Legacy Of A Convert–But Not Just What We Think

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For those who know me especially, you know that I have been on a journey for the last few years.  I have undergone a conversion or a completion, depending on your point of view, through becoming a Catholic after thirty years of identifying myself as a Protestant.  I have been challenged in many ways on where I thought I have God figured out.  Fundamentally I keep coming back to reminders that God likes structures where they are channel of grace but He does not like hurdles to His grace that put Him in a box. 

I have discovered that in my growth in His love and being formed in the image of Jesus, that steps forward and steps backward of being my best self in Him are natural.  When they happen, Jesus wants to forgive us but also challenge us to not do the sin again.  Oh yeah, that little cuss word.  

What has helped in the journey is having along my buddy Peter.  He is this guy who ended his life on a good note but hit a good share of notes off key along the way.  When I read about him taking his focus off of Jesus when walking toward Him on the water, I could appreciate the parallels in my life where I sank into the water of my foolishness because I was taking my eyes off of Jesus too.  Writing about Peter has been like writing about my twin separated at birth, though not by clerical office, but as a sinner that is looking for rest and hoping to be pure. 

Back to the channels of grace.  Peter was left with his role to nurture the Church in the sacraments that Jesus founded.  He overall did this like he said we should do about working out our salvation: with fear and trembling.  He did not do this because God was a fear monger but as one who appreciated his encounter with True Love too much to show disrespect the life he had after his conversion (s). 

I am also looser on what conversion is.  I can say with confidence that I have had a relationship with Jesus for many years.  But I can also say with confidence that I acted out the sinner’s job description by lashing out at a panhandler recently.  God used my wife, a better Christian than I, to open my eyes to the sin of my my judgmental attitude. So I converted.  Peter told Jesus that the way of the Father was not the way of the cross and was rebuked sharply.  So on that issue he was converted on that though he was already an apostle.  

We are all works in progress and we are all called to leave something of God’s love and holiness behind.  How that works will be different for each individual. We must be open to where our roads lead and stay on them whether big details or small.  God’s grace can cover us all.  

But what about Peter’s legacy?  For us Catholics, he was the first pope but many Protestant brothers and sisters would sincerely disagree.  That is okay.  But what we can all agree on is that the Peter of his epistles who is unselfishly looking out for others to walk with God and has surrendered to the process of many conversions pleases God and leaves behind a legacy of walking according to being “God’s workmanship created for good works in Christ” (Ephesians 2:10).  It is a combination of God’s faithfulness and our surrender over time.

Last, there is a sign of both with Peter with an extra-biblical anecdote. “On June 26, 1968, Pope Paul VI announced that the relics of St. Peter had been discovered. On November 24 2013, these relics were held by Pope Francis and displayed publicly for the first time after celebrating closing ‘Year of Faith’ Mass” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j99AhFGnils&feature=youtu.be).  These were found in the foundations of St. Peter’s Basilica in the 1940’s.  “You are Peter. And upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).  The science that has been done on those bones say that the bones are that of a man aged 61 years and Semitic and were found by the words “Peter is here”.  Either there was a Roman conspiracy with insight about DNA fraud or I think that is my buddy Peter.  

So those are the legacies of Peter as a faithful servant to God.  What is ours? 

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Growing For Life

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A long time ago a pastor of mine I respected said that when we feel we have a gift that is truly from God, it is not first for our generation but for the next.  That has stuck with me first as a dad and then more broadly about the world I leave behind.  Am I leaving behind something worthwhile for the younger generation to be better than me?  

Peter, the fisherman turned pope, had been on quite the journey in his life.  He had learned a lot about walking in a holy life through being teachable to the hand of Jesus.  In his last letter of his life, he wanted to make his life count for something in sharing his journey.  His journey when seen by virtues of the faith he had picked up were:faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance godliness, mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. 

But what are virtues really about? Do we want to impress God?  Impress ourselves? Impress each other?  Peter thought that all of the above were true…but then he grew up.  

