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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Misrepresenting Jesus

The outcome of the vote on California Proposition 8 will determine if same-sex marriages will still be considered legal. Today’s newspaper contained a brief article which concluded with the following quote:

“Everybody understands that Jesus, in his own culture, was notorious and persecuted for consorting with outcasts,” said the Rev. Peter Laarman, a United Church of Christ minister who opposes the gay marriage ban. “When Jesus said all are welcome at the table, I think he really meant all.”

First of all, I’m not totally sure which part of scripture Mr. Laarman is referring to. My guess is that he may have been alluding to communion, or maybe it was the following: “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 8:11)

I do agree with the statement, “When Jesus said all are welcome at the table, I think he really meant all.” What I disagree with is the implied meaning. Mr. Laarman is apparently implying that Jesus meant that same-sex couples are invited to get married. I really don’t know how he could connect the two. There is no evidence of this anywhere in the bible.

The truth in what Jesus said is this: All are welcome to the salvation He has offered us. None are excluded. The only requirement is that we have faith in God and what He has told us, and that we repent of our sins. Therefore, all sinners are welcome. That means I’m welcome, and it means homosexuals are welcome. We just need to believe and have the desire to change our sinful ways.

And this brings me to my second concern for the day: this tendency of so many “Christians” to reshape the meaning of what is recorded in the bible to support their own personal agenda. In effect, they are putting their own words in Gods mouth, or twisting what God has said and changing the true meaning! Think about that for a moment. It’s called spin. Do we really want to play that game with God?

What motivates people to substitute their “truth” for God’s truth? I believe the answer is ego. Pride gives people the audacity to think that they know better than God. After all, isn’t that what’s going on when someone changes the meaning of God’s truth? We all need the humility to accept God’s word as it stands, without any modifications. And it takes humility, especially when our personal feelings are in conflict with what God has stated. Instead of fighting the conflict and trying to eliminate it by changing God’s truth, we just need to humbly accept the conflict, and pray for help in dealing with it.

I fear for Mr. Laarman. He may find himself in front of Jesus some day, with Jesus saying, “I never knew you. Away from me you evildoer.” (Matthew 7:23)


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Another story of “Christian” ego

“State social workers were interviewing children who live at the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries just south of Texarkana.” The newspaper article mentioned nothing about actual evidence of any kind of abuse. What caught my attention in this article was the name of the compound being raided; the “Tony Alamo Christian Ministries.”

If I knew nothing about Christianity, I would be tempted to conclude, from the name of the ministry, that Christianity is all about drawing attention to yourself. The “Tony Alamo Christian Ministries;” – note whose name comes first.

Now I know nothing about Mr. Alamo. There’s not much information in the article attesting to his Christian faith; that is, it’s hard to tell what kind of a Christian he is. Yet the one statement I’ve quoted appears to tell me a lot. If I were to make an observation based on first impressions, I would say that Mr. Alamo has a sizeable ego, and that “his” ministry is more about him than about Jesus Christ. Now I realize I could be totally wrong here, since I know almost nothing about the daily workings of this ministry. But it’s hard for me to ignore the impact of the name.

I wonder what Jesus’ first impression might be, when observing the “Tony Alamo Christian Ministry.” Might He remind us of what John the Baptist said (see this post about John’s humility)…

“He (Jesus) must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30)

As Jesus himself said, “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)

I leave with this message to Mr. Alamo: Sir, I know nothing about who you are or where your heart is, other than by what you have named your ministry. Yet from that, I believe you have set yourself ahead of Jesus. Please prayerfully consider your heart and your motives, and your relationship with Jesus. And know this, those who humble themselves on earth, will be exalted in heaven. It’s the truth and a promise you can count on.


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The “Dump and Run” maneuver

A good friend of mine who is a Baptist pastor recently whined to me about the tendency of some people to dump their problems onto him. He explained that some in his congregation like to come to him for a type of confession (maybe these are ex-Catholics). The confession doesn’t bother my friend; what bothers him is the apparent lack of effect.

