Category Archives: Christianity

This Is That Love

Out of all the religions, what makes authentic Christianity unique is that, from the beginning of time, God seeks us. It’s not about adopting a set of moral values and principles…it’s about knowing God, the person of Jesus Christ, intimately. So intimately, in fact, that an eternal, physical AND spiritual union between God and His creatures takes place.

You know that love that everyone yearns for in the deepest places of their hearts? This is it.

Tolerance?

Do you really want tolerance? We tolerate things that we hope will eventually go away, like a cold, bad weather and annoying people. What you actually want is for me to embrace, approve of, validate and agree with that which I know in my heart to be wrong. I think you can’t tolerate me.

Self

Self awareness is good. I must pay attention to my body, my thoughts and my soul. I must know myself and know how I may be affecting myself and those around me for better or for worse.

Self care is good. My body, my mind and my soul are gifts given to me. I must take good care of these gifts and not neglect them or abuse them.

Self control is good. I am responsible for managing my emotions and for choosing my thoughts and my actions. No one else can do this for me.

Self-centeredness is not good. I am not the center of all things; God is. My life must revolve around God. God is love. Love includes self, but love is not centered on self. Love must ultimately be centered on others.

A Shift In My Focus

The largest percentage of my blog has been apologetic in nature.  Partly I’ve been motivated by a desire to grow in knowledge of my own faith by explaining some of it to others.  I also hoped others might take an interest in the Faith and discover Christ for the first time or rediscover Him in new ways.  All I can really measure is my own growth.  Maybe others have been influenced, maybe not.

I’ve come to a point where apologetics interests me less.  Certainly, if someone asks me a question about Catholicism I will do my best to answer or suggest further resources.  However, I’m finding that too much focus on apologetics is stunting my spiritual growth.

Apologetics is, after all, a discipline of defending a certain position.  It has its place.  Nevertheless, as a marriage and family therapist, I am keenly aware that defensiveness can be quite toxic to relationships.  In fact, high levels of defensiveness between spouses has been deemed a “marriage killer.”  I see it play out often in my therapy office.  Considering the fact that marriage models the relationship between Christ and His Church, it seems fitting for Christians to avoid a defensive stance as much as possible and choose the opposite approach of vulnerability.  Vulnerability is the birthplace of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).  Vulnerability is the cross.

Vulnerability leads to openness, dialog, discourse, empathy, understanding and unity. Defensiveness leads more often to division, blame, accusations, lack of personal accountability and closed hearts.  Would one rather embrace a knight in armor or a vulnerable child in swaddling clothes?

Again, apologetics has its place and I do not disregard it as important.  But even apologetics must contain a degree of vulnerability to be effective.  No human can be 100% right all of the time.  The best armor is never completely impervious to attack or injury.  Christian apologists must be humble, vulnerable and willing to admit error.

Personally, I’m becoming less interested in explaining Catholicism and more driven to live it.  Let’s face it, most people really don’t care how something works as long as they know they can depend on it to work.  There’s only so much I can explain anyway.  I just want to be an example of the transforming power of Christ and His Church.  Hopefully I can shift my writing to reflect that goal.

The following is a song written and performed by a skeptic who also happens to arguably be the most popular and talented rock drummer in the world, Neil Peart.  (If you don’t like rock music, humor me.  The lyrics are pertinent.  I’m a drummer, so, there you have it).

Hypocrites In The Church

Imagine if you were watching the Family Feud game show and the host said, “Name a reason people stop going to church.”  The number one answer on the board would likely be “Hypocrisy.”  We hear this frequently.  “I stopped going to church,” or “I never go to church,” or “I changed my church,” or even, “I no longer believe in God because of all the hypocrites.”

The fatal flaw in such reasoning is that there is nowhere in the world to go where there are no hypocrites.  It has often been said that if you discover the “perfect” church, don’t go in.  If you go in, it will then contain a hypocrite, and you will have ruined it.  We are all hypocrites.  Some of us may try to deny it, but the fact remains that we are all imperfect.

Should you decide to eschew “organized religion” and worship God independently, all you will accomplish is to organize your own, private religion with one member that just happens to be a hypocrite.  So, that doesn’t solve the problem.  Your “private church” will still be full of hypocrites.

Hundreds of years ago, reformers tried to “fix” hypocrisy in the Church.   Consequently, all of the churches started since the Reformation have been started by imperfect human beings who happen to have all been hypocrites.  The Church was originally formed by Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the only man who ever lived that was a perfect, non-hypocrite.  Consequently, when choosing a church, why not at least choose the one that was formed by a perfect, non-hypocrite?  Why should an imperfect hypocrite believe that he or she can re-form what was already formed by the perfect, non-hypocrite, Jesus Christ?

