Tag Archive for holy bible

Overcoming the World: Part 3–Living by the Spirit

fruit of the spirit

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  There is no law against these things!  Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

 

I am a very task-oriented person.  I am all about the to-do lists.  It gives me joy when I check something off.  It stresses me out when I get to the end of the day, and there’s still 12 more things on my list that I didn’t get to.

 

Because of this, I have a tendency to turn almost every facet of my life into a mental to-do list.  Everything feels like a competition or a performance to me. I will emerge either as a winner or a loser.

 

Most of life really isn’t supposed to be that way, though.  I am learning that it’s actually OK to simply live life as it comes and appreciate moments as they’re happening.  I am learning that it’s more important to start each day with gratitude than finish it with a gold medal.

 

So why is it that we keep wanting to go back to the things that we know didn’t work before?  Are we just addicted to futility?  Or is this just part of the natural state of being human?

 

I think the problem lies in our tendency to define ourselves by what we do or fail to do.  If I win, then I am a winner, but if I lose, then I am a loser.  Nobody wants to be a loser though, so we do everything we can to win at life.  And if we find we can not win, then we start doing things that are truly ridiculous.

 

“Winners” and “Losers”

 

Some people try to downplay life’s natural consequences by attempting to eliminate the concept of winning and losing, a concept that I call the “participation trophy” mentality.  You’re a winner just for showing up!  And if you didn’t even show up, we’ll try to find an excuse for you, so that you won’t lose.  After all, you deserve to win!

 

Then there are the “glory days” people (I tend to fall into this category).  These are the people who used to be the best at something.  But then they either went somewhere else where there were other people that were better, or maybe they just got old and weren’t as good as they used to be.  If a person like this is focused on the winning, and he isn’t winning anymore, bitterness takes over in a hurry.

 

A person in this kind of a rut can’t let go of the past, can’t be happy for anyone else who wins in the present, and is bleak about the future that he sees for himself filled with nothing but losing.  Because if you lose, then you’re a loser.  But you can’t be a loser, because you used to win.  But now other people are winning, and keeping you from the victory that is rightfully yours.  So if you can’t beat them, then you have to tear them down, so that you can be on top again.

 

Both of these misguided worldviews lead to the same error—trying to put everybody else on earth at the same level so that we can feel good about ourselves, either by having no distinction of greatness, or by declaring ourselves great by attrition.  Both of these philosophies fail, because they are both built on the foundation of defining our worth by what we do, rather than who we are.

 

God gave us a better way to live. 

 

In the Bible, Paul calls it “living by the Spirit.”  This is a churchy way of saying “getting out of your own way and letting God do His work through you.”  Living by the Spirit isn’t about checking things off of a religious checklist.  It is more about being aware of God’s influence in our lives, and allowing ourselves to be led away from our own plans and deeper into His.

 

Notice in the verse at the beginning that it is the Holy Spirit that produces the fruit in our lives, not us.  We don’t overcome the world by accomplishing all nine of those things on our own.  Rather, when we yield to God’s leading in our lives, these fruits are the natural result of the change that He works within us.

 

 

(So what does that look like?  Come back for Part 4—Keeping in Step.)

 

 

 

 

 

DN=: Part 5–Discrimination

brain

 

 

Discernment is the divine enablement to distinguish between truth and error, good and evil, right and wrong.  A person with this gift can differentiate pure from impure motives, identify deception in others, determine authenticity of messages from God, recognize false teaching and sense the presence of evil.  (Paraphrased from “Network” by Bruce Bugbee and Don Cousins.)

 

In other words, discernment is God’s B.S. detector.

 

Have you ever known someone who accurately saw something fake or sinister in a person’s character before anyone else did?  Have you ever had a friend who told you what you were thinking when you couldn’t even explain it yourself?  This is discernment at work.

 

(Remember back at the beginning of this series when I talked about people talking in code?  I didn’t forget about that.  From here on out, we’re going to defuse political correctness one code-bomb at a time.)

 

Another word with a meaning similar to discernment, in the literal sense of having the ability to distinguish differences, is discrimination.

