Tag Archives: Christianity

Advent: A time for anticipation, and patience

Today is the first day of the period known as “Advent”, a season observed by most Christians as a time of expectant waiting and preparation as we approach the celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas, as well as his return at the Second Coming.

Two popular songs from my lifetime often pop into my head when I think of Advent themes. “Anticipation” by Carly Simon and “Patience” by Guns N’ Roses.

No, they are not traditional Christmas songs. It is the themes which those two songs are built around that highlight this period in the church.

Anticipation…is keepin’ me waitin’“, as Simon sings in her 1971 song from the album of that same name.

The song opens with the lines: “We can never know about the days to come. But we think about them anyway.

This is entirely true when we consider that Advent is not only a lead-up to Christmas, but is also a time to reflect on and prepare for that return of Jesus at the end of time.

We don’t know when that time will come. A thousand years from now? A century? A decade? Next year? Maybe today.

What we do know is that He will come again. It is our job to be prepared for that time coming at any time.

As the Gunners 1989 song from their “G N’ R Lies” LP rolls towards it’s end, my favorite part of the tune plays out:

I’ve been walking the streets at night
Just trying to get it right
It’s hard to see with so many around
You know I don’t like being stuck in the crowd
And the streets don’t change but maybe the names
I ain’t got time for the game ’cause I need you
Yeah, yeah, but I need you…

Today’s world is more hectic than ever. The demand for immediacy and perfection is a major challenge to the happiness of many.

But consider the world before the last few decades. A time when there was no Internet. No cellphones. No cable television. Why, just a century ago there was no radio or television at all.

Those 100 years are nothing. A fraction of time when you consider that the United States has been a nation for 243 years now, and that mankind has been building civilizations for thousands of years.

The Jewish people have been known to history since at least 1,000 years before the birth of Christ. From the very beginnings, it was known that one day a savior or messiah would come to redeem and liberate the Jewish people.

These early Jews were the forerunners of today’s Christianity. As Christians, we believe that the Messiah came to the world as Jesus Christ.

But imagine being a Jew who was waiting for that messianic appearance. A thousand years. Generation up on generation lived and died knowing the time would come, hoping it might come in their time, yet never experiencing that appearance.

That is some patience.

During this time leading up to Christmas, many of you are going to feel rushed. You are going to feel pressured. You are going to feel overwhelmed. Shopping, decorating, parties, and more.

Stop. Breathe. Do not allow it to happen. Anticipate the coming of Christmas with joy in your heart, and do not ever allow commercialism to overtake that joy.

Have patience with crowds, with family, and most importantly with yourself. Keep things simple. You don’t need to be all things to all people. And you certainly don’t need to go into debt to make others happy.

The anticipation of the coming Christmas holiday comes natural to most of us. It is just as important that you prepare to exercise that quality of patience as well over these coming weeks.

 

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Christians Need to Love One Another

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As a lifelong Catholic who loves the Church, defends her publicly, and tries my best to follow her teachings, I have observed a phenomenon over the years.

It has become very obvious to me that some of my brothers and sisters in the Church have a serious moral superiority complex in regards to other Christian faiths. And I believe that this attitude has played a major part in continuing a divide in Jesus’ Church.

Let’s remember that one simple fact to begin with: it’s not our Church. It’s not mine, or yours. It doesn’t belong to Pope Francis, or any other human being. The Church belongs to Jesus Christ. He is it’s founder, and he is it’s genuine leader still today.

Throughout centuries past, the sometimes immoral actions of Popes and other Church leaders directly led to many of the major schisms that have occurred which have separated believers from one another. Catholics need to recognize the truth in that burden before judging any Protestant, Episcopalian, or other Christian denomination.

The most important thing for any Christian is that they believe in the fact that Jesus Christ suffered and died for their sins, and that as followers of the Lord we have a responsibility to learn about his teachings and spread his Word, both to unbelievers and to those who have never heard it in the first place.

We also have a responsibility to share our faith with one another. Jesus began our Church when he passed that responsibility directly on to Peter: “you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.

Jesus didn’t say “churches”, plural. He didn’t say: “Now just basically go with what I taught you, and the rest, well, doesn’t matter.

No, Jesus also gave his Church power: “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

In those words, Jesus established his Church here on earth, to continue his work here on earth, led by men beginning with Peter and guided by the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, as in the Garden of Eden, that Church was entrusted to men. Frail, sinning human beings.

