As we begin, we have to be aware that the greatest relationship we can have is a personal relationship with Jesus. It is incredible to realize that not only did our Lord die for us, He loves us and lives within us by the power of His Spirit. Yes, the creator lives in the created. I doubt that many churchgoers realize this. And what John revealed is probably beyond many who may not have thought about it, as so many are not Bible-oriented but are more preoccupied with church rules or dead saints. The Word of God states, “When anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwells in him and he in God (John 4:15).
Understanding that this indwelling is from the revealed word of God, it is difficult to understand Pope Francis’ comment that “A personal relationship with Jesus is dangerous without the church.” What an absolute dichotomy! How can you have a personal relationship with someone, even our Lord, when someone else is involved in between? “
“For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ” (1 Timothy 2:5).
We have a good friend who told us, “Jesus is quite busy, so I pray to Mary.” Since divinity is not a gift, and divinity outside the Trinity is not a possibility, how can a human being absorb and process millions of prayers from people each day? Mary also received Papal petitions on May 30, 2020 for protection from the coronavirus. Previously, Italian planes flew over the larger cities with the Eucharist and a Marian statue in the planes.
Next, let’s turn to Christian TV and preaching/teaching conferences. The evangelical TV pundits are strongly advising Christians to witness to people as the biblical pre-Rapture birth pangs are quite evident everywhere, as continuously reported in Rapture Ready. The problem is our Christian zeal for the kingdom versus the mainstream care-less attitude of others including lukewarm Christians. The unknowledgeable Romans are the most difficult as they have the Mass as the summit for their relationship with our Lord. In addition, they have been so indoctrinated that their church is the one true church, they cannot be touched even with scriptural truths.
You may wonder about my use of the word unknowledgeable, so I’ll list some personal relationship experiences. I once related some general Christian teachings of Paul, including the gifts to a group of Catholic friends. The strongest one, floored me by saying, “If you believe all that stuff, why don’t you form your own religion?” Have you grasped that reply? I spoke the basic tenants of the Christian faith from the book of Acts which they obviously didn’t know. Recently, I watched a TV show with a Baptist pastor from Italy. He indicated that Catholics were becoming interested in his church and joining it. However, he said he was amazed that Catholics did not even know the basics of Christianity.
When I was involved with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, I held mini surveys. The question was, “Have you learned anything new about your faith since sixth grade?” Incredibly, one hundred percent replied, “No!” To lend credence to their reply, I wondered how many were fluent with the 904 pages in the Second Edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church? Most probable is the reliance on the short homily at Sunday Mass as their main spiritual input. Another time, I was invited by a deacon to his home to speak about the depth of the church and the operation of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, as I learned later, they don’t gather for religious purposes but for social purposes and to compare grandchildren. This was obvious as the former deacon interrupted my sharing and said, “That was interesting” and thanked me for coming. Effectively, I was summarily dismissed. Jesus and scripture were not on their agenda.
I can further illustrate this with examples of Roman religiosity. One day I received an LD phone call from a Catholic acquaintance whom I knew was an ultra-devotee. Eventually, the discussion related to prayer. They said they had so many people to pray for since, with their age, so many friends were deceased. I said, according to scripture, you are not supposed to pray for the dead. The reply was, “Wow, you would withhold prayers for these dead people. After you die, Jesus always gives people one more chance to choose Him.”
Examining the topic further, I learned that their proof text was from Maccabees, one of the Apocrypha books the Roman church added to the Bible. However, Paul reminded us that we die once and then are judged (Hebrews 9:27). There is no second chance after dying. I checked later and found that Justin Martyr, one of the church fathers, said that upon death we go to either heaven or hell as there isn’t any other place. And there certainly isn’t a “Let’s talk about it” with Jesus.
Next came the attack mode. They said, “Well, you were with a prayer group, and look what happened to you; you lost your faith.” Translation: you left the Catholic Church. I replied that I found Christ and became a Christian and became scripture-oriented. They never realized that what I lost was faith in their church with all the additions and subtractions and rules ad-nauseum but no real depth.
Now, the buttered-up or softening phase came forth. They then mentioned that they had been praying for me for years. I said, “Thank you.” They continued, “Yes, I have been praying that you don’t go to hell!” It didn’t take me long to exclaim, “Why would I be sent to Hell?” The answer floored me: “Because you don’t believe in the Eucharist!” I replied that I do believe in communion; in fact, our church has communion the first Sunday of every month to commemorate our Lord and His passion. The reply, was, “Yes, but that is not the real thing as you don’t have Jesus.”
According to Catholic sources, the Eucharist is the foundation and pinnacle of the Christian life (CCC1324). Furthermore, the Eucharist provides cleanliness from present sins and safeguards from future sins (CCC1393).
However, Scripture maintains that, “It is in Christ and through His blood that we have been redeemed and our sins forgiven” (Ephesians1:7). The passion of Jesus, therefore, was the offering for all our sins. Before His death on the cross, Jesus announced, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The sins of mankind were forgiven absolutely and forever (for all who turn to Him for salvation). John summarizes this by stating: “At the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”
Scripture explains, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirt of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). “Yet who is really able to build Him a temple since the heavens and even the highest heaven cannot contain Him” (2 Chronicles 2:4-6).
Some will say that God was in the temples of the Old Covenant; however, it was His presence there that filled the area. This is confirmed in Acts 7:48-49: “However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands, as the prophet [Isaiah] says, ‘The heavens are my throne and the earth my footstool. What kind of house can you build me? asks the Lord. What is my resting place to be?’” (also see Isaiah 66:1).
Furthermore, “God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:24). Are we then to believe He is really contained in bread and wine when, by scripture, nothing can contain Him? In the New Covenant, Jesus is present in us with His Spirit, and the Gifts of the Spirit to bring forth the kingdom.
