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To An Unknown God January 8, 2007

Posted by rattazzimedia in Christianity, Church, God, Religion, Spiritual, Spiritual Overview, Spiritual Study, Spirituality, Theology.
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Some say: “God is completely unknowable”.  Some stress this point to me when I talk to them about knowing God through the Gospel.  When I speak of specific instructions from God that are necessary to have the relationship God expects the response sometimes is: “You can’t say what is necessary because you can’t know God”.  So is it possible to know God at all?  Is it possible to speak with any certainty concerning what God considers necessary?  People often refer to a quote from the prophet Isaiah to say, “God is not knowable”.  The prophet wrote:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

These verses, taken out of context, might appear to be supporting the idea that God is unknowable, his ways are so much higher than ours.  But if you read the surrounding verses from Isaiah chapter fifty five you will see that the prophet is trying to encourage the people to seek the Lord and to know his ways.  Isaiah spoke to the nation of Israel, to a nation that had by and large wandered away from God and said that it would go better for them if they knew God better.  This is a major theme of his writing.  Isaiah spoke of someone who was to come through whom they could know God:

Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”

Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of these prophecies.  Through Jesus we can know God.  The apostle Paul, on one of his missionary journeys, visited the city of Athens.  Things in that city were remarkably like our world today.  The Bible says: “All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.”  The initial reaction of some to Paul’s preaching of the Gospel was: “What is this babbler trying to say?”  Notice here the approach Paul takes:

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

With all their activity and interest in the latest thing, they did not know God.  God was still unknown to them.  Paul proceeded to tell them about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is the way God chose to reveal his love for us.  If we follow in the teachings of Jesus we will know God.  We will know the love of God.  The apostle John wrote: 

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God , because God is love.  This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

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Illusion of Permanence January 5, 2007

Posted by rattazzimedia in Christianity, Church, God, Religion, Spiritual, Spiritual Overview, Spiritual Study, Spirituality, Theology.
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“Tradition is the illusion of permanence” Woody Allen’s character said in the movie “Deconstructing Harry”. Here is the dynamic: from birth a person is taught certain religious traditions. The appearance is that these traditions are required by God and have always been done this way. Religious ceremonies reinforce this. The local religious leaders are often pleased to have one continue in ignorance of the truth that religious traditions evolve over the years and tend to move away from God. This is a natural process and unless a specific and constant effort is made to follow Gods instruction, it will happen. This is a very important theme in The Bible. Why did Israel have to go into exile? Who did Jesus reserve his sharpest criticism for? There are many other examples. Look it up. Tell me if you disagree.

Do not misunderstand, traditions can be a good thing but extreme care must be taken to insure they do not conflict with Gods instructions. My study of The Bible began with the intent of better understanding God. The furthest thing from my mind was challenging the local church. The conflict came about when I attempted to bring to church the things I was learning. Tradition and doctrine in the Catholic Church was in conflict with what I was reading in The Bible. The priests attempted to discourage me from continuing this process. This also happened in other churches I attended after I left the Catholic Church (my search continues). 

The Bible was teaching me that the traditions and teachings of men would eventually pass away along with the rest of the things of this world. The things of God would remain. Therefore I decided to follow God and not man and attempt to take hold of the reality of permanence.  The prophet Jeremiah delivered to the nation of Israel a message from God that used an example of a man made tradition that was a part of their contemporary culture to make this very point:

“This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go and tell the men of Judah and the people of Jerusalem, ‘Will you not learn a lesson and obey my words?’ declares the LORD.

‘Jonadab son of Recab ordered his sons not to drink wine and this command has been kept. To this day they do not drink wine, because they obey their forefather’s command. But I have spoken to you again and again, yet you have not obeyed me. Again and again I sent all my servants the prophets to you. They said, “Each of you must turn from your wicked ways and reform your actions; do not follow other gods to serve them. Then you will live in the land I have given to you and your fathers.” But you have not paid attention or listened to me. The descendants of Jonadab son of Recab have carried out the command their forefather gave them, but these people have not obeyed me.’

Sometimes the tradition is in and of itself not a bad thing, but often the tradition is honored above the actual word of God or not sufficiently separated from the things God commanded.  In other words religious teachers fail to distinguish between the two till even the teachers do not know the difference.  This makes it easier then to let go of the things of God and continue to hold onto the empty human tradition.  The religious leaders in Jerusalem found fault with the disciples of Jesus for not following a tradition from their contemporary culture that they failed to distinguish from the actual word of God.  Notice the response of Jesus to their complaint:

The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were “unclean,” that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?” He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 

These passages may be difficult to understand. Some preparation and study may be necessary before you can agree or disagree with what I’m saying. It is important that you prove for yourself what the truth is. Following are some guidelines to help you study the scriptures and avoid some of the common pitfalls.

Study Guidelines

Four principles to aid in understanding the text and help avoid some of the common obstacles to understanding;

· Context: understand who is the writer, who is being written to, what are the circumstances at the time of writing including where, when and any special conditions present.

· Definitions: understand the meaning of any important terms. Be careful that you understand what the writer is saying. Definitions of many important terms have shifted dramatically over time. Understand how these terms apply to the culture at that time.

· Inferences: test any conclusions you come to against all other passages in The Bible and against other important sources. Be especially critical of your own necessary inferences.

· Balance: remember that many principles can only be properly understood as they relate to each other. Some instructions need to be balanced against other seemingly contradictory instructions. Also consider that the proper weight is given to the principle under consideration.

