JOSHUA (Jahsh ew uh) Personal name meaning, "Yahweh delivered (or saved)." English versions differ in their transliteration of the Hebrew names. Its New Testament equivalent is Jesus.
So Jesus, in Hebrew, means "God saves". He does. He saved me.
"Saved you from what?", you may be thinking. Saved me from myself. He saved me from my own sinful nature, from my rebellion. Saved me from an eternity of separation from God.
"Nice guys" don't necessarily go to heaven. Why? Because "nice guys" are not perfect. You have to be perfect to be in the eternal presence of perfection.
So how does an imperfect "nice guy" go to heaven. Can't. At least not without divine help. And that's how Jesus saved me.
Before the foundation of the world, God created a plan to allow sinful, fallen, "nice guys" to share the glory that He intended for them.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.(John 3:16)
"But", you object, "surely some people are good enough to get into heaven on their own". "What about Mother Theresa"?
Perhaps an analogy would be helpful. Suppose I told everyone who is now in Cuba (sorry but I had to slip my ethnic background somehow into this testimony) that they had to jump the 90 miles it would take to get to Key West. I would even allow them to get a running start. Now most people would be able to jump perhaps 5-8 feet. The most talented, groomed long jumpers might be able to make it 20-25 feet. But NOBODY would be able to jump the vast expanse of 90 miles.
Now suppose standing on the beach was a man with "eyes like diadems", a glorious resurrection Body and nail scars on His hands. Just as the next person leaped in the air while trying to make his jump, this nail scarred man scooped him out of the air and carried him across to Miami. Victory!! What is impossible for a human is possible through the intervention of Jesus Christ.
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." (Mat 19:25-26)
In a similar way Jesus is waiting to scoop you up and take you to His Father. Spiritually now but eventually physically as well. But to do so requires that initial leap of faith.
So you may be thinking "easy enough, I'll just believe in Jesus and I'll go straight to heaven". Here's where it gets a little complicated. The belief that is necessary is not a belief in the mind, but a faith in the heart and soul. You see even the demons know that Jesus is Lord. The Christian walk starts with the realization that Jesus died for "my" sins. It starts with repentance.
Let me tell you how my walk started.
I had the great privilege of being a "cradle Catholic". My parents made sure that I attended Catholic grade school and high school and received all the sacraments of initiation into the Catholic Church. I went away to college and misbehaved like most kids do. I returned home for Medical school and, in 1981 married a wonderful woman named Barbara. We attended Mass regularly, particularly after the birth of our first child, Barbara Angela, in 1984. We had our only other child, William Jr., in 1986. Other than weekly Mass, however, our lives were not particularly devoted to God. I'm sure, though, had you asked anyone that knew us , we would have been described as "nice people". And, despite all my years in Catholic school, and thousands of Masses, I was under the impression that "nice people" went to heaven. Life was good.
In 1990, an expected event caused a very unexpected reaction. My wife's grandmother, who my wife loved more than anyone on the earth, passed away. Now she was in her late 80s, had suffered from Altzheimer's disease and was frequently ill. Thus her passing away was no great surprise. What did surprise me was MY reaction. Questions I had never asked before popped into MY mind.
"What if it was ME who had died"?
"Am I SURE that I am going to heaven"?
"What does the Bible say about it"?
I was shocked to realize I DIDN'T KNOW the answer to these questions. I had NEVER read my Bible. All I knew was the verses that I could recall from Mass.
I decided at precisely that moment that I was going to read the Bible cover to cover and any other spiritual material I could get my hands on. And so I began.......
Approximately two years had now passed. Using a one-year Bible reading program (which I highly recommend) I had now been through the Bible TWICE! And, not only had I read the Bible but dozens of books, written by both Catholics and Protestants, which commented and expanded on the Bible. No longer was I a spiritual ignoramus!! I could now, on occasion, QUOTE scripture!! I knew the DETAILS of Old Testament Bible stories. I had Christianity down cold!
