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

Friday, March 30, 2018

Come Away From Them

I like what Paul wrote to the Christians at Ephesus about God’s purpose for leadership in His church: 

And [God] gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming . . . .” (Ephesians 4)

Are you hearing from the leadership in your church what you ‘need’ to hear, or are you hearing what you ‘want’ to hear?

Be careful that you do not fall into the trap Paul also spoke of in his letter to Timothy:

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4)

If your leadership – from the pastor to the deacon to the various teachers in the church – if your leadership does not speak from the whole of Scripture and the historic teaching of the Church, then I beg you, come out from among them. Separate yourself from them.

If your church’s leadership feel it necessary to ‘update’ God’s word to be compatible with modern cultural ideas – then I beg you, come out from among them. Separate yourself from them.

Find a church were God’s shepherds and pastors and teachers proclaim God’s undiluted truth, where the historic teaching of the Church is heralded without compromise to all who have ears to hear and eyes to see.

If you do not come away from those who preach what you want to hear, and not what you need to hear, you place yourself and your family in great danger of shipwreck with regard to your eternal destiny.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

What's So Good About Good Friday?

I've posted this before. Since Good Friday is such an important event, I am posting it again.

This was not simply disappointment. It was gut-wrenching tragedy. 

Their hopes, like precious china, lay shattered. Their dreams hung limp on a splintered cross. Glancing over their shoulders in fear with each step, the disciples wondered who would be next. For those who loved Him, darkness smothered Friday like a cold, damp woolen blanket.

And what was that Friday like for Christ?

It began with flogging. Roman soldiers fashioned a leather whip, studded with small rocks and bone. Every blow against Jesus’ back ripped open new strips of skin. His muscles and tendons quickly turned into a mass of quivering, bleeding flesh. Many prisoners died of shock and blood loss long before being nailed to the cross.

After the beating, Jesus dragged his cross to the execution site where soldiers dropped it on the ground and threw Him onto it. The spikes hammered through His wrists and feet tore through exquisitely sensitive nerves. Electrifying pain exploded along His limbs.

As He hung between heaven and earth, breathing became an all-consuming struggle. Gravity pulled inexorably on His diaphragm, forcing Jesus to repeatedly push against His feet and flex His arms just to breathe. Yet, every movement heightened the strain on His ravaged nerves, and each breath forced His back against the splintered wood, reopening the raw wounds.

Every breath, every movement, every moment on the cross inflamed His torture. For Jesus, for His disciples -- for anyone standing at the foot of the cross, Good Friday seemed anything but good.

What, then, is so good about that Friday 2000 years ago?

That Friday proved God’s faithfulness. As early as Genesis 3, the Lord promised the human family a redeemer, someone to set us free from the Serpent’s grasp, someone to take “captivity captive” to Himself: Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” The Lord God said to the serpent . . . And I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel (Genesis 3:13-15).

On that Friday, Satan bruised God’s heel. But through Christ's cross, God crushed Satan’s head. The Serpent forever lost the authority to enslave anyone who wants to be free. His power is nullified by the blood of Christ. Listen to the words found in Hebrews 2:14-15:  Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.

That Friday tore through sin’s impenetrable barrier between us and God. As the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God and your sins have hid His face from you, so that He does not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). But that Friday, God shattered the barrier. He rescued the prisoners. Laying our sins on Christ’s shoulders. 

Here again is what Scripture tells us: "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.” (Isaiah 53:5-6)

That Friday, the Father threw open the gates of reconciliation between us and Himself: "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ . . . not counting [our] trespasses against [Him] . . ." (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)

That Friday proved God’s love for us and gave us the hope of eternal life. It is easy to read quickly over John 3:16 and not sense the searing emotions the Father suffered as He watched His Son agonize on that cross. But when we meditate on the Roman scourging, the spikes in His limbs, the flesh wounds -- perhaps we can better understand the personal nature of that verse -- “God so loved me . . that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.”

That Friday clothed us with Christ’s righteousness. The harlot, the thief, the murderer, the adulterer . . . think of it! There is no sin that cannot be cleansed by Christ’s blood. There is no sinner who cannot be made as righteous before God’s eyes as Jesus Himself. Listen to this promise: 

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:20-21)

Finally -- if there can be a final point about Good Friday -- that Friday challenges us to repentance. When the crowds in Jerusalem learned it was their sins that nailed Jesus to the cross, “they were pieced to the heart.” In unison they cried out, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?” St. Peter responded, “Repent,” and three thousand were born into the kingdom (Acts 2:22-41). Later, St. Paul would add: Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)

Standing at the foot of Christ’s cross, nothing about Friday looked good. But no one knew Resurrection Sunday was coming . . . and with it, God’s redemptive plan which H conceived before the foundation of the world.

