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

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Just Call Out His Name


I wrote this nearly two years ago. It is still true.

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Decades ago Carole King penned these lyrics: 

When you're down and troubled, and you need a helping hand, and nothing, nothing is going right . . . . just call out my name, and you know wherever I am I'll come running to see you again. Winter, spring, summer or fall, all you have to do is call, and I'll be there . . . .

I doubt she was thinking about Jesus when she wrote those words, but her lyrics came to mind as I contemplated this passage from Isaiah: Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, even when you turn gray I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save you. (Isaiah 46:3-4).

The Holy Spirit was speaking to Israel in this text from Isaiah, but how easily applicable His encouragement is to the individual Christian today. “I will never leave you or forsake you,” Jesus promised. “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” He repeated elsewhere in the Gospels. One cannot contemplate the Bible’s message without coming away with a sense that God’s eye is always on the sparrow, and His eye is even more so on you and me.

My wife and I have been young. Now we are old. And during our more than forty years of marriage we have walked through floods and through fires. Life has bruised us, scratched us, and clawed us. It has taken away our breath, and sometimes kicked us while we were down. But through those decades of growing to know God through prayer and through His Scriptures, we could look behind us and point to each bruise, each flood, each fire, and see where God repeatedly bore us, lifted us, carried us, and saved us.

What the Holy Spirit said to Israel was not only and uniquely for their encouragement. He also speaks encouragement to us in the 21st century. When we who love Him are down and troubled, when we need a helping hand, when nothing, no nothing is going right, we can call on His name and know – because Scripture tells us it’s so – we can always call on His name and He has promised to carry us, to bear us, and to save us who cry out to Him for help.*

Always.
*see Jeremiah 33:3 and Romans 10:13.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Keyboards and Atheists



A guy in one of my online communities boasts he is an atheist. I don’t ask him why he is an atheist. My discussions with such people in the past have always proven fruitless.

Anyway, so this guy types his arguments into a keyboard. I wonder if he has ever thought about the decades it took for mathematicians, physicists and other highly skilled men and women to design, develop, and program the current computer keyboard (not to even mention the computer itself).

But complex mechanical creations aside, I also wonder if he has ever considered the complexity of his well-designed body. Without giving it so much as a thought, the atheist sits at his desk tapping keys of a complex combination of metal and plastic and wire; Meanwhile, within his own body a bazillion multifaceted processes are occurring simultaneously that permit him to tap on that keyboard.

For example, his eighth cranial nerve continuously monitors his spatial position relative to the floor and the sides of the room. (Click here for a more detailed bit of information https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vestibulocochlear_nerve). Without that nerve he’d be gripping the carpet because he’d sense the entire room spinning out of control. That’s not all the eighth nerve does, but for now, I hope I made a point about special design.

The atheist also moves his fingers and wrists in a very controlled pattern. He could not do so without the precise design of specialized motor and sensory nerves exiting his cervical and upper thoracic spine. In fact, while he is typing, more than 200,000 (yes, two hundred thousand) neurons permit him to do what he is doing because they are specifically designed to permit him to move his fingers and wrists.  You can read more about that here: http://www.innerbody.com/anatomy/nervous/arm-hand#full-description

As the atheist watches the screen above his keyboard, his eyes move with finely tuned and coordinated movements to the left or right or up or down (specially designed cranial nerves 3, 4, and 6) depending on what he wants to see on the screen. His pupils (specially designed cranial nerve 2) dilate or constrict depending on the amount of light his intricately designed eye needs to focus a clear and sharp image onto the retina at the back of his eye. That image is then converted into electrical impulses and sent along the optic nerve to a location at the back of his brain designed specifically for that purpose. It is there those electrical impulses are organized to allow the cognitive portion of his brain to interpret what he sees.

I mentioned neurons a moment ago. I wonder if the atheist has ever considered the phenomenal complexity of those neurons that run every specially designed function of his marvelous and intricate body. For example, each neuron needs a precise and coordinated flow of specific electrolytes into and out of the cell membrane – potassium, sodium, calcium, chloride (to name few)  -- AND at the correct levels until they reach a specifically designed threshold to produce an electric current along the neuron.  If this does not happen, our atheist will not be able to move his fingers . . . or anything else.

