we will inherit God’s promise.

In chapter 22 John tells “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down to the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  No longer will there be any curse…” (v.1-3, NIV)  The city’s street leads to the tree of life, which brings healing for the nations and bears fruit all year round.  That’s what we as Christ’s church, the Lamb’s  bride, the Holy City needs to be doing. We need to be healing the nations.  We need to be bearing the fruits of the Spirit.  We need to be examples of God to the people around us so that they can see His glory: wiping the tears of the mournful and ministering to those suffering from pain.  That’s what God does.  It’s also what we should be doing.

We are also told that in the Holy City, “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”  (v.5, NIV) Talk about being the city on a hill!  That’s exactly what Jesus called us when He spoke in the sermon on the mount: “You are the light of [Christ to] the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;  nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good deeds and moral excellence, and [recognize and honor and] glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 (AMP)

The explanation of the new heaven and new earth, the New Jerusalem, and the new Eden that’s explained in the final pages of the Bible is not describing how heaven will look like.  There’s no way we can fathom the greatness of God’s dwelling.  Much like the royal Priesthood spoken of in Hebrews,  we are meant to think of the description as a shadow of what heaven will be like.  In fact, we as Christians are called to be the foreshadow of Heaven.

 “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’  He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.  Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.  But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars-they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur.  This is the second death.” Revelations 21:5-8

Returning to the writing prompt, we are offered a choice of immortality. Will you accept or decline the offer? If  you choose to accept, then you must, in turn, share the offer to others as well.  For 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 says:

So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” (NLT)

As we begin 2018, let’s consider our role here in the physical life.  Why not make a new year’s resolution to be heaven on earth to all the people around you?  You may even snatch a life from the fiery fate of Hell.

"But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I’ll probably never fully understand. We’re not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it’s over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we’ll all be changed. In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. Then the saying will come true: Death swallowed by triumphant Life! Who got the last word, oh, Death? Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now? It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!" 1 Corinthians 15: 51-57 (MSG)

Erna Lee’s Wisdom

It is close to the day the world is full of yuletide and cheer, when all the stockings get stuffed and Santa’s sleigh bells are near, but instead of breaking into full-length poem, I want to give everyone a message of peace that I read from Hebrews. First, let me tell you about an experience I had with a church whose members were mostly anti-Christmas:

There was a church I went to years ago, 12 years to be exact, named Nolanville. The majority of members there were 70 or over, sometimes into their 80’s, and some visitors left thinking the church too strict or too rule-based, but to the open-hearted it felt like a love gathering; you really can find love in unexpected places.

At Nolanville, every Sunday, I would be greeted with a “Good morning!” smile and hugs from various members, friendly eye contact from the one peer of mine (besides Kat), and compliments about a job well done with the church bulletin, which we wrote for about a year. Then there was the goodbye after service: everyone gathered at the door and lined up for hugs and warm fellowship, and you literally could see the entire church there at the door talking to each other, no more than 40 Christians. The laughter and conversation would carry on for 15-20 minutes before we’d, one by one, separate to our cars.

The warmth of the handshakes, the happy faces, and the love: I often miss. I think back to the people frequently, understanding that many of those members may not even be on this earth today.

Most of the members who went to Nolanville didn’t celebrate Christmas, despite their love. They held the opinion, “You got to love Jesus all year around and never allow His spirit to be felt only in December. If you do, everyone will think it is the holiday that makes them feel joy and peace, and that is idolatry…” The woman who told me passionately this viewpoint, Erna Lee, was the oldest member there. She always asked me to come up real close to her, so she could whisper her words with labored breath, but her words were always full of meaning and gentle wisdom.

The idea of not celebrating Christmas may be a bit depressing if you enjoy the season, like me, and for those who find solace in the good tidings, the cards, the gifts, the tree – Nolanville could be labeled as a group of Puritans who still hold onto the 17th century belief that Christmas should be illegal, because of its pagan roots, like worshipping the tree, and having a winter festival.

Personally, I believe Christmas can be celebrated by individuals and can also not be celebrated, too, depending on their attitude. But I agree with Erna Lee that a sense of discernment is never bad and that serving Christ only at Christmas is not God’s will for our lives.

Whether you do or don’t, the message from Hebrews 4:1-13 is a reminder to us that we can and will experience God’s rest if we hold true to our faith. That place God experienced rest, on the 7th day of Creation, is the same place we and our faithful loved ones will go upon leaving this earth. It is the peace we feel when we sing Silent Night; the peace of fireside cocoa; the peace of snow as it falls to earth, making it white. Except so much more, and not reserved for December!

