As an avid reader of the Bible I have come to rediscover and know God personally, and through His word He continues to give me wisdom and understanding to grow in my faith. As I travel along this journey of spiritual growth and discovery, I have been compelled to get a better understanding of the history and truth about the Christian faith, and here is a little of what I have learned.
Like most of us, I was brought up being taught that the Christian faith is based on the teachings of the Christian Bible, a compilation of sacred writings inspired by God that contains God's truth about the history of mankind and His plan for our futures. It is the core of Christian Faith, but why are there so many different versions of the Christian Bible?
As I dug deeper I discovered that what is contained within the Bible depends greatly on the Christian church in which you belong to. For example, the traditional Christian Bible is made up of two sections. The OLD TESTAMENT, which refers to a collection of ancient Israeli religious writings known as the Hebrew Bible, makes up the first major section of traditional Christian Bibles. While the Hebrew, Greek and Latin versions of the Hebrew Bible are the best-known Old Testaments, there were others. But the Hebrew Bible itself is based on the Hebrew Canon approved by Rabbinic Judaism, however not all the Hebrew/Aramaic books were included in the final canonization. The inclusion or exclusion of the writings found in or outside the Hebrew Bible vary between the major Christian churches; Protestants accept only the Hebrew Bible's canon, but divide it into 39 books, Catholics include additional books that are not part of the Hebrew Bible, for a total of 46 books, while the Eastern Orthodox, Coptic and Ethiopian churches recognize a considerably larger collection.
The second section of the traditional Christian Bible is referred to as the NEW TESTAMENT. It is a collection of Christian works written in the Greek language of the first century, at different times by various writers, and canonically named after the early Jewish disciples of Jesus Christ. In almost all Christian traditions today, the New Testament consists of 27 books, with the exception of the New Testament of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which recognize a larger collection.
So as you can see there is little argument that the books of the traditional Christian Bible were inspired by God and express the history of the relationship between God and his people, but the list of books considered to be authoritative scripture was developed through debate and agreement by men of religious authorities for their respective faiths. Therefore it is through this process that we see multiple versions of the traditional Christian Bible used by the major Christian churches today.
The CHRISTIAN CHURCH:
Like most of us, I grew up believing that the Christian church was a place where Christians could gather together, worship and grow in their faith, and be apart of the Christian family. But why are there so many different churches?
As I dug deeper I discovered that the first major organized Christian church began with the Catholic Church, which is believed to have originated through the apostles of Jesus Christ and was the mainstay of Christian faith for the first 1000 years. However, major differences in scriptural interpretation among other things, provided the catalyst for two major changes in the Christian faith - The Great Schism and the Protestant Reformation. These two events would result in a split of the Catholic Church into the main churches that we see today; Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant. Additionally, within the Protestant church there are even further divisions (i.e. Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran etc.). Although most all Christian churches today share in the a common Christian belief that is summed up within the Nicene Creed, formulated in 325 AD, they disagree on many interpretations of scriptural doctrine such the requirements and need of baptism, the forgiveness of sin and even the path to salvation among other things, and it is for these reasons that we see so many different Christian churches and denominations in the world today
I have only touched on a small area of my research into the history of Christian faith and there is much more information that brings to light many topics and subjects of dispute when it comes to religion and the Christian faith. But if religious authorities and scholars cannot agree on the content or teachings of the Bible, then how are we expected to know what the truth is? It is no wonder that religious belief is such a major source of dispute and violence throughout history. Everyone thinks their belief is the truth and anyone who doesn't think or act like them is wrong.
The fact is all of us, whether we want to admit it or not are looking for some sort of truth in our lives; a meaning and purpose for why we exist. While some look to science or other worldly things to give meaning and purpose to our lives, most of humanity throughout history believes in something greater than ourselves that gives our lives meaning. Now, I am not here to dispute or argue what other people believe is their truth. We all have a choice in what we believe or don't believe, and in the end we will all find out whether we were right. Rather, I am here to give my own testimony of how my belief of the truth has impacted my life.
Let me first say that I have researched many different world religions, and the Christian faith makes the most sense to me. It is the only religion where you can have a personal relationship with our heavenly father, and although there is much disagreement among scholars and religious authorities on the content and interpretation of the Bible within the church, I believe the core message of the bible, regardless of the version or church, is very simple;
From the beginning God created us to have a close personal and loving relationship with Him, but because of our sinful nature we lost that relationship and are condemned to die, both physically and spiritually. However, because of God's LOVE for us, he decided through His GRACE to offer all of us a final choice of SALVATION and HOPE through FAITH in his son Jesus Christ, who came into this world to serve, teach and become the ultimate example for all humankind by conquering sin and death so that we may recognize the awesome power and glory of God and see the fulfillment of a promise foretold by our heavenly father, a promise of a Savior who would come into this world to sacrifice himself for the sins of all humankind so that we could be born again as children of God, regain a personal, loving relationship with our heavenly father and be filled with his spirit to live a life for His glory.
