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

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The One in the Middle

I posted this a few years ago. This is a good time to revisit it:
Two men hung between heaven and earth, nailed to crosses on either side of the One in the middle. Two men, thieves, struggling against death, knowing it was only a matter of hours before death sunk its talons into their flesh.  
One thief, even in the midst of dying, joined his voice to the crowd as they mocked, cursed and blasphemed the Stranger in the middle.

There is a lesson in that thief for all of us, for we also always have a choice to join the crowd, to follow the popular, the politically correct, the praised. We always have a choice to enter the wide gate toward the broad way, or the small gate and the narrow way. We always have a choice to turn from the Savior. We always have a choice to believe His words or reject them. 

But the other thief would have none of the mockery. What are you doing? He rebuked the first thief. “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 

And then he did what everyone must do at some time in their life. Rather, he did what everyone must do over and over and over again throughout their life: He acknowledged his sin, which is nothing less than agreeing with God that we are wrong in what we have done, and He is right for requiring of us something better. It’s called being humble before God. It’s called repentance. 

Repentance does amazing things in and for our soul. It lifts us to where Jesus hangs between heaven and earth, face to face with His nailed and bloodied body – brutalized because of our sins. As the Hebrew prophet Isaiah foretold centuries earlier, He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6). 

Repentance frees us from ourselves. It frees us from our arrogance that binds us to eternal death. Repentance teaches us humility, unveils our fleeting mortality – and our desperate need for an eternal savior. Yes, repentance even brings us into an intimate relationship with the King of Glory, a relationship reserved only for the penitent. 

So the good thief turned to the One no longer a stranger in the middle and pleaded, Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.” The dying man recognized Jesus had a kingdom and Jesus was Lord in His kingdom. 

And the thief wanted to be there with his Lord.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.” The man spoke less than a dozen words. But short prayers from the heart are far more efficacious than long soliloquies without humility. 

Jesus, remember me. 

Yes, Jesus is Lord of His kingdom, but the critical question I routinely ask myself is this: Is Jesus lord of my kingdom? Am I on the throne of my heart, or is He? Do I daily seek to follow in His footsteps, to go where He wants me to go, to stay where He wants me to stay, to willingly do His bidding . . . or am I more likely to go my own way, on my own path and through doors of my choosing? 

Jesus, remember me. 

Oh, how the King loves to hear our plea born in a penitent heart – and it is always true, what He said to the penitent thief, He promises also to us: Truly I say to you . . . you shall be with Me in Paradise."

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Only What's Done For Christ

I published this several years ago. I thought it good to recycle it now with only a tiny update:

. . . for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ.  If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, the work of each will come to light . . . (1 Cor 3:11-13).

From my seat toward the front of the auditorium, I could see Linda’s eyes water. “Has it really been twenty-eight years?” She seemed to ask it more of herself than of those gathered at her retirement ceremony. Decades of conflicts and triumphs, of paperwork piles and project deadlines, of exhilarating new tasks and the lumbering routine of others blended into a half-forgotten dream.

After the framed certificate, the engraved plaque, and the punch and cookies in the foyer, life will move on. Younger employees will step into her varied roles, and the organization will continue with business as usual.

“I thought this day would never come.” She tried to smile.  “But here it is.”

While Linda spoke, my mind drifted to the many times I’ve said, “I thought this day would never come”?  How many important events passed before I knew they were close upon me? Birthdays, graduations, weddings, births, more weddings, more births. My life has moved almost seamlessly from sunrise to sunset, seasons to years, anticipating one milestone and then another. All the while I’ve been too busy to notice the calendar pages disappear like vapors in the wind.

I don’t often think about my final milestone. I still hope to enjoy many more graduations, weddings and births before I start thinking much about that particular day. Yet, when it comes, will the decades of my life also seem as a brief moment? The conflicts, the joys, the deadlines, the routines . . . I know life will move on without me.

When Linda received her plaque, I wondered what kind I will receive when I stand before the Great Cloud of Witnesses (see Hebrews 12:1).  Will it be engraved with the names of those whom I have touched during my service for the Master? Or will it be an empty testimony of misplaced priorities during my earth-bound journey?

As I draw nearer to my sixty-ninth birthday – 69!  Oh, how the years have flown – As I draw near, those questions whisper from the corners of my thoughts with increasing urgency. Life really is shorter than I realize, and everything I now consider so important -- money, popularity, passions, career -- will smolder on that day like charred timbers after a house fire.

When the day I thought would never come finally arrives, I want to hear more than pleasant words at a ceremony. I want to enjoy more than punch and cookies in the foyer. I want to hear from the men and women standing with me before His throne, “Thank you for using your time, your talents, your resources to tell me about the Savior.”  And oh, how I want to hear from the lips of the King of Glory, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord” (See Matthew 25:21).

What are you doing with your life for your Lord? I don't at all mean to throw a guilt-trip on anyone. Really, I don't.  But it 'is' a question that needs an answer.

Like I said -- and as you already know: Life is short. Be careful what you do with it.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

What Do We Do?

This has got to be one of the saddest verses in the Bible:

“Nevertheless, many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God. (John 12:42-43)

A sad verse, but there are others like it. For example, a few chapters earlier in chapter nine we find the story of the blind man. After Jesus healed him, the religious leaders asked his parents if the man really was his son – and if he had REALLY been born blind.

Now the sad part:

“We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but how he now sees, we do not know; or who opened his eyes, we do not know. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone confessed Him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. For this reason his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” (John 9:20-23)

Craving other’s approval over God’s, or fear of being ostracized because of our relationship with the Savior, were not reactions limited to the first century. We find the same cravings and fears all around us – even in the Church.

As I type this onto my screen, a simple song we sang in the 70s comes to mind:

“I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
No turning back, no turning back.”