I hate to belabor the point, but let me include one more bit of information about our extraordinarily designed body.

We all require an elaborate, perfectly sequenced set of hormones to function. For example, when we get angry, our adrenal glands release a hormone called adrenalin (or, epinephrine). Circulating along our ten bazillion miles of expertly designed blood vessels, adrenalin attaches itself to very specific cell receptor sites throughout our body. Once attached to those sites our heart rate increases, our blood vessels constrict, our liver converts glycogen into glucose, our pupils dilate . . .  I could go on, but you get the point. (By the way, what I just described is the well-studied and well-known ‘Fight or Flight’ syndrome – a protective measure built into our bodies for self-preservation).

We today know so much about the human body that I have for many years defied atheists to read through even a high school biology text book and then tell me our bodies are not clearly designed and programmed to an exponentially greater degree than the computer keyboard.

So, if the keyboard would not exist without a creator, why does any honest person actually believe our body just happened to come into existence by accident and without the design of a Designer?

In 43 years of talking with atheists, I have never met one whose disbelief was rooted in ‘intellectual’ reasons. When I dug deeply enough, his disbelief was always rooted in moral reasons. The person had made a conscious choice to turn from God so he or she could live as they pleased.

The Creator of all I just mentioned about the human body is the same Person who designed it – every part of it. Organs, blood, electrolytes, neurons, cells, hormones – every part of it.

But there is more. Much more. This Creator – many know Him as the Heavenly Father – knows our name, where we live, and what are our most secret needs. It is this same Creator who, because of His great love for us, designed and implemented a flawless plan to reconcile sinners with Himself and live with Him forever. 

He bundled that plan in the life, death, and resurrection of His Son. We call Him Jesus.

Oh, Lord, our Lord, how excellent is your Name in all the earth.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Lizard and the Light



I published this several years ago. Not much has changed, so I thought it good to repost it.
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Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

When I recently rehearsed this verse in my mind, I thought of an incident of many years ago when my wife, children, and I lived in San Antonio.

When I first spotted the gecko resting on top of the backyard spotlight, the creature was only an inch or so long. I wondered why it stayed there instead of moving to the grass where it would more likely find food. So, with as much compassion as anyone can feel toward a lizard, I tried to capture the slithering creature to put it in the yard. But at each rescue attempt, it scurried away. I soon tired of the chase and decided it would have to fend for itself.

I needn’t have worried. It fended for itself quite well. Each evening when the sun disappeared behind the south Texas foothills and darkness blanketed our back yard, hundreds of bugs swarmed to the light illuminating the porch. And when the unsuspecting insects settled near the light, the gecko swooped from the shadows and – well, within no time it grew three inches and gained a pound.

Yes, I exaggerate.

But to the point, you wouldn’t think a gecko could illustrate a lesson in spiritual warfare, yet when I saw how fat my little friend had grown, I caught a sense of how deadly is the battle. Like the difference between sunlight and a light bulb, two spiritual lights beckon us: God’s word, the true light, leading those who follow to safety (Psalm 119:105), and various New Age philosophies – artificial light -- leading to destruction (Colossians 2:8).

Given the choice, some might think the artificial would not be as attractive as the genuine. However, religious surveys conducted over the years by the Barna Research Group illustrate how strong the artificial light’s attraction can be.

For example, more than half of Americans surveyed believe we can earn our way into heaven by performing good works. Seventy-one percent deny the existence of absolute truth. Forty percent believe Jesus committed sins while on earth. Nearly that many believe Jesus never rose from the dead. Sixty-two percent deny the existence of Satan. Sixty-one percent believe the Holy Spirit is not part of the Godhead, but simply a symbol of God’s presence.

And the lizard gets fatter.

Each evening, as I sat in my lounge chair on the back porch and watched the gecko wait patiently on top of the light fixture, I was glad people are not bugs and the artificial light – although a powerful seduction – is not irresistible. God has promised those who hunger for truth will find it. Those who thirst for a right relationship with Him will be satisfied (Matthew 5:6). While the gecko flicks its tongue and hungrily watches the insects swarming ever closer, the prudent person seeks the true light. Behind the other, death lurks in the shadows. 

