Named And Claimed–Saturdays with Simon Peter

ImageJohn 1:40 One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter[a]).

 What does it mean to be named?  When we are born we are named for someone honored by the parents that they knew or heard of.  Maybe one of the parents themselves.  But the real inspiration is not all on what that name means by the past but what they hope for your future. Even better, it is for how your future character will be and not just accomplishments.

We know that Simon Peter is a flake in the gospels.  He denies Jesus, cuts off the ear of a servant, refuses Jesus when He wants to wash him feet, and seems to “blow” a miracle.

But eventually he would be a rock for those around him (that is what Peter, Petros, means).  Peter would feed the lambs and the sheep.  He would tend to them.  Tending is nurturing.

But what does it mean to be named by Jesus compared to the world? We allow people in our lives to name us all the time.  For better or worse we hang our identity and even worth on that.  In Russia I heard that when two strangers meet that they ask each other their occupations before they ask for names.  Humanity is so superficial.

Jesus said we should not judge by mere appearances.  Samuel anointed David when he looked like the runt of the litter among his brothers saying, “God looks at the heart.”  Jesus comes with the message of restoration for the world and that means going beyond where our present circumstances are.

So just as we know that Jesus looks deep, we need to take the call of Jesus deep.  To see ourselves as a follower of Jesus is not just a “religious experience”.  To experience the calling of Jesus to be his disciple is not a tap and an instant change but the beginning of a holistic change in heart, soul, mind and strength.  To be called by Jesus is beginning of progress before perfection.  Then from there, we can pray for discernment on what we can call ourselves in Jesus.

I have been a Christian for over thirty years but how I name myself has taken in a different angle due to Barnabas.  When I recently was received into the Catholic Church, I chose Barnabas as my confirmation name.  I chose that because in Aramaic it means “son of encouragement”.  I would like to say that as a future social worker and, God willing, permanent deacon that I nail that down every time.  But I can’t.  But I can press on with the encouragement of saints who with all their blemishes knew that their calling was not based on an ideological what, but a loving who. Head knowledge pales in comparison with the grace of relationship.

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The Things We Leave Behind

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I have been thinking about transitions a lot today.  I woke up with morning with a song by Michael Card called “The Things We Leave Behind” in my head.  It is about leaving the conventional securities in pursuit of Jesus.  Last July my wife and I left Oregon behind including precious family and friends.  Also a lifetime of being Oregonians. We have been living in a small guesthouse on the property of my in-laws since July and are about to move to a nice, big house in Phoenix!

First, I should say that not all of my transitions I have made or am making now is explicitly about Jesus.  In my mind it does not have to be.  My working proverb for years has been “to be heavenly minded is to be of earthly good”.  The earthly goods that come to mind of preciousness is my family and giftings; they are definitely in that order. I keep my family with me always if in sometimes only in my heart.  Giftings have to be set aside for a season.

Are we really called to leave all relationships behind?  I know I could look at Sacred Scripture and see how Abraham left Ur for good and Moses left Egypt (as a prince) for good.  I get that.  But at the risk of seeming codependent, I have rarely left relationships completely.

There is a quote from John Paul II that has been sticking with me lately especially as I transitioned to the Catholic Church.  He said, “We are to love people and use things.”  I hope I am doing that in using my stuff and time to love people.  If there is a selfish reason it is in part because those people love me.  Yet, I am in relationships with people because I see myself in a reciprocal relationship that contributes to identity and belonging. Oddly, we appreciate those effects and the end and beginning but not as much in the middle.  In the middle is where true love can be whether it is romantic, friendship or family of origin. But the catch is that we do not harden our hearts. When we transition into something exciting, it is easy to take people for granted from the prior season. But we should not do that because that makes relationships as too measurable in the material and the temporal.

So if I connect my heart to that song, it is that God puts us in seasons of change, including painful ones, to call forth something from within that would not change without it (educare= calling forth from within).  If he needs to take us from an environment then that is okay in the big picture if we trust Him.  We can think of our environmental changes and even times of brokenness as education in the purest sense because God loves all and knows all. His desire is to call forth from within so that Christ is formed.

This is a transitional season for me and does not seem to be a time of hardship (knock on wood) but maybe in a way it is okay to wait for the other shoe to drop.  It keeps me humble in not thinking I am in control and thankful for how God is in control.  In different stages that is maybe the most common intangible thing we learn to let go of is our sense of control.

With control in mind, even some worries I have right now can be redeemed.  I have learning disabilities that have contributed to me having a multitude of jobs in my life.  I am about to start a Masters program at Arizona State which will be very challenging.  Can I cover my deficits?  Will I fail? Will I “pull myself together”?  More important in the greater scheme is that I leave behind the fears and turn to the challenges with a point of grace.  Situationally in moving from Oregon to Arizona this past year I hopefully am poised to let the education of my heart begin by leaving behind the blow of failures in pursuit of what is Jesus both overtly and not.

