Christianity and Miracles

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Sanctification is not my idea of what I want God to do for me –
 sanctification is God’s idea of what He wants to do for me.

Oswald Chambers (James Riemann, Ed.)


Why are so many people resistant to the idea of miracles?

At a recent dinner conversation, one lady expressed her delight at a sermon she had heard about the biblical account of Jesus feeding the multitudes. She was relieved to hear that it wasn’t really a miracle. The priest said that it was true the disciples had only a few “loaves and fishes” but that didn’t mean others hadn’t brought food.

It made more sense to her, and was apparently reassuring to her, to think of it as a giant ‘pot luck’ instead of a miracle.

Why would miracles scare us or put us off?

We take delight in “miraculous” medical cures, miracles of technology and even the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey “Miracle on Ice“. But we seem hesitant to consider the idea of a real miracle, something we can’t explain.

F. A. Hayek, in The Road to Serfdom talks of a shift in the western approach to many issues which occurred in the nineteenth century. Before that, philosophy ruled in government and society. It was understood that some things are beyond us and therefore must be accepted.

With the rise of technology, the engineering viewpoint took over. Everything had to be analyzed and reduced to its parts. There are no unsolvable problems, just solutions we didn’t yet understand.

But we all understand that there are things beyond our comprehension. Some would argue that we will eventually explain everything that happens at all levels of the universe. They argue our science is immature.

But many of us doubt that. We have a hunch that “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your books.”

But what advantage could there be in refusing to accept miracles. Could a world without miracles be safer, easier for us to control?

A long dead teacher can ask nothing of us. Socrates, Aquinas and Confucius are left in the past. We can admire their ideas and try to follow them, but they can ask nothing of us. We can also feel free to reinterpret their teachings to fit our “times”, or rather, our whims.

But what if the person whose teachings we claim to follow still lives? What then?

This is the dilemma posed by Jesus of Nazareth. Many people are comfortable with him as a non-miraculous but wise teacher. We can follow his teachings, or not, and there is no reason to think he can affect us any more than Socrates.

But what if he is, indeed, the risen Son of God? What if he is not a figure from the remote past but alive and aware of our every thought, word and deed? Then He is not so easy to ignore.

A living Jesus has opinions about how we live. He may or may not tell us, and we may or may not listen, but He has his opinions of us and our actions.

He is in charge of our lives. We aren’t.  We can’t assume we know all there is to know about what happens in our lives. Maybe those “coincidences” we encounter from time to time really aren’t accidents. Maybe He is arranging events and people in our lives for His purposes.

To put it simply, maybe we aren’t in control. Maybe we don’t know as much as we think we do.

The thought that He is alive adds uncertainty and obligation to our lives. If, indeed, we were created by the Holy Trinity to know and love Him/them, they are waiting for us. We can’t just study Jesus as a long dead teacher. His “bible” is a guide book not just of how to live, but, more importantly, how to learn to walk and talk with Him.

Do we really want to hide in the safety of long-dead Jesus who can ask nothing of us and never “interfere” in our lives? Apparently many people do.

But for those willing to accept the idea that “He Is Risen!” it is, perhaps, time to understand what that means and seek him out. He lives and wants us to share everything with him.

Are we ready for that?

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What Child is This?

More than 2000 years ago, a child was born in a manger in Bethlehem. What that means for us is something we’ve discussed ever since.

For Christians, the explanation starts as a birthday. We can explain it to children and join them in singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. People of all faiths, or none, can say it marks the birth of the founder of an important world religion.

But all of those explanations fall short when you examine Christian claims about the meaning of the day. In the third century, Christianity changed, almost overnight, from a highly persecuted religion to the official state religion of the Roman Empire. Christian leaders were called together to explain the beliefs of the faith.

The first question was: Who is Jesus? They had been willing to die for their faith and many had been maimed. They were trying to put into words the faith which was so important to them. In answering the first question, they found themselves using words they could not fully explain or understand.

Mathematicians use the terms “Infinity” and “Imaginary numbers.” They mean something but are hard to explain. The church leaders were trying to explain something more amazing than Mathematics: God. They also used words which made sense but are hard to explain.