Read the passage (Hebrews 4:1-13) first in American Standard Version, and again in The Message:

Let us fear therefore, lest haply, a promise being left of entering into his rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good tidings preached unto us, even as also they: but the word of hearing did not profit them, because it was not united by faith with them that heard. For we who have believed do enter into that rest; even as he hath said,

As I sware in my wrath,
They shall not enter into my rest:

although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he hath said somewhere of the seventh day on this wise, And God rested on the seventh day from all his works; and in this place again,

They shall not enter into my rest.

Seeing therefore it remaineth that some should enter thereinto, and they to whom the good tidings were before preached failed to enter in because of disobedience, he again defineth a certain day, To-day, saying in David so long a time afterward (even as hath been said before),

To-day if ye shall hear his voice,
Harden not your hearts.

For if Joshua had given them rest, he would not have spoken afterward of another day. There remaineth therefore a sabbath rest for the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest hath himself also rested from his works, as God did from his. Let us therefore give diligence to enter into that rest, that no man fall after the same example of disobedience.  For the word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do.

Again in The Message:

For as long, then, as that promise of resting in him pulls us on to God’s goal for us, we need to be careful that we’re not disqualified. We received the same promises as those people in the wilderness, but the promises didn’t do them a bit of good because they didn’t receive the promises with faith. If we believe, though, we’ll experience that state of resting. But not if we don’t have faith. Remember that God said,

Exasperated, I vowed,
“They’ll never get where they’re going,
never be able to sit down and rest.”

God made that vow, even though he’d finished his part before the foundation of the world. Somewhere it’s written, “God rested the seventh day, having completed his work,” but in this other text he says, “They’ll never be able to sit down and rest.” So this promise has not yet been fulfilled. Those earlier ones never did get to the place of rest because they were disobedient. God keeps renewing the promise and setting the date as today, just as he did in David’s psalm, centuries later than the original invitation:

Today, please listen,
don’t turn a deaf ear . . .

And so this is still a live promise. It wasn’t canceled at the time of Joshua; otherwise, God wouldn’t keep renewing the appointment for “today.” The promise of “arrival” and “rest” is still there for God’s people. God himself is at rest. And at the end of the journey we’ll surely rest with God. So let’s keep at it and eventually arrive at the place of rest, not drop out through some sort of disobedience.

God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what.

 

 

Thoughts about the Prodigal Son

I have heard the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-31) a lot, but when I thought about the story a few days ago, it came differently to me now that the Bible in its fullness is “stirring in the soul” as my mom says.

For all this year, I’ve been reading the Bible everyday so I would finish it, finish the whole book, to be better equipped in teaching. Like James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly”; I used to be afraid to speak or write, because I never wanted to be judged for the wayward direction a man or woman takes, away from God’s light. My hands would shake and my heart pound if I ever had to teach others about what God’s word said. My thoughts: got to take it seriously…

So, a few days ago, I thought about the prodigal son story and unlike every other time, I thought about the two sons and father from the light of Scripture (Jesus’s era), rather than from the light of my culture, fear of judgment, or just a young person’s way of making a story relate to myself rather than the other way around – this time I put myself in the shoes of that time, in historical context. There’s probably nothing wrong with applying the Bible to modern times, but you must first understand the text as it was intended, for the people that heard it. Only then can we accurately make a modern interpretation.

If you don’t know: the prodigal son in quick review is about two sons and their father. One went to his father and said, “Give me my inheritance now, Dad. I want the money in hard cash while I’m young!” The father said ok, and the son took it and ran. He spoiled it on who knows what (materialism, wine, women), and he found himself in the worst situation. With nothing left, he became homesick and returned to his father, who took him back lovingly. …Imagine you haven’t taken a bath or had a good meal in ages and then you walk into the horizon, hometown coming in view, when suddenly your dad is running towards you with open arms. “Son, welcome home!” He throws a huge party to celebrate you back… The prodigal son’s brother, which is the antagonist, grumbled and complained. “How can HE get a party? Who was it that worked for your approval all these years and never failed once? Me! I deserve the thanks.”

