The Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study 73 Books. One Story. Your Story. Wed, 10 Feb 2016 05:22:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Lot, Esau, Conversion and Ash Wednesday Wed, 10 Feb 2016 05:22:46 +0000 Genesis is filled with great stories that offer profound spiritual advice, but have you ever considered what insights these stories may offer us for the season of Lent?

The story of the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah—for example— is well known, but there is a less observed small detail about Lot that is applicable to our lives today. When Lot is delivered by the two angels, the text tells us that Lot “lingered” (Gen 19:16). He is leaving Sodom, but yet lingers—perhaps still attached to an old life. It’s reminiscent of St. Augustine’s line in the midst of his conversion: “Lord make me chaste, just not yet.”

Then the text tells us that the Lord “seized” him—“the Lord being merciful” (v. 16). That is, in the midst of Lot’s pining back for an old life—in the midst of his lingering—the Lord carried him forward.

Don’t Let it Linger

How often do we “linger” in moments of conversion? And if we’re honest when we look back, we often realize that the Lord “seized” us and carried us forward—the Lord being merciful—empowering us to do what we couldn’t do on our own. The tale of Sodom and Gomorrah is not just about the past; it’s also about the present—how we’re often stuck between two cities, the city of God and the city of man; and often we “linger” between the two. And when we look back at moments of conversion, they are moments of grace, where the Lord propelled us in the right direction with a power beyond our strength—“the Lord being merciful.”

Where are we “lingering” in our daily conversion to Christ? How can we embrace God’s mercy? How can we let him make up for what we lack and surrender our inadequacies to him?

The Pearl of Great PriceMatthias_Stomer_(Umkreis)_Das_Linsengericht (1)

The story of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob is also well known (Gen 25:27-34). Esau comes in from hunting and feels quite famished; Jacob has some stew ready at hand. For the sake of his passions, he sells his birthright. The birthright and the blessing in Genesis are not incidental matters; they are real and substantial. And while Jacob is duplicitous here and elsewhere, the text tells us that Esau also bears some of the blame, concluding the story this way: “Thus Esau despised his birthright” (Gen 25:34).

It’s easy to look down upon Esau in this story; after all, how could he sell his birthright for a pot of stew? But how often do we not appreciate the grandeur we’ve been given in Christ, as sons and daughters of God through our Baptism? In mortal sin, we imitate the pattern of Esau: we forfeit our true dignity as children of God—our birthright—for a momentary pleasure. In these moments, we are neglecting the unsurpassable gift we’ve been given; and when we neglect the divine life within us, it tends to wither up and die.

How can we be more fully attentive today to the majesty of our salvation in Christ? For “Eye has not seen nor ear heard what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9).

Fasting and Ash Wednesday

In both the story of Lot and the story of Esau, there are Lenten messages that can be easily overlooked. Esau’s story is a reminder of the pearl of great price that we forfeit when we choose to satisfy our appetites instead of doing the will of God.  On this Ash Wednesday, we are invited into a deeper relationship with God by denying ourselves a few simple pleasures like a bowl of stew. It’s good that we go without legitimate pleasures for the sake of retraining our souls and undoing our attachment to the things of this world.

In the story of Lot, we are reminded of the way God calls us to conversion during Lent. God told Lot to leave Sodom and Gomorrah in ashes, and start a new life. He lingered, as we all do in trying to hold onto the remnants of a past life. But Scripture says that out of compassion the Lord saved him, and led him away from the city (Gen 19:16). In the Lord’s invitation to us each Lent, he offers us the same hand of compassion.

As St. Benedict says of the monk’s life, our lives should be a continual Lent. This certainly does not exclude joy; but it means that our lives are a continual work of transformation wrought by the Holy Spirit. Our lives shouldn’t look the same as the secular world; we are pilgrims on a journey; and every Lent, we remember that we are not yet home—and getting “home” means going through the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ, through the Cross and rising to new life in and through his Resurrection.

How can we make this Lent a time wherein we turn away from the sin in our former lives, and a season to draw closer to God by denying ourselves?

