Called to Conversion And Unity

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Tomorrow is going to be my fifth Easter as a Catholic.  These years, from when I first investigated into the claims of the Catholic Church to my entering it, then my wife and now nearly two years of college level formation has been a whirlwind.  It has been a great ride and I am excited for what the Lord is going to do in the years to come for my family and I.  I see conversion as a continual call as a Christian to take up ones cross and follow Jesus wherever He leads.

I would like to address my anniversary as a Catholic with a different reflection for a moment.  Yes, I have a bias that the Catholic Church is awesome but I am also aware that for many Christians who are not in communion with Rome they have not yet discerned that this is their spiritual home.  So what is the meeting place I should have with Christians of good conscience that are tied to the same basics of the historic Christian faith?

I like Nicea as a meeting point.  What that is for theologians of both the Catholic and Protestant persuasions is where a council took place that elaborated on the Apostles’ Creed.  This was especially a referendum on the theology of who Christ is.

God from God, light from light, True God and True Man begotten not made.  Consubstantial with the Father He came down from heaven and by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary He became man

As Rich Mullins said about this creed, “I did not make it.  No it is making me”.

There could be a reader of what I am writing that still is persuaded that Catholicism is not true Christianity.  For me, that is sad.  I would suggest to all of my Protestant brothers and sisters two points: I have grown closer in my relationship to Jesus Christ in these last several years and that there is more that unites us than divides us.  My love for Jesus and my neighbor has only increased.  My prayer time is better and I have a renewed love for the scriptures in engaging my faith with a good breadth of what the Catholic Church teaches.

Now more than ever, it is important that Christians learn to stand together as we consider the growing wave of persecution against Christianity across the globe.  In fact, last year there was a crucial meeting between Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kiril in Cuba about how to find a defense for their flocks mutually.  This is a good development  when I consider how the one unanswered prayer of Jesus is “that they all be one” (John 17:21). Or in the words of Peter Kraft about ecumenism “Brothers tend to stop fighting when there is a mad man at the door”.

The Nicene Creed addresses four marks of the Church.  These are applicable for discussion whether one sees Church of church in it.  The first is “one” which I addressed above.

The second is “holy”.  This has many facets to it and in light of a recent event it worth exploring particularly with the sacramental point of view.  Recently a lifelong Protestant known as the Bible Answer Man, Hank Hennegraff, was received into the Greek Orthodox Church. Some are editorializing that he has left biblical Christianity.  For me, I admire his courage even though I am a Catholic.  Some may object to my wording but at some point he must have thought , “Here I stand, I can do no other”.  He speaks of theosis which is where Christians partake of the divine nature through communion with Christ.  He connects that in context with the Eucharist particularly.  The sacramental perspective can be verified with an open mind by reading the early church fathers and their interpretation of the New Testament which was written closer to their time than that of the reformers.

There is Catholic and then there is catholic.  Either way, I hope that Christians of good conscience can see that there is a universality to the gospel, how universally it should be proclaimed and universally experienced.

Apostolic can seem like a scary word.  Really, it does not have to be.  When the Pharisees asked Jesus by what authority he said or did things, one could say that this was healthy skepticism.  Who really wants to follow someone who made himself pastor and has a close circle of fans?  How far is that from a cult?  Apostolic succession simply means that one can trace in the authority that hands were laid on them with a sacred imparting of an anointing that started in the upper room when Jesus breathed on his apostles the Holy Spirit to represent the redemptive aspect of Him.  With the Bible Answer Man, he is going to a source that I as a Catholic would affirm has a history of guarding the deposit of faith including in the sacramental expression of Christianity.

But this is not to put down my Protestant history.  It is from my Protestant experiences I can talk about my love for bible memorization, my first zeal in pointing to Jesus and time in prayer.  I am thankful for the pastors and other loved ones that invested into me so much that I am an evangelical still albeit I believe fulfilled in that in the Catholic Church.  With a renewed fervor, I hope that increasingly my Protestant and Orthodox brothers can join me in loving each other as Jesus prayed and telling the world He is risen indeed!

