A Gospel Presentation

My friend Andrew and I decided to film a simple Gospel presentation to share with the world over Youtube this year, and thanks to the great editing by our talented friend Becca (check out her Youtube channel with a short film, music videos, and more!), we have the finished video to share with you all! Enjoy!

This is a simple follow up to my longer post last year about how to share the Gospel, specifically as a Catholic. There’s plenty more that we could have said, but we kept it short and sweet at under 90 seconds.

Want to live in relationship with Christ? Say a simple prayer right now asking Christ to come into your life and reveal Himself to you. Make sure to talk with a Catholic friend or your local priest about how you can take the next steps toward joining an RCIA group. A great resource is Catholics Come Home. I’d be more than happy to answer any questions and give advice, as well!

God bless you!

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The Reformation is over. Kinda.

From left: Bishop Dr. Christian Krause and Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy sign the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, 1999.

From left: Bishop Dr. Christian Krause and Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy
sign the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, 1999.

“Justification by faith alone is the article on which the church stands or falls.” – Martin Luther

It’s been nearly 500 years since the split of the Church in the west, which was started largely by Martin Luther and his claim of salvation being obtained only through faith alone. Unfortunately, this split the Church and many other doctrines were changed by the Protestant Reformers before long. But the good news is that there is finally some hope for reunification again! This is going to take a loooonnnnggg time, but the most critical issue, the one mentioned in the quote above, has been resolved! The Lutheran bishops and the Catholic Church made a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1999, and even the World Methodist Council adopted it as well in 2006.

Praise God for softening both sides towards each other so that they would be open to clear dialogue on the issues at hand. It seems like a large issue that separated the sides over the years is the language used. Words like “righteousness” and “justification” have many different meanings and contexts in scripture, so of course on a charged issue it would be easy to rush to judgement instead of having a complete understanding of both sides before drawing a conclusion. In the end, both made great points, stressing how only by God and faith someone can be saved, but also how our good works play a critical role in cooperating with God’s grace in bringing about the Kingdom of God in our lives. I’m not a theologian so that’s the best summary that I can give 😉

There is still quite a bit in the way of the complete reunification of the churches in the West, but this is a very important and exciting first step that resolves the most critical issue!

Here are some of my favorite parts:

Paragraph 1:

The doctrine of justification was of central importance for the Lutheran Reformation of the sixteenth century. It was held to be the “first and chief article” and at the same time the “ruler and judge over all other Christian doctrines.”

Paragraph 5:

The present Joint Declaration has this intention: namely, to show that on the basis of their dialogue the subscribing Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic Church are now able to articulate a common understanding of our justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ.

Paragraph 15:

Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.

Paragraph 19:

We confess together that all persons depend completely on the saving grace of God for their salvation.

Paragraph 22:

We confess together that God forgives sin by grace and at the same time frees human beings from sin’s enslaving power and imparts the gift of new life in Christ.

Paragraph 25:

We confess together that sinners are justified by faith in the saving action of God in Christ. By the action of the Holy Spirit in baptism, they are granted the gift of salvation, which lays the basis for the whole Christian life.

Paragraph 28:

We confess together that in baptism the Holy Spirit unites one with Christ, justifies, and truly renews the person. But the justified must all through life constantly look to God’s unconditional justifying grace. They also are continuously exposed to the power of sin still pressing its attacks (cf. Rom 6:12-14) and are not exempt from a lifelong struggle against the contradiction to God within the selfish desires of the old Adam (cf. Gal 5:16; Rom 7:7-10). The justified also must ask God daily for forgiveness as in the Lord’s Prayer (Mt. 6:12; 1 Jn 1:9), are ever again called to conversion and penance, and are ever again granted forgiveness.

Paragraph 31:

We confess together that persons are justified by faith in the gospel “apart from works prescribed by the law” (Rom 3:28). Christ has fulfilled the law and by his death and resurrection has overcome it as a way to salvation. We also confess that God’s commandments retain their validity for the justified and that Christ has by his teaching and example expressed God’s will which is a standard for the conduct of the justified also.

Paragraph 37:

We confess together that good works – a Christian life lived in faith, hope and love – follow justification and are its fruits.

Paragraph 40 (BOOM!):

The understanding of the doctrine of justification set forth in this Declaration shows that a consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification exists between Lutherans and Catholics.