Hypocrites in the Church do not negate the truth of the Church anymore than out-of-shape people in a gym negate the benefits of exercise.  Instead of trying to run away from hypocrites we need to be running towards Christ and embracing the benefits of His Church.  Otherwise, we’re just running from hypocrisy into the arms of more hypocrisy.

“What Would Jesus Do?” Try Asking, “What Did Jesus Do?”

“What would Jesus do?”

The answer to that question often depends on who you ask.  It’s a question that fits nicely into the relativistic mind of our age.  It allows each of us to thoughtfully rub our chins, look up at the sky and say, “Well, I believe Jesus would…”  So, the question is really just Jiminy Cricket’s “follow your conscience” line wearing a Christian mask.  It is relativism presented as religion.  Whatever answer you come up with is as good as anyone else’s answer as long as we are all “sincere.”

Often, the honest answer to the question “What would Jesus do?” is “I really don’t know.”  His disciples lived with him for three years and Jesus constantly kept them surprised and guessing.  Why are we so convinced that we have Jesus pegged?  For example, it astounds me when celebrities claim to know what Jesus would or would not approve of, as if being a famous celebrity makes one an authority on the mind of Christ.

When we ask, “What would Jesus do?” we can only think and act hypothetically.  We can only speculate and take our best guess.  Maybe we’re helping, maybe we’re doing harm.  What if we decide to do the exact opposite of what Jesus would actually do?  Our world faces daily situations for which there are no explicit instructions in the Bible.  Dealing in general, biblical principles does not always provide enough specifics.  Asking what Jesus would do often doesn’t help much.

Perhaps a more helpful question is, “What did Jesus do?”  There are documented answers to that question.  In terms of what our world faces today, an important answer is, “Jesus established an authoritative, teaching Church to guide us and to spiritually feed us.”  In the midst of all the confusion over what Jesus would do, we have a Church to inform us of what we as followers of Jesus in this present day are to do and what we are not to do.

I sometimes hear people defend immorality by stating that the Bible is silent or ambiguous about certain modern day issues.  Of course it is!  Jesus never told his disciples to write a book to instruct us on every possible, future, moral issue.  Jesus established a Church (only one Church) with the authority to provide us with those instructions on faith and morals.  Jesus did not establish multiple church denominations to speculate and argue about what He might or might not do.  Men established those churches (some very recently).

God is not the author of confusion.  Jesus did not leave us with a Bible, the Holy Spirit and hypothetical questions about what He would do.  He left us with His Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, to lead us into all truth.  Does this mean we always have every answer to every question?  No.  Does it mean we put it to a vote when we are confused about what Jesus would do?  No (Christianity is not a democracy).  It means that by following His Church we are following Jesus.  We are to strive for obedience to the faith, not speculation.

It comes down to trust (i.e. faith).  Either we trust with all our heart that Jesus knew what He was doing when He established the Church (trust what He did), or we try to constantly change the Church to conform to our speculations about what Jesus would do (lean on our own understanding and feelings).

Fear

It is good when fear motivates us to jump away from a coiling snake or to wear our seat belts.  These are examples of God-given reflexes and reason.  It is not good when fear motivates us to sin.  Much sin is rooted in fear.  It stems from a lack of trust in God.  Our fears are exploited by the powers of darkness and used to tempt us away from love and toward sin.  I am reminded of the line from the classic movie Poltergeist, “It knows what scares you.”

Virtually any sin we can think of can be traced back to some fear.  Virtually any fear can result in some type of sin.

We Americans like to talk about rights and justice.  Seldom do we get to the heart of the matter.  When we violate God’s moral or natural laws we are usually motivated by fears which fuel our lack of trust in God.  We also like to use the word “love,” but we fail to understand the word.  We think love is simply another pleasant emotion instead of a courageous, selfless act of the will.

We are taught that courage is a virtue and that fear is a weakness.  So, instead of admitting that we have sinned because we are afraid, we mask our sins under the cover of “rights” and “justice.”  This makes us seem courageous, but often it is just like Adam and Eve hiding from God and wearing “fig leaves” to cover their shame.  So, the first step is to recognize sin for what it is and choose God’s love instead (even when it’s really, really hard).  Otherwise we remain stuck in the circular rationalization of our sins.

