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

Sunday, September 30, 2012

What Goes Around . . .

It often seems what goes around comes around. Like the subject of this blog post. I originally posted it in June 2011, but was reminded of the principles embedded in the post after a recent conversation about Scripture with someone from my church. In fact, my post of a week ago (here) was in response to that conversation.

But I now repost the June 2011essay to reemphasize my conviction that God gave us Holy Scripture as a means to guide us into a deeper relationship with Him. Part of that guidance into intimacy is rooted firmly in the faith that within holy writ God said what He meant to say, and that He meant what He said.

Over the four decades I've read and studied Scripture, I've come to the conclusion that when the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, we do not have to seek other meaning, unless of course the context of the passage clearly indicates the writer was using symbols, analogies or metaphors to describe a spiritual truth. I have lived my Christian life for 40 years by that principle, and following that principle has done me well. Indeed, it was that very principle that convinced me God was calling me into the Catholic Church.  You can read that story (here).

But because I continue to hear from people who remain confused about the value of Scripture because they run into people who question its historicity, reliability, divine objectivity, and eternal worth as a guide for life, I thought it good to revisit the subject.

Now, here is that earlier essay:
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[They examined] the scriptures daily to see whether these things were so (Acts 17:11).

Every so often I chance upon something written by a Christian which absolutely astounds me by its seductive and erroneous theology. Like an article in which the author -- a well-known Catholic author and speaker -- declared Scriptures which speak of God’s anger, or love, or mercy are metaphors, rather than statements of reality.

At first blush (and a very quick one, at that), such an idea might sound logical. After all, God is not human. But after that first blush disappears, it is clear to me the author has to play some very imaginative and disingenuous philosophical games to explain away each of the hundreds of verses in Scripture that speak of God’s love, compassion, anger, mercy, and so forth.

For example, is Psalm 103:10-14 a metaphor about God’s compassion, or does He really, in fact, have compassion on us? If we confess our sins (1 John 1:9), will God really be merciful to forgive those sins – or is that, too, a metaphor? When the Lord Jesus – who wept at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:35), who angrily warned the Pharisees of their impending judgment (Matthew 23), and who whipped the merchants out of the Temple – when Jesus said to His disciples, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), was He using a figure of speech, or did He mean what He said – “the way I act is the way the Father acts”?

Did Moses use metaphors in Leviticus 10:1-2 when he wrote about the anger of God toward Nadab and Abihu (the sons of Aaron) when they sinned against Him and were struck dead on the spot? Did Moses use metaphors to describe God’s anger against sin when he wrote of the sudden deaths of Korah and his cohort after their rebellion against God (Numbers 16:25-33)? Did the writer of 2 Samuel use metaphors when he described how God’s anger burned against David for his sin with Bathsheba, and subsequently took the life of their first child (2 Samuel 12:9-14)?

And of course most of the book of Revelation tells us of God’s anger toward sin and His direct and repeated judgment upon a people who continue to shake their fists in God’s face. Are we to believe those many chapters are figures of speech, or are they dire warnings rooted in fact?

If the hundreds of texts written in Scripture declaring the love, mercy, anger and righteousness of God are simply figures of speech, then the warnings inherent in those same Scriptures about obeying God are without weight, and Hebrews 10:31 – It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God – is little more than a hiccup in what could be viewed as the fairy-tale of God.

In the beginning, Satan tried to get Eve to question God’s word when he asked, Hath God said? (Genesis 3:1). Unfortunately, he succeeded in his mission, and the rest of the story makes for sad history. It should not be a surprise, then, that the Psalmist asks the reader, If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psalm 11:3).

The foundation of our Christian faith is the word of God. Catholic Christians believe God appointed Peter and his successors with the sole authority to interpret for us the Scriptures (e.g. Matthew 16:18-19; 1 Timothy 3:15). And so, St. Paul wrote to the Christians 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 and not according to Christ (Colossians 2:8).

Let us then be ever vigilant to test any teaching about God and His word, to judge whether what is said is true according to our Catechism of the Catholic Church – or merely someone’s seductive philosophy.

