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

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Waiting Room

For the last three years of her life, Mom lived in a community of about 100 men and women. The average resident’s age was probably mid-eighties. 

As is common in most Independent Living Facilities, hardly 48 hours go by when an ambulance isn’t called to bring someone to the hospital. Most of the time the resident returns home after a day or so. 

Sometimes they never return.

Mom also had her share of visits to doctors’ and hospital waiting rooms during her three years at Ashwood Meadows. Not for anything serious. Just the typical age-related aches, pains, and ailments. 

But after so many years of watching so many of the friends at Ashwood get sick – and then die – Mom said to me on more than one occasion in her last few months: “I feel like I am in the waiting room of heaven.” 

Each time she said it, I brushed it aside. Not only did I not want to hear her talking like that, but Mom was quite healthy for a 90-year-old. Surely we would have her for another ten years. 

Then I got the call on August 1 in 2018. 

I’ve thought quite often since then of her “waiting room of heaven” comment. And I cannot adequately express how comforted I am to know Mom not only knew Jesus, she loved Jesus. And I’ve not a shred of doubt she is with Jesus even as I type these words on the keyboard. 

Ah, yes. “The waiting room of heaven.” 

We all know what it’s like to wait in a doctor’s office for the medical assistant to call our name and usher us into the exam room. I wonder if it won’t be something like that when we die. 

An angel will call our name and usher us into the Great Physician’s exam room. To some, the Physician will say, “I am so very sorry. I have bad news for you. You refused the treatment I frequently prescribed for you. And now there is nothing else I can do. Your condition is hopeless. Depart from me into eternal anguish and darkness” (John 3:36, et al.). 

But to some the Physician will say, “I’ve good news for you. You used the treatment I prescribed, and it has worked well. You are forever healed. Enter into the eternal light and joy of your Lord.” (John 3:36, et al.) 

We are each – every one of us – in the waiting room of the Great Physician. Some will hear their name called before they eat their next meal. Others won’t hear their name for several decades. Still others will hear their name at some time in between. 

When the angel ushers you into the Great Exam Room, what will the Physician say to you?

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Arguing with God

No one would argue that we all have sinned – and that some of those sins have hurt others, perhaps terribly. That’s why this essay is about  forgiveness.  

And it is also about regret – not the ‘good’ regret that leads to repentance and a change of lifestyle, but the unhealthy regret many of us live with – a regret that permeates every fiber of our days and weeks and years.

God wants better for us. God’s provided a better way for us. Of the multiple examples He gives us in Scripture of how to accept His forgiveness, let’s look at only two.  

The first is Saul of Tarsus. Here is how Luke describes him: “Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1-2)

Saul – known now to us as Paul the apostle – described himself this way:
“ . . . [N]ot only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.” (Acts 26:10-11)

But then Saul met Jesus on that road to Damascus – and we know the rest of that story. Convinced that God had forgiven him, Paul laid aside his self-condemnation and got busy doing the work God called him to do. Here is what he said of himself in his letter to Timothy – and this is a critically important lesson for each of us who struggle with self-recrimination:  “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.  Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1)

I hope you caught those words: Sinner, mercy, and patience.  Paul left his past in the past where it belonged, covered by the atoning blood of Jesus.  That’s one reason he could write to the Christians at Colossae:  

“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. . . . . having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions . . .” (Colossians 2:8-13) 

Paul would not let even the devil make him a prisoner of paralyzing regret. He’d repented of his sins, and he knew he could trust Almighty God to forgive him.  

Now let’s look at one other person who could have easily fallen prey to the devil’s temptation to despair. If anyone could have wallowed in self-condemnation and self-recrimination, it was Peter. Surely he remembered the words of his Lord recorded in Mark’s gospel (8:38) For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

And there he stood, remembering his denial of His Lord – even swearing “I do not know the Man.” If it had ended there, we’d have heard nothing more about the man.

But it didn’t end there. 

The New Testament writers used two words for “love” – phileo and agape. Phileo (fil-EH-oh) carries the idea of a close fraternal affection. The special friendship of David and Jonathan is an example of phileo love. (1 Samuel 18:1-3)

Agape love is often used to describe God's unconditional, merciful, and enduring love for you and me. Some definitions of Agape are: “to prize the object of that love above all other things; to be unwilling to abandon the object of that love, or to do without the object of that love.”  

