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

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hiding His Word

A few posts ago I suggested a Bible reading plan that will take the reader through the Old Testament once and the New Testament three times in a year. Several of you commented privately that you plan to implement my recommendation.

Now let me challenge everyone to do something else. If we believe it is important to not only read the Bible, but to also let it guide our lives, then it should also be important that we memorize Scripture. And memorization is relatively easy with my plan. Here's my recommendation:

I commit myself to memorize at least one verse of Scripture a week. That computes to at least 52 verses of Scripture a year. That's a lot of God's word seeding your mind. Some people like to use 3x5 index cards, but I prefer business-card sized cards. They are easier to carry with me.

One the front of the card, write the Scripture reference. On the back, write the verse. As you memorize the text, first say (aloud) the reference, and then the text, and then repeat the reference. For example:

"Romans 5:8. But God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8"

And so, week One: I spend a few minutes each day rehearsing the text in my mind. By the end of a few days, I know it pretty well. At the end of the week, I can say it without hardly thinking about it.

Week two: I do the same thing with the next verse, but I also rehearse the verse from week one.

Weeks three and four, and following: I repeat the pattern, rehearsing all of the texts I have memorized over the preceding weeks.

After a while (and you will determine the time for yourself), I stop rehearsing the earlier verses because I know them so well. I usually return to them only once or twice in a month or so, just to keep them fresh. Most of the time I only carry with me a handful of cards . . . maybe ten or fifteen that I am actively committing to memory, or actively rehearsing.

How to select your memory verses?

I find mine as I read the Scriptures. If a particular verse catches my attention, and I'd like to keep it in my mind, I memorize it that week -- or I add it to my list of verses I plan to memorize (my current list is nearly 30 verses long).

To get you started, here are several recommendations: Romans 5:8, 1 John 1:9, Revelation 12:11, John 3:16, 2 Chronicles 7:14, Joshua 1:8, Isaiah 53:5-6 (I know that's two verses, but often it is easier to memorize a couple of verses together when the thought flows better, than a verse in isolation).

God's word is "Living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword." The Psalmist tells us God's word is "a lamp to my feet and a light to path." St. Peter exhorted, "Hunger for the sincere milk of the word, in order that you may grow thereby."

One verse a week is both manageable and, you will surely find, very profitable to your life.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Court Not Death

So, there I am reading through Wisdom and these words grabbed my attention:

Court not death by your erring way of life, nor draw to yourselves destruction by the works of your hands. Because God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living . . . . But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are in his possession experience it. (Wisdom 1:12-13; 2:23-24).

God called everything He made during the six days of Creation, “good.”

Death was not part of that creation. Death came with our fall.

Then my mind drifted to Ezekiel 18: Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed . . . For why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies," declares the Lord God. "Therefore, repent and live."

I can almost hear the emotion catch in His throat as he pleads with us to turn from our sins, to “not court death by our erring way of life.”

God, who gave His Son to pay for our sins, did not make death. It was because of sin that death entered His good creation.

And so I contemplated a sober truth. God, "who has no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies," gives us a choice: Repent and live, or ignore His pleas . . . and die.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Don't Be Afraid

Do not be afraid. You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart (1 Samuel 12:20).

The Israelites blew it (again). They wanted to be like the nations around them, so they harangued the prophet Samuel to give them a king.

It would be an understatement to say God wasn’t happy about their decision. You can almost hear His voice choke with emotion in chapter eight when He says, “They have not rejected you (Samuel), but they have rejected Me from being king over them.”

So, Saul became Israel's first king. But Samuel made sure Israel understood they had stepped into dangerous territory. “You’ve done all this evil,” he said. And then he followed with this exhortation “Yet, do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart.”

In other words, “Okay, guys. You really, really blew it. Yes, God is angry. But don’t be afraid. His mercy is greater than His anger, His compassion deeper than His displeasure. Don’t let your guilt or remorse keep you from turning back to Him. Repent, and press on to serve the Lord."

What Samuel said to Israel, the Holy Spirit says today to you and me.