 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I Tremble to Think

How sweet are Your words to my taste!
Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
(Psalm 119:103)
 
 
Every so often
and now and again
I’m challenged to my core
to question,
even doubt
the historical, spiritual and
the unalterable truth
of holy scripture.

I’m challenged to be guarded,
suspicious, hesitant,
lest its God-breathed
warnings and promises,
exhortations and challenges,
prove to be simply symbols and stories,
analogies and metaphors
of deeper truths known only
to the schooled.
 
And I wonder almost aloud,
is the Book all true,
or only part?
And if only part,
which part?
Have I set my course on a misleading path?
Have I lived as a Christian for 40 years
following myths and cleverly devised tales?
 
That’s where I was only days ago,
as I struggled with those musings wrenching my faith,
when I opened that Book to read my routine reading
and found the place I’d left off only the day before.
 
As I drank in the words,
the Holy Spirit hovered around me.
And touched me.
Physically.
He touched me.
My eyes watered as I read instruction
directed specifically at me
at that moment:

You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from [your earliest days of walking with Christ] you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Glory to God!
Oh! Glory to God!
Thank you, Heavenly Father
for your God-breathed word
as simple to understand
as a child understands
his mother’s love.
 
It has been,
and forever will be,
my counselor,
my comforter,
my food,
my drink,
and light to my path,
 
I tremble to think
where I would be today
if I could not trust You
to say what You mean
and to mean what You say.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Eyes to See

I still don't like wearing them. Never have. I always feel as if I am about to step wrong on the stairs or off the sidewalk. I feel like a toddler first learning to walk. But because I can no longer read without them, reading glasses have become a necessary part of my attire. I always carry them with me – usually in my shirt pocket.
That's where they were, in my shirt pocket, while my wife and I enjoyed our meal at a local Italian restaurant. It wasn't until an hour later, when we were about to leave, that my eyes started burning from strain and I put the glasses on.
Then it happened. Water droplets on my iced‑tea glass, spots of tomato sauce beneath my plate, creases in the table cloth – how did I sit at the table for nearly an hour and never notice them? Stains and wrinkles which blurred into non‑descript shadows suddenly shouted for attention. For a few moments I played with my glasses, shifting them on my nose, marveling at how different things look when you can really see.
And then I saw a disturbing spiritual parallel.
 
How many spots and wrinkles within the fabric of our lives do you think blur into unrecognizable shadows because we neglect to wear our spiritual glasses? When our Bibles lie closed on the bookshelf and we view our world through the filters of news broadcasts, sitcoms, movies and newspapers, is it any wonder that the crisp lines of God's "Thou Shalt Not" blur into "Maybe it's ok"?

The Lord Jesus is coming for a church without spot or wrinkle (Ephesians 5:27; 2 Peter 3:14), and He warned those who claim to have sight – but in reality are blind – to receive from Him salve to anoint their eyes that they may see (Rev 3: 17, 18).

If there ever was a time to see, it is now. If there ever was a time to acquire some salve, it is now. It is time we reopen His word and seek a clearer vision of His truth and not the culture’s.

Or will we be embarrassed at His return by unseen stains and wrinkles because we left our spiritual glasses in our pockets or closed on the bookshelf?

(See here and here for some suggestions about reading your Bible)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

It Causes Me to Tremble


This appeared a few years ago on this blog. It also appears in my third book, Learning to Lean. Because this blog has so many new readers, I thought it wise to post it again. I hope it touches you as it did when I first wrote it.
---------------------------------------

Sometimes It Causes Me To Tremble.
Tremble.
Tremble.

If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer it, a male without defect . . . He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, that it may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf. He shall slay the young bull before the Lord . . . . (Leviticus 1:3-5)


What sin haunted the man
who brought the lamb
to the altar
to die
so his sin could be
forgiven?

What went through his mind
as he placed his hand
on the head of the lamb

to transfer his guilt
to the one
without guilt?

Did his heart race
as he pulled the blade across its throat
and felt the lamb
shudder?

