Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Restoring Us To His Image, Part Two by Teresa Beem

In part one, we explored Christ's command to "be perfect" as God the Father is perfect and what that really means to us as Christians today. I suggested that one way we may better obey Christ and restore us to the image of God is through finding and living the joy of self-sacrifice. For the ultimate example of how to be perfect as God is perfect was seen in the joy of Christ's offering of Himself on the Cross. If we look to the Cross, then we see that perfection isn't about keeping laws perfectly or learning perfect truth or making perfect decisions and acting perfectly. As humans we will never be able to know all and so we will make mistakes. However, what we are able to do is love like the Father... love perfectly. 

It is found in suffering for the other. For suffering helps us to understand this eternal and highest thing we call love. In fact, suffering in an act of self-giving, best exemplifies love.

And this is hard for most people to understand. Before I was a Catholic, I would have simply stared at that concept without even the slightest notion of how to understand that, for I had been raised in a culture that says love is a feeling, a tender connection between two people. I did not see love as a gift of self-sacrifice based on one's will. I never realized that perfect love was not easy to give.

While we all enjoy things like gifts, time with each other, people listening to us, the greatest gift one can ever receive is when a beloved is in need and another person gives up what they need for the beloved.

I don't mean that real love is giving your ice cream to someone. I mean the really hard stuff.

Jesus told us that the greatest love is for a man to give his life for his friend. Sometimes that is not just taking a bullet for them. Sometimes it is not about an instant death to save another--as a soldier gives his life for his country on a battlefield. Sometimes giving one's life for another means giving up your dreams, your ambitions, your rights, your energy for them--day in and day out. Sometimes we are called to be living martyrs of love.

Think of the husband whose wife has had a stroke and his days are spent in total care,

brushing her teeth, dressing her, helping her to the bathroom not for a day, but until death do they part. This sacrifice, as painful as it is, through Christ's grace, we can learn to give with joy. And that will restore us to perfection.

Think of the spouse who has been unfaithful, or is an alcoholic, or is irresponsible. While love does not mean to sacrifice so that these people can remain in their sin. It does mean that we give up what we want, what is easiest for us, in order to authentically help that person be better. True love does not enable people to be weak and sinful. True love stands by, never abandoning them, as love helps them be strong overcomers of sin.

A side note: Please understand I am not saying this saves us. This is not about justification or earning salvation. This is about restoring us to perfection--sanctification. My audience is the Christian--the one already accepting the covenant relationship of God and themselves.

The Garden of Eden

I have been thinking about this quite a bit and here's some thoughts about how this idea of perfection can be traced all the way back to the Fall of Man in the garden.

After humankind sinned, we learned to take care of ourselves first; we began to look inward and no longer enjoyed sacrifice. God knew that we would have relearn what had been natural to us--the joy of sacrifice and self-giving. And the "punishments" of God in the garden of Eden were to help us regain this knowledge of the natural joy of self-giving.

God Disciplines Man

Let's look at the Genesis story after the fall:
To the woman he [the Lord] said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Genesis 3: 16-19

In these verses, God is using His gift of creation in order to restore us back into His image. These chastisements were not simply punishments to show us who was boss. No, these were specific penances/disciplines in order to restore us to His image.

Man's sin was that he did not truly love God, nor his wife. For Adam's love for his Creator was neither obedient to the command to take authority over the earthly kingdom nor did Adam love his wife perfectly. For Adam deferred to his wife. Because she was so beautiful a creature, since she had been the crowning creation, the man abandon his wife to deal with a deception without intervening as was his job as her husband. Keep in mind that Adam was not deceived. He was being irresponsible and disobedient. He fell to cowardice.

Therefore, God had to reverse these tendencies that would now follow man through the millennia. He had to give the man courage to take responsibility and act with self-sacrifice. Therefore, God told man that he must work hard tilling the ground. He must act in order to take responsibility for his wife and family.

In order for he and his family to survive, man must act with courageous love. He could not stay within the protective confines of his mother and father, but God said men must leave his parents--go out--and make his own kingdom cleave to his one wife--take courageous, self-denying actions.

By this action of hard work and sacrificing his mind and body, by being faithful to his wife, he would be taking back the kingdom he had been given by God.

