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

Sunday, December 28, 2014

God of the Old, God of the New

I am the Lord, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:6}
Is the God of the Old Testament different from the God of the New Testament? To hear some people, even in the Church, you would think He is.

God’s judgment of sin seems to overflow the pages of the Old Testament. You can open it almost at random, especially the prophets, or the historical books like Kings or Chronicles, and find unmistakable evidence of God’s wrath against rebellion and evil. But unless you land on the book of Revelation, or isolated passages in the gospels, Acts, or the epistles, the God pictured in the New Testament seems tame by comparison.

But God, as C.S. Lewis observed, is not a tame lion.

Because of what seems a difference in God’s character in both testaments, a heresy called Marcionism developed in the second-century church. Marcion, a church leader, believed the wrathful Old Testament God was different than the all-forgiving God of the New Testament. Marcion also rejected the Old Testament scriptures as unworthy to be included in the Christian bible.

The Church, however, rejected Marcion’s teaching as false and dangerous to the faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 123) says this about the Marcion heresy: Christians venerate the Old Testament as true Word of God. The Church has always vigorously opposed the idea of rejecting the Old Testament under the pretext that the New has rendered it void . . . . 

While a superficial reading of Scripture can suggest an inconsistency in God’s character between both testaments, the inconsistency evaporates on closer examination. God is the same God of mercy, love, judgment, and wrath in both eras. For example, Ananias’ and Sapphira’s deaths because they lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5) is not dissimilar from the deaths of Nadab and Abihu who ‘offered strange fire” on God’s altar (Leviticus 10). The reason for King Herod’s death (Acts 12) is not much different from the reason God killed the Judean King Ahab (1 Kings 22). God struck Elymas the magician with blindness (Acts 13), and did the same to the mob surrounding Lot’s house (Genesis 19). God brought judgment on Israel because of her sins (e.g. 2 Chronicles 36), and God warns His church against turning from Him (Revelation 2-3), and He will bring global destruction on a world of unrepentant sinners (Revelation 4-18).

The reason people confuse the pictures of God in both testaments is often rooted in the amount of material available to form an accurate understanding of God’s unchanging nature.

The New Testament covers the span of about 60 years, but the Old Testament encompasses a period of 1400 years. That difference alone allows the writers of Sacred Scripture much more time to demonstrate the fullness of God’s character. Further, the Old Testament is comprised of 73 books. The New Testament has only 27. The Old Testament has 1,074 chapters, the New Testament only 260. The Old Testament has more than 25,000 verses, the New Testament a little less than 8,000 verses. But the differences in the quantity of material in both testaments should not surprise us. The Old Testament is the story of a people. The New Testament is a story of a person.

The Holy Spirit tells us: In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (Hebrews 1:1-2)  In his letter to the church at Corinth, St. Paul underscores the importance of familiarity with the Old Testament to help us understand the New Covenant: These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things, as they did. And do not become idolaters, as some of them did . . . . Let us not indulge in immorality as some of them did . . . . Do not grumble as some of them did, and suffered death by the destroyer. These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:6-11)

Little wonder that St. Augustine commented: The New Testament lies hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.

God’s character has not changed, and neither has His modus operandi. The Holy Spirit tells us: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). And He tells us through the prophet Malachi: “For I, the Lord, do not change(Malachi 3:6).

God’s love, mercy, and compassion extend from Genesis and into the 21st century. Equally important – and we ought not to minimize this eternal reality – God’s holiness, justice, and wrath toward sin also extend across the same period of time.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Seven Words

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
--John Newton

On this day 42 years ago I said seven words that changed my life. “God, I believe Jesus is the Messiah.”

Christmas Eve. 1972. I was 22 years old.

Back then I knew nothing about theology. I knew nothing about the Sacraments. I knew nothing even about the Scriptures. What I did know, after reading Hal Lindsay’s book of Bible Prophecy, The Late Great Planet Earth, was Jesus is the Messiah God promised to Israel and to the world.

Jesus. The lamb of God who would take away our sins. Even my sins. Even the worst and the darkest of my many sins.

Seven words. “God, I believe Jesus is the Messiah.”

No mouthing words about sin, or a promise of repentance, or a plea for mercy, or a hope for forgiveness. Just, “I believe.”

But what I did not say with my mouth, God heard in my heart – which said to Him, “From this moment I’m going to live for you. With your help, I'm going to walk a holy life. With your help I'm going to serve you for the rest of my life.”

