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

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Guest Post -- Battle for the Heart




A REASON TO BELIEVE
The Case For Christ –
The Head vs. the Heart
by Craig Johnston



Every so often I like to share something written by another. Today’s post is written by Craig Johnston. Craig and I attend the same men’s fellowship at our church. He spoke to the fifty or so men a few weeks ago about his experience having been selected so sit on a Grand Jury in our county – and then made application to the spiritual warfare in which we are all engaged. 

What he told us was important enough that I asked his permission to share his words with others. For the sake of space and clarity, here is an edited version of what he granted me permission to post. 

Here is what he said:

On a typical day we’d hear 50-90 cases. I was shocked and a bit alarmed by the level and nature of crime in our community and those surrounding us. There is a proliferation of gang activity, family violence, drugs, prostitution, and so many cases a complete lack of regard for fellow human beings.

The level of crime and general lack of civility reflects a world engaged in spiritual warfare. There is no doubt we suffer from the effects of a  growing segment of secular society that wants nothing to do with God or religion.  God and religion are often portrayed as a source of our problems. God and religion, people believe, create an atmosphere of conflict and judgment, not of peace and understanding.

Many of the so-called intellectuals say the God of Christianity is a myth.  They teach and proclaim across the media, the public square, and in our educational institutions and even our courts that logic, reason, and science preclude the need for our man-made “god”.

In their ongoing attempts to discredit Christian faith, they lump all faiths together, likening the violence done in the name of one religion to discredit all – as though all religions are equal or the actions of one individual represent the teaching of a faith.

And in denigrating faith in the God of the Bible, atheists and other anti-Christ evangelists achieve their goal of establishing a world where everything is a matter of personal perspective, a place in which morality is relative.

Law enforcement and the justice system do their best to provide a safe and civil society – but the history of the world dating back millennia demonstrate that the cure to the ills of our times will be accomplished not by putting one’s faith in people, but in putting one’s faith in God.

True faith results from not just knowing who God is, but a desire to knowing His nature and will for our lives.  For most of us, I believe the journey of faith start with the head and then moves to the heart. There are times even now when the Doubting Thomas in my head pulls me away from the direction my heart is leading. I’d like to share some words of encouragement that have helped me over the years that help my head get back in line with my heart.

Simon Greenleaf (d. 1853) helped put the Harvard Law School on the proverbial legal map. He wrote the three-volume legal masterpiece, A Treatise on the Law of Evidence, which is still regarded as “the greatest single authority in the entire literature of legal procedure.” The U.S. judicial system today operates on rules of evidence established by Greenleaf.

While teaching law at Harvard, Greenleaf stated to his class that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was simply a legend; as an atheist, he thought miracles to be impossible. In a rebuttal, three of his law students challenged him to apply his acclaimed rules of evidence to the resurrection account.

