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

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Houses of Mourning. Houses of Feasting


There have been SO MANY deaths and potentially severely disabling health problems in my sphere of family and friends that I do not know how I could handle them all if I did not know what I know of the afterlife.



I wrote this so that any who receive it might send it on to others who might benefit.

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Houses of Mourning. Houses of Feasting

by Richard Maffeo



While I prepared to speak at a recent funeral, the 23rd psalm played in my mind.



“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me  to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.  He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will 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 anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”



As I reflected on what are for the Christian comforting words, another text dropped into my thoughts. It’s from John’s gospel were Jesus refers to Himself this way: “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.(John 10:14-16)



A friend recently told me the reason she doesn’t like getting older is not because of the wrinkles and the decreasing energy levels, but because of all the family and friends she continues to lose to death.

How well I know what she means.



That’s why Solomon’s words make more and more sense to me as time passes so quickly and relentlessly: “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2).



In other words, we all ought to take life – and especially death – to heart, because death is where each of us is headed. For some, sooner. For some, later. But we will all pass through that valley of the shadow of death at some time. And when we do, we’ll want the Great Shepherd holding our hand.



But – and this is key – there is only one way to ensure the Lord of Life will walk with us in that valley. We must first meet Him as our Shepherd/Savior on this side of the grave.



The Lord Jesus spoke sober truth when He warned: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me.”  (John 14:6).


He alone – and no one else at any time in all of earth’s history – Jesus alone is the doorway into eternal life.



“The Lord is my shepherd.”



Do you know Jesus as your shepherd? Do you hear His voice? Do you obediently follow His commandments?



We each must correctly answer those critical questions. As much as we don’t like to hear about death, the grave is our earthly destiny.



And then comes eternity.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Under his Wings, Part two


This is part Two of my message to the folks at the 55+ community on April 28, 2019.  You can find part one here:

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“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.  
As I prepared this message, lyrics of an old Beatle’s song passed through my thoughts. You might remember the song, All the Lonely People. The lyrics tell us of Eleanor Rigby who gathers up rice in the church after a wedding. Then she goes home, alone. And no one cares. 
The lyrics then turn our attention to Father McKenzie who writes the words of a sermon no one will hear. He, too, returns to his home. Alone. And no one cares.
Both Eleanor and the priest are among the forgotten and lonely millions. That’s the song’s point. People alone. Knowing no one cares about them. Lonely people, like so many other lonely, lonely people. 
“Where do they all belong?” 
Did you know suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US?  In 2017 there were 1,400,000 suicide attempts in the US. On average, there are 129 suicides per day. In 2017, the highest suicide rate was among adults between 45 and 54 years of age. The second highest rate occurred in those 85 years or older. 
If this text in Genesis chapter one is simply an allegory, if it is NOT historical fact, then what hope can Christians bring to those whose lives today are a formless void, and darkness smothers their hopes? 
But what does God say about it? In this foundational Genesis text, Moses assures us of something that you and I need to know is unerringly true: In the midst of the formless void and darkness, The Spirit of God was moving – the Hebrew word carries the idea of ‘brooding’ – as a bird covers and protects her young with its wings – the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” 
Oh! Of course He was brooding over His creation! And of course, He broods over His creation in 2019. Scripture repeatedly tells us God is with us by His Spirit so that we who read it – AND BELIEVE it – would not lose heart. 
The Lord Jesus promised: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.” Then Jesus added in verse 18: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:16-18) 
Listen!  I know how difficult faith in Christ’s promises can be when we are in the middle of darkness and formlessness and loneliness. But – Hang in there!  Don’t give up. 
Listen to what Moses next tells us in this text: In the midst of formless darkness and void – God said: “Let there be light.”— And there was light.”

That’s why John writes in his gospel: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . .” (now dropping down a few verses, John continues):” In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. . . .”  (John 1:1-5)  
I hope you caught that last phrase: “Jesus – the Light of men and women – shines in our darkness.”
Everyone reading this has from time to time walked out of a dark room into the bright noonday sun. The effect was startling, wasn’t it? Our eyes reflexively squinted, and we shielded them with our hand until we could adjust to the sudden brightness.