Without even thinking to punctuate my words with action, I got up off my knees, walked to my chest of drawers, grabbed the plastic bag of marijuana and emptied it into the toilet. Then I went to my footlocker, grabbed the porn magazines, and threw them into the dumpster behind my barracks.

On Christmas Eve in 1972 God gave me the most wonderful Christmas gift I could have ever received. He gave me His gift of eternal salvation. He made me a new child in Christ. Old things passed away. Everything became new.

And on Christmas Eve in 1972, I gave God the best gift I could ever have given Him. I gave him my life.

Forty-two years later, it still ranks as the best thing I have ever done in my life.

Happy Birthday, Jesus.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Simple Christmas Message

So my wife and I are driving south along I-85, scanning the radio stations for something worthwhile to listen to on a Sunday afternoon. And we came across a preacher – a Baptist, we learned at the end of his message – we came across him in the middle of his sermon. From the way he spoke – his vocabulary and his manner of delivery – I conjured an image of many of the preachers Nancy and I sat under during our three decades in evangelical churches.  There was nothing erudite about his delivery, or for that matter, what he said. But, oh! He captured our attention.

“Thank God for Jesus.”  He repeated that phrase again and again during the several minutes we listened to him.

He reminded his congregation, “Jesus came as a baby and lived 33 years so that He he could die for your sins and my sins.  Thank God for Jesus.”

“He was glad to do what He did because of His great love for you and me.  Thank God for Jesus.” Then he asked his congregation, “Do you thank God for Jesus?”

Nancy and I heard a few voices in the congregation call out, ‘Amen,” and “Yes, we do.”

Then he said, speaking out of what I recognized was chapter 16 of St. Matthew’s gospel, “Jesus said to the people, ‘Who do you say that I  am?  And some said Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”  And then Jesus looked at His disciples and said: ‘But who do YOU say that I am?”

The preacher paused a moment and then continued to paraphrase from the text: “Peter said, you are the Christ, the Son of God.”  And Jesus said to him, “You are blessed, Simon, son of John, because flesh and blood did not reveal that to you, but my Father in heaven revealed it to you.”

“Thank God for Jesus,” the preacher said again. And then to his congregation he asked, “Has God revealed who Jesus is to you? Are you a child of God? Is Jesus your Lord?”

He continued, “Do you know of Jesus because your preacher told you about Jesus?  Do you know about Jesus because your parents told you about Jesus? Or do you know Jesus because God told you about Jesus?”

“Do you thank God for Jesus?”

A few moments later, his simple sermon ended.

We turned off the radio and talked about what we’d just heard.  The preacher, simple as his message seemed to be, reminded me of what the very erudite St. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth: “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. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”  (1 Corinthians 2:1-2).

This Christmas, as we open the gifts set for us under the tree, Oh, may God help us reflect on the gift He gave us: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.  (John 3:16)

And, please God, help us say from our hearts, “Thank God for Jesus.”

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Fire Insurance

Jesus asked Peter, "Do you love me?" (John 21:15)

I’ve heard the argument many times. Perhaps you have, too. It goes something like this: “People buy insurance for their life, auto, home, health. So, in case there is a God and an eternal judgment, why not believe in Jesus and get eternal insurance for the soul?"

Not only have I heard that argument before, I am ashamed to admit, I have also used it as a reasonable reason to ‘come to Jesus.’ But after more than 40 years of walking with Christ and watching one Christian after another turn from the straight and narrow way, I realize that if we ‘come to Jesus’ for 'fire' insurance, we will not stay with Jesus over the long haul. Life is full of too many complications, disappointments, suffering, and sorrows for people to remain satisfied with their ‘fire’ insurance policy, if that is the only reason they pay the premiums of obedience. And Satan is always ready to offer an alternative policy. He always has a boat standing by to take us to Tarshish (a reference to Jonah, if you missed it).

No. The hope of eternal fire insurance holds no one very long. I have learned during my 42 years living for Christ we must come to Him for a completely different reason than ‘fire’ insurance. We ought to come – we must come – because we are terribly sorry for our sins, for the people we have hurt, for our hypocrisies and compromises and pride and selfishness. 

We must come because Jesus is the only One – the only One – who can wash away each of those sins with His blood. We should come because He loves us. We should come because we want to love Him.

If we come for those reasons – His forgiveness, His love, His mercy, His compassion – if we come for those reasons, we are much more likely to stay with Jesus over the long haul, through all of life’s complications, disappointments, suffering, and sorrows.

Oh, Holy God – open the eyes of our hearts and draw us to your great and all-fulfilling love.