They said the baby, Jesus, was “fully God and fully man.”  That means the birth we celebrate at Christmas is the appearance of God into our existence as a human being. If we believe this, it changes the way we view God, the universe and humanity.

The Christian leaders, being versed in Jewish Scriptures, believed that God created the universe. It was not just a collection of material that somehow led to the creation of life.

But even then, how do we understand God if God comes into our universe as one of us? He came not as a triumphant ruler, but as a helpless baby. What kind of God would do this?

First it rules out a childish God who made a toy he could play with and discard. Such a God might look for reasons to stomp on his creatures.  We would have to try to follow all the rules and hope he didn’t see us.

It also rules out a more adult but detached God.  Some see God as a watch-maker who created the universe and lets it proceed on its own. He might come back some day and decide whether to keep it or wipe it out and start over. But this God is somewhat disinterested. Human beings are only amusing as an experiment.

Even our greatest minds find this somewhat satisfying. Albert Einstein said, “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.”

This is a reasonable understanding of God, but, amazingly, God is unreasonable, or beyond our reason. The appearance of God in our universe is beyond our comprehension. We have seen artists who paint themselves as one of the crowd, but that doesn’t come close.

A member of the Divine Trinity came to Earth as one of us. He did not do it as an experiment or to “lord it” over us. He came because we needed it. But what did we need?

Many emphasize the idea that God became human to “pay a debt He did not owe and a debt we could not pay.” This is the view of Jesus as a sacrifice for us. I am not trying to refute this, but it is still incomplete. If it were simply this, he could have come as an adult, gone to the cross and been resurrected.

Others emphasize His time as a teacher and deemphasize the cross. In the early church there were debates about whether God could actually suffer. Again, the church leaders refuted this and affirmed that, as “fully God and fully man,” he did experience the full burden of crucifixion.

In the life of Jesus of Nazareth, Christians believe we are seeing a life as God would have us live it. In the Gospel stories, we see someone who spreads healing and love, who is patient and understanding and is constantly seeking the “lost sheep”.

The self-important see no need for Him and He does not force Himself on them. He always offers and never imposes. He honors our freedom.

I believe He had to build a lifetime of examples of how to treat people so we could begin to understand what He was trying to tell us.

The message of the baby on Christmas morning is easy to say as it is hard to believe: The God who created the universe and everything and everyone in it came to Earth because we needed it. This is a God whose love for humanity is so deep that He will do whatever will fully meet our needs and provide what is, in the long run, best for us.

More importantly, this is the same God who continues to watch over us and care for us every moment of our lives.

We, in turn, are offered the chance to understand the magnitude of the gift and the depth of that love and try, out of gratitude – not duty – to show others some of that love.

May the Blessings of the Child of Bethlehem and the God who created and loves us all be on all of you!

Have a Blessed Christmas!

A Brave Man or a Fool

It is a brave man or a fool who takes on Quantum Mechanics, Steven Hawking, string theory and Thomas Aquinas in a book for the lay reader.

David Berlinski does just that in The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions. And, most notably he does it with a remarkable sense of humor.

He is writing in response to a recent series of books and writings by what could be called “militant” or “devout” atheists. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and others are not content to merely disbelieve in the existence of God. They are determined to change the minds of those who do believe. Berlinski notes:

Religious men and women, having long accommodated the village idiot, have long accommodated the village atheist.  The order of battle is now different. It has been the scientists … who have undertaken a wide-ranging attack on religious belief and sentiment.[1]

Ironically, Berlinski argues that this activist science vs. religion approach is, at least in part, not a reaction to Christians, but a “lurid but natural reaction … to the violence of the Islamic world.[2]

We are now faced with a group of scientists who are militantly atheist and willing to accept the result of any scientific experiment which does not point to the existence of God. The cult-like nature of this group shows up whenever a paper or experiment produces a “wrong” answer.

