Merry Christmas!

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In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy-the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtle doves, or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death\ before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,

according to your word;

for my eyes have seen your salvation

that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

and for glory to your people Israel.”

And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.

Christian Patriot?

God and Country?

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Politics and religion, never to be mentioned in polite company. The former pressing its influence on everyone in a society, the latter individually influencing the views of those who belong to it. People like to be among those who are like minded, to face disagreement is to have our thoughts and intentions challenged. In a society where disagreement is equal to insult, these crucial topics, that for our own good we should be most ready to communicate about, have become very dangerous ground.

As much as people like to be individuals, even greater is their desire to be part of a group. Even the most independent, anti-social people wish more people would see things like they do, though maybe from…over there. We identify ourselves by the associations we are comfortable with and often feel compelled to lash out against those we aren’t comfortable with or simply don’t understand. Though affirmation of our own thoughts and feelings, or understanding of our shared situation can draw us into different groups, it isn’t being something, doing something or thinking something that forms groups and strengthens these associations so much as having them challenged or attacked, either as a group or individually. We seek protection from (or feel the need to protect) those who are in a similar position to ourselves, either by chance or by choice. While we may not have anything else in common, we pitch-in to further the greater cause. Safety in numbers has always been the way, not just for physical protection, but also for emotional, intellectual and spiritual comfort.
So what do we do when the expectations of membership in one group we belong to conflict with the undeniable requirements of another? I’m speaking of the difference between the opinions and actions associated with a modern interpretation of an American Patriot, versus the beliefs and spiritual fruits displayed by a Christian. Though our country was undeniably built on and around Christian values, Christian values aren’t subject to borders and our government isn’t controlled by the church. Our once Christian nation is becoming more secular, while our world is turning back to religious war. Wars in foreign nations, immigration of refugees, health insurance requirements, religious taxation, public educational bias, caring for the poor; all these things and more reveal potential conflict between serving God and serving country (and serving self).

I’d like to hear from you. What are your thoughts on a particular issue for you personally? Something you feel strongly about, struggle with or struggle with understanding in others, but please no attacks either personal or general. This is a big topic and nothing said here will solve the worlds problems, but if we continue to avoid facing and discussing the issues, both Christians and non-Christians, we will continue to weaken light the church is to shine and the nation in which we live.

Church? What’s the Point?

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I believe in God, why go to church?

A large and growing portion of our population believes in God, many even claiming to be Christian, see no reason to go to church. Busy lives, bad experiences, no experience, uncertainty of beliefs and countless other reasons erase the perceived value in gathering in the name of Christ. I say perceived because like other parts of our well being, the result of neglecting it isn’t something we notice right away. It’s a gradual process to start feeling worse from a lack of exercise, gain weight from a poor diet or stress, lose imagination from monotony, and if we’ve never had something, we don’t know what we’re missing anyway. The deficit eventually shows itself quite plainly, though we may not know how or why it got so out of control.

“Home Sweet Home”

It’s as old a saying as any, home sweet home is an homage to the comfort and peace that comes with isolation from the outside world in a familiar environment. Unfortunately home sweet home is losing its meaning. Sarcasm is increasingly it’s common use as we return from a long day only to begin a new schedule of must dos or family conflicts. Internet, television, video games, homework, work from home, cell phones and more can destroy the tranquility of home and bring the world right in with us. The place of solace a home should be gets lost and all we want to do is “get away”. Those who can afford it find and return to a favorite vacation spot, buy a beach house or cabin in the woods, a “home away from home” to seek the comfort and rejuvenation we get from knowing what to expect and relieving ourselves from our responsibilities, if only for a while.
Home is more than a place, it’s a feeling. “You can never go home again” is reflective of the ever changing world and our ever changing selves. Home for most people is a time and place of consistency, free from interruptions and pressure.

But Church?

Those who believe and those who are seeking are missing a glorious opportunity by not gathering as a body to honor God. It gives us a chance to shut off cell phones, relax with familiar faces and learn, to be reminded and expand our understanding of the truth that everything will work out, and why it doesn’t depend on us. A time to honor our unwavering, eternal creator. Any flame needs fuel, gathering with others in the name of the Lord refills our spiritual lamps. We are sent to shine the light of Jesus in the world and without regular engagement with the word and the body of Christ its not a light anyone will see in you.
Exercising once in a while just leaves you hurting for days. Yo-yo diets don’t work. Engaging any endeavor only comes to fruition with steady, ongoing attention. Starting to attend church can be painful at first. Finding one that fits, facing your brokenness, and accepting that Jesus Christ gave up his perfect life for you are all difficult things to come to terms with. Going to church once in a while is like a yo-yo diet, you start to feel better so you give in to old ways and by the time you start again you’re right back where you started. To gain any earthly comfort from your faith you must engage it regularly.
God asks only for our faith, give it to him and he will support us through whatever challenges the world throws at us. Once we accept His truth and turn to His way, life is given to us. Devoting time to God changes our perspective on the things we fill the rest of our time with, going to church is an honor and a blessing, not an obligation.

