Lens of Law or Lens of Love

worldview eyeball

Years ago there was a brilliant man on television that rocked the ratings landscape by beating other prime time competition with a chalkboard, a cape, good stories and a sense of humor.  His name was Bishop Fulton Sheen.  He said many things that were profound but he was always aware that the truth he spoke to was greater than himself.  One year his show “Life Worth Living” won an Emmy award.  He said, “I would like to thank my staff writers.  Mathew, Mark, Luke and John.”

But another point he made was that, unlike leaders of other world religions, Jesus came pre-announced.  One who is a Christian believer would point to Old Testament prophets to illustrate that point.  But if one sees John the Baptist, they see him foretelling the arrival of Jesus and giving the world an introduction.  Looking at his life one can see he did this with the utmost reverence.

A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world,
    and the world came to be through him,
    but the world did not know him.

He came to what was his own,
    but his own people did not accept him (John 6:6-11)

He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him- – If one sees the body of Christianity correctly in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scriptures held up by the Church Jesus later founded, the same goes as a calling for more than one baptizer at a river. The message of Jesus was intended to be more than what is for just one man or through one man.  The eventual community to be founded would be of many witnesses.  “Therefore, we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). 

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world- – If one gets the solid objections of their spiritual life out of the way, then anyone can know Jesus.  There are “if’s” that unfold in the gospels.  If one is born again by Spirit and water (John 3:3).  If you believe and are baptized. 

He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him- – This is a tragic paradox.  Jesus was coming to the Jewish people who had historically know divinity but through thunder, clouds and earthquakes.  God is shown here in the Son, Jesus Christ, as too simple to be true to religious tastes common to them at that time.  But in the beginning, the world was made by Jesus as the Logos or the expressed wisdom of eternity that stepped into time first to create more than the Jewish people but the whole world.  In another way of speaking, in their disconnected form of religion that was contrary to the light and intimacy God wants to have with mankind they knew of God but did not naturally get Him.  But ready or nor, here he comes on the Jordan River and today in ways to be received objectively and subjectively. 

The key to “getting” Jesus is not through the lens of the Law but through the lens of love. It is to be experienced in material contexts and contextualized by a growing movement of articulated grace and truth that sprouts from the nature of Jesus (John 1:17).  To move forward in investigating the text of scripture is to not to lose a healthy context of the latter. Yes, the gospel is bigger than any one of us. 

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Shedding Light On The Subject

Light In A Maze

“Ignorance is bliss” so the saying goes.  People love to say that not knowing those things that bring a dark view of life are not worth knowing.  But knowledge needed for a painful but needed change can be good from a more objective point of view.  In the human experience one can look back to painful change that came from knowledge that we are appreciative of.  The ignorance comes for often better change but by choice.  The dominant culture we live in allows for change with knowledge but with a caveat that “that’s good if it works for you…but don’t force your views on me” or something like that. 

But religion comes in as a contrast in the post-modern thought but it really should not.  The “lig” part of religion has an etymology that speaks of connecting like where ligaments comes from.  Religion is a matter of reconnecting for those that think beyond the materialistic point of view even if but for a moment. 

Christianity has a message for reconnecting with what matters that is objective and above the natural limits of meaning but in different forms of default delivery.  Much has been said about the improvised means of delivering the message of Christianity that has been violence or anecdotes of conversion.  The kernel of meaning on those two basic means of delivering the Christianity are still worth discovering.  From the Christian point of view, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). 

So the first means of the delivery could be considered black coffee in a microwave.  Paul, who had his sudden conversion being blinded by Jesus says later as an apostle that the time for “bliss” is over. 

 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). 

So should we assume that is all that Christianity is?  I would say there is a declaration that we are accountable to the natural law for morals that are revealed with logic that anyone can adapt.  That is why there are very moral atheists and agnostics out there. But we will be judged.  Even though I am a counselor, I believe in guilt trips to a point if they are self-imposed.  Those moments are our spiritual pain crying out to do better.  To think better.  They are a shadow of things to come where we stand before Deity and are judged.  If one is ignorant, that is once thing, but the other?

