Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Miracles Part 1

Having made the journey from Evangelical Protestantism to Roman Catholicism, I have sometimes wondered what it would have been like if I had been raised as a good Jew in Jesus' day. Would I believe in Jesus? I'd like to say yes, but I have a suspicion that I would not.

If I was a good Jew I would believe in the one true God who alone is God. It would be blasphemous to think that a man could be God. Yet, here is Jesus saying just that and expecting people to believe Him. Well, people will go in for anything and if Jesus is charismatic enough, He might be able to get a following. Ah, but there is so much more going on here. How is it that Jesus expected people to believe in Him when they were always told that such things were wrong?

There are three points that converge to tip off any good Jew that Jesus is truly God incarnate. First, there are the Scriptures. The Law and the Prophets foretold the coming of the Lord. Jesus told the Jews, "You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me," (Jn. 5:39).

Second, Jesus' life and teaching led people to seek God. This fruit was another proof that Jesus must be from God. Again, Jesus said, "Every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit," (Mt. 7:17,18).

Finally, Jesus' miracles bore witness to who He is. He told the Jews, "The works which the Father has granted me to accomplish, these very works which I am doing, bear me witness that the Father has sent me," (Jn. 5:36). When John was doubting, Jesus reminded him, "The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them, and blessed is he who takes no offense at me," (Lu. 7:22,23). Jesus expected John to remember that the Scriptures had foretold these things about the Messiah. These would be His credentials to assure John of His identity. Finally, Jesus also told His disciples, "The Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves," (Jn. 14:10,11).

All of these things demonstrate that miracles played a prominent role in giving convincing evidence that Jesus was truly the Son of God. People weren't supposed to just trust blindly. They were to remember all that God had told them before- not just part of it.

Christianity is a religion of miracles. The miraculous element cannot be overlooked. It really figures prominently into who we are. It is part of God's revelation to us. He speaks to us through His signs.

So if I were a good Jew in Jesus' day and I were convinced that Jesus really is God incarnate, those would be the things leading me to that conclusion. In my next post I want to explore this idea further, especially as it pertains to our faith today.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Catholic Christians

I remember quite some time ago when I would ask various Catholic friends of mine if they were Christians. Sometimes they would respond, "No, I'm Catholic." This served to further reinforce the notion I had then that Catholics were not Christians. Unfortunately, those individuals didn't understand their own faith. For Catholics are most certainly Christians. In fact, they were the first Christians.

After the ascension of our Lord, the early believers were known by a number of names such as those "of the way", or simply as the "brothers". We read that it was in Antioch in Syria that the believers were first called "Christians" (Acts 11:26). In the early second century we begin to find references to the Catholic Church. This was a way of distinguishing the true Church from heretical sects. While heretics held many things in common with the Church, it had its distinctives that separated it from her. But the Church held the same faith throughout the world.

The term, "Catholic" means universal, or general. It came into use to describe the faith of the whole Church throughout time and space. Eventually it came to also indicate that the whole faith was intact without additions or subtractions. This was the same faith they had received from Jesus and the apostles.

Today there are many different kinds of Christians. That is, there are many different denominations and even independent groups of Christians. When someone describes himself as a Catholic Christian, he is saying that he holds to the faith as it was once for all delivered to the saints. He believes and worships according to the most ancient form of Christianity there is.

Today we are still a long way from the unity that God intended to characterize all Christians. We still have great misunderstandings about one another. It is my hope and prayer that this situation will change in the very near future. I hope that all Christians can come together in love and believe that same faith that was originally given by our Lord and His apostles. I hope that we can humbly join together in this faith. Then we would all truly be Catholic Christians.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Did Jesus Laugh?

I was asked this question recently. Many of us are familiar with the picture of the laughing Jesus. But did He laugh? What was He like?

I have heard many cite the passage from Isaiah where it says, "He was... a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief," (Is. 53:3). Yet, I don't believe this is intended to reflect on His overall demeanor, but rather specifically His identification with us all in His passion.

