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

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Waiting Room

For the last three years of her life, Mom lived in a community of about 100 men and women. The average resident’s age was probably mid-eighties. 

As is common in most Independent Living Facilities, hardly 48 hours go by when an ambulance isn’t called to bring someone to the hospital. Most of the time the resident returns home after a day or so. 

Sometimes they never return.

Mom also had her share of visits to doctors’ and hospital waiting rooms during her three years at Ashwood Meadows. Not for anything serious. Just the typical age-related aches, pains, and ailments. 

But after so many years of watching so many of the friends at Ashwood get sick – and then die – Mom said to me on more than one occasion in her last few months: “I feel like I am in the waiting room of heaven.” 

Each time she said it, I brushed it aside. Not only did I not want to hear her talking like that, but Mom was quite healthy for a 90-year-old. Surely we would have her for another ten years. 

Then I got the call on August 1 in 2018. 

I’ve thought quite often since then of her “waiting room of heaven” comment. And I cannot adequately express how comforted I am to know Mom not only knew Jesus, she loved Jesus. And I’ve not a shred of doubt she is with Jesus even as I type these words on the keyboard. 

Ah, yes. “The waiting room of heaven.” 

We all know what it’s like to wait in a doctor’s office for the medical assistant to call our name and usher us into the exam room. I wonder if it won’t be something like that when we die. 

An angel will call our name and usher us into the Great Physician’s exam room. To some, the Physician will say, “I am so very sorry. I have bad news for you. You refused the treatment I frequently prescribed for you. And now there is nothing else I can do. Your condition is hopeless. Depart from me into eternal anguish and darkness” (John 3:36, et al.). 

But to some the Physician will say, “I’ve good news for you. You used the treatment I prescribed, and it has worked well. You are forever healed. Enter into the eternal light and joy of your Lord.” (John 3:36, et al.) 

We are each – every one of us – in the waiting room of the Great Physician. Some will hear their name called before they eat their next meal. Others won’t hear their name for several decades. Still others will hear their name at some time in between. 

When the angel ushers you into the Great Exam Room, what will the Physician say to you?

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Arguing with God

No one would argue that we all have sinned – and that some of those sins have hurt others, perhaps terribly. That’s why this essay is about  forgiveness.  

And it is also about regret – not the ‘good’ regret that leads to repentance and a change of lifestyle, but the unhealthy regret many of us live with – a regret that permeates every fiber of our days and weeks and years.

God wants better for us. God’s provided a better way for us. Of the multiple examples He gives us in Scripture of how to accept His forgiveness, let’s look at only two.  

The first is Saul of Tarsus. Here is how Luke describes him: “Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1-2)

Saul – known now to us as Paul the apostle – described himself this way:
“ . . . [N]ot only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.” (Acts 26:10-11)

But then Saul met Jesus on that road to Damascus – and we know the rest of that story. Convinced that God had forgiven him, Paul laid aside his self-condemnation and got busy doing the work God called him to do. Here is what he said of himself in his letter to Timothy – and this is a critically important lesson for each of us who struggle with self-recrimination:  “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.  Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1)

I hope you caught those words: Sinner, mercy, and patience.  Paul left his past in the past where it belonged, covered by the atoning blood of Jesus.  That’s one reason he could write to the Christians at Colossae:  

“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. . . . . having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions . . .” (Colossians 2:8-13) 

Paul would not let even the devil make him a prisoner of paralyzing regret. He’d repented of his sins, and he knew he could trust Almighty God to forgive him.  

Now let’s look at one other person who could have easily fallen prey to the devil’s temptation to despair. If anyone could have wallowed in self-condemnation and self-recrimination, it was Peter. Surely he remembered the words of his Lord recorded in Mark’s gospel (8:38) For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

And there he stood, remembering his denial of His Lord – even swearing “I do not know the Man.” If it had ended there, we’d have heard nothing more about the man.

But it didn’t end there. 

The New Testament writers used two words for “love” – phileo and agape. Phileo (fil-EH-oh) carries the idea of a close fraternal affection. The special friendship of David and Jonathan is an example of phileo love. (1 Samuel 18:1-3)

Agape love is often used to describe God's unconditional, merciful, and enduring love for you and me. Some definitions of Agape are: “to prize the object of that love above all other things; to be unwilling to abandon the object of that love, or to do without the object of that love.”  

Now let’s look at those Greek words as used by both Jesus and Peter  John 21:15-17. When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love (agape) me more than these?” He said to him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love (phileo) you.” He said to him, "Feed my lambs.”

“He then said to him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love (agape) me?” He said to him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love (phileo) you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep.”  

“He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love (phileo) me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, "Do you love (phileo) me?” and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love (phileo) you.” (Jesus) said to him, "Feed my sheep.”

A modern version of the conversation might sound something like this:

“Peter, do you love me with all your heart?”
“Lord, I have great affection for you.”
“Feed My lambs.”
“Peter, do you love me above all else?”
“Lord, I think you are wonderful.”
“Tend My sheep.”
“Peter, do you have great affection for me?”
“Lord, you know I do.”
“Feed My sheep.”

