Growing Apologist

Becoming a Defender of Truth

The Gospel Challenge

Did you know that there are approximately 35 pages in the Book of Mathew, 22 pages in the Book of Mark, 37 pages in the Book of John and 28 pages in the Book of Luke [1]?  All in all, approximately 122 pages which is less than the size of paperback novels these days.  I don’t know about you, but it takes me about half a day to sit down and read the average paperback novel, and I do this once or twice a month. 

St. Jerome, who lived from 331 to 420 [2], is commonly quoted as saying “To be ignorant of the Scriptures is to be ignorant of Christ! [3]”  Read the rest of this entry »

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The Underestimated Holy Spirit

I don’t know about you, but I know something about me… I underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit. My first step towards Christianity as a Protestant was my belief in Jesus. I was still not quite right with God, but I was headed in the right direction. At that time, I believed that God was a very unkind God (the Old Testament was my proof—He wasn’t very nice to his chosen people. I know now that they had it coming to them as they just refused to listen) and the Holy Spirit was just this odd, third entity that I recognized as important, but less important than both God and Jesus.

The Holy Spirit is not at all less important in the Trinity, nor should he be any less respected. I could be totally off base here, but I think that as Protestants and Catholics (perhaps the majority of Christian believers), we put more emphasis on Jesus and on God and tend to remember the Holy Spirit as an afterthought. However, we must remember that the Holy Spirit does not come third to the Father and the Son, but is the third person of God. Read the rest of this entry »


Weekly Media: YouVersion

This is a new type of post that I will begin posting every week. The purpose of these posts are to give my readers an overview of a media that I have found useful in my walk with Christ. The media could be anything from websites, books, podcasts, apps and technology.

Have a media that you love to use? I would be glad to review it and provide a post on it with you and your website attributed to it. Just send me an email through the Feedback! Page.

This Weeks Media: YouVersion


YouVersion is an online bible community owned by The homepage of YouVersion is a bible reader on the left side of the screen while the right side is the Organizer (see screen shot below). Through the Organizer, bible verses can be bookmarked, relevant notes written by other users, a section for your own notes, accessibility to reading plans, and an audio bible app. A dropdown box allows the user to select a version of bible, search for particular verses, or browse to a book/verse in the bible. YouVersion can also be installed on other devices that use apps or have access to the web such as smart phones and tablets.


The interface for the online bible is one of the best that I have found to date. It has the look and feel of a scrolling eBook rather than hyperlinked websites. Around the bible reader, several tools and communities have been built. For example, the user can subscribe to a reading plan for reading the bible in a year, a particular book over a set timeline, or topic based such as verses or books relating to relationships, humility or Christmas. The notes allow the user to read other peoples thoughts on the bible verses or to share their own thoughts. As the user scrolls through the bible in the reader, relevant notes that other users created populate under the organizer. This allows people to build on each other’s knowledge and to share their thoughts. The user can also join a group that share the same religious backgrounds or values in order to create a community that encourages and share knowledge.

The community developed around the bible reader is an exciting idea. It brings a whole new perspective to the social media arena, but does not attempt to compete with the likes of Facebook. Instead, the developers at YouVersion are carving their own niche by creating a community centered on bible sharing.


My biggest complaint is the usability of the site and the availability of help resources. Some of the features do not have logical access. For example, I have created a group for Growing Apologist, but I have yet to figure out how to post any bible bookmarks to it or share notes on the group’s page. I thought to myself, no big deal, I will go to the support page and figure it out. There was no information on groups on the support page. That being said, YouVersion seems to be a newer community, and it takes time to develop usability and help resources.

Note:  I discovered that there is not a specific way to post to the group, but any activity recorded to my username will automatically be posted to any group I am part of.

Check it out!

Over all, the idea behind YouVersion is unique and beneficial. The site is still being developed as it is a newer social media. The downfalls far outweigh the benefits that a follower of Christ can gain from using this site. Join YouVersion to reap these benefits and while you are at it, check out the Growing Apologist group.

What do you think of YouVersion? Let us know in the comments section.


The Pride of the Pharisees

From The Crossroads Initiative: October 27, 2011

Here is the gospel reflection for this coming weekend from The Crossroads Initiative.  The mass bible readings that this reflection is based on can be found here.  The past few weeks, the Pharisees had tried to trick Jesus so that they could have an excuse to kill him.  In this reading, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for their pride.  Enjoy!

