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.

 

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)

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.

 

 

Jesus in Televison

It is the latest trend in the television world for diversity to be on our screens. It seems to Hollywood, globalism is the path, equality the door, and acceptance the key.

In 2017’s TV industry, an unprecedented rule of thumb looms overhead, expecting all cultures be represented (not only Caucasian, English, etc.), and the culture must be accurately shown; if not, at least make sure the cast is diverse, to offset any potential whitewash.

For example, Kat noticed the new rule of thumb in the movie “The Star” out at theaters, with the cast being greatly diverse, including Oprah Winfrey, Kelly Clarkson, Steven Yeun, Gina Rodriguez, Zachary Levi, Keegan-Michael Kelly, and Aidy Bryan, among other big names.

The Star’s trailer:

Personally, I have no qualms with the above subject. I love the newfound diversity, and find it appealing. That being said, I can imagine the rule of thumb will make us look back on old films and cringe, where we shake our heads at the “era before equality”. Look at the popular news spots for the teenage and younger millennial audience, and you will see this as our reality, at least in the United States.

Here’s an 80’s music video of Michael W. Smith’s Secret Ambition:

What does this mean for the future of Jesus films? It may be, we find viewers being critics of all the former movies portraying Jesus, because Jesus is always, always (…almost always) cast as a Western-looking man. Maybe the exception is Selva Rasalingam, as he played in “The Gospel of John”. According to Wikipedia, Rasalingam is maternally British, paternally Tamil (Sri Lankan).

Here’s my quick sketch gallery of actors who have portrayed Jesus:

 

 

Let’s be honest. Every portrayal of Jesus is going to be inaccurate, except an early 30’s male actor who comes directly from the seed of King David. I doubt a person with that credentials would be possible to find, since the family tree would have to go back so ancient as 1000 BC. (Then again, the Bible itself is a family tree, so that’s a start.)

Really, anyone from Israel may look like Jesus. Who knows? We know little to nothing about Jesus’s appearance except that he was ordinary and did not stand out like royalty does. King Saul, Samson, and Esther for example all stood out; they would have won contests with their charm and skills, which is different than how Jesus is described in Isaiah 53:2, where it says,

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.”

There’s also the interesting fact that Jesus was related to a lot of beautiful men and women: Joseph, David, Rahab, Rebekah, Rachel, and Sarah were all mentioned as appealing to the eyes, which means Jesus has really great genes, to give him a few shapely features, here and there. So there is no reason to portray Jesus as unsightly or funny-looking, neither should he be seen as un-Hebrew.

To strengthen the point that Jesus didn’t have to be unsightly even looking at the words of Isaiah, remember in the story of David as a boy, he was the last to be picked as King simply because he was a young shepherd kid and he was too busy for formalities. It’s not like Samuel said, “Ew, I’m not anointing him, he’s ugly”  – the Scripture says he was “ruddy and handsome” and had “beautiful eyes” – but because David was unimportant and ordinary, he wasn’t first choice. For Jesus, he, too, was an ordinary man. A carpenter, who hung around fishermen, got his needs provided for from widows and lowly women, and played with children off the street, Jesus was also “without majesty” because he wasn’t anybody different.

Conclusively, my opinion is that all actors who play Jesus Christ should be enjoyed for how they play the role, despite race or appearance. Jesus came and died for all, so that all might live eternally with him in heaven; I believe it is ok for modern trends to be considered, along with production needs and availability of actors, but it is also ok for all people and all cultures to enjoy the chance to play as their Savior, and most certainly one’s character should be considered as importantly as finding the right look or the right attraction.

Won't it be a great day when Jesus returns? Check out Hachi's video - listen to the trumpet sound!

Playing Heaven’s Song

Yesterday after supper, I was extra tired. My eyes were heavy. I didn’t want to go to bed, because I had things to do: write in my journal, exercise, take care of my dog, read the mail, along with other stuff.

Kat advised me, “Just lay down and close your eyes. You don’t have to go to sleep. But if you do, it’s ok. Just lay there and let yourself rest until I get back.” I knew she’d be gone for about 30 minutes. She also revealed to me, “Laying there without doing anything helps me. You can listen to music… but don’t do anything else. After that, you’ll be ready to go on doing what you have to do.”

So I tried it. Getting under my blanket to take the chill away, I stretched my legs out until my toes were nearly emerged. A sigh filled my lungs, and wonderment filled my thoughts about whether I really would feel rested afterwards.