After dealing with “the contingencies of life-getting food, getting by, getting laid[3]” humanity has sought answers to two basic questions: How did everything, including humans, get here, and why? Religion, philosophy and science have long sought answers to these questions. Until recently, these quests were considered complimentary.

But science has now become, for many, a religion of its own. This shows up in two major discussions in science.

The first deals with the origins of the universe and what is called the “”Big Bang” theory.  Berlinski shows the development of the theory and how many scientific measures point to the belief that the entire universe started at one moment. However, if science is to replace religion, a belief which corresponds to the biblical statement “And God said, ‘Let there be light’” cannot be allowed to stand.

They have thus made every effort to find an alternative.
Did you imagine that science was a disinterested pursuit of the truth?
Well, you were wrong.[4]


It is amusing to see “scientists” who won’t accept what their research shows them about the origin of one universe devise all kinds of complex mathematics to show there must, in fact, be multiple universes. How the first of all these started is left unanswered. 

To further complicate the question, the universe we inhabit has a group of characteristic properties to which science can only assign a value without knowing why those values are what they are. They include the strength of various forces, such as gravity and magnetism, and characteristics of water and other compounds. These values “happen” to be exactly the right number needed to support life, at least on Earth. Rather than accept the idea that God might have made the universe that way, “scientists” have come up with all kinds of probabilistic “multi-verse” scenarios where it was inevitable that one of them would have the right values for life. Yeah, Right.

The other major question is “How did humans get here?” Berlinski starts by saying:

Together with Charles Darwin, Alfred Wallace created the modern theory of evolution. He has been unjustly neglected by history, perhaps because shortly after conceiving his theory, he came to doubt its provenance.[5]

In an 1869 paper, Wallace “outlined his sense that evolution was inadequate to explain certain obvious features of the human race.[6]” Berlinski comments:

Suspicions about Darwin’s theory arise for two reasons. The first: the theory makes little sense. The second: it is supported by little evidence.[7]

The veracity of Darwinian evolution can be measured by the accuracy of Berlinski’s observation that although Darwinian biologists may claim “that evolution is a well established as gravity, very few physicists have been heard observing that gravity is as well established as evolution. They know better and they are not stupid.[8]

Why then the determination to force acceptance of a theory with obvious difficulties. Berlinski cites an evolutionary biologist:

Whatever the degree to which Darwin may have “misled science into a dead end,” the biologist Shi V. Liu observed …, “we may still appreciate the role of Darwin in helping scientists [win an] upper hand in fighting against the creationists.[9]

But for most of us, the question is not between creation in seven days and science. We are more than willing to accept the enlarged time frame of the universe and the development of life on earth. We are also clearly willing to accept the benefits of science and the technological progress it allows.

Berlinski and many of his readers, including this writer, refuse to accept that science has the authority to speak outside of its realm. It can tell us what is there and how it works. When those who lay claim to special knowledge of science try to tell us what we can or cannot believe about why we here we have the right to refuse to listen.

Even more, when they ask us to believe what the evidence does not support, or seek complicating or obfuscating theories when the obvious theory supports a theory of creation they oppose, they have clearly moved science out of the realm of objective measurement and observation.

Science is a noble pursuit and a lousy religion. Those who practice it, particularly those who would use its findings to influence public decisions need to know that science will only be influential if it is seen as objective.

The “Climate-gate” controversy about efforts to “influence” the peer-review process makes science seem more political and less objective. The “pre-Cambrian explosion” period of rapid species change could at least raise questions about the validity of the Darwinian Theory. The public has the right to expect a serious discussion of those issues instead of being talked down to.

Most of us are willing to look to science for an explanation of what is here and how it works. When we ask why we are here, we look elsewhere.

[1] Berlinski – Page 3

[2] Page 5

[3] Page 165

[4] Page 112

[5] Page 157

[6] Ibid

[7] Page 187

[8] Page 191

[9] Page 197

Chaos and Anger

Sometimes we want to think that churches and other religious centers should always be places of peace and calm. That will never be. Churches, and all organizations, face a common, insurmountable problem. By definition, they are made up of people.