That illustrates what can happen to any of us when Jesus breaks into lives lived in shadows of despair and loneliness and hopelessness. But it can happen only if we trust our God that it can and will happen. 
It’s not news to anyone who has lived more than half a century: “In the world we will have tribulation.” That’s what Jesus said in John’s gospel. But the Lord didn’t stop with that solemn caution. The One who is called Immanuel – “God WITH Us – Jesus then added: “Be of good cheer. I have overcome the world” – the world of darkness, formlessness, hollowness, and loneliness. 
THAT is the word of hope we have for ourselves. AND it is the word of hope we have for others. 
Let me remind you of a story in Acts chapter 3: Peter and John were on their way into the Temple for the 3 pm hour of prayer when they saw a crippled man begging at the Temple gate. When he asked alms of the two apostles, they stopped, and Peter said to him: 
“I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened.  With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.”

Most of us read this text and think it’s simply a nice story nestled within early church history. Buy it really doesn’t apply to us in the 21st century. After all, God doesn’t use us to heal the sick and the lame.

But there is much more application of this story than physical healing. God may not use us to raise the sick and the lame out of their beds, but “SUCH AS WE HAVE” we can still give to others who’ve been crippled by the events of their lives. And God will use what light we have, to heal the darkness in people’s souls.

What was it St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome? “How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” (Romans 10:14-15)

Christian! Don’t believe the devil’s lie that you don’t know enough Bible to help others. You each know the scriptures far better than most people you run across every day.

For decades, statistics have demonstrated such a profound bible illiteracy in America, that even if all you know is John 3:16 you STILL know more than half of those in your neighborhood, your classroom, your workplace.  

Go ahead. Test it. Ask random people among your spheres of daily interactions if they know what John 3:16 says?  Besides, don’t you know far more than that one verse? Speak it into the lives of those who need to hear what God has to say.

We have God’s promise that He will use His word for His glory. We find this in Isaiah 55:  “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” (verses 10-11)

As I’ve said throughout this message, the first chapter of Genesis is foundational to our lives. Don’t let false teachers destroy that foundation, and who seduce us into looking outside of God’s word for answers to our heartaches and trials. 
Genesis tells us many critical details of our life of faith. Here are only the three that I wrote about here:

First: God ‘is.’ The Great “I AM’ is the self-existent One, without beginning, without end. He alone exists above time and space, and who created all things seen and unseen.

Second: God did not stop His creative processes after the sixth creation day. He is always, at each present moment, active in His creation. The Lord Jesus tells us in John 5:17 – “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.”

And Third: As the Holy Spirit brooded at the beginning of creation, He continues to cover, warm, and protect His creation – including you and me – at this very moment.

Christian, do not despair. Light has come to invade your own darkness. Let Him do so. Open the door of your heart and His light will shine into your life.

God has privileged us to bring His light of encouragement to others. We may not have silver and gold. We may not have the gift of healing. But what we DO have – knowledge of God and His words of life and hope – what we DO have we can give to others.

Oh, Holy Spirit, help us to do so.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Under His Wings, part one

This is part one of my Sunday Message to the folks at the 55+ community. Feel free to share it with those whom you think might benefit.
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Under His Wings (Part One)
by Richard Maffeo

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light."  (Genesis 1:1-3)

Much more than simply the first words of the Bible, this text establishes the foundation of Christian faith. Chapter one declares without explanation – for none is needed about God’s existence –  “God ‘is.”  Neither does the Biblical record here attempt to explain God’s origin, for God always ‘was.’ There is not a ‘before’ or ‘after’ with God, for He created the very concept of time itself.

God simply just “IS.”

You might remember what Moses asked the Lord in chapter three of Exodus: “Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?”  God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:13-14)

Foundations are important. As the psalmist David would later write – likely from personal experience: “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3)

Don’t neglect foundations. Jesus thinks they're important. That's why He spoke of them in His parable about those who built their homes on sand and those who built on solid rock. One stood firm, the other crashed to the ground when the storms of life swept across them (see Matthew 7:24-27).

On what are you building your life? It’s a question we ought to routinely ask ourselves. Are we building on the rock-solid foundation of God’s word? Or are we building on the shifting sands of anti-Christ philosophies brought to us by some theologians, pastors, teachers, writers, entertainers, politicians, and others?

If your life’s foundation is built with the insidious seductions of anti-Christ teachers, then please! Heed this sober warning from God’s word:

“Beware 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. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form . . . .” (Colossians 2:8-9)

Please, don't dismiss the urgency of this appeal. Foundations are important. The ground on which we build quite literally determines our eternal destiny. And God loves us too much to let us keep building on the wrong site -- without yet another appeal for us to change.


