Christian Rock Music: a Defense

“Can’t you see you’re not making Christianity better, you’re just making rock n’ roll worse.” King of the Hill S08E02

My History With Rock Music

I have always liked rock music.

In elementary school, when my peers were listening to Spice Girls and Brittny Spears, I was listening to Barenaked Ladies and Lenny Kravitz.

I even sang Fly Away for elementary school talent show; hides face in embarrassment.

This love for rock music never left me even though the bands and style of music did change.

Christian Rock: How it Snuck Into My Playlist

In college, I stumbled on a band called The Letter Black. I am not sure why or how this indie Christian band was featured on a secular music review site.

Not knowing what I was getting my self into I took a listen. The song Best of Me took hold of my heart and would not let go. What stood out to me was the lyrics:

If I could find yesterday

I would take You back to where I’m coming from

Cause You can see the way

All these scars have kept me running

And chasing down the past

But I’m not done, I’m turning back

I swear, You’re the only reason I keep breathing

I swear, You keep on giving me the reason to keep believing

Finally I’m worth it, though I’m not perfect

It still feels right, and I keep on giving

Trying to make a difference, in my life

But I know another way to show

Everything I can be for You

You’re all that I’ll ever need

I’ll give you the Best of Me

If I could read tomorrow’s mind

I would know exactly where You’re taking me

If I’m going to slip away

Or if I stay and give You all my trust

You will keep me safe

I know You won’t let me fade

I swear,…

This blew my atheistic mind. Why?

Because I had never considered religion to bring out the best in people. Rather I always thought religion was a crutch for people to rest on.

Yet 1st John 4:19 says

19 We love because he first loved us. (RSV 2nd Catholic edition)

At the time I had a lot of scars (still do). I attempted to find my worth in being perfect. This song explicitly states that she is worth it despite her imperfections and scars.

This message brought healing to my soul.

Overcoming Trauma:

In 2011, I was diagnosed with a herniated disc.

The news devastated me.

I had to leave school and take a leave of absence and spend 3 long months in the hospital.

For the uninitiated, there isn’t much to do in hospitals.

Thus, I listened to Christian rock music.

I need hope that secular music just could not provide.

One time, in particular, stands out.

It was the middle of the night. The nurse comes in to make me go to the bathroom. I had yet to go all day. The circumstances made the hospital staff understandably worried. They catheterized me.

Fear swirled through my head.

“What if I’ve lost my ability to go to the bathroom on my own”, I thought.

With that thought, tears came. The nurse tried to comfort me to no avail.

As the nurse left the room, I decided to turn on music.

No sleeping now, I thought as I cried.

The following song came on the radio: On The Front Lines by Light Up the Darkness

Can You comfort me when I call / Is my voice bouncing off the wall

As the weeping prophet my tears still fall

Not unlike my words upon deaf ears

I’m standing on the front lines with Jesus on my right side

I’m not defeated / I will stand tall

And my armor is fitted / And I will not fear

You held my hand / You led me here

You can defeat the enemy

I hear his cunning whispering words / I despise the enemy’s call

He tries to slay me with his lies

and I cannot compromise on the Solid Rock I stand

I don’t think that song would have the same emotional impact outside of a rock song. If it was a pop song or traditional praise song, It may have very well come across as cheesy. Yet Christianity attracted me, not through everlasting joy, but by the battle motif. Jesus is king standing on the front lines with us. He is battling the principles of darkness.

Is Screaming a Form of Praise?

The Bible talks about shouting a lot. The most famous example is the battle of Jericho.

So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people raised a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city. Joshua 6:20-6:22 (RSV 2nd Catholic edition)

Now we can read this as a historical narrative. Yet I also believe in a personal interpretation.

I believe that the walls represent obstacles in our lives. Things that keep us from our divine given purpose. Thus, screaming and shouting is a permissible form of praise. Our screams anticipate God’s intervention. Thus we can enter into eternal city of the new Jerusalem. Something is freeing about shouting out for God and watching the walls fall in our lives.

Christian rock: a Gimmick?

So does Christian rock music make actual rock music worse?

My answer would be, “it depends.” Artistic intentions play a large role in the integrity of the music choices. If the intention is to make Jesus seem cool or edgy and contrary to what Jesus is really about, then yes it is not authentic. Firstly, be a musician. Secondly, write meaningful messages about faith that can only be conveyed by rock music. Thirdly, don’t do it to try to spread the gospel to the masses or tap into the Christian market. We, Christians, have Christian Contemporary and praise music for that purpose.

Finding Freedom Through Unbound

I am weak! I need freedom from my weakness. This is how I used to think. Now I am attempting to embrace my weakness.

No, I am not throwing myself a pity party, nor am I being self-deprecating. Rather I am attempting to exercise my freedom. Confused? Let me explain.