Then came the next shocker. My sister, who had become very active in an evangelical Church (her husband has since become a pastor), asked me a simple question. "William", she said, (whenever she calls me William I'm in trouble), do you love God with ALL your heart?
"Gosh, Liza, ask me a Bible verse. Quiz me on an Old Testament story. Ask me the date of the Reformation. But don't ask me THAT question!!!"
After much soul searching, I meekly admitted to myself that there were many things that I loved more than God. Definitely my family and my profession. Possibly even less significant things.
This is when I first realized the difference between knowledge of God in your heart and knowledge in your head. Up to this point, like the stellar academic student I had always been, I knew God and the Bible in my head only. I begged God to teach me how to REALLY know Him.
God showed me that the way to His heart was through prayer. I was lead to a prayer form known as "centering prayer". If you are interested, you can get information about this subject on the internet at http://www.centeringprayer.com/. Basically, centering prayer involves two or more daily sessions of approximately twenty minutes in silence before God. Sharing time and Spirit with Him. I began to slowly get to know Him. He had broken the ice. Alleluia!
In addition to centering prayer, I developed a daily regimen of intercessory prayers and Bible study. But now my Bible study was different. I learned, by God's grace, to read with my heart and not my head. Not always, mind you. But frequently enough to find an ever deepening relationship with my Wonderful Creator.
But am I REALLY saved?
Throughout this time we continued to go to Mass weekly. However, gradually, as I read more and more non-Catholic evangelical material and Protestant Bible commentaries, I began to have new and perhaps even more serious questions.
Why didn't I have a tearful, "bells and whistles", conversion experience?
Why can't I even remember the EXACT date that I was "saved"?
Have I REALLY received Jesus into my heart?
Frustrated, I went to see one of my ophthalmology professors, Dr. J. Lawton Smith. Apart from being a world class neurophthalmologist, Dr. Smith was a Pentecostal Christian. I asked him my questions and his answer was simple but emphatic. "Docky, (Dr. Smith is from South Carolina and has an "interesting" vocabulary), you need to be Baptized in the Holy Spirit". I answered, "you're right Dr. Smith, I need to be Baptized in the Holy Spirit" and I promptly left his office.
"What in the world is Baptism in the Holy Spirit"?, I asked myself as I walked down the hall.
Shortly thereafter I began to collect all the reading material I could on Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Most of the books were written by non-Catholic Pentecostals. Jack Hayford, Derek Prince, and the TBN TV network became my breakfast, lunch and dinner. I became obsessed with the desire to be Baptized in the Spirit. I read literally hundreds of articles and dozens of books on the subject. I prayed sincerely to the Father, not asking Him but begging Him for the Gift. But nothing happened.
So, I just kept reading, and listening to tapes, and watching TBN. But nothing happened.
I read about others with similar difficulties. They had told God they didn't want to live any more if it meant living without this Gift. I prayed HARDER. But nothing happened.
Then, early on the morning of my son's First Communion before anyone else was awake, IT HAPPENED!!! I began, Glory to God, to speak in tongues. And the Lord showed me that He had waited to give me the Gift on that precise day. I may not recall the date on which I was "saved", but I'll NEVER be able to forget the date I was baptized in the Holy Spirit. Alleluia!
An Unexpected Side-effect
One consequence of all my reading of predominantly Protestant literature was that I began to question some of my Catholic beliefs. I became especially worried about my Catholic friends and those who attended my Church.
Did they KNOW Christ?
Would their belief in questionable non-Biblical Catholic doctrines affect their salvation?
What about all the kids growing up in the Catholic Church without a true knowledge of Christ?
I resolved that I would make a difference. So I became a CCD teacher (the Catholic equivalent of Sunday school) for children aged 12-13 who were to be Confirmed. I determined that I would teach them the Good News and preach Christ Jesus crucified.
And I did.