Brooklyn Museum - The Pharisees Question Jesus...

The Pride of the Pharisees

From Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio

A hundred and fifty years before Christ, they were the good guys. The Greeks were in charge and decided that, if they were to unify their kingdom politically, they needed to unify it religiously. So they imposed Greek ways on the Jews, including worshiping idols and eating pork. You can read about the Jew’s military resistance to this tyranny in the two books of Maccabees.

In these same books, you can read about the spiritual resistance of pious laymen who stood up for the Law and the traditions of the Rabbis, who sought to preserve the faith of Israel and live it with passion. The members of this renewal movement became known as the Pharisees.

Yet obviously something went terribly wrong with God’s champions. Because just a few generations later, when the Son of God appeared in their midst, they rejected Him. How did it happen? They succumbed to an insidious disease that they didn’t even know they had.

Today, there are sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) like this. One of them, HPV, is a virus that has no symptoms at all. A woman often does not know that she has it . . . until, that is, she is diagnosed with deadly cervical cancer.

Saint Mary Magdalene wipes the feet of Jesus

The Pharisees would have wagged their fingers at such women, as they did at the woman caught in adultery (John 8). “Serves them right– the wages of sin is death!”

Fornication and adultery are serious sins indeed. In fact, they are expressions of one of the seven capital sins–lust. Many assume that lust is considered by Christianity to be the epitome of sin, the worst possible vice. Actually, in the hierarchy (or should I say “lowerarchy”) of capital sins, the king-pin and most deadly of the seven sins is not lust but pride. Lust wrongly seeks sexual pleasure apart from love and life. Pride seeks greatness apart from God. The tricky thing is that pride can often start in the course of promoting God’s greatness.

Here’s how it works–as people begin applauding as you do God’s work, you think they are applauding for you. It’s a rather pitiful mistake really. Imagine the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem thinking that the crowd had turned out for him!

Such applause, however, can be addicting. The proud person ultimately will do anything to make the ovation happen and keep it going. But there can only be one star. Pride is essentially competitive. So anyone who threatens to steal the show becomes a mortal enemy. Even if he happens to be God.

The proud man does not teach to enlighten, but rather to pontificate, to impress, to appear as the authority. So the Pharisees laid heavy moral burdens upon the shoulders of the people without lifting a finger to help them (Mat 23:4). They coveted the title of “teacher” (that’s what “rabbi” means) and “father” (teachers in the ancient world were regarded as spiritual fathers), but really did not want the responsibility.

Brooklyn Museum - Curses Against the Pharisees...

When Jesus says to avoid being called teacher and father, he wasn’t talking aboutwhat titles educators and parents should and shouldn’t use. He was talking about an attitude. Humble persons realize that all wisdom and teaching comes from God, even if God happens to be instructing others through their mouths. They know that the applause ultimately is for Him, and they are glad to redirect it back to Him as Mary does when she is praised by her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1: 42-55).

Pride is deadly because it is so insidious. The further the disease progresses, the blinder the victim becomes until it is nearly impossible for him to recognize his plight.The strutting and posturing of the proud are nothing more than compensation for their own insecurity. The pathetic emperor cannot see what is perfectly plain to everyone else–namely, that he has no clothes.

The humble person, on the other hand, is secure in the love of God and therefore has no need of pomp and circumstance. He is not afraid to look at his own littleness, for He clearly sees the greatness of a God who is not a competitor, but a loving Father.

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The Exodus of Life

We are currently in the book of Exodus in the Great Adventure Bible Study, learning the story of Exodus of God’s People from the land of Egypt.  God’s people lived in the land of the Egypt for a very long time. So long, that the people forgot who God is and His promises. They stopped holding to the covenant of the Lord as they ate Egyptian food, dressed like Egyptians, talked like them, intermarried, and even worshipped the Egyptian gods. However, God did not forget his people, and so the Israelites still prospered and soon there were so many of them that the Egyptians became fearful that the Israelites would take over their land.

Moses Pleading with Israel, as in Deuteronomy ...

