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

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Finally, I Gave Him My Heart

My wife published this in the Signs of the Times magazine in 2006. She’d forgotten about it until a few days ago. As is true with all salvation testimonies, hers is a wonderful example of God’s grace and patience. She hopes, as do I, that God will speak to your own heart as your read her story:

I Finally Gave My Heart
By Nancy Maffeo

For some people, accepting Jesus comes easily. For others, it takes time. Sometimes a long time. 

The morning I tried to crucify my mother, I discovered my sinful nature. I was five when I positioned the pointed end of a bobby pin against her hand. I thought, If I nail Mommy to her bed, the baby will have to wait until I let Mommy go.

“Pound, pound,” I said as my fist tapped the pin.

My mother awoke with a scream, grabbed the bobby pin, and shouted, “What are you doing? That’s what people did to Jesus.” Hot guilt flooded over me. I love Jesus. I’d never do anything to hurt Him! I ran into my bedroom, jumped beneath my blanket, and sobbed to Him, “I’m sorry.”

By the time I was eight, I no longer hid in my bed when I felt guilt. I ignored it. I didn’t know denial of sin was the same as denial of Jesus.
Later that spring, an evangelist spoke at our church. He asked, “If Jesus came to your house, would you invite Him in?”
I was frightened by that thought. I knew I lied to my parents, sometimes hated my sister, and hid toys under the bed when they belonged in the toy box. I wouldn’t want Jesus to visit me. The next Sunday the evangelist offered us a way to welcome Jesus: We could sing, “Into my heart, come into my heart, Lord Jesus . . . .” 
I sang the song and meant it. But only for a while.
One evening during my second year in middle school, I devoured a large pepperoni pizza. By 2:00 A.M. my overly full stomach rumbled and ached. I prayed, “Jesus, I’ll follow You if You will just keep me from throwing up.” Minutes later I felt a peace flow over me and my roiling stomach quieted. Thankful, I tried—really tried—to keep my end of the bargain in the weeks that followed, but my heart had not changed, and I forgot my commitment once again.
What I lacked in constancy I made up for in service. I attended church every week. I taught Bible classes and helped the youth director during my summer breaks from college. But when it came to making a formal declaration of faith, I stalled. I knew that any decision I made must be one of total surrender; I had to be willing to change.
After college I found a job as a kindergarten teacher in southern California. I no longer attended church, preferring to fill my life with a boyfriend, long hours in my classroom, weekend visits with my family, or trips to the coast. During that time, I joined a painters’ guild and entered art shows, fulfilling a childhood dream of becoming an artist. Outwardly, I seemed to be prospering, but inwardly I was lonely, fearful, and insecure.
During my third year of teaching, a fellow teacher mentioned that her daughter planned to attend an evangelistic series in the next state. The event would be televised in our area. The term evangelistic meetings brought back long-forgotten memories of Vacation Bible School, church picnics, and sitting with my parents in the church pew.
I decided to tune in on a Friday evening. I set up my paints and turned on the television. The six-foot canvas titled “Homage to Hindu Thought” was almost complete. As I worked color glazes over the face of a Buddha, I listened to the music and the opening words of the evangelist’s address. The Holy Spirit caught my attention, and I laid down my brush.
I can’t remember what the preacher said that evening, but when he gave the invitation, an urgency charged me with purpose. “Choose now!” I recalled the many times I had refused to put my life, hopes, dreams, and future in the outstretched hands of Jesus. This might be my last chance.
I bowed my head, asked forgiveness for my sins, and acknowledged Jesus as the one and only Savior. I knew that this time I’d made a binding promise. With all my will I committed my life to a relationship with Christ.
I had no idea what wonderful plans God had for me. Nine months later I flew to Japan to teach in an elementary school on a navy base. There I met Rich, my future husband.
God has blessed our marriage with three children and impressed me to leave my teaching career and become a full-time mother and homemaker.
Writing for publication is another opportunity I would never have imagined. God helped me, a poor speller, to write clear sentences and to encourage others through my published articles.
I will be forever grateful Jesus kept calling me. I have never regretted the evening I gave Him my heart.