Greenleaf accepted his students’ challenge and began an investigation into the evidence. Focusing his legal mind on the facts of history, Greenleaf attempted to prove the resurrection account was false. Yet the more Greenleaf investigated the record of history, the more stunned he was at the powerful evidence supporting the claim that Jesus had indeed risen from the tomb. Greenleaf’s skepticism was being challenged by an event that had changed the course of human history.
Among other conundrums, Greenleaf was unable to explain several dramatic changes that took place shortly after Jesus died, the most baffling being the behavior of the disciples. It wasn’t just one or two disciples who insisted Jesus had risen; it was all of them. Applying his own rules of evidence to the facts, Greenleaf arrived at his verdict.
In a surprising reversal of his position, Greenleaf accepted Jesus’ resurrection as the best explanation for the events that took place immediately after his crucifixion. It would have been impossible, he determined, for the disciples to persist with their conviction that Jesus had risen if they hadn’t actually seen the risen Christ.
Greenleaf was so persuaded by the evidence that he became a committed Christian. He – and many former atheists and agnostics who committed themselves to disprove the New Testament account of Jesus – Greenleaf concluded that any unbiased person who honestly examines the evidence will conclude what he did—that Jesus the Christ has truly risen.
As if the resurrection of Christ isn’t enough to convince the honest skeptic, the sheer number of Old Testament messianic prophecies provide additional reason to believe the veracity of the New Testament claims about Jesus.
There are no prophecies foretelling of Muhammad, Joseph Smith, Buddha, or any of the other founders of their religions. Yet of Jesus, there are literally hundreds.
For example, God told us through the prophets that a Virgin would conceive the Messiah, who would be born in Bethlehem but in some way would come out of Egypt, and be called a Nazarene. He would enter Jerusalem on a colt, be betrayed by a friend for 30 pieces of silver, die a sacrificial death for us – and then rise from the dead. We even knew what His last words from the cross would be, how he would suffer the scorn of the crowd, and how soldiers would cast lots for his garments.
The mathematical odds of one person fulfilling the more than three hundred prophecies are impossible for us to grasp. For example, for the fulfillment of only eight prophecies is one out of 10¹⁷. That’s 1 followed by 17 zeros.  It looks like this: 100,000,000,000,000,000. 
For one person to fulfill 48 prophecies is 1 followed by 157 zeros.
Yet, Jesus fulfilled more than 300 prophecies! I’ve not worked it out, but the odds of that happening have to be somewhere in the realm of absolutely impossible -- without the divine intervention of an omnipotent and omniscient God to whom nothing is impossible.
The battle for the heart begins with the mind. And victory in that battle begins and ends only with the God of History, the God of Reason, and the God of science and mathematics.
Christians know Him as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Noted Catholic author and priest, Fr Thomas Dubay came to this conclusion: “From the natural point of view we can come to know God from the vestiges of Himself that he has left in the splendors of the visible universe: the blazing red sunset, the snow-covered mountain peaks, the graceful flight of a bird, the breathtaking magnificent complexity of a single living cell. On a still more exalted level we know Him in the loveliness of the saints- but remains a knowledge of the infinite through the finite”
In a round-about way, Fr. Dubay was paraphrasing the 19th Psalm written 3,000 years ago: “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world.
May God give those who truly seek Him eyes to see and ears to hear.

Monday, July 3, 2017

An Open Letter to Young Christians Leaving Home


So, you’ve graduated high school and you’re headed away from home for the first time. Whether your destination is college, the military, marriage – or anywhere else far from the familiar of family, church, and friends – you must read this. Your spiritual health will be tested many times, and how you handle those tests will determine the memories you will deal with thirty, forty years (and longer) from today.
I know what I am talking about. In the forty-five years I have been walking with Jesus, I have seen it happen over and over to young men and women who left home after high school. For a short while, it even happened to me.
I wish I had known then what I know now about the danger. And I wish someone had given me strategies that could have helped me avoid the moral failures I committed. So here are some time-tested suggestions to help you avoid the many hidden – and not-so-hidden – traps you will encounter.
1. Don’t succumb to pride which whispers in your ear, “It won’t happen to me.” You are subject to the same enticements of sin to which everyone else is subject – regardless how long you have been a Christian. Solomon warned, “Pride goes before disaster, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).  St. Paul picked up that same theme in his letter to the Corinthians, “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall(1 Corinthians 10:12).
2. Make up your mind ahead of time to avoid situations and places where you can be tempted to sin. Be doubly vigilant to avoid being alone in a house or dorm room with someone of the opposite sex – even if he or she is a Christian. Such a situation is a recipe for bad decisions.  Remember what St. Paul said to Timothy: “So shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). Memorize this maxim: Sin will take you farther than you want to go. It will keep you longer than you want to stay. And it will cost you more than you want to pay.
3. Avoid hanging with people who do not share your faith in Jesus. King Solomon warned: “Make no friends with those given to anger, and do not associate with hotheads, or you may learn their ways and entangle yourself in a snare” (Proverbs 22:24-25). One can easily substitute “drunkard,” or “an immoral person,” or “liar,” or “cheat,” or any other ungodly characteristic into this text, and the principle remains constant. As the apostle Paul wrote: Bad company ruins good morals (1 Corinthians 15:33).
4. Alcohol, and any other ‘recreational’ drug, will cloud your judgment and make you much more willing to do things for which you will be very sorry afterward. The evidence for this is indisputable. And if your friends poke fun at you because of your abstinence, find other friends. 
5. Pray each morning for God’s protection. Each evening, review your day and thank God for specific situations in which you made the right decisions. However, if you did fall into sin, be quick to confess, repent – and determine with God’s help to avoid doing the same thing again. The Holy Spirit’s promise through St. John has always proven a comfort for me when I sin: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).
6. Establish a habit of daily prayer and reading Scripture. Be consistent with this. It is no surprise the psalmist wrote: How can young people keep their way pure? By guarding it according to Your word . . . . I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you. (Psalm 119:9, 11).
Do you remember Jesus’ experience in the wilderness during Satan’s three-fold temptation? At each test, Jesus responded with Scripture (Matthew 4:1-11). For decades I have practiced what I call the 2+2 = 1+3 Scripture Reading Method. If you read two chapters of the Old Testament every morning and two of the New Testament every evening (or vice versa), by the end of the year you will have read the Old Testament once and the New Testament three times (2+2=1+3). On average it takes less than 10 minutes to read two chapters of Scripture. In five years you will have read the Old Testament five times and the New Testament fifteen times. In ten years – well, you can do the math. With so much of God’s word sown year after year in your heart, think how the Holy Spirit will mature you more quickly into the image of Christ.
7. Establish a habit of weekly attendance at a church where the Bible is believed and taught without apology or political correctness. If you are Catholic, establish a habit of weekly attendance at Mass and frequent reception of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation. 
Prayer, the Scriptures, and the Sacraments are supernatural gifts the Holy Spirit gives to empower believers on their faith journey. Fighting spiritual battles without those spiritual “weapons” is nothing less than a guarantee for failure.  