Now let’s look at those Greek words as used by both Jesus and Peter  John 21:15-17. When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love (agape) me more than these?” He said to him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love (phileo) you.” He said to him, "Feed my lambs.”

“He then said to him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love (agape) me?” He said to him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love (phileo) you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep.”  

“He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love (phileo) me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, "Do you love (phileo) me?” and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love (phileo) you.” (Jesus) said to him, "Feed my sheep.”

A modern version of the conversation might sound something like this:

“Peter, do you love me with all your heart?”
“Lord, I have great affection for you.”
“Feed My lambs.”
“Peter, do you love me above all else?”
“Lord, I think you are wonderful.”
“Tend My sheep.”
“Peter, do you have great affection for me?”
“Lord, you know I do.”
“Feed My sheep.”

Two things catch my attention in this exchange between the Lord and Peter.  First, after each agape/phileo exchange, the Lord’s charge to Peter was the same: “Feed My sheep.”

In other words, “Peter, I know you feel guilty, but your repentance restored our relationship. Your sorrow and guilt are unnecessary. Don’t let them keep you from the work I have called you to do."

How like the merciful Christ to call us out of our sorrow. How like Him to renew our relationship and set us about the work He’s given us to do.

Second, Peter felt miserable about his thrice denial of his best friend and Lord. Miserable, and self-condemned. But then I noticed how the Savior tried to help Peter move beyond his guilt. When Peter wouldn't say – couldn’t say – he loved (agape) Jesus, the Lord came down to his level: “Okay, my friend. Do you have affection for me?”

How like Christ to be so gentle to our wounded spirits.

I need that gentleness and mercy. And I imagine you can probably use a dose of it yourself. When we feel unable to tell Him, “I ‘agape’ You,” the Savior tells us it’s okay if we just like Him a lot. And when our sorrow overwhelms us, the Shepherd comes alongside, puts His arm across our shoulders and tells us, "I agape you."  “I love you very, very much. I prize you. I do not want to be without you.”

Wow.

Scripture is full of the stories of people who let God down, people who at first rejected God’s grace, but then after their repentance, went about doing God’s work.

But – and this is crucial – they first needed to accept his forgiveness. They needed to put aside their own remorse which only served to paralyze them and place them in the chains set for them by the devil. 

Listen! We cannot serve God while we indulge our wounded conscience. CS Lewis said it very well, I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.”

Let me say it kindly, but also unmistakably: How dare we sit in the corner nursing our guilty conscience when God has said to the penitent: I forgive you?

Please. Please. If your self-recrimination and your self-condemnation holds you back from getting out there and doing God’s work – then now is the time to place your lingering guilt at the foot of the cross. He always forgives the penitent. Always.

And He always has work for the penitent to do.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Amazing Grace

Some of you might know John Newton’s history. He was a degenerate 18th century captain of slave ships. His crews stuffed the holds of his ships with men, women and children who hardly enough room to sit amongst the filth and sewage and accompanying illness on his ships. To Newton, the deaths of some slaves on board were simply the cost of doing business. But then God got hold of the man whom we know best for his hymn that begins this way: "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see." I recently heard of a church choir director who didn’t like the word, “wretch.’ She thought it sounded too harsh. Too critical. Too deprecating. So as her choir practiced the hymn for the following Sunday, she had them change to word to something she considered kinder. As I prepared to write this essay, I went to the dictionary for a definition of ‘wretch.’ The word describes a “person of despicable or base character.” Like John Newton. Or, for that matter, the great St. Paul – who spoke of himself this way: “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.” “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:18-25) The problem with too many people – perhaps especially Christians – is we do not like to think of ourselves as God thinks of us: Wretched in our sins. Like the spiritually impoverished choir director, we don’t like to think of ourselves as too awfully ‘bad.’ We just do things that are wrong. But our God and Lord, Jesus Christ, did not die an excruciating death for people who just do things that are wrong.  He died for wretches. Like you and like me. There is great, great danger in our attempt to minimize our own darkness. In glossing over our wretchedness, we remain ignorant of the intimately PERSONAL reason for Christ’s sacrifice. Here is how Jesus described the danger of minimizing the depth and breadth of our sins: “One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.” “Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” “Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”(Luke 7:36-47) If I’d been at that choir rehearsal, I’d have rehearsed for her the Lord’s closing statement: “Her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” In other words, those who are forgiven much by the Savior love Him that much more. But those who think they don’t have much to forgive don’t feel the need to love the Savior much – if even at all. It’s good -- it's necessary -- to recognize our wretchedness, for without such knowledge we can never mature in our understanding of God's forgiveness of those wretched sins because of that Cross. And will we never gain an intimate understanding of what John Newton meant when he wrote: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”

