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

Monday, February 26, 2018

Zaccheus and Dirty Dishes

For the past 45 years, I’ve read the story of Zaccheus without much more thought than that he climbed the tree to get a better look at Jesus. But when I read it this time, I discovered more to that story than had met my eye. (How can it be that I can read something in Scripture a hundred times and then see something new on the 101st?).

Anyway, here’s what happened in Luke 19:

"[Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way."

"When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly.”

If you remember the story, a few verses later, Zaccheus experiences a bona-fide conversion. But his conversion is not what I saw this time around. What caught my attention is that the Lord invited Himself to the man’s house. And He wanted to go home with him now.

I put the Bible down for a few moments and thought about that scenario – and how I might have felt. I mean, the guy didn’t even have a chance to first run home and straighten things up. Maybe he had dirty underwear lying on the floor by his bed. Or dishes in the sink from last week. Or dust-bunnies hanging out in the corners of the living room.

And now Jesus summarily invites Himself home with him. Right now. No time to clean the house.

As I pondered the scene, Revelation 3:20 came to mind. “Behold,” Jesus said, “I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”

And the Holy Spirit made the application for me.

When Jesus invited Himself to Zaccheus’ house, the man scampered down the tree and, we are told, “gladly received Him” – even if his house was not ready to receive such an important Guest.

The point?

As Jesus invited Himself to Zaccheus’ place, He is right now knocking on the door of your conscience, inviting Himself into your ‘house.’

You may think your house is not ready for such an important Guest. That’s okay. He doesn’t care about the dirty clothes or the dirty dishes or the dirty corners of our lives. He’ll take care of those things when we let Him in.

All He asks of us, is that we receive Him gladly.


Friday, February 23, 2018

God Knows Your Name

Have you ever thought about the truth: God calls you by your name?

Think about that for a moment. Among the most important words in any language is a person’s name. And God knows YOURS. The devil may whisper in your ear from time to time – or maybe all the time – God has forgotten you. But he is doing what is his nature. He is lying to you.

Of the billions of people on earth today, God not only knows how many hairs you have on your head, but He knows your NAME – because you are important to Him. Vitally important to Him.  Here is what the Lord Jesus tells us in John 10. 

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. . . . 

Do you ever hear Him speak your name, especially while in prayer? If you haven’t heard it then you are not listening quietly enough. If you belong to God through faith in His Son, God talks to you by His Holy Spirit all the time.

As I just wrote these words, I suddenly remembered Elijah in the cave, hiding from Jezebel. You can find the story in 1 Kings 18-19. What does that have to do with hearing God’s voice?  A lot. This is what happened to that great prophet – which has direct relevance to why we so often do not hear God speak to us, even when He speaks our name:

19:11  So [God] said [to Elijah], “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

What are you doing, Elijah?

In the quietness of the gentle blowing, Elijah heard God call his name!

It is very difficult – I wonder if it is even possible – to hear God speak our name when we are so busy with the noise all around us -- and perhaps especially with the noise in our minds.  That is why it is so important that we get alone and quiet with God. 

From time to time I challenge my audiences to take the 15-minute challenge. For 15 minutes every day, get alone and quiet with God. No phone. No internet. No one in the room with you. Find a place where you will not be distracted. Bring your bible with you, read a little from perhaps the gospels, or the epistles, or the psalms – and listen for God to speak with you.

It may take some practice at first. But once you get used to the quiet, you will find it the sweetest 15 minutes of your day. And I guarantee you who are children of God – I guarantee you on the promise of Scripture, you WILL hear God speaking your name.


Sunday, February 18, 2018

Loathsome Lyrics


I heard it again last night – the most deceptive and misleading song I’ve ever heard sung during a Lenten Mass. Here are some of the lyrics: “You gotta walk that lonesome valley. You gotta walk it by yourself.”

And the words get worse: “You must go and stand your trials. You have to stand it by yourself.”

Aaarghh!  I wanted to leap to my feet in the sanctuary and cry out – “NO! NO! NO!  Is anyone listening to those words? What does walking lonesome valleys alone have to do with the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist on the altar right in front of us? What does standing our trials by ourselves have to do with the unalterable promise of Christ who tells us – “I will never leave you. I will never forsake you”?

No wonder so many of my fellow Catholics walk through life with their jaw dragging on the ground. Do we call Jesus our ‘Emmanuel’ without remembering the name means, “God WITH us?