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Simple Answer

I bet it’s been dozens of times I’ve told someone, “The only way America can have peace is if we return to God.”
And dozens of times, the person I’m talking to fired back: “Who’s to say YOUR God is the true God?”
It was always downhill from there as I quickly found myself in a fruitless philosophical discussion, trying to ‘prove’ my position.
It always, always turned out to be a waste of time.
That’s why I concluded a long time ago there is a better way to answer the challenge. In fact, the apostle Paul’s monologue to the Athenians (Acts 17) even gives us a template for our response.
Here is what has now become my simple answer to what seems to some a complicated question:
“Who is the true God? He is the One who created heaven and earth, even everything visible and invisible. He is the One clearly revealed to us by nature and about whom the heavens and the earth shout His praise. He is the One who revealed Himself to humanity through the Judeo-Christian Bible, and who finally and definitively revealed Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ.
And, oh, by the way, it is only to this Creator, this true God, that we must repent for our sins. It is only this God whom we must obey.
How do I know all of what I just wrote is unerringly true?
That's really easy to answer. Here is how Paul did it for the skeptical Athenians: “God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
Look again at that last clause. It is the key to the question why I know everything I wrote here about God is true. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, nothing I’ve said about God – none of it is true.
None of it.
Will everyone to whom we speak suddenly see the proverbial light and fall on their knees in homage to the true God? Of course not. Most of those who listened that day to Paul sneered and walked away.
Ah, but some, we are told, believed.
When I talk to unbelievers who inevitably challenge the certainty of my faith, I try to avoid complicating the simple truth, which is this:
The God of the Judeo-Christian Bible is the only true God. It is He who created everything, visible and invisible. It is He who reveals Himself through nature, through the Scriptures, and through His resurrected Son.
The skeptic might remain skeptical. But God calls us only to plant, or to water.
It is He alone who causes the growth.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Come Away From Them

I like what Paul wrote to the Christians at Ephesus about God’s purpose for leadership in His church: 

And [God] gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming . . . .” (Ephesians 4)

Are you hearing from the leadership in your church what you ‘need’ to hear, or are you hearing what you ‘want’ to hear?

Be careful that you do not fall into the trap Paul also spoke of in his letter to Timothy:

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4)

If your leadership – from the pastor to the deacon to the various teachers in the church – if your leadership does not speak from the whole of Scripture and the historic teaching of the Church, then I beg you, come out from among them. Separate yourself from them.

If your church’s leadership feel it necessary to ‘update’ God’s word to be compatible with modern cultural ideas – then I beg you, come out from among them. Separate yourself from them.

Find a church were God’s shepherds and pastors and teachers proclaim God’s undiluted truth, where the historic teaching of the Church is heralded without compromise to all who have ears to hear and eyes to see.

If you do not come away from those who preach what you want to hear, and not what you need to hear, you place yourself and your family in great danger of shipwreck with regard to your eternal destiny.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

What's So Good About Good Friday?

I've posted this before. Since Good Friday is such an important event, I am posting it again.

This was not simply disappointment. It was gut-wrenching tragedy. 

Their hopes, like precious china, lay shattered. Their dreams hung limp on a splintered cross. Glancing over their shoulders in fear with each step, the disciples wondered who would be next. For those who loved Him, darkness smothered Friday like a cold, damp woolen blanket.

And what was that Friday like for Christ?

It began with flogging. Roman soldiers fashioned a leather whip, studded with small rocks and bone. Every blow against Jesus’ back ripped open new strips of skin. His muscles and tendons quickly turned into a mass of quivering, bleeding flesh. Many prisoners died of shock and blood loss long before being nailed to the cross.

After the beating, Jesus dragged his cross to the execution site where soldiers dropped it on the ground and threw Him onto it. The spikes hammered through His wrists and feet tore through exquisitely sensitive nerves. Electrifying pain exploded along His limbs.

As He hung between heaven and earth, breathing became an all-consuming struggle. Gravity pulled inexorably on His diaphragm, forcing Jesus to repeatedly push against His feet and flex His arms just to breathe. Yet, every movement heightened the strain on His ravaged nerves, and each breath forced His back against the splintered wood, reopening the raw wounds.

Every breath, every movement, every moment on the cross inflamed His torture. For Jesus, for His disciples -- for anyone standing at the foot of the cross, Good Friday seemed anything but good.

What, then, is so good about that Friday 2000 years ago?

