Day 1- Humbled Together

The BeginningWhat is the classic conversion story regarding faith?  Is there such a thing?  Can it be run “by the numbers” like a formula?  In Christianity, there are patterns of surrender, but it is best not to see it through a mechanical lens.

An important factor is that Jesus never shamed anyone towards the surrender of conversion.  Shame does not work since it is sort of another flavor for fear and the scriptures teach us that, “perfect love pushes out fear” (1 John 4:12).  Shame and legalism complicate the search for Jesus in ways that take us from simplicity, or in other words, the basics of love.

There is a story I like about the famous American football coach Vince Lombardi.  His team lost a game once that he felt would not have got away from them if they had stayed rooted in the fundamentals of the game.  He then had the next several days full of drills that a high school foot ball team would do.  The re-rooting had to happen.  One can be refreshed on the mission by renewing their perspective of what started them on mission.  Love is the basics and at the heart of the mission.

Such was the case for Jesus the winter before the Cross.  He had been in Jerusalem twice in the last three months or so.  Shame and legalism were the themes of his adversaries and they rejected his love out of principle.

He went back across the Jordan to the place where John first baptized, and there he remained.  Many came to him and said, “John performed no sign, but everything John said about this man was true.” And many there began to believe in him (John 10:40-42).

The Jordan River was full of  the meaning of conversion for the Jewish people.  Just as Moses parted the Red Sea in leaving Egypt, Joshua parted the waters of the Jordan as the people of Israel entered the Promised Land.  It had been seen as a place of going from slavery to the full benefits of being children of promise.  Being children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob meant a context of covenant with God as a person.  To go from one level of relationship with God to a higher one is part of what covenant means.  It means more than “What I have is yours” but “I am yours”.  In the thoughts and feelings of Jesus one can imagine in this later stage of his public life something like nostalgia on how he began ministry before at the baptism by John.  That was where a model of Christian conversion began to be lived out and modeled in one fateful week in part by Jesus himself.

Three years before, the soil of John’s ministry was a prime place for Christ and the community he founded and would begin its foundation in an act and sign of repentance.  One could call the people being baptized as going to the “Church of John” in that with his baptism they were saying they loved God more than their sins and were ready for God’s kingdom to come in fulness. This was a hunger for God’s grace that they could come and receive while putting aside the dirt of the weary journey. The baptism of repentance is good in an admitted need for God.  It is like the 12 Step model in admitting that you have become powerless and cannot manage your life alone. It is even admitting your wrongs and their very nature.  Such admission is the beginning of wisdom but not conversion in fulness: a conversion of the heart.

For Christ and his followers, this had other contexts and those contexts were of fulfillment partly in experiencing the beginnings of the Church which Jesus would found.  Jesus was proclaimed by John to be the Lamb of God and baptizer in the Holy Spirit.  Some who saw him being baptized heard a voice in the baptism that this was the Son of God.  It was in this scene that some began to believe in him and among them two who would become apostles.

Of the pilgrims mentioned above, it is worth considering what they were thinking.  John said that Jesus must increase and he would decrease.  That was significant but still lacked something.  There were no stumbling blocks in the crowd in Jordan.  They had not heard the harder truths yet.  They also did not know what it would be like to have a continued relationship personally with Jesus in tandem with such hard truths.  Does that make their belief in Jesus meaningless?  Not necessarily.  It just means that they believed with obedience to the point that they could with what they knew.  But the call of the price of discipleship would come soon enough like it does to anyone who takes the daring step of seeing Jesus as more than just a nice guy to believe in a savior like hero.  The core message of Christianity is that Jesus is Lord.

One can look at the epistle to the Hebrews which speaks of the foundations of personal conversion, encountering God in His covenantal nature and eternal view.  Below is a general outline for salvation from ones conversion into eternity within in the context of community.

“Therefore, let us leave behind the basic teaching about Christ and advance to maturity, without laying the foundation all over again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, instruction about baptisms and laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. (Hebrews 6:2)

So what is it like to do those things in an experience that is ideal and clear?  One can see in other scenes in the gospels how a conversion to Jesus is murky with condemnation and cynicism.  What I will address next are ways Jesus can show up when the heart of the person is ready, the context is ideal and still have healthy skepticism come along for the ride.  With that in mind, I concentrate on the first 7 days  where Jesus sheds the garb of a carpenter and steps up in the public favor of the Father and models conversion for the world to follow.

