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

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Far Better

As we continue our Lenten journey toward a closer walk with Jesus, I thought of what God did for our first parents in the Garden of Eden. 

After He planted the garden, God “took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:8ff) Then the Lord created Eve and brought her to Adam, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” 

But it didn’t take long for sin to corrupt the good that God intended. In the next chapter, Satan seduced Eve into disobeying God. He implied God could not be trusted to have their best interests at heart.  So, she ate the fruit and gave it to her husband who was with her. 

There are several important spiritual lessons we can glean from this section of Scripture. Let’s look at only one for now.  

God did not exile our first parents from the Garden naked. He clothed them with animal skins. To do that, God killed an animal, shedding its blood to cover their shame with its skin. 

Within a few pages of Genesis, we find the first instance in all of Scripture where God used blood to cover sin. The last instance occurs on Calvary where God sacrificed His Son, shedding His blood, to cover the sin and shame of all who believe and obey Him. It is the blood of Jesus alone that covers the penitent’s sins far deeper than the blood of animals God sacrificed to cover our first parents’ sin. 

During Lent, as we journey toward the glorious finale of Resurrection Sunday, it’s good to ask our hearts: “Are my garments spotless, are they white as snow? Am I washed in the blood of the Lamb?”* 

But don’t stop with those questions. These follow-on questions are also important: “Am I walking daily by the Savior’s side? Do I rest each moment in the Crucified? Am I washed in the blood of the Lamb?”* 

If you are the least bit unsure, please – with all your heart, offer to God this prayer, or something like itO my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended You, and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell; but most of all because they offend You, my God, Who are all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to repent and amend my life. Amen. 

And then continue your journey toward Resurrection Sunday, confident in God’s promise that the blood of Jesus has covered your sins far better than that which covered the sin of our first parents.

*Edited from the hymn, “Are You Washed in the Blood” by Elisha A. Hoffman (d. 1929)

Monday, March 25, 2019

Two Gardens. Two Trees. (part one)

This is part one of the message I preached at a 55+ community on the third Sunday of Lent. I have edited/shortened it for the ease of reading.
The title of my message today is, ‘Two Gardens.’ The first refers to the Garden of Eden,  the second to the Garden of Gethsemane. Here is a portion from Genesis two beginning with verse eight: 

“The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. . . . Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” 

The text then describes how God created Eve and brought her to Adam, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” 

God told our first parents they could eat the fruit of any of the trees, including the Tree of Life. The only three they were to avoid was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 

In the next chapter, Satan seduced Eve into disobeying God. He implied God wanted to keep something good from them, that God cannot be trusted to have their best interests at heart.  So, Eve ate the fruit and gave it to Adam who was with her. 

Now here is one critical point of many embedded in this historical account in Genesis: God warned them, In the day that you eat from the forbidden tree, you will surely die.” 

But Adam and Eve didn’t die on the day they ate from the tree. Or did they?  

Yes, they did. Here is Genesis 3:6-7 – “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. [Then] they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” (Genesis 3:6-8) 

God routinely met with Adam and Eve in the garden. But today was different. “Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” (verse 9) 

A few verses later God exiled them from the Garden. Their unique and intimate relationship with their loving creator died the very moment they ate the fruit from that forbidden tree. 

St. Paul understood spiritual death as a consequence of a broken relationship with God: “But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me . . .”  (Romans 7:8-10). 

Paul hadn't experienced physical death. But he experienced spiritual death when his sin broke his relationship with God. 

Back to the garden. God did not exile Adam and Eve as punishment. He sent them away to protect them -- and all their progeny. When our first parents disobeyed God, their sin – what theologians call ‘original sin’ – their sin produced a type of spiritual strand of DNA that has corrupted earth itself and everything and every person throughout history. 

Well, everyone except for One. More about that in part two of this message. 

Here is how Moses records what God said just before sending Adam and Eve away: “Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden . . . [and] He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3:22ff) 

If Adam and Eve had eaten from the Tree of Life after they fell into sin, their fallen state would have infected not only this earth, but also eternity with sorrow, loss, anguish, and ugliness. Heaven would be no different than our present earth, except heaven’s corruption would last forever. 

Before we move on to the second garden, let’s take another few moments to review other important lessons of Eden – lessons that will crop us as we look at that Second Garden. 

First, God did not send our first parents naked from the Garden. He clothed them with animal skins. To do that, God killed an animal, shedding its blood, and then used its skin to cover their shame. Here then is the first instance in all of Scripture where God used blood to cover sin. 

Further, God sent them from the Garden with a promise of a Redeemer – Someone who would fix what they broke. God said to the devil, in the hearing of the first family: “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 3:15) 

The reason for this somewhat lengthy backstory is to give us a better understanding of the events of the second garden. We will look more closely at that question in part two.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Like An Unseen Chess Master

Yesterday was the Jewish holiday of Purim. You’ll find the origin of that celebration in the book of Esther. An interesting thing about the book of Esther is that it is the only one in the Bible in which the name of God is completely absent. 

