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

Sunday, October 13, 2019

What are you Planting?

I preached this message to the residents at a 55+ community. I hope it also encourages you.
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. (1 Corinthians 3:6-8)
To this day, I only know his last name. Funk. First Class Radioman Funk. In recent years I’ve tried unsuccessfully to find him through several internet groups. He was one of my instructors in the Navy Radioman school I attended in San Diego at the beginning of my enlistment in 1972.
I was only 22, but I thought I was smarter than most people three times my age. Arrogant was my middle name.
In those days I swung like a pendulum between atheism and agnosticism – mostly atheism.  I thought I was too intelligent to believe such nonsense as the existence of God. And as for what I knew of Jesus, I was born and raised Jewish, so I knew virtually nothing about Him, except I was sure He was the Catholic God, and Jews didn’t need to know much about anything Catholic.
Radioman Funk was only a few years older than I, so we developed a sort of friendship. When we weren’t talking about the classes he was teaching, he often turned our discussion to religion. He was waiting for the end of his current enlistment so he could begin seminary training. He planned to be a Presbyterian minister.
Presbyterian. Catholic. They were all the same to me. But one day, he told me of a book he’d been reading. Much of the content covered the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. It was titled, The Late Great Planet Earth, written by Hal Lindsey.
I filed the title into the back of my mind, and a few more weeks later I graduated and went on to my next duty station. I arrived at the Naval Communication Station in Yokosuka, Japan on December 7, 1972.
One evening, after I’d checked into the barracks and my new job, I met Jerry. His room was across the hall from mine. As we talked, I noticed a book on his shelf: The Late Great Planet Earth. I asked if I could borrow it.
What I read astounded me. Those of you who have heard my story know that as I read the first several chapters devoted to the Old Testament prophecies of the promised Jewish Messiah, I could hardly believe what I was reading. What little I knew of Jesus, I DID know the stories of His virgin birth, His crucifixion and His resurrection.
And there it was. All of it. In MY Jewish Bible.
A few days later I spoke to the Jewish chaplain on the naval base. He couldn’t answer my questions about the prophecies to my satisfaction. Then I met with Curt Brannan, the Protestant chaplain. He answered them all.
But what really intrigued me was his knowledge not only of the entire Bible – old and new testaments, but he also had a workable familiarity with famous philosophers of the past, such as Soren Kierkegaard, Georg Hegel and Immanuel Kant – names of men I’d only heard about in college – but this chaplain talked as if he knew them personally. I thought to myself, clearly, this guy is no fool. And so, when he spoke to me about Jesus, the Bible, and Bible prophecy – he held my attention. And, well, here I am nearly 50 years later.
Radioman First Class Funk planted the seed of faith in my heart. Hal Lindsey watered it. Chaplain Brannan added yet more water, followed by the nurturing of other great men of God whom the Holy Spirit brought across my life. Men like Chaplain Billy Dodson, Pastor Phil Wannemacher, Doctors of Theology Charles Harris and Stanley Horton, and dozens and dozens of others who watered and nurtured the germinated and maturing seed.
Eighteen years after Radioman Funk planted the first seed in my heart and God caused it to grow, I was in the deserts of Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm. I was deployed to that war zone with another 50 or so navy and marine corps personnel. It was there I became friends with a general surgeon, Doctor Phil Fitzpatrick. During the several months we were together, we talked a lot about faith, God, and Christ. Before too long, I led him to make a commitment of himself to Jesus as his Lord and Savior.
Afterward, he told me one of his good friends had been speaking to him about Jesus for years – but Phil was never interested in giving his friend much of an audience. But when he and I started talking in the middle of the Saudi Arabian desert, our conversations reminded him of the talks he and his friend used to have.
Phil’s friend planted the gospel seed. I came along and watered it. And God brought it to fruition.
And so, what are you planting? What am I planting?
One of my favorite passages in the gospels is of the poor widow who shuffled up to the Temple treasury to deposit what amounted to a few pennies. You probably remember the story yourself from Mark’s gospel: And He sat down opposite the treasury and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)
That impoverished widow had absolutely no idea that God would use her simple act of sacrificial faith as an example for as long as this earth continues – He would use her act as an example of fruitfulness for the kingdom.
How was her act fruitful for the Kingdom? We’re still reading about it 2000 years later, aren’t we?  And doesn’t her gift give us a glimpse into the mind of God who is more interested in our heart than in our wallet?
And isn’t her story also a picture of what Peter tells us in his second epistle:
“[A]pplying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8)?
In other words, as we mature in our love and knowledge of our Savior, God assures us that we cannot be anything else BUT fruitful for Him.
Charles Stanley, in his booklet, We Shall Be Like Him, writes this (page 20): Do you know what God has called you to do? There’s much emphasis today on accomplishing something great for the Lord, and that can lead some of us to think that our ordinary life doesn’t amount to much. However, no everyone is called to preach to thousands or serve in distant lands. Being a mother, a student, or a hard-working employee is a tremendous calling, if that’s the task God has given you.
I will add to that by saying being a kind, thoughtful, humble, respectful, Christ-like resident here at Ashwood is ALSO a tremendous calling – because HERE is where the Lord has brought you.
I will never forget Bill Santee. God used him to plant another seen in my life nine years ago when Nancy and I lived in Washington State. We’d met a few weeks earlier at a morning Bible study led by the pastor of one of the churches in the area. One day as he and I chatted over coffee, our discussion turned toward the Lord. As we finished our drinks and donuts and got up to leave, I mentioned how useless I sometimes felt because I thought what I was doing for Christ was only a small thing, compared to what others were doing.