Society states that what is important is success, wealth, and happiness. Al these things we should strive to grasps or possess. But what if you don’t have those things? Are you helpless? Are you unlovable or discontent?

These are the thoughts I wrestle with and it is easy for me to fall into despair. Yet the good news of Jesus Christ frees us from these thoughts and attitudes. It tells me that it is okay to be weak. The God, who loved me, created me with all my imperfections, doubts and fears. Freedom comes when we receive the good news.

How I viewed Freedom

Often it’s easy to view freedom as walking away from something rather than walking towards someone. I heard the following example:

Imagine you are a slave. You are being bided on when out of the corner of your eye you see a man. He pays the highest price for you. You cautiously go up to the man worried about your fate. Then you hear the words, “I freed you.” The man tells you to go live your life, but don’t fall into slavery.

I know that in my own life that is how I viewed God. To me, God is like the man, who paid the highest price. I thought I was right with God if I did not fall into sin. Yet my thought process is slowly changing.

“ Freedom is not just the absence of slavery to sin, but the presence of a love relationship with God”

My thought process began to change when reading the above quote. While I strive to not sin, to be in freedom requires more. It requires a relationship with God my father.

Freedom Through Unbound

I first read the quote in the workbook for the Unbound course; so what is Unbound?

Unbound is a book and class that offers Christians a practical guide to Deliverance. Now when my small group leader approached me about doing this course, I had no opinion. I didn’t really know about deliverance.

Honestly, If I had known I probably would have stayed away. I tend to be rational and logical. I am not the type of person to diagnose every problem as a spiritual disease.

But I knew nothing and therefore have sat through three lessons on deliverance. So what is deliverance?

Neal Lozano defines deliverance as, “ the breaking of power behind habitual patterns of thinking and acting that limit our freedom to accept God’s love and turn away from that which blocks His love.”1

Thus deliverance is much less about casting out evil spirits. Rather it is about renouncing the lies the spirits make us believe.

What I Want From Unbound

I am excited about the journey. God wants to deliver me from lies of my own making. I have come to realize that I lack trust in God’s promises. I want to be able to say with the Psalmist:

Even though I walk through the valley

of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff

they comfort me. Psalm 23:4 (RSV second Catholic edition)

I want to know that God’s got me regardless of the circumstances. I think renouncing fear will help me trust God’s goodness. Renouncing perfectionism will help me rely on God and not myself.

I am weak, but my God is strong.

  1. Neal Lozano, Unbound: A Practical Guide to Deliverence(Chosen Books 2010), 67

Click here if you want to learn more about freedom.

picture of library with statue of stoic philosophers

Stoic Philosophy

Lessons It Can Teach Christianity

So it should be no secret by now that I love philosophy. Recently I started reading about philosophy more and more. I also recently started using Apple News app. Found an interesting article on Stoic philosophy.

It all started when I realized that I wasted so much time on mindless social media and Netflix.

So I took drastic measures. I deleted Twitter, Netflix, Youtube and Youtube TV off my phone. Now I had a problem. What could I do when I needed to actually waste time? Enter Apple News.

Apple News allowed me to educate myself during those rare moments of downtime. And wouldn’t you know it, they have a philosophy category.

One day while skimming through the category, a headline caught my eye. It read Is ancient philosophy the future? Intrigued, I decided to read.

Is Ancient Philosophy The Future?

Donald Robertson wrote a fascinating article about the rise of ancient philosophy among young people. He seeks to address the question, Why the rise in Stoicism in modern society? He ties the answer to the core principles of Stoicism.

The Core principals of Stoic Philosophy

To be a stoic, you must believe the following:

First, must adopt a rational framework when confronting today’s problems.

Second, you must differentiate between what you can control and what you can’t.

Third, you must recognize that the judgments you make about certain situations change your emotional state. For example, the judgment you make about rain effects your attitude about a rainy day. The rain itself as nothing to do with your emotional state.

Fourth, you must recognize that you live for a higher purpose.

Master, all four and you are on your way to becoming a Stoic.

While Donald Robertson article did not convince me to be a stoic philosopher, it did tell me a thing or two about evangelizing young people. So many core principles of Stoicism can be found in Christianity. Donald Robertson even draws a comparison between Stoicism and St Francis Serenity Prayer. So why is Stoicism growing and Christianity shrinking?

Five Things Stoic philosophy emphasizes better than Christianity.

1. Rationality

Let’s face it Christianity has a bad representation as anti-science. Even if most of the blame goes on protestant evangelicals and creationist, The Catholic Church suffers from this stereotype as well. Just the other day someone asked me if I believe in dinosaurs. Yet as controversial as the Big Bang is, very few people know that a Catholic priest, Georges Lemaître discovered it. Faith is rational, let’s embrace that.

