"So," they say, "nobody's perfect!"
But the Vinedresser won't buy that.
Given the opportunity, He will trim the unproductive suckers and shape the branches so each one will bask in Sonlight.

Sunday, October 31, 2004


At first I thought they were cleverly disguised gospel tracts, leaning against the wall on the check stand counter. Christians occasionally leave them around the store, hoping to entice someone to pick them up and read them. But when I picked them up and flipped them over, I discovered there was no gospel message on their opposite side. They were real, crisp, fifty-dollar bills.
Oh, how those new-style notes, with their red and blue imprints, enticed me. Before I could think of anything else, I jerked my gaze upward, to Lisa, the team leader who was closing another register. She hadn’t noticed what I had found, but that made no difference to my reaction.
“Lisa ... I don’t think these are supposed to be here,” I said with involuntary alarm in my voice. Before she could reply, I held them straight out in front of myself and did not pass Go, did not collect one hundred dollars, but marched directly over to her. Those fifty-dollar bills scared me, and I wanted to get them out of my hand as if they were a hot potato.
Why did these two pieces of paper frighten me so? It wasn’t the fact that they were legal tender, completely negotiable to the holder; I handle money all day. Instead, it was the possibility that I might disappoint the one person I love more than all life, the person who turned his back on his divinity to become like me in my temptations and my mortality. I couldn’t bear the thought of possibly bringing reproach on his name, of causing his disgrace, of becoming a stumbling block for anyone who might discover my dishonesty- -regardless how unlikely that might be.
Jesus is indeed my Savior and my Lord. But he is also my Transformer, the Master Craftsman who is rebuilding every part of my being that I am willing to give him. It is not enough to be a sinner saved by grace. I must be a sinner made gracious by his love, his council and his example.