That Friday proved God’s faithfulness. As early as Genesis 3, the Lord promised the human family a redeemer, someone to set us free from the Serpent’s grasp, someone to take “captivity captive” to Himself: Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” The Lord God said to the serpent . . . And I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel (Genesis 3:13-15).

On that Friday, Satan bruised God’s heel. But through Christ's cross, God crushed Satan’s head. The Serpent forever lost the authority to enslave anyone who wants to be free. His power is nullified by the blood of Christ. Listen to the words found in Hebrews 2:14-15:  Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.

That Friday tore through sin’s impenetrable barrier between us and God. As the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God and your sins have hid His face from you, so that He does not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). But that Friday, God shattered the barrier. He rescued the prisoners. Laying our sins on Christ’s shoulders. 

Here again is what Scripture tells us: "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.” (Isaiah 53:5-6)

That Friday, the Father threw open the gates of reconciliation between us and Himself: "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ . . . not counting [our] trespasses against [Him] . . ." (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)

That Friday proved God’s love for us and gave us the hope of eternal life. It is easy to read quickly over John 3:16 and not sense the searing emotions the Father suffered as He watched His Son agonize on that cross. But when we meditate on the Roman scourging, the spikes in His limbs, the flesh wounds -- perhaps we can better understand the personal nature of that verse -- “God so loved me . . that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.”

That Friday clothed us with Christ’s righteousness. The harlot, the thief, the murderer, the adulterer . . . think of it! There is no sin that cannot be cleansed by Christ’s blood. There is no sinner who cannot be made as righteous before God’s eyes as Jesus Himself. Listen to this promise: 

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:20-21)

Finally -- if there can be a final point about Good Friday -- that Friday challenges us to repentance. When the crowds in Jerusalem learned it was their sins that nailed Jesus to the cross, “they were pieced to the heart.” In unison they cried out, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?” St. Peter responded, “Repent,” and three thousand were born into the kingdom (Acts 2:22-41). Later, St. Paul would add: Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)

Standing at the foot of Christ’s cross, nothing about Friday looked good. But no one knew Resurrection Sunday was coming . . . and with it, God’s redemptive plan which H conceived before the foundation of the world.

Good Friday? It could not have been any better.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Finding Rest in an Angry World

Hatred plays sinister tricks in our mind. Sinister and self-destructive. It reduces us to a position of great weakness, yet all the while seducing us to think we are powerful.
Two Bible texts come immediately to my mind, the first from the second psalm:
“Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, “Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!”
Human history sadly demonstrates how often the political, judicial, educational, and the average-citizen all get fed up with obeying the Creator’s rules.
But notice the Creator’s response: “He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them. Then He will speak to them in His anger and terrify them in His fury, saying [to His Anointed – Jesus] You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware.’”
It ought to be a fearful thing to know God scoffs at you and me when we live as if He is blind and deaf to our rebellion. It ought to be a fearful thing, but it is too often not. Look at the daily news and form your own opinion.
The second text is from John’s gospel. Jesus and His disciples are in the Garden at Gethsemane. It is night. Here’s what happened in chapter 18: “Judas then, having received the Roman cohort and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. So, Jesus . . . said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered Him, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He *said to them, “I am He.” . . . So, when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground. Therefore He again asked them, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
This scene has always amazed me. When the Lord of Creation responded, “I am” (the Greek text omits the pronoun, ‘He’), the soldiers and mob there to arrest Jesus fell backward to the dirt. The way the text describes it, it was if a mighty, unseen hand supernaturally cast them to the ground.
I like to think if I’d been knocked off my feet like that, I’d have bought the proverbial clue and fled as fast as I could. But hatred blinds us to truth – even to overpowering and supernatural truth. And so, when the mob got back to their feet, they took Him into custody.
It should not require special knowledge to look at our country – even the world as it lies engulfed in hatred -- and see a repeating pattern. It should not require special insight, but that’s what appears to be necessary. Good is now called evil. Evil is called good. Darkness is substituted for light, and bitter for sweet. It is almost as if a supernatural deluding influence has settled across the globe, leading spiritually blind, deaf, and heart-hardened men and women further into the pit of darkness.
And we can expect it to only grow worse. Here is what the Scriptures say about that point: “Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness." (2 Thessalonians 2)
So, what is my point?
If you’re caught up in the anger and hatred that simmers here, boils there, metastasizing like a cancer in nearly every place – then come out from among them and be separate. Hatred will blind us – even those who are children of God through the blood of Jesus – hatred will blind us to God’s truths.
Turn off the non-stop news channels. Take a permanent sabbatical from the demonic influences that seep into your heart and into your home through that doorway. Turn your focus instead to the one who is Love itself. Listen at His feet. Spend quiet time with His Scriptures. Devote yourself anew to prayer. Refuse to permit anger to overtake your words and your thoughts and your actions. It will take practice to do such things. Don’t be discouraged by failure. Keep doing the right things. There is no other way to restore peace in your heart and to your home than to stay in His light.
In a world undulating with trouble and anger and wrath, God promises you will find rest for your souls in Him.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Sit Down