Paragraph 41 (BOOM!):

Thus the doctrinal condemnations of the 16th century, in so far as they relate to the doctrine of justification, appear in a new light: The teaching of the Lutheran churches presented in this Declaration does not fall under the condemnations from the Council of Trent. The condemnations in the Lutheran Confessions do not apply to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church presented in this Declaration.

Paragraph 44:

We give thanks to the Lord for this decisive step forward on the way to overcoming the division of the church. We ask the Holy Spirit to lead us further toward that visible unity which is Christ’s will.

How to Share the Gospel: For Catholics!

A few months ago I was preparing a presentation for student leaders on the topic of sharing the Gospel, and for fun I decided to see if there was anything extra online that I could use to show them. For some reason, the #1 hit on Google for “how to share the gospel Catholic” is an article from some “biblical Christian” group on tactics for how to convert Catholics into “biblical Christians.”

That’s an easy way to understand our situation in a nutshell. The Popes have been pushing for the New Evangelization for 50 years now but it’s taken a while to trickle down to Catholics in the pews. As a Catholic missionary with FOCUS, I’d like to share with you what the Gospel is, why we need to share it, and how to do it.

What is the Gospel?

According to New Advent, the word gospel was derived from the Angelo-Saxon god (good) and spell (to tell). It was treated as the equivalent of the Greek word euaggelion (good tidings- usually from an emperor). When emperors had won a battle, they would proclaim the euaggelion to the people. The same way, we share the Gospel, or good news, of our King, Jesus Christ!

The word gospel could be used in many different ways. It could be used to tell any generic good news. It could be used to reference a type of music. It could refer to the Gospels in the bible: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Gospel of Jesus Christ that I am talking about essentially is Jesus, who is revealed most perfectly through the example of the Church and in a unique way in the bible: a book compiled by the Catholic Church.

The Gospel essentially is Jesus: His life, death, and resurrection. In my own words, the Gospel is that though we have fallen away from God through sin, Jesus- God Himself!- has given all of humanity an opportunity for salvation through His passion. By believing in Him and joining His Church through baptism and receiving the sacraments, we can hope to partake in His resurrection at the end of time. The Gospel is that God not only acknowledges our existence, but loves us all enough to die for us, and eagerly desires that we live in relationship with Him.

Why do we need to share the Gospel?

Let me begin with a hypothetical situation. Suppose that you hit your friend. All of a sudden, there is tension and discord in your relationship with that person. What can be done to right that relationship? One wise thing to do is to ask forgiveness for what we’ve done. But the relationship is still not right until your friend actually forgives you. There is absolutely nothing that we can do to make them forgive us, it is completely in their power to choose to be merciful or not.

Now think about our relationship with God. Unfortunately, we have also broken our relationship with God through our sins. As we learned in Genesis, there are real consequences for disobeying God (aka sinning). Because of their sin, Adam and Eve would now die, struggle to find enough food to live, not be able to trust each other innocently, etc. God has called us to repentance. Before Jesus began His ministry, St. John the Baptist went around Israel preaching repentance. We always need to repent first and ask for God’s forgiveness. But we also need something that we don’t deserve, something that we have no control over: we need God’s forgiveness. Remember, God doesn’t have to forgive us. But the good news is that He did! Thanks to Jesus’s mercy, we can be forgiven if we believe in Him and are a part of His Church: who He entrusted to share the Gospel throughout the world. The Catholic (universal) Church must make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19)!

We will die with no hope if we die without faith in Jesus. Our eternal souls will be in danger of eternal damnation without Jesus. Every single person that has ever lived can only be saved through Jesus.  That’s it. There’s no other way to heaven. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Just being a “good person” isn’t good enough. It is an integral part AFTER we believe in Jesus, but it doesn’t REPLACE belief in Christ, who is truth itself. There is one God and one Lord Jesus Christ. There is one true faith: the Catholic Christian faith. Acknowledging this is not hateful or discrimination but is merely following the truth just in the same way that we teach children that 2+2=4 and not 5 or 3. Living according to the truth is not constraining but rather freeing because it allows us to live the most relevant life possible. What’s the point in living with the dream of being the MVP of the NBA if at the end of your life you end up in Hell separated from God forever?

With all of this in mind, I want to remind you that it is not just the duty of priests and missionaries to share the Gospel, this is the duty of every baptized Christian!

Jesus did not say: “go, if you would like to, if you have the time”, but he said: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” – Pope Francis at WYD

How do you share the Gospel?

