Archive for Spiritual Growth

Whatever We Ask: Part 5–Unstable

But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it.  But he should ask in faith, not doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind.  For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a man of two minds, unstable in all his ways.  (James 1:5-8 NABRE)

 

Back in 2012, we ran a series on Doubt, in which we discussed that doubt could be healthy if you put it to work for you by testing new information in your search for Truth.

 

Nevertheless, doubt is not always a healthy thing.  It is one matter to doubt one person’s interpretation of scripture or another individual’s worldview.  It is quite another to doubt God Himself.

 

God knows what you need.  He knows it before you know it.  He is not only capable, but also willing to meet your needs.  Yet, it is not your need that He responds to when you pray.  It is your faith.

 

Prayer is based on trust.  We ask God to meet our needs and hear our petitions because we believe and trust that He will handle the situation.  If we didn’t believe that, why pray at all?

 

But we still do that sometimes, don’t we?  Have you ever offered up a prayer because it seemed like the thing to do, but you didn’t really expect that your prayer would be answered?

 

Jesus’ brother James is not one to mince words, as you can see in the passage above.  He explicitly says that someone who doubts when he prays will not get the answer to their prayer that they hope for.  The key word there is “hope.”

 

There are two different kinds of hope.  There is expectant hope, where you are welcoming an event in advance that has not yet come to pass, and there is “I don’t know if this is going to work or not, but I sure HOPE it does.”

 

Again, what is the point of praying if you don’t expect an answer?  Do you believe that God is God or don’t you?  If we offer up a prayer from a position of worry, then we are literally “of two minds.”  One mind is thinking of God answering the prayer, and the other is thinking of a Plan B.

 

When we do this, what we are really doing is making God the Plan B, because worry and anxiety will always cut in line ahead of whatever else is present.

 

So clearly, it is a daunting task to hold both kinds of “hope” in your mind at the same time.  Just as you cannot serve two masters, you cannot persevere on two different paths in life simultaneously.

 

So when James says that a person who does this is “unstable in all his ways,” he is not only saying that this person is indecisive, but by extension, that he cannot be trusted.

 

That sounds inordinately harsh, but think about it.  We’re talking about Christians here.  If we can’t even make up our minds about relying on the God we claim to serve, then who would ever rely on US to follow through on anything?  A person who spends their life in an endless “What If?” loop never gets anything done that needs doing.

 

So if that’s what unstable looks like, then what about stable?

 

Throughout the Bible, the image of a rock is used to denote stability.  God Himself is referred to as the Rock on many occasions.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also uses this image to describe a life lived by faith:

 

Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock.  The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. (Matthew 7:24-5 HCSB)

 

Notice the “and” in Jesus’ statement.  It’s not enough to hear what He’s saying and answer with a “yeah, but. . .”  Stability and security come not from passive hearing, but from active LISTENING and the follow-through that accompanies it.

 

Now having used the word “security” there, I am reminded of one more issue regarding the answering of prayers.  One that is particularly sticky to us here in the USA.

 

(Come back for the conclusion in Part 6—Prosperity)

 

Whatever We Ask: Part 4–(Un)answered Prayers

All prayers are answered.  Sometimes the answer is, “No.”—Bono

 

 

One of the pitfalls of the Christian life is how easy it is to backslide from “highly favored child of God” to “spoiled brat.”

 

We have seasons of life where everything seems to be going our way, and we give God the glory for that.  But then life throws us a curveball, and the whining starts.

 

“Why isn’t God answering my prayer?  He said He’d give me anything I ask for.  Haven’t I been ‘doing it right’?”

 

The truth is that God does answer prayer, but not always in the way that we expect.

 

Sometimes we get excited and run up ahead when He needs us to hold back and notice something He wants to show us.  Sometimes selfishness creeps in and the “desires of our hearts” become more like the cravings of our appetites.  And sometimes, we simply don’t recognize the answer for what it is when it comes.

 

God is not a vending machine or an ATM.  We exist to serve Him, not the other way around.  For this reason, the point of prayer isn’t primarily to address our own needs.  Jesus explained it this way:

 Don’t worry and say, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ The people who don’t know God keep trying to get these things, and your Father in heaven knows you need them.  Seek first God’s kingdom and what God wants.  Then all your other needs will be met as well.  (Matthew 6:31-33 NCV)

Prayer is your Out box.  When you put something in your Out box at work, do you pull it back and put it in your In box again?  No, you put it in the Out box because you are finished with it.

 

Whatever it is that you are praying for, God has a plan for it.  It may not be the plan you would have scripted for yourself, but think for a minute.  Who’s smarter, you or God?  Don’t you think it might be possible that Father knows best?

 

There’s more to it than that though.  Logic alone will tell you that God is bigger, more powerful and more able to meet your needs.  The question is, “Do you TRUST Him to do that?”  Do you believe that He not only knows what’s best for you, but that He WANTS what’s best for you?

 

How you answer that question will determine how you respond to His answers.  If you really believe that God’s way will lead to a better result than anything you could have come up with, then it becomes a lot easier to roll with the changes when they do come.

