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

Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me (Revelation 3:20).

It's already started. In some places, 2011 has walked boldly onto history's stage. Where I sit, on the west coast of America, her entry is only hours away.

More accurately, the year is 2011 A. D., which stands for anno domini -- Latin for "year of our Lord [Jesus Christ].” Two thousand and eleven years ago, on a silent night in the Jewish town of Bethlehem, God slipped into human history and made Himself incarnate. The Triune, Almighty and eternal God became a human being we call Jesus. Born to a Jewish virgin named Miriam -- better known as Mary – God-incarnate grew into a man who then took our sins upon Himself to a cross.

And there He died in our place so we would not have to experience eternal death.

There are other calendars used by different cultures and religions; Chinese, Muslim, Indian, for example. But the de facto calendar, the calendar around which virtually the entire planet's history revolves for reference to notable events, for business transactions, correspondence, and mundane affairs are measured from that event 2,011 years ago. That is why historians date events prior to God's incarnation as B.C. – before Christ, and those occurring afterward as A.D. – the year of our Lord. Modern attempts to camouflage God’s divine intervention into our history with terms like B.C.E. for "before the common era," and C.E. for "the common era" serve only to illustrate how deep, wide, broad and unbroachable was God's intervention into the affairs of humankind.

That cataclysmic event 2,011 years ago was not something that simply ‘happened.’ For centuries, God promised through His prophets His incarnation would change history. For example, more than 700 years B.C., the Jewish prophet Isaiah wrote of Jesus: Unto us a Child is born. Unto us a Son is given. And the government shall be upon His shoulders. And His name will be called, Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace (Isaiah 9:6-7). And neither is it a surprise that so many people scoff at that seminal event. Here’s what King David wrote 1000 years B.C.: Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the lord and against His Anointed, saying, 'Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us’ (Psalm 2:1-3).

And so here we are, you and I, on the cusp of another calendar year marking the anniversary of when God became a man so men and women might become godly. Beginning tomorrow, January 1st, virtually all people, languages, religions, and cultures will begin marking their days, their events, business transactions, and their personal histories from the time when God personally and physically interacted with humanity. We are on the cusp of a new year, a new beginning, full of . . . full of . . . well, only God knows what 2011 will be full of.

But I do know this: You and I are also on the cusp of a uniquely wonderful opportunity for a new relationship with our eternal and almighty Creator and Lover. New Year’s Eve, or for some of you as I write this, New Year’s Day, is a perfect time to begin that relationship.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sacrifice and Contrition

For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise (Psalm 51:16-17, NASB).

The king had it right, even when most had it wrong. David knew it was easy to offer an entire flock of lambs on the altar in Jerusalem, but what did it accomplish if he didn’t offer that blood with humility? Or, as Thomas a Kempis would write many centuries later: What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God?

And so King David realized, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart . . . .”

As I pondered David’s words, I wondered what a contrite heart looks like.

Maybe it looks something like what Pope Clement IX prayed for: Lord, I want to do what you ask of me, in the way You asks, for as long as You ask, because You ask it. Maybe it means going on when I want so much to stop; keeping His commandments when I want to deviate “just a little”; being swift to confess even my venial sins – and being just as swift to repent. Maybe contrition means I am grateful to have the opportunity to make myself God’s slave; to know that life is not at all about me, but about Him; and that I must often force myself to do His will when His will is not the same as mine.

It’s easy for me to approach the Eucharistic altar at which the priest re-presents Christ’s sacrifice of body and blood. But I find it not so easy to do so with a consistently humble and contrite heart. That takes a special grace from God.

For which I pray daily.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Reason We Say 'Merry Christmas'

In the thirty-eight years I've attended Christmas morning services, I don't remember thinking much about the nativity crèche. After all, I'd seen the Infant, His parents and shepherds hundreds of times in churches, on front lawns and beneath Christmas trees. They blended long ago into the season's background. But a several Christmases ago, as my wife and I knelt at an altar, waiting to receive Holy Communion, the plaster figurines in front of us caught my attention. And I knew why.

My gaze had shifted for a moment to the crucifix behind the pulpit. It loomed thirty feet above the altar and suddenly brought the Christmas crèche into a new and sobering perspective.

Two thousand years ago, few people in Bethlehem recognized the importance of the stable where Joseph and Mary snuggled their newborn son. It's not hard to understand why others missed its significance. It wasn't the kind of place you'd expect to find anyone of importance.

The stable was not like the pretty pictures printed on Christmas cards. The grueling journey to Bethlehem left Joseph and Mary tired and hungry. They longed to find a place to bathe and for a warm bed. Instead, they arrived in a city of strangers, and Joseph raced in vain from inn to inn, desperately seeking a comfortable place for his wife to lie down. You know the story. They couldn't find a room in the local inn, so they settled themselves for the night in a darkened corner of a stable, to the smell of manure and rotting straw.

But in that stable, Almighty God took the form of a helpless Child and stepped into humanity to reconcile you and me to Himself. The miraculous birth in that dirty place heralded a cataclysmic transformation in the relationship between us and Himself. No one in that little town of Bethlehem knew it, but humanity's destiny revolved around that manger – and Calvary's cross looming in its shadow.

Three decades later, beneath that cross, the manger was a distant memory in Mary's heart. The Child-grown-to-be-a-Man now hung on a splintered, bloodstained crossbeam. It looked nothing like the smooth and polished cross towering above the altar in front of me. On Calvary's cross, Jesus' back lay ripped open by Roman whips. Blood from the roughly woven crown of thorns caked on His forehead. Nails holding him to the wood sent waves of searing pain across His hands and feet. Thirst ravaged his throat. His strength slowly slipped away as he struggled to breathe. Meanwhile, soldiers jeered, religious leaders mocked, and his friends and family wept.

No one on that hillside knew it, but as Jesus suffered and then died on that cross, God launched the second of His three-phased plan to rescue us from the even more horrible destiny our sins had guaranteed us.

The crèche is about the Savior's birth; the cross, about His death. The crèche cradled God's incarnation; the cross tortured Him. The crèche is about God's Son born into our world; the cross, about Him paying sin's judgment and dying in our place. But without the third phase – the empty tomb – the crèche and the cross would be meaningless. Without the empty tomb, no one would have hope for life beyond this one. No one would have assurance that we have a heavenly Father who loves us, grieves with us, yearns for an intimate relationship with us.

The crèche, the cross, and the empty tomb brought God's plan of reconciliation and redemption to completion. Because of that Divine Triad, Christians can know with absolute certainty that their sins can forgiven. The crèche, the cross and the empty tomb is God's irrevocable declaration that those who believe with obedient faith the Baby of the crèche became the Man on the cross and resurrected Savior, we have God's promise of eternal life (see John 3:16).

As I received Holy Communion that morning, I prayed I would never again see the crèche simply as a reminder of a long-ago Bethlehem birth. I hoped – and continue to hope to this very day – it will always remind me that God really does love the world so much that He gave His Son to die in our place.

I hope it always reminds me that His birth, death, and resurrection is the reason we say, "Merry Christmas!"

Monday, December 20, 2010

My First Christmas

It’s been thirty-eight years since December 24, 1972. I can easily bring to memory the image of myself kneeling by my bunk in the barracks on the Yokosuka (Japan) Naval Base. That moment was the conclusion of something I had started two months earlier – or, better said – that moment was the conclusion of something God had started in me two months earlier.

It was October, Yom Kippur – the Jewish Day of Atonement. The day when Jews around the world look to God for forgiveness of their sins. I was sitting in another Navy barracks – this time in San Diego – thinking about my life, morose because of what I had become. I remembered the people I’d robbed. The drugs I regularly used. The young women I’d turned into whores. My baby whom I killed in the abortion clinic.

In the open diary on my lap I wrote these words – words I’d never before prayed, words that spilled from a very remorseful soul – “Oh God. Forgive me for my past sins. And look with tolerance on my future sins.”

I knew myself too well to believe I could escape who I was. And I knew better than to promise God I would never sin again. All I knew to do was plead for mercy. And in my prayer, God began the work He would conclude two months later.