I agree with him; confessing our sins, either to God or a friend or a pastor, should show evidence of itself in a changed life. To confess yet go on sinning – that sounds rather hypocritical to me. Now I realize that some sins are very difficult to put completely in our past; I know from my own personal, anguished experience. But there should be some evidence we are at least making an effort. After all, that’s what repentance is; to acknowledge our sins and endeavor to sin no more. (emphasis on “endeavor”)

But the “dump and runners” are those who acknowledge their sins to someone else and then run off to sin again. Where’s the repentance in that?

The key question for the dump and runners is this: is there salvation in confession alone? Is confessing your sins enough? Is that all God expects of us?

The truth and the answer is this: we are not saved by confession, we are saved by faith. And not just any faith; we are saved by a faith that changes our lives.

Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:3) What does “born again” mean, if not to be changed?

And James, the brother of Jesus, stated, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if people claim to have faith but have no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)

Faith without change is dead. Faith without a changed life is not really faith. Look at it this way; if you REALLY believe in the love and teachings of God, you would probably love God back, with all your heart, soul and mind. And by the strength of your love for God, you would take action and change your life.


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Voting against God

“The Episcopal bishops of Los Angeles and the Bay Area are opposing a November ballot initiative to overturn the California Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage in the state.” In fewer words, these Episcopal bishops are for same-sex marriage, (according to the article in yesterday’s newspaper, where I found this quote).

The same old story, but it got me thinking about this issue in a different way. Yet I’m not talking about the same-sex marriage issue; I’m talking about the issue of being for something that God is against. Because my purpose in today’s post is not to discuss God’s opinion of same-sex marriage, I would just like to say that I believe God is against such marriages, because Jesus said …

“Haven’t you read, that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6) Marriage is defined as being between a man and woman.

Yet if you wish to discuss your beliefs about same-sex marriage, please comment.

In the mean time, I will get to my point: I try not to be “against” anyone, including same-sex couples. I rather try to be against things, such as same-sex marriage. But in the end, I endeavor to be “for” obedience to God, and adherence to His word, the Bible. I find being “for” something feels more positive that being “against” anything, (call me silly if you will, but it’s how I like to look at things, though I’m not always successful).

Anyway, we are faced with decisions all day long; to be either for or against the issues that come our way. Some of these decisions are formalized, like in the California ballot initiative mentioned at the beginning of this post. In all cases, we have the responsibility to choose how we will vote; are we for, or against. And it is naturally implied that to be “for” an issue, means that you’re “against” the opposing side of the issue.

I submit to you now that those who are “for” legalization of same-sex marriage, are therefore “against” God. Yes, I consider the Episcopal bishops as being “against” God. As Jesus said…

“Whoever is not with me is against me.” (Matthew 12:30)

It’s rather severe of me, wouldn’t you say, to proclaim supposed representatives of God as being against God. But they’re not alone. After all, they’re only human, and we all do it. We all take sides, every day, and for most issues that confront us, one side will be against the decisions of God.

Fortunately we are offered forgiveness. I can only hope that in being for things that put us against God, that we all will realize the true meaning of our actions and beliefs. If you believe in God, who created the universe and all things in it; do you really want to be against Him, in any way?


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How to really live by first committing suicide

So is it possible to commit suicide, but have the outcome not be death, but rather a better life? Please bear with me on this one, though the premise may sound kind of wacko. To get to my point today, I first need to back-track to something I wrote yesterday (see it here).

“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! If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.” (Matthew 18:7-9)

As I mentioned yesterday, I do not believe Jesus intended for us to take Him literally, simply because the actions He proposes will not fix the true root cause of the problem. Sin does not originate in our eyes or hands; it originates in our heart and mind. Okay, so am I supposed to cut out my heart or brain, and thereby quite effectively bring an end to my sin, as well as my life? Did Jesus intend for us to commit suicide?

