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

Friday, January 24, 2014

My Very Own Frankenstein Monster

I published this essay in my book, Lessons Along the Journey. I re-posted it to my blog about a year ago. The incident below occurred decades ago, but from time to time I talk with people who, like Robert, cannot (or choose not to) believe God's great love and forgiveness could be directed toward them. To everyone else, yes. But not to and for them.  After a more recent conversation along these lines, I thought to re-post this again. There are still many Christians who need the reminder.

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I think that if God forgives us, we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it is almost like setting up ourselves as higher tribunal than Him. – C. S. Lewis


          The  shadowy figure darted behind a tombstone and peered steadily into the darkness. When he was satisfied no one had spotted him, he thrust his shovel into the fresh grave – again and again. Soon, his spade thudded against the casket. A few minutes later, he lifted the corpse onto his shoulders and grunted. 

          Dr. Frankenstein would be pleased.

          I'm surprised I still remember the 1950s horror film. Dr. Frankenstein zapped the cadaver with a bolt of electricity and brought the dead back to life. Unfortunately, the monster ended up terrorizing the countryside.

          Have you noticed how our culture seems preoccupied with death? Surf the TV most evenings or browse the sci-fi section in online streaming sites. The titles may surprise you. Even some Christians seem preoccupied with restoring life to things that ought to stay dead.

          Robert is a good example. He has a bad habit of digging around in graveyards – mostly his. He called me some time ago in a state of depression, "How can God forgive me?" he pleaded. "You don't know what I've done."

          That was not the first conversation I’d had with him over the same theme. I've lost count of the times Robert has called for assurance of God's forgiveness. And each time I remind him of Scripture’s promises, he responds with his characteristic, "Yes, but.”

          As he spoke, a mental image of the Frankenstein monster formed as Robert again dug up his past – a past covered by Christ's blood. I watched him piece together one old sin after another, assembling them into a monster that terrorized him and his family.

          This time, though, I could not find fault only with my friend’s needless despair. With seamless precision, my thoughts propelled me toward my own graveyard where "Yes, but” is etched on several tombstones.

          Like Robert, I know Scriptures that assure me of God's forgiveness. So why do I dig around in my past, piecing together my own monster? Why do I permit the creature that Christ put to death be resurrected and wreak havoc on my life and hurt my relationship with God and with others?

          I know why. Sometimes I doubt our Father’s trustworthiness. I am skeptical that Christ’s sacrificial death could cover my despicable sins. So, I revive my past, lifting each sin onto my shoulders as if to say, "Lord, if you really knew what I’ve done, you would never forgive me."

          On the other end of the line, Robert's litany of reasons why God was angry with him gained momentum. With each passing thought, he dug himself deeper into the Yes, but pit until I couldn't take anymore.

          "Robert," I interrupted.

          He stopped talking and I reminded him again – myself as well – of the promises which stand more sure than Earth itself, of promises more secure than any anchor, of promises that transcend all of our "Yes, buts":

          “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). “[Therefore], now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
 

          Scripture after Scripture, promise after promise swirled though my mind and slipped across my tongue. I don't know if they helped Robert, but I know they helped me to once again place my monster back into the crypt. By God’s grace, I will leave it there. Life is too short, and the laborers too few, to waste time and energy carrying a dead man around on my shoulders.
God says to the penitent: Forgiven. Satan whispers: Guilty.

Whom will we believe?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

new posting

In case you do not follow my Encouragement of Scripture blog, I just posted an essay. You can find it here: http://theencouragementofscripture.blogspot.com/2014/01/wilderness.html

thanks for visiting.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Death, Where Thy Sting?


I recently thought of Dan when I mentioned him to my class of nursing students. We’d been discussing patient care, especially of those who are in the process of dying.  I published this piece in my first book. The message is important enough to bring it forward once again.

 

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Martha said to Him, "I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:24-26).

As soon as I walked into the hospital room, I knew my friend was dying. Six weeks earlier, Dan’s doctors diagnosed his colon cancer. Then they found a tumor in his left lung and suspicious spots on his liver.
           

“Hi Dan,” I choked back tears and tried not to notice his labored breathing or his yellowed, swollen skin.


“How are you feeling?”


He opened his sunken eyes and tried to smile.


“Tired,” he whispered. “Good to see you.”


It had been nearly five years since we’d last seen each other. My job change and move across country had ended our weekly sit-down-over-coffee chats. When we spoke on the phone nine months earlier in December, no one knew it would be his last earthly celebration of Christ’s birth.


I watched him struggle for air, and my mind drifted to his conversion story. He’d been raised an agnostic by agnostic, culturally Jewish parents. Educated in prestigious schools and trained as a clinical psychologist, Dan could have easily dismissed the emptiness gnawing at his heart as irrational foolishness. The idea that sin could be the root of his void was as distant to his humanistic worldview as light is from darkness.