The attachment to the land, the working and striving with the soil was man's way back--his restoration--to perfection. Man's sanctification would come through responsibility for a family. (Again to re-emphasize--this isn't taking away from salvation history and redemption through the Cross, this post is describing a kind of earthy penance.)

God still uses this method for man's sanctification. And that is why Satan has attacked men in this area. Satan does not want man to take authority over his earthly kingdom. Satan wants man perpetually irresponsible and cowardly. Satan has made men weak and given them Peter Pan syndrome.

Satan has taken men from the soil and enslaved him to the little illusionary digits in his bank account. He has lost his freedom and independence and man is reduced to toiling day in and day out for another man's kingdom, thrilled to get a few dollars, rather than seeing the work of his own hands on his own land. Satan's system has long been to make men nothing more than robots, creating a system where men no longer have kingdoms. Instead of self-sacrificing courageously for his family, many men have given their souls over to strive for mammon. And that is if they are striving for anything anymore. Many men have been raised to simply see life as a place to seek entertainment and comfort--watching others work hard for heroic masculinity via sports, video games and movies rather than becoming a hero themselves. 

Men today are demeaned by the culture. They are shamed into believing they have toxic masculinity. They are told they must not take up for themselves, that they are stupid and unneeded, that their most basic instincts are unworthy and evil--even their instinct to pursue a wife and then care for her. They cannot be the hero they desire to be, for everything they need to redeem them into the men God intended them to be has been shamed and mocked and stolen from them. 

Satan wants our culture to prevent man from learning perfect love through the joy of self-sacrifice. So Satan has allowed them to give into the dark and deep abyss of their weaknesses and now western men are vain, gender ambiguous cowards who would rather be a hero in a video game gratifying their sexual needs with a cyber freak rather than a wife.

And this has been Satan plan all along. 

Men need to start taking back their kingdoms. Marry. Have kids. Work hard for them. Be responsible and courageous and don't allow your wife to be deceived. Be a good warrior for God by being obedient. Be a good husband by making her your queen. Be a good father by disciplining your children, teaching them courage and godliness through your example. Take authority with sacrificial love. And ask for the grace to do it with joy.

Be a king. 

That was what you were  made to be. For you were created in the image of God. 

(In part three we will discuss how Satan has tried to rip away their sanctification, the female way of attaining joy through self-sacrifice.) 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Restoring Us to His Image, Part One by Teresa Beem

Showing Us Authentic Love

Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect. Matt. 5: 48
We are in the image of God. 

Ponder that for a moment: We are in the image of God. 

That is an unthinkable thought. Incomprehensible. So we let it pass by as if it were a chalkboard of numbers and symbols Einstein had written. We might assent that the geniusness of it, but we have no idea why or how. 

However, if we prayerfully consider that we are in the image of God often enough for it to sink down into our souls, we would start discovering many humbling realities.  For the most we think about how we are made in His Image, we do not become proud. When we pray for God to reveal what that means, we actually become humbled by the fact.

If we look around, no one seems to be acting like they are in the image of God. Life is busy and noisy and confusing and we have so much to get accomplished. People seem so selfish and vulgar, rude and unloving.

How do we get back to the Image of God? For we must. Jesus commanded us to.
And we cannot say to ourselves, well, He covers us in His perfection—so Jesus means we are just supposed to take on His Holy Righteousness and not worry about any real change in our behavior. Except that is not what Christ said to those who chose to follow Him. He said to His disciples:

Be ye perfect... even as your Father in Heaven is...perfect.
This isn't a symbolic righteousness. That would mean the Father's righteousness is symbolic. No, Christ said that we are to be really, truly perfect just as the Father in Heaven is perfect. And Christ would not have commanded us to be something we cannot be... now in this world. He would never have given us the task which we could not achieve with His Grace. 

Jesus didn't lie. 

What Is the Father's Perfection? 

Perfection does not come with simply keeping rules. Jesus told us that. And when you think about it. The Father's perfection cannot be about keeping rules. He's the one who makes the rules. He doesn't have to abide by them. So the essence of perfection is more than keeping laws. 

Unfolding through the ages, from Genesis to Revelation, we are given glimpses of the essence of the Father's perfection. But the very soul of His perfection was found in His Son. 

