Tag Archive for Jesus Christ

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)

 

Breaking Catholic–Part 2:The Word

 

 

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)

 

Doubt: Part 11–The Death of Doubt

 

Finally, THIS is the happy ending.

 

God called my bluff, and decided it was time for me to make the move to close the gap between us.  I announced my impending divorce to the church choir and tendered my resignation from the music ministry.

 

That night, as the church emptied, I hit my knees in the back of the church and finally acknowledged my need, my complete and utter dependence on the Daddy who was always there, even when I tried to run away to hide from Him.  He was with me even through the years when I publicly called his children weak-minded fools, when I lashed back at Him in anger for everything I assumed was His fault.

 

He waited, and watched.  When I finally turned around to face Him, he was right there where he had been all along.

 

Doubt died that day, once and for all.

 

There are still days when I doubt myself, but I never doubt my Abba, my Lord and my God.  What I have found is that every time I acknowledge my weakness and my dependence, God asserts His might and power by reminding me what He told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9a NIV).

 

I have still never seen God, just as I have never seen the wind.  However, just as I have seen the effects of the wind, I have seen the effects of God.  I don’t have to try to wrap my brain around the intricacies of DNA or photosynthesis or the size of the universe to try to logically point to an Intelligent Designer.  I just have to look in the mirror and around at my home and my family.

 

I am married again, and the two of us really are of one mind and spirit.  All of my children respond to God, because they have a spiritual leader in their house that is just as much, if not more, concerned with their spiritual growth as their physical and intellectual growth.  The peace and love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit reign in our house.  Now to be sure, there are times that are not peaceful, challenging, and even infuriating.  All families have these.

 

However, as a family, we are now in a place where the solid rock and firm foundation we come back to is our personal relationship with the God of the Universe, the salvation made possible by the sacrifice of His Son, and the guidance and comfort of the Holy Spirit.  I see the evidence of this every day.

 

And that is all I need to send doubt packing.

 

Doubt: Part 10–Religion

 

 

 14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?  15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.  19 You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.  (James 2:14-19, 26 NIV)

 

 

Even though I believed in God on that day in 1989, I had programmed myself for too long to be independent.  It was all I knew how to do.  The feeling of God’s peace, love, warmth and comfort only lasted a minute that day.  Obviously, I have never forgotten it, but a seed planted takes time to grow, longer if you don’t water it.  I didn’t.

 

Instead, I pushed forward, finished college, and entered the work force.  Full steam ahead, stick to the script.  Living the American Dream by golly!

 

Except my American Dream was a nightmare.  After failing at my first three jobs, I tried to start my own business instead, because obviously, the problem was them not me.

 

Then an interesting thing happened.

 

Many of my business contacts were Christians.  Not the robotic, going-through-the-motions churchgoers that I had observed growing up—these people lived differently, and they were like that all the time.

 

They reminded me that I really needed my Daddy, the one that my second-grade Sunday school teacher had tried so clumsily to tell me about.  Except this time, it felt genuine.

 

I heard miraculous testimonies and saw people living lives that I could not explain, except by one thing—remembering that October afternoon at the cemetery.  I had already been forced to acknowledge that God was real, but this was something new.

God was Abba, my Daddy, and he actually cared about me.  He wanted to protect me from harm, and he wanted me to lead my family.  And my spiritual maturity took a big leap forward.  But this is still not the happy ending.

 

You see, at this point I am in my mid-20s physically, but still a child spiritually.  I am cracking a Bible for the first time.  I don’t know anything about salvation except for the fact that it’s Jesus’ job.  I am going to church with my family now, and have us all baptized into the same religion, but I am still running the program of everything-depends-on-me.  I know there is a God and I know that He cares, and I am grateful for this, but I have still not acknowledged my dependence.

 

Sometimes when we won’t let go of our pride, God will use circumstances to knock us down to the point where the only place to look and move is upward.

 

Eight years later, my marriage failed.  I was going to church every week and was active in music ministry, but it was still just religion.

 

And all religion is is a churched-up way of repeating the same old pattern of trying to meet our own needs through our own efforts.

 

Sure, we wrap it all up in God-speak, but Jesus already called our bluff 2,000 years ago when He said to the Pharisees:

 

 “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are but rules taught by men.’”  Mark 7:6-7, (quoting Isaiah 29:13) NIV

 

(To be concluded in Part 11–The Death of Doubt)

 

Doubt: Part 9–Skepticism

 

Although I have made it quite clear on this blog that I am a Christian, it might surprise you to learn that I am also a natural skeptic.  To get an idea of how that all started for me, let me take you back to the second grade.

 

So there I was in Sunday school at St. Mary’s at the age of seven.  I still believed in Mommy and Daddy, but had learned enough about the world to know that not everything people told you was true.

 

So then, the teacher gives the first lesson about God, the Daddy who was actually all knowing, all seeing and all-powerful.  The vocabulary word for that day was “omnipotent,” with which my seven-year-old tongue was having some difficulties.

