This Catholic Journey
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Name: Amber
Location: Reno, Nevada, United States

I am a 34-year-old single mother of three. I am a convert to Catholicism and came into the Church on April 7, 2007. This blog is a collection of thoughts and things I learn in my journey of faith. All comments are welcome!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Assurance of Salvation?

As a Protestant, I always believed that my salvation was assured no matter what I did. I could sin away and it would not change my relationship with God or the fact that I was saved. Of course, I believed that if I really loved God, I would choose not to sin but I never imagined that my sin would separate me from God in any way. I believe this line of thinking actually allowed me to justify living my life "on my own terms". I easily fell into all sorts of things I never imagined I would. Looking back, I can see just how damaging it was to live my life this way. Though I continued to attend church, there were no real fruits from my faith whatsoever. There was an ample amount of grace from the people I attended church with, however... perhaps a bit too much. No one ever took me aside to explain that what I was doing was truly harming my soul and my relationship with God. I was assured of my salvation and so my relationship with God didn’t matter too much. Why did I need to do anything if I was already saved?

Can a person’s salvation be taken from them? The short answer is no.

John 10:27-28 (RSV)
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.

Amen! No one can take my salvation away from me...

But the real question is:

Can a person intentionally turn their back on Jesus Christ and knowingly sin, and in turn, lose their salvation? The short answer is yes.

When we sin, we damage our relationship with God and this act of disobedience can cause us, by our own doing, to lose our salvation.

In the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:21, "Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." Jesus said we would be persecuted and hated and that many will fall away "but he who endures to the end will be saved" (Matthew 24:13, RSV).

Notice here that "saved" is in the future tense and that we must "endure to the end" to be saved. This clearly indicates that we can lose our salvation if we fall into sin and are led astray.

This is also made clear in other passages in Scripture:

Romans 11:22 (RSV)
Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off.

How can you be cut off from something you don't already have?

Galatians 5:4 (RSV)
You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

How can you be severed from Christ if you were not already a part of Christ? How can you fall from grace, if you didn't already have grace?

Even Paul feared being "disqualified" in 1 Corinthians 9:27 (RSV) when he wrote, "but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified." Paul further goes on to warn us, "Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall." (1 Corinthians 10:11-12, RSV)

Scripture is clear on the matter. If we choose to sin and separate ourselves from God, we can lose that which has already been given to us: eternal life. This has caused me to take a much more serious look at sin in my own life. The thought of being separated from God because my sin has so greatly offended Him, is not a happy one. I cannot just say I’m a Christian and do whatever I want with the idea that I’ll be saved “no matter what”.

God does not take salvation away from me... but if I deliberately sin and sever that relationship with God, I will be cutting myself off, falling from grace... and those who do not endure to the end will not be saved.

Prayer: Most High God, please help me to recognize the temptation of sin before I fall into it. Keep your word close to my heart and give me the desire to please only You. Give me conviction of heart, grace and strength to do what is right and to live each day in service to You. Help me understand that assurance of salvation comes only by knowing that I am striving to live my life on your terms and not my own. Give me the humility to work out my salvation in fear and trembling and to continue hoping for the day that I will see you face to face. Amen.

Romans 5:2
Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Salvation through the church?

*This post is refuting an attack on the Catholic Church posted on a website that was forwared to me by a friend, who wanted to know my thoughts. This was my response to him via email.*

Admittedly, this one was a bit of a concern for me when I read it. I had heard it before but was confident that this idea has been taken out of context. I was correct... and like many times before, examination of this topic has further affirmed the direction God has been taking me.

First, the website quotes the catechism (816): "The Second Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism explains: "For it is through Christ's Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained." (Again, this is only a partial quote of this paragraph...)

We have to take careful notice here that this says that the "fullness of the means of salvation is obtained". This is not saying that those outside the Catholic Church are damned.

I will explain this in more detail after I examine the next argument from this website.

The website also quotes the catechism (846): "...all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his body: Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation..."

Unfortunately, it leaves out some other essential parts that bring greater understanding to what the catechism is staying and what the Church means by this. In full it reads:

CCC 846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers?335 Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:

Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.


Wouldn't you agree that the body of Christ is made of up believers who have a saving faith? Is it necessary to be a member of the body of Christ in order to be saved? Absolutely! So, how do we know that the body is the Church? Scripture tells us!

Colossians 1:18
And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

Ephesians 5:29-30
After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body.