By this point in this post I’ve actually covered a lot of what to say in actually sharing the Gospel. The Gospel is Jesus, so anytime that we are sharing Jesus, we are sharing the Gospel. Merely sharing belief in God or belief in the Catholic Church is not sharing the fullness of the Gospel. As I believe Pope John Paul II said, if we haven’t shared Jesus Christ, then we haven’t shared the Gospel.

Practically, the best way to share the Gospel is in a conversation with a friend. We share who Jesus is in our actions and words, but actually sharing “the Gospel” is something that we need to actually speak. Another quote that I’m remembering is that “every single time that the Gospel is shared, something happens.” People won’t always welcome it or change their lives right there, but that’s an experience that should stick with them for the rest of their life.

God actually gave us a  model for how to share the Gospel when He gave St. Catherine of Sienna (1300’s) the “cross bridge” image to communicate aspects of salvation in Christ.

Jesus Bridge

I’m not sure if this is the actual image but this is a basic picture of it, with some verses to back up each step in salvation. Check out those verses! It is so powerful to read them all in order.

In addition to the image, God himself communicated this basic message to St. Catherine of Sienna to share:

“I have created them in my image and likeness so that they might have eternal life, sharing in my being and enjoying my supreme eternal tenderness and goodness. Because of their sin they never reached this goal and never fulfilled my truth, for sin closed heaven and the door of mercy. I will make of my Son a bridge… a bridge of the Word, my only-begotten Son.”

A great way to follow up sharing the Gospel is to invite your friend to join you in prayer inviting Jesus into their life.

If Christianity, as has so rightly been said, is not primarily a doctrine but a person, Jesus Christ, it follows that the proclamation of this person and of one’s relationship with him is the most important thing, the beginning of all true evangelization. To reverse this order and put the doctrines and moral obligations of the Gospel before the discovery of Jesus would be like putting the carriages in front of the railway engine that is supposed to pull them. The person of Jesus opens the highway of the heart for the acceptance of everything else. Anyone who has once known the living Jesus has no further need to be goaded along; we ourselves burn with desire to know his thought, his will, his word. It is not on the authority of the Church that we accept Jesus, but on the authority of Jesus that we accept and love the Church. So the first thing the Church has to do is not present herself to the world, but present Jesus… Insistence on the importance of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ is not a sign of subjectivism or emotionalismbut is the translation, on the spiritual and pastoral place, of a dogma central to our faith: that Jesus Christ is “a person.” – Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the Papal household (both Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI)

Update: Check it out! My friend Andrew and I filmed a simple Gospel presentation for your benefit right here!

Related posts:
Why Evangelize?
A Case for Discipleship and Spiritual Multiplication
“Work Out Your Own Salvation with Fear and Trembling”
Salvation, Jesus, and Works

Salvation, Jesus, and Works

As I’ve been gearing up for my first year as a missionary this summer, I’ve had a unique revelation with regards to evangelization and the aspect that “works” play in salvation. I suppose a big part of this is from a Peter Kreeft (and Ronald Tacelli) book that I’m reading, Handbook of Catholic Apologetics.

First off, I’d like to share an awesome piece from that book on the importance of salvation:

“The Church also seems to be in the social service business, the counseling business, the fundraising business, the daycare business- dozens of the same worthy businesses the secular world is also in. Why? What justifies these things? The Church’s ultimate end for all these things is different from the world’s end; it is salvation. This is her distinctive “product.” Why put out a product that is just the same as other companies’ products already on the market? Why would anyone expect such a product to sell? That’s why modernist or liberal Christianity, charitable as its services are, is simply not selling. The only reason for the very existence of the Church at all, is exactly the same as the reason Jesus came to earth: to save poor and lost humanity. The Church, after all, is in the same business as her Head. When a body runs in a different direction from its head, it is like a chicken with its head cut off: it goes nowhere and quickly dies. Jesus did not come to be a philosopher or a doctor. If he did that, he failed. He didn’t solve most of the philosophers’ problems. He healed some people but left most of the world just as sick as before. He healed some bodies to show that he could heal all souls. Not only is salvation the reason for the Church’s existence; it is also the ultimate reason for your existence: your goal, point, purpose, hope, final cause, summum bonum, meaning. The difference between success and failure at life’s first task- becoming who you were meant to be- is not the difference between riches and poverty, fame and obscurity, health and sickness, pleasure and pain, even niceness and nastiness, but between salvation and damnation. Leon Bloy wrote, “There is only one tragedy: not to have been a saint.”

