Archive for June, 2009

Modern Christianity

Modern "Christianity"

One of the apparent differences between what Christianity during the first centuries of its existence had to deal with and the problems it faces in the twenty-first century is that during its beginnings, Christians were surrounded by a large majority of people who sincerely thought that practicing a religion was perfectly legitimately done by offering incense and sacrifices to carved images of what we now call Pagan deities, be it their Greek versions of Zeus, Apollos, Aphrodite, etc., or their Roman or Babylonian counterparts.
One of the debates that kept St. Paul and his brethren busy, for example, was whether it was alright to eat food that had been offered to idols, maybe similar to the way we would wonder whether we should allow our teenage son or daughter to attend a rock concert of a questionable act that has been known to promote sodomy or witchcraft…

While the carved images of bygone days have long been history, only to be found in museums, I can’t help but wonder sometimes whether we really made that hurdle to overcome idolatry the way we may think we did…

Christianity wasn’t always as enlightened as it is today. When Mohamed came along, he was so disgusted by Christians bowing down to their statues of Mary and the saints, he swore to wipe that bunch of idolaters from the face of the earth.
Centuries later Martin Luther felt much like he had to do the same thing, and that Christendom was anything but a compliment to its Founder, but was content to reform the church, instead of starting a revolution.

Half a millennium later the majority of practicing Christians seems to have gotten the point that we don’t need any visible, carved images of God or any of His earlier followers in order to worship Him, and idolatry finally seems to be a problem of the past.

Or at least we got the point that it’s pretty dull to worship stuff hewn out of rock.
No, we’ve become a lot more versatile than that.
Much more innovative.

We figure, we’ve really got the scoop on the ancient Babylonians, Greeks and Romans, who worshiped sun, moon and stars, or statues of made-up gods and goddesses, and look down on them for being so dumb and Pagan…

In a world of talking images remotely controlled by buttons on a magic little tablet in our right, some holy grail filled with Budweiser or our favorite drink in the other, idols have become a lot more sophisticated and entertaining than statues hewn out of rock from a time when that’s just what a lot of folks earned their living with (no wonder they called it the “Stone Age”?).
We’ve got dancing pop stars, athletes, movie demigods and politicians dishing out promises that sound as glorious as the Promises of God Himself; and if we’re not into standing on the sidelines of some other sucker’s parade, we’ve got a moving, roaring idol in the garage that we spend our weekends polishing, or some other great achievement and fruit of the sweat of our brow.

Of course, then there are the more pious ones among us, who would never attend a Rolling Stones concert, not even care for Taylor Swift, but devote our time to listening to the Christian versions of Pop or Rock music, or attend mass happenings with star preachers pacing from one end of the stage to the other with the same type of headsets we already adored on Madonna or the Jackson offspring, only in this case to chime in the Hallelujahs and Amens from the tens of thousands around us at the event… something we usually don’t say when we’re at the mall or in school or at work.
After all, there is a time and a place for everything, and the time and place to worship the Lord is Sunday mornings, or at that other big organized event, but we don’t want to trouble our neighbors with our belief and love for the Lord. It probably wouldn’t be the Christian thing to do. In the 21st century.

But sometimes – just sometimes, I’m tempted to wonder how Jesus would fit in to one of those mega churches with tens of thousands making all that racket about Him, the Good Shepherd Who left the 99 in the fold in order to find the one lost sheep
Him, Who didn’t have a church to attend, only an occasional synagogue or temple He got kicked out of, threatened to be stoned to death by His brethren.
Him, Who didn’t have a place to lay His head, considering the foxes and birds more blessed in this aspect than Himself.
Him, Who urged His followers to forsake all their possessions if they wanted to be His disciples and to become fishers of men.

But you don’t become a fisher of men by assembling in huge gatherings to sing songs and listen to sermons in order to make yourself feel good.
The lost sheep are found on the highways and hedges of this world, and just like Mohamed of old, they’re not very impressed by people worshiping their own “Christian” versions of the very same things the world around them worships…
They may not be able to tell what the Real Thing is, but they sure know when it ain’t.

No, we don’t worship stony, graven images anymore, Hallelujah! But are we free from idolatry in this, our enlightened 21st century? You tell me!

