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Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Catholic Church


 The Catholic Church

There are approximately two billion Christians in the world and Catholic Christians make up over one billion of the two billion Christians on earth. Catholics outnumber all the other Christians worldwide.  

The Catholic Church got its name from the word “catholic” which means “universal”.  The word “catholic” was used to describe the early Christian church because the Christian church or the body of Christ was and is one and is universal. The body of Christ is one body and Christians can be found all over the world. In the first several hundred years after the birth of the Christian church at Pentecost, there were no divisions among Christian believers and all Christians believers considered themselves as one.

All early Christians were simply called “followers of the Way” or “believers in Jesus Christ.”  And along with this unity of believers God gave the early Christians great power in the Holy Spirit. As long as that early Christian church obeyed God and loved one another and stuck together so faithfully, God continually blessed them with miracles and healings and power in the Spirit.  Their love for one another attracted thousands to follow Christ also.    

 As the years passed Christianity grew and spread as many Christian churches sprang up all over Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Italy as well as Asia Minor.  It seemed that more Christians settled in Rome than in any other place and soon Rome became the center of the Christian church.  Each local area where Christians lived had its own leader or “bishop” and over time the bishop of Rome came to be the most influential of all the bishops of other cities or towns.  So by the end of the fourth century this head bishop came to be called the “pope,” which means “father”.   

Most of the Catholics in the West accepted the growing authority of the pope, while the Catholics in the East grudgingly went along. Latin became the main language of the Western Catholic churches whereas Greek was the dominant language of the Eastern Catholic churches, causing a language barrier and more frustrations between east and west. However, the universal Catholic church, the East and the West, remained one glorious united Church for almost a thousand years! Even though tensions and differences kept growing between them.

And then it happened!  Around 1050 A.D. the Western Catholic hierarchy, without receiving full agreement from the Eastern Catholics, added three little words to the Nicene Creed which was then and always has been the creed for all Christians. The Nicene Creed had been written through the guidance of the Holy Spirit in 325 A.D. after much prayer and fasting by two hundred Christian bishops.  One small line in this creed stated that the Holy Spirit was sent from God the Father. In about 1050 A.D. the Western Catholic Church hierarchy added (and the Son) to that wording in the Nicene Creed.  These three little words (and the Son) better explained that Jesus Christ, God the Son, along with God the Father also sent the Holy Spirit to the Church. This was the last straw for the Catholics living in the East!

How dare those Western brothers add those three little words to the Nicene Creed!  The Eastern Catholic churches, calling themselves the “Orthodox Church” broke away from the Western Catholics and from the one universal Catholic Church and the split became official in 1054 A.D.  Instead of building on what held them together, the East and the West split over their differences.  The Catholic church in the east was now “the Orthodox Church.”   “Orthodox” means “true” and they believed that they were the true church of the apostles and that their Western Catholic brothers and sisters had wandered off the path.

And five hundred years later the Protestant Churches also broke away from the Catholic Church. When we read the Roman Catholic Catechism, the official teachings of the Catholic Church, we find that Catholics and Protestants agree on most issues. They share the Nicene Creed. Many Protestant denominations believe that our Christian beliefs come ONLY from the Holy Scriptures alone.  But Catholics believe that their faith and Christian beliefs stand not only on the Holy Scriptures but also on Holy Spirit-led traditions and teachings of the church through the centuries.  They believe that God keeps on teaching us through the Holy Spirit even after the Bible was completed. 

Now we will briefly go over several Catholic practices from which Protestants can learn valuable lessons. And we will discuss more about our differences in future blogs. First, we will discuss the power of ritual.  When Protestants left the Catholic church, they threw out many of the Catholic rituals, often considering them to be dead and empty.

  Praying the Stations of the Cross can become a way of recalling the story of the passion and death of Christ.   The rosary is a Catholic ritual to recount the stories of Mary and Jesus and it includes the “Hail Mary” taken from Luke’s Gospel and the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed: and the recounting of the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  Rituals can be comforting because it gives us a sense of participation and belonging and it also gives us a tie to the past.  Ritual can help a person comprehend the majesty, mystery and holiness of God. 