Romans 12:4-5
Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

1 Corinthians 6:15
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?...


So, I'm sure we can agree that those outside the body of Christ are not saved. And according to Scripture, we know that the body of Christ is the church. Therefore, those outside the "church" are not saved. How is this read in light of the first point that those outside the Catholic Church do not have the "fullness"?

Those outside the Catholic Church who have a saving faith in Christ are joined to the Catholic Church through baptism and faith, since there is only ONE body of Christ, and are not considered damned.

The Church spells this out in the catechism:

CCC 838 "The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter."322 Those "who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church."323 With the Orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound "that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord's Eucharist."324

I heard a wonderful explanation of this yesterday on the radio:

It's as if Christ put us all on a big ship (Catholicism) destined for heaven. At some point (1500 years after the time of Christ), some people decided to leave the ship and ride in a raft along-side the ship (Protestants). Everything good they have on the raft, they got from the ship originally (like the Bible!), but they do not have the full benefits of being on the ship (like the sacraments and the Eucharist). However, they are all still destined for heaven!

Those outside the body of Christ, or the church, are not destined for heaven. But those inside the body of Christ, though they may not be fully united to the Catholic Church, receive God's grace and forgiveness due to the blood Christ shed on the cross! But, we must remember that we are called to be united: one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Eph 4:4-6). We must also remember that if Christ established ONE body, and the body is the church, then he only established ONE church. Which church? Look at all the division within Protestantism... How can this be when it is so contrary to Scripture (Rom 16:17, Phil 2:2)? If the church is the "pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tim 3:15)", which Protestant church fits this? Or could it be the one church that can trace its beginning to the time of Christ?

Many argue that "the church" is just the invisible body of Christ... believers all over the world regardless of denomination... But this is not a fair characterization of the church.

The church is not merely an invisible (spiritual only) church but one that is quite visible (Mt 16:18-19, Mt 18:17). A body is a physical thing, just as Christ was a physical being... you cannot separate the body from the spirit (James 2:26)... the physical from the spiritual. If Christ is physical and spiritual, and the body is physical and spiritual, then the Church is physical and spiritual - visible and invisible!

But I think, at this point, I'm leading into a completely new topic!

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Salvation through baptism?

First off, it is the teaching of the Church that those who are not baptized are not automatically damned... This would include those who die for the faith, who are preparing to be baptized or those of other faith traditions, who have a saving faith but do not understand the necessity of baptism:

CCC 1258 The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament.

CCC 1259 For catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament.

CCC 1260 "Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery." 62 Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.

CCC 1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them," 63 allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.

Of course, all of this is a bit pointless if baptismal regeneration is false. So let's take a look at what the Bible says about it and what early Christians thought about it.

Another thing I noticed is that this website only quotes PARTS of paragraphs of the catechism. Doing such makes it much easier to take things out of context... but what I'll do is quote them as it is written on their website and then give a response.

The website quotes the catechism [1257]: "The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation."

This claim is true. Jesus said in John 3:5, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit."

Additional verses show that baptism is not merely a symbol but that it actually does something.

1 Peter 3:21
21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

Acts 2:38
38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 22:16
16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.'


In the verse above, what washes sin away if not baptism?

Romans 6:3-4
3 Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.


This does not sound like it's merely symbolic but that it also raises us from the dead and gives us new life.

Colossians 2:11-12
11 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

Titus 3:5
5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,

1 Corinthians 6:11
11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.


What other "washing" is there other than baptism?

Hebrews 10:22
22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.


Early Christians also believed in baptismal regeneration. I can quote MANY of them but for the sake of this response, I'll only use a few. Let me know if you want more.

Justin Martyr
"As many as are persuaded and believe that what we [Christians] teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly . . . are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, 'Except you be born again, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven' [John 3:3]" ( First Apology 61 [A.D. 151]).

Tertullian
"Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life. . . . [But] a viper of the [Gnostic] Cainite heresy, lately conversant in this quarter, has carried away a great number with her most venomous doctrine, making it her first aim to destroy baptism-which is quite in accordance with nature, for vipers and asps . . . themselves generally do live in arid and waterless places. But we, little fishes after the example of our [Great] Fish, Jesus Christ, are born in water, nor have we safety in any other way than by permanently abiding in water. So that most monstrous creature, who had no right to teach even sound doctrine, knew full well how to kill the little fishes-by taking them away from the water!" ( Baptism 1 [A.D. 203]).

"Without baptism, salvation is attainable by none" (ibid., 12).