2. Stoics Teach How to Live a Good Life

Sometimes Christians can get so weighed down by what not to do that we forget why we’re doing it in the first place. Jesus came to give life and give it abundantly. Christians are called to have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, generosity, and self-control. Yet most of the time we walk around with a chip on our shoulder and a holier than thou attitude. Christianity is meant to give us a good life, not outwardly, but inwardly. We need to emphasize the goodness of Christianity more.

3. Stoics Have Deep and meaningful conversations

Don’t rock the boat. Sometimes we take Christian meekness to the extreme. We are afraid to be raw and vulnerable because we don’t want anyone to discover what a horrible sinner we are. Instead, we have surface level conversations. Likewise, we are so afraid of losing our faith that we don’t dare entertain opinions outside of our own. Yet deep conversations require a vulnerable confrontation with someone not like you.

4. Stoic Philosophy Offers Emotional Resilience

This is something Christianity should offer in abundance. Most of the modern churches fail to deliver. St Paul wrote,

for I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be self-sufficient. I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me. Philippians 4:11a-14

St Paul knows the secret to being content is having confidence that comes from trusting in Jesus. Yet we never hear about this inner freedom thatGod promises. You hear about the next life and the freedom that awaits us. You hear that God wants to bless you now. If you’re not blessed you lack faith. This is not the Christianity St Paul describes.

5. Stoic Philosophy Performs Action

Unlike Christianity, stoicism emphasizes being a good person. There is no gospel to be proclaimed or preached. Rather, a person exemplifies Stoicism by transforming their character. Christian have made a blind confession of faith the only requirement for membership. Yet the Christian gospel demands transformation. Too many Christians pay lip service to Christ without radically changing their heart. The moral is that if you’re going to preach the gospel, your behavior better conform.

Conclusion

The world is hungry for guidance in these chaotic times. They long to know answers to questions such as why are we here and what is our purpose. Young people value deep radical friends, who know how to have intellectual conversations. If Christianity is going to evangelize it needs to be rational. It needs to offer a community that is not superficial, but intellectually rich, where people practice what they preach. Until then philosophy will remain an appealing alternative.

Read more about Philosophy here

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Lent- Transformation or diet plan?

Desert with sand dunes reminds me of Lent

As a young person, I gave up T.V. for Lent.

Yes, you read that correctly. As a twelve-year-old, I wanted to give up T.V. As a young person I believed wrongly that Lent was about giving up something. My twelve-year-old self thought that we earned God’s love through our Lenten sacrifice. My parents supported me. In fact, they liked it so much, the no T.V watching became the household norm.

I grew up.

As I re-entered the Catholic Church and matured in my faith, I began to see the real beauty of Lent. I have learned that Lent is much more than a diet plan. When approached correctly, it can radically change your life. I know that it has changed mine.

Purpose of Lent

Lent has a three-fold purpose: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These practices help us empty ourselves so that we can be filled with God’s presence.

Prayer

Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is week Mathew 26:41

Every morning is a battle. The alarm goes off and I am faced with a choice: to snooze or not to snooze. My tired eyes beckon me to sleep for five more minutes. Yet my soul knows that those five minutes I could be spending with God. Jesus tells us that prayer protects us from temptation. In my life, I am tempted to fall into despair. In those moments I turn to the Divine Mercy prayer.

Eternal Father, whose mercy is endless and whose treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly on us and increase in us Your mercy, that in difficult moments, we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your most holy will, which is love and mercy itself.

Prayer has helped me fight my inner demons. Nowhere has this become more clear than during Lent. I discovered the Litany of Trust during the fourth week of Lent. I decided to pray it every day during Lent. Since then I have seen my confidence grow and God doing impossible things.

Fasting

I like food.

I am the worse when it comes to fasting. It seems like every Friday I get a craving for fried chicken. One time I had left my Friday holy hour hungry. I decided to go through KFC drive through because I could not wait. As soon as I had the food in my hands, I remembered that it was a day of absence from meat. I reluctantly ate it as to not waste food.

In my moments of weakness I recall Jesus’ example:

And he fasted for forty days and forty nights and afterward he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “if you are the son of God command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “it is written, man shall not live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Matthew 4:2-4

I know that if I was Jesus, I would have given into the devil’s demands. By forcing us to fast, Lent reminds us of our human weakness. Every time I’m tempted to snack on some crackers or gorge on fried chicken, I realize how much I need God’s grace.

Alms Giving

I am frugal with money.

I struggle with Works of Mercy because I keep to myself and help myself. God decided to shake me up. One Saturday after confession, the priest told me to do a random act of kindness as part of my penance. As someone, who keeps to themselves, this was completely out of my comfort zone. I agonized over the decision. Ultimately, I ended up buying a cup of coffee for someone in line behind me. God must have a sense of humor. It turns out that the people in line behind me were buying together. When the cashier asked me if I wanted to pay for both, I awkwardly said yes.

