After reading about a newly published scientific book titled The Mystery of the Shroud, which attempts to prove that the Shroud of Turin actually dates back to the time of Jesus, I planned on writing what you are about to read.
Then, an hour before my scheduled writing time, I “just happened” to notice a Facebook post that read:
Christmas was the promise — Easter is the proof.
That phrase truly resonated with me because of the word “proof.”
But do believers really have proof that Jesus was resurrected from the dead?
After twenty years of reading about and studying the Shroud of Turin (and even viewing it in 2010), I have all the “proof” I need. Although let me state emphatically that my faith — and the faith of most people who are celebrating “Resurrection Sunday” today — does not depend on any physical proof whatsoever.
For we know that Jesus is alive and His Spirit lives in us; that is all the proof we need.
Still, physical proof of Christ’s resurrection would be useful, especially when one tries to convince loved ones to believe in what more than a billion people around the world believe today.
So what if this new Shroud of Turin scientific study really does prove conclusively that the Shroud cloth dates back to the time of Jesus? Does that mean mankind finally has the proof it needs to believe that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead after dying on the cross?
We are certainly getting close to “proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” and here are some reasons why this is happening now.
Seconds after the ”white-smoke alert” was sent, people who couldn’t or didn’t want to rush to the Vatican poured instead into the “Twitter Square.” As posts flooded the site, I couldn’t help thinking of these words from Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”:
There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke. But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate.
It was Fr. Robert Barron, the rector of the largest seminary in the United States and director of the New Evangeliziation, who got me listening to Dylan. The lyrics above describe perfectly the cacophony of sentiments expressed as the world waited to meet the new pope.
Many of us here feel life is but a joke.
There were the usual, tired Catholic-bashing Tweets. There were also honest, tragically justified condemnations of heinous human acts hidden under the cloak of religion badly lived. Women, angry the pope was not female, joined others who, like Piers Morgan, parasitically used the news to wave their arms for attention.
Genuinely sad, annoying, often understandable. And yet… they were there waiting too; instinctively grasping that beyond their cynicism, the Catholic pope is more than a punchline; somehow above the crime of being male, not truly synonymous with sex scandals.
But you and me, we’ve been through all that and this is not our fate.
All who love the Free World heard with sadness today’s news of the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI, whose physical infirmity caused him to step down from the chair of St. Peter. As the shepherd of the founding institution of the West, Benedict personally embodied its best traditions. He is one of the last men living to have assimilated the fullness of European culture, a member of the “heroic generation” of Catholic theologians that included Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar.
We will remember many acts of intellectual courage from this pope. One in particular comes to mind today, namely his speech at the University of Regensburg on September 12, 2006. In the face of great controversy, Benedict cited the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologue: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” And he added:
The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God,” he says, “is not pleased by blood—and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature.” . . .The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: Not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature. . . . The editor [of the Greek text from which Benedict is quoting], Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazm went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God’s will, we would even have to practice idolatry.
Benedict’s commitment to theological truth as he understood it at the expense of political correctness is unique among today’s religious leaders.
Jewish communities in particular have reason for sadness at Benedict’s abdication. He is a true friend of the Jewish people. As Israeli journalist Assaf Sagiv wrote in the Autumn 2009 issue of the quarterly journal Azure on the occasion of the pope’s May 2009 visit to Israel:
Benedict XVI—the former Joseph Ratzinger—is actually one of the best friends the Jewish people has ever had in Vatican City. On the eve of the pope’s visit, Aviad Kleinberg, a scholar of Christian history and a columnist for the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, attempted to remind his readers of this. Ratzinger, he explained, “was the confidant of Pope John Paul II, and his immense theological authority was a critical aspect of the previous pope’s moves…. John Paul and Ratzinger buried once and for all not only the accusation of the Jews’ murdering the messiah, but the entire theological theory that the Christians replaced the Jews and are now the Chosen People and that the New Testament annuls the Old Testament. The Old Testament is still valid, declared the two, and the Jewish people is still God’s chosen and beloved people.”
