Posts Tagged ‘religion’

Page 100v: Healing of the blind man of Jericho...

Page 100v: Healing of the blind man of Jericho, Lc 18:35-43 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was digging through some old Bible study notes, and came across a series by a very humble pastor in our community named “Brother Bob.”  This series was about seven of the miracles of Jesus from the Gospels which proved His divinity.

I occasionally meet people who follow other spiritual teachers. I can’t imagine why someone would prefer any leader over Jesus. Sometimes I argue my case in a gentle way, and Brother Bob gave me a bit more evidence to show that Jesus was God in the flesh! Here are a few of the miracles that Brother Bob talked about one night:

First, the Bible says in John 20:30-31 that not everything is written down, and that these things were written so that the reader might believe that Jesus is the Christ.

Here are some of the miracles that were recorded in The Gospel According to Saint John:

1. Water To Wine (Chapter 2):  Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding feast when all of the wine had run out. He did this to increase joy and to show that He has power over nature.

2. Healing of Nobleman’s Son (Chapter 4):  Jesus healed the young man to show that He has power over disease.

3. Healing of the Lame Man on the Sabbath (Chapter 5):  After this miracle, He told the man to avoid sin so that nothing worse would befall him. He did these things to show He can heal both body and soul, and that He has more authority than the Law.

4. Feeding of the 5000 men plus women and children (Chapter 6):  To show that God is compassionate and to prove that He is the Bread of Life.

5. Walked On Water (same chapter):  To show that He has power over Nature and over Fear (Be Not Afraid)

6. Healed the Blind Man on the Sabbath (Chapter 9): To illustrate that He is the Light of the World and that He is not subject to the Law.

7. Raised Lazarus from the dead (Chapter 11): To show that He has human compassion (Jesus wept) and power over Death and that He is the Resurrection and the Life.

Peace and Grace be with you,

“Sister Olive”

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(Excerpt from The Twisted Cross:  Distortion of the Gospel)

There was a crooked man,
And he walked a crooked mile,
He found a crooked sixpence
Upon a crooked stile:
He bought a crooked cat,
That caught a crooked mouse-
And they all lived together
In a little crooked house.

What has become of the humble country ministers who lived in little cottages next door to the church, and received allowances for their travel and other needful expenses so that they could go to the jails and hospitals, and visit the elderly members who were confined to their beds?  They sought out every opportunity to further God’s Kingdom within their communities, and worked for little or nothing because they wanted to finish all of their work on Earth before they departed.

Charles Finney writes in his autobiography that after his conversion in 1821, he left his career as a lawyer to “plead the case for Christ.”  He writes of how he lost all interest in worldly pursuits:

…I had no desire to make money.  I had no hungering and thirsting after worldly pleasures and amusements in any direction…Nothing, it seemed to me, could compete with the worth of souls, and no labor, I thought, could be so sweet and no employment so exalted as that of holding up Christ to a dying world.

So, when did the Gospel become such a highly profitable business in America, and the churches so corporate and greedy?  What makes religious leaders today feel entitled to get rich when Jesus, the Son of the Most High God, did not abuse His position for personal gain?  Does anyone truly believe that Jesus lived as a poor man and suffered and died on a cross between two thieves so that Christians can drive a Mercedes Benz?

A year or so ago, I watched one of the senate hearings regarding mega-churches and tax-exempt status, and one senator confronted a wealthy preacher, saying “Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.  So why do you feel entitled to have so many cars and private jets?” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

I know a church mother who told me that her husband often said, “Ever since people found out that they could make a lot of money off of Jesus, they have made a shipwreck of the Gospel and the church.”  I have also heard people say they can’t afford to join a church.

One Sunday I was asked to speak at a church, and I remarked that God is not going to pay us if we keep getting paid by people for every service we render, because Jesus said that we only have one payday- on Earth or in Heaven. After the service was over, the secretary approached me and offered me some money for speaking. I told her that the Lord would bless me some other way. I knew that the leaders wanted to catch me in some hypocrisy.

The following Sunday, the minister approached me at the altar in front of everyone, and put his hand on my head and said, “Lord, break that rebellious spirit.”  I knew then that he wanted to undermine me and what I had said the week before.