Sure, we've blown it (again). But God is still a loving and merciful Father. His mercy remains greater than His anger, His compassion deeper than His displeasure.

That is why we can return to the Lord -- for He will abundantly pardon the repentant one.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Superficial Healing

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:37-38)

From the perspective of some of Jesus’ first century listeners, this must have seemed an outrageous statement. Despite His miracles and moral teaching, many in Israel wondered who this man thought He was to make so arrogant a proclamation.

However, from a 21st century perspective, Christians know what Christ's first century audience didn’t. Jesus had the right to say what he did because He is – well, because He is God in the flesh. That is why He has the right to say anything He wants, demand anything he chooses, and require whatever He pleases.

And yet, although we know that, why do so many of us grouse at those requirements? As Catholics, do we not know the Lord Jesus called Peter and subsequent popes to shepherd His sheep? So why do some of us look for other pastures when the Church proclaims its historic standards of holiness? Why do we consider her position on marriage, procreation, abortion, and other matters of morality so outrageous and untenable that we simply ignore them?

In the second and third chapters of Revelation, Jesus repeatedly warns the Church, “He who has an ear to hear, let him hear with the Spirit says to the churches.”

The substantive issues of morality and faith they faced in the first century are surprisingly similar to the issues we face. And we do a dangerous disservice to each other when we speak only of God’s love and mercy, without warning about sin, righteousness and judgment.

To proclaim only one and not the other is to, as God said through Jeremiah, “heal the brokenness of the daughter of My people superficially.”

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Nothing Could Be Worse

Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us." The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? . . . . Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Luke 23:39-42).

Each time I read that passage I think of the three men. They hung for hours between earth and sky, ravaged by thirst, and mocked by the mob.

And for hours, the two watched the One in the middle.

Nothing escaped their notice. They heard His groans, His agonized, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” And they heard Him pray for those who hated Him: "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Yet, despite what the two witnessed, only one was changed.

Sometimes as I read that text I feel as if I can see through the lens of eternity, and I watch the Lord hanging on that cross, bloodied and dying to purchase my reconciliation with the Father. It is that image – when I think to focus on it during Mass -- that makes Mass so meaningful for me. Each time the priest consecrates the bread and wine, eternity slips into our timeline. Christ steps into our presence through the readings, the hymns, the prayers. And we receive Him in the Eucharist.

It remains one of my greatest fears that, after meeting Him, I remain unchanged – or worse, I grow lukewarm; that I hear Him and receive Him – but become passionless about knowing Him, loving Him, imitating Him.

What could be worse than to see and hear the King during each Mass, and not be changed? What could be worse than to witness His love and sacrifice, and remain satisfied with tepid faith?

Nothing could be worse.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Bible Reading Plan

From time to time I am asked to suggest a pattern for daily Bible reading. So, I thought this might be an appropriate forum to do so.

As I've said in earlier posts, I read at least two chapters each morning from the Old Testament (OT) and two each evening from the New Testament (NT). Each sitting takes about 15 minutes, or 30 minutes/day. That pattern gets me through the OT once a year (maybe 13 months if I am slow), and the NT three times in a year. I place a check mark in my Bible’s table of contents to help me keep track of what I’ve read and what I need to read.

For new readers, I recommend only partial readings of books such as Exodus and Numbers because the chapters that I don't list below contain pages of laws and family genealogies, etc, that can become tedious to read – and possibly discourage continuation. I deleted Leviticus from the list for the same reason.

I am NOT suggesting those chapters/books are not valuable. I have read those entire books many, many times. But for a first-read, I think it more important to first get the “big picture.” On your second and subsequent readings year by year through the Bible, you can read the chapters you omitted here.

My Old Testament and New Testament pattern follows below. I suggest you read the books in the order I have listed them. Doing so will help coalesce your understanding of important events and people. You might also find it helpful to print the following list and keep it with your Bible.

