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

Sunday, December 29, 2019

2020 Vision for Evangelism

My mother has inscribed on her tombstone two dates: 1927 and 2018 – the year of her birth and the year of her death.  That visual I just presented to you is important because it is very likely that some – perhaps a few of those living here in Ashwood Meadows will have the year 2020 inscribed into their tombstone. Perhaps that number will also be inscribed into the tombstone of one of your family members. 

I don’t usually start my messages on a somber note, but I will today because that somber note moves us into the theme of today’s focus. 

I titled this message: 2020 Vision – Looking at Evangelism and our text is from 1 Corinthians 9:19-22. I am quoting here from The Living Bible Translation because I like how it opens the text for me. 

“. . . . I have freely and happily become a servant of any and all so that I can win them to Christ. When I am with the Jews I [am] as [a Jew] so that they will listen to the Gospel and I can win them to Christ. When I am with Gentiles who follow Jewish customs and ceremonies I don’t argue, even though I don’t agree, because I want to help them. When with the [unbelievers] I agree with them as much as I can, except of course that I must always do what is right as a Christian. And so, by agreeing, I can win their confidence and help them too. When I am with those whose consciences bother them easily, I don’t act as though I know it all and don’t say they are foolish; the result is that they are willing to let me help them. Yes, whatever a person is like, I try to find common ground with him so that he will let me tell him about Christ and let Christ save him.” 

What was foremost in the apostle Paul’s heart? Clearly, it was the salvation of souls. Why?  Because through revelation of Jesus Christ, Paul was convinced in his heart of hearts that Jesus is, and forever will be, the way, the truth, and the life. Many of you recognize His words in John 14:6. To which the Lord ALSO warned, “No one comes to the Father except by Me” (John 14:6) 

Paul – the former anti-Christian terrorist – understood that eternal life is possible ONLY in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. But the Lord’s crystal-clear statement in John 14 has, throughout history, even to this present day, been so often ignored and rationalized away that you’d think Jesus never said it. 

We are 2,020 years since the birth of our Lord Jesus – whom the Father sent to earth to rescue humanity from the devastating siren-call of Satan’s lies and seductions. And for what purpose does Satan seduce and lie to unwitting and spiritually blind men and women – but to bring them into the lake of fire with him. 

His deceptions began in the Garden with our first mother. Moses tells us, Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 

Did you catch that? The devil suggested to Eve that God was lying to her. And don’t think for a moment that Satan has changed his tactics. He hasn’t’ His lies continue. For example, only a few days ago I read this report regarding a world-known religious leader. This is part of what he said: 

True disciples of Jesus do not proselytize. A Christian should never try to convince others of the truth of Christianity, but should simply give a testimony of consistency and wait for others to ask about the faith. 

“The last thing I should do” he said, “is to try to convince an unbeliever. Never,” he said.  “If someone says he is a disciple of Jesus and comes to you with proselytism, he is not a disciple of Jesus.” 

As the devil lied to our first mother and told her God could not be trusted, Satan now deceives those in the Church to believe Jesus was not being honest when He said, “No one comes to the Father except by Me.” 

But what exemplifies Church history, dating back to the apostles – what exemplifies Church history if not proselytism?  Jesus COMMANDED His disciples to evangelize, to proselytize, to urge others to convert to the only faith that can save them from an eternal lake of fire. 

"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen."  (Matthew 28:19-20) 

It is a popular lie of the devil to deny that Christianity is the only means by which humanity can receive forgiveness of sins – forgiveness which is available ONLY through the blood of Jesus. 

The Lord Jesus said again and again: “Blessed are those who hear with their ears and see with their eyes!” No wonder He warned the lukewarm church at Laodicea – and the lukewarm churches of today –many of which belong to the World Council of Churches – ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.” (Revelation 3:15ff) 

This world-known religious leader is also quoted as saying, “All good people are God’s children” – which is another demonic lie. 

Jesus said to some of the religious men in His day: You are of your father the devil.(John 8:44). And the apostle John identifies the children of Satan this way: “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God . . . .” (1 John 3:10).

John further tells us in the first chapter of his gospel: “[Jesus] . . . came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:10-13) 

Listen! Not all good people are children of God. The ONLY people who have the right to be called God’s children are those adopted into His family through their faith and obedience to His Son. THAT is why Jesus Himself said, “No one comes to the Father except by Me.” 

Regardless of the obfuscations and the rationalizations of some religious teachers, all those with whom we interact each day – if they do not love the Lord Jesus, if they are not continually seeking the Lord Jesus, then they are all in grave danger of never seeing the Lord Jesus after they die. 

I’ve gotten into the routine each year of asking us how many of our number at Ashwood have died in the past year. That number is always for me a sobering number. But – and this is the point – how many of them died without loving the Lord Jesus, without even caring to know the Lord Jesus? 