But there is another means that all mankind can consider and that is in the full, multi-layered presentation of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and the kingdom he founded.  Make no mistake, Paul said the abrupt statement above in the midst of a nuanced discussion where he borrowed from points of light from Plato and pagan deity script to illustrate the truth he presents in Jesus.  But without a printing press, without the gospels having been even written, that was what his audience could get.  Centuries later, we have in Christianity a well developed thought for “Man’s Search For Meaning” that Viktor Frankl approached as well as he did.  It is the message of Jesus that can also be legitimately be expressed as a kingdom based message of a battle won on a cross that is encountered and organically appropriated with initial and ongoing conversion.   

But from what starting point could the most erstwhile seeker begin?  Much of what I write is from the Gospel of John.  He begins with this proposition to the world to believe in Jesus from outside of conventional time and space. What is greatly addressed is a message of connection and it is divine.    

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1-5).  

We know from the first epistle of John that God is love.  One could say then that what was happening was a love exchange that was mysterious, perpetual and reciprocal. 

without him nothing came to be— The word for word is Logos in Greek.  “Ancient Greek philosophers associated the Word with the order and design of the universe or the intelligible expression of the mind of God as he sustains and governs it” (Ignatius Study Bible).  The Word is in transition in relationship to the world as the gospel unfolds in that.  The ISB goes on to states that “this eternal Word, once a mediator of creation, has now become a mediator of salvation through his incarnation”. 

I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.  Of all things visible and invisible.  I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ…. Born of the Father before all ages.  God from God.  Light from Light.  True God and true man.  Begotten not made.  Consubstantial with the Father (Council of Nicea, 325).   

What came to be through him was life—  Already we are seeing in the text an inference of the love between the Father and the Son to have an overflow.  If it was only to Jesus, then it ends with Jesus.  But since we know that the Holy Spirit is a person with relation to the Father and the Son then we can surmise that this life comes from God the Father in his initiative and goes through Jesus to mankind. 

and this life was the light of the human race- – We as humanity are initiated with the overwhelming, holy love of God that is tamable like a wild firehose.  But it is filtered through the gospel of the kingdom that Jesus and his Church preach. 

the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it- – As Jesus walked on earth and taught in parable he was setting up his followers to spread the message in words and action.  Jesus said that he was the light of the world but said to his Church too that,  “you are the light of the world”.  It is another case of Jesus being the Lord and transcending realities of our lives and pushing out darkness.   

this life was the light of the human race- – John speaks here to where Jesus of mystery steps into history.   Jesus expresses his light through the Church in a way that engages humanity in all of it understanding by whatever foundation of truth is in the pocket of civilization. 

and the darkness has not overcome it- – That is quite a declarative statement.  There is a stain of sin over individuals and communities out there.  But light keeps finding a way to shine through or around those things of substance that resist and cast a shadow.  Shadow is all solid obstacles to the kingdom can do.  Truth is going to still be evident.  And it is described in the narrative of Christian history and doctrine in the person of Jesus Christ. 

Again, it should be understood that for some individuals it may seem that the darkness is overcoming in present observations one can see in  a case by case basis.  One case of someone that was spiritually blind was Saul of Tarsus.  He was a persecutor of Christians, had a life changing encounter with Jesus and converted to become Paul the apostle.  He spoke from his experience on light and darkness.

And even though our gospel is veiled, it is veiled for those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, so that they may not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

We are not all connected.  But we can be! What is our choice?

Be The Change You Want To See

A New Agenda

There is a saying attributed to Mahatma Ghandi who was known as a catalyst for social change.  It was “Be the change you want to see in the world”.  It is a powerful saying that stirs the heart to not pass the buck for living out the virtue of justice.  It is tempting to look for narrow solutions through maybe only one system.  As I write this, the world is looking for answers after a tragedy and wondering where the change is going to happen.

For someone that has a well informed conversion as a Christian, they are called to be a catalyst of change for all of the worlds systems.  This happens one person at a time who hears who Jesus is and accepts the love and care offered in the gospel and the community of Christ on earth.  In my church the deacon often says at the end of mass to “go out and proclaim the gospel with your life” so it is also not to be narrowed down to just more words.  The world is full of words.

Below we see Jesus weeks or months after he has modeled a secure and holy personhood in rejecting evil of Satan in the desert and presenting himself in simplicity to those who knew him all his life.  In the message of the kingdom of God, those who receive him better echo him.  Conversion stories have continued for 2,000 years with imperfect people, touched by grace, live Christian life out imperfectly but often honestly. The application for those people who live out what it is like to be on the receiving end of the works of Jesus and his Church are shown below.