But living a life in FAITH is much more than just believing that we are made right with God and forgiven of our sins through our FAITH in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. For if we truly are faithful followers of Jesus Christ we should live our lives by example through the way we conduct our own lives as believers. In other words, living a life in FAITH means expressing our FAITH with acts of tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness. And above all, with LOVE. For it is LOVE which binds us all together in perfect harmony. For it is only when our FAITH is expressed in action that we truly exemplify the fullness and spirit of FAITH and begin to experience what it means to have the true joy and peace in our life that our heavenly father wants us to have.
This is my truth and what I believe is the core message true Christianity. I say this because I have lived most of my life in the darkness and have personally experienced the emptiness, pain and guilt that comes from being separated from our heavenly father, but through my belief of this truth and living my life by the examples and teachings of Jesus Christ himself, I have been able to see my life change dramatically. But these changes in my life did not come overnight, and life's difficulties did not stop happening just because I accepted this truth. It was, and continues to be a growing process that has lead me to knowing God personally and staying strong in my faith. By making a conscious choice to accept God's grace, putting complete trust and faith in Him, seeking wisdom and comfort through His word and prayer I now understand what it means to personally experience true joy and peace in my life. I can now feel God's hand working in my life and can see the lighted path that leads to a life who's purpose is to glorify God and who's reward is an eternal life that will be filled with unfailing love, joy and peace.
Although I now live my life for His glory, I do not live my life believing that my truth makes me any better that anyone else. Remember, we are all sinners and have come short of God's glory. But It is my hope that when you read my testimony of the truth and the changes and impact that God's grace has made, and continues to make in my life, that perhaps you will open your heart to God and begin to understand the true power and glory of our heavenly father and realize His purpose for your life.
Amazing Grace, we all recognize the hymn written in the late 18th century by John Newton, it's been been sung millions of times in churches and funerals alike and is one of the most recognizable songs in the English-speaking world today. But how did it come to be and what does it mean?
To answer these questions we have to start with the Creator. Not the person who wrote the hymn, but the One who took an unknown man by the name of John Newton, a man whose life of insubordination and trials would lead him down the path to a spiritual discovery that would inspire him to put into words the truth of God's amazing Grace, words that describe the foundation of the Christian Faith and would go on to inspire countless generations.
Sound familiar? it should, because this is the story of each and every one of us who have found our way through life's trials and tribulations to discover the gift of divine Grace; the God-given gift that we don't deserve, but is offered to us because of God's love for us, the gift that offers us redemption of our sins through Faith in our Lord and Savior - Jesus Christ, the gift that will fill our life's with hope and promise of an eternal life filled with joy and peace, a gift that is so simple to receive, if we just open our hearts and ask.
So in our moments of weakness, let us take the time to hear the sounds of this wonderful hymn and reflect on God's divine healing power and the true meaning of God's Amazing Grace…
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
'Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
When we've been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we've first begun.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me....
I once was lost but now am found,Was blind, but now, I see.
"Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies"
Some of you may recognize this classic and memorable line from one of my favorite modern day motion pictures. It is a quote from the 1994 movie; The Shawshank Redemption, a fictional film about a banker who is wrongly accused of a double murder and begins a life sentence at Shawshank prison, where he finds comfort and redemption by never giving up hope.
In the movie, the character was able to overcome hardships and pain by staying focused on the hope that one day he would be free from his captors to be able to live out his life on a beach somewhere in Mexico.
Just like the fictional character in the movie, most of us are familiar with hope, it's what gives us the confidence that what we desire will actually happen, it is the beacon of light that gives us comfort in knowing that our expectations will be obtained.
As a person of Faith I have come to realize that there is no greater hope than the message of hope that God gives to us. A message of hope that comes from God’s amazing Grace in which He offers us salvation; or redemption for our sins, through our faith in Jesus Christ. For it is through this divine message of hope that our personal relationship with God is renewed and our bodies become filled with his spirit to begin living a life for His glory. A message of hope that promises a new beginning, one that will guide us, comfort us and reward us with an eternal life apart from the world we know, a place where there is no sorrow or pain, but only joy and peace with our heavenly father.