You will meet many who are actively antagonistic toward your Christ-centered faith. But your situation will be no different than what faithful Christians have faced for millennia. The ancient worship of Baal is a type of 21st century compromise with the anti-Christ philosophies permeating our society. Yet what the Holy Spirit said to Israel through Elijah, He says to us today: ‘How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him’ (1 Kings 18:21).

In other words, decide today – and every day hereafter – that you will follow Jesus and obey Him.. And it is a choice you must every day ask God to help you maintain.
These strategies have proven effective for me over the last several decades of my walk with Christ. And they will also help you avoid many of the spiritual traps that lay ahead of you. Satan is a cruel and merciless liar, thief, and murderer. We must not be ignorant of his schemes (see John 8:44 and 2 Corinthians 2:11).

As you prepare to leave home for the first time I hope you will apply these strategies to your life. You will not be sorry you did so – even forty-five years from now.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Revising Expectations

“It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles:  Simon, whom He also named Peter . . . and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.” (Luke 6:12-16)

I think it important to understand, Judas did not start out a traitor to our Lord. Over the course of time, he ‘became’ a traitor.

Like so many I’ve known over the years, why do some who at one time followed Jesus end up not only leaving Christ, but turn angry and treasonous against Him -- and against those who still follow Him? Perhaps it’s because Jesus often failed to meet their expectations, and their disappointments grew into cold disillusionment.

Turning from God is a risk all Christians face when He repeatedly fails to measure up to our expectations.

A risk, yes. But that risk is wholly avoidable if, with the Holy Spirit’s help, we purposely revise our expectations of God to match what Scripture teaches about Him – and put away from our thoughts what we think God should be like.

However, such spiritual maturity is possible – even with the Holy Spirit’s help – such maturity is possible only when we become intimately familiar with God’s word. This link (and the link also embedded within it) will help you: http://bit.ly/2sKC5eG .

I urge you – become so familiar with the Scriptures that His thoughts become part of your very being. Doing so will change your life – and protect you from the risk of turning away from your Savior.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