There sits Simon,

so foolishly wise

proudly he’s tending his nets

Then Jesus calls,

and the boats drift away

all that he owns he forgets

 

More than the nets

he abandoned that day,

he found that his pride was soon drifting away

It’s hard to imagine the freedom we find

from the things we leave behind

 

Matthew was mindful

of taking the tax,

pressing the people to pay

Hearing the call,

he responded in faith

followed the Light and the Way

 

Leaving the people

so puzzled he found,

the greed in his heart

was no longer around and

it’s hard to imagine

the freedom we find

from the things

we leave behind

 

Every heart needs to be set free,

from posessions

 

that hold it so tight

‘Cause freedom’s not found in the things that we own,

It’s the power

to do what is right

Jesus, our only posession,

giving becomes our delight

We can’t imagine the freedom we find

from the things we leave behind

 

We show a love for the world in our lives

by worshipping goods we posess

Jesus has laid all our treasures aside

“love God above all the rest”

 

‘Cause when we say ‘no’

to the things of the world

we open our hearts

to the love of the Lord and

its hard to imagine

the freedom we find

from the things we leave behind

 

Oh, and it’s hard to imagine

the freedom we find

from the things

we leave behind

Lyrics from <a href=”http://www.elyrics.net”>eLyrics.net</a&gt;

A Believer and A Social Worker

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As you may have read in my first blog, I graduated last June with my Bachelors in Social Work (BSW) and will be starting next month in my Masters in Social Work at Arizona State University.  Also I am a Bible-believing Christ-follower.

So how do those two facets work?  Don’t they inherently contradict with logic being a brick wall between them? Isn’t one an obsolete, archaic, patriarchal, white privilege system and the other always relevant, far more empowering and defining of true liberation?

Since I have the BSW and have been a Christ-follower for over thirty years I hope to unpack these and then describe where I want to go after school.

Structurally social work is like psychology and sociology had a baby and blessed her to go into the world and reform society and the person into the best potential of wholeness and cooperation.  The areas that the social worker is trained for in the individual is in various needs from basic to self-actualization (see Maselow’s Hierarchy).  The social worker would work with the individual on their internal conversation according to their individual beliefs. How could religion, especially Christianity, compare with this?

Since I used the term Christ-follower with purpose and Jesus is the founder of the Christian faith, we should start with Jesus as the answer as it were.  In his inaugural message in Luke 4 he said ““The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
 and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,

19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The advocacy of a social worker is epitomized in starting with those that are poor.  They are the first category to look for internationally who are marginalized, out of the loop in being able to self-advocate and disempowered.  Jesus starts with them.  He said later in his ministry that “The poor you will always have with you” not because he did not care but because he wanted to enlighten his followers that they were in the context.

And this carried on to when St. Paul connected with the first apostles and had different missions that they would remember the poor first.

The next three characteristics can be done by Christianity and a social worker who is not a Christ-follower if interpreted figuratively: freedom from prison, educating the ignorant and setting people from being bullied.

But the first and last points are inherently spiritual and would be antithetical to modern social work interpretation.  Preaching the gospel means you are preaching the agenda of a coming kingdom.  When the Roman empire would expand into a territory it would make a difference that would saturate the culture with change.  Agents of Rome would proclaim ahead to get ready for a new atmosphere for the person and the masses.  They would so to speak proclaim the evangelion, which is translated as gospel.

Aha! And there is the point of mean Christianity forcing its ways on the world with intimidation and “might makes right”.  But you would be missing out on the context entirely in that last part of proclaiming “the year of the Lord’s favor.”  That was prefigured in the Old Testament with the year of Jubilee.  Every fifty years slaves were set free, debts were forgiven.  The restart button was pushed and people could start again.

The evangelion of Christ is forgiveness.  To walk in that is to forgive those who have set you free which and makes really two types of slavery. Social work commonly as a profession will at best hold a perpetrator accountable.  Though paying restitution for your crime is by all means universally a right principle, the root of bitterness that can eat one up like a cancer does not get addressed like the example of Jesus.  “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” ….”Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

Where I hope to go with this as a social worker is to perceive the needs of the whole person but start with myself.  “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
 with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.” (Isaiah 58:9-10).

I hope to be self-aware that I am a tall, white guy and be humble of that advantage but in a hope of unity and empowerment for the client.  I also want to be aware that Christ-followers have not always followed the example of Jesus.  Therefore I hope that while working in a pluralistic society that I will be able to be an example of what a Christian is and not one that Christ-followers have to apologize for. Overt preaching would thus not be my objective.

But do I still “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”?  In some way yes.  I still see in some social work discourse blaming, race-baiting, gender-baiting and class warfare. Those are for division for division’s sake.  There is something better: the way of love.  Not a complex theological concept but the breath of life at its best.

LAQ Part I

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Today is my first full day after becoming a Catholic.  It has been an amazing journey for me especially since last fall. 

 

I thought that today I might want to write an answer to “Frequently Asked Questions”.  However, that is a bit gutsy since that assumes I have a long standing blog with frequent correspondents for it.  So I am titling it as “likely Asked Questions” though there may be a few that I have been asked or someone has asked my wife (who is currently a Protestant at this time).