In a society were interdependence is de-emphasized, many people choose to keep their contact with all organizations to a minimum. In a way that makes sense. The fewer people we interact with, the fewer people we can have conflict with.

When Christians contemplate the life of Jesus, they are faced with a different view. We are taught that one person of the Divine trinity chose to leave an environment of perfect love and peace to spend more than 30 years with human beings and all their passions, mistreatment and, in his case, to suffer crucifixion at their hands. He knew what was going to happen and he came anyway.

It has long been the teaching of the church that the interaction of members of the church helps us learn how to love one another. The ancient Christian teacher and writer Tertullian once said “Solus Christianus, nullus Christianus” – A Christian alone is no Christian.

I have heard this put many ways over the years. One preacher told us we were all rocks on the bottom of the river and the way we push against each other is what polishes us to get ready for heaven. However we put it, it is easy to say and follow when everything is going smoothly. It is quite a different thing to remember it and live it when a given church (or parish) is in the middle of chaos.

This question has become totally not theoretical for me and the fellow members of my local church in the last few weeks. A month ago we had two full time priests and, as far as most of us knew, everything was going well. Now both of those priests are gone, maybe permanently, and we have fill-in priests and are dealing with our bishop to get help to keep the parish going.

In addition to all the chaos and confusion, we are seeing people leave while others stay and people are taking sides. Instead of a spirit of love and cooperation, we are in danger of creating an environment of anger and self-righteousness. The question is now whether love or anger will prevail.

I am reminded of an episode called “The Day of the Dove” from the original Star Trek television series. In that episode, the Enterprise crew find themselves trapped on the ship with an equal number of Klingons in an endless series of battles. They realize that when they are killed in a battle, they return to fight again. The solution comes when they realize there is a creature on board who has created the conflict and feeds itself from the hatred it is generating.

Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, was telling this story in a science fiction format in a setting “where no man has gone before.”  But there is nothing new in this concept.

The Christian teaching is very clear that there is one who wants to destroy our souls and poison everything good in us that God put there. Whether you call our adversary the devil, Lucifer or the destroyer of souls or any other name, he exists. He seeks to put us at each other so that we forget we are here to show God’s love.

In times of chaos and anger, we have to decide what we want for our souls and those of our neighbors. There is obviously hurt and anger and shock. We may feel the need to lash out. At a minimum we need to express our hurt and anger. Hopefully our friends involved in the situation will be able to provide ears or shoulders as needed.

But we need to keep in mind that at each moment we are feeding ourselves either the “good food” of love and understanding and peace or the “bad food” of hatred, anger and self-righteousness. No matter how much we feel wronged by others, if we dwell in that hurt or anger we harm ourselves, not them.

The “winners” in this will be those who turn to God the soonest. The more it hurts, the angrier we feel, the more important it becomes to turn quickly. He is waiting to help us. He will help as much as we let Him. He is calling to each of us, no matter what “side” we are on, to turn to Him now. He won’t make us turn. If we insist on being miserable in ourselves and to others, He will honor our choice.

In some ways we want to cry, “Why us?” but in a sense it is a tribute to our spiritual readiness. We are being offered a test at the next school grade level in our spiritual journeys. How soon will we be able to “pass the test” or “win the game” by turning completely to God?

It is my fervent hope that we all choose God sooner rather than later. May our parish become a place where all who come, or return, are welcome and see only the love of God.

How to Be Remembered

When you’ve worked on something for a long time and it seems threatened, life can be confusing and frustrating. All this work and what do I have to show for it?

I have been in the middle of some turmoil in my church where it seemed everything was coming apart. Without going into details, people are feeling hurt and ready to take offense at actions or words offered with no intent to offend.

We have had a wonderful group of people and a great new building in which to worship. One of the ways people supported the community and the church was to put on an annual multi-ethnic cultural festival. In the past few weeks it has seemed at times that it has all been at risk.

In other areas of my life, I have been personally fortunate in the face of a declining economy. But, since I am, I hope, nearing retirement, I am worried about inflation and all the apparent changes in medical care. I am one of those people who can find something to worry about with the best of them. Given the current news, it is truly a wonderful time to be a pessimist.

