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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Scary Christians

scary Christians

I’ve commented on a couple of blogs recently, where the topic was Christians who scare others away from Christianity by their behavior – judgmental, hypocritical, arrogant, etc. I agree that the biggest hindrance to Christianity is Christians. And I relate to something Ghandi once said: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike Christ.” Yet the truth is, none of us is like Christ. Some get close, but none lives the completely humble and love-filled life Jesus lived.

I can be quick to criticize ugly Christians. But that just brings me closer to their level. And the truth is, we are all broken humans, with a human nature that is so unlike Christ. For our nature is filled with pride and selfishness, some more full of themselves than others. But it’s who we are as humans. For me to criticize ugly Christians is hypocrisy.

Might an ugly Christian be a sign that the person doesn’t know Jesus very well? Could be. But who am I to judge?

By the way, most Christians I know are not very scary. Except maybe for my friend who is a Third Day* groupie, chasing their concerts all over the country. Happy Birthday dawg.

*Third Day = Christian rock band

(btw, my Third Day groupie friend isn’t scary in the context mentioned in this post. His friends just like to tease him because of his obsession.)


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Are you a wounded Catholic?

Healing wounded

Sometimes I rant about the dealings of the Catholic Church. I truly apologize if I have offended anyone. But I have seen the effects of the shortcomings of the Catholic Church up close. I know many wounded Catholics, those who had belonged to the Catholic Church, maybe even since birth, yet left with bad experiences. My stepfather, stepbrother, and many close friends are among them.

Yet in the case of my stepfather, he didn’t leave by choice; he was kicked out because of the sin of his divorce from his first wife. It distresses me that though Jesus has forgiven my stepfather, the Catholic Church cannot.

My heart breaks for those wounded Catholics, like my stepfather, who are not able to find their way to another church. All his life my stepfather was told that the Catholic Church is the only one, true church. And when that church failed him, where can he go? He has gone nowhere, and remains lost.

If you are a “wounded” Catholic, having given up on the Catholic Church, please don’t give up on Jesus. He still loves you, and always will. God, as our ultimate and perfect Father, loves all His children, no matter what church they may go to.

 


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Creepy Christians?

Here are some of the ways I used to feel around Christians; see if these sound familiar to your experience:

  • I felt like Christians were constantly judging my behavior and actions.
  • It seemed to me like Christians thought they were better than everyone else.
  • I felt like Christians disliked me and everyone else who wasn’t a Christian.
  • I thought Christians were flat-out weird whenever I saw them praying in public, and I’d stay far away from them, as if I didn’t want to catch whatever sickness they had.
  • The worst was that I always felt like Christians were trying to pressure me to convert and take on their beliefs. Just leave me alone and let me be how I want to be!!! – that’s how I felt.

Than I became a Christian. I remember my sister saying, “Oh no, are you now a Jesus Freak?” The answer was yes. Yet even though I had become crazy about Jesus, I sure didn’t want to become creepy. Ever since I decided that I really like Jesus and believe in Him, I’ve been searching for the truth of what a real “Christian” should look like. In other words, how would Jesus have Christians appear to non-Christians?

For all who call themselves “Christian,” here’s some advice from the experts (note, I like to put Jesus’ words in red, since He’s the best expert on the subject):

“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” (1 Corinthians 8:9)

“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.” (Romans 14:13)

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1)

“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.” (Romans 14:1)

“But you – who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12)

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37)

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men… But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” (Matthew 6:5, 6)

“Make every effort to live in peace with all men.” (Hebrews 12:14)

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)

“Be merciful to those who doubt.” (Jude 1:22)

All Christians should pay attention to the advice of the experts.


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Distractions from the truth: more thoughts on the “Catholics Come Home” ad campaign

Yesterday I wrote about the newest Catholic advertising campaign, “Catholics Come Home” (find it here). Since writing that post, I keep wondering why the church has selected Madison Avenue as their ad agency, instead of Jesus Christ.

