His Truth Will Set You Free

Listen to what Jesus says; “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

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Tripping over Hypocrisy

“The (Catholic) church does not feel authorized to change the will of its founder Jesus Christ.” So stated a Vatican spokesman in a recent Associated Press article I previously wrote about.

Oops! This from a church that harbors abundant examples of deviating from the will of Jesus Christ, many of which I’ve written about:

Do not call anyone on earth “father”

Are you good enough for communion?

ALL Sins are Forgiven!

Need Help? Go to the Source

Catholic Confession – A Manmade Obstacle

How easy it is to trip over the stone of hypocrisy. We should all be careful of what we say, and more careful of what we do. If we profess to embrace the words of Christ, we should be more mindful about living by them.

“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” (Matthew 23:2-3)


Christian Churches – A Broken Tool

“Today’s churches provide the foundation and mechanisms for achieving Jesus’ purpose for our lives; for advancing the commission He assigned to His disciples. Or do they? What does Jesus think about this tool that has been constructed to achieve His ends?” That’s how I ended yesterday’s post. It might be helpful to read that post since it serves as a kind of introduction to what I’m writing today.

As I tried to point out yesterday, Jesus did not give instruction for who is allowed to have specific responsibilities within a church. Today I would like to talk about church structure in general. Churches have structure, assigned responsibilities, codes of conduct, mission statements, committees, leader groups, and programs; lots of programs. How does all of this play into Jesus’ mission statement for us?

Jesus told us: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Did Jesus tell us how to accomplish our mission and if so, does His method include the creation of organized churches? Did He tell us to build big church buildings, with committees and assigned responsibilities and a large collection of programs? Read His word and you will find, as I did, that Jesus did not give instruction for such things.

Don’t think for a moment that Jesus didn’t provide us with the best method for achieving His great commission. He did. And as with most of what Jesus told us, the method is deceptively simple. In reading through His word, what comes across time and again as the one way to preach the gospel?

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35) People will know we are Christian not by the grandness of the building we meet in, or the types of songs we sing while in our building, or by the fancy robes worn by those we call priest, pastor or minister. Others will know we are Christian by the love we express for each other; a love that so often is not apparent.

By our love for each other, be unified… as Jesus prayed to His Father:

“Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – the name you gave me – so that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11b)

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)

Be unified by our love, and give the world reason to believe in Jesus. That’s how it’s done. And you don’t need a big organized church for that. In fact, all a church does is distract us from the simple reality of the power of love.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) We don’t bear fruit or achieve His mission by taking a seat in a large organized church.

What’s my point? Just this: the church with all its rules, traditions, assigned responsibilities, committees, and programs is “meaningless, a chasing after the wind”, as Solomon poetically expressed in Ecclesiastes. When it comes to doing God’s work, spreading His word, and making disciples of all nations; the only thing that has meaning is love – love for God and Jesus, a love for each other; a love that brings us together in unity.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

For a much more in-depth look at the brokenness of the organized church, check out the Jesus4King – The Spiritual Revolution web site. I highly recommend it.


Ban on Women Priests

“The Vatican insisted that it is properly following Christian tradition by excluding females from the priesthood as it issued a new warning that women taking part in ordinations will be excommunicated.” So saith the opening paragraph of an Associated Press article appearing in the May 31st issue of my local newspaper.

A spokesman for the Vatican added, “The church does not feel authorized to change the will of its founder Jesus Christ.” This apparently refers to Jesus having chosen only men as His apostles.

Check out the first sentence above, where it refers to “Christian tradition.” If you’ve read some of my past posts, you probably know how I feel about traditions verses the will of God. As far as I’m concerned, traditions that are not backed up by God’s will – flush em down the toilet. But what I feel doesn’t matter. What matters is how Jesus might feel about this tradition that was inferred from who He chose as apostles.

Jesus might explain His position by first reminding us of what Peter said at Pentecost, when he stood up and declared to the gathered crowd…

“No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.'” (Acts 2:16-18)

What does it mean to prophesy? “Son of man, prophesy and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:…'” (Ezekiel 30:2) Throughout Ezekiel, to prophesy is to pass on the words of God – “this is what the Sovereign Lord says”.

Not only men, but women are called to preach the word of the Lord. So says Joel, and Luke. Jesus said, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matthew 4:4) Preaching the word of God looks important; and both men and women are called to the task.

What else might Jesus have to say about this topic? What does He think about the rules and traditions around the organization of today’s Christian churches? What does He think about the hierarchy of responsibilities and the fact that some are privileged enough to have more powerful roles than others?

Read the gospels. Did Jesus ever talk about church structures, organizations and responsibilities within a church? Could it be that it is all a man-made hierarchy? My message today is not so much about “What would Jesus say”, but more about what He didn’t say. According to what is recorded in the gospels, Jesus did not provide instruction for church hierarchy. As far as I can tell, all the hierarchy stuff came from men, not God.

