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

Monday, December 31, 2018

A New Year's Encouragement

Some of you may remember the child’s song written by Bill Gaither. “I am a Promise.” Some of the lyrics are these:

"You are a promise, you are a possibility, you are a promise with a capital "P", You are a great big bundle of potentiality.”

“You can go anywhere that he wants you to go, you can be anything that he wants you to be, you can climb the high mountain. you can cross the wide sea you're a great big promise you see.”

“So, keep on listening to hear God's voice, and keep on trying, He'll help you make the right choices. You're a promise to be anything He wants you to be.”

I debated about citing this children’s song especially because of these lyrics: "You can go anywhere that he wants you to go You can be anything that he wants you to be, you can climb the high mountain, you can cross the wide sea you're a great big promise you see . . . .”

Let’s face it. For most of us reading this, a lot of proverbial water has gone under the bridge. There are just some things we’re not going to do anymore in this life. We’re not about to climb high mountains. We’re probably not going to cross any wide sea.

But, that truth still does not alter the greater truth: You STILL are a promise. You STILL are a possibility. And you can STILL do anything God wants you to do. Even if you’re 65, or 75, or 85, or even 95.

That’s why the Holy Spirit inspired St. Paul to write these words: “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6).

Please! Be wary of the devilish lie that God is done with you. God is NOT done with you. And that is why you can be triumphant in 2019.

The year 2019 begins tonight at midnight. And as we journey through the following 12 months with Christ at our side and the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, you can STILL do anything and be anything God wants for you.

Many of you remember the 1946 Frank Capra classic film, It’s a Wonderful Life. When George Bailey wishes he’d never been born, the angel Clarence gives him his wish, George gets to see what life would have been like if he’d never been born.

Bedford Falls is now Pottersville, and home to sleazy nightclubs and places of ‘adult entertainment.’ The pharmacist spent twenty years in prison for accidentally poisoning a child because the then ten-year-old George wasn’t there to intervene in time. George’s brother Harry died when he broke through the ice during childhood because George wasn’t there to save him. And because Harry didn’t survive, all the servicemen on the troop transport during WWII died because Harry was not there to shoot down those enemy planes.

There’s much more to the story, but I share this brief synopsis because the child’s song and this story about George Bailey make the point that God makes again and again from Genesis through Revelation: Like George Bailey, your life has intersected with hundreds, maybe thousands of lives – either directly or indirectly. And it continues to intersect to this day, every day, with the lives of others. And their lives then intersect with scores of others. Like an ever-growing snowball cascading down a snowbank, our supernatural God uses you and me – God STILL uses you and me to influence the lives of others.

That’s why your life, my life, right up to this very moment on December 31 is so important to the Kingdom Story as our lives intersect with others.

No wonder Paul wrote these words in Romans 11:33 “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways.”

Most of you are familiar with what Matthew records for us in the last portion of the 25th chapter of his gospel: “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

I want to draw your attention to something important here. Those standing before God’s judgment seat had no idea their lives were important to God as they fed or visited or clothed others. And they were dumbfounded to hear the words of the Lord at their judgment: ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’

What have you done in your life to help the poor and the lonely and the sick and the hungry and the cold? What kind words have you spoken to encourage the discouraged, to give hope to those without hope, to give laughter to those who could only weep?

Listen, "For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints" (Hebrews 6:10).

God sees it all. He hears it all. He watches it all. So keep at it in 2019. Don’t lose your confidence that God is STILL using you – even if you cannot see it. All He asks us to do is trust Him to use us as He promised He would do.

Let me close this message with a true story of an old missionary couple who’d worked in Africa for years. Because of poor health, they were returning to New York City to retire.

Without funds, their health depleted, they were defeated, discouraged, and afraid of the future. They soon discovered President Teddy Roosevelt was booked on the same ship. He was returning to the States after one of his African safaris.

No one paid much attention to the missionary couple during the voyage home, but they couldn’t help but notice the fanfare that accompanied the President’s entourage during the voyage. Passengers everywhere tried to glimpse the man.

When the ship docked in New York, a band was waiting to greet the President, along with the mayor and other dignitaries. No one noticed the missionary couple as they slipped off the ship to find a cheap flat on the East side.