When we stepped outside and headed for our cars, Bill stopped me. I’ll never forget what he said. He pointed his finger at my chest and said: “Don’t ever call what God has given you to do a small thing.”

I knew immediately that the Holy Spirit Himself had rebuked me. And I needed that rebuke.

If you and I want to be fruitful for Christ – in big things or in small things – then it is essential that we understand why the Lord told us of that poor widow. It is essential that we take to heart what Peter tells us in his epistle about maturing in our faith. And it is essential that we live what the Lord tells us in John 15: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

Listen. It’s all about Jesus’ supernatural power to take what is natural and of the flesh and use whatever we give Him for His glory. I mean, we’re talking about God here. So, stop thinking such foolishness that God is done with you, that He has put you out to pasture, that He can no longer use you to plant seeds and water seeds. Even in your old age and in your infirmities and in your loneliness – keep giving yourself to God and He absolutely and most assuredly will use you for His Kingdom.

St. Teresa of Avila recognized this critical point: Christ has no body but yours; No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which He looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good. Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are His body. Christ has no body now but yours.
The 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel should help put to rest such foolish ideas about our so-called uselessness to God. “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40)

Those standing before the Lord at the judgment will be surprised to learn they’d been fruitful for Christ. All they’d done was fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick, helped the helpless, spoken kindly to the depressed, cut the food of those who can’t cut it themselves, retrieved the wheelchair or walker for those who needed help getting up from the dining room table, read the scriptures to those who can no longer see well enough to read, prayed with and for those who feel all alone . . . simple things.
As St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta said: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
Do we really think God pays no attention to what we do for others?
I started this message quoting from 1 Corinthians chapter three as Paul writes: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.”
I will close it with another word of encouragement from the Holy Spirit through St. Paul. It’s a word about our labor for Christ, our planting and watering for Christ, our sacrificial giving and our moving forward toward ever-increasing maturity in Christ. It’s about being kind and thoughtful and prayerful and humble because you belong to Christ:
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
My brothers and sisters – be encouraged. God is still using you. He has not shuffled you off to some corner of His Kingdom. These lyrics by Josh Groban ring true to everyone who knows the supernatural God and wants to serve Him:

When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary
When troubles come and my heart burdened me
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence
Until you come and sit a while with me

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up, to more than I can be
You can listen to it here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oni0tO_HN30 

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Our Gethsemane

“They came to a place named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, “Sit here until I have prayed.” And He took with Him Peter and James and John and began to be very distressed and troubled. And He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.” And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” (Mark 14:32-36)

The prayer of our Lord in the Gethsemane garden is among the best known and most oft quoted passages in the New Testament. And that’s why it’s so very possible to gloss over the utter anguish that frames this scene.