Monday, January 7, 2019

Epiphanies in 2019

Each year, twelve days after the celebration of Christ’s birth, many Christians celebrate Epiphany. The word means “manifestation” or ‘revelation’, and in the context Christianity, Epiphany celebrates the ‘revealing’ of Almighty God to the world in the person of Jesus. As St. Paul tells us: 

“He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17)

Christians believe God revealed Himself to the world in the person of Jesus Christ. But His epiphanies did not cease with the birth, death, and resurrection of His Son. God STILL reveals Himself – now through the Scriptures.

Which brings us to 2019.

Our world is in great darkness. You cannot watch the news with spiritual eyes or listen with spiritual ears to people around you without recognizing something is desperately wrong in our culture. We live in a time as described by God: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; [Woe to those] Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:20-21)

Isaiah’s prophecy might remind you of Paul’s lament about the dark world in which he lived. Here is what he wrote in Romans 1:21-32:

“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools . . . Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them . . .”

"For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.”

“And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”

As I said, the world of 2019 is steeped in darkness – surely as dark as Paul wrote about in his letter to the Christians at Rome. The darkness is so great – and ever increasing – that it might cause some of us to hide in our rooms and pull the covers over our heads. And yes, I have found myself at times giving in to fear, and then anger, and then fear again, and back to anger.

Then I read again Psalm 27. It will be my ‘go-to’ text to live by in 2019: "The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread? . . . Though a host encamp against me, My heart will not fear; Though war arise against me, In spite of this I shall be confident." (Psalm 27:1-3)

The LORD is our light and our salvation. But – and this is important for all of us – if we spend as much time as many of us do with following the newscasts, we are feeding our spirits with a poisonous darkness that WILL eat like a cancer at our souls.

I’ll say that again for the emphasis it deserves: If we spend so much time with the daily news media, we are filling our hearts with lethal doses of ruinous negativity and darkness.

But listen to what God’s word says about it all: “Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales . . . All the nations are as nothing before Him, they are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.” (Isaiah 40:15-17)

And this text, also from Isaiah: “You are not to say, ‘It is a conspiracy!’ in regard to all that this people call a conspiracy, and you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it. “It is the LORD of hosts whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fear, and He shall be your dread. “Then He shall become a sanctuary.” (Isaiah 8:12-14)

Do you want a sanctuary in 2019? A place of refuge? Then make God your Holy fear! Make God your Holy dread ! And the peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding will KEEP you at peace when Christ becomes your only sanctuary.

But first we must stop feeding our spirits with the lies and the drama and anger and the hate and the vitriol that spews from the various news outlets.

It's the beginning of the new year. For starters, how about take a 30-day sabbatical from it all. Don’t watch, read, or listen to the news for the next 30 days. There won’t be any news so important that we won’t learn about it by some other way if that news is going to directly affect us. And I can guarantee our lives will be measurably more tranquil – so tranquil you will probably want to extend that 30 days to much longer.

If 30 days is too arduous, (many of us are addicted to the news) then do this: For every minute you spend listening to or watching the news, spend two minutes reading the Bible. So, if you spend 30 minutes a day with the news outlets, devote 60 minutes to reading the Bible.

If you want to experience an epiphany – even experience multiple revelations of the Holy Spirit working in your life – then spend more time with God's light than you do with the dark things of our culture.

It's something I've already begun to do. Please, join me.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Tree of Life

Over the past 46 years I’ve created stacks of Scripture memory cards. They’re about the size of a business card. The size makes it easy to carry around in my pockets. 

This evening, while waiting on line at the food market, I pulled this verse from my stack: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12) 

The text caught me off guard. I guess it’s been a bad few days. As I placed the milk and eggs and a few other items on the belt, I nearly reflexively asked God, “Lord, do you see this text?” 

Well, of course He saw it. He inspired Solomon to write it. But at the moment I was feeling a little like the psalmist David. If you’ve read much of his songs you know he also had his days when he wondered if God knew his name and address. 

God did. And God does. But still, hope deferred does sadden the heart. 

Have you ever felt that way? 

“Lord, we look to you. Help us to wait patiently on you to fulfill what you know is our deepest hope. Its fulfillment, Lord, will be to us as a tree of life.”