 

1: So does this mean that anything from Protestantism is worthless?

 

No.  I still have on my to-read list Dietrich Boenhoffer (a courageous Lutheran theologian who was martyred for taking part in a plot to kill Hitler) and more of C.S. Lewis (a long-time Anglican).  If I hear about someone accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior at a Protestant crusade I am truly happy for them. 

 

I appreciate the former because truth is truth.  There is little if anything that the above examples would say that would contradict the Catholic Church.  Much of what they say complements it like C.S. Lewis having an entire chapter in Mere Christianity supporting the intercession of the saints.

 

I appreciate the latter because Jesus is Jesus.  Scripture says that no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Spirit of God.  Catholicism and Protestantism both get there but with different semantics.  A repentant sinner coming to a Catholic mass can say with the congregation “Lord, I am not worthy for you to come under my roof.  But say the word and my soul will be healed” (and that is not counting the Eucharist).  The same person coming to a Billy Graham crusade would be able to repeat “The Sinners Prayer” with meaning. 

 

2:  Aren’t you trading in grace for law?  Like a bunch of rules you have to be weighted down with?

 

For that I would say a few things about rules.  One is that rules direct us to our inevitable callings smoother, faster or both.  How does a train move best?  On the rails.

 

Next I would say that Protestantism has as many or more rules than Catholocism except Catholocism writes theirs down in the Catechism.  What do I mean?  The “Sinner’s Prayer” is not in the Bible but the unwritten rule in Protestantism is that it should be the standard. 

 

3:  But aren’t the traditions that you are buying into the “traditions made of men” that Jesus or Paul warned about?

 

First I should start with the nature of tradition and where it is found.  In the Christian walk we have for discernment Biblical, Anti-Biblical and Extra-biblical lenses for seeing life.  The first two are ideally going to be no-brainers and the last is often going to be hard to pick out from man as if you don’t know where the Bible ends and man’s ideas independent from the leading of Jesus truly begins.   

 

My suggested criteria for many years before that fateful night I stumbled on Scott Hahn on the Catholic channel is that if your standards for interpreting truth or morals is Extra-biblical be honest about it. Next, try to relate it to the character and calling of Jesus.  One tradition writes it down and the other does not and sometimes meet in the middle. 

 

An example is my friend Lance.  He was a Christian brother who I had not seen in years.  I was glad to fellowship with him but was troubled when he told me about how he enjoyed living with his “wife”.  I had a frank couple of conversations about his contention that “in God’s eyes we are already married”.  He cited the scripture that Isaac did not have a ceremony when he took Rebecca to his tent to be his wife.  I struggled with this, but had to tell him that he knew the nature of God better than that and stopped fellowshipping with him until he repented.  I even dared him to sit down with me and his pastor so he could declare his revelation that a ceremony before the Body of Christ was not needed.  If all traditions that are made from men are worthless, then he could have a valid covenant, right?  If Protestantism is true, then you and your honey can “feel” like a covenant until your next revelation. 

 

This is where I would agree in a sense that Lance was right: if Protestantism is right in that Scripture is all we need.  I had no scriptural line of reasoning to back up what I had to say.  Through my life that started without actively Christian parents and going through a Protestant maze I have had my own frustrations with traditions and still do: except for Sacred tradition. 

 

4: Isn’t the Bible the first standard for truth?  In a word, no. 

 

1 Timothy 3:15 “if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” 

 

2 Thessolonians 2:15   “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings[c] we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”

But why not the OT?  At least that cannon was already put together.  It’s because that there was an already established continuity of the apostles teaching.  There is not enough space it today’s blog to expand on this, but from the first century until now there is a consistent apostolic succession in the Catholic church that provides needed perspective and a call to unity whenever it stays close to the grace of Jesus and Simon Peter’s conversation we know as “upon this rock”. 

That same Sacred Tradition does not override Holy Scripture any more than the right eye would the left.  But if one is blind in one eye then the right will lose depth of perception, you get a headache and the wiring of the brain changes for cognitive function. The same goes for the Body of Christ with each schism in Church history.  But when Sacred

I can expand the example on the issue of depth.  Did Jesus really mean that the bread and wine becomes His body and blood?  The Early Church Fathers who were disciples of the apostles definitely said yes to a T.  And on more than just that they sounded very Catholic.  Without that scholarly work that uncovers their passing of the baton we are left with confusion or an empty void for conjecture that leads to division.  Such that we later have Uncle Marty (my name for Martin Luther) throwing out the Eucharist. 

Tradition works in tandem with Sacred Scripture correctly we have what I would call “Sacred Balance”.  We as individuals or corporately in the Body of Christ can lose our way.  That is why we as individuals can repent (which reminds me of my first Confession last week. Loved it!) and the Catholic Church seeks God in special councils for a re-orientation (Council of Nicea, Council of Trent, Vaticans I and II).  The key is to keep an attitude of humility and to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”.