I think we all know the story from this point: the Pharaoh ordering all of the male Hebrews born to be cast into the Nile; Moses saved from the Nile by the Pharaoh’s daughter; Moses growing up in the Pharaoh courts until one day he has to run from Pharaoh because he killed an Egyptian for beating a Hebrew; the Lord selecting Moses to lead His People out of Egypt; the ten plagues as a warning to Pharaoh to let the Lord’s People go; the parting of the Red Sea; forty years in the desert with the ten commandments given to Moses at Mount Sinai; finally Gods People reaching the Land of Canaan, the land promised to the ancestors of the Hebrews.

As I read the story and answered my homework questions for the bible study, God heard my prayer to ‘reveal to me what You wish me to learn as I study your Word.’ The homework question that astonished me most was to evaluate how Moses has changed from Exodus 5-6 to Exodus 32. As I read these chapters and saw how Moses went from saying, “I cannot do it, send someone else” to “Send me Lord, let me lead these people”, I had flashbacks from my past.

I was a teenager, and trying to figure out the world and God, and I was very lost. I was taken with culture, just like the Israelites were taken with the Egyptian culture, and I became a pagan. Then one day, I actually listened to Jesus, He stole my heart, and I became Christian. I remember being sad and bitter. I remember kneeling in the pews of my church saying, I believe, Jesus, in you and your death and resurrection. But I do not believe in the bible, or Church, or organized religion. I do not believe in testifying, in fact I will never testify. I will not tell others about you, and you cannot send me.Sunrise from Mount Sinai

I was just like Moses, unbelieving, unknowing and unwilling. Just like Moses, the Lord has led me from the pagan life and a life of slavery, through the Red Sea, and camps with me at the foot of Mount Sinai. I am not out of the desert yet, but I know that sometimes the Lord leads me, sometimes He directs me, sometimes He carries me, and sometimes He challenges my faith to see if I will stand for Him, and at the end of this journey, I will be in the Land of Milk and Honey and dwell always with the Lord. Who would have ever thought that we, who live now and in this generation, could experience the same Exodus that the Hebrews experienced so long ago?

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Greatest Commandment

From the St. Mary’s Newsletter October 21, 2011:  The Magnificat

Here is the Gospel reflection for this upcoming weekend.  This is a continuation of last week’s reflection regarding the Pharisee’s trying to trap Jesus.  The readings that the reflection is based on can be found here.  Enjoy!

Greatest Commandment

From Dr. D’Ambrosio

 They are at it again. In this Sunday’s gospel Jesus’ opponents enlist a lawyer to do what lawyers do best- ask a question that puts a person on the hot seat. “Which commandment of the law is the greatest?” (Matthew 22:34-40). If the law consisted in only the Ten Commandments, this would be tough enough. But the written “Torah” included many more moral, ceremonial, and dietary prescriptions.

 Jesus, of course, is a radical. A “radical” is one who goes to the “radix” or root of the issue. The root problem was that these Pharisees majored in the minors. They loved to strain out gnats and swallow camels. They missed the forest for the trees, going to great lengths to observe the letter of the law while totally missing its spirit.

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...

  So Jesus fires a broadside. Splicing together two passages from the Torah, he sinks them. “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with all your mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5). “This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Leviticus 19:18).

This sinks them for a couple of reasons. First it brilliantly sums up the entire law because every single precept is an expression of these two commandments. Read the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and you’ll see that the first three are about loving God and the other seven are about loving your neighbor. If you read every line of the Bible, you’d be able to put each command in column A (love God) or column B (love your neighbor). So these two commandments are indeed the root of them all.

 But the other reason his answer sinks them is that these two root commandments are precisely the ones the Pharisees keep breaking. Observance of the law for them is not an act of divine worship but rather of self-promotion. Rather than their observance of the law leading to love of neighbor, it leads to scorn of neighbors who fail to live up to their standards (see how they treat the blind man in John 9:24-34). Note what Paul, the converted Pharisee, says: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1).” Paul knew this from experience–he spent years as a gong. On the positive side,St. Augustinesays “love and do what you will.”

 Yet Jesus did not say just to love. He said we must love the Lord with our WHOLE heart and soul and with ALL our mind and strength. I made a discernment retreat at the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani when, at age 21, I felt torn between a desire for religious life and marriage. As I walked into the retreat house, I shuddered to see this phrase inscribed in the stone over the entryway: “God Alone.”

The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove above the H...

Does wholehearted love of God leave no room in your heart for a spouse or children?

