Friday, April 17, 2015

The Same Error

So, I’m reading in Mark’s gospel where we learn of the Lord's betrayal, capture, and crucifixion. In chapter 14, Jesus said to His disciples: For the Son of Man is to go just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born” (14:21).

I stopped at that verse and thought of Judas. The betrayer was right there among the disciples when Jesus warned of the consequences of turning against Him.

And then my thoughts took me to chapter 2 in Hebrews. There, the Holy Spirit warns the Church : “. . . we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (verses 1-3).

And then again in chapter 10: “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment . . . It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (verses 26-31)
St. Mark tells us Judas heard every word of the Lord’s warning. Every syllable. But he ignored it.

So let us pray, especially when we come together as the Body of Christ, let us pray for those who hear God’s warning week after week, that they not make the same terrible error and ignore Him.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Lost. And Found

I posted this a few years ago. The story still has value for me. Perhaps it will for you as well.

If I only touch His garment, I will get well (Matthew 9:21)

Before the orderly wheeled my gurney into the operating suite, the physician injected an anesthetic just above my right collarbone. He said my arm would be paralyzed for the next 24 to 36 hours. He also instructed me to take my pain medication that evening, in case the anesthetic wore off sooner.

He was right about the paralysis. When I awoke in the recovery room I had absolutely no feeling in my arm and couldn’t even move my pinky. The disconnect between my arm and brain was so complete, when I touched my fingers with my left hand, it felt as if I was touching another person. I left the hospital with a bulky dressing from my right elbow to wrist, and my arm in a sling. My wife drove me home. Although the paralysis continued into the night. I took my pain medication as ordered and went to bed.

In my semi-drugged state I dozed on and off until around 3:00. Trying to get more comfortable, I shuffled several pillows around my head and arm – and for some inexplicable reason removed my sling. A moment later when I again tried to get more comfortable, my right arm suddenly flew over the side of the bed. I’d forgotten I had no control over it, and a sudden fear of injuring myself swooped over me.

In the dark and in my narcotic-induced haze, I reached for my arm, but couldn’t find it. I searched with my left hand along the mattress and grew frantic that I’d lost my arm. Fortunately, logic subdued my rising panic and I realized if I reached for the place where my arm originates – my shoulder – I could follow it to where my arm should be.  Moments later (and much relieved) I cradled my right arm to my chest and replaced my sling.

Like my experience that early morning in the dark, sometimes life has kicked me so hard in the gut I’ve fallen to the ground gasping for breath. And not satisfied with that, life kicked me again while I was down until I could do nothing but lie there, paralyzed.  Numb.  Darkness overtook me. I felt as if I’d lost direction. Panic worked its talons up toward my throat and squeezed until I couldn’t breathe. If not for a glimmer of logic that settled over me, I don’t know where I would have ended up.

That experience reminded me of a critically important principle: When I lose my direction, my confidence, my security . . . when nothing makes sense, that’s the time – like no other time – to reach out, as often as necessary, for the place where hope, direction, and peace originate.

At the feet of Jesus.

Where I always find what I lost.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Squeezing Me to His Chest

I posted this in a few years ago when I first saw the image in my mind.

Having bought a linen cloth, [Joseph of Arimathea] took him down, wrapped him in the linen cloth and laid him in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb (Mark 15:46).

My imagination took me to the tomb. I sat against a tree and looked at the massive stone covering the cave's entrance. Several yards in front of me four guards sat around a fire. They joked. Told stories. Passed the time as they waited for the sunrise, and with it another squad of soldiers who would take over the watch so they could get some sleep.

I glanced at the sky. Lots of stars. I pulled a blanket tighter around my shoulders and looked back at the stone.

Then -- all at once, like an explosion -- light burst from around the edges of the boulder and shattered the darkness. The guards scrambled to their feet. One quickly grabbed his sword and held it at the ready. The others grabbed theirs.

And then with my mind's eye I watched the stone slowly roll to the right. I felt the ground groan and shudder under its weight. And I stood up in anticipation.

But as quickly as the light appeared, it vanished. And I watched a man, dressed in a robe -- its glow fading even as I watched -- the man walked from within the cave and stood a few feet beyond the opening. He looked at the guards, and they fell back in terror. They flung their weapons aside and fled toward the trees.

When they were gone, Jesus looked at me. His expression hadn't changed. I could see His face. Still Calm. Gentle. His eyes soft. I wondered why the guards fled.

I watched myself hesitate, and then walk toward Him. As I drew near, I bowed on my knees. It was then I saw His feet beneath the robe. And the scars. I sat on the dirt and stared at them.

And that was when I realized the Lord was bending toward me. In a moment He sat in the dirt in front of me. He took me into His arms, and held me.