So we are to watch Jesus.

His Son was perfectly obedient through love. Through Christ we were able to see the Father's perfection.

Jesus life was total self-giving. He went about healing our sins and restoring us to health, both in our body, mind and spirit. 

And the greatest moment of Christ's perfect obedience and love was seen on the Cross.

That is a strange vision of perfect love—the persecution, suffering and death of a God/Man. This perfection is not pretty. It doesn't call us with beauty and inspiration. One wishes to look away from that perfect obedience and love. And yet, there it is always before the Christian quietly witnessing perfection.

How is this gruesome display showing us love?

Let us back up a bit to explain.

The Cross of Perfect Love

God, the Creator of time and space, the one who breathes and stars are formed, speaks and the oceans appear filled with teeming sea creatures, was under no obligation to anyone or anything when He predestined and willed the future of the cosmos. He could have chosen ten million ways of saving mankind.

He could have simply forgiven Adam and Eve when they sinned. He could have begun an evolutionary process in which those who would sin would be the weaker who would be Darwinistically be eradicated by the stronger people who fought temptation--eventually bringing perfection. He could have killed Adam and Eve and started over. 

But He chose a perfect, the best way of redeeming man. For it was the way of the Alpha and Omega, He who knew the beginning and end; the one who is perfection chose from the foundation of creation to rid the world of sin by sending His Son to die for us.

But not exactly after Adam sinned. No. It took time for this mystery to unfold. It began with an animal sacrifice in the Garden of Eden. 

And it was strange to our eyes.

Why did God set up a system of bloody sacrifice and the death of innocent animals? Why need millennia of foreshadowings of such things throughout the history of man before the Jews and the time of fulfillment of the Old Covenant in the first century?

If a sacrifice of death was deemed by God as necessary to rebalance goodness, why didn't Jesus die of old age? Or perhaps of a heart attack? Why send Jesus to die on earth? Couldn't He have died in heaven surrounded by billions of angels who loved Him? Why so cruel a death on earth in front of just a handful of people? Why? It is strange…. mysterious… and worthy of our contemplation.

For aeons of eternity, as our wisdom grows, we will be rediscovering the luminous, mysteries of the Cross. For there is no way to explain it fully now. And what I am about to write, in no way contradicts any orthodox understanding the Church has had through the centuries. No, it is a small little light in the firmament that adds to what is already known.

The Cross is a View of the Father's Perfection

The Cross was our glimpse into the ultimate display of love. This was not just a man showing perfect obedience to His Father through dying, this was God showing perfect obedience to God. This was the unfathomable showing us the unfathomable and through His Holy Spirit and our faith, we will be drawn to this miracle.

This is love: Jesus with His arms outstretched encompassing and destroying all our sins in His battle with life and death.

This is Perfect Love which is Perfection:

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all....Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin. Hebrews 53: 3-10 

Perfect Love: Cross of Persecution, Torture and Death

How can this be? How can Jesus being scourged by the Romans soldiers and spat upon, mocked and crucified show us love? Our culture would be revolted by this humiliation and persecution and self-giving. Many would reject this as love according to our opinions and views.

The perfect love of the Father that Christ reflected at the Cross was the joy of self-sacrifice.
Let us run with perseverancethe race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12: 1, 2
To be perfect, we must find joy in self-sacrifice in obedience to God and serving others.

(Please read part two.)

Saturday, October 22, 2016

What Our Kids Need Out of Religion

Seeing Christ in Christians

I absolutely love talking with young people. I have stood on Mt. Rainier with people we have met on the trail overlooking breathtaking scenery and asked young strangers the hard questions such as, "What motivates you? Where are you in the spectrum of God and religion and why?" And I do actually ask these questions. And unlike many adults, who think I am being nosy, once these kids realize that I am not going to proselytize them, the vast majority are thrilled to answer the questions. Without an agenda, I simply listen. I truly want to know their hearts. 

One of the things I have discovered in these conversations is that young people are leaving the church in droves. Decent, honorable and intelligent youth are not accepting the faith of their fathers and mothers--not because they are being rebellious. Often these kids think very highly of their parents. Many are not angry or desiring to live a life of wickedness. It's not simply that hypocrisy has turned them off or that radical Christians are seen as judgmental and critical. It is more than that. When you dig into their hearts, you will find them often wishing they could have faith. Others sincerely believe they don't need it. 