When the recession had really become serious in 2008, I clipped an article from the religion page in the newspaper about how the churches were dealing with the financial “crunch.”  It said that one church had cut out all of its outreach ministries.  Another church started a “Kingdom Seeds” program to try to get people to raise more money for them.  But one lone priest in a Catholic church said that he would not accept any money for his services until his congregation had stabilized financially. I found it shocking that most churches were trying to keep the income of their leaders intact, while cutting out the ministries that represented the whole purpose of the Body of Christ in the community. It seemed strange to me that the leaders did not simply pray and trust God to bless the business of the Kingdom.

One church I attended threatened to publicly humiliate those who were unable to afford the offerings, by listing their names or having the financial reports read out loud.  They knew that many contributions could not be accounted for, because many members only gave in cash without envelopes.  Jesus said not to let the right hand know what the left hand is doing, and not to brag about what we do for God, but this church was pressuring people to disobey His teachings.

I have also seen people forced to stand in front of the church to request financial help for their household. I suspect this is to discourage people who need assistance. No one should have to be publicly humiliated because they are in need of money.

Religious leaders are quick to accuse people of robbing God, when they themselves have no accountability and seem to have no shame about it. One common practice in some churches today is for a preacher to start off an offering with, for instance, a twenty-dollar bill of their own, and to ask each person in the congregation to match the amount they put in.  They don’t reveal that a large percentage of that same offering is being given back to them behind closed doors, and that they are receiving instant returns. Technically, they are giving nothing, and they promise people hundred-fold blessings for giving to the church. Why do leaders ask their congregation to trust God to take care of their bills, when they don’t trust Him to take care of the church and its ministries?  That is hyprocrisy in its purest form.

If I give ten dollars, and immediately receive back one hundred dollars, have I paid my tithe?  Why is it necessary to lie to God’s people, instead of just collecting a love offering at the end? And why is there so much secrecy about the money? It obviously is more profitable to be deceptive.

An elder that I know once told me that he has seen preachers put money in the offering and tell the usher to give them back their money after the service is over.

Years ago, at a church I attended, a missionary couple trusted God to supply their financial needs so that they could go to Africa to spread the gospel, and they refused to take up offerings or ask anyone for money.  They just talked to friends and prayed and money started coming in their mailbox.  The pastor of their church heard about it, and said, “It is true that God supplied the money that you needed without any manipulation on your part?”  They were dumbfounded that their pastor had so little faith in God’s ability to provide for someone who was seeking to do His will.

Nowadays, many religious leaders will do whatever it takes to keep themselves comfortable while others suffer, and they never seem to have enough.  The money-raising goals for pastor appreciations and conferences get higher every year, because many leaders expect a pay raise every year, regardless of the struggles of their congregations.   If they were at a regular job, they might have been laid off or gotten a pay cut, but they think that the money should continue to flow no matter what.

Everyone questions why the church is so ineffective today, why miracles and true revivals don’t happen anymore. It’s really quite simple. God is a Holy God, and He cannot dwell in an unholy place.

It is time to return to the old ways, so that we can see miracles and spiritual power as we did in times past.  I would like to see this in my lifetime, but first we need some good old-fashioned humble country ministers.


[1] The crooked man and other rhymes, from Aunt Mary’s Little Series

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I attended Mass recently, and I found the lyrics to this song to be haunting:

People, look east. The time is near 
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.

Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare,
One more seed is planted there:
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
That in course the flower may flourish.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the rose, is on the way.

Birds, though you long have ceased to build,
Guard the nest that must be filled.
Even the hour when wings are frozen
God for fledging time has chosen.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the bird, is on the way.

Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim
One more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as sun and moon together.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the star, is on the way.

Angels, announce with shouts of mirth
Christ who brings new life to earth.
Set every peak and valley humming
With the word, the Lord is coming.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way.

People, Look East” was written by Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965) and was first published as “Carol of Advent”

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But of that day or hour no man knoweth, neither the angels
in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father. 
(Mark 13:32)

I visited an Episcopal church recently, and I asked a lady the meaning of the last line of the Doxology that says “World without end.”  She was a bit embarrassed and said she wasn’t sure, because she wasn’t really “up” on theology.  Then she approached a Sunday school teacher who didn’t seem to know either, although he tried to wing it.

I guess I’m funny that way.  I like to know exactly what I’m singing and saying in my prayers.  Whose world are we referring to?  Surely it doesn’t mean our world will never end.  Or does it?  Everyone thought the world was going to end yesterday, but it didn’t! Big surprise…

Jesus said He doesn’t even know when the end of time will be, so it strikes me as funny that people keep trying to figure it out.  Why do we play these guessing games? If only Christians would read the Bible more. Christ said the end would be like a thief in the night, and that’s a pretty straightforward analogy.  He said if you knew when a thief was coming, you could bust ’em quick.  But it’s not like that…we don’t know, so we’ve got to always be prepared. It’s aggravating, I know, but that’s just how it is.