The meaning and importance of these principles will become clearer as you apply them to your reading. It is very important that you now do some reading and research and prove for yourself what the truth is.

The Apple Does Not Fall January 3, 2007

Posted by rattazzimedia in Christianity, Church, God, Religion, Spiritual, Spiritual Overview, Spiritual Study, Spirituality, Theology.
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There is an often used expression: “The apple does not fall far from the tree”.  The idea being conveyed is that significant traits are often passed down from one generation to the next.  This expression is sometimes used in a good sense and sometimes in a bad sense.  This saying is often used because it is quite true.  In fact the most important characteristic that separates our species from every other species on the planet is that we are the only species that purposely transmit information across generations.  This is one way that we are in God’s image.  From the very beginning God has stressed this point to mankind, the things that we do either good or bad can affect the generations that follow.  None of us lives to himself alone.  We are all responsible to God wether we acknowledge that responsibility or not.  We are all responsible to future generations wether we acknowledge that responsibility or not.  Since this is so, how then should we conduct ourselves?

The best way to do your part to secure a good outcome for succeeding generations is to make sure you keep the instruction from God first and foremost in your life.  This idea of punishing the children for the sins of the fathers is often made fun of but this is really what God is talking about, this is his way of saying: “The apple does not fall far from the tree”.  But notice the contrast:    

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,  but showing love to a thousand [ generations ] of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Clearly what God wants to do is show love to a thousand generations, but what we often do by not following God’s instruction is cause suffering to the generations to follow.  Jesus Christ was chosen by God to be an example for us and as a result of his obedience to the the father all generations would be blessed, all generations who follow his example will benefit.  But since much of the world has wandered away from God and the apple does not fall far from the tree, many generations can be generally characterized as not following this example.  Jesus Christ characterized the attitude of many of his listeners with these words:  

To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:

“‘We played the flute for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not cry.’

For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” ‘  But wisdom is proved right by all her children.

The apostle Peter as he preached the Gospel on the day of Pentecost said: “save yourselves form this corrupt generation“.   The apple does not fall far from the tree.  The attitude of the parents will have a strong and far reaching affect on their offspring.  The apostle Paul wrote: “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough” referring to this effect and how a little error spreads and prevents people from seeing the truth.  So we have a responsibility to future generations to know the truth and be examples (as Jesus is) of the attitude and behavior that God expects from all.  The apple does not fall from the tree.  This saying is so very often true that we all need to behave accordingly.  We need to each pay more attention to God’s instruction and be examples to our children.  We need to teach our children reverence and respect for God and do our best to enable future generations to follow this example, because it is all too easy for entire generations to go astray and lead later offspring away from God.  The apple does not fall far from the tree.  Let’s close with these words of encouragement from the apostle Paul:

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,  may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations , for ever and ever! Amen.

The Light Within You January 1, 2007

Posted by rattazzimedia in Christianity, Church, God, Religion, Spiritual, Spiritual Overview, Spiritual Study, Spirituality, Theology.
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The scripture I quoted in the last post contains the statement “God is light“.  Light is a figure often used in scripture to express God’s goodness and purity.  Light often also represents truth and God’s redemptive work.  In contrast darkness symbolizes error and evil, the passage goes on to say, “in him there is no darkness at all“.  So when the apostle writes: “God is light“, he is making the point that in God there is no evil at all.  This is an important point to understand because in this world this is not a condition we are used to.  In this world evil is all around us, error and heartache are everyday things and so we ourselves have embraced many things that in truth we should be avoiding because they are evil and ultimately harmful to us.  Our focus is often on the darkness, we are often deceived into seeing the bad as good.  Jesus Christ uses the figures of light and darkness to make this very point:   

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

Jesus puts it much more succinctly than I do.  If you see the bad as good then the light within you is darkness and this is a very serious condition.  But we all have this to some degree.  We have been raised in a world where the bad is said to be good and this is what we are used to.  We need to be trained to see things differently.  We need to be taught to choose light instead of darkness.  We need to find the truth, then together we can walk in the light.  The passage in First John I quoted in the last post goes on to say:  

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

This brings in the element of redemption.  In other words the result of walking in the light is setting us apart form the evil we were formerly a part of.  This is what Jesus accomplished by his walking in the light and this is why we must follow his example, we must walk as Jesus did.  Then the light within you will truly be light.  How do we accomplish this?  First we need to pay more attention to God’s word, this is key.  Psalm 119 contains this verse: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path“.  Jesus said:

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

This is what the gospel is all about turning us away from darkness so we can walk as children of light.  Jesus Christ is that light.  But a world focused on evil, focused on darkness does not see that light.  Many do not see Jesus as light and as a result will not have the light of eternal life.  This whole business of eternal life is difficult for us, brought up in darkness to understand.  This is why Jesus was put to death.  This is also why he rose form the dead to shine a light on this concept and make it clear that the death of the body is not the end for us.  Jesus also knew that many do not accept this truth, he said: 

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.

The God who in the beginning said: “let there be light” has chosen his light to shine in Jesus Christ.  We all need to see that light and walk in it.  If we are focused on Jesus then the light within us will truly be light.  The apostle Paul offered these words of encouragement and instruction the the followers of Jesus:

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)  and find out what pleases the Lord.  Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.  For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.  But everything exposed by the light becomes visible,  for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said:

“Wake up, O sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise,  making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.