 

While discernment is a spiritual gift, given by God to whomever He chooses, discrimination is a natural skill that can be learned and developed by anybody through careful observation and judicious contemplation.

 

It would seem, then, that discrimination should actually be a positive thing, since being UN-able to recognize differences would be a sign of a lack of intelligence or observance.

 

Nevertheless, this word has gradually become associated with “bigotry,” even though those two words really aren’t connected.

 

DISCRIMINATION DN= BIGOTRY

 

There’s a big difference between distinguishing the differences in people and treating people differently.  Paul wrote:

 

In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. (Galatians 3:28 The Message)

 

And also:


[In this new creation all distinctions vanish.] There is no room for and there can be neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, [nor difference between nations whether alien] barbarians or Scythians [who are the most savage of all], nor slave or free man; but Christ is all and in all, everything and everywhere, to all men, without distinction of person]. (Colossians 3:11 Amplified)

 

In making these statements, Paul is instructing these early churches that although the Church is made up of all kinds of different people from different backgrounds, it is much more significant that Christ is our common ground.  Being the original Truthseeker, Paul discriminates by noting the differences, but does not show favoritism, because Christ does not show favoritism.

 

Looking at it this way, we can clearly see that bigotry is defined by emphasizing differences with the motive of boosting one’s own status over that of another based solely upon those differences.  Bigotry may START with discrimination, but it ends somewhere else entirely.

 

So how do you know when you’ve crossed the line?

 

Labels

 

Whenever you refer to another person with a label instead of their name, that’s a pretty clear sign that you are crossing over to the dark side of discrimination, because you are now seeing that person not as an individual, but as part of a subset of humanity, most likely one to which you do not belong yourself.

 

Once you have identified the difference and affixed a label to it, the emphasis of that difference comes naturally.  From there, it’s a very short walk to bigotry, simply because our human nature is to justify ourselves, and the easiest way to do that is to lower our view of others.  Labels just streamline that process.

 

So how does discernment fit into this?

 

From the definitions we have already discussed, discernment is essentially God-level discrimination.  But since we have already seen that God sees all of His followers as equal in Christ, then it should be obvious that the purpose of discernment is not to enable bigotry by labeling humans and dividing them into groups.

 

Discernment is not about judging character or outward appearances, but rather motives and the behavior that arises from them.  Which leads me to my next DN=.

 

(Come back for Part 6–Judgment)

 

DN=: Part 3–Righteousness

Pope Francis Time magazine

One of the pitfalls of using churchy jargon is the proclivity for misunderstanding of these terms by those outside the church.  (For more on this topic, check out the Saved series.)  One of those commonly misunderstood words is “righteousness.”

 

To be “righteous” is to have “right standing” with God.  This is not a status that can be achieved through human effort.  As Solomon pointed out, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV).”

 

This concept is explained further in Romans 3:

 

What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin.  As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
    there is no one who seeks God.
 All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
    not even one.”

 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.  Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.There is no difference between Jew and Gentile,  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.  (Romans 3:9-12, 19-26 NIV)

The passage above contains the word “justify” a couple of times.  Justificiation is the act of being made righteous by one who has the authority to do so.

 

In other words, since we can do nothing to make ourselves righteous, God makes us righteous through faith in Jesus.

 

 

When we were slaves to sin, we were lawbreakers and were therefore under the penalty of the law.  That penalty is death.  Jesus paid that penalty for us in order to pay our debt to God.  This is the “redemption” spoken of in the passage above.

 

The danger for Christians, having been made righteous by faith, is to forget that we had nothing to do with being forgiven.  Sure, we made the choice to follow Christ, but we are forgiven because HE says so, not because WE say so.

 

If we become too accustomed to our view from the mountaintop, and forget how we got there (by God throwing us down a rope, not by our climbing), it is all too tempting for us to look down on the people still “down in the valley.”

 

Basically, if you ever find yourself looking down on someone else from a position that you have not earned, you have crossed the line to self-righteousness.

 

RIGHTEOUSNESS DN= SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS

 

For Christians, self-righteousness comes from the mistaken idea that we are somehow better than other human beings are because of our relationship with Jesus.  For a non-Christian, self-righteousness occurs when one must put another down in order to elevate oneself.