Cyril of Jerusalem
"If any man does not receive baptism, he does not have salvation. The only exception is the martyrs, who even without water will receive the kingdom.
. . . For the Savior calls martyrdom a baptism, saying, 'Can you drink the cup which I drink and be baptized with the baptism with which I am to be baptized [Mark 10:38]?' Indeed, the martyrs too confess, by being made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men [1 Cor. 4:9]" ( Catechetical Lectures 3:10 [A.D. 350]).


In addition, Martin Luther even believed in baptismal regeneration.

In his Large Catechism (1529), Luther writes:

Expressed in the simplest form, the power, the effect, the benefit, the fruit and the purpose of baptism is to save. No one is baptized that he may become a prince, but, as the words declare [of Mark 16:16], that he may be saved. But to be saved, we know very well, is to be delivered from sin, death, and Satan, and to enter Christ's kingdom and live forever with him . . . Through the Word, baptism receives the power to become the washing of regeneration, as St. Paul calls it in Titus 3:5 . . . Faith clings to the water and believes it to be baptism which effects pure salvation and life . . .

When sin and conscience oppress us . . . you may say: It is a fact that I am baptized, but, being baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and obtain eternal life for both soul and body . . . Hence, no greater jewel can adorn our body or soul than baptism; for through it perfect holiness and salvation become accessible to us . . .

(From ed. by Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis: 1935, sections 223-224,230, pages 162, 165)

The Bible makes this claim all over the place. Why is it that Protestants today deny this? If baptism IS merely a symbol, why would we bother with it at all? And why would Protestants care if it were by immersion or sprinkling like they so often like to debate? I believe that God is very clear on this issue.

Of course, it also must be understood that without the work of the Holy Spirit through baptism, it would have no saving effect. The water itself does not save but the work of the Holy Spirit in the act of baptism, which we do in obedience to our Lord, cleanses us of sin and makes us new in Christ. With this, it cannot be forgotten that without the shedding of Christ's blood on the cross, we would not be saved at all. God's grace is given to us through baptism because of Christ's work on the cross.

Amen!

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Salvation through good works?

A very dear friend of mine, a Protestant, has asked me to respond to the "Salvation" section of a website used to show the errors of Catholicism. I will be posting my response to these four main attacks on Catholicism regarding salvation for anyone else who may seek the answer to these questions. The four main points are salvation through: good works, baptism, Mary, and the Church. I have already explained Mary to some degree but further clarification will likely be necessary.

Here is my explanation on "salvation through good works". Keep in mind that the original response was via email:

One thing I notice when talking apologetics is one topic can generally lead right into another. This makes it difficult, at times, to stay on topic. Sometimes, in order to understand the Catholic teaching on one thing, it is essential to understand the Catholic teaching on something else.

Based on the four main points of salvation that you sent me, I am going to have to begin with the "good works" part. This brings us to the Protestant doctrine of sola fide. Before I begin, I want to make it very clear that Catholics do not believe in "faith alone" or "works alone" or that we earn our way to heaven by our good deeds (whether works of the law or works of faith). We believe, and I'm sure you'll agree, that without Christ's work on the cross and the blood he shed for our sins and without his grace given to us, that we would not be saved at all. It is a gift:

CCC 1992 Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men. Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy. Its purpose is the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.

We will also both agree that in order to receive the gift we must do something. First, we must have faith. The Catholic Church teaches this:

CCC 161 Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. "Since "without faith it is impossible to please [God]" and to attain to the fellowship of his sons, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life 'But he who endures to the end.'"

Protestants claim that salvation is by "faith alone" and there are several scriptures used to back up this viewpoint:

John 3:16
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

John 6:28-29
Therefore they said to Him, "What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?"
Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent."

Acts 16:31
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.

Acts 26:18
...that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in me...

Romans 1:17-18
Therefore the just shall live by faith. The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickedness of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness.

Romans 3:28
Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.


Notice here that he says deeds of the "law". Catholics agreed completely!

Romans 4:5
But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.

Romans 5:1
...having been justified by faith...

Romans 10:9
That if you shall confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved.

Romans 11:6
But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.

Romans 14:23
...and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

Ephesians 2:8-10
For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.

WAIT! First works are condemned but then we are created in Christ to do good works? (More on this below)

Philippians 3:9
and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith."

Galatians 2:16
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

Again, a distinction made to "works of the law".

Galatians 2:21
I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.