 

(But what happens if we don’t?  Come back for Part 5—Unstable)

 

Whatever We Ask: Part 3–The Desires of our Hearts

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4 NIV)

 

This is one of the more misunderstood passages in the Bible. It’s easy to see why. Who doesn’t want to get the desires of his or her heart? Who has ever watched an Aladdin movie without wondering what it would be like to be able to rub a magic lamp and have a genie pop out to grant your wishes?

Unfortunately, many people have looked at that verse above, keyed in on that last part, and subsequently transformed God in their minds to little more than a genie in a lamp.

If you’ll notice though, this verse is a conditional statement. To get the desires of our hearts, we must first “take delight in the Lord.” So maybe we should be focusing more on what that means instead of our own selfish desires?

To “take delight” obviously means, “to enjoy.” But what is it we should be enjoying exactly?

It is the relationship that we have with God as our Father.

In this life, we may have great memories of time spent with our dads. Dad can be our fishing buddy, our baseball coach, our source of worldly wisdom, etc. Many people, of course, have never been able to have a relationship like this with their fathers, but many of those wish that they had.

The relationship with our heavenly Father is different though. He is Abba, but He is also Adonai, which means, “Lord.” As Lord, we serve Him, but as Daddy, we serve Him out of grateful love, not just reverent fear.

When we realize that our service to God is not to avoid punishment but to please our Daddy, then the service itself becomes a joy. God isn’t looking for slaves to command. He wants His kids to look up to Him as if to say, “Did I do a good job, Daddy?”

To be able to hear God answer in the affirmative, we would of course have to have done what He wanted us to do. And to have doing God’s work be a delight instead of a chore, we would first have to WANT what He wants.

Looking at it this way, we begin to see that “the desires of our hearts” have little to do with our desires, but more to do with our hearts.

When we trust Jesus to be the Lord of our lives, He begins a transformation process inside us, gradually conforming us to His image. As we change, our hearts change to become more like His. As we see things more and more from His perspective, we begin to want what He wants—for ourselves, for others and for the world.

Once we get to this place, it is much easier to discern what God’s will is. THEN, when we pray, knowing that our will is in agreement with His, He gives us what we ask for, because it was what He wanted for us in the first place.

And yet, sometimes things STILL don’t go the way we expected.  So what does that mean?

 

(Come back for Part 4—(Un) answered prayers)

 

 

 

DN=: Part 16–Hypocrisy

 

 

I find it interesting that the Greek origin of the word “hypocrisy” comes from the theatre.  You may know that ancient Greek plays were performed by actors wearing masks.  These actors were called hypocrites, not because of any character deficiency, but because they were literally “pretending under a mask.”

 

This meaning makes sense when you think about people whom you may have considered guilty of hypocrisy.  What they are doing is showing the world one face, their “mask,” while pretending to be something they are not.  One of these masks is self-righteousness.

 

 Why do you see the splinter in your brother’s eye but not notice the log in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when you have the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite!  First, take the log out of your own eye; then you will see clearly, so that you can remove the splinter from your brother’s eye!  (Matthew 7:3-5 CJB)

 

Jesus’ warning against hypocrisy from the Sermon on the Mount is one of the most humbling passages in scripture.  However, as is so often the case when people use the Bible as a defense mechanism, many of us want to put a period where God put a comma (or in the case of the translation used here, a semicolon).

 

Notice that Jesus did NOT say, “You hypocrite!  First, take the log out of your own eye” PERIOD!  There is a “then” after the “first” and a “so that” after the “then.”  The purpose of taking the log out of your own eye is to clear your vision.  And the purpose of clear vision is to successfully complete the task of helping get the splinter out of your brother’s eye.

 

Jesus is clear in noting that the fault does not lie with the person giving correction, but with the spirit in which it is given, namely that people with issues of their own ought to address those before pointing out someone else’s.

 

Nowhere in the passage above does it say that it is OK to have a splinter in your eye.  It also does not state that one must be perfect to remove a splinter.  After all, no human was ever perfect besides Jesus.  And since He is clearly advocating the removal of splinters from eyes by people who are less than perfect, it should be equally clear that imperfect people, under the right conditions, are qualified to remove eye splinters.

 

IMPERFECTION DN= HYPOCRISY

 

Have you ever tried to be perfect or maybe felt that you wouldn’t measure up if you were anything less than perfect?  It’s stressful, isn’t it?

 

Many Christians fall into this performance trap.  Sometimes we get the impression that in order to be worthy bearers of the name of Christ, we can’t slip up, lest the onlooking world should accuse us of hypocrisy.

 

I would like to do my part in helping break this cycle by saying that it’s actually a good thing for the world to see us fail.  It doesn’t seem so at first, when we are enduring the taunting, the ridiculing and the finger pointing, but when the dust settles, we have a unique opportunity.

 

We have the chance to publicly demonstrate personal responsibility by swallowing our pride and owning our fail as well as the consequences thereof.

 

In other words, we can take off our masks and show the world what’s underneath.

 

He turned now to his disciples and warned them, “More than anything else, beware of these Pharisees and the way they pretend to be good when they aren’t.  But such hypocrisy cannot be hidden forever.  (Luke 12:1b TLB)

 

The few of you who have stuck with me during the LONG pauses between posts in this series may have wondered what the delay was all about.