 

Since true righteousness comes from faith in Jesus alone, a person without that faith would have no means of being made righteous.  Since no one can earn the favor of God by good deeds, anyone who boasts in those deeds would be self-righteous as well.

 

Simply put, self-righteousness is unrighteousness.

 

(For more clarification of church jargon, come back for Part 4–Holy)

 

Breaking Catholic: Part 9–Spirit and Truth

legalism rules t-shirt

 

God is Spirit, and those who worship God must be led by the Spirit to worship him according to the truth.  (John 4:24 CEV)

I distinctly remember the occasion when a lady joining the Catholic church met our bishop for the first time.  This particular bishop was one of the most down-to earth bishops I had ever met, yet this lady still said after meeting him, “I have never felt so holy.”  Just because he was a bishop, she regarded him as being above regular humans.

 

But what example does this set?  Even if a bishop, when addressing God, calls himself “your lowly servant” (as this particular bishop was known to do), he still has the fancy robe, wears a mitre (the tall pointy crown-thing) and sits on the big fancy chair, which looks rather like a throne.  He is royalty because he is perceived as royalty, regardless of what comes out of his mouth.

 

By contrast, consider Jesus, the King of Kings, God in human flesh.

 

The Greatest became the least, born in a manger in the home of a carpenter, living as a peasant instead of as a king, and suffering the most horrible and humiliating death imaginable—execution by crucifixion:

 

The soldiers assigned to the governor took Jesus into the governor’s palace and got the entire brigade together for some fun.  They stripped him and dressed him in a red toga.  They plaited a crown from branches of a thorn bush and set it on his head.  They put a stick in his right hand for a scepter.  Then they knelt before him in mocking reverence: “Bravo, King of the Jews!” they said.  “Bravo!”  Then they spit on him and hit him on the head with the stick.  When they had had their fun, they took off the toga and put his own clothes back on him.  Then they proceeded out to the crucifixion.  (Matthew 27:27-31 The Message)

The soldiers brought Jesus to Golgotha, meaning “Skull Hill.”  They offered him a mild painkiller (wine mixed with myrrh), but he wouldn’t take it.  And they nailed him to the cross.  They divided up his clothes and threw dice to see who would get them.  (Mark 15:22-24 The Message)

 

 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.  (Luke 23:44-46 NIV)

 

So the soldiers went and broke the legs of the first man and then of the other man who had been crucified with Jesus.  But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they did not break his legs.  One of the soldiers, however, plunged his spear into Jesus’ side, and at once blood and water poured out. (John 19:32-34 GNT)

 

To save our souls from sin, the Creator of the universe sent his One and Only son to be flogged, beaten, publicly humiliated and finally killed, naked, on a cross.

 

The Catholic church, on the other hand, claims that “the work of our redemption is accomplished”[1] only when we attend their masses, go through their rituals, receive their sacraments and submit to their man-made laws and traditions, else we be excommunicated, as the Jews in Jesus’ day were put out of the synagogue for not conforming to the legalism of the Pharisees.

 

Nevertheless, Paul was clear when he wrote to the early church at Ephesus:

 

For it is by free grace (God’s unmerited favor) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation) through [your] faith.  And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving], but it is the gift of God;

 Not because of works [not the fulfillment of the Law’s demands], lest any man should boast.  [It is not the result of what anyone can possibly do, so no one can pride himself in it or take glory to himself.] (Ephesians 2:8-9 Amplified)

 

Although the Scriptures were written thousands of years ago, they are still fresh today in the lives of every believer.  Through the power and illumination of the Holy Spirit, God’s Truth leaps off the page to convict us individually of our sin and lead us on the straight and narrow path of our sanctification, that is, our journey of being gradually transformed into the image of Christ.

 

Indeed, many people in the Catholic church are on this journey.  However, if they are, it is likely in spite of the Catholic church’s teachings, not because of them.

 

Again, as I said at the beginning, nothing in this series was meant to offend.  I have simply told my own story and presented a few facts to explain it.  Everyone’s story and perspective are different.