Without this message of hope in my life there would be no comfort or redemption, only despair and a dying spirit in knowing that there is nothing more than what I can see. But because I choose to put my complete trust and faith in God, I gain the confidence that what He promises us will actually happen.
In a world that is full of choices and desires, we must remember that Hope is a beautiful thing, and in the end, we all must choose, to either get busy living, or get busy dying!
One night as I sat in my office feeling God's spirit and praying that He would continue to give me the wisdom, strength and patience to stay strong in my faith, I was compelled to take a moment to seek out and listen to the testimonies of other Christians. For me, it is always comforting to hear the stories of others who have overcome life's struggles and found their purpose in serving and glorifying God. It makes me feel good in knowing that I am not alone and that God is out there working in the lives of others. It is also very humbling and allows me to put my own troubles and doubts back into perspective.
As I turned to one of my favorite websites and began to search I came across the testimonies of two men who had found fame and fortune in the music industry. Each had grown up knowing God in their youth, and each had reached a point in their career where they allowed their faith to be over shadowed by their own desires. Suddenly their lives began to spiral out of control and eventually their lives hit a brick wall and they began to realize that they could no longer handle this life alone. It was at this crossroad in their lives that they made a conscious choice to surrender their lives to their faith, and now they live their lives with purpose in knowing that they have all they need through their Faith in Jesus Christ.
As I pondered the testimonies of these two men it reminded me very much of my own life, and it made me realize that although we are all very different in many ways, we are all very much the same. Each of us, whether we recognize it or want to admit it, has a longing to be loved and accepted. It is the driving force for just about every action we take. From the time that we are born we long for the love and acceptance of our parents, when we get married we are looking for a spouse who will love and accept us for who we are, when we pursue careers or seek our circle of friends we long to be accepted and loved, and the list goes one. No matter how you look at it, we all have an inner need to belong through the love and acceptance of others.
However, too often in life we fail to get the love and acceptance we search for and we get frustrated and begin to lash out in ways that are detrimental to our spiritual nature. We often turn to money or fame, drugs or alcohol to hide the pain and frustration, or as a way to be loved and accepted by our peers, only to find out that it is all in vain.
But just like the testimonies of the two men, I discovered that when we turn our focus to God and surrender ourselves to our faith in Christ we begin to understand there is no bliss without the love of our heavenly father, and when we begin to accept His love and give love, we receive love. This is how it was meant to be. It is the reason and purpose God made us, to love Him with all your heart and soul, and to share our love with others. But when we choose to do things "our way" it takes away our relationship with God, away from the love that brings us into harmony with God and with each other.
In our search for love and acceptance we need only to open our hearts and accept God's gift of grace, which promises us salvation through faith in our Lord and Savior - Jesus Christ. For it is only through our faith that we will find the love and acceptance that we all long for.
Living a life in Faith is an amazing thing. For it is because of our Faith in Jesus Christ that we are given Hope through the promise of Salvation, and with Salvation comes a new spirit filled life that allows us to have a personal and loving relationship with our Creator.
But living a life in Faith can be difficult. One of these difficulties is learning to being patient with God's plan and purpose for us.
Growing up, I was introduced to the Christian Faith at an early age, and in those days one of the lessons that I learned was that "God has a plan and a purpose for each of us". However, in a world that is so focused on power, position and pride, where everyday we are constantly being bombarded with the pressure to fit in with society and the world around us, it becomes very difficult sometimes to be patient and recognize just how God is working in our lives to fulfill His purpose for us.
It becomes even more difficult when everyday we feel like we are trying our best to live our lives in ways that we believe are pleasing to our heavenly father; we study our Bible, we pray, we work hard to share our love of God and His message of hope with others, we set goals and make plans for our lives, yet at times we are still left feeling empty and unfulfilled inside because the plans and dreams we visualize or believe were part of God's plan for us do not come to fruition quite like we want them to. Eventually this pressure can lead us to become frustrated, and we start to become impatient with waiting for God to show us His plan for our lives.
In my journey to discover the answer of how to deal with this difficulty, I have found that the reality is that we don't really know how God will use us to fulfill His purpose. Even though God made us in His own image, we do not possess the divine wisdom of our creator, nor do our plans always align with His. Remember we are talking about the creator of the heavens and the earth and all that is in it! We are like grains of sand on the shores of an infinite universe, a universe that was made with a blink of an eye by our creator, a creator who knows every hair on our heads and takes the time to know each and everyone of us because He loves us.