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The Bible and Tradition Thu, 04 Feb 2016 15:05:07 +0000 A discussion of whether or not the Bible is all we need to know God must first begin with a discussion of what the Bible is and what it is not. Though there are many subtle differences in understanding and interpreting the Bible itself, nearly all Christians believe that the Bible is the written word of God. It was written by men under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But, for what purpose?

Thebible33The Purpose of Scripture, According to Paul

St. Paul, speaking of the Old Testament Scriptures, says that they “were written for our instruction” (see Romans 15:4, 1 Corinthians 10:11). Speaking still of the Old Testament, he says, “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). So Sacred Scripture is for our instruction, not only about God, but about how we are to act as the people of God. This, too, is affirmed by the majority of Christians. But the various interpretations of this passage is also one of the things that has unfortunately divided us as Christians. Many Protestants take St. Paul to mean that Scripture is all that is needed for us to be “taught” and “equipped for every good work.”

However, this conclusion does not follow from what was said. St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy was written long before the Bible existed as we know it. He was, without a doubt, referring to the lessons of the Old Testament, as he had previously in Romans and First Corinthians. Without any reasonable exceptions, biblical scholars agree that the Bible, including all twenty-seven books of the New Testament, was completely unknown in St. Paul’s day. It is possible that certain letters of Paul may have been circulated and perhaps even considered inspired, but there would have been no biblical canon. It would be an anachronistic stretch for us to claim that St. Paul was referring to a future Bible, of which he had no knowledge.

The Purpose of John’s Gospel, According to John

This is made even more clear when we consider John’s stated purpose for his own Gospel. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name … But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 20:30-31; 21:25). John’s stated purpose of his Gospel is not dissimilar from St. Paul’s purpose of Scripture, namely, for instruction so that we might believe, and in believing, we may have life in Christ Jesus. What is different is the recognition that it would be impossible for him, or even “the world itself” to contain the necessary books that it would take to record the life of Christ, let alone the nature of God and our relationship with him.

The Fullness of Divine Revelation

God cannot be contained in a single book. Nor can our knowledge of him. In fact, St. Paul tells us that God is beyond our understanding. “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor’” (Romans 11:33-34). But God has nonetheless condescended to us, to reveal himself to us. Scripture is most certainly a part of Divine Revelation, but it is not the fullness of it. Hebrews tells us that, “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son … He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature” (Hebrews 1:1-3). The fullness of Divine Revelation is not found in a book, it is found in the Person and revelation of Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God.

It is because of this that as Catholics we do not limit our experience, knowledge, understanding, and most certainly our relationship with God to Sacred Scripture. We affirm the truth that Scripture is the inspired word of God, but we do not believe that it is the entire word of God. While God’s word is present in the pages of Scripture, his word cannot be confined to them.

Christ himself gave us what we need to come to know and love him. He did not write a single word of Scripture with his own hand. He never compiled a canonical list of books. Nor did he ask us to believe only the things that are said about him in a particular list of books. What he did was found a Church. This is made explicitly clear when he says to St. Peter, “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. I will give you the keys to 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” (Matthew 16:18-19).

What is the Church?

Simply put, the Church is the continuation of Christ’s ministry on earth. It was founded upon Peter and the other apostles to whom Christ said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). The Church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and in virtue of the authority bestowed on her by Christ, continues to teach us all that Christ has commanded. Christ sent the Church into the world to carry forth his saving word. He did not confine his teachings to a book, but he did send forth his teachings through the ministry of those whom he chose, saying in Luke 10:16, “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (see also John 13:20).

The first Christians did not have a Bible; but they did have the Church, and “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). This is what we as Catholics continue to devote ourselves to today.

“Hold to the Traditions”

We recognize that the apostles’ teaching is indeed found in Scripture, but it is not limited to it. The fullness of the apostles teaching is found in Sacred Tradition. Consider these words of St. Paul, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). And later, “I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you … for I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you” (1 Corinthians 11:2, 23). Here he was referring specifically to the tradition of the breaking of the bread, the Eucharist (see 1 Corinthians 11:23-34). For Paul, Sacred Tradition included the spoken word, the written letter, and the breaking of the bread.

Sacred Scripture should then be seen as a part of Sacred Tradition, and as a part of Divine Revelation as a whole, but not the fullness of it.

