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

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

God Blew It (?)


“I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.” (Galatians 2:21, NRSVCE)

“I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” (Galatians 2:21, NLT)
God Blew It (?) 

If we can be righteous by keeping God’s law, then God blew it. He made a serious error in judgment, because at the end of the proverbial day, Jesus didn’t need to die to pay the penalty for our sins. We could make it to heaven on our own merits.

But if what Scripture says is true – that our righteousness before God is entirely, wholly, completely, and inextricably tied to what Jesus did on Calvary, then ‘we’ blow it when we think we can add our works to complete His. We make a deadly error in judgment by rejecting – even in part – Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice for our sins.

Let’s not blow it. Instead, let’s believe God’s word. Let’s ensure that He receives from us the absolute and undiminished honor that He alone deserves for our salvation. And let us continue to demonstrate our thankfulness to Him by our obedience to His Son.

Monday, August 27, 2018

V'imru Omein

Yis'ga'dal v'yis'kadash sh'may ra'bbo . . .
If you’ve attended a Jewish funeral, you know those Hebrew words begin the Mourner’s Prayer – also known as ‘Kaddish.’
I’ve said the prayer many times at Jewish funerals I attended. But I never bothered to find the English translation.
But on August 5, 2018, when we gathered to say Kaddish over my mother’s casket, I decided to find it.
Yis'ga'dal v'yis'kadash sh'may ra'bbo . . .
I was surprised to discover the Mourner’s prayer speaks nothing of death. Not a word. Instead, what it does speak of is the goodness and grandeur and the worthiness of our God.
What a beautiful and fitting prayer for those who grieve.
I'm sure it is not an exaggeration to say that better than 90% of Jews in America are not in the least fluent in their understanding of Hebrew. Many might be able to read the language – but without a translation the words may as well be gibberish.
And that’s sad, because mourners often miss the whole point of relational Jewish faith. I say ‘relational’ because God has always wanted His people to have a personal, vibrant, loving, and trusting relationship with Him. He has always wanted – maybe ‘hoped’ is a better word in this context – He has always hoped that His people would trust Him to be good all the time – and in all situations.
Yis'ga'dal v'yis'kadash sh'may ra'bbo . . .
Yes, God is good when the death is expected. He is good when it is sudden and unexpected. He is glorious when the death is accidental. Or suicidal. Or homicidal. He is worthy of praise when the death is of an infant, or of a great-grandparent.
He is good at all times and in all situations because He is God. He cannot be anything less than good, and wondrous, and worthy of praise.
Yis'ga'dal v'yis'kadash sh'may ra'bbo . . .
My mother’s birthday is next week, on September 8. She would have been 91. I will light the Yahrzeit candle in her memory that evening. And I will recite the Kaddish that begins, “Yis'ga'dal v'yis'kadash sh'may ra'bbo . . .”
And then I will pray the words in English:
"May the great Name of God be exalted and sanctified throughout the world which he has created according to His will. May His Kingship be established in our lifetime and in our days, and in the lifetime of the entire household of Israel, swiftly and in the near future."
"V’imru Omein"  (English translation: And let us say, Amen.)
"May His great name be blessed forever and ever. Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, honored, elevate, and lauded be the Name of the holy one, Blessed is He above and beyond any blessings and hymns, above any praises and consolations which are uttered in the world."
"V’imru Omein."
"May there be abundant peace from Heaven, and life, upon us and upon all Israel."
"V’imru Omein."
"He who makes peace in His high holy places, may He bring peace upon us, and upon all Israel."
"V’imru Omein."

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Greek, Latin, and English "Rapture'

[Philip] ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord SNATCHED (my emphasis) Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities until he came to Caesarea. (Acts 8:38-40) What happened to Philip in this passage is similar to what seems to have occurred in John 6, when Jesus walked on the water, got into the disciples’ boat, “and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going” (John 6:21). Both scenes reminded me of the theological doctrine many call “The Rapture of the Church.”  The rapture of the Church refers to the belief that Jesus will, at some point before His Second Advent, suddenly (in the twinkling of an eye – 1 Corinthians 15:52) “snatch away’ or ‘catch up’ all who belong to Him. They will suddenly be given glorified bodies and will join all who have already died ‘in Christ’. Some have argued that the word, ‘rapture’ is not in the Bible and therefore is an erroneous theological position. But, actually, the word is in the Bible. For example: 2 Corinthians 12:2  -- “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was 'caught up' to the third heaven.” Also, 1 Thessalonians 4:16- 17  “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be 'caught up' together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.” The Greek word St. Paul used in these passages, and then translated to the English ‘caught up’ is harpazo. Harpazo means 'to be snatched away’ or ‘to be seized.’ When St. Jerome translated the Greek New Testament into Latin, he used conjugates of the verb ‘rapio.’ It is from those conjugates and cognates of the Latin ‘rapio’ that we get the English word, “rapture.” The doctrine of the rapture is implied in several other New Testament passages as well – a discussion beyond the scope of this short note. My point, however, is to clarify that the word ‘Rapture’ does, indeed, appear in the New Testament.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Nothing New -- Except Perhaps the Handling of It