 

I knew that I was going to be closing out my series exposing the hypocrisy of the “=” movement by talking about hypocrisy itself and how those who bring that charge the most strenuously seem to be the guiltiest of it themselves.

 

Then I looked in the mirror one day and saw the log.  So I’ve been spending the past several weeks trying to figure out what to do with this log in my eye.

 

You see, the thing is, I’m a wanderer.  I guess we all are, because we are all susceptible to sin in general and the sin of pride in particular, but I’ve been doing quite a bit of wandering lately.  I can totally relate to what Paul was feeling when he wrote this to the Romans:

 

 I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I do what I don’t want to—what I hate.  I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience proves that I agree with these laws I am breaking. But I can’t help myself because I’m no longer doing it.  It is sin inside me that is stronger than I am that makes me do these evil things.

I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned.  No matter which way I turn, I can’t make myself do right.  I want to but I can’t.  When I want to do good, I don’t; and when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway.  Now if I am doing what I don’t want to, it is plain where the trouble is: sin still has me in its evil grasp.

 It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.  I love to do God’s will so far as my new nature is concerned;  but there is something else deep within me, in my lower nature, that is at war with my mind and wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.  In my mind, I want to be God’s willing servant, but instead I find myself still enslaved to sin.

So you see how it is: my new life tells me to do right, but the old nature that is still inside me loves to sin.  Oh, what a terrible predicament I’m in!  Who will free me from my slavery to this deadly lower nature?  (Romans 7:15-25 TLB)

 

I think at some level I just knew that I wouldn’t be able to finish this without dislodging my log.

 

But then I considered the question that ends the passage above.  Who will free me from my slavery to this deadly lower nature?  Well, duh.  Jesus already did.  I’m still working on my wood-vision, but at least I’m aware of it.  The fact that I want the log out of my eye is the evidence that it is possible.  Especially when I consider the alternative:

 

If anyone sins deliberately by rejecting the Savior after knowing the truth of forgiveness, this sin is not covered by Christ’s death; there is no way to get rid of it.  There will be nothing to look forward to but the terrible punishment of God’s awful anger, which will consume all his enemies.  (Hebrews 10:26-27 TLB)

 

The unfortunate fact that I am prone to wander from the Truth does not make the Truth any less true.  Therefore, it is not hypocrisy for an imperfect messenger to deliver a perfect message to someone that would benefit from it.

 

For these reason, I will press on, and continue doing what I have been called to do.

 

Because falling down DN= falling away.

 

DN=: Part 12–Civil Liberties

 

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12 NIV)

 I’m free to choose who I see any old time
I’m free to bring who I choose any old time
Love me hold me love me hold me
I’m free any old time to get what I want
“I’m Free” Mick Jagger/Keith Richards

 

One of the main functions of a father is to establish and enforce boundaries for his children.  The intent of setting these boundaries is to protect his children, because he knows more than they do.

 

There is no condemnation in this, only a sense of love and protection.  The child picks up on this, and remains content within the security of the boundary.

 

Now if an earthly father can manage to set healthy boundaries in love, how much more effective and useful are our heavenly Father’s boundaries!  Would it not stand to reason that an omniscient God, who knows every possible outcome of every possible choice we could make, would know what’s good for us and what isn’t?

 

The most obvious example of this is the 10 Commandments.  A lot of people are put off by them because of the “Thou shalt not” tone that most of them have.  So why would a loving Father God put such restrictions on the freedom of His children?

 

One word—consequences.

 

LIBERTY DN= FREEDOM FROM CONSEQUENCES

 

Some consequences of violating God’s boundaries are obvious.  Take for example “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”  If you break that commandment, the most obvious and immediate consequence is generally the breakup of a marriage.

 

Long-term and indirect consequences are difficult to predict, however.  We can’t know for certain how young children will be affected by the divorce—how they will cope with the sense of loss, how they will develop socially as they grow, what baggage they might carry into their future relationships and marriages.

 

God sees every potential negative consequence, and wants to protect us from them.  Nevertheless, our nature instinctively reacts to any kind of boundary to see it as a restriction on our freedom.  Christian or not, nobody likes being told what to do, or to have their “freedom of choice” taken away.

 

But when you stop to think about it, this is a ridiculous notion.  NOBODY can take away your freedom of choice, not even God.  He’s the one who gave it to you in the first place.

 

God doesn’t set boundaries to take away our choice.  He places them there to assist us in making the right choice, because he knows which choice will have good consequences and which will have bad consequences.

 

However, somewhere along the line our culture developed a callous disregard for sin, or crossing God’s boundary lines, and its consequences.  Our culture has been brainwashed to believe that God’s boundaries, as set forth in the Bible, are out of date and out of touch with progress.

 

Since the Bible is God’s Word, and therefore our most definitive written source of Truth, this Truth gets dismissed along with the Bible.  Inside this moral vacuum, people get the idea that they can create their own truth—a moving target that is relative to whatever suits their whims at any given moment—and anything contrary to that amorphous worldview then becomes a violation of their civil liberties.

 

Only here’s the problem.  Since Truth is universal, and it’s found in the same place where God’s “restrictive” boundaries are, then it would follow that the consequences of crossing those boundaries are also universal.