That night, the man’s spirit broke. He said to his wife, "I can’t take this; God is not treating us fairly."

His wife said, "Why don’t tell that to the Lord?"

A short time later he came out from the bedroom, but now his demeanor was changed. His wife asked what happened.

"The Lord settled it with me," he said. "I told him how bitter I was that the President should receive this tremendous homecoming, when no one met us as we returned home. And when I finished, it seemed as though the Lord put his hand on my shoulder and simply said: “But you’re not home yet!’"

Christian, listen! You're not home yet! *

Don’t let the devil break your spirit. God is NOT done with you. And when you get ‘home’ He will say to all the faithful, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”

So, persevere for His glory through every step of your journey through 2019, and this new year will be a triumphant one for His kingdom. You are still a promise. You are still a possibility with a capital P. You are still a great big bundle of potentiality.

---------
* Adapted from https://www.tonycooke.org/stories-and-illustrations/not_home_yet/

Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Wolves of 2019

With 2019 only days away, I read through Romans 6 and  paused at this text: “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God . . . . For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:12-14, 23) My thoughts then turned to an old Cherokee legend: “An elder Cherokee was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said to them, "A fight is going on inside me. It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” “The other stands for joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith." "This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too", he added. “The Grandchildren thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?" “The old Cherokee simply replied... "The one you feed." ----- That, then, is the question you and I face as we move into and through 2019. Which one will we feed? To which shall we present our eyes and our ears and our minds? Oh, Lord, make us wise.

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Cradle and the Cross

The context of this passage in Matthew’s biography of Jesus is when Joseph discovered his beloved Mary was pregnant. Knowing the baby wasn’t his, he decided to send her away instead of disgracing her publicly. We pick up the story in verse 20: 

But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21) 

Christmas is the time many Christians celebrate Holy Communion – or as some call it – the Eucharistic Mass (the word Eucharist means ‘Thanksgiving’). It is a time set aside to remember what Jesus said to His disciples during their Last Supper together. Here is how Luke records it: 

Luke 22:19-20  And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. 

Over the years, the celebration of the Mass of Christ became abbreviated to ‘Christ’s Mass.’ Or, now simply, Christmas.  But as happens so often when we abbreviate truth, the meaning of Christ’s Mass has devolved into what Christmas is today in many places: Santa Clause, reindeer, time off work, and so forth. And because of the misplaced focus, so many have lost the meaning of the birth of the One we celebrate. 

What is that meaning? Matthew told us that meaning in verse 21 of the text cited above: Jesus was born to die so He could save us from the punishment our sins deserve. 

At that first Christmas, Immanuel – ‘God-With-Us’ – laid aside His glory and took the form of a slave to save all who want to be saved from eternal agony in the Lake of Fire. 

The phrase, ‘who want to be saved’ is the crucial part of the incarnation we celebrate on December 25. It’s crucial because not everyone is willing to do what must be done to be saved from that Lake of Fire: 1) Trust that it is Jesus’ death alone which saves us from the punishment for our sins; and 2) obey Christ throughout the rest of their lives. 

Most people do not realize sin makes us enemies of God. St. James is only one Biblical writer to tell us that: “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4) 

That’s why the manger is much more than what many relegate to children’s picture books. It’s much more than the silent night, the holy night when shepherd’s quaked at the sight. The message of Christmas is God’s personal intervention into history to rescue us who were His enemies and then reconcile us into His family. The message of Christmas is about Golgotha’s cross looming above the manger where the little Lord Jesus lay asleep on the hay.

Golgotha’s cross. I hope you still love that old cross, where the dearest and best, for a world of lost sinners, was slain. 

What did John 3:16 cost God?  Listen to the words of Revelation 5:9-10. The scene is heaven where the angels and the twenty-four elders proclaim to Jesus: “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” 

Many don’t often think about Christianity as a bloody religion.  But it had to be bloody, for only blood could atone for, only blood could wash away, the sins of the guilty. 

Jews of Jesus’ day fully understood ‘blood atonement.’ The requirement of blood to wash away sins dates to the books of Moses. For example, Leviticus 17:11  For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.’ 