 If that were the case, there would be no second great commandment in this story. In fact Jesus says the second commandment is like the first. That’s because the kind of wholehearted love Jesus is talking about is charity (agape), which means loving God for his own sake and all others for his sake, and doing so not by human strength, but with the divine love that is poured into our heart by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). When we love others with charity, we love God through them. Our every loving act towards them becomes an expression of our love for God.

 So at bottom, the two great commandments are just two sides of the same coin. Jesus says to render to Caesar what is Caesars and render to God what is God’s. The two-sided coin of charity is the only legal tender we can use to pay the obligation that’s even more important than taxes–the one owed to the Creator.


Magnifacant, St. Mary’s Newsletter (10/13/11)

For those of you unfamiliar with the Catholic mass, we always have three readings from the bible at the beginning of mass: one from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, and then one from the Gospel.  Every week, I receive a newsletter from my church in my email usually with an article relating to the Gospel.  This one comes at an interesting time for me and my family, as a relative of mine is struggling with paying taxes on their house.  Here is the article for your enjoyment.

*[10/16/2011 Edit] It occurred to me that it is rather difficult for an article on scripture to mean much without knowing what scripture said article is based on.  This is based primarily on the gospel reading from Mathew 22, 15-21, but also the old testament reading Isaiah 45, 1-6 and the new testament reading 1 Thessalonians 1, 1-5.*

Render Unto Caesar
 Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio
Despite their flattering words, they were trying to trap him, to force him into a no-win situation.
Consider the circumstances.  They are living under the iron boot of a brutal empire which filled the earth with its idolatry.  Patriotic Jews longed to throw off the yoke of the tyrants.  They prayed for an anointed king who would free them from the Romans as David had freed them from the Philistines. Anyone advocating collaboration with the invaders could not possibly be the hoped-for Messiah.  No, he would appear as a traitor.  But on the other hand, anyone preaching resistance to Rome would be branded an enemy of the Empire and would wind up suspended from a cross.
So the Pharisees decided to put Jesus on the spot in front of the crowd.  They asked him a question bound to get him into trouble one way or the other. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor or not?”

First of all, Jesus teaches us how to deal with a bogus theological question.  He unmasks it for what it is, an effort to trip him up rather than an inquiry proceeding from a sincere desire to know the truth.  And then, rather than letting himself be controlled and put on the spot, he takes charge of the conversation and puts the Pharisees on the spot.  He answers a question with a question.  “Whose head is on that coin that you have in your pocket, the coin that you are using to pay for the temporal necessities of life?”  “Caesar’s.”  Next Jesus says something that makes them think, much like he did with the men eager to stone the woman caught in adultery (John 8).  “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar, but give to God what is God’s.”  (Mat 22:15-21)

Jesus wins the battle.  He transforms an attempt to make him look bad into a teaching moment recorded for all time, providing all peoples and ages with some very important food for thought

Government is a fact of life.  Rulers, laws, police, taxes.  What should a worshipper of God make of it?

One thing Jesus points out to the Pharisees is that they participate in this societal infrastructure.  They don’t live on a deserted island but are dependent upon the imperial system for everything from the food in the marketplace to protection from thieves.  One rural community in the US recently celebrated their independence after seceding from the nearby township and its taxes.  A few days later, they were unpleasantly surprised when the town trash trucks failed to show up.

Jesus says we can’t have it both ways–if we benefit from secular society, we need to support the infrastructure of society.  This can take the form of taxes, military service, jury duty, and informed, conscientious voting.

On the other hand, Jesus says that we need to give to God what is God’s.  This is the real punch line of the story.  For God has given us everything.  In fact, it is he who raises up kings and nations and through them provides for us.  The Lord used the Babylonians to punish the stubborn disobedience of the kingdom of Judah.  But when the time of exile was completed, God used the pagan Persian king, Cyrus, to break the stranglehold of Babylon and allow the Chosen People to return home.  The prophet Isaiah even calls this unbeliever the messiah or anointed one! (Is 45:1-6)

But there are also times when political rulers overstep their authority.  Sometimes, they demand to be worshiped, like Caesar did.  Other times they attack human dignity, violating natural law which demands that innocent human life be respected and that liberty be protected.  These are times when Christians have a duty boldly to insist that while Caesar is owed his due, we won’t stand by and silently watch him step on God’s toes.

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio’s Website click here

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