Thursday, April 30, 2009

Trust and Obey

One of the wonderful hymns I grew up singing in my Southern Baptist church was "Trust and Obey." The words go like this,"Trust and obey, For there's no other way To be happy in Jesus, But to trust and obey." (Luckily you can only read this and you don't have to hear me sing it!) Simple words and a simple tune but they carry much truth.

During my journey to Catholicism I have come to learn the power of those words. Learning new theology is never an easy task nor is learning the Catholic culture. At least not for someone steeped in the Southern Baptist tradition (emphasis on SOUTHERN). Much about Catholicism is foreign to the rugged individualism, go it alone, and be your own man, rebel attitude which is engrained in virtually every southern male at birth. (It comes with the birth certificate, along with a love for football, fried chicken, biscuits and grits.)

However, to be happy in Jesus can only take place as we submit ourselves to His will. But what does it mean to submit to His will? How do we actually do that? The Catholic Church makes this easy. When we submit ourselves to the Magisterium of the Church, (whether not we understand or even agree with the them) out of honor to God, then God will honor our act of obedience by providing the grace necessary for the spiritual growth required to come into an understanding with His will. I have come to experience that the "understanding" often comes after the obedience, not before.

As with many converts, my road to Rome was filled with many questions. The traditional big stumbling blocks were the questions about the Blessed Virgin Mary, purgatory, indulgences, infallibility of the Pope, etc. However, once I accepted the teaching of Matthew 16, where Jesus gives the "keys" to Peter, everything else fell into place. I realized that the authority of Peter or the chair of Peter did not rest in man but in the promise of Christ. Because the authority was from God the Father, through Jesus His Son, then I had to obey the authority to be happy in Jesus. It was His promise that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" so the responsibility for maintaining that promise is His.

As long as I seek to honor Him by obeying His authority, it is His responsibility to guide me to the still waters. This He unfailingly does, as is evidenced by the great peace that seems to growth with each passing day. My life is still filled with many challenges and in some way the challenges are even greater now than before. But Jesus has shown me that I do not walk alone. I have the Most Blessed Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary (my spiritual mother) a whole host of Saints (dearly departed brothers and sisters in Christ), Angels, and the current body of Christ on Earth (the church, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ) all who have walked the path before me and now walk it with me.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hate Crime or Political Thought Control

    Let's get one thing straight. I don't hate any person because they belong to a particular group, race or religion. I try very hard not to hate any person at all, although some make this very difficult. For me the issue of hate crime legislation is not about protecting or bashing one group over another. My objection to so called hate crime legislation is a philosophical one.

    The hate crime legislation movement is seeking to criminalize politically incorrect thoughts, words and deeds. It is attempting to silence any opposition to its agenda. Sure the current legislation may be appealing to a certain group of people but what about fringe elements of other groups. Are we going to pass special legislation offering special protection to every special interest group or social subset out there? Do we really want the same court system that allowed O.J. to go free and sent Martha Stewart to jail, to be in charge of judging the thoughts, intentions and motivations of our hearts?

    People are constantly harping on Christians, accusing them of being too judgmental, and yet they are willing to give a judge power to incarcerate someone for a"perceived" offense.    The jails are already overcrowded with real criminals, serving real time for real crimes. Do we really want to waste the additional time and resources trying to enforce legislation concerning a person's thoughts and motives? It is also hard enough and costly enough to get a regular criminal conviction, now they want to place additional burdens on the District Attorneys. Hate crime laws will be make trials longer and more costly and provide more room for errors and mistrials.

The use of legislation to police the thoughts and motives of someone and to add extra punishment for a crime based on those motives completely undermines the concept of equal protection under the law. It is an unnecessary legislation, concerned more about making people feel good about an issue than actually doing anything to solve the real problem concerning that issue.



Tuesday, April 28, 2009

American or Christian?

    In a video on YouTube, President Obama is shown making the following statement; "Whatever we once were, we're no longer a Christian nation. At least not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, and a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers," He stated it again in an email to CBN News correspondent David Brody    as reported by Aaron Klein in his World Net Daily article entitled "Obama: America is 'no longer Christian' Democrat says nation also for Muslims, nonbelievers" posted June 22, 2008. President Obama is quoted as saying, "I think that the right might worry a bit more about the dangers of sectarianism. Whatever we once were, we're no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers." He went on to say, "We should acknowledge this and realize that when we're formulating policies from the state house to the Senate floor to the White House, we've got to work to translate our reasoning into values that are accessible to every one of our citizens, not just members of our own faith community."

    These comments should not shock anyone. The Federal Government has been telling us this for almost 60 years. They used the great MYTH of "separation of church and state" to force a reshaping of our Nation from the Judeo-Christian values of our fathers to the godless, secular values of modern Socialism. I realize that the U.S. has never had an official, state sponsored, established religion in the manner of most European and Middle Eastern nations, nor would we want such a system. We have, however, always been considered by everyone, both at home and abroad, as a Christian nation.

