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

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Search and Rescue

O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off . . .  (Psalm 139:1)

David opens his psalm with a truth most people – even those in church pews – just don’t get. David knew without a shred of doubt that his loving God was focused on him. 

And because the Scriptures transcend time and culture, it is completely accurate to say God lovingly focuses on you. That truth of God’s focus on each individual is demonstrated throughout the Bible. The parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son in Luke 15 are only a few of the hundreds of examples. Let’s look at the lost sheep in verses 4-7:  

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.”

It is the Shepherd’s joy to search for and rescue the lost sheep. “I am the good shepherd,” Jesus tells us. “The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. (John 10:11-15)

Are you SURE the Good Shepherd is interested enough in you to search for you? Or do you think He’s given you up for lost? 

Those are important questions because your answer tells you a lot about your relationship with Jesus. If you are not sure Jesus is still – right now – interested in you, if you think He has given you up for lost – then you do not know the Jesus of the Bible very well. 

Look back at that parable of the lost sheep. “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?

Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, and no matter how often you’ve done it – the Good Shepherd is searching for you. He is interested in you because He loves you. 

He really, really loves you. 

And if you’ve read this far, it’s because something inside of you is stirring you to believe that.

The stirring you feel is the Holy Spirit’s gentle voice. And you can believe Him when He says to you: “I’ve found you. Come on home.”

Thursday, November 8, 2018

When Someone You Love Forsakes You, Part Five

God gives us out His own experiences with His creation several examples of how we can cope when someone we love forsakes us.  He shows us how to cry, how to love from afar, and how to pray. Here is one more thing we can do: We should prepare our heart ahead of time for reconciliation. 
Now let’s be realistic – reconciliation might never happen. We all know of families who have never reconciled. God has gifted humanity with free will. He will never force us to do what we choose not to do. Free will is His precious gift, and He gave it to us, knowing all the while even He Himself would suffer heartache when those He loves exercise that gift to turn away from Him. 
But, if it should happen, and the one you have loved from afar, the one for whom you have prayed perhaps for decades, wants to reconcile – receive them with open arms. Don’t ever hold their earlier decision against them: 
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not . . . .take into account a wrong suffered . . . [Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
Think back again to the Prodigal Son story. When the younger son returned home, the father ran toward him, embraced him, and threw a party to celebrate. “For this son of mine,” the father rejoiced to his servants, “this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; He was lost and has been found." 
Life’s disappointments, its sorrows, its unanswerable questions cut deeply into the human heart. And as I said at the beginning of this essay, perhaps especially grievous is the wound caused when someone you love forsakes you.
God knows from His personal experience your grief. He grieves with you. But perhaps more to the point, God has also given us His example how to cope with our hurting heart.
Cry. Love. Pray. Be ready to reconcile. In doing these things, we will be following the godly path He has given us in His word. 
It was the psalmist who said – and may the Holy Spirit sweeten those words to our wounded souls: “Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.”  (Psalm 30:5).