Which light is attracting us?

Friday, September 18, 2015

Dirty Faces and Eternal Life

“. . . but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence . . .” (1 Peter 3:15-16).

It was only a casual glance at the mirror as I walked passed -- a moment when my eye stole a glimpse at my reflection.  But what a moment it was! The whole of nature stopped, turned in my direction and waited for my response to that . . . that little white and grey thing hanging from my left nostril.  

"Yikes! Who’s seen me like this?"

I yanked a tissue from my pocket and attacked my nose, cocking and twisting my head to make sure I removed every last trace of that horrible sight. But then the knot in my stomach tightened. How long had I walked around totally ignorant of my desperate plight? When did I last blow my nose?  Just before I left the house? Three hours ago!

I tossed the tissue into a trash can and hurried off, wondering why no one had told me.  Surely they’d seen it.  Anyone looking in my direction from the next state could have seen it!

But the more I thought about it, the more I understood why they remained silent. They were as embarrassed to mention it as I was to discover it. They thought, "Maybe he'll scratch his nose and discover it without my having to bring up the subject."  Or, "Maybe someone else will tell him."

How do I know that's what they probably thought?  Because I have made those same dumb excuses when I've looked at someone's face and wondered "How do I tell him about his dirty nose?"

Well, believe it or not, there is a spiritual point in all this, because in dealing with my own embarrassment I learned two important things about dirty faces – and eternal life.

First, mirrors are very important. Had I not seen my reflection in the mirror, I might have continued through the rest of the day with that thing dangling on my nose. But that common looking glass reminds me of another mirror – the Bible. That is why the Holy Spirit tells us in the New Testament book of Hebrews:

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:12-13)

When I read the pages of God's "mirror" much more serious blemishes catch my eye. Like the piece of mucous stuck to the end of my nose, those cursed spots (God calls them sin) sometimes cling stubbornly to my life. And although discovering those blights are not among my favorite moments, without His mirror, my spiritual "nose-slime" would remain stuck to me, unclean, unconfessed and – consequently - unforgiven.  The embarrassment of discovering that thing dangling from my nose cannot compare to the shame I would eventually experience if I stood unclean before the Lord.

Which brings me to the second point: Walking around all morning with a dirty nose is not the worst thing that will ever happen to someone. But dying unclean in sin definitely is.

Yes, I wished someone had told me my nose was dirty, but I am forever thankful someone told me my life was dirty.  I am forever grateful that person pointed me to God's word where I learned not only of sin's stain on my life, but also of Christ’s blood which can cleanse me.

My dirty nose reminded me again how badly people need someone willing to risk embarrassment and tell them, kindly and with humility, their lives are dirty. They need someone - like you and like me - to tell them they need a savior.

If we don't tell them about Jesus Christ, who will?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What an Old Woman Teaches Me about Faith

A woman I know – a daughter of the King of the universe – is teaching me a valuable lesson in faith. She’s nearly 90, living in relative comfort both financially and physically, and surrounded by family who love her.

But.

Sometimes ‘Buts’ are good things. For example, when God says it here:

"And you were dead in your trespasses and sins . . . and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us . . . made us alive together with Christ."  (Ephesians 2:1-4)

Or here: "For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:7-8) 

But when we say ‘But’, well – it’s often not a good thing.

This woman, a child of the King, lives in a state of continuous fear, not about tomorrow – which has enough trouble of its own – but she wrings her hands about what might happen next year. And in three years. And in five years.

I’ve talked with her on numerous occasions about faith and hope and confidence in the God of tomorrow. Yet her fear of the unknowable future continues unabated to consume her.

That is why this elderly child of God is teaching me a lot about faith – and the lack of faith – in our Father who, it must be reiterated, is the omnipotent and omniscient King and supreme ruler of the universe – and of everything in it.

It is this same King who also says to me, “Richard, why do you worry about what you will eat, or what you will drink, or what you will wear? Your heavenly Father knows you need all these things. But (there is that word again) – seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you.”

Oh, Lord, help us all to seek you above all else, and to trust you not just for tomorrow, but for next year, for three years, for five years – for  all the years left to us.
Amen

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