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Pharisees - Then as now

Pharisees - Then as now

When googling for “the Family International,” (which happens to be the faith community I’m a member of since 30 years) one comes across a great variety of pages from all sorts of sources and different corners of the market of New Religious Movements, along with opinions and statements aplenty, both from our brothers and sisters around the world presenting their window to the world via the web, as well as disgruntled ex-members, and a bunch of “experts” who will define our community for you in their own particular way, based on whatever input they have gleaned about us from their sources.
Some remain factual, while others tend to gravely exaggerate. Unfortunately, whenever the media scrape together information, they prefer the exaggerations over the factual report: After all, their job is to divert the public’s attention from the fact that their economy is history, and that they’ll soon have bigger problems than they ever before would have imagined, and there’s nothing like a nice juicy scandal in order to make people feel better about themselves and their System, especially a scandal about the most hated and despised groups of people of all: the “SEX CULTS.”
According to them, my wife is a prostitute, and I’m a pimp who sends her out to get money whenever we’re broke. That’s just the way we do things in the Family – according to the media. And that’s pretty much as certain as the fact that we descended from the monkeys or that a bunch of carpet-knife swinging Muslim extremists perpetrated 9/11, and the list of “facts” goes on and on, that makes up the modern Western world view of our society in the 21st century.
Unless you happen to pay a closer look at the details, instead of just swallowing whatever gossip you hear, or whatever mantras you’re being fed from the mainstream machinery of propaganda.
Facts, for example, like the one that it is an ex-communicable offense for full-time Family members to have any sexual contact with outsiders since around 1986. The problem is, how can you practice prostitution if you’re not allowed physical contact with anyone outside the narrow circle of the full-time membership of your congregation?

Granted, the beliefs of the Family are generally a little more open-minded and permissive regarding sexuality than the average church’s, some of which even deny their members the right to re-marry once they’ve been divorced. And there have been times we went a little wild on some of our liberties. But those days are long gone.
It’s also true that we have some “weird” beliefs other churches don’t share, like spirit helpers, etc., and we vehemently refuse to believe that God stopped speaking and revealing things to His people 2000 years ago when John the Disciple finished writing the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible.
But that still doesn’t make us a New Age cult, just because we might believe in some similar things some New Agers do. In fact our faith is probably more fundamentally based on the Bible than that of the average members of modern congregations and churches, including the Catholic Church.

While far from perfect, in my opinion, the Family is the closest thing in existence to the Early Church, the followers of Christ during the first 3 centuries before Christianity became an established religion: a time during which Christians were labeled a sect, suffered relentless persecution, lived communally, did not worship in any temples or church buildings, and basically taught as Jesus taught them, that in order to be a disciple, one had to renounce his earthly possessions and become a messenger for the Cause of Christ – pretty much all attributes that also apply to (full-time membership of) the Family.

Jesus said in His famous and often-cited so-called “sermon” on the mount (which wasn’t really a sermon, since it was only directed at His 12 disciples, having left the multitude behind), “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake” (Matth.5:11).
When was the last time you or your church experienced the “blessing” of persecution and of people saying all sorts of things about you that weren’t true? When was the last time you lived a godly life in Christ Jesus the only way Paul said this was possible – by suffering persecution?
When was the last time you were in the arena along with the rest of the true believers, facing the lions, instead of up in the grandstands, along with the mob?

Let me give you a little lesson from something we usually never learn from: history.

The religious authorities who persecuted Jesus suffered a similar fate as the one they had imposed on Him 40 years after they had crucified Him at the hands of the Romans when Jerusalem was besieged and the temple destroyed.
The kind of persecution and slander you’re perpetrating against us today is only a little foretaste of what you will experience yourselves in due time when the world will be so tired of the hypocrisy that Christianity today stands for, that it will practically demand of its coming leader to “wage war against the saints” during the greatest Tribulation this world has ever known (and no, the “saints” it talks about here are not the Jews, since the only way a person can become a “saint” is through the blood of Jesus Christ; and no, Jesus will not come before that Tribulation!).

Maybe we’re strange, weird, and definitely a little different than you. But try to imagine how the Early Church must have looked to the by-standers on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit first fell on them, and they all started speaking in different languages, languages they had never learned! That certainly must have had a “New Age” slant to it!
Communal living in a more radical form than any Communists ever achieved! No wonder the authorities felt like they had to stamp out that dangerous sect, and tried to do so for 300 years.
Would you have been among the persecuted, or the persecutors?