In pursuit of an answer, I want to look at what the Catholic Church thinks is the root problem. As mentioned in the newspaper article I referred to in yesterday’s post, one of the key people behind the ad campaign said, “There is no doubt that the glitter and glamour of pop culture has distracted people from God and his church and family.” Okay, so dwindling attendance is the fault of our culture. Interesting.

I know of a non-denominational church that is growing, even in the midst of the “glitter and glamour of pop culture.” I’ve visited them, and there is no pretense, no traditions, no catechism that is larger than the bible itself. There is only the untarnished truth of Jesus Christ. From one Sunday to the next, the pastor preaches the pure gospel of Jesus Christ. And the people keep coming, and the empty chairs seem to be fewer and fewer each week. So much for the effects of culture.

The article also described one of the TV commercials that has people watching scenes from their past with “examples of their own poor or embarrassing behavior.” This sounded odd to me, so I went to the “Catholics Come Home” web site (find it here), where I found the video (click on the “Movie” TV ad and see for yourself). I was sadly astonished at the nature of the ad; the focus is on the flaws of the individual. The church is trying to put the blame on those who have drifted away.

Another commercial, called “Testimonials,” has people apologizing for having drifted away from the church. Again, the fault is apparently with them, not the church.

So, the church is blaming society and those individuals who are no longer sitting in the pews. Blaming others, that’s easy. That must be why they are going with the TV ads. Yet, this is nothing but a distraction, though perhaps non-intentional.

As I mentioned in yesterdays post, the root cause of their attendance problem is inside the Catholic Church, not outside. The TV commercials put the focus on the outside, on those who have left the church. Yet in doing so, the church is hiding from the real problem. Why? Why not make internal changes that would address the real issues? Because doing so would be to admit fault, and egos have a difficult time admitting fault (I speak from personal experience here).

It’s beginning to look to me like the Catholic Church is more motivated by full pews, than the spiritual well-being of those sitting in the pews. Someone once said something like, “We have found the enemy, and they are us.” The Catholic Church needs to find the humility to admit their faults. Blessed are the humble.

So why am I so critical toward the Catholic Church? After all, who am I to judge? But I care. I care about those who have been deceived by the doctrine of the Catholic Church. I know too many “wounded” former Catholics, and several of these have totally lost their faith.

I know that nothing is impossible with God, but it’s still hard for me to envision real change in the Catholic Church. There’s just too much baggage and history and “rules taught by men.” So for now, my prayers are more focused on the people, rather than the organization. May God help them all.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)


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Episcopal Church wants a divorce…

… from Jesus Christ. “The Episcopal Church voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to open the door to consecrate more bishops who are openly gay.” So says the opening statement of a New York Times article that was reprinted in my local newspaper on July 15th. This vote took place at the 2009 General Convention of the Episcopal Church. This is perhaps not big news to you, but I wish to dwell on the implications.

First I would like to comment on several of the more choice statements that appear in the Times article, along with a follow-up article that was published two days later.

To begin, many convention delegates, “… note that the church has hundreds of openly gay laypeople, priests and deacons, and that its democratic decision-making structures are charged with deciding who merits ordination.” So they are saying, the majority rules, but what Jesus says doesn’t matter. I would like to think that Jesus’ vote counts for something.

Choice statement #2: “It’s an attempt to deepen relationships with the rest of the communion, because real relationships are built on authenticity.” What about being authentic with Jesus? Maybe because the Episcopal church doesn’t have a relationship with Jesus, authenticity with Him doesn’t matter.

Choice statement #3: “But some at the convention warned that the Episcopal Church could pay a price for snubbing its international partners.” What about the price for snubbing Jesus?

Choice statement #4: “‘It is time for our church to be liberated from the hypocrisy under which it has been laboring,’ Bishop Stacy Sauls of Lexington, Ky., told his fellow bishops on Tuesday.”  Indeed! Like the hypocrisy of calling themselves “Christian” when they refuse to even acknowledge Jesus Christ.