Shortly after I arrived in Yokosuka, I borrowed a book I’d heard about from a Christian acquaintance: The Late Great Planet Earth, by Hal Lindsey. God used it to change my life.

From the first pages, I was hooked. Lindsey quoted dozens of prophecies in the Jewish Old Testament about the first Advent of Messiah Jesus. The virgin birth of Jesus (Isaiah 7:14); the One who would be called Mighty God and Everlasting Father (Isaiah 9:6); The crucifixion of Jesus (Isaiah 52:12-53:13);  Israel’s Messiah who would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9); Israel will one day look “upon Him whom they had pierced” (Zechariah 12:10); The new covenant (new testament) that God would establish with Israel (Jeremiah 31:31-33); the "Son of Man" who would be given everlasting dominion over all creation from the “Ancient of Days” (Daniel 7:9-14).

The prophecies went on and on and on. Scores of them. Page after page.

I closed the book, stunned by what I'd read, and a surge of revelation swept through my mind: The one whom non-Jews call, “Jesus” is my Jewish Messiah. More than that, God the Father gave Jesus to die in my place – to pay the penalty my many sins deserved. Jesus’ blood bought my forgiveness.

I could really be forgiven. For everything I had ever done.

Everything.

I knew instinctively what I needed to do. I put the book aside, knelt at my bunk, and said simply, “God, I believe Jesus is the Messiah.”

That was it. No long-winded discourse. No confession of sins. No asking Jesus to be my savior. Just seven words. But God heard my heart. He knew with those few words I committed myself to follow Jesus. To obey Him. To do whatever He told me to do.

Before the last syllable left my lips, God had changed me. Completely. From the inside out.

I rose from my knees – and suddenly panicked.

I never owned a Bible, much less, knew what is in it. In fact, the only verse of Scripture I’d ever remembered hearing was, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” As soon as I rose from my knees, that verse popped into my mind and fear gripped me. What if I’d just committed idolatry?

I went back to my knees and said, “God, if I’ve just made a mistake, please show me.”

I waited. And I waited. Still on my knees, I waited for an answer. But the relief I had felt when I’d told God about Jesus remained with me. And so I stood up, as committed as ever to obey Jesus. I walked to my desk, pulled a bag of marijuana from my top drawer, and flushed it down the toilet. I pulled my stack of pornographic magazines from my footlocker and threw them in the dumpster behind my barracks. My language also received an immediate dose of bleach. The four-letter words I had for years used to punctuate my sentences were gone. Just like that. In a moment. Like the twinkling of an eye.

My life was so suddenly different, when I returned to work two days later, my curious co-workers gathered around me and asked what had happened. And I joyfully told them: Jesus happened to me.

On December 24, 1972, I knew nothing of Church doctrines about salvation, the Trinity, the Sacraments, or any of the most simple teachings of Christianity. All I knew was, I was a sinner and I needed a new life and a clean slate.

I didn’t know the term, but I needed to be born again.

And God, in His overflowing compassion, heard my Yom Kippur prayer, and on Christmas Eve, brought me His answer.

As I sit here, thirty-eight years after it all began, reviewing in my mind where I’ve been and where I am today, I realize afresh that I am an illustration of God’s mercy and grace. And I think of St. Paul’s words to Timothy: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life (1 Timothy 1:15-16).

So, what's my point in sharing with you my story?

It's this. If God’s patience and compassion extended to St. Paul; If His patience and compassion extended to me -- even after all I’ve done, the half of which I didn't mention here . . .

Then His patience and compassion will also extend to you. Whoever you are. Whatever you’ve done. Or how often you’ve done it. He will never, ever, reject the penitent.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable mercy.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Bible Reading Plan

I posted this piece some time ago, but after thinking about it, I thought it might be helpful to some readers if I posted it again.
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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, Numbers, and 1 Chronicles because the chapters that I don't list below contain pages of laws and family genealogies, etc, that can become tedious to read – and (more important) possibly discourage continuation. I deleted Leviticus from the list for the same reason. Furthermore, I did not list below all of the various chapters in several OT books that include litanies of names, regulations or laws. As you read, you will find them for yourself. I suggest you skim through them your first time or two through the Bible.

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.

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

Genesis
Exodus (chapters 1-24, 32-34)
Numbers (chapters 10-25)
Deuteronomy
Joshua
Judges
1 & 2 Samuel
Psalms 1-72
1 & 2 Kings
Psalms 73-150
Job
Isaiah
Hosea
Joel
Jonah
Micah
Ecclesiastes
Song of Songs
Jeremiah
Lamentations
Baruch
Habakkuk
Obadiah
Zephaniah
Esther
Ruth
Daniel
Ezra
Nehemiah
Haggai
Jonah
Wisdom
Amos
Proverbs 1-15
Ezekiel 1-40
Proverbs 16-31
Zechariah
Malachi
Judith
Tobit
Sirach
1 Chronicles 10-21, 28-29
2 Chronicles
1&2 Maccabees

New Testament

Luke
Acts
1 & 2 Corinthians
Galatians
Ephesians
Romans
John
Revelation
Matthew
Colossians
1 & 2 Peter
James
Philippians
Mark
1&2 Thessalonians
1&2 Timothy
Titus
Hebrews
1-3 John
Philemon
Jude

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.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Knowing my Limits

You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28)


I know my limits. Take chocolate. I can't eat just a small bag of chocolate chips. I go for a bowl. And sometimes a second. That's why I ask my wife not to buy more than a small bag at a time.

Chocolate is bad enough, but lust – that's an entirely different story. That's a potential killer. I'm embarrassed to admit it took so long, but I eventually learned my limits there, too. And while I might fudge now and then with chocolate, I am meticulous to avoid situations where my eyes can open my mind to unholy images.

That's why I don't go to the beach or pools. I refuse to place myself where half-clothed women routinely stroll. I avoid cable television. Most of what networks broadcast is bad enough – but it's impossible to avoid R-rated commercials. I keep my gaze under tight control when I pass magazine racks and keep my eyes from wandering when a fashionable woman crosses my path.

The Holy Spirit will live only in a pure heart. That's one of the reasons St. Paul told the Corinthians " . . . let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God." (2 Corinthians 7:1)

As for me, I've discovered part of perfecting holiness is knowing – and living within – my limits. Which is why I often pray something like this:

Lord, how can I keep myself pure unless You reveal my weaknesses – and then strengthen my heart to obey You? Oh, Holy Spirit, make this the desire of my heart.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Holy Intimacy

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord (Psalm 139:1-4).

Psalm 139 is perhaps among the clearest descriptions of how intimately God knows us -- and perhaps more important, how much He loves us. You might want to take some time to read the entire Psalm. And while you read, be reminded, God knows our thoughts – every one of them. He knows our daydreams, our secret sins, and He hears all of our words and all of our whispers.

Nothing is hidden from Him.

Nothing.

And yet, despite His full knowledge of who we are and what we do, He offers us again, and again – and yet again – an intimate relationship with Him. This is not a Hollywood intimacy, a cheap and tawdry shadow of His holy love. This is a warmth, a closeness, an excitement possible only when offered by the Creator of intimacy -- and made possible only through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus.

Think of it! The sinless Creator became a child, who grew to be a man, who then paid the death penalty OUR sins deserved. And with His payment, everyone who offers his or her life to Jesus in repentance can know that holy intimacy.

I can’t think of a better gift to receive this Christmas.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Not a Method, but a Relationship

I posted this back in February 2010. I'm reposting it again because I have some new readers of the blog and I thought it would be helpful to them if I did so.

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Sometimes I'm asked what method I use during my contemplative prayers – which I think are better defined as meditative than contemplative. Truth is, I don’t have so much a method as I have a relationship. The distinction is not simply semantics. Relationships are built over time. Methods can be developed or copied in a few minutes.