Friday, January 4, 2019

If You Were Teaching It?

As I prepare to lead a Bible study next week, I pondered the Lord’s warning to the socially sophisticated and theologically proud religious leaders of His day. You’ll find what He said in Matthew 13:

“Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ‘You will keep on hearing, but will not understand; You will keep on seeing, but will not perceive; For the heart of this people has become dull, With their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes, otherwise they would see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I would heal them’.

Then I thought of two other serious warnings of Scripture – the first in Jeremiah 12:5, the second in Luke 23:27-31:

“If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace, how will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?” (Jeremiah)

“And following Him was a large crowd of the people, and of women who were mourning and lamenting Him. But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’. . . . For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke)

If you were teaching the class, what application(s) to our lives in 2019 would you hope those studying with you would make?

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Anno Domini

Like lots of people (I suppose), one of the first things I thought about this morning is: “It’s 2019.” 

But unlike lots of people (I suppose), another thought followed the first. "This is A.D. January 1, 2019." The letters are the initials of Anno Domini – the Latin phrase meaning, The Year of the Lord. 

In other words, two thousand and nineteen years ago, the Lord Jesus was born to that young Jewish virgin and laid to sleep in a Bethlehem manger. 

Anno Domini. 

EVERYWHERE in the world (with scant exceptions) – every document that is signed will be signed with the conscious or unconscious acknowledgement of the birth of the Lord of Creation. Everyone who writes a check will wittingly or unwittingly concede the First Advent of the Messiah 2019 years ago. Every test that is taken, every card that is sent, every newspaper and magazine published during the next 12 months – all of it – and more – will give happy or grudging proclamation that history itself revolves around B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (The Year of our Lord). 

And finally (as I continued following my thoughts this morning), the fulfilled promise of Anno Domini ought to assure us (OH! Think of it!) it ought to assure us that the promised Second Advent of the Lord will also be fulfilled. 

Oh, Lord Jesus! Your people look for you! Maranatha – Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Monday, December 31, 2018

A New Year's Encouragement

Some of you may remember the child’s song written by Bill Gaither. “I am a Promise.” Some of the lyrics are these:

"You are a promise, you are a possibility, you are a promise with a capital "P", You are a great big bundle of potentiality.”

“You can go anywhere that he wants you to go, you can be anything that he wants you to be, you can climb the high mountain. you can cross the wide sea you're a great big promise you see.”

“So, keep on listening to hear God's voice, and keep on trying, He'll help you make the right choices. You're a promise to be anything He wants you to be.”

I debated about citing this children’s song especially because of these lyrics: "You can go anywhere that he wants you to go You can be anything that he wants you to be, you can climb the high mountain, you can cross the wide sea you're a great big promise you see . . . .”

Let’s face it. For most of us reading this, a lot of proverbial water has gone under the bridge. There are just some things we’re not going to do anymore in this life. We’re not about to climb high mountains. We’re probably not going to cross any wide sea.

But, that truth still does not alter the greater truth: You STILL are a promise. You STILL are a possibility. And you can STILL do anything God wants you to do. Even if you’re 65, or 75, or 85, or even 95.

That’s why the Holy Spirit inspired St. Paul to write these words: “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6).

Please! Be wary of the devilish lie that God is done with you. God is NOT done with you. And that is why you can be triumphant in 2019.

The year 2019 begins tonight at midnight. And as we journey through the following 12 months with Christ at our side and the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, you can STILL do anything and be anything God wants for you.

Many of you remember the 1946 Frank Capra classic film, It’s a Wonderful Life. When George Bailey wishes he’d never been born, the angel Clarence gives him his wish, George gets to see what life would have been like if he’d never been born.

Bedford Falls is now Pottersville, and home to sleazy nightclubs and places of ‘adult entertainment.’ The pharmacist spent twenty years in prison for accidentally poisoning a child because the then ten-year-old George wasn’t there to intervene in time. George’s brother Harry died when he broke through the ice during childhood because George wasn’t there to save him. And because Harry didn’t survive, all the servicemen on the troop transport during WWII died because Harry was not there to shoot down those enemy planes.

There’s much more to the story, but I share this brief synopsis because the child’s song and this story about George Bailey make the point that God makes again and again from Genesis through Revelation: Like George Bailey, your life has intersected with hundreds, maybe thousands of lives – either directly or indirectly. And it continues to intersect to this day, every day, with the lives of others. And their lives then intersect with scores of others. Like an ever-growing snowball cascading down a snowbank, our supernatural God uses you and me – God STILL uses you and me to influence the lives of others.