Holy Cow III

( for parts I and II go to Mettlechurch.com )

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If the differing views on what qualifies as acceptable have become so broad as to be no longer coherent as a unified body, how do we define and defend the true heart and spirit of Christianity without offending a great number of Christians? Frankly, we can’t. Nor can we expect to espouse our own beliefs without being offended by the critiques generated against them. The Lord offered different levels of understanding to different people throughout history. Things made clear to one person or group are deeply shrouded to others. Where we get caught up is when we work too hard to interpret what is written in the Bible, or when we think the message meant for us is meant for everyone.

Stand on Solid Ground

No matter how much or how long we study and pray for a full understanding of our place and responsibility as a member of the body of Christ, we will never fully comprehend it. The biggest mistakes generally spawn from an overconfidence in what we think we know. There are many things however, that are undeniable truths of Christianity, which to abandon is to abandon the entirety of Christian faith. Stand firm on the Word of God, whether it’s popular or not. Faith without integrity is no faith at all.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
If you disagree with this, you are not a Christian.
We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father,
through Whom all things came into existence,
Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down from the heavens, and was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man, and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried, and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures and ascended to heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father, and will come again with glory to judge living and dead, of Whose kingdom there will be no end;
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and life-giver, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son is together worshipped and together glorified, Who spoke through the prophets;
in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We confess one baptism to the remission of sins; We look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen
Without belief in what the Creed of Nicea proclaims, you are not a Christian. To disagree or debate the basic truth of this statement is to not believe in Christ. It’s far from all encompassing, but it is the core of any Christian’s faith. No, It’s not in the Bible, it doesn’t have to be to be true. It is a foundation statement of what the Bible teaches.

Have some mettle.

Still not sure what you believe? Fine, pray and study, ask questions. Don’t let society prevent you from engaging your faith. Don’t be afraid of what you may find out about God or yourself. If you are wondering, he is calling.
Stand up for what you believe and speak it with confidence. If your beliefs lead you away from the Bible, then go. Don’t expect God to change, don’t think by altering the Bible that the true word of God has changed. If you are sure that gays should marry, or that women should lead churches, go down with your burning ship if you believe it. You think heaven can be found through some other means than Jesus Christ, jump on the express rail to hell. Playing the part of a Christian while remaining convinced you’re saved because you’re such a great person, you will be shown the truth of your pride.
Believe in Jesus Christ and The Word? Hold tight to it, revel in it, pity those who have separated themselves from it. Read the Bible, know what it says and try to understand why. No one has full understanding of the Bible despite the claims of many, but much more of it is direct and to the point than many “experts” would have you believe. If an interpretation gives a piece of scripture a different meaning than the words plainly spell out, it’s wrong. There may be deeper meaning involved and in many cases there is, but something as simple as “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” needs no further interpretation, it

In His Name

Heresy is a man made crime, devised to give and maintain power to earthly masters. Things of God are eternal and not subject to ongoing whims of humanity. We are to gather and pray in His name. When we gather in his name we are not there on our own behalf, we are Christ’s representatives. Our prayers,are his prayers.We are to shine the light of His glory, not our own. We are to hold strong to the truth of scripture and share the message of salvation.

Holy Cow II

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What still qualifies as heresy?

To be Christian, do you have to believe Christ is the only way to eternal life? Some who claim they are, don’t. Does a Christian think the Bible is divinely inspired scripture? There are many working on changing it. Are these recently revived heresies still wrong considering how many people believe them? Does the changing view of revolving society have any bearing on the eternal truths of God’s message and standards?
With all the variety of church teachings and practices that have come about, what could even be called heresy these days? To be heretical is to go against the predominant beliefs, but hairs have been split so many times there is little left that is sacred. The Nicene Creed and the apostles creed both still hold up in most churches, but little else has universal agreement. It seems as though anything else you want to throw in the mix with them is totally up for debate. Surely there must be a number of people required to agree on something before it is established as a “common belief”. Mormons, Jehovah’s witnesses, and a variety of other groups claim to be believers in Christ but have greatly different views than Roman Catholics or protestants. There are a lot of them, so does that disqualify their differences as heresy? Under the official definition, it would seem they are.
As a person trying to come to a more stable grip on what you truly believe, its impossible to find the answers by looking up and down a rule book, especially when the rule book has things in it contradicting any reasonable understanding or is otherwise completely unrelated to the scripture its supposed to uphold. Something becoming holy simply by being popular among a certain crowd screams out against the necessary universal truth required of something truly divine.
“Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
Jesus said this. It has been used to give way to a great many things which oppose his greatest commandments, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” The things common throughout religious communities that go against what the Bible teaches are far too numerous to get into, not to mention all the stuff that has been tacked on because it doesn’t say you can’t. Christ was offering an ongoing dialog with the understanding that the rest of his message has already been considered when petitioning for exception or change. We should not expect our neighbors to be struck down and all their stuff to be given to you and your brother in law because you prayed for it and said “in Jesus name” at the end.
He spoke of things like, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” and“So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said, ‘this people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” When reaching various consensus’, forgotten is the requirement of keeping with the teachings of God for their beliefs and traditions to be valid points of faith or honorable forms of worship.