I wrote at the time on the website of the religious magazine First Things where I was then an editor:
Benedict’s unprecedented efforts to draw near to Judaism as a religion were summarized by the Bonn University theologian Karl-Heinz Menke, who argues that His Holiness is the first pope since St. Peter to read the whole of the Gospels as a Jewish work. From a theological standpoint, the Jewish people have had no better friend in the Vatican since the founding of Christianity.
Last week on PJ Lifestyle I read with great interest a piece by P. David Hornik titled “What Near-Death Experiences Tell Us.” With “great interest” refers to my long-time fascination with near-death experiences (NDEs), which began in 1994 after a friend gifted me the book Embraced By The Light by Betty J. Eadie.
The book, according to my friend, was a “must read.” As proof, she claimed it was still on the New York Times best seller list after an entire year. (For the record, Embraced By The Light was #1 on the New York Times list in September 1993 and in the top ten for 78 weeks. Subsequently, it became the fifth bestselling book of the 1990s.)
Embraced By The Light, published in 1992, was Eadie’s personal account of her near-death experience after an operation gone awry in 1973.
Then, for more than a decade, Eadie was hesitant to write or speak about her NDE out of fear that people (including family members) would think she was totally nuts, or would not believe her story.
What makes Eadie’s NDE so controversial and intriguing is the title of the book itself. Because, immediately upon reaching heaven, Betty was “embraced by the light,” and that light was Jesus Christ and he made himself known to her.
Betty is then taken on an unforgettable tour of heaven which she describes in great detail. Throughout the book, Jesus teaches Betty His message of eternal and unconditional love. But despite her pleas to stay in heaven, Jesus sends her back to earth because it was “not yet her time.” The book concludes with Jesus’ final message to Betty, “Above all else, love one another.”
Like millions of other readers around the world (the book was published in 130 countries, translated into 38 languages, and to this date has sold over 20 million copies), I was totally captivated by Embraced. This captivation stemmed from my belief in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. But Betty’s NDE account, the first one I had ever read, only served as sweet confirmation that the “benign deity” (the phrase used by Hornik in his piece) not only exists, but that we will meet Him face to face “when it is our time.”
Here’s a video of Eadie on the Oprah Winfrey Show in the ’90s, when Embraced was a best-selling book:
About five years ago, after my husband and I first heard Paul Wilbur perform at a messianic temple in Ft. Lauderdale, we became instant fans. Since then, we have played his CDs in our cars repeatedly.
Wilbur’s songs appeal to traditional Jews and Christians alike. He has performed in Israel on numerous occasions, and his love for that nation, coupled with his own Jewish heritage and love of Christ, is the hallmark of his music ministry, making him a unique performer.
As a result, Wilbur’s popularity as a singer, songwriter and praise/worship leader has grown tenfold around the world since we first heard him perform in a small venue.
His music resonates with me, and not just because we are both Jewish believers in Jesus Christ, but in the extraordinary way his songs fill any room (or car) with passion and love.
Now, as so often happens when I’m inspired to write something with a spiritual theme for PJ Lifestyle, a deeper dimension of the topic is revealed while I am doing “research.” (A quick Google search.)
Such was the case with Paul Wilbur. I had already decided to write about him because I thought PJ Lifestyle Sunday readers would appreciate knowing about him and hearing some of his music.
That was when I discovered, just this past December, Paul Wilbur made history as the first singer to perform at a religious concert event in Cuba with the full permission and “blessing” of the communist Cuban government.
Watch him here as he speaks about this historic trip.
His Cuban concerts were truly amazing events for this struggling nation and its oppressed people.
Perhaps, just the fact that Wilbur’s two “praise and worship” performances were even allowed to proceed, is a signal that some potentially major political, social and or spiritual changes are about to be instituted by the Cuban government.
Which begs the questions, “Is God at work in Cuba and if so, is HE using Paul Wilbur as a catalyst?”
Only time will tell, but in the meantime, check out Paul Wilbur Ministries and discover what a tour de force he has become around the world.
And, if you are ever presented with the opportunity to see him perform live, do not hesitate. Trust me when I tell you your faith walk could be impacted, even if you have little faith or none at all.
Finally, I will close with a video of Paul Wilbur performing a song that ranks high among my favorites.
Please do watch until the very end, for this song builds and soars and I predict your spirits will be uplifted right along with it.
Anyone on a faith walk will eventually ask the question, “How do I pray?”