Jesus told His closest friends, My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death.”  A moment later He looked toward heaven and used the most intimate form of address for ‘Father.’ He said ‘Abba.’  

We would say, ‘Dad.’ 

“Please remove this cup from me. But I choose your will over mine. Do with me what you wish. I place myself into your hands.”

Listen! Jesus was scared. ‘Terrified’ is probably more accurate. 

We’re told in another place His sweat became like drops of blood (Luke 22:44). Medical science calls it ‘hematidrosis’ – an uncommon, yet not unknown physiological response to extreme physical or emotional stress. 

Jesus is our example of how to live, and even how to die. We know it intellectually. We hear it from pulpits and read it in literature. Most of us have no difficulty understanding that concept. 

But have tears ever crushed you to your knees? Has gut-wrenching fear or loss ever shaken you to your core? If so, you can better understand the profound level of trust Jesus had in His Abba – His ‘Daddy.’ If you have not, then wait a while. Sudden, soul-rending unexpected tragedies are not uncommon to humanity – Christian or not. That’s why I urge you, please, do not presume to know how you will respond to unthinkable emotional or physical anguish. 

Yes, Jesus is our example of how to live, and how to die. But only through the supernatural aid of God can that intellectual concept become a living reality in our life. 

Something like this prayer might be a useful way to prepare for what might fall over any of us – even as soon as tomorrow: “Holy Spirit, please mature my faith and trust and love toward our God that I might imitate Jesus, even into my own garden of Gethsemane.”

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Practicing Trust

Something to think about: “And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them.”  (Mark 10:13-16) Little children trust their parents for everything they need. That’s why the Lord Jesus used them as an illustration of childlike faith. But then little children grow up and become like . . . well, they become like most of us. It’s been my experience – and perhaps yours as well – that an attitude of not trusting God for ALL our needs leads to an “I can do it myself” philosophy, which almost inevitably leads to an “I don’t need God” lifestyle. Be careful. God gives us many, many opportunities to trust Him. Oh, Holy Spirit, help us to learn how to better practice trust.

Monday, October 7, 2019

God's Wisdom in a Mystery

God’s Wisdom in a Mystery
By Richard Maffeo

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.” . . . “Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom . . . which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-19, 2:6-9)

God’s wisdom in a mystery. Why didn’t the rulers in first century Israel and Rome get it? We could ask the same question about the rulers in 2019. Why don’t they get it?

To answer the question, let’s first see how God defines wisdom. For example, “The ‘fear of the LORD’ is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10). Solomon again tells us, “The ‘fear of the LORD’ is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7) Job adds, “Behold, the ‘fear of the Lord’, that is wisdom; And to depart from evil is understanding.” (Job 28:28).

The words for ‘fear’ used in both the Old and New Testaments can be interpreted as terror, dread – or ‘deep reverence for’ someone. Context is an important backdrop against which we should infer the meaning of the word. For example, in the context of the passages above, ‘fear’ is best understood as ‘having great reverence for’ – the kind of reverence that drives us to our knees in awe of His unspeakable majesty and infinite glory.

On the other hand, in Luke 12:4-5 the Lord tells His listeners, “I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!”

There is only one Being in all creation who has the authority to kill and cast into hell. That Person, of course, is God. Thus, the context clearly indicates the word used here is correctly translated and understood as ‘dread or ‘to be afraid of.’

That’s why many of the rulers of Jesus day – and rulers to this present hour – did not and do not understand what God calls wisdom. It’s because they had, and they have, no reverence or fear for God.

But – and this is an important point – to those with even a fledgling faith in God, to those who have merely the beginning of understanding about the fear and great reverence for Him – it is to them alone that God slowly reveals His ‘wisdom in a mystery.’ It is to them alone God deigns to open their minds to His wisdom snuggled within the mystery of salvation by grace through faith; The mystery of His love, and mercy and gentleness and His tenderness.