So if asked how I mature in my relationship to Christ – which then translates for me into the process I use in prayer – I would answer this way:

1. My relationship with Christ began in 1972. I can tell you the day and the place where it happened. I recognized I was a sinner and needed divine forgiveness. Having been raised in a Jewish home and knowing nearly nothing about Christianity except that Jesus died for me, I did the only thing I knew I could do. I asked God to forgive my sins and cleanse me through the blood of His Son.

That was it. Just me and God. And in my ignorance of so many things religious, God accepted me where I was. And that's how it started for me.

2. Since becoming a Catholic Christian more than 30 years later, I grow in my relationship with Jesus by always bringing my serious sins into the Confessional. But it is rare for me to go through a day without praying directly to God something like the Act of Contrition for each transgression I commit, regardless of how venial it might seem to me. I try to keep my slate as clean as possible. As the psalmist said, If I hold onto sin in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.

3. Since becoming Catholic. I always receive the Eucharist with purposeful aforethought. When Moses stood before the burning bush, God told him to remove his sandals because the ground on which he was standing was holy. And so each time I approach the consecrated Bread and the Cup, I remind myself the ground on which I stand is no less holy. Doing so helps me receive Christ with a more sober and reflective attitude.

4. I spend an hour each morning with the Lord. I rarely miss a day through the year. To help myself settle into the attitude for prayer and meditation, I listen to one or two recorded Christian hymns or other worship songs. Then during that hour I read at least two chapters of the Bible. (I also read two every evening). Over the course of the last thirty-seven years I’ve read the Bible dozens of times. In addition, Scripture memory has always been an integral part of my relationship with Christ. I have memorized hundreds of verses, and can paraphrase hundreds more. This treasury of God’s word in my heart aids my meditation as the Holy Spirit brings those texts to mind to teach me something fresh or (more often) remind me of something I’d forgotten.

5. My reflections, meditations and prayers during the remainder of the hour are really birthed in my daily decisions to bring my will into conformity with Christ’s. One of the books that has helped me understand the importance of obedience is The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence.

Brother Lawrence wrote that he would not so much as pick up a feather from the ground without permission from the Lord. It is that kind of obedience to Christ, even in the minutia of daily activities, that I try to strive toward. However, I am learning such obedience does not happen in a vacuum. It requires many decisions during the day to either obey Him or rationalize why I do not have to obey. But each correct decision makes the next one easier.

Two of my favored prayer methods is Lectio Divina and St. Ignatian “imaginative” meditation.

Lectio divina is an ancient form of prayer often associated with the monastic tradition. As I read from the Bible I ask myself what the writer was trying to convey to his readers. Then I ask what the Holy Spirit might be trying to convey to me in the passage. As I ponder the questions, I mull those thoughts over and over. Sometimes I will begin memorizing a particular verse in the text and speak it back to God as a form of prayer.

Ignatian prayer uses the power of imagination to draw me closer to God. As I read through the Scripture, or consider one of the mysteries of the Rosary, I meditate on a scene that might catch my attention – the scourging of Christ at the pillar, for example. I try to imagine what it would have been like if I had been there, watching the horrible scene play out. I try to smell the dust swirling in the breezes, to hear the mob’s shouts behind me, to watch our Blessed Mother crumble with grief to the dirt as the soldier’s whip slices Jesus’ back. And as I imagine myself in the moment, I pray whatever thoughts come to my mind as I watch the scene unfold.

At other times I pray my own spontaneous prayers, or recite some of the many prayers given us by the Church. St. Ignatius of Loyola’s prayer is one example:

Oh Lord, take my freedom, my memory, my understanding and my will. All that I am and all that I possess You have given me: I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more.

The prayer of Pope Clement XI is another (I include only a portion of his prayer here):

Lord, I believe in you: increase my faith. I trust in you: strengthen my trust. I love you: let me love you more and more. I am sorry for my sins: deepen my sorrow. I want to do what you ask of me: In the way you ask, For as long as you ask, Because you ask it. Help me to prepare for death with a proper fear of judgment, but a greater trust in your goodness. Lead me safely through death to the endless joy of heaven. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen

One of my favorite prayers is the Humility Litany of Cardinal Merry Del Val. (I include only a portion of it here):

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, hear me.
From the desire of being loved,
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred to others,
Deliver me, O Jesus.

From the fear of being humiliated,

From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
Deliver me, O Jesus


That others may be loved more than I,
That others may be esteemed more than I,
That others may be praised and I unnoticed, That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should
O Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.


My prayer-life, deeply rooted in a long-term growing relationship with Jesus, is no different than the prayer lives of any other Christian during the past two thousand years who has had a passion to know Christ – not just know about Him. I hope something of what I have written here will stir you to seek more of our Lord and Savior.

It’s not about a method. It’s about a relationship.

And it's about starting sooner than later.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Doing it to Him

“Against Thee only have I sinned and done what is evil in Thy sight” (Psalm 51).

In David’s confession of his sin with Bathsheba, he didn’t say, “I have sinned against Uriah.”  David acknowledged he had sinned against God.

And when I recently read that passage, I thought of Saul.

The Pharisee was convinced that those who followed the heretic Jesus were a cancerous blight on civilization. They must be silenced. They would be silenced. And Saul would make sure of it.

So, foaming with rage, he made his way to Damascus to drag Christians to prison and -- if possible -- to execution.

You probably know the rest of the story. On his way to Damascus, a sudden burst of light knocked Saul off his feet. And then he heard the thunderous accusation: Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me? I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting (Acts 8).

Until that moment, the zealot hadn't realized when he hurt Christians, he hurt Jesus. When he brutalized them, he brutalized Jesus. When he imprisoned them, he did it to Jesus.

This point is critically important  – one fraught with extraordinary ramifications.

When we hurt others, we hurt Jesus, for how we treat each other, the Lord Jesus warned, we treat Him (see Matthew 25:31-46). When we claw our way past others for better jobs or positions, we scrape Jesus’ flesh under our fingernails. When we turn our backs on the needy, we are turning our backs on the Savior. When we slander, cheat, or steal from others, we are attacking our Lord.

Yet another reason to seek God's grace, that He might teach us to guard our lips, our hands, our feet, that we not hurt others – and Him – again.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Security and the 'Mark'

It was then permitted to breathe life into the beast's image, so that the beast's image could speak and (could) have anyone who did not worship it put to death. [He] forced all the people, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to be given a stamped image on their right hands or their foreheads, so that no one could buy or sell except one who had the stamped image of the beast's name or the number that stood for its name. Wisdom is needed here; one who understands can calculate the number of the beast, for it is a number that stands for a person. His number is six hundred and sixty-six (Revelation 13:15-18).

Biblical scholars have, for centuries, interpreted this passage to speak of the Anti-Christ, whose advent will precede Christ's second advent. It will be a time of great tribulation for the world -- and especially for Israel and for the Church. Jesus spoke of the time in the synoptic gospels (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21), and He warned His children to understand the signs that would precede that time.

I thought of the passage in Revelation (above) in relation to the latest brouhaha surrounding the scanning through clothing and the perceived groping by TSA agents at airports across America -- all for the sake (we are told) of flight security. In the first week or so of its implementation, opinions -- and not a few tempers -- flared and raged in airports and across the internet about the safety, morality, and constitutionality of it all.

But (at this writing), people are acquiescing to the scans and the physical searches of their private parts. After all -- we are told -- it's all done for the sake of our security.

Which brings me back to the passage in Revelation about the stamped image, without which no one will be able to buy food, pay the light bill, the rent, doctor bills . . . . and about which Jesus warned the Church. And I have to wonder -- if we are so willing to acquiesce to getting essentially naked for a TSA camera, if we are so willing to let a stranger grope our wives and our children (and ourselves) . . . is it really that far a stretch of our imagination to consider how easily we will acquiesce to the government when it orders us to have our government-issued IDs stamped into our skin -- for the sake of everyone's security?

For me, that is a scary thought, for when the Lord Jesus warned the apostle -- and through him, the Church -- about the Anti-Christ's 'mark,' Jesus also warned, anyone who " . .  .  accepts [the Beast's] mark on forehead or hand, will also drink the wine of God's fury, poured full strength into the cup of his wrath, and will be tormented in burning sulfur before the holy angels and before the Lamb . . . and there will be no relief day or night for those who worship the beast or its image or accept the mark of its name" (Revelation 14:9-11).