The Catholics can teach other Christian denominations the importance of reverence for sacred things.  We Protestants often have not learned to worship, obey and reverence God or humble ourselves before a holy and almighty God in the way the Catholics have. God is praised and worshipped during the Mass and Catholics bow and kneel at the altar in prayer and make the sign of the cross on their forehead, lips, and heart, saying, “The Gospel be on my mind, and on my lips, and in my heart.”  Also, the name of the Trinity is pronounced when one crosses oneself saying, “Father, son, and Holy Spirit, I am yours.”  Catholics genuflect before the altar in reverence to the Lord God.  And they beat on their breasts to show sorrow for their sins.   

Scripture says: “O, come, let us worship and bow down.  Let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!  For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.”  (Psalm 95:6-7) Protestants are often casual in their worship services. Catholics can inspire and teach us much about coming before the almighty and holy God and Father.


For Catholics, the Eucharist or the communion is the point of the entire worship service.  Mass or taking the body and blood of Christ is served in every worship service.  Catholics believe that at a Holy Mass when the priest says the words of Christ and gives a prayer, the Holy Spirit changes the substance of the bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Christ.  When Catholics receive Mass the bread and wine is really Christ’s body and blood that they receive.  In His body and blood they believe that grace flows from these elements out to the Christian who is receiving them.  They receive the gift of Christ each time they go to Mass.  

Jesus said “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man (Jesus) and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day: for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.  Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in Me, and I in them.”  (John 6:53-56)   

Scripture also says: “For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.”  (1 Corinthians 11:29) Taking the body and blood of Christ is indeed serious and should never be done casually.

 The Catholic Church and the Protestant churches both believe that Christ is truly present in the bread and the wine.  Protestants believe that we receive Christ spiritually.  That His presence is there.  And we have an opportunity, in a physical way, to accept His gift of salvation.  The Catholics believe that the bread and wine are actually His body and blood.  This is a doctrine called “transubstantiation.” 

This holy communion meal binds us together as Christians: Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians alike.  We all remember the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians all humble ourselves before God and accept Christ’s saving work.  We all feed our souls with His body and blood.  All the denominations or churches in our Christian family share the same Lord Jesus and we all worship the same God.  We are all nourished and guided by the same Holy Spirit.  Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant – we all believe the same Scriptures.  Our heavenly Father would have us forgive each other for our differences and love each other for all that we have in common.  As brothers and sisters in Christ we are all part of Christianity’s  big marvelous living family tree.      

Much of this blog was taken from Adam Hamilton’s book “Christianity’s Family Tree”.   

 
 The Catholic Church

There are approximately two billion Christians in the world and Catholic Christians make up over one billion of the two billion Christians on earth. Catholics outnumber all the other Christians worldwide.  

The Catholic Church got its name from the word “catholic” which means “universal”.  The word “catholic” was used to describe the early Christian church because the Christian church or the body of Christ was and is one and is universal. The body of Christ is one body and Christians can be found all over the world. In the first several hundred years after the birth of the Christian church at Pentecost, there were no divisions among Christian believers and all Christians believers considered themselves as one.

All early Christians were simply called “followers of the Way” or “believers in Jesus Christ.”  And along with this unity of believers God gave the early Christians great power in the Holy Spirit. As long as that early Christian church obeyed God and loved one another and stuck together so faithfully, God continually blessed them with miracles and healings and power in the Spirit.  Their love for one another attracted thousands to follow Christ also.    

 As the years passed Christianity grew and spread as many Christian churches sprang up all over Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Italy as well as Asia Minor.  It seemed that more Christians settled in Rome than in any other place and soon Rome became the center of the Christian church.  Each local area where Christians lived had its own leader or “bishop” and over time the bishop of Rome came to be the most influential of all the bishops of other cities or towns.  So by the end of the fourth century this head bishop came to be called the “pope,” which means “father”.   

Most of the Catholics in the West accepted the growing authority of the pope, while the Catholics in the East grudgingly went along. Latin became the main language of the Western Catholic churches whereas Greek was the dominant language of the Eastern Catholic churches, causing a language barrier and more frustrations between east and west. However, the universal Catholic church, the East and the West, remained one glorious united Church for almost a thousand years! Even though tensions and differences kept growing between them.

