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

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Judging Others

I published this a few years ago. I thought to bring it back.
Is it wrong for Christians to judge others? 

Perhaps one of the most often cited Scriptures used to ‘prove’ Christians have no right to judge is a brief excerpt from Matthew 7: Do not judge so that you will not be judged (Matthew 7:1).
Christian, beware of texts taken out of context.
Is the Lord – indeed, does the New Testament itself —actually teaching we must avoid judging others? What would societies look like if no one judged the actions of another? Courts would close and prisons would empty its prisoners back into our communities because no one could pass judgment on murderers, rapists, thieves, and other criminals.

A society without authority to judge others would descend into total anarchy. That is why St. Paul refers to governments as having been “established by God” for the protection of its citizenry (Romans 13:1-6).

But what about individual Christians? Are we commanded to avoid passing judgment on others, especially in the Church? A superficial glance at the Lord’s statement, “Do not judge so you will not be judged” seems to indicate the answer is yes. Yet what does the context of that verse reveal? And what clarification do we find in examining the rest of New Testament scripture? Let's look again at Matthew 7:
Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)
The Lord Jesus is saying more than a simple “Do not judge.” Rather, He warns us to avoid judging without first examining our own lives.
The Holy Spirit further clarifies Jesus’ point through St. Paul: Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things . . . . But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? (Romans 2:1-3)

Thus, if we are to judge the actions of others, we must first ensure our own actions are moral and will stand up to the scrutiny of the Lord who knows all things.

Looking back at the Matthew passage, the Lord Jesus continues in verse six: Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine. . . . In New Testament language, dogs and swine referred to non-practicing Jews and Gentiles who did not follow the Law of Moses. Unless Jesus’ disciples ‘judged’ the actions of those who live contrary to Jewish law, this commandment in verse six does not make sense.

But the Lord was not yet finished. In verses 15-16 of the same chapter, He warned: Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. If Jesus intended verse one to be a ‘stand alone’ commandment, then His warning about false prophets is meaningless since we would not be permitted to judge the fruit of others to know of whom we should be wary.

The Father of evil – Satan – ever strives to distort God’s truth by introducing false teachers and false Christians into the Church. That is why the Holy Spirit warns us again through St. Paul: For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness . . . . (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

Unless we judge what others do and say, we cannot protect ourselves or others against Satan’s schemes. An example of why such judgment is necessary to protect the flock is found in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. One of the men in the congregation was sleeping with his father’s wife, and St. Paul passed swift judgment on him: For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven . . . . I wrote you in my letter not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. . . remove the wicked man from among yourselves.
(1 Corinthians 5:3-13) 

(By the way, besides protection, another purpose of Christian judgment is the rehabilitation and reconciliation of the sinner. We find this is what occurred with this man. By the time Paul wrote his second letter to that church, the offender had turned his life around and had been restored to the Christian community – 2 Corinthians 2:1-11).

We could examine many other New Testament texts that instruct Christians, for their own safety and the safety of others, to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). But for the sake of brevity I will cite only a few more texts which, if Matthew 7:1 was intended as a ‘stand alone”, would not make sense – and why that passage must be read in context with the rest of Scripture:
1 Corinthians 15:33-34:  Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame. Unless we use Biblical principles to judge the company we keep, we risk our own morals being corrupted.
2 Corinthians 6:14-15: Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?  Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?  To avoid being “bound together with unbelievers” one must make judgments.

 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15: If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. Once again Paul instructs his Christian readers to judge the actions and words of others.
1 Timothy 5:9-10: A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work. How could the church put such women on “the list” without first judging their lives?
1 Timothy 5:19-21: Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning. How could church leadership rebuke those who continue in sin without judging their actions?
2 Timothy 3:1-4: But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,  holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. How could we avoid such men unless we judge their actions?
In St. John’s gospel, the Lord Jesus tells us: Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Righteous judgment means taking the log out of our own eye before we get busy taking specks out of someone else’s eye. It means approaching our brother or sister in love, and not in a spirit of condemnation – but approaching them nonetheless for their correction.
What God said to the prophet Ezekiel illustrates that point. This is my paraphrase from Ezekiel 33:1-7: If we warn the rebellious of the eternal danger they face, and they do not repent, their blood is on their own head. But if God tells us to warn the rebellious to turn from their sins, and we do not warn them, they will die in those sins – but God will require their blood of us.
According to the whole testimony of New Testament Scripture, Christians actually obey God when we, in love, make judgments of the actions of others and warn them of the eternal danger they face if they continue in willful sin.