 

The consequence of mentally turning sin into civil liberties is that to do so, the concept of civil responsibility is totally abandoned.  You can’t be “free to do what you want any old time” and be your brother’s keeper at the same time.

 

Fortunately, God has a way of evening things out.

 

(To find out how, come back for Part 13–Fair Play)

 

DN=: Part 10–Affirmation

For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit,  for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.  (Luke 6:43-45 ESV)

 

If a person’s words are to be trusted, that person will have an established record of trustworthiness.  You are not going to be led down a successful path by someone who has never succeeded.

 

Likewise, a person who is known for encouraging and lifting others up is not likely to tell you something that will be a stumbling block to you, even if it’s something you didn’t expect, or didn’t WANT, to hear.

 

I think we all come to a day of reckoning in our lives where we realize that the direction we’re going isn’t the one in which we ought to be.  I can’t imagine anyone going through his or her entire lives without making at last one major course correction.  (If you’re reading this and you haven’t yet, don’t worry, you will.)

 

No matter who you are and what your situation is, that situation, and your destiny, will never change without you making some conscious decision to change your way of thinking and go a way you haven’t gone before, whether that means a slight change in direction, or a complete 180.

 

The churchy word for a change of mind, accompanied by a change of direction, is “repentance.”

 

The important thing to understand is that repentance cannot occur without new information entering the cranium.  You can’t change your mind or choose your direction without knowing that you have a choice to make.

 

The trouble is that the right choice is not always the easy one.  In fact, it usually isn’t.  The right choice usually results from your having received information that you needed, but not necessarily that you wanted.

 

Anybody can tell you what you want to hear.  If you want your current belief system to be affirmed, the internet is more than happy to oblige.  All you have to do is type what you already believe into your favorite search engine, and you will find thousands, maybe even millions of people, to affirm your point of view.

 

There’s just one problem with this.  Belief DN= Truth.  As such, a quest for affirmation will never lead to intellectual or spiritual growth.

 

AFFIRMATION DN= INFORMATION

 

 

Now don’t get me wrong; I am speaking of affirmation in the sense of affirming a point of view, not one’s own self-worth.  The latter is healthy affirmation, and I will tell you plainly that I crave that kind of affirmation nearly as much as I crave oxygen.

 

However, a quick perusal of the Truthseeker Manifesto will illuminate everything that is detrimental about a quest for affirmation of one’s worldview.

 

You can’t end an argument by attempting to bolster your own position.  You can’t establish common ground without leaving your own ground.  Seeking to affirm your beliefs does not afford you the opportunity to test them.  Also, it is very difficult to explain your own reasoning when all it consists of is quote mining from other people’s reasoning.

 

Essentially, the quest for affirmation is a rejection of Truthseeking.  The desire for affirmation is a symptom of insecurity.  Specifically, it is the fear of losing everything that is familiar to you on the off chance that whatever, or whoever, is challenging your belief pattern might have some information that you would have to accept.

 

The only way to overcome this fear is to have a burning desire to be informed, not just to believe, but to KNOW!  But knowledge only comes when you take the lid off the glass.

 

In a culture that values affirmation, however, this is easier said than done.  If we are serious about obtaining information that is worth knowing and passing on, we may have to look to history.

 

(For a different kind of history lesson, come back for Part 11—Backwards)

 

DN=: Part 7–Hatred

 

I gain understanding from your instructions,
so I hate anything that leads people the wrong way.

Your word is like a lamp that guides my steps,
a light that shows the path I should take.

Psalm 119: 104-105 ERV

  

In Part 5, we discussed the difference between exercising sound judgment and being judgmental.  But how does this play out in the course of our daily lives?  Maybe it would be best to illustrate with a story (ALLEGORY ALERT!!!)

 

THE MAZE

 

You feel the panic start to rise in your throat as the door closes behind you.  You hadn’t counted on the maze being pitch black.  Of course, you might have known that if you had actually read the book, the book you carried into the maze with you, now useless in the darkness.

 

You slow your breathing and try to recall the directions you were given just moments ago.  The shortcut.  In your mind’s eye, you focus on his penetrating, bloodshot stare and force his words to echo in your brain again, the words that were carried to you on breath that smelled of spoiled meat and rotten eggs.

 

“Don’t bother with the book; there’s a better way,” he had said.  He had appeared out of nowhere as you stood at the entrance, trembling with a mixture of nervousness and excitement.  Before you had recovered enough from your surprise, and momentary revulsion at the smell, he had continued.  “The shortcut.  Take you right to the middle.”  Where the prize waited.  The greatest prize ever won.

 

You don’t know exactly what the prize is, because again, you never found the time to read the book.  You had meant to, of course.  Ever since the day you received it from your parents, the maze had been on your mind.  The maze with the prize at the center.  But life always seemed to get in the way, and the days got away from you one by one.

 

And now here you are in the dark, with the sound of your blood rushing in your ears, trying to drown out that sound with the memory of the foul-smelling man’s directions.  “Fifty paces from the entrance, turn left.”  You take a deep breath, let it out slowly, then begin.