The father’s response to the angry brother has been remembered for all time, and has been retold in every format, but let’s see it again:

“Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!” Luke 15:31-32 (MSG)

The message of The Prodigal Son is exactly the same take-away as the two parables also in Luke 15:

The Parable of the Lost Sheep:

“...There is more joy for that one sinner than for 99 good people who don’t need to change.” Luke 15:7 (ERV)

The Parable of the Lost Coin’s message:

“It’s a happy time for the angels of God when one sinner decides to change.” Luke 15:10 (ERV)

The Parable of the Prodigal Son’s message:

A celebration happens when God’s child returns to Him after living a wicked life.

 

Every other time I heard this story, I thought, I can relate to this story if I’m not careful. I can be that complaining brother, as a Christian, because I could become unaccepting to new converts. I actually worried, at times, that someday I would become the guy who complains, and that is how I communicated the message to those around me.

But a few days ago, I interpreted it differently. “I’ve never heard it told that way before,” Kat said when I finished telling her what I now tell you:

If you carefully read the beginning of Luke 15, you will see the Pharisees –these were members in the Jewish religion who were strict about keeping the law (legalistic to the point of judgmental) and kept many harsh regulations – are disgruntled because Jesus chose to hang around people not like them. Notice the bold words: not like them. 

The context of the Scripture reveals that the Pharisees were the original ones Jesus spoke to, when telling the parable. The Jewish leaders were known to ban outsiders, criticize sinners, and place themselves above everyone else. The Gentiles, for example, were “uncircumcised heathen”, which you can understand by reading Paul’s letter to Ephesus, who were not a church of former Jews, but rather they were Gentiles. (Gentile was the word for anyone who was not a Jew.) Specifically chapter 2, verse 11 through 13:

Never forget that once you were heathen and that you were called godless and “unclean” by the Jews. (But their hearts, too, were still unclean, even though they were going through the ceremonies and rituals of the godly, for they circumcised themselves as a sign of godliness.) Remember that in those days you were living utterly apart from Christ; you were enemies of God’s children, and he had promised you no help. You were lost, without God, without hope.

But now you belong to Christ Jesus, and though you once were far away from God, now you have been brought very near to him because of what Jesus Christ has done for you with his blood.”

 

Paul says about the Jews that their hearts were unclean because of what? Later in Ephesians 2:15 he says:

“By [Jesus’s] death he ended the angry resentment between us, caused by the Jewish laws that favored the Jews and excluded the Gentiles…”

The Jews resented outsiders (Gentiles) because they were not like them. This, in fact, was what made their hearts unclean. Their attitude and unwillingness to forgive displeased God.

Although we are capable of falling into the same trap today as Christians, there are no Gentiles and Jews: we are all one in Christ Jesus. Sure, there are Jews, atheists, and others too, but we are all equal, and that makes it different than Jesus’s timing when the Jewish nation was the light on the hill, the lighthouse for all to see God’s glory revealed; that glory was Jesus Christ, and he is all around the world now.

So when you think about the prodigal son story, remember not to replay it too far from its original context, but I don’t see anything wrong in noting the quality of the father’s open arms, and the mistake of the son’s complaints, because God’s word can speak to us today as much as it did in Jesus’s time.

Lastly, I was inspired to include Malachi 1 in our study:

Malachi 1 (TLB)

Here is the Lord’s message to Israel, given through the prophet Malachi:

“I have loved you very deeply,” says the Lord.

But you retort, “Really? When was this?”

And the Lord replies, “I showed my love for you by loving your father, Jacob. I didn’t need to. I even rejected his very own brother, Esau, and destroyed Esau’s mountains and inheritance, to give it to the jackals of the desert. And if his descendants should say, ‘We will rebuild the ruins,’ then the Lord Almighty will say, ‘Try to if you like, but I will destroy it again,’ for their country is named ‘The Land of Wickedness,’ and their people are called ‘Those Whom God Does Not Forgive.’”

O Israel, lift your eyes to see what God is doing all around the world; then you will say, “Truly, the Lord’s great power goes far beyond our borders!”

“A son honors his father, a servant honors his master. I am your Father and Master, yet you don’t honor me, O priests, but you despise my name.”

“Who? Us?” you say. “When did we ever despise your name?”

“When you offer polluted sacrifices on my altar.”

“Polluted sacrifices? When have we ever done a thing like that?”

“Every time you say, ‘Don’t bother bringing anything very valuable to offer to God!’ You tell the people, ‘Lame animals are all right to offer on the altar of the Lord—yes, even the sick and the blind ones.’ And you claim this isn’t evil? Try it on your governor sometime—give him gifts like that—and see how pleased he is!