But, I am reminded that life goes on. My niece Carrie is going to marry a wonderful young man, Sean. Everybody in both families is delighted. It brought me back to the reality that with all its turmoil, life goes on. Whether it is the “Circle of Life” from The Lion King or “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof, life continues.

This couple is to be married. A co-worker and his wife have a new son (who is the only one in the house getting any sleep). And life continues.

Last night I was looking at YouTube clips of President Reagan telling jokes. My father had enough Irish in him to tell jokes with that same twinkle. I learned from him that you can say almost anything if you have that twinkle.

The wedding and the church festival are both happening this weekend. When, and only when, the wedding celebration is complete, I will head to the festival.

I have decided how I want to be remembered at the wedding. I have a friend Carl whose jokes can sometimes be worse than my father’s. But one thing I have learned from both of them: it is much better to be remembered for bad jokes than a sour puss.

My father -that’s “Pop” to you, Carrie, always said he wanted to live to be 105 and to be shot by a jealous husband … with cause. Pop didn’t make it.

I have a humbler goal for the weekend; I want to be remembered for telling the worst joke, the biggest groaner, at the wedding. I want it to be so bad that Carrie and Sean shake their heads over it when they remember it when they are planning their grandchildren’s weddings.

I may not accomplish that, but I have decided that laughter, even at a bad joke, is better than anything (Oops – I forgot about a honeymoon … Oh Well …)

So! Did you hear the story about ….

Who Do You Trust?

The essential question about our spiritual journey is "Who do we Trust?" We can say we are trusting God, but our actions may show something else.

The easiest trap is to believe that because we are "doing something for" God or our church, our community or even "the good of the world" we are helping our salvation. God wants us to trust in Him. Our "good works" (the Jewish term is Mitzvahs) are something that should flow from our trust in God instead of being a way to "earn" his love.

There are many ways we can get distracted from focusing on God. Many of them occur in the context of a church or other place of worship. Sometimes we let our task become the most important thing and argue with other church members about how things should be done.

Yet, the workings of a house of worship are where we learn to practice love. The problem with every church or church hierarchy is the same: It is filled with human beings who have faults and issues. If we are truly following God’s direction, our time with our fellow sinners will give us more trust in God and a better understanding of His love for them.

There are many temptations outside of church which try to present themselves as an object of trust. Money, cars, homes, IRA’s and jobs can all be false sources of security. In tumultuous economic times it is easier to see how this security is false. Yet we want to cling to that hope.

There is another group which more actively competes to be our focus of trust. This is governments and politicians. Jesus’ famous direction to "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s" becomes at some level a threat to Caeser.

It is becoming more obvious by the day that some political groups, from the local level to the international level are becoming more opposed to churches and traditional morality than they have ever been.

Robert Nisbet, in an out of print book called The Quest for Community, talks about the role of "intermediate associations" and how they cause problems for any political entity which seeks to totally control its citizens. These groups come between the individual and the state. They offer a different focus of loyalty. The two major "associations" are the family and the church, or other religious group.

In Liberal Fascism, Jonah Goldberg talks about Otto von Bismarck and the German Catholic Church. Bismarck was a Prussian, from the Northern, largely Lutheran section of Germany. He was concerned that Catholics in Southern Germany, particularly Bavaria, would focus on the religious differences and delay the coming together of the German state. The German word Kulturkampf or what we call "Culture Wars" is part of this effort. It is an attempt to push the churches aside to prevent their interference with either the goals of the politicians or the loyalty of the people to the governing class.

Let me de direct. No political party or political leader can save us. The bible is clear:

(Psalm 146) "Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men in whom there is no salvation."

It is our duty as citizens to look into the various candidates, parties and programs and vote our best judgment about the better path. But no party or politician can save us. Heaven on Earth will not happen because someone is elected to or voted out of office.

Even if we are highly committed to a service group, a charity or any group trying to help the world, that group can’t save us.

