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

Friday, January 29, 2016

Ladies, Please . . .

I wrote this several years ago when my wife and I regularly attended Protestant worship services. I revised it only a little after we began attending Catholic Mass. I feel I ought to reprise it once again.

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I serve as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion in our parish. One Sunday as men and women approached to receive the Body of Christ, I did an involuntary double-take when a young woman stepped up to receive. She wore  skin-tight flesh-colored leotards and a see-through blouse that looked remarkably like a negligee. I almost forgot I was supposed to say, “The Body of Christ” as she held out her hands to receive.  

Unfortunately, she is not the only woman seductively dressed in our church. It seems the norm rather than the exception to see women wearing form-fitting slacks, or jeans, or blouses which leave very little to the imagination. 

It’s not something Christian guys usually talk about. We aren’t supposed to have these thoughts. But when I approached a friend from church, his answer encouraged me to poll another friend. Then another. Then another. Age doesn’t seem to matter. It’s the same for all of us – teens, college age and older. Even much older. Everyone I spoke with grapples with the same temptation common among many Christian men.

I don’t know much about women’s struggles with their sexual nature, but I sure know about men's conflicts. Society bombards us with sexual images. Billboards, photos in weekly news magazines . . . even some lingerie advertisements in local newspapers can rival centerfolds in earlier era Playboy magazines. Short hemlines can fuel a man’s imagination to full throttle. Tight clothes that accentuate every nuance and curve can drive us to distraction. Plunging necklines and unfastened blouse buttons – ladies, let me be completely honest. We need your help. 

At work, at play, even at church – most Christian guys wage nearly constant battle with their thought-life. Sometimes we win the skirmishes. Sometimes the battles rage so fiercely we not only lose, but we feel wounded even after bringing our sin to the confessional. 

Yes, we understand the desire to look attractive. Who does not care about personal appearance? The multi-billion dollar weight-loss, clothing, and grooming industries give evidence of that basic need in each of us. However, when our Christian sisters adopt the world’s definition of attractiveness they often become, instead, seductive.   

We don’t deny responsibility for our own sins. We don’t rationalize God’s commandment to take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). But we do ask you, please be considerate of our conflicts and, in Christian love, don’t add to our sensory overload. 

St. Paul said he would never again eat meat or drink wine, if doing so would cause a weaker brother to stumble (Romans 14:1-23). “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food” (verse 20). I don’t think it misses the Holy Spirit’s intent to add, “or for the sake of fashion.” 

Ladies, when it comes to sexual thoughts and lust, we are indeed your weaker brothers. So we plead – be beautiful. Be graceful. But also seek God’s view of beauty and grace. And seek, too, Biblical standards as to how to dress in public. 

We will be very grateful for your loving response.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Not Even A Mother Theresa



Not a day goes by that I don’t hear from somewhere how Trump or Cruz or any of the other GOP candidates will save America – or destroy it. And not to be outdone, the other side trumpets that Clinton or Sanders will save us – or destroy us.  

Well, here’s a news flash – and this principle comes straight from God’s word: America could put a Mother Theresa into the White House, but without a change in the American soul, our nation will still and surely experience God’s impending judgment.

Anyone who knows Biblical history will recognize America stands at the same precipice as ancient Israel just before God sent His chosen people into Babylonian slavery. We forget – or have not been taught – what God said to Ezekiel about Israel: Even though these three men, Noah, Daniel and Job were in its midst . . . . they could not deliver either their son or their daughter. They would deliver only themselves by their righteousness.” (Ezekiel 14).

We forget – or have not been taught – God warned His chosen through another prophet, Jeremiah: “Even though Moses and Samuel were to stand before Me, My heart would not be with this people; send them away from My presence . . . Those destined for death, to death; And those destined for the sword, to the sword; And those destined for famine, to famine; And those destined for captivity, to captivity.” (Jeremiah 15)

No, it no longer matters who next fills the White House. So the critical question before us now is: Christian, what can you and I do to prevent a complete meltdown of the America built and sustained on Judeo-Christian values?

That’s easy to answer. We can take our guidance from Scripture. For example, 2 Chronicles 7:14 - “If My people who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

What can we do?

Humble ourselves before God. Confess to Him our personal and our national sins. The prophet Daniel did it (Daniel 9). Nehemiah did it (Nehemiah 9). And Ezra did it (again, Ezra 9. Isn’t it interesting how the Holy Spirit makes it easy for us to remember where to find those prayers?).

And pray. How often do we pray before and during the Mass or church service that God give us a Holy Spirit driven revival in our family, in our Church, and in our nation? Catholics, how often do you pray the Rosary, specifically asking intercession of the Blessed Virgin that God will hold off His judgment on us? When have we last fasted and prayed and wept before God for our national sins?

And seek His face. How often do we even attend Mass or church service? How often do we study and meditate on His Scriptures, letting His word guide our lives? How often do we quiet ourselves with him for more than a few fleeting moments during our day?