All Things


For 40 days and nights the devil tested the mettle of our Lord Jesus. At one point the enemy “showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.  Therefore, if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.”
I read that section again this morning and for the first time realized the Lord’s response might have been a not-too-thinly-veiled reference to the portion of Isaiah in which we find this partial history of the devil (Isaiah 14:12-15):
“How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations! 13 “But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. 14 ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ 15 “Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol, to the recesses of the pit.
While I considered this new understanding of the text, the Holy Spirit reminded me of what He said through St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians (1:16-18):
For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.
Look again at the last clause. From the beginning of creation, it has been – and always will be – the Father’s intent that Jesus have first place in everything we do and everything we are.
Jesus should have first place in all our life goals. Our daily plans should seek to honor Him first. Our employment or unemployment should be done in such a way that Jesus has first place in it.
You might remember when Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever (Luke 4:38-40). When the disciples asked the Lord to heal her, He rebuked the fever “and she IMMEDIATELY got up and served them.”
We ought not gloss over that point. When Jesus healed her, she got up from her sickbed and waited on Him.
Our position and titles are not given us to serve ourselves, but to serve Him. Our time, talents, and treasures were each given us by God to serve Jesus. When He heals us – as with Peter’s mother-in-law – it is to serve Him. When He does NOT heal us – as was true of the many faithful men and women in Hebrews 11:36-40 – it is so that in our illness and suffering we might serve Him.
God formed us in the womb for His purposes. No one can read scripture from cover to cover with an honest heart and not come away with the ever-growing realization that our very being is for and through Jesus – that our Creator intends that Jesus have first place in everything.
Oh, Holy Spirit, change my heart – give me a ‘sea-change’ of attitude that I might always remember my responsibility is to place Jesus above all things in my life. That He may always receive honor from my life. Amen

Monday, June 12, 2017

God is God -- my latest sermon

God is God, and I am not. The sooner that becomes part of my psyche, the better. I talk about it here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trWgxPLV9SI
 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Labels

The first thing he told me during our conversation about the political and social issues facing America was, “I’m a Methodist.”

To be fair, he is not the first person I’ve ever spoken with who made certain I knew his or her religious affiliation. And you’ve probably heard it, too; Maybe even said it: “I’m a Southern Baptist.” “I’m a Presbyterian.” “I’m a Catholic.” “I’m a Pentecostal.” “I’m a Lutheran.” “I’m a . . . . “

I sometimes get weary of the denominational labels. Why can’t Christians say simply, “I’m a Christian”? And if we really feel impelled to self-identify with a denominational label, why not, “I’m a Christian who happens to be a Methodist . . . or a Baptist . . . or a Lutheran . . . or a Catholic . . . or a . . . . .?

Unless Christ really is that divided.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Disappointed with God?



Disappointment with God can lead to disillusionment. Disillusionment, if unchecked, will lead to a departure from Him. There is a better way to deal with life's ebbs and flows.  I talk about it here: https://youtu.be/lP6Vn2fUdqI

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Why Catholics Memorize Scripture



I posted to an online community an encouragement to fellow Christians – Catholics and Protestants alike – to stir them to consider memorizing portions of God’s word. You can find it here:  http://bit.ly/2qmXIkE

It was not at all my intent to cause offense or to make anyone feel guilty about how they approach Scripture memory.

A short time later I received a reply from a fellow Catholic who wrote: “I don't see the point of memorization. In my life experience it's been more helpful for me to pray over bible passages and having Our Lord enlighten me.”

I thought perhaps she might have misunderstood my point. I do not negate the value of praying over Bible passages. In fact, in one of the books I wrote, “Prayer Strategies: A Series of Helps,” I devote an entire ‘prayer strategy’ to praying the scriptures.

But she did not misunderstand my point. In a follow-on comment she added: “Don't waste your time in trying to change my mind, because you won't. As a Roman Catholic I prefer our devotions and traditions and I'll go with praying scripture over memorizing scripture any day.”

I will not try to change her mind. But because she invoked her Roman Catholic faith as an excuse for not bothering to memorize Scripture, I thought that as a Roman Catholic myself, I ought to respond to her very un-Catholic view of Scripture. Indeed, it was the very Catholic St. Jerome who warned his fellow Catholics: Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.

My goal in this specific response is to provide some background regarding how Catholics in the past have treated the idea of Scripture memory. 

The Roman Catholic Church traces our origin to the apostles and the apostolic age. So, let’s first look at what those first century men and women said about Scripture – and by implication, memorization.

In her Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) the Blessed Virgin Mary from memory quoted or alluded to at least six Old Testament texts (1 Samuel 2:1-10, Psalm 34:2, Psalm 35:9, Psalm 98:1, Psalm 103:17, Psalm 107:9). (What Catholic does not want to follow our Mother’s love for Scripture and Scripture memory?).