The apostolic ministry, and therefore the apostolic teachings, did not end with the death of the first apostles. Paul himself is called an apostle (see Galatians 1:1), though he was not a disciple or eyewitness of Christ as the original Twelve were. We also see how one of the Twelve, Judas Iscariot, was replaced. St. Matthias took “the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside … and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles” (Acts 1:25-26). By doing so, he took up the ministry of “teaching all that Christ commanded them.” These original apostles and their successors even met together for the very first Church council, as recorded in Acts 15:6-29, where they concluded that it was not necessary to retain the practice of circumcision, a practice that was itself a tradition handed down by Abraham, Moses, and the people of Israel.

The Church continues her apostolic ministry to this day, teaching all that Christ has commanded us by word and deed, by written letters and by creeds, by ecumenical councils and by holy icons. The successors to the apostles, the bishops in union with the pope in Rome, continue to preserve, protect, and proclaim the fullness of Sacred Tradition which was given to the first apostles by Christ. God’s revelation of himself is indeed present in Sacred Scripture, but it is not confined in its entirety to it. And it is for this reason that we as Catholics continue to “hold to the traditions” which were handed down to us.

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Digging out of Depression Mon, 25 Jan 2016 05:23:51 +0000 I don’t know about you, but the more spectacular the event for which I speak, the more melancholy I feel in the days afterward. I’ve heard many a pastor talk about The Monday Blahs, not to mention the frequency that they get seriously depressed while ministering to ungrateful, complaining parishioners.


If you’re a pastor or parish minister, or are simply struggling in the depths of depression, take to heart that Elijah was one of the greatest prophets in the history of God’s people, and he dealt with extended depression to the point that he was suicidal.

God’s People Get Depressed

According to psychiatrists the majority of Americans suffer from serious, clinical depression at some point in their lives, but most never get help; they just fight the battle on their own. We know that serious depression is anger that has been suppressed or unexpressed or denied: it’s anger underground.

But depression serves a constructive purpose. Beginning as a normal grief response, depression is absolutely necessary for spiritual growth, because it’s the natural process of letting go of something no longer helpful or useful. If I am experiencing the low mood and empty feelings of depression, perhaps nothing has gone horribly wrong. What if God is shaking me out of my comfort zone and errors in faith or perception?

Sure it’s painful—all loss is difficult—but what if, in order to grow, he has to disillusion me of unrealistic ideals or expectations, and the faith I placed in fallible people or human traditions?

The problem arises when depression becomes ingrained and we’re stuck. Prolonged “sadness chemicals” cause imbalances that may need professional help to deal with while we work on the relevant issues.

One of God’s Greatest Prophets Struggled with Depression

Fortunately, God helps us by giving us a case study in depression in 1 Kings 19. We see from the text that Elijah experienced many classic symptoms of depression:

  • Fear – Elijah was afraid and ran for his life… (1 Kings 19:3);
  • Suicidal thoughts – Elijah prayed that he might die (1 Kings 19:4);
  • Excessive sleepiness – “Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep…” for a couple of days or longer (1 Kings 19:5-7);
  • Irritability and feelings of rejection – “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the people of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thy altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away,” he says, repeating his complaint twice (1 Kings 19:10);
  • Elijah struggled with his depression for nearly two months (1 Kings 19), well past the recommended length for getting help.

What’s really bizarre about this is, just days before, Elijah preached one of the most powerful sermons of his life and performed astounding miracles to confirm all he said. He confronted 400 prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, exposing them to God’s people as the false prophets they were.

In direct response to Elijah’s heroic faith and obedience, and against overwhelming odds, God publicly accepted his sacrifice, literally sending fire falling from heaven to consume the sacrifice and confirm Elijah’s ministry. A few hours later he sent a downpour, in answer to Elijah’s prayers, on a land that had suffered drought for three years.

Why would a man who had just experienced such miraculous, powerful displays of God’s power suddenly be crippled by fear, hopelessness, and despair? Why would he run to a desolate corner of the world and seek to die?

Some have called this after-the-mountaintop-experience “post-adrenaline depression,” and suggested we just cooperate with it, saying that when the adrenal system crashes, its need for rejuvenation far exceeds any need just to feel better. In fact, the mood is deliberately designed to slow me down so recovery can take place. Rather than fighting this feeling, it is best to listen to its message and try to rest.