The Scriptures tell us that the common people heard Jesus gladly. Children enjoyed being around Him. He was accused (falsely) of being a glutton and a drunkard. That's not usually how one would characterize an austere man. If sinners were so comfortable around Jesus and wanted to hear Him, it is doubtful that He was routinely dour.

A passage from Sirach (a book that would have been included in the Bible of Jesus' day) sheds some light on this for me: "Do not give yourself over to sorrow, and do not afflict yourself deliberately. Gladness of heart is the life of man, and the rejoicing of a man is length of days. Delight your soul and comfort your heart, and remove sorrow far from you, for sorrow has destroyed many, and there is no profit in it," (Sir. 30:21-23). These are good words to live by. Surely Jesus knew of them and did indeed live by them.

This paints a picture for me of Jesus primarily being a Man who we might call "good-natured", or cheerful. He must have been amiable and winsome. These qualities would have drawn people to Him. Then they would be ready to hear His teachings and believe.

We do know that not all believed, and not all loved Him. Yet, He must have been loved by many. This same spirit must have been characteristic of His early followers for we find that they are described this way: "They partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people," (Acts 2:46,47). The result? "The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved," (v. 47).

There are times to be stern and even to be sad. But in the main, the Lord calls us to a cheerful and carefree life. Our joy and gladness are to be contagious and winsome, just as it was for our Lord. The result will be what it always has been- people can't resist it. This alone will not result in a dramatic revival, but it will help.

"In Your presence there is fulness of joy, in Your right hand are pleasures forevermore,"
(Ps. 16:11)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Winners and Losers

Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day. We spent the day with my family and had a great time.

Part of our tradition is to play football. We typically play in the morning. It now includes many friends, and friends of friends, in addition to our family. Yesterday I probably played the best I ever have in any other year. It was a lot of fun and our team actually won (we usually don't). But the best part was not that.

I was really impressed with those on the other team. They didn't give up. They didn't complain. They had fun even though they were getting beat. That probably seems pretty elementary, but I've always been very competitive and, quite frankly, I'm a bad loser. I try not to be, but more often than not I give in to my lower nature and gripe, complain, and sometimes get very angry because I'm losing. I realized yesterday that winning and losing are more than they first appear.

If in the kingdom of heaven our worldly values are turned on their ear, then it is most likely the losers who are the true winners- but not always. It's more about how we win or lose than that we win or lose. If we can show love and fairness as well as competition and effort then we are winners whether the scoreboard reflects it or not. But if we lose the sense of our character, and compromise all in the effort to win only to become very nasty if we lose, then we are losers either way. I realize these are lessons I should have learned a long time ago. I understand the concepts. I still have problems living it out.

After the game was over we gathered for prayer to thank God for the fun we had, that no one got hurt, and for the many blessings we enjoy in this country. The one leading prayed also that we would be given the opportunity to return next year and bring glory to God by playing again. It reflected what St. Paul wrote: "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus," (Col. 3:17). This man was on the losing team, but he acted and prayed like a winner. I'm sure he was.

It's highly unlikely that I will play as well next year, or even the next time I play. As I am getting older I tend to lose at more physical contests than win. But win or lose, regardless the game or circumstances, I hope I will remember the example I saw yesterday and choose the same.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Thanksgiving has typically been one of my favorite holidays. In my family, we gather in the morning to play football. Then we head home, cleanup, and have dinner. We gather with family and enjoy our time together. By evening we are stuffed and tired.

I have many fond memories of Thanksgivings past. I remember the numerous times we were at my grandparents. I remember many times being at our home with aunts, uncles, and cousins in addition to all of us.

Thanksgiving was always the "official" kickoff to the Christmas season. I think that is one reason it was always so wonderful to me. I looked forward not only to Christmas as a day, but as a season. I loved the holiday music, the lights, the sights and sounds in stores as you did your Christmas shopping.