Next, we must ask ourselves what we are afraid of.  When we acknowledge our fears we are better able to see how they pave the way for sin.  Is our sin rooted in a fear of what we might miss out on (some pleasure, perhaps)?  Is it rooted in a fear of increased responsibility?  Is it a financial fear?  Is it a health related fear?  Whatever the fear, there is likely a lack of trust in God that accompanies it.  So, we choose our way instead of God’s way, and we sin.  We violate God’s moral or natural law.  We choose fear over love.

“God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2Tim 1:7)  “There is no fear in love; but perfect love castes out fear; because fear has torment.  He that fears has not been made perfect in love.” (1John 4:18)

What are your fears?  You may have to dig deep to find some of them.  Can you choose God’s ways in the face of them?  Will you let perfect love cast them out?  Or will you remain crouched behind your right to do things your way?

Love

People use the word “love” in various ways.  Usually, it has something to do with how they feel about someone or something.  “I love ice cream,” or “I love walks on the beach,” or “I love my boyfriend,” etc.  Love has been so thoroughly linked to feeling, emotion and romance that people tend to perceive it as being beyond their control.  “Falling” in love is like slipping on a banana peel.  It just “happens” to us and there is nothing we can do about it.

There is a higher form of love.  Although it may involve experiencing certain emotions, it is not, in and of itself, an emotion.  This higher form of love is a choice.  It is an act of the will.  It does not “just happen.”  It must be consciously chosen.  It must be chosen even when the feelings connected with it are unpleasant or undesirable.  Feelings cannot guide this kind of love.  It transcends feelings.

To really love someone is to will the highest good for that person regardless of one’s feelings toward that person.  This is why Jesus commands us to love our enemies.  He is calling us to the higher form of love that is not guided by emotion.  What good is it to only love your friends?  Even the worst people can do that because they are using the lowest form of “love” which is based on feelings rather than choice.  Anyone can fall in and out of love while riding the waves of emotion.  Higher love (godly love) demands that we make a choice and stick to it despite our feelings.

I think it was G.K. Chesterton who said, “There is a reason Jesus told us to love our neighbors and also to love our enemies.  It is because they tend to be one in the same.”  When pressed for an answer to the question, “Which is the greatest commandment?” Jesus answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  These two commandments sum up all the rest of God’s laws.  Following this standard cannot be accomplished through the guidance of emotion.  Love is a choice, whether it is a choice to love God or to love our neighbors.  Feelings are secondary and must not derail true love.  Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” not “Like your enemies.”

To love another is to will the highest possible good for that person.  God is the highest possible good.  Therefore, to really love someone is to desire that they become intimately connected to and redeemed by God, the highest possible good.  Emotions are not the bottom line.  Desiring that people find their way to the highest possible good is the bottom line.  That is godly love.

Think about a person that you find the most emotionally difficult to love.  When you decide that you want the highest possible good for that person despite your feelings towards that person, then you are on the path of higher love.  When your will takes over for your emotions, then your words and actions can reflect authentic, godly love.  Look at a crucifix and you will see the highest good.  God is love.  The choice is ours.

Faith: “Personal” Or “Private?”

The words “personal” and “private” may cause confusion at times.  Not everything that is personal needs to be private, although some things are.  In fact, some personal things are actually supposed to be quite public.

For example, a marriage is a very personal, intimate relationship, and spouses keep certain aspects of the relationship very private.  The marriage relationship itself, however, is quit public.  Even so called “private weddings” still require public licenses and witnesses to be valid.  Christian spouses are supposed to be public witnesses to the relationship between Christ and his Church.  So, a very personal relationship is also meant to be a very public one.

One’s annual income is generally considered to be personal information that is also private.  It comes across as rude to inquire about someone’s income.  When asked, “How much do you make?” one might respond, “I’m sorry, that’s personal.”  What is really meant, however, is, “That’s private.”  One’s name is also “personal” information, but we tend to freely divulge it when asked, so it becomes both personal and public.

Privatized religion is a strange phenomenon, especially where Christianity is concerned.  It makes complete sense that one’s religious beliefs are personal, for if one’s faith in God does not impact one’s person, there is little point to it.  This, I believe, is at the heart of why many try to make a distinction between “religion” and “relationship.”  Religion is often branded as impersonal while a relationship is assumed to be personal.  The reality, however, is that religion can and must be quite personal.  The whole point of the Christian religion is to be personally transformed by God.  Yet, the Christian religion is not meant to be “private.”