At various times in the history of the Church, the men leading her have turned from the Spirit, turned from their mission, and sinned, sometimes in the most sinister, vile, and inhuman ways. These sins led to the Church fracturing and splintering.

I heard it said recently that I should “read the Catechism” in order to learn what the Church teaches on some issue. The fact is, I read the Catechism daily. But it’s not the only book of faith that I read. I also read the Holy Bible, the direct Word of God.

Catholics who point solely to current Church leadership teaching, the current version of the Catechism, the reforms of Vatican II, and the sermons of their local priests are selling their faith short. Those things are all very important, and should be experienced with sincere faithful discernment.

But all Catholics should also be picking up and reading their Bibles as well, learning the direct teaching of Jesus Christ, and fashioning their lives after him. Every single Catholic, from the Pope down to any lay person reading this article, including the one writing it, is a sinner.

Stop judging, that you might not be judged,” said Jesus.

“For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.”

Catholics have no business holding themselves up as in any way better than any other believer. We have no right holding on to any type of superiority complex over followers of another Christian faith.

Now this is not to say that those Protestants and other so-called Bible-based churches are without fault in this Christian schism either. And those believers also do plenty of judgmental criticism of the Catholic Church and it’s adherents.

All Christians need to follow the teaching of Jesus again: “This I command you: love one another.

There is far too much judgmentalism taking place in modern day Christianity, and nowhere near enough loving taking place.

I call on my fellow Catholics to set aside your air of superiority and embrace your fellow Christians. I call on Christians of other denominations to recognize that Jesus founded one Church, that he wants us to all be as one, and that we are to work to come together as often as possible.

There is one final fact to remember. It is clearly taught in the Book of Revelation, chapter 19, verses 11-21 that Jesus will return at the end of time, unite his Church, and win victory over evil, establishing the Church again as one as told in Revelation 21.

No Pope, no church leader, no great preacher will ever unite the Christian church on earth again under one banner, as Christ intended when he founded her. Only Jesus himself will accomplish that at the end of the current age.

It is our duty during our lifetime here on earth to do all that we can to perpetuate love and peace with, between, and among our fellow believers. It is all of our duty to spread his Word to any non-believers in a loving, thoughtful manner.

Catholics, Protestants, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Adventists, whatever you call yourself, wherever you practice your faith, and especially now at Christmas when we celebrate the birth of the Savior of us all – we must love one another, as Jesus loved us. God bless you.

Christianity clearly under attack in America

When you see the atrocities taking place in Syria today, as well as in other areas of the Middle East, involving the burning of Christian churches and the destruction of entire Christian communities, it really makes you thankful that you live here, in America.

America, where Christians are safe. Not only safe, but where Christian ideals are front and center, a difference maker, a vital, indispensable part of our founding principles. You know, America, the protector of religious freedom.

 The nation founded by leaders such as George Washington, who once told the Delaware Indian chiefs “You do well to learn our arts and our ways of life and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ.” Such as Thomas Jefferson, who said “I am a real Christian – that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus Christ.” Such as Benjamin Franklin, who said “As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, is the best the world ever saw, or is likely to see.”

The United States of America, a nation clearly founded by Christian men and women, and clearly built up over the centuries by many more of the same, such as Abraham Lincoln: “Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him, who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust, in the best way, all our present difficulty.”

Yet it is here, in that very America, where a large, increasingly hostile, increasingly antagonistic segment of society is actively moving on the attack against Christian morals and ethics. I believe that we are seeing the beginnings of an attempt to erase the practice of the Christian faith itself in America and around the globe. If it falls here in the United States, what other nation can hope to keep the faith standing?

As reported by Todd Starnes with Fox News, the Christian Service Center has been providing food for the past 31 years to the hungry in Lake City, Florida with no problems. But suddenly, the USDA has told the group that in order to continue receiving the government food which the group dispenses, they must remove portraits of Christ and pictures of the Ten Commandments from their facility, remove a banner that reads “Jesus is Lord“, and must refrain from their practice of giving out Bibles to the needy.

In Burleson, Texas, as Starnes reports, the ‘Retta Baptist Church’ recently produced a motion picture titled “My Son”, about a young woman who with her small child moves in with a young man and finds happiness, only to find the newly forming family caught up first in a custody battle, and ultimately in a hostage crisis. The intention was to market the film to Christian churches and communities around the nation.