At the core, these youth are saying the same thing: religion doesn't work. It doesn't seem to give meaning and purpose to the believer. 

Our youth do not see Christ in Christians. 

In today's culture, many Christian parents are relevant, fun and cool. They aren't judgmental nor too permissive. Christian parents may be active in their children's lives, supporting them in sports, playing video games, taking amazing vacations. But they see that same thing in many non-Christian families. So they realize that to be a happy family all that is needed is sufficient money and time for those family experiences. Therefore, why be a Christian?

What Separates Christians?

However, when the music stops, when the entertainment ceases and when problems do arise--health problems, money problems and/or moral temptations--what happens in Christian families? For Christian children often are raised in a morally weak environment where parents distract with comforts and entertainment rather than sacrifice to become wise and righteous leaders of their families.  

When the ship hits an iceberg and the party comes to a screeching halt, the passengers are not running to the entertainment director, they are running to the captain. And often in crisis Christian kids look to their parent's faith and it fails. Their faith made them the entertainment directors rather than being seen as the captain. So, the kids discover that there is nothing that separates Christians from the other families.

While there may be a little difference in the statistics for Christians when compared to the rest of society, it is about equal when we look at Americans who make money their god and savior, who look at and are even addicted to pornography. Christians fornicate, live together before marriage, take drugs, get abortions, get divorced, commit adultery and in most vices they are similar to their non-believing counterparts. To the youth of today, there is not enough of a difference between the believer than the unbeliever to make faith compelling.

If our young people cannot see the miracle of heaven in Christians, why would they believe in or seek an afterlife or have faith in a Christ who saved them to live in misery in this world? In a world that pushes the pragmatism of science and math.... religion does not add up. Faith seems illogical.

Living and Worshipping in Holiness

If we want our children in church, if we want our children to experience the love of Christ:

We don't need more cool, relevant pastors with tattoos and tongue rings who can reference current movies or cable programs.
We don't need worship services that look like rock concerts.
We do not need more entertainment or fun or cool, relevant church services. 
We don't need more entertainment or fun or cool, relevant families.
We don't need more money or pursuits of happiness in our families.
We don't need more freedom.

What we need is holiness.

For when reality hits us, we look for heroes. Our children want Christian heroes that can and do face down temptations and overcome them through Christ's grace. Christians heroes that will reach out and touch them with their wisdom, love and sacrifice. 

We, as Christian parents, need to live out our faith with such courage and sacrifice that it gives our young people hope that they can overcome sin. We need to prove that sin does not get the last word, that wickedness does not have to entrap us and enslave us. Our lives of self-giving and holiness brings the Cross to our children so they can understand the love of God. 

What is Holiness?

Holiness is not a feeling, it is His love and His grace working through us. And as we let go of sin that enslaves us, we are able not only to be a more effective conduit of His love, but we are able to absorb His love into ourselves changing our very nature into His likeness. 

And the more holy we become, we are able to humbly bring His love and healing to those in need. Our witness goes from being solo verbum or words alone--to growing into a life of powerful prayer that availeth much and actions that bring about change. Our witness of the gospel that began in our own broken spirit, arises with the strength of His grace and we begin the journey of sacrifice. That eventually matures into finding more and more joy and peace in sacrifice. 

St. Paul gives women a glimpse of this secret of a life of sacrificial joy when he says that women are saved (from sin) through motherhood. I Timothy 2: 15. 

So many women see this as a chauvinistic, works-oriented passage, but that understanding is far, far from the meaning of St. Paul. It is a wonderful promise. He is saying to women, that God has given them the simple and easiest way to understand pure joy in sacrifice--motherhood. Motherhood can make us holy through the daily tiny self-sacrifices. And that is precisely why Satan has tried to ruin motherhood and its glories by enticing women to compete with men's careers with its potential worldly glories as well as Satan giving us the current form of feminism that demeans motherhood.

It is a spiritual catastrophe that we live in a  culture where couples choose to reject raising children for monetary comforts and temporal gratification. For it is through having children we experience the very nature of God and His selfless and joyful love. 