And then it happened!  Around 1050 A.D. the Western Catholic hierarchy, without receiving full agreement from the Eastern Catholics, added three little words to the Nicene Creed which was then and always has been the creed for all Christians. The Nicene Creed had been written through the guidance of the Holy Spirit in 325 A.D. after much prayer and fasting by two hundred Christian bishops.  One small line in this creed stated that the Holy Spirit was sent from God the Father. In about 1050 A.D. the Western Catholic Church hierarchy added (and the Son) to that wording in the Nicene Creed.  These three little words (and the Son) better explained that Jesus Christ, God the Son, along with God the Father also sent the Holy Spirit to the Church. This was the last straw for the Catholics living in the East!

How dare those Western brothers add those three little words to the Nicene Creed!  The Eastern Catholic churches, calling themselves the “Orthodox Church” broke away from the Western Catholics and from the one universal Catholic Church and the split became official in 1054 A.D.  Instead of building on what held them together, the East and the West split over their differences.  The Catholic church in the east was now “the Orthodox Church.”   “Orthodox” means “true” and they believed that they were the true church of the apostles and that their Western Ccatholic brothers and sisters had wandered off the path.

And five hundred years later the Protestant Churches also broke away from the Catholic Church. When we read the Roman Catholic Catechism, the official teachings of the Catholic Church, we find that Catholics and Protestants agree on most issues. They share the Nicene Creed. Many Protestant denominations believe that our Christian beliefs come ONLY from the Holy Scriptures alone.  But Catholics believe that their faith and Christian beliefs stand not only on the Holy Scriptures but also on Holy Spirit-led traditions and teachings of the church through the centuries.  They believe that God keeps on teaching us through the Holy Spirit even after the Bible was completed. 

Now we will briefly go over several Catholic practices from which Protestants can learn valuable lessons. And we will discuss more about our differences in future blogs. First, we will discuss the power of ritual.  When Protestants left the Catholic church, they threw out many of the Catholic rituals, often considering them to be dead and empty.

  Praying the Stations of the Cross can become a way of recalling the story of the passion and death of Christ.   The rosary is a Catholic ritual to recount the stories of Mary and Jesus and it includes the “Hail Mary” taken from Luke’s Gospel and the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed: and the recounting of the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  Rituals can be comforting because it gives us a sense of participation and belonging and it also gives us a tie to the past.  Ritual can help a person comprehend the majesty, mystery and holiness of God. 

The Catholics can teach other Christian denominations the importance of reverence for sacred things.  We Protestants often have not learned to worship and reverence God or humble ourselves before a holy and almighty God in the way the Catholics have. God is praised and worshipped during the Mass and Catholics bow and kneel at the altar in prayer and make the sign of the cross on their forehead, lips, and heart, saying, “The Gospel be on my mind, and on my lips, and in my heart.”  Also, the name of the Trinity is pronounced when one crosses oneself saying, “Father, son, and Holy Spirit, I am yours.”  Catholics genuflect before the altar in reverence to the Lord God.  And they beat on their breasts to show sorrow for their sins.   

Scripture says: “O, come, let us worship and bow down.  Let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!  For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.”  (Psalm 95:6-7) Protestants are often casual in their worship services. Catholics can inspire and teach us much about coming before the almighty and holy God and Father.


For Catholics, the Eucharist or the communion is the point of the entire worship service.  Mass or taking the body and blood of Christ is served in every worship service.  Catholics believe that at a Holy Mass when the priest says the words of Christ and gives a prayer, the Holy Spirit changes the substance of the bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Christ.  When Catholics receive Mass the bread and wine is really Christ’s body and blood that they receive.  In His body and blood they believe that grace flows from these elements out to the Christian who is receiving them.  They receive the gift of Christ each time they go to Mass.  

Jesus said “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man (Jesus) and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day: for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.  Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in Me, and I in them.”  (John 6:53-56)   

Scripture also says: “For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.”  (1 Corinthians 11:29) Taking the body and blood of Christ is indeed serious and should never be done casually.

 The Catholic Church and the Protestant churches both believe that Christ is truly present in the bread and the wine.  Protestants believe that we receive Christ spiritually.  That His presence is there.  And we have an opportunity, in a physical way, to accept His gift of salvation.  The Catholics believe that the bread and wine are actually His body and blood.  This is a doctrine called “transubstantiation.” 