I’ve read the story many times before. It’s the one where Jesus feeds the five thousand with a few pieces of bread and some fish. Here’s how John tells it in the sixth chapter of his gospel:

Therefore Jesus, lifting up His eyes and seeing that a large crowd was coming to Him, *said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?” . . . . One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, *said to Him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So, the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Jesus then took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated . . . .”

This time through, I stopped reading at that first clause of verse 11. Look at it again: “He distributed [the food] to those who were seated.”

I wondered why John mentioned the posture of those who were to receive the food – that they were ‘seated’ on the grass. Maybe it’s because there were in that crowd people who were standing.  Maybe they were getting ready to go somewhere else, thinking to themselves, “There’s nothing worth listening to, here.”

As I pondered the scene, I remembered the story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10.  You might remember it. Jesus was having lunch with the sisters in their home. Martha busied herself bustling around the kitchen, while sister sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him.

"Jesus,” Martha complained, “Tell my sister to help me.”

Do you remember the Lord’s answer? “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Getting back to the crowd of five thousand, for me there was a nugget of a lesson in that nearly invisible clause: “He distributed to those who were seated.” And that lesson is this:

Richard, sit down. You need to hear what Jesus wants to tell you. Whatever else it is you think you need to be doing, it can wait. You need to sit.

And be still.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

How He Loves You and Me

I read the story of the Samaritan woman again this morning. She’d come to the well outside of town to get water. At the same time, Jesus was sitting wearily by the well, waiting for His disciples to return with lunch. When the woman approached, He engaged her in a discussion. If it’s been a while since you’ve read the story, why not do it some time today. You’ll find it in the fourth chapter of John’s gospel.  Here is the section that caught my attention, beginning with verse 39:
“Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I ever did!” When they came out to see him, they begged him to stay in their village. So he stayed for two days, long enough for many more to hear his message and believe. Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard him ourselves. Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.”
And now for the question that has threaded its way through the millennia since this story was written down for us:
Why do you believe that Jesus is the savior of the world?  Why do you believe He is YOUR savior? Because your parents told you about Him? Your pastor or priest? A teacher? You read it in a book?
Those are wonderful ways, of course, to be introduced to the savior. But isn’t it important that we go to the next level – to know Him personally? To meet Him for ourselves? To talk with Him ourselves?
You might remember the chorus by Merle Haggard, whose lyrics now come to my mind:

“I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on roses; And the voice I hear falling on my ear, the son of God discloses – And He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own, And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”

Christian, how often do you walk with Him and talk with Him? How often do you hear Him talk with you about sin, and forgiveness, and repentance, and compassion, and the need for daily conversion? How often are you alone and quiet enough with Him to hear Him tell you, “You are My own”? The Samaritans first heard about Jesus from the woman who’d met Him at the well. But when they actually met Him, and talked with Him, they believed in Him.
Oh, how God longs for you and me to come daily into His presence. How He yearns to walk with you and talk with you in the quietness of wherever it is you can be quiet.
Oh! How He loves you and me. And oh, how He wants you to know, you are His own.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Our Most Desperate Need

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me . . . so that you may live (Isaiah 55:1-3).
In December 1972 the US Navy stationed me in Yokosuka, Japan. Within weeks of my arrival I gave my life to Jesus my Messiah. (You can read a more complete account here: http://bit.ly/2IfnxrU). The people who influenced my early days as a new child of God encouraged me to read the Bible every day because, they said, God speaks to us through its pages.
In those days I was completely ignorant of its content. I didn’t know Hezekiah from Timothy, Caleb from Philemon, 1 Chronicles from 1 Corinthians. But I took their advice and I read. Voraciously, I read.
And I was astounded by the things I was learning.
Several days later I met another sailor from my unit a few doors down the hall from my barracks room. A confirmed atheist, he made no effort to hide his disgust for the Bible I was growing to love. At every opportunity he challenged my new faith, while I, undaunted, tried to persuade him toward Christ.
One afternoon as I walked by his barracks room I noticed his door was wide open. He sat at his desk, a Bible open before him, as he scribbled in a note book. Delighted, I thought maybe he’s beginning to search for God.
I knocked on the door and smiled. “I see you’re studying the Bible.”