And turn from our wicked ways. How often do we bring even our most seemingly trivial venial sins before God, asking that He purge them from our lives? What secret sins do we nurture? Do we refuse to live according to historic Church teaching? When was the last time we said to God from our heart – Your will be done, not mine?

No, it does not matter who is elected next to the White House. Unless Christians of all labels and positions stop putting our hope in our politicians and fall to our knees before God, then not even a President Mother Theresa can save us from God’s slow moving but inexorable judgment.

Christian, what shall we do next? With God a little is a lot. Jesus changed the world with 12 followers committed to Him, His lifestyle, and His message. We can change the course of our American culture – but only if we do what Christ-honoring and faithful Christians have always done.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Hidden



I’d just brushed my teeth and they looked clean when I examined them in the mirror. Then I grabbed the floss. By the time I moved from the top molars on my left to the other side, I’d pulled free enough bits of food to provide myself breakfast the next morning.

The Psalmist wrote, “Who can detect their errors? [O Lord] Clear me from hidden faults.” (Psalm 19:12) And his son, Solomon, observed, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 14:12).

There is not a mature Christian on the planet who does not know sin is sometimes so subtle, we easily – and often willingly – fall for its deception. Likewise, there is not a mature Christian on the planet who would not quickly tell anyone who would listen, only the light of the Scripture can illuminate for us the darkness hidden in the crevices of our hearts.

Over time, hidden food will cause significant health problems, the least of which are horrible breath, tooth decay, and gum disease. But sin that remains hidden from us will over time do much worse. It will devastate our lives, ruin our relationships, and result in unremitting heartache, loss, sadness – and ultimately eternal death.

Because of God’s passionate love for us – let me repeat that phrase because I don’t want you to miss it – Because of God’s passionate love for us, He tells us again and again how important it is to let His Word shine its light into the furthest shadows of our souls. Here are some examples:  

"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 . . . . (Hebrews 4:12)

And: Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105). 

And yet again: Your testimonies are wonderful; Therefore my soul observes them.  The unfolding of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple. (Psalm 119:129-130).

From the first verse of Genesis to the last verse of Revelation, God implores us to read His word, to meditate on it, and to obey it. Hidden food between our teeth is one thing. Hidden sin in our life is something else entirely.

Christian – make it your practice to prayerfully read God’s word every day. There is absolutely no other way to see the sin that so easily hides itself within.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Naomi or Mara?

Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara (Ruth 1:20).


Tragedy. For some, it seems to always lurk in their shadow. Naomi's story is one of tragedy. It is also one of God in those shadows. I wrote this essay about her several years ago, but story is worth retelling.

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Naomi – her name means “pleasant” – and her husband left Israel during a famine that swept across the nation. They settled in Moab, their two sons married Moabite women, and the family worked hard to provide for their needs. But over the course of the next several years, Naomi’s husband died. Then her two sons died, and Naomi was left alone and devastated by her triple tragedy.

When she and Ruth – the wife of one of her deceased sons – arrived back in Israel, the people of her hometown greeted her with unmuted excitement. But Naomi, her grief still raw, quieted them and said, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara [which means, ‘bitterness’] for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me” (Ruth 1:19-21).

It’s not hard to empathize with Naomi’s despair. Life picked her up, threw her to the ground, and then kicked her in the gut as she lay in the dirt. And she did what so many of us are so often quick to do.

She blamed God for her tragedies.

Who doesn’t understand Naomi? Deep and gut-wrenching loss. Death. Debilitating injury. Chronic and life-altering illness. Financial disaster. It is a rare, rare person who gets through life unscathed by heartbreak. And it is little wonder that so many people – even those of us in the Church, children of God as we are, who’ve heard about faith and trust for years in homilies, who’ve read the books and sang the hymns extolling God’s love – it is little wonder that even those of us in the Church can find ourselves embittered about life.

And even about God.

Naomi didn't know it – in fact, she never discovered it – but through her tragedy, her daughter-in-law married a man named Boaz. Their son, Obed, had a son named Jesse. Jesse had seven sons, one of whom was named David.

David’s distant offspring was named, Jesus.

Naomi didn’t know – as many of us today don’t know, especially when we are in the throes of our bitterness – that God really does know what we go through. And He really is able to orchestrate events and people and circumstances in and through our lives to ultimately give birth to a wondrous beginning.

And – and this is important – God really is able to cause all things to work together for good, to those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (see Romans 8:28).

Life can be full of pleasantness, or full of bitterness. But circumstances themselves do not have the power to decide which of the two will rule us. Only our trust in the trustworthy God – or our lack of it – will determine what we call ourselves. Naomi . . .

Or Mara.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

All of Them!


Oh, Death! Where is Your Victory?



My wife created this piece about 10 years ago. She focuses our eyes on the object overlaying a skull. The flesh-colored image represents a broken consecrated Host. Blood oozes from His body. It is that very Blood and Body of Jesus that causes death and the grave to explode into small chunks and slivers quickly disappearing to dust.  In the lower right, a crucifix. The upper right, a gold crown of thorns.