This holy communion meal binds us together as Christians: Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians alike.  We all remember the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians all humble ourselves before God and accept Christ’s saving work.  We all feed our souls with His body and blood.  All the denominations or churches in our Christian family share the same Lord Jesus and we all worship the same God.  We are all nourished and guided by the same Holy Spirit.  Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant – we all believe the same Scriptures.  Our heavenly Father would have us forgive each other for our differences and love each other for all that we have in common.  As brothers and sisters in Christ we are all part of Christianity’s  big marvelous living family tree.      

Much of this blog was taken from Adam Hamilton’s book “Christianity’s Family Tree”.   

 



Monday, January 23, 2017

Christianity's Family Tree


Christianity’s Family Tree

I recently read Adam Hamilton’s book “Christianity’s Family Tree” and my faith was strengthened by what I read.  We can trace the start and beginning of our Christian family from the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost over two thousand years ago all the way to the present. We have many relatives in our Christian family and a rich history. I would like to pass some of this history along to you hoping you will be blessed as well.

Our can find our Christian brothers and sisters in many different Christian churches and denominations. Even though each church or denomination may have different traditions and minor differences in some of their beliefs, the same Holy Spirit has baptized us all into the body of Christ

. We will introduce you to what each Christian denomination emphasizes in their walk with God and how some of their traditions may be different from ours.  We will briefly explore how one church differs from the other in our Christian family tree: -the Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, the Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Anglicans, Baptists and Pentecostals.  In future weeks, we will go over the beliefs of each of these Christian churches. There are off shoots of these larger branches that will not be mentioned here because of time constraints.

The Christian church is spiritually alive and is guided by the Holy Spirit. The Church had it’s beginning at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit first was given. Jesus had instructed the believers to wait and pray for the Holy Spirit to come. Then ten days later God sent the Holy Spirit to each of the apostles and believers who were waiting and praying. Scripture tells us that when the Holy Spirit came down that very first time, there was a mighty rush of wind in the room and then a tongue of fire could be seen over the head of each believer and each believer began speaking in unknown tongues.  (Acts 2:1-5) Since then the Holy Spirit has been given to each believer or each member of the Christian family when they believe in Christ as Savior and Lord.

 In the first century of Christianity there were no denominations among those early believers.  The major division was between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.  There were only believers in Jesus Christ, and most of the believers lived in Jerusalem or Antioch.

By the end of the first century the Church had grown quite a bit and many Christian churches that had been planted by Paul.  Churches of believers called themselves, “Followers of the Way”, or “Christian”.  And these Christians communities were thriving all over what is now Greece, Turkey, Egypt and Italy. But these Christians were often jailed, whipped, stoned and persecuted unmercifully because of their faith.  Peter and Paul were both put to death in Rome. By the third century the Roman ruler Constantine became a Christian himself and stopped the terrible persecutions. Instead Constantine made Christianity the national religion. 

Heresies and false teachings have always threatened the Christian faith and each Christian generation has had to contend for the faith by stopping these heresies.  In those early days one of the main heresies threatening Christianity was the Aryan heresy.  Arius was an early Christian bishop in Alexandria who did not believe that Jesus was God.  He believed that Jesus was created by God the Father at some point in time and that Jesus was not eternal and was a lesser god.  Aryanism rejected the doctrine of the Trinity:  the doctrine that God encompasses Three Persons in One being. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. There are cult groups today who hold to the Aryan heresy. The Jehovah’s Witness and Mormon churches do not believe in the Trinity, or that Jesus is God the Son.    

Christians in the third century prayed that the Holy Spirit would lead them into the truth and help them dispel heresies and false teachings.  Constantine called all of the bishops of the Christian churches together to pray and to write out a creed that would state the tenants of the Christian faith. With much prayer for God’s guidance, three hundred Christian bishops gathered together at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.  These bishops or leaders of their local churches, after much prayer and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, wrote the Nicene Creed, which has been the guiding creed for all Christians ever since.  All but two bishops voted against the Aryan heresy.  They voted that Scripture teaches that Christ is eternal, the Son of God and God the Son.  Belief in the holy Trinity is the cornerstone of our Christian faith. If Jesus were not God He could not have saved us from sin. 