Choice statement #5: In interviewing a particular convention delegate, the article states, “… he said he believes that the church can grow by emphasizing ‘inclusivity,’ the favorite buzzword of Episcopalians.” I’d like to propose a new buzzword for them: “Jesus”. They seem to have forgotten that one.

Choice statement #6: Referring to many of the attending bishops, “Above all, they are concerned that the Episcopal Church has jeopardized its place in the Anglican Communion, the international network of churches that trace their roots to the Church of England.” What about being concerned about jeopardizing their place with Jesus?

And finally: “To theological conservatives, these are signs of a church that will ultimately collapse because it has sold its soul to secular political causes.” What a sad statement, but apparently all too true.

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Yet, what is the official documented position of the Episcopal Church? Since newspaper articles can sometimes contain errors, I went in search of an authorized statement. Resolution DO25 defines the issues that were voted on and approved. You can check it out for yourself (find it here), and you will find that there is no mention of Jesus Christ. It appears to boil down to their buzzword, “inclusivity.” That word is more important to them than Jesus’ word. To me, no mention of Jesus is proof they no longer care about Him.

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I suppose you could say there is nothing overtly wrong with the Episcopal church failing to make any mention of Jesus. I don’t think I buy that, but now I want to look at the issue that was voted upon, the ordination of gay bishops.

It’s widely known that Jesus did not directly say that homosexuality is a sin. But look at His definition of marriage:

“But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female. 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.” (Mark 10:6-9)

Marriage, being exclusively between a man and a woman, at least hints at Jesus’ view of homosexuality.

However, the rest of the bible is clear. For example, Paul succinctly states that, like many other common lifestyles, homosexuality is indeed a sin:

“Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Therefore, in God’s eyes a homosexual is no different from me. I happen to be heterosexual, but I am also a sinner. In God’s eyes, the only difference between a gay person and me is the nature of our sins. Some of our sins are different, some we may share.

But the real difference between a gay Episcopal bishop and me, is our personal response to our individual sins. I repent, they don’t. I acknowledge which behaviors of mine are sinful, and I constantly ask God for help in changing my ways. The gay Episcopal bishops see nothing wrong with their behavior, as evidenced by the fact that they deny homosexuality is a sin.

Looking back at the verses from 1 Corinthians above, in the behaviors of those who will not “inherit the kingdom of God;” I’m in there, along with the homosexual bishop. But, because I continually strive to repent and change my ways, “…you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” The singularly principal theme of the New Testament is this: have faith and repent of your sins, and you will be forgiven. By looking at the Episcopal church and their recent decisions, it’s safe to say there is no repentance. And based on the apparent absence of Jesus Christ in the Episcopal church, I would also say there is no faith.

So what’s my bottom line here? The Episcopal church has “sold their soul to secular political causes.” They have divorced themselves from their founder Jesus Christ, so they can marry anyone they choose. They are no more “Christian” than a Buddhist or Muslim.


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Weird Catholic Rules

[Look, something brought you to this blog post. If it was a mistake—sorry. But if you’d like to see something that is probably more worth your time, please check out the blurb about my soon-to-be-published novel on my new website. It’s basically about seeing a different perspective of Jesus, through the eyes of some background characters in the Bible. New website: cjpenn.com]


 

A few years ago my father, who was never really a church-goer, decided to join the Catholic Church, the church of my step-mother. I was pleased my dad was showing signs of faith, but my pleasure turned to dismay after I got the call from my mom. As part of my fathers’ application process, or whatever you go through to join the Catholic Church, the church mailed a stack of forms to my mother for her to fill out and sign. What the forms boiled down to was the annulment of the marriage of my parents. Since this would have resulted in my sisters and me being effectively declared illegitimate, my mom respectfully declined and tossed the forms in the trash.

Fortunately for my dad (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), the Catholic Church still allowed him to join, even without my moms signature – I guess my dads signature was enough to wipe from the record his divorce from my mom.

