Charged Forward

wheat barnConversion is often thought as a one time thing.  And thank God, people say, because conversion can cost a lot.  But what if conversion is an ongoing process?  James wrote in his epistle to people who were already Christians that the engrafted word can save their souls (James 1:21).  A theology term used to signify this is ongoing justification.  This is the continual and active surrender to God’s grace.   The heart must be soft for conversion to happen.  Such and approach is then ready for the proposition of change. In the preaching of John the Baptis, he spoke truth to all for change whether they were political  or religious elites or common soldiers in a corrupt system.

I am reminded of a sermon that Abraham Lincoln heard.  The congregation thought it was elegant with lots of flighty words.  When it was over he was asked what he though to which he said it was the worst sermon he had ever heard since it did not challenge him to action.  A call to action was needed for freedom for the slaves but all the more for the world in slavery to sin.  Like Jesus to come, John know that the compassionate thing to do would be to call for hard change or the softness of heart would not be there.   The hope is that among each of those groups were at least some of the soft hearted ready to be challenged.  And maybe, in some cases, the hard of heart become soft.

 I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”  (Matthew 3:11-12).

I am baptizing you with water, for repentance-  This could be getting a blank slate but without the understanding of what one is getting next.  A hard part is that those who went to the Jordan River knew the sins and their pleasures yet they acknowledged need for the kingdom of God.  Such humility had to come with a radical trust in God to handle what comes next.  But they had a reference to go by in the baptism of Moses.  “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1-2).

What Paul communicates about the experience of covenant in the experience of the Israelites is in part that God grants defining moments in relationship to his people through the senses like in the Red Sea.  It can be inferred that Jesus was inspired in part from this as a Jewish man who taught about how one needs to be “born again to enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:3) but some translations say, “born from above”.  Therefore if one is baptized through Jesus into His community rather than the symbolism of John the material and the mystery come together as “baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21). To sum up, the baptism of John or any kind of honesty about ones sins is what you turn away from, which is honorable, but it is in the fulness of turning to Jesus that full salvation exists.   This baptism of John os to stop sin.  What comes in the gospel is that, the forgiveness of sin and having ones lifeline transformed by life that is eternally based.

but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I-  John minimizes his personal power but points to the power in the Messiah instead.  Repentance with Jesus is turning from acts of sin but the freedom in obedience to lift up Jesus.

He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.-  The baptized at the Jordan did not know the theology one can have on the context of those words, but what one could surmise from these words that the Messiah would be a uniter and a purifier. It is interesting the role of the Holy Spirit is described in agricultural terms.  It is because non-life objects like chaff have no seasons but just are.  They are “as is” and not respondent to the ups and downs of seasons. But Jesus indeed gathers his wheat into his barn.  In those days, barns were not seen through an LLC lens but were part of the homestead.  The repentance with John is the blank slate pointing to the need to go home in some manner with this Messiah to come. To convert is to come home.

Not only does the baptized of that day confess sins as a people but confess a hope of belonging in some way and someday with a community. One could imagine that John proclaims the hope of this wheat gathering like an employee of an orphanage helping the children to be ready to be adopted by a good Father.  Wheat grows, consumes and reproduces if gathered in the right place as the living things they are.  Chaff is dead.  The time for repentance from dead works is now so that the wheat, or living works, would be unveiled of God’s sustenance.

This leads me to point to Hebrews 6:2 again on the reference of “repentance from dead works and faith in God”.  The opposite that can hold one back is a false sense of piety and overemphasis on individuality. Furthermore, it would be dependence in ones dead works and faith in self. In other words, ones “chaff”.  The best that could look like would be a form of godliness but not living it and thus denying the fully intended power.

Going forward, much can be attained in living out the knowledge of the difference by leaning on the grace of God as one can also see in Hebrews 6:2 with then “instruction of baptisms and laying on of hands”. These normative steps are the fuller expression of conversion in baptism and being confirmed by the Church in the laying on of hands.   The early Church and the ongoing Church are the wheat barn.  Gathered together  in the Holy Spirit and purified by Christ, we can walk fully in the life of Jesus and know Him by the power of the Holy Spirit in history, mystery and majesty.


Breadcrumbs to Bread: Continuity


No one likes an absentee parent.  Those who by biology are the parents who gave life to the child and walk away.  The term deadbeat seems appropriate because by ditching their responsibilities they deaden a part of their heart.  Ways to be a deadbeat can include detaching themselves from the nurture of the child financially, emotionally and in physical presence that includes protection.