All the beliefs of the Christian faith were summarized in the Nicene Creed in 325 A.D. and the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, and all of the Christian Protestant denominations down through these many hundreds of years have professed that they believe this Nicene Creed.  The Nicene Creed spells out our Christian faith.  We have this one common faith will all brothers and sisters in Christ.  And we are all baptized into the body of Christ by one Spirit – the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13) 

Here is what the Nicene Creed states: “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and all that is seen and unseen.
 We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, and on one Being with the Father, through Him all things were made.  For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy spirit He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and became truly human.  For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate: He suffered death and was buried.

On the third day He rose again in accordance with the Scriptures: He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.  He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father.  Who with the Father is worshipped and glorified, who has spoken through the Prophets.  We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.  We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.  Amen.” 

Next week we will explore what the Catholic Church believes and practices.  The Catholic Church is the largest church with the most members in Christendom.  And if we have time we will cover the Eastern Orthodox Church as well.  And then after that we will cover the Protestant churches, the Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, and the Anglicans in the weeks that follow. 

We will find that each branch or church group in our Christian family has brought certain strengths and blessings.  Wouldn’t it be un-healthy if we were to cut off all the other branches and leave only our branch?  How tragic it would be to say that our branch is the whole tree!  Perhaps the beauty of the great tree comes from its diversity.

We personally may feel more comfortable on our own branch and in our own church.  And we may disagree with some of the practices of some of the other branches or churches that make up the Christian family.  We don’t have to agree with everything our family members do or say to love them. 




All the branches or churches share the same roots and the same trunk.  Our roots are Judaism and our trunk is Jesus Christ.  We all live by the same Scriptures and are all nourished by the same truths.  The Holy Spirit is feeding and watering the many limbs and leaves and branches and keeping this glorious Christian family tree alive!  Let’s remember that we are all connected to one another and together we all make up the glorious body of Christ.

The ideas and quotes in this blog are taken from Adam Hamilton’s book, “Christianity’s Family Tree”.



   

 






Saturday, January 14, 2017

Jesus has Harsh Words for the Pharisees


Jesus has Harsh Words for the Pharisees
Matthew 23

In all of the lessons and parables that Jesus gave as He and his disciples traveled around Israel from town to town healing and teaching; we cannot find any of His words or teachings that come close to the angry words He had for the scribes and Pharisees!  We read Jesus’ severe warnings to the Jewish people concerning the Pharisees in Matthew 23.

Jesus begins by saying: “The teachers of the law, and the Pharisees sit in Moses seat,” (Matthew 23:2) Several thousands of years earlier, God had given the Ten Commandments and other laws to the Jewish people through Moses. The scribes and Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders, were the idols and darlings of the Jewish people because they spent their whole life studying God’s laws.  They were supposed to interpret God’s laws to the people just as Moses had done.

But Jesus added that the scribes and Pharisees “tie up heavy loads and puts them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger of it.” (verse 4) Jesus was speaking about the many additions that the scribes and Pharisees had illegally added to God’s law given by Moses. All these man-made laws had become a great burden for the Jewish people to follow; and this deeply grieved and angered Jesus.  How dare the religious leaders lie to the people, telling them that the laws they thought up were the same as God’s laws!  God wanted to give the people life: but the Pharisees, who were supposed to speak for God, were standing in the way! 

The Pharisees loved to dominate the people and show off their authority by forcing the people to follow their own man-made ceremonies and traditions.  These goody goody religious leaders prayed eight to ten hours a day out in front of all the people, to impress everyone as to how pious they were. They lied to the people telling them that God would send them to hell if they didn’t obey each of their knit picking ordinances.  All of this enraged Jesus.

   Jesus goes on: “All their work is done for people to see.  They made their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their clothes long: they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogue….to have people call them “Rabbi”.  But you are not to be called “Rabbi” for you have only one Master and you are all brothers.”  (Matthew 23:5-8) 

Jesus was all about humility.  And Jesus also taught that a spirit of humility should govern the action of believers. He tells us not to give other humans the authority that should only be given to God.  He said: “Do not call anyone on earth “father” for you have one Father and He is in heaven.”  (Matthew 23:9) Jesus continued: “The greatest among you will be your servant, for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”  (Matthew 23:10b-11) 

Jesus went on his tirade by calling the religious leaders “Hypocrites”.  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You shut the kingdom of God in people’s faces.  You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.  You travel over land and sea to make a convert, and then you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.”  (Matthew 23:15)

Jesus is furious because the religious leaders have “shut the kingdom of heaven” away from the people.  Do some religious leaders do that today?  The people were relying on these supposed “men of God” to lead them in God’s Way, and instead the people were being led away from God’s Way.  As religious leaders and interpreters of Scripture, the Pharisees should have been the first to respond to Jesus as their Messiah and then influenced the people to follow. 