And Christ’s cross was as bloody as it was gruesome. Before hammering spikes into His flesh, Roman soldiers tied Him the whipping post and stripped off His robe. Then one of them swung rock-embedded whips against Jesus’ back, buttocks and legs. Again, and again, until strips of skin hung from His body. Small capillaries and arteries oozed and spurted blood with each beat of His heart. The warm fluid tracked down His back, His thighs, His legs until the pavement at His feet was moist with dirt and clotted blood. 

Listen! If the Baby in that manger had not grown into the Man whose bloody death would be the atonement for our own sins, there would be no hope for any of us to receive God’s forgiveness. 

Did you catch that? Without the Cradle AND the Cross, there would be no hope for God’s mercy. No hope for eternal life, but only an inescapable judgment facing us after the grave. 

But there is hope. 

Scripture repeatedly tells us, Jesus substitutionary sacrifice for us utterly satisfied God’s justice – His unbreakable rule – that sin must be punished. 

Substitutionary sacrifice. Here is what God promised about that sacrifice through the prophet Isaiah: "But He was pierced through for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” (53:4-6) 

Christ’s Mass – Christmas as we now call it – was originally a Thanksgiving Celebration during which Christians remembered our Savior’s birth, life, sacrificial death, and His resurrection – which is God’s seal of approval on the work of Christ. 

Christ’s Mass is why St. Paul wrote: In [Christ] we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of his grace (Ephesians 1:7). 

The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth, “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11) 

As we celebrate Christmas this year, may the Holy Spirit help us mature in our understanding of the manger AND the cross. May He grow us ever deeper in love with Jesus – and in our obedience to Him. 

Amen.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Little Gifts

This passage in Mark’s gospel is so instructive, don’t you think? “About this time another large crowd had gathered, and the people ran out of food again. Jesus called his disciples and told them, I feel sorry for these people. They have been here with me for three days, and they have nothing left to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will faint along the way. For some of them have come a long distance.” "His disciples replied, “How are we supposed to find enough food to feed them out here in the wilderness?” Jesus asked, “How much bread do you have?” “Seven loaves,” they replied.” “So Jesus told all the people to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves, thanked God for them, and broke them into pieces. He gave them to his disciples, who distributed the bread to the crowd. A few small fish were found, too, so Jesus also blessed these and told the disciples to distribute them.” "They ate as much as they wanted. Afterward, the disciples picked up seven large baskets of leftover food. 9 There were about 4,000 men in the crowd that day, and Jesus sent them home after they had eaten.” (Mark 8:1-9) What little do YOU have? Money? Ability to sing, or play a musical instrument? Can you write well to comfort or exhort or challenge others? Can you cook? Or teach? The Holy Spirit has given EVERYONE of His children something useful for the Kingdom. Do we really think Jesus cannot use our few fish and loaves of bread to enrich multitudes of needy men, women, and children? Do we think so little of His power? Christian – go ahead. Give Him what little you have, and see what He does with your gifts.


Thursday, December 20, 2018

Before It Gets Too Dark

I read again this section in Mark’s gospel. It’s about the demon-possessed man. You can read the entire context in chapter five. But this section caught my attention this morning, beginning at verse nine:
“And [Jesus] was asking him, “What is your name?” And he said to Him, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” And he began to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there was a large herd of swine feeding nearby on the mountain. The demons implored Him, saying, “Send us into the swine so that we may enter them.” Jesus gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea.”
Is anyone reading the daily newscasts? Is anyone watching what is happening to television shows and movies? If we weren’t so ‘sophisticated’ and ‘modern,’ we’d recognize the supernatural forces we read of so frequently in the Scriptures are STILL active in 2018. We’d realize what it is we are up against – and we’d deal with it in the only way the supernatural can be dealt with.
Oh, God! Wake us up!
We – and our families and our cities and our nation – we are each in a ferocious supernatural battle with unseen forces of wickedness. And yet so terribly few – especially in churches – so few recognize it. If we did understand what is happening all around us, we’d spend a lot more time seeking unity among Christian churches and for opportunities to pray WITH EACH OTHER.
Jesus said, “A house divided cannot stand.” Satan also knows that verse. And he is using it to his deadly, lethal advantage.
Christian! Wake up. Strengthen the things that yet remain of our unity in the Body of Christ. Or it will become too dark for anyone to work.

