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

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Wondering at Unbelief


Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in Me. (John 14:1)


So I’m reading Mark’s gospel about the synagogue official named Jairus. You might remember the story, how he begged Jesus to heal his daughter. As they journeyed to his house, some neighbors arrived to tell Jairus, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the Teacher anymore?” (Mark 5:35-43).

But Jesus overheard the message and said to him: “Trust Me.”
I’m not sure how I would have responded to Jesus’ comment, but Jairus and the Lord continued on their way. They arrived to a house filled with mourners wringing their hands and loudly wailing. But Jesus said to them, “Why are you weeping and making a commotion? The child has not died, but is asleep.”

They, of course, didn’t know Jesus as I know Him -- or as we in the 21st century Church know Him. They were unaware of His deity, His power. His authority. And so, instead of taking Him at His word, they laughed at Him. They probably thought, “We know a corpse from a sleeping child, Carpenter! You’re mad.” But Jesus sent the naysayers out of the house. Every one of them. Then He brought the child’s parents into the bedroom, took the child’s cold hand and commanded: “Little girl, arise!”

And the child opened her eyes.

Would we expect anything different?  When the Resurrection and the Life says to the dead, “Arise” – death itself is powerless over its prey.

Then I moved to the next chapter, chapter six. The Lord is in his home town of Nazareth.  His former neighbors and friends, astonished at his teaching, said to each other, “Isn’t this the same guy who grew up in this neighborhood? Don’t we know his mother, brothers and sisters? Who does he think he is, anyway?”

They, of course, didn’t know Jesus any better than those in Jairus' house knew Him. They also were unaware of His deity. His power. His authority. And so, they scoffed at Him.

But Jesus responded, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his household.” Unfortunately for the sick, the desperate, the frightened, the helpless in Nazareth, Jesus could perform only a few miracles there. “And He wondered at their unbelief.” (Mark 6:1-6)

Those who know me well know I’m often a “glass half-empty” kind of guy. I don’t like to be that way. I'm tired of being that way. I can’t count the number of times the Lord has reminded me of His absolute power over all creation. I know of His deity, His power. His authority. Angels and demons are inescapably subject to His will; How much more those made of flesh and blood? But so often all I see are the giants in the land, the troubles extending to the horizon. Problems in the nation. Problems in the Church. Problems in the family. Problems with health. Problems. Problems.

I wonder if Jesus sent the naysayers out of Jairus’ house because their lack of faith – their negative faith – would have hurt the fledgling faith of Jairus and his wife, and thereby altered the outcome of His work there – just as negative faith kept Him from working miracles in His hometown.   

And yet here I am, a man who likes to think of himself as a man of faith, a man of Scripture, and man of prayer, who nonetheless looks at the giants around us and not only cries out, “The sky is falling!” but passes my negative faith on to others.

Lord, forgive me. And you whom I may have discouraged, please forgive me.

Did not God speak through the prophet Isaiah saying the nations themselves are like a drop from a bucket? Like a speck of dust on the scales? All the nations and all their inhabitants – kings and princes, presidents and prime ministers, dictators and despots – are all of them, each of them, are regarded by God as less than nothing and meaningless. (Isaiah 40:15-17)

Maybe this time, after reading those chapters in Mark’s gospel, I have at last learned that lesson. Oh, Lord! May I not, from this time forth, give You reason to wonder at my unbelief.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Toying with Sin

I posted this a few years ago. It is still sadly relevant today.
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When you cross over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall . . . destroy all their figured stones, and destroy all their molten images and demolish all their high places. . . But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall come about that those whom you let remain of them will become as pricks in your eyes and as thorns in your sides, and they will trouble you in the land in which you live (Numbers 33:51-55).

Anyone who knows the history of ancient Israel also knows God’s people didn’t take His warning seriously. And it cost them dearly.

For the most part, Israelites intermarried with the Canaanites and soon adopted their behavior until no one could tell the two groups apart. The nation God had called to be separate ended up practicing the same idolatrous customs as those nations, including murder, torture, child-sacrifice and temple prostitution.

Ultimately, after ignoring multiple warnings by God’s prophets to repent, God brought devastation to His chosen people and scattered them into Assyrian and Babylonian captivities.

There is a significant danger in toying with sin. When we think we can compromise a little here and a little there, when we believe we can ignore God’s continued call to a holy lifestyle and not pay the consequences, we open ourselves to serious – and possibly mortal – danger.

God is still the same today and He was yesterday. And He will remain the same tomorrow.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

What Has It Come To?

While on a business trip a few years before I became a Catholic Christian, I visited a non-denominational church and took a seat in the second row of pews. It was the first Sunday of the month, the time this particular church took Holy Communion. I looked forward to sharing the Lord’s Supper with them.

After the announcements, some choruses and the pastor’s sermon, a deacon placed two wicker baskets on the wood altar railing along with a silver tray covered with crackers, and another tray with small clear plastic cups of grape juice.

I hope to never forget what happened next. As the pianist softly played a hymn, the pastor invited the congregation to come forward, place our prayer requests in one of the baskets, our tithes in the other basket, and, "if you'd like to take communion, you can do so."