Old Testament

Exodus (chapters 1-24, 32-34)
Numbers (chapters 10-25)
1 & 2 Samuel
Psalms 1-72
1 & 2 Kings
Psalms (73-150)
Song of Songs
Proverbs 1-15
Ezekiel 1-40
Proverbs 16-31
1 Chronicles 10-21, 28-29
2 Chronicles
1&2 Maccabeas

New Testament
1 & 2 Corinthians
1 & 2 Peter
1&2 Thessalonians
1&2 Timothy
1-3 John

The Jewish priest, Ezra, "Set himself to study the law of the Lord, and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel" (Ezra 7)

May God help us do likewise.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Working for Him instead of Loving Him

On my way through the Revelation, I stopped a moment at this passage in chapter 2:

"To the angel of the church in Ephesus write . . . ‘you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.’ "

As I concluded the passage I reflected on how often I get my proverbial dander up, defending the faith, sharing the faith, teaching the faith -- that I forget to live the faith. Too often I have forgotten to turn my eyes toward Jesus, and instead satisfied myself with working for Him instead of loving Him.

Catholic author, Christopher Maricle, says it well: Heeding the example of Jesus to do what is in our power to do means that we need to worry less about what happens to us and more about what happens because of us. Being a source of healing means exercising our capacity to love. Love is within our power. In the act of loving unselfishly we touch that part of God’s spirit within us. Touching this love is healing for both us and for those to whom we reach out.

Good words, I think, for anyone to heed.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

God Meant it for Good

During my time with the Lord this morning I rehearsed one of my memory verses, "As for you, you meant evil against me. But God meant it for good, to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive" (Genesis 50:20).

You might remember the context. Many years earlier, Joseph's brothers planned to kill him, but sold him into slavery instead. And now, Joseph is vice-regent of Egypt, and his brothers are afraid he might decide it's payback time.

Joseph did not dilute his brothers' sin. He recognized it -- and he forced them to do the same. But Joseph also looked beyond the past and to the power of God to turn even evil into something good.

As I reflected on Joseph's words, my gaze drifted to the crucifix on the wall in front of my couch and recognized the connection.

The people who cried out, "Crucify Him. Crucify Him" meant it for evil. But God -- oh! But God meant it for good, to bring about the present result that anyone who calls on the name of the Lord -- anyone who recognizes his or her complicity in Jesus' death -- will live forever.

Who can ever understand the power, the mercy, the love of God?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Year of Jubilee

Has it really been forty-two years since I killed my baby? It seems like only last week. I remember what my girlfriend wore when I drove her to the clinic, where I parked and how many dimes I dropped into the meter.

I was seventeen. My girlfriend was eighteen. Too young – I told myself – for the responsibility of raising a child.

After the abortion, my life didn’t get any better. Sexual immorality, drug abuse, blasphemy, drunkenness, deception . . . . I added a lot of weight to my sin of premeditated, callous killing of my unborn baby.

But when I was twenty-two, I stumbled upon a wonderful, glorious, nearly incomprehensible truth: God looked beyond my sins and saw my desperate need. And so He sent His only begotten Son to free me.

Quoting from the prophet Isaiah, the Lord Jesus said to those gathered in a Nazareth synagogue, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord (Luke 4:18-19).

In my utter spiritual poverty, oh, how desperately I needed the riches of God’s forgiveness! How else could I live with my memories? How could I live with such blood on my hands?

Jesus proclaimed liberty to captives. There is no prison so inescapable as that formed by guilt. But, Jesus' death shattered those bars and, though my memories still linger, He delivered me from guilt's captivity.

Jesus set the oppressed free. Oh, talk about oppression! Where else but through Christ's blood could I find the oppressive weight of my sin removed? Where else could I find such mercy – even for killing my baby?

Jesus proclaimed a year acceptable to the Lord. In Old Testament language, He proclaimed the Year of Jubilee.

For me, that year was 1972 -- the year of my redemption, pardon, forgiveness and new birth.

When was your year of Jubilee?

Monday, July 20, 2009

An Inviolable Promise

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me (Isaiah 49:15-16).