That’s why your life, my life, right up to this very moment on December 31 is so important to the Kingdom Story as our lives intersect with others.

No wonder Paul wrote these words in Romans 11:33 “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways.”

Most of you are familiar with what Matthew records for us in the last portion of the 25th chapter of his gospel: “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

I want to draw your attention to something important here. Those standing before God’s judgment seat had no idea their lives were important to God as they fed or visited or clothed others. And they were dumbfounded to hear the words of the Lord at their judgment: ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’

What have you done in your life to help the poor and the lonely and the sick and the hungry and the cold? What kind words have you spoken to encourage the discouraged, to give hope to those without hope, to give laughter to those who could only weep?

Listen, "For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints" (Hebrews 6:10).

God sees it all. He hears it all. He watches it all. So keep at it in 2019. Don’t lose your confidence that God is STILL using you – even if you cannot see it. All He asks us to do is trust Him to use us as He promised He would do.

Let me close this message with a true story of an old missionary couple who’d worked in Africa for years. Because of poor health, they were returning to New York City to retire.

Without funds, their health depleted, they were defeated, discouraged, and afraid of the future. They soon discovered President Teddy Roosevelt was booked on the same ship. He was returning to the States after one of his African safaris.

No one paid much attention to the missionary couple during the voyage home, but they couldn’t help but notice the fanfare that accompanied the President’s entourage during the voyage. Passengers everywhere tried to glimpse the man.

When the ship docked in New York, a band was waiting to greet the President, along with the mayor and other dignitaries. No one noticed the missionary couple as they slipped off the ship to find a cheap flat on the East side.

That night, the man’s spirit broke. He said to his wife, "I can’t take this; God is not treating us fairly."

His wife said, "Why don’t tell that to the Lord?"

A short time later he came out from the bedroom, but now his demeanor was changed. His wife asked what happened.

"The Lord settled it with me," he said. "I told him how bitter I was that the President should receive this tremendous homecoming, when no one met us as we returned home. And when I finished, it seemed as though the Lord put his hand on my shoulder and simply said: “But you’re not home yet!’"

Christian, listen! You're not home yet! *

Don’t let the devil break your spirit. God is NOT done with you. And when you get ‘home’ He will say to all the faithful, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”

So, persevere for His glory through every step of your journey through 2019, and this new year will be a triumphant one for His kingdom. You are still a promise. You are still a possibility with a capital P. You are still a great big bundle of potentiality.

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* Adapted from https://www.tonycooke.org/stories-and-illustrations/not_home_yet/

Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Wolves of 2019

With 2019 only days away, I read through Romans 6 and  paused at this text: “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God . . . . For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:12-14, 23) My thoughts then turned to an old Cherokee legend: “An elder Cherokee was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said to them, "A fight is going on inside me. It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” “The other stands for joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith." "This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too", he added. “The Grandchildren thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?" “The old Cherokee simply replied... "The one you feed." ----- That, then, is the question you and I face as we move into and through 2019. Which one will we feed? To which shall we present our eyes and our ears and our minds? Oh, Lord, make us wise.

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Cradle and the Cross

The context of this passage in Matthew’s biography of Jesus is when Joseph discovered his beloved Mary was pregnant. Knowing the baby wasn’t his, he decided to send her away instead of disgracing her publicly. We pick up the story in verse 20: 

But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21) 

Christmas is the time many Christians celebrate Holy Communion – or as some call it – the Eucharistic Mass (the word Eucharist means ‘Thanksgiving’). It is a time set aside to remember what Jesus said to His disciples during their Last Supper together. Here is how Luke records it: 

Luke 22:19-20  And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. 

Over the years, the celebration of the Mass of Christ became abbreviated to ‘Christ’s Mass.’ Or, now simply, Christmas.  But as happens so often when we abbreviate truth, the meaning of Christ’s Mass has devolved into what Christmas is today in many places: Santa Clause, reindeer, time off work, and so forth. And because of the misplaced focus, so many have lost the meaning of the birth of the One we celebrate. 

What is that meaning? Matthew told us that meaning in verse 21 of the text cited above: Jesus was born to die so He could save us from the punishment our sins deserve. 

At that first Christmas, Immanuel – ‘God-With-Us’ – laid aside His glory and took the form of a slave to save all who want to be saved from eternal agony in the Lake of Fire. 