It’s a mystery because, yes, life can sometimes be a terrible experience. As Job said, “Man is born for trouble as sparks fly upward.” (Job 5:7). Nearly his entire book oozes pain and heartache, and his gut-wrenched emotions spill from the depths of his soul into questions most everyone has asked God at one time or another. Questions like: “Why is life this way? Why does God allow humanity to experience pain and loss and broken hearts – sometimes unimaginable pain and loss and shattered hearts?

The answers to such questions are found, of course, throughout Scripture. Several passages now come to my mind. Here’s one: James 1:2-4 “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Here’s another: Romans 5:3-6 “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

There are many others, but we only need to stay with our text in 1 Corinthians 2:9 to glimpse the answer to why He permits life to be as it is: “Eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.”

Try to describe a rainbow to a person born blind, or a symphony to a person born deaf. And so, no one this side of the grave can even most superficially understand what awaits those who enter that heavenly kingdom through their faithful perseverance through their trials.

As God tells us through the prophet Isaiah, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “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)

I have not yet learned the truths I am sharing here, but it doesn’t matter if I or you have learned to live those truths.

What IS important is that the lessons are TRUE because God says the lessons are true. And so He continues to ask each of us in our valley of darkness, and through each vale of tears – He asks us to trust His goodness, His love, His kindness, and His gentleness – and that He will never permit us to be tested beyond our ability to overcome through the supernatural help of God (1 Corinthians 10:13).

How difficult is it to persevere? For me – and probably for many of you, it is very difficult. But the persevering faith of multiple millions of men and women through the centuries, right to this very moment, make it superabundantly clear, you and I CAN get to that place where we have complete confidence in God – even while we writhe under the anguish of chronic pain, disability, or emotional chaos. Because others have gotten there, we too can get to the place spoken of in the hymn, “He Leadeth Me, O Blessed Thought”:

"He leadeth me! O blessed thought, O words with heav’nly comfort fraught; Whate’er I do, where’er I be, Still ’tis Christ’s hand that leadeth me."

"He leadeth me! He leadeth me! By His own hand He leadeth me; His faithful follower I would be, For by His hand He leadeth me."

"Sometimes ’mid scenes of deepest gloom, Sometimes where Eden’s bowers bloom, By waters still, o’er troubled sea, Still ’tis His hand that leadeth me."

"Lord, I would clasp Thy hand in mine, Nor ever murmur or repine; Content, whatever lot I see, Since it is Thou that leadest me."

"And when my task on earth is done, When, by Thy grace, the vict’ry’s won, E’en death’s cold wave I will not flee, Since Thou in triumph leadest me."

We cannot now see it very well. We cannot now understand it very well. But God is working out in our lives His wisdom in a mystery. I like the way St. Paul explained it: “At present we are . . . looking at puzzling reflections in a mirror. The time will come when we shall see reality whole and face to face! At present all I know is a little fraction of the truth, but the time will come when I shall know it as fully as God now knows me!” (1 Corinthians 13:12, JB Phillips).

Please hear this once again – and I need to hear it once again also: God is trustworthy. The more we practice trusting Him in our day to day circumstances, the easier I expect it will be to trust Him in the sudden and sometimes terrifying circumstances that inevitably cross everyone’s path.

Oh, Holy Spirit, help us walk with our Savior in ever increasing faithfulness and perseverance. Lord, we believe. Please, help us in our unbelief. (Mark 9:24)

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Predestined to Hell. Really?