Who has not known deep loneliness, or soul-rending sorrow, or the kind of rejection that shatters our heart like fine crystal dropped onto concrete? An unfaithful spouse; A devastating illness; A wayward child who never calls home; parents who abandon their children . . .

When hope evaporates, when heartache engulfs us, when we give voice to our doubt that God even knows our address, Oh! That we would hear His voice: "Though all forsake you, I will never forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands."

Think of it! Though sorrow seeps through our lives, our Father yet leans toward us, cups our face in His hands and whispers, “You are Mine. I love you. Though hell laps at your heels, I am always at your side.”

On that inviolable promise of God, you and I can eternally rely.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Who Am I?

So, I'm sitting there talking with the Lord this morning, and in my mind's eye I'm watching Him struggling for breath as He hangs from the cross.

It was a very sober image.

And as I watched Him, I thought, Jesus took His closest friends -- Peter, James and John -- to the place where He would pray in Gethsemene, and He asked them to stand vigil with Him.

But they fell asleep instead.

A little later, when the mob came to take Jesus away, every one of His disciples -- those with whom He had shared His life for the past three years -- they all fled for their lives. And even Peter, the one to whom Jesus gave the keys of the kingdom, denied and cursed three times that he ever knew the Man.

All these thoughts filtered and fluttered in my mind as I am watching the Lord struggle for breath.

And then I asked myself, who am I that I should expect to be treated any differently than my Lord, even when I labor for Him?

It was a very sobering thought.

And I apologized to Him again.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

It's Not About Us

I am the LORD, this is my name; my glory I give to no other . . . (Isaiah 42:8)

It’s all about God, about His kingdom and His will. It always has been. It always will be.

But ancient Israel had unwittingly lost God’s perspective. They had perfected the trappings of religion. They knew the right rituals and the correct words -- but their hearts were full of pride, rebellion and selfishness.

It had become about them, not about God.

It would be a mistake to point our finger at the Israelites and not take careful note of ourselves. We, too, can lose our perspective and wrap ourselves in rituals and form. We also can unknowingly substitute activity for a relationship with God.

It's a danger we all face -- and one we can all avoid -- by regularly seeking God in humble prayer, honest participation in the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession, and meditation on His Word.

To be careless about our walk of faith is to open ourselves to the power, deception and poison of sin.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

God of the Hills, Plains . . . and Eternity

But if we fight them on the plains, surely we will be stronger than they. Do this . . . raise an army like the one you lost-horse for horse and chariot for chariot-so we can fight Israel on the plains. Then surely we will be stronger than they (1 Kings 20:23-25).

The ancient Syrian army made a fatal mistake. Israel had beaten them in battle, and the Syrians assumed it was because Israel’s god was centered in the hills on which they fought.

And that was their problem. They thought Israel’s god was bound to a piece of real estate. They soon learned their error.

I suppose it’s easy to point the finger at the Syrians and snicker that anyone could think God is so small and limited. And yet, I find myself acting like the ancient Syrians more often than I like to think I do.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to myself, “God answered my prayers in the past, but I’m not sure He will do it again.” In other words, God is the God of the then, but not the now -- or the tomorrow.

I've said, “God forgave me that sin before, but I can’t believe He’ll do it again.” In other words, God limits His forgiveness to a fixed number – once, a dozen, three dozen. And then the axe falls.

Or, “God took care of us when I was working, but now that I'm retired, I wonder how we will live?” In other words, God has to ration His limited resources to adequately take care of all His children.

What nonsense.

The Syrians made a fatal mistake when they believed Israel’s god was limited to a small parcel of geography. Let’s not make the same error. Our God is not bound by time, geography or distance. And just as important, His power and compassion are the same yesterday, today and forever.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

If We Fail Christ Now . . .

I just re-read Acts 4 where St. Peter and the others were hauled before the Court and ordered to stop preaching about Jesus. You know the story. The apostles refused to capitulate, and answered, "We must obey God instead of men."