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

When Someone You Love Forsakes You, part 4

(This is part four of a multi-part article that looks at how you can cope when someone you love forsakes you. I will post each part separately to my blog at  www.inhimalone.com ). 
As we’ve seen, when someone we love forsakes us, God gives us examples from His own experiences how to cope with our grief. In parts one through three we’ve seen it’s good to weep when someone we love forsakes us. We can continue to love them, even if we must love them from afar. And we can also pray. 
Don’t ever stop praying for the person who has hurt you. How often do we find in the gospels that Jesus went apart from His disciples to pray alone? And don’t you think His lost sheep were often the focus of His prayers? Don’t you think He prayed also for their families? 
The Lord Jesus knew better than anyone else how we are all locked in a deadly and desperate spiritual battle. Since the Garden of Eden, Satan has sought to destroy the family unit because he also knows a house divided cannot stand. It is Satan who has blinded your loved one’s spiritual eyes, dulled their spiritual ears and hardened their spiritual hearts – all for the ultimate destruction of their souls.  
Pray! Only weapons of spiritual warfare are effective in this kind of battle for their soul – and for your soul. 
But what can you do for a person who has forsaken you and has already died?
Pray that God had mercy on them before they died – and hold on to your confidence that God did, in His mercy, give them one last chance to repent – even as they lay on their death bed, or before they took their last breath in an accident.  
As I prepared this message, I again thought of the Good Thief who died on the cross next to Jesus. It’s unlikely that any of that man’s relatives – including his parents – were on Golgotha’s hill, watching him die. They’d have feared to be associated with him, or the Romans might take them into custody and later crucify them as well. 
But while it is unlikely that any of his family heard his conversation with Jesus and the other criminal crucified with them, you and I know of the conversation. Luke records it here: 
One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43) 
Never lose heart. God’s mercy extends to everyone, regardless of their crime or how often they rejected Him. God’s mercy extends to every man and woman to their last breath. That’s why you can pray that God had mercy on the one who died without reconciling with you. You can pray that God offered him or her that one last chance to seek forgiveness from the Lord of love. Here is what the Scripture tells us of His mercy: 
“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”  (2 Peter 3:9). And from Ezekiel 8:32: (Speaking to a faithless Israel, God said): “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord God. Therefore, repent and live.” 
So, pray. Pray that God will have mercy on the one who still lives apart from you. And pray that God had mercy on the one who has already died, that He gave him or her that one last chance for forgiveness and eternal life. 
God gives us several examples from His own dealings with His creation of how we can cope when someone we love forsakes us.  He shows us how to cry, how to love from a distance, and how to pray. But there is at least one more thing we can do. We’ll look at that next time in part five.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

When Someone You Love Forsakes You Part 3

(This is part three of a multi-part article that looks at how you can cope when someone you love forsakes you. I will post each part separately to my blog at  www.inhimalone.com ). 

It is good to weep when someone we love forsakes us. What else can we do to cope with our loss? Continue to love them, even if we must love them from afar, because God loves from afar those who have forsaken Him. 
Here is what He tells Israel through the prophet Jeremiah (31:3): “The Lord appeared to him [to Israel] from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued my faithfulness to you. (NRSV). 
Did you catch that? The forsaken lover – God, in this context – broken by Israel’s abandonment, continued to love them, even from a distance. That’s part of the message of the Prodigal Son. 
The Lord Jesus doesn’t give us much detail about the father’s anguish over his son’s demand. But I think we can extrapolate from what we already know about life and family relationships – as well as the details we do find in this story – how the father grieved over his son’s decision. 
The young man was fed up living on the farm. He was chomping at the proverbial bit to get away from his father’s rules. The young man rejected the life he’d been living and determined to be free – or what he thought was freedom – to do what he wanted in the way he wanted for as long as he wanted. 
So, the father, knowing he could do nothing to change the boy’s mind, gave him his share of the inheritance – and then watched him go. 
Did the father ever stop loving him? Of course not. He always loved his son – although now he had to love him from a distance. I like to imagine the father worked his farm every day with one eye on the horizon, hoping to see his son walking the dirt road back home. 
Loving from afar is also exemplified in the relationship the Lord Jesus had with – of all people – Judas. You’ll find the story in John 13:1-4 –  Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.” 
You know the rest of the story. The Lord then washed His disciples’ feet, including Judas’ feet – even though He knew what Judas was about to do. And Matthew tells us, when Judas led the soldiers to the Garden of Gethsemane, “Immediately Judas went to Jesus and said, “Hail, Rabbi!” and kissed Him. And Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you have come for.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him.” (Matthew 26:49-51). 
Think of it for a moment. Jesus washed Judas’ feet and called him, “Friend” – even though the man betrayed Him for a couple of dollars. Despite it all, as John tells us in those first few verses of this 13th chapter: “Jesus loved [Judas] even to the end.” 
So, there is another example of how God handles rejection – and who we who follow His steps -- can also deal with rejection. It’s good to weep. It's important to love, even if we have to do so from a distance. 
What else can we do when we’re forsaken?  What other examples does God give us as we follow in His steps? We will look at that in part four.