To be clear on theology, Jesus was not a convert.  But Jesus made a point in these first days of going public to show what conversion looks like.  The unveiling of Jesus as the wisdom and power of God is not an enigma but a mystery that the humble can always at least get the gist of.  One such humble person was John son of Zechariah baptizing people along the Jordan River.  To a great extent, if one gets his lens, one greatly gets who Jesus is and offers.  It is that Jesus atones for the sins of the world.  Even the worst.

  In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea [and] saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” …… At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. (Matthew 3:1,5).

Repent- A wise man with a dramatic addiction recovery story said that if he meets someone like he used to be that has a history of bad character and cannot describe their own turning point then he hesitates to trust them.  Conversion is a choice and is a turning point.

the kingdom of heaven is at hand!–  Conversion is towards a constant relationship that it rooted in heaven.  It is not about politics, culture or any other schemas that humans conjure up.  God is above the fray and his purest state of kingdom starts and ends in heaven but can be grasped on earth.

baptized by him…. as they acknowledged their sins-  Conversion is a redemption process and is meant for a healthy community context.  The call to Christ, is a call to community.  It is no surprise that in many early Christian communities the norm was for some to stand up to confess sins and receive the grace of the forgiveness in the name of Christ at a church meeting.  Even looking at today in 12 Step meetings there is a confessional quality as someone says “I am…..and I am a(n)…. “  While 12 Step is an honest program, Christianity is more than that.

To know the call of Jesus is to have the norm of knowing that call from honesty into change.  In that, we can all be works in progress. Such is the beauty of the Savior’s work on all who seek him in a community of loved sinners coming out of the shame of our failings.  We are all hungry for that even if we do not know it.

Come, See and Stay at The Well Part I

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There can be many points of bias that one can have in spiritual seeking whether they are honestly skeptical or even a cynic.  In this line of study in doubt and inquiry in an encounter with Christ there is something to be appreciated for those who are marginalized from a societal influence that makes them think that by the group they belong to or what they have done that Jesus as Savior need not apply.  It would be almost like a given that a message like a goodness that is “up there” cannot be projected “down to” the one who feels marginalized.  Case in point to be seen below in one woman who felt unworthy for the reasons above of Jesus’ friendship and attention.  I should also point out that the Christian message is that Jesus is the same always.

A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the well is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.”  The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”  Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her, “I am he,the one who is speaking with you.”

At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you talking with her?” The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?” (John 4:7-29).

Come 

A woman of Samaria came …”“How can you, a Jew…?”— Here is a socially based assumption.  Then and now there are assumptions in cultures about Christianity and even about Jesus due to a lack of good representation of the basics of Jesus and lack of universality in the representation by Christians.  A clash of Jesus and one who is alienated through such suppositions is not inherently bad.  In this scene Jesus can especially see conflict as an opportunity for a proposal of sorts.

you do not even have a bucket and the well is deep; where then can you get this living water?— Here is a part of the dialogue where they are sort of speaking past each other.  The woman thinks only by a natural terms but Jesus speaks in spiritual life.

The key term is life with a definition analogously informed by biology.  Definitions of a life include eating, growing and reproducing.  For this life to dwell and overflow means that she can be touched by the life of Jesus and that this life can extend through her to others.  Later that day this seems to play out.

Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.

This is a baby step to conversion.  She is taking a step that Jesus can do something life changing but limits it to only changing her physical circumstance.

This points to two thinking errors.  The first is motivated by her basic needs taking precedence.  The second is that Jesus will make her literal well give endless water just for her like the earth should literally revolve around her.  The gospel has good and bad news: God loves us and has a plan for our lives that we should submit to but the bad news is that it is not all about us individually.  That said, at least she is starting to see Jesus as being able to deliver something though with limitations.

I do not have a husband—  This is a moral turning point in being encountered by Jesus. As a person or a group gets engaged with the gospel it should be known that the message of God’s kingdom, though of grace, puts our lifestyle on trial.  In a post-Christian culture the rhetoric gets only better and better at putting objective moral values on trial.  Yet, the Christian Church of the 1st century was known to be “the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).  Objective moral truth can be put on trial, albeit wrongfully.

But there is even more of an increase in her faith emerging in the encounter that is good.  She did not yet know all of Jesus’ capabilities and could have lied.  She could have said that her “husband” was away on a trip.  What is implied is the beginnings of confessing how messed up her life has become.  She is starting to slowly rip the band-aid off.  But Jesus picks up the pace.