Then I thought of Jeremiah 12:5 in which God challenges the Prophet: If running against men has wearied you, how will you race against horses? And if in a land of peace you fall headlong, what will you do in the thickets of the Jordan?

And then the Holy Spirit brought me back to 2009 and connected the dots: If Catholics do not speak boldly about the moral issues facing us for fear of losing the Church's tax-exempt status, or of offending some politicians, or of incurring the wrath of the media, or even of offending some of it's own members . . . then what will we do when it becomes illegal to even tell others about Jesus?

If we fail Christ now, what will we do then?

St. Paul said it a long time ago, and our Church martyrs understood very well the implication: All who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). And the words of Christ ought to make us shudder: For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels." (Mark 8:38).

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

You Can't Give What You Don't Have

I was thinking this morning about an incident that happened to me more than thirty-seven years ago. It seems like it occurred last week.

My friends and I went to a nearby restaurant for breakfast. When someone distracted the cashier at the front door, I sneaked by and hurried to the food line. I still don’t know why I did it. I had very recently become a Christian, but easily fell back into old patterns.

As I piled food onto my tray, I dismissed my nagging guilt. When my friends joined me a few minutes later, I bowed my head and silently gave thanks to God for my food. That’s when Tom snickered, “Look at Maffeo. He sneaks in without paying, and then thanks God.”

They laughed with sarcasm. But I wanted to crawl under the table.

I worked at that company for another year, growing in my relationship with Christ as I studied the Bible, attended church regularly and committed myself to prayer. But I could never share my faith with any of those men. They had painted me with a brush dipped in hypocrisy.

St. Paul urged Timothy: “Flee the evil desires . . . and pursue righteousness . . . .” (2 Timothy 2:22).

For good reason, Scripture commands us to live in obedience to God. We can't effectively share Christ’s love with others, rescuing them from the devil’s snare, if we ourselves are tangled in his web.

Or, put another way, "You can't give what you don't have."

Monday, July 13, 2009

At His Bidding

Peter and the others were exhausted -- and disappointed. They'd worked hard all night without success. Now they were on shore, washing their nets and getting ready to head for home empty handed for all their labor.

Then Jesus comes along and tells them to push out again into the water and let down their nets.

And that's when St. Peter says something I hope to never forget -- and to always put into practice, regardless how tired or discouraged I might be:

Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but at your bidding I will let down the nets (Luke 5:5).

My responsibility is not to assess the outcome of my work for His kingdom -- even if my work looks useless. My responsibility is to simply do what He tells me to do -- again and again -- even if I don't see the value in it.

But at Your bidding I will let down the nets.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

What Does It Really Say?

And while we're on the subject of love (see the last two posts):

Five times in two chapters, the Lord Jesus repeats Himself -- if not verbatim, then in principle: If you say you love Me, then keep my commandments (John 14:21, 14:23, 14:31, 15:14, 13:17).

I'm sure He said it so often to make the point both unmistakable and unmissable.

So, if I say I love God, but I don't keep His commandments, nor am I grieved or repentent when I do not -- then what does that realy say about my love for Him?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Addendum to God is not mad at you . . .

An couple of hours after I posted the last message about God's love, I was sitting on my porch re-reading Jacques Philippe's Time for God. What he says on page 54 is a valuable adjunct to my post. He writes:

In the relationship with God our first act of love, one that must remain the basis for every act of love for Him, is this: to believe that he loves us, and to let ourselves be loved . . . just as we are, quite apart from any merits or virtues we may possess. With this grounding of our relationship with God, the relationship is on a sound footing. Otherwise it is distorted by a certain Phariseeism, its center not ultimately occupied by God but by our own selves, our activity, our virtue, or some such thing. (My emphasis).

This is a very demanding attitude, since it requires that we shift the center of our existence from ourselves to God and forget about ourselves . . . God is not primarily looking for us to do things. We are "unprofitable servants" (Luke 17:10. "God does not need our works, but is thirsty for our love," said St. Therese of Lisieux. He asks us first of all to let ourselves be loved, to believe in his love . . . ."

