If you are looking for my blog titled, The Contemplative Catholic Convert, you are at the right spot.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Thorns and Grace

I was talking with the Lord about it again this morning. I can’t seem to put it out of my mind for very long. I’ve shared my story with many of you over the last few months.  

No, I do not dwell on how I failed the Lord during Nancy’s ICU stay after her stroke. Nor do I feel in danger of those memories hurting my walk with Christ. If anything, perhaps they are strengthening it because I now better know my weaknesses.

But I still can’t get away from it.

For 46 years I’ve urged others to know Jesus better through consistent prayer, reading the Bible, and meditating on its words. And while I still believe those are important components, they’re not the whole story.

I was doing all of that; but mostly in my own strength. I convinced myself if “I” read, if “I” pray, if “I” meditate, all will be well.

If “I” . . . . If “I” . . . .

That’s probably why the Lord reminded me of Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes 2. Take a few moments to read that chapter and notice how often he uses the personal pronouns, ‘me’ ‘myself,’ and “I” : https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=eccl+2&version=NASB

Now please do not misunderstand my point. Nothing of what I’ve just written is meant to suggest we can grow close to Christ by being lazy about our walk with Him. If we own a Bible, we should study it. But many saints of God through history didn’t even own a Bible. Most couldn’t even read!

And everyone can and should practice the presence of Christ through prayer from the depths of a humble heart – and then waiting for Him to respond. But what I need applied to my own heart is a deep and abiding recognition of my need for God’s “supernatural” work in my heart.

I can read the Bible all day until my eyes hurt. I can pray all evening until I fall asleep with exhaustion. But what I need most of all is an awakening to my desperate need for what only the Holy Spirit can do in my walk with Christ.

The psalmist wrote: “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. Unless the Lord keeps the city, the watchmen stays awake in vain.” (Psalm 127)

As you’d expect, He was not silent toward me this morning. He’s never silent. So while I again apologized for my persistent bent toward self-sufficiency, He reminded me of the lyrics of this song, Whole Heart, by Shannon Wexelberg – and I immediately made them my prayer:

*Give me a whole heart

To fully love you

Give me an undivided heart

Totally free

I ask you to heal my broken places

The lingering wound your love replaces

Bind every part

Give me a whole heart

Give me a whole heart

To fully trust you

Give me an undivided heart

Completely at peace

Come in and restore what has been taken

The depths of my soul that have been shaken

Bind every part

Give me a whole heart

Lord, help me to see

Your abundant love for me

Help me to rise

So I can soar on eagles' wings

Oh Lord, help me to go

Where I've never gone before

Help me to fly

As you breathe life to me once more

Give me a whole heart

To fully love You

Give me an undivided heart

Totally free

I ask You to heal my broken places

The lingering wound Your love replaces

Come in and restore what has been taken

The depths of my soul that have been shaken

Bind every part

Give me a whole heart

(You can hear the song at this link: https://tinyurl.com/yyxqe75k )

Shannon speaks to what I so desperately need, even after 46 years of urging others to do as I did to mature in Christ – read, pray, meditate. Nancy’s stroke taught me that only, only, only God’s grace can give me a whole heart to fully love Him. Only, only by His grace alone can I ever hope for an undivided heart to fully trust Him.

Only His grace.

I can’t get away from my failures of earlier this year. But now I think that’s a good thing.

St. Paul wrote concerning his own thorn: “ . . . I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses . . . . for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)

The early weeks of this year demonstrate to me my weaknesses. I don’t want to ever forget them.

Oh, Lord, make it true in all our hearts, that by Your grace alone we put away our boastful self-sufficiencies and recognize our weaknesses – that Your power might be truly perfected in us.

That Jesus alone be glorified. Amen.

Monday, May 13, 2019

What He Said. Why He Said It.

“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”

As I read this text a few days ago I asked myself three questions I’d never thought to ask myself when I’d read it in the past. Here’s the first question:

“Why did the omnipotent and holy, holy God deign to even speak to rebellious, sinful humanity?” He tells us through the psalmist, “There is none righteous. No, not one.” (Psalm 14). Through the prophet Isaiah, God added, “We have all of us like sheep gone astray, turning each one of us to our own way.” (Isaiah 53). And in Isaiah 59: “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear. . . .” (Isaiah 59:2-3)

So, it is fair to ask, “Why would such a holy consuming fire as God condescend to speak peace and hope and love to the likes of any of us?”