I say, "AMEN!" to all of these verses. Catholics believe all of these 100% and do not disagree with them at all. BUT, none of these verses say faith "alone". Catholics believe that salvation comes first from God's grace and that we are saved by cooperating with this grace with faith AND works. (It is important to note here, that Catholics are NOT talking about works of the law as often spoken of by Paul. Paul condemned the Pharisees for observing the law but not showing love. Catholics are speaking of works of "faith" such as obedience to God, love, service, etc.)

1 Corinthians 13:13
13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.


Notice here that the greatest is not faith, but LOVE...

Galatians 5:6
6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.


Works of the law have no value. But works of faith (love) is the only thing that counts.

1 Corinthians 13:2
2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

John 14:15
15"If you love me, you will obey what I command.


Matthew 19:16-17
16Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"
17"Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."

1 Timothy 5:8
8 If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.


Matthew 7:21
21"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Ephesians 2:10
10For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

James 2:14-26
14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
20You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[
d]? 21Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,"[e] and he was called God's friend. 24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

25In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

WOW. The only place in the Bible where "faith alone" appears is to say "You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone." And note the parallel drawn between the body and spirit and between faith and deeds? Just as you cannot separate the body from the spirit, you cannot separate faith from deeds!

This is why Catholics believe that you cannot separate faith and works. They MUST go together or your faith is a dead faith. We are not talking about our own works or that our works EARN us eternal life... but that, by the grace of God, we act in faith working through love to cooperate with the gift of grace and gain eternal life.

In the link you sent me, it quotes from the catechism (837): "...Even though incorporated into the Church, one who does not however persevere in charity is not saved."

I'd have to agree with this in light of Scripture because one who is not charitable or does not show love, according to the Bible, does not have a saving faith and does not inherit the gift of eternal life.

In addition there are several verses that tell us we are judged according to our deeds.

2 Corinthians 5:10
10For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

2 Corinthians 11:15
15It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

1 Peter 1:17
17If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth;

Colossians 3:24-25
24since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism.

Revelation 20:12-13
12And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.

Note that none of these verses indicate we are judged based on our level of faith? So, in short, it is not faith alone, nor works alone (as many *think* Catholics teach) but faith AND works, as the Bible clearly teaches.

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Through Mary to Jesus?

This entry is in response to the question posed in comments. The answer is so lengthy, I felt it best to simply reply in an entry.

"What is the gospel that the Catholic Church proclaims? I don't recall ever reading in the Bible that we go through Mary to Jesus and this is exactly what Catholicism teaches."

First off, the gospel that the Catholic Church proclaims in no different than what Protestant churches proclaim. Of course, the gospel is much more in-depth than a few sentences, but I'm going to limit my response to the basics.

The gospel is the "good news" and is the message about Jesus... that He came to suffer and die for the sins of the world, so that whoever believes in Him, will receive forgiveness and eternal life... By Christ's blood shed on the cross, we are saved.

In regards to the phrase, "through Mary to Jesus", we must take a reasonable look at what is meant by this:

  • Through Mary's voluntary consent we have received Jesus.

When God became man, He came to us through Mary's body because Mary, acting on her free will, agreed to conceive the baby Jesus and her consent allowed His divine will to be completed.

  • Through Mary's example we are better able to imitate Jesus.

Due to her circumstances, Mary had to have an extreme measure of faith. God in his infinite wisdom and holiness would have chosen a virtuous woman in which to carry him... and Jesus respected and adored her. She gave credit where credit was due and remained true to the Lord her whole life! This is an example we should follow Christ...

  • Through Mary's intercession we obtain graces from Jesus.

Mary is, like the rest of those in heaven and here on earth, a part of the body of Christ. No doubt, she is held in a place of honor in the kingdom of heaven for her role and obedience to the Lord. The holier a person, and the closer they are to Christ, the more effective that person's prayer is. Mary could not have been closer to Jesus as she carried Him for nine months, gave birth to Him, and nurtured Him to manhood, for the Redemption of the world.

We ask the body of Christ on earth to pray for us (as instructed in 1 Tim 2:1-4) and also ask the saints and angels in heaven to pray for us. This is scriptural (Rev 5:8, Rev 8:3-4). In fact, the prayers of the righteous are powerful (James 5:16) and who are more righteous than Mary and the Saints, who have been perfected from every stain of sin while they praise our God in heaven?

Let us not forget that Christ gave her to us (and us to her) on the cross (John 19:26-17)! And considering these were some of His dying words, they MUST have been important!

Catholics are in no way saying that salvation comes from Mary but that because of her obedience, Christ was able to complete His work. Could He have done it another way? Of course! He's God! But through Mary, His divine will was carried out.