Christianity is meant to be lived in full view of the public.  The Christian is to be a “city on a hill” not a “light hidden under a bushel.”  Certainly, Christianity is personal.  It should transform a person.  But, if one’s Christian faith is always private, that is a problem.  At some point, many Christians bought into the idea that being open about one’s faith is taboo.  Somehow, the very public proclamation of the Gospel became a “private” matter not to be broached in public.  “Go and spread the Gospel” became “Don’t offend anyone or draw any attention.”  This happened despite the fact that Christians were told from the beginning that their faith would offend many people and that it was supposed to draw attention from the world.  Political correctness has overruled the Great Commission for many Christians.

Now, I can certainly understand why some Christians in certain times and places might keep their faith somewhat private, at least from the powers that be.  For two thousand years many Christians have had to face death and torture for being Christian.  Nevertheless, many of them gave (and still give) their lives rather than recant their belief.  That which is deeply personal need not be private.

I have heard people say things such as, “I don’t go to any church and I don’t want to talk about religion.  My God and I do just fine together.”  My reaction is, “If your faith is such a wonderful thing, why horde it for yourself?  Why keep all of that great stuff hidden from everyone?  That seems like a selfish thing to do, especially if you claim to be a Christian.  Why not tell people about your wonderful God?  Why not proclaim what you believe, why you believe it and what difference it makes to you and to the world?  What are you so afraid of?”

Finally, the Christian faith is about community.  In a community, people give, share and exchange things and ideas.  Christianity is not about isolation.  The idea is to have a relationship with Christ and then share the benefits of that relationship with others.  Christianity is not a private “security blanket” to be clung to like the Peanuts character Linus.  Christianity is a treasure to be freely distributed to others in word and in action.

So, by all means, have a deeply personal, Christian faith.  Just don’t keep it private.  Share the joy.

Speak And Hear In The Flesh

First, imagine that you live in the time of Jesus.  Next, imagine that you have come to believe that Jesus is who he claims to be, namely, God.  Then, you begin to ponder the state of your soul.  You realize that in many ways you have sinned against God and the humanity God created.  It suddenly occurs to you that the very God you have sinned against is in town, right now, in the flesh.  What would you do?

Hopefully, you would go into town and find Jesus.  You would seize the opportunity that awaits you.  It might require some effort on your part, however.  You would probably need to make the journey on foot.  When you finally arrived in town, you would need to figure out where to find Jesus.  Is he walking the streets?  Is he staying in someone’s home?  Is he preaching at the Temple or outside of town?  After some searching and polling of the locals you finally figure out where he is.

Once you get to his location you see that he is surrounded by many obstacles.  There are people all around him.  You must find a way to get through.  After squeezing and prying your way through the crowd you at last find yourself face to face with Jesus.  He looks at you as if he has been expecting you.  He seems to know the effort it took for you to be there before him.  Then he waits.

Jesus knows that “out of the mouth flows the intents of the heart,” so he waits.  He waits for you to open your mouth.  He already knows what is in your heart, but he wants you to say it.  Jesus, the “Word made flesh” wants you to use your fleshy mouth to form the words of your heart and convey them to his ears of flesh.  He wants to hear you say, in your own words, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

As you speak the words, you sense that every syllable, every inhale and exhale of breath is releasing something you have been holding in.  Even your body language, the nonverbal expression of your message, reveals the depth of your heart as it pours out to Jesus, seeking new life and restoration.  At last, you have come to Jesus with all of your physical and spiritual being.

Finally, you raise your fleshy eyes to his.  Your ears of flesh hear his mouth of flesh declare with God’s authority, “Be at peace.  Your sins are forgiven!”

Transport to present day.  We still live in the time of Jesus.  Jesus said, “I am with you always.”  He still wants us to share our hearts with him through fleshy means.  So, he gave his own authority to fleshy men.  “As the Father sent me, so I send you.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven.  Whose sins you retain are retained.”  We still get to speak the words and hear his forgiveness.  And it still requires a degree of physical effort.  We have to find a time and a place to meet with a priest who stands in for Christ as we confess to God.  We still have to push through the obstacles.  We still need to feel the humility that can only come from speaking out loud to another.

Of course, we can pray to God anywhere anytime.  God is everywhere.  But, Jesus wants our relationship with him to be more than a spiritual, “telepathic” sort of communication on a golf course, at home or even in a church.  Jesus became a human being.  He wants us to be in full relationship with him, body and spirit.  When we hurt someone, we should apologize to them in person whenever possible.  Jesus makes it possible through the Sacrament of Confession.  Jesus is still in town.  Go meet with him and tell him what’s on your heart, in the flesh.  That’s how he made you.  That’s how he wants to meet with you.