    The Jewish immigrants, the Muslim immigrants, even the atheist immigrants, all knew they were coming to a "Christian" nation. They came because of the Christian nature of the country which guaranteed their religious, and economic freedom The concept that we have certain inalienable rights granted by our Creator and that we have the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness (ownership of property) find their genesis and foundation only in the Christian faith. Without the belief in the Christian God we are at the mercy of tyrants, dictators and despots.

    You can be an American and not be a Christian. But you will not be a free American for long if you deny the foundations upon which your freedom rest. The moment you transfer the source of your liberty from God to the government, the government will begin to take your liberty away.

Monday, April 27, 2009

What is Our Stay and Staff?

Now would be a good time to answer the question, "What is Our Stay and Staff"?

The phrase came to me while reading in the book of Isaiah 3:1. "For, behold, the Lord, the LORD of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water," KJV. The stay is basically the sustenance or "bread" necessary for daily life. The staff refers to a "walking stick" or "rod" best pictured in common images of shepherds. Basically this verse says the LORD will remove from Jerusalem and Judah their complete sustenance or provision and their protection.

    As I mediated on these verses, it came to me that Jesus Christ is our "Stay and Staff". He is our stay in that He Himself is our daily bread, necessary for eternal life. (See John 6:29-71) He is our whole stay, all that we need for life and life abundantly. He is "body and blood, soul and divinity," our complete provision. He is also our staff. The staff was used for three purposes. The first was for assistance with walking especially on the long journeys. If you have ever been hiking you are familiar with how much a good walking stick helps in the journey. Jesus walks with us on our daily journey, always there to encourage us and even carry us when the way gets to rough. The second purpose for the staff is for protection. He is our buckler and our shield, a mighty fortress for those that love and serve Him. The third purpose of a staff is for correction. Every time we go astray He gently, yet firmly corrects and disciplines us and brings back to the "green pastures."

    So that is what I mean by Stay and Staff. It is just a reminder that Jesus is my All in All.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Long Journey Home…

First blog post ever so please be patient. I guess I had better start at the beginning. I was born Jan. 21… No just kidding, no reason to go that far back. My journey home to the Catholic Church is a long one and will not be interesting to most people so I will try to hit the high points.

    I was raised in a Southern Baptist Church. I have always been to drawn to the Bible and God, (although I have not always lived like it). During my high school years I attended a lot of non denominational Bible Studies and learned a great deal about Scripture and Christian living from some wonderful, spiritual people. I owe them a debt I can never repay. I unfortunately also had a wild streak that would haunt me for many years to come.

    I went to Charleston Southern University (formerly known as Baptist College at Charleston). It was while attending college that I decided to enter the ministry as a vocation. I got married while in school, and after graduating with a BA in Religion, moved to Fort Worth, Texas to attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for graduate work. So far so good…

    It was in seminary that my life took a major turn. I went through a divorce that left me confused, bewildered and basically lost. I questioned a lot of things, but the main question I was facing was why had my Faith failed. I was aware of my shortcomings. I admit I was immature and somewhat irresponsible at times. But all things considered my Faith should have been strong enough to overcome these short falls. After all, I was a devout Bible believing, sola scriptura (Bible as final authority only), sola fide (salvation by faith alone), Calvinistic, dispensationalist, died in the wool Protestant. I was fully versed in the Hal Lindsey/Jack Chick world of end time prophecy. I had a Ryrie study bible, all marked up with the keys passages highlighted in yellow. I was attending the premier (at least largest) evangelical protestant seminary in the world. My wife had spent her entire life in the Southern Baptist church. She was born while her father was attending seminary. He was a minister in a large prominent Baptist church. We had about as good a Protestant pedigree as a southern boy could hope for. And yet after a few short years we were divorced, while attending seminary no less. How could this have happened? Why wasn't the faith tradition I had been raised in strong enough to save my marriage. Why wasn't it strong enough to save me from myself?

    I then began to question many things in my Baptist tradition. Where did the Scripture change the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday? Where did the Scripture change the dietary laws? Where did the Scripture change the Feast Days (i.e. Passover, which the Jews were commanded to observe forever). These questions and many others could have best been summed up as "Who had the authority?" Every professor I ask had trouble answering these questions. There really was not a good Scripture-only answer to these questions.

    This began an 18 year journey seeking for the answers to these questions. The next 4.5 years were total hell. I left seminary, got remarried, had 4 more kids (2 sets of twins) for a total of 5. The new wife and kids were a tremendous blessing from God. However the massive increase in responsibility, along with my inability to meet those responsibilities, added greatly to my sense of failure and futility. In my immaturity, I began to drink myself stupid every day. By 1995, I was ready to commit suicide. But God was not finished with me yet.

As I sat in the window seal on the 15th floor of an apartment building in downtown Amarillo, I had reached the end of the road. As I sat there and reviewed all that I had lost and thrown away (my 1st wife and baby daughter, on the verge of losing the 2nd family (they were living in Ft. Worth at this time), my career as a minister, my reputation and the respect of my family and colleagues, etc.) despair gave way to a deep dark depression and I decided to jump out the window and end the pain and misery that I felt and that I was causing to others. God miracously intervened at this point and very firmly and lovingly showed me that the pain would not end. He showed me that by killing myself I would inflict great pain and suffering on my children that would hurt them for the rest of their lives. It was not their fault, and they did not deserve to have that inflicted upon them. My conversation with God went like this:

        God: "What are you doing?"

