Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christ is the reason for the season...

Jesus Christ: born in the city of Bethlehem, which is Hebrew for "House of Bread"; the bread of life given to all so that we may never hunger:

"Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst...'" - John 6:35 (NAB)



Thank you, Lord, for giving us your son, Jesus Christ, given to us so that we may have eternal life.

May your children remember you, Lord, during this season in which we give thanks to you, and may they show good will towards each other in the spirit and manner your son instructed us to live.

May peace reign on earth, and may the broken hearted and the lost come to truly know our saviour and redeemer.

Place your blessings upon the Church and her faithful, that it may continue to be a refuge for sinners and a haven for saints, that all may come to know your son who paid the ultimate price for our freedom.

Amen.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Charles Taze Russell came calling...

I've had some experience in dealing with Jehovah's Witnesses, and thankfully some of the JWs I've come to know in recent years have been very warm, friendly and approachable individuals, so I'm pleased to say that I've had no negative encounters with anyone of this religion. This morning, however, as my wife and I were getting ready to head out to take part in the Emmanuel Community encounter/retreat day at the Little Sisters of the Poor convent, a pair of JWs (a gentleman and his wife) turned up at our front door (at approximately 8:15am... it's a good thing we're no longer accustomed to sleeping in on weekends or they really would have been in for it!) and they began with the usual introductions, "Can you spare a minute to hear an important message?" and "We're visiting households in the area this morning to tell families about the goodness of God's kingdom", and the preaching begins.


In the last few months I've befriended a couple of ex-Jehovah's Witnesses, and in conversation, they've provided me with some insights into their beliefs and I've really been pining for the opportunity to ask other JWs about some of their core beliefs, namely their "doctrine" of the 144,000 (according to them, only this amount of people will be allowed to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven and apparently JWs get first dibs). Learning about some of the beliefs of JWs has allowed me valuable opportunities to get back to the books and look at what mainstream Christianity teaches on issues such as these so that I can contrast it with what the JWs believe.


So here's how we address the issue of the "144,000". As alluded to earlier, JWs believe that the literal figure of 144,000 - found in the Book of Revelation - will be going to Heaven. JWs use Luke 12:32 to justify this:


"'Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." (RSV)


The "little flock" reference in Luke 12:32 is used to support the notion of an "elect" being the only ones granted entry into Heaven at the time of judgement (this is also a belief held by Calvinists; see this blog entry for a bit more information) since 144,000 compared to the rest of humanity and all that have ever lived, in relative terms, does seem like a "little flock". The JWs that don't make it to Heaven (those not part of the 144,000) will remain on earth to guide others remaining on a path of righteousness.


What puzzles me about this belief and the JWs desire to "evangelise" is that firmness on the 144,000. The question I immediately asked of the pair of JWs that come to my door that morning was this:


"I understand your ambition is to bring others to the Jehovah's Witness faith, and that includes me at this very moment, but wouldn't my conversion to the JWs lower your chances of being one of the 144,000?"


I was met with blank stares directly after that question, but that didn't last long as the gentleman began to thumb through his Bible (the New World Translation, a specifically JW translation of the Bible) and that's where he himself read out Luke 12:32 and began to explain a bit more about the 144,000. I couldn't believe my luck! But rather than me giving you a blow-by-blow account of what was said and how it was said, I'm going to sum-up the arguments that I submitted to the pair; the same that I gave an ex-JW friend of mine when he himself encountered questions on the same topic from people close to him.


Let's take a look at John 3:16-17...


"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that WHOEVER believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save THE WORLD through him."


Now, obviously "whoever" and "the world" does not imply a particular number or an elect group, but EVERYONE. No, not everyone accepts the grace of salvation, but it is offered to all, and all MAY freely accept.


We're told similar in 1 Timothy 2:6...


"For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom FOR ALL, to be testified in due time."


"For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died FOR ALL, and therefore all died. And he died FOR ALL, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." - 2 Corinthians 5:14-15


And...


"For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of ALL MEN, specially of those that believe." - 1 Timothy 4:10


It's a matter of mathematics. Does all = 144,000? No, therefore this number is NOT to be taken literally (don't forget that John's Revelation contains prophetic symbology and imagery). If Salvation is offered TO ALL, and if more than 144,000 ACCEPT the grace offered to us, then this shows quite clearly that it's God's intention that no SPECIFIC number be welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven; there is no limit to God's love; there is no limit to the saving graces of Christ "WHOEVER believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).


