Ackerman & Sands APC

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Guide to Kids’ First Amendment Rights in School

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More than Belief

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Will you simply believe? Or, will you follow me?

Following in someone’s steps is an action of the will and conduct. The act(s) of “following” is not a passive belief, however fervent that belief might be. Believing in something higher than ourselves requires action that transcends the the merely original, average or expected. Without the acted-upon will to transcend, there can be no expectation of redemption from our base state of human be-ing.

Am I Married to Christ, Or Am I Having an “Affair”?

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“Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” ~G.K. Chesterson

The above comment raises interesting questions. It easily brings up the meaning of what Christ intended when the Church was described as His Bride in a number of Biblical references. Psalms 19:5; Matthew 9:15 & 25:1; Mark 2:19; Luke 5:34-35; John 3:29; Revelations 21:9.

This loving and sanctified relationship is best described at Ephesians 5:25-33. The description of the ‘marital relationship’ between Christ and His Church is not a mere theory, but is an objective description of what is expected of the person who loves the source of their Faith, and the relationship between these two ‘betrothed.’

The term ‘love affair’ almost doesn’t fit. It is almost tawdry, except to the extent that the author desired to think of religion as sanctified and one of solid covenant as opposed to an affair of sorts.

Moreover, the Chesterson quote introduces a vagueness and unnecessary subjectivity into the relationship between Man and God. It invites the error of unmet expectations into a relationship that is otherwise made clear by historical fact and by Biblical covenant.

In simpler terms, God does not always come through and give me the attention I want, or perceive myself to need, on any given day — nor should I expect Him to, for He teaches and disciplines me according to my actual needs and the covenant we made with each other. Sometimes, the relationship requires that I simply give my life up to Him and “repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42.

Considering myself to be in a “love affair” with Him will certainly not guide me in any truly objective way. The daily expectations of my wife or I can change as our moods change, life circumstances change, and in light of other external factors. Human love affairs are hardly consistent or predictable. What I can expect from God is that he will abide in the covenants made with me through the specific Words he chose to speak to all of us through the Bible. John 1:1-14.

If I do not believe in the covenant, I should not be in the relationship, much in the same way that those who are not willing to stick to their marital vows should not be married and bring judgment upon themselves for such failures. Matthew 5:31-32. But, that I should believe, I am required to bring my ship back to the safe harbor of His Love, Word and Compassion for me, as I would with my marriage and the love that it holds for me.

How can one please God if we do not know what to expect from him? Are His set of expectations merely “theory”? No, he expects us to keep his sayings/commandments and live by them much in the same way couples live out their vows. John 14:15-24.

When viewed from a humanistic stance, the expectation that one’s religion might be viewed as a “love affair” carries with it all of the potential for self interest as a governing force, the expectation of certain results, errors, false perception, and unmet expectations as with most “love affairs.” My love of, and servitude to, Christ must be submissive and humble. As I learn from my submission to His Church, I also learn patience, commitment and humility in my own human affairs. Ephesians 6:5-9. Acts 20:19; Colossians 2:18-23.

In fact, it is no secret that marriages, love affairs, and the entry into any covenant must be based on trust, honor, dignity and like factors. Conversely, such relations require much work, are not always perfect because of the people involved (regardless of the strength of the words of any covenant made between them), and relationships require an element of daily tolerance and forgiveness in order to work.

One of the other thoughts that comes to mind is one which relates to the definition of marriage and love. For me anyway, the purpose of marriage is so that the couple might become one flesh and so that they might put forth future generations. Often, we look to our parents, or at least want to look at prior generations, to learn about what makes for a good relationship. Perhaps this is why we were given the Commandment to honor our parents. Exodus 20:12; Matthew 15:1-6. Indeed, we look for the “things that made it work” for our relatives and friends who have been married for decades. Psalm 45:16-17. Much the same can be said for religion.

Would I look for a community of believers that had stayed together consistently for 2000 years, or would I want one that is unproven or shown to have splintered since its inception? I think that the building blocks for a marriage ought to be based on the objective history of what has kept other marriages together — regardless of whatever cultural, environmental, or financial challenges there were in those relationships.