Nancy reminded me this morning of an essay I wrote shortly after the sudden death three years ago of our good friend, Yukiko Howell. We'd seen her just a few nights earlier at our Monday night Bible study. A massive stroke took her from us two days later. 

I decided to repost what I wrote three years ago in hopes that it might now also comfort any of you who have buried someone very close to your heart.
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In Honor of Our Friend, Yukiko



O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?
(1 Corinthians 15:55)


What is more powerful than death?
It is final.
Complete. Relentless
Unchanging.

But what is more powerful than even death?
Jesus the Christ,
who splintered death 
into so many slivers
it will never
be put back together
again.

Never.

When Jesus led captivity captive,
He broke death’s grip,
Shattered its chains,
And set His children free.
Every one of them.
Free.

Forever.

Jesus said:
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.

And then He asked:
Do you believe this?

Friday, January 8, 2016

The God of Another Chance



I published this essay in my book, "Lessons Along the Journey."
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If anyone had reason to count himself unforgivable, unredeemable, and useless to God’s community, it was the apostle Peter.

And it’s no wonder. The fisherman-turned-disciple had lived with Christ for three years. He enjoyed an intimacy with the Master known only to two others of the twelve disciples – James and John. Peter conversed for hours with the Lord. He ate with Him, watched Him walk on water, raise the dead, heal paralytics, and feed thousands with only a few fish and some bread.
 
Then things took a sharp turn. In Gethsemane, while the Lord agonized in prayer, Peter fell asleep. When soldiers dragged Christ before the civil and religious authorities, Peter cowered and swore – three times – “I don't know the man."
 
Had that been me, I don’t think I could have recovered from the memory of that night. My neglect and thrice-denial would echo in my mind like rocks bouncing against cavern walls on their way to a dark and unsearchable bottom.
 
Yet, the more I think about Peter's fall, the greater comfort I find – not because of his failure, but because of his reconciliation. Peter’s reconciliation holds the key for all of us who repeatedly stumble along our journey and wonder if we can get up again – or even if we should get up again.
 
What would the Church look like today if Peter, overwhelmed by his shame, returned the Kingdom’s keys to Jesus (Matthew 16:18-19) and slipped into the shadows of history? How much less would we understand God’s grace without Peter’s two epistles? How many are in heaven today because Peter discovered, as all of us – believer and non-believer – must discover: God is the God of 
Another Chance? 

And another. 

And yet another.

Scripture promises: “As the heavens tower over the earth, so God's love towers over the faithful. As far as the east is from the west, so far have our sins been removed from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on the faithful. For he knows how we are formed, remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:11-14).
 
Satan – the Lord Jesus called him the Father of Lies – wants us to believe there’s no pardon for repeat offenders. If the devil can convince us of that lie, we lose a crucial battle. We get sidelined, lost in the shadows, and unable to help set free other prisoners from spiritual bondage.

But God repeatedly assures us of abundant pressed-down-and-running-over pardon in Christ. Each time we come to the Father in repentance, we find another chance to stand with our Savior. When all the theologies, philosophies, and ideologies melt away, God’s forgiveness and mercy are why we can get up and start again. His matchless and enduring love for us, despite our failures and sins, is the reason we should get up and start again.
 
"There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel's veins," an 18th century hymn written by William Cowper reminds us. "And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.”
 
Why would anyone not approach the God of Another Chance for – 
another chance?

Friday, January 1, 2016

Rejoice -- or Bah, Humbug



As I prepared this week to preach a message on “Rejoice – or Bah, Humbug” at the senior center this Sunday, I got to thinking (a bit guiltily) how ‘unjoyful’ and grumpy I usually am. I’ve lived much of my adult life with my glass perennially half empty.  So the accusation settled on my shoulder challenging me: Who are you to tell others how to rejoice in Christ?

But then I thought, God’s word is true regardless of how I apply it. His truth is not based on MY experience. His word is true simply and only because He said it. Therefore, the reason I’m grumpy and my glass is half empty is because I have neglected, and continue to neglect, an attitude of gratitude and a practice of Biblical principles.

So as I prepared my message I pondered how I might fix my problem, and the answer came to me in a challenge, a challenge I will also use to conclude me sermon this Sunday.

Every evening before turning out the lights I will log into a journal all the GOOD things that happened to me and Nancy during that day. I will not include anything bad in the journal unless by the end of the day it clearly turned out for good.

I am inclined to think that when I focus on the GOOD things God brings into my life instead of my problems, the level of my half-filled glass will get higher.

Some of you may remember these lyrics from the song, Count Your Blessing, by Johnson Oatman: “When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed, When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, Count your many blessings, name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.”

This is not a psychological mind-game I am talking about here. The concept of focusing on the positive instead of the negative is firmly grounded in Scripture. That’s why, for example, St. Paul wrote: 

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things . . . and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9). And the psalmist wrote: I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty and on Your wondrous works. (Psalm 145:5).

No, this is not a mind-game. Rather, it simply puts into practice what God’s word tells us to do if we want a reason to rejoice in this life. And as the years zip past I am increasingly aware life is way too short to keep a half-empty glass.  Don’t you think?