I still look forward to Thanksgiving, and mostly for the reasons that I've already listed. Of course, it is a time to think about our blessings and give thanks to God. But I try to do that on a daily basis and so, in that sense, this day is not so different from the others. It's the time spent with family that I love the most.

But my views of holidays, and Christmas in particular, have undergone a bit of a revision. I no longer look forward to all the commercial aspects of it all. Instead, I want to focus on the spiritual significance of it.

Thanksgiving is no longer the kickoff for Christmas. It is simply Thanksgiving. Shortly thereafter, we begin to observe the season of Advent. This is a preparation for Christmas, but not Christmas yet. It makes us ready for Christmas. The celebration of Christmas begins on Christmas day and lasts until Epiphany, which is on January 6th.

I have not yet developed set customs for the twelve days of Christmas. But, contrary to the popular song, I am trying to steer clear of relating it with gifts. Instead, it is a wonderful time to ponder the deep mysteries of our God coming to this earth as a baby. It is a time to remember this wonderful Gift of our salvation. Which, I guess, in a way, brings me back to Thanksgiving.

How wonderful is our God! How many things we have for which we can give thanks! Amen!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Social Justice

Our church is studying the teachings of social justice as given by the Catholic Church. This is an area that is somewhat new to me. I have always known that God loves the poor and wants us to take care of them. I have read Matthew 25 and realized the great importance of this. But I don't think I have seen it as the Church's mission.

In my mind, the Church's mission was to preach the good news that Christ came to save us from our sins and grant us eternal life. That is a very important part of the Church's mission. But we have also been commissioned to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick and imprisoned, and bury the dead. This is how we demonstrate the love of God. This is how we become part of the answer to our own prayer when we pray, "Our Father... Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

It is interesting to me that our involvement in such issues is the criteria by which we will be judged. Yet, so many think this is unimportant and has nothing to do with our eternal salvation. Nowhere does the Scripture indicate that we will need to pass a theological exam to get into heaven. We will not have to tell Jesus why He should let us into heaven or answer trick questions about faith and grace. Instead, we will be judged by our works. Yes, that's right- our works! We have either ministered to Jesus in the form of the "least of these" or we have not. It's pretty simple, fair, and objective.

Now some will begin to worry that I am advocating salvation by works. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yet, it is true that faith without works is dead. While one may have works without faith, one cannot have faith without works. To think differently is to be deceived about the true nature of faith and to be lost in the end. Faith works through love (Gal. 5:6).

If we want to show God how much we love Him, we will serve the poor. If we want to demonstrate our love for our neighbor, we will serve the poor. If we will live by the Golden Rule, we will serve the poor. If we would be like our Lord, we will serve the poor. This is what it means to be a Christian. It is not just about knowing the Word and worshiping God. It is about service. It is about putting feet to our faith.

This is a beginning in an understanding of social justice. There is more- lots more. But this is a good place to start. Jesus wants us to love these and serve them. I'm looking for more and better ways to do that. I hope you are too.

Monday, November 12, 2007


It seems to me that there is a standard of mediocrity with which we are all compelled to comply and from which we dare not extricate ourselves such that we might rise above this level to that of excellence. What do I mean?

I mean that in the Church we all strive to be good people, but few really want to exceed that to become saints. We live only as moral as the general Christian populace expects. We give only enough to appease our consciences. We do only that which is required. Stop and think about it- in what way do Christians differ radically from the conservative element among those in the world? You're hard pressed to come up with anything. With shame we must confess that we lie, cheat, steal, and commit adultery on a level not much better than good, upstanding conservatives who claim no strong religious faith.

Let us pause for a moment and consider two things. First, it is only in the realm of religion that we feel compelled to such a standard. In business, sports, art, and education we expect excellence. We do not see a double standard here, but I hope it is obvious by now, if it wasn't before, that there is one- a big one!