Lord, how much longer before You return for your children?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Child or Tool?

Paul, a slave of God, called as an apostle . . . (Romans 1:1)


God can use anyone for His purposes,

As a tool . . .

Like Pharaoh who scoffed
“Who is the Lord that I should let His people go?” (1)
but soon learned of the unassailable might 
of that Lord.
Or the Assyrian king
who sought to destroy God’s people;
and of whom God mocked,
“Have you not heard? Long ago I planned
that you should turn fortified cities into ruined heaps.” (2)
Or the courtier in Persia
who lusted to destroy the Jews,
but through whom
God brought great victory
to Israel; (3)

God’s tools, each;
who never knew
He opposes
the proud.

Yes, God can use anyone for His purposes;

As a tool . . .
or as a child.

Like St. Paul
who called himself first
God’s slave –
before he would call himself
an apostle; (4)
Or Francis of Assisi,
heir to great wealth,
yet disdained even the clothes on his back
so he might gain
the poverty of Christ.
Or the Mother of Calcutta
who thought it a privilege
to cradle the diseased
and destitute
dregs
– as they were called –
of their society.

God’s children, each;
who knew
He opposes the proud . . .
but gives grace
to the humble

Child or Tool.
Which
are we?

1) Exodus 5:2
2) Kings 19:25
3) Esther 8,9
4) Romans 1:1

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What if they said "No"?

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men. At once they left their nets and followed him.” (Matthew 5:18-19)

As I read this passage two things dropped into my mind. First, if I were the one choosing potential leaders of my movement, I would have bypassed these guys and sought others with better financial resources, or at least some political clout.

I'm glad Jesus doesn't chose people like I do.

The second thing I noticed – the men left their livelihoods. It cost them plenty to follow Jesus. And follow Him they did, wherever He led.

Even to their martyrdom.

What if Peter and Andrew had said no to Jesus? What if they’d decided to stay with the family business and not risk their fortunes on this itinerant preacher’s ideas? A few verses later Jesus calls two others, James and John. They also left their work to follow Him. How different would our church look today if they had said no?

For one thing, we wouldn’t have the three epistles of John, the Revelation or the Gospel of John. Nor would we have Peter’s epistles. Think how much poorer the Church would be today without those writings. And how much did Andrew’s influence, and James’ influence enrich the early church? How many men and women came to faith because of their lives and words and witness?

Only eternity knows. But I know they – and our heavenly Father -- are glad they said yes.

Perhaps more important – how much poorer would the church be today if YOU had said no? Whom have you touched -- whom have you influenced -- for Christ by your life and you words?

Only eternity knows.

But I know they – and our heavenly Father -- are glad you said yes.

"Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Even for an Abortion

I was invited to speak at St. Augustine Catholic Church last evening on the subject of creeds, serving God, and living for Christ. During my talk, I mentioned how grateful I am to God for His forgiveness and cleansing of my terrible past. And I thought it important that I post here one of the sad stories from my younger years. I've published this story in my two books.
---------------------------


In heaven we will know each other by the glance of the soul. – St. Elizabeth Seaton


Has it really been more than 40 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 the car, how many dimes I dropped into the parking meter . . . .

I was 17, my girlfriend, 18. Both of us, I told myself, were too young to bear the responsibilities of a baby.

"What do you mean, you're pregnant?" I asked when she returned from the physician's office. I knew she expected me to propose marriage.

Instead, I talked her into having an abortion.

I remember how nonchalantly I passed sentence on our child. I chose to believe the life growing inside her womb was nothing more than a glob of cells. I chose to believe Judith had the right to choose what to do with her own body, and every baby should be a wanted baby. I embraced every excuse I’d ever heard because each one freed me of my obligation to Judith and to our child. A few months after the abortion, my girlfriend and I went our separate ways.

Today, my son or daughter would be more than forty years old. Perhaps she would be a teacher. Or a physician. Or a musician. Or a . . . Perhaps I would be a grandfather.

But there is no perhaps. I can never turn back the clock and silence the lies and excuses that over-ruled my conscience.

I lived with the ache of what I’d done for nearly five years, until, in December 1972, I found solace in Christ’s forgiveness and hope in Scripture’s promises of forgiveness. Three come to mind even as I write this: “If you, Lord, mark our sins, Lord, who can stand? But with you is forgiveness and so you are revered” (Psalm 130:3-4); and, “[God] delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).; and, "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all wrongdoing" (1 John 1:9).

Although my sadness lingered, I could rest in the assurance that, in my repentance, God forgave me for killing my baby.

However, thirty-three years after becoming a Christian, the Holy Spirit deepened my comfort when He led me to the Catholic Church and I learned the fuller meaning of the Communion of Saints. The Church’s teaching of that Communion assures me that my baby, killed before she took her first breath, is in heaven because of God’s abundant mercy.

I know she is praying for me.

And I know she forgives me.

Oh, what solace is that thought! She forgives me.

I’ve named my baby Celeste. My daughter, whom I never got to hold, is alive in heaven, and when we meet, she will wipe the tears that still flow when I think of my cruelty and selfishness.

When Christians repeat the inestimable words of promise in the Nicene Creed: “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come,” we can take great comfort in knowing that those who wait for us around God's throne – even those we hurt in this life – forgive us. Washed in the blood of the Lamb and now perfected in love, they wait to welcome us to an eternity of God’s forgiveness and grace.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Maybe Today

[God] will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord God will wipe tears away from all [our] faces . . . . And it will be said in that day, "Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation" (Isaiah 25:8-9).

So I’m reading through the 25th chapter of Isaiah, and came across verses 8 & 9. Then my thoughts drifted to Jesus’ words in the 14th chapter of St. John’s gospel:

In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be (John 14:2-3).

And I contemplated the Second Advent.

And I remembered . . .


There’s coming a day,
perhaps even tomorrow,
when he wipes the tears,
kisses the wounds, and
binds the broken. (1)

There’s coming a day,
perhaps even tomorrow,
when the Lord descends
from heaven with a
shout;
A day when the trumpet of God
resounds,
and those who died in Christ
burst from their graves;
A day when we too,
who live in Christ,
will be caught up with them,
to meet the Lord in the air,
and be forever with Him. (2)

There’s coming a day,
perhaps even tomorrow,
when we no longer walk by faith,
but by sight; (3)
When we no longer grieve,
or moan,
or utter so much as a whimper;
When the lion lies with the lamb,
and the child plays on a viper’s den
and is not be hurt. (4)

There’s coming a day,
perhaps even tomorrow,
when the last nail is hammered
into the last board
of the last room
of the house promised us by Christ;
And we hear Him call:
“It's time!” (5)

There’s coming a day,
perhaps even tomorrow –
or perhaps even . . .
today.

Oh, Lord Jesus . . .
we wait.

1. Isaiah 25:8-9
2. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; 1 Corinthians 15:50-52
3. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8
4. Isaiah 11:8-9; Isaiah 65:25
5. John 14:2-3

Sunday, October 31, 2010

If Necessary, Use Words

Let those who wait for you, Lord of hosts, not be shamed through me. Let those who seek you, God of Israel, not be disgraced through me (Psalm 69:7, NAB).

In the nearly forty years I’ve served Christ I’ve often discovered talking the Gospel is much easier than walking it.

Gospel-talk flows easily across my lips when I share my faith with others. Gospel-walk is a different story. Walking my talk means I must avoid imitating some first century Christians whom St. Paul rebuked when he wrote: God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you (Romans 2:24). It seems from the context of his letter to the Romans, more than just a few Christians in that city did a lot of right talking, but not enough right walking.

Gospel-walking requires I be daily circumspect about my lifestyle so I don’t lead others astray or bring discredit to the Gospel. Daily decisions such as how I dress, or speak, where I find entertainment, or how I behave when no one is watching, all need to be modeled after what Jesus taught and how He lived.