Those last words by St. Therese resonate with me. "He asks us first of all to let ourselves be loved."

That's hard to do when we are convinced God is always (or usually) mad at us.

God is NOT Mad at You

In the last week I’ve spoken with two Christians who believe God is angry with them. Worse. To hear them tell it, God is perpetually angry with them because they do not live up to (what they perceive is) God’s standard.

Yet, God the Holy Spirit tells us “God is love” (1 John 4:8). And God also gives us the definition of love. You can read it here, but let me pull out a few nuggets:

Love is patient
Love is kind
Love is not jealous
Love is not arrogant
Love is not quick-tempered
Love does not brood over an injury
Love never fails

To insist God is always angry with us is to say God is always looking for something to fault us for.

Is that what Love does?

To insist God is never happy with us is to argue what He says about us is not true: “God demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Does Love lie?

One of my favorite memory verses is from St. John’s gospel. You will find this promise embedded in the Lord’s High Priestly Prayer (John 17:23): “. . . so that the world may know that You sent Me, and [You] loved them, even as You have loved Me.”

Don’t miss that last clause: The Father loves you as much as He loves Jesus.

The Holy Spirit reminds us again and again, through texts such as the above, as well as in this Psalm, that God really, really does love us: Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust (Psalm 103).

God is not perpetually mad at His children. But I sure think we hurt His feelings when we live as if He is.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Storms and Foundations

I got to thinking about this text in St. Luke's gospel: I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock.

When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation.

The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete. (Luke 6:47-49)

The way I see it, you and I have two choices: dig deeply or cut corners. But digging deeply requires time and perseverance. That's why it's hard work. Cutting corners requires little time or perseverance. That's why it's easy.

But when storms blow across our lives, I know the foundation I'd rather have.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

By Name

According to my internet search, on July 1, 2009, the world's population stood at 6,768,167,712.

I cannot conceive of that kind of number.

Nor can I conceive of the idea that, among six billion, seven hundred sixty-eight million, one hundred and sixty-seven thousand, seven hundred and twelve. God actually knows . . . . . me.

Not a hair falls out of my scalp without Him seeing it. A word doesn't cross my mind that He didn't already know about it. And not a tear fills my eye that His hand isn't already poised to wipe it away.

It is thoughts like this that remind me of the text in Isaiah: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine (Isaiah 43).

God knows me by name.

And so, also, He knows you, too.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What if God Says, "No"?

And so I was thinking this morning, what if God says "No" to our prayers -- especially prayers we've prayed so fervently about, something we really, really, really want to see come to fruition?

What if God says, "No"?

Some I've known turned away from God -- first by degrees, and then in full. They might not have said it, but their hearts moved in the direction of: "If He's not willing to help me with this, then I don't want anything to do with Him." And so their passion for God cools. They stop attending Mass or church services on a regular basis. They stop praying more than a few words, and that only once in a while. They stop reading their Bible. They stop volunteering to help others. They grow inward instead of out.

In contrast, two examples from Scripture come to my mind over this question of "No." The first is Job, who said, "Though He answers none of my prayers. Yes, even if He kills me, I will still trust Him" (paraphrase of Job 13:15). And the second is from Hebrews 11 in which the faithfulness of God's saints is rehearsed: "All these died in faith, without receiving the promises . . . and all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us . . . (Hebrews 11:13 and 39-40).

And if you read the next verse in Hebrews (chapter 12:1) we find the outcome of such faith, despite the "No" to their prayers.

What will we do when God says, "No" to our prayers?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Using Prayer

I've heard it said often enough when God has not answered someone's prayers, "I guess God's not hearing me."

Certainly, there are reasons God does not hear us. Unrepented sin tops the list. For example, "If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear" (Psalm 66), or "But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear" (Isaiah 59), or "You husbands . . . show [your wives] honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered" (1 Peter 3).

But, sin aside, it could be that God has heard our prayer, but has simply said, "Not yet."

Or even, "No."