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read,  and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (4:14-19).

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit– –   To proclaim the gospel with your life is most typically supposed to be where you already have relationships at least in part.  Christians are to be a light to the world and it must include being faithful to that call in the daily grind before hoping for exotic opportunities.  The difference is that, in Christ, we are to do this with the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit gives the ability, the dyname– (Greek word for power) that goes outward equally life dynamite.

as was his custom. He stood up to read– – The flow of this in the Greek implies something different than the translators intent and instead points to Jesus serving regularly as a reader.  To be a reader was a service to the word of God and to the people.  The application to the believer is that to proclaim the gospel with the right temperament one must be a servant first to those you share Jesus with.  Jesus had credentials in his home town as a person of service.

The Spirit of the Lord is on me- – In a simple way one could interpret this as a point of mission from the passage in the Old Testament that Jesus is quoting from.  But in context of what had been happening in Jesus life it is important to go back to the baptism under John.   The words of God the Father was that Jesus was his beloved son in whom he is well pleased and the Holy Spirit had come upon him as a dove.  Jesus said on the night of the Last Supper that the Holy Spirit would teach us and remind us of what he had said (John 16:24). In short, Jesus introduces himself in the communion of love and any Christian is meant to walk that life of love under the power of the Holy Spirit who gives that spiritual breath of life in true sonship.

he has anointed me– – That sonship is then expressed with an instilled authority from above.  Jesus gave authority to the Church to make disciples of all nations and tying baptism to that process.  Christ means anointed one and Christians belong to him.

The Holy Spirit “anoints” the baptized, sealing each with an indelible character (cf. 2 Cor 1:21-22), and constituting each as a spiritual temple, that is, He fills this temple with the holy presence of God as a result of each person’s being united and likened to Jesus Christ (Christifideles Laici, 13).

proclaim good news to the poor– – The gospel of the poor is no limited to material gain, changing a political trend and persuading on moral fine points.  Those parts can be addressed as some of the secondary provisions but the ultimate provision is centered in heaven.  Jesus would later teach for prayer “Our Father, who is in heaven…give us this day our daily bread”.  Jesus himself is our provision.  He said a year before the Cross “ I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51).

to proclaim freedom for the prisoners- – – Prisoners are under judgment and chained up that way.  When they are free the sentence is lifted.  “Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  As I often tell my clients as a counselor, shame is like going into “spiritual shock” that makes one ask “What’s the point for making a change?”.

recovery of sight for the blind- – A servant of the gospel may have to be confrontative at times. Jesus said in reference to the Pharisees ,“For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind” (John 9:39). He shows up in the right sharing of the gospel on a wisdom that is beyond common assumptions of knowing it all.  The conventions of knowing what matters was going to be rearranged dramatically.  “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).

to set the oppressed free– – – This could be interpreted as a concentrated experience for someone of the effects of the fall of Adam and Eve through further attacks from evil in the work of the devil.  It is where we can understand the Lord’s Prayer line “deliver us from evil”.  This evil takes us from hope if we do not have the gospel.

“Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her? (Luke 13:16)”

Luke also writes about this oppression being broken by Jesus but it is important to note the emphasis that his continual communion, or common union, with heaven was active. So should ours be.

“how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him” (Acts 10:38).

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor- – This speaks to the coming of Jesus hitting a great reset button.  There was in the Jewish understanding a reset year every half century where slaves who were set fee, debts forgiven and other measures to refresh.  The good news of the gospel is life changing and the favor of God would be expressed in fulness of this in three years on a Friday afternoon and early in the morning 3 days later.

For what I {Paul} received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

and sat down– – Jesus in sitting down goes from a reader to one who teaches with authority.  In the coming days Jesus would sit down again and teach in a divine wisdom that did not accompany the world but would move it.  That teaching authority would extend through the Holy Spirit with faithful men with the laying on of hands (Hebrews 6:2) that would carry on the word of God from a chair that is divinely inspired.  Held in right order, the Bible would one day be infallibly defined and the gospel would go to all nations.

He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”– – – We can pray now for God’s kingdom to come to us and through us in power because The King has come.