Monday, November 5, 2018

When Someone You Love Forsakes You part 2

So, what can you do when someone you love forsakes you? As you might expect, Scripture provides us guidance because God Himself suffers rejection all the time from those He loves. This essay – part two of a multi-part article – highlights God’s response to rejection. And by following His example, we’ll be better able to cope when our loved one forsakes us. 

First: God teaches us it’s okay to cry. It is good to cry. Jesus cried over His beloved sheep in Jerusalem who’d rejected Him: Luke 19:41-44 “When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” 

Besides the eternal consequences of forsaking Him, the Lord also knew what would happen to those who’d turned Him away. Within a few short decades the Roman army would ravage and rape its way across Jerusalem. 

Yes, it is okay to weep, not only for your own loss, but because you know their rejection of you will likely come back around and hurt them later in their life. St. Paul talks about that spiritual law in his letter to the church at Galatia: Galatians 5:15 “But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” 

“Sin,” it’s been presciently observed, “Sin will take you where you do not want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost more than you want to pay.” 

Yes, it is good to weep, BUT never forget this: You don’t weep alone. Jesus catches every tear in His bottle. As the psalmist David wrote of God in Psalm 56:8 “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”  

When David refers to tear bottles, he draws our attention to a common practice in both ancient and modern Middle Eastern and Egyptian societies. Mourners catch their tears in small vials and place them at gravesides or some other place of personal significance to illustrate their love for the one who is gone. When David said of God, You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book”, David reminds himself, and he reminds us in 2018 America, that God very much knows of our pain. He very much empathizes with our sorrows. 

So, weeping for our loss is the first example of guidance we find in Scripture that can help us cope with our grief. But what else can we do? 

Continue to love them – even if we must love them from afar, just as God loves from afar when His beloved reject Him. 

That will be the subject of part three of this essay.

Upside Down

I listened to an old Billy Graham message the other day on XM radio. He said something I don’t know if I’ve ever given much thought to. The 120 men and women in that upper room – men and women probably not much older than their early twenties, maybe some in their late teens – those 120 didn’t have the wonderful benefits of phones, email, the Internet, cars, television, planes, radio, or any of the hundreds of other modern technological advantages we enjoy. Yet despite what they DIDN'T have, those young people turned their world upside down and inside out for Jesus. Their words spread like a tsunami across a mostly pagan Roman Empire that was in many cases hateful of Christ and of His followers. If you think about it, the Roman Empire was not too much different than our own 21st century culture. Upside down and inside out. How did they do that without even a sliver of the technology we consider an absolute necessity for evangelism? They met Jesus. Those 120 souls had a life-altering, up close and very personal encounter with the Risen Savior. And that encounter exploded into an ‘over the top’ ongoing commitment to the Savior. It impelled them across the continent with Christ’s message of salvation, forgiveness of sins, and the promise of eternal life through the blood of Golgotha’s cross.  

Oh! How I pray nearly every day for that kind of self-commitment of my own life, to wait for Him, to long for Him as a thirsty deer pants for the stream -- and then share His water with a very thirsty world. 

Don’t you?

Sunday, November 4, 2018

When Someone You Love Forsakes You Part 1

My soul weeps because of grief; Strengthen me according to Your word.” (Psalm 119:27) 