 

But Truth, as well as being eternal, is universal.  This means that the Truth behind what I say will apply to anyone who reads these words regardless of their background.  Be you Catholic, Protestant, atheist or any other ideology, I pray that you have found something here that has led you back toward the Father.

 

Amen.

 


[1] http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19631204_sacrosanctum-concilium_en.html#_ftnref1

 

Breaking Catholic: Part 7–Saints

saints

 

 saint n.

1. (Christianity / Ecclesiastical Terms) a person who after death is formally recognized by a Christian Church, esp the Roman Catholic Church, as having attained, through holy deeds or behaviour, a specially exalted place in heaven and the right to veneration

2. a person of exceptional holiness or goodness

3. (Christian Religious Writings / Bible) (plural) Bible the collective body of those who are righteous in God’s sight

vb.

(Christianity / Ecclesiastical Terms) (tr) to canonize; recognize formally as a saint

[from Old French, from Latin sanctus holy, from sanc?re to hallow][1]

 

The Bible refers to any believer in Jesus Christ as a “saint.”

 

But to be a “Saint,” you have to have the stamp of approval of a specific group of 123 religious leaders of the Catholic church, now known as the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, through the process called canonization,[2] which generally goes like this.

 

First, a Postulator investigates the candidate’s life at their local diocese, the district under the care of a bishop, at least five years after the candidate’s death (lately, Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II have gotten the fast track, however).  At this stage, candidates are referred to as “Servants of God.”

 

The formal argument for sainthood, called the prositio, contains the Servant of God’s life story (informatio) and documents and testimonies (summarium).  After the prositio is approved, the Pope bestows the title of “Venerable.”

 

A Martyr can go directly from here to Blessed, a process known as beatification.  For others, a miracle is required, either performed by the candidate during his or her lifetime, or through posthumous intercession.

 

In the past, this “apostolic phase” involved the Postulator pleading the case again, while a Promoter General of the Faith, also known as the Devil’s Advocate (hence the term), would provide the argument against canonization.  The role of the Devil’s Advocate was done away with in 1983 when Pope Paul VI streamlined the canonization process.[3]

 

For canonization, a second miracle is required.  The most common miracles cited are medical in nature.  Other alleged supernatural events, such as visitations from the Virgin Mary, stigmata, levitation, bilocation, etc. are frowned upon by the papacy, as they are considered easy to fake.[4]

 

The canonization process is lengthy, expensive and convoluted.  In some cases, it can even take centuries.  In his book Making Saints: How the Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes a Saint, Who Doesn’t, and Why, Kenneth L. Woodward estimates that Mother Katharine Drexel’s 36-year cause for canonization cost over $1 million.

 

All this to say that a great deal of time, effort and money go into the expedition of declaring someone to be officially in heaven and “entitled to public veneration and capable of interceding for people on earth.”

 

“So what’s the problem?” you may ask.

 

The problem is that none of this is necessary.  As it is written:

 

Only, as before the Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; when we do not know what prayer to offer, to pray as we ought, the Spirit himself intercedes for us, with groans beyond all utterance:  and God, who can read our hearts, knows well what the Spirit’s intent is; for indeed it is according to the mind of God that he makes intercession for the saints. (Romans 8:26-27 Knox)

And also:

 

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:33-34 ESV)

In other words, your prayers to God the Father are carried by God the Holy Spirit directly to Jesus (God the Son), who intercedes DIRECTLY WITH HIS FATHER!  No gatekeeper, no secretary, no calling ahead for an appointment.  Straight into the Throne Room with no red tape!

 

So naturally, this raises the question: If all believers in Christ have a direct hotline to the living God, then why do Catholics insist on praying to dead people?  God wouldn’t even hear a prayer that was offered to someone else, would he?

 

Actually, the evidence would seem to indicate otherwise.  Here is one example to which I can personally testify.

 

A devout Catholic couple in the area where I live had been married, and childless, for seven years.  The wife was told that she was barren.  Rather than accept that fate, she and her husband prayed fervently to St. Gerard, the patron saint of unborn children, to intercede.  Fourteen kids later, one might say that their prayers were very effective indeed.