Well, He tells us why. Over and over. John 3:16 is just one of His megaphones. But I think what happens so often is we who can quote the text so freely do so without paying much attention to what it really says – which is this:

God loved me (and you) even while I was shaking my fist in His face, shouting, “I want to do it MY WAY!” Despite my treasonous arrogance, He delivered His Son to death – and not just to death, but a TORTUROUS death – so that I (we) could live forever with Him in the place we call heaven.

THAT is why God has spoken to humanity ever since the Garden of Eden in many portions and in many ways – to tell us, “I’m here. With you always. You are not alone.”

I remember holding my wife’s hand as she dozed in her Intensive Care bed one morning a few months ago. She’d had a hemorrhagic stroke on January 19th while we were visiting Florida from out of state.

She stirred and then turned to me. “I wondered last evening,” she said, “I wondered, ‘Jesus, are you here?’” She paused a moment, and then told me, “I heard Him say:I am here.’

Three simple but profoundly comforting words. “I am here.”

That’s what God has wanted us to know all along, through the millennia, He wanted us – and still wants us – to know for certain that He is here, with us. He did not set this planet spinning into space, and took off to the other side of the galaxy. He wanted us to know – and still wants us to know – perhaps especially when we walk through the valleys of the shadows of death – He is there with us, holding our hand. Your hand. My hand.

So, that’s WHY God spoke to humanity through the prophets – and finally through His Son – because it is important to Him that we not feel alone in this universe.

Did you know that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US?  On average, there are nearly 130 suicides per day in this country. In 2017, the highest suicide rate was among adults between 45 and 54 years of age. The second highest rate occurred in those 85 years or older.

So, can you see why it is so important that we know God loves us, and that He reveals His love to us through the Scriptures and the historic teaching of the Church?

Which brought me to the second question I asked myself at this text in Hebrews. We know why He spoke to us . . . but what has He said to us?

Well, lots of things. But for the sake of space, I synthesize them to only two.

First: He will never leave us. Jesus’ last words to His disciples were these: “Behold, I am with you, even to the end of the age(Matthew 28). And through the book of Hebrews (13:5) He promises: “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.”

Some of us know what it is like to be abandoned by someone we trusted, by someone we loved – and whom we thought loved us. That might be why it’s difficult for some to believe Jesus will be forever true to His promise of faithfulness. But over the course of multiple ages, Jesus has always proven true to His word. He is God, and God cannot ever lie.

I will say it again: Jesus will never, ever leave you. Never. He will never forsake and abandon any who follow His voice.

What else has He said? He demands we obey His commandments and repent of our sins: Ezekiel 18:32 – “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord God. “Therefore, repent and live.”  And Luke 5:31 Jesus answered and said to them, It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

In our current cultural climate, very few seem to know anymore what God considers damnable sin. In other words, what sins will condemn a person to an eternal hell if he or she persists in practicing them?

God gives us several lists, and we who know Jesus know God designed His commandments for OUR welfare and OUR protection.

The Psalmist David is only one of the prophets who understood God’s love as the root reason for each of His commandments. That’s why he wrote these words in Psalm 19: The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward.”

So, let’s look at one list of specific sins about which God warns against – for our welfare and the welfare of others. We find it in Galatians 5: Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

As with many languages, English has undergone a series of metamorphoses over the centuries – so much so that in some cases, words today do not carry the weight those same words carried in early generations. So, let me parse some of this text so there will be no misunderstanding of what God meant when He inspired St. Paul to write these words.

When Paul wrote of ‘immorality,’ the Greek word he used meant activities such as adultery, fornication, homosexuality, and lesbianism. When he wrote ‘impurity,’the Greek word meant ‘lustful, decadent living’ – which also applies to pornography. His word for ‘sensuality’ meant lust, licentiousness, harlotry, and wantoness. ‘Idolatry’ covered avarice and greed. ‘Sorcery’ includes magical arts, as well as horoscopes, Ouji boards, good-luck charms, and so forth.