Soon after I became a Christian when I was young, without Christian parents teaching me the faith, I tried to construct an understanding of God’s involvement on the earth.  I heard about “silent years” at times that seemed brief and made sense.  One was not knowing from the Bible what happened with and through Jesus from the ages of 12 to 30.  There was a guess that Jesus lived the life in all appearances of a carpenter guy who knew his Torah well.  I had little problem with that since I got the sense that Jesus’ growth was a model of holiness in itself and people around him that saw it could see something good about that in hindsight.

But the longer periods were hard to swallow if God the Father is not a deadbeat to the people who were in covenant.

After Joseph in Egypt there seemed to be some prosperity and then there was oppression by Pharaoh.  They suffered for 400 years until God appeared to Moses.  Deadbeat there?

Not at all.  During the generation that they were prospering, and after, they kept alive the covenantal understanding of what God had done with their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They also carried an important understanding of the involvement of the wives involved and counted their burial ground sacred.  When God does show up he reveals himself to Moses and to Israel as the God of the above named.  Also they were really into having babies to be in the position of getting into the land someday and filling it with their flesh and blood if they could be free.  God was silent indeed but their covenant based prayers were not and God tells Moses they their cries had reached him (Exodus 3).  Although it was hard, the lesson is that their being fruitful and believing in the covenant was a conversation with God where words and actions spoke equally loud.  Enough that Pharaoh hated that light of increasing population and slaughtered their toddler boys.

Then as I went to bible studies I heard that their was another four hundred years of silence after the minor prophet Malachi until Jesus arrives on the scene.  The deadbeat dad feel was disturbing to me there as I perceived the deist “God on the other side of the universe” in play where wisdom and miracles cease for Israel of any divine intervention worth noting.  Particularly disappointing is that in salvation history there was nobody with delegated authority from God there.

But then I discovered the Catholic Church and the seven books of the Bible that were taken out in the Protestant “Reformation”.  In that I realized that there were virtually no eras in those centuries without miracles, wisdom or prophecy that prepares the way for Jesus from Moses on.  And of great importance was some kind of a set spiritual authority.

There was some insight on this from Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz (Mishnah, Sayings of the Fathers, 1943) “The Jews have always maintained that, along with the Law of Godwritten on stone, the oral Law or tradition was also passed down through succession from Moses.  The ancient oral tradition of the Jews was codified in the Mishnah, which states, “Moses received the Torah on Sinai, and handed it down to Joshua; Joshua to the elders; the elders to the prophets; and the prophets handed it down to the Men of The Great Assembly…Simon the Just was one of the last survivors of the Great Assembly. He used to say, ‘Upon there things the world is based: upon the Torah, upon Divine service, and upon the practice of charity.’ “

And then there was the next period of God seeming to be a deadbeat: supposedly within generations after the apostles died, the gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased and any earthly based rule of faith outside of the Bible ceased.  In fact, no authentic Christianity existed until God’s great “Reformation Fathers” arose in protest to that dusty man-made institution in Rome, founded by Constantine in the 4th century was confronted.  The true, pure Christianity was rediscovered by these great men.

A few intellectual problems were there in some of my formation hear as well as my assumptions. These problems screamed at my much later in my Christian life.

1: The Great Apostasy happened in 325 AD.  No valid Christianity until the 1500’s.

2: Yet in the late 390’s the New Testament canon of scripture was finalized.

That takes mental gymnastics right there.  First, how are we to respect the canon of the NT if it was put together over 60 years after the great falling away and long before the “Reformation”?

There was was still something else that was confusing to me in the words of Jesus.  For someone to consider Jesus as Lord they are choosing that as truth over him being Liar, Lunatic or Legend or a combination of the latter three.  I chose Jesus because he said he would be crucified, rise from the dead and draw all men to himself.  I believed he did all of the above and that the Holy Spirit empowered the apostles to teach and work with authority including for some of them to writer inspired scripture (ironically Protestant minister RC Sproul calls the Bible “A fallible list of infallible books”).

But another prophecy of Jesus was not being fulfilled if the Great Apostasy was true.  Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.”

For continuity to work there has to be a continued line of authority like the Mishnah alluded to above.  And it was implied based on church history classes I took in a non-denominational church I went to.  There were heresies that were fought against.  Thank God for the Bible!  Except these heresies were refuted before the Bible was established.  Some more confusion there.