Except for the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, there is no easy answer, for prayer is a very personal and personalized pursuit.
And, as with all pursuits, practice is the key to success and prayer is no different.
You will soon discover the more you pray, the more you will find answers to difficult questions, along with mental or physical healing from various maladies, protection for you or your loved ones and comfort from any number of storms that happen to be raging in your life.
Whatever the current state of your prayer life, even if you do not have one, or practice no faith at all, here is a powerful “prayer exercise” that you should find very beneficial.
Back in 1990 I first experienced this exercise in a group while attending a prayer seminar at my church. During the course of the exercise, the answer to a personal spiritual question that had been plaguing me for 15 years was instantly revealed.
Thus, I immediately became a huge believer in this prayer exercise and since have shared it with many others over the years. You too might find some answers but only if you are truly honest and unafraid to ask or face the most difficult questions or issues in your past or present circumstances.
So without further ado, here is the exercise.
Jesus is visiting your neighborhood. He is going house to house and will be at your door in five minutes.
Will you let him in?
What will you say to Him when he appears at your door?
What is He going to ask you?
What questions are you going to ask Him?
Are there any rooms in your home that you do not want him to see?
Any closets, drawers, photos, or computer files that you want to hide from Him?
Pray about these questions for five minutes.
(Five minutes passes)
Knock, knock Jesus has arrived.
Greet Him at the door or ask Him to go away.
If you invite Him in, visualize actually letting him in the door of your home or apartment as you would any guest.
You may even offer Him something to drink or eat.
Just let the visit unfold.
Perhaps you might want to take him on a tour of your home. Or ask him to sit down as you begin chatting in your most comfortable space.
Remember to discuss the questions or issues you identified in the first part of the exercise.
His visit can last as long as you want because, as the Bible says: I will never leave you nor forsake you.
However, in my group prayer seminar His visit lasted about 10 minutes.
After that time, the prayer leader asked our group if anyone was willing to share their experience of “Jesus’ visit.” Many did, but I was still in shock from His most perfect answer to my question, so I remained uncharacteristically silent.
This exercise is effective in a group setting or when one is alone. Adults, teenagers or even children can be enthralled by this 15 minute “visit with Jesus,” if participants take it seriously and deal with sometimes difficult personal issues honestly.
For a different twist, you could even visualize Jesus walking around your office building for five minutes visiting others before He shows up at YOUR office.
Even though it has been 23 years since I was first introduced to this prayer exercise, my experience was so enlightening it was imprinted on my heart and soul forever.
Do not be surprised if you have similar results. This exercise is extremely powerful because it presents Jesus as someone who you can communicate with in a two-way conversation.
And, after all isn’t that what prayer is anyway, a conversation with God?
Finally, this week on a country music station I heard the song, If I Could Have A Beer With Jesus for the first time. This song by Thomas Rhett reminded me of my 1990 prayer seminar experience and that is the reason why you just read what you read.
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On Christmas Eve, gather up your loved ones and to listen to Amy Grant sing Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song).
This is my favorite modern Christmas song and one I cannot listen to without tearing up.
The song takes you inside the mind and heart of the person who would become the world’s most revered Jewish teenage mother as she is about to give birth, in the most difficult of circumstances, to a baby she was chosen to bear — the One who will impact the world like no other.
Merry Christmas to all and especially those who truly love this mother and Baby.
With over 40 million views, this video captures the essence of the article you are about to read.
A funny thing happened “on the way” as I was contemplating writing this piece. While listening to a Christian radio station the announcer said, “Jesus is the reason for the season.”
At that moment this very familiar phrase hit me like a thunderbolt. For not only is “Jesus the reason for the season,” but Jesus is the reason our world, nation, history, culture and society are the way they are.
So regardless of whether you believe in Jesus, practice another faith, or are devoid of faith, Jesus has impacted you by virtue of the fact that you are alive.
For no person has affected mankind – past, present and future –more than this Jewish teacher who lived over 2000 years ago, whose birth we will celebrate with great fanfare.
Although Jesus’ life, death and resurrection were the impetus behind His followers’ establishing Christianity, the world’s largest religion itself is only the starting point for the influence Jesus spawned in countless non-religious venues as people over the centuries were moved and motivated by Him to express themselves in a multitude of ways that we continue to see played out everyday across the planet.