        Me: "I am going to kill myself and end this. Look at the mess I have made of everything."

        God: "That is an incredibly selfish thing to do. Is that the legacy you want to leave your children? When things get tough you just give up?"

        Me: "What do you want from me? I tried to serve You. I believed in You. I believed in Your Bible. And yet here I am all messed up."

        God: "You don't trust me."

        Me: "WHAT? I just said I believe. I have professed a faith in Jesus Christ since I was a baby. I have always had faith."

        God: "I SAID YOU DON'T TRUST ME. You believe but you don't trust."

        Me: "What the hell are You talking about? (Understand, I don't normally talk to God like that but I was drunk and in great despair)"

        God: "I have never seen the children of a righteous man begging for bread."

        Me: "Huh?"

        God: "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy. I will honor those who honor me."

        Me: "Huh?" (Me being dense) "What???"

        God: "Trust. Believing is ok and good. But even the demons believe. I want you to TRUST me. You say you believe in the Bible but you do not follow what it says."

        Me: "hmm… Okay how do I trust you?"

        God: "Trust me"


    It was at this point that I climbed back in the window and began to think about what just took place. I decided I would trust God but I did not know what He was talking about or how to even begin "trusting" as opposed to just believing. I decided I would find one passage or command in the Bible and follow it. This began the process of learning to trust God especially when things did not make since to me. I won't bore you any of the details but this began the long turn back to God.

I moved back to Ft. Worth to my family. I did not have any answers at this point but I was determined to TRUST God no matter what. At this point we began to attend a Messianic Jewish Congregation. I realize now that God had to take me back to the beginning to set few things straight. We attended there a couple of years and really enjoyed that experience. I learned a great deal there, especially about Liturgy and the fact that the Bible is a liturgical book, and God instructs us to worship Him in a Liturgical manner. (This was part of the whole learning to TRUST even when it did not make since thing.) I was however, still very anti-Catholic. I was convinced that the Catholic Church was full of paganism, manmade rules and regulations. I was also convinced that was the problem with the Baptist. I also found that to be the problem with the Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian and the non – denominational churches we attended over the next few years. I could easily find errors in doctrines or traditions that I felt conflicted with Scripture. (Man, was I arrogant).

Then about 3 years ago, while staying at a friend's house in Arkansas, I watched a little program on EWTN called Mother Angelica Live. I immediately feel in love with her. I began to watch more of the programming and soon discovered a priest named Fr. Corapi. I loved his dynamic teaching and his pointed wit. Then I discovered Fr. Mitch Pacwa, Fr. Groschel and Dr. Scott Hahn. They were speaking, teaching and preaching a tremendous love for God and ministering to me in a very real and personal way. And all their teachings were extremely Biblically sound. I could not poke holes in it like I could with almost all the other Protestant ministers I had listened to (John Hagee, Jessis Duplantis, James Dobson, and Charles Stanley, etc.). And I noticed that they all had something in common. They were CATHOLIC. Uh oh. How could this be? The Catholic Church is the Whore of Babylon, full of idolters who loved Mary more than Jesus, prayed to statues and after all, everybody knows the Pope is the anti- Christ. But this is not what I was hearing and seeing on EWTN.

I do not remember knowing any Catholics growing up. There were a couple in my high school I think but I really did not know any. They may have been Catholic but I was unaware of it. This is no reflection upon them. It was just that I was unaware. There were none I can think of at my college, (it was a Baptist College after all). I had met a couple of priest who were Army Chaplains and I was impressed with their piety but I figured they were the exceptions not the norm. EWTN was the first exposure I had to what the Church really taught. I, considering myself a student of theology and Scripture, decided that I would find out what the Catholic Church actually taught and then I could reject it with a clear conscience.

I got a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and began studying. I continued to listen to EWTN and even added Pope John Paul II to my list of teachers. Soon, I fell in love with the Church. I realized that so much of my spiritual heritage had been hidden from me. I discovered a depth of spiritual teaching that was absent in Protestantism. I also found the answer to the great question, "Who had the authority…?" The Church had the authority given to her by Christ Himself through Peter and the Apostles. God was saying "Trust me, trust My Church." This was the missing element of my faith, the Magisterium of the Church. This is not intended to slight the faith I was taught and grew up with. I will always be thankful and grateful for the faith I learned from my parents, grandparents and extended family. I learned to love Jesus and Scripture in a very personal way. I would not trade that for anything. But it is in the Catholic Church that I have come to find the fullness of the Faith. This past Easter my twin boys (Jeremiah and Nick, 17) and my twin girls (Katie and Hannah, 14) were received into full communion with the Church. I and my wife will be joining them soon. Please pray for us as we continue this journey.

    I will post more later as I continue to fill in the missing blanks….