You see, that’s what the process was all about… the church had to first cleanse my father of his divorce record, before they would allow him to join. But the message goes beyond just divorce. The implication is that you cannot join the Catholic Church unless you have no visible sins attached to you. Since divorce is a sin, you have to void the divorce by voiding the marriage. I’m sure I’m over-generalizing, but you get my point.

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I have several concerns about this whole episode. First of all, maybe my parents’ marriage didn’t happen in the eyes of the Catholic Church (after all the forms were filled out), but God witnessed that first marriage; a marriage that began with oaths to Him, and produced three children. The Catholic Church may choose to ignore the truth, but God certainly will not. My real concern is this: does the Catholic Church believe that God will close His eyes, just because they choose to?

Second, divorce is clearly a sin – Jesus said so. We all sin – Jesus said so. But the story of our sins is not twisted in a way that makes it look like there was no sin (as the Catholic Church has twisted the story of my parents’ marriage). With Jesus, acceptance is far simpler than that. With Jesus we are accepted into His church not because of some manipulated image of sinlessness, but because of our faith – Jesus said so.

Third, so we are accepted into Jesus’ church not by being sinless, but by having faith and being repentant of the sins we do have. Yet the Catholic Church appears to have a higher standard.

The fourth thing that bothers me is this concept of the Catholic Church cleansing my father of past sins. There is no action by man that can clean someone of their sins, or hide their sins, or pretend their sins never happened. Jesus is the only one who can do this, and he’s already done it, by dying for our sins on the cross. Yet the Catholic Church appears to believe that they are the ones who must clean us of our sins before we can be presented to Jesus.

And finally, all of my concerns boil down to this: the Catholic Church appears not to believe in the grace of God. They appear not to believe in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. They appear not to believe that we are forgiven because of our faith, not by anything we may do.


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The “ME” Generation Gone Wild

“City council drops moment of silence” – so stated the headline of the lead article in today’s local newspaper. The article went on to say, “The City Council has dropped its ritual moment of silence at the start of meetings, and some members questioned whether the Pledge of Allegiance should go next.”

As I read on, I wanted to know why. Why get rid of the moment of silence? The answer came two paragraphs later…

“The change came at the request of one of the council’s newest members, who said the practice could be seen as a form of prayer and might offend those who don’t want to participate.”

It didn’t really answer my question, yet there were clues. But it got me thinking about a more general issue which goes far beyond whether or not to observe moments of silence in small-town council meetings. There is a movement underway endeavoring to wipe out anything religious. Our country which was founded because people were looking for freedom of religion, is now a country where there is a strong push for freedom from religion.

Again I ask why, yet regrettably I think I already know the answer, and the answer actually goes far beyond the anti-religious movement. Why are people anti-moments-of-silence? Why are some anti-anything-religious? Why are others anti-(name any group of people, political party, belief, etc.)?

It’s all about selfishness and arrogance.

The new city council member either wants to exert new-found power because of his arrogance, or he just cannot stand the idea of other people believing differently than he does; again, because of his arrogance.

Arrogance is why the minority side of any issue thinks they should have it their way. People in our society are just unwilling to loose. They are unwilling to accept something they don’t happen to personally support. It’s the “me generation” gone wild. There is an epidemic of arrogance, selfishness and even bigotry, on the rise in our generation.

The anti-religion movement is rooted in selfishness as well. An atheist wants to make a name for himself, and becomes intoxicated on the power of his influence. Or maybe because of their bigotry (which is another form of self-centeredness and arrogance), they despise those who are different from themselves. Had you ever considered attacks on religion by atheists as an act of bigotry? Think about it.

And the “religious” are not immune. No one is immune from the diseases of the ego. All of the world’s conflicts, whether among nations or married couples or just two co-workers, are rooted in self-centeredness and arrogance. Get over it people!

We need to all grow up and stop acting like spoiled brats. We cannot always get our way, and we just need to accept that. And we need to start thinking more about others, and less about our selves.

What our society needs more than anything is a good old-fashioned dose of humility. And this actually gets me back to the bible, where humility is held in high esteem. For as Jesus said,

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)