If one man stands alone as the last one believing Christ died for his sins, is he a heretic, and if so, is that a bad thing?

Matters of faith are not simply a popularity contest. Every belief, every truth, even sharing the story of Jesus Christ has been exceedingly unpopular in different times and places. Countless people have stood for beliefs which now seem unquestionable, only to be burned alive because it wasn’t popular when they said it. If one man stands alone as the last one believing Christ died for his sins, is he a heretic, and if so, is that a bad thing? The way God enabled our redemption, was by coming into the world as a heretic. Bringing a message of love, understanding and reconciliation which was so unpopular he was crucified for it. It wasn’t a new message, looking back it was already spelled out in the earliest communications of God to men, it had simply been turned on its head through adaptation to popular opinion.
From the Sacred Calf in the desert to the murder of Jesus Christ, mass murder of unbelievers to mass suicide, commonality of beliefs in no way indicates correctness of beliefs. There is an ever growing expanse of beliefs, people always thinking they have found a more righteous path, and in our societal turn to ignore rather than confront, it will continue, heresy has become a nothing word with little to no consequence.
(To be concluded…)

Holy Cow

And other Christian heresiescow
Definition of heretic
1religion :a person who differs in opinion from established religious dogma (see dogma 2);especially :a baptized member of the Roman Catholic Church who refuses to acknowledge or accept a revealed truth
• The church regards them as heretics.
2:one who differs in opinion from an accepted belief or doctrine :nonconformist

If you find serious fault within the structures of the church, you’re not alone. Christians have been finding faults among their fellow saints from the very beginning. Heresy has become more often noticed and spoken of by those outside organized religion than those within it. Some pretty obvious deviations from what Christ said provide easy targets for critics, both uninformed and informed, and those who participate in organized religion and those who don’t.

For over 300 years, the Christian faith expanded rapidly with little centralized leadership despite serious opposition, spawning varying beliefs among different church communities. Most of the root beliefs were the same but not always, and serious fundamentals were being twisted within certain groups. In the fourth century, the basic beliefs of Christians were confirmed by gathering the church leaders of the time. Known as the Council of Nicea, this group established a standard doctrine of faith for the followers of Jesus Christ. The church now had a unified understanding of beliefs. The Council had been called for by the Roman emperor Constantine due to his own conversion to Christianity from pagan beliefs, he accepted their doctrine and established it as the accepted religion of Rome. The other thing put in place was centralized earthly leadership attached to the ruling government. Those who refused to accept the newly established order were labelled heretics and either killed or forced underground by Roman authorities.

For the next 700 years these tenants of faith held together Christians as a single group. But as religious practices grew and hierarchy expanded, eventually there was a split. Known as the great schism, the catholic (universal) church was divided into two distinct factions, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic. The Eastern Orthodox dissenters were essentially accusing the church of heresy and didn’t want to be under Roman authority, so they split off and formed their own central leadership. These two groups continued to grow both in size and religious rules, divided by region and leadership for another 500 years, quieting any major dissent under the guise of silencing heretics. Then came the Reformation. A movement of faithful Christians of various levels of authority within the Roman church who were essentially labeling the Roman Catholic church and it’s leadership heretics.

Commonly blamed on Henry the VIII wanting a divorce, the reformation storm was brewing long before he was even born. With the major turning point coming through Martin Luther, the reformation gave heresy its biggest and broadest introduction to the average person. Suddenly everyone was vying for position as the new leadership of proper Christian faith. Since that time the number of Christian denominations has continued to grow, with each new division sighting another perceived heresy as their need to start a new group rather than be included with another.

According to the oldest of Christian communities, everyone not following their established and eternally updated doctrine and practices is a heretic. According to the newest of Christian communities, every group already existing are heretics. So as it turns out, all Christians are heretics depending on who you ask. It doesn’t carry the weight it once did, beheadings, torture, burning at the stake and the like doesn’t go on between rival Christian communities or individuals like it has in the past. There are vast and growing differences in beliefs and practices among those who consider themselves Christian, thankfully the desire and acceptability of killing each other over them has settled. Disagreements once grounds for scourging and execution have been accepted as theological differences worthy of little more than a roll of the eyes.

(to be continued…)