Not sure what he could have possibly meant by what sounded like plain English, I watched with dumbfounded disbelief as people formed a small line of about half a dozen, waiting to drop their prayer requests or tithes into the appropriate receptacles – oh, and by the way – take the Communion elements, if they so chose.

The pastor said nothing about what Holy Communion means, why we should participate, or the Biblical warning about taking the body and blood unworthily. Just, "if you'd like to take Communion, take the cracker and [grape] juice."

The Lord Jesus said, and the apostles and early Church believed – indeed, virtually the entire Church right up to the Reformation believed – the bread and wine actually become the Body and Blood of Christ. For more than 1500 years the Eucharist was the center of Christian worship (as it still is in Catholic, Orthodox and some Protestant churches). But my experience in that particular church made me wonder, is this where some churches are headed - placing the Communion elements on the altar railing, along with wicker baskets for tithes and prayer requests?

To compound my chagrin, shortly after that experience I read a report in a Catholic publication that as many as 60% of Catholics do not believe about the Eucharist what the Church has for two millennia taught and believed.

What has happened to us? If, as Catholics believe, the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, what have so many of us done to it? But even if, as many Protestants believe, the elements are merely a remembrance of Christ, is that what our remembrance leads us to do – take the bread and wine almost as an afterthought, something we do once a month – placing it on an altar railing without so much as a word to remind us of what it is we are to remember?

Surely, these things ought not to be this way. If we do not come back to the roots of our faith today, what will our faith look like tomorrow?

Monday, April 16, 2012

It Depends How We Listen

And all the people would get up early each morning to listen to him in the temple area. (Luke 21:38)

Most who listened were
fishermen and farmers,
tradesmen and beggars.
They came
because He spoke
words of hope
unlike any other.
 
I have come that you might have life,
He said.
Abundant life.
Worthwhile life.
Life overflowing with
living water.
 
But did He not have anything of value
to say to the sophisticated,
the intelligentsia,
the rulers of His day?
    
Yes.
But many couldn't hear;
they wouldn't hear.
 
And so He said:
I praise you, Father,
Lord of heaven and earth,
because you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
and have revealed them
to the childlike.*
 
St. Paul added:
Consider your calling, brethren.
Not many of you were wise by human standards,
nor powerful,
nor of noble birth.
But God chose the foolish of the world
to shame the wise,
and the weak
to shame the strong,
the lowly and despised
to reduce to nothing those who are something,
so that no one might boast before God**
 
Fisherman, tradesman
white collar or blue,
Religious or laity . . .
God speaks
to those who listen
with the heart of a child.
Humble. Teachable.
Willing to change.
 
No wonder Jesus warned:
Unless you are as little children,
you shall not see the kingdom of God.***
 
Does Jesus have anything of value
to say today to you?
To me?
 
It depends
how we listen.
 
 
*   See Matthew 11:25
** See 1 Corinthians 1:26-29
*** See Matthew 18:1-4

Thursday, April 12, 2012

God is Pro-Choice

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days . . . (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

It should surprise no one
that God is pro-choice,
that He did not create us
to render robotic obedience
to Him.

For if we could not
disobey
then our obedience
would be
meaningless.

And so,
wishing humanity
to willingly
return His love,
He made a strategic,
yet risky
decision
at our creation.


He let us choose
whom we will serve,
whom we will love,
whom we will obey.


Choices, of course,
carry consequences.

The consequence for
a lifestyle of obedience
to His laws:
Amazing, incomprehensible
grace and forgiveness
for sins committed,
and His inexplicable welcome
to intimately know Him,
in this life,
and in the one which lasts
forever.

The consequence for
a lifestyle of disobedience,
of rebellion against Him:
Inevitable and dreadful judgment
for sins committed,
and desolate, unending
separation from Him
in this life,
and in the one which lasts
forever.

Which is why He pleads with us:
Choose wisely.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

He Is Risen!


Christian faith (I call it Biblical Jewish faith) is the only religion in which the creator of the universe – Almighty God – entered our world as a human baby, grew into a man, died a horrible and substitutionary death for humankind, and then physically rose from the dead. And because of His resurrection, everyone who wishes can experience a changed life – now, and into eternity.

So, on this Resurrection Sunday, I contemplate only a few of wonderful promises rooted in the history of God-become-flesh-died-for-our-sins-resurrected-and-soon-coming-King. (Follow the links to the Biblical texts associated with the promises).

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He is Risen! O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?  For the sting of death is sin and the strength of sin is the law. But, Oh! Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our lord Jesus Christ.

He is risen! And every knee will bow – either in love, or in dread, but bow they will – And every tongue will confess – either in love, or in dread, but confess they will – that Jesus is Lord.

He is Risen! And everyone – anyone – who calls to Him in confession and repentance will be forgiven of all their sins. They will be washed in the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb. Cleansed from everything they’ve done, no matter how dark or stained. Think of that for a moment! Clean. Pure. Declared righteous by the holy and eternal God of the universe.