The 144,000 mentioned in Revelation 7 and 14 are from the tribes of Israel. If we were to take this number literally, then we'd also have to take the fact that they're from the 12 tribes of Israel literally too. Are JWs Israelis? Can they show lineage to the tribes of Israel back to the time of the Old Testament? Ask them for family trees.


The 144,000 are all apparently male virgins too:


"And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads..." - Revelation 14:1


"These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb." - Revelation 14:4


If we are to take the 144,000 literally, then we must also take the 144,000 being male virgins literally too. Is it only then 144,000 male virgins that will be taken into Heaven? What about our wives, daughters, sisters and mothers, etc.?


Jesus said himself that he came to heal the sick. If "the sick" are sinners (the Jews believed that sickness was the inheritant result of sin and generational curses), and if Romans 3:23 tells us that "ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God", then therefore Christ came to save all.




When reading Luke 12:32, it's important to read what's written before that very verse.


In that instance, Jesus is speaking to his disciples and quite possibly a small group of people as somewhat indicated in verse 13. Why would Jesus say "large flock" if he was only speaking to a small group of people at the time?


The use of the term "little flock" is interesting, because there's an underlying binary opposite, i.e. if there's a "little" flock, then there must also be a "large" flock or other flocks varying in size. Else why didn't Jesus just use the term "flock" when saying, "Do not be afraid, flock" (verse 32).


JWs use this verse incorrectly to support their "elect"/144,000 doctrine; they take Luke 12:32 way out of context. And let's be logical for a moment here as well: does 144,000 sound like a "little flock" or a small group of people?


If we were to take Luke 12:32's "little flock" literally, and more notably how the JWs read it, would it then mean that only the people Jesus was speaking to were going to be saved and the rest damned? If JWs are willing to take the "little flock" discourse literally, then they must also concede that that particular message was only intended for that small group of people present at the time, which we know is ridiculous to suggest!


Consider what Jesus meant when he said this before speaking in Matthew 11:


"He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." - Matthew 11:15


Don't we all have "ears to hear"? Therefore Christ's invitation to salvation is to ALL. What Jesus emphasises here is the difference between hearing and listening:


ALL may HEAR Christ's word, but will everyone listen? Christ was ALL to listen, and again we're taken back to John 3:16...


"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that WHOEVER believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."


It's like when you send out invitations to a birthday party: you may send out a hundred invitations, but does that mean a hundred people are going to turn up? Every hope within you may want/desire the hundred to turn up, but we know that only those that respond to the invitation accordingly will come to the party. If you didn't want a hundred people at the party, you wouldn't have sent out a hundred invitations! Ergo, if God didn't want all to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, he wouldn't have sent His Son for everyone, i.e. "whoever believes in him", and if this was the case, verses like John 3:16 would read dramatically differently. For example:


"For God so loved a portion of the world, he gave his one and only Son, that this portion would believe in him will not perish and have eternal life".


That doesn't sound like an almighty God to me if he can only save an "elect"!


Also consider Christ's instructions to his disciples in Matthew 28:19...


"Therefore go and make disciples of ALL NATIONS, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..."


It doesn't say "... go and make disciples of 144,000..." or "... go and make disciples of a particular number of nations..." does it?


At that point they were hinting at making a move to head off to the other houses in the street, but I did make sure that I invited them back another Saturday morning if they wanted to talk more about how our beliefs contrast. We exchanged goodbyes and I moved inside to find my wife with her arms crossed over each as she was giving me a look... the look (that "I'm getting rather impatient"/icy look). It was time to get in the car!


* * * * *


As I mentioned earlier: I've got nothing against JWs, but since they came to my house, the home of a devout Catholic, they were going to pay a toll, and that toll was to listen to what I had to say, and to their credit they did so without any protest... even if they didn't like what I had to say!

It's very imporant that when you're defending the Catholic faith or making attempt to point out the grey areas in another person's own faith, that you do so with great gentleness and respect. But if in doubt, adhere to the following steps:

1. Refer to scripture;
2. Refer to history (context); and
3. Use common sense!

I don't expect that that pair of JWs will return to my abode any time soon as others that have said they would return have not, but I felt that after my discussion with them that Saturday morning, common sense of all things prevailed!