The rest of the text is pretty much self-explanatory, and we won’t take time to look at the rest of the sins in more detail than the plain sense of the English words. But what we must – must – take note of is the last clause of this list: “Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Please don’t miss that emphatic warning. The culture in which Paul lived – which was not too dissimilar to the culture in which we live – endorsed and encouraged those sins. But God and His commandments remain the same century after century and culture after culture. They remain the same because God’s love for us remains the same century after century. God’s desire for our protection and holiness and welfare remains the same culture after culture.

THAT is why He commands us to turn and repent of what God calls sin if we hope to gain heaven.

Finally, the third question I asked myself if this: “Am I listening to what the prophets and the Lord Jesus have said – and continue to say? In the tenth chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd. Then He added, His sheep hear His voice – and they follow Him.

And that, therefore, begs the question: Am I listening for the Good Shepherd? Am I straining my ears to tune out the voices of the godless world that comes to me through much of the media – and even from some pulpits? Can I hear the Holy Spirit gently (and softly) calling me through His word?

And just as important, am I obeying His voice?

If not, then nothing of ‘what’ God has spoken through the prophets or His Son – or ‘why’ He said what He said – none of it will have the effect in my life that He designed it to have.

All that I’ve written here can be condensed to three simple imperatives:  Love God. Trust God. Obey God. It is only in so doing that we can expect to live forever with God.

God is serious about sin because He is serious about His love for each one of us. Please, take His love – and His warning – just as seriously.  

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Dormal Newberry

Dormal Newberry died on Resurrection Sunday this year. It was a fitting day for a man to die who lived for Jesus. I visited him and his wife, Cathy, two days before he died. It was Good Friday. Hospice had delivered his bed to their apartment a few hours earlier.

He looked weaker than I’d ever seen him, but there was nothing weak about his love for the Lord.

I knelt at the side of his bed and asked, “How does it feel to know you’re dying, Dormal?”

We’d known each other for the two or three years I’d been teaching Bible studies and preaching Sunday sermons at the 55+ community where he and Cathy lived. I will never forget the night he stood with me eight months earlier when my mom died of a brain aneurysm. She lived at Ashwood Meadows, also.

Weakened by his own recurring illnesses, Dormal could hardly stand erect in the hallway outside her apartment. His shoulders hunched forward as he held tightly to his walker. He put his hand on my shoulder as I wept and spoke softly to me, encouraging me.

And now, here he was lying on a hospice bed down the hall and around the corner from mom’s old apartment.

“How does it feel to know you’re dying, Dormal?”

He looked straight into my eyes and shrugged. “I’m ready to go,” he said simply, and confidently. And he had every reason to be confident. Decades ago, Dormal committed his life to Jesus. He confessed his sins to the Savior and had made it a habit to routinely do so. It’s called ‘keeping short accounts’ with God – to not let sins pile up before bringing them in repentance to Christ.

Cathy told me later that for the last two days of his life, Dormal made a point to ask everyone who visited him about their relationship with the Savior.

“Do you know you’re saved?” he’d ask. “Do you know your sins are forgiven?” he’d ask.

“Dormal, would you like me to read Scripture to you?”

He nodded his head and smiled. “The one about the second coming.”

I opened his Bible to 1 Thessalonians 4 and began at the 13th verse:

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words."

I closed the Bible and looked at him. He seemed to see something far away. I waited a few moments and then said, “Dormal, will you do me a favor?”

“If I can, sure,” he said, his gaze returning from a distant place.

“When you get to heaven, I know you’ll be spending a lot of time just being with Jesus . . . but after a while, would you do me a favor and look for my mom – and tell her I said, ‘Hi’?”

Dormal rolled from his right side onto his back and laughed out loud. “Sure,” he said, still chuckling. “I’ll tell her that.”

I already miss my older brother in Christ. And Ashwood Meadows is poorer because of his absence. But even though those of us who know Jesus still grieve our loss, we do not grieve as those who have no reason – as Dormal had good reason – to hope for eternal life. One day – whether soon or late – “the Lord will descend from heaven with a shout” – and we who love Christ will be going home.

Dormal will be waiting for us. As will my mom. And all those who have lived their lives for the Savior.