And He held me.

And He held me.

Squeezing me into His chest, He held me.

I rested my head on His shoulder, and looked down His back. I could see the scars from the whip that sliced His skin at the whipping post. They covered His neck, shoulders and back as far as I could see down His robe.

Scars that should have been mine.

And I whispered, Jesus, please. Help me love You always.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Lenten Series: The Seventh Word of Jesus

For a more complete review of the last words of Jesus, log onto my YouTube series here:

The last seven words (statements, actually) of Jesus as He hung on Golgotha's cross are among the most encouraging of all Scripture. Here is the last of the seven:

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
(Luke 23:46)

Can the Father be trusted, even in our darkest and most desperate moment? It’s an important question to articulate aloud because doubts course through our minds anyway. And God hears those questions in our thoughts as easily as He hears them from our lips.

Can He be trusted to do what is right and good at all times and in all situations? Jesus answered the question for Himself, for although God from God and Light from Light, Jesus was also at the same time fully man – with all the emotions of any other person. He knew fear, and hunger, and thirst, and grief, and loneliness, and anger . . .  

And pain.

Jesus did not want to die. Three times in the garden He pleaded with the Father, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.”  But in the end, of course, He would do His Father’s will.

Why would He do that? Many reasons, certainly. But one floats now to the top of my mind – because He loved His Father more than His own life. And His love for the Father brought confidence in His goodness, His tenderness, and of His reciprocal love.

“Into Thy hands I commit My spirit.”

Good Friday is good because even as the Father’s beloved Jesus carried that cross to Golgotha, God at the same time demonstrated His love for you and for me in that while we mocked His Son, cursed Him, shook our fist at Him in defiance – the Father watched His Son die for us.

“Into Thy hands I commit my spirit.”

What darkness envelopes you today? What sadness, or emptiness, or loneliness, or pain overshadows your soul?  And if not today, then wait a while. Life is full of such things as can tear our soul to its very core. Jesus loved His Father so much that even in His darkest moment He remained confident that the Father’s love was so deep and abiding that nothing – not even death – could separate them. And so Jesus is our preeminent example of what love for the Father can do for us in our dark times. Love for God can generate hope, and hope will never disappoint because God’s love will unfold in our hearts through the Holy Spirit given to us – a love so deep and abiding that we will know, in the very core of our soul, that nothing will separate us.

“Into Thy hands I commit my spirit.”

Can God be trusted? What do we think? What will we do?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Lenten Series: The Sixth Word of Jesus

I wrote this a year ago, and was ready to follow it as my template for my next YouTube recording about the last words of Jesus on the cross. But as I prepared myself for the recording, I felt led to say something much different than you will read here. If you have the time, some time log onto the recording at this link:

The last seven words (statements, actually) of Jesus as He hung on Golgotha's cross are among the most encouraging of all Scripture. Here is the sixth of the seven:

“It is finished”
(John 19:30)

Perhaps no other statement of Jesus on Golgotha’s hill mean so much to me as “It is finished.” I spent weeks contemplating why that is true, and decided the answer is best illustrated by an incident that happened to me 55 years ago. 

My friend Steve and I were eight years old. When my family visited his we often explored the undeveloped land near his new home. During one visit, as we played in and around houses in varying degrees of construction, we spotted a field of cattails. “Let’s play hide and seek” he challenged. In a moment he was racing through the cattails while I counted to 100.

The cattails swayed gracefully in the autumn breeze as I chased after him, pushing farther into the midst of the field. They were tall cattails . . . taller than I, and so thick I could push through them only with great effort. But soon they were no longer my concern. The darkening sky caught my attention and I stopped to scan in all directions. It was a futile effort. I couldn't see anything except the thin pale stalks around me.

"Hey, Steve!" I called aloud.

No answer.

"Steve!" I shouted against the rustling grasses. “Where are you? I'm not playing anymore." My stomach churned.

Then I heard him in the distance, "Riiiiichard!"

"Here! Over here," I shouted back. Breathing faster, I pushed into the wall of weeds. "Steeeeevennnnn! Where are you?"

"Over here!" He sounded closer.

At last, I heard him crunch‑crunching nearby. In a moment we faced each other. Sweat beaded on our flushed faces.

"Where were you?" I accused. "It got dark pretty quick and I figure we'd better be gettin' home."

"I was looking for you," he defended himself.

"Well, come on," I urged, not wanting to waste any more time, "let's get outta here."

"Which way is out?" he asked.

I stared at him. "Don't you know?"

He shook his head.

"But . . . but you live here."

"Yeah," he started, "But I've never been here before. Especially not in the dark."

We stared at each other a moment longer.