Further reading: http://www.catholic.com/library/Stumpers_for_Jehovah_Witnesse.asp



http://www.catholic.com/library/More_Stumpers_for_Jehovah_Wit.asp


http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/2001/0107sbs.asp

... and viewing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2sRv6IvvBc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aj-IwJDPRJo


Peace be with you.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My heart's desire is to teach, and not just in the classroom!

I can remember as far back from when I was 18 or 19 years old, wanting to preach and teach others about the goodness of God and the beauty of the Catholic Church. I can remember wanting so desperately to jump up in front of an audience of strangers and start sharing with them everything I knew about Christ and the Catholic Church. Now looking back I can say quite confidently that if I had done so, I would not have been up in front of that audience for long. I mean, I could have told them so much about how much God loves us and what Christ's mission was, but my knowledge about the Catholic Church, even though I was raised in a very good Catholic household, went through the Catholic education system here in Perth (Western Australia), and attended Sunday school and so forth, my overall knowledge of theology was a bucket with a single drop within.


10 years on I have learned so much, and most of my learning has stemmed from a desire to learn more since I started teaching Religious Education in Catholic high schools almost six years ago now. While I'm not "full bottle" on all topics, I know enough to get me by in a discussion with your average cynic of the Catholic Church.


There's a student from the school that I work at that, over the last couple of months, has been coming to me asking questions on certain matters pertaining to the faith or the Church itself. At my last meeting with this student, he was asking about "tenable" excuses to miss Mass. By the end of the discussion this student realised that Mass can only be missed under some pretty severe circumstances and that he himself should begin attending Mass on a more regular basis. Before I left this student so I could go and prepare for my next class, he commented on how I seem to have "an answer for everything" and he described as, and these were his own words, a "Jesus on stand-by". Now, he wasn't suggesting I was some sort of Messiah figure or a Jesus replacement, but I believe he was making a statement on the wisdom and knowledge that I had and my ability to give good answers, maybe not in the same way that Jesus did when cynics and others asked questions of him, but enough to make this young man feel convicted.


It was the "I get it!" moment this student had that made and makes all that time reading, researching, studying, and investigating worthwhile, and I feel greatly upon my heart to share what I know with strangers so that they themselves may also hopefully have "I get it!" moments. I just hope the Lord blesses me with numerous opportunities for me to do so just like my apologetics heroes do (in no particular order):


Tim Staples
Patrick Madrid
Steve Ray
Dave Armstrong
Paul Kelly
Robert Haddad
Vic Scaravilli
Fr. Mitch Pacwa
Fr. Tim Deeter
Sr. Rosalind Moss (for her warmth and compassion)


... and others that teach so confidently and with great patience.


I will never know as much as these people or be as gifted as them, but their zeal for what they do inspires me to want to do more; to reach further out! This is a light I cannot keep hidden under the bed; may the Lord bless me with opportunities to teach others about my Catholic faith!

Addressing Student Questions Part II of II...

A while ago I posted a series of answers to some questions a student of mine had posted on this blog, and due to the intricacy of some of the questions I had decided to divide the Q&A into two parts. You can refresh your memory by visiting Part I of the questions here. Today, I'll be taking care of Part II of the questions. Hopefully there'll be something in there for you that you've always been curious about.


Enjoy!


1.) Did the Mary the Mother of God remain a virgin right up to her assumption?
It is believed that Mary remained a virgin for the remainder of her earthly life. Many non-Catholic Christian denominations reject this notion, however, based on what is written in scripture, the Holy Bible. These non-Catholic Christians will maintain that Mary did not remain a virgin and indeed had other children as there are apparent references to the "brothers of Christ" or siblings of Jesus.


A couple of questions any sensible Christian would need to answer then, if they maintain that Mary did not remain a virgin and had other children, are these:


a.) If Mary had other children, then where were they or why weren't they mentioned when Jesus was lost for three days in Jerusalem at the temple during Passover (Luke 2:39-52)?


b.) When Jesus hung on the crucifix with Mary, his mother, and the "disciple whom he loved" (commonly accepted as John the apostle) and charged this disciple with the responsibility of taking Mary into his own home (John 19:26), if Mary had other children, then why wasn't this responsibility issued with them? If such children existed, then this would have been a grave offense as it was customary for Jewish parents to be taken into the homes of their own children.


c.) Why is Jesus referred to as "the son of Mary" and not "a son of Mary" in Mark 6:3?