Salvation matters, a lot. So what does it take to be saved? When people with a Christian background talk a little about salvation, they often only mention whether or not you are a “good” person. This is nice, but is it enough? Is it enough to just be a good person to go to heaven?

The Catholic Church has a nice little clause that it seems like I’m always reminding people about (because the Church is so horrible and restricting! haha). This clause is that if someone by no fault of their own doesn’t hear the Gospel or know who Jesus is, they can still be saved by striving their very best during their life to live an upright, charitable, and selfless life, which is common sense whatever background you come from. God is merciful, much more than you and I.

Yes, that’s good and generous of God, isn’t it? The problem is that everyone who reads this blog obviously doesn’t live in a remote area and has had contact with Christians in some way, shape, or form. For people who have heard the Gospel, the nice clause of just being a good person isn’t enough to earn salvation, according to Jesus. Salvation is only possible through Jesus:

“There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” – Acts 4:12

Again, Jesus was clear Himself in this teaching:

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6

In Lecrae’s song Truth, he gives a great analogy for why we need Jesus. In one of the verses (around 3 minutes in) he discusses the issue of why an all  powerful loving God would allow evil to happen. He points out that though God allows evil natural disasters to happen, He also allows people to have free will and murder. Well, we all agree that stuff like that is evil, but here’s the brilliant part: Lecrae asks if lying and cheating are evil too. They are. And things like that are evil even if we just think them. So he turned around the argument: why does God allow us to live, as we all sin? Thanks be to God that Jesus died on the cross to forgive us of our sin, otherwise we’d all be going straight to hell. Only God can forgive sin, that’s why Jesus and the incarnation are such a big deal! No one other than Jesus can forgive us, that’s what St. Peter was saying to the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:12!

Please note that there’s a very important sacramental side with regards to salvation, centering on baptism (1 Peter 3:21 and Mark 16:16), confession (John 20:23), and the Eucharist (John 6:52). Salvation requires faith and works. Gotta offer this life for Jesus and live it out. But for this post I’m staying high level.

With all this in mind, I figure that most Christians- and Catholics are especially susceptible (not by bad teachings but misunderstandings of the teachings)- don’t seek to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ as much as they can because they unfortunately don’t believe that Jesus Christ specifically is very important in the economy of salvation.

Most people seem to believe that it is most important to be a good person, and if you believe in Jesus that’s a cherry on top. Actually, we see something that is quite the opposite in terms of Dismas the good thief: he was a thief and pretty bad person all his life, but when the time came, he repented and turned to Jesus in faith. Jesus promised him salvation. Jesus Himself stressed that people believe in Him and repent. He wanted their hearts to be converted not to niceness but to Him.

So is being a good person important? Yes! We ought to follow Jesus who is the way and the truth and the life! We ought to love God and love our neighbors as our self. But good works explicitly without Jesus will do nothing with regards to the economy of salvation. Takeaway: we must be more courageous in actually sharing Jesus with others instead of just assuming that they believe and are faithful.

“Work Out Your Own Salvation With Fear and Trembling”

The relatively familiar verse that is the title of this post comes from Philippians 2:12. I read it recently, and was immediately struck by the comment on it in the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, Second Catholic Edition RSV with commentary by Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch. I really appreciate how much light it sheds on the faith and works discussion between Catholics and Protestants. The following is the commentary:

2:12 Work out your own salvation: I.e., make continued efforts at living the gospel and pursuing your heavenly reward. The statement assumes that while our initial salvation had nothing to do with our works (Eph 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God- not because of works, lest any man should boast.”), our final salvation depends on a lifetime of keeping the faith (2 Tim 4:7-8 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”), following the commandments (Mt 19:17 “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”), persevering in good works (Rom 2:7 “to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life”), striving for holiness (Heb 12:14 “Strive for peace will all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”), praying in earnest (1 Thess 5:17 “pray constantly”), and fighting against the forces of evil (Eph 6:11 “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”) and the selfish demands of the flesh, which drag us down (Rom 8:13 “for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live”; 1 Cor 9:24-27 “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”). This obligation is so serious that we pursue it with fear and trembling, i.e., with a sense of awe at serving the living God and a sense of dread at the prospect of sinning against him (Ex 20:18-20 “When the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the trumpet blast and the mountain smoking, they all feared and trembled. So they took up a position much further away and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we shall die.’ Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid, for  God has come to you only to test you and put his fear upon you, lest you should sin.'”; Ps 2:11-12 “Serve the Lord with fear; with trembling bow down in homage, lest God be angry and you perish from the way in a sudden blaze of anger. Happy are all who take refuge in God!”). Encouragement comes in the next verse, where Paul reminds readers that God’s grace is working actively within them both to desire (intention) and do (act) what pleases him (Heb 13:20-21 “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”; CCC 308 “The truth that God is at work in all the actions of his creatures is inseparable from faith in God the Creator. God is the first cause who operates in and through secondary causes: “For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Far from diminishing the creature’s dignity, this truth enhances it. Drawn from nothingness by God’s power, wisdom, and goodness, it can do nothing if it is cut off from its origin, for “without a Creator the creature vanishes.” Still less can a creature attain its ultimate end without the help of God’s grace.”) (CCC 1949)