That word has caused more theological debates over the millennia than perhaps any other doctrinal concept.
I believe it was St. Augustine who first proposed the idea. Some 1100 years later, John Calvin formed an entire denomination around the idea.
I know I am not about to settle the debate here. But I will tell you with as much clarity as I can why I know, based on Scripture, that God does not predestine (meaning He removes the ability of choice) – God does not predestine anyone into the Lake of Fire.
That would make God not only a monster, but it would place Him in competition with the devil for the one who is the most sinister.
Mount Calvary should immediately shut down any doubt about God’s character. God sent His Son to die an ugly and bloody death so EVERYONE would have the same chance and the same choice to live eternally with Him. How could a merciful God predestine anyone to spend eternity in the Lake of Fire?
Imagine if God predestined your child to hell. Could you love a God who foreordained before all ages that your child could never be saved, could never have a choice to turn toward Him in faith? If that doctrine is not straight from the bowels of hell, then hell is not real.
Paul clarifies predestination in Romans 8. I don’t understand why his clarification doesn’t settle the question. Here is what he says in context:
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)
Through the apostle’s pen, the Holy Spirit tells us God knew IN ADVANCE who would choose to follow His Son. In His omniscience – (there is nothing God does not, did not, or cannot know) – in God’s foreknowledge He knew BEFORE the ages even began, who would turn toward the Savior and who would turn away. I mean, after all, He is God!
If He didn’t know the end from the beginning of everything, if He didn’t have inerrant foreknowledge, then He wouldn’t be God.
It is those whom He foreknew would turn toward the Savior that He predestined to be conformed into the image of His Son. Predestination doesn’t come first. Foreknowledge comes first. God simply orchestrates our lives and our circumstances to bring about the end that He knew would occur from the beginning of the ages.
Because Paul understood God’s omniscience and His omnipotence he wrote further in this chapter: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . ."

"But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The Love of God. The mercy of God. The gentleness, and the tenderness of God. The very idea that God predestines anyone to eternal darkness, the place where there is unending wailing and gnashing of teeth, is totally incompatible and irreconcilable with the God of the Bible. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Eviscerating the Scriptures

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1) Anyone with a close familiarity of Scripture knows this to be true. It seems, from my admittedly limited experience, false teachers abound in nearly every church – regardless of its label. It begins subtly with the insidious introduction of doubt regarding the authorship of various Biblical books. Teaching, for example, in the classroom or from the pulpit Moses didn’t write the five books attributed to him. Isaiah didn’t write the one with his name. The physician Luke did not write Acts. And on it goes. Next come the indirect digs at the authority of Scripture. "How," the false teachers and pastors plead, "How can what was written two to four millennia ago speak to the problems faced by 21st century people?" Of course, in asking that, they reject the idea that God’s word transcends time and place and culture and language and nation.  They reject as fallacious God’s promise that the Scriptures are “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” (Hebrews 4:12-13) When the religious pastors and teachers and Bible scholars asked Jesus where He got His authority from, He responded with His own question. Here is the text in context: "When He entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?” Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the people; for they all regard John as a prophet.” And answering Jesus, they said, “We do not know.” He also said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things." (Matthew 21:23-27) In the same way, we must decide if God’s word – the one we hold in our hands, the one we bring with us to church, of whose words we read at Mass – we must decide if it is literally (not figuratively), literally God’s words to us inspired by the Holy Spirit – or are those words just the words of men inspired by their own minds? If it is NOT the fully inspired and infallible and transcendent word of God, then who gives us the authority to pick and choose what we will believe and what we will reject?  But if it IS God’s fully inspired and infallible and transcendent word of God telling us the eternal truth about sin, righteousness, and judgment – then we are fully responsible to obey its commands. Will we live by the teaching of the culture and false teachers and pastors who slowly eviscerate God’s holy word? Or will we bow before God Almighty and hold fast to our hearts what He tells us every page, from Genesis through Revelation?

Why God was Crucified

 “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 Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling . . ..”  (1 Corinthians 2:1-3)

It certainly wasn’t that Paul couldn’t bring a deep and insightful teaching about Jesus the Messiah to those at the church in Corinth. He was arguably one of the most profound thinkers even to this century. Read his letter to the Christians at Rome, called by some Paul’s masterpiece of Christocentric theology. Or his letter to the church at Ephesus, or Colossae. Libraries are full of commentaries illuminating the theology and Christology of the man called St. Paul.

He was a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” as he called himself. Educated under the tutelage of the great Gamaliel. As to adherence to the Law of Moses, he called himself a Pharisee of Pharisees. As to righteousness tied to the Law of Moses, he said he was blameless. You can find those autobiographical sketches in his letter to the Philippians.