As I peered into the darkness of my eyelids, and let the music fill my ears, the music started fading from my mind when I began to visualize a scene. In the scene, there was me standing there; now normally I don’t picture my own self; I’m always picturing fictional characters or other people I never have met, but this time, it was plain me.

Golden rays of light shone from the sky as I stood, taking a few steps forward in a field of champagne-colored grass. The grass rustled gently, but I didn’t hear it, I only felt the wind in the form of calmness, peace, and joy which surrounded me, and the rays provided warmth all around. On my face was a smile, and in my eyes was a mission I knew I had, as I peered over the field at something. There was a quiet confidence and an assurance I could get it done. In my hand was my mission: I carefully held it, and I was ready to use it.

I couldn’t make out what was in my hand. In my thoughts, there were questions: What am I doing? Why am I standing there? What is it I am accomplishing?

I tried to control the visual. Zoom out. Try to see what’s on the other side of the field. Figure out what you’re holding. The end of a violin suddenly came into view, but I stopped imagining that when confusion arose. I can’t play the violin! Why would I be holding a violin? …That’s crazy…

But I wanted to keep seeing more, so I begin to brainstorm what my mission was, what I should do, and what God might expect from me. As soon as I began to think about the projects that swamp my life and the issues like money and relationships, the peace left me and the visualization blinked out almost like it was interrupted by white noise or a faulty satellite dish. It was gone because I let my human concerns interrupt it.

I saw no more of it before Kat got back, and we began talking. However, later, the Bible interpreted for me. When going to the Bible app on a mobile device, you can find a ‘Verse of the Day’ at the Dashboard or Home screen; in this case, I went to Bible Gateway and the verse of the day surprised me with its relevance:

“Yes, our natural lives will fade as grass does when it becomes brown and dry. All our greatness is like a flower that droops and falls; but the Word of the Lord will last forever.”

It took me off guard for the verse to be about grass because that’s what I saw! Grass – yes it was brown, but glorious and golden! Not brown and dying. I should be encouraged by your Word, Lord, but instead it makes me sad to think my aspirations, and my dreams will die and fade. This makes me sad, not happy. I’m sorry. I know your Word is what lasts, not my projects or what I want to do.

I left the app and went to other things, talking to Kat, getting sidetracked, but then I wanted to tell her about the oddity of my vision, if that’s what I can call it, and the oddity of the Bible verse, so I went back to the app and the Dashboard had a glitch. Oh man, I scolded myself, why didn’t you just write down the verse when you first saw it? Now it won’t come back. But then I realized, the rest of the app was working, so why not do a search? I searched “brown grass” and it took me to the exact verse I had read. This time I read the whole context, and it was in the context I got the positive message, the interpretation.

”For you have a new life. It was not passed on to you from your parents, for the life they gave you will fade away. This new one will last forever, for it comes from Christ, God’s ever-living Message to men. Yes, our natural lives will fade as grass does when it becomes all brown and dry. All our greatness is like a flower that droops and falls; but the Word of the Lord will last forever. And his message is the Good News that was preached to you.

“So get rid of your feelings of hatred. Don’t just pretend to be good! Be done with dishonesty and jealousy and talking about others behind their backs. Now that you realize how kind the Lord has been to you, put away all evil, deception, envy, and fraud. Long to grow up into the fullness of your salvation; cry for this as a baby cries for his milk.

”Come to Christ, who is the living Foundation of Rock upon which God builds; though men have spurned him, he is very precious to God who has chosen him above all others.

”And now you have become living building-stones for God’s use in building his house. What’s more, you are his holy priests; so come to him—you who are acceptable to him because of Jesus Christ —and offer to God those things that please him. As the Scriptures express it, ‘See, I am sending Christ to be the carefully chosen, precious Cornerstone of my church, and I will never disappoint those who trust in him.’

”Yes, he is very precious to you who believe; and to those who reject him, well—‘The same Stone that was rejected by the builders has become the Cornerstone, the most honored and important part of the building.’ And the Scriptures also say, ‘He is the Stone that some will stumble over, and the Rock that will make them fall.’ They will stumble because they will not listen to God’s Word nor obey it, and so this punishment must follow—that they will fall.

”But you are not like that, for you have been chosen by God himself—you are priests of the King, you are holy and pure, you are God’s very own—all this so that you may show to others how God called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were less than nothing; now you are God’s own. Once you knew very little of God’s kindness; now your very lives have been changed by it.”