 

2 Peter:1:For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. 10 Therefore, brothers and sisters,[g] be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. 11 For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.

For the right motivations, there are some great jewels of what matters explained well.

1: Being effective and fruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ is not an intellectual pursuit.  Jesus wants to be known in an intimate way.  We are ready for that when we apply those virtues above in our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationship with others.  

2: It is then implied that to keep growing in those virtues, a process and not boxed items, you keep your spiritual awareness and remember the sanctifying grace of your baptism (see 1 Peter 3:21).  

12 Therefore I intend to keep on reminding you of these things, though you know them already and are established in the truth that has come to you. 13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to refresh your memory, 14 since I know that my death will come soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.

since I know that my death will come soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.

Peter is accepting of death, but living fully in the life he has now.  Knowing that his death is coming up, Peter does not get bitter and sees his role in his last days to keep drawing people to God.  Peter has died a little at a time for many years under the formation of the Master and the spiritual harvest is in what he passes on to the others.  

And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.

I would submit to you that Peter is not talking about a recent trip to the lawyer’s office for his last will and testament.  Peter is speaking partly from a theological fact of the communion of saints and also with words of love.  When he is in heaven he anticipates the chance to pray for them when he is in heaven.  What else is there to do?  Send a check?  His life of unselfish living made him into a servant for the people in the next phase of salvation history.  But his life in Christ also reassured him that there was work to be done on either side of the curtain so to speak.  This life of faith reassured Peter that he was called to be a servant in heaven as he had been on earth.  

So what is stopping us from living a heavenly life now?  Peter was slow to listen in his youth and sometimes had to be corrected sharply.  But what is stopping us from being moldable now?  From being God centered and others- centered now?  

Let’s follow Him. And start living a heavenly life a bit early.  

Outline of A Convert’s Memoir

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I heard about an ivy league class back east several years ago that offered a class on how to write your memoirs.  It made me laugh because first the population was overwhelmingly young and next it was presumptuous to think that they will be so wise in achieving and expressing themselves from a wise pedestal.  Time with experience are wise components to knowing how to live a life that is worth living.  

 

But there are other points to wisdom in living a good life and they center particularly in relationship.  There is even a shallow application of that truth in the business world in that to get ahead it is “not just what you know, but who you know.” 

 

An older wiser Simon Peter knew about that because he knew Jesus well and was formed by Him well in the life of a disciple.  And in his second letter (or I like to call second papal encyclical), he lays out a pattern of areas a child of God should embrace being formed in.  

 

 

2 Peter 1:May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. 10 Therefore, brothers and sisters,be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble.

May grace and peace be yours in abundance

There is a subtle message in this line that is easy to overlook.  Peter is not wishing just enough grace and peace to believers to get by but more than enough.  Though he starts the letter to all those who have received Jesus, Peter wants plenty left over for whatever agenda God wants to do by abundance.  

in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

And now we get to “who you know”.  English can rip us off if we are not careful.  Many Americans are not in poverty of Bible verses to quote but are in poverty of getting those verses from their full heads to their empty hearts.  Therefore some of the most dry words I have heard, including from my own lips, have been, “I know that verse.”  Knowing the Bible is not knowing by relationship Jesus.  It is supposed to be intimate like spouses in their embrace rather than an e-mail.   

His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

It would take a long time to show verses in the New Testament that tie into this verse, but basically Peter is referring to the fulfilled work of Jesus by the atonement, resurrection and confirming of us into His Church by the Holy Spirit.  Sure, you could always add to this, but do not be surprised if your seemingly great spiritual fortress turns into the Leaning Tower of Piza.  

Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states in context of this verse, “They are made capable of doing so by the grace of Christ and the gifts of the Spirit, which they receive through the sacraments and through prayer (1692).  