“Though none go with me, I still will follow;
Though none go with me, I still will follow;
Though none go with me, I still will follow;
No turning back, no turning back.”

“The world behind me, the cross before me;
The world behind me, the cross before me;
The world behind me, the cross before me;
No turning back, no turning back.”

Please read those lyrics one more time. As you do, think about those two texts in John’s gospel. We ought to ask ourselves – and be quiet enough to hear in our hearts our answer:

“What do I do with Jesus when following Him interferes with my social life?”

Saturday, April 6, 2019

The Sifting

But Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore, He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.  (Hebrews 7:24-25)

Just before the mob arrested Jesus and subsequently crucified Him, Jesus said to Peter: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail. (Luke 22:31-32)

Peter is not the only person Satan has ever picked on. The Serpent’s plan has always been – since the Garden of Eden – to destroy as many of God’s children as he can.

Don’t think you’re alone in your wilderness. Satan may have demanded permission sift you like wheat, but your High Priest Jesus is praying for you. Even now as you read this.

Be encouraged. The omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent Lord of Creation not only knows your struggle, He is there with you in your struggle, guiding you, protecting you, interceding for you that your faith not fail – but rather be strengthened.

As hard as it might seem at the moment, keep drawing near to Him, even if it is inches at a time. Trust your Savior. He has not deserted you.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Every Word

When the Lord Jesus said “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God,” He actually meant ‘every’ word that comes out of the mouth of God.  

Every word, from Genesis through Revelation. Not just the ones that make us comfortable. Not just the ones we agree with. Every word, including those that make us uncomfortable; The ones that make us squirm; Those that make us feel guilty; The ‘thou shalts’ and the ‘thou shalt nots.’

And neither is His word now – nor has it ever been – subject to changes in cultures, or the opinions of learned clerics, educators, priests, teachers, judges, or kings.

Little wonder, God urges all humanity – perhaps especially the average person like you and me: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15). And again: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16)

If consistent reading of the Bible seems a gargantuan challenge, do a quick internet search to find Bible-reading plans, any of which will reduce what at first seems an impossible task to an enjoyable and spiritually edifying one. Use key words such as ‘Bible reading plans.’ Dozens of one-year, two-year, and even three-year plans will populate your screen.

Or take a look at mine at: http://tinyurl.com/y9nh5zb8

It will forever be true: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)

Monday, April 1, 2019

That it Might Not Fail

Jesus . . . was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days. (Luke 4:1) 

The context of this text is our Lord’s wilderness trial. An important point – a crucial point that cannot be overemphasized – is that Jesus was NEVER alone during His trial. The Holy Spirit was with Him every moment. 

So why do so many Christians think they are alone as they journey through their own deserts? As God was with His Son in that wilderness, do we think He is not with us in ours? 

Christian, Listen! God is a loving, compassionate, and protective Abba Father. Of course the Holy Spirit leads us – as He led Jesus – all the way through our desert and right into the Savior’s embrace. 

This point cannot be overemphasized. The enemy of our souls wants us to think God has forsaken us, that He set us down in the center of our nightmares and disappeared to another side of the universe. 

Not only is that a demonic lie, it should not surprise us to hear it in our thoughts. Remember what Jesus said of Satan, He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44) 

You and I need to stop listening to his lies. 

God promised us multiple times throughout Scripture: “I will never leave you. I will never forsake you.” Here is what He tells us through the prophet Isaiah: “Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. “Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands . . .” (Isaiah 49:15-16)

Christian, Listen! Jesus has inscribed you and me on the palms of His hands. Your name, my name, those of our family members, our neighbors, our friends – all indelibly carved into Jesus’ flesh by the spikes hammered into His hands by those Roman soldiers.

We are never alone. Never. Not when we lose a spouse, or a child, or a grandchild. Not when the doctor tells us there is no hope for recovery. We are not alone when we look at our wheelchair, or walker, and remember the years when we were vigorous and strong and independent. We are not alone when we look at our rapidly dwindling savings. We’re not alone when no one calls us anymore, when people we love forget our birthday, or anniversary, or some other special day in the calendar. 

There is not a Christian in any pew who has not slogged many times through a wilderness. And I don’t think we fully understand how important it is to do prayer battle for each other, and to encourage one another every day. 

Why else would the Holy Spirit urge us: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25) 

I’ve only recently realized our prayer list should be the length and breadth of a book. Yes, a book. 

It should be filled with names of people we know, and names of people we learn about from others. We should pray that their faith in their wilderness – whatever that wilderness might be – that it not be shaken, but rather strengthened. 

During the 46 years I’ve walked with the Lord, I’ve observed some typical steps that signal faltering faith. They go something like this: 

Step one: The battles leave us bleeding and bruised. We continue to pray, but our prayers become lackluster. We no longer have confidence that God hears us. 

Step one leads to step two: We stop praying nearly altogether. 

Step two leads almost inevitably to step three: As our prayer life stutters to a stop, we also stop reading the Scriptures. 

And when that final step takes root, step four is at the door: We stop going to church and we rapidly drift from what was once our vibrant relationship with God.

Oh, how easy it is, if we are not alert to the dangers and the symptoms, how easy it is for any of us to head down that road. That is why it is so necessary that we ask the Holy Spirit for ourselves – and for others – to break that downward momentum. 

Please remember what the Lord Jesus said to Peter: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail. (Luke 22:31-32) 

Never doubt it: Satan is always seeking to devour your faith and mine. Peter learned that lesson, and so he wrote in his first epistle: Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.(1 Peter 5:8) 

That’s why as we pray, we should ask Christ Jesus to also pray for us, as He prayed for Peter – that our faith, and the faith of others, might not fail.

Lord Jesus, teach us to pray as we ought. Please.