As I'm preparing for tomorrow's bible study at the senior citizens' place, I thought to include a comment about the unleavened bread Jews eat during Passover (we're covering John 6 and the Old Testament story of the Exodus).  Then I thought of the passage in 1 Corinthians 5, and so I flipped there to remind myself of the context.
The context is sexual immorality in the church. Here is the entire passage. It's not hard to make application to recent events: --------
"It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. 2 You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst."
3 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. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 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.
6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? 7 Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you 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. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves."

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Helmet or Ball Cap?


Now here is an absurd visual: A soldier going into heavy battle replacing his steel helmet with a cloth ball cap.

I thought of that silly image this morning as I read through 1 Thessalonians and got to 5:8 –

“But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation.

I checked the Greek dictionary for the word St Paul used here and translated ‘hope.’  The Greek word, elpis, is not defined as a ‘maybe’ hope – like saying, “I hope it will not rain Saturday,” or, “I hope I get that promotion.”

It might or might not rain on Saturday. And the person might or might not get that promotion.

But the New Testament Greek word, elpis, is much more definite than a wishful hope. The Greek word means a ‘confident expectation’ that something will and without reason to doubt – it WILL occur.

Why will it occur? Because elpis, as used by the New Testament writers, is rooted and anchored in the promises of almighty God.

Another Bible translation, The New Living Translation, recognizes the nuance of elpis when it translates verse 8 this way: “But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation.

Did you catch that? “The CONFIDENCE of our salvation” is our helmet, a head covering stronger even than the steel ones worn by soldiers on the battlefield. That helmet God provides is our protection against all the flaming arrows of the evil one. It shields us from his seductive lies that whisper, “Ahhh, you never can know of your salvation until you die.”

But God tells a different story. Here are only a few Biblical promises in which every Christian can place complete and utter confidence:

John 3:36  Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him. (Just as an aside, “belief” in the New Testament is always characterized by obedience”).

John 5:24  “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life.

1 John 5:13  I write these things to you so that you may know that you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God.

Please note those verb tenses. They are all in the present tense. In other words, if you believe, then you have.

That’s why the New Testament letter to the Hebrews tells us: [S]o that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:18-20).

What kind of headgear are you wearing in the spiritual battle raging around us? If it’s cloth, then take it off and replace it with the impenetrable helmet of a confident expectation that God will do as He promises to do for all who follow Jesus as Lord, Master, and Savior.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Just Do It


“In the LORD I take refuge . . . For, behold, the wicked bend the bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string to shoot in darkness at the upright in heart. If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Psalm 11:1-3
It has been this way since the serpent slithered his way into human affairs with the seductive question about God’s word. You remember what he said to Eve: “Has God said . . . ?” (Genesis 3:1). 
And the devil has not changed his game plan all these millennia. Why would he? It works.  
So it’s no wonder Satan continues to confuse people about the authority and inerrancy of God’s word. It’s no wonder he continues to encourage so many people – even some clergy – to persuade others to not read the Scriptures. And so it is no wonder Satan’s arrows upon the string so often find their mark. 
But the Holy Spirit tells us what to do to protect ourselves from the devil’s arrows. Indeed, all of Scripture tells us what to do, like we find in Psalm 119 wherein all 176 verses talk about the importance of knowing God’s word. 
St. Paul tells us the same thing in his letter to Timothy: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15) And in the next chapter, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) 
Satan knows, if the foundations are destroyed – if he can deceive humanity into avoiding the personal study of God’s word – then the righteous will become like scattered sheep, wandering into great danger.
What Scriptures teach about salvation and holiness and obedience to God is simple enough for a child to understand. And what they teach is profound enough that an adult can spend 100 lifetimes plumbing its depths. 
You and I know what we need to do. God help us to just DO it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Preparing for the Funeral


Funerals are never fun subjects. But sometimes it’s necessary to talk about them. Like now.

I learned two important lessons with the recent death and funeral of my mother. Actually, I learned more than two lessons, but it is those two I think are important to address in this short note:

1. Fifteen years ago when mom (and dad) lived in Florida, they contracted for pre-paid funeral expenses. Those expenses covered the cost of the selected casket, the burial site, and a multitude of other funeral home services.

Although mom was living in Georgia when she died a few weeks ago, I made ONE phone call to the ‘after-hours’ funeral home number in Florida. That set in motion all of the steps necessary to have her expeditiously transferred from Georgia to Florida, and then for me to set the time and place of her burial a few days later in Florida.

One phone call.