Friday, October 29, 2004


Once a Catholic...
Catholic bashing is not a new sport. Protestants have been doing it since the Renaissance. To some, it seems almost a hobby. Shouldn't they have learned by now that it's useless trying to convert Catholics to Protestantism by attacking their faith? Catholics aren’t stupid. They know their church isn't perfect, because it's made up of imperfect human beings. What they believe, however, is very dear to them. That's why they get their backs up when some pious Protestant tells them they're going to hell because they're Catholics.
Where’s the Love?
Some Protestants seem to viciously hate the Catholic Church, and generalize that hatred to include individual Catholics. I may be wrong, but might that be in direct violation of Jesus' command to love even our enemies? In St. Matthew’s gospel, chapter 5, verses 44&45 Jesus said, But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. Since God is love, he can’t be the source their hatred, so that leaves only two other possibilities: Either such hatred festers and oozes from within the individuals, or Satan directly inspires it. And such fundamentalist Protestants say Catholics are controlled by demons. Even if Catholics were the worst of all sinners—which they are not—that would be no excuse for treating them with anything but love. Jesus' words quoted above apply to both Catholics and Protestants. Neither can be children of God without such love.
Why am I an “ex?”
Fact is, Jesus died for Catholics, too. I know. I was one. "So why," you may ask, "are you not still a practicing Catholic?" When I was young, God performed a miracle in my life; He gave me complete confidence in the truth of his word. After awhile I noticed differences between what I had been taught in catechism class, and what the Bible said. When I looked into it, I learned that the church had adopted certain traditions, doctrines, and rules that were not strictly based on the inspired word of God, and had justified it by another tradition; the Holy Sea's infalibility--for the uninitiated, the Holy Sea includes the Pope and the College of Cardinals. That tradition came from the Catholic doctrine of Apostolic Succession, which says Saint Peter was the first Pontiff in a succession that continues unbroken to this day with Pope John Paul II. The doctrine was based on Jesus’ words as recorded in Matthew 16:18; And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. What most Catholics don’t understand, however, is that the word petros, translated “Peter,” means a small stone, or pebble, while the word petra, translated “rock,” means a bolder. The petra Jesus referred to was the truth Peter spoke two verses earlier: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said that truth was the foundation stone of his church, and Peter, through his acknowledgement, was but a small part of it. Peter's words, as well as the other inspired teachings of the apostles and prophets, are the foundation on which Jesus built his church, with himself as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). Disciples, or students, of various teachers abound in the religious world. While the more influential preachers, gurus and rabbis seem to progagate generations of followers, spiritual babies aren't born to human parents, regardless how spiritual they may be. And while a sense of spirituality or spiritual mission may pass directly to successors, each person must come to their Father God individually. John the Baptist stated the idea clearly in Matthew 3:9; And do not think you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. What we see in the Vatican is not a spiritual succession, but a religious succession of one of the most powerful institutions in the world.
An easy target.
There’s another popular issue among Catholic bashers. They say Catholics worship statues of the Virgin Mary and the other saints. They get that idea because Catholics kneel before them in prayer. While that observation may be true, praying to saints isn't the same as worshiping them. Catholics venerate the saints because of their good example of holy living, and venerating isn't the same as worshiping . . . at least, not quite. Catholic tradition has a list of Patron Saints to cover nearly every situation. If I were more in touch with my Catholic roots, I could come up with a few examples, but Saint Christopher, the Patron Saint of travelers, will have to do. One thing I can remember, however, is the Catholic junk mail I received that pitched different “ministries” whose sole purpose was to collect money for promoting various Patron Saints. The Bible mentions nothing about God having a limited attention span. In fact, just the opposite is true: He knows every thought in every mind that has ever lived. It is not necessary for certain favored saints to carry our petitions before his throne. He loves us exactly as much as the saints who are already with him in heaven, so he's not bothered in the least when we obey him by praying directly to him through his Son, Jesus. When Jesus told his disciples how to pray in Matthew, chapter six, he said to pray directly to “Our Father.” To believe that God can't or won't hear the prayers of his people, or that he is prejudiced in favor of the patron saints is simply blasphemy. Yes that's a strong statement, but by believing such things of our loving, Heavenly Father, we reduce him to the level of fallen man. If that's not blasphemy, what is it?
Do it again, and again, and again...!
Eventually I began looking at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I understood that it was not a reenactment of the death of Jesus, but an actual reinstatement of his sacrifice. I saw nothing wrong with that until Hebrews, chapter ten, hit me like a lightning bolt! Part of it goes like this: Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest (the Lord Jesus) had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.(vss. 11 - 14) The author may have not been writing specifically about Catholic Priests, but the parallel is too close to ignore. Jesus came to eliminate the need for periodic sacrifices. By saying that Jesus' sacrifice was not enough by itself, we are saying it was imperfect: Another blasphemy!
The Hunger
As a child I took the Sacraments very seriously. When I qualified for the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist, I realized that my confessions were superficial. No matter how much I confessed my sins, I knew I wasn't clean. I wanted desperately to have Jesus inside me, and Communion seemed the only way available. I believed what I was told about the trans-substantiation of the Communion host into the body and blood of Jesus, so I was painfully aware of my unworthiness to participate in the Eucharist. I felt hopeless; cut off from the Savior I loved, and unable to satisfy his righteousness. I never felt the Peace of Christ so glibly spoken of in the Mass. Perhaps if I had read Galations 3:3, I would have realized the futility of trying to gain salvation through the works of the Church: Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?
A Real Workout
The Sacraments are ritual works intended to bestow God's grace. In Ephesians 2:8&9, God puts works into perspective: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast. One could argue that God instituted the Sacraments to impart grace to those who participate. They are, however, the sort of works that the Jewish leaders imposed on their own believers when they demanded observation of certain feast days and Sabbaths, and the repetition of various prayers and sacrifices. Some of them were part of the Law of Moses, which was from God. Most if them, however, were traditions imposed by the Talmud and the Elders because God’s demands didn’t seem to be enough. From my current perspective, that sounds a lot like the Catholic Church. While she never actively disputes any portion of Scripture, the Church effectively negates the finality of God’s revelation in Scripture. With each Papal Encyclical and Church Council, the church expands what it considers to be God’s revelation. Second Corinthians 11:4 could apply to the Catholic Church as easily as it does to the Jewish religion: For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. Galations 1:8 repeats the theme in even stronger language: But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! Jesus and his apostles preached a gospel of faith and repentance alone. Holy Mother the Church preaches a gospel of rituals and other works. That sounds like “another gospel” to me! I said that I never felt at peace with God through the sacraments. The rituals and the liturgy were wonderful, and I felt close to God in them, but it never lasted. When I walked out of the church building, I walked back into my sinful life. Since I thought I'd be extremely lucky to make it to heaven at all, I tried to enjoy myself to the max here on Earth.
The Move