In the Wilderness Temptation (Matthew 4 and Luke 4) Jesus responded to each of the devil’s lies with a quote from Old Testament Scripture. (And it is hardly necessary to remind ourselves that Jesus is our example ‘par excellence’ in whose steps we should follow (1 Peter 2:21).

Before his martyrdom, St. Stephen (Acts 7) extensively quoted and alluded to multiple Old Testament texts from memory. St. Paul wrote to the Christians at Colossae: 3:16 “Let the word of Christ richly DWELL WITHIN YOU (my emphasis), with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” And in which of the New Testament epistles did any of the apostles not quote from memory passages from the Old Testament?

As Roman Catholics, we are taught by the Church to revere Scripture. In his encyclical, Dei Verbum (The Word of God) Pope Paul VI wrote: “The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord . . . [T]he force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life. . . .”

And from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: 104 “In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, "but as what it really is, the word of God". "In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them."

And again: 133 The Church "forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful. . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures.” And surely one can imply from these three Roman Catholic documents, memorization is an acceptable form of learning ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ.’

Regarding Old Testament Scriptures, the Catechism teaches: 121 “The Old Testament is an indispensable part of Sacred Scripture. Its books are divinely inspired and retain a permanent value, for the Old Covenant has never been revoked.”

What then does the Old Testament tell us of the importance of memorizing Scripture? For example, Proverbs 7: “My son, keep my words and treasure my commandments within you. Keep my commandments and live, and my teaching as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; Write them on the tablet of your heart.”

Psalm 119:11 “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” And while we are looking at Psalm 119, can anyone read those 176 verses and come away not sensing the value the Holy Spirit places on reading, meditating, obeying, and hiding His word in our hearts?

I can list hundreds of other examples of the Holy Spirit’s injunction to His faithful to know God’s word, but here is just one more: Deuteronomy 6:

4 “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."

Is it of value for Catholics and other Christians to memorize and pray the scriptures? Of the life and work of St. Benedict we find this: “Benedict instructed his followers to practice sacred reading -- the study of the very Scriptures they would be praying in the Work of God. In this lectio divina, he and his monks memorized the Scripture, studied it, and contemplated it until it became part of their being. Four to six hours were set aside each day for this sacred reading. If monks had free time it "should be used by the brothers to practice psalms." Lessons from Scripture were to be spoken from memory, not read from a book.” (Citation available on request)

St. Dominic, founder of the Dominicans, was a great proponent of Scripture memory, as was St. Therese of Liseaux and many other Catholic saints of past centuries.

If an individual Christian chooses to not memorize Scripture, that is certainly his or her decision. But to claim avoidance of that opportunity on the basis of being a Roman Catholic – well, there is simply no justification for that attitude in the historic teaching of the Catholic Church.
 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Memorizing Scripture



I’ve read the book of Colossians more than 100 times. I know that to be true because I’ve kept a record since 1975 – when I started keeping records of my annual journey through the Bible.

Several weeks ago – April 30, actually – I decided to start memorizing large swaths of Scripture, as I used to do many years ago. I began at Colossians 1:1.

Memorizing large sections of Scripture is not as difficult as it might at first seem. In fact, I find it easier than memorizing verses in isolation. Larger sections of scripture tend to make better sense because the verses are each in context with the surrounding verses.

In the four weeks since I began my memory work in Colossians, I’ve also discovered a deeper understanding of the text – even though I’ve read the chapter more than 100 times.

I attribute that to the fact that as I commit the texts to memory, I have to rehearse them again and again and again for days and weeks at a time. I don’t believe it possible to place so much emphasis on hiding God’s word in your heart that the Holy Spirit will not open deeper understanding to His word.

So what am I trying to say?

Why not commit yourself to memorize not just a few verses in isolation, but what about an entire chapter of Scripture – or even an entire (short) book? It might seem a gargantuan task . . . but it really CAN be done if you determine to do so.

Set a goal for yourself. Mine is to complete Colossians before the end of the year -- certainly an obtainable goal. You can set something similar for yourself -- even if it is only a full chapter of some book before the end of the summer.

What do you think? Want to do this together?