 

With your left hand on the wall to guide you, you walk 50 steps.  Sure enough, there is a corner.  You turn left and continue.  “150 paces, right, 75 paces, another right, and then another, then a left. . .”  You repeat the man’s directions aloud over and over, trying to focus on where you are, and trying not to think about the pits.  You weren’t sure if they actually existed, but you had heard stories.  You absently think to yourself that if you had actually opened the book you might know if they were real or not.  Doesn’t matter now, because. . .

 

Suddenly your left hand is grasping at air.  The wall has ended on your left.  You freeze.  After just a moment, you realize you must be in some sort of chamber rather than a corridor.  No problem, just keep walking straight ahead.  Another 10 paces, 20, 30, still no wall on the left.

 

The fear begins.  You wonder if you are still walking a straight line, or if you have drifted to the right.  Are you still where you need to be, or in a different corridor entirely?  In this darkness, you could be walking in a circle and not even know it.  You freeze again, trying fruitlessly to get your bearings.  Then a new horror dawns upon you—you have lost count of your steps.

 

The fear rapidly accelerates to blind panic.  You start groping in all directions with both hands, trying to find a wall.  Nothing.  You are hopelessly lost.  Now you can’t even remember if you were supposed to go 200 steps in this direction or 300.  And which direction was that even?  You have no idea which way you are facing in the darkness.  On instinct, you open the book to try to find something, anything that might help, even as the small voice of reason under the torrent of panic in your mind tells you that it is pointless to try to read anything in this blackness.

 

But then, something amazing and totally unexpected happens.

 

The floor in front of you lights up.  Just two steps in front of you, like a black, yawning mouth, you see the pit.  Trembling, you look down at the book and see something even more astonishing on the page where you opened it:

 

You shouldn’t have listened to that guy back at the entrance.  He’s never made it through the maze.  Now turn around.

 

How can this be happening?  You don’t have an answer for that, so instead, you turn to look behind you, and see that you are indeed in a large open space.  Off to your right, you see dim light coming from a corridor.  The floor is lit up there too.  You walk to that corridor and proceed down the lighted path.  After about 180 steps, it ends abruptly another dark chamber.  You stop.  From the glow of the light behind you, you look at the book again, only now it simply says:

 

Are you going to stand there all day, or are you going to turn the page?

 

You turn the page, and immediately another corridor lights up to your right.  You look around and notice that there were many paths to choose leading off this chamber.  On the page, you see directions to walk down the lighted corridor to the T-intersection, and then turn right.

 

You begin down the corridor.  This is the longest one yet.  You can’t see the end, because the light on your path only extends about 100 feet in front of you.  As you begin to wonder just how long this corridor is, you come to another, smaller chamber.  From the dim glow of the path, you notice a sign on the wall.  It says:

 

PROCEED DOWN THIS CORRIDOR TO THE T-INTERSECTION, THEN TURN LEFT!

 

You stop and look at the book again, thinking you must have read it wrong.  But no, it definitely says to turn right at the T.  So which is it?  Left or right?

 

Now you have a decision to make.  “OK, let’s be logical about this,” you say to yourself aloud.  You reason that either way, you still have to go to the end of this corridor, so you take a deep breath, mutter, “Here goes nothing,” and step forward.

 

As soon as you have taken the first step, the entire corridor lights up, and you can see all the way down to the T at the end.  Relieved, you sprint all the way to the end.  But then you remember the problem—left or right?

 

You look to the right first—nothing but darkness.  Then you look to the left.  As soon as you do, bright overhead lights come on illuminating that entire passageway.  Down at the end, you can just make out a flashing green arrow pointing to the left underneath flashing red neon letters that say, “THIS WAY!”

 

You look back to the right.  Still just darkness.  Then you remember something the man back at the entrance of the maze had said:

 

That book is so out of date it’s completely useless.  It’ll have you wandering around in there lost until you starve to death.  The people who wrote it are the ones who built the maze to begin with!  Why would they want to share their prize with you?  They just want to lead you around like a sheep and keep you away from what you rightfully deserve!  People have been getting through the maze with my shortcut for years.  If that book worked, EVERYONE would use it!

 

You look back to the left.  Level ground, straight path, clear line of sight.  The choice seems obvious.  You decide to follow the sign and go to the left.

 

One step, then two, then three . . . nothing happens.  Ten more steps.  Still nothing.  You glance behind you.  Still dark going back that way.  You continue forward, more quickly and confidently this time.  Absolutely nothing changes.  Then you reach the end where the arrow points to the left.  You turn to face the direction where the arrow is pointing.  And your jaw drops.

 

Because just 50 yards in front of you, you can see a large, well-lit chamber.  And in the middle of that chamber is a pile of gold bricks as large as a haystack, shimmering in the light.

 

“I knew it!” you shout and tear off down this last corridor as fast as you can, the prize getting closer with every stride.  Twenty yards away, now ten, now five, then SMACK!!!

 

You hit the clear glass wall at top speed, knocking out your front teeth, shattering your nose and rendering you unconscious.

 

You wake up a few moments later, battered and bleeding, and you see the book lying next to you where it landed when you fell, upside down and fanned out to the last page.  You pick it up, and through a haze of throbbing pain, you read the words on the last page:

 

You should have turned right.