Their Scriptures, our Old Testament, had promised that a Messiah and a Savior would be given and that they were to look for Him.  The Pharisees read the Scriptures day and night and should have asked themselves questions when Jesus healed so many and performed miracles and raised dead persons back to life. But when Jesus, their Messiah, finally came to them, the Pharisees didn’t want to “see” Him.  That is “see” Him with their hearts.  Their hearts were too hardened to be able to “see” Jesus. They might have to change their ways if they were to “see” Jesus and recognize Him as their promised Messiah, and the proud Pharisees surely didn’t want to change!

Jesus went about healing many people all over Israel.  People who were blind were given their sight and people who were lame were given the strength to walk when Jesus would come their way.  Sick people were healed and deaf people could hear again when Jesus touched them.  Demon possessed people were freed from their demons and mentally ill people were healed when Jesus prayed for them.

Jesus even broke up funerals and raised people from the dead.  Scripture had prophesied that the coming Messiah would heal their illnesses.  The religious leaders should have wondered if possibly Jesus was indeed their promised Messiah!  But instead the Pharisees and scribes were furious when Jesus healed the sick and especially when He raised Lazarus from the dead!  In fact Lazarus’s resurrection from the grave caused them to  agree among themselves that they would find a way to have Jesus crucified!  Too many of their people were following Jesus and they were jealous.  The Pharisees might lose some of their power and influence over the people if they couldn’t get rid of Jesus! 

Jesus had harsh words for these religious leaders who at that very moment were plotting his death.  He told them that they “shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.”  (Matthew 23:13b)  He also called the Pharisees “blind guides”, “a brood of vipers”, and “whited tombs, which are beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones”.(Matthew 23:27b)  He told them that they killed and persecuted God’s prophets.  And Jesus asked the Pharisees this question: “How will you escape being condemned to hell?”  (Matthew 23:33b)   

Jesus was standing in the temple when He spoke these harsh words to the religious leaders. And a few days after this, Jesus was crucified as angry crowds called out “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”  As Jesus stood there in the temple speaking to the Pharisees, Jesus looked over Jerusalem and cried out these words: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you.  How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.  Look your house is left to you desolate.  For I tell you, you will not see Me again until you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”  (Matthew 23:37-39) 

A sad day indeed. Jesus left the temple that day and never returned.  A temple abandoned by the Messiah!  A house left desolate indeed!  The Lord’s public ministry was finished.  Jesus tells them: “You will not see Me again until you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Matthew 23:39) At Christ’s second coming the nation of Israel will recognize their rejected Messiah and will welcome His return with great emotion!  (Romans 11: Zechariah 12:10) What a day that will be!    




Saturday, January 7, 2017

Jesus Warns against Causing Little Ones to Stumble


Jesus Warns against Causing Little Ones to Stumble
Matthew 18:1-7

“Who will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” the disciples asked Jesus. The disciples had spent nearly three years with Jesus, listening to Him tell them about the kingdom of heaven.  But they still thought the kingdom of heaven would be set up in Israel in the next year or so.  And they still didn’t understand that Jesus’ kingdom would be of another world, even though He had told them.

They expected that Jesus would soon establish his worldly kingdom with great pomp and power, and they would be part of the action.  They were ambitious men, anxious to grasp the fame and power that would go with all of this.  So now was a good time to speak up for their places in this coming kingdom.  Which one of them would be given the most honor and the greatest position? 

Jesus knew that he would soon be crucified. He had tried to share this with his disciples, but they didn’t hear what He had to say!  All they could think about was the fame and power they would share with Him in His new kingdom.  Instead of asking Him how they might have strength and grace to suffer with Him now, they are asking Him who will be the greatest in the future kingdom!

