gospel

Freedom from the gods

The gods really existed. This is just a historical fact. We have historically reliable accounts of Caesars and Pharaohs. Christians don’t dispute this. If tomorrow, scientists discovered that it’s Thor or Zeus that’s responsible for thunder and lightning, this would not alter the Christian worldview. What marks Christianity apart, is not the existence of the gods, but how we should treat the gods. The Christian, believe it or not, is one liberated from worshipping of these tyrants.

The gods are simply beings with great power. Whether they have some kind of spiritual body, can transform, control the elements, or simply boss people about, and whether they are humans, spirits, animals or a combination, the only real requirement is possessing great power. Pharaoh was a god. Caesar was a god. But the gods still die.

The mark of pagan religion, was that in fear of the gods, the people had to offer sacrifice; essentially, a celestial protection racket. And the gods could be as selfish, egotistical, and petty as anyone. The gods are just like you or me, except that they have power, and I (in comparison) do not.

But the Christian God, YHWH, I am that I am, is not one of them. He is our Creator, the source of our entire existence. In no way does He stand against us, as there is nothing He lacks, and all we are and ever shall be is in fact His gift. He who gave us existence- gave us freedom- does not stand against our existence in any way.

This is the LORD, who liberated Israel from Pharaoh. He is the one, who hears the cry of the oppressed and answers. It is the one who gives us being, who sustains us in being, who truly wishes us to flourish in real freedom. He is the one who takes slaves and forms a nation of them.

This is the God who was born of the Virgin Mary. He brought good news to the poor, proclaimed liberty to captives, brought sight to the blind, and set the downtrodden free. By him, the lame walked, the deaf heard, the lepers were cleansed and the dead were raised. By him, divine life was brought to human death; the ultimate freedom to our most absolute bondage.

The Christian is free from all powers and dominions, because when they killed Jesus, he rose again. By the cross, he “disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them” (Col 2:15). Every threat is nullified, because the Christian will rise again, and every unjust punishment she receives, will only bring her greater glory in the resurrection.

The Christian knows that God is with him, that God is on his side, that He is lowly and humble, and that He is victorious. The Christian is free, because God Himself is our freedom.

For this reason Christians to this very day, refuse to bow down to any gods and powers, no matter how they are threatened or enticed. As St. Justin said, “You can kill us but you cannot do us any real harm.”

God bless you

Does God love everyone equally?

God doesn’t love us equally. It’s better than that. God loves us all incomparably. Not more, not less, and not equally.

God’s love is always infinite. But we can’t say that infinity equals infinity. God’s love for you is incomprehensible, even in terms of His love for me.

Does a larger circle have more lines of symmetry? Are there more square numbers than prime numbers? Are there more possible shapes than possible songs? What is zero divided by zero? What is infinity divided by infinity? There comes a point (but it’s really more a lack of a point) where things are beyond comparison, even to each other, and even to themselves. I believe God’s love is one of these things.

I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:18-19

God bless you

My rejection of and return to church

I remember as a child, once asking why the Bible, especially the gospels, were so good, and church was so boring and lame. And I remember that my mother’s response wasn’t that I was wrong about church, but just that she didn’t know. I noticed how little the gospels were referred to, and how little the sermons sounded like something Jesus would say. I noticed that, church just seemed to a place to feel good together, with ideas to make you feel good, but not to really change your way of life.

But in the gospels, I saw a Jesus all about changing lives, and living in the Kingdom of God, and being perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. I saw a Jesus who was demanding, and changed lives. Jesus was not a life coach preaching about positive thinking.

Of course, churches vary greatly. I visited a lot, and a lot were quite motivating, and even inspiring. But I didn’t feel it lasted. It seemed to me, a more or less empty entertainment, remembering how good Jesus is, and sometimes suggesting he might want to do something in you. What kind of thing wasn’t ever clear.

It seemed to me, Christianity had been made a private matter, relevant mainly to our feelings. It seemed we were told to love God, and always be feely-goody people. And tell others to do so also.

At one point, I thought Christianity was perhaps best seen as a God-given pyramid scheme, where we believe, and must then get others to believe, even though we were only really believing in believing itself. And by this scheme, we get to heaven. It seemed like the gospel we were meant to spread, was that there was a gospel to be spread.