We must understand that God allows things to happen (or not happen) in our lives for His reasons, whether or not we understand them or not we must remember that God is good, just, loving, and merciful. Often time’s things happen to us that we simply cannot understand. However, instead of doubting God's goodness, our reaction should be to trust in Him, praise Him and give thanks for what we do have.
God DOES have a plan for each of us, and when we put our complete trust in the Him and lean not on our own understanding we will recognize that God's gift of Grace is sufficient, for it is His power that is made perfect in our weakness, and when we open our eyes and heart to God and accept His Grace, we will understand that the only way to safely navigate life in this world is to keep our eyes on Jesus Christ, not on ourselves or the circumstances or expectations of the world around us. For it is through our Faith in Christ that paves "the way" to our heavenly father who will help us complete our journey and eventually fulfill His purpose for us if we just stay patient and endure.
Living a life in FAITH is an amazing thing. For it is through our FAITH that we are given HOPE with the promise of SALVATION, and with salvation comes a new spirit filled life that allows us to regain a personal, loving relationship with our heavenly father and to begin living a life for His glory.
But living a life in Faith can be difficult. One of these difficulties is dealing with our selfish pride.
As a person of faith we are called to serve and glorify God by the way we live our lives and the actions we take that exemplify the spirit of our faith; mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and love for one another. But although our spirit is willing, our body is weak, and there will be days when we let our pride take control of our lives. Not the kind of pride that is a product of one's sense of praise toward another, but the kind of selfish pride that comes from an inflated sense of one's self and the entitlements we feel we deserve. You know, those days when you just finished up a big project that you've been working on for months, or finally landing that big promotion at work, those day when you put your focus on yourself and step back to see all the things you've accomplished and begin to feel proud for a job well done. Selfish pride, we've all been a victim of it.
But there is a reason why pride is dangerous and detrimental to our spiritual growth. Selfish pride gives us a false sense of who we are and can lead us down the path of giving in to worldly desires and emotions that ultimately separate us from our relationship with our heavenly father.
Recently I myself fell victim to selfish pride and the consequences that followed. Having just completed a major milestone towards the start-up of a new business I was feeling proud, I had worked weeks getting this phase of the project completed and now it was done, but instead of being thankful to God for allowing me to be successful I instead was overcome with selfish pride, my reaction was to convince myself that I deserved to be treated with a reward, a celebration of sorts for a job well done.
Unfortunately my self-centered reaction caused me to momentarily loose sight of my faith and stumble back into worldly desires rooted in self-gratification, and as a consequence I began to feel the negative emotions; shame, guilt and self-pity that were brought on by my separation from God.
But the good news is that we can prevent and even overcome our selfish pride if, during those moments of weakness, we just stop and take a moment to realize that living a life in faith means living our lives for His glory, not ours, it means living a life with selflessness and humility, and not self-centerness and self-gratification.
We must also remember that everything we have, every accomplishment we achieve and every gift we are given is because of Him and for His purpose.
We must remember that we are stewards of the gifts He has given us, and to those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, with abundance. But to those who do not use wisely what they are given, even what little they have will be taken away.
And most importantly when we do fall victim to our selfish pride, we must understand that God is merciful and forgiving, He understands the difficulties and struggles that we have to deal with, and when we turn to Him in earnest and ask for forgiveness, He will forgive.
Remember, although we are weak and our bodies are dying, our spirit is being renewed every day through the difficulties we must bear. For it is during these difficult times that it shows whether our FAITH is genuine, and it offers us the opportunity to become closer to our heavenly father so that we may experience the true joy and peace that comes through our FAITH.
Living a life in FAITH is an amazing thing. For it is through our FAITH that we are given HOPE with the promise of SALVATION, and with salvation comes a new spirit filled life that allows us to regain a personal, loving relationship with our heavenly father to begin living a life for His glory.
But living a life in Faith can be difficult. One of these difficulties is dealing with tragedy in our lives and the world today. Tragedy can come in many forms, such as the tragic loss of a loved to cancer, the sudden loss of a loved one taken away by a drunk driver or some other senseless act like the recent massacre of innocent children at the Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. Everyday the world is full of tragedy and suffering, and everyday it seems like we are overwhelmed with traumatic events in the news that affect our lives, which begs the question "Why does God allow such suffering and senseless tragedy to happen?"