"Well," I said finally. "Let's go this way," I pointed to the left. Without speaking, we lunged against the weeds. It was a long time before either of us spoke.

"I think we're lost," I said softly.

Steve didn't answer.

"What do you think?"

He ignored me.

"What are we gonna do?" I stopped. Fear gnawed at me.

"I don't know," he shrugged his shoulders hopelessly. He’d been crying. "Maybe if we called out for help?" he whimpered.

"Hellllllp!" we chorused together. "Hellllllp!"

We listened . . . . And we tried again. And again. And again.

"Maybe we should pray," Steve said.

Wiping the sweat from my face, I nodded agreement. Neither of us was being raised in religious homes. In the years our families had known each other, the only time we ever heard God’s name mentioned was as a swear word or a casual exclamation of surprise. But now, lost in a tangle of fear and desperation, we both knew this situation called for help far beyond our capabilities. We closed our eyes and begged God to help us find our way home.

After a time, the ground grew soggy beneath our muddied shoes and we broke through to a clearing. The calm bay waters lapped the shore at our feet. We could see the lights of homes across the water.

"Doesn't look very far away," Steve suggested.

I shook my head. "No, it doesn't," I answered, lost in thought. "D'ya think we could swim it?"

We stared across the water. Finally, I sighed in resignation. "Maybe not." And so we once again turned back to the weeds, sobbing freely as we trudged on. Every now and then we prayed aloud, "God, please help us. God, please help us."

Then suddenly, it happened. Just like that. We broke through to a clearing. Wood framed houses rose before us . . . the same ones we played in earlier that day.

"We made it!" Steve shouted, his eyes dancing. "We made it, Oh thank you, God! We made it!"

As the years passed, life took me through many twists and turns. Memories of how God answered our desperate childhood prayer drifted into the forgotten recesses of my mind. I was too busy with life to think of such long-forgotten terrors.

But those twists and turns more often than not brought me into other fields of weeds, weeds so tall I no longer knew which way was out. The sun hardly filtered through the unyielding stalks of lust, envy, arrogance, pride, and greed. And every now and then, when I broke through to a clearing, I discovered disaster awaiting my next move.

I don’t know why it took so long, but I finally realized I needed help beyond my own ability. I had come to the end of my hope, my strength, my intellect, my understanding. So once again I prayed to the One I had for so long ignored. I asked first for forgiveness of my many sins, and then asked for help in finding my way out of the moral darkness enveloping me.

And that’s when it happened. Suddenly. Just like that, I broke through to the clearing. God opened my eyes to His Son’s sacrificial death, a death I so very much deserved, but a death Christ paid for me. I needed God’s forgiveness. In return He not only forgave me – but He showed me His love that was greater than all my rebellion. And I knew I was home.


Just like when Jesus said, “It is finished.”

Because of the years I lived in rebellion, I didn’t know Scripture called me a child of the devil.* But when Jesus finished His work on Golgotha He gave me the right to become a child of God.** Oh, I love to remember it! To me – the one who repeatedly spit in God’s face, who led others into mortal sin, who even killed his child in an abortion clinic – Jesus offered my penitent soul the right to be called a child of almighty God.

“It is finished.”

Struggling as often as I did to turn my life around, I didn’t know Scripture declared me a captive of Satan.*** But when Jesus declared, “It is finished”, His blood ransomed me from the devil’s grip and set me free.

“It is finished.”

My sins earned me God’s wrath.**** Like the sword of Damocles, it hung over my head. But, oh, when Jesus said, “It is finished” God directed His wrath, wrath I so worthily deserved, onto Jesus’ body.*****

“It is finished.”

Yes, no longer lost. No longer a prisoner. No longer a child of darkness. When Jesus spilled His blood on Golgotha and said, “It is finished” He meant it. His work of salvation was finished. And no power on earth or in hell could – or can – change it.

It is finished.

*For example, 1 John 3:8
**For example, John 1:10-13
***For example, 2 Timothy 2:25-26
****For example, Ephesians 5:5-7
*****For example, Isaiah 53:5-6

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Guilty. But . . .

Lent, 2013. Somewhere into the third week I read through the Revelation. I paused at this verse:

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead werejudged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. (20:12)

As I pondered the Final Judgment my thoughts wandered to what it might be like when the books – the books that record my life – are opened before the Great Judge. And Scripture texts cascaded across the images forming in my mind.


I am dead.

I don’t know how I know it, but I am dead. And I stand before the Judgment Seat of God.1 The Accuser2 stands next to me, denouncing me and charging me with the many crimes I’ve committed during my life. Murder. Perversions. Treasons. Rebellions. The litany seems to never end. He cites all of them.

Each in order.