The phrase, ‘who want to be saved’ is the crucial part of the incarnation we celebrate on December 25. It’s crucial because not everyone is willing to do what must be done to be saved from that Lake of Fire: 1) Trust that it is Jesus’ death alone which saves us from the punishment for our sins; and 2) obey Christ throughout the rest of their lives. 

Most people do not realize sin makes us enemies of God. St. James is only one Biblical writer to tell us that: “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4) 

That’s why the manger is much more than what many relegate to children’s picture books. It’s much more than the silent night, the holy night when shepherd’s quaked at the sight. The message of Christmas is God’s personal intervention into history to rescue us who were His enemies and then reconcile us into His family. The message of Christmas is about Golgotha’s cross looming above the manger where the little Lord Jesus lay asleep on the hay.

Golgotha’s cross. I hope you still love that old cross, where the dearest and best, for a world of lost sinners, was slain. 

What did John 3:16 cost God?  Listen to the words of Revelation 5:9-10. The scene is heaven where the angels and the twenty-four elders proclaim to Jesus: “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” 

Many don’t often think about Christianity as a bloody religion.  But it had to be bloody, for only blood could atone for, only blood could wash away, the sins of the guilty. 

Jews of Jesus’ day fully understood ‘blood atonement.’ The requirement of blood to wash away sins dates to the books of Moses. For example, Leviticus 17:11  For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.’ 

And Christ’s cross was as bloody as it was gruesome. Before hammering spikes into His flesh, Roman soldiers tied Him the whipping post and stripped off His robe. Then one of them swung rock-embedded whips against Jesus’ back, buttocks and legs. Again, and again, until strips of skin hung from His body. Small capillaries and arteries oozed and spurted blood with each beat of His heart. The warm fluid tracked down His back, His thighs, His legs until the pavement at His feet was moist with dirt and clotted blood. 

Listen! If the Baby in that manger had not grown into the Man whose bloody death would be the atonement for our own sins, there would be no hope for any of us to receive God’s forgiveness. 

Did you catch that? Without the Cradle AND the Cross, there would be no hope for God’s mercy. No hope for eternal life, but only an inescapable judgment facing us after the grave. 

But there is hope. 

Scripture repeatedly tells us, Jesus substitutionary sacrifice for us utterly satisfied God’s justice – His unbreakable rule – that sin must be punished. 

Substitutionary sacrifice. Here is what God promised about that sacrifice through the prophet Isaiah: "But He was pierced through for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” (53:4-6) 

Christ’s Mass – Christmas as we now call it – was originally a Thanksgiving Celebration during which Christians remembered our Savior’s birth, life, sacrificial death, and His resurrection – which is God’s seal of approval on the work of Christ. 

Christ’s Mass is why St. Paul wrote: In [Christ] we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of his grace (Ephesians 1:7). 

The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth, “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11) 

As we celebrate Christmas this year, may the Holy Spirit help us mature in our understanding of the manger AND the cross. May He grow us ever deeper in love with Jesus – and in our obedience to Him. 

Amen.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Little Gifts

This passage in Mark’s gospel is so instructive, don’t you think? “About this time another large crowd had gathered, and the people ran out of food again. Jesus called his disciples and told them, I feel sorry for these people. They have been here with me for three days, and they have nothing left to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will faint along the way. For some of them have come a long distance.” "His disciples replied, “How are we supposed to find enough food to feed them out here in the wilderness?” Jesus asked, “How much bread do you have?” “Seven loaves,” they replied.” “So Jesus told all the people to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves, thanked God for them, and broke them into pieces. He gave them to his disciples, who distributed the bread to the crowd. A few small fish were found, too, so Jesus also blessed these and told the disciples to distribute them.” "They ate as much as they wanted. Afterward, the disciples picked up seven large baskets of leftover food. 9 There were about 4,000 men in the crowd that day, and Jesus sent them home after they had eaten.” (Mark 8:1-9) What little do YOU have? Money? Ability to sing, or play a musical instrument? Can you write well to comfort or exhort or challenge others? Can you cook? Or teach? The Holy Spirit has given EVERYONE of His children something useful for the Kingdom. Do we really think Jesus cannot use our few fish and loaves of bread to enrich multitudes of needy men, women, and children? Do we think so little of His power? Christian – go ahead. Give Him what little you have, and see what He does with your gifts.