 

You feel the anger welling up inside you like a geyser, taking the place of the pain in your face.  As you picture the authors of the book smirking at you, the anger quickly morphs into hatred.

 

“How DARE these self-righteous dirtbags tell me what I did wrong!” you shout, spraying blood droplets all over the corridor.  In your rage, you throw the book against the wall, where it falls to the floor.

 

On the back cover, which you had never really looked at before, you see the publisher’s blurb in gold capital letters: “THROUGH THE MAZE, the newest masterpiece from the authors of BUILD A BETTER LIFE BY NOT WALKING INTO TREES!”

 

You remember that book, and all the people you thought needed a copy of it.  As you become aware again of the pain of your busted face, you sense the irony of the situation, and your hatred and anger quickly subsides.

 

After a few minutes, when your nose has stopped bleeding and your breathing has returned to normal, you remember something else.  When the book directed you down a dark path, it always lit up AFTER you took the first step.  You walk over, pick the book up off the floor, and turn again to the last page.  You start to wonder if maybe you should have turned right.

 

You walk back to the flashing sign with the arrow, turn right and look back the way you came to the T.  It’s still dark down there at the end as before, but you decide to do what you must do.

 

You backtrack to where you had made the wrong turn, and step into the darkness.  This time, you are not surprised when the floor in front of you lights up.  You are not even fazed when the well-lit corridor from which you have just emerged is plunged into darkness.

 

You look ahead, and see that the corridor ends just a short distance away at a door.  On the door is fastened a page written in the same lettering as the book you are carrying with you.  It reads:

 

To be counted among the wise, you must learn to accept helpful criticism.

If you refuse to be corrected, you are only hurting yourself.  Listen to criticism, and you will gain understanding.

Wisdom teaches you to respect the Lord. You must be humbled before you can be honored. (Proverbs 15:31-33 ERV)

 

And you finally realize that wisdom IS the prize.  You open the door, exit the maze and breathe the fresh air outside.  You hear a boisterous cheer and realize that a large crowd has gathered at the exit and are celebrating your victory.  A nurse appears, leads you a short distance away, and begins tending to your busted face.

 

From where you are seated, you can see the entrance to the maze.  You see two people talking near the entrance.  One appears to be giving directions to the other.  The second then walks toward the entrance with a mixture of fear and anticipation on his face.  Then the other turns toward you . . . and you see that it’s HIM!  The one who tried to sell you on the shortcut.  He recognizes you and grins evilly.

 

Immediately, in your mind, you hear his sneering voice and all the hateful words he said about the book and its authors.  Your anger starts to rise again, only this time instead of swelling into hatred, it solidifies into a sense of purpose.

 

You excuse yourself and run toward the other young man who is about to enter the maze.  You catch him by the elbow, startling him, and hand him the book.

 

“Here,” you say.  “You’ll need this.”

 

He scoffs in disgust and says, “I don’t need your stupid book!  I’ve been training for this for years!  I’ve been coached personally by the world’s leading experts on this maze!”

 

He’s pointing over your shoulder behind you, but you don’t even turn around, because you know at whom he is pointing.  But he’s not done yet.  With a deranged look in his eye and spittle flying from his lips, he goes on.

 

“Who do you people think you are walking around here trying to push your views down everybody’s throat?  What kind of an ignorant fool would write a book like this anyway?  And who in their right mind would publish it?  Sure, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but the people who wrote this is are clearly prejudiced idiots.  They’re just trying to pass off their hatred and bigotry as concern for people trying to find their own way through the maze.  That book is an embarrassment.  It makes me want to vomit!  It’s disgusting.  But you know what?  The writers have every right to expose themselves as total morons.  Out here in the light of day, everybody can see what they really are.  They have absolutely no regard for their fellow man!  I’m just glad they’re in the minority and most people don’t think like they do!”

 

Then he folds his arms and smirks at you.  You start to react, but then you catch yourself and remember, “You must be humbled before you can be honored.”  Your anger subsides, and is replaced with compassion.

 

You offer him the book again, saying, “Please take it.  This is what helped me get through the maze.  If you don’t. . .”

 

But he cuts you off with a left-hand wave.  Shaking his head condescendingly, he turns his back on you and walks again toward the entrance.  Then he looks back over his shoulder and offers this parting shot:

 

“You people would be hilarious if you weren’t so pathetic.  You trying to warn me with that book is about as scary as a kindergartner telling me I’m not getting any presents from Santa this year!”

 

Sadly, you realize that you have done all you can do, and you watch him enter the maze.

 

You return to where the nurse is waiting and say to her, “You might want to stick around.  I think you’ll be having another customer directly.”

 

The moral(s) of the story:

 

1.      WISDOM DN= PREJUDICE
2.      MAJORITY OPINIONS DN= TRUTH
3.      CORRECTION DN= HATRED

 

Don’t secretly hate any of your neighbors. But tell them openly what they have done wrong so that you will not be just as guilty of sin as they are.  Forget about the wrong things people do to you. Don’t try to get even. Love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.  (Leviticus 19:17-18 ERV)

 

(More on this in Part 8—Hate Speech)

 

Breaking Catholic: Part 5–Confession

 

 

Once, at about age 30 (after I had rejoined the Catholic church), I went to confession.  The visiting priest hearing confession that day was Father Carlos from Colombia.  (His joke was that he would say in a thick Latino accent, “I am from Columbia . . . Missouri.”)