While lifestyles that do not include children can learn joyful sacrifice, it takes much more disciplined determination and daily sacrifice found outside the home with people you may not particularly like. And often this is found only in a life vocation such as being a doctor or nurse, priest, monk or nun. In any situation, we are not called to a life of comfort and ease. And parenthood is the easiest way of living sanctification.

This necessary holiness goes beyond resisting temptation, avoiding the appearance of evil and living a moral life. Holiness is a daily journey of filling our cup with Christ's graces that we may go out and live Christ to others, giving them His love, His truths.

We become holy through worship and study, prayer and thanksgiving. Through the practice of charity we are given power and strength and wisdom to become like Him. And Christ told us that we are to be perfect, even as the Father in Heaven is perfect. We can do it and we do it through faith and love. 

In essence, Holiness is being Christ in the world. As He took up the Cross His Father gave Him and broke Himself as a holy sacrifice for others, we go and do that for others. 

When our children see in us heroic holiness, they will embrace our faith. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Gospel According to Capitalism

The United States was founded upon the capitalism economic system and it is the machine that runs our daily activities. Capitalism is imbedded into our perspectives when we decide where to live, when to have children, what we want to pursue as a career, down to where we decide to go for lunch. Everywhere we look, on the highways, on television, iPhones, computers, malls-- capitalism has refined its craft in getting us to want stuff, to reach into our pockets and buy happiness.  

Our worldview is formed within this system to the point that it has bled into our religious thought. 

God or Mammon

Many Christians, if we are honest, believe that money is our savior. Ask yourself how many times do you pray for God to send you money to solve a dilemma you or your family or friends are in? Rather than see God as
having a thousand ways to solve a problem that have nothing to do with money, our ability to find solutions defaults into the capitalist system of money. "If only I had the money for more vacations," "If only I had the money, I would be able to see my children more often," "If I had money, I would be able to give to charities."

How many of us look to riches, perhaps imagining winning the lottery and never again having to worry about money? Actually believing that would solve our problems and then--with a little more money--we could be happy? 

Then in essence, we have substituted faith in God with faith in money. God is the Almighty Banker who distributes money rather than graces. 

How often do we see the Heath and Wealth gospel or the Prosperity gospel proclaimed? Many Christians truly feel that when they are not gifted with money that God has abandoned us and those who have money are more blessed and might even be seen as having greater faith! 

And yet, this belief prevails among Christians, even fundamentalists, who believe the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God. And in that book Christ says that it is more difficult for a rich man to get into heaven than a camel to go through the eye of a needle. God would never act counter to his own gospel by then making money the savior. When Christ said, "Blessed are the poor" He wasn't speaking hyperbole. There is little in scripture that would indicate God blesses us primarily with money. And yet because of our capitalistic worldview, we are deeply convinced that money can save us from our earthly problems. 

In fact, many of us give money to charities and believe that we have done enough to sacrifice (if even that was much of a sacrifice). We think we have done our part if we throw money at a problem instead of expending our lives (our fortunes, yes) as well as our sacred honor. We again see money as the savior.

The Gospel Commodity

The capitalistic system is a system of inspirational sounds and compelling images attempting to get a reaction from the audience. This bleeds over into all Christianity, but especially some evangelical communities. 

Many Christians, immersed in this system, primarily see the gospel as saying the right, emotionally compelling and convincing words. Very often, evangelicals spread the gospel through a series of meetings or revivals and then move on to the next unsaved group. They believe if they can get you to say the right words in response, then you are saved and the gospel commission has been fulfilled. 

These emotional experiences where someone is "saved" can resemble capitalistic sales techniques. In effect the best pastors are those who can sell the gospel in their sermons. There is the pressure sale where the pastor says that the time is now to give your heart to the Lord, don't put it off! The sales event is today only--don't miss out! 

Differing evangelical communities compete for customers... I mean, believers who will join their church and support it financially. However, there is little in their actual theology that says they are responsible for the convert from then on. Make the sale and move on to the next customer.

Their gospel is a distant gospel. They are the sellers, the distributers of the Word, but they are not responsible for the warranty on the product. Go to the manufacturer (God) if the gospel you bought malfunctions or you don't understand the directions or it simply doesn't work. Buyer beware! For many evangelicals feel no responsibility to sacrifice their lives either up front at the giving of the gospel or on the other end after the convert has bought into it. 