We eventually realize that no person, group, policy or action will save us or protect us. It the end, when we tire of searching anywhere us, we can turn to the only One who can be trusted, God.

Childlike Trust

We have all seen the self-confident child running around and exploring everything there is to see. Then, sometimes, the child looks around and can’t find their parent or older sibling and a look of confusion or fear comes to their face.

It reminds me of the gospel story of Peter walking on the water from the boat to Jesus. He is fine until he looks down and lets a doubt come into his mind. “I can’t walk on water!” Peter was doing just that, but by thinking of what he was doing instead of looking at Jesus, the “impossible act” becomes impossible for him.

We copy the child and Peter. When things are going well, we sail along. Then something happens and we look around to try to find the one who is always there.

Fortunately, God understands our weakness and provides various means to help us get on track. In my recent readings, God has repeatedly led me to understand that I need to live knowing He is there even without thinking about it.

This is a message He repeatedly sends to me. Years ago, I was in what is usually considered a “New Thought” church, part of the Unity School of Christianity . It would be considered liberal by many people. James Dillet Freeman (1912-2003) served as their “poet laureate” Most Unity churches end their service by saying Freeman’s “Prayer for Protection”:

The Light of God surrounds Us 

The Love of God enfolds Us

The Power of God protects Us

and the Presence of God watches over Us

Where ever we are God is! And all is well!


It is a wonderful reminder that there is no place we can be where God isn’t. Whatever we do and wherever we are, He knows it and is watching over us and watching for us.

And yet, let us find something that bothers us or doesn’t go the way we want and we start asking “Where is God?” The answer, of course, is right there, next to us. But we decide to ignore that and believe that “if God were there” the result would be different.

I have just been introduced to Oswald Chambers My Utmost for His Highest. It is a set of daily devotions originally published in 1935. In his entry for August 20 he writes that “A child of God never prays to be made aware of the fact that God answers prayers, because he is so restfully certain that God always answers prayer.”

That indeed is childlike trust. To be so certain of God’s presence and love that we don’t have to continually ask if He is there.

In Ruthless Trust, Brennan Manning talks about how to move all of this from an idea to something we live.

Our trust in Jesus grows as we shift from making self-conscious efforts to be good to allowing ourselves to be loved as we are (not as we should be). The Holy Spirit moves us from the head to the heart, from intellectual cognition to experiential awareness. An inward stillness pervades our being, and the time of prayer is characterized by less rational reflection and speaking and more contemplative quiet and listening.

I would love to be able to add my own experiences and observations to all this, but I can’t. I have been blessed with moments of this peace but, all too few. I spend far more time trying to do it myself or “be good” or whatever I can think of instead of relying on God.

I started this site because I know I need to get the message and God could use my writing efforts to give me another way to hear Him. That is certainly the case for this subject.

I know God is waiting for me to have a childlike trust in Him. I am currently far from that. I hope my writing this will help anyone who reads it. I don’t know if they “need to hear this.” I know I do.

Being Accepted

For those who believe in coincidence, I just had a whopper. I was dwelling on the difference between doing and being and my reading brought the point home in a hurry. The book is “Shame & Grace: Healing the Shame We Don’t Deserve” by Lewis B. Smedes.

The chapter entitled “the Beginning of our Healing” describes the true nature of grace and how it changes the entire nature of the religious quest. Before this chapter, he discusses the ways we accept shame or shame ourselves. He also discusses those who constantly try to do things to make ourselves feel worthy. He talks about Martha, who is busy serving food to Jesus instead of enjoying his presence, and the Prodigal’s brother who is constantly “doing what he is supposed to” with a feeling of duty instead of joy. These people do things in order to be acceptable to themselves or others. They can’t just be relaxed.

In most self-help classes, and some religions, the answer offered is, as Smedes says, “Persuading ourselves that we are just fine the way we are.” This doesn’t work for many people.

He then writes:

[T]he experience of being accepted is the beginning of healing for the feeling of being unacceptable.

Being accepted is the single most compelling need of our lives; no human being can be a friend of herself while at the edges of her consciousness she feels a persistent fear that she may not be accepted by others.