What do those loathsome lyrics have to do with God’s promise in the Shepherd Psalm?  Remember the words: “Even thought I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (OH! Talk about a lonesome valley!) – “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, YOU ARE WITH ME!”

Oh, my fellow Catholic, please don’t let those specious, deceptive lyrics sink into your spirit. It should be stunning to us that we would sing such joy-destroying lyrics when the Mass unveils to us the eternally present Christ.

Jesus is ALWAYS with us. Every moment, every nano-second of our lives. In our cars, in our homes, while we shop, while we sleep, while we eat – every moment Emmanuel is with us. Always. Even to the end of time.

And there is yet more to His magnificent, wondrous and glorious promises: We never, never, never stand our trials alone. Oh! Where does that contemptible idea come from!

God’s unshakeable and unchangeable promise through the Scriptures and the historic teaching of the Church assures us of His ever-presence with us. Please! Never accept lying lyrics written by those who are so sadly ignorant of our God and Savior.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Mistaken About His Mercy


I posted this a few years ago. I apologize for its length.

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 Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. (John 6:68)



The longer I know God, the more I know I don’t know Him.  That’s a different attitude than I had just a few years ago. Back then I thought I had nearly all the answers. And why shouldn’t I? I could quote hundreds of Scripture passages and easily recite the basic doctrines of evangelical Protestant and Catholic faith. I have baccalaureate and master’s degrees from Assemblies of God schools and have studied and taught Scripture for more than forty years.



Yet I am now at the point in my life where I realize the longer I know God, the more I know I don’t know Him.  Sometimes I feel like an amoeba trying to fathom the mind and purpose of an Einstein – and I am in good company. It was St. John Chrysostom who said, “God is the incomprehensible, the invisible, the ungraspable.” St. Augustine added, “If it can be understood, it is not God.” And St. Thomas Aquinas noted of God, “We cannot grasp what he is, but only what he is not.  Whatever can be understood, or thought of, is less than God.” 



I don’t usually think about how much I don’t know about God, until someone asks me what I now concede are unanswerable questions, such as: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  Or, “Why does God permit some people to do terribly bad things without punishment, and on others His judgment is swift and overwhelming?”



For example, there’s that gruesome story of rape, murder and mutilation in the book of Judges, and God doesn’t seem to bother Himself with event. I wrote about it several months ago, and you can read it here. Whereas, an example of God’s immediate judgment against sin occurs in the New Testament story of Ananias and his wife, Sapphira. You’ll find it in Acts, chapter 5. They sold some property and brought the proceeds of the sale to the apostles as a gift to the Lord. Well, actually, they brought some of the proceeds of the sale. They lied to the apostles, telling them they were giving all of the sale price.



And God slew them right there on the spot.



So, what’s going on? Why sudden punishment for some and seemingly nothing for another? It is precisely that question which brought me to the conclusion I don’t know as much about God as I once thought I did. Perhaps what Jesus said to some Sadducees is applicable to me.



The Sadducees were the religious humanists of Jesus’ day. They didn’t believe in angels, the supernatural, or the resurrection. So they challenged Jesus with a hypothetical case of a man who died without having any children with his wife. According to the Mosaic Law, the man’s brother was to marry the widow and raise children to the deceased. The Sadducees continue their “what-if” to say the deceased had six brothers, each of whom in turn married the widow and then died without producing offspring to the original brother. “So in the resurrection,” they asked Jesus, “whose wife will she be, since all seven had her as a wife?”



I imagine Jesus sadly shook His head as He answered, “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, because you do not understand the Scripture, or the power of God?” (Mark 12:24)



Several months ago when I reread that story, the Lord’s words to the Sadducees captured my attention as if I’d never read that passage before.  Jesus could just as easily have said to me with regard to all my questions: “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, because you do not understand the Scripture, or the mercy of God?” Or, the forgiveness of God? Or, His patience?



It is that concept – my incredibly limited understanding of God and of His patience, mercy, and forgiveness – that brings me back to the question about the stories in Judges and in Acts, and many others throughout Sacred Scripture, and even to today.



It amazes me, for example, how patient God was with Israel during their 40 years in the desert. Their shoes and clothing didn’t wear out. He fed them day by day with supernatural ‘manna’ from heaven. The people witnessed God’s supernatural pillar of fire which led them by day and His supernatural cloud which settled over them each night. For forty years God’s miraculous presence and intervention journeyed with them. Every day. For forty years. Yet, as the prophet Amos writes, they carried along with them the idolatrous gods of Egypt (Amos 5:25-26).  Nevertheless (and here is the amazing part) God demonstrated His great patience and mercy, and did not immediately strike them in His wrath.