On Jesus’ Love For Us

I was feeling a little out of touch with the Big Man, so I threw up a prayer.. “God, please remind me of your great love for me and us all.” Well, just a few moments later my thoughts started drifting..

I thought about a situation where someone had a bad heart and was going to die without a heart transplant. I had to ask myself.. if someone I loved needed a heart, would I give them mine? I would surely give my child my heart, my life, right? I would surely give my life for my family or close friends, right?

What a tough situation. I was dwelling on it and really thinking, would I give my life for a loved one?

I think so. I hope so. I pray that if I ever am in that situation, I would have the strength, courage, and love to do that.

(Tangent paragraph alert!) It would be crazy, I would literally be giving away my life for another. For most atheists or agnostics that would probably be seen as a “waste.” They’d probably say that sure, do what you want, but you don’t have an obligation to be hero or anything. The thing about Jesus and Christianity is that, like a good parent or friend, Jesus challenges us to be the best that we can possibly be, no matter what the sacrifice might be. The ultimate good isn’t pleasure or personal gain but true love.

But what about a situation where I was in the position to offer my heart for someone that I had never known, or even to someone who was mean to me? Would I do it then? Would you do it then?

All of a sudden it clicked. I realized the connection: Jesus is like our “heart donor.” Jesus Christ, God, gave His life for us while we were sinners. While we had wronged Him. While we had turned from Him. Despite all of this, His love for us prevailed.

“But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” -Rom 5:8

I don’t know if I would be strong enough to give my life for someone who hurt me in the same way that we all hurt Jesus. But He did it anyways. Talk about love. Talk about courage. Talk about strength. Now that’s a hero.

Imagine that you were the recipient of someone you don’t know’s heart. They gave their life for you. Wouldn’t you live life with purpose?! Wouldn’t you want to honor your hero and savior in everything that you do?! Wouldn’t you want to find out more about him or her?!

This all was going through my head, the Spirit sure was working. And wow, to think that I wouldn’t have the life that I have without that perfect sacrifice. To think that I owe everything that I am to Christ. That’s motivation. Jesus is our “heart donor,” the one who gave His life so that we could live.

“I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” -John 10:11

A Love Story

You are loved. You are loved more than you could ever know, whether you realize it or not. The Lord of everything, the God who created the heavens and earth, created YOU out of selfless love. He doesn’t need you. He doesn’t need anything, He is God. But He gave you life, like a Father, so that you could come to love Him in return, so that you could be like “brothers and sisters” to Him. He is gentle, though, He doesn’t force anyone to do what He wants them to do- we have free will, which allows us to love and do the Father’s will. He doesn’t even announce His presence anywhere but in our hearts, in our souls, and even there, He whispers. Even if the very earth is crumbling, in all of the travesties of life, even if we are martyred all alone, He won’t leave us. He asks us to be courageous, to live lives of faith, of hope, of love. He asks us to strive for a relationship with Him. We mess up, though. We often do not live as God created us to, choosing to sin- rejecting God. But as well as we live as children of God in this life, there is nothing that we can do to earn our salvation without the gift of the incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, God becoming a mere human, who bore all of our sins by dying on that cross about 2000 years ago. He died so that even the most hardened sinners would still have the opportunity to repent for their sins and still achieve salvation, like the thief crucified next to Him at Calvary. We all have that opportunity of everlasting life, a return to how we were supposed to live, if we believe in Jesus, repent of our sins, and strive to live as children of God to the best of our abilities, strengthened and nourished by the gifts that Jesus gave us, namely the Church and the sacraments- baptism, confirmation, reconciliation, and finally the Eucharist in mass, where we receive the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord who died for us as a perfect sacrifice to atone for our sins.

Live joyfully, beloved! Our Father, God, loves us more than we could ever imagine. We are all children of God.