But after all of the gymnastics are done with this part of church history at last the heroes come that renew the true Christianity like Martin Luther and John Calvin.  The problem that plagued me was that it is difficult to see salvation history being put on track by someone who was so openly anti-semitic. I did not want to believe it when as a Christian senior in high school a speaker at my school on the holocaust mentioned “On The Jews And Their Lies”.  He was actually a visiting professor from a Lutheran university.  Here is an excerpt.

“My advice, as I said earlier, is: First, that their synagogues be burned down, and that all who are able toss sulphur and pitch; it would be good if someone could also throw in some hellfire...Second, that all their books– their prayer books, their Talmudic writings, also the entire Bible- be taken from them, not leaving them one leaf, and that these be preserved for those who may be converted…Third, that they be forbidden on pain of death to praise God, to give thanks, to pray, and to teach publicly among us and in our country…Fourth, that they be forbidden to utter the name of God within our hearing. For we cannot with a good conscience listen to this or tolerate it…The rulers must act like a good physician who, when gangrene has set in proceeds without mercy to cut, saw, and burn flesh, veins, bone, and marrow. Such a procedure must also be followed in this instance. Burn down their synagogues, forbid all that I enumerated earlier, force them to work, and deal harshly with them. If this does not help we must drive them out like mad dogs.”

Based on the facts above, Luther should not be called a latter apostle of grace.  Not only did Luther not respect the dignity of the Jewish people but he even threw out 7 books of the Old Testament.  His justification was that he was going by what the Jews in Europe told him were canonical who in turn based that opinion on a Jewish rabbinical school in Jambria in the 90’s AD.  So on that he honors what Jews have to say?  On scholastic opinion at the end of the apostolic age?

There is further signs that Luther was not the herald of continuity of pure Christianity.  He was famous for his “5 Sola’s”.  One was Sola Fide which is Latin for faith alone.  He was so sure of his doctrine that he added the German word alone in his Bible translation of Galatians 3:28.

But I will return to the subject at hand. If your papist wishes to make a great fuss about the word sola (alone), say this to him: “Dr. Martin Luther will have it so, and he says that a papist and a donkey are the same thing.” Sic volo, sic iubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas. (2) For we are not going to be students and disciples of the papists. Rather, we will become their teachers and judges.

Let this be the answer to your first question. Please do not give these donkeys any other answer to their useless braying about that word sola than simply this: “Luther will have it so, and he says that he is a doctor above all the doctors of the pope.” Let it rest there. I will from now on hold them in contempt, and have already held them in contempt, as long as they are the kind of people (or rather donkeys) that they are.

Do you feel the love?  So with the authority invested into himself, Luther states, “I know very well that in Romans 3 the word solum is not in the Greek or Latin text — the papists did not have to teach me that. It is fact that the letters s-o-l-a are not there.

So if Martin Luther is addressing himself against a body of teachers that are equally arrogant and of no higher authority than him then it is the Protestant scholars fallible interpretation against those of the Catholic side.

But history does not inform us this way.  Ireneus lists the order of the bishops of Rome until his time at the brink of the 3rd century with a primacy assigned to them.  The aforementioned canonization of the Bible that went through an ecumenical council at Hippo in 393 and Carthage in 397 was not ratified until the Bishop [Pope] Donasus in Rome declared it in 402.  This is because he was a successor to Simon Peter to whom Jesus said he would receive the keys and would be able to bind and loose which was a rabbinical term for declaring truth in faith and morals.

In coming back to the orphan point it is worth noting this scripture where Jesus is addressing his apostles,  “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you…The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you” (John 14:18, 26).

Suffice it to say, as a former Protestant who has come to the Catholic Church, I can say with confidence that Jesus leaving the Holy Spirit is on the individual and the church level in the sense of the one church that he founded and has protected from error for 2,000 years.

But the default mission in the continuity of the Church with evangelistic mission.

 Go, therefore,[l] and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.[m] And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

I hope I have not offended any of my Protestant readers out there.  I see God’s glory in your fellowships and that people are truly coming to a relationship with Jesus Christ.  In fact, my formation as a follower of Jesus for many years was in Protestant churches including a discipline for prayer and reading the Bible and standing up for righteous causes.  But the same council in Nicea of 325 that defined Jesus was 100% God and 100% man also declared “one, holy Catholic and apostolic church”.  I hope somewhere out there is someone that will join with the Father’s will in all its fullness.