Second, let us remember that such a standard makes no converts. Who is inspired by that? Who is willing to lay down his life for mediocrity? Furthermore, no one is memorialized; no one becomes a saint by adopting such a standard.

Now lest we all contribute to the problem and look down our self-righteous noses at the rest of the world, let us begin at home- with us! I'll start. you join in wherever you find yourself.

Do I love God? Yes! How do I show that? Well, by attending public worship, engaging in private prayer, and working to serve the poor, the least of Jesus' brothers. At a bare minimum this is what it means. Yet, how am I doing? Well, I go to church about as often, if not more so than most. For me that is at least weekly, and usually about a couple more times during the week. Then there's prayer. Prayer cannot be measured by time or verbage. It is more a matter of passion, fire, fervency, and perseverence. The early saints lived in prayer. I cannot say the same. They meditated on the Scripture. I merely do my daily reading. Their hearts were in heaven even while their bodies remained on earth. My heart is clearly embedded in earth with my body. As for the poor, well, I give alms once in a while. This in great contrast to a saint of our own times, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta who worked tirelessly in the mire ministering to the outcasts of India.

I could go on. When I look at my life, it's not bad. But it isn't great either. It's just mediocre. So I am welcomed by my present generation because I present no scandal and I arouse no ire. Yet, the words of our Lord ring in my ears, "Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets," (Luke 6:22-23,26).

God deliver me from mediocrity to the excellence of the image of Christ! God deliver us all- quickly!

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Journey Continues

One of the things that set me on my recent review of my journey was that I am reading another book by Bercot. I haven't read him for awhile. I read him much different than I used to. But he makes some good points.

Bercot is a Protestant. In spite of all he has learned and shared about the early Christians, he remains staunchly anti-Catholic and very fundamentally Protestant. Here, we part ways. It's too bad because I feel a real kinship with him. He was greatly influenced by Leonard Ravenhill and so was I. Both of us long to see the same dynamic holiness in the lives of everyday Christians and in the life of the Church at large. But where we part ways is when we consider the question, "What is the Church?".

I believe the Church is indivisibly and indestructibly one from its inception until the return of our Lord. Bercot believes the Church is comprised of those true believers who continue in the spirit of apostolic Christianity apart from any visible organization.

But that' s not why I'm writing this post. Rather, I want to focus on the area of our agreement; and that is true, authentic, holy living on the part of those who profess to be Christians. My journey continues, not because I believe I'm in the wrong place as a Catholic, but because having come here, I am so much more aware of my own shortcomings. I am not a holy man, as I once imagined myself to be. In fact, I am a rank hypocrite. A brief glance at the Sermon on the Mount reveals me for what I am. "Blessed are the poor... the meek... the pure in heart... the persecuted." I am none of those things. "Whoever is angry... whoever looks lustfully". I am guilty here. "Give to him who asks you... go the second mile... turn the other cheek... love your enemies". I don't even come close. So this is where my journey continues.

I started out looking for the Church. But having found it, I am now looking for Christ. That is, I am looking, and longing for ways that I might know Him more and be more like Him. I am being challenged to new depths of prayer. I am learning the Scriptures in a whole different light. Worship is coming alive like I never imagined. And, perhaps most significantly, I am learning that my service to the poor is the true measure by which I can find likeness to Christ.

My journey is far from over. In one sense, I realize that it will never end in this life. But on the other hand, I believe that Christ calls me in this way in order that He may be found. "Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you." Taking our Lord at His word, I am confident that in this sense the journey has a destination. May I be found worthy to attain the prize- Christ!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

This Is My Story Part 5

Someone has said that becoming Catholic is not for wimps. That is the truth. We knew we wanted to become Catholic, but we had a lot to learn- and, quite frankly, a lot to un-learn.

We joined RCIA and began attending Mass weekly. Slowly we began meeting people in the parish. I stayed in close contact with our pastor. He was, and continues to be, very helpful.

