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

Monday, December 17, 2018

A Different Christmas

A Different Kind of Christmas
By Richard Maffeo
Christmas Day 2018 will be different this year for many people. It will be a time of mourning, instead of joy. It will be a day of longing for the past, and not one of hope for the future. It will be a time of anxious stress, and not of the peace possible only through the Prince of Peace.
Life-circumstances forced some of you this year to leave your homes and move in with a group of strangers. And as you closed the door behind you, memories of the last 20, 30, even 50 years swept across your soul. Those memories, one by one, had become synonymous with the very fabric of your couches and loveseats and dining room tables and lamps and curtains and pictures on the walls . . . .
You left them all behind because you could only take a few things to your new, and very small apartment. Or nursing home room.
Those poignant memories stung your heart until you bled, didn’t they?
Many of us waking up on December 25 will instinctively turn in bed, looking for the one you lost this year. For some, 2018 meant debilitating health issues that rocked you to your core. For some of you, 2018 shattered your confidence in a God who knows who you are – or even cares.
Yes, Christmas is different this year for many of us. But – and this is the crux of my message to all of us:
In all that is different this Christmas, one thing remains the same. Despite our upheavals, our anger, our losses – one thing remains as unchangeable as – well, as any of God’s truths. It is that one thing that He established as the very foundation of life itself.
Let me try to illustrate it this way:
One plus one equals two. We take that mathematical formula so much for granted that we never think about it as we balance our check book or calculate in our heads how much of a tip to leave our server in the restaurant. But without that fundamental mathematical truth, construction workers could not build even the simplest of homes. Electricians and plumbers could never properly do their jobs. We could never have flown to the moon and back if NASA was uncertain that one and one always and in all circumstances equals two.
In a similar way, there’s a fundamental spiritual truth we hear so often that we take it for granted: “For God so loved the world that He gave us His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him would not perish, but have ever lasting life.”
Taken for granted, or not, that text is the source of life and light and love and hope and promise. John 3:16 is the very basis of Christmas itself – even if it doesn’t feel like Christmas.
In speaking of the first Christmas, Isaiah told us it would be a time when those who walked in darkness would see a great light; It would be a time when those who lived in a dark land would see light shining on them. (Isaiah 9:2-3)
That, too, is the message of Christmas 2018: Light smashing darkness. Hope shattering despair. And it is in holding onto the essential truth of John 3:16 that we will find the antidote for the sorrow and sense of loss so many of us face this Christmas.
Like one plus one, John 3:16 and Christmas is God’s unalterable promise of hope. It is, for all who long to know Jesus, for all who long to love Jesus, Christmas is an explosion of light and life and courage to face tomorrow.
Oh, God! Help us each to remember this Christmas that Christmas is about Jesus. It is about Immanuel – God with us. It is You come from Your throne to lay in an animal feeding trough on a cold December day so that we each who read this or who hear this could have life, even an abundant life.
Even when the circumstances of life have turned our lives inside out.
May God give you this year a merry Christmas, a peaceful Christmas, a thankful Christmas – and a blessed 2019.
Amen.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Job and Real-life

“As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.(James 5:10-11)

If Job is just a make-believe story, nothing more than an allegory to make a spiritual point, then why did St. James refer to the man as an example of faith, hope, and confidence in God despite his horrendous tragedies?

Why can’t some theologians and apologists just let the simple words of the text speak for themselves? Why must they dissect the plain sense of Scripture into meaninglessness and futility for those of us who NEED to know we can follow the real-life examples of real-life people who determined to trust God, despite their desperate real-life trials?

When we start to needlessly allegorize Scripture, where do we stop? The Exodus from Egypt? The Virgin Birth? Feeding the Five Thousand? The Resurrection of Jesus?

Christian, I appeal to you! Ignore the so-called wise and learned teachers of Scripture who emasculate the Scriptures. Let the Holy Spirit Himself teach you, just as Jesus promised He would do for all who asked Him for guidance. (See John 14:26).