Today’s churches provide the foundation and mechanisms for achieving His purpose for our lives; for advancing the commission He assigned to His disciples. Or do they? What does Jesus think about this tool that has been constructed to achieve His ends? Stay tuned – more on this tomorrow.

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Saved by a Label – NOT

Which clubs do you belong to? Which labels can you add to your name? Labels can give prestige and honor, and sometimes even protect you. Believe me; I would have second thoughts about harassing someone who called themselves “Navy Seal” or “karate black belt.” Maybe these aren’t good examples, but my point is that a label might actually save you from trouble… or not.

While having coffee with friends the other day, one of them was telling us about her experiences before leaving the Catholic Church. She said the Catholic Church impressed her as more than a church; it was a lot like a culture. Many Catholic’s she knew came from families who had been Catholic for many generations. The church was very much an extension of their family. Being “Catholic” was all they ever knew, though maybe they really didn’t know what it meant.

My friend told about many Catholics who, though they considered themselves Catholic because their family had always been Catholic, they never or rarely went to church. They had the label “Catholic”, but really didn’t live up to the label.

Our coffee conversation then turned to the dark side of this label business. How many people live under a label of “Catholic” or “Methodist” or “Baptist” or “Christian” or whatever; where they believe they are saved by virtue of their label?

Jesus has something to say to these people…

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'” (Matthew 7:21-23)

“I never knew you.” It’s all about a relationship – with Jesus Christ. A label will not save you; a relationship will.

As we silently sat sipping the last of our coffee, we realized how heart-breaking it is: all those who live under the delusion of a label, and will die without really knowing Jesus.


Catholic Confession – A Manmade Obstacle

It just didn’t make sense to her. Why should Mary have to see a priest to confess her sins? As she explained it to me, this was a key reason Mary left the Catholic Church; she didn’t like the idea of a middleman. To Mary, the confession felt like an obstacle, hindering her from being close to God. Why couldn’t she just go directly go God?

Yet Jesus tells us to go directly to God. He told us to pray…

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:9-12)


“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)

I think it all boils down to relationship. What kind of relationship does Jesus want to have with those who love Him, with those He calls “friend?” Jesus wants a relationship that is far more intimate than any we are familiar with. “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” (John 15:4) If Jesus is in us, and we are in Him (ignoring for now what that means and how that might look); yet isn’t this clear that it describes an unusually close relationship?

“Come to me,” “follow me – these are the words Jesus frequently used. Throughout the gospels, Jesus clearly conveys that He wants our focus to be on Him. Praying to an intermediary is a distraction; it takes our focus off of Jesus. Does that sound right to you?

Think of it this way: if I wrong my best friend, how would they feel if I go to an intermediary to ask for forgiveness? “What? E.D. wouldn’t come directly to me? I thought we were better friends than that.” How do you think Jesus feels when those He suffered to save, avoid Him; when His loved ones go to an intermediary to ask His forgiveness? He DIED for our sins; shouldn’t we go directly to Him when wanting to repent of those sins?

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Need Help? Go to the Source

Why pray to Mary the mother of Jesus, when you can go directly to Jesus Himself? Someone recently explained to me something about the relationship Catholics have with Mary: “We pray to Mary and the saints to ask them to pray to our Lord for us. Since Mary is the immaculate mother of Jesus and he was unable to deny her wishes on Earth (see wedding feast of Cana) she is the ideal intercessor!”

Yet is Mary the ideal intercessor? I hold no disrespect for Mary; I just want to make sure my relationship with her is as her son intended. Should I trust Mary with my prayer requests? My Lord Jesus, please help me understand…

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” (John 14:1)

“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:13-14)

“I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” (John 16:23)

Jesus is indeed our intercessor when it comes to paying the price for our sins. He interceded and accepted the punishment for our crimes against God. Thank God. Does that mean He is always our only intercessor for prayers?

“In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf.” (John 16:26) We are called to ask God, directly, in Jesus’ name. Go directly to the Source.

“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)

Yet you may ask, “what harm is there in my praying to Mary or other saints?”

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6) We come to God, we pray to God, through Jesus, in His name. Any other path will lead you off course.

The Catholic tradition of praying to Mary distracts people from where their focus should truly be – on Jesus. I have more to say on this concept of distraction, but that will wait for another time.


ALL Sins are Forgiven!

Mary, being raised Catholic, was taught that there are different levels of sinning, and that some sins are not forgiven. Mary attended a small Bible study group I was part of, and she once made a statement that sounded like a mixture of assertion and question. It went something like this, “God doesn’t forgive all sins… right?” Mary had left the Catholic Church, and maybe she was inwardly hoping for an answer different from what she had been taught.

Now, I really don’t know much about the Catholic hierarchy of sins, but I do know what Jesus had to say on the subject…

“And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven, … Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man (aka, Jesus) will be forgiven.” (Matthew 12:31-32)

Jesus doesn’t seem to exclude much, when defining for us which sins are forgiven. I wonder; what part of “every” does the Catholic Church not understand?