However – and this is important to us in 2019 – from the first chapter to the last, God’s presence is evident to anyone with spiritual eyes to see. Unseen, yet always in the background, God moves people and controls circumstances like a Chess Master controls pawns, kings, and queens on the chess board. 

I doubt there’s a person reading this who cannot testify of the many times  God seemed absent in your circumstances, but in retrospect, you recognized His presence and His hand in even your darkest times.

The Jewish holiday of Purim should serve as a reminder to every Christian that God is not absent from our life, even when things seem out of control. Purim is evidence that what the Psalmist wrote is ever true:

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.” (Psalm 46)

The unseen God is always on His throne. He is always aware of our situations, and He is always active in our life.


Sunday, March 17, 2019

You Are Not Alone - part three

This is part three of the message I preached at the 55+ community of men and women living at an independent living facility. You can find parts one and two at these links: https://thecontemplativecatholicconvert.blogspot.com/2019/03/you-are-not-alone-part-one.html 

and here: https://thecontemplativecatholicconvert.blogspot.com/2019/03/you-are-not-alone-part-two.html   

As I prepared for this message, I thought to compare the faith-destroying lyrics of George Jones’ haunting melody with a hymn whose lyrics are faith-building. It was written by Fanny Crosby.

Many of you know she was blinded by illness when she was six months old. Here is one of those hymns written while she lived her life in her wilderness. But she knew she was not alone in her wilderness. She knew her Savior was always there, with her, in her wilderness:

He Hideth My Soul

A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord,
A wonderful Savior to me;
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,
Where rivers of pleasure I see.

“He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life in the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand,
And covers me there with His hand.”

Have you ever been in a dry, thirsty land? There’s not a person on this planet who has not been there – multiple times in their life.

And some of you reading this are right now in that dry, thirsty land. Please, remember the truth of God: He hideth you soul in the cleft of the rock, that shadows a dry, thirsty land; He hideth your life in the depths of His love, and covers you there with His hand.

Crosby’s hymn continues:

“When clothed with His brightness transported I rise
To meet Him in clouds of the sky,
His perfect salvation, His wonderful love,
I’ll shout with the millions on high.”

Oh! Why would churches fill the hearts of their faithful during Good Friday with such hopeless words as “You’ve got to walk this lonesome valley by yourself” instead of hope-filled words like “He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock . . .and covers me there with His hand”?

Oh, Lord! Help us – Lord cause us to ever be alert to subtle and not so subtle lies when we listen to the news, when we watch the television – even when we hear some sermons and hymns in our churches – help us to distinguish your truth from Satan’s half-truths. Remind us how Jesus responded to Satan’s innuendos: Jesus said, IT IS WRITTEN!

No wonder the Savior warned His disciples – including you and me:

“[E]veryone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

If we do not know God’s word, if His counsel is not part of the warp and woof of our souls, then we live in constant danger of destruction when life’s storms thunder across our lives.

As I close let me remind you and me once again of only a few of God’s promises to His children that we find in Scripture:
If God is for us, who is against us? . . . Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?. . .  But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8)
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23)
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. For I am the Lord your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43)
We are two and a half weeks into the Season of Lent – a time many churches set aside to encourage the faithful in the pews to reflect on the life, ministry, death and resurrection of the Messiah Jesus.

Let’s you and I continue to do that for the health and safety of not only our souls, but for the souls of our families and those around us. God help us become more like Jesus, with increasing obedience to the Father, humility, and faithfulness to the work He calls each of us to do.

A wonderful savior, truly, a wonderful savior is Jesus our Lord.

You are Not Alone - part two

I preached this message on the second Sunday of Lent to a group of 55+ men and woman who live in an independent living facility. I divided it here into three parts for ease of reading. You can find part one herehttps://thecontemplativecatholicconvert.blogspot.com/2019/03/you-are-not-alone-part-one.html


Let’s go back for a moment to Jesus’ wilderness temptation. Satan tried to seduce the Son of God to doubt His mission. The devil challenged the Lord Jesus with these words: “If you are the Son of God.” And the Serpent’s strategy has not changed for two millennia. He still tries to seduce us into doubting our relationship with God and into thinking we are all alone in our trials and heartaches and confusions.

But now, please now remember how Jesus responded to every one of Satan’s lies. He responded with the word of God.  And THAT is precisely how you and I must fight our spiritual battles: With the Word of God.  That’s why the apostle Paul wrote this to the Christians at Ephesus:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

“Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6)

Those are not trivial instructions. Better than the slingshot and stone that felled Goliath, Paul’s guidance here provides us essential spiritual armor for defense against our malicious spiritual enemy.