 

This would seem to imply that a prayer offered in sincere faith, the best way one knows how to pray, is honored by God.  Therefore, who am I to tell a Catholic praying to a saint that they’re “doing it wrong”?

 

No, my problem isn’t with the praying.  My problem is the superciliousness of the church leaders in their authoritative exaltation of people to sainthood in the first place.

 

Now I suppose you could argue that it’s better to be judgmental in a positive sense, by officially declaring them to be in heaven, than the alternative—condemning them to hell.  However, in either case, you can’t avoid the reality that judgment of ANY soul’s eternal destiny and reward, or lack thereof, belongs to God alone.

 

What arrogance to think that a group of human beings is qualified to judge what rank people have in heaven and what rights and special abilities they have when no one, besides Jesus Himself, ever came down from heaven!

 

But I suppose it makes sense that a group that has declared itself “infallible[5]” would consider itself worthy to judge such matters.  It appears the Pope, the Bishops, the General Council and all the Magisterium didn’t get the memo that nobody’s perfect.

 

But back to the saints.  I find it spellbindingly ironic that the “infallible” church does not actually consider those it canonizes to be infallible.

 

Just “good enough,” I guess.

 

(So how good is “good enough?”  Stick around for Part 8–Good Works)

 

[1] Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

[2] http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/csaints/documents/rc_con_csaints_pro_20051996_en.html

[3] http://werewolf.co.nz/2010/10/saving-a-nation-of-sinners/

[4] http://www.slate.com/articles/life/faithbased/2010/06/the_vatican_loves_a_good_story.single.html

[5] Vatican II explained the doctrine of infallibility as follows: “Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they can nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly. This is so, even when they are dispersed around the world, provided that while maintaining the bond of unity among themselves and with Peter’s successor, and while teaching authentically on a matter of faith or morals, they concur in a single viewpoint as the one which must be held conclusively. This authority is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church. Their definitions must then be adhered to with the submission of faith” (Lumen Gentium 25).

Breaking Catholic: Part 4–First Hand

Bible Study

 

 

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 2:The Word

read the Bible

 

 

Catholics do, of course, know about Jesus.  They know who He is, how He died, and that He rose again, which are key elements in the Gospel.  But do they know Him?

 

I can only speak for myself here, so I will do that.  I did not know Jesus when I was a Catholic, either as a child, or later as an adult.

 

God the Father is revealed through the Son, the Son is revealed through the Word, and the Word is revealed through the Holy Spirit.

 

The Catholic church does indeed reveal the Father through the Son.  Jesus as the Son of God is taught.  There is no doubt in my mind that any Catholic with a brainwave knows who Jesus is.  Therefore, they know of the Father.

 

But do they know the Father?  The Father is revealed through the Son, who is revealed through the Word.  The only way you can know what is in the Word is to be in the Word yourself.

 

God’s work from His creation to our redemption is recorded in the Bible, which was written by men under the inspiration (literally, “God-breath”) and guidance of the Holy Spirit.  As Paul said:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV)

 

So the Bible is God’s book about God’s plan to redeem God’s creation written under God’s inspiration by God’s people of old for God’s people throughout the ages, even unto this present age.  Understanding this, is it any wonder that the Bible cannot be understood without God’s guidance?

 

In my adult Catholic life, I decided that I was going to read the Bible cover to cover, as though it were a novel.  I had received a very nice bound Bible from my aunt at my confirmation nearly 15 years before, which had never been out of the box.

 

So one day I decided that I was going to read it front to back to see what was in it.  It was a King James Version (I’ll pause here to wait for the Baptists to stop laughing at the concept of a Catholic trying to get through Leviticus in the KJV—if you’ve tried that, you know where I’m coming from).

 

No matter what the translation, it’s a good bet that if you’ve ever tried to read the Bible like that, you probably made it about 1/3 of the way through.  If you did manage to get through the Pentatuech (the first five books), then you probably got bogged down somewhere in Chronicles and gave up.