In the New Testament the apostle Paul tells the Athenians how God also overlooked the sins of the Gentiles during the times of their ignorance. And once again, to his readers in Rome Paul wrote of God’s kindness and patience in having overlooked their sins (Romans 2:4). And I could also cite Nadab and Abihu, Korah, David, Samson, Lot, Jephthah, Mary Magdelene, Saul of Tarsus, and dozens of others whose stories demonstrate either the profound mercy of God – or His immediate judgment against sin.



Is this not the reason we are sometimes so mistaken about God and about what He will do – or should do – because we do not really understand the Scriptures, nor the power – nor the mercy -- of God?



For my part, I am very grateful for God’s patience and mercy. My past is so full of so many horrible things I’ve done to others that I deserve the same immediate punishment Ananias and Sapphira received. Or Nadab and Abihu. And so many others. It is only the Lord’s mercies that I did not suffer immediate judgment.



Why does God do as He does? As He tells us through Isaiah the prophet, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).  And through Moses He says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).



That answer will still not satisfy some who ask the questions, but now that I know I don’t know very much about God, that answer fully satisfies me.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day - essay


This is an adaptation of the Sunday message I gave to seniors at their independent living facility. You can find it here: http://bit.ly/2EqpcN6



Today is Valentine’s Day, a day during which lovers give cards, flowers, candy, and other special gifts to each other as a mark of their affection. 

But this year, February 14 also marks another celebration: Ash Wednesday. Today is also the first day of Lent, the period in the Christian calendar during which the faithful ask themselves once again, Who am I? Why am I here? Why did Jesus die for me? How can I grow in my love and devotion to my Savior? 


In churches where Lent is celebrated, congregants receive ashes on their forehead and hear the words: “You are dust, and to dust you will return.”

Do you bristle at that phrase?  It is not unusual for many people to take umbrage at that statement – “You are dust, and to dust you will return.”

But the declaration itself – as is the reason behind Ash Wednesday – is purposely designed to upend our pride, to force us to remember the stark reality that each one of us – despite our popularity, our wealth, our titles, our family backgrounds – despite everything we have and hold dear to ourselves – in the end, when we have been laid in the ground, our body will decay to nothing more than dust and ashes and our popularity and titles and so forth will be forgotten within a very, very short time.

Indeed, and this is really important, Ash Wednesday serves to remind us nothing we have accomplished in life will last EXCEPT what we have done for God. Only that, and nothing else, will come with us into eternity.

Nothing else.

You might remember what King Solomon learned about wealth and popularity and titles. Here is how he began his autobiography in Ecclesiastes (Chapter 2)  “I built houses for myself, I planted vineyards for myself;  I made gardens and parks for myself and I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees; I made ponds of water for myself  . . . . I collected for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I provided for myself male and female singers and the pleasures of men—many concubines. . . . .  Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity [meaningless] and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun . . . .  

Read the entire book and you will sense the depth of this man’s sorrow, his mournful regret as he looked back over his life filled with ashes. Here is how he concluded his autobiography in chapter 12:

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no delight in them” . . . “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “all is vanity!” The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.

If we don’t get the point about the absolute futility of bigger-better-more, if we dismiss the idea that only what is done for Christ matters, then the spiritual significance of the convergence this year of Lent and Valentine’s Day will mean very little. 

We looked at Ash Wednesday. Now for Valentine’s Day.

In a depth of love that we can only imagine, God gave to us who are dust and ashes a priceless Gift – the gift of His Son. Even while we rebelliously shook our fist in His face, Jesus went to that cross, so you and I will not be cast from His eternal presence for our rebellions and sins. He gave His Son so that you and I, the laser-like focus of His love, would spend eternity with Him.

But Valentine’s Day is best enjoyed if it is a reciprocal celebration, when lovers give gifts to each other as an expression of their love for each other.

And so, as God gave you and me His love, wrapped in a manger on Christmas morning – and fully unveiled for us on Calvary’s Cross, what gift might we give to God? Many of you are familiar with Isaac Watts’ hymn:


When I survey the wondrous cross 
On which the Prince of glory died, 
My richest gain I count but loss, 
And pour contempt on all my pride. 


Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, 
Save in the death of Christ my God! 
All the vain things that charm me most, 
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet, 
Sorrow and love flow mingled down! 
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, 
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine, 
That were a present far too small; 
Love so amazing, so divine, 
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

So, what can be our love-gift to Him? Time, talent, treasure? Those are good places to start. But what about giving to Him also our broken hearts? Our shattered dreams? Our spiritual, emotional, and even the physical wounds we still carry? Can we lay them at His feet, and leave them there?

Oh, what wondrous gifts we give Him when we give Him what hurts us the most. And Oh! How He wants to embrace us and soothe away all that sorrow.

What will you and I give Him today, on this combined celebration of Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday? What will we sacrifice to His love? Those are important questions we all can consider – should consider – every day, but perhaps especially on this day, February 14, as Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday kiss each other.



Monday, February 12, 2018

Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day - Sermon



Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day fall on the same day this year. It is all about God's love. And faithfulness. And hope. And renewal. Listen to my message here: http://bit.ly/2EE3lB6

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Getting My Attention

Over the last several months I’ve been rationalizing away something wrong I’ve been doing. I’ve even avoided calling it what it really is – a sin.

If I told you what it was, many of you would probably shrug your shoulders as if it’s too minor to even worry about. But as St. Augustine wisely noted: Do not despise these sins which we call "light": if you take them for light when you weigh them, tremble when you count them. A number of light objects makes a great mass; a number of drops fills a river; a number of grains makes a heap.

Because I have for months so often rationalized the sin, I committed it again last evening without even a second thought.

Until this morning when God got my attention.

I’ve been reading through Hebrews during my mornings with the Lord, and so I picked up today where I left off yesterday, Hebrews 12. Someone – a Christian brother – recently asked why I read the bible so often. I replied, “Because God speaks to me through His book.”

This morning is just another example of God speaking to me through His book. And what He said to me was not comforting. It was a rebuke. And a warning.

I didn’t get past the second verse of chapter 12 before the Holy Spirit seized my attention: “Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us . . .” 

I closed my Bible for a few moments to reflect on what God was telling me in unmistakable detail. I could no longer rationalize my sin: Richard, stop what you are doing!

His words did not sting, but His warning was as clear to me as any of His rebukes have ever been.

I repented right there in my chair.
When I again opened the Bible, I read a few verses later these words – words now of encouragement: But God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.  Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. Make every effort to . . . be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”
So, what is the point in my sharing with you my most recent struggle with sin – even what some might call minor sin?
First: God loves us. He deeply, lavishly loves us.
Next: Because He loves us, His rules are for OUR good, OUR health, OUR safety. And when needed, He disciplines us so we might share in His holiness.
Third: When we break His rule(s) – Don’t waste time excusing sin, trying to rationalize it away. Instead, stop what you’re doing wrong. Confess it, repent, and return to God.
Finally: After confession, don’t let guilt linger in your mind. Don’t let it rob you of the reality of God’s gift of forgiveness. Press on for God! Get back to doing the right thing for your own sake, and for that of His kingdom.
As it is written: “Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus.”
Amen.


Friday, February 2, 2018

Taken Captive



I recently read a section in Deuteronomy that caught my attention. It’s from chapter 31 and verse 16:

“The Lord said to Moses, behold, you are about to lie down with your father‘s; and this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake me and break my covenant which I made with them. Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be consumed, and many evils and troubles will come upon them.”

I put the Bible down for a few minutes and let my mind drift to a number of liberal commentaries I’ve read over the years regarding passages like this one. Instead of permitting the text to speak for itself – in this case, Moses is exercising the supernatural gift of foretelling – instead of permitting the text to remain in the realm of the supernatural, liberal commentators tell the readers that a later editor inserted this section of the text a few centuries later – when Israel’s rebellion was not a prediction of future events, but a past historical fact.

What that insertion does, of course, is to replace the supernatural with simple history to make it SEEM like a prophecy.

I can only guess why such commentaries promote fraud. A lie. A perversion of God’s holy and inerrant word.

The Books of Moses are not the only books of Scripture wherein liberal commentators slice and dice away the supernatural. They do it in virtually every Old Testament and even many of the New Testament books.

No wonder so many people today take the Bible with the proverbial grain of salt. Why bother to read it – except perhaps as ‘literature’, but certainly not the inerrant word of Almighty God?

Indeed, if the Bible is full of fraudulent texts and contexts, who’s to say the concept of God Himself is not part of the fraud?

I hope you will not be deceived by the reckless ideas of anti-supernaturalists. I also hope you will take the words of the great rabbi and apostle of Jesus to heart:

“I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument. . . . Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith . . . See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority . . .  (Colossians 2:4-10).