Archive for May, 2014

You may be too young to remember the television series Star Trek, with dashing Captain Kirk and capable Chief Engineer Scotty, who was known for getting the Starship Enterprise out of tight spots.  Scotty managed the transporter, which would beam the crew from the ship up and down to the planet’s surface.  Whenever Captain Kirk ran into trouble he would yell into his communicator “Beam me up Scotty”!  And Scotty would immediately zap him and the crew and whisk them safely to the mother ship.

Some fundamentalist denominations have a similar view of the ‘end times’, when Jesus will return, called the “Rapture”. This doctrine teaches that when Christ returns, all the  ‘saved’ will be magically transported to heaven.  All non-believers will be ‘left behind’.

So what does it mean to be ‘saved’?  Justification, or being made ‘righteous’ is the term by which Christians are judged to have lived a holy life and are deemed worthy to achieve heaven.  About 20 years ago I was studying the differences in denominations, and noticed this seemed to be a subject which causes some of the most division.

In fact, this doctrine sparked the estrangement of many Christians from the Roman Catholic Church.  In 1517 Martin Luther was a monk in Germany who struggled with his sinful nature.  Fasting, flagellation and frequent confession had little effect, and he became obsessed with his perceived wickedness, which he believed blocked him from entering heaven.  Finally in his study of the book of Romans, he had a revelation when he read Romans 3:28 “For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

He had the giddy epiphany that salvation is a free gift, and once given, can never be lost.  His revelation ignited an enormous controversy and a new doctrine of ‘sole fide’, faith alone, developed.  In his “Wittenberg Project”  he explained his new theory “We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides…No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to commit adultery thousands of times each day.”  So according to Luther, whether one gave in to their lust with their neighbor, or drank excessively, it didn’t affect their salvation.

The Roman Catholic Church taught that man is saved by ‘grace’ alone, rather than ‘faith alone, and that man has free will, and can and has turned away from God, and lost his salvation.  This belief is partially based on Hebrews 10:26 “If we sin deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains sacrifice for sins but a fearful prospect of judgment and a flaming fire that is going to consume the adversaries.”

But Luther didn’t believe in free will, and claimed “…with regard to God, and in all that bears on salvation or damnation (man) has no ‘free-will’, but is a captive, prisoner and bond-slave, either to the will of God, or to the will of Satan.” (From Luther’s Essay Bondage of the Will)

Instead of falling on his knees and admitting his frailty in fighting the ‘sins of the flesh’, and asking for God’s strength and grace in the battle, his pride lead him to distort scripture and determine that sin is unimportant to our salvation, so it doesn’t matter whether or not we win the battle against the flesh.

He must have skipped over Philippians 2:12, where God instructs us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” and St. Paul’s admonishment that “neither fornicators, nor idolators nor adulterers no boy prostitutes or sodomites, nor thieves, etc. will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1st Corin. 6:10)

There is a misconception among many protestants who falsely believe that Catholics think they are saved by ‘good works’, and not by ‘faith’.  But the Roman Catholic Church has taught for 2,000 years that you are saved by ‘grace’ alone. CCC #1996 Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.”  

Surprisingly, the Lutheran Church reached a synod in 1999 and formed an agreement with the Roman Catholic Church that you are saved by ‘grace alone’, drastically changing Luther’s premise that one is saved by ‘faith’ alone.  Luther believed this so passionately that he  hated the epistle of James, which he referred to as an “epistle of straw” because of James 2:24 “See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

My favorite explanation of faith vs. good works is from C.S. Lewis, who described salvation as a “pair of scissors”.  You can’t have one without the other – faith without good works is dead, and good works without faith is meaningless.  Even though sola fide is one of the most divisive doctrines, in actuality most protestants and Catholics believe the same.  Even if one is ‘saved’, if you aren’t actively living out your faith in some way, then your faith is dead, and you aren’t really ‘saved’ after all.

I think sola fide somewhat limits scripture, which is full of conditions necessary to achieve heaven.  In John 6:54 Jesus assured his followers that they would have eternal life IF they “ate his flesh and drank his blood”.  In Mark 10 when the rich young man asked Jesus “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”, Jesus asked him if he knew the commandments, then instructed him to “sell what you have, and give to the poor”.

In 1st Peter 3:20, St. Peter mentions baptism “which saves you now”.  One of my favorite verses is Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my father in heaven.” In John 3:5 Jesus warns Nicodemus “no The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5 the Beatitudesone can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit”, which the Church explains is baptism and confirmation.  In Luke 13:5 Jesus warns “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish…”.  Jesus is quite harsh in Matthew 25 when he warns that He will “separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats”, and that if  you have NOT been there to feed the hungry or clothe the naked, then you will be “accursed” and thrown into “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”!  Ouch!

It is absolutely true that scripture tells us in John 3:16 “…everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life”.  BUT, one’s faith must encompass the entire bible, not just one isolated verse.  Once you believe in Christ, the bible is clear about what must happen next.  First, you must be baptized and confirmed; second, you must repent and turn away from sin; third, you must take communion (you must eat the flesh of Jesus).  More conditions include doing the will of the Father, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, following the commandments, and being detached from material things.