Religion faces many of these same challenges and how the Faith responds to the challenges will either be honorable or dishonorable. The quality or reliability of the response, on the other hand, can only be looked at on a larger historical level. We often ask ourselves, “Did the couple last?” or we say, “Wow, that couple really made it. What a great marriage. They’ve been through a lot and still love each other.” What of us who have not forgotten the true love that we have for the Faith we had as children? What of that love that is rediscovered, but tempered with years of experience and life before coming back to the beloved?

As with all marriages, there are ups and downs and some of these peaks, separations of time, troughs, and plateaus last for varying periods of time. The issue then becomes more of a matter of assessing whether the “family” survived the challenges and made the most of them over the length of the relationship. As with marriage, the ability to maintain the relationship depends on my willingness to go back to the vows/commitment/covenant that I made in the first place, because I know that the words are objective and lasting — regardless of my own faults in keeping to the words at times.

Or, if I want to look for good or bad examples of relationships, what shall I say of the persons who continually switch love affairs or who are always trying to change their spouses? Is this not what Luther did? He didn’t love the spouse he married (i.e., the Catholic Church). Simply stated, Luther left his beloved for another. See generally, 2 Corinthians 11:1-2.

In a very strong sense, Luther seized upon the weaknesses of a long marriage and, instead of counseling and reforming, chose to be a home-wrecker of sorts. Such efforts were egged on by the likes of Zwingli and Calvin as well. Instead of looking to save the marriage, they tried to find new wives for Christ. Instead of reminding the cheaters (the religious leaders of the Catholic Church), of their vows, the “Reformers” focused on the destruction of the 1500-year-old marriage which had survived many an attack before Luther.

Luther, in a spiritual form of domestic violence, forcefully redefined his covenant and put in motion a view of the “love relationship” between Man and God that splintered, caused division, led to war, and resulted in a complete lack of unity between literally hundreds if not thousands of denominations. Prior to his “love affair” there was a solid bond among believers, and the unity had survived for more than 1500 years, not including the 3500-4000 years of lasting covenants between God and the People of Israel. These relationships and the example they set were not merely theoretical, they were confirmed by the annals of history and the happiness, sorrows, and challenges of the persons who lived in the relationships that form the basis even for our Faith today.

These things being said, it cannot be forgotten that couples need time alone, they often need time to heal spiritual wounds, they need time to reform their relationship so as to bring it into conformity with their original vows. Is a “date-night” not the time for ‘rekindling the fire’ and creating and enjoying memories as to why we love each other in the first place? Can these things not be said about the Church as well? God wants ‘date nights’ with us as well — it’s called prayer. Reform, however, cannot be confused with changing one’s vows. The vows remain the same, but are renewed through peace, reformation, and time.

The Chesterson quote also raises the question: What about the folks who find out that they fell in love, and found out the person/religion wasn’t what they thought they found? What if the beloved is dishonest? What if one spouse matures and the other remain stagnant? What about the spouse who suffers from a disease that inhibit the relationship? No true vow of marriage allows for its breaking through any of these ‘reasons.’ The strength of the relationship can only be defined by the willingness of those in it to remain true to themselves and to the relationship formed through their unique identities, overall purpose, and their complimentary reflections upon each other.

Isn’t Romanticism an ideal (i.e., theoretical)? To be loved, one must have all of the qualities necessary to be capable of being loved. For some, this is a history of honor, a definitive covenant, consistency, loyalty, appearance, accountability, depth, satisfaction, trust, and other such factors. These factors aren’t theoretical — either they exist as a matter of fact or not. Christ’s words and the history of His people are not theoretical. These Words tell us of what He expects of us for so long as we shall love each other, just as my vows tell me what I have promised my wife and she to me.

The Arche of Christian Humanity

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For a Christian, the words of Christ are principles in the first degree. They are not merely contextual or pragmatic. For this reason, they are rightly viewed as an extension of historical Truth and the basis for continuing Truth, which presents with six thousand years of daily inspiration and motivation to believers. The words of Christ form the arche of our humanity.