1 Peter 1:23-25, 2:1-10

I can assume, God probably had my Bible app glitch up so I wouldn’t be able to get depressed! It forced me to read Peter’s true message from God, which was that I am the Lord’s “holy priest”, as Peter says, called to build his church in which Christ is the foundation.

I also did a quick Google search on the symbolic meaning of the violin, and some consider it to be the symbol of Heaven, angelic being, serenity, calmness, and majesty. Here’s how I interpret what I saw:

The field of grass symbolizes the temporary life, and those living in it. The rays of light symbolize heaven, where God is, and it shines on the grass, where I stand. My mission is to play Heaven’s song -the violin was an instrument of Heaven- so that light will shine on the grass and it can live gloriously, eternally. Finally, God’s peace and spirit surrounded me, like the wind.

You want to know what added to the mystery? Let me add to the story:

Today, I was telling my mom about the scene I envisioned. Her face lit up. “What’s funny is, I had a dream this morning that I woke up from, that sounds a lot like what you described.” I’d told her about how I couldn’t “zoom out” and see what was beyond the field of grass. Anytime I tried to, the vision was halted.

“My dream had a field of grass, too!” she said excitedly. “I was standing in a field and was looking out over it, and saw three elderly people. One was a woman who had a cane, but she was running towards the other two men, like she didn’t need it. One of the men helped her into the light, and the other man was standing there, waiting to greet her. I tried to squint and see who they were, and then it zoomed up, like you’re saying yours couldn’t do! Mine could. I zoomed up and tried to look harder to see who it was.”

She realized, in her dream, the elderly woman was going from this life into the next, and she was being greeted by her loved ones who’d already passed on. “But there was the field of grass and the light in my dream,” she said. “Just like you described.” After she told me that, I proceeded to read to her 1 Peter (the passage above), and we were all inspired by how the dream, my vision, and Scripture were connected to each other.

I believe the take-away message we can get from this experience is that our mission as Christians is to become the building-stones for God’s family. Life here on earth is temporary. We should keep our minds set above, less on our projects and our careers, and more on how to bring others into God’s glorious light.

At least, in my case, God was telling me that I should focus less on my personal success, or how many sales I’ll get, or whether I’ll finish a project, and instead, I need to make Heaven my goal. If I am not playing Heaven’s song, if my project is not to advance God’s Kingdom, then my influence will be temporary and fade, or maybe God will even let my goals fizzle and be stopped like my vision was, when I got distracted with my human reasons.

For example, the many Christian writings I have done, here on my blog along the way, I have done for the sole purpose of helping others know the Lord Jesus. My writings have never been stopped, and inspiration has always flowed. But the instant I try to make money the goal, or I try to make impressing people the goal, my creations are stalled, halted, or quit by some circumstance.

All in all, there is nothing depressing about letting God’s message get out. Your brain can tell you that you don’t want to focus your time on Bible things or Christian affairs, instead you want to get out and make a splash! Experience the world without reserve. But as I am learning, the only way to have an eternal impact and earn an eternal reward is to take up the cross, become a building-block, and play Heaven’s song.

Guardian of Your Heart

“God blesses those people whose hearts are pure. They will see him!” (Matthew 5:8, CEV)

Do you want to see God? The sixth Beatitude says we should have a pure heart to see God. What is the heart? If nothing else, it is those feelings we associate with the red shape drawn on our Valentines cards, with two rounds at the top and a point at the bottom… Right?

Nah, the heart is more than that. Like the Trinity is God –Father, Son, Spirit – thinking, saying, and acting the same, there are also 3 organs that “speak” to each other a special way inside your body: the heart, the brain, and the stomach. Did you know that according to research, all three organs have their own neurons and neurotransmitters, meaning the heart can communicate to the brain feelings of pain and emotion? Likewise, the stomach can communicate hunger and digestive feelings. Some websites say different things, implying the heart and stomach can “think” on their own, but then others say they can’t. Really, though, what is “thinking”, and what is “feeling”, if not a collective effort of the body’s functions?

Think about a scenario: a man is waiting for his wife to stride downstairs donned in her little black dress for the date –wouldn’t his heart be racing as he envisions the dinner and car ride home? How about another: a kid walks in the bedroom while her parents are watching a midnight horror film and catches a glimpse of blood and gore – wouldn’t her heart be pounding when she runs back to bed and feels monsters underneath? In the same way, your stomach grumbles and you think, I’m hungry. It’s all feelings, and feelings are the government of your thoughts.