One of the hardest things about it all was that we could not receive the Eucharist until we became Catholic. At the time of our decision, that was 8 months away. It seemed like forever. But the time sped past and it wasn't long before we were approaching the Easter Vigil when we would be confirmed and receive our First Holy Communion.

The Easter Vigil was everything I hoped it would be- and more. I lived every minute of it. I was filled with such joy and anticipation. The journey home was finally coming to an end. Adding to my joy was the opportunity to see my whole family come in along with me. All of us were so excited about it all. It had been a long road and we were finally home.

There are no words to describe what I felt as we were confirmed and then received the precious Body and Blood of our Lord for the first time. But my youngest son summed it up for us. After receiving the Eucharist, he leaned over and asked my wife if we would be Catholic the next time we visited another parish where we attend when we are on vacation. She answered that we would. He said, "You mean we're Catholic everywhere? This is the best day of my life!" We could all echo that statement.

It's been almost 7 months since that night. We have learned a lot of things. We continue to learn. My boys are in our parish school now. We pray the rosary together as a family and attend daily Mass when we are able. We are learning about devotion to the saints, especially our blessed Mother. We rejoice in the safety and stability we have found in joyfully submitting to the authority of the Pope. We have learned to see Purgatory as an expression of God's Grace, and we are becoming more aware of our responsibility, and desire, to pray for those who are there. The Mass is awesome and amazing. It is rare that we do not learn something new merely by observing what is taking place there.

This journey began with my reading about the Fathers 16 years ago. It began to really take shape about 7 years ago while I was still pastoring my first church. The road has been long and hard. But it truly was worth it all. I am comforted to know that if this journey turned out so well, then our continuing pilgrimage toward heaven will be infinitely better. Truly, it is worth it to endure these momentary light afflictions for the surpassing glory that awaits us. We pray that we may be found faithful until the end. Even so, come Lord Jesus!

This is my story, this is my song- praising my Savior all the day long!


Friday, November 2, 2007

This Is My Story Part 4

It didn't take long before my wife and I agreed that we felt God was leading us into the Charismatic Episcopal Church. We were meeting some wonderful people, experiencing wonderful times of worship and pretty much having a blast discovering all these new treasures from the ancient faith. In time, I took the steps necessary for ordination. It seemed like it was taking forever, but in retrospect things really moved very fast. I was eventually ordained a priest and appointed as pastor over a small mission.

In spite of the fact that I loved my new fellowship, there were still these nagging questions. During my time of investigation I had made liberal use of the internet. Quite frankly, everything would have taken much longer had it not been for this technology. I perused all kinds of sites that had anything to do with early Christianity. I especially was fond of Orthodox, Catholic, and Anglican sites. It was one of the Orthodox sites that challenged me with the question: what is the Church.

I had never really given that a lot of thought before. As I look back I realize that neither the Assemblies of God nor I myself had a very developed ecclesiology (the study of the Church). The early Church believed there was only one Church. This Church was indestructible (Mt. 16:18) and therefore could not be divided. Division simply meant that one group separated itself from the Church. But the Church continued to be one.

This posed a problem for me. The CEC claimed to be in this historic stream, but they were younger than I was. If what the early Fathers said was true, then I was still separated from the one, true Church of Jesus Christ.

In all honesty, I put this off. I really liked where I was and I didn't want to go through the madness of switching churches, etc. again. It was too hard the last time.

But God is not so easily put off. First my small mission closed due to a variety of circumstances. Then the CEC went through a huge split that left me stranded. What was I to do? Where would I go?

In light of all that was taking place within me, I took it from the Lord that this was my opportunity to continue the journey. We tried an Anglican Church, but didn't really care for it as much as we thought we might. We tried an Orthodox Church and just couldn't make the cultural leap to the Byzantine liturgy. Then we tried a Catholic Church.

We were caught off guard by how much we really liked the Catholic Church. At this stage we were still very anti-Catholic in a number of areas. We didn't believe in purgatory, the papacy, or a number of the Marian doctrines. But here in this church we could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. We were struck by the spirit of reverence and worship that prevailed. We decided to continue attending this church for a while until we figured out where we were going. But we also visited others.