Not necessarily a lack of faith or indication of sin, then, Elijah shows us God’s most dynamic servants suffer from depression. But that’s not where God left him.

God Recognized that Elijah’s Depression Was Not an Imaginary Problem

Elijah’s depression was real. It was tangible. You could have cut it with a knife. God did not say, “Get a hold of yourself Elijah. This is a sinful attitude. Where’s your faith? You need to pray more and work harder.”

God did not treat Elijah roughly. In answer to Elijah’s prayer to die, God just let him sleep. Then God’s angel fed him and let him sleep some more. Then God sent him to a solitary mountain cave for forty days and nights.


In all that time, God didn’t say a word; no sermon, no counseling session. He didn’t set Elijah down for a face to face talk. God left Elijah alone to rest and think and regather strength in his presence. But eventually God dealt directly with Elijah’s depression.

God Sent Elijah to His Word

God sent Elijah to Mt. Horeb, the Mountain of God where the Word of the Law was given to Moses and where Elijah heard God’s still small voice in the whisper. You might even say God sent Elijah to “church.”

God speaks directly to us in the Mass. He feeds us with his Body and Blood, nourishing, nurturing and sustaining us with himself, his comfort and presence.

The interpersonal connections we make with God and others at church have health benefits. Science confirms that that attendance at a house of worship is related to lower rates of depression and anxiety. Also, prayer and meditation have been shown to lower the risk of depression and heart disease and improve immune function. Time alone with God in prayer and Bible study is a powerful anti-depressant.

God Asked Elijah to Talk to Him about the Problem

Twice, God asked Elijah, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:13). Didn’t God know? Of course he knew; but Elijah needed to vocalize what was wrong in his life and explain what he thought the problem was. God knows and designed our need to feel heard and understood, so we can go to him to fill that need. And once Elijah vented and got it all off his chest…

God Dealt with the False Beliefs Fueling Elijah’s Depression

Jesus said, “The truth shall set you free.” Why is that? Because false ideas, false beliefs, especially about God, have power over us and keep us enslaved.

Instead, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). Wisdom in the Scriptures means to have God’s perspective, and God promises to give us this perspective if we ask him. Once we see things the way God sees them, we are able to stop resisting what is, and our anger and depression begin to lose their grip.

But we have to be watching our circumstances, reading the Scriptures, listening for his voice in our lectio divina and Bible study and Bible teachings and relationships. We have to be in the truth, and with the Truth.

Elijah’s reply to God revealed the error in Elijah’s thinking: Elijah didn’t think God was doing anything through his ministry (1 Kings 19:14). Hidden in the midst of Elijah’s complaint was an accusation: “I’ve been beating my head against the wall serving you Lord. And everything seems to just be falling apart around me. What are you doing?”

When I am depressed, I don’t think clearly. I feel like God doesn’t care and isn’t doing anything. I have no hope, no confidence, and I don’t see God at all. When I am depressed I need God’s perspective.

And so, God corrects my thinking with truth, just like he did Elijah’s: “Elijah – you’re not the only one left” (1 Kings 19:18). God assures Elijah he has been working all along, even though Elijah couldn’t see it. God’s got it all under control.

God Got Elijah Moving

When God finished his counseling session with Elijah, he was still in a complaining mood, but God tells him he’s got a job for him: “Go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu … king over Israel, and anoint Elisha … to succeed you as prophet” (1 Kings 19:15-16).

We know now that exercise is as or more effective than medication in combatting depression. Get moving.

Sometimes medication and professional help are necessary to jump start the healing of depression, so reach out for that help if you need it. But also think about how God dealt with Elijah’s depression. Go to him and try his prescription:

Go to Church,

Go to God,

Get in the word,

Get moving.

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The Divinity of Jesus Thu, 14 Jan 2016 05:33:32 +0000 How do we know Jesus is God?

On the one hand, the Gospel of John is very clear regarding the divinity of Jesus:

Amédée_Varint_-_Christ_marchant_sur_la_merOn the other hand, there are other passages in the New Testament we sometimes miss, but which in their first-century Jewish context are just as clear regarding Jesus’ divine identity.