These questions bring me to today’s point, which is: I think Jesus is telling us to “spiritually” (not physically) cut out our sinful heart and sinful mind. Check out what else Jesus said, that I believe is relevant:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

What does it mean to you, to “deny yourself?” To me it means to turn my back on my sinful self, to not allow my sinful self to have sway over my life, to starve my sinful self of attention until it becomes so weak that in effect, it dies. Suicide of my sinful self; that’s what I believe Jesus is asking of me.

Another way to look at it was expressed by Paul, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” (Romans 6:6)

If you believe, your old sinful self has been nailed to the cross; crucified in the body of Jesus. He took your sinful self upon Himself, and along with Him, your old self died on the cross. If you believe.

And if you believe, then you are no longer a slave to sin. Did you realize that you once were, or maybe still are, a slave? That’s not life, that’s not living. Just ask someone who feels like they’re a slave to their job. But you can have yourself freed from slavery; just believe and Jesus will free you. And then you can begin to truly live.

Death to your old self, then a new life for your new self; this is what it means to be “re-born,” this is what it means to really live.

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What do you think about all of this? If you’re interested, you can read about Paul’s experience in trying to deal with his sinful self in his letter to the Romans:

“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
“So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” (Romans 7:14-25)

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1-4)

Amen.


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Jesus, do you really mean it?

I’ve had some interesting comments to a short post that showed up on this blog back in May (Do not call anyone on earth “father”). One comment claimed that Jesus did not mean this instruction to be taken literally, and that I was therefore just Catholic-bashing. Well, I have to admit, it is sometimes difficult for me to resist the temptation to “bash” certain Christian denominations. It just seems to me that many of them have wandered too far from the truth. However, in all my posts I try to avoid “bashing” anyone, and instead, just focus on the “truth.” Yet I know I’m not always successful.

Anyway, today I would like to take a look at this concept of whether or not Jesus intends for us to take certain things He said as literal instruction. And if we are not supposed to take something as literal, what is the point Jesus is trying to get across to us? I’ll offer up two examples of scripture, as points of discussion.

The first scripture comes from the 18th chapter of Matthew, where Jesus proclaims:

“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! If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.” (Matthew 18:7-9)

Does Jesus really mean this? Should I gouge out my eye because I gazed lustfully at someone who just walked by outside? And if I did, would my lack of eyesight really stop my lustful ways? I can pretty much guarantee you that lust could still enter my heart, with something as simple as a casual touch of a hand. I don’t need to see to lust. So was Jesus wrong? Don’t count on it.

It seems clear to me that in this passage of scripture, Jesus did not intend for us to take Him literally, simply because the actions He proposes will not really fix the true root cause of the problem. For the example I’ve given above, the root cause of my lust resides in my heart and in my mind, not in my eyes or even my hands. Okay, am I then supposed to cut out my heart and brain? That doesn’t sound very biblical. The conclusion I come to is that Jesus was illustrating a point, not giving literal instruction.

Maybe we can all be happy that Jesus didn’t really mean what He said (if you choose to agree). Though He did not expect us to take His instruction in Matthew 18:7-9 literally, He did have a point. But my purpose here is not to focus on that right now, but to look further into this idea of literal vs. non-literal meanings. I’ll leave it to you to dwell on the point Jesus made in Matthew chapter 18, if you choose. (you can read more of my thoughts on this topic in my post of September 10th)

But now I’d like to go a bit further into Matthew, for the second passage of scripture I wish to look at. This passage is the source of the verse I sited in the “Do not call anyone on earth father” post:

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:8-12)

First, what does your heart tell you? Is this illustration, or literal instruction? If you still don’t know, then what does your mind tell you? Read it again, and if you like, read the entirety of chapter 23 to gain the full context.

The best answer is the one that comes from your heart. Yet you can help your heart come to the right answer by using your mind. Read the Bible; learn from Jesus how He feels about such things as pride and humility – He’s telling you in verse 12. And with your heart, learn from Jesus why He is telling us to not call anyone on earth “father.”

Please comment and let me know what your heart is telling you.