Good Friday? It could not have been any better.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Finding Rest in an Angry World

Hatred plays sinister tricks in our mind. Sinister and self-destructive. It reduces us to a position of great weakness, yet all the while seducing us to think we are powerful.
Two Bible texts come immediately to my mind, the first from the second psalm:
“Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, “Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!”
Human history sadly demonstrates how often the political, judicial, educational, and the average-citizen all get fed up with obeying the Creator’s rules.
But notice the Creator’s response: “He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them. Then He will speak to them in His anger and terrify them in His fury, saying [to His Anointed – Jesus] You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware.’”
It ought to be a fearful thing to know God scoffs at you and me when we live as if He is blind and deaf to our rebellion. It ought to be a fearful thing, but it is too often not. Look at the daily news and form your own opinion.
The second text is from John’s gospel. Jesus and His disciples are in the Garden at Gethsemane. It is night. Here’s what happened in chapter 18: “Judas then, having received the Roman cohort and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. So, Jesus . . . said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered Him, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He *said to them, “I am He.” . . . So, when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground. Therefore He again asked them, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
This scene has always amazed me. When the Lord of Creation responded, “I am” (the Greek text omits the pronoun, ‘He’), the soldiers and mob there to arrest Jesus fell backward to the dirt. The way the text describes it, it was if a mighty, unseen hand supernaturally cast them to the ground.
I like to think if I’d been knocked off my feet like that, I’d have bought the proverbial clue and fled as fast as I could. But hatred blinds us to truth – even to overpowering and supernatural truth. And so, when the mob got back to their feet, they took Him into custody.
It should not require special knowledge to look at our country – even the world as it lies engulfed in hatred -- and see a repeating pattern. It should not require special insight, but that’s what appears to be necessary. Good is now called evil. Evil is called good. Darkness is substituted for light, and bitter for sweet. It is almost as if a supernatural deluding influence has settled across the globe, leading spiritually blind, deaf, and heart-hardened men and women further into the pit of darkness.
And we can expect it to only grow worse. Here is what the Scriptures say about that point: “Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness." (2 Thessalonians 2)
So, what is my point?
If you’re caught up in the anger and hatred that simmers here, boils there, metastasizing like a cancer in nearly every place – then come out from among them and be separate. Hatred will blind us – even those who are children of God through the blood of Jesus – hatred will blind us to God’s truths.
Turn off the non-stop news channels. Take a permanent sabbatical from the demonic influences that seep into your heart and into your home through that doorway. Turn your focus instead to the one who is Love itself. Listen at His feet. Spend quiet time with His Scriptures. Devote yourself anew to prayer. Refuse to permit anger to overtake your words and your thoughts and your actions. It will take practice to do such things. Don’t be discouraged by failure. Keep doing the right things. There is no other way to restore peace in your heart and to your home than to stay in His light.
In a world undulating with trouble and anger and wrath, God promises you will find rest for your souls in Him.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Sit Down

I’ve read the story many times before. It’s the one where Jesus feeds the five thousand with a few pieces of bread and some fish. Here’s how John tells it in the sixth chapter of his gospel:

Therefore Jesus, lifting up His eyes and seeing that a large crowd was coming to Him, *said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?” . . . . One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, *said to Him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So, the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Jesus then took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated . . . .”

This time through, I stopped reading at that first clause of verse 11. Look at it again: “He distributed [the food] to those who were seated.”

I wondered why John mentioned the posture of those who were to receive the food – that they were ‘seated’ on the grass. Maybe it’s because there were in that crowd people who were standing.  Maybe they were getting ready to go somewhere else, thinking to themselves, “There’s nothing worth listening to, here.”

As I pondered the scene, I remembered the story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10.  You might remember it. Jesus was having lunch with the sisters in their home. Martha busied herself bustling around the kitchen, while sister sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him.

"Jesus,” Martha complained, “Tell my sister to help me.”

Do you remember the Lord’s answer? “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Getting back to the crowd of five thousand, for me there was a nugget of a lesson in that nearly invisible clause: “He distributed to those who were seated.” And that lesson is this:

Richard, sit down. You need to hear what Jesus wants to tell you. Whatever else it is you think you need to be doing, it can wait. You need to sit.