I was wondering what we should do. Then I thought that the Fathers of the Church had guided me this far, why not let them take me all the way? If the Fathers believed in the papacy, then the Catholic Church was the way to go. If not, then we would have to find some way of becoming Orthodox, or Anglo-Catholic, or something.

I expected the Fathers to bear witness to a Church that had no central head with each bishop determining things for his own church. But that's not what I found. I found the Fathers overwhelmingly giving witness to the bishop of Rome as the successor of St. Peter who was universally acknowledged as the chief of the apostles. The great St. John Chrysostom, the patron saint of Orthodoxy, referred to St. Peter as the choir master- an obvious reference to his role in directing the apostolic college.

With this new insight, I realized that the papacy was right in its claims and that it meant that the Catholic Church was the one, true Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. I shared my thoughts with my wife, who I was keeping informed of my studies better than the last time. While she still had some misgivings, she was willing to check it out with me. It wasn't long before we decided that this was indeed where God was leading. With joy (and some trepidation) we enlisted in RCIA.

We had found the Church in the very last place we were looking for her. But finally, the journey's end was in sight and we were about to come home!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

This Is My Story Part 3

I was at a place in my journey where I needed to go further. I was discovering many wonderful things, but I hadn't really shared it with anyone- not even my wife. I really didn't quite know how to articulate what I was thinking.

One of the things I was thinking was that I wanted to know how to implement my new-found discoveries into my own life, but also into the life of my church. We had already been observing weekly communion (something uncommon in the AG) just because that's what we saw in the Bible. We already emphasized knowledge of the Scriptures, relationship with Christ, power of the Holy Spirit, and holiness of living. What else did we need? The answer wasn't long in coming. We needed sacrament and liturgy.

Now trying to bring those two things into a Pentecostal church is asking for trouble. But I was too enamored with it all to really consider that. The problem was I didn't know how to go about it. I understood what the early Church was like, and I understood what we were like. But I didn't know how to bring the two together. I didn't know who to ask either. Pentecostals would think it strange that anyone was interested in these things and I was still convinced that Catholics were in a cult and couldn't be trusted.

About this time I found a new denomination on the internet called the Charismatic Episcopal Church. They were a newer, small denomination that held many things in common with the Catholic Church, but was not part of that Church. They were more of an Anglican persuasion with charismatic and evangelical elements as well. This really appealed to me because they sounded like they were exactly where I was.

I finally e-mailed one of their priests and began asking my questions. He answered promptly and was interested in helping me with the issues I was raising. That began a year and a half e-mail dialogue on an almost daily basis. I'm sure he didn't realize what he was getting himself into. But it was helping me fuse the two ideas, ancient and modern, together.

The more I began to investigate, the more I understood. I was also discovering that I really had a desire to be part of this denomination. I had met personally with the priest and even worshiped at the church where he pastored. Eventually, I met the bishop of the diocese and some others.

I had by this time told my wife what was going on in my head and my heart. It was hard for her. She had no idea. We had many prolonged "discussions". It was hard on both of us. She wasn't in the same place I was. She didn't agree with some of my perspectives. But eventually it became clear that we would need to make a move. I wasn't going to force her into joining me in any new church or denomination. I knew that would require some time of prayer and discernment for both of us. But I could no longer continue as pastor of the church where I was. I no longer held to everything I was required to believe to continue ministering in the Assemblies of God. It was with great sadness that we bid farewell to our precious little church family and moved into the unknown. For the first time in our married life, we were poles apart on a major decision. To my wife's credit, she submitted to the decision because she knew it was the right thing to do. No man could ever ask for a greater demonstration of love than she gave.

I didn't know where we were going. I was truly blind and in the dark. I wasn't very happy with what was happening, but I believed God was at work and I knew I had to trust Him.