Monday, December 17, 2018

A Different Christmas

A Different Kind of Christmas
By Richard Maffeo
Christmas Day 2018 will be different this year for many people. It will be a time of mourning, instead of joy. It will be a day of longing for the past, and not one of hope for the future. It will be a time of anxious stress, and not of the peace possible only through the Prince of Peace.
Life-circumstances forced some of you this year to leave your homes and move in with a group of strangers. And as you closed the door behind you, memories of the last 20, 30, even 50 years swept across your soul. Those memories, one by one, had become synonymous with the very fabric of your couches and loveseats and dining room tables and lamps and curtains and pictures on the walls . . . .
You left them all behind because you could only take a few things to your new, and very small apartment. Or nursing home room.
Those poignant memories stung your heart until you bled, didn’t they?
Many of us waking up on December 25 will instinctively turn in bed, looking for the one you lost this year. For some, 2018 meant debilitating health issues that rocked you to your core. For some of you, 2018 shattered your confidence in a God who knows who you are – or even cares.
Yes, Christmas is different this year for many of us. But – and this is the crux of my message to all of us:
In all that is different this Christmas, one thing remains the same. Despite our upheavals, our anger, our losses – one thing remains as unchangeable as – well, as any of God’s truths. It is that one thing that He established as the very foundation of life itself.
Let me try to illustrate it this way:
One plus one equals two. We take that mathematical formula so much for granted that we never think about it as we balance our check book or calculate in our heads how much of a tip to leave our server in the restaurant. But without that fundamental mathematical truth, construction workers could not build even the simplest of homes. Electricians and plumbers could never properly do their jobs. We could never have flown to the moon and back if NASA was uncertain that one and one always and in all circumstances equals two.
In a similar way, there’s a fundamental spiritual truth we hear so often that we take it for granted: “For God so loved the world that He gave us His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him would not perish, but have ever lasting life.”
Taken for granted, or not, that text is the source of life and light and love and hope and promise. John 3:16 is the very basis of Christmas itself – even if it doesn’t feel like Christmas.
In speaking of the first Christmas, Isaiah told us it would be a time when those who walked in darkness would see a great light; It would be a time when those who lived in a dark land would see light shining on them. (Isaiah 9:2-3)
That, too, is the message of Christmas 2018: Light smashing darkness. Hope shattering despair. And it is in holding onto the essential truth of John 3:16 that we will find the antidote for the sorrow and sense of loss so many of us face this Christmas.
Like one plus one, John 3:16 and Christmas is God’s unalterable promise of hope. It is, for all who long to know Jesus, for all who long to love Jesus, Christmas is an explosion of light and life and courage to face tomorrow.
Oh, God! Help us each to remember this Christmas that Christmas is about Jesus. It is about Immanuel – God with us. It is You come from Your throne to lay in an animal feeding trough on a cold December day so that we each who read this or who hear this could have life, even an abundant life.
Even when the circumstances of life have turned our lives inside out.
May God give you this year a merry Christmas, a peaceful Christmas, a thankful Christmas – and a blessed 2019.
Amen.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Job and Real-life

“As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.(James 5:10-11)

If Job is just a make-believe story, nothing more than an allegory to make a spiritual point, then why did St. James refer to the man as an example of faith, hope, and confidence in God despite his horrendous tragedies?

Why can’t some theologians and apologists just let the simple words of the text speak for themselves? Why must they dissect the plain sense of Scripture into meaninglessness and futility for those of us who NEED to know we can follow the real-life examples of real-life people who determined to trust God, despite their desperate real-life trials?

When we start to needlessly allegorize Scripture, where do we stop? The Exodus from Egypt? The Virgin Birth? Feeding the Five Thousand? The Resurrection of Jesus?

Christian, I appeal to you! Ignore the so-called wise and learned teachers of Scripture who emasculate the Scriptures. Let the Holy Spirit Himself teach you, just as Jesus promised He would do for all who asked Him for guidance. (See John 14:26).

The Holy Spirit will always tell us the truth.