The larger question is how can we accept another Christ when He is already living within us via the Holy Spirit per our being saved? The discussion continued until we finally arrived at the difference, which was the Catholic belief calls transubstantiation where the basic elements are supposedly changed into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ whereas the Protestant belief is that the bread and wine are just symbolic.
I indicated this was just a difference in beliefs, and salvation does not require belief in the reality of the bread and wine becoming flesh and blood. Salvation requires accepting Jesus as Lord, the acknowledgement of sin, and a new life without sin. Along with this is a closeness with our Lord. Salvation is a gift and is the belief in the personhood, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, not in the simple elements that represent parts of Christ. Thankfully, the conversation ended amicably at this point.
Thinking about these discussions, I consulted the Catholic Catechism and learned, “In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith. Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking” (CCC1327). Author’s note: I have no idea what this means, nor this from the Pope: “Holy mass should be the only thing that excuses us from everything else.”
Continuing with the analysis, until 1999 there was a disparity between the Roman church and other churches regarding salvation. The Roman church said that faith and good works were required. However, in the Catholic/Lutheran agreement of 1999, it was jointly stated that faith alone which is a gift from God is required. However, While the requirement for mandatory good works were thus dismissed, the Roman church still offers indulgences to its members, which are essentially good works and especially as oriented for dead relatives.
Among ex Roman Catholics, I noted at least a form of bitterness if not something stronger. There are many causes of bitterness, but they are so widespread that it would take a psychologist to reveal all of them. However, I’d like to concentrate on bitterness caused within the church itself as we all know someone whose church attendance is no longer part of their life.
The question is why can people within the church itself sometimes be the catalyst? Here are some family-known examples:
1) A young girl went to confession and said she hadn’t been there for about a month. The unsympathetic priest scolded her, and she left the confessional quite disturbed. This one act has influenced her life as well as her mother and a mother’s friend.
2) It is the real-life example of one taught in seminaries of a man who had not been to confession for years. Clearly, it would take some inner drive and grace to finally get the courage to approach the confessional and admit his absence. The priest actually interrupted his beginning by asking, “What took you so long?” As a result, he got up and left immediately without confessing anything.
3) A family member of ours attended mass regularly and liked one of the parish priest’s approach. He was devastated when he learned that this particular priest was revealed as a pedophile. As a result, he could no longer connect himself with the church for a while.
4) My wife’s experience was similar. She and her daughter, who was holding her baby, approached the church for Sunday mass. The baby suddenly needed a fast, big diaper change which they accomplished in the ladies’ room. They entered the church, and since the Mass had started, they sat in one of the back rows. From the altar and over the whole church, the priest bellowed, “Why can’t you be on time. You are late!” With her total absence from then on, she never had to be concerned about being late there again.
Do you see the common thread in these examples? Something is missing? What is absent is Jesus Christ. Mature Christians know that Jesus indwells them via the Holy Spirit. They also know that Jesus said, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). More advice is “Cast your cares upon the Lord.” In the examples given above, their church was their god; and when the church let them down, there was no other place to go.
Paul explains that, “The power we possess comes from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). Furthermore, Jesus Himself proclaimed that the Heavenly Father knows our need before we ever ask. No church or denomination has a heavenly warehouse like our Lord’s. That is why Jesus tells us not to worry about eating, drinking, clothes, nor our livelihood or job (Matthew 6).
Here is a mystery. As we receive Jesus Christ by the action of His Holy Spirit with salvation, how can anyone then receive Jesus again in the Eucharist as we have already received Him? This gets a little complicated as there are numerous aspects. If Jesus meant His last supper proclamations, strictly speaking, He would contradict the revealed Word of God. In Acts 15:29 Peter warns to abstain from blood, among other things.
What is your relationship with Jesus? Hopefully, it is more than attending a Sunday church service or reading scripture only occasionally. Now the virus has magnified streaming Sunday religion. Some people know about Jesus or have heard of Jesus, but that is not the answer. The reality is astounding because it is God’s plan that Jesus lives in those who believe in Him. Incredibly, the creator takes His abode in the created. He who has always existed can dwell in those whom He created. This is so awe-inspiring that Paul cried out, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). We live in Him by God’s power in us.
Test yourselves to see whether you are living in faith. Examine yourselves. Perhaps you yourselves do not realize that Christ Jesus is in you (2 Corinthians 13:5).
This is not a shallow relationship but something far deeper. Jesus Himself pronounced it: “I call you friends” (John15:15). God previously called Abraham and Moses His friend. How much closer and loving can be our friendship with Jesus who lives within us? In fact, He described the twofold future as two roads. A wide, very popular road leads to a very warm eternal existence, while the narrow road following the scriptures leads to heavenly glory. The problem today is that this distinction is not being taught in churches. Pastors must insist on the quest for Jesus and His redemption as la-la Land sermons will not get the flock to heaven.
Pastors should acquaint their flock with Matthew 24 as well as the Rapture, Tribulation, and the anti-Christ as we examine the convergence of all the wicked signs that were predicted. Here is a thought: What will the earth be like after the Rapture? It will be very similar to our isolation experience during the coronavirus as millions of people will be in heaven not waiting to attend to our needs. The hope for freedom and avoidance of the next absolute foreboding can be yours only by choosing Jesus Christ as your Savior.
We have talked about a relationship with God. Consider that it was God who established this with us by His love. In fact, scripture shows He had a close relationship with our first parents. However, they had a better idea, and the union was destroyed. God then sent His Son to re-establish the relationship by the passion and death of His only begotten Son. To those who repented and accepted His son, He confirmed this by the Holy spirit who now dwells in His people. Do you see this is an incredible link to the Almighty? Truly, we can have a personal relationship with our Lord.