Life’s disappointments, its griefs, its unanswerable questions often cut deep into the human heart, don’t they? There’s not an adult on this planet who has not learned from personal experience just how deeply any number of losses can tear at our souls. But perhaps the deepest cut, the most grievous of them all is when a loved one turns his or her back on you, who rejects you, who forsakes you.  
And what adds further sting to the bleeding is knowing it doesn’t matter what you do or say, nothing will change the person’s mind. 
But I hope you will hear this – at times such as these, when the soul uncontrollably weeps, it is the testimonies of millions of Christians throughout the ages that demonstrate again and again that there is no balm, no comfort, like the balm and comfort we can receive from God’s word.
That’s why I draw our attention in this essay, and in the next two or three essays, I want to draw attention to what God’s word tells us about being able to cope when someone we love forsakes us. 
First, two words of caution here: 
1) When someone we love forsakes us – whether a spouse, or parent, or child – that rejection is most often a ‘way over the top’ response to some offense, real or perceived. The person who walks away from a loved one often was only looking for an excuse to do so.
2) It’s easy for those who have been abandoned by someone they love to blame themselves for the abandonment. Satan is good at twisting our thoughts into accepting the blame for the sins of another. Don’t let him saddle you with that lie. 
In dealing with our heartache, it is good that we remember, God knows from personal experience all about rejection. He is no stranger to an ‘over the top’ response to something – perceived or real – that He has done, or not done. Whatever it was, it gave those He loves an excuse to turn and walk away. 
That’s an important point to remember – that God personally knows all about rejection. It’s important because in our remembering, two things will occur in our heart: 1) We can find comfort in knowing God grieves with us. And 2) We can learn from God’s example how to deal with rejection. 
I’m reminded of God’s broken heart as I read through the Old Testament prophets. In particular, there is Ezekiel 6:9 – (God speaks to Israel) “Then those of you who escape will remember Me among the nations to which they will be carried captive, how I have been hurt by their adulterous hearts which turned away from Me, and by their eyes which played the harlot after their idols . . . .” 
And then there is the sorrowful episode in 1 Samuel 8. Not very long after God led His Chosen to the Promised Land, they began clamoring for a king to rule them, so they could be ‘just like the other nations.’ 
We pick up the story in 1 Samuel 8:7 “The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day—in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods. . . ."
Yes. Our heavenly Father understands rejection. And also yes, God-in-the-Flesh, whom we know as Jesus the Messiah, also knows from firsthand experience the pain of rejection. It was not an accident that Isaiah called Him: “. . . Despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face.  He was despised, and we did not esteem [value] Him. (Isaiah 53) 
God understands your grief. Now we can learn how to handle our own grief by following His example when He is forsaken by those He loves. 
His examples will be the subject of part two of my essay.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

He is Searching

“O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, You know it all. (Psalm 139:1-4) 

I reread this section the other day and stopped at these first few verses. 

Who searches anything without first being interested to do so? That is why this text encourages me – and can encourage everyone who reads it. Why? Because God is interested enough in you to search you -- and to search FOR you. 

Do you remember Jesus’ parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15:4-7?  

What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” 

The Good Shepherd is searching for you. And for me. He searches because He loves each one of His sheep.

Each. One. 

He loves us, even knowing when and where we lie down, when and where we rise up. He loves us even knowing our thoughts, our sins, our doubts, our confusions, and our failures. 

He loves us. He searches us. He searches FOR us because He really, really cares for us. He really, really wants to bring us home to His fold. 

Please. Be confident today – and all your tomorrows – in that unalterable, unchangeable promise of God. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Our Daily Bread

Give us this day our daily bread” – Matthew 6:11
This section of the Lord ’s Prayer is not simply a petition for food. Certainly, God knows what we need even before we ourselves know. But implicit in the request for daily bread is a recognition of how utterly dependent we are on God for all things important to life, things like food, shelter, safety, health, clothing, and so forth.
To gloss over that truth places us in spiritual danger. Notice this warning in Deuteronomy:
“When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you. “Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today;"
"Otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God . . . [and] you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’ But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth . . ..” (Deuteronomy 8:10-18).
Did you catch that? “Beware,” the Lord warns, that when our lives flow easily and our saving accounts flourish that we not ascribe our life-successes to ‘lucky breaks.’
What a sad and thankless thought is that.
Who do we think it is who gives us our skills and intelligence, and who directs us to the right places at the right times? It has always been – and always will be – God working behind the scenes, directing and orchestrating events in and around our life for good, according to His purpose.
“Give us this day our daily bread” ought to always remind us as often as we pray those words, that God alone provides us all things we need.
He just would like us to remember to thank Him.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

White Noise

[Mary] turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" She thought it was the gardener . . . . (John 20:14-15)

I’m such a light sleeper, I need “white-noise” to get a good night’s rest. That’s why I’ve slept with a box fan at my side of the bed for years.