Yes, "brothers" of Jesus are also mentioned in this passage (James, and Joseph, and Jude, and Simon; and sisters), but it may have also been the case that as Joseph was considerably older than Mary, he very well may have had children from a previous marriage; he may very well have been widowed. So any siblings of Jesus were likely to be step-brothers or step-sisters. They very well may as well have been cousins, but since there was no word in Hebrew or Aramic for "step-brother/sister" or "cousin", "kin" or "kinsfolk" would have been the word used to describe the relationship Jesus had with these others, and the use of the word "brothers/sisters" has been used errnigly.


2.) What does it mean to be Baptised, receive Communion, or to be Confirmed?
Let's start with the basics. The Oxford dictionary defines each of the above as:


Baptism: "the Christian rite of sprinkling a person with water or immersing them in it, symbolizing purification and admission to the Christian Church".


Baptism remits the baptised of Original Sin.


Communion (Holy Communion): "service of Christian worship at which bread and wine are consecrated and shared; the Eucharist".


Confirmation: "the rite at which a baptised person affirms their belief and is admitted as a full member of the Christian [Catholic] Church."


In the Catholic rite of Confirmation, the candidate receives the Holy Spirit in the same way the apostles and other followers of Christ did in the upper room on the feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). The gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to the candidate at Confirmation.


So in short, to be baptised means to be received in to the community of Church and to be remitted of Original Sin; to receive Communion is to share in the Eucharistic celebration; and to be Confirmed is for one to affirm their faith in the Catholic faith and receive the Holy Spirit.


Further information: http://www.catholicenquiry.com/faq/what-are-the-seven-sacraments.html


3.) What parts of the Bible talk about the gifts of the Holy Spirit?
1 Corinthians 12:1-14 (The Holy Spirit/charismatic gifts); Romans 12:6-8 (operative gifts); and Ephesians 4:11 (administrative gifts).


4.) What parts of the Bible talks about the love of God?
This is a very broad question and very difficult to answer with specificity; it is revealed to us in scripture that God loves us abundantly, and this is demonstrated from the beginning of the Old Testament to the end of the New Testament.


As you are aware, God desires that all His children be with Him and that all come to full repentance (2 Peter 3:9), but if I was to pick one verse from scripture that makes commentary on the breadth and depth of God's love for us all, it would be this:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." - John 3:16 (NAB)

There are other verses in the Bible I could point to but in fear of using up all the bandwidth available on the Internet telling you about how much God loves us, it might be easier to suggest that looking to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John would be the best place to start making attempt to comprehend of how much God truly loves every single one of us.

5.) How do our prayers effect/influence God's plan?
Great question!

God definitely has a plan for each and every single one of us, and He, ultimately, wants us to take the path that will lead us to Him, but here's the thing: we have free will and sometimes we don't do as God desires and we may stray from that path. The good thing to know is that we can always get back on that path by centring ourselves on God and using prayer as a means to discover His will for us.

Can prayer change God's plan for us? In short, no it can't, as God knows what's best for us and He alone knows our heart's truest desires (1 Chronicles 28:9). In the end, what we think, do, or say in life determines how God's plan works in our lives; it all comes back to free will.

I've certainly experienced times in my own life where I've heard the voice of God stirring within me and being lead to do something. At times I've ignored it and rejected it quite violently. Now looking back I wish I hadn't because much hurt and pain came from that rejection of that stirring from within ("...Oh, that today you would hear his voice: Do not harden your hearts..." - Psalm 5:7-8).

The best thing we can do is to pray so that we may know God's plan. God answers all of our prayers, but we have to accept that the answer may be "no" on certain things and this is not necessarily a bad thing.

God knows best and by the grace of God we may grow to accept how His will works in our lives.

6.) How is Love, Hope and Faith defined in the Bible?
Can I suggest you read the following as a starting point?

Love: 1 Corinthians 13; Matthew 25:34-40; John 13:14-15; John 13:34-35; John 14:15; John 15:9; John 16:27; Hebrews 13:1-3.

Hope: 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Peter 1:13; 1 Peter 3:14-15; Galatians 5:5; Romans 15:13; Jeremiah 29:11-13.

Faith: Romans 4:3; Romans 5:1; 1 Corinthians 2:5; Ephesians 6:16; 2 Timothy 4:7; James 2:14-26; 1 Peter 1:9; John 14:1; Romans 10:4; 2 Timothy 1:13; Revelation 3:20.

* * * * *

I hope these responses have been sufficient.

God bless.