The Pope – Only a Man

Should the Pope be worshipped? Should the Pope be bowed down to and praised? During the recent papal visit to the US, I saw images on TV of people dropping to their knees before the Pope and kissing his ring. This is a very familiar image and another of many that we have grown accustomed to. But please think about it; in the eyes of God is this proper behavior?

The tendency to praise someone you are grateful for is certainly natural. The Roman Centurion was very grateful that Peter went out of his way to come see him. “As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence.” (Acts 10:25) Did Peter see this as proper behavior? After all, Peter was one of the pillars of the church. If any living person deserved such praise, it was Peter…

“But Peter made him get up. ‘Stand up,’ he said, ‘I am only a man myself.'” (v.26)

Okay, so maybe Peter was not worthy of having someone fall to their knees before him. But certainly angles, the spiritual agents of God are worthy. As the apostle John prepared to fall on his knees before the angle who had shown him so many things…

“But he said to me, ‘Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!'” (Revelation 22:9)

Is the Pope above Peter? Is the Pope above the angles? Are any of us? We may not have much in common with Peter, but like Peter we are all only men and women, and as the angle told John, only God is to be worshipped.

What might Jesus say to the Pope, or any of us who seek praise?

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Take off the turban, remove the crown. It will not be as it was: The lowly will be exalted and the exalted will be brought low.” (Ezekiel 21:26)

“For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12)

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How Disturbing – Christian Bigotry

“Anti-gay church to picket funeral” – so proclaimed the front-page headline in today’s local newspaper. Bleary-eyed and still emotional from my youngest child’s high school graduation party last night, I was yet able to focus my attention enough to sense a blog post waiting somewhere within the anticipated dark text of the newspaper article. So, even though I have a strong desire to take a nap (perhaps the first of several today), I have a stronger urge to respond to the claims of the “anti-gay church.”

Brace yourself; here are some choice tidbits from the article:

“Westboro Baptist Church (Topeka, Kansas) members have gained national attention protesting at military funerals across the country, where they display signs reading ‘Thank God for Dead Soldiers,’ ‘Thank God for I.E.D’s,’ and ‘God Hates You.'”

“The group’s main concern seems to be with gays, who it blames for inflaming God’s rage and triggering divine retribution…”

And the quote that really sent me over the edge, from a daughter of the founder of the church: “You can sum up the Bible in three words: Obey, Obey, Obey.”

Now if these words enrage you, as they originally affected me, please don’t go there. Instead, please listen to and truly hear the words from the only expert on the topic. What would Jesus have to say?

For example, how might Jesus sum up the Bible? As it turns out, Jesus was once asked a similar question. One of the supposed experts of His day decided to test Jesus with the following question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36). Since the Bible contains the law of God, summing up the Bible and stating the greatest commandment would likely give you the same result. Did Jesus proclaim the greatest commandment to be obedience to God? Hear His answer…

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-38)

How might Jesus sum up the Bible in three words? “Love, Love, Love”

Yet Jesus was concerned with obedience as well. It’s no surprise that He showed far more wisdom than the members of the Westboro Baptist Church. Jesus knows where obedience comes from. It does not come from protests. It does not come from anger or rage. It does not come from bigotry.

“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15)

Obedience comes from Love. To all who hold to bigotry and yet call themselves Christian: please follow the One who you supposedly call your leader – let go of hate and take hold of Love.

That’s enough from me. It’s now nap time.

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Getting Back to Jesus

In the name of Christianity, don’t we often get involved in issues that actually serve to distract us from what is most important; Jesus Christ? For example, take a look at the three newspaper articles that have been the source of several posts I’ve written over the past couple of weeks. For the last time I will refer to the articles about the Rev. Jane Spahr, who defies the Presbyterian Church and conducts same-sex marriage ceremonies.

To the casual reader of the articles, the Presbyterian Church and Rev. Spahr have no concern for Jesus, God and the Bible. Instead their only concerns are “Presbyterian law” and personal principles. My concerns about this perception can be found in the following collection of past posts:

May 19: “What About God’s Opinion

May 20: “Eternally Condemned – Preaching a False Gospel

May 21: “A Church Divided

May 24: “Dangerous Thinking

May 26: “Whom do You Choose to Obey?

May 29: “Expecting God to Change

In our own personal religious journey’s, who should we look up to? Who should we take advice and guidance from? Pastors? The “church?” Or Jesus, and only Jesus? What advice might Jesus have for us; we who are so frequently distracted by “issues” and misguided notions?

“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” (Matthew 12:30)

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38)

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20a)

“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15)

“Then he said to them all: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’” (Luke 9:23)

“But Peter and John replied, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.'” (Acts 4:19)

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)

“Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Romans 13:14)

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)

“Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.’” (John 8:31)

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” (John 14:1)

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)