Jesus loves His mother. And the Bible does not downplay her, ignore her or make her less than who she really is. She is the Mother of God. Catholics understand her role and they love her as Christ loved her.

But, Catholics also understand the gospel. Without the blood of Christ shed for us, there would be no salvation. Salvation is from Christ alone!

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Bible alone?

In order to find truth,
one must be open to find it...
wherever that may be.


I reached a point where I began to question what was TRUE. Of course, I knew that I had "some" truth but certain things were just not adding up. It was not until I truly opened my heart, that I was able to see the complete truth that God was calling me to see.

One of those things that didn't add up was the idea that the Bible was the "sole rule of faith". Many Protestants, when asked, "What is the pillar of truth?" will reply, "The Bible!"

But the Bible says:

1 Timothy 3:14-15 (NIV)
Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.


The church is the pillar of truth... and if the church is the pillar of truth, aren't Catholics correct when they look to the church for the authority to interpret Scripture? The Bible itself does not make a claim to be the sole rule of faith but it DOES state that the church is the "pillar and foundation of truth".

Christ clearly established a visible Church... but that's for another post!

What I want to talk about is "sola scriptura".

Protestants often argue that the Bible claims to be the sole rule of faith in the following passage:

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.


This passage indicates that Scripture is useful... It does not say that Scripture is enough, plenty, or all that is needed... This passage also does not say Scripture "alone". Look at the verse before: 2 Timothy 3:15 (and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus). Since the New Testament did not exist at this time, this was referencing the Old Testament. If we are to use the Protestant interpretation of 2 Timothy 3:16-17, then we might be able to assume that the OT "alone" was to be used as the sole rule of faith. Neither Protestants nor Catholics would agree with that idea! But we CAN agree that the OT is useful, just as the Scripture reads...

The following is another verse often used to "prove" sola scriptura:

John 20:30-31 (NIV)
Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.


The problem here is that "this book" refers to the book of John. But would anyone agree that the book of John alone is sufficient? Plus, this passage indicates that it will help us to believe, not that it is necessary in order to believe.

If the Bible was the sole rule of faith, what did early Christians do before the Bible existed?

They passed along traditions! Christ did not condemn ALL traditions... just the traditions of men... but clearly, we were to "stand firm and hold" to some traditions!

2 Thess 2:15 (NAS)
So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.

2 Timothy 2:2 (NAS)
The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

1 Corinthians 11:2 (NAS)
Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.


These apostolic teachings (or traditions) have been passed down for 2000 years in the Catholic Church... This means that instead of the Bible as the sole rule of faith, Catholics believe that the Word of God is the sole rule of faith.

Another question that came to mind is: If the Bible is the sole rule of faith and the 25,000+ Protestant, Bible-only denominations all claim to be guided by the Holy Spirit in their interpretation of the Bible, how is it that the Holy Spirit is contradicting Himself? The Holy Spirit cannot contradict Himself.

The Catholic Church has not changed on issues of faith or morals in 2000 years... They hold to the teachings of the apostles... My heart was open and I found the Church that Christ established, the pillar of truth. The Word of God is now my sole rule of faith... this does not disregard the Scriptures but makes the Scriptures come alive in my life so that I can experience the fullness of faith that Christ intended for all Christians. And I've found the unity in the body of Christ that I was seeking

Ephesians 4:4-6 (NIV)
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Good Stuff - Justification

1987 The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us "the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ" and through Baptism:34

But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves as dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.35


1988 Through the power of the Holy Spirit we take part in Christ's Passion by dying to sin, and in his Resurrection by being born to a new life; we are members of his Body which is the Church, branches grafted onto the vine which is himself:36

[God] gave himself to us through his Spirit. By the participation of the Spirit, we become communicants in the divine nature. . . . For this reason, those in whom the Spirit dwells are divinized.37


1989 The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion, effecting justification in accordance with Jesus' proclamation at the beginning of the Gospel: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."38 Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high. "Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.39

1990 Justification detaches man from sin which contradicts the love of God, and purifies his heart of sin. Justification follows upon God's merciful initiative of offering forgiveness. It reconciles man with God. It frees from the enslavement to sin, and it heals.

1991 Justification is at the same time the acceptance of God's righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. Righteousness (or "justice") here means the rectitude of divine love. With justification, faith, hope, and charity are poured into our hearts, and obedience to the divine will is granted us.