 

Obviously, the Bible wasn’t meant to be read this way.  Even in a modern-day, prose-like paraphrase such as Eugene Peterson’s The Message, you’re still going to struggle with the “thick parts” near the beginning.  Unless you’re an architect, you’re probably not going to find much life application in the pages describing all the dimensions and details of the tabernacle or the temple.

 

(For an easier method, come back for Part 3: Holy Spirit)

 

Us and Them: Part 5–Nineveh

God displays his heart for the people he created very explicitly in the book of Jonah, my personal favorite in the entire Bible.

 

Most people know about Jonah being swallowed by the whale/big fish, but that’s not really the point of the story.

 

Jonah was on that ship in the first place, because he was (futilely) trying to flee from God.  He was fleeing, because God had told him to go and preach in Nineveh, the Assyrian capital.  In that time, the Ninevites were the ultimate “them” to the Israelites.

 

So after his aquatic incident, God gives Jonah a second chance to preach to Nineveh.  He gives the shortest sermon in history, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned (Jonah 3:4 NIV).”

 

But then, a curious thing happens.  The Ninevites listen!  And REPENT!

 

So Jonah goes up to a high place where he will have a most excellent view of God destroying “them” down in Nineveh.  Except it doesn’t happen, because God has heard their prayers and is giving “them” a second chance.  Jonah, being one of “us” (that is, Israel), has issues with this.  But listen to God’s response:

 

“. . .  Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well.  Should I not be concerned about that great city?”  (Jonah 4:11 NIV)

 

Jonah is the only book in the Bible to end with a question.  So what’s the answer?

 

Did you notice the theme in the book of Jonah?  Both Jonah AND the Ninevites get second chances.  God does not show favoritism.  Because he made all of us, to Him, there is only “us.”

 

But here’s the catch.  We have to affirm that Truth.  God is willing to include anyone as “us,” but WE have to accept the invitation.

 

We become part of “us” by laying down our pride, which is the mother of all sin, and the creator of “them.”  We become part of “us” by trusting God with our hearts, our fears, our anxieties, even our bodies.  By submitting our will to His, he responds by meeting all of our needs.

 

Now at this point, we still have a multitude of bad habits to break (Lord knows I do), but we have an example to follow in Jesus.  His perfect love drives out fear, the constant presence of His holy spirit keeps us safe from harm (if we let Him), and if we follow Him faithfully, the hope for our future will play out in front of our eyes, day by day.

 

The key word there was “faithfully.”  We do have a part to play in this transaction.  If we allow ourselves to be polluted by the world (James 1:27), and look to the things and people of this world to meet the needs that only God can, then we will become the “them” that we had despised.

 

The Bible calls “them” sinners.  Here’s the clincher—if you look at other people and see a “them,” you are one of “them.”

 

However, if you look at other people, no matter how different they are from you, and still see an “us,” or at least a potential “us,” then that is a sign that the Holy Spirit is within you, transforming you into the likeness of the Jesus, who being one with the Father, created us to be “us.”

 

Us and Them: Part 3–Need

Now we come to the heart of it.  There really is no “them.”  There is just one big “us.”  We all need the same things, though we need them in different ways.  We need to be loved, we need to feel safe, and we need to know that we have hope for our future.

 

However, whenever we place our trust in worldly things that divide us into “us” and “them,” we will always be disappointed, because our needs will not be met.

 

We won’t feel loved if someone hates us because we hated them first.  We won’t feel safe if we feel that someone is out to get us.  And if we feel neither loved nor safe in the present, then it becomes virtually impossible to have hope for the future.  We become depressed, desperate.  We look for somebody to blame.  So we create a “them.”

 

It doesn’t meet any of our needs to have a “them,” but at least we feel better about ourselves in the moment we are condemning “them.”  We feel better, because if there is a “them,” that means there is an “us.”  And “we” are “one of us.”

 

In other words, we feel like we belong to something.  And belonging is kind of like being loved, right?

 

So next, we want to be safe.  The only way for “us” to be safe is for “us” to protect ourselves against “them.”  Therefore, there needs to be more of “us.”  So we need to tell everybody we meet that if they’re not one of “us,” then they’re one of “them.”  And you don’t want to be one of “them,” do you?  Because if you’re one of “them,” then, well, you’re not one of “us.”