I’ll admit that it did feel good to buy them coffee. Ever since I have looked for ways to do random acts. I hope to one day get to the point where my Lenten sacrifice involves doing an act of kindness every day. Until then God has a lot of work to do.

Lent reimagined

Lent was never intended to be a self-improvement plan or a diet regimen. It transforms us by making us walk in Jesus’ footsteps. Like Jesus, we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us to the desert. We can be tempted by hunger, greed, or business, but we will not give in. Instead, we will find that we need God.

Christian Films vs Bible: Which Tells a Better Story?

Red theater seats that you would find when watching Christian films

Last Saturday, I got together with my friends. We decided to play board games at a local coffee shop. I brought The Catholic Card Game. The creators took the mechanics of Apple to Apples or Cards against Humanity and made it Catholic. They made it Catholic by having all the cards have some Christian or Catholic theme to it. As a player, you can make some pretty fun inside jokes. One of my favorite cards played was, “in the name of Jesus, I command you to stop liking Christian films.”

I have been very critical of Christian films. My friend knew this and used it to score a point from me. The more I understand about film, art, and beauty, the more I’ve come to devaluing Christian films. I am discouraged by the current history of Christian films. The Bible offers the blueprint for telling a compelling story.

I first became aware of Christian film criticism through the Youtube channel: [Say Goodnight Kevin}(https://youtu.be/Bw3Ll_1l7Io). Kevin provides a critical analysis of Christian films. Most of what he says speaks to my heart. The God’s Not Dead review is no exception. Kevin states that the problem in the God’s not Dead review. The filmmakers are more interested in selling a message than telling a story. The characters become one-sided in order to serve the message.

The Bible shows us brokenness and weakness, morally gray people, God’s power, and trials.

1. Brokenness and weakness

In Christian films, the Christian character is usually not broken. Yet God uses broken people all the time. Let’s take Moses for example. Moses was chosen by God to lead the people out of Egypt into the promised land. Moses objected by saying that he had a stutter and could not speak. St Paul talks about a thorn in his side that would not go away. St Paul describes how God’s strength is made perfect in St. Paul’s weakness. Christian films would do well to show God using what society has deemed as weak or broken.

2. Morally gray people

Returning to Moses, he was also a morally gray individual. He murdered an Egyptian guard for attacking a Jewish slave. Likewise, David was a man after God’s own heart, but he committed adultery. Very rarely if ever do we see Christian films display nuance. They never have the Christian character perform a morally questionable action. They also fail to show growth over time.

3. Show trials after becoming a Christian

The book of Acts describes how the apostles were arrested, beaten, and kill for their faith. Yet many more became Christian partially due to their witness. It would be beneficial for Christian films to show 1. What caused people to convert, and 2. Them choosing to stay in the face of trials.

Sabbath vs Lords day: What is the Big Deal?

Introduction

People always seem surprised when I tell them that I have seldom missed Mass. In fact, the only time I missed Mass in recent memory occurred during a snowstorm. Some people I have encountered view church as optional. They tend to believe that you can call upon the Lord anywhere. The New Testament has certain scriptures that seem to abolish the Sabbath requirement. Yet The Catholic Church makes observing The Lord’s Day a requirement. The Church makes it a mortal sin to miss church without a grave reason. Why does The Church care so much about our presence in a building? After all, Jesus spoke against the Sabbath in Luke 14:1-6. Like all biblical interpretations, context is important. The Catholic Church’s teachings reconcile the Old Testament scripture with the words in The New Testament.

Old Testament

Genesis 2:3

The first reference to a mandatory day of rest occurs in Genesis. Here, God is creating the universe. Then, we read Genesis 2:3

God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation. Genesis 2:3 (NABre).

We as the readers learn key things about the Sabbath. God made it a day of rest. We believe God is all powerful. He did not need the rest. Rather God is choosing to rest. This choice gives an example to humanity. God knows we need the rest. We learn that the 7th day is blessed. Thus when we set aside the 7th day, God blesses us. Last, this verse tells us that God made the 7th day holy. Thus, we should keep our mind on holy things. Thus The Church has decided to make the 7th day a time of corporate worship. When we get to the New Testament this will be further expanded upon. From Genesis, we learn that the Sabbath is a concept that directly comes from God and not man-made laws.

Exodus

The next mention of the Sabbath occurs in the book of Exodus. In this book, God rescues the Israelites from spiritual and physical slavery in Egypt. Once the Israelites reached Mount Sinai, God gives them a code of laws. God designed these laws to help set the Israelites apart from other pagan nations. When dictating these laws, God said,

Remember the sabbath day—keep it holy. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God. You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your work animal, or the resident alien within your gates. For in six days, the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day, he rested. Exodus 20:8-11(NABre).