It’s fair to say, I was very confused. But, I applied good protestant logic, and concluded that the churches had corrupted teachings, and I would be better off on my own with a bible. Which, for a good few years, I did.6660ed346e8634249b75452e7b760dc7f78763d983205a92686184eb05cf9244

[I think it’s good logic from a protestant perspective, because if the Church Jesus himself founded with the apostles could be corrupted (and to maintain protestant beliefs this would have to have happened extremely early on), then it seems inevitable that the churches founded by reformers should also be corrupted even sooner. In view of this fact, I believe the fact that protestant churches are as unified as they are, is a testament to God’s care for them]

So, I became an lone sheep, as soon as my parents stopped making me go to church. But I continued to read the Bible and other Christian books, and I think I grew a lot in those years. My understanding of the scriptures became a lot less muddled and confused. I had decided to ignore Paul at first, because I found him confusing, and I found that suspicious. But I returned to him later, and found he made perfect sense when taken in the light of the gospels I had seen.

I was especially delighted that my new church of one appreciated Jesus’ attitude toward the poor. It wasn’t skipping over Jesus words on selling all you owned and giving it to the poor in order to be perfect and follow Jesus. From early on, I had thought Jesus was talking to me when he said that. I wasn’t obeying it (I was still a child and had no idea how to), but I did look upon it as important. I also noted how Jesus spoke strongly of works when talking about salvation (“as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me”). This tendency, combined with more or less independent political thought, brought me to believe in “Christian anarchism”. [I won’t go into my beliefs in this period of time any further here, but if you like, the last year of this period is somewhat captured in the archives of the first year of this blog]

But then Christian anarchism pointed me towards Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin and the Catholic Worker movement, which is brilliant, which pointed me to Catholic social teaching, which is brilliant, though I wondered about a few points, which then pointed me to Catholic theology, which is brilliant, though it took a lot of wrestling for me to understand and agree, and I just disagreed a lot at first.

It gradually dawned on me, that a Christian is not alone, and should not be alone. And however disappointing I found church, Jesus had put in a lot of effort to found his Church, so I had to go. So, I tried a couple churches on the few Sundays when I was up on time, and was disappointed. Eventually, I tried mass at my little local, Catholic Church.

It was a shocking experience. So much sudden standing, and kneeling, and everyone responding together. I tried my best to go with the flow. I was terrified: heart racing, sweating so much I hate to think how I smelt. I loved that the gospel was read. That really pleased me. In the second half of the mass, what I now know is the Liturgy of the Eucharist, I strongly sensed the reverence of those around me, and learned what the word sacred really means. At the sign of peace, I was stupendously happy to be saying, “peace be with you” and shaking hands with those around me, especially the priest when he came down (I suspect they thought me very strange). I didn’t go up for communion, because I didn’t know if I was allowed, and I was unsure on transubstantiation, and whether it could make it a sin for me to take it, if I was wrong about it either way. I remember noticing, that I had a wonderful feeling throughout, after the fear passed, that I had only ever had while reading the Bible. It almost felt like I was in the Bible.

This experience really should have been enough to convince me to begin becoming Catholic. But I decided to wait, and research on my own to make up my mind. I waited far too long. It was at least six months before I asked about becoming a Catholic, and in that time I rarely came to mass or other church (sleep pattern mainly).

I find it funny to think, how the reformation is viewed as rejecting a lifeless institution with a corrupted gospel, to make a better, more biblical church, but I was led to reject what I viewed as weak institutions with a corrupted gospel, in favour of a better, more biblical Church (the one seen in the Bible), and ended up at Catholicism. Ironic.

God bless you

Mary, Jesus’ mummy

I’m certain that, at one time, Jesus called Mary, Mummy (or some Aramaic equivalent). I think that’s awesome. When Jesus was small, she was always there for him, always with him. She was the one who looked after him, fed him when he was hungry, gave him drink when he was thirsty, clothed him when he was naked, and looked after him when he was sick.

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It shows the way that God absolutely embraced humanity, that His Son would be given a human mother, to bear him in her womb, and to love and look after throughout his life. He became absolutely dependent upon Mary, one of us, who even truly participated in giving him life as a man. I think when we talk about the incarnation, the place that comes to mind is a manger in Bethlehem, but the place where it really occurred, was inside the young virgin’s womb.

Humanity as a whole, and Mary in particular, were made part of the mystery of God’s incarnation as a man. Jesus of Nazareth was and is fully God and fully man, and Mary is truly the Mother of God. Mary gave birth to him in whom was life, and the life was the light of men (Jn 1:4). The Virgin Mary gave birth to her own creator, the Lord Jesus.

All of the history of salvation, surely pivoted on the Virgin of Nazareth, the mother of our Redeemer. Where would we be without her? Without her, we could not have her son. For years, her life was his life, she was his security, and where she went he went too. In her, lived the saviour and hope of all humanity.