It is my belief that the first step to answering this question is realizing that there are things in this world and our lives that we simply have no control over. However, the one thing we do have control of is how we react. Often times our first reactions to events we do not understand begins with the process of dealing with our emotions. We may feel sadness, anger, depression, grieve or even hatred and begin doubting God's goodness and mercy. This is normal and it reminds us that we are human. But it is during these most difficult times of tragedy, suffering and doubt that we have a choice. We can either let our emotions harden our hearts and live our lives in anger, resentment and hopelessness, or we can turn to our Faith for comfort, understanding and hope. For it is during these difficult times that it shows whether our Faith is genuine and it gives us the opportunity to become closer to our heavenly father. By choosing to rely on our Faith we come to the realization that sometimes God allows things to happen for His reasons, whether or not we understand them or not. Often times God uses tragedies to bring about positive change in our lives that fulfill His purpose. But when we seek comfort in His word we are reminded that God is good, just, loving, and merciful. And instead of doubting God's goodness, our reaction should be to trust Him. For God has a plan for each of us and when we put our complete trust in Him and lean not on our own understanding, we are given the gift of hope for the future in knowing that we are not alone, and no matter what, we have a loving father who will comfort us in our time of need, not allow us to suffer more than we can bear and reward us with eternal joy and peace if we just continue to have FAITH.
Living a life in FAITH is an amazing thing. For it is through our FAITH that we are given HOPE with the promise of SALVATION, and with salvation comes a new spirit filled life that allows us to regain a personal, loving relationship with our heavenly father to begin living a life for His glory.
But living a life in Faith can be difficult. One of these difficulties is the reality that we will never be perfect or without sin in our lives because of our sinful nature. Although we strive for perfection in God's eyes, no matter how hard we try, no matter how righteous we think we are, we all succumb to sin at some point in our lives. Sometimes the same sin is repeated.
So how can we be expected to be good enough to be a child of God when we cannot control our sinful nature? How many times will God forgive us? Will He always love and forgive us because of our FAITH in Jesus Christ?
The short answer is yes, but how do we deal with those difficult times in our lives when we do succumb to sin and are overcome with feelings of shame, guilt and unworthiness, or maybe even want to give up trying because we know that we are weak and will never be perfect?
The answer to these questions can be found in God's word. For when we seek God's word for comfort and understanding we will find that God understands the pressures and difficulties of our life, and those feelings of shame and guilt that we feel when we sin are the result of our separation from Him. We feel this way because we know that we are displeasing Him. But as believers we must never give up. We must continue to fight our sinful nature and realize that although our flesh is weak and our bodies are dying, our spirit is being renewed every day through the difficulties we must bear. For it is during these difficult times that it shows whether our FAITH is genuine, and it offers us the opportunity to become closer to our heavenly father.
We must understand that our present difficulties with sin and temptation can be overcome when we humble ourselves before God and earnestly turn to Him for forgiveness and strength.
We must understand that true joy and peace in our lives comes only when we put our focus on the eternal reward of spiritual life, and not in worldly desires that bring spiritual death.
And above all, we must understand that when we do fall victim to sin, we have someone who pleads with our Heavenly Father on our behalf--Jesus Christ. For Christ himself is the means by which our sins are forgiven. And when we accept God's grace and salvation through FAITH in our LORD Jesus Christ, He will always forgive us and never forsake us, for this we can be assured!
Living a life in FAITH is an amazing thing. For it is through our FAITH that we are given HOPE with the promise of SALVATION, and with salvation comes a new spirit filled life that allows us to regain a personal, loving relationship with our heavenly father and begin living a life for His glory.
But living a life in Faith can be difficult. One of these difficulties is deciding how we express LOVE in abusive relationships. For example, there are many of us in the world today who have had to deal with a boyfriend, girlfriend or family member who continues to make self destructive choices in their life and depend on you for emotional and financial support, yet they refuse to accept responsibility for their own actions and continually respond to your acts of love and caring with extreme hatred and rage to the point where it starts to affect your personal safety, your spiritual temperament and emotional well-being.
So just how do we deal with a situation like this? On the one hand we are taught that living a life in FAITH means clothing ourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, making allowances for each other's faults, and forgiving anyone who offends us. And above all, clothing ourselves with LOVE. For it is LOVE which binds us all together in perfect harmony. But does this mean that we should live our lives never holding others accountable?
To answer this question I turned to God's word for understanding and discovered that although living a life in FAITH means that we have a personal responsibility to reach out in LOVE to help those who are struggling, we must also realize that there are some people who have chosen to harden their hearts and refuse to accept God and His gift of grace, choosing instead to live life in the dark while abusing our acts of LOVE for their own selfish motives. Now, this is not always easy thing to accept, after all we have all rejected God at some point in our lives, and as believers we are called to make allowances for each other's faults, forgive anyone who offends us and above all show unconditional LOVE. But at some point we have to realize that showing LOVE does not always mean saying yes to every want and need of our loved one when it only enables their self-destructive patterns and allows them to continue sinning against God and us. We must realize that this type of LOVE is actually hurting them and not helping them. We must understand that showing LOVE is relative. In other words, sometimes LOVE means having to release our loved one to the world to allow them to make their own choices. And although we continue to pray for them and live our life as an example of how faith can change their lives, we must understand that it is only through their acceptance of God's grace and Salvation that they will have any chance of renewing their life and experiencing true joy and peace.