But Paul’s primary goal in this letter to the Corinthians was to simply remind them of who Jesus was, what He did, and why He did it. We can learn an important lesson from his method, as well.

In 1960 Sam Cooke released the song, ‘Wonderful World.’ Here are some of the lyrics:

Don't know much about history/Don't know much biology. Don't know much about science books/Don’t know much about the French I took. But I do know that I love you, and I know that if you love me, too, what a wonderful world this would be.

Don't know much about geography/Don't know much trigonometry. Don't know much about algebra/Don't know what a slide rule’s for. But I do know one and one is two/and if this one could be with you/what a wonderful world this would be.

Believe it or not, there is a spiritual application of this song to what Paul wrote to the Corinthians about knowing nothing but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

Paul could have brought to the Corinthian church much about eschatology – the study of the last days and the return of Jesus for His church. He could have, but he didn’t. He could have brought them much about ecclesiology – the study of the church, its history, its liturgy and so forth. He could have, but he didn’t. He could have impressed them with his knowledge of the Law of Moses and traditions of the elders. But he didn’t.

What he DID bring them was what they needed at the moment: An equation as fundamental as one and one is two. In this case, Paul’s equation was “Jesus plus the cross” equals God’s love for humanity. In fancy theological terms, Paul brought them ‘much about’ soteriology – which is the study of what God did through Jesus to bring us eternal salvation. 

Without question, Paul’s explanation of soteriology is the foundation upon which all other ‘ologies’ rest: God’s love for each of us, even while we were shaking our fists in His face.

Paul talks about that very thing in his letter to the church at Rome: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

Paul also makes another important point in this text. Along with the divine equation, he also said he was with them “in fear and in much trembling.” Now, why would the seeming fearless apostle write about his fear and trembling as he presented to them the gospel of Jesus?

I don’t think he was concerned for his safety. I think he feared they’d reject God’s message because of the hardness of their hearts as evidenced by their continuing divisions and spiritual arrogance.

Most of us here know about divisions in churches, and spiritual arrogance among the laity and the leadership – even so far as turning blind eyes to flagrant and open sin within congregations. This is an important point to ponder lest we also fall into the same devilish trap. Continued rejection of God’s truth would make them – and us as well – all the more susceptible to the deceptions of the evil one who always looks for ways to infiltrate Christ-centered groups with his poisonous candy-coated lies.

We must remain guided by the Holy Spirit to ensure we are not following the same patterns of divisiveness and immorality among ourselves. Many of you on my email lists and my online pages attend different churches. We have different understandings of various Scriptures. But we must also and always remember and practice: “In essentials of the faith – unity. In non-essentials of the faith – liberty. In all things, charity.” 

What do I mean by the essentials of the faith?  I’ve written of this before, but it cannot be overstated since our eternal salvation rests on those essential truths – truths which are summarized by the Nicene Creed. Rejection of these essential truths places a person in danger of eternal damnation. 

The Nicene Creed, formulated in response to the 4th century heresy being spread by a renegade priest named Arius, set in writing orthodox Christian faith and has been the foundation of the Christ-centered Church ever since. The focal point of the heresy was the Person of Jesus. Was He a created being – as Arius taught? Or is He as the Scriptures teach, God almighty in the flesh, co-eternal and of one essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit? 

The Nicene Creed covers much more than the deity of Jesus, and I urge you to read it at your leisure. You can find it at this link. I refer to the Creed as an illustration of unity of beliefs ‘essential’ to salvation. ‘Non-essentials’ would include opinions such as ‘once saved, always saved’ or ‘speaking in tongues’ as a gift of the Holy Spirit for today, or should we worship on Sunday or Saturday. To accept or reject those dogmas puts no one in danger of losing their salvation.

Again, that’s why Paul focused this letter simply on Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. This point was so important to Paul that he placed a curse on those who taught another gospel. You’ll find that in Galatians 1:8-9, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”

Yes, Paul worried that they might not receive his message when they themselves were so divided, even to the point of permitting sexual immorality to be flaunted among themselves. He migh have worried that his preaching God’s truth would further divide and split the fledgling church in Corinth.