Truth and history have consequences.  I pray for my Protestant readers that they ask of God what I did when I was in the season preceding the first insight into the Catholic Church, “Your kingdom come”.  You may find, like I did, that it never left because Jesus through the Catholic Church is with us unto the end of the age.

Recommended Reading:

Pope Fiction by Patrick Madrid

Upon This Rock by Steven Ray

The Fathers Know Best by James Akin

Reasons to Believe by Scott Hahn

Misunderstood At The Family Table


One two sides of opposing points of view try to communicate, there can be difficulties in finding the right rules of the road

Several months ago I had an interesting interchange with a woman at an ecumenical (of the nature of unifying between Christian groups) event.  There were speakers from different faith communities as well as singers.  One of the facilitators of the event asked for all of us to turn to someone we did not come with, introduce yourselves including church background and pray for each other.

The woman I paired with went first and described how she was formerly in my kind of of faith community and now was in a different one.  She described the hand of God in her life as she awakened spiritually when becoming active in the new community.  I responded essentially in turn except it as reverse:  I am a former Protestant who now identifies himself as Catholic.  If I was not speaking to her in an ecumenical event I could describe myself as still evangelical but fulfilled as a Catholic.

But this event was not mean for such wording.  The setting had the emphasis of uniting in common simplicity.  As much as I have zeal about being a Catholic I needed to respect other principles at play.

One thing that helped me from blurting out something not appropriate is that did not want to minimize her testimony that showed the Lord’s fruit.  After some years of not being active as a Catholic she found Jesus in a different setting and was revitalized.  Am I generally biased that she would be better off in the Roman Catholic Church?  Well, yes.  But what Christian is not biased about what faith community you are in?  Generally the ones that have no fuel in their fire staying our of fellowship and following Jesus in a way that is right in their own eyes.  Now that would be a horrible place to be and in some ways I have been there.  So with that nature of Christ in the backdrop we prayed for each other and she shared some words for me that she felt inspired by the Holy Spirit to say that I discerned to be from the Lord.

I have written that a scandal for the Body of Christ is that we are divided though Jesus prayed we be one.  Two people at a time, one family at a time I believe the fire of descandalizing is burning through the earth.  My sister in Christ followed a good rule of thumb by conceding for one day that the other person was right where the Lord wanted them.

But what if there is a bias from one side that there is not a present basis of unity?  In a prig blog post I wrote about the Nicene Creed being a good rallying point for unity or limus test for basic orthodoxy.

For some Christians that is not enough.  For instance, there was a semi-schism in the Catholic Church in the 1940’s that proclaimed that if one who was a non-Catholic Christian was not in full communion with the Catholic Church thus are not in God’s grace.  The pope at that time warned them to repent, they refused and were excommunicated.  On the Protestant side there are respected teachers like John Macarther who proclaim that Catholics have another gospel and only weeks after Pope John Paul II had died joked that he was in hell.  Both of these anecdotes are sad and indefensible.

So where there are growing pains in ecumenical discussion I have some suggestions for rules of the road on perception and communication.

I see dead people

If one wants to they can find martyrs on their side at the hands of the other.  Some of these points of history are facts and some of them due not hold up to scrutiny.  But if they facts of murder, hypocrisy or other sins really happened be humble.  Because among Catholics and Protestants there are plenty of anecdotes to go around.  If one looks through materials that are neutral or from the other side of the debate there will be some inconvenient points found.

Reliable teaching source

Go to the original sources of the other side is teaching as doctrine.  Going by what someone says is their doctrine, especially if it is second or third hand, is not a reliable way to see who teaches heresy.  For my faith community it is The Catechism of The Catholic Church.  If someone says something contradicting it and calls themselves a Catholic they are either poorly formed in Catholicism or are being untruthful in some way.  One person by themselves does not speak for 1,2 billion people unless you count the pope but many catholics are “cafeteria”.

A Matter of Language

Christians in the same language may speak very different dialects of “Christianese”.  So if one is alarmed by the wording of the other side, they should seek out the definition of that alarming wording in the mind of the speaker.  For example, thousands of times per day police officers “pray” to the judge.  Do they worship him?  No, they petition the judge with a old style wording of prayer.  So do the Catholics who ask for the intercession.  But in the Protestant dialect, of which I am fluent, it sounds like Mary is a goddess. There were indeed some in the 4th century who offered sacrifices to Mary but they were excommunicated by the Catholic Church.