 

This was a face-to-face confession.  I grew up with the old school, priest-behind-a-semi-translucent-sliding wall-so-they-can’t-see-you kind of a deal (as if they didn’t know you by your voice).

 

But I went face-to-face this time, because I actually had something that I needed to confess—adulterous thoughts.  They were just thoughts—no actions—but by this time I had read the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus warned, “You have heard it said ‘Do not commit adultery,’ but I say to you, whoever has looked at another woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

 

At this point in my life, though I would not have called myself “born again,” my heart had been softened enough for me to feel true remorse and conviction for this sin.  So I felt like I needed to truly confess it, not just go through the motions of “Bless me Father, for I have sinned,” Hail Mary conversion chart, yadda, yadda, yadda.

 

So for the first time ever, I’m pouring out my heart to a priest because I feel like I need to.  I feel like I actually have a slate that needs cleaning.  So I finish, and I wait for the absolution and penance, but then Father Carlos hits me with something I hadn’t expected.

 

“God has already forgiven you.”

 

What?  How is that possible?  I don’t remember exactly what Father Carlos said after that, but the gist of it was that God was actually loving and merciful, not condemning and judgmental.  He painted a word picture of a God that WANTS to forgive me, not punish me.  Totally New Concept!

 

But isn’t that how the one true God is?  We even sang a hymn in church called “Loving and Forgiving,” taken from Psalm 103, so all the evidence was there.  Yet it never clicked for me until this day.

 

This experience was the first time I ever felt the weight of sin being lifted from my shoulders.  By the time this confession ended, I was actually laughing with Father Carlos because of the freedom I felt.  (One problem there—if you laugh in a Catholic Church, even a small one, it echoes a LOT!  Many dirty looks ensuing from the LONG line still waiting.)

 

(So why was this so unusual?  For a couple of theories, come back for Part 6–Repetition and Tradition)

 

Breaking Catholic: Part 4–First Hand

 

 

I received a Bible, probably at about age 9 or so, in Catholic Sunday School, or CCD as we called it.  (This has now been changed to PSR, most likely because “Parish School of Religion” is much easier for a grade-schooler to say than “Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.”)  By then, it was already too late for me.  But it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.  The Bible was something we carried to CCD, not something we actually used.

 

Without studying the Bible first hand, you don’t really know anything about the real Jesus, his inner circle of disciples, and how they gave birth to what is now known as Christianity.  It wasn’t until I actually started to read the Bible that I realized that most of what I thought I knew about had been shaped not by the Church, but by popular culture.  What faith I had was based not on the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but on that of Cecil B. Demille and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

 

As our pastors at Cherry Hills say, “You can’t be deeply influenced by something you don’t know.”  The significance is that you can’t live out Jesus’ teachings without having read them yourself.  And even reading about the teachings isn’t enough, because that’s just head knowledge.

 

But the Catholic Church doesn’t even allow for the head knowledge!  If you can’t even go that far, then you are NEVER going to get to the place where head knowledge becomes heart-changing, life altering Truth.

 

And here is where Catholicism begins to break down completely.  Catholics, historically, have not been encouraged to read the Bible.  According to Monsignor Daniel Kutys:

Until the twentieth Century, it was only Protestants who actively embraced Scripture study.  That changed after 1943 when Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu.  This not only allowed Catholics to study Scripture, it encouraged them to do so.[i] 

 

Although the pope issued this encyclical 70 years ago, there has not been much trickle-down to the laity (i.e. the folks in the pews).  According to a 2012 survey commissioned by the Bible Society, in partnership with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, 57% of churchgoing Catholics don’t read the Bible week-by-week outside of a Church setting.[ii]

 

Since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s (known as Vatican II), the Catholic church has been on a mechanical three-year cycle of readings, called the Lectionary, in which they tell their followers that at the end of the three-year cycle, they will have covered all of scripture.  Therefore, a faithful Catholic who attends mass every Sunday is under the impression that after three years, they have had the entire Bible read to them.

 

This is dangerously false.  According to the Catholic Lectionary Website, only 27.5 % of the verses in the Bible are covered by the Lectionary.  And that’s if you go to mass EVERY DAY!  If you’re only meeting your minimum obligation of every Sunday and Feast day, that figure drops to 12.7%.

 

Understand, this is only since Vatican II, when the Magisterium began openly encouraging Bible study.  Before that, when the mass was in Latin and only had two readings instead of three, the figures are even more shocking.  Only 4.7% of the Bible was covered.  Forty-five of the 73 books in the Catholic Bible were ignored completely, including all of the Historical and Wisdom books of the Old Testament and the book of Revelation.  [iii]

 

But even if the Bible were being covered completely in the 3-year span, it wouldn’t matter to the congregation, because how is the Bible going to sink in if you’re having it read TO you?