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Rumbles In Tabernacles: Time to Build

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Fighting truth can have two sides of the experience.  First, it is exhausting.  The human condition is mean for truth.  Fighting against it uses odd parts of the mind toward denial is unnatural to the energy of the person and thus such energy is easily dispersed.  But when one begins to surrender to truth, the consequences can seem overwhelming.  I have used an analogy with clients that are in the early stages of addiction recovery.  If you seem like you have 1000 things to manage in the new recovery, imagine that there will be 998 things to learn gradually as new habits and for any moment be mindful of only one or two things at a time.  For some a sigh of relief then comes.  Further, I can come back to the concept that finding your life in recovery is not always comprehended in detail and that is okay.  For especially my male clients that is difficult but the difficulty in itself can be alright.

“The Father and I are one.” The Jews again picked up rocks to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from my Father. For which of these are you trying to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “We are not stoning you for a good work but for blasphemy. You, a man, are making yourself God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods”’?  If it calls them gods to whom the word of God came, and scripture cannot be set aside,  can you say that the one whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world blasphemes because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize [and understand] that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10: 30-38)

The Father and I are one.-  This is articulated later in the Nicene Creed (325 AD) “God from God, light from light, true God and true man consubstantial with the Father, you came down from heaven”.  Jesus is not just a flamboyant provocateur, but brings them to what I call a mix between an appetizer and an invitation.  We can see more of the context to this encounter in what Jesus prays with his apostles months later in what is called the high priestly prayer of Jesus.

I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me (John 17:20-21).

You, a man, are making yourself God-  From their perspective, this is a valid argument.  They perceive Jesus as putting himself down.  What they do not know is that in the final year of Jesus’ ministry he predicted several times that he would be crucified after being betrayed.  Again, Jesus can be seen as living to give.

Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods”’?– Jesus confronts them now not despite their spiritual authority but because of it. Jesus points to how murky their spiritual discernment is and how should have a sober reverence that the shepherding they do represents the full God of Israel.  It is also worth considering that as shepherds they should be able to see more into the significance of the works he does.

A citation from Psalms 82:6.  The psalm is a prayer to Yahweh to punish the corrupt shepherds of Israel.  These leaders, who are charged with teaching and enforcing divine Law, are called ‘gods’ by the Psalmist because of the divine authority they wield over the people.”  (Ignatius Study Bible)

believe the works, so that you may realize [and understand] that the Father is in me and I am in the Father-  God as Father was mentioned 17 times in the Old Testament.  God as Father was mentioned in 17 times in the Sermon on The Mount alone.  Jesus was sent by the Father for redemption and also to reveal His love.

It is worth mentioning the absence of the word miracle” in John.  In Matthew, Mark and Luke it is mentioned many times.  John uses the term “works” in the dialogue but when Jesus would perform what we call a miracle John used those incidents as a larger teaching lesson by calling them signs.  What is the significance of signs?  Sadly, at this time, so little did his critics know.  But much they would soon see in words and deeds.

Below are scriptures that show the signs with commentary for the Church Jesus was building and the salvation history that was being drawn from. Think of what Jesus has been doing as 7 signs for 7 sacraments.

John 2:1-11 Marriage

James 5:2-13 Anointing of the sick.

John 20:21-23. Reconciliation.  With Jesus breathing on them the Holy Spirit, the first men are ordained to forgive in the name of Jesus.   Also please see Matthew 9:1-8. Key point in verse 28 mentioning men plural.  2 Corinthians 2:10.

John  6: 22-59.    Eucharist right after the miraculous feeding of the 5,000

John 9:1-38.     Baptism in the healing of the blind man sent to the pool of Siloam.

John 11:1-46.   Confirmation in the resurrection of Lazarus.

