Tuesday, December 01, 2009

An Open Letter to an Anonymous Friend

Below is a response to a friend whom I've recently been in contact with again after nearly twenty years. In high school we were seemingly coming from polar opposite viewpoints, but I always appreciated his willingness to converse with me and I felt there was a mutual respect for one another - even though we disagreed at many points.


Friend, I find it interesting that you said you had a 'calling' to go to church. I'm still interested to know what denomination/brand/flavor of Christian church it is - i.e. Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, non-denominational, charismatic, etc, etc.

I understand (largely from experience) that people can often tune out when someone begins expounding on the Scriptures (Bible). It's been done to me and I have at times done it to others! But this can also happen with any subject in life - not just the Bible. I find it often has more to do with the messenger (teacher/preacher) than it does the Bible or content itself. A passionate, well-studied, dynamic messenger can keep me hooked by speaking on how mould grows or paint peels for an hour. In the case of the Bible, it has content that speaks for itself - but a deathly messenger can cause people to tune it out. Agreed. The interesting thing is that the issues/topics you mentioned such as angels, the human soul and healings, etc. are all IN the Bible already - waiting to be discovered. There are also much more disturbing elements, as well as the incredibly satisfying truth and reality that resounds in our soul when we take it in!

You mentioned that "it is really sad how a majority of Christian's put Jesus on the same level as God, how some seem to think they are one - in a way Yes but No." A few things about this . . firstly, of course Christians put Jesus on the same level as God - Jesus Himself claimed to be God (wrapped in human flesh) and that He and the Father are One. This is the point of being a Christian . . we follow the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. If someone decides they don't like or don't want to believe something that Jesus has said - well then, why should that person even bother thinking that they are a Christian? The etymology of the word 'Christian' means 'little Christ'. The end result of following Jesus is to imitate Him in every way, to become like Him - His teachings, example of how He treats people and how He lived His life. A Christian does this because they believe (whether they are able to articulate it or not) that Jesus Christ is the highest/perfect/truest example of what it means to live a truly human life in the love of God - as we were designed to. If we begin picking and choosing what we want to believe or imitate of Jesus' life and teachings, we then cease to be a Christian - by choice - and we become something else. In the Book of John (New Testament - last third of the Bible), chapter ten and verse thirty, Jesus says, "I and the Father are one." [N.I.V.] After being accused of blasphemy/lying by His fellow Jews, He then goes on to say, "Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, 'I am God's Son'? Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." (vs. 36-38). I encourage you to read the whole of John chapter ten in the N.I.V. version and then in the Message version (to contrast) to get a clearer sense of what Jesus said about Himself here and here.

You also mentioned, "one has to remember some of the things Jesus did, he traveled to other areas and learned other religious ways first hand, he learned Buddist things, Hindu things (Yoga for one, look how some paintings have Jesus sitting). And he also learned Pagan ways since that was the main thing in those days. So he came back and thought those things, the good parts to others." Now, I am fully aware that I do not know everything, nor will I in this life, but I have been an intentional follower of 'The Way' Jesus exemplified for about 21 years now and never have I read, heard or come across what you have mentioned above. While I am quite sure Jesus had knowledge of the ways and belief systems of other civilizations around His own, present and past, I cannot see how He (if we take Him at His word that He is the Son of God) would have any need of leaning on rituals and faith systems created by mankind when He Himself is God. God defines everything else other than Himself because by nature God is an 'independent' being - His existence is not contingent on anything because He is the Source of it all. We - and the whole created order - on the other hand are dependent beings/creations . . we can only survive by deriving our life from sources outside ourselves. I know of no recorded, historical accounts of Jesus going in search of truth/reality from man-made faith systems. Please enlighten me if you do know of such sources and point me in their direction so I search them out for myself. Even if there are credible sources stating the kinds of things you have suggested, the very existence of them would work against what the Scriptures reveal to be true of Jesus and what He said of Himself and His mission.