Now this decision doesn't mean that we are giving up on our loved one, or that we do not LOVE them anymore. On the contrary, this decision is an act of LOVE that is relative to an extreme situation that forces our loved one to decide whether or not they want the kind of change in their lives that only God can provide, and although it will be difficult to accept this as an act of LOVE because it may very well mean that our loved one will face even more difficulty and suffering in their life, we have to understand that it is during those moments of desperation and despair that they will be most willing to open their hearts and reach out to God for hope. For it is only through God's gift of grace that they will be allowed to have Salvation through their FAITH in Jesus Christ and begin to see the darkness in their life disappear and their true light begin to shine.
But what happens when our loved one chooses not to accept God's message of hope and continues to spiral out of control and we loose them to the grips of spiritual death. What then? Again, to answer this question I turned to God's word for understanding and conclude that no matter what we should never give up, we must continue to pray for our loved one and live our life as an example of how faith can change their lives. We must understand that this is not our fault and realize that all of us have choices in life and no one can force someone to live their life the way we want them to, And lastly, we have to believe that God sometimes allows things to happen for His reasons, whether or not we understand them or not we must remember that God is good, just, loving, and merciful. However, instead of doubting God's goodness, our reaction should be to continue to trust Him. For God has a plan for each of us and when we put our complete trust in Him and lean not on our own understanding, we are given the gift of hope for the future in knowing that we are not alone, and no matter what, we have a loving father who will accept us and reward us with a life that will be filled with eternal joy and peace if we just have FAITH and continue to LOVE one another.
THE EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH:
According to the epistles of Paul, which are believed to be the foundation of Christian theology and Christian ethics, Paul set forth on a mission to establish an "assembly of believers" (a.k.a a church) to spread the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven and set in motion God's purpose in this, "which was to use the church to display God's wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places."
For this was God's eternal plan, which he carried out through Jesus Christ our Lord for whom IS the body of the church. And just as the human body has many parts, with each part making up the whole body, so it is with Christ. But just as the body as a whole has many parts, not all parts have the same function, and so God gave each one of us special gifts through the generosity of Christ, and the gifts that He gave to represent the church include the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Their responsibility was to equip God's people to do His work and build up the church; the body of Christ, and continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God's Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. No longer will we be immature like children, be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching or be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in Love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body; The Church.
THE "ESTABLISHMENT" OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH:
As the message of Christianity began to spread in the 1st century under Paul's missionary journeys there were constant divisions within the early church spawned by false teachings and rebellion to Paul's preachings, in fact many of Paul's epistles are centered around keeping the foundation of the early church stable and true to its purpose through reflection, correction and encouragement by Paul. And as the centuries past, the Christian faith and would continue to fight these false teachings, both inside and outside the early church. This eventually lead to the the adoption of the Nicene Creed in the 4th century, which would serve as a baseline of the core beliefs of the Christian faith and help pave the way for the establishment of the mainstream churches we see today.
THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH TODAY:
Today we see a "Church" on every corner, and in spite of the growth of the Christian faith through the establishment of the church centuries ago, we continue to see divisions and false teachings both within and outside the church based on theological or doctrinal differences.
For example, there are those who feel that attending church is required to receive salvation, but as we have discovered, this is not the purpose of the church. True salvation comes from God's grace alone, which offers us the gift of salvation through Faith in Jesus Christ, and although the church is a vital and essential part of our walk in faith, it in itself will not bring salvation.
In addition, I believe that the meaning of what the church represents in today's society has changed from it's early inception. Often times in today's world the church is associated with grandiose structures where organized religion is practiced and segregation, inclusion, judgement and condemnation of others is promoted. However, we must remember that although the church in its truest form embodies those gifted to represent the church: the priests, evangelists, pastor etc., we must be careful to be influenced and deceived by people who try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. And though I agree that the purpose of the church is be best served and accomplished through the Church establishments we recognize today, as faithful believers and followers of Christ we must also recognize that it is not where we assemble, but why.