This is the dilemma for those who feel they are not accepted.  They do everything they can to be accepted and yet it never works. In the end, they still feel the same way about themselves. Smedes writes that we are not ready for another answer until “we are bone tired of our struggle to be worthy and acceptable.”

He avoids heavy theological discussions about the nature of God and grace and cuts to the chase by describing four ways we experience the “Grace of God.” The pertinent one, for now, is

We experience grace as acceptance: we are reunited with God and our true selves, accepted, cradled, held, affirmed, and loved. Accepting grace is the answer to shame.

This is the difference. God’s acceptance of us is never earned; it can only be experienced and welcomed. We can’t do anything to earn acceptance, we can only be aware that we are accepted.

Jesus said we had to come to Him like a child. Smedes description of this truth is:

To experience grace is to recover our lost inner child. The heart of our inner child is trust. … Shame cheats us of childhood. Grace gives it back to us.

… Trust is the inner child we rediscover in an experience of grace.

Grace overcomes shame … by accepting us, the whole of us, with no regard to … our virtue or our vices. … Accepted at the ultimate depth of our being. We are given what we have longed for in every nook and nuance of every relationship.

I find no comfort in a general idea the universe somehow accepts me. The universe has no personality. Christianity offers a grace I can understand, at least somewhat. It says the God of all there is loved the world, and me, enough to lower Himself to a human state and suffer for my benefit.

I remember a prayer session many years ago when I asked, “If I were the only person who needed your great act of love, would you have gone through all that for me?” It was clear to me His love was so great the answer was “Yes.”

Another time, after an extended period of prayer, I had the experience of Jesus just standing beside me with His arm over my shoulder. It was the deepest feeling of peace I have ever experienced. He was asking nothing of me. There was nothing to do but stand there and be at peace with nothing to worry about.

Yet, I strive to impress Him or earn something. He doesn’t want that, but I forget to be trusting and try to do something for Him.  Today, I was trying to figure out the difference being doing and being. At that moment, by coincidence or “God-incidence” I happened to be reading the exact chapter in the exact book which perfectly describes the difference.

It was God’s polite way of saying that no matter how much I try to do for Him, His love for and acceptance of me will always be more than I can earn or ask. The trick is simple, lighten up and look for and be willing to receive his gifts.

As Others See Us

It was just brought home to me that how I see myself and how others see me is very different. I  sometimes had trouble understanding why others react to me the way they do. It is much clearer now.

As an infant, I was very sickly. I was often hospitalized, had a lot of needles and surgeries. My mother always said I was a “good patient” but I find that treatments didn’t stop when I squirmed. I had to scream at times when things hurt too much.

Those who know me would never use the words “shy” or “retiring” about me. During my elementary school years, I was a child actor. I could project my voice enough to be heard in the back row.

I grew to be 6′ 3″ tall. I remember an episode years ago where I was having a forceful discussion with a smaller man. I leaned forward to make a point. He couldn’t retreat because he was standing against the wall. I saw a physical fear reaction on his face and backed up. It was the first time I remember someone being afraid of me because of my size.

An incident from my childhood made me think you had to raise your voice to make a point to children. When I was eight, I got the gift I really wanted for Christmas, a Superman outfit. Since I wore glasses, I could imagine myself as Clark Kent. 

After we opened our presents, it was time to dress for church. Obviously, I put the Superman outfit on under my suit. When I came downstairs to leave my father realized what I had done. Since we were Catholic, he was probably afraid I’d get up during mass, run into a confessional and come out as Superman. It seemed to me that he turned on the “Voice of God” to tell me to go upstairs and take the costume off. As I think about it now, I’m sure he spoke firmly to keep from laughing. But, my memory of the moment was that to really make a point to children, you raised your voice.

At church recently I raised my voice to make a comment to a child. Someone pointed out that I am so big children can find me somewhat overwhelming without my having to raise my voice. I have since learned that is true. I can say “Stop running on the steps” quietly and get the desired result.