God desired to share His life with us so fully, that He not only took on flesh and became one of us, but He let us weak humans share in His life, and even in His work of salvation. This is the fundamental fact of Mary, the Mother of God, and the Church, the spouse and body of Christ, who both live to bring Jesus to the world for its salvation, and to draw the world to him.

God bless you!

The Gospel of Repentance

From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
[Matthew 4:17]

I think when we first hear this, it doesn’t sound very nice. At least, I have a vague memory of thinking this was one of the scary verses. When I used to hear, “kingdom of heaven”, I would think of the end: God burning the world, while the righteous watched on, and heard the cries of the damned for help. And so with this in mind, I thought Jesus was trying to scare people straight, ready for a judgment that wouldn’t come for millennia. I don’t know who’s to blame (apart from myself) for this awful misunderstanding.

I could hardly have been more wrong. This verse is full of hope. This is good news.

The kingdom of heaven is not judgment, and it is not wrath. Where God truly rules, there is no sin, and therefore no judgment, and no wrath. The kingdom of heaven is the rule of love, because God is love. The kingdom of heaven was well and truly at hand, because Jesus Christ, the Word became flesh, was at hand. Heaven and earth came to union, in that flesh where God became man. And he was offering us to have a part in that kingdom. To be truly free: ruled by love, and united with God Himself.

And what was the condition he attached to us joining this Kingdom above all kingdoms? “Repent”. I believe he means by this, that we turn away from the lives that are death, and accept and live by God’s rule of love, with sorrow for ever living by anything else. In this we have our salvation, our life, and our freedom. The kingdom of God is within you (Lk 17:21), and we cannot have it while we reject it, either by our words, deeds, or beliefs. Nor could the rule of God’s love be imposed on anyone who rejects it, because love doesn’t work that way. But if we turn from our deeds of death with sorrow, and live by the one who is life, who gave his life that we might share in it in every way, then we are alive in the kingdom of heaven.

It is true that repentance includes sorrow. To repent, we must have sorrow for our past ways, and therefore be turning from them. But it also includes the far greater hope for the life we turn to. We do not turn out of fear, but its opposite, which is hope. So, in repentance, we have sorrow, and hope for life beyond this sorrow.

Upon the cross, we find our hope, which was won for us through sorrow. Christ shared in our sorrows to the end, and used them to give us hope. All the sorrows we have created by our disobedience, Christ suffered, and, by his obedience, used for our salvation. By suffering the sorrows we made, he shared in our life, but in purity without sin, that we may share in his life, and be pure also. He died our death, that we may live his life.

So, when we repent, we look to the cross. And seeing the holiest deed in all history, we are not condemned, but are loved, because that is what holiness is. There we find life being given to us, and there we find the life we must imitate. There we see Jesus Christ, we see the kingdom of heaven, and we see life itself.

God bless you, thoroughly and completely and absolutely.

The Old News

Christians have been reporting the same piece of “news” for nearly two thousand years. And hundreds of years before that, the prophets were predicting this same piece of news. After all this time, we still call it news, and we still report it, each and every day, around the entire world.

And it truly is news, even to this day. Even to those who have heard it a million times. Why? Because it’s still relevant to every single soul in the world. The “Good News” isn’t just about a one time event. Of course, a few unrepeatable events are crucial components of it, but equally, it’s about God coming down to you and to me, on this very day.

It’s news to us, both because we didn’t know about it beforehand, and because now we know, it changes everything. The salvation of humanity is the greatest event in all of history, and it’s as important today as on the day Jesus was born, the day he was crucified, and the day he rose again. Everything else is fleeting, and fading away, and come tomorrow no one will care, but the good news of the Kingdom of God changes all things in creation for all of eternity.

What’s more, it’s news to me every time I hear it. Yes, I have heard before, but I am forgetful. And while it’s relatively easy to get into the habit of living by the belief that God is “good”, it’s far tougher (and far more wonderful) to live by the belief that God is love. It’s shocking every time: God is merciful. Even while I haven’t forgotten, I am, so to speak, being continually shocked by this great truth. Further, He’s not merciful to us from a distance, and He’s not love in a vague and confusing aura of love; He is love, and He has mercy, in the person of Jesus Christ, God who took on flesh for us, and then gave his flesh for us, that we may live forever in him, and he in us. God is love, and He comes to us!

The gospel of our salvation is incredibly wonderful, and the most important truth in the universe. We should aim never to forget it, and never to neglect it. Not in thoughts, words, or deeds. It is truly our life.

This ancient truth is what matters. The most meaningful and wonderful truths in existence are held within it. It is to this old truth that we should be always looking, and not for a new understanding. I have often tried to write something original and “deep”, but I find that these are rarely worth reading. Such ideas may have some small worth, especially in a good context, but compared to the uncountable riches of salvation, they are nothing.