I don’t remember most of them, but my prosecutor holds aloft his dossier of dates and times and places. And with each accusation the memories of my forgotten sins flood my mind. They overwhelm my mind. With great shame – and fear – I try to push them from my mind. But to no avail.

Then almost from nowhere, He appears – my advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.3

He waits for the accuser to finish. And then He looks soberly at the Judge. “These accusations are all true,” Jesus says. “But Father, I ransomed him with My blood.4, 5 He entered the waters of baptism. He confessed his sins with each offense. 6He followed Me and served Me these many years.7And You promised I would not lose any whom you have given Me.”8

The Judge listens in silence. Then He looks at my Accuser. He looks at me. He looks at my Advocate. He raises His gavel, and I wait for what is about to come next.

“Guilty,” the Judge says with a solemnity I shall forever remember. “I declare you guilty on all counts.”

Panic – unrelenting panic grips me. And then I hear Him add, “But I hereby pardon you of all counts for the sake of my son, Jesus.” 9, 10

His gavel falls to the Bench with a crack that echoes throughout the chambers of heaven and of hell.

Dazed, I look at my Advocate. His eyes smile back. It is true. Gloriously, wondrously true. I am pardoned. Forgiven. Redeemed forever because of the blood of the Lamb.

(All scripture from Revised Standard Version Catholic edition)
1 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. (Rev 20:12)

2 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. (Rev 12:10)

3And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (1 John 2:1)

4 And they sang a new song, saying,“Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals, for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. (Rev 5:9)

5 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace. (Ephesians 1:7)

6If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

7 If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him. (John 12:26)

8And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. (John 6:39)

9But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole . . . and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6)

10 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Lenten Series: The Fifth Word of Jesus

The last seven words (statements, actually) of Jesus as He hung on Golgotha's cross are among the most encouraging of all Scripture. Here is the fifth of the seven (I expand on this essay during my YouTube recording at this link):

“I am thirsty.”  (John 19:28)

It started in the Garden. The savior prayed with such anguish, His sweat mingled with His blood and dripped to the ground. It was in the Garden that soldiers beat Him with their fists, pulled His beard, spit in His face. Then they dragged Him into the city and shuffled Him from Pilate to Herod, and back again to Pilate. They whipped Him without mercy, without hardly giving Him time to catch His breath. Then they pressed a crown comprised of thorns into His forehead. Blood oozed into His eyes and tracked down His cheeks. Mocking soldiers then laid the cross across His shoulders and forced Him to carry it to the hill, the hill that looked like a skull. The hill where He would die.

“I am thirsty.”

After all He’d suffered by the time they’d nailed Him to the cross, I do not doubt He was thirsty. I do not doubt thirst consumed Him.

As Jesus groaned through parched lips, someone dipped a sponge in vinegar and gall and brought it to His mouth (Matthew 27:34). The vinegar they offered Jesus was weak wine commonly used in Palestine to quench thirst. Gall was a bitter liquid with narcotic and anesthetic properties. Soldiers often gave it to prisoners about to be crucified as a way to dull their senses so they wouldn’t fight against the nails being hammered into their limbs. Sometimes friends gave it to those hanging on the cross to lessen their agony.

When Jesus tasted the gall He turned away. He would not drink the drug. He would finish the Father’s plan to its fullest course and its fullest cost. A short while later, someone gave Him the plain vinegar.

“I am thirsty.”

Although nailed to the cross, Jesus was the Lord of Heaven. The King of the Universe. He never needed to thirst. Or hunger. Or suffer pain. Yet He demonstrated by His life and by His death a ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness.’ Even on the cross, He would accomplish His Father’s will. That is why His death – and His thirst – serves as an illustration for us.

In his Confessions, St. Augustine wrote, "God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.” And the psalmist wrote: As a deer pants for the water, so my soul pants after thee (Psalm 42:1).

Restlessness. Thirst.

We who belong to Christ through our faith and baptism “have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer [we] who live, but Christ lives in [us]” (Galatians 2:20). When the Holy Spirit enters our lives He always creates within us a restlessness for God. A hunger for God. A thirst for God. If we are not restless for God, if we do not increasingly hunger and thirst for Him, we ought to wonder why.

“I am thirsty.”

Many things at first seem to quench our spiritual thirst, but in the end serve simply to anesthetize us to it. The Holy Spirit spoke of those counterfeit thirst-quenchers as “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16). But counterfeits can never fully satisfy. The only place to quench our God-designed thirst, our God-designed restlessness, is at His fountain, devoting ourselves to a daily drinking – a lifelong drinking – from that fountain through reception of the Sacraments, daily prayer, Scripture study, and humble obedience to the Holy Spirit.

“I am thirsty.”

Nothing but spiritual drink will ever satisfy our spiritual thirst. Nothing.

God created us that way.