The problem? The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) slapped an ‘R’ rating on the film, saying that was due to violence and drug use in the film. The ‘R’ may be a death stamp for the film, as many Christian congregations and movie reviewers will refuse to recommend any movie with that rating to it’s viewers. So while the MPAA gives more ‘commercial’ films such as “World War Z” and “Jobs” ratings of PG-13 despite killings and zombies and drug usage, it slaps a Christian film with the ‘R’ rating.

These are just two of many, many subtle and overt attacks that have begun to take place against Christianity itself, and the people and organizations that support the faith in America. Emboldened by success in court cases, the antagonists keep pushing their agenda of a faithless society, one where anything goes.

Christianity is clearly under attack in America and around the world. This is apparent to anyone who opens their eyes and minds, puts forth a little effort, does just a little bit of research into the phenomenon. The millions of American Christians need to begin to stand together, and to fight back for our faith, for one another, and on behalf of Jesus Christ himself, the savior who gave his life for us.

You are worthy

One of my favorite things to do over the past few years has been serving my local Catholic parish church, Saint Christopher’s, as a lector. I get to utilize the gift of public speaking that was given to me by God in presenting his Word to my community of believers. That is, quite frankly, a humbling honor.

In doing so, not only do I read something out loud, but I also am reading for myself. It is not only an exercise in dramatics or presentation meant to inspire my fellow parishioners and visitors to our church, but also a learning exercise, an educational and inspirational one, for me as an individual.

The topic of the readings at this week’s Sunday Mass services were, as they frequently are, tied together in a theme that is very appropriate for both the time of year, but also one that presents a message of importance for every human being alive today.

The message is that God believes, no matter what your actions, your thoughts, or your current state of belief, disbelief, or practice, that you are worthy of his love.

In the first reading, taken from the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah tells the story of a vision in which he is presented with God sitting on his heavenly throne, and then of angels appearing to him.
His home shakes and fills with smoke, and he trembles as his unworthiness engulfs him: “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips” thinks Isaiah.

Isaiah feels that he is unworthy of being in the Lord’s presence, unworthy of his love. But one of the seraphim approach and shows him the Lord’s power of forgiveness. The Lord then asks aloud, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Isaiah immediately responds, “Here I am, send me!

In the second reading, taken from the New Testament, Saint Paul speaks of the ultimate Truth: that “Christ died for our sins..was buried..was raised on the third day” and then Paul goes on to recite as proof the appearance of Jesus to Cephas, and then the twelve disciples, and then to numerous other believers, many of whom were still alive. The Lord then appeared to James and all the apostles. And then Paul recounts his personal meeting with our Lord.

Last of all..he appeared to me..for I am the least..not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” Paul was lamenting his past in that brief moment. A lamentation that today holds many back from fully embracing their true path. Paul’s story is the ultimate one of good triumphing over evil, of man’s ability, with God’s loving grace, to overcome even his worst sins.

For those who do not know Paul’s story, I will try to paint a quick picture. Born as Saul of Tarsus, a Roman citizen, he was about a decade younger than Christ, and he grew to become a zealous persecutor of the nascent Christian church. He had or helped get early believers imprisoned, tortured, and even killed. He was as vocal and active an anti-Christian as one could possibly become.

One day while traveling along the road to Damascus on a mission to bring some believers to Jerusalem for punishment, Saul was met by the resurrected Jesus, and he underwent a conversion experience that would change both his life and the history of the world. Taking the new name of “Paul” given him by Christ, he became one of the two greatest apostles in the history of early Christianity.

In recognizing the overcoming of his early sins against the church at the completion of this week’s reading, Paul, after his self-admonition of being unfit to be called an apostle, went on to speak confidently of his current state: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.”

There are many out there who may believe that they are too far gone to even seek God’s forgiveness, let alone to expect to receive it. Some may even have publicly denied Jesus, spoke of him in folly, made fun of his followers. They may feel a desire inside, but fear to be shunned as hypocrites, or worse, as idiots by their friends who feel as they have in the past. None of that is important, and none of that has anything to do with ultimate truth.

No one, not the worst sinner, is too far gone from seeking God’s forgiveness. No one is too far gone from embracing fully the Word and the Truth of Jesus Christ. All you need to do is embrace that Truth and begin to commit to a deeper understanding of it, and also to begin to fearlessly go public with your belief. You may lose friendships. You may be scorned and ridiculed by non-believers. But you will be gaining everything important in return.