 But don’t we sometimes do the same thing?  Jesus looks to us, His modern disciples, to come alongside Him and share in His sufferings.  To humbly take up our cross and follow Him. To feed the hungry and visit the sick and give to the poor in His Name. But then some of us, like his disciples back then, don’t hear His call.  We are too busy wrangling among ourselves over who is the greatest.  And we are still trying to use Jesus to grab more earthly power and privilege.

Jesus answered his disciples’ question of who would be the greatest in His kingdom.  His answer is that the way to greatness is to be humble.  Humble and trusting of the Father like a little child would be. It’s as simple as that!  Jesus calls a little child over to Him and had him stand among them.  Then Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like this little child, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself/herself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom. (Matthew 18:3-4) That was not what the disciples wanted to hear!

Jesus was teaching his disciples and us today that humility in our lives is a necessity.  It means everything.  To enter the kingdom of heaven a person must realize his/her personal inadequacy, and turn and depend on God and experience a new birth. (John 3:3)   A person by believing will become like a little child -by being a childlike believer.

 We must have faith in Christ as Savior and Lord, repent of our sins and want to follow Him.  Converting grace molds and  makes us like little children.  In other words, the Holy Spirit we receive when we believe in Christ leads us into being humble and teaches us to put away pride and arrogance.  As a little child, we learn to trust in our heavenly Father.  It seems that the requirements for success in Jesus’ kingdom are upside down from those of our earthly kingdoms.  Earthly leaders are often chosen because of money, privilege and charisma.    

Jesus continues teaching the disciples and us a different lesson concerning a little child.  Here is what He said: “Whoever welcomes a little child like this one in my Name welcomes Me.  But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin!  Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come.” (Matthew 18:5-7)

Little children are vulnerable, trusting and teachable.  Isn’t Jesus saying here that to take advantage of these innocent trusting little ones is a serious crime?  We think of child porn, and the people involved who manipulate and use young teen agers and even little children to fulfill their perverted sexual needs.  And then the sex traffickers who make money by enslaving little children and young teens and selling their bodies to the public.  Jesus doesn’t mince words in condemning these evil people.  Here are His words: “It would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea,” (Matthew 18:6) 

And then there is the heartbreak of children who are victims of child abuse.  Trusting little ones who are beaten and abandoned. Or taught by adults to live a life of crime.  Jesus’ heart is broken. And Scripture says that their angels are always praying for them before God’s throne. (Hebrews 1:14) Jesus calls on us to get involved.  To do something, in his Name.    

Some Bible scholars believe that Jesus was comparing a little child to a new believer in Christ.  And the awful judgment awaiting those who would harm the faith of a new or young Christian believer and cause that one to stumble.

I still remember a friend’s young teen aged daughter who was a new enthusiastic Christian. This young girl was so excited about her faith in Christ.  Her face would light up with joy over her newfound trust in God.  She had a favorite Scripture verse that was especially meaningful to her. But one Sunday her pastor tore this Scripture verse and its’ meaning apart, explaining to the congregation that this verse didn’t mean what it said.  That intellectual persons could not actually believe Scripture!  I still remember the hurt and confused look on the young girl’s face as she left church.  Her faith had been ridiculed and attacked by her very own pastor who she trusted and respected.  I thought my heart would break! 

Jesus calls us to take care of His little lambs, and to feed His hungry sheep.  Whether they be little children or young believers in Christ, we are to be there to protect them and build them up.  Not tear them down!  The arrogance of religious leaders who try to tear the Faith apart.  Who call evil actions good and good actions evil: all because it is the popular thing to do at the time.  Or who lead little children down a path away from the Truth.

Jesus’ words say it all.  “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”  (Matthew 18:6)   

Monday, January 2, 2017

We have a Great Big God


We have a Great Big God

Last night there were fireworks displays, festivities, concerts, dances and parties taking place all around the world.  Some of our enthusiastic fellow humans drank alcoholic drinks, shot off guns, threw confetti around and wore silly hats as they counted down the last seconds of the old year.  And some went to church and prayed. We were all celebrating the beginning of a brand-new year!  And a new year brings new hope!  A new chance for a new start.  

We made some mistakes last year, didn’t always do the right thing, had some failures.  But that is all behind us now and we are being given a new year to live and try again.  To right some wrongs and have new goals.  So we humans greet this new year with cheers and hopes for another chance to accomplish new dreams and accomplishments. 