I should focus on the riches of God’s grace. Hopefully, what others have not yet found, I may show them, and if God one day allows me to notice a previously overlooked trinket among His treasures, then God will have shown me yet more favour that I don’t deserve.

That said, it is clear that we can’t all be full-time “theologians”, and I’m not sure a people composed entirely of theologians would be desirable. I am obliged to think about events other than salvation, and men other than Jesus. But at these times still, I should aim to keep in mind the gospel of God’s grace, which changes how we view all of reality, from the soul within us to the ground upon which we tread. There is nothing in reality which is not God’s, and there is nothing we should do if not for God. All things relate to the good news of my God, the Creator and the Redeemer. Perhaps this is part of what is meant by “pray without ceasing” (1Thess 5:17).

[I’d like to end with a prayer, if that’s all right. Let us close our eyes and pray. Are they closed yet? Good.]

Dear God, who by your mercy has offered us the gift of salvation,

Thank you for saving us.

Remind us constantly, and prepare our souls, to hold on to the good news of Your Kingdom.

By your grace, grant us the help we need to give up our all to possess Your Kingdom,

and to live out Your gospel, in love.

Help us to remember those who have not yet heard Your news,

and give us the courage and everything else we need, in order to share it with them.

Simplify our souls, so that we may accept your gospel entirely,

and live honestly before you.

Help us to pray better.

Thank you for the good news! You are so wonderful.

Amen.

[You may open your eyes now.]

May God bless you in all that you do.

A late Easter post

Good Friday

There are two main themes I see when Jesus foretold his suffering; disowning self and not being ruled by fear, and that greatness is truly through service.

1.

From that time began Jesus to shew to his disciples that it is necessary for him to go away to Jerusalem, and to suffer many things from the elders, and chief priests, and scribes, and to be put to death, and the third day to rise. And having taken him aside, Peter began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Be kind to thyself, sir; this shall not be to thee;’ and he having turned, said to Peter, ‘Get thee behind me, adversary! thou art a stumbling-block to me, for thou dost not mind the things of God, but the things of men.’
Then said Jesus to his disciples, ‘If any one doth will to come after me, let him disown himself, and take up his cross, and follow me, for whoever may will to save his life, shall lose it, and whoever may lose his life for my sake shall find it, for what is a man profited if he may gain the whole world, but of his life suffer loss? or what shall a man give as an exchange for his life?’
Matthew 16:21-26

Jesus taught the disciples that to truly live, they must disown themselves. No wealth on earth will last, and if you hold it too tightly, you will perish with it. We will all die, so there is no point allowing the fear of death to prevent us from truly living. Truly living is loving and serving others.
In the fear of death, your life is already taken, and you will die anyway, so what have you gained? Use your life, even to death, for good, and you are free.

Such fearless goodness in the face of evil, even evil towards you because of goodness, is how the world is overcome.

‘these things I have spoken to you, that in me ye may have peace, in the world ye shall have tribulation, but take courage—I have overcome the world.’
John 16:33

Jesus overcame the world, because he refused to be selfish and live half a life ruled by hurting and fearing his enemies. He refused the world’s standards, and, by the resurrection, he defeated them.

and this is the command we have from Him, that he who is loving God, may also love his brother… for this is the love of God, that His commands we may keep, and His commands are not burdensome; because every one who is begotten of God doth overcome the world, and this is the victory that did overcome the world—our faith;
1John 4:21…5:3-4

In faith in Jesus Christ, we too, share in this radical love that overcomes the world.

2.
Jesus prediction of his suffering in Matthew 20:18-19 and Mark 10:33-34, is preceded by him telling them that the first will be last, and the last first, and followed by Zebedee’s wife and sons request,

‘Grant to us that, one on thy right hand and one on thy left, we may sit in thy glory;’ and Jesus said to them, ‘Ye have not known what ye ask; are ye able to drink of the cup that I drink of, and with the baptism that I am baptized with—to be baptized?’
Mark 10:37-38

(The cup he’s about to drink and baptism he’s about to be baptized with, refer to his suffering and crucifixion)
Jesus tells them it’s not his choice, and the others get annoyed with them for asking. So Jesus explains to them,

‘but whoever may will to become great among you, he shall be your minister, and whoever of you may will to become first, he shall be servant of all; for even the Son of Man came not to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.’
Mark 10:43-45

Good Friday is about being a servant.

Easter Sunday
On the third day he rose, proclaiming new life, and proving that

The love doth never fail
1Corinthians 13:8

God bless you.