So The Old Testament, The Book of Exodus marks the beginning of the Sabbath being encoded into the law. The Book of Leviticus, The Book of Numbers, and The Book of Deuteronomy all mention the Sabbath. In those books, the Sabbath is no longer a mere memorial for the creation of the world. Rather, The Sabbath commemorates God freeing the Israelites from Exodus. The Sabbath has become a form of corporate worship.

Call Upon the Lord

Yet some people point to verses like Psalm 145:18 as proof that one is not obligated to keep the Sabbath. Usually, people who make this argument focus on the first part of the verse, but ignore the second. Psalm 145: 18 says

the Lord is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth

The interpretation depends on how one defines calling upon the Lord in truth. In my Bible, there are two scriptures cited after this passage: Deu 4:4-10, and Isa 55:6. Deuteronomy says,

See, I am teaching you the statutes and ordinances as the Lord, my God, has commanded me, that you may observe them in the land you are entering to possess. Observe them carefully, for this is your wisdom and discernment in the sight of the peoples, who will hear of all these statutes and say, “This great nation is truly a wise and discerning people.” For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?

Thus to have the privilege of calling upon the Lord, the Israelites must abide by the laws and statues. Calling upon the Lord is not merely making a request, it is submitting to the will of God. His will in the Old Covenant was to set aside a day to rest and honor Him.
So In the Old Testament, God instituted the Sabbath in order to provide us with a day of rest. He codified it as part of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:8-11. The Books of Deuteronomy, Numbers, and Leviticus provide information regarding the Sabbath practice. Obeying the Sabbath is necessary in order to call upon the Lord in truth.

New Testament

Yet we as Christians are not bound by only the Old Testament. We also follow the New Covenant established by Jesus Christ. A thorough examination of the scriptures shows that Christ honored the Sabbath. Yet he also challenged the authority at the time. He presented himself as a living sacrifice. He replaced the temple sacrificial system. Yet Jesus did not abolish the Old Testament law, but rather fulfilled it.

Jesus in the Gospel

We know that Jesus did not abolish the Old Testament law based on Matthew 19:16-17.

”If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”(NABre).

Jesus told the rich young man to keep the commandments. Hence, we as Christians are also obligated to keep the moral law. This moral law includes a prescription to keep the Sabbath holy and to rest. If that is the case, did Jesus do or say anything to undermine this commandment.

Luke 14:1-6

On a Sabbath he went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully. In front of him, there was a man suffering from dropsy. Jesus spoke to the scholars of the law and Pharisees in reply, asking, “Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath or not?” But they kept silent; so he took the man and, after he had healed him, dismissed him. Then he said to them, “Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the sabbath day?” But they were unable to answer his question Luke 14:1-6 (NABre).

Here Jesus deliberately heals on the Sabbath. This at first glance seems to undermine the authority of the Sabbath. The reality is that Jesus is not saying to not rest or worship God. Rather, the Israelites needed to be reminded about mercy. The Pharisees had interpreted a law to allow the untying of bound animals on the Sabbath. Jesus is extending that compassion towards humans, who are bound by affliction.

Matthew 12

Jesus also spoke about the Sabbath in Matthew 12:5-8

Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests serving in the temple violate the Sabbath and are innocent? I say to you, something greater than the temple is here. If you knew what this meant, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned these innocent men. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath

In Matthew 12, the Pharisees rebuke the disciples for picking the heads of grain on the Sabbath. In verse 5, Jesus mentions that the requirements of the temple outweighs the requirements of the Sabbath. If that is the case then Jesus’ presence outweighs the Sabbath as well since he is the son of God.

Jesus establishes a new covenant during the Last Supper. He gives us his flesh to eat in the form of bread and wine. This meal takes the place of the Passover meal. The Sabbath celebrated by the Jews commemorates God rescuing them from Egypt. The early Christian Church established The Lord’s day to celebrate The New Covenant.

Writings of the Early Church

St. Paul writes about the Sabbath in Colossians 2:16-17.

Let no one, then, pass judgment on you in matters of food and drink or with regard to a festival or new moon or sabbath. These are shadows of things to come; the reality belongs to Christ.

Here St. Paul says that the Jewish traditions were shadows of things to come. In other words, the Jewish traditions point to Christ. Christians do not need to celebrate the Sabbath but celebrate Christ. Yet the Sabbath rest is still a moral requirement. In Hebrews 4, the Bible says, “Therefore, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God. And whoever enters into God’s rest, rests from his own works as God did from his. Therefore, let us strive to enter into that rest, so that no one may fall after the same example of disobedience.”

The example of disobedience refers to the Israelites. They were given the promise land as a share of God’s rest but failed to honor the Sabbath.

In Hebrews 10:19-26, the Bible describes how Christ has replaced the Jewish temple worship.