Last would be holy orders as already implied in the John 20:21-23.  Exodus chapter 30 and 40 are reminiscent of the priests of that order being prepared for ministry. Just like Jesus when he washed the feet of the apostles. Such men would be ordained as bones of the Body of Christ as a supporting mechanism to a living tradition of faith that has now lasted nearly 2,000 years.  Jesus started something that will always last and can always give life to those who are open.  The sustained effects are not by the holiness of the messenger or the receiver. There is a simple equation for the holiness of each who is touched by Jesus.  It is the will of God, plus the will of the person in cooperation and equals life everlasting.   There is time to look from the outside but the hope of the gospel is that the one who hears it will taste and see who Jesus with faith in Him for all He said he was.  And from that, to do all of the good works of God’s calling whether of the Church or not.

Rumbles In Tabernacles: Blocks In Eye Of Beholder

stumbling-block-or-stepping-stone-1-638There is a tradition in earlier life in America for doctors to make house calls.  These were especially to follow up on those that were so sick that they could not make it to the office.  Jesus was very much like a doctor except for the whole person including spiritual sickness.  This is not an idea without merit.  I have heard of doctors trained in India on how to treat their patients using the interactions of Jesus as examples on the best doctor-patient engagement.

Jesus made an unwelcome house call on the elite of the temple in Jerusalem.  He had been in Jerusalem a few months before for the week of the official Feast of Tabernacles.  He showed mercy to some and very tough words towards holiness for the elite.  He left off a few months before with the elite that he was the good shepherd.  He picks up from there both in words and action in a festival that was considered by some as another Feast of Tabernacles.  And on this call, Jesus brings medicine with him but with a bitter taste.

Again there was a division among the Jews because of these words. Many of them said, “He is possessed and out of his mind; why listen to him?” Others said, “These are not the words of one possessed; surely a demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?” The feast of the Dedication was then taking place in Jerusalem. It was winter. And Jesus walked about in the temple area on the Portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me. But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” (John 10:19-29).

Again there was a division among the Jews because of these words-  Taking the wording at face value one may see not only the struggle among them but the struggle that may have been inside each of them.  To interpret Jesus for all he intended to be understood is to be anything but indifferent.  The gospels never leave indifference open as an option.  In some reactions to the gospel a refusal may be ironically a first step to a later conversion.

And Jesus walked about in the temple area on the Portico of Solomon- This is no small thing to the first readers of John’s gospel.  When they read this, it was established in Church history that the Portico of Solomon was a gathering place for the early Church as the Book of Acts shows how “ [m]any signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles. They were all together in Solomon’s portico”  (Acts 5:12).

God’s ways were often foreshadowed with “walking about”. Abraham walked about the land of Canaan in a manner consistent with it being promised to him and his descendants. God walked to and fro in front of Moses.  In four months or less, Jesus would be crucified.  Three days later he would rise from the dead.  40 days after the resurrection he ascended to heaven.  50 days later the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and The Son (Filioque) upon the Church.  “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46).  At least for a season, this would be a context of a sheep pen for his flock.  Jesus showed a sign by his “walking about” with a historical context behind him and the Church in front of him.  Or from another point of view Jesus was marking his territory spiritually with every step in that he would undermine the Pharisee traditions with himself.

How long are you going to keep us in suspense?- The elite had already been a little scandalized, now they wanted Jesus to go all the way. This was not because they had spiritual sight, Jesus made that clear, but because they were hungry in part.  At some level, those who were hungry were in pain.

The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me.-  Jesus speaks in the authority of the God of Israel. Sometimes in salvation history action speaks louder than words.

My sheep hear my voice- Jesus has an authority for a special flock which is known later as the Church and is called out for a purpose.  Jesus makes that call.

I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life-  Jesus has said that he had come that he would give them life more abundantly and now he is doing this in the present.  Light for Hannukah is good, but the life of God is better.