He is Risen! Demons – Satan himself – tremble at that very sound. And no wonder, for Jesus has by His resurrection smashed Satan’s head under His heel.

He is Risen! And so each of His servants is a new creation. Because Jesus became sin on our behalf, we could become the righteousness of God in Christ. Our old life has passed away, tossed into the sea of God’s forgetfulness.

He is risen! Unalterable, irrefutable confirmation before all of creation that no one comes to the Father except through Jesus. No one. Except through Him.

He is Risen! And though we may walk through the valley of the shadow of death, He is always, ever with us.

He is Risen! That is why everyone who believes in Him will live, even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Him will never die.

He is Risen! That is why each of His children born by faith in His atonement for their sins have bold access to the very throne room of Almighty God.

He is Risen! Even now He prepares a place for us; that where He is, we may be with Him forever.

He is Risen! Though heaven and earth will flee from His Presence at the Last Judgment, His children, washed in the blood of the Lamb, will remain at His side, held tightly by nail-scarred hands.

He is Risen! Therefore, “if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. . . . For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.” And so we can comfort one another with these words.  (1 Thessalonians 4:14-18)

He is Risen!

Yes, Yes! He is risen, indeed!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

What's So Good About Good Friday?

I wrote this several years ago, and I post it from time to time to the blog on Good Fridays. If you've not read it before -- or even if you have -- I hope your find it of value.
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This was not simply disappointment. It was gut-wrenching tragedy.

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

And what was that Friday like for Christ?

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

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

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

Every breath, every movement, every moment on the cross inflamed His torture.

For Jesus, for His disciples -- for anyone standing at the foot of the cross, Good Friday seemed anything but good.

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

That Friday proved God’s faithfulness. As early as Genesis 3, the Lord promised the human family a redeemer, someone to set us free from the Serpent’s grasp, someone to take “captivity captive” to Himself.

On that Friday, Satan bruised God’s heel. But through Christ's cross, God crushed Satan’s head. The Serpent forever lost the authority to enslave anyone who wants to be free. His power is nullified by the blood of Christ (
Revelation12:11).

That Friday tore through sin’s impenetrable barrier between us and God. As the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God and your sins have hid His face from you, so that He does not hear” (
59:2). But that Friday, God shattered the barrier. He rescued the prisoners. Laying our sins on Christ’s shoulders (Isaiah 53:5,6), the Father threw open the gates of reconciliation between us and Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19).


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

That Friday clothed us with Christ’s righteousness. The harlot, the thief, the murderer, the adulterer . . . think of it! There is no sin that cannot be cleansed by Christ’s blood. There is no sinner who cannot be made as righteous before God’s eyes as Jesus Himself (
2 Corinthians 5:21).

Finally -- if there can be a final point about Good Friday -- that Friday challenges us to repentance. When the crowds in Jerusalem learned it was their sins that nailed Jesus to the cross, “they were pieced to the heart.” In unison they cried out, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?” St. Peter responded, “Repent,” and three thousand were born into the kingdom (
Acts 2:22-41).

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

Good Friday? It could not have been any better.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Child or Tool

I posted this a couple of years ago.Over the last few days I've thought of posting it again -- I think the message is of value even in the re-reading. And so, on this Palm Sunday, as we remember Jesus' entry into Jerusalem just before His crucifixion -- and resurrection -- I hope you find it useful.
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I am God, and there is no one like Me . . . My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure (Isaiah 46:9-10).


I can't help but think about Joe and Charles when I read passages like this one from Isaiah.


Forty years ago, Joe and I were best of friends. Although he was married, the father of two daughters, and six years my senior, we were almost inseparable. We worked the same shift at a local taxi company and shared the same interests: drugs, parties and women. After working all day, Joe and I often spent hours cruising the bar districts while his wife and children waited for him to come home.


However, what I remember most about Joe is what I thought of him in my rare reflective moments. His life was a disaster waiting to happen -- and more to the point, I realized unless I changed direction, my life would mirror his.


That realization eventually led me to the navy recruiter’s office. I thought if I learned a job skill in the military, I would avoid the life Joe modeled for me. But during my tour overseas I found something much more valuable in the navy than a job skill.


I found Christ.


When I left Japan three and a half years later, I enrolled in a Bible college. It was there I met Charles, a former missionary and pastor. He taught several of my classes at the college and made the Scriptures come alive for me. But what I remember most about him is not his gift of teaching, but his humility. Nearly four decades later I can still see him in my mmory weeping at a church altar, pleading with God for wisdom to serve Him more fruitfully.


Charles never knew it, but he modeled for me a heart passionate to serve Christ.


I do not know if God used me Joe’s life during those years of our friendship, but God surely used him in mine. As I watched him manipulate and abuse even those closest to him, God gave me a glimpse of my own future if I persisted on that same path.


Nor do I know if God used me in Charles’ life. But God surely used him in mine. If not for my former teacher, my understanding of what it means to truly seek after God might be quite different today. And I might not have learned this important lesson: We have a choice how the almighty and omnipotent God will use each of us for His own purposes – as His tool or as His child, as a Joe or as a Charles.


I know how I want Him to use me.