The purpose of the Church, as we have learned, is part of God's plan for us; to "assemble ourselves" as believers united in Christ to share God's wisdom and promise of hope and salvation to the world by using our gifts to help ourselves and others grow in Faith through the Love of Christ and one another. For it is only when we recognize and put into practice God's plan for the church will we receive the benefits and fulfill its purpose.
As creations of God, each of us is endowed with certain God-given gifts. Some of us may have the gift of public speaking or have the ability to express ourselves through writing, others may be talented musicians, carpenters or leaders, and still other's may have the gift of serving or teaching.
But no matter what your gift, as believers in the Christian Faith we all have an obligation to use our gifts to share God's message of hope; given to us through God's Word, with others so they too can come to know the power and glory of a loving God.
This practice of relaying or sharing information about the message of the Christian Faith, with the objective of converting others, is known as Evangelism.
However, as we strive to meet this obligation of our life in Faith we must be very careful. For I have learned that there is a thin line between Evangelism and self-righteous behavior that we must constantly be aware of.
When we surrender ourselves to God, accept His Grace and message of Hope through Faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, one of the first things that happens is that we begin to see the world in a whole new light, the result of the spirit of the living God that now dwells within us, guiding us and comforting us in our times of need.
This is a wonderful thing, but all too often in today's world we see so-called Christians who use this feeling of cleansing and oneness with God as justification for the judgment and condemnation of others. Rather than reaching out in Love, we see them segregating themselves from the rest of these "lost souls" who they feel are somehow undeserving of God's grace, we see them spending their time attempting to prove to the world just how righteous and deserving they are, taking pride in being seen going to church on Sundays or reciting Bible verses to justify their judgement and condemnation of others.
Don't get me wrong, I am not judging or condemning those for which I accuse, For I truly believe that often times our behaviors as Christians are based on good intentions, and what we believe is "doing God's work". I also believe that often times this sort of self-righteous behavior is rooted in the knowledge of our own past life of sinful behavior and the belief that we are no longer a slave to the sinful behaviors of our past because of our Faith, this in turn compels us to try and force others to see things our way. But the reality is, you cannot force people to accept God's grace, and this sort of self-righteous and judgmental behavior has no place in Evangelism or the Christian Faith.
As true believers and followers of Christ, we need only to look in the mirror and realize that we are no better than anyone else. We are all sinners and undeserving of God's love. For it is ONLY THROUGH GOD'S GRACE, which offers redemption of our sins through FAITH in the resurrected Christ, that we are given the choice BECOME RIGHT WITH GOD.
As true believers and followers of Christ, we are called to be honest in our evaluation of ourselves, measuring ourselves by the Faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ's body. We are all apart of one body, and we all belong to each other.
We must never forget, that as true believers and followers of Christ, we are called to live out our lives each day by humbling ourselves before God, praising His goodness and mercy, and trusting in Him in all aspects of our lives.
We are to live or lives by the examples set forth by our Lord and Savior, through acts of tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness. And above all, with LOVE for one another, for it is LOVE that ultimately binds us all together in perfect harmony with our heavenly father.
And when it comes to Evangelism, our approach should never include belittling words of judgement and condemnation, or acts of hatred and persecution towards others, remember judgement comes from God alone, and we cannot force people to accept God's Grace. But rather we should use our own testimony of conversion and the wisdom given to us through God's Word to inspire and encourage both believers and non-believers about the message of hope that Faith brings.
When the light of God radiates from us in our words and actions, only then will the world recognize that it is from God and can decide for themselves whether they want to accept the Grace of a loving God and begin living a life for His Glory. This to me, is true Evangelism!
The Apostle James teaches us (in James 1:22-27) “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”
When I took the "Leap of Faith" in my life almost 2 years ago I set out to discover the true meaning of Faith as a way for me to not only deal with the anguish that I experienced from the loss of my beloved mother and mother-in-law to cancer, but to find meaning and purpose to my life that was lacking for so long.
Exposures to Christianity at an early age made the transition to discovering Faith through religion seem logical. But discovering Faith meant discovering God, after all God is conceived as the principal object of Faith.
As I began my research, I discovered that the path to God is not always clear. With over 60 active religions in the world today I found myself asking, "Just what is the true path to God?"
As I began to delve deeper into the concept of God and His relationship to Faith, I quickly discovered the topic to be very controversial to say the least. Aside from the arguments of the existence of God, there seemed to be no consensus amongst world religions on the true nature of God. To complicate matters even the further, the concept and practice of Monotheism; which holds that there is only one God, and exemplified in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all appear to seek the same God, but based on their respective religious doctrine subscribe to different concepts of God’s will, His relationship to our existence and the path to salvation.