No one can take them out of my hand-  Darkness does not overtake Jesus who with his Church is the light of the world.  “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).  The hand of Jesus has a sacramental context that would go from generation to generation by which the Church is built and he still builds “As I am with you always.  Even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

My Father, who has given them to me- A reminder that the source of authority and special community is with the Father’s authority.

…out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one-  As said above, the elite wanted more scandalous talk and Jesus delivers on that.  Two hands involved?  Yes and no.  Jesus lets them know that he and the Father are one in essence.  Scandal and mystery was a stumbling block to the elite.  But to the humble, scandal and mystery are the brick and mortar of the Church.  They are sacred and essential.  Jesus in wishing to fulfill their hunger drops one more spiritual truth in this conversation that is now more scandal than mystery.  Can they handle it?  Can we now? Hungry or not, we have a choice.

There is a tradition in earlier life in America for doctors to make house calls.  These were especially to follow up on those that were so sick that they could not make it to the office.  Jesus was very much like a doctor except for the whole person including spiritual sickness.  This is not an idea without merit.  I have heard of doctors trained in India on how to treat their patients using the interactions of Jesus as examples on the best doctor-patient engagement.

Jesus made an unwelcome house call on the elite of the temple in Jerusalem.  He had been in Jerusalem a few months before for the week of the official Feast of Tabernacles.  He showed mercy to some and very tough words towards holiness for the elite.  He left off a few months before with the elite that he was the good shepherd.  He picks up from there both in words and action in a festival that was considered by some as another Feast of Tabernacles.  And on this call, Jesus brings medicine with him but with a bitter taste.

Again there was a division among the Jews because of these words. Many of them said, “He is possessed and out of his mind; why listen to him?” Others said, “These are not the words of one possessed; surely a demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?” The feast of the Dedication was then taking place in Jerusalem. It was winter. And Jesus walked about in the temple area on the Portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me. But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” (John 10:19-29).

Again there was a division among the Jews because of these words-  Taking the wording at face value one may see not only the struggle among them but the struggle that may have been inside each of them.  To interpret Jesus for all he intended to be understood is to be anything but indifferent.  The gospels never leave indifference open as an option.  In some reactions to the gospel a refusal may be ironically a first step to a later conversion.

And Jesus walked about in the temple area on the Portico of Solomon- This is no small thing to the first readers of John’s gospel.  When they read this, it was established in Church history that the Portico of Solomon was a gathering place for the early Church as the Book of Acts shows how “ [m]any signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles. They were all together in Solomon’s portico”  (Acts 5:12).

God’s ways were often foreshadowed with “walking about”. Abraham walked about the land of Canaan in a manner consistent with it being promised to him and his descendants. God walked to and fro in front of Moses.  In four months or less, Jesus would be crucified.  Three days later he would rise from the dead.  40 days after the resurrection he ascended to heaven.  50 days later the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and The Son (Filioque) upon the Church.  “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46).  At least for a season, this would be a context of a sheep pen for his flock.  Jesus showed a sign by his “walking about” with a historical context behind him and the Church in front of him.  Or from another point of view Jesus was marking his territory spiritually with every step in that he would undermine the Pharisee traditions with himself.

How long are you going to keep us in suspense?- The elite had already been a little scandalized, now they wanted Jesus to go all the way. This was not because they had spiritual sight, Jesus made that clear, but because they were hungry in part.  At some level, those who were hungry were in pain.

The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me.-  Jesus speaks in the authority of the God of Israel. Sometimes in salvation history action speaks louder than words.

My sheep hear my voice- Jesus has an authority for a special flock which is known later as the Church and is called out for a purpose.  Jesus makes that call.

I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life-  Jesus has said that he had come that he would give them life more abundantly and now he is doing this in the present.  Light for Hannukah is good, but the life of God is better.

No one can take them out of my hand-  Darkness does not overtake Jesus who with his Church is the light of the world.  “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).  The hand of Jesus has a sacramental context that would go from generation to generation by which the Church is built and he still builds “As I am with you always.  Even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

My Father, who has given them to me- A reminder that the source of authority and special community is with the Father’s authority.