To avoid making judgments simply puts ourselves and those we love at great risk.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

More Than Astonished

After the Lord’s Sermon in chapters 5 through 7 of Matthew’s gospel, the writer concludes: "When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes." (Matthew 7:28-29)

No one knows what became of the crowd who listened to Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. We do know, however, it’s never enough to simply be “astonished” by a sermon. It’s never enough to be astonished by His presence – even in the Eucharist. What matters is a changed life, a “doing” His commandments instead of just “hearing.” Isn’t that what Jesus said to his audience a few verses earlier in that last chapter?

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”

I remember a time I wasn’t at all astonished by Christ’s teaching. I rejected it. In those days I prided myself on being an atheist, always ready to challenge Christians with unanswerable questions like, “Can you prove God exists?” or “Why does He permit cancer? Or war? Why do drunk drivers kill entire families?”

But when I was stopped at a traffic light in 1970, the thought caught me by surprise: "What if there is a God?"

Intrigued by the thought – but only for a moment – I let myself follow the question to its logical conclusion. Though I knew nothing about God’s word, intuitively I knew if He existed, He didn’t at all approved of my lifestyle of cavalier sexual encounters, drug abuse, drunkenness, thefts, and general rebellion against any of God’s laws I thought inconvenient.

I would have to change.

But I didn’t want to change. I liked living as I did. So, when the light turned green, I pushed the question from my mind.

I am grateful for God’s mercy because He did not ignore me nearly fifty years ago at that traffic light when I ignored Him. And I must also be quick to say His mercy is not limited to me. It extends to everyone – even to you reading this. Regardless of the times you may have disobeyed Him, or even rejected and denied Him, His absolute and utter forgiveness remains only a prayer away – a prayer such as this:

"Lord Jesus, your mercy should do more than astonish me. Please, change me. Please forgive the many times I’ve turned from you. I know I am not worthy to come to you, yet only say the word, and I shall be healed – and I shall follow you the rest of my life."

Sunday, April 23, 2017

When We Are Not In Control

When we discover we are not at all in control of our life events and circumstances, too often we alternate between frustration, anger, or bitterness. There is another way. A better way. I talk about it here:

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

I Will Not Believe

I’ve met people like Thomas. He’s the one, you might remember, who said to the other disciples, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)

I will not believe.

That’s what my friend has told me again and again over the years -- along the lines of: “Unless God demonstrates to my satisfaction His existence, unless He explains His actions and inactions to my approval, I will not believe.”

I am amazed at the arrogance of some people.

Thomas had a choice: Believe what others whom he trusted told him about the Savior, or disbelieve.

He chose wrongly.

Jesus, as we learn in this passage, did in fact demonstrate to Thomas’ satisfaction that He was alive. But no one should expect the Lord of creation to do likewise for everyone or anyone. That’s why John wrote a few verses later: Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.

You and I have the Book – the inerrant record of Jesus’ life, His death, and His resurrection. And it is through that Book that God tells us why Jesus had to die, and what you and I must do to receive eternal life.

The warning in Luke 16 about the Rich Man and Lazarus suddenly comes to my mind because it speaks directly to those who demand of God that He answer them to their satisfaction. You might not know the story, so I hope you will read it in its entirety at this link. The verses specific to my point follow:

27 And [the Rich Man] said [to Abraham], ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 But Abraham *said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”

God does not usually reveal Himself to us as He did to Thomas. Nonetheless, God gives you and me a choice – to choose to believe what He tells us of Himself in His Book, or to choose to disbelieve unless He meets our demands.

Be humble, and choose wisely.


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Please! Develop the Habit

This note is specifically for my fellow Catholics, but if you’re a Protestant, I offer it to you as well.

The psalmist, in writing about those who desire to walk closely with God, writes this in Psalm 1: “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.”  Later, in Psalm 119, the psalmist adds: “Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

If we have access to a Bible, there is simply no other way to grow in our understanding of God than to consistently and reflectively read His word. That’s the way He designed it. If we have access to it, and ignore it, we should not expect Him to change the rules for us.