Did he avert his eyes
with remorse
as innocent blood
spurted to the dirt
with each heartbeat –
until it slowed

and then
stopped?

I would cringe to know
an innocent lamb
had to die
so my sins could be
forgiven.

Oh!

And what sadness haunted the Father
when we dragged His Lamb
to the cross?
What went through His mind
as our hands pressed thorns on
The Lamb's head
and our guilt transferred
to the one
without guilt?

Did the Father’s heart ache,
and heaven shudder,
as our whip
ripped across His Son’s back?
Did He
avert His eyes
as we drove spikes into His hands
and feet
and His blood dripped to the dirt
and then slowed . . .

and then
stopped.


I tremble.
Oh, I tremble
to know the Lamb of God
had to die

so I could live
forever.

But [Christ] was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him (Isaiah 53:5-6).

Friday, September 7, 2012

My Jesus

I have called you by name, you are Mine (Isaiah 43:1)
I was the one lost.
Far from the flock.
And You left the ninety-nine
and sought me.
And found me.
And carried me on Your shoulders to safety.
My Jesus.
 
I was the one ravaged.
Torn by sin.
A demoniac.
Bound by Satan.
Naked, cold.
Alone.
Feared.
And You left the crowds on the other side of the lake
and sought me.
And found me.
And touched me.
And delivered me.
Clothed me with Your righteousness
and freed me.
My Jesus.
 
I was the one in the coffin.
Carried by friends.
Mourned by family.
Dead in my trespasses and sins.
And You left the throng
and sought me.
And found me.
And touched me.
And made me live again.
My Jesus.
 
I was the one by the pool.
Crippled.
Waiting for a sign.
For help.
For health.
And You sought me.
And found me.
And said to me, “Get up,”
and freed me.
And sent me on my way rejoicing.
Leaping.
Dancing.
Whole.
My Jesus.
 
O, my Jesus,
Many say I should not say,
“My Jesus.”
‘Our’ Jesus is more correct.
But O, Lord.
My Jesus.
They do not know how You sought me.
Touched me.
Freed me.
Healed me.
Loved me.
 
My Jesus.
My Jesus, I love thee.
I know thou art mine.
For Thee all the follies of sin I resign.
My gracious redeemer,
my savior art Thou.
If ever I loved Thee
my Jesus ‘tis now.
 
 
The last seven lines are from the hymn, “My Jesus I Love Thee,” written by William Ralph Featherston (d. 1873?)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Maybe It's Too Late

For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains [will do so] until he is taken out of the way.  Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth . . . the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders,  and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.  For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false,  in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness (bold my emphasis) – 2 Thessalonians 2:7-10

Spiritual blindness. Descending from God upon us. A hardening of our conscience so we can no longer discern truth from lies because we chose not to believe truth when it was all around us. How else can we explain the way we dismiss, or make excuses for, the moral changes sweeping over us? How else can we explain our acceptance of what we used to call depravity and sin?
Even within the Church. Of all places.

I’m old enough to remember America of the 1950s and 60s. Our concept of morality today is nothing like it was then. For example, since 1973 we have killed – sliced apart piece by piece fifty-five million babies in the womb, sucked their body parts into vacuum containers, and not only are the majority of Americans – including those in the Church – silent about this horrific, description-defying holocaust, but we actually elect politicians who support and promote the mass killing.

What about marriage? For millennia upon millennia, as long as civilizations have existed there has never been such an assault on the sanctity (and what Catholics call the ‘Sacrament’) of marriage as we see overtaking us today.
And the Church’s response? Beyond some hand-wringing and statements of ‘disappointment’ to the press and to congregations, essentially nothing is done or said to lead the flock of God through the small gate and along the narrow way.

We look – okay, I look – for courageous and Christ-like leadership from our clergy, for guidance to the sheep how to meet these challenges in November. But again, silence. Compliance. Acquiescence to evil while precious few dare any longer to call it evil.  And so the hearts and conscience of sheep who follow their clergy walk through the wide gate and along the broad road. And the ears of those who call themselves after the Crucified Savior become dull of hearing.
It is not surprising to watch such things occur with non-believers. As St. Paul remarked, they are ‘dead in their trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). But for the grace of God, how can they act otherwise?