1992 Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men. Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy. Its purpose is the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life:40

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.41


1993 Justification establishes cooperation between God's grace and man's freedom. On man's part it is expressed by the assent of faith to the Word of God, which invites him to conversion, and in the cooperation of charity with the prompting of the Holy Spirit who precedes and preserves his assent:

When God touches man's heart through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, man himself is not inactive while receiving that inspiration, since he could reject it; and yet, without God's grace, he cannot by his own free will move himself toward justice in God's sight.42


1994 Justification is the most excellent work of God's love made manifest in Christ Jesus and granted by the Holy Spirit. It is the opinion of St. Augustine that "the justification of the wicked is a greater work than the creation of heaven and earth," because "heaven and earth will pass away but the salvation and justification of the elect . . . will not pass away."43 He holds also that the justification of sinners surpasses the creation of the angels in justice, in that it bears witness to a greater mercy.

1995 The Holy Spirit is the master of the interior life. By giving birth to the "inner man,"44 justification entails the sanctification of his whole being:

Just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification. . . . But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life.45

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Faith alone?

The literature for last night's Bible study said specifically, "Salvation is by faith alone." I knew right away this was going to be an issue for me. Where does this faith alone idea come from? Did you know that the only place in the Bible where the term "faith alone" exists is where it says "not by faith alone"?

James 2:14-26 (NIV)

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

18But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

19You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

20You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[d]? 21Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,"[e] and he was called God's friend. 24You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

25In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.


How much clearer can it be? You cannot separate faith and works. Faith alone, without works, is not a saving faith! Works alone, without faith, is just something to boast about and does not encourage the relationship that God wants with us. They MUST go together.

Without God's grace, even our faith does not save us! If our works were not a part of our faith, then why would we be obligated to keep the commandments? or to love our neighbor? Of course, our works (or our faith for that matter) do not obligate God to save us and our works don't EARN our salvation. Our salvation is a gift from God promised to us when we respond to his grace in our obedience to Him.

We are not saved by "faith alone" and this doctrine has misled people for years. This idea is what made me live my life the way I wanted for far too long. My faith was enough. I could be a nominally good person and my faith alone would save me.

Understanding this has made me realize that I can no longer live my life as I have. I must strive to love more, give more, and help more. Do I want to merely have faith? or do I want a saving faith?

What do you want?

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

About Me

I was born in Reno, Nevada on December 20, 1974. For as long as I can remember, my mother brought my sister and me to church. I have fond memories of Sunday School: the songs, the lessons, and the friends. I remember listening to "Bullfrogs and Butterflies" and "Psalty's Kids Praise" tapes in the car wherever we were going. We'd all sing along together and it all instilled in me a love for God. I'm forever grateful to my mom for taking us to church and teaching us about God, even in the dark seasons of her life.

By the time I was nine years old, I had a huge passion for Jesus. I loved Keith Green and remember attending one of his concerts not long before he died. He was passionate for the Lord and it was something I could sense in every word he spoke and sang. I wanted to be a part of it all and I accepted Christ into my heart as my Lord and Savior. It's a moment many Protestant parents dream of: when their child makes this choice to be a follower of Jesus. Not long after that, I was baptized in a local public pool with my family and other church members in attendance.

It seems necessary for me to mention that my mother took us to church alone because my father was not a believer. My mother accepted Christ shortly after they were married and this is where her journey of prayer for my father began. I would be another 30 years or so before he would follow suit. He accepted Christ September 9, 2005 and was baptized on June 27, 2006... an occasion we'd all awaited for so long.

I continued to grow up in church. Over the course of my 31 years, I've attended eight different non-denominational churches. They were all similar in practice and doctrine and I never had any reason to doubt anything I was taught. I thought all Christians believed in the same essential truths but that some had practices that were not Biblical. As a non-denominational, I believed that included anyone inside a denomination, especially Catholics, which were likely farther from the truth than any other. I believed that while there were some truly "saved" Christians in Catholic churches, if they were truly saved, they would likely find their way out and when I would meet one that had a visible passion for God, I'd simply hope that they would find their way to a greater truth and leave the Catholic Church.

Through most of elementary school, I was a happy kid with a great sense of humor and passion for life. I loved Jesus and I didn't understand why anyone wouldn't. As I grew a bit older, I realized that my passion for God was something that separated me from the majority of my peers. I was called a "good little Christian girl" and though a part of me was proud of that, it seemed a greater part of me was hurt by it. I didn't want a label and I didn't want to be different. My status as a "good little Christian girl" did not get me in with the popular crowd and I spent much of my adolescence as a loner. I lost my happiness, my sense of humor and my passion for God.