Too much is at stake for me -- or you -- to live according to the moral norms of the culture instead of those moral norms taught in Scripture and clarified by the Church. The people we meet each day have the right to see the gospel in us before they hear it from us.

St. Francis of Assisi must have understood that principle when he encouraged the Church, “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Only an Allegory?

See to it that no one captivate you with an empty, seductive philosophy according to human tradition, according to the elemental powers of the world and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily (Colossians 2:8-9).

If Adam and Eve are not
historical individuals,
but simply a story
to illustrate humanity’s turn from God,
then for whom did God kill the animal
to cover their sin with blood
and their bodies with clothing*
and which foreshadowed
the Lamb of God,
whose blood on a cross
would cover our sins?

If Adam and Eve are only an fable,
then from whom do we inherit original sin?
And what could St. Paul have meant when he wrote:
“For just as in Adam all die,
so too in Christ shall all be brought to life?**
Or what could the Apostle have meant when he wrote:
“Through one person sin entered the world, and through sin death,”***
if our first parents were simply
an allegory?

If Adam and Eve
are only an allegory,
can we be certain
Jesus’ resurrection
is not also an allegory,
a fable to illustrate life’s triumph over death?
Or can we be sure
the changing of bread and wine during Mass
into the very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ
is not also an allegory to illustrate
God's presence with us?

But more serious is the question,
if Adam and Eve are not
historical individuals,
then perhaps He whom is called “God”
is also not really historical –
but only an allegory . . .

for what purpose,
one can only guess.

*Genesis 3:21
** 1 Corinthians 15:22
*** Romans 5:12

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Nothing More To Hide

So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Most times when I read this verse, I think about myself.

You wouldn’t know it by looking at me. In my dress shirt and pants I appear trim and athletic. But you’ll not catch me wearing a bathing suit. Age has taken its pound of flesh from my self-image and molded several around my midsection. Love handles, they’re called.

I hate them.

But at 60 years old, I’ve learned to compensate. I never take my shirt off in public.

Hiding behind clothes reminds me of my younger days when I didn’t need to conceal bulging flesh. I weighed 150 pounds of muscle and proudly strutted shirtless along the beach. But even while I exposed my physique, I hid a lot of other things behind a wardrobe of my own making.

For a while I wore intellectualism and various self-centered philosophies like a suit of armor. My two favorite outfits were: “All religions lead to the same place,” and “as long as no one gets hurt, it doesn’t matter how we live.”

Then for a time I clothed myself with atheism -- and for good reason. If God didn’t exist, then I had no one to whom I would ultimately answer. I could do what I pleased -- so long as I didn’t get caught.

A few years later, when I accepted the likelihood of God’s existence, I wrapped myself in a robe of religion. I memorized the Ten Commandments (to show God I was serious) and performed good deeds as often as it was convenient to do so.

As I continued changing wardrobes I never suspected how threadbare my clothes had become. Only when I discovered the gospel of Christ did I recognize my nakedness. To make things worse, God stood me in front of His mirror . . . the Scriptures.

I cringed at what I saw.

My reflection sagged under the weight of every fold and crease of my sins - thefts, immorality, pride, blasphemy, drunkenness, and my baby whom I killed by abortion.

I wanted to cover myself, to do anything to hide my hideous appearance. But there was nowhere to go. Nothing to wear. At the time I didn’t know the Biblical term, but I needed a conversion of heart, a rebirth (St. John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:3). I needed to become a new creation, (2 Corinthians 5:17), to exchange my filthy clothes for Christ’s robes of righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

But . . . enough about myself.

Are you like me? If you're trying to hide something from God, I can tell you from experience, you may as well give up. He sees through every fabric and every layer of excuse you slip on to cover your sins. "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight," Scripture tells us. “Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).

So, since He sees it all anyway, why continue the charade? Why not just unload all that burdensome weight and let God embrace you in His incomprehensible and warmly intimate love? “If anyone is in Christ,” St. Paul wrote, “he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). That means God offers us a new heart and a new life. And Isaiah urged, be clothed "with garments of salvation and arrayed . . . in a robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10). That means no one has to live with the old clothes, because God spread His arms on a cross to offer us spotless garments, an eternal and flawless remedy available only in Jesus Christ.

All we have to do is stop our cover-ups, make an honest and humble confession . . .

And then start obeying Him.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

From Fire to Ashes

The fire on the altar is to be kept burning; it must not go out. Every morning the priest shall put firewood on it. On this he shall lay out the holocaust and burn the fat of the peace offerings. The fire is to be kept burning continuously on the altar; it must not go out (Leviticus 6:5-6).

The smoke never stopped. Night and day, it rose toward heaven. From every corner of the camp the people could see it in the distance. It always reminded them Whose they were, and to Whom they belonged.

They couldn't escape the message, but the message was always in danger of losing its power. And after a time, that’s what happened. The special became routine. Holy awe waned into indifference. The perpetual smoke became more a token of religion than an evidence of faith. Even before they crossed the Jordan, Israel fell into spiritual lethargy and everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Deuteronomy 12:8).

Israel was not alone in her tendency to drift from awe to boredom. Throughout ancient and modern history, humanity, like sheep, has more often than not wandered from the fires of faith to the ashes of religion.

Even we are at risk.

While the Lord Jesus continually offers intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25), we can lose our passion for Him. Our worship can tend toward religious ceremony rather than inspire the flames of faithful devotion.

Israel’s fire did not need to cool. Neither does ours. The remedy available to Israel is the same for God’s people today: “Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near. Let the sinner forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts . . . ” (Isaiah 55:6-7).

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Temples

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
(1 Corinthians 6:19)


Isn’t it curious
that the holy,
awesome,
magnificent God
thinks us so precious,
so lovely,
so worth His attention
that He
literally
lives
in us,
makes us a temple
for His Holy Spirit.

Yet, knowing this,
so many of us,
think
ourselves worthless.
We listen to lies
that whisper
“Can’t”
“Won’t”
“Impossible”
“Failure.”

While all the while,
the Holy Spirit rests quietly in His temple,
yearning that we see ourselves
as He sees us.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Debating the Armor

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).

It astounds me when Christians – especially teachers – speak fluently about God’s mysteries, but then turn around and theorize the supernatural into something comprehensible.

No surprise, then, that they speculate (many assert) such things as Isaiah or Daniel didn’t write the books ascribed to them. Moses didn’t write the Torah. The Exodus didn’t happen as described. And Jesus didn’t say what the Gospel writers record Him as saying.

And I wonder, at what point do they ever stop rationalizing the supernatural and accept that God’s ways are above ours? When do they take to themselves the words of people like St. John Chrysostom who said, God is “the incomprehensible, the invisible, the ungraspable”? Or St. Augustine’s: “If it can be understood, it is not God”? Or St. Thomas Aquinas, who taught, “Concerning God, we cannot grasp what he is, but only what he is not. Whatever can be understood . . . is less than God”?

Several years ago I imagined myself on a beach, facing the shore. I held a glass of water in my hands and I still remember thinking, “I have here all I need to know about Jesus.”

And then I felt water circling my feet, and I heard the sound of gentle waves breaking toward me. When I turned I saw the Pacific ocean, as deep as it was wide, stretched before me to the horizon.

I looked back at the glass of water and realized how utterly silly I had been.

St. Paul, arguably the greatest intellect in Church history, wrote, “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. But I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). Centuries earlier, the psalmist wrote, "My heart in not proud, nor my mind lofty, nor do I involve myself in great matters or in things too difficult for me . . ." (Psalm 131). And the Lord Jesus said, "Unless you become as children you shall not enter at all into the kingdom of God" (Matthew 18:3).

Sometimes I wonder if those who debate the supernatural nature of Scripture are looking at the shore and holding a similar glass of water.

During my many years walking with Christ I have met teachers in the Church who, in an honest attempt to answer questions about the Scriptures, analyzed, dissected and refined away the supernatural authorship, writing and transmission of God’s word until it lost its power to change and to save lives.