This places a distance between the gospel and ourselves. Like a football game, we become Christian fans of God shouting enthusiastically as we watch from a comfortable distance, using words to inspire our team. But the capitalistic gospel usually is not about training, sacrificing and giving one's
life for the team like the players down on the field.

Sola Fide and Capitalism 

And this is due to the fact that our capitalistic system teaches us that words are enough and that we can be both a Christian and a good US citizen pursuing happiness first and somewhere after that we pursue Christ. In fact, it is more complex than even that, for we believe that Christ and mammon in the U.S. are the same. We pursue money and our own personal happiness believing that is what we are supposed to do as Christians. God wants us to pursue happiness through filling those store houses with stuff. We think we are being responsible stewards of God's money when we save large quantities of it for a luxurious retirement. 

I am not saying that is a sin, but Christ did say there is a great danger in our storing up more than we need daily, for it again, puts our faith in money and not in Him. It prevents us from that daily walk in utter faith. We are not to worry about the future He promises, for the day has enough problems in it. "Look at the flowers in the field, look at the birds"--they do not gather things into the barns, yet their Father in Heaven looks after them. He wants us to know intimately that we are far, far greater to Him than those things. Trust Him--not your 401(k), your IRA, nor Wall Street
investments, not your Social Security. Feel free to have them, but our trust should be in God and He can work things out beautifully without money. He doesn't need the capitalistic system.

The Gospel of the Early Church

The early church was not capitalistic. It viewed the gospel very differently than Americans today. 

To the early church, the gospel was about a Kingdom. If you read the New Testament, those who spread the gospel said "Repent for the Kingdom is at hand." This was not a gospel of words alone. In fact, the words were meant for a person to not just believe as in mentally assent to, like someone believing that Donald Trump is the best presidential candidate (or Hillary Clinton). 

The words of the gospel were to get us to realize that we needed to change our lives and follow Christ. They were not words to get us to become a fan of a different team, but to change the most basic properties of our outlook. In fact, a convert was assenting to be utterly and totally obedient to God. They were casting aside their lives and bending the knee to Christ giving Him their fidelity. The Roman converts felt keenly that now their loyalty to Rome must diminish as their loyalty to Christ took precedence. In fact, the early church would genuflect to the bishops in a show of their newfound obedience to Christ rathe than the Roman government who forced them to bow to the prefects, legates and centurions.

To the early church, when you took on the gospel commission you understood that those you invited into God's kingdom were to make Christ their Lord and Master and they were assenting to a live of sacrifice.

In fact, after a person became a Christian, they were taking the responsibility to be Christ to others. They were now His family and His representatives on earth. The word Christian itself tells us that we are "Little Christs." We are Him to the world.

The gospel commission was never about going to a place and throwing out information about God and then moving on to the next audience. The gospel was about inviting someone into the family of God--His Kingdom--the Church. Converts were entering the kingdom where Christians lived out the gospel daily and the new coverts became your neighbor (even if symbolically) and relatives (literally, through Christ). You were then responsible for them and were obligated to sacrifice for them and it was mutual. 

Christian missionaries through the centuries, began the gospel by sacrifice first. They would move into an area, set up an eternal presence of hospitals, orphanages, schools. They would meet the needs of a community first, showing their love--not in words--but in sacrifice. 

Christians would bring healing first. They would first give the people the gift of their self--their lives. Usually a mission trip wasn't for a few days, or weeks, or months. Usually it was a permanent move. When the community felt loved by Christians, only then would they be invited to church and told what Christ believed. 

Historically, there was a trust built in the community, with the understanding that even if the people rejected the gospel that the Christians were going to remain sacrificing for them, giving to them. They were not going away. They would be there for them, helping them no matter whether they accepted God or not. 

For centuries, this was the gospel and it was trusted, for it was not a gospel of words alone, but of actions.

Each believer knew that He was Christ to the world. That if a community needed help in the fields planting or reaping, the Christian would be there to help. If there was a sick person, the Christian would be there. The gospel was an exchange of person to person, heart to heart, hand to hand--not bank account to bank account. 