I never stopped believing in God and I knew I loved Him and that He loved me (at least in my mind) but I was not bold unless I felt I had to defend something. In high school, I was miserable. I attended high school with kids I'd known most of my life who would not give me the time of day. Friends came and friends went but few stuck around for very long. I was depressed, cynical and pessimistic...

My senior year, I became friends with Damion. I can't remember how it came to be that I hit it off with a guy two years behind me but we were inseparable. We spent hours debating religion and just hanging out together. I finally felt I had a true friend and I fell in love with him. He liked me despite my pessimistic attitude and put up with all my moodiness. Like many good things at that time in my life, the friendship and all hope for a dating relationship came to an abrupt end that slowly began to be mended about the time I graduated from high school. Damion went to another school the following year and over time, we lost all contact with each other. But I never forgot him and he held a very special place in my heart.

Though I never stopped attending church, I spent the next several years making very poor choices. In short, I was married three different times, never to a Christian man and never with any thought about Biblical marriage. I just did whatever I wanted to do and lived my life any way that I wanted to live it in the moment, believing that no matter what I did, though it might have earthly consequences, I would be forgiven and my salvation was assured. The consequences of my poor choices brought three blessings into my life: my children.

My faith over the years had dwindled, at least in heart, and I no longer felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life. I still attended church regularly and wished that I would feel "something". The only time I'd pray is when I was so low in self-pity, I didn't know what else to do. I attended Bible studies and other small groups, always with the hope of being "grabbed" and regaining that feeling of faith that I had as a child. It never came. One day, I was informed that I should not expect to ever feel that way again. It broke my heart. If I would never feel passion for Christ like that again, why even bother with the whole thing at all? Yet, I continued to attend church and other small groups, still waiting and hoping to be grabbed but doubting it would EVER happen. Where is God? Why bother praying when it changes nothing?

In this time, I also found that I had a serious problem with depression. Counseling only took me so far and so I began to take anti-depressants. They helped... took the edge off the depression and anxiety and allowed me to be a calmer and more rational person in my everyday existence.

In late June 2005, I found Damion through an internet search and we decided to meet. I discovered, much to my surprise, that he was a Christian and much to my dismay that he was a Catholic. I thought I'd just pray him out of the Catholic Church and all it's error. He was "just a Christian attending a Catholic Church" and it would only be a matter of time before I could show him the errors and he'd leave.

Instead, when issues of faith came up, we did nothing but argue. I continuously found more and more things that were debatable ... things I never even KNEW were up for debate. I understood that Christ wanted unity with all Christians and especially in marital relationships and Damion and I both strongly felt we were brought together by God... But how could two Christians be at such extreme odds with one another? There were days when our arguments would cause me to doubt whether or not I even wanted to be a Christian at all. We got to the point where we could not discuss issues of faith at all and the subject was ignored for several months. Every time I heard anything about Catholicism I'd cringe.

What is truth?

If I am to believe that God exists, then there must be an absolute truth. He would not want us blindly following a false interpretation of his living Word. Between Damion and I, if we are supposed to be able to agree on issues of faith, then who has to bend? Could it be me?

Around the beginning of May 2006, I hit a very deep low point with my faith. It is difficult to reflect on those feelings adequately even three months later because the despair I felt was so painful.

On May 8, 2006, I wrote:

I absolutely struggle with the concept that God can fix, heal or solve anything. Thing is, even though I know he CAN, I always doubt that he WILL. I also know how little effort I put into believing that he will...

It is difficult for me to admit that my head knowledge does not often reach my heart. Easy for me to tell someone else to pray about something but when it comes to myself, I don't because I don't believe it will make any difference whatsoever. Prayer often feels like an empty one-sided conversation...

I read otherwise, see otherwise, know in my head otherwise... but cannot seem to apply it to my own life and problems... as if they are too big and God is unwilling... They aren't too big but I still don't know if God is willing. I cannot know if God is willing if I don't surrender it to Him... but to be honest, I do not know how to do that and on an even more honest level, I fear the response for such obedience.

I hate to admit it but I question my faith right now more than I ever have before and more than I ever thought I would. I almost feel that in the big picture, I nearly lack faith completely at this point... and although I want to turn it around, I feel like I lack something necessary... perhaps the faith itself.

I have never felt such self-loathing, despair, hopelessness and helplessness. I find joy in very few things. Perhaps He is breaking me... I feel devastation with nothing to feel devastated about except the lack of faith itself... it pains and saddens me very deeply.