Two things catch my attention in this exchange between the Lord and Peter.  First, after each agape/phileo exchange, the Lord’s charge to Peter was the same: “Feed My sheep.”

In other words, “Peter, I know you feel guilty, but your repentance restored our relationship. Your sorrow and guilt are unnecessary. Don’t let them keep you from the work I have called you to do."

How like the merciful Christ to call us out of our sorrow. How like Him to renew our relationship and set us about the work He’s given us to do.

Second, Peter felt miserable about his thrice denial of his best friend and Lord. Miserable, and self-condemned. But then I noticed how the Savior tried to help Peter move beyond his guilt. When Peter wouldn't say – couldn’t say – he loved (agape) Jesus, the Lord came down to his level: “Okay, my friend. Do you have affection for me?”

How like Christ to be so gentle to our wounded spirits.

I need that gentleness and mercy. And I imagine you can probably use a dose of it yourself. When we feel unable to tell Him, “I ‘agape’ You,” the Savior tells us it’s okay if we just like Him a lot. And when our sorrow overwhelms us, the Shepherd comes alongside, puts His arm across our shoulders and tells us, "I agape you."  “I love you very, very much. I prize you. I do not want to be without you.”

Wow.

Scripture is full of the stories of people who let God down, people who at first rejected God’s grace, but then after their repentance, went about doing God’s work.

But – and this is crucial – they first needed to accept his forgiveness. They needed to put aside their own remorse which only served to paralyze them and place them in the chains set for them by the devil. 

Listen! We cannot serve God while we indulge our wounded conscience. CS Lewis said it very well, I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.”

Let me say it kindly, but also unmistakably: How dare we sit in the corner nursing our guilty conscience when God has said to the penitent: I forgive you?

Please. Please. If your self-recrimination and your self-condemnation holds you back from getting out there and doing God’s work – then now is the time to place your lingering guilt at the foot of the cross. He always forgives the penitent. Always.

And He always has work for the penitent to do.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Amazing Grace

Some of you might know John Newton’s history. He was a degenerate 18th century captain of slave ships. His crews stuffed the holds of his ships with men, women and children who hardly enough room to sit amongst the filth and sewage and accompanying illness on his ships. To Newton, the deaths of some slaves on board were simply the cost of doing business. But then God got hold of the man whom we know best for his hymn that begins this way: "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see." I recently heard of a church choir director who didn’t like the word, “wretch.’ She thought it sounded too harsh. Too critical. Too deprecating. So as her choir practiced the hymn for the following Sunday, she had them change to word to something she considered kinder. As I prepared to write this essay, I went to the dictionary for a definition of ‘wretch.’ The word describes a “person of despicable or base character.” Like John Newton. Or, for that matter, the great St. Paul – who spoke of himself this way: “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.” “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:18-25) The problem with too many people – perhaps especially Christians – is we do not like to think of ourselves as God thinks of us: Wretched in our sins. Like the spiritually impoverished choir director, we don’t like to think of ourselves as too awfully ‘bad.’ We just do things that are wrong. But our God and Lord, Jesus Christ, did not die an excruciating death for people who just do things that are wrong.  He died for wretches. Like you and like me. There is great, great danger in our attempt to minimize our own darkness. In glossing over our wretchedness, we remain ignorant of the intimately PERSONAL reason for Christ’s sacrifice. Here is how Jesus described the danger of minimizing the depth and breadth of our sins: “One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.” “Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” “Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”(Luke 7:36-47) If I’d been at that choir rehearsal, I’d have rehearsed for her the Lord’s closing statement: “Her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” In other words, those who are forgiven much by the Savior love Him that much more. But those who think they don’t have much to forgive don’t feel the need to love the Savior much – if even at all. It’s good -- it's necessary -- to recognize our wretchedness, for without such knowledge we can never mature in our understanding of God's forgiveness of those wretched sins because of that Cross. And will we never gain an intimate understanding of what John Newton meant when he wrote: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”

Monday, January 7, 2019

Epiphanies in 2019

Each year, twelve days after the celebration of Christ’s birth, many Christians celebrate Epiphany. The word means “manifestation” or ‘revelation’, and in the context Christianity, Epiphany celebrates the ‘revealing’ of Almighty God to the world in the person of Jesus. As St. Paul tells us: 

“He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17)

Christians believe God revealed Himself to the world in the person of Jesus Christ. But His epiphanies did not cease with the birth, death, and resurrection of His Son. God STILL reveals Himself – now through the Scriptures.

Which brings us to 2019.

Our world is in great darkness. You cannot watch the news with spiritual eyes or listen with spiritual ears to people around you without recognizing something is desperately wrong in our culture. We live in a time as described by God: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; [Woe to those] Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:20-21)

Isaiah’s prophecy might remind you of Paul’s lament about the dark world in which he lived. Here is what he wrote in Romans 1:21-32:

“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools . . . Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them . . .”

"For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.”