But when the Holy Spirit revealed to him the eternal truth about sin, forgiveness, and salvation, Dan faced a choice: bow to God or continue hiding behind human philosophies.


He chose God and then devoted his life to the cornerstone of God’s truth – Jesus Christ.


Twenty-two years later, although cancer weakened his body, it couldn't weaken his faith. Everyone who walked into his room heard the same question, “Do you know my Jesus? Do you know my Savior?”


The next day when I visited again, I asked, “Dan, how does it feel to know you're dying?”


I wanted to know my friend's thoughts as he faced eternity. I'd learned from experience that a hospital room is one of those places where everything we hold dear slips to the bottom of our priority list: money, popularity, passions, careers. Like charred timbers after a house fire, a deathbed places so many things in clearer perspective. I thought Dan's answer might help me cope during that time when I also stare into eternity.


He raised his hand to the bed-rail and touched mine.


“From life to life.” He smiled. “I leave this one to enter the next with Jesus. I fought the good fight. I finished my course. I kept the faith.”


We buried Dan a few weeks later. A chilled November wind whipped across the southwest Missouri cemetery. Rust-orange leaves carpeted the frozen dirt at our feet, and as the eulogy drifted from the graveside, Dan’s final words to me filtered again into my memory, “Life to life. I fought the good fight. I finished the course. I have kept the faith.”


 For those who love Jesus, death is not the end. Rather it’s the beginning of a forever with the Savior. The Holy Spirit said it beautifully when He said it through the apostle Paul: “Oh, Death, where is your victory? Grave, where is your sting?”( I Corinthians 15). In Christ Jesus death and the grave were fatally crushed, and forever defeated, when the stone rolled away and Jesus walked from the tomb.


Oh, all praises be to our lord and our God!



 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Best -- or The Only

I published this in my second  book, Lessons Along the Journey. I thought to post it again:
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You were dead in your transgressions and sins . . . But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved) . . . (Ephesians 2:1-5).



It felt like the hottest day in mid-August. As I jogged around the neighborhood, my sweat-soaked shirt clung like a second skin. Waves of heat rippled above the asphalt. The humidity was so high, I thought I was breathing water.

That suffocating combination of heat and humidity is probably why I smelled the cat before I saw it. I rounded the corner and spotted its decaying body in weeds by the curb. Its lifeless lips tightened into a grotesque grin, and sun-bleached ribs peeked through putrefying flesh. I held my breath and picked up the pace to move past the odor.

Over the years, I’ve passed dozens of dead animals during my exercise routine, and I always ignored them. But this time – probably to keep my mind off the heat – my thoughts wandered back to the cat.

“What if someone dressed the dead cat in a silk suit and tie?” The question dropped into my mind and, for a moment, the image startled me.

“What if someone draped a gold chain around its neck and splashed expensive cologne on its face?”

I smirked at the ludicrous image. A gallon of cologne couldn’t mask the odor of death, nor could the most expensive clothes hide its appearance. Nothing short of God’s supernatural intervention could breathe the fragrance of life into that corpse.

Then the spiritual parallel swept into my mind.

Scripture repeats the message so often, it’s a wonder anyone misses it. Without Christ, we are all spiritually dead in our sins. That’s the point St. Paul tried to impress on his readers in Ephesus: “You were dead in your transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). The Greek word the apostle used to emphasize their condition before God made them alive in Christ (v. 4) is nekros. It’s the same word from which English speakers get necrotic.

In other words, before God’s intervention, they were necrotic. And without His intervention through Christ, so are we. It doesn’t matter who we are, or what we have – academic degrees, religious titles or affiliation, hefty bank accounts, political power, or praise from others. Without Christ, we stink (Isaiah 64:6; 2 Corinthians 2:15,16), and God can smell us on the other side of the universe. Nothing short of His supernatural power exercised through His Son gives us life.

The Bible calls it being, “born anew” (John 3:1-7, 1 Peter 1:3). And the Catechism of the Catholic Church proclaims: One becomes a member of this people not by a physical birth, but by being “born anew," a birth "of water and the Spirit," that is, by faith in Christ, and Baptism” (Para 782).

Being compared to a dead animal was not a proud moment for me. But the dead cat image captured my attention and gave me a glimpse of God’s ineffable mercy, because regardless of the depth, breadth, and frequency of our sins, God’s grace can cleanse us. By our faith in Christ – and in no other -- God clothes us in glistening robes at our baptism and, through our ongoing confession and repentance, breathes life into our necrotic corpse (Isaiah 61:10).

No one smells so badly that Jesus’ blood cannot transform the odor of decay into the sweet fragrance of eternal life.

We have Scripture’s promise about it. But we also have Scripture’s warning:

Jesus is not the best way to heaven. He is the only way.





Monday, January 6, 2014