He turned in his chair to face me. “Yeah,” he scowled. “I’m studying it so I can prove it wrong.”
Forty-five years later, I still think of that poor, deluded young man. The Bible he was trying to disprove has sent some of the greatest scientific and philosophical minds in history to their knees in worship of the God of that Bible: Thomas Aquinas, Augustine of Hippo, St. Jerome, Justin Martyr, Sir Francis Bacon, Johannes Kepler, Rene Descartes, Blaise Pascal, Sir Isaac Newton, CK Chesterton, CS Lewis, William Buckley . . . . The list grows with each passing year.
Somewhere around 2017 as I researched for this essay, I discovered that more than 65% of Nobel Prize Laureates from 1901 to 2000 identified themselves as Christians. Furthermore, Christians have won a total of 78% of all the Nobel Prizes in Peace, 72% in Chemistry, 65% in Physics, 62% in Medicine, and 54% in Economics.

The Bible he was trying to disprove has survived the contemptuous scorn and calumny of such world-renowned anti-God philosophers as Voltaire, Jean-Paul Sarte, and Friedrich Nietzsche. It has withstood the onslaught of the world’s worst political despots from Nero to Hitler to Stalin to Mao Zedong. And it remains an unshakeable mountain of granite while the bones of atheistic scientific geniuses such as J. Robert Oppenheimer, Carl Sagan, Ivan Pavlov and Linus Pauling slowly turn to dust.
During the past two thousand years the Scriptures have been burned, maligned, spat on, ripped apart, and covered with the blood of men and women who clutched it to their breasts as they died by sword, axes, clubs, and bullets.
I have learned over the last forty-five years many great truths from that book, and about that book. One of which is this: Sin will keep you from the Bible, or the Bible will keep you from sin.
I am now 68 years old. The last 45 years have passed in what seems like just a few weeks. Only God – and perhaps my wife of nearly 43 years – only they know how often during the last four decades of my life the Bible has given me comfort in my deepest despair, hope when I had none left, direction when I was desperately lost, light when I wandered in total darkness, courage when all my courage had failed.
And in this I am not alone. For millennia the Scriptures have been meeting the most desperate needs and restless longing of men and women who are honest enough with themselves to admit to themselves one crucial truth: They need God.
You. Me. Everyone.
We all need Him.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Zaccheus and Dirty Dishes

For the past 45 years, I’ve read the story of Zaccheus without much more thought than that he climbed the tree to get a better look at Jesus. But when I read it this time, I discovered more to that story than had met my eye. (How can it be that I can read something in Scripture a hundred times and then see something new on the 101st?).

Anyway, here’s what happened in Luke 19:

"[Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way."

"When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly.”

If you remember the story, a few verses later, Zaccheus experiences a bona-fide conversion. But his conversion is not what I saw this time around. What caught my attention is that the Lord invited Himself to the man’s house. And He wanted to go home with him now.

I put the Bible down for a few moments and thought about that scenario – and how I might have felt. I mean, the guy didn’t even have a chance to first run home and straighten things up. Maybe he had dirty underwear lying on the floor by his bed. Or dishes in the sink from last week. Or dust-bunnies hanging out in the corners of the living room.

And now Jesus summarily invites Himself home with him. Right now. No time to clean the house.

As I pondered the scene, Revelation 3:20 came to mind. “Behold,” Jesus said, “I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”

And the Holy Spirit made the application for me.

When Jesus invited Himself to Zaccheus’ house, the man scampered down the tree and, we are told, “gladly received Him” – even if his house was not ready to receive such an important Guest.

The point?

As Jesus invited Himself to Zaccheus’ place, He is right now knocking on the door of your conscience, inviting Himself into your ‘house.’