As an aside, the reasons for Luther’s decision to remove historical context from the Words of Christ and his followers are curious to say the least. It raises a number of questions.

1. Should 1500 years of canonical doctrine be ‘adjusted’ for the needs of one man in rebellion to that history of Faith and Truth?

2. Is apodeictic or Godly Truth subject to revision? Could the inspiration of the original authors have simply waned or been mistaken?

3. Who shall decide these matters of doctrine and Truth?

4. Should the source of alteration be those who stand in rebellion, or those who stood in the good counsel of those who formed the Church immediately following the death of Christ, or who were present and accounted for what they saw and heard?

5. Were those before Luther condemned to hell because they had not lived a life based on the a belief of “faith alone” as the key to their salvation?

6. Had Luther himself led people to hell and heresy because of his prior teachings whilst he was still aligned with the Catholic Church?

For example the Book of James remains in the New Testament, yet Luther maintained that it was an “epistle of straw” and did not want to accept the truth that works and faith are inextricably tied to each other.

By way of analogy, it seems to me that if someone gave you a fine gift of art, with powerful meaning, that you cherish and protect it.

Indeed, let us also presuppose that the artful masterpiece had been formed by many dedicated and honorable men, over a period of many millennia, through the counsel of each other and much prayer to God Almighty. You would not dishonor this masterpiece and its artisans. Neither would you be inclined to dispose of it simply because it had dust on it for lack of movement. Nor would you dispose of it simply because some persons of ill repute had simply touched it or been around it.

Rather, you would keep the masterpiece in its original form, protect it from thieves and vandals, and keep it clean so that it might be visible and meaningful as it was intended to be. You certainly would not allow it to be torn to pieces so that those who might be inspired by it could only imagine what the original masterpiece looked like. You would preserve its unique identify, original form, and the sacred legacy of its Creator.

So too should be our view of the historical canon that led not only to the beliefs of Christians for 1500 years before Luther, but which remains as the source of Christian belief for all.

Let Your Whisper Be Heard Eternally

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Though a single voice may not be so much as an unheard whisper in the Universe, your voice has the capacity to bring about eternal change in one to whom you speak in compassion and love.

I Don’t Believe in a Personal Jesus …

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Riders of the Apocalypse

I don’t believe in a “personal Jesus” ! Nor do I believe in your “personal Jesus” !

Believing in a “personal Jesus” is not the same as believing in what Jesus defined himself as and our relationship to that unique identity in Him. We can no more define what Christ is, for purposes of our belief in Him, than Christ could define or alter what His Father is. John 3:18-21; 5:14-18; 8:48-51; 12:47-50; 13:16-20.

Many of us believe that we are Christians because we “believe in Christ.” That works, if one does what a Christian does and believes what a Christian believes (as does the person who got me to think about these issues). John 3:16-21 (read the whole section).

However, what a Christian should do and say can only be figured out by reading the Bible and what it is that Christ did have to say about these elements of our faith. Indeed, he was rather clear about what he expected: He expects us to do the things he told us to do and that, if we fail to do them, we can expect our spiritual structure to be “ruined.” Matthew 7: 21-27.

In fact, He did tell us what to do in ordinary life and he did tell us how to specifically pray. It does seem unfortunate, to me, anyway, that all too many of us have justified our faith by simply reiterating that we have it. This cannot be so. If we do not pray in the manner set forth in the “Our Father” prayer, we have substantially deviated from his command. Matthew 9:8-15. If a Christian knew that he/she believed “in” Christ, this would presumably mean that they knew to pray in that manner. After all, if we do not do the “work” of forgiving others, we lose the person we believe “in.” Matthew 6:14-15.

Likewise, if we do not tend to the needs of the poor, widowed, and hopeless, we lose our own spiritual food and hope in Christ. Yes, that’s right, you get to hang out with the goats as it were. Matthew 25:29-46. It really is this simple. The goats, those who don’t do His commands, don’t get to hang out with Him. John 15:14.