But for many he was just the son of a carpenter.  “Surely prophets don’t grow up from little boys” (Keith Green).  Jesus came in history and mystery along with his majesty.  Grasping obedience to him, and for Christians to rightly articulate it, is a tension point not naturally easy to do as we will next see.

Pivot Point At A Wedding

Let Go Let GodIn any worthwhile relationship there will be moments of trust to the other as truly wishing the good of the other.  In relating to Jesus, it could be complicated to do both.   To have a fitness of the relationship with Jesus is a surrender to grace in full.  Case in point, Mary who is full of grace, would be an example for the new disciples to see that exactly.    Also what we will see is that her relationship was full of grace as well.

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it. And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him. After this, he and his mother, [his] brothers, and his disciples went down to Capernaum and stayed there only a few days (John 2:1-12).

They have no wine- One sign of  a close relationship is if few words need to be spoken to communicate a need. In approaching Jesus in ones personal relationship with him, one does not have to be wordy. Mary knew there was no need.

Woman, how does your concern affect me?– – The appearance in wording to Mary may seem dismissive to the modern eye and that Jesus is admonishing her.  A historical approach shows actually that Mary’s access to Jesus was very blessed. As for “Woman”, it was actually a term of endearment.  The Greek word for woman was gune. That word was used by Augustus to Cleopatra and Odysseus to Penelope by Homer (Steve Ray, St. John’s Gospel: Bible Study Guide and Commentary; Loc 1305 Kindle).

The next part is better translated with the understanding it was an idiom.  It was “What to you to me”.

When the idiom is used in response to a person’s request, either stated or implied, the speaker sometimes capitulates to the expressed will of the other (2 Kings 3:13) ….Jesus complies with Mary’s request, and Mary herself appears perfectly confident that Jesus will respond favorable to her petition. In affect, Jesus would not have initiated the miracle at Cana, but neither does he refuse his Mother’s prompting (Ignatius Study Bible).

This means there was nothing separating them which sets the stage of her understanding that the gravity of her request.What is about to be explained to her is that what is about to transpire will be her getting her wishes but her petition would go beyond that miracle to the relationship getting much more complicated: in the way of the cross.

My hour has not yet come– – Jesus makes a statement that could be taken as a no, but his action in a moment speaks louder than those words.  In his words Jesus leaves room to the appointed time that all is set right.  Yet here could be considered an hour where life is not the same again.  Jesus speaks to Mary on the significance of this intercession in that if there was any apparent wiggle room for him to go back to being a locally known carpenter it would be blown out here by his agreeing to her request.  If actions speak louder than words, this miracle would be like an naugural speech.  When we ask anything of Jesus, our consciences should be informed of the significance of the interaction.  The mark of change is continual when we ask for God’s intervention and we should be prepared for that in taking up ones cross to follow Jesus.  Mary was prepared for this 30 years prior when an old man prophesied to her that, “a soul will pierce your heart as well”.

Do whatever he tells you– – I keep coming back to this verse which bears repeating because humanity can fall into the mistake implied.  “Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer (2 Corinthians 5:16).  Not to say that Mary was repenting, but she had to appropriate her faith to a new level regarding Jesus in that from this day forward, her experience of Jesus would have to be outside of a default box of her known life.  It is not up to her what happens this hour and so she endorses the will of Jesus with a God-inspired openness.  Her faith in requesting and responding works as a catalyst of God’s work on the cross.  Here Mary takes her hands off Jesus and released him to the world.

six stone jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings– Augustine saw a symbolism in the six jars being symbolic of six ages of God doing something unique.  I would lean more on it being a matter of the six covenants that God had made in the Old Testament with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David.   They all were initiated in grace by God.  And if one sees the significance of stone materially, remember then that stone does not get stained.  Thus perfect for ceremonial washings.  The beauty of this is one could propose that there were six jars but seven vessels.  Jesus was that seventh vessel of grace that fulfills the intent of the first six.  Seeing this through the lens of the Old Testament, we can appreciate how God directed a momentum of covenant in His dealings with Israel.  In fact, the word in Hebrew for making a covenant was to “seven ones self”. Three years later Jesus speaks of a new covenant when he lifts up another supply of wine and declares it the blood of the new covenant.  As miraculous as the wine was about to be, it was a spiritual foretaste of the cup of the covenant.