The Holy Spirit will always tell us the truth.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Thank God for Jesus

I've posted this a few times over the last several years at Christmas time. It still preaches a great message to me each time I post it. ------------ A Simple Christmas Message As my wife and I drove south along I-85, I scanned the radio stations for something worthwhile to listen to on a Sunday afternoon. And we came across a preacher – a Baptist, we learned at the end of his message – we came across him in the middle of his sermon. From the way he spoke – his vocabulary and his manner of delivery – I conjured an image of many of the preachers Nancy and I sat under during our three decades in evangelical churches.  There was nothing erudite about his delivery, or for that matter, what he said. But, oh! He captured our attention.
“Thank God for Jesus.”  He repeated that phrase again and again during the several minutes we listened to him. He reminded his congregation, “Jesus came as a baby and lived 33 years so that He could die for your sins and my sins."  Then he added, "Thank God for Jesus.” "He was glad to do what He did because of His great love for you and me.  Thank God for Jesus.” He paused a moment and asked his congregation, “Do you thank God for Jesus?” Nancy and I heard a few voices in the congregation call out, ‘Amen,” and “Yes, we do.” Speaking out of what I recognized was chapter 16 of St. Matthew’s gospel, the preacher continued:  “Jesus said to the people, ‘Who do you say that I  am?  And some said Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”  And then Jesus looked at His disciples and said: ‘But who do YOU say that I am?” He paused again and continued paraphrasing from the text: “Peter said, you are the Christ, the Son of God.”  And Jesus said to him, “You are blessed, Simon, son of John, because flesh and blood did not reveal that to you, but my Father in heaven revealed it to you.”
“Thank God for Jesus,” he said again before asking his congregation, “Has God revealed who Jesus is to you? Are you a child of God? Is Jesus your Lord?” He continued, “Do you know of Jesus because your preacher told you about Jesus?  Do you know about Jesus because your parents told you about Jesus? Or do you know Jesus because God told you about Jesus?” “Do you thank God for Jesus?” A few moments later, his simple sermon ended. We turned off the radio and talked about what we’d just heard.  The preacher, simple as his message seemed to be, reminded me of what the very erudite St. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth: “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Christ, and Him crucified.”  (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). This Christmas, as we open the gifts set for us under the tree, Oh, may God help us reflect on the gift He gave us: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life."  (John 3:16) And, please God, help us say from our hearts, “Thank God for Jesus.”

Thursday, December 6, 2018

First Sunday of Advent 2018: What is Truth? Part Three

On the first Sunday of Advent this year I preached a message to the people living in the 55+ community that I visit each week. I reorganized that sermon into an essay. Because of its length, I divided the message into three parts. Part one focused on Luke 1:4 wherein the beloved physician tells us to purpose of his letter: “So that you (i.e. Theophilus) may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” Part two examined two truths God wants us to know and to live by. 

You can find part one here: https://thecontemplativecatholicconvert.blogspot.com/2018/12/first-sunday-of-advent-2018.html 

You can find part two here: https://thecontemplativecatholicconvert.blogspot.com/2018/12/first-sunday-of-advent-what-is-truth.html 

Now for part three of the truths God wants us to know: 

Truth number three: God calls us all to a lifestyle of repentance. Luke 5:31-32 “And 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.” 

A lifestyle of repentance means that it is not a one-time thing at some altar. It is an ongoing readjustment of our life journey. When we sin – even what some might call little sins, or venial sins – when we sin, we must repent. 

Repentance means we agree with God that what we did or said or thought was wrong. We ask Him to forgive us for the sake of His beloved Son, Jesus, who paid the penalty for that sin.  And we determine with an honest heart, and with His help, to not do again what we just did. 

And, as is often the case, if we DO commit the same sin again – what must we do? Follow the same process of repentance, ask His forgiveness, and determine once again with an honest heart to not do it again. 

God promises us: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). 

The Holy Spirit also assures us: The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness . . . For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. (Psalm 103:8-14) 

I hope you caught that. God is not standing at the edge of heaven with a whip in His hand, just waiting – just hoping one of us will mess up so He can lash us back into compliance. That is not the God who loves us so much that He sent His Son to die in our place. 

Truth number four: Jesus said of Himself, “I am THE way, THE truth, THE life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6).  

Jesus is not A way to God. Not A truth. Not A life. And there is no other name that brings salvation. Not Abraham. Not Moses. Not Caesar. No one else. That’s also why Luke reported Peter’s sermon to his Jewish audience (Acts 4:12) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” 

That’s a truth many in our so-called pluralistic society don’t want to hear. “All roads lead to the same place,” they say.  And in a way, they are right. All roads outside of Jesus DO lead to the same place: 

An eternal hell. 