The early church would not recognize what many evangelicals believe to be the spreading of the good news of Christ. They would not see Christ in much of what is labeled Christian. Not because it is necessarily bad, but it is different. It has moved from a 100% commitment to an assumption based upon a belief--a commodity to be bought and sold. 

The gospel has evolved into convincing someone with sincere, emotional words. 

We need to return to the authentic gospel lived by the early Christians. The gospel that is actions of self-sacrificing love that pursues the good of the other rather than pursues one's own happiness. In fact, Christ tells us that His followers, rather than following money or pleasure will take up their cross and follow Him. And where was Christ going with His cross? 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Catholic Heaven

Allergy Heaven

Growing up I was very allergic to animals, many nights--many--I spent trying to figure out how to breathe. I remember my throat would get so raw from allergies that I would hang my head over the side of the bed to keep any drainage from going down it.  

My father was against all medication, telling his children to suffer through it, so I daren't not tell him. So I bore the suffering in silence because I was trying to impress him with how brave and tough I was. 

Some times my allergies would be so bad that I couldn't breathe out of my nose at all and at lunchtime in elementary school, I would go sit by myself because I had to keep my mouth open while I chewed and I thought that was rude and didn't want anyone to see me. When my friends, being nice and thinking I was feeling lonely would come sit near me, I would stop eating altogether.
And if I was starving, I would hold my hand over my face so that no one could see the inside of my mouth as I struggled to breathe and eat! That happened so often that it became a habit and even  into college, people would notice my hand going up to cover my mouth when I ate. 

All this as context for this paragraph....

So, as you can imagine, the stories of heaven full of lions sleeping next to lambs and riding giraffes
didn't have much of an appeal. I knew I wouldn't be allergic to them in heaven, but since I couldn't be around them now and develop a bond with animals, frankly a heaven full of animals was like a cartoon heaven I had no longing for.

And while gold streets and rainbows and living eternally playing a harp seemed nice, I just couldn't get excited about that either. Not that I 
didn't care about getting to heaven, I did very much. But for a very different reason. 

Heaven to Me
I had my own idea of heaven. 

When I was in elementary school and our Bible classes would discuss the excitement of the afterlife, I would try and come up with what I would want heaven to be like--something that excited me about eternity. 

I would lay in bed at night trying to figure out my perfect vision of heaven. Maybe I am not creative, but nothing did it for me until I imagined actually seeing Jesus--finally, finallyfinallyseeing Jesus. That I could vividly imagine: I would see Him
from a distance. There He would be, standing on a beautiful green field--all alone. No animals, no people, just Him. I had Him all to myself for a moment. I would run as fast as I could and then fall at His feet, sobbing and I would look into His eyes. And He would know and I would know He would know and in that very second everything would finally be alright. 

Heaven was about knowing that Jesus knew how much I wanted to please Him, how hard I tried even as a child to be one of the ones who didn't hurt Him. I had reasoned this way--if our sins put Him on the Cross and caused Him to suffer, that my being good would alleviate His pain.
(Probably not theologically accurate, but I was a kid!)

I wanted to be at the Cross comforting Him not adding to His pain, I remember being very envious of the women at the Cross, I saw myself there being martyred as I fought the Roman soldiers and I would try to get Him down and away from all these people trying to kill Him. (Remember--this is when I was a kid, so I figured I could slip through the crowd and somehow jump on the back of a soldier and punch his face!! haa haa!) 

Therefore, with this theology in mind, I tried so hard to be good as a child for that reason. I didn't want my bad choices to add to Christ's tears. And heaven, to me, was that moment I could see in His eyes that He knew me and knew my heart. 

That was the most important thing about eternity to me--that I got to see in Jesus' eyes that He knew, really knew how much I had tried with my whole soul, spirit, body, mind and energy to please Him. Once I got to see that in His eyes, nothing else mattered. 

It's a bit amusing now thinking back, that when I was in my elementary years, I saw myself dramatic falling at Jesus feet in exhaustion from trying to be good. But believe me, I did feel that way. I was an intense kid and it was hard to be good! I have no idea how many times I succeeded in this quest, all I can remember is how hard I tried.