I myself drifted from my church, drifted from God, and certainly have sinned. But I have always felt pulled back to him. I have never felt abandoned. I have ultimately turned to his good. It’s nothing you can’t do yourself.

On Wednesday we celebrate the occasion of Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season known as Lent, a season of repentance that leads us up to the ultimate sacrifice made by Jesus Christ in his death on the cross for you as an individual. This is a perfect chance at repentance, conversion, sacrifice, and renewal.

Never let anyone, least of all yourself, tell you or in any way make you feel that you are not worthy of God’s love, that you are not worthy to take up the cross of Jesus Christ. You are worthy, you are loved, and you are important to him. You only need to make him important to you. Begin today.

Christ will come again…when?

This weekend marks Palm Sunday, the beginning of one of the two holiest weeks in the Christian calendar.

On Palm Sunday we remember Jesus’ entering the city of Jerusalem in Triumph to an explosion of good will, palm branch waving, and shouts of “Hosana” before undertaking the most important activities of his life.

These events included the overturning of the money-changers tables at the Temple and driving them out of that holy place, and resulted in some of his most famous teachings:

Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive

Many are invited, but few are chosen

Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted

He also was asked a question during these final days in Jerusalem regarding which was the greatest of the commandments, and famously replied:

You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

He even foretold the coming of Christianity itself when he lectured the Jewish chief priests and the Pharisees that “the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”

The week which began in triumph and proceeded on through inspiration, challenge, and controversy would ultimately move to his betrayal, arrest, trial, persecution and would end with his death on the cross for all of our sins.

Christians also believe that Jesus Christ is destined to come again in what many refer to as the “End Days”, the “End of Time”, the “End of the Age”, or in the “Apocalypse” period at the end of time. This belief doesn’t come from a teaching of men, but from the promise of Christ himself in those same final days of his life.

But when will Jesus return?
At what time, on what day, in what year and in which generation of history? Many generations of men, even within the Church itself, have believed that they themselves were living in the end of times, that Christ would be returning in their lifetimes. They have all been wrong, as may those who believe so today.

What did Jesus say of his returning to us? Much, including some signs in the final moments that would signal that he had indeed returned. But the most important thing that Christ taught about that time was this: “of that day and hour, no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” Jesus himself did not have the exact information as to his return. That information was and is held in the heart and mind of God the Father alone.

But because no one but God knows the exact hour, that does not mean that we haven’t been given clues and signs to watch for that will signal at least the beginning of the end. We are told by James that there will be great economic calamities near the end.

Timothy tells us that many men will turn from God and towards physical pleasures, paganism, and selfishness towards the end. Mark tells us that in the final years, Christians will be turned over to authorities, put on trial, and even put to death for their beliefs.

Mark also gave us one of the most important clues when he wrote that before the end times come “the gospel must first be preached to all nations.” This simple message in and of itself ruled out all prior times of mankind before our current time.

Only now, with the developments over the past century of air travel and the internet, have missionaries been able to reach every corner and every people on the planet with the gospel of Christ.

Christ himself taught that “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines, and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.”

Perhaps one of the easiest signs to look for that the world is beginning to enter into the period of the end of times would be the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, an event that is viewed as an impossibility by many in the world today.

This event will indeed come to pass, however, if any number of Old and New Testament prophecies are correct. In fact, it is that very Temple that will be at the center of many of the final events involving the anti-Christ and his period of rule just before Jesus’ return.

So when will Christ return? As he himself said, no one knows. But we can look for increasing natural disasters, incredible celestial events, the Jews rebuilding of the Temple, and for public persecutions of Christians all around the world as sure signs. If these things happen, you better be ready to get your self and your house in order. If these things have not yet happened, we have not yet likely reached the end of days.

But are we correct? Am I reading these teachings correctly? Are the Christian spiritual leaders? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe on some items, not so much on others. Maybe we just have learned to understand pieces of the final truth.

The important thing to understand is that the end will indeed come, and Christ will indeed come again, and you need to love and accept him and try to remain ready.

Remember Jesus’ most important words: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Without faith and belief in and acceptance of Jesus Christ, you will not make it to heaven.

Jesus taught “Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come…be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come…stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”