\That’s why Jesus warns humanity about His way, His truth, and His with the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. You’ll find it in Luke 16. We pick up the story in verse 23: 

In Hades [the Rich Man] lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.” 

When Abraham said such a thing could not be done, the Rich Man responded in verse 27: 

Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”  

Did you catch the words Jesus placed in the mouth of Abraham: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.”  

Moses and the prophets spoke only Truth – which only directs us to Jesus. 

One of my favorite hymns, ‘Grace Greater than Our Sin’, was written by Julia Johnston more than a century ago. Here are some of the lyrics: 

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord/grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt/Yonder on Calvary's mount outpoured /there where the blood of the Lamb was spilt. 

Grace, grace, God's grace/grace that will pardon and cleanse within/grace, grace, God's grace/grace that is greater than all our sin! 

Dark is the stain that we cannot hide/What can avail to wash it away? 

Look! There is flowing a crimson tide/brighter than snow you may be today.

Grace, grace, God's grace/grace that will pardon and cleanse within/grace, grace, God's grace/grace that is greater than all our sin! 

So, there you have it. Four truths God wants us all to apply to our lives: (1) We are all sinners who, without Christ, are doomed to an eternal torment; (2) Jesus came into our world as a baby and grew into a man who became our substitutionary sacrifice, to ransom us from certain damnation; (3) God calls each person to a lifestyle of repentance; And (4) God hopes we all will live His truths and thereby avoid what He wants us to all avoid – an eternity with people like the Rich Man in Luke 16. 

Which brings us all to the critical question: What will we do with those truths?

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

First Sunday of Advent: What is Truth? Part two

What is Truth?
Part Two of Three

On the first Sunday of Advent this year I preached a message to the people living in the 55+ community that I visit each week. I reorganized that sermon into an essay. Because of its length, I divided the message into three parts. My text focused on Luke 1:4 wherein the beloved physician tells us the purpose of his letter: “So that you (i.e. Theophilus) may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.”


Continuing with the theme of God's truth, part two now focuses on what are some of the essential truths God wants everyone to know – and by which He wants everyone to live:

Truth number one: You and I – everyone on planet earth – are sinners. If we don’t get this truth about our sin-nature, then none of the other truths of Scripture can have the impact God designed truth to have.

Scripture gives several lists of damnable sins, but here is only a partial one for an example: Galatians 5:19-21 “. . . .sexual immorality [which includes pornography, fornication, adultery, and homosexuality] . . . hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness . . . and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”

The Holy Spirit does not soften the point as so many pastors and teachers might soften the point. Sin is a damnable offense against God. That’s why He reiterates the theme throughout the New Testament, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23); and then: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

That was truth number one: We are sinners. We might not want to think of ourselves in that way, but our opinion of ourselves is worthless if that opinion contradicts God’s truth. We need to acknowledge to God the truth about our sin nature. If we do not, Truth number two will be meaningless and – worse – of no eternal value to us.

Truth number two: Jesus came to save sinners from eternal damnation.

Most Christians can recite John 3:16 from memory: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

That verse is an important truth to hide in our hearts: God loves the sinner (not the sin) – God loves the sinner so much that He sent His Son into our world to save everyone who wants to be saved from the eternal Lake of Fire.

St. John tells us again in his first epistle: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)

Propitiation is an uncommon word in our day. The Greek word, ‘hilasmos,’ translated as propitiation in most Bibles, carries the idea of appeasement, atonement, or satisfaction. It means Jesus’ death on the cross appeased God’s wrath toward sin – thereby providing the means of reconciliation between the sinner and God. The word is closely tied to the idea of a substitutionary sacrifice whereby the sin – and the requisite punishment for the sin – are transferred from one person to another.

Here is how Isaiah explains what Messiah did for us: Isaiah 53:5 “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

The New Testament writers pick up this theme in the various letters. Here is what Paul writes to the church at Corinth: “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Corinthians 5:20-21)

Now let’s summarize: God’s truth tells us we are all sinners. Truth then tells us Jesus became our substitutionary sacrifice to pay the penalty – to pay the ransom – our sins deserve. That’s why the Lord Jesus said: “. . . the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28).

Truth number three tells us God calls us everyone to a lifestyle of repentance. We’ll look at that truth next time.