Thursday, April 25, 2019

If Only


“James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings!” (James 1:1)

Every student of the Bible knows why God exiled His chosen people from the land He promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For centuries(!) Israel mocked God’s laws and killed His prophets. The 106th psalm is only one of the very many Old Testament passages to detail their continued sacrilege.

2 Chronicles synthesizes their history of rebellion to only a few verses: “The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; 16 but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, until there was no remedy.” (2 Chronicles 36:15-16)

James’ note to God’s chosen ones is not insignificant. First, the twelve tribes of Israel were not lost – as some teach. James knew where Israel had been scattered and where they were living. And second, he sent them ‘greetings’ in the name of Jesus the Messiah.

In other words, God was continuing – even to this present hour – to offer His people an opportunity to repent, to turn from their sins, and to come back into His fold.

And so here is the point for you and me in 2019: Since God was, and is, willing to forgive their millennia-long rebellions and willful sins if only they would repent . . . God is no less willing to forgive you and me of even a lifetime of rebellions and willful sins.

If only – oh, if only we will repent, turn from our sins, and determine for the rest of our lives to obey Jesus’ commandments.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Back-up Plan


Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday were not God’s back up plan in His original design for humanity’s redemption. St. Peter, told his audience on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:22-24): 

“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know— this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.” 


Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday were always central to God’s plan to redeem us from the ownership of death. “The wages of sin is death. Paul wrote to those at Rome, “But the free gift of God is eternal LIFE through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)


No, it was not God’s back up plan. In His omniscience, and in the uncountable ages before He created the world, God foresaw Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit. He knew Cain would kill Abel. He knew of the flood that destroyed everything that breathed, except for Noah and those with him on the ark. He saw the Tower of Babel, and He foreknew Abraham – through whom would come the promised Redeemer. 

In eternity past, God saw the births of Isaac, Jacob, Judah, David – and the entire genealogical line passing through generations and generations until the Baby lay in that manger who grew to be the Man flogged at a whipping post and then nailed to a cross.  

All of it – from long before Genesis 1 and verse 1 – all of it was God’s plan to redeem you and me who trust Christ as their Savior; As Paul writes in Romans 4:25 – [Jesus was] delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. 
Speaking of the cross, it might surprise some to know what the apostles said of the cross on which Jesus died. For example: Peter, speaking to the Jewish religious leaders said this: “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree.” Acts 5:30-31 

Acts 10:39-40, again Peter says: “And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly . . . . .” And in Acts 13:29-30 Peter again refers to Golgotha’s ‘tree.’  

Why reference to the ‘tree’? Paul gives us some clarity in his letter to the Galatians (3:13)  Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us, for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree . . . .”  Here the apostle quotes from Deuteronomy 21: “ . . . for he who is hanged is accursed of God.  

Did you catch that? Cursed by God. 

From eternity past, the Holy Trinity planned for Jesus to not only die for the sins of humanity, but that He would be accursed for the sins of humanity. No wonder the crucified Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have your forsaken Me?” 
Cursed and punished by God for our sins. 
Here is the prophet Isaiah: [He was] stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6) 
Peter picks up this theme in his first epistle: (1 Peter 2:24) “and He [Jesus] bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” 
Paul carries this idea of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice in his letter to the church at Corinth: “For [God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) 
Can you understand now why the New Testament writers tell us over and over – we must be born again? Why we must bring our sins to Calvary’s cross – Calvary’s Tree – where the dearest and best, for a world of lost sinners was slain? 
Good Friday’s cross and Resurrection Sunday demonstrate to the eternal ages past, present, and future God’s justice AND His mercy. His justice because sin must be dealt a death blow; and His mercy toward the sinner, for just as the scapegoat bore Israel’s iniquities into the wilderness on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:22), so also Jesus the Messiah bore our iniquities on His body as He hung on that accursed tree (Isaiah 53:11). 
It’s all about redemption -- and hope of everlasting life. It’s all designed by God to remind us that He loves us so much to send His precious Son to die in our place so that WE might live with Him forever. 
Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday were not God’s back up plan in His original design for humanity’s redemption. It was His primary and only plan to redeem us from the power of sin and of death. 
So, what will you do with Jesus? Fall at His feet in repentance and life-long obedience, or file the information in the back of your mind to toy with later?
Please choose wisely. No one is promised a 'later.'

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The One in the Middle

I posted this a few years ago. This is a good time to revisit it:
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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."