 

Now wait a minute, I thought.  Not only are you going to tell me that there’s this God I can’t even see, but you are also going to tell me that he’s stronger than my parents are?  Not only that, but he’s stronger than Batman, Superman and the whole Justice League of America and the Avengers COMBINED?

 

There in that classroom, I had my first I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it moment, the first step of my intellectual maturity moving ahead of my spiritual maturity.  So I asked a question as intellectually mature as my 2nd-grade mind could muster.

 

“If God’s so strong that he can do anything, can he knock that clock off the wall?”

 

Now imagine the possibilities here.  I’m in SUNDAY SCHOOL!  In the presence of a TEACHER!  Who better to give me the spiritual knowledge, direction and guidance I needed to keep my spiritual maturity in step with my intellectual maturity?  It wouldn’t take long to explain at a seven-year-old’s level the difference between God’s power and God’s will.  Heck, I would have been happy with a simple yes or no!

 

But it didn’t happen that way.

 

Instead, I got the scowl of ultimate shame and a note home to my parents for my impertinence.

 

And no answer to my question.

 

Which made me wonder what other questions didn’t have answers.

 

And a skeptic was born.

 

Fast-forward 13 years.  That’s how long I had been feeding the skepticism.  If you do that long enough, you lose the distinction between doubt and belief, and doubt becomes your belief. 

 

So I didn’t believe in anything beyond what I could see or what I could do.  I allowed myself to believe the worldly lie that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to.  In my first two years of college, the strategy of a skeptic appeared to be working for me.

 

But then in October 1989, I found myself in that cemetery, watching my last shred of what I thought I knew about life wither and blow away.

 

Then the sun came out from behind a cloud, and I believed in God for the first time.

 

But this isn’t the happy ending.

 

(For what happened next, come back for Part 10–Religion)

 

Doubt: Part 8–Healthy Doubt

 

The world is well equipped to fulfill our desires, but when it comes to our true needs– not so much.

 

We can have everything we’ve ever wanted, but it will never be all that we need.  All of our stuff can fail or vanish in an instant.  Most of us don’t find ourselves in that situation, but any of us could.

 

Therefore, we need to be aware that what we really need is what is provided for us, not what we can create ourselves.  For everything we create was created out of something that was already created.  We cannot create something from nothing.

 

That awareness is the key to the beginning of spiritual maturity.

 

You have to be aware of what you need.  You have to be aware of how you are unable to create anything that meets your true needs.  Finally, you have to be aware of who provides the means for your needs to be met.

 

Again, once you have reached this point, you have a choice.

 

Do you acknowledge your dependence and admit that you are a spiritual infant and that you really need your Daddy to come and make everything better?  Or do you reject that notion and try even harder to fix it yourself, blindly ignoring the reality that you are only repeating the same process that got you to the needy state you’re currently in?  That is the road that pride will lead you down every time.

 

We are left then with the inescapable conclusion that the only way to have our needs truly met is to surrender our pride and admit our dependence.

 

In other words, we have to use our doubt in a healthy way that leads us to the truth instead of away from it.

 

I am not saying that we should never doubt, because doubt will show up uninvited, and there’s nothing to be done about that.  What I am saying is that instead of letting doubt and skepticism rule our thinking, we should take our doubts captive and use them to eliminate everything on the “not real”  list.

 

Then we must make the final step of acknowledging that whatever is left over is real.

 

Not all of you reading this will believe it just because I said so (nor should you), but I can tell you that whenever you use your doubt to find what is real rather than what is not, God will always end up on your “real” list.  You can’t escape that, no matter how hard you might try.

 

(For a personal story of how I tried anyway, come back for Part 9–Skepticism)

 

Doubt: Part 7–Dependence

This is my declaration of dependence
This is my declaration of my need
This is my declaration of dependence
On the one who gave His life to me
 Stephen Curtis ChapmanDeclaration of Dependence

 

It is easy to say that, in our culture today, we feel less dependent than ever before.  The reality, however, is that we have merely shifted our dependence.

 

Every culture in every age has been dependent on something.  For example, when the Israelites didn’t like the way that God and Moses were leading them through the desert, they made the idol of a golden calf and worshipped it instead.  Now how stupid is it to bow down to something you just made with your own hands?

 

Hold the phone a minute.  Literally.

 

That gadget in your pocket or purse right now?  Tell me you’re not dependent on it.  All the things with screens and buttons that you own?  Even the computer you’re reading this on right now?

 

Make a quick mental list of all the things you couldn’t imagine living without.  The things you “don’t know how we ever got along without.”

 

All of them were made by human hands.  Your car.  Your alarm clock.  Your indoor plumbing.  Your coffeemaker.  Your water heater.  Your air conditioner.  Your refrigerator/freezer.  I could go on and on.

 

All of these things were created by people.  All of them can break.

 

Nevertheless, as hard as this may be to admit, you can live without every single one of them.  We know this to be true, because before these gadgets were invented, EVERYBODY lived without them.

 

All of these things were invented because their inventors believed that life would be better with them.  At least that’s the message that the advertisers hammer home to get you to buy more of this stuff.