“‘God have mercy on us,’ you recite; ‘God be gracious to us!’ But when you bring that kind of gift, why should he show you any favor at all?

“Oh, to find one priest among you who would shut the doors and refuse this kind of sacrifice! I have no pleasure in you,” says the Lord Almighty, “and I will not accept your offerings.

“But my name will be honored by the Gentiles from morning till night. All around the world they will offer sweet incense and pure offerings in honor of my name. For my name shall be great among the nations,” says the Lord Almighty. “But you dishonor it, saying that my altar is not important and encouraging people to bring cheap, sick animals to offer to me on it.

 “You say, ‘Oh, it’s too difficult to serve the Lord and do what he asks.’ And you turn up your noses at the rules he has given you to obey. Think of it! Stolen animals, lame and sick—as offerings to God! Should I accept such offerings as these?” asks the Lord. “Cursed is that man who promises a fine ram from his flock and substitutes a sick one to sacrifice to God. For I am a Great King,” says the Lord Almighty, “and my name is to be mightily revered among the Gentiles.”

To Infinity and Beyond! (From Abstract to Absolute)

You must have felt, the air is chilly, when that craving for hot, steamy satisfying tea appears, where you crave that comfortable heat to fill your body, your hands, your head, your heart; you don’t want to freeze, so you want hot tea. Your favorite flavor may be zesty lemon, fresh mint, or spicy cinnamon. “Ahhh” would be a natural reaction your lungs have when steam fills yours nostrils, cheeks begin to rosy up, and your nose gets runny.

That’s how I feel when I get tea. You?

At least with the leading brands like Yogi, tearing back the paper and pulling out the stringed teabag lately brings the reading of a wise proverb. One tea stated,

“Love without trust is like a river without water”.

I like that one. Another tea stated,

“The gate to happiness is self-compassion”.

(What is happiness? …self-compassion?)

Wise sayings like these are usually harmless. Mostly they hold some truth, take them as they are. However, the second message (about self-compassion) can be interpreted both to harm and not to harm, due to its abstractness. For example:

A mother’s interpretation might be: “I should care about me this weekend. I’ll soak in a long bath while the hubby’s home.” Mostly harmless.

A painter’s interpretation: “Heed not the family business. Instead, do what makes me happy and go to art school.” Maybe harmful, maybe not.

But then a troubling interpretation from an angry teen: “To protect myself, I should get rid of the bullies. Tomorrow the gun goes in my backpack.” Mostly harmful!

Do you see where I’m going?

There’s no need to blame the teabags for sinister influence. These sayings are far too short and vague for the granting of ill intentions, and it’s entirely the responsibility of each person how he thinks, how he plots, or how he reacts. Right?

With that said, what concerns my writing today is the manner in which we consume abstract thoughts like these – even if each person is responsible for their own living and own behavior, it is the responsibility of a society, or a community, to provide the ambience needed for people to produce good thoughts each on their own.

It is a matter of how we habitually think and live. If we make a habit of consuming messages that are vague and abstract, our lives will be lived in the same abstractness. Our lives will be lived for the general purposes of “happiness”, “wellness”, or “productivity”; that is, the persons that we are will become bounded to the finite. The predictable. The limited. The temporary. Without the eventual consumption of that which is deep, unlimited, and endless, we will never find the absolute truth that sets us free.

As I have taught from week to week for more than a year now on my blog, I teach again: we can find that absolute truth by reading the entire Bible. It allows us to live a life boundless and free, unpredictable, unimaginable, and everlasting. Partly the purpose of my blog has always been to discuss again and again the Scriptures so you will come to know the Bible without having to read it alone and in cold, hard truth. I pray you come to see the burdens-lifting message of the gospel.

The inspiration of my writing today came from a teabag message I have not yet shared with you. I believe it is my favorite, because it brings to my mind the entirety of Christ. Quote:

“Love is an experience of infinity.”

What Yogi meant by putting it on its product I don’t know. Maybe,

God is love.

Love at its fullest mends all hurts.

Love shared by two people has an out of this world feeling.

Lovers are metaphorically stargazers who will never see every star no matter how long they gaze.

Love literally does not stop when completely unconditional.

Love has no ending of explanations.

Christ, however, reveals the quote much less abstractly, in fact, as Paul states it, there was a mystery and that mystery is now seen in Christ. All that was abstract is now absolute in our Lord and King who reigns on heaven and in earth. Read this passage in Ephesians 3:14-21 to get a true taste of infinity!

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.