Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Break from History

I had a long discussion with my wife Tracey the past two days. Our discussion goes back to the age old questions about why God allows bad things to happen to good people? Why do children get stricken with severe diseases and illnesses only to die young? Why do accidents often steal our loved ones from us? Why do good Christians, who supposedly are living the life in relationship with the Lord, have to suffer and die like everyone else?

I have answers to these questions, but first I want to state that these are my ideas that have developed over many years of wrangling with these questions, and many of my brother and sister Christians may disagree. That is okay. "Seek your salvation with fear and trembling," or some similar quote from the Bible is at the heart of my answer. I have an older sister who was born with spinomeningoencephalocill, which means the base of her skull did not close properly when she was forming in the womb. This left her with profound brain damage. I had a cousin Bradley, who was one of the sweetest down-syndrome kids anyone could ever know. I have a son who lives with autism.

Did God do this to us? Does he say, "I'll curse that child and his/her family?"

In my He does not.

God gave us Free Will. He did this so we can choose to love him. Otherwise we would simply be automatonic slaves with no real meaning in our relationship to him. Free Will means we get to decide how we are going to live, and whether we will choose to follow his teachings. Free Will shows the infinite love He has for us. You may have heard the expression, "If you love something set it free, if it comes back it is yours." Free Will and our relationship with God is kinda like that.

However, Free Will does mean that we may make bad choices. It means we get to develop in a world that is humanly controlled, despite the divine inspiration he seeks through us. It means that we, in our sinful, fallen nature, must suffer. It means we must die. Some of us will develop horrible diseases. Some will die or be mangled in accidents. Sometimes our children suffer birth defects.

It has always angered me when I hear other Christians say, "God gave you this child as a test." Right. God decided, "I'll retard this child to see if his parent's will grow in their faith." If He is love and truly is a Father, as Jesus pointed out, he would not do such a thing. If we have Free Will, he certainly would not do such a thing.

So what do I believe? I believe mankind lives in a sinful state with Free Will. We choose whether or not to follow Him, to serve Him, or to be obedient to His will. To quote that bumper sticker, "Sh.. Happens!" This is the life we live. The Lord never promises Christians a better life in this world than the non-believers. Our rewards are in the afterlife with him, in eternal communion in the loving spirit of God.

Even Jesus was destined to die. He faced death knowing that he did not have to, but if mankind was to be lifted above their sinful nature, and to have everlasting life in God, it had to happen. There is an eternal justice, and the sins of man had to be reconciled. He did it.

Do I believe that God has a plan for us and our world? Definitely. However, he works through His followers. He entrusts us with the earthly kingdom. Does God make his plans known? Yes, again, I definitely believe that God can do anything He chooses to do, but it will be for His glory, and to further the Body of Christ on Earth.

Some Christians believe that God has a plan for which shoes they should wear. I think this goes against the basic precepts of Free Will.

The greatest gift, outside of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, is the Holy Spirit. The Great Councilor. I believe that although God does not strike down our children, he offers the Holy Spirit to give us the Grace to overcome, to relate to, to understand, to accept, and to teach from our sorrows and pains. I know how Stephanie, my sister, effected me and countless others. I know how blessed I am to have Kevin in my life, and I have also seen how his enduring smile and infectious love of others effects everyone who comes in contact with him. I know how much I learned from watching my Grandfather Edgar die of cancer with grace and dignity.

All life is a lesson. If you let the Holy Spirit guide you, council you, and open yourself to the love, forgiveness, and acceptance that Christ offers, you can live in peace and acceptance. Yes, it still hurts. Yes, it is unfair. Yes, the pain never really goes away. But, the relationship with God is eternal. And in Heaven, all pain is gone, all disease cured, all children- perfect.

When I die and go to Heaven, someday I will dance with my sister. See there is one great truth. Those who never leave a state of innocence are destined to be in Heaven, and there they are perfect.

What a glorious day that will be.

Love in Christ to All,


Monday, October 19, 2009

The Growth of Christianity

Jesus rose from the Dead and appeared to his followers. The Book of Acts states this number was about 120 members. After teaching them for a period of time (40 days), He ascended back to heaven as a "cloud took him out of their sight." The followers then returned to Jerusalem and went to the "Upper Room" where they were staying.

The leaders at this time were Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James (Son of Aplaheus), Simon, and Judas (son of James). They were joined by many female followers of Christ as well, including Mary, the mother of Christ.

Peter immediately took the reigns he had been given as the "Rock" upon which Jesus would build his Church on Earth. He gathered them together and they discussed who would take Judas Iscariot's position as an apostle. Not able to decide, they let fate intervene by throwing lots, and the follower, Matthias, was added to the eleven apostles.

The the Day of Pentecost came and all of them felt the presence of the Holy Spirit as it came down from heaven like a "rush of violent wind" and tongues of something like fire rested on each of them as they were filled by the Holy Spirit. They began speaking in other tongues, and many foreigners heard them speaking and were shocked at this development. It caused such a commotion, that some men accused them of all being drunk "with new wine." Peter began to preach to them and told the story of Christ and all that had been foretold about him. His words and the Spirit filled the crowd and many asked what they should do.

His answer, "Repent, and be baptized." Amazingly, the Book of Acts reports that over three thousand people were saved that day and became devoted to following the apostle's teachings.

Many began to sell everything they owned to live in a commune style to learn and praise, but also looking to the day that God would return. They shared everything and "day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved."

Daily the apostles went to the temple and taught the Jews the good news. This disturbed the Sadducees who had Peter and John arrested for it, but they couldn't prevent the rapid growth of the Christian sect of Judaism. The Book of Acts records that the number of Christians were now over 5,000.

The leaders of the Jews brought them to trial, but they knew that Peter and John had caused a lame man to be healed and everyone was talking about the miracle. They decided to allow Peter and John to go free if they agreed to no longer do things in the "name" of Jesus. Peter, who had once denied Christ three times, refused, and in his righteousness, the leaders could not agree on a punishment and let them go.

It was only the beginning.