You said, "Too many ppl pray to Jesus and not God." Yes, this is true - a lot of Christians do pray to Jesus, but as you can see from Jesus' own statements about Him being one in nature and stature with God, it is understandable. If we believe what He said about Himself, then it follows that it makes sense to speak with Him as God('s Son). While Jesus never prayed to Himself, but to His Father (God), I think it is an entirely acceptable practice to speak directly with God the Father, God the Son or even God the Spirit (Holy Spirit). The predominant Christian understanding of God being triune in nature (a trinity of persons) means that They are all one and the same, yet different in expression/function and therefore They share the same significance and are due the same status. The Trinitarian nature of God has long been one that has perplexed many people but still it has persisted. While there is no explicit mention of 'the Trinity' in the Bible, it is implied many times over right from the beginning in the book of Genesis and through the book of Revelation (the first and last books). God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Spirit that is Holy are mentioned and referred to as being one with each other (interchangeably) all the way through the Bible. It is a mystery still - but an integral aspect of God's character is mystery and that is how I prefer it. ;-)

You asked about the church you go to teaching "You are what you say". I don't know exactly what you are telling me here or what the church may be teaching with this. Every pastor/teacher/minister/priest has a unique slant on how they share or 'pitch' a message. Maybe this is something unique to the priest where you have been attending? I agree that what we 'think' is a determining factor in our behavior - how we treat others and ultimately who we become (our character). The Bible says, " . . as a man thinks in his heart, so he is" in the book of Proverbs and also in the book of Mark, chapter seven, verses twenty through twenty three, "He [Jesus] went on: 'It's what comes out of a person that pollutes: obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness—all these are vomit from the heart. There is the source of your pollution.' " So, in essence, I'm agreeing with you - what we are in our inner being is revealed in our words and behavior ('you'll know a tree by the fruit it bears'). Maybe whomever shared "You are what you say" at the church meant to encourage everyone to 'do what they say they'll do' - you know, follow through??

You said, "so now I'm learning more about Christian ways even tho the vast parts of it are from Pagan and Jewish beliefs. Actually pretty much all religions share the same core things, just have different names for it. Some call the energy CHI, you would know it as The Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost. same stuff." Regarding your mention of Jewish beliefs being a source for many of the Christian beliefs - you are right. Christians understand Jewish faith as being the parent faith of Christianity yet not complete in itslef. Jewish faith had always (right from Genesis) been in a waiting posture for God's answer to humanity's predicament to arrive on the scene and make things right - set everything the way it was meant to be. The One they are eagerly waiting for is the Messiah (Hebrew) or the Christ (Greek) - both of which are translated as the 'Chosen' or 'Anointed One'. Basically, God's Son sent to be the answer to the world/humanity's problems. The place of divergence, or where Christianity separates from Judaism (Jewish beliefs), is that Christians believe Jesus (the Christ, the One from Nazareth) to be the Messiah and the Jews do not. They are still waiting. The Bible (and Jesus) are quite clear that the Messiah they are waiting for is a misunderstanding of God's intended and stated purpose for His Son. So, the Jews, not being able to take in or believe that Jesus of Nazareth was who He claimed and demonstrated Himself to be, killed Him themselves. That too was meant to happen as prophesied to fulfill God's purposes. And, as you are well aware, the story goes that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day which validated all He said and did before His death. Hey, if you were the Son of God and could rise from the dead wouldn't you?? ;-)

Regarding the seemingly overlap of other faith systems with Christianity, the best explanation of that occurrence comes to us from the author of the incomparable book 'The Lord of the Rings' - J.R.R. Tolkien himself (a devout Catholic). He had a conversation with another eminent scholar and writer C.S. Lewis ('Chronicles of Narnia' fame) prior to Lewis becoming a Christian in which they talked about all the resonances between the Christian story and other mythologies. Tolkien observed that Lewis had no problem immersing himself in the depth and richness of the old Norse and Greek myths - even to the point of wishing they were true - not wanting to remove himself from 'living' within them. It was the noblest, most honorable and upright elements of those stories that endeared them to Lewis and caused his soul to sing with delight. Tolkien then told Lewis why should it be any different then with the story of the world as told from the Christian worldview? Why did Lewis put up his guard when confronted with the realities of the 'good news' found in the Bible? Deep down Lewis wanted it to be true even if he didn't allow himself to consent to it intellectually. It's as if the Story of a good God lovingly reaching out to the people He made in joy was resonating with something deep inside him . . maybe because it was meant to.

Tolkien, ingenious author that he was, once stated that every 'good' story contains elements of the one 'true' story in it. Could it be that the Story which speaks to the deepest places in our souls and offers answers to our most innate desires could, in fact, be true?? Is it really true in every circumstance that if it sounds too good to be true it probably is? Most of the world, truthfully speaking, would hope it isn't the way. I love a good story . . how about you?

I leave you with the encouragement to also check out John chapter one verses one through thirty four in The Message version of the Bible. It has a lot to say to some of your thoughts/questions about who Jesus is. You can find it online here friend.

May God continue to reveal more of Himself to us and illuminate our otherwise muddied souls with the Light of lights and the Truth of all truths!

Catch you soon.

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