You may think your house is not ready for such an important Guest. That’s okay. He doesn’t care about the dirty clothes or the dirty dishes or the dirty corners of our lives. He’ll take care of those things when we let Him in.

All He asks of us, is that we receive Him gladly.

Friday, February 23, 2018

God Knows Your Name

Have you ever thought about the truth: God calls you by your name?

Think about that for a moment. Among the most important words in any language is a person’s name. And God knows YOURS. The devil may whisper in your ear from time to time – or maybe all the time – God has forgotten you. But he is doing what is his nature. He is lying to you.

Of the billions of people on earth today, God not only knows how many hairs you have on your head, but He knows your NAME – because you are important to Him. Vitally important to Him.  Here is what the Lord Jesus tells us in John 10. 

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. . . . 

Do you ever hear Him speak your name, especially while in prayer? If you haven’t heard it then you are not listening quietly enough. If you belong to God through faith in His Son, God talks to you by His Holy Spirit all the time.

As I just wrote these words, I suddenly remembered Elijah in the cave, hiding from Jezebel. You can find the story in 1 Kings 18-19. What does that have to do with hearing God’s voice?  A lot. This is what happened to that great prophet – which has direct relevance to why we so often do not hear God speak to us, even when He speaks our name:

19:11  So [God] said [to Elijah], “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

What are you doing, Elijah?

In the quietness of the gentle blowing, Elijah heard God call his name!

It is very difficult – I wonder if it is even possible – to hear God speak our name when we are so busy with the noise all around us -- and perhaps especially with the noise in our minds.  That is why it is so important that we get alone and quiet with God. 

From time to time I challenge my audiences to take the 15-minute challenge. For 15 minutes every day, get alone and quiet with God. No phone. No internet. No one in the room with you. Find a place where you will not be distracted. Bring your bible with you, read a little from perhaps the gospels, or the epistles, or the psalms – and listen for God to speak with you.

It may take some practice at first. But once you get used to the quiet, you will find it the sweetest 15 minutes of your day. And I guarantee you who are children of God – I guarantee you on the promise of Scripture, you WILL hear God speaking your name.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Loathsome Lyrics

I heard it again last night – the most deceptive and misleading song I’ve ever heard sung during a Lenten Mass. Here are some of the lyrics: “You gotta walk that lonesome valley. You gotta walk it by yourself.”

And the words get worse: “You must go and stand your trials. You have to stand it by yourself.”

Aaarghh!  I wanted to leap to my feet in the sanctuary and cry out – “NO! NO! NO!  Is anyone listening to those words? What does walking lonesome valleys alone have to do with the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist on the altar right in front of us? What does standing our trials by ourselves have to do with the unalterable promise of Christ who tells us – “I will never leave you. I will never forsake you”?

No wonder so many of my fellow Catholics walk through life with their jaw dragging on the ground. Do we call Jesus our ‘Emmanuel’ without remembering the name means, “God WITH us?

What do those loathsome lyrics have to do with God’s promise in the Shepherd Psalm?  Remember the words: “Even thought I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (OH! Talk about a lonesome valley!) – “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, YOU ARE WITH ME!”

Oh, my fellow Catholic, please don’t let those specious, deceptive lyrics sink into your spirit. It should be stunning to us that we would sing such joy-destroying lyrics when the Mass unveils to us the eternally present Christ.

Jesus is ALWAYS with us. Every moment, every nano-second of our lives. In our cars, in our homes, while we shop, while we sleep, while we eat – every moment Emmanuel is with us. Always. Even to the end of time.

And there is yet more to His magnificent, wondrous and glorious promises: We never, never, never stand our trials alone. Oh! Where does that contemptible idea come from!

God’s unshakeable and unchangeable promise through the Scriptures and the historic teaching of the Church assures us of His ever-presence with us. Please! Never accept lying lyrics written by those who are so sadly ignorant of our God and Savior.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Mistaken About His Mercy

I posted this a few years ago. I apologize for its length.


 Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. (John 6:68)

The longer I know God, the more I know I don’t know Him.  That’s a different attitude than I had just a few years ago. Back then I thought I had nearly all the answers. And why shouldn’t I? I could quote hundreds of Scripture passages and easily recite the basic doctrines of evangelical Protestant and Catholic faith. I have baccalaureate and master’s degrees from Assemblies of God schools and have studied and taught Scripture for more than forty years.