But something unexpected happened. As I began to study the material to present to the students I gradually began to deeply appreciate the richness of the Catholic faith. I realized how shallow my objections to the Catholic dogmas I had internally criticized truly were. I thought about the millions of brilliant Catholic minds that have existed since the establishment of the Church. I added to this the millions of Catholic monks, nuns and priests who lived cloistered lives completely sacrificing themselves to be in constant prayer. Then I had the overwhelming realization that the present theology of the Roman Catholic Church is the PRODUCT of these sources augmented by the Holy Spirit of God Himself!
How could an idiot like me try to elevate my understanding of scripture above that accumulated over two thousand years by the Catholic Church as it has been guided by the Holy Spirit?
I can't and I won't. Instead I will count my blessings that God, in His infinite Mercy, has guided me to a deeper understanding of my Catholic faith. Alleluia!
The Real Presence
The Catholic Church teaches that as a result of the consecration by the priest during Mass the bread and wine are transformed or transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, in Communion, Catholics receive the Lord Himself!
Many Christians and even some Catholics question this dogma as unbelievable. Frankly it is UNBELIEF in this central teaching that I find difficult to understand. Why?
We believe that the Son of God was born of a Virgin mother.
We believe that He died, was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven with a glorified body.
We believe that during His ministry on Earth He performed many miracles among which was the feeding of 5000 men from a boy's supply of 5 loaves and 2 fish.
Why then should there be ANY hesitation in believing that Jesus can transform bread and wine into His Own Body and Blood?
The hesitation is even harder to understand when Bible study is undertaken. Jesus clearly defines this teaching in John Chapter 6. In fact, this teaching was so difficult for his own followers to accept that many left him. Later, Jesus at the Last Supper clearly described the bread and wine as His literal Body and Blood. Paul later discusses the Lord's Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 in a fashion identical to the Catholic teaching of today.
Add to the Biblical evidence the recorded early traditions of the Church and the many documented Eucharistic miracles and any residual unbelief must melt away. Like Thomas, we must stand before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and say "My Lord and My God".
A wonderful internet resource on the Real Presence including documented Eucharistic miracles and teachings of the Church Fathers can be found at: http://www.therealpresence.org/.
Once I fully acknowledged in my heart, by faith through the grace of God, that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ my life changed forever. No longer would Mass on Sundays be sufficient. How could I have access to the Body and Blood of my Lord and not receive this wonderful gift every day that it was possible for me? How could I miss the monthly Eucharistic Adoration? How could I not kneel down in awe when, at the conclusion of Adoration, Christ Himself in the consecrated Host gave me His blessing?
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! (Rom 11:33)
The End of the Road
I continue to travel on the Catholic road to Jesus every day. Despite the enormous graces God has made available to me, I will not infrequently stumble on a rock in my path. Sometimes the rock is a boulder, either large or small, thrown by the evil one. More often however, and to my great sadness, I am the source of the rocks. My refusal to completely surrender to Jesus or my lack of acceptance of a given situation will sometimes cause me to stumble. The old self will sometimes stubbornly resurface causing me to fall yet once again.
But Jesus is always there to pick me up. As in a Haitian prayer: "Lord, how glad we are that we don't hold you, but that you hold us".
There are other times, however, wonderful times, when I seem to float along the road. I can effortlessly glide forwards pushed tenderly along by His Holy Spirit. I can look up at the distance, towards what appears to be the end of the road, and see Love Himself beckoning me towards Him. And I know that someday I will see Him as He is. Forever. Alleluia!
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:38-39)
He saved me.
God bless you,
May 13, 1998
My Seven Favorite Bible Verses
The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me." Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, "Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, 'Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'" So Samuel went and lay down in his place. The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" Then Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening." (1 Sam 3:8-10)
"As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isa 55:9)
This is what the LORD says: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD. (Jer 9:23-24)
"Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." (Psa 46:10)
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: (Isa 40:4)
What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom 8:31)
Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Mat 22:37-40)
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