What I didn’t realize was that others were seeing me differently than I was seeing myself. The difference was most glaring when I was frustrated or unhappy with the world. At those times, I saw myself as a little child who needed to holler, or at least raise my voice, to get attention. Those around me saw a big man, whose voice can fill a room, raising his voice for no good reason.

I kept trying to figure out why the people around me seemed to be overreacting to my raised voice. They couldn’t figure out why a big man with a strong voice was shouting or talking that loud. Because of this difference I have frightened a lot of people over the years.

We are always our mother’s children and we are always God’s children. On the other hand, the changes in us and the world around us makes it necessary to keep in mind that others don’t see us the way we see ourselves. Sometimes the difference can be funny, sometimes it can be frightening.

I never thought the idea of “walking a mile in another’s shoe” would have anything to do with how they see me.  I guess it does.

A Different Way

Note to the reader: This article is not meant as a theological argument. I am going to talk about how the practices of some churches differ from other churches. My purpose is to explain how what appears to be different has a similar purpose.

“Have you received Christ?”  This is a very important question for Evangelical Christians. A memorable moment in their lives occurs when they recognize what it means to have Jesus offer Himself to be their savior. It is a moment of choice and decision and, for many people, marks a change in their lives.

Evangelical churches usually have an “altar call” at the end of the service. Those who have not accepted Christ or those who want to renew their acceptance can come forward. Many churches have “revival meetings” to encourage people to accept this “call” to come forward and proclaim their acceptance of Jesus.

People who have never been to an evangelical church may have seen the television broadcast of a Billy Graham Crusade. He concluded his powerful sermon with a large scale “altar call.” It was amazing to watch great numbers of people come from all parts of the stadium to accept Jesus.

Christians of all types recognize that God has many ways of calling us. Some are called to be ministers or priests. Others are called to serve in various ministries in the church or to serve the poor, etc.

There is another way Jesus calls people to himself but it is done in such a quiet, even routine, way it is not always recognized as a “call’. This takes place during the Eucharist or Holy Communion as found in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and some Protestant churches (such as the Episcopal or Anglican).

While it is not always seen as such, the Eucharist is a moment when God calls us to Himself and Jesus offers Himself for us to accept. Most evangelicals have never heard it put that way. Many people who take communion regularly may not always appreciate what is happening.

There are two controlling scriptures for the Eucharistic churches:

John 6:56 (KJV) “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.”

Luke (22:19-20) (KJV) “And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, ‘This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.’ Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.’

Eucharistic churches use the term “Real Presence” to describe what is happening. They take these verses literally. Jesus commands us to eat his flesh and drink his blood. To make this possible for us, God turns the bread and wine used in the service truly into the body and blood of Christ.

Without debating how or when this happens, I would ask evangelicals reading this to accept the idea long enough to understand what the Eucharist means to those who partake.

In the Eucharistic service, the priest offers his hands and voice to the Lord to say the blessing and handle the bread and wine. After the consecration, those who believe in the “real presence” believe the bread and wine are the body and blood of Jesus. Then the priest, acting on His behalf calls on the congregation to come forward to physically receive Christ. This is the “altar call” of the Eucharistic service.

The people are invited, or, in some liturgies, commanded, to come forward and literally receive Christ. It is an act of submission to His teachings and His commands.

There is a simple way to know the two altar calls are similar. People play the same games and show the same reactions.

Different churches have different rules about it. In some, most people receive communion every service. In others, people are discouraged from receiving too often. It even stretches to once a year.  There are discussions of worthiness and “Do you really mean it?” and “Are you doing it correctly?”

Of course, there are the mind games we play with ourselves. We say we received last time, or we didn’t prepare correctly or we have failed in some other way to be worthy of communion. Like a person in an Evangelical church declining the call, we sit there giving all kinds of reasons why Jesus’ gift to us is not really for me today.

There is a simple alternative to this debate, we can admit we are not worthy and understand that “while we were still in sin, God loved us.”  If he could die for us, he can certainly accept us as “unworthy” when we receive communion. In faith and love, we can draw near to Jesus in the Eucharist and receive a divine gift.