P.S.  If you know what “world without end” means, please tell me…okay? I love to learn new stuff.

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(Excerpt from “Divine Doorkeepers”)

Søren Kierkegaard was a renowned Danish philosopher, theologian and religious author. He was born to an affluent family in Copenhagen, and his mother was employed as a maid in the household before marrying his father.

Kierkegaard was greatly influenced by Socrates and the Socratic method of thinking. His theological writings primarily focus on the flaws in the church institution and the crowd-driven mentality of believers. He was strongly opposed to the way that theology and organized religion had tarnished the Gospel message, and he believed that seminaries taught Christians to think and talk about God rather than to take any kind of action. His writings beg for soul-searching and an active response from the reader.

Dr. George Pattison writes of the author’s style in his introduction to Kierkegaard’s Spiritual Writings: “The discourses are not plodding expositions of ready-made dogmas, but have an almost conversational feel, sometimes serious, sometimes playful, but always seeking to open a dialogue with the reader, whose own response is anticipated and responded to” (57).

Kierkegaard tells stories about God humanizing Himself willingly out of His great love for people.  He depicts Christians as thieves and cheaters who twist the gospel to suit their own agenda. Here he portrays the struggle between worldly religion and true spirituality:  “…The Bible is very easy to understand.  But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers.  We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly…Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament” (Provocations 201). His representation of religious folks as “scheming swindlers” is a piercing metaphor that suggests deception and misuse of something valuable.

In one of his letters, Kierkegaard presents God as being a creator who fashioned humans in His own image, and loved them so deeply that He placed Himself into their lives. He asserts that the Incarnated God taught people about service to others by His own example.  In this passage he uses an analogy pertaining to artists and their productions to illustrate how even God lowered Himself out of compassion for humans:

If a poet or an artist puts himself into his Productions he is criticized. But that is exactly what God does, he does so in Christ. And precisely that is Christianity. The creation was really only completed when God included himself in it. Before the coming of Christ, God was certainly in the creation, but as an invisible sign, like the watermark in paper. But the creation was completed by the Incarnation because God thereby included himself in it. (Journals 324)

This statement bears resemblance to one of the parables of Jesus, in which God finally arrives on the scene Himself when his workers have rebelled against Him in the vineyard where he hired them to work (Mark 12:1-10, NKJV). These stories have power because they present the idea that God is one of our kind and that He loved us enough to get involved in our drama of sorrow and suffering and even our mortality.  Kierkegaard’s comparison to the creation without Christ as being as a watermark on paper adds a touch of mystery, because it portrays the idea that we don’t see everything that exists.

In the chapter from Provocations entitled “Behold the Birds of the Air,” Kierkegaard spins a fable about wood doves.  Using an opening like his fellow Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen, he writes of one wild dove that refuses to live in a dovecote under the care of a kind farmer: “Once upon a time there was a wood dove. It had its nest in the fearsome forest, where wonder and apprehension dwelt together, among the erect, lonely trees. But nearby, where the smoke rises up from the farmer’s house, lived some tame doves” (148). The wild dove is a metaphor for a person who chooses to live without divine authority.  The “fearsome forest” where “wonder and apprehension” live together is an aesthetic way of portraying the world and the conflicts that beset us each day.  The reader is hereby summoned into a sense of inner tension which Kierkegaard evokes to show the awful state of man without God. Through interactions between the wild dove and the tame ones, the writer portrays the inner friction between faith and the natural mind:

From now on, the wood dove began to worry. His feathers lost their glint of color, his flight lost buoyancy. He was no longer joyful; indeed, he was almost envious of the rich, tame doves… In worrying about his needs he had trapped himself in a snare in which no birdcatcher could have trapped him, trapped as only a free creature can trap himself. (Provocations 148)

The “tame doves” depict the faithful who don’t live unto themselves and need not worry about their livelihood or their future. Kierkegaard uses artful paradoxes and images to represent the anxiety that began to trouble the “free” dove, describing the loss of luster in his feathers and how he felt weighted down when he attempted to fly. The glossy feathers and lightness are symbols for joy and peace, and the lack of them implies strain and encumbrances.  The wild dove that “has trapped himself…as only a free creature can trap himself” is an apt representation for a man who cannot extricate himself from his ways because his ego is at stake. The author creates irony in that the tame birds are free and the wild bird is in bondage.