And be still.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

How He Loves You and Me

I read the story of the Samaritan woman again this morning. She’d come to the well outside of town to get water. At the same time, Jesus was sitting wearily by the well, waiting for His disciples to return with lunch. When the woman approached, He engaged her in a discussion. If it’s been a while since you’ve read the story, why not do it some time today. You’ll find it in the fourth chapter of John’s gospel.  Here is the section that caught my attention, beginning with verse 39:
“Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I ever did!” When they came out to see him, they begged him to stay in their village. So he stayed for two days, long enough for many more to hear his message and believe. Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard him ourselves. Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.”
And now for the question that has threaded its way through the millennia since this story was written down for us:
Why do you believe that Jesus is the savior of the world?  Why do you believe He is YOUR savior? Because your parents told you about Him? Your pastor or priest? A teacher? You read it in a book?
Those are wonderful ways, of course, to be introduced to the savior. But isn’t it important that we go to the next level – to know Him personally? To meet Him for ourselves? To talk with Him ourselves?
You might remember the chorus by Merle Haggard, whose lyrics now come to my mind:

“I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on roses; And the voice I hear falling on my ear, the son of God discloses – And He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own, And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”

Christian, how often do you walk with Him and talk with Him? How often do you hear Him talk with you about sin, and forgiveness, and repentance, and compassion, and the need for daily conversion? How often are you alone and quiet enough with Him to hear Him tell you, “You are My own”? The Samaritans first heard about Jesus from the woman who’d met Him at the well. But when they actually met Him, and talked with Him, they believed in Him.
Oh, how God longs for you and me to come daily into His presence. How He yearns to walk with you and talk with you in the quietness of wherever it is you can be quiet.
Oh! How He loves you and me. And oh, how He wants you to know, you are His own.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Our Most Desperate Need

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me . . . so that you may live (Isaiah 55:1-3).
In December 1972 the US Navy stationed me in Yokosuka, Japan. Within weeks of my arrival I gave my life to Jesus my Messiah. (You can read a more complete account here: http://bit.ly/2IfnxrU). The people who influenced my early days as a new child of God encouraged me to read the Bible every day because, they said, God speaks to us through its pages.
In those days I was completely ignorant of its content. I didn’t know Hezekiah from Timothy, Caleb from Philemon, 1 Chronicles from 1 Corinthians. But I took their advice and I read. Voraciously, I read.
And I was astounded by the things I was learning.
Several days later I met another sailor from my unit a few doors down the hall from my barracks room. A confirmed atheist, he made no effort to hide his disgust for the Bible I was growing to love. At every opportunity he challenged my new faith, while I, undaunted, tried to persuade him toward Christ.
One afternoon as I walked by his barracks room I noticed his door was wide open. He sat at his desk, a Bible open before him, as he scribbled in a note book. Delighted, I thought maybe he’s beginning to search for God.
I knocked on the door and smiled. “I see you’re studying the Bible.”

He turned in his chair to face me. “Yeah,” he scowled. “I’m studying it so I can prove it wrong.”
Forty-five years later, I still think of that poor, deluded young man. The Bible he was trying to disprove has sent some of the greatest scientific and philosophical minds in history to their knees in worship of the God of that Bible: Thomas Aquinas, Augustine of Hippo, St. Jerome, Justin Martyr, Sir Francis Bacon, Johannes Kepler, Rene Descartes, Blaise Pascal, Sir Isaac Newton, CK Chesterton, CS Lewis, William Buckley . . . . The list grows with each passing year.
Somewhere around 2017 as I researched for this essay, I discovered that more than 65% of Nobel Prize Laureates from 1901 to 2000 identified themselves as Christians. Furthermore, Christians have won a total of 78% of all the Nobel Prizes in Peace, 72% in Chemistry, 65% in Physics, 62% in Medicine, and 54% in Economics.

The Bible he was trying to disprove has survived the contemptuous scorn and calumny of such world-renowned anti-God philosophers as Voltaire, Jean-Paul Sarte, and Friedrich Nietzsche. It has withstood the onslaught of the world’s worst political despots from Nero to Hitler to Stalin to Mao Zedong. And it remains an unshakeable mountain of granite while the bones of atheistic scientific geniuses such as J. Robert Oppenheimer, Carl Sagan, Ivan Pavlov and Linus Pauling slowly turn to dust.
During the past two thousand years the Scriptures have been burned, maligned, spat on, ripped apart, and covered with the blood of men and women who clutched it to their breasts as they died by sword, axes, clubs, and bullets.
I have learned over the last forty-five years many great truths from that book, and about that book. One of which is this: Sin will keep you from the Bible, or the Bible will keep you from sin.
I am now 68 years old. The last 45 years have passed in what seems like just a few weeks. Only God – and perhaps my wife of nearly 43 years – only they know how often during the last four decades of my life the Bible has given me comfort in my deepest despair, hope when I had none left, direction when I was desperately lost, light when I wandered in total darkness, courage when all my courage had failed.
And in this I am not alone. For millennia the Scriptures have been meeting the most desperate needs and restless longing of men and women who are honest enough with themselves to admit to themselves one crucial truth: They need God.
You. Me. Everyone.
We all need Him.