 

Why do countless people stand in line for the new iPhone?  Because they believe they need it to make their life better, and they have allowed themselves to become blind to the reality that the entire human race has gotten along fine for its entire existence WITHOUT being dependent upon that new iPhone, or whatever the toy du jour is.

 

So what do you REALLY need?  Let’s make another list.

 

You need air, water, food, shelter, and physical protection.  Meeting these needs will ensure the continuance of your existence.

 

But here’s something you might not have thought of.

 

ALL of these needs require you to be dependent on something you did NOT make with your own hands.

 

Now sure, you can cook your own food, build your own house, sew your own clothes, and maybe even make your own medicine if you know how.  But out of what?

 

The food you are cooking either grew out of the ground by a process you didn’t invent or had life of its own that you did not give it.  The materials that you made your own clothing, shelter or medicine from already existed in a form you did not create.

 

The bottom line is that there really is no such thing as a man-made need.  There are all kinds of man-made desires, but you can live without every single one of them.

 

(So how can we tell the difference?  Come back for Part 7–Healthy Doubt)

 

Doubt: Part 6–ABBA (Father)

Really?

That’s better.

 

If you intentionally focus on the things in your life that don’t move, the chaos will settle (in your mind at least) and eventually fade into the background along with your doubt.  However, this technique will only be as effective as your knowledge of what it is that doesn’t move.

 

If you are already at a place in your life where you have allowed doubt and skepticism to reign over all of your thinking, then you may have reached the point where you doubt truth itself or maybe even the existence of anything permanent.

 

This brings me back to the concept of spiritual maturity being separate from intellectual maturity.

 

It’s fairly easy to admit that you don’t know something factual and even easier to Google it and find out the answer.  However, growing spiritually is more difficult because it first requires that you admit you are a spiritual infant.  And pride has an issue with that notion.

 

Your level of doubt and skepticism is directly proportionate to your level of pride. The higher your pride level, the less likely you are to admit your vulnerabilities.

 

The reality is that your soul is still crying out like a baby.

 

You need your Daddy, but not the one who came home drunk and beat your mother while you watched, cowering in a corner.  Not the one who yelled and swore at you and told you you’d never amount to anything.  Not the one who was cold and distant and never did anything to make you feel loved or accepted.

 

You need the Daddy you should have had.  You need the one who always has the answers, always knows the right thing to do or say, the one who never fails.  The one you want to be just like when you grow up.  The one who accepts you as you are so that you don’t have to spend the rest of your life trying in vain to prove that he was wrong about you.

 

You need that Daddy.

 

You want that Daddy.

 

No matter how much you’ve tried to make a life for yourself apart from that, you will always have a hole in your soul that no amount of worldly success or knowledge can fill.

 

Only your Daddy can do that.  You were designed this way, to recognize that you can’t meet all of your own needs and to admit your dependence.

 

(Dependence on what? Come back for Part 7 to find out!)

 

Doubt: Part 5–Real/Not Real

“You love me. Real or not real?”
I tell him, “Real.”
Suzanne CollinsMockingjay

 

The key concept that must be grasped for a real relationship with God to be possible is to understand that your spiritual IQ is separate from your intellectual IQ.

 

No amount of life experience or number of college diplomas can get you any closer to God.  If anything, all that worldly knowledge gets you farther away from God, because the more stuff you’ve crammed into your own head, the more independent you feel.  You have moved WAY beyond your childhood belief that Mommy and Daddy are invincible.  You are making your own way, building your own life, and you don’t need anybody, not even God, to tell you what to do or how to live.

 

Except that you do.

 

Not all the time, but there are days and seasons where you reach the end of yourself and run out of answers, because your knowledge is incomplete.  When your spouse rejects you for another and you didn’t see it coming.  When you or a loved one get that diagnosis that only happens to “other people.”  When you lose your job.  When you get that phone call that no parent wants to get.  When the storms come leaving all your worldly possessions a pile of rubble.

 

The question is, what do you do then?

 

One of two things will happen.  Either you will become even more hardened and spiral downward from even the low place in which you have found yourself, or you will recognize that you are at rock bottom and look up.

 

Doubt happens.  Doubt is normal.

 

Doubt enters your mind the first time you encounter a fact that doesn’t coincide with your belief.  Doubt happens the first time you see your father cry.  It happens when you hear your parents fight.  It happens the first time you encounter someone who isn’t really all that concerned about your self-esteem.  It happens the first time you really watch the news.

 

Basically, there comes a day when the world doesn’t make as much sense as it did the day before.  And you start to wonder, “What else isn’t real?”

 

Now at this point, you have two choices.  You can make a list of what isn’t real or you can make a list of what is.

 

Most of us do a combination of the two, but I think our natural inclination is to lean toward the negative.  The problem is that going that way could be dangerous, because then our emotions kick in and overwhelm our logic.  Before long depression and apathy crash the party, and you just start not believing in anything.  This is frequently where God gets thrown out with the dishwater.

 

On the other hand, what would happen if you focused on what is real?  The positive things?  The things that don’t move?

 

This is the essence of being a Truthseeker, and the entire impetus behind my writing in the first place.

 

(What happens when you focus on the things that don’t move? Come back for Part 6–Abba (Father))