Many of us make new year’s resolutions.  We are going to try again.  We will lose weight, save more money, work harder, serve God better, stop worrying, learn a new skill, etc.  A new year for a new try!    Gyms and fitness clubs get a surge in business for the first few weeks of every new year. So many folks trying to exercise and lose weight.  So many good intentions! 

Some people reach their goals and keep their new year’s resolutions, lose the weight, stop being angry, etc.  But many of us end up with the same sins bothering us in the new year that brought us down in years past.  We try and try again, but somehow, we still end up gaining the weight back or not serving God the way we wanted.  And our good intentions and our new year’s resolutions are down the drain again!  Bummer!

As we grow older and get discouraged we may stop believing in miracles and start believing that things will never be the way we had hoped.  The promises in Scripture seem too good to be true! We try harder but still don’t reach the vision of what things should be.  We are trying to do everything in our own strength and it’s not working.  And when impossible things come into our lives that we can’t handle, we don’t trust God enough to take care of these things.  Our God is too small! 

One of our friends is an old man now and as long as he can remember, his grown daughter has not spoken to him. Years earlier the daughter had asked him for money to pay for a project that he didn’t feel was right, and she has never forgiven him for not agreeing with her on the issue or for not paying for something he believed was wrong.

Over the years, he would reach out to the daughter again and again but her cold silence was all he would get in return. Sometimes he felt angry.  Angry that his daughter could cut him off so thoroughly. He prayed and prayed but nothing seemed to change. He asked God to help him not be angry and to keep on loving the daughter.

Years had gone by and our friend became depressed and discouraged that this child he had raised and loved so dearly had rejected him so thoroughly. His heart began to harden against his daughter. This man began to feel that his daughter was gone forever. That things between them were impossible to solve. That even God couldn’t solve the impossible!

But then one day it seemed that God spoke right to this father’s heart.  “Do you believe that I am a great big God?” a Voice seemed to ask the old man.  And for a minute this father was surrounded by a wonderful vision of his great big God!  “Do you believe that I am big enough to take care of the impossible?  That I can restore your relationship with your daughter? “the father was asked. “Yes, I believe.” the stunned father answered.   For a minute the father could see a vision of his daughter, changed and loving and restored to the kind loving person she had been before.  “This is what I will do, if you will put your faith in Me.”  a voice seemed to promise the shaken father.

Now everything is different for our friend!  He believes that God is big enough to take care of his daughter. He trusts God with all his problems and he is happy and looking forward to when his prayers will be answered. No more discouragement and no more trying to fix everything on his own.

 Scripture reads: “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7) And this father has done that.  Scripture also says:” Ask and it will be given, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks, receives and he who seeks, finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”  (Luke 11:9-120) The gracious heavenly Father wants to give us good things if we will come to Him. 

Jesus calls us to “Have faith in God” (Mark 11:23) Faith is all important.  Without faith, it is impossible to please God.  Jesus goes on to say: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  And when you pray, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:24-26)   Here again faith in God is what He asks of us.  He promises to give us “anything” we ask for –anything that is good and in His will if we believe in Him.
 The Father only gives good gifts.  He doesn’t promise when we may receive all the answers to our prayers.  Perhaps the father may have to wait a long time before he is restored to his daughter.  God is working behind the scene.  But the father can know that it will happen. 
 But because this is in God’s will the father can count on this prayer to be answered if he believes and trusts his great big God.  Hebrews 4:16 says: “Fearlessly and confidently and boldly draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in good time for every need.”

Jesus teaches us that our heavenly Father loves to give gifts to his children.  He says that if our son or daughter is hungry and asks us for food we human parents will not give our hungry child a stone instead.  And even though we human parents have faults we still usually give good gifts to our children. (Luke 11:11-13) How much more will the heavenly Father give good gifts and give the Holy Spirit to His children. 

Now as we are entering a new year we may have hopes and dreams for this new year.  Let’s not try to make those hopes and dreams come true all by ourselves. Let’s remember that we have a great big God who can take care of the impossible things that get in the way of those dreams.   All we need to do is to ask and believe.  Our God is big enough to make it happen.