 

Actually, that is possible in certain situations.  For example, back in the Middle Ages, when most people were illiterate, the only way they could obtain knowledge from the Bible or any other book was to have someone read it to them.  Indeed the worldwide literacy rate today is not much above 40%, with the exceptions of course being in developed nations such as our own.

 

If you were one of those people who could not read, then you would be ready to receive whatever was read to you, because you would know it was the only way you were going to learn.  Your receptiveness would be even more acute if you were prepared specifically to hear what was in the Bible.

 

But this is overwhelmingly not the case in 21st-century America.  I don’t know ANY Catholic who goes to church to hear what is in the Bible (there may be some, but I haven’t met them).  They go because it’s what you do on Sunday (or Saturday night).  It is all part of the tradition (more on this in Part 6).

 

Bible study simply isn’t part of the Catholic culture.  It never has been.

 

The Word of God is proclaimed during the mass, but the people in the pews don’t have their own Bibles to follow along.  At best, there might be a worship aid in the pew.

 

Without the opportunity or active encouragement to be in the Word first hand, Catholics disconnect from the readings.  They are just waiting to hear “This is the word of the Lord,” so they can wake up and robotically respond “Thanks be to God.”

 

How rare is the priest who actually TEACHES practical application of the Bible readings in their homily (a commentary that is the ancient predecessor of the modern-day “sermon”).

 

(I did meet one priest that got it though.  For a more uplifting story, come back for Part 5—Confession)



[i] http://www.usccb.org/bible/understanding-the-bible/study-materials/articles/changes-in-catholic-attitudes-toward-bible-readings.cfm

[ii] http://www.catholic-ew.org.uk/Home/News-Releases/2012/Catholic-Bible-Engagement

[iii] http://catholic-resources.org/Lectionary/Statistics.htm


Breaking Catholic: Part 3–Holy Spirit

 

 

You may have heard it said of the Bible “The Word is alive,” or some variation thereof.  Scripture says of itself:

 

For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power—making it active, operative, energizing and effective; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and [the immortal] spirit, and of joints and marrow [that is, of the deepest parts of our nature] exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 Amplified)
 

However, this is only possible through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, the third person of God.  Scripture is nonsense and babbling to those who attempt to read it without the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

 

Now if you are a non-Christian reading this, let me bring you up to speed on the concept of the Trinity.  God exists as one God in three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  They are One God, not Three, which is a very difficult mystery to wrap your brain around.  Here are a few illustrations that have helped me.

 

An apple has three parts: the peel, the flesh and the core.  The three parts have different purposes, but they are all still one apple, not three apples. (This illustration is from a book called 3 in 1 (A Picture of God) by Joanne and Benjamin Marxhausen. I found it for my daughter at a rummage sale—at a Catholic household, oddly enough.)

 

Another illustration about the Trinity is H2O.  If you drop an ice cube onto a very hot skillet, it will quickly melt and then evaporate. But for a few seconds, you will have water in all three states: ice, water and steam.  All three are water, and all three exist in the same place at the same time, but each one has unique characteristics and purposes.

 

Finally, the unique purposes of the Trinity have been explained to me by the following illustration.  A father and son are reading quietly in their living room (it could happen!).  They are so into their books, and they have been reading for so long, that it’s starting to get dark.  Dad is comfortable, and he is also Dad, so he says to his son, “Go turn on the lamp.”  The son gets up and turns on the lamp, and they continue reading by the light it gives.

 

The father gives the command, the son carries it out and the power gives light.  In the same way, God the Father gave a command (Let there be light), the Son carried it out (And there was light) and the Holy Spirit brought light to the world.

 

This is how God has worked, and still works, in our world today.  The Father’s greatest work since the creation was to redeem the world and humanity with it.  He gave the order for atoning work to be done to bring us back to Him.  This order was carried out by the Son, who came to the world in the person of Jesus Christ.  And on the night He was betrayed, Jesus explained how the work would be completed in us:

 

And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Comforter (Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener and Standby) that He may remain with you forever, the Spirit of Truth, Whom the world cannot receive (welcome, take to its heart), because it does not see Him, nor know and recognize Him.  But you know and recognize Him, for He lives with you [constantly] and will be in you. (John 14: 16-17 Amplified) 

 

After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, He made good on His promise:

 

And when the day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all assembled together in one place, when suddenly there came a sound from heaven like the rushing of a violent tempest blast, and it filled the whole house in which they were sitting.  And there appeared to them tongues resembling fire, which were separated and distributed and that settled on each one of them.  And they were all filled—diffused throughout their souls—with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other (different, foreign) languages, as the Spirit kept giving them clear and loud expression (in each tongue in appropriate words).  Acts 2:1-4 Amplified)

 

Now what does all this have to do with Catholicism?

 

Well, the Catholic church obviously does acknowledge the existence of the Holy Spirit.  Indeed, they acknowledge Him every time they make the Sign of the Cross, in which they silently (or aloud) say in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  (Any Catholics reading this, you just said “Amen” didn’t you?  Admit it!)

 

But as for me, growing up, I didn’t really know anything about the Holy Spirit.  He was whose name I said when I touched my shoulders whilst crossing myself.  That was it.

 

(So how does one solve this problem?  Come back for Part 4–First Hand)