It would take too long for a blog to unpack all of the virtues that Peter addresses, but I would like to make an observation that our growth in respective virtues is really a series of conversions.  In the life of Peter, we see Peter being overconfident when he meets Jesus that He could not catch fish.  When he is overwhelmed by the miracle he is also humbled and acknowledges that he is a sinful man.  But we all need a touch of grace.  He falls, but in knowing Jesus personally in His grace, we keep getting back up.  A step back, a step or more forward.  It depends on where we are predisposed in our hearts to go.  

For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Remember those questions of inquiry from high school biology about life?  Is it reproducing, eating and growing? Then it is alive.  For us to examine our conscience effectively, we should ask if we are in a process or in a rut of distance from God’s presence and/or Christ’s image.  If we find ourselves stagnant, who moved?  Where is the resolution for this?

For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins.  

This brings us back to our spiritual beginning—being baptized into the new covenant in Christ.  

“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Revelation 2:4-5).  

Conversion is a turning point of knowing the power of Jesus grace to cleanse and give new life.  This is not as the world would give in science, mental assent to a a deep goose bump.  It is divine and accessed through faith at our first and later love stage.  Such past conversion is our “high point” of reference.  

Therefore, brothers and sisters,be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble.

So if we are in Christ, can we be stable in that? Only for as long as we keep our focus on Him and stay in the agenda we have been called to.  

 

Hope for Unity

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Though I have enjoyed writing for over a year about Peter, I want to diverge today and reflect on an unusual meeting last week.

First I should touch on a video of a conference several months ago in Texas.  In a conference hosted by Charismatic-prosperity teacher Kenneth Copeland, a former associate of his named Tony Palmer spoke.  Palmer is an Anglican bishop and had a longtime friendship with  a Catholic archbishop named Jose Mario Bergolio—now known as Pope Francis.  Palmer make a case for the “protest” of the reformation to now be over.  It was a compelling one with a joint Catholic-Lutheran statement that we are “saved by grace through faith unto good works”.  After making a case that the “protest” is over and asks “What are you protesting?”, he then introduces a video from Pope Francis that is mostly in Italian with English subtitles.   You can see the entire video here. Some may not like the emotional aspect of Copeland the first five minutes but I encourage you to stick with it.  The message gets deep and very much points to, what I perceive, as the thought and intent of Jesus.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uA4EPOfic5A

This sparked a surge in ecumenical dialogue that influenced leaders from different Christian traditions in the Phoenix area.  Last Sunday was at least the second such meeting with leaders of different Christian traditions and the first my family and I were able to attend.  This one happened to be in the very parish we attend.

There were several things I liked about it.  One was the worship.  There was “Lord, I Need You”, “Heart of Worship”, and “Come Holy Spirit”.  There were two Protestant ministers and also the auxiliary bishop of our archdiocese Bishop Nevares.  I was blessed by all of the speakers and encouraged to appreciate the different gifts in the Body of Christ.

I know there is some room for growth for more unity among those that calls themselves Christian but it will happen.  I know this because Jesus asked for this the night he was betrayed and it is the only prayer of His that has not been fulfilled.  His rationale is simple: “this is how they will know that you are my disciples, that you subscribe to the exact doctrine.” No? “that you love one another.”

I have seen some barriers to unity in my own journey.  In my case I was a very well formed Evangelical Protestant Christian for thirty years but was received into the Catholic Church last year (my wife joined me this past Easter).  My view of my faith now, and the lens by which I viewed my brethren at the meeting, is as an Evangelical Catholic Christian instead.  I see my Christian experience of the joy of receiving and sharing the gospel as fulfilled in the Church that Christ established on a simple fisherman two thousand years ago.  The best channel for experiencing that grace, per my view after much prayer and study, is in the Catholic Church.

But that does not minimize how awesome my brothers and sisters are in other communities.  If I were given the choice to have lunch with my priest or Billy Graham, I would choose Graham.  There is much that Catholics can learn from Protestants and vice-versa.  Once we remind ourselves of the common ground in the Nicene Creed (google it if you have never heard of it) and the common baptism then we can work on communicating.