My mom (and dad, who predeceased her by several years in Florida) took from me the overwhelming burden of the moment so I would not need to add those kinds of ‘last-minute’ details to the mix of my own grief.

2. Mom gave me Medical and General Power of Attorney over all of her affairs. As a consequence, I kept all of her important paperwork in my home. Stacks and stacks of paperwork.

A few months back – I don’t really know why I did this, except God must have urged me to do so – I placed all of her most important papers – funeral contract, insurance and investment documents, and the like – I placed them all into a large envelope that I marked on the outside: DO FIRST WHEN MOM DIES.

When I received word the evening of August 1, and a numbing daze fell over my brain, I’d completely forgotten about the envelope. But when I robotically went to where I kept her stacks of paperwork – there it was, the envelope I’d prepared months earlier. I didn’t have to think about what to do next or who to call. It was all there, ready for me.

When we lose someone we love, our body’s natural and norma self-protection reaction is to fall into a haze. I’m so grateful for Nancy (my wife) for helping me through those next several hours of the immediate tsunami. But it was also so very helpful that mom – and later, I – did what was done before we needed to have it done.

I hope my experience helps you think about the unthinkable, and what you will need to do, before you need to do it.

Funerals are never fun, but some preparation can mitigate the sting.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Immanuel


I wrote this Advent essay in December, 2015. As I sit here now, thinking about my mom’s death two weeks ago, and absently perusing some of my old posts, I found this essay. I originally titled it, “Immanuel.” 



As many of you know, the name first appears in Isaiah 7:14, written 700 years before Jesus was born: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and you shall call His name, Immanuel.”



Immanuel. The name means, “God With Us.” As soon as I reread the essay, I knew I needed to repost it today.



Immanuel. God with us. Always. Even as we weep over the loss of someone we loved so deeply.  I hope this essay will encourage all of you who read it. I updated it only a little:

 ------------------------

Immanuel

By Richard Maffeo



There are a few words in any language that have the power to change your life.  A spouse says “I want a divorce.” The physician says, “You have cancer.”  You answer the doorbell and the police officer tells you, “There’s been an accident.” 

Or, as in my case at 8:15 PM on August 1, 2018, the voice on the other end of the phone says, "You need to come here. Your mom has passed."



I was four when my mother sat me down on our black cushioned couch. It had flecks of silver threads throughout the fabric. She said to me, “Daddy told me he won’t be coming home anymore.”



You might not think those words would have a similar impact as those words in my first paragraph. But I remember them as clearly today as I did 61 years ago.



I didn’t know it at the time – how could I? – but God was with me when my mother spoke those words. I didn’t know He was with me because I couldn’t see Him. Or feel Him. But today, sixty-one years later, I know He was not in the shadows of our one-bedroom apartment. He was not sitting beside me on the couch. He was sitting with me in His lap, His arms tightly embracing me.



Through Isaiah, the Holy Spirit talked about the first Advent this way:  “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” 



Immanuel. The name means, “God with us.”



Whoever you are and whatever the words that have changed your life, you need to know “God with us” was with you then. And Immanuel is with you now.



Right this moment.



You don’t see Him. You don’t sense Him. But He is holding you in His lap. And His arms are embracing you.



You can trust that to be true because Jesus promised, “I will never leave you or forsake you. I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  And Jesus cannot lie.



Advent is a time when we make time to look back to the time God sent His son into our darkness and sorrow and emptiness and loss. Advent is a time we make time to look forward to the great day of the second Advent, when God returns for His own. And Advent is a time we make time to look at our present time with renewed confidence that “God with us” means whatever our life-situation, whatever the words that changed our life, God’s arms enfold us. Now.



This moment.



Always.




Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Laying the Foundation

“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment . . ." (Romans 12:3) If you and I want to be fruitful for Christ – in big things or in small things – then it is essential that we understand this: Pride – the arrogant, self-promoting attitude that insinuates either consciously or unconsciously that it is our talents, our gifts, our resources, our intelligence that are the reasons for our successes – such pride will always disqualify us from bearing fruit for Christ.  In fact, that’s exactly what Jesus said in John 15: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” You see, it’s all about Jesus. It always has been. It always will be. Anything we do without Jesus – without His humility (remember how He washed His disciples’ feet, including those of Judas?) – anything we do without complete reliance on Jesus has nestled within itself the seeds of abject failure regarding eternal things. Yes, it might appear that we are successful in whatever it is we have done or are doing – but such appearances are simply a fa├žade. That’s why the Holy Spirit tells us through St. Paul: "For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work." (1 Corinthians 3:11-13) In other words, the fruits of pride will inevitably result in little more than what are ashes left behind after a devastating housefire. Be careful. Make sure whatever you do, in word of deed, is always in complete reliance on and thankfulness to Jesus for your talents, gifts, resources, and intelligence.