After wading through the controversies and arguments, I realized that there is a reason way there are so many choices to consider. From the beginning of time, the majority of mankind has always had an inner desire to find the answer for our existence and purpose through something greater than ourselves, an omnipotent force or moral compass that can justify and give meaning to our lives, but ultimately, it is up to us to choose what we believe is the true path to God.
For me, I have found solace in the message revealed within the Christian Bible; a compilation of divine doctrine, that in its totality, conveys a message of hope based on the love and grace of a loving God, who takes time to know me personally and has revealed Himself through His son JESUS CHRIST - a man, conceived by God and endowed with the divine power and glory of the living God, who came to live on earth, to teach, serve and overcome sin and death, so that we may come to know God's awesome power and glory and regain a personal relationship with Him.
For it is this commitment of Faith that has brought great change into my life, which is evident in the inner peace, comfort and confidence that I have gained from the promise of an eternal life with our heavenly father. But just as important, is the outward evidence of prayers answered and the spirit and light of a living God that shines through me in my actions that gives credence to the existence of a loving God that ultimately proves to me that I have chosen the right path.
One of the essentials of the Christian Faith is the study of God's word; aka the Bible. It is the core of the Christian belief and is critical to understanding, maintaining and growing in our Faith.
During one of my own recent study sessions, it occurred to me that there seems to be a certain dichotomy between the Old and New Testaments when it comes to portraying God's character and temperament.
To begin with the Old Testament can be broken into several categories; the Laws, History, Poetry and Major & Minor Prophets. And within this context God is portrayed as one of grace, love and mercy, a God who rewarded those who feared Him, listened to His callings and were obedient to His laws and commands. Yet it also details God's jealous, angry and vengeful side to those who turned away from Him and refused to obey and worship of Him.
Throughout the Old Testament you will find repeated stories of the brutal and violent deaths of the un-faithful or those who refuse to worship Him. For example; being stoned to death for chopping wood on the sabbath, or the slaughter of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites during the many battles for control of God's worldly kingdom, just to name a few.
And the more I read these examples, the more I began to think… How can a God of mercy and love exhibit this sort of anger and vengeance and allow for such violence towards those He created?
The reason, as explained in the Old Testament is that God wanted to purge the evil within the jewish community (His chosen people) so that when the rest of His people would hear about it they would be afraid to do such evil things, thereby ensuring their righteousness, and allowing God to keep the promise He made to Abraham. In addition, it would prevent the people of the land from teaching His chosen people to imitate their detestable customs in the worship of their gods, which would cause them to sin deeply against Him.
On the other hand, the God of the New Testament seems to portray the loving and compassionate side of God. Through the teachings of Jesus Christ we are shown the awesome power and glory of God through miracles of healing and the compassion and love for the weak in spirit. We are taught about the wonder and glory of the kingdom of heaven and the power of the Holy Spirit that lives within us when we accept God's loving grace.
This prompted me to asked myself, Is this the same God? and is our God one of Anger and Vengeance, or Love?
First of all, I do not claim for one minute that I totally understand all of God's ways. For He is a sovereign God, and His thoughts are not my thoughts and my ways are not His ways. And the question of why God allows things to happen is one that tests the Faith of many Christians to this day.
But the more I pondered these questions, the more I realized that the Bible was meant to be taken in it's totality, it is a series of doctrine and events that are to teach us lessons and relay a message, and the more you read it in earnest, the clearer its message becomes.
You see, from the beginning, God created us in His image to have a close personal and loving relationship with Him, but He also gave us a choice to accept His love, something that those in Biblical times rejected time and time again, and still do even in today's world.
The fact that God severely punished those in the Old Testament who disobeyed His commands is like a father who punishes his child for doing wrong. It is a way to help them recognize their wrong doing and help them grow in their Faith. And in the end, it was the Faith of a few that would allow God to show His mercy and love for His chosen people and eventually lead to the fulfillment of God's promise of a Savior, who would sacrifice himself for the atonement of mankind.
You see, I believe that God is a jealous and vengeful God, but He is also a God of love and mercy, and the ultimate message of the Bible is one of Love and Hope through Faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who paved the way for all of us to regain our relationship with God. This I believe was and is God's master plan. And even though I am troubled by the manner in which God chose to implement His anger and vengeance in the Old Testament, it is the core message of the Bible that cannot be overlooked. For when we put our complete Trust and Faith in Him and love Him with all our heart and soul, we begin to understand that there is no other God who takes the time to know us personally and can give us all that we need to live a life where true peace and joy exists, and it is this message of hope that keeps me going.