I think one problem with the idea of ‘once saved, always saved’, is a creeping complacency.  I was discussing the importance of prayer with a customer one day, and I was rather disturbed to hear her say “Don’t preach to me, sister, I’m saved!”  We should never be smug or complacent about our faith; our entire life should be spent growing in holiness and our union with Christ so that on the last day we can imitate St. Paul and say “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.  From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.” 2nd Timothy 4

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Mary’s Garden Gifts and Books

Saturday, May 31

10:00 am to 12 noon


Come meet best selling author Randy Hain and get a signed copy of his new book, Journey to Heaven, hot off the press!  Perfect for Father’s Day, graduation, birthday or any other occasion.  “In the midst of the hectic demands, busy schedules, and countless interruptions of every day, this book gives you the surefire, divinely instituted “apps” for becoming the man God wants you to be.”

We will also have his other two books The Catholic Briefcase and Along the Way available as well.

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Doubting Thomas

I absolutely love Jesus’ apostles, especially ‘Doubting Thomas’.  After witnessing the abundant number of miracles Jesus performed, from pulling coins from a fish’s mouth, to daringly raising Lazarus from the dead, Thomas still refused to believe Mary Magdalene and the others who claimed that Jesus had truly risen.  “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”( John 20)  He simply doubted Jesus’ ability to pull off  the stunning feat of coming back from the dead.

When Jesus appeared again a week later, he mysteriously glided through a locked door and appeared to Thomas and the others.  Without rebuking Thomas for his unbelief, Jesus patiently instructed Thomas to place his finger in the holes in his hands, and then cautioned him “do not be unbelieving, but believe”.jesusfeeds5000.jpg (320×240)

I find it comforting the disciples were so clueless so much of the time; it helps me to feel that I’m not so hopeless after all!  After Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish and miraculously fed four thousand people, there were over seven baskets of scraps from the bountiful miracle.  But the disciples forgot to bring the baskets with them when they climbed into the boat to journey to another city. (Mark 8:1-21)

When Jesus cautioned them “Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod. They concluded among themselves that it was because they had no bread.”  Jesus chastised them “Do you not yet understand or comprehend?”.  The disciples were panicking over their mistake, because they only  had one loaf of bread for their journey.  Even though they had witnessed first hand Jesus multiplying fish and bread not just once, but two times, feeding over nine thousand people, they still doubted Jesus’ providence and started bickering among themselves.  Their limited human brains could not comprehend Jesus as God, nor fully grasp his omnipotence and magnificence.

Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was struck dumb for Elizabeth’s entire pregnancy, because he doubted God’s ability to fulfill His promise of blessing  the aging couple with a baby.  Even though he had grown up with stories of God’s mighty hand parting the Red Sea and allowing the Israelites to escape, and he knew God had miraculously provided manna in the desert for his hungry ancestors, Zechariah elizabeth_baby.jpg (377×480)simply couldn’t comprehend the concept of God as all powerful.  He has power over all things on heaven and on earth, and can do anything, yet Zechariah doubted God’s ability to make a barren woman pregnant, questioning the angel who conveyed God’s message.

A modern day saint, Mother Teresa had her own experiences of ‘doubting God’.  In her journal, which was published under the title Come Be My Light, Mother Teresa wrote “My God, I have no faith. I dare not utter the words and thoughts that crowd my heart, afraid to uncover them because of the blasphemy. If there be God, please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. I am told God loves me, and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great, nothing touches my soul.”

Mother Teresa suffered excruciating doubt for years, as Fr. James Martin describes “Most of the pages of her journal reveal not the serene meditations of a Catholic sister confident in her belief, but the agonized words of a person confronting a terrifying period of darkness that lasted for decades.”  Yet in spite of her prolonged anguish, she never faltered in her mission or faith.  She persevered through all the years of darkness and doubt and willed herself to believe, just as Jesus advised Thomas.

To doubt is to be human, just as it is to experience anger or lust.  No one is exempt from doubting God; even Jesus, when he was dying on the cross, cried out in anguish “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”  (Matthew 27:46)  The real question, do you wallow in your doubt, and allow it to fester and grow?  Or do you attempt to work through it reminding yourself over and over of the many times God has brought you safely through a predicament?

Those times of severe doubt is often referred to as the ‘dark night of the soul’.  St. John of the Cross, a mystic from Spain in the 16th century, wrote extensively about his experiences with the ‘dark night’.  As explained in the blog When It’s Good to Doubt God, “The ‘dark night’ is a sense of painful alienation and distance from God that causes distress, anxiety, discouragement, despair, and depression. All Christians experience this sooner or later—some more intensely than others, some for longer times than others. But the feeling is the same: they lose their sense of closeness to God and conclude that they no longer have faith. And so they despair even more.” (Link below)

St. John’s viewed the dark night as a time of purification, when all our attachments and defenses are stripped away, bringing us to our knees, and enabling us to hear God’s voice more clearly.  In the dark night there is only heavy desolation, bleak darkness without any glimmer of light or hope.  God is so distant and his absence so complete, you feel totally abandoned, helpless and out of control.  But only when you feel utterly forsaken can you truly surrender completely to Christ.  When you are able to trust God in the midst of such a void, then He can take you beyond ‘belief’, to absolute trust.

 So in those times when your faith is shaken and you feel as though God doesn’t care about you in any way, shape or form, just remember that Godship-tossed-at-sea.jpg (700×550) sometimes deliberately removes all sense of his presence in order to stretch you and helpyou to grow spiritually.  So keep in mind James 1:6 “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.”  Stay the course and make a conscious decision to believe, and let Jesus transform you from a ‘doubting Thomas’ into a stalwart ‘Peter’, who was steadfast even in the face of martyrdom.

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