But how can such things happen in the Church? How can it be, as St. Paul wrote, that “[T]he time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but [wanting] to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4)?
As for me, I believe we have just about turned the corner. Maybe it’s too late. But unless the Church – laity and clergy – take seriously our call from God to live as holy examples of Christ, to serve God on His terms and not on ours, to serve Him even when it is inconvenient to do so, I fear the prophecy of St. Peter will be fulfilled in my lifetime. Perhaps in the not so distant future:  For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?(1 Peter 4:17).

Oh, God. Have mercy on us.
 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Living Until I Die

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies,  and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)
 I met 19-year-old Lance Corporal Drew Taylor, USMC, in the early 1990s when he was a patient at our overseas Naval hospital. Drew had complained that he'd become clumsy, bumping into walls and tripping over his feet. He had also been getting severe headaches that awakened him during the night.
 His battalion physician ordered a CAT scan. Then he ordered an MRI to confirm the diagnosis. That’s when he was sent to our department where I worked as a nurse. The neurosurgeon scheduled Drew for emergency surgery to relieve the pressure on his brain resulting from his cancerous tumor but during surgery the physician discovered the tumor had wrapped itself around Drew’s brain stem. It could not be removed.
The surgeon told him only that he was being sent back to the States for further treatment to reduce the tumor. However, he told me Drew would be dead in six months. He asked me to accompany Drew on the Air Evac flight because he would need periodic intravenous antibiotic therapy until he reached the hospital in Texas.
Believing the Lord was giving me an opportunity to share Christ with this young man poised at the precipice of eternity, I agreed. It was not until later did I realize our journey across the Pacific was not designed so much for me to share my faith with Drew, but for Drew to share his faith with me.
Air Evac flights from overseas are not usually direct trips from one airport to another. We traveled three days before finally arriving in Texas. During that time he and I talked about many subjects. We spoke about his home life and how he had committed his life to Christ when he was a teen. But he seemed more interested in talking about his plans to return to college after his discharge from the Marine Corps and showing me photos of his fiancé. They planned to be married in nine months when his overseas tour was completed.

As I listened, I thought about the doctor’s prediction and I determined to not let this opportunity pass without talking more deeply about eternal things. A short while later I posed a "worst case" scenario for him to consider.

"What if the docs in Texas discover there’s nothing they can do for you?" I asked. "For example, how will you feel if they say you only have a year to live?"

Drew turned his eyes from mine and stared into space for a few moments. Then he turned back to look at me.   

"Well," he started slowly, "then I’ll just live until I die."

I don’t know why his response surprised me. Perhaps it was because I assumed he didn’t have a strong faith since he had not seemed interested in talking about spiritual matters. Perhaps it was because I myself had at the time difficulty dealing with imminent death. Whatever the reason, I pressed him further, "What do you mean, you will live until you die?"

Drew grew pensive. And then, with a firm and unwavering voice, he answered, "Whatever the Lord Jesus has for me to do while I am alive, I’ll do."

I leaned back in my seat and fell quiet as the conviction of this young man, twenty-five years my junior, washed over me. I had agreed to accompany him, expecting and planning to teach him about Christ during our journey. Instead, he taught me important lessons about life and death, about service and faith, and about how to "live until I die."

Drew never finished his overseas tour. He never returned to college. He never married his sweetheart. A few months after I left him in Texas he slipped into a coma and died a few days later.

St. Paul wrote to his readers in Rome, "Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:4). I think of that verse now because I remember doubting Drew's 'salvation' back then. Why? Because he was not serving Christ according to the way I thought he should be serving Christ.

Talk about arrogance!

The Lord Jesus said, "As long as it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent Me. Night is coming, when no one can work" (John 9:4). I believe ,, in his own way (and not in 'my way') Lance Corporal Drew Taylor, USMC worked faithfully for Christ during his very short day.

I look forward to meeting him once again, at the end of mine.