Kierkegaard was accomplished in the art of addressing controversial subjects with satire and paradox and allegorical tales, and by using graceful metaphors to illustrate his views in an evocative manner.

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“A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.” Isaiah 42:3

I first saw and heard Elder Thomas at the district services.  He was hosting a Friday night Missions service, and I had never met him before.  He stepped up to the pulpit, a dignified and well-dressed man looking over his glasses at the congregation.  Because I thought his voice to be somewhat gruff, I thought that he must be stern and irritable, and that he was someone I would not want to annoy or make angry, because he wouldn’t put up with very much.  It is funny how we perceive people at first observance.

The second time I saw Elder Thomas was at a pastor appreciation service, and suddenly he ran down from the pulpit area to the front of the altar, where he began to dance in the spirit.  My whole conception was thus thrown out the window.

The third time I saw him, he was again at a district service, and he opened the service by saying, “You’re in the Holy Ghost headquarters now.”  I laughed when he said it, and my two guests also laughed about that.  I knew then that I really liked this man, and that I needed to hear him preach.

Soon thereafter, I visited a Sunday service at his church for the first time with my son. That Sunday, Elder Thomas preached from Ecclesiastes 12, and it was one of the most enjoyable and concise teachings I had ever heard.  Not only did Elder Thomas have a gift of teaching with great clarity, but he could make people laugh and enjoy the studying of it.  Whenever I cast a sidelong glance at my son, he was smiling a broad smile or laughing.

I don’t know quite where to begin to describe the incredible giftedness of Elder  Thomas.  He is remarkable in so many ways.  He says that when he was a young boy, he knew a great evangelist in the area named Mother Benjamin, and that he sought for God to give him a portion of the Spirit that was upon her.  He says it was quite difficult even as a young man to keep up with this tireless woman.  But, like Elisha who refused to leave Elijah, he followed her to the best of his ability until she left this world.

Elder Thomas is a gifted preacher, prophet, servant, shepherd, and prayer warrior.  He has a huge heart of compassion for the lost and suffering, and has a word from the Father of Lights for every occasion and every need.  He knows how to guide God’s flock to higher and deeper faith, and to their own personal callings from the Spirit.  I have seen people line up at the altar to receive “the Word of the Lord” from his lips, and I have seen God use him as a mighty instrument of mercy.

He has truly touched my life by his earnestness about the things of God, and his desire to see his people grow, and not wax cold and stagnant.  He knows how to encourage and how to correct, and with such skill and wisdom that only God could give.

(For more portraits like this, visit the page or category entitled “A Cloud of Witnesses”)

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(From “A Cloud of Witnesses)

“Let your speech be always with grace…”  Colossians 4:6

I especially remember Mother Gladys’s straw hat, her faded dresses, and her wooden walking cane. I loved it when she would strike the tambourine and begin singing, “Oh I want to see him, look upon His face…” or “It’s gonna be the crowning day…”  She had a resonant voice, passion for the Lord, and a sweet and humble spirit. She was tall, slender and stately with a broad smile, and it was obvious that she was lovely in her younger days. She had tremendous faith in God and had an air of holiness and grace about her.

After Mother Gladys retired from her job at the school for the deaf and blind, she became the “nurse” of her neighborhood.  People say that she would walk house to house taking care of people who were sick or elderly.  She was always poor, but if you visited her she would go straight to her garden, and give away some of her fresh vegetables.  She never refused anyone the help that they needed.

She was a great encouragement to me personally.  After we had been having tent services for several nights and I had testified a few times, she was the first one to approach me with a warm smile and a hug, and say, “There’s that missionary.”  I felt honored by the way that she said it to me.

Mother Gladys was diagnosed with cancer, but she never lost her faith.  When I went to visit her she said to me, “If the Lord wants me to get up, I will get up, and if He doesn’t, I won’t.”

Whenever people visited her, she would say that she just wanted to “have church”.  Sister Doris says that when people would ask her what songs she wanted to hear, she would say, “Anything with blood in it” (referring to the blood of Jesus).  She never complained about her suffering, because she did not want to cause her family or friends more grief.  So she just stayed in her bed at home, and gradually stopped eating and speaking.  She was a sweet and godly woman her whole life.

I did not know her for long enough, because she died soon after I joined the church. It will be amazing to see her again someday in the Kingdom of God.

~♥~

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