as the beginning of his signs– – For those who examine the miracles of Jesus that are specifically described, there are teaching implications that must be considered.  The actions of Jesus speak as infused messages that due to the meaning and power them make the grey harder to turn to.  The signs point to objective and inconvenient truth to surrender to or deny.

and his disciples began to believe in him– – The longest time of discipleship represented in this group was a whopping 5 days by this point.  To see Jesus as a nice option and a nice guy does not cost anybody anything.  But with “believe” being a pregnant word in the gospels with faith and works bound together, one can see that decisions were made that day to simply do whatever Jesus tells them to do just like Mary said. Those who obey Jesus are not just receptacles as an end but vessels to share salvation to the world.  That was them.  That can be any of us if you decide to take up your cross and follow Jesus. This is the divine romance.  For Jesus begins here to begin a courtship with the world.

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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“That is your truth, this is my truth”.

“There are many paths to God.  Many ways up the same mountain.”

“The times have changed.  We must get with the times.  We know so much more now than that antiquated wisdom of the past.”

These are common phrases that are said in post-modern society.  With that thinking is a common error of modernism: the wisdom of the past is not wisdom for all ages and the wisdom of this age is inherently superior because it is modern.  Where that mentality comes in with discourse in Christian circles can be stark in results.  When there is pressure to bow down to something that is in direct contradiction with Christianity often the Christian who stands firm is considered “bigoted, intolerant” etc.

Or there is another direction of compromise.  The professing Christian lets the drips of emotional blackmail to be “current” or “evolve” and gets their reward from man’s favor.

But Christianity is stubborn.  Its ways are by design to be rooted in love and hoping for eternity and far beyond what is fashionable.  St. Paul who was schooled in religion and philosophy testified to this. when he said,  “But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

But this “pillar” is unmovable in calling by the nature of its Lord.  And this is the truth about Jesus in how he was always an outsider of the world with the calling to be an insider to save it: Jesus is fully God and fully man.  Theologians call the co-existing of Jesus’s natures to be the hypostatic union so that there was never a time when he was not.  Sometimes the attacks on Christianity are vicious and sometimes flattering.  Christians are called to be holy.  The world would call us stubborn.  Satan would hope to question the heavenly roots of Christian faith just as he would question the special calling of Jesus.  With the case in point below, we can see the holiness of Jesus, the founder, ironically all the more clear under temptation.

Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. The devil said to him, “I shall give to you all this power and their glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me.” Jesus said to him in reply, “It is written:‘You shall worship the Lord, your God,and him alone shall you serve.’” (Luke 4:5-8).

I shall give to you all this power and their glory—  The critical force of evil here is the appearance of the legitimacy of evil to be a rightful status quo.

If you worship me—  Notice that Satan does not tempt Jesus to worship only him.  But worship is to God alone.  All sacred service is unto the will of the Father.  Jesus spoke this not as just a good Bible quoter but one who has an eternal love with the Father.  What was on the horizon of this sacred and spiritual intimacy was to be shared later with a marginalized, sinful Samaritan woman.

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth;[i] and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24).

Before I unpack this passage I should point to the fallacy of infinite regression.  If someone wants to argue that there is no God, they would point to the causality all in the universe.  The lines of cause have to come to an end where one traces the origins of the universe back far enough.  The stubborn atheist will even say “Well that’s just the way it is” (Bishop Robert Barron, Mystery of God, 2015).

But what about an infinite progression?  If there is a God and He is personal, would he not be worthy of worship and service?  And what could be considered a focal point for that worship and service to Deity that would be holy and personal?  Paul stated that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15).

Jesus, though divine, is our means to meaning including truths when they are inconvenient.  The gospel is really about service and inconvenience under the motivation of true love.

“[T]herefore, he had to become like his brothers in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested” (Hebrews 2:17-18).

Perhaps you are reading this and do not want to be all in to a Christianity that has Jesus as Lord with an extension of his nature through and identifiable body of believers.  How about sampling some of the nice, cuddly Jesus with “suggestions” about discipleship? This will work with goosebumps or the set of an Oprah taping but it would not be the Jesus of the gospels nor the Jesus for whom many martyrs have died.   Jesus is the Lord and Savior that calls all people to repent and be all in.

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).

I’m all in.  Come and join me.  Come and follow Him.

Misunderstood At The Family Table

miscommunication

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

http://www.john17movement.com