With so many examples of Jesus Christ’s effect on mankind it is impossible to even mention them all in this short piece — the purpose of which is to not only enhance your celebration of “the reason for the season” but to also increase your awareness of just how much Jesus impacts the world around you every day of the year.
If after reading this piece you are moved to delve deeper into this topic, I recommend a book published in 1994 that has since become a “modern classic,” What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?, co-authored by the late Dr. D. James Kennedy and the still very much alive Jerry Newcombe.
This book had a profound influence on me as it oriented my thinking about Jesus in ways that I had never contemplated.
So here in alphabetical order is only a short, incomplete list of the most obvious “non-religious” aspects of how Jesus Christ has impacted the world.
Just in time for Christmas, Pope Benedict XVI is out with a new book entitled Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives that is generating headlines and debunking some traditional elements of the Christmas story.
Some of the tradition debunking includes:
Jesus’ birth year, just a few (or several) years earlier than previously thought – now calculated between 7 B.C. and 2 B.C. rather than 1 A.D.
Obviously this throws a small wrench in the wheel of time for all earth and human history since B.C. means Before Christ and A.D. means Anno Domini representing the birth of Christ. (Oh well, just a small “blunder” by some sixth century monk!)
Christmas (Christ’s mass) has no basis in historical fact as celebrated on December 25 since A.D. 353, when Pope Julius I selected and authorized that day.
And the worst news of all is reserved for Christmas stores everywhere because the Pope says no cute animals were present at the manger nativity scene – no donkeys, no fuzzy little lambs or adorable friendly oxen.
Wow, this marketing savvy Pope obviously knows what it takes to sell books in the 21st century, while providing some great new material for late night comics.
But seriously, do any of these revelations really matter to the true followers of Jesus? After all HE is the real “reason for the season” regardless of when the real season really began.
“Christ’s mass” could be celebrated on any day, in whatever B.C. or A.D. year is deemed appropriate and it would still be just as sacred because the exact date is immaterial as to why Christians believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord, Savior, God, Messiah, King of Kings, etc.
In fact there is only one day in particular that really matters to Christians. That day is the reason we are still even talking about a poor Jewish preacher who lived and died a couple of thousand years ago after suffering a horrible death. That day of course is Easter Sunday.
Without Easter Sunday, that is without the resurrection of Jesus Christ there is no Christianity. But because He rose from the dead, thus fulfilling numerous Old Testament Jewish Bible prophesies about his birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection, His Spirit lives. Christ is alive for those who believe in Him, not just because we read about Him in the Bible or heard about Him in church but because we have experienced Him first hand. Christ intervenes in our lives!
So because of who HE is, Jesus, born with or without the presence of cute lambs on (pick a date or year) will still be the central figure around which the world’s largest religion thrives.
It is my belief the Pope’s officially “debunking” the Christmas date and some associated traditions, exposes all Christians to potential ridicule by non-Christians as the “War on Christmas” continues in our increasingly secular society where the word “Christmas” is being replaced by “holiday” ever more each passing year and Christianity itself is on the wane in our nation.
But meanwhile, across the globe, Christianity with 2.2 billion followers, one–third of the planet’s population, is currently experiencing exponential growth, particularly in Africa and even in forbidden places like the Middle East where millions of Christians risk their lives and limbs to worship Him in secret churches.
However, the most spectacular Christian growth of all, with the greatest potential to change the world, is happening right now in China, where Christianity is spreading like “wild fire.”
Some sources on the ground are stating that a full 10% of the estimated 1.4 billion Chinese are now practicing Christians. If true, this means there are 150 million Christians in China, with more on the way, since the Communist Party is now encouraging its growth!
And many Catholics I imagine would love to receive the Pope’s new book during this “not historically factual” gift giving season, but the gift I wish for is that the real meaning of Christmas be restored as “Christ’s mass” throughout our culture rather than the current trends downplaying it.
Then perhaps here in the USA we could truly celebrate the birth of our Savior everyday along with his life, death, resurrection and Holy Spirit that lives within us, not just in passing for a few weeks during extended “holiday” shopping hours.