That spiritual armor is an IMPREGNABLE barrier against the onslaught of the devil’s lies, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, is an invincible weapon against Satan’s deceptions.

Listen! On this second Sunday of Lent – as will be true throughout the year and throughout our lives – you and I are in a continuous battle. And unless we remain vigilant to the spiritual war, the enemy will take advantage of our weakest areas, and move again against us.

That’s surely one ‘take-away’ from the Lord’s warning to His disciples in the thirteenth chapter of Mark’s gospel. The context of the text I am about to share is the second coming of Christ. But the principle of being on the alert applies equally to our day by day walk through our own life-wilderness:

Mark 13 “Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come. It is like a man away on a journey, who upon leaving his house and putting his slaves in charge, assigning to each one his task, also commanded the doorkeeper to stay on the alert. Therefore, be on the alert—for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— in case he should come suddenly and find you asleep. What I say to you I say to all, ‘Be on the alert!’” (verses 33-36)

Remember with me, please, what happened in the next chapter of Mark’s gospel. Here is how Mark records it in Mark 14:32-42:

They came to a place named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, “Sit here until I have prayed.” And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. And He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.” And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.”

And He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again He went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him. And He came the third time, and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough; the hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!”

My brothers and sisters! Stay alert! Our spirit is willing to watch and pray and read and reflect. And we make resolutions to do better tomorrow. But as important as resolutions are, it really is important to get into a routine, a habit, of doing the right things, of feeding our spirits the right food and drink – prayer and reading and reflection on God’s word.

You can find the conclusion of my message in part three at this link:http://tinyurl.com/y22e256z

You Are Not Alone - part one

I’ve only seen Michelangelo’s painting on the Sistine Chapel in magazines or art books. What caught my attention as I prepared this message was the way Michelangelo imagined how Adam became a living soul. God reached His finger to touch Adam’s – suggesting when their fingers touched, life would flow from God into Adam.

Artistic license aside, that’s poor theology. God did not reach out His finger to touch Adam’s to give him life. Here is how Moses describes it in Genesis 2:7 “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. 

God breathed the breath of life into Adam’s nostrils. That image invokes for me the image of mouth to mouth resuscitation. That’s important, especially when contrasted with Michelangelo’s painting. God did not remain at a distance – as Michelangelo painted it. God bent down and moved as close to Adam as a lover moves toward His beloved.

And dust came to life.

The theme of my message today is this: Be on the alert for false images, false teachers, and especially for subtle theological lies.

Let me share with you yet another example of a subtle and – this one – a very poisonous lie. Many of you have heard the lyrics of this song in your churches, especially on Good Friday. ‘Lonesome Valley’ was written by George Jones.

I’ve referred to this song in the past, and while I do not mean to seem unnecessarily redundant, the lyrics – especially after the nightmare I’ve been through with Nancy’s stroke in January – the lyrics grip my heart in a vise. I think of them now as demonic-inspired in their poisonous deception:

You gotta walk that lonesome valley
And you gotta it by yourself
Nobody else can walk it for you
You gotta walk it by yourself.

Let me stop here a moment and proclaim to you that no where in all of Scripture does God ever tell His children bought by the blood of Jesus, NO WHERE does God even hint that we’re alone in our struggles and our trials. 

Never. Not one verse. Not one sentence. Not one word.

The song continues:
Jesus walked this lonesome valley
And he had to walk it by Himself
Nobody else could walk it for Him
He had to walk, walk it by Himself.

Are you kidding me? Even during that 40-days of wilderness trial, the Holy Spirit was with Him. And just before His capture and subsequent crucifixion, Jesus said to His disciples: Jesus answered them . . . Behold, an hour is coming, and has already come, for you to be scattered, each to his own home, and to leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” (John 16:31-32)

Jones’ lyrics continue to wash over the hurting and frightened child of God like battery acid:

You must go and stand your trials
You have to stand it by yourself
Nobody else can stand it for you
You have to stand it by yourself.

For a time during those dark days of January and February this year as Nancy lay in an ICU bed, I thought the message of those lyrics was true. I had surrendered to Satan’s malevolent whispers. And I am sharing this with you again because there have been times that YOU also have believed Satan’s whispers: “You are alone in this. God has left you to deal with it all.”

Perhaps, for some of you reading this, today is one of those times.

Oh! How often the Holy Spirit reminded me of the 23rd Psalm during my nightmarish days: “Even though I walk through the valley of death’s shadow, I will fear no evil.” Why did the psalmist fear no evil?  Because God was with him. Always. Just as God is with every everyone bought with the blood of Jesus and follow Christ as their Lord and Master and King and Savior.

Yet, my faith was so shaken by Nancy’s sudden illness, I could only recite the psalm with my mouth. The promises could not enter my heart.