Therefore, brothers, since through the blood of Jesus we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil, that is, his flesh, and since we have “a great priest over the house of God,” let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope, for he who made the promise is trustworthy. We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near. Hebrews 10:19-26

This passage opens by explaining that we can enter the Holy of Holies. Jesus Christ made a way through his flesh. The term flesh represents His sacrificial death on the cross and His flesh given to us in the Eucharist. The terms sprinkled clean and bodies wash with pure water refers to Baptism. Finally, the author of Hebrews states that we should not stay away from our assembly. The assembly refers to Christian house churches. These assemblies are described in the Book of Acts.

Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart Acts 2:46 (NABre)

Since there were not physical buildings yet, the early Church met in houses. The term break bread refers to the Eucharist. The Bible even tells us what day of the week these celebrations took place

On the first day of the week when we gathered to break bread, Paul spoke to them because he was going to leave on the next day, and he kept on speaking until midnight Acts 20:7 (NABre)

The early Christians broke bread on the first day of the week, which would be Sunday. Hence Sunday is now the new day of rest.

Conclusion

The Sabbath foreshadowed the celebration of The Last Supper. The former was a memorial to the Passover meal. It helped the Israelites remember how God rescued them from Egypt. Similarly, The Lord’s day memorializes Christ’s death on the cross. We break bread with one another as Christ commanded us to do. We are still bound by the moral command of the Old Covenant. This entails, “taking up its rhythm and spirit in the weekly celebration of the Creator and Redeemer of his people.” (CCC 2176). Therefore I ask you, what is more, important than honoring God through the breaking of the bread? If nothing is then why are you not observing the Lord’s day?

Six Reasons to Believe in Christianity

Why Christianity, My Journey From an Atheist to a Believer

Introduction

I remember when I first became a Christian. The topic of religion made me very excited. I wanted to talk about Jesus with everyone I met. One Christmas, I gave my family all Christian themed gifts. I listened to the pastor’s sermons online. Over the years I have mellowed out. My life is no longer a walking billboard for Christianity. As a Catholic, I still very much practice Christianity. So when wrestling with the fundamental questions about life, why did I chose Christianity?

Matthew 21:12-13

Before I began, I want to start with scripture, Matthew 21:12-13.

12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’[a] but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’[b]”

Jesus flipping over tables

Here Jesus displays genuine anger. Jesus is taking action. He is overturning tables and kicking out the money changers. We don’t normally think about this image of Jesus. Rather, we depict Jesus as a peaceful lamb. Sometimes we assume he is passive and meek. Yet, just like he did with the money changers, Jesus wants to disrupt our lives. He wants to set us apart.

This relates to my own journey. I had to address the question, “was I going to let Jesus disrupt my life.” I do not regret my decision. Below are 6 reasons I chose to become a Christian and follow Christ.

1. Higher purpose

I first began to open up to any religion when I needed to discover a higher purpose. I failed molecular genetics. Thus, I realized that I could no longer rely on success to dictate my purpose. I was a perfectionist. A book, Lethal Harvest, showed me the dangers of living for yourself. In the book, one character, an atheist, loses his life in pursuit of his work. I did not want my work to represent my value as a person. So I began to search for a purpose beyond myself. Philosophically speaking, the lowly cannot rise to a higher level. Instead, that which is higher must come down and raise the lowly. In other words, in order to have a purpose that transcends yourself, you need a divine being. I am not saying unbelievers have no purpose, but rather any purpose they have is self-made. This realization does not point me to Christianity, but it does point me to a belief system.

2. Familiarity

Upon realizing that I needed to adopt a belief system, I took to the internet and researched. I found the Unitarian Universalist church. In this church, all belief systems were correct. As a member, you could join different study groups. These groups covered various different belief systems. I chose to join the Christian study group due to my familiarity with Christianity. I grew up Catholic and grew up learning the basic stories in the Bible. The group got together to “study” the Bible. In reality, we really just questioned the Bible for an hour. One notable exchange occurred when discussing the nativity narratives. We debated about whether an angel visited Joseph. Some people purposed that Mary had drugged him and disguised herself as an angel. Despite the ridiculous theology, this group got me to open up the Bible for myself. They showed me, Christian love when I was in the hospital. Thus I felt comfortable with them. Yet as I continued to read the Bible for myself, I could no longer pretend that Jesus was just a good moral teacher.

4. Accepting the Incarnation

One of the key beliefs of orthodox Christianity is the incarnation. This belief implies that Jesus is fully human and fully God. I first came to this realization by reading John 14:6.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

In this passage, Jesus is not saying he is one way to the Father. Rather, Jesus is saying he is the only way. I asked my pastor to share his thoughts. He could only reply that the Bible misquoted Jesus in John 14:6. My logic would not allow for this response. Either the Bible contains the truth or it does not. My pastor implied that the gospel of John was untrue. Since I believe in the integrity of the whole bible; I left the Unitarian faith.