If that happened, I am confident overall we would be a much happier, hopeful and productive nation. For increased faith in Christ would positively affect all Americans regardless of whether they were followers of the Jewish preacher whose birthday and year is totally irrelevant.
Jesus Lives and that is all that matters to me and billions of others around the globe this Christmas season.
‘Twas the night before Christmas, and a group of Northern factory workers rushed the victim Nicholas (last name removed to keep his actual identity confidential) to the emergency room. Doctors treated the patient for broken bones after a horrible beating by a gang of schoolchildren. He had been robbed and his sleigh hijacked. The police arrested six suspects. Prosecutors are considering charging these juveniles with grand larceny and aggravated assault.
This sounds more like a horror story fit for Halloween night than a tale meant for a blessed Christmas morning. Then again, it’s eerily something that could have been pulled right out of today’s newspaper.
It makes me think of an old Indian proverb: “Give a stick and in turn get beaten.” In other words, those who try to help in the wrong way can end up causing a problem for themselves. Democrats talk a lot about “helping people.” They expand the federal government because they claim they have a benevolent motive to help others, but they don’t realize how to really help. An overweight Uncle Sam giving away more than he can afford means there are two poor people now, not just one. Don’t walk softly by being naively generous only to get beaten by your own stick.
Democrats like to play up the lie that they are the only compassionate ones in politics. I encountered this misconception firsthand. As a freshman in college, I didn’t really talk about politics much, but one day a friend on my floor interrogated me, “Are you a Republican or a Democrat?” When I told her that I leaned right, she commented, “You can’t be! You are so nice!”
Unfortunately, this friend of mine assumed that Republicans are the mean girls and Democrats the nice ones.
The myth about compassion is something that the Left likes to perpetuate, and this time of the year it may be appropriate to challenge one of their common communication strategies. The Democratic National Committee acts as if it is the Santa Claus Party. Overcome by their bleeding hearts, Democrats tell all the less fortunate people that the government will give everyone (and not just minorities) gifts. The party sells the idea that big government should be our almighty gift-giver and everyone can be the recipients of these gifts. Yes, it’s nice to receive something nicely wrapped up with a bow. It may be signed, sealed, and delivered by the president. The question is: who paid for this gift?
If the intellectually honest, diverse and provocative PJ Lifestyle had a Catholic ”chaplain” for its culture wars, it would have to be Fr. Robert Barron, the new director of the largest seminary in the United States and producer of the movie series, Catholicism. Who wouldn’t be intrigued enough to at least have a “virtual beer” with the man who wrote the book on post-liberal Catholicism while calling Bob Dylan “one of his heroes?”
Fr. Barron brings his passion for the social implications and religious significance of cultural issues to those most impacted and excels at analyzing the complex shifting permanence that constitutes our human existence.
Baron’s video “Discussion of the Hook-Up Culture” dovetails beautifully with PJ Lifestyle Editor, David Swindle’s article, “When Marxists Make the Anti-Family Argument Honestly”. Swindle reviews a New Inquiry article by Madelaine Schwartz which affirms:
The potential diffusion of the family (emergence of teen motherhood, single motherhood and premarital co-habitation) is one of the most exciting things to happen to the American social pattern since the sexual revolution.
Swindle identifies this ”diffusion,” read rather “destruction,” as a chief element in the Marxist dismantling of the underpinnings of Western Civilization. Fr. Barron defines the “hook-up culture,” as the pervasive cultural attitude that unfettered sexual experience is normal and even beneficial.
In their analysis, both men point to unpublished consequences of these closely related attitudes towards ”liberated sex” and the resulting families. The New Left’s diffused family, for all its lofty promise, leads inexorably to poverty, the natural off-spring of self-seeking disorder. The hook-up sexuality drives women, as Fr. Barron substantiates in his discussion, to the campus-therapist’s office door.
Swindle and Barron argue that the family and family-centered sexuality are not simply conventions that can be swapped out for cooler upgrades, but are deeply rooted in our nature itself and produce specific consequences measurable by social and individual well-being.
Just as it does for the economic and medical facets of our lives, our Brave New World offers first a sexual “paradisum,” a Utopia of rapturous personal and social gratification, only to crumble and leave, in its wake, a human debris field.
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