Conversion Hindsight

Entering Catholic Church

I need to interrupt my series on Sermon on The Mount.  It seems appropriate to me to reflect this Easter on what my life is like since the big change.  Not a sex change operation.  Not a marriage situation.  A lot less of a change than that but some would say more.

For those of you who are new to my blog, I became a Catholic at Easter Vigil 2013 in Wickenburg, Arizona.  This was after considering myself a lifer Protestant for thirty years.  I had been in several denominations and one underground church.  My direct formation had included periods of discipleship from godly men and a semi-formal theological institution at a good church that I went to for several years at Living Hope Fellowship in Aloha, Oregon.  For a few years I was educated in theology, biblical hermeneutics and church history.  With the richness of those experiences, one would think that would stay a Protestant.

But being a Protestant was not enough.  After my wife and I left a great church in Portland when we moved to the suburbs, something seemed to be missing.  I had these occasional “bread crumbs” that I was not getting resolved.  Where is there a solid, unifying stance on social issues in Christianity?  Why did communion always seem to have something missing?  Why is there so much division?  And one question that I always had was: How can Christianity reclaim the lost,mysterious truths of the 1st century?

When we had moved to Arizona for a few months, I had some inexplicable obsession on the Lord’s Prayer.  It was so much in my head that it felt like a touch of insanity.  All I could pray was something like, “God, get this out of my head or show me your kingdom!”

One fateful night I stumbled on a show while channel surfing called, “Genesis to Jesus”.  It was a bible study led by Dr. Scott Hahn that traced patterns through the bible that anticipate both the coming of Jesus as Messiah and also The Catholic Church with it’s expression of grace and truth in the sacraments.  I went to many resources on the internet soon including from Protestant websites that presupposed that Catholics do not live a Christian life.  I prayed for God’s wisdom and really tried to “play both sides of the chess board”.  God won out and His leading has been the Catholic Church.  I was received in 2013 and my wife was received in 2014.

So what has changed concretely in how I live my life?

In the words of Catholic concert from Protestantism, “I get to know my sins are forgiven”.  This is not to say that I could not ask God for forgiveness before.  But in the sacrament of reconciliation unveiled in Sacred Scripture (Matthew 9:28, John 20:21-23, James 5:14-15) and Sacred Tradition there is a more holistic experience of God’s forgiveness.  Let me be clear on one point: I do not confess my sins to a priest instead of God.  I confess to God, occasionally, through a priest because when I sin it is against God and the Body.  God is not lessened but magnified.

That brings me to another aspect: Mary.  She said “my soul magnifies the Lord”.  When i reflect on Mary and ask for her intercession as the Queen of Heaven (Revelation 12:1-6) my appreciation of Jesus in the Incarnation and Atonement is only more well rounded which includes that the Kingdom is not “an old boys club”.  Starting with Mary, and not only because of her, I would say that the Catholic Church is the most feminist organization in the world.  And I say that with complete confidence as a masters level social worker.

And as a social worker I can turn to social issues. There is not enough space in one blog to address this property.  Suffice it to say that I appreciated Humanae Vitae and the parts of Theology of The Body that I have read.  The phrases that stand out in my years as a Catholic are the life and dignity of the human person and “We are called to love people and use things, not love things and use people”.  This ethic full explained has helped me to be more consistently pro-life, pro-traditional marriage and even to be less of a conservative Republican regarding immigration.

Speaking of humanity, there is two more portions of humanity that have been effected by my wife and I coming into the Catholic Church: Josiah and our unborn daughter yet to be named.  We were content with the game plan of having our two kids together my previous three.  But looking into the limitations couples put on the blessing of children stirred something in my wife first when she was not yet joining me in discerning the Catholic Church.  As of August I will hold in my arms by seventh child.

So, yes, I am glad to be Catholic.  The scary part in my research process was that I was not entirely sure what I was losing and what I was gaining. I can say that I am still an evangelical  and charismatic and definitely “a Bible Christian” (The Catholic Church ratified the canon of Sacred Scripture).  What I gained was the Church founded by Jesus, maintained from error on faith and morals and as universal as John 3:16’s words imply.  I am just glad to have hopped aboard and off the “protest”.

Recommended Websites:

http://www.catholicscomehome.org

http://www.catholic.com

http://www.instituteofcatholicculture.org

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? 

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.