But I cannot give up.... though I'd like to just cease to exist... to walk away... to push aside the reality of God and His great existence, I can't. I know Him to be True... to be unfailing, loving, sacrificial... the Savior. This life is not an accident. My problems, my doubts, my fears... they all serve a purpose. God has given them to me with a long-term purpose in mind... something I prayed for long ago. The only thing I have faith in right now is that I will not be in "this place" forever...

While sitting in service on Sunday, my faithlessness and all, there was a small and fleeting moment where the Holy Spirit touched me. I nearly burst into tears but quickly pushed it aside. It hurts... I don't want to be broken. I don't want to break. I don't want to feel the pain of it all... I don't want to face the reality... so I just keep ignoring it, pretending all is well. "I'll be fine."

I tell myself to just work it out on my own. "Don't tell anyone... no one will understand..."

But I realize I'm putting God in a box... limiting what He is capable of doing and His awesomeness.

God is infinite... indescribable, immeasurable, uncontainable...

This, I believe, was the start of an amazing change. I just wanted to know what was true with no doubts. Was I really saved? Was my belief big enough? Had I lost my faith? Would I never again feel the passion I felt as a child?

I joined a Christian online forum. Little did I know, but this forum was focused on evangelizing Catholics out of the Catholic Church. The debates were HUGE and argumentative and I found myself joining in and arguing against Catholicism with fervor though inside, I just wanted everyone to find something in common. On both sides, some posts were loving while others were spiteful and condemning. But one day, in the midst of a debate, my entire attitude suddenly changed. I suddenly wanted to understand how Catholics KNEW that the Catholic Church was the church Christ founded and how they knew that the early church fathers didn't mess it up. It was such a bold claim to make that I had to know what they had to back it up. One Catholic poster thought I was being sarcastic (the drawback of debating in writing) but I was serious and I made a request for a God-loving and kind Catholic to sincerely answer my question. One did... I could not fully grasp the answer at that time but I abandoned that forum and began to take a genuine look at Catholicism... not from non-Catholics but from Catholics themselves. I reasoned, "Would I want a Mormon learning about Christianity from other Mormons?"

I had to go to the source and I had to keep all my searching private for now. I did not want to be swayed by anyone close to me in any direction. I wanted to search for truth with the help of God alone. I began listening to Catholic radio and on the first day, I tuned in to the conversion story of Drake McCalister. I could not believe that I was hearing someone from a Protestant background who converted TO Catholicism. Weren't they supposed to leave the Catholic Church if they were true Christians? His story was amazing and since I could hear his voice via radio, I was able to hear the passion for God in his voice. He sounded no less Christian than any other Christian I had known.

Since then, I've been doing a lot of reading and have a lot more to do. But one thing keeps coming to mind:

Matthew 16:13-19

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesare'a Philip'pi, he asked his disciples, "Who do men say that the Son of man is?"

14 And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Eli'jah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"

16 Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

17 And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.

19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

What continuously sticks out at me is that Christ said he would not let the powers of death (or gates of Hades) prevail against His church. The Catholic Church traces its origin all the way back to Jesus Christ himself and they were essentially (with the exception of Orthodoxy 1054 AD) the only church for the first 1500 years.

Either Christ did as He promised and protected His church, or he did not. Did He lie to us? If Christ did not do as He promised, this would force me into, at most, agnosticism. On the other hand, if Christ kept his promise, then the only logical conclusion is to assume that the Catholic Church is his church. The term "catholic" was used as early as the first century.

At this point, I realize that I must either enter the Catholic Church or completely denounce my life-long faith in God, in which I find there to be too much evidence for His vast existence.

There are many other dogmas of the Catholic faith that I have come to accept... others, I do not yet understand. But I know that God will be faithful because this is where He has taken me. Many will not understand this decision and I anticipate the loss of many of my Christian friends, but I do not follow them, nor would it be right for me to do so.

Matthew 10:37-38

"Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me."

Saint Augustine wrote, "Seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand."

For the first time since childhood, I am beginning to feel a little tug by the Holy Spirit, letting me know that I'm being obedient to God... There are so many other things that I have learned so far, I could not possible share them all on this opening page.

I invite you to read my blog and to come back often to share in my journey with me. I no longer believe that salvation is a one-time event but a daily and life-long journey. We are called to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13).

I would also like to ask anyone willing, to pray for me and my family - that we would continue to grow in faith and follow God wherever He may take us.

In Christ,
Amber

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