During prayer one morning, as I meditated on the words, ‘Jesus Christ’ – I wondered how often His Name becomes white-noise in our spiritual ears. We hear ‘Jesus Christ’ so often, our subconscious mind seems to sometimes reduce it to just another word in our vocabulary, like “the” or “and.”

Jesus. Christ.

The early Church recognized something extraordinary about that Name which many of us may have forgotten. Or perhaps never learned: There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved (Acts 4); prayers find their answer in that Name (John 14); the sick find healing through that Name (James 5); demons tremble at the sound of that Name (James 2); people are loosed from demon possession through that Name (Mark 3); at his Name every knee will bow and every tongue confess He is Lord (Philippians 2).

The New Testament uses dozens of synonyms to describe Him: Lamb of God, Son of God, Anointed One, Shepherd, Bread of Life, Alpha and Omega, King, Savior, Messiah, Prince of Peace . . .

And that Name has inspired men and women for two thousand years to live – and if necessary, die – for love of His Name.

So, why do people use the holy Name of Jesus as the punch line of a joke, or to voice surprise or anger, or to use as a swear word?

I have a theory. Satan understands there is eternal life in no other than Jesus. He knows forgiveness of sin is available through no other than Jesus. There is deliverance from his infernal grasp through no other than Jesus.

If Satan can deceive mankind into believing Jesus Christ is the stuff of jokes and swear words, few would believe He is Son of God, Lamb of God, Great Shepherd, and Light from Light.

When we say Jesus’ name in prayer and in reverential conversation, we join our hearts with all those in that great communion of saints in heaven and on earth. And we have the same privilege as they: to fall to our knees in homage to Him whose Name is above every name.

Holy Spirit, Help us recognize Jesus when He calls. Help us hear above the white noise the voice of Him who loves us so much that He took our sins to Calvary’s cross. Amen.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Being Sure

The Lord Jesus, addressing 70 of His disciples whom He sent to preach, said: “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20)

St. Paul, in his letter to the Christians in the church at Philippi, wrote: “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” (Philippians 4:2-3)

These two texts, and dozens like them, are not incidental in Scripture. They’re purposeful. They’re in God’s word so that anyone can know ‘today’ if his or her name is written in the Book of Life.

No one needs to wait until the afterlife to find out their eternal destiny.

Are you certain your name is in that Book?

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Boredom and Faith

It’s not unusual for boredom to dull our minds when we read the same things again and again – unless we think what we’re reading is important enough to remain focused. 

That’s why Paul wrote to the Christians at Philippi: “Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is not troublesome to me, and for you it is a safeguard.” (Philippians 3:1) 

He knew boredom always lurks like a lion to tear at the faithful. And boredom always tends toward forgetfulness. 

Some time ago a brother in Christ asked why I read the Scriptures every day – morning and evening at the minimum. I told him it’s because without frequent reminders of God’s promises, exhortations, and even rebukes, it’s easy for what I’ve known for a long time to recede into cloudy memories. 

I need reminders of things He has taught me over the last 46 years since I committed myself to Him. Those reminders serve as safeguards – as Paul wrote – safeguards against the subtle lies and devious innuendos of that lurking lion. 

Christian! Be alert. Be intentional about maturing in your knowledge of God. “Ignorance of Scripture,” wrote St. Jerome, “is ignorance of Christ.” 