That choice is up to you, today, and depends on who you’re going to believe. Just remember Jesus’ advice not to judge, because by the same standard with which you will measure others, you will also be weighed.

Time will do the talking, as to whether we’re the Real Thing or just another bunch of weirdoes that will sink into oblivion like so many others before.
But before you’re going to believe any lies about us (and alas, there are many), get your own picture.
Don’t worry. We’re not going to try to seduce you or lure you or hypnotize you. We’ve got our own problems and challenges to deal with and don’t really need any more.
But we’ve also found the Answer how to deal with those problems and challenges in Jesus, and that’s the one Thing we can share, just as it was for the Early Church.
Jesus is just as alive and kicking as He was in the Book of Acts. He hasn’t stopped talking. The Holy Spirit is not on vacation. And if you’ve had extra-marital sex in your life, cheer up! There’s hope! That’s doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to hell, contrary to what many others will try to make us believe.
On the other hand, if it’s the loaves and fishes you’re looking for, that some claim we’re offering, you might be a little disappointed. We’re not the Sex Cult we’re made out to be, just another bunch of radical, sold-out Jesus Freaks, much to the chagrin of the god of this world, whose time is going to be up soon.
We don’t have a nice big church to offer, with comfortable pews and big entertainment, just the truth: God is alive and still doing the same miracles He did before, and greater ones to come.

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A lot of people are dying these days, and there have been quite a handful of deaths of people we’ve known recently. It’s almost as if they’re sensing that times are going to be harder, and they want to be spared from having to go through that. Or even, if they weren’t aware of what’s coming, God in His mercy spared them from the worst…

Having to deal with death brings up certain questions, because it inevitably causes confrontation between the differing attitudes toward death of believers and unbelievers. Those who don’t believe in a life after death or in a just God of love Who simply knows best when it’s time for a person to go, become bitter toward Him (no matter how vehemently they claim not to believe in Him), and they cling to their own (self-)righteousness and oppose those who claim that God is fair and just and knows what He’s doing.

It explains why in the world Jesus could have ever have said something as outrageously politically incorrect as “Let the dead bury their dead, and come thou, follow Me.” He didn’t have anything to do with their rituals and games, nor their temporal little positions of individual power in a temprary little life that culminates in a bunch of people standing and sobbing around a coffin’ singing “It’s all over now.”

He was working for a Cause precisely destined to put an end to that type of game, namely to free people from the fear of death, and to pluck out that sting of death, that seems so threatening, but becomes ridiculous in the Presence of the Son of God Who is the resurrection and the life, and whoever believes in Him will never die.

Now, either Jesus was a lunatic for ever having said such a thing, or it was the truth. And if it was the truth, then why do we mourn? Except, of course, for our own momentary loss of that person’s physical presence. But if we really believe, then why not act on it and show that we can’t be fooled into thinking that this life is all there ever was and will be.

Of course, some Christians don’t make it exactly easy on others to believe in a life after death, either. They preach “eternal insecurity,” where you’re saved only for so long as you remain a sinless saint, which is probably the most perverted variety of the Christian faith the Devil ever concocted. Because if it were possible to either get or remain saved by our own behavior and actions, then Jesus could have saved Himself His trip to Golgatha and just stayed on His throne, applauding all those incredible heroes of goodness.

So, if you’re not sure whether your loved one’s in Heaven or Hell, go on and mourn about your own insecurity, or get some security by reading the Bible. According to Jesus, if you really believe, you can even determine yourself where that person is going, and the best thing you can do for them is pray, not weep.

So, why did Jesus have to say that dreadful thing: “Let the dead bury their dead”?

Because people who believe that this life is all there is, and all they ever work for is their momentary position of power and wealth in this temporary life, are as good as dead, as far as the aspects of Eternity – His aspects – are concerned. If you live for the here and now, and it all just culminates in your burial, buddy, then you’ve been dead all along, and what it should say on your gravestone is “Died at 30, buried at 70.”

Those who follow and trust the living God, however, are living in the land of the living, and are so convinced of the truth in Jesus’ words that “Whosoever lives and believes in Me shall never die,” that death is really only a promotion to second grade that shouldn’t be mourned but celebrated, no matter how many hellfire-and-brimstone preachers try to make you believe that “Hell’s Best Kept Secret” is that Jesus was only kidding when He said that.

Other dreadful things Jesus said: Matt.10:34-37, 12:48-50, 18:6

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