The accord of 1999 that I mentioned above is a great part of it that could be a catalyst for the Body of Christ to change the world.  There are in this world 1.2 billion Catholics.  If you combine Greek Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Protestants with the Catholic Church then you have over a billion.

Now imagine the meetings I went to times a million for evangelistic purposes.  The credentials of the people of God in the New Testament were that they were to love one another and appear to be ones that have been with Jesus.  What is stopping us?  Is God really in a box or have we put Him there through our assumptions.

My hope is for the day that God’s kingdom does come  “on earth as it is in heaven”.

Ephesians 4:13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

If We Eat Charity For Breakfast Part III

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I wanted to keep my reflections on humility from the passage in 1 Peter to a two parter.  By unpacking it I hope that it has built people up toward being humble before God and their neighbor.  

 

Unfortunately, I have been doing my own self-reflection about humility.  While I see my long-term study of Simon Peter a study in the ongoing formation of an early believer as well as on the papacy, I know that I am being formed towards maturity myself.  As Jesus forms the person, they can keep certain personality tendencies but their allegiance needs to be consistent with the thought and intent of this carpenter of the Middle East both in His humility and by the power of Him being so much more than the titles we want to give ourselves.  

 

This includes my humility (or lack thereof).  Over a week ago I went to Walmart to pick up the Rich Mullins movie (excellent movie by the way).  I had our three-month old with my as we got out of the car and were approached by what seemed to be a father and a son of pre-teen years.  The father held a gas can and said that he and his son were out of gas and just need some gas money. My instincts were that this was a shameless scam and he was using a kids for the con so I replied, “NO!” 

 

My heart rate was still up with anger when I was approached by another guy.  He was middle aged and only said the words ‘Excuse me.” when I asked him if he was asking for money.  When he said yes, I let him have it.  

 

“We live in the greatest country on earth and you are coming to me in a parking lot where I am shopping with my kid for money.  I should be able to take my kids with me to the store without being approached by a panhandler!  Do you have a job?”

 

“Uh, no.” he replied.  

 

I then told him where to go.  No, literally.  I knew the address of a building in the community that includes job search services.  I also knew there was a substance abuse program where he could get some help too.  Of course, “obviously” he needs it.  

 

As I walked off I heard him ask me if I was a Christian.  I scoffed at the question as another part of his tool kit for the “pity trade”.  

 

Not my best day as a social worker and my higher calling: being a Christian. Were both parties a part of the “pity trade”?  I really should not say.  What I can say is that they deserved the benefit of the doubt as well as my respect.  Even more, I have professionally helped clients find jobs.  What Jesus could do through me is show up in that parking lot with my laptop and an invitation to these same folks join me for coffee and some work search.  

 

This passage comes to mind for my own reflection.  And where it comes to humbling ones self in the context of charity, I hope it does for you too.  

 

Isaiah 58:9-10.  

 

 

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
    the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

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if you offer your food to the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be like the noonday.

 

Lord, light me up! 

If We Eat humility For Breakfast Part II

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If we have a foundation of humility that is grounded in receiving the power in the message of Jesus (Romans 1:16) and by being humble with the people around you, what is it for?  So we can call ourselves nice? Religious? We don’t need another person that qualifies for external qualifications only.  Humility that goes to our gut will draw us to God, self-awareness, sensitivity of the broader life that is in the Church and a perspective of grace when we suffer.  Such is the case that an older, wiser Simon Peter lays out the case for a continuing follower of Jesus.  

1 Peter 5

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. 10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time

The “therefore” mentioned is based on the preceding comments (see last post).  Peter is now presupposing that the reader is willing to be humble with people but not as an either/or proposition but both/and.  What you do unto your neighbor you are also doing unto God (Matthew 25).  Yes, prayer in itself is awesome and needed.  But isolating our experience of being humbled to prayer can be called being very heavenly minded while being no earthly good.  