His fear should not surprise anyone who’s been a Christian for any length of time. As I said earlier, churches split all the time. Perhaps that is why many pastors water down their homilies and sermons to avoid controversy.  Some church leaders have actually told me they don’t talk about societal hot-button issues for fear of offending anyone in their congregation.

But here is what Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth: Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.(1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. Those sparse five words at the beginning of this letter comprise the summary of the simplicity of the gospel. Paul returns to that simplicity at the end of this letter, in chapter 15: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-3)

That’s it. The gospel explained in language so simple, a toddler can understand it. But what does it mean when we say, Christ died for our sins?

God tells us through Paul, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). He continues in the next few verses of that chapter to say we have been justified (the Greek word means God declared us to be without guilt) – having been “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.”
Propitiation is a word we rarely, if ever, hear in everyday language. Let’s unwrap the word for a few moments. Propitiation emphasizes the appeasement or the averting of God's wrath toward the guilty. A related word, ‘Expiation,’ emphasizes the removal of guilt through the payment of a penalty. 

That’s what Jesus did: He paid the penalty we deserved to pay for our sins, and in so doing, He appeased God’s wrath toward us. But there is still more:
Both words – propitiation and expiation – are directly related to reconciliation, since it is through Christ's substitutionary death on the cross for our sins that we are reconciled to our loving and impartial God of justice and mercy.
The very concept of a substitutionary sacrifice dates to the Books of Moses and the various bloody sacrifices proscribed particularly in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, but we also find that concept in the prophets. Perhaps the best-known example is Isaiah’s prophecy in the 8th century before Christ:

“He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds. We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished Him for the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:5-6, HCSB)
Paul wrote to the church at Corinth that while he was with them, he determined to know nothing else but Jesus who was crucified for them – and for you and me.

It was Jesus’ death that delivered them – and us – from the domain of darkness; His bloody sacrifice saved us from the eternal judgment our sins so justly deserve; His suffering reconciled us back to God who loves us so dearly, so tenderly, so completely that He gave His Son, Jesus, to die in our place.

THAT is the message God the Holy Spirit brought to the church at Corinth through his servant, Paul. And that is the message God the Holy Spirit brings to you and to me in the 21st century through the apostle Paul.

So what should all that mean to you and me? Simply this: When was the last time you confessed your sins to God and determined to turn from them? When was the last time you committed your life to obey God’s commandments – even the ones you don’t particularly like? When was the last time you said to Him – as the prophet Isaiah said 2800 years ago: “Here I am. Send me wherever you want me to go and I will do whatever it is you want me to do”?

May the Holy Spirit help us to never be ashamed of that gospel message, or compromise that message, or add to that message – for the gospel message is truly the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes and obeys Jesus Christ our Lord.

Monday, September 30, 2019

The Nicene Creed

The Nicene Creed is the most widely used statements of the Christian faith. Recitation of the creed is common to many liturgical congregations, such as Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, and in some churches with Calvinist history. In churches where the creed is not recited, the congregants usually agree with the doctrines embedded in the Creed.

Further, in the original Creed statement, "I believe in one, holy catholic and apostolic church . . ." please note the word 'catholic' is not capitalized. That is because the word means 'universal' -- not, as some might believe, Roman Catholic. 

The entire Body of Christ, comprised of men and women from all Christian congregation who adhere to the fundamental beliefs inherent in the Nicene Creed are part of the universal (catholic) Church.

You will find minor wording differences from one denomination to another, but essentially the Nicene Creed reads as follows:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible;  I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages, God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial [of one substance] with the Father;  Through whom all things were made; 

For us men and for our salvation He came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;  He was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried;  and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father; 

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead; His kingdom shall have no end. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and Giver of Live, who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified; who has spoken through the Prophets. 

I believe one holy catholic [i.e. universal] and Apostolic Church;  I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins;  and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Did Moses write the Pentateuch?