The lyrics then leave us with this consuming darkness:

Oh, you gotta walk that lonesome valley
Yeah, you gotta walk it by yourself
Nobody else is gonna walk it for you
You gotta walk, walk by yourself.

Let me trumpet it again: Those lyrics are demonic lies. Don’t listen to them. Don’t sing them. Don’t believe them. Counter them with the promises of God – even if all you can do is recite them with your mouth.

Parts two and three continue my encouragement to trust God, who is so worthy of our trust, and to trust God’s word over the words of others. You will find part two here: http://tinyurl.com/y457ln9c   

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Unbreakable Promise

I never had a father who loved me. I’ll be 69 in two months, and you’d think by now the sadness would have evaporated long ago. But it still lingers. The memories of my loss still drift to the surface of my thoughts from time to time. 

Like this morning as I talked with the Lord. 

Albert left us when I was four. I sat on our black couch with silver threads throughout the fabric when Mom told me daddy wasn’t coming home any more. 

I later learned he’d told the judge at the custody hearing that he’d place Andrea and me in an orphanage if he got custody of us. 

Several years passed, and Mom married Tom. I was ten. Andrea was eight. He adopted us and gave us his last name. That was about all we got from him. I don’t remember him ever hugging me, encouraging me, joking with me, attending school events with me. What I do remember is his volatile temper and emotional cruelty to all three of us. 

Why am I telling this to you? Because during our conversation this morning, I thought God asked me to share it with you – for this reason: 

First, if you and your wife have divorced – PLEASE do not divorce your children. 

Sixty-nine years from today, the loss your children will experience day after day and year after year because of your absence – the loss will still linger. It will still hurt – sixty-nine years from today. 

Yes, it would be so much better for everyone if you and your wife reconcile, if you learn to love each other again as you loved one another when you stood together at the marriage altar. But if such reconciliation cannot or will not happen, please, DO NOT forsake your children. Boys and girls – and young men and women – NEED their daddy in their lives. 

Second, if you grew up – or are growing up – without a dad in your life, you can still know the love of a Father – a faithful, ‘always-in-your-life’ companion who will never reject you; He will never turn away from you; He will never give you His name and little else. 

I know Him as my heavenly Father. I first learned of His matchless, selfless, and unconditional love for me when I was 22. We’ve been with each other ever since. Sometimes, if I’m quiet enough and still enough, I can feel His embrace. And I hear Him whisper in my thoughts: “You are My beloved son. I love you very, very much.” And I call Him “Daddy” most of the time when we talk together.

No one abandoned by a parent needs to be an orphan. The Father in heaven delivered His Son Jesus to death so you and I might know, on the most personally intimate level, that we might know Him as our passionate, affectionate, and faithful “Daddy.” 

Were you – or are you – forsaken by your earthly father? Years ago, I memorized one of His many promises: “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close.”* 

You are not alone.

I hope that unbreakable promise by God Himself will comfort and encourage you, too.

*Psalm 27:10, NLT

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Dust and Ashes

For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19)

The season of Lent is a time when many Christians reflect on the faithfulness of their walk with Christ. It’s a time when we focus on His life, His death, and His resurrection. In churches that celebrate Lent, congregants receive ashes on their forehead, usually in the sign of a cross. The person placing the ashes says something like this: “You are dust, and to dust you will return. Repent and believe the gospel.” 

“Dust.” That's an important reality too many Christians overlook. To some, especially to those who think more of themselves than they ought, the idea that we are mere dust is a slap across the face. 

Dust? Me? I don’t think so. 

Yet 100 years from today, the multi-billionaire living in a mansion, and the homeless person living under a bridge will each be nothing more than dust or ashes. 

And because our bodies will return to dust, Jesus’ words in Matthew 4:17 toll with an ominous urgency: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Why? Although our body will decay to dust, our souls will not. They are eternal. They will live forever – either with the Lord Jesus in heaven, or with Satan in hell. 


That is why Jesus warned repeatedly throughout His ministry about repentance and obedience to the gospel. That is why His apostles did the same. And that is why all true Christians today proclaim the same message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  

What does repentance look like? It looks like stopping what God says is wrong – and determining to not do it again. And, by the way, what God says is wrong is not determined by the culture, or by educators, or by the courts, or even by some church leaders. Their opinions are not only irrelevant when they contradict God’s truth, they are inescapably poisonous to everyone who follows their guidance instead of God’s holy Word. 

Lent lasts only 40 days – from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. But our reflection on Christ’s life, death, resurrection – and our obedience to His commandments must extend far beyond Easter. 

Our eternal destiny is inextricably tied to what we do with Jesus every day of our lives until we breathe our last. 

Please, make the right choice.  Repent, and obey the gospel.