I have a seminary degree and have studied the Biblical texts in their original languages. I know Biblical research is a critically important adjunct to our Christian faith. St. Luke appealed to research when he wrote his two letters to Theopholus (see Luke 1 and Acts 1). And St. Peter admonished his readers to closely attend to the letters written by St. Paul (2 Peter 3:15-16). But at what point does scrutiny and analysis rob us of things only faith can provide?

When His disciples tried to prevent parents from bringing their children to Jesus, the Lord rebuked His disciples and said: “Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it" (Luke 18:16-17).

Children have faith in the supernatural because their minds are not cluttered by what their eyes and ears tell them. But then they grow into adults, and many lose their childlike trust because faith cannot appeal to the senses. Faith is a supernatural gift from God. As someone once said, “For those who believe, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe, no explanation is possible.”

The blessed men and women of Catholic history are role models for the 21st century Church because of their uniquely intimate relationships with God. I doubt they gained such intimacy because they tossed aside the supernatural in favor of the natural. Their relationships matured from adults into the faith of children because they sought to know nothing else but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

I will let the Ph.Ds, the Th.Ds, and LL.Ds hypothesize away the supernatural as they wish. And I will ignore them. The night is almost upon us. We don’t have time to debate the supernatural armor of our warfare (see Ephesians 6:10-17). The fields are white to harvest.

Someone has to get out there and rescue the perishing.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

SHMILY

This is another essay I published in one of my books. I thought it might be helpful to post it here today.
------------------------

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life (St. John 3:16).

It’s easy to find the story of SHMILY. Laura Jeanne Allen published the anecdote of her grandparents’ mysterious word in a 1999 Chicken Soup for the Couple’s Soul. Since then, SHMILY – an acronym for “See How Much I Love You” – has raced across the world through the power of the internet.

During their 50 years of marriage, Andrew and Alice McAndrew’s love for each other found expression in hundreds of ways. They stole gentle kisses in the kitchen, held hands at every opportunity, and spoke their devotion to each other with their eyes. They knelt each day in church to meet with God, whom they knew to be the source of their love. They bowed their heads before each meal, acknowledging Him as the source of their sustenance.

Like many couples who have lived together for many years, they could end each other’s sentences, sense one another’s moods, and meet each other’s needs before those needs were even spoken.

For the greater part of their half-century marriage, Andrew and Alice passed See-How-Much-I-Love-You messages to each other like a sacred game of tag. They left notes scrawled with SHMILY on dashboards and car seats, under pillows and traced in the fireplace ashes. They wrote the word in the steam left on the mirror after a hot shower, and carved it into bars of soap. One time, Alice unrolled an entire roll of toilet paper and wrote the word on the last sheet.

During their last years together, breast cancer hung above their heads like a dark and ominous cloud. But the disease couldn’t cast a shadow on their love for each other. She held onto her husband’s steady hand as they continued their morning walks to church. She often whispered to her grandchildren how good-looking her husband was, and that she “knew how to pick ‘em.”

When her strength waned and forced her to remain indoors, Andrew painted their room yellow so she could feel surrounded by sunshine. When the cancer finally took her life, the family gathered for the funeral where, to no one’s surprise, they saw Grandpa’s final love note written on the pink ribbons of the funeral bouquet: SHMILY.

One of my favorite Scripture passages is from the book of Isaiah: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands . . .” (Isaiah 49:15-16, NASB).

Most people who have seen a crucifix know of the placard placed by Pontius Pilate above our Lord’s head (John 19:19-22). It holds the acronym INRI – the first letters of the Latin phrase, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

When I heard about SHMILY, my imagination framed for me two lovers who had grown old together, who deeply cherished each other, and now Andrew suffered the loss of his life mate. Then, a moment later, my mind’s eye turned in another direction. It was there that I saw our Savior. I saw His hands nailed to the cross beams, His feet to the wood, the crown of thorns pressed into his forehead. And above His head, I saw the inscription on the placard:

It read, SHMILY.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Taken Captive

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6)


I expect to hear it from non-Christians. And I do, quite often. The Bible is not inspired by God, they say. Men wrote down the stories they heard, stories rooted in hearsay, tradition and a lust for political power. God had little – or nothing – to do with it.

I expect to hear that kind of argument from non-Christians. But I am always surprised – and disappointed (angered is probably a better description) – when I hear it from Christians. Especially from Christian teachers, writers and pastors.

In the past few weeks I’ve run across this kind of rationale from three different leaders in the Church. The reason for their dismissal of the full and transcendent inspiration of Scripture runs the gamut from believing the Torah (Five Books of Moses) were not written by Moses because there is evidence of a variety in writing styles among those books, to believing St. Luke wrote his gospel after the destruction of Jerusalem because Jesus’ warning about Jerusalem’s destruction (chapter 21), could not have been spoken by Him before it occurred. St. Luke, they argue, put the words into Jesus’ mouth to make it appear as a prophecy – when in fact, it was simply history. It doesn’t seem to matter to those who say this that their argument makes St. Luke a liar.

Much of what I’ve heard from these teachers in the last few weeks has focused on the words of Jesus in the Gospels. Essentially, the argument goes like this: The gospels were written decades after the Lord lived (which is true), and each writer wrote his gospel to address a specific 1st century Christian community (another true statement). But, they say – and here is where their philosophy goes dangerously off-center – the gospel writers put words into Jesus’ mouth so they could address social problems in those communities by using Jesus’ words as their authority.

Another way of saying it is this: The words of Christ were modified in the gospels to fit the needs of the community to whom the gospels were written. But the problem with that idea, followed to its logical conclusion, is that one can make a valid argument against using the gospels to guide 21st century Christian faith and morals because we live in a different time and culture.

In my nearly 40 years of walking with Christ, I have repeatedly witnessed how denial of the transcendence of Scripture across cultures and across time has always seduced people to ultimately reject Scripture as the foundation for Christian faith and morals.

How can anyone know for sure if God loves us if we can't trust the promises in Scripture to actually be Christ’s words – and, just as vital – that His words reach beyond first century culture and time? How can we believe God expects holiness from us if we can't trust the warnings in the Gospels are really Christ’s words? How can we trust the Church’s teaching that Jesus established apostolic succession through St. Peter if we can’t trust those words in Matthew 16:17-18 were Christ’s, and not a later addition to satisfy an agenda of some religious/political group? If, as is taught by some teachers in the Church, many stories in Scripture are simply allegories to illustrate a spiritual truth, then how can we be certain – for example – the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 is not simply an allegory to teach the importance of sharing with others, or how can we know for sure Jesus’ resurrection is not simply an allegory to illustrate life triumphs over death?

Late in September of this year, the Pew Research Foundation published a poll examining the religious knowledge of Americans. Their findings? Atheists know more about Christian faith than either Protestants or Catholics. And equally as telling, nearly half of Catholics polled do not believe the Eucharist is the very Presence of Jesus. They believe, instead, the Eucharist is simply a symbol of Christ’s body and blood.

But how can they be blamed when their teachers tell them – perhaps not verbatim, but by implication – they ought not believe their Bible is the transcendent word of God, but simply a compilation of the philosophies of men who modified Scripture to support their 1st century agendas?

Perhaps the tendency of some to dilute the timelessness of Scripture is one reason the Lord Jesus warned, “. . . everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell--and great was its fall" (Matthew 7:24-27).

And St. Paul wrote to the church at Colossae: See to it that no one captivate you with an empty, seductive philosophy according to human tradition, according to the elemental powers of the world 3 and not according to Christ (Colossians 2:8).

(More to follow in subsequent posts to this blog).

Thursday, September 30, 2010

My Unbelief

In hope against hope [Abraham] believed, so that he might become a father of many nations . . . [and] without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead . . . (Romans 4:18-24. St. Paul is referencing the Old Testament story found in Genesis 15:1-6).


Sometimes I have difficulty trusting God to answer my prayers. Not the small ones that are of little consequence – like finding lost keys or quickly recovering from a cold. He’s answered those kinds of prayers numerous times for me during the past four decades. But I mean the ‘big’ prayers – like healing people of cancer or chronic illness, or my pleading for the salvation of those close to me.