…out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one-  As said above, the elite wanted more scandalous talk and Jesus delivers on that.  Two hands involved?  Yes and no.  Jesus lets them know that he and the Father are one in essence.  Scandal and mystery was a stumbling block to the elite.  But to the humble, scandal and mystery are the brick and mortar of the Church.  They are sacred and essential.  Jesus in wishing to fulfill their hunger drops one more spiritual truth in this conversation that is now more scandal than mystery.  Can they handle it?  Can we now? Hungry or not, we have a choice.

Rumbles At Tabernacles: A Good Shepherd Enters

sheep-or-shepherdSalvation as a word circulated into our culture has been ranging from catch-phrase to something like a legal fiction.  The word for it in Greek, sozo, was intended to mean impact any of the whole person.  Such a view of the New Testament can indicate how holistic Jesus wants to be as a shepherd.  The Old Testament supports the covenant of God for his people with shepherd language. “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.” (Psalms 23:1).

In this time that Jesus was there for the Feast of Tabernacles, he had done shepherding tasks from a spiritual perspective.  In John 7 he spoke of being the water of life and in John 8 he showed mercy to the woman caught in adultery.  In John 9 Jesus expressed mercy for the blind man who was presumed to be a sinner and used his spit to esteem his dignity and health to the point that this man stood up to religious wolves.  One could say in a way that he anointed that man with something akin to oil so his cup overflowed with grace.  We can see below an emphasis to the depth to Jesus’ love and affection; even to the hard hearted he is addresses here.

So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came [before me] are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.” (John 10:7-18).

I am the gate for the sheep– This refers to Jesus being the center of conversion. Christians remember this in by Christ’s sacrifice.  In the shepherding context of Jesus there is mercy and confidence when one is baptized as the theological normative.

This confidence in Jesus resonated in the Church of the 1st century and beyond.

Therefore, brothers, since through the blood of Jesus we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil, that is, his flesh, and since we have “a great priest over the house of God,” let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water (Hebrews 10:19-22).

Salvation through Jesus in baptism is the typical form and matter in the power of the resurrection.  “This [Noah’s flood] prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). Jesus is the gate and that reverberates through Sacred Scripture and Tradition in fullness.

Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture-  True conversion is for ones eternal life but should also be community.  Church is meant to be a called out community like a town vote.  Sheep are meant to be in community under the shepherd.

I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly- True love is wishing the best for the other.  Where evil wants to take, Jesus comes to give but the cynical mind does not see such grace in all its wonders.

I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep-  We know that God the Father love the world (John 3:16) and Christian belief is that Jesus lived such love every day of his life.

A hired man…. sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away…This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep-  There is an implication to what Jesus is saying for the Pharisees to hear: relax, it gets worse.  In less than a year there would be fully consecrated apostles that would model how a shepherd goes about the Father’s business of sacrificial love and would include keeping the error of wolves out.

I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father- Jesus takes the listener into a heavenly and communal perspective which is integral to the intended Christian life.  Later in John, Jesus prays accordingly in a way that speaks to God’s people being one and holy (John 17).

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd-  Jesus is expansive here with large scale vision. Whether one wants to be a Christian that sees an authoritative Catholic Church or lower case “c” for the same word being just universal, Jesus’ desire for sheep to join the flock is progressive in God’s plan of salvation.

This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again-  Jesus said in John 8 that he was God.  God is love.  Sacrifice without love is unendurable, love without sacrifice is meaningless and Jesus fulfills all under the will of the Father.

This command I have received from my Father-  Jesus came to die to save.  A theme pointed out here is a proposition for a living relationship with Jesus apparent as a command.  We can roll with turning points. God’s commands are not burdensome and those who are humbled always can see the love of God in commands.

God has overlooked the times of ignorance, but now he demands that all people everywhere repent because he has established a day on which he will ‘judge the world with justice’ through a man he has appointed, and he has provided confirmation for all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31).