When I say I believe in someone, it should mean I believe in what they have taught me to do or in what they have given me to adopt as a way of thinking/doing. The admired’s name represents much more than an identity, it should represent a distinct body of belief and action — one that I am willing to, and do, adopt in my own life. For a Christian, it seems that believing in Christ means that we have adopted His way, as set forth in writing, about how to live our lives. There could be a hundred people in history named “Jesus,” but only one provides a specific set of beliefs and ways worthy of “believing in.” It is true that “Blessed are they who come in the name of the Lord,” but this can only mean that they are coming at us with the body of beliefs and actions that are packed into the Lord’s name. See, Psalm 118.

For example, if one based a marriage on a simplistic John 3:16 analysis, without reading the remaining verses in the chapter, the marriage would be doomed to certain failure. The most important aspect of marriage is that the couple “knows” each other, not merely by name, but by the expectations that we have of each other. Those expectations are ordinarily most basely defined as trust, honor, respect, and loyalty. In practice, we must know and respect the person to whom we owe these things. John 8:48-51. Often, when one spouse finds out that the other is not what they seem, the provision of these base elements is cut off or severely rationed. If one knew the other truly, then perhaps these elements would never have been provisioned in the first place. On the other hand, knowing the person also allows for forgiveness, which really is the loving cycle of the reprovision of these elements of trust, respect, honor, loyalty, and love. Simply put, the couple must stick to the words of their vows to honestly say that they believe “in” their vows. See, John 15:10-17.

Much in the same way, salvation is a relationship that requires a back and forth about what is expected to be done to show our love and a reiteration of that verbal commitment (altar-call or confirmation) by conduct. Earning and deserving the unity of love in a relationship simply cannot be held on the notion that “I don’t know if I deserve his/her love, but I just know that they have already forgiven me for whatever I have done.”

Even if it were the case that I knew that someone had already forgiven me for something ahead of time, just as I know my own beautiful wife has on many an occasion, it does not mean that I get to stop the works that brought me to and through the relationship up until the point that complete Grace could be extended to me. It doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t look into whether the lover of my soul doesn’t expect more so that I may maintain my relationship with them. I must also understand that if I intentionally fail to do what is expected, then I may be separated from even the one person who loves me more than anyone.

In the case of Christ, it is an eternal separation and I ought to live my life as though an eternal separation from him is just as possible as if I hadn’t believe in Him in the first place. If I wanted to know my wife’s expectations, I am duty bound to communicate with her about that and then live it out. In the case of a Christian, I must read the instruction manual, if you will, and pray for the discernment that must occur as I try to apply the Word that I already have read to my life circumstances. Indeed, I may quickly find out that I do need to pray in a certain way, that I might need to do certain acts, that I may need to regularly confess of my sin, that I may need to remain in constant Communion in body and soul, that I may need to completely surrender my will to that of the other person to find complete freedom to enjoy a selfless relationship with the other person.

Storefront Christianity begins to flourish when each pastor or person starts defining their own “personal relationship” with Christ. The only problem with this is that He may not have defined the relationship the same way. One would have to look at His words to know what he expected(s) of someone who claims to believe in him. He did warn that many would come-a-knockin on his door, but would be denied entrance because they did not know him. Matthew 7:21-23. I think, in this context, that could only mean that He suspected that many would have a superficial understanding of what He was about, or simply just not listen to what he had to say in terms of the type of life and set of beliefs that He expects a believer to have. In fact, Matthew 7:22 makes it very clear that we will be denied admission to Christ because, in part, we “work iniquity.” Also see, John 10:7-21.

How much do I need to do in order to conform my identity, through conduct and practice, to reflect who or what I believe in? That is the question of faith.

I don’t believe in a “personal Jesus.” I believe in the Jesus as he represented Himself, through his words, commands, and deed. (i.e., the truth, the way, and the light). I want Him to define the relationship because of my love and honor of Him. It is not my place to define who He ought to be for me. John 3:16-22; 31-36.