If you are not yet regularly reading the Bible, today is a good day to start. Search the internet for key words such as: Bible Reading Plans. Dozens will pop up on your screen.  Or, take a look at mine at this link:

Life is too precious, and too short, to stay a babe in your understanding of God.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Sh'ma and the Lord's Prayer

Many years ago, my wife and I regularly attended a local synagogue for Sabbath services. Although we were Christians, I enjoyed the Jewish liturgy and rhythm of the rituals because they reminded me of my Jewish upbringing.

During each Sabbath service, Jews sing the Sh’ma – an ancient declaration of Jewish faith taken directly from Deuteronomy chapter six: Sh’ma Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai echod – Hear, oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. The Sh’ma is so important in Jewish religious history that persecuted Jews have died with those words on their lips in a final testament to their faith.

One Sabbath as we sang the text I noticed a middle-aged man a few pews to my left singing with the rest of us, but his attention was focused on his fingernails. I watched in dumbfounded disbelief as he cleaned his nails with a toothpick – yet all the while singing Israel’s most profound declaration of faith.

Like the Sh’ma, the Lord’s Prayer is a profound declaration of our relationship with God. The full meaning of that prayer has still not yet been plumbed, although volumes have been written about it over the millennia.

Christian, beware. Like the Sh’ma, the Lord’s prayer can lose its vibrancy in the dullness of rote recitation.

Don’t let that happen to you. The next time you recite the prayer – even if you have to stop reciting after the first sentence – let the congregation continue without you. But you, take time to think about what you are saying. And do the same each week. It will change the impact of the prayer for you.

Monday, October 8, 2018

God of the Old. God of the New

I wrote this four years ago. With recent revelations of a popular pastor in Atlanta, I thought it would be good to revisit it.


God of the Old, God of the New

Is the God of the Old Testament different from the God of the New Testament? To hear some people, even in the Church, you would think He is.

God’s judgment of sin seems to overflow the pages of the Old Testament. You can open it almost at random, especially the prophets, or the historical books like Kings or Chronicles, and find unmistakable evidence of God’s wrath against rebellion and evil. But unless you land on the book of Revelation, or isolated passages in the gospels, Acts, or the epistles, the God pictured in the New Testament seems tame by comparison.

But God, as C.S. Lewis observed, is not a tame lion.

Because of what seems a difference in God’s character in both testaments, a heresy called Marcionism developed in the second-century church. Marcion, a church leader, believed the wrathful Old Testament God was different than the all-forgiving God of the New Testament. Marcion also rejected the Old Testament scriptures as unworthy to be included in the Christian bible.

The Church, however, rejected Marcion’s teaching as false and dangerous to the faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 123) says this about the Marcion heresy: Christians venerate the Old Testament as true Word of God. The Church has always vigorously opposed the idea of rejecting the Old Testament under the pretext that the New has rendered it void . . . . 

While a superficial reading of Scripture can suggest an inconsistency in God’s character between both testaments, the inconsistency evaporates on closer examination. God is the same God of mercy, love, judgment, and wrath in both eras. For example, Ananias’ and Sapphira’s deaths because they lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5) is not dissimilar from the deaths of Nadab and Abihu who ‘offered strange fire” on God’s altar (Leviticus 10). The reason for King Herod’s death (Acts 12) is not much different from the reason God killed the Judean King Ahab (1 Kings 22). God struck Elymas the magician with blindness (Acts 13), and did the same to the mob surrounding Lot’s house (Genesis 19). God brought judgment on Israel because of her sins (e.g. 2 Chronicles 36), and God warns His church against turning from Him (Revelation 2-3), and He will bring global destruction on a world of unrepentant sinners (Revelation 4-18).

The reason people confuse the pictures of God in both testaments is often rooted in the amount of material available to form an accurate understanding of God’s unchanging nature.