Some time ago I posted my recommended Bible Reading Plan. The plan can be started any time during the year.  http://bit.ly/2cv5cee 

Please!  Develop a habit of reading His book every day.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Miracle of the Donkey

Days before His trial and crucifixion, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a very young donkey. It was the first time – the first time – anyone had ridden the colt. As they traveled together along the dirt road, the tumultuous crowd on either side waved large palm branches across their path and shouted, “Hosanna!  Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” 

Each Palm Sunday I think of the miracle of the donkey.

The colt never bucked in resistance to someone on its back for the first time in its life. It didn’t flinch and swerve with fear at the branches waved in front of its eyes. It never brayed in agitation at the shrill shouts and commotion. Its four-hoof cadence remained calm, purposeful, and peaceful as they made their way through the clamoring crowd toward the city.

During many seasons of my life I’ve been intimate with confusion. And heartache. And fear. There have been times when all three disrupted my life-cadence to near paralysis.

Which is why in the future I should think more often of the miracle of the donkey.

I’ve wondered from time to time why the colt was so calm. And too often I found my musings become too ‘spiritual’ for my own good: Perhaps the beast felt the calming weight of Christ’s glory. Perhaps it intuitively recognized Christ’s authority and power. But the longer I thought about the scene in light of the entire Bible, I rejected those fanciful ideas for something simpler – and far more likely.

The donkey trusted its creator and master.

I always settle on that reason because it is Biblically sound. Not very often does the child of God ‘feel’ God’s presence in the midst of confusion, exhaustion, heartbreak, illness, loneliness, or fear. That is why the Holy Spirit repeatedly tells us to walk by faith, not by sight. Or ‘feelings.’

Here are only a few examples: “When I am afraid I will put my trust in You.” (Psalm 56:3); “Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.” (Isaiah 41:10); “Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage, fear not.” (Isaiah 35:4); “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33); “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20).

The miracle of the donkey is not so much a miracle as it is an illustration for us of how trust in our master brings calm in the midst of life’s seeming continuous clamor.

I’m not there yet. I do not yet have the simple trust of a beast of burden. But I know how to pray – and I pray it often:

”Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief.”  

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Quiet Ones

During a recent discussion a woman I know said something so profound, so insightful about the Lord Jesus that I’ve been feeding off it now for several days. When I later told her how her words had stayed with me, she seemed genuinely surprised.

“No one ever listens to me,” she said.

That, too, gave me reason to pause.

No one listens to her. I can’t understand how that can be true, but she said it, and so it must be.

This is not the first time the Lord Jesus taught me the same lesson that He again taught me when she said no one listens to her. And in my more reflective moments I realize how much better my life with Christ would probably be if I paid less attention to ‘Type A’ personalities – at church, in the classroom, or at the office – and much closer attention to the quiet ones God places all around me.

Especially at home.

What was it the Holy Spirit tells us though St. Paul? “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are . . .” (1 Corinthians 1:26-28)

No, this woman’s name does not matter. You already know her. And you already know him. You see them every day. They’re the quiet ones, the invisible ones, the ones to whom few pay attention. Oh, if only the Lord would quiet our hearts and open our ears to what He would teach us through them.

And if only we would listen.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Who Will You Believe?

You’ve probably heard the song by George Jones: The Lonesome Valley. Perhaps you’ve sung it in church. Here are some of the lyrics:

You gotta walk that lonesome valley, you gotta walk it by yourself; Nobody else can walk it for you, You gotta walk it by yourself.

You must go and stand your trials, you have to stand it by yourself, Nobody else can stand it for you, you have to stand it by yourself.

Oh, you gotta walk that lonesome valley, Oh, you gotta walk it by yourself; Nobody else is gonna walk it for you, You gotta walk, walk it by yourself.

Some think the song has a soft, melancholy melody, but the words of this song are nothing short of dangerous to the Christian’s spiritual health. Unlike these lyrics, Scripture from Genesis through Revelation assures us the man and woman of God NEVER walks a valley alone. God’s child NEVER journeys through trials alone.

Of the hundreds of promises in Scripture that contradict the song, here, for example, is what the Holy Spirit tells us through the Psalmist:

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there . . . If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me (Psalm 139:7-10).

And through the prophet Isaiah: When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. (Isaiah 43:2).

And again through Isaiah: Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me. (Isaiah 43:15-16)

And from the lips of the Lord Jesus: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)

Christian, be careful. Who are you going to believe? The Holy Spirit, or lyrics that contradict God's promises? We do not walk a lonesome valley by ourselves. Alone. Forgotten.

To believe that is to believe – and live – a terrible lie.