But being submitted first to God has the benefit of knowing He is in control.  That is why we can cast our cares on Him reinforced by His love and submission to Him and not fear of Him.  

Discipline yourselves, keep alert.

Getting back to the above verse about being under God’s mighty hand, we examine ourselves on if we are acting consistent with being in His will.  If we are not walking in God’s will, we should not assume His protection and the ability to resist the devil.  

for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.

Peter is switching gears by switching the reader’s perspective.  So far in this passage, Peter has been writing about spiritual dimensions in individual and small community contexts.  Now he is drawing them to see the worldwide Church in that knows suffering as a universal experience.  With this, Peter is telling them that suffering is inevitable and it is not just happening to one person.  

And after you have suffered for a little while

This “little while” could be for just a brief season of suffering.  We hope not to suffer for the rest of our lives even directly for being a Christian.  But in case the “little” in God’s eyes is years then we can know that He will bring things around but right now he will give you the grace to endure.  He is the “God of all grace”.  But make no mistake, it is rooted in eternity with a history of salvation offered to th world that is bigger than one person but accomplished with the cooperation of many.  In the words of Mary, “May it be done to me, according to your word.”  

  

If We Eat Humility For Breakfast Part I

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Bringing change to someone’s approach to life from dysfunctional to functional is like heart surgery.  First, it is like you crack open their chest with just enough anesthesia and then you can go deep without killing them.  In plainer language you talk with someone about what they see for a need for change, ask questions that help them assess the costs and benefits of the status quo.  From there, you help them see where their life has been and will be in the context of story. 

I applied this recently in a capstone project for my Masters in Social Work. I had my semi-existing client, “Sofia” and in the paper used motivational interviewing to bring illumination and then narrative therapy (story based perspective) to see where she can overcome conflicts and make a happy ending.  The illumination is a combination of my education and her own self-reflections.

Saint Peter was a wiser man than I and most people.  But his role is not as a therapist and his audience is not a client but the Church which he is a part of and has personally been formed spiritually in.  Also in his case he does not end with a story but begins with one we have heard referred to as The Greatest Story Ever Told.  He has been schooled by the gospel.  

1 Peter 5:1 Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away. In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for

“God opposes the proud,
    but gives grace to the humble.”

Peter has come a long way about the hard truths of the cross of Christ.  The same day he was appointed as the first pope he tried to “straighten” out Jesus about the need to go to the cross.  But he speaks as someone that has come against the way of humility and now comes from experiencing it as a witness and as one who was persecuted.  He is also speaking as an elder which in the Greek is Presbyteros and is really the word that comes over to English as priest.  

Peter has a further connection to the mysteries of the Cross as a celebrant in the mass.  Many Catholic theologians say that if Peter were to walk into a mass today he would not understand many of the things done now except for holding up the bread that has been consecrated: also known as the Blessed Sacrament.

In light of being a witness of the Cross and a celebrant of the mysteries Peter exhorts the servant attitude to start with all who are sacramental elders.  That is, they would do their work “not for sordid gain”.  In other words,”It’s not about you guys, remember that.”  This humility would hopefully trickle down to the younger in a transmission of what I call needed with Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition: Sacred Humility.  

And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another,

And there is the first uncomfortable blow in this passage.  To cover ones self in humility is to identify yourself with the sufferings of Christ and put other people’s needs above your own. If God is the potter and we are the clay, His calling is to be forged by one another in the context of intentional humility.  Will people let you down?  Maybe.  But what does it benefit you to be on your guard around everyone?  There is none.  And to comes to cloth yourself in humility is not a matter of intellectual assent but a process over time out of relationship with Christ through the Church.  Is Jesus your personal Lord and Savior?  Great! But by being humble you make the Cross a living truth and live it out.  

Whew! Is that all? No.  Peter is just warming up.  If you can humble yourself in the community that you can see, you can transition to humbling yourself to God who you cannot see; but also His blessings.