That same idea of heaven--five minutes of eternity--was all I ever imagined. I didn't go past that point unless someone pressed me to think about what Heaven was like, but nothing I imagined was of interest to me, except that moment. In fact, I have prayed to Jesus numerous times through the years that if someone else were to enjoy heaven with the animals and gold streets, let them have my place because those five minutes with Jesus was all I needed. Just to fall at His feet and thank Him for everything was enough of heaven for me. 

And that is exactly how I felt until I became Catholic in 2008. 

Catholic Heaven
I will be frank, Catholicism has been a real stretch to understand its mysteries, its seeming contradictions, it "otherness." In some ways, it haunted me with a tinge of fright, because it is so big and wide and deep--like the ocean full of things I had never heard of and couldn't quite see. 

When I asked God in my prayers about the Catholic Church, I often felt like Job. God doesn't always explain Himself. He, rather, looks down upon us and asks us "Where were you when I laid the foundations of My Church? Tell me, since you are so well-informed! Who laid the cornerstones when all the stars of the morning were singing with joy?" "Brace yourself like a fighter, Now it is My turn to ask questions and yours to inform Me." 

There were things I really believed they were wrong about. I even would stomp my feet and have a real theological hissy-fit about some of the Catholic teachings. I would throw myself onto my knees and shake my fist and not want to humble myself and give up my wrong beliefs. God would respond: 

"Do you really want to reverse my judgement and put Me in the wrong to put yourself in the right? Has your arm the strength of God's? Can your voice thunder as loud?" (God's response to Job.)

When you are a Catholic who seeks to understand your faith, when you sit at the feet of Jesus (like Mary) and listen, you find there is so much more than the physical eyes can see.

So, eventually I gave up striving against what I didn't want to be true and became Catholic. Not because I understood everything, but because I know HE is way, He is the truth. He is the life. And like Ruth, "whoever thou goest, Jesus, I will go." And if Christ started a church, I am following Him.

And as I walk in faith, the more the Holy Spirit teaches and assists me in comprehending the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the more joy I experience each time I enter a Catholic Church. Each time I walk down the aisle to receive the Eucharist, I feel like I am fulfilling my deepest longing. When I kneel to receive the Eucharist on my tongue, I am there... there in heaven kneeling at His feet able to thank Him. Not in my imagination, not symbolically--but really there, present with Christ in a way that transcends what I can see with my eyes. I am there spiritually and that is more real than anything material. For I am with Him supernaturally--which means above and more and better and beyond our reality. I have entered the world of the spirit where God lives.

My vision of heaven is fulfilled in the Sacrifice of the Mass, for I know at that moment that He is in me and I am in Him and He knows. He knows!! He knows how much I love Him and I can experience heaven right then. 

Do not misunderstand. I do not feel "that was a touch of heaven." I don't feel like I have a glimpse of heaven, I feel like I am there permanently. Heaven has become reality, even after I leave. 

The Catholic mass is not just a porthole into heaven, it is the place where I receive the manna that will sustain my life forever. While some have called the Eucharist, ambrosia, food of the gods, manna, I know that even these do not begin to explain the Eucharist. It is the fulfillment of the Tree of Life. It is the Manna foretold by Jesus that would come out of Heaven. For it is Him.

In the mass, we step into eternity.  We are at the beginning with Christ as He formed the foundations of the earth, we are there at the Cross loving Him, thanking Him, helping Him through the pain, we are there at the Second Coming. All history and all future meet at the mass. It is heaven, now. 

And at times when I am there, Christ gives me a deeper understanding of what I am doing and an inexplicable, eternal and exquisite joy floods me. I see into His eyes, for I have entered Heaven. 

Oh, that all, every knee could bow and experience this--the joy of kneeling at the feet of the Cross and every tongue confess, crying out to the depths and breath of their souls, "All glory and honor and blessings and thanksgiving be unto the Lord!" 

If the Catholic mass is all there is of heaven-- if there were no afterlife (of course I don't believe that, I am just saying that if there weren't) the Catholic mass is enough. I have had and continue to have the greatest blessing ever known to mankind, ever known to the cosmos itself--I have knelt at the feet of Jesus, I have been to the Cross and I have experienced God. And that moment to me is an eternity of heaven. 

Thank you, thank you God for Your gift of the mass.