Sometimes those prayers seem to fall on deaf ears. In a few cases, I’ve prayed for years. Even decades. And nothing has changed, except we’ve grown older, but no healthier or closer to Jesus. In some cases, people died before I could see the answer to my prayer.

Yet, at my age in Christ – I’ve been serving Him nearly 40 years – the smallness of my faith very much troubles me, especially when I read passages like the one in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans cited above. But I argue with myself that it was easy for Abraham to trust God’s promise because God actually spoke with him face to face. And so I tell myself if God made a face-to-face promise to me about the people for whom I pray, I could believe better, too.

At least, that’s what I tell myself.

Recently, as I contemplated this passage in Romans and told the Lord how disappointed I am that He has not yet answered some of my ‘big’ prayers, I sensed Him ask, “If you can’t trust Me to answer your big prayers, can you trust Me, nonetheless, to do what’s right – even if I don’t answer your prayers?”

I thought about that for a few moments, and as if to help settle the question, I remembered what Abraham said to the Lord before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah: “Shall not the Judge of all the world do right?” (Genesis 18:25).

It was a rhetorical question Abraham asked. He knew the answer. Of course God will do right. He can never do anything that is not right or just or pure or holy. Such virtues are part of His very nature, and to do otherwise would be uniquely impossible.

So the Holy Spirit’s question circled in my mind. If I can’t completely trust Him to grant me my ‘big’ requests, can I at least trust Him to do what is right?

I didn’t answer the question at the time. I still have not answered it.

The right answer requires a measure of faith – or trust, or confidence . . . whatever is the correct word I am not entirely sure even as I write this – the answer requires a measure of faith I am not sure I have. After all, if the people for whom I pray don’t get better – or even die, despite my prayers – with what can I comfort myself?

Or if those for whom I pray never accept Jesus as their Lord, if they do not serve Him in humility and obedience, I know they will enter an eternity of measureless emptiness and pain when they die. And I wonder how I would be able to reconcile myself with the knowledge that God is not willing that any perish, but those for whom I prayed did perish (2 Peter 3:9).

So, to glibly answer the Holy Spirit: “Yes, I believe You always do the right thing” is something I am, at the moment, unable to do because my answer would not be completely honest. And though I am embarrassed to admit my failure of faith, what good would it do to act as if my faith is greater than it is?

And so I keep circling.

And I plead with the Lord, “I believe. Help me in my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Love Him, or Like Him -- There's Work To Be Done

I've been contemplating faith lately. More specifically, my faith. What it means to me, where it wants to take me, and am I willing to go. I plan to share more of that later. But for the time being, during my faith meditations, I thought of an essay I published in my last book, Lessons Along the Journey. I modified it for this blogpost.
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Although I’ve grappled with forgiveness, commitment, holiness, and a dozen other spiritual markers along my journey with Christ, I’ve often had to repeat those same steps. Even as I write this, the grappling continues.

Yet, as I reflect over the decades, I can clearly see one predominant thread woven through each lesson learned. It is this: God loves me. His love was there when my father left us. I was five. It was there during my teen years when I got lost in immorality and rebellion. It was there when I raised my fist and accused Him of not caring about me. It was there when . . . when . . . .

Truth is, it’s always been there.

But now I will share one more thought. It centers on a Scripture I read a few months before I completed this manuscript. The lesson summarizes the essence of the Father’s relationship with His children.

The New Testament writers used two words for “love” – phileo and agape. Phileo (fil-EH-oh) carries the idea of tender affection. Agape (ah-GAH-pay) is often used to describe God's unconditional, merciful, and enduring love – the kind of love He commands us to have for Him and for others.

One morning, I read the twenty-first chapter of St. John’s gospel and paused at verses 15-17. The margin of my Bible includes the Greek words used for “love” in this passage. I include the words in parentheses below:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love (agape) me more than these?” He said to him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love (phileo) you.” He said to him, "Feed my lambs.”

He then said to him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love (agape) me?” He said to him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love (phileo) you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep.”

He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love (phileo) me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, "Do you love (phileo) me?” and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love (phileo) you.” (Jesus) said to him, "Feed my sheep.”

As I meditated on the passage, I wondered why Peter responded to Christ’s agape with phileo. A modern version of the conversation might sound something like this:

“Peter, do you love me with all your heart?”

“Lord, I have great affection for you.”

“Feed My lambs.”

“Peter, do you really love me?”

“Lord, I think you are wonderful.”

“Tend My sheep.”

“Peter, do you have great affection for me?”

“Lord, you know I do.”

“Feed My sheep.”

Two things caught my attention in this exchange between the Lord and Peter. First, I believe Peter must have felt miserable about his thrice denial of his best friend and Lord. But then I noticed how the Savior tried to help Peter move beyond his guilt. When Peter wouldn't say – couldn’t say – he loved Jesus, the Lord came down to his level: “Okay, my friend. Do you have affection for me?”

How like Christ to be so gentle to our wounded spirits.

And second – and this is equally important – after each agape/phileo exchange the Lord’s charge to Peter was essentially the same: “Feed My sheep.”

In other words, “Peter, I know you feel guilty, but your repentance restored our relationship. Your sorrow and guilt are unnecessary. Don’t let them keep you from your task to tend My flock."

How like the merciful Christ to call us out of our sorrow. How like Him to renew our relationship – vessels of clay that we are – and set us about the work He’s given us to do.

I need that gentleness and mercy. And I imagine you can probably use a dose of it yourself.

When we feel unable to tell Him, “I love You,” the Savior tells us it’s okay if we just like Him a lot. And when our sorrow overwhelms us, the Shepherd comes alongside, puts His arm across our shoulders and tells us, "I agape you."

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Romans 11:33). The penitent's sins are forgiven. All of them, forgotten. All of them, washed in the Blood of the Lamb.

Now, let's get about doing His work.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Personal Savior

I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine . . . (Song of Songs 6:3)


I thought of this verse as I listened to a CD of a well-known Bible teacher who, though he had some keen insights into the New Testament scriptures, told his audience the idea that Jesus is a “personal savior” is foreign to the New Testament message. The man said Jesus came to save the “Church,” to establish a Christian community, and (in his opinion) community salvation – not personal salvation – is the pre-eminent focus of Scripture.

Unfortunately, he is not the only person I’ve heard to teach that erroneous concept. No wonder so many people in the pew feel distanced from their heavenly Father.

It is true Jesus took on human flesh to save the “church” (Ephesians 5:25-27) and to establish a people for Himself (Titus 2:14). But it is also true the Good Shepherd left the ninety-nine sheep safe in the fold and searched for the one gone astray (Luke 15:3-7). It is also true that Jesus left the crowds and went out of His way to minister to the lone Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:1-20). He sought for the blind man who was ostracized from his synagogue (John 9:1-38). He made a point to pass through Samaria to meet a women unwelcomed by her community (John 4:1-38).

Over and over, the New Testament writers make the point – Jesus longs for us to know Him as our personal savior. He longs for us to know Him in an intimate, warm and emotional relationship.

“What must I do to be saved?” The Philippian jailer pleaded with St. Paul. And the apostle answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 15:25-31). “Come to me” the Lord Jesus invited, “all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give [each of] you rest” (Matthew 11:28-30). [Jesus said] “I will never desert [any of] you nor will I ever forsake [any of] you” (Hebrews 13:5); And St. Paul, longing to grow in his relationship with Christ, wrote to the Church at Philippi, ‘[Oh] that I might know Him, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings . . .” (Philippians 3:10).

Yes, the Lord Jesus came to save the Church, but the Church is not an abstract entity. It is comprised of individuals – each of whom is critically valuable in God’s eyes. Without its individual members, the Church would not exist.

From Genesis through Revelation – and the testimonies of the Saints, from St. Francis to St. Augustine to St. Catherine of Sienna to St. Therese of Lisieux to St. Padre Pio -- the Holy Spirit assures us if you or I were the only people who needed to be saved out of the 6 billion people on planet earth – Jesus would have died for us.