The New Testament covers the span of about 60 years, but the Old Testament encompasses a period of 1400 years. That difference alone allows the writers of Sacred Scripture much more time to demonstrate the fullness of God’s character. Further, the Old Testament is comprised of 73 books. The New Testament has only 27. The Old Testament has 1,074 chapters, the New Testament only 260. The Old Testament has more than 25,000 verses, the New Testament a little less than 8,000 verses. But the differences in the quantity of material in both testaments should not surprise us. The Old Testament is the story of a people. The New Testament is a story of a person.

The Holy Spirit tells us: In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (Hebrews 1:1-2) 

In his letter to the church at Corinth, St. Paul underscores the importance of familiarity with the Old Testament to help us understand the New Covenant: These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things, as they did. And do not become idolaters, as some of them did . . . . Let us not indulge in immorality as some of them did . . . . Do not grumble as some of them did, and suffered death by the destroyer. These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:6-11)

Little wonder that St. Augustine commented: The New Testament lies hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.

God’s character has not changed, and neither has His modus operandi. The Holy Spirit tells us: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). And He tells us through the prophet Malachi: “For I, the Lord, do not change” (Malachi 3:6).

God’s love, mercy, and compassion extend from Genesis and into the 21st century. Equally important – and we ought not to minimize this eternal reality – God’s holiness, justice, and wrath toward sin also extend across the same period of time.


Friday, October 5, 2018

Yelling at the Radio

I don’t usually yell at the radio. But I couldn’t help myself this afternoon.
I’d tuned into some Catholic talk show. The guy was explaining the “Pastoral” reasons for supporting homosexual fellowships within local Catholic Churches. The rationale is – so the guy said – as long as the homosexual person remains ‘celibate’ , being part of a homosexual fellowship of like-minded ‘chaste’ homosexuals is good, so the person does not feel isolated.
Apart from the obvious Biblical injunction AGAINST such fellowships (well, obvious to those who read their Bible regularly for guidance and not for information), the absolute stupidity of encouraging gay men and women to hang out with others of like-mindedness makes a complete mockery of human nature – which is a SIN NATURE.
It’s like encouraging a recovering female prostitute to hang out with a men’s group. Or expecting a heterosexual couple who’ve slept together for a while to now live together without further sin.
Sheesh! How is what ought to be crystal clear danger to these poor men and women caught in this sin – how do ‘pastors’ not recognize they are aiding and abetting these souls to fall deeper into their sin?
Here is what God says about it all:
“Now FLEE from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22)
“Abstain from every APPEARANCE of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22)
“Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9ff)
“For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them.” (Ephesians 5:5ff)
I could go on and on – and so can many of you.
I wonder why some of our bishops and priests don’t think the sexual sin Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians (and later in 2 Corinthians) – I wonder why some of our bishops and priests don’t believe that story holds guidance for 21st century pastoral care. You can read the incident in 1 Corinthians 5 and 2 Corinthians 2.
In his first letter, Paul held no punches when he addressed the disgraceful conduct of the man in their congregation who was committing incest with his father’s wife. In unambiguous terms, Paul commanded them to excommunicate the guy for the ongoing sin and scandal he had caused in the church.
From what we read in 2 Corinthians, the church did as Paul ordered, with the result (and this is critical) that the man repented, turned from his sin – and was restored to fellowship with the church AND with God.
THAT, my Christian brethren, THAT is the purpose of pastoral care – to correct the sinner to the right path.
As I said, I could go on and on, citing one Biblical text after the other that turns upside down the irresponsible, fatuous, and eternally dangerous practices put forth by some Catholic leaders who think what they are doing is pastoral.
It is NOT pastoral. It is doing nothing less than helping poor souls remain trapped in their sin and who ultimately will experience the wrath of God. Those are not MY words, those are words the apostle Paul, under the direct inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, wrote down for us to obey.
THAT’S why I yelled at the radio. Pastors and bishops and everyone in the pew needs to finally get off the touchy-feely “I’m okay-You’re Okay” damnable philosophies and do what God called godly shepherds to do: Speak the truth in love.
Speak the TRUTH!
Not YOUR truth. Not the culture’s truth.
God’s truth taught by the Church since the first century!