Benefit of the doubt

This next part may cut very close to home for some readers. If one is an ex-Catholic turn Protestant or vice-versa, you may have friends and relatives who see you as “fallen away” and with that may seem overbearing.  Be patient.  There can be assumed to be some to great sincere belief on their part that if you are no in their exact kind of Christian fellowship that you are missing something. Remember that their bias is sincere and they must love you a lot or they would not be concerned.  Thank them for their concern and ask that they pray for you to discern God’s will for your life continually.

Yes, unity among Christians is a work in progress.  I believe however that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and all will be well.  Let us all, whether Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant listen to the Master’s voice.

Suggested link

Pigs and Dogs and Returnees

Pigs and dogs

I have wondered what the opposite is of loving money but keeping the affection to a virtue or thing that we experience on earth.  It would have to be really good if it is the perfect opposite of the love, or lust, of money.  With the verse I am writing about today I come up with the great pursuit and treasure of what can be experienced on earth: God’s holiness.

This is where Jesus is coming in as the Sermon of The Mount is coming to a close.  It should be noted that as Jesus is nearing the end of this sermon there is a more intentional groundwork for the disciples hearing it so that they will have an informed discipleship conscience that syncs with the sacramental life of the Church that will emerge.

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:6).

Jesus wants a hedge of protection around the Church.  That which is holy must retain its value.  Would like it if a billion dollars rained down on Phoenix tomorrow?  Sure!  I would be ecstatic! Until I tried to  buy my favorite car with my handful of cash and it costs $30,000,000.

The early Church had something to say about this verse in the Didache.  Historians place the date of this document typically no later than the turn of the 2nd century and as early as the 40’s.

“Allow no one to eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptized in the name of the Lord. For concerning this, the Lord has said, ‘Do not give what is holy to dogs’ ” (Didache 9:5).

Is this mean?  No.  It is not against any group of people because being a wanderer like a dog or self-indulgent like a pig, in view of the Church, was an equal opportunity state to be in.  Jesus is for holiness always and wants it to be hemmed in properly.  Someone that has been baptized is not a wanderer but has been found and adopted and transformed fundamentally through baptism.

“And even though our gospel is veiled, it is veiled for those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 4:3).

or throw your pearls before swine—-I can only guess, but I know in 1 Corinthians 3 Paul speaks of our works being tested in the fire of God at the end of the age.  These could be considered ones good works.  Good works are fine, but casting them out to the be noticed by man more than God is operating the gifts of God for the wrong reasons.  Another “pearl” that the Christian could see in this verse is the general experience of the mystical in the Christian life.  To live more fully as a Christian is to live in the great mystery of being a disciple of Jesus.  To pass this on to the self-indulgent who want gratification of the flesh and want it now is unrealistic and a setup for being crushed.

So have you been baptized? Great!  But if you are living in the flesh more than spirit, then like a pig was not be consumed in the nation of Israel of the old covenant, neither are you to be consumed or to consume in the Eucharist.

But to be cleansed from piggishness?  That is different. “If we say, ‘We are without sin,’ we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing” (1 John 1:8-9).

There is always hope for even the worst sinner. In 1 Corinthians there was a young man sleeping with his step-mother.  Paul took exception to that and he was cast out.  But the young man repented and with the same zeal Paul spoke out that he was to be received back.  The young man did not like living out of his spiritual home.  One could say he was tired of acting like a pig.

Or take the Prodigal Son.  His rock bottom had him in the mud with the actual pigs.  But he knew where his father’s house was and did something about it.  He came back repentant and regained the wholeness of his inheritance.  He received gifts from his father that spoke of authority (the ring), favor (the robe), good footing for the future (a Greek word for fancy shoes was used for that part),  a slain, fatted lamb (communion) and a party (a group celebration of reconciliation).  These do not belong to a prodigal in the pig pen but they do belong to the child of God who comes home.

And for me there is a renewal for my coming home at least each Sunday.  As a part of the liturgy I say each week before receiving the Eucharist, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.  But only say the words and my should shall be healed.”

If there was no scandal to me stealing from orphans, being unrepentant about it and “getting” the Eucharist then what would be holy about the gifts of God?  I would be my own God and the Church would be an afterthought or self-generated goose bump.  But by the grace of God, I know who He is and know what I am not.  And so I ask Jesus to say the words….

Mercy In The Time of Ferguson


I have been pondering how to express something about forgiveness for a while.  I hardly think I am a wellspring in myself of ideas on this.  I have heard that forgiveness is the most powerful force in the world.   It is considered a nice virtue by people that may or may not consider themselves spiritual.  I kept thinking I should be able to put something together.