By our baptismal faith and ongoing devotion to Christ, you and I – singular, unique, special – you and I belong to Christ. God personally formed us in our mothers’ womb (Psalm 139:13). He is intimately involved with us (Psalm 139:3). He knows our name (John 10:3), how many hairs we have on our head (Luke 12:7), and not a word passes across our tongue that He does not already know (Psalm 139:4).

We belong to the community called the Church, but we must never lose sight of the wonderful truth: Jesus came to save each individual who makes up the Church.

That means you.

And He wants to be your personal savior, friend, confidant, and lover.

You are, truly, your beloved’s. And He is yours.

His banner over you is love.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Not an Easy Thing

I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity (Jonah 4:2-3).

Sometimes I wonder what went through Jonah's mind when God told him to warn the Ninevites of impending judgment. The reluctant prophet had good reason to hate them. Their army had ravaged Israel, perhaps even killing his family and friends. As Jonah headed in the opposite direction, I imagine he thought what I would probably would have thought, "Let them die. All of them."

And sometimes I think if we are not careful we might be more like Jonah than we like to believe.

What do we think of radical Muslims, especially in the aftermath of September 11, 2001? What do we think of them as we watch the continuing bloodbath at their hands since then?  Do we spit, “Let them die. All of them”?

But what should be our Christian response?

Intuitively, we know the answer. But intuition is not the same as doing.

As I've thought about this question from time to time since 9-11, I've wondered how many Sauls God would convert to Apostle Pauls -- if Christians prayed? How many disciples of hate would become missionaries of love -- if Christians prayed? And I still ask myself, if God loved the world so much that He gave, can we -- can I -- not do so little as pray, even for our enemies?

I confess, I have a very, very difficult time with this question, for though I know what should be my response, I find myself often unwilling to do so little as pray for them. Or when I do pray, I do it grudgingly, out of a sense of guilt for being like Jonah

And then I think of the Lord's warning: But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. (Matthew 6:15).

The longer I walk with the Lord, the more I realize living the life of Christ is not an easy thing.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Jesus Christ

While I am out of town this week, I thought I would post something from my first book, We Believe: Forty Meditations on the Nicene Creed. I hope you find it useful.
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Creed Statement: We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ . . .


Today’s focus: Jesus Christ

[Mary] turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" She thought it was the gardener . . . . (John 20:14-15).

I’m such a light sleeper, I need “white-noise” to get a good night’s rest. That’s why I’ve slept with a box fan at my side of the bed for years.

As I meditated on today’s focus – Jesus Christ – I wondered how often His Name becomes white-noise in my spiritual ears. I hear His Name so often, my subconscious mind sometimes reduces it to just another word in my vocabulary, like “the” or “and.”

Jesus.

Christ.

The early Church recognized something extraordinary about that Name which many of us may have forgotten, or perhaps never learned: There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved (Acts 4); prayers find their answer in that Name (John 14); the sick find healing through that Name (James 5); demons tremble at the sound of that Name (James 2); at his Name every knee will bow and every tongue confess He is Lord (Philippians 2).

The New Testament uses dozens of synonyms to describe Him: Lamb of God, Son of God, Anointed One, Shepherd, Bread of Life, Alpha and Omega, King, Savior, Messiah, Prince of Peace . . . And that Name has inspired men and women for two thousand years to live – and if necessary, die – for love of His Name.

So, why do people use the holy Name of Jesus as the punch line of a joke, or to voice surprise or anger, or to use as a swear word?

I have a theory: Satan understands there is eternal life in no other than Jesus. He knows forgiveness of sin is available through no other than Jesus. There is deliverance from his infernal grasp through no other than Jesus.

If the devil can delude people to believe Jesus Christ is the stuff of jokes and swear words, they won’t be so quick to believe He is Son of God, Lamb of God, Great Shepherd, and Light from Light.

When we say Jesus’ name in the Creed, and in reverential conversation, we join our hearts with all those in that great Communion of Saints. And we, too, have the same privilege as they: to fall to our knees in homage to Him whose Name is above every name.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, You spoke through the prophets. Speak also to us. Help us recognize Jesus when He calls. Help us hear above the white noise the voice of Him who loves us so much that He took our sins to Calvary’s cross. Amen.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

From Each and Every One

Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.
(John 8:11)

Jesus knew she was guilty.
Everyone knew it.

Caught in the act
of adultery,
a sin so grievous,
so shameful,
the Law of Moses
demanded
she die.

Yet Jesus –
God from God,
Light from Light –
told her,
“Neither do I condemn you.
Go and sin no more.”

Sometimes I think we think
God stands at the edge of heaven
watching,
waiting for us
to do wrong
so He can “get” us,
so He can smack us to the ground.
Give us cancer.
Kill our child.
Take our home.
Teach us a lesson.
Show us who’s boss.

We expect Him to say,
with ominous warning in His voice,
“Go and sin no more.”
But who expects Him
to preface it with,
“I don’t condemn you”?

Christ’s comforting word
to a woman
worthy of death
reminds me
God does not watch
and wait
for a chance to
whip us.

He watches
without condemnation,
He waits,
without revenge,
hoping that we,
in humility,
repent.

As St. John promised,
if we confess our sins,
God will forgive our sins
and cleanse us
from each –
from every –
one.*

No matter how
grievous,
or shameful
it is.

*1 John 1:9

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The God of the Second Chance

I published this essay in my second book, "Lessons Along the Journey." That essay came to my mind this morning as I spent time with the Lord. I post it here for readers to contemplate.
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As the heavens tower over the earth, so God's love towers over the faithful. As far as the east is from the west, so far have our sins been removed from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on the faithful. For he knows how we are formed, remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:11-14).

If anyone had reason to count himself unforgivable, unredeemable, and useless to God’s community, it was St. Peter.

And it’s no wonder. The fisherman-turned-disciple had lived with Christ for three years. He enjoyed an intimacy with the Master known only to two others of the twelve disciples – James and John. Peter conversed for hours with the Lord. He ate with Him, watched Him walk on water, raise the dead, heal paralytics, and feed thousands with only a few fish and some bread.

Then things took a sharp turn. In Gethsemane, while the Lord agonized in prayer, Peter fell asleep. When soldiers dragged Christ before the civil and religious authorities, Peter cowered and swore – three times – “I don't know the man."

Had that been me, I don’t think I could have recovered from the memory of that night. My neglect and thrice-denial would echo in my mind like rocks bouncing against cavern walls on their way to a dark and unsearchable bottom.

Yet, the more I think about Peter's fall, the greater comfort I find – not because of his failure, but because of his reconciliation. Peter’s reconciliation holds the key for all of us who repeatedly stumble along our journey and wonder if we can get up again – or even if we should get up again.

What would the Church look like today if Peter, overwhelmed by his shame, returned the Kingdom’s keys to Jesus (Matthew 16:18-19) and slipped into the shadows of history? How much less would we understand God’s grace without Peter’s two epistles? How many are in heaven today because Peter discovered, as all of us – believer and non-believer – must discover: God is the God of Another Chance?

Scripture promises: “As the heavens tower over the earth, so God's love towers over the faithful. As far as the east is from the west, so far have our sins been removed from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on the faithful. For he knows how we are formed, remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:11-14).

Satan – the Lord Jesus called him the Father of Lies – wants us to believe there’s no pardon for repeat offenders. If the devil can convince us of that lie, we lose a crucial battle. We get sidelined, lost in the shadows, and unable to help set free other prisoners from spiritual bondage.

But Scripture repeatedly assures us, there is abundant pressed-down-and-running-over pardon in Christ. Each time we come to the Father in repentance, we find another chance to stand with our Savior. When all the theologies, philosophies, and ideologies are stripped away, God’s forgiveness and mercy are why we can get up and start again. His matchless and enduring love for us, despite our failures and sins, is the reason we should get up and start again.

"There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel's veins," an 18th century hymn written by William Cowper reminds us. "And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.”

Why would anyone not approach the God of Another Chance and ask His forgiveness?