I met a strange family when I moved to Montana: To me they were Protestants, but they loved me despite my Catholicism. They didn't preach at me, but simply loved and accepted me as I was. We often discussed spiritual topics late into the night, and I discovered they weren't very different from me, except they were at peace with God. Maybe they were Christians after all. One night I returned home under heavy conviction that I was on the wrong path, and that I needed to go to Jesus personally, rather than depending on the Church as my surrogate savior. I imagined—or envisioned—God's hand reaching down to me. I took it, and began a relationship with God that continues deepening nearly thirty years later. What liberation! I no longer fear an organization who claims to speak for God, because I personally belong to him and know him, and his love for me. Of course I'm not saying there haven't been through rough times. Occasionally I have been enticed by the deceiver into taking an off ramp from the Way of Jesus. Thanks to God's grace and mercy, however, those rocky little trips along my own path have been short, and completely forgiven. In a way I'm still a Catholic, though perhaps I should spell it with a small “c.” According to the definitions of the words, the Holy Catholic Church is not the holy catholic church. Holy means “separated,” or “set aside,” as God is separated from the world's corruption. The Catholic church constantly battles internal corruption, as do all other religious organizations. The word catholic means “universal,” or including all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Church means “assembly” or “association.” By definition then, I am part of God's separated universal association. How's that for a mouthful? Church membership doesn't bind that association together, because it is not a denomination, or any other kind of human organization. We are bound together because we have all been washed of our dreadful sin by the blood of Jesus. We are members, not of an organization, but of Jesus' spiritual body. 1 Corinthians 12:27 states, Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. The only church roll book mentioned in the Bible is the Lamb’s Book of Life. Revelations 12:15 hints about what could ultimately happen to any of us: If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Some hint, eh?
Catholics can be Christians too.
Don’t get me wrong! Unlike the Catholic bashers, I believe Catholics can be Christians too. While Catholics can be Christians in the Church, they can never become Christians through the Church. Catholics, as well as any other sinners, can only have eternal life through the blood of Jesus, not through Church membership, baptism, Extreme Unction, or any other ritual.
How then can we be saved?
God’s plan of salvation can be illustrated by some of the Church sacraments: Confession...1 John 1:9 says it best: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. When we confess our sinfulness to Jesus in prayer, he carries our guilt and takes our punishment to his once for all sacrifice on the cross. There is no need to confess to a priest because: There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men--the testimony given in its proper time. (1 Timothy 2:5&6) Repentance is implied in confession, but how many truly repent as a result of what’s said in the confessional. If they did, there would be no lines outside, and priests would only have to hear confessions by appointment. There is no penance for our sins that Jesus didn’t suffer for us on the cross. Here again, to say we have to do our own penance for our sins is to say that Jesus’ suffering wasn’t enough. Holy Eucharist...When we go to Jesus personally for forgiveness of our sins, and trust only his finished work on the cross for our eternal salvation, his Holy Spirit enters our soul, and fellowships with our own human spirit. After the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus taught of the Bread of Life in John, chapter six: "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” “Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.” Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, `I came down from heaven’?” “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: `They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.” From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. I included this lengthy passage of Jesus’ words so the reader could see the entire context of one of the main proof verses the Catholic Church uses for their sacrament of Holy Eucharist. By carefully reading the whole passage, however, it’s obvious that Jesus was speaking of a spiritual truth, rather than a literal ritual. The argument of his listeners shows how his figurative language could be, and is, misinterpreted. Note how they ignored most of what he told them, but typical of people of any period, they zoned in only on the part that attracted their attention. Baptism... St. Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter six, demonstrates the lesson of baptism: What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin--because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. The whole point of baptism is to demonstrate that we died to sin with Jesus, and are now alive to God because of Jesus’ resurrection. Holy Orders... Not only specially ordained priests, but every believer is under holy orders to take the gospel into all the world. That’s our duty, and our privilege. If each Christian lived the gospel of Jesus in our everyday lives, there would be no need for huge organizations to spread the faith. Jesus is not a corpse hanging limply on the cross. He is ALIVE! He is active! And he wants you, personally, to depend on him, personally, for salvation. He loves you and wants to have a vital relationship with you, now and for eternity. That’s why you were created, and it’s the only way you can be truly happy, even in this world. Once your priorities are aligned with God’s, you will be happier and more fulfilled than you ever thought possible.
Just Do It!
If God’s Holy Spirit is speaking to you about your need to personally accept Jesus as your Savior and Lord, this is the time to act on it. If you need a sample prayer to guide you in your conversation with God, try the following. (Hint: Don’t recite it. Pray it from your heart!) My Father God, I am a hopeless sinner! I believe that you allowed Jesus to come to earth and die on the cross for my sins because you love me. Please forgive my sins and save me. Accept my life as I turn it over to you as a living sacrifice, for you to use as you see fit. I am totally yours. Thank you for saving me, and allowing me the privilege of praying to you in the name of Jesus. If you sincerely prayed something like that, you are now his child by faith in the finished work of Jesus on the cross. John 1:12&13 puts it clearly: Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. If you obeyed God by accepting Jesus, personally, as your savior and Lord, he is now your friend, not your Judge. Jesus said, You are my friends if you do what I command. (John 15:14) Romans 8:1&2 says you no longer have to worry about condemnation if you are in Jesus. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. Are you “in Christ Jesus?” If you really turned your life over to him, you are.
Doubts will come! No matter how determined you are to live for God, you still have a corrupt flesh affecting your moods, your habits, and your attitudes. When you blow it—which you most certainly will from time to time—simply go to God through your friend and older brother Jesus, and confess it with godly sorrow and heartfelt repentance. If you have any idea how much Jesus loves you, your occasional sin will hurt you almost as much as it hurt him. Feel free to tell him of your love, and to praise him freely. There is nothing like it in all the world. Find others who feel as you do, and fellowship with them. That said, here’s another word of caution: No church is perfect, because no Christian is perfect. You will see and hear things that disappoint you. You may even get burned by a new friend. Just remember, they aren’t any more perfect than you. Cut ‘em a little slack, and let God be their judge. Keep your eyes on Jesus and the imperfections of the others won’t bother you. Read God’s word and meditate on it. Pray about it, and everything else in your life. You can’t keep secrets from God anyway, so why not openly communicate all your concerns and thankfulness, your sins and your victories. God loves listening to his children, and they love talking to him.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

I Now Have a Web Presence! Hazzah, Hazzah!

I'm Jim, and this is my plane-Jim site. As I don't know what I am becoming, I don't know where this site is going. But wherever it goes, whatever it becomes, my goal--my mission--is to help others find the Vinedresser, and submit to his sometimes painful pruning. Please, come back later to share what--I hope--will be an entertaining, growth inducing experience.