To be what God intends for us to be, you and I need to give our brain the role of guardian. Imagine that your organs are a family, your heart and stomach being dependents (children), while your brain is the independent (parent). They come to your brain with emotions of anger, fear, an adrenaline rush, or a lack of appetite. Your brain executes a plan determined by surroundings. For example, someone is walking nearby in the street, at the same pace as you, oh, but maybe a step or two quicker; immediately, an adrenaline rush begins to occur and your mind works out the facts of whether you have a stalker. Is the person suspicious looking? Is he armed, strong, and are you alone? Then suddenly, he crosses the street and heads towards the other block. Your reasoning grows serene at the realization he is a mere stranger.

In the example above, the heart was an influence to your thoughts. How? A pumping heart can affect your thoughts, making your brain scramble to keep calm.

But whether or not the heart’s neurons can grow fearful or the brain itself does the “feeling” and the “thinking” does not matter for this discussion. We can wait until later for science to discover the details. Right now, whether he means the Valentines heart or the muscly organ, Jesus has our answer in Matthew 15:16-20 regarding the role of the heart:

“Don’t you understand?” Jesus asked him. “Don’t you see that anything you eat passes through the digestive tract and out again? But evil words come from an evil heart and defile the man who says them. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile; but there is no spiritual defilement from eating without first going through the ritual of ceremonial handwashing!” (TLB)

The Old Testament also speaks of the heart. Jeremiah 17:9-10 says:

“The heart is the most deceitful thing there is and desperately wicked. No one can really know how bad it is! Only the Lord knows! He searches all hearts and examines deepest motives so he can give to each person his right reward, according to his deeds—how he has lived.” (TLB)

That’s why the heart needs a guardian, because it needs to stay dependent on the brain to make sense of things, and connect with the knowledge of the Lord and His Word. There may be neurons in the heart (estimated to be 40,000), but there are billions more in the brain and the brain is where laws, principles, logic, solutions, and memories are kept.

“For whatever God says to us is full of living power: it is sharper than the sharpest dagger, cutting swift and deep into our innermost thoughts and desires with all their parts, exposing us for what we really are…” (Hebrews 4:12, TLB)

Meanwhile, the stomach (where an estimated 100 million neurons are!) is temporary to this life, and probably sends signals to keep us alive, but does nothing for our spiritual walk. As Jesus said to Satan when he was starving in the wilderness, to keep temptation away,

Jesus answered, “The Scriptures say:

‘No one can live only on food.
People need every word
that God has spoken.’”

(Matthew 4:3-5, CEV)

Paul also makes the argument, in the context of sexual immorality and how wrong it is, that the stomach and the body is temporary and that the body should therefore be used for God’s purposes instead of man’s whims.

“Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.

And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power.”

(1 Corinthians 6:13-14, KJV)

Therefore, the mind should become the guardian of the heart and stomach, watching over them from a leader’s perspective. The mind is where the higher intelligence of Jesus Christ and his gospel is stored, along with steps on how to get to heaven, saving a person from the “second death”:

But those who are cowards, who refuse to believe, who do evil things, who kill, who are sexually immoral, who do evil magic, who worship idols, and who tell lies—all these will have a place in the lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8, ICB)

We must stay on the “road of right living” to stay safe:

“The road of right living bypasses evil;
watch your step and save your life.

First pride, then the crash—
the bigger the ego, the harder the fall.”

(Proverbs 16:17-18, The Message)

It takes smarts to decipher “right living”! However, it’s not too hard a concept: even Abraham was considered righteous because of his faith, which is the same as it is now, with faith in Jesus Christ.

Genesis 15:6: “And he [Abraham] believed in the Lord, and He [God] accounted it to him for righteousness.”

In conclusion, with the smartness of your brain, the knowledge of Christ, and the grace of God, you can make your heart pure and keep it clean and fearless in the sight of God.  You’ll find a beautiful treasure waiting! Your pure heart will become the loving kindness behind the logic – the brain’s benefactor – and compassionate intuition will aid your deed doing.