 

Does that sound a lot like the current political climate to you?  Are you as unsatisfied with it as I am?  Well, here’s the reason why.

 

You can pretend that you are loved by creating an artificial sense of belonging to an “us.”  You can pretend that you are safe by surrounding yourself with more of “us.”  Nevertheless, even if you can delude yourself that far, what you can’t do by yourself is fulfill your third need—hope for the future.

 

Enter the politicians.  They play on your first two needs by creating two teams, Republican and Democrat, or if you like, “us” and “them” (or “them” and “us,” depending on which party you belong to).

 

By declaring your party affiliation, you belong.  Then the party to which you belong will remind you that you need to be kept safe from “them,” so that you can have . . . wait for it . . . A HOPE AND A FUTURE!

 

Isn’t that politics in a nutshell?  Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign was pure genius in that he distilled the fears of a nation to a single word—“HOPE.”  Then he set down the means of providing hope also to a single word—“CHANGE.”

 

Now before you go beating up on Barack Obama for the HOPE/CHANGE thing, be honest for a minute.  Doesn’t every politician do a variation of the same thing?

 

Obama’s approach was the simplest and most literal, but they all play on the people’s need to have a hope and a future.  The main difference between Democrats and Republicans is that Democrats say the government provides hope for your future, and the Republicans say they provide the means for government to get out of your way so that you can create your own hope and future.

 

Guess what?  They’re both wrong.

 

(OK, so now what?  Come back for Part 4–Love)

 

Empty Glass: Part 6–Water of Life

Obey your thirst Bible meme

 

For the past five posts, I’ve beaten this glass/pitcher/pouring metaphor to death (not to mention the trees and busted faces).  So what am I REALLY talking about here?

 

The world is like a desert, and life makes you thirsty.  We all need refreshment on a regular basis. 

 

What we really need, instead of a pitcher, is something more like a faucet, or perhaps a spring.  Something that can give us water whenever our glass runs empty so that we don’t have to wander in the desert, drinking out of whatever pitcher we find.

 

 

Fortunately, we do have one of those available to us.  As Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well:

 

 Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:13-14 NIV) 

 

Water of Life

 

What is this water of life?  Later, when Jesus was alone with His disciples at the Last Supper, He explained in more detail:

 

If you love me, you will obey what I command.  And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.  The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him.  But you know Him, for he lives with you and is in you.  (John 14:15-17 NIV)

 

I have written all of this to tell you that, by the grace of God, I have found this spring of living water, the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised to be with us, and in us, until Jesus returns.

 

But the only way that this was possible was for me to take off my lid.  It wasn’t easy.  I have found that the longer the lid stays on, the harder it is to pry off. 

 

What it looks like to take off your own lid…

 

I was only seven years old when I put the lid on my empty glass.  When I had questioned God’s omnipotence in Sunday school, I was condemned for doubting.

 

So the lid went on.  And on it stayed, through high school, college, and into marriage and fatherhood. 

 

In my mid-20’s, I met some people with pitchers full of living water, and I had a taste, but quickly slapped the lid back on, because by then, it was my habit. 

 

It wasn’t until the age of 33 that I finally had to admit my glass was empty.  My arrogance had destroyed my marriage and shattered my family. 

 

Alone in a church, on my knees, I finally threw my lid away once and for all, and asked God for His living water, the Holy Spirit.  And my life has never been the same. 

 

God has given me a brand new mission.  It is the same one he gives everyone who believes that Jesus was His Son, that he died on the cross as payment for our sins of pride and arrogance and was raised to life again by the power of the very same Holy Spirit that He sends to be a wellspring of life inside of every believer.

 

We are called to educate the ignorant, love the arrogant, and tolerate the stupid (leaving room for God’s wrath, of course).  We have been given the Holy Spirit, the water of life, not to keep Him to ourselves, but to pour out for the whole world.  It is not by accident that Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.” (Mark 9:41 NIV)

 

If you’ve stayed with me this far, your lid is definitely off.  Not only that, but you’ve got yourself a brand new pitcher.  Why not try giving it a pour?

 

 But watch out for those lids!