On The Incarnation

I continued to wrestle with the concept of the incarnation. In graduate school, I read St. Athanasius On The Incarnation. This work affected my view on the Incarnation. Athanasius says that God made us in his image and that we had the Word in us at the beginning of creation.1 However, we lost the Word when the fall occurred.1 The fall corrupted humanity. In order to restore our incorruptible nature, Christ needed to assume a human body.1 By redeeming one body, he elevates all bodies1. Athanasius also purposes that Christ, the word of God, came down so that we would know about God.1 He argues that neither creation nor the law is enough to remind us of God. Thus, God being a good king would not let us take other masters, but would come down himself.1

Athanasius’ work helped me. I understood why the incarnation is important for our salvation. The concept of the Incarnation is a unique aspect of Christianity. The only other religion that believes in an incarnation is Hinduism. Yet in Hinduism the deity, Vishnu does not take on the physical nature of the people and animals.2 Thus, unlike Christ, Vishnu cannot restore our incorruptibility.2 Hence, Vishnu must incarnate himself multiple times to “save” humanity.2 In my opinion, I would rather God restore me completely than be trapped in an endless cycle.

5. Christian Rock Music

During my conversion period, I was exposed to Christian rock and Metal music. The songs had themes of never giving up and fighting a spiritual battle. While in the hospital, these songs gave me hope. Two songs, in particular, come to mind: Belief by The Letter Black and On The Front Lines by Light Up the Darkness.

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Both songs paint pictures of overcoming pain through belief and faith. Sarah, from The Letter Black, sings, “I am not afraid anymore of what I don’t know.” Likewise, Light Up the Darkness sings,

“I’m not defeated

I will stand tall

My armor is fitted

I will not fear

You held my hand

You led me here

You can defeat the enemy”

These messages of hope would influence me to choose Christianity over other religions.

6. The Holy Spirit

I remember the first time I surrendered to Christ publicly. The pastor had asked if we were ready to stop striving. Something in me broke. I could not stop crying as I walked to the ground of this one thousand person church. After being prayed over I felt a lightness that I had never felt before. Over the course of the week, I noticed that I no longer doubted God’s existence. I now know that I had a radical encounter with the Holy Spirit. This encounter has led me to continue in my Christian Catholic faith

Conclusion

When confronted with an existential crisis, I began as a logical assessment. This led me to Christianity. Yet, I also needed to have a radical encounter with the divine. I believe there are logical reasons to believe in Christianity. Yet, one must also allow God to show himself. I hope that my own journey encourages you to explore religion itself and discover what is true.

 

 

1. [st Athanasius On The Incarnation, http://www.copticchurch.net/topics/theology/incarnation_st_athanasius.pdf]
2. [https://www.comparativereligion.com/avatars.html]

3 ways to hear the voice of Jesus

Introduction

Last Sunday marked an end to the liturgical year for the church. This year was filled with sex scandals, confusion, and ambiguity. Yet the Church reminds us that Jesus Christ is king. He is the one in charge; not the corrupt bishops or priests. In our democratic republic, we tend to believe that we are free from tyranny. After all, the American people spoke out against taxation without representation. Thus, Americans tend to value individualism. This attitude conflicts with Jesus’ call to surrender and follow him.

Gospel of John

I want to turn our attention to last Sunday’s gospel reading. The Gospel was:

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” John 18:33-37

Before Mass, I prayed over this gospel passage. “ Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” stuck out to me. I take this to mean that we cannot proclaim the truth of the kingdom until we’ve heard the voice of the King. So how do we hear Jesus’ voice? I suggest three ways.

  1. Pray in silence

Matthew Kelly calls silence God’s classroom. Only in silence can we prepare ourselves to hear the still small voice of God.

  1. Meditate on scripture

The Bible is considered to be the word of God. When we meditate and internalize it, we can then use passages to align our will with God’s will.

  1. Participate in the sacraments

Another way to hear Jesus’ voice is through the sacraments. Priests are in persona Christi or in the person of Christ. This means that when they are performing the sacraments they are representing Christ. Hence, an encounter in confession is not an encounter with the priest, but with Christ himself.

Conclusion

Jesus came to speak the truth in love. He calls us to do the same. Yet we cannot proclaim the truth until we hear the voice of Jesus. We cannot proclaim the truth unless we make Jesus king over everything. Americans may think that they escaped the tyranny of a constitutional monarchy. Yet we remain slaves to our individualistic pursuits of perfection. Only a divine king can help free us through mercy and love.

Protestant churches: Six Things I Miss

Introduction

As a convert, you bring with you an appreciation for your faith upbringing. You accept that the Catholic has the fullness of truth. You still recognize the good in other faith traditions and Christian denominations. I have bittersweet feelings about leaving Vineyard church. Most Catholics often treat my feelings with haughtiness. They usually tell me that I need to study more or pray more. I do wish Catholics had more of an open mind to the beauty of other Christian denominations. I admit that I miss certain things about the Protestant services. Yet I do not want these aspects present in Catholic liturgy. Here I describe six things I miss from Protestant worship service. Just a reminder, I was inspired by What I still hate about Catholcism.