Yet I am now at the point in my life where I realize the longer I know God, the more I know I don’t know Him.  Sometimes I feel like an amoeba trying to fathom the mind and purpose of an Einstein – and I am in good company. It was St. John Chrysostom who said, “God is the incomprehensible, the invisible, the ungraspable.” St. Augustine added, “If it can be understood, it is not God.” And St. Thomas Aquinas noted of God, “We cannot grasp what he is, but only what he is not.  Whatever can be understood, or thought of, is less than God.” 

I don’t usually think about how much I don’t know about God, until someone asks me what I now concede are unanswerable questions, such as: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  Or, “Why does God permit some people to do terribly bad things without punishment, and on others His judgment is swift and overwhelming?”

For example, there’s that gruesome story of rape, murder and mutilation in the book of Judges, and God doesn’t seem to bother Himself with event. I wrote about it several months ago, and you can read it here. Whereas, an example of God’s immediate judgment against sin occurs in the New Testament story of Ananias and his wife, Sapphira. You’ll find it in Acts, chapter 5. They sold some property and brought the proceeds of the sale to the apostles as a gift to the Lord. Well, actually, they brought some of the proceeds of the sale. They lied to the apostles, telling them they were giving all of the sale price.

And God slew them right there on the spot.

So, what’s going on? Why sudden punishment for some and seemingly nothing for another? It is precisely that question which brought me to the conclusion I don’t know as much about God as I once thought I did. Perhaps what Jesus said to some Sadducees is applicable to me.

The Sadducees were the religious humanists of Jesus’ day. They didn’t believe in angels, the supernatural, or the resurrection. So they challenged Jesus with a hypothetical case of a man who died without having any children with his wife. According to the Mosaic Law, the man’s brother was to marry the widow and raise children to the deceased. The Sadducees continue their “what-if” to say the deceased had six brothers, each of whom in turn married the widow and then died without producing offspring to the original brother. “So in the resurrection,” they asked Jesus, “whose wife will she be, since all seven had her as a wife?”

I imagine Jesus sadly shook His head as He answered, “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, because you do not understand the Scripture, or the power of God?” (Mark 12:24)

Several months ago when I reread that story, the Lord’s words to the Sadducees captured my attention as if I’d never read that passage before.  Jesus could just as easily have said to me with regard to all my questions: “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, because you do not understand the Scripture, or the mercy of God?” Or, the forgiveness of God? Or, His patience?

It is that concept – my incredibly limited understanding of God and of His patience, mercy, and forgiveness – that brings me back to the question about the stories in Judges and in Acts, and many others throughout Sacred Scripture, and even to today.

It amazes me, for example, how patient God was with Israel during their 40 years in the desert. Their shoes and clothing didn’t wear out. He fed them day by day with supernatural ‘manna’ from heaven. The people witnessed God’s supernatural pillar of fire which led them by day and His supernatural cloud which settled over them each night. For forty years God’s miraculous presence and intervention journeyed with them. Every day. For forty years. Yet, as the prophet Amos writes, they carried along with them the idolatrous gods of Egypt (Amos 5:25-26).  Nevertheless (and here is the amazing part) God demonstrated His great patience and mercy, and did not immediately strike them in His wrath.

In the New Testament the apostle Paul tells the Athenians how God also overlooked the sins of the Gentiles during the times of their ignorance. And once again, to his readers in Rome Paul wrote of God’s kindness and patience in having overlooked their sins (Romans 2:4). And I could also cite Nadab and Abihu, Korah, David, Samson, Lot, Jephthah, Mary Magdelene, Saul of Tarsus, and dozens of others whose stories demonstrate either the profound mercy of God – or His immediate judgment against sin.

Is this not the reason we are sometimes so mistaken about God and about what He will do – or should do – because we do not really understand the Scriptures, nor the power – nor the mercy -- of God?

For my part, I am very grateful for God’s patience and mercy. My past is so full of so many horrible things I’ve done to others that I deserve the same immediate punishment Ananias and Sapphira received. Or Nadab and Abihu. And so many others. It is only the Lord’s mercies that I did not suffer immediate judgment.

Why does God do as He does? As He tells us through Isaiah the prophet, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).  And through Moses He says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).

That answer will still not satisfy some who ask the questions, but now that I know I don’t know very much about God, that answer fully satisfies me.