But it didn’t feel right.  Maybe it was because I would be putting something out there that is a beautiful thing with too much intellectual take. Truth expressed without a context is just dust in the wind.

As of this week, Ferguson gives us a context.  The context is outrage.  It is hurt in the heart that is added on to generations of wrongdoing in the sad story of race relations.  For the readers who perceive the lack of indictment as justified, please forget that for a moment and think about how we are all on a journey to walk in grace as we were created to.   The healing begins as one walks in that grace by withholding wrath that we feel entitled  to dispense.

So this brings us to a hill 2,000 years ago when an itinerant rabbi says his piece about extending mercy in place of wrath.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”

Keep in mind, that he was speaking as a Jew among Jews in their land oppressed for a long time by the Romans.  There was room for a big grudge but Jesus never spoke that way.  He called for something better.

For those who are sympathetic to the protesters, think again.  What kind of mercy do you want?  When have you blown it in a small way or big one?  We want to have a clean slate but the sayings of Jesus challenge us to want that for others and especially those who have hurt us the most and the most times.  How often are we supposed to forgive someone that hurts us personally?  Seventy times seven which is really infinity.  As a social worker I am trained to see groups by the system they form themselves into, the story of their lives and the identities they make from it all.  But as one who considers himself a Christ follower, I have to ask both sides, can we do better beginning with the power of forgiveness?

We may not like to forgive others.  But we dislike even more to be unforgiven by others when we seek it in tears.  What have you got to lose besides shame and regret? The ultimate source of mercy is a God who is far above the fray of this life, knows are faults and is there for the mercy to us if we will participate warts and all.  What is stopping us?

If We Eat Humility For Breakfast Part I



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.  



Suffering Under A Microscope


When we hear about following in someone’s footsteps, we think of doing that in the context of what is good for the follower’s well being. Maybe it is success in being a good parent, friend or worker.  We basically want to do better and not through a road of suffering.  


Simon Peter was schooled otherwise.  He had just been promoted to pope by Jesus when he tries to straighten out Jesus from this crazy idea of going to the cross.  Jesus straightens him out instead.  About a few months later, Jesus tells Peter that he would have his own path of martyrdom.  He would carry the standard of the life-changing good news of God’s love into this life and the next with a signature of words and blood.  By the time Peter is older, he has grown to embrace suffering for God and His ways as a blessing and not a curse.  



1 Peter 2:20-25

20 For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval

I do not like the words “when you do right and suffer”.  But truth is non-negotiable for those who want to walk in both love and truth.  The fact is that if you consistently want to do right with God as your audience, some of the decisions you make will not be popular. It will be popular to help the homeless, but it will not be popular to say that they only way to the Father is through Jesus.  We sometimes have to choose God’s approval and endure guilt trips or far worse in a culture flooded with what Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger calls “the tyranny of moral relativism”.  

because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

“Should” is another word that I would not like to see or just water down with “it must mean something else in the Greek”.  But the Bible says often that we should expect to suffer as a means to being in step with Jesus’ identity.  A few are “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phillipians 3:10-11). Another is “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10-11).  

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.

Yes, suffering for the scandal of following Christ is bad in the moment but it gets better and starting in this life.  That is, if we will embrace the richness of being spiritually blessed (Ephesians 1:3).   

For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

Peter may be mentioning this because of the nature of free will and taking for granted how Jesus relates to us through our sufferings.  What we learn in all of this passage that should ground his readers and us are three things.  

1: Jesus has suffered for us and knows how we feel.  He is not asking us to suffer where He had it easy.  

2: We have returned to Jesus by his distinct call.  This is two-fold because Jesus said that His sheep know His voice but also in a community context.  The Church is the ekklesia and the Greek for that is split up in meaning to be a called out community unto a purpose.  Our Shepherd calls us to Himself in relationship. 

3:  The Guardian part is loaded.  Some Bible translations use the word Bishop and some Overseer.  Bishop makes sense because He is the Head of the Church Universal.  Overseer makes sense because the original Greek works as a cognate with “over-scope”.  We can experience Jesus being the one who does that “over-scope” every time we come to Him tired of our straying.  The Sacrament of Reconciliation works as something very special that Christ installed through the Magisterium to accomplish that in a community and fuller formation process.  

So what are we waiting for?  We are not called to be masochists but when those times comes to suffer of Jesus, let’s remember who called us, the life of holiness He called us to, and let the redemptive nature of suffering work though us unto our Lord.