1. Community groups

In most large Protestant churches, you have smaller groups of people that meet weekly. These groups went over what the pastor talked about on Sunday. Yet, the relationships were more important. This small group of women holds each other accountable. Catholic parishes are now starting to implement small groups. I lead a small group of Young Adults. However, it seems that the intentionality is not as present. In the Catholic world, small groups are one of the many ways one can get involved in parish life. I have never heard a priest emphasize it in a homily and I’ve only seen it mentioned briefly in a bulletin. Protestant churches devote whole Sundays to help plug people into small groups. It feels intentional and not an afterthought. Second, Catholic small groups always revolve around an agenda or program. Most Catholic adults experience small groups through the Alpha or Discovering Christ program. These programs offer a good introduction to the gospel message. However, small groups serve a different purpose. One enters into a small group to waste time with each other, to pray and support one another. In Catholic circles, once the program or Bible study ends, the group ends. If we want to build community, we need to see beyond programs and see relationships.

2. Hospitality

Lizzieanswers touched on this a lot in her video. A lot of Catholics don’t want to admit a lack of hospitality in today’s parishes. I think it stems from a genuine fear that Mass will become nothing more than a social club. They see the feel-good services of Protestant megachurches and want nothing to do with that mentality. However, as a newcomer and convert, one can experience a sense of isolation or lack of caring. Especially if one does not have time to get involved. I never felt like an outsider. I always volunteered in youth ministry or adult ministry in some capacity. Through volunteering, I got to know other people in the parish. Most people my age do not have this type of patience. In the world of instant streaming, they want to be connected and feel welcomed. I think the Catholic Church could do more in this area.

3. Intentionality

When something is an obligation it ceases to be intentional. Most Protestants do not see the church as an obligation. In fact, for them, the church is an invisible institution. Thus for them, a gathering of three or more people is the church. Catholics think differently. The church is a hospital for the sick. It is necessary in order to get well. Thus, a lot of Catholics go to church because they need to and not because they want to. Hence, you have lukewarm Catholics not caring for the liturgy. The come late, leave early, and etcetera. I have heard the churches, who celebrate The Latin Mass, have less of a problem with this. People mistakenly credit the liturgical form for this. Rather it may be that the Latin mass attracts a more intentional type of Catholic. I am not sure how to fix this problem except by helping people fall in love with the Mass. Ironically, if a parish offered such a program, it would

4. Energetic

I am on the fence about this one. Some mornings I love the fact that the Mass is meditative and peaceful. I find that I can pray easier in a Mass setting. Yet on certain occasions when the homily is dry, I find myself wishing the service was more lively. When I attend Protestant services I know I’m going to leave energetic and inspired. When I attend Mass, I know that I’m going to leave with a sense of peace and intimacy with God. I do not think that one is better than the other. I do not want the Mass to become more energetic. Rather, I want opportunities to have those experiences in a Catholic context. Sadly I have only experienced the same energy during Catholic retreats and conferences. I have never seen anything offered on the parish level.

5. Music

I am not sure when or why it happened, but the Catholic Church no longer has a reputation for good music. I feel like most Catholic hymnals are filled with bland, boring, and safe songs. After the explosion of new music in the 60s and 70s, there hasn’t been anything new from Catholic composers. Parishes stopped valuing music. Meanwhile, groups such as Hillsong, Bethel, and Elevation produce music that influences millions. I believe the Catholic Church needs to start valuing the arts again. We need to produce good quality music. We need to produce both contemporary pieces of music and return to supporting chant. For me personally, I don’t need a hymn book for Mass anymore because the parish choir recycles the same hymns.

6. Bible Appreciation

A lot of Catholics don’t know the Bible, as well as, Protestants do. One reason has to do with catechesis in the Catholic Church. Most young Catholics learn bible stories that we hear on Sunday. They learn what the Catholic Church teaches. They fall to learn the biblical bases for Catholic teaching. Rather than learning from the Bible itself, they learn from a textbook. I am trying to change that. I requested and got permission to use bibles in my CCD classroom. Every lesson has a scripture associated with it. We talk about said scripture and how it relates to the lesson. Then they are given an opportunity to memorize it. Second, Catholics through history have not needed to defend themselves. They didn’t need to have an answer memorized because everyone believed the same thing.

Conclusion

When I express my feelings, Catholics accuse me of not loving the Catholic Church. They are mistaken. I deeply love the Catholic Church and I understand why she does what she does. I would rather have a meditative peaceful service than an energetic worship concert every Sunday. I do recognize that certain people need community and find these things attractive. As I grow, I long for more silence, contemplation, and beautiful chant. Yet I still look back in fondness for what brought me to Christ in the first place. If Catholics desire unity, then we must be open to learning from and appreciating the other.