“And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”

As I said, the world of 2019 is steeped in darkness – surely as dark as Paul wrote about in his letter to the Christians at Rome. The darkness is so great – and ever increasing – that it might cause some of us to hide in our rooms and pull the covers over our heads. And yes, I have found myself at times giving in to fear, and then anger, and then fear again, and back to anger.

Then I read again Psalm 27. It will be my ‘go-to’ text to live by in 2019: "The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread? . . . Though a host encamp against me, My heart will not fear; Though war arise against me, In spite of this I shall be confident." (Psalm 27:1-3)

The LORD is our light and our salvation. But – and this is important for all of us – if we spend as much time as many of us do with following the newscasts, we are feeding our spirits with a poisonous darkness that WILL eat like a cancer at our souls.

I’ll say that again for the emphasis it deserves: If we spend so much time with the daily news media, we are filling our hearts with lethal doses of ruinous negativity and darkness.

But listen to what God’s word says about it all: “Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales . . . All the nations are as nothing before Him, they are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.” (Isaiah 40:15-17)

And this text, also from Isaiah: “You are not to say, ‘It is a conspiracy!’ in regard to all that this people call a conspiracy, and you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it. “It is the LORD of hosts whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fear, and He shall be your dread. “Then He shall become a sanctuary.” (Isaiah 8:12-14)

Do you want a sanctuary in 2019? A place of refuge? Then make God your Holy fear! Make God your Holy dread ! And the peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding will KEEP you at peace when Christ becomes your only sanctuary.

But first we must stop feeding our spirits with the lies and the drama and anger and the hate and the vitriol that spews from the various news outlets.

It's the beginning of the new year. For starters, how about take a 30-day sabbatical from it all. Don’t watch, read, or listen to the news for the next 30 days. There won’t be any news so important that we won’t learn about it by some other way if that news is going to directly affect us. And I can guarantee our lives will be measurably more tranquil – so tranquil you will probably want to extend that 30 days to much longer.

If 30 days is too arduous, (many of us are addicted to the news) then do this: For every minute you spend listening to or watching the news, spend two minutes reading the Bible. So, if you spend 30 minutes a day with the news outlets, devote 60 minutes to reading the Bible.

If you want to experience an epiphany – even experience multiple revelations of the Holy Spirit working in your life – then spend more time with God's light than you do with the dark things of our culture.

It's something I've already begun to do. Please, join me.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Tree of Life

Over the past 46 years I’ve created stacks of Scripture memory cards. They’re about the size of a business card. The size makes it easy to carry around in my pockets. 

This evening, while waiting on line at the food market, I pulled this verse from my stack: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12) 

The text caught me off guard. I guess it’s been a bad few days. As I placed the milk and eggs and a few other items on the belt, I nearly reflexively asked God, “Lord, do you see this text?” 

Well, of course He saw it. He inspired Solomon to write it. But at the moment I was feeling a little like the psalmist David. If you’ve read much of his songs you know he also had his days when he wondered if God knew his name and address. 

God did. And God does. But still, hope deferred does sadden the heart. 

Have you ever felt that way? 

“Lord, we look to you. Help us to wait patiently on you to fulfill what you know is our deepest hope. Its fulfillment, Lord, will be to us as a tree of life.”

Friday, January 4, 2019

If You Were Teaching It?

As I prepare to lead a Bible study next week, I pondered the Lord’s warning to the socially sophisticated and theologically proud religious leaders of His day. You’ll find what He said in Matthew 13:

“Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ‘You will keep on hearing, but will not understand; You will keep on seeing, but will not perceive; For the heart of this people has become dull, With their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes, otherwise they would see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I would heal them’.

Then I thought of two other serious warnings of Scripture – the first in Jeremiah 12:5, the second in Luke 23:27-31:

“If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace, how will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?” (Jeremiah)

“And following Him was a large crowd of the people, and of women who were mourning and lamenting Him. But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’. . . . For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke)

If you were teaching the class, what application(s) to our lives in 2019 would you hope those studying with you would make?

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Anno Domini

Like lots of people (I suppose), one of the first things I thought about this morning is: “It’s 2019.” 

But unlike lots of people (I suppose), another thought followed the first. "This is A.D. January 1, 2019." The letters are the initials of Anno Domini – the Latin phrase meaning, The Year of the Lord. 

In other words, two thousand and nineteen years ago, the Lord Jesus was born to that young Jewish virgin and laid to sleep in a Bethlehem manger. 

Anno Domini. 

EVERYWHERE in the world (with scant exceptions) – every document that is signed will be signed with the conscious or unconscious acknowledgement of the birth of the Lord of Creation. Everyone who writes a check will wittingly or unwittingly concede the First Advent of the Messiah 2019 years ago. Every test that is taken, every card that is sent, every newspaper and magazine published during the next 12 months – all of it – and more – will give happy or grudging proclamation that history itself revolves around B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (The Year of our Lord). 

And finally (as I continued following my thoughts this morning), the fulfilled promise of Anno Domini ought to assure us (OH! Think of it!) it ought to assure us that the promised Second Advent of the Lord will also be fulfilled. 

Oh, Lord Jesus! Your people look for you! Maranatha – Come quickly, Lord Jesus.