The Temple

First, in Mt 12:6, Jesus says of himself, “something greater than the temple is here” (see also Jn 2:19-21). To the ancient Jew, the Temple was the dwelling place of God (see 1 Kgs 8:10; Ex 40:35). In first-century Judaism, the only thing that could possibly be greater than the Temple would be God himself!

The Sabbath

Further, in Mt 12 Jesus describes himself as “Lord of the Sabbath” (Mt 12:8); God’s rest on the seventh day (Gen 2:2-3) is the foundation of the Sabbath. Who could be Lord of the Sabbath, except God himself?

The Law

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus places his own teaching on the same level as the Torah—which to an ancient Jew, is the very Revelation of God. Jesus gives six “antitheses” where he says, “You have heard that it was said …. But I say to you” (Mt 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43), supplementing and enhancing the Law, as for example here: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:28). Accordingly, the crowds are “astonished” because Jesus taught them “as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Mt 7:28). Usually, the scribes would attempt to explain God’s revelation; but Jesus’ teaching is revelation.

Forgiving Sins

The way in which Jesus offers forgiveness of sin—through himself—left no doubt in the minds of his hearers that he was assuming the prerogatives of God. In Mk 2:5, Jesus heals a paralytic and says, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” Immediately, the scribes witnessing the event express their disgust: “Why does this man speak like this. It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mk 2:7).

Just “Passing by”

When Jesus walks on water, the text curiously describes Jesus as intending to “pass by” the Apostles (Mk 6:48-49). It’s a strange phrase—where could he be going?

This cryptic reference is an allusion to Old Testament scenes where YHWH appeared and “passed by.” Consider these two episodes dealing with Moses and Elijah, respectively: “[The Lord said to Moses]: ‘I will make my goodness pass before you …. While my glory passes by … I will cover you … until I have passed by’ …. The Lord passed before him” (Ex 33:19, 22; 34:6). And with Elijah: “And behold, the Lord passed by” (1 Kgs 19:11). Both the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) in these passages and Mark’s Gospel use the verb parerchomai to describe this “passing by” of the Lord. The point is clear: Jesus is the God of Israel come in the flesh (see Brant Pitre’s The Case for Jesus, ch. 9).

At the Name of Jesus, Every Knee Shall Bend

Philippians 2:6-11 describes Jesus’ self-emptying and suffering unto death, which then leads to his exaltation. At the conclusion of this passage, we read: “Therefore … at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philip 2:9-11). This passage is well known, but what is often missed is how St. Paul is appropriating to Jesus exactly what was said of YHWH: “To me [YHWH] every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear” (Isa 45:23). Paul is saying that YHWH has become incarnate in and through Jesus.

We don’t say “Jesus was,” but that “Jesus is”—because Jesus lives; Jesus conquered death because he is the God-man; Jesus remains present with us because he is God; Jesus is ever-present in the Blessed Sacrament because he is God in the flesh and continues to encounter us in the ever present.

Jesus promised to be with us always (see Mt 28:20). How can we encounter Jesus personally this very day?

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Welcome to the Encountering God Bible Reading Plan! Thu, 07 Jan 2016 05:41:27 +0000 The Bible is rich with life lessons, and proof of God’s love for us. It is the story of salvation, the hope for humanity, and a sure way to make dialogue with God central to your life, when it is read correctly. So how do we find a way to motivate ourselves to read the Bible, while also finding a way to make sense of its mysteries?


Perhaps you had these same concerns when you signed up for the Encountering God Bible reading plan, formerly known as the 90-day Bible challenge. For the following year, you will receive a blogpost in your email giving you just the direction you need to make reading your Bible a more enriching experience for your spiritual life. The Great Adventure Bible Timeline’s Executive Editor Sarah Christmyer will take you through the 14 narrative books of the Bible, and share with you what she has learned. At the end of this journey, you will not only have a better understanding of the Bible. You’ll also more clearly see your role in the great story of salvation Christ invites us to enter.

This post was updated 1/11/2016 to convey that the 90-Day Bible Challenge is now the Encountering God Bible reading plan, which offers the same readings and reflections as the 90-day Bible Challenge over the course of a year. You can sign up for Encountering God here

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