A friend is attending a bible study at our church. They are studying the time line of Scripture, and was told Moses did not write the five books attributed to him. You might have heard the same liberal tripe yourself. What he was told bothered me all night, and so the next morning I sent this to him:
What is being alluded to (consciously or unconsciously) by those who teach that sort of thing is called the Graf-Wellhausen JEPD theory. You can find information about it here -- or you can do your own internet search: http://helpmewithbiblestudy.org/5system_moses/notes/dh6.aspx

Essentially, the theory was formulated by an uber-liberal Protestant scholar who taught that the Pentateuch is not of Mosaic origin. In so doing, the theory brings a shadow of doubt over the inerrancy and the infallibility of the Biblical record of Genesis through Deuteronomy.

Liberal scholars do the same thing with other OT and NT books, such as Isaiah, Daniel, Acts, and so forth. You can find all kinds of information -- pro and con -- through an easy internet search. But for starters, I refer you to the words of Jesus Himself, who clearly believed in the Mosaic origin of the Pentateuch. For example:

MT 19:7, quoting from DT 24:1-4
MT 22:24 quoting from DT 25:5
Mark 1:44 citing Leviticus 14:1-32
Mark 7: 9-11 citing Exodus 20:12 and Leviticus 20:9
Luke 24:44 citing the Pentateuch in general as the books of Moses

You can word search 'Moses' on Biblegateway.com for other references (when you click on any particular bible reference, click on the setting button upper right and check the box for cross references to make the search easier). You can also do a search for arguments against the Wellhausen school of biblical criticism. For example: http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/moses.html

Since Jesus accepted the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, I will do the same.  I hope this information will give some balance to what the class is being taught.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Lesson of the Rotten Cabbage

I wrote this several years ago. I hope it encourages you.

While he is in the flesh, man cannot help but have at least some light sins. But do not despise these sins which we call "light": if you take them for light when you weigh them, tremble when you count them. A number of light objects makes a great mass; a number of drops fills a river; a number of grains makes a heap. What then is our hope? Above all, confession.  – St. Augustine

. . . let us also lay aside . . . .the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus . . . (Hebrews 12:1-2).

As soon as I opened the refrigerator door I knew something was wrong.  Rotten, actually. But I was already late for work, so I grabbed my lunch and darted out the front door. My wife was out of town visiting family, so I planned to take care of the rotted whatever-it-was when I returned later that night.

That was my first mistake.

My inbox at work grew inches with each passing hour. I didn’t leave the office until after dark and the thought of starting dinner when I arrived home left me weak-kneed. I decided to grab dinner at a nearby restaurant.

By the time I arrived home, cleaning the refrigerator was the last thing on my mind. I plopped in front of the television and started to unwind from the day. An hour later I headed for the shower and the bed. I’d take care of the fridge in the morning.

Another mistake.

The next morning when I opened the refrigerator door, the pungent stench of rotted cabbage filled every corner of the house. I slammed the door shut and glanced at my watch. I’d be late for work if I didn’t leave soon. I grabbed an apple and rushed out of the house. The fridge would have to wait.

When I returned from work ten hours later, the odor from the fridge had settled over the house. It left me no choice. I tossed the cabbage . . . and the lettuce, tomatoes, and celery laying nearby. Then I scrubbed the fruit and vegetable bin with bleach.

Like slowly rotting cabbage, sin – perhaps especially our so-called venial sins – is never a private matter. If left alone, its stench will seep into and ruin every corner of our life, our families, communities, and our nation. And there is not one person reading this who does not know that to be true. They know it at a visceral level learned from experience – often from repeated experience.

We make a serious mistake to be casual about rooting sin from our lives. We make a serious – deadly – mistake when we tacitly ignore the commandment of God to be holy according to His standards, and not according to the standards of the culture.

Like the law of gravity, the law of sowing and reaping is inescapable: Whatever we sow, we reap. If we sow to the flesh, we reap corruption. If we sow to the spirit, we reap eternal life (Galatians 6:7-8).

It doesn’t get any simpler. Or clearer.

Or more difficult.