What we want to assiduously avoid is to use prayer -- even unconsciously -- to try to manipulate God into doing our will.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

If Only We Will Come

When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them . . . (Matthew 5:1).

I don't know how I always missed it, but I used to read this passage as saying the crowds came to Jesus on the mountain. But what it actually says is, his disciples came to him.

Disciples -- as in those whom He called as individuals and not as a group.

Mother Teresa once said, God calls us away from our daily routines, to enter His Presence and linger in His love.

Of course, she was right. Sometimes we need to get alone with Christ and just be silent. Expectant. How else can we learn from Him unless we rid ourselves of distractions vying for our attention -- crowds, television, email, voice mail and cell phones?

Oh, what treasures He will teach us, if only we will come.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Enough Evidence?

For many years my various pastors asked the congregation this question: If it becomes a crime in this country to be a Christian, will there be enough evidence to convict you?

As for me, I sure hope so.

The New Goshen

In chapter 46 of Genesis, Jacob and the rest of the 70 family members set out to reunite with Joseph (who is now vice-regent of Egpyt). Verse 28 tells us Jacob "sent Judah before him to Joseph, to point out the way before him to Goshen; and they came into the land of Goshen."

As I finished the verse I wondered why Jacob chose Judah -- who was the fourth oldest son -- and not Reuben, the eldest. In that culture it was virtually always the first born who had honors such as that placed on him.

I believe the choice was prophetic, that Jacob's choice looked forward toward Jesus our savior, who is of the tribe of Judah. In fact, Jesus is called "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" in Revelation 5:5.

Jesus said of Himself, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me" (John 14:6); The Lord also said to those who rejected Him: "Unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins" (John 8:24); and St. Peter added, "There is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

Unless we follow the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, who goes before us "to point out the way" to the new Goshen (we call, heaven), we will surely, without doubt, lose our way -- and our souls.

Friday, July 3, 2009

No More Important Question

I recently re-read St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, in which he wrote: “In (Christ), you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation – having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise . . . ” (Ephesians 1:13).

Why do words impact people so differently? How can a passage like John 3:16 & 17 generate hope in the hearts of some, and mockery in others? Why does a promise like Matthew 11:28-30 draw some to Christ’s side, while those words push others away?

I don’t know.

But I do know this from personal experience – and watching it work in the lives of others: the Gospel of Christ changes hearts, heals broken lives, restores relationships, shatters addictions, washes sins . . . but only for those who believe the message.

The Lord Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13). Some said, John the Baptist, some, Elijah, others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. Only Peter recognized who stood before him.

“You are the Messiah,” he said. “The Son of the living God.”

For two thousand years since then, Jesus has asked the same question – the answer to which will guide our emotions and passions, our philosophies and politics. It will determine what gives us courage and what causes fear. It will set our course on what we find amusing, and what breaks our heart. It will dictate how we live -- and especially how we die.

We will never be asked a more important question. And we can never give a more important answer: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Another Drop of His Blood

I just re-read the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife -- and I again was caught up by Joseph's statement: How then can I do this wicked thing, and I sin against my God? (Genesis 39:9)

It was because of God’s grace and His direct intervention that Joseph prospered above all other slaves in Potiphar’s house. Nothing was kept from him – the finest food, clothing, comfort . . . . Potipher refused him nothing.

Except, of course, his wife.

But Mrs. Potiphar had other ideas. She wanted Joseph. For days, perhaps months, Joseph resisted her increasingly bold invitations to her bedroom until, one day when she cornered him, Joseph literally fled from the house.

“How can I do this wicked thing and sin against my God?”

Joseph recognized what I (Lord, help me) must never forget. When I sin, I do not sin only against others, but also against God. As King David acknowledged after his sin with Bathsheba centuries later, “Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned and done what is evil in Thy sight” (Psalm 51).

Oh, Holy Spirit, open my spiritual eyes that I might see Christ recoil from the whip that slices into His back with my every transgression. Lord, I do not want to drive another nail, or draw another drop of His sacred blood.