 “So let us come near to God with a sincere heart and a sure faith. We have been cleansed and made free from feelings of guilt. And our bodies have been washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22, ICB)

 

 “…Everything about us is bare and wide open to the all-seeing eyes of our living God; nothing can be hidden from him to whom we must explain all that we have done.” (Hebrews 4:13, TLB)

 

”No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God [Jesus], is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.” (John 1:18, NLT)

 

“By the power of your hand, O Lord,
destroy those who look to this world for their reward.
But satisfy the hunger of your treasured ones.
May their children have plenty,
leaving an inheritance for their descendants.
Because I am righteous, I will see you.
When I awake, I will see you face to face and be satisfied.”

(Psalm 17:14-15, NLT)

“You can either doubt God and think he is in no part of your life, or you can believe God and think he is in every part of your life - everything changes.” ~Lacy Andrews

 

Hymn of the Day: Let Us Break Bread Together

When I opened my hymn book to “Let Us Break Bread Together”, I saw it was a Negro spiritual song, which means the song was written by an American slave. Immediately, my heart strings were struck as I read the lyrics:

VERSE ONE

Let us break bread together on our knees;

Let us break bread together on our knees.

REFRAIN

When I fall on my knees,

With my face to the rising sun,

O Lord, have mercy on me.

VERSE TWO

Let us drink wine together on our knees;

Let us drink wine together on our knees.

(Repeat REFRAIN)

VERSE THREE

Let us praise God together on our knees;

Let us praise God together on our knees.

(Repeat REFRAIN)

“I don’t know this song, but let’s sight-read it,” my mother said, and sang alone, first, to show us the sound of tones. Interestingly, when a hymn book provides shape notes (i.e. ‘Do’ is a triangle, ‘La’ is a square) even amateurs can sing! And how blessed to have sung it! The tones rose and fell so sweetly – yet they were powerful! – and the lyrics were equally so.

As I sang, my imagination wandered to the picture of a slave woman, falling to her knees at the start of a new day. Before she even began her work, she was tired and weary from the bondage she faced: the bondage of inequality.

Extraordinarily, the slaves from American history put their hearts on a plate and served it to God in spirit and in truth. How did they do that? The same way Job from the Bible did. Quoting Job, he said,

“Do not mortals have hard service on earth?
    Are not their days like those of hired laborers?
Like a slave longing for the evening shadows,
    or a hired laborer waiting to be paid,
so I have been allotted months of futility,
    and nights of misery have been assigned to me.
When I lie down I think, ‘How long before I get up?’
    The night drags on, and I toss and turn until dawn.”

Job 7:1-4 (NIV)

To honor and respect today’s hymn, I selected many different arrangements of “Let Us Break Bread Together”. Truly, let’s break bread together, each of us with our unique ways of showing worship.

Something else moved me today – with the news of protests happening in America, and Vice President Pence’s statement about the Colts game he walked out on, it is important for each American to understand heritage, and how different each American is because of the unique heritages. Many Americans don’t know their original ethnicity, saying “I’m a quarter” this and that, or 1/10th, or 1/20th, or “going back, on my father’s side”.

Makes one wonder, does heritage matter? Sure. How peoples’ lives are framed comes partly from the traditions their ancestors passed on, privileges earned, and struggles faced. There are countless heritages, and endless beginnings, which made America. It is through diversity that America grew strong. It is through respect that America will stay strong.

Pains of Heritage

By: Lacy Andrews

America for all!

Americans, free.

Whilst they try to remember,

The pains of their ancestors.

 

I soberly wonder

Surely! By this time,

We can forgive and forget,

Perhaps, if we give respect.

 

History roots go deep,

In the hearts of men,

Pilgrims came, died, and conquered

Slaves served, were sold and tortured.

 

Native tribes were ruined,

Spaniards came to save.

Puritans fled government,

And Chinese came for profit.

 

Indians were farmers,

Dutch came as merchants.

Russians fled from poverty,

Syrians were refugees.

 

America for all!

Americans, free.

Yet they try to remember,

The pains of their ancestors.

 

I somberly ponder

Even at this time,

We can’t forgive or forget

Unless we learn to respect.

 

Every race overcame,

The trials of men.

Englishmen settled, peaceful.

Africans became equal.

 

Native children lived on,

The Spanish flourished.

Puritans made Jamestown,

The Chinese made Chinatown.

 

Indians fought for rights,

Dutchmen fought in war.

Russians fought persecution.

Syrians fought omission.

 

America for all!

Americans, free.

Whilst they try to remember,

The pains of their ancestors.

 

I quietly wonder,

If ever in time,

Will we receive forgiveness?

Or forget respectfulness?