Please hear me. If that is how they took their last breath, then scripture tells us they are right now as we sit here – suffering in agony. And according to the infallible and unalterable word of God, their suffering will continue forever.

Oh, Holy Spirit, give us 2020 spiritual vision that will inform our hearts and our spirits to pray for our friends and loved ones – to pray that the "God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give them a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. May we pray that the eyes of their heart may be enlightened, so that they will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward everyone who believes." (see Ephesians 1:17-19) 
God help us prove to be living testimonies to others, sharing with all who need to hear the dire message that only faith and obedience to Jesus will gain for us eternal life. God help us remember the Holy Spirit’s words to the Christians at Rome – and to the Christians everywhere, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? 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)

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Naughty or Nice

I awakened at 0647 this morning. Christmas morning. And these thoughts stirred me from bed:

The story goes that Santa checked his list once, and then twice, to see who was naughty or nice this past year. To the nice, he left a present. To the naughty, a lump of coal.

But that is not how God works. That’s not how God has ever worked. No one – no one – is so nice to not need a savior. No one is so naughty that the savior did not die in their place so the naughty – and nice – could receive His gift of forgiveness and eternal life.

God says to us on this day, “Merry Christmas” because 2000 years ago He demonstrated His love for us, in that while we were being woefully naughty, or even being wonderfully nice – Jesus died as a substitutionary sacrifice so that we might receive His gift of a new life (Romans 5:8). He died so we might receive a slate wiped clean with His precious blood. A gift of God so priceless that every confessed sin, ANY confessed sin, would never again be remembered by God.

On this Christmas day of 2019, as many as receive that gift of Calvary, as many as look to that cross and say, “Jesus, forgive me. Jesus change me. Jesus cleanse me. Jesus, I want to love you, to serve you" – as many as will receive Him, to them and to them alone God gives the right to be called sons and daughter of God (John 1:12).

Been naughty? Jesus is waiting to hear you say it: “Jesus, I come.”
Been nice? Jesus is waiting to hear you say it: “Jesus, I come.”

Forgiveness and eternal life. THAT is Almighty God’s idea of Christmas: That all who come to Him in confession have His solemn vow of forgiveness. To all who will come, He says, “Merry Christmas. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”

Monday, December 23, 2019

A Christmas Acronym

In light of what we know of Jesus’ first advent – specifically WHY Jesus came to us in the first place – I want to use the word CHRISTMAS as an acronym – each letter of the word serving as a springboard to the meaning we can derive from that first advent in a Bethlehem manger.

We start with the letter ‘C’ that stands for the phrase: Come to Jesus

Jesus came to rescue sinners – you and me –  to redeem us from the grip of the devil. But just because Jesus CAME to do that job, His work is useless unless sinners – you and I – seal the deal. Listen to what the Lord said in Matthew’s gospel: “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden. TAKE MY YOKE upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you shall find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11).

How do we seal that deal?  How does a person come to Jesus? Let me tell you how I did it: I came to Jesus 47 years ago on Christmas Day by telling God I repented of my many sins, I asked His forgiveness of those sins, and then followed His commandment to be baptized. And so, my initial and ongoing confession of sins and subsequent obedience to Him is what sealed the deal for me. 

Which brings me to the ‘H’ in Christmas. For me, that letter reminds me of the hope of eternal life.

Hope, as I have shared many times in the past, hope in the NT is not like hope in the way we use the word today. I hope it won’t rain on New Year’s Eve next week– but we know it might rain. The word hope, as translated from the Greek, is best translated as a ‘confident expectation.’  In other words, what we hope for WILL happen. 

I am amazed by how many Christians – children of God through their baptismal faith and ongoing obedience to Him have a ‘maybe-it-will-happen’ hope about their eternal salvation.  If you ask them the question, “If you died today, will you spend eternity with God?”  They will answer, “I hope so.”

But why is that when Scripture gives them the right to say, “Yes. I know so”? As St. Paul wrote to Titus: “But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved [past tense] us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured [past tense] out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified [past tense] by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope (e.g. the confident expectation) of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7) 

Or this word by the apostle John: (1 John 5:11-13) “And the testimony is this, that God has given us [past tense] eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” 

Christmas means God gives eternal life to everyone who wants it badly enough to follow Jesus. It’s really not that hard to understand.

Which brings us to the R in Christmas. The letter reminds me of the resurrection of Jesus. Joined to the gift of Jesus in Bethlehem is the gift of the crucifixion at Calvary where Jesus paid the penalty your sins and mine deserve.  That’s why God told us 700 years earlier through the prophet Isaiah: “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” (Isaiah 53:5-6) 

Christ’s death purchased our redemption, but it is His resurrection from the dead that “caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3) 

Therefore it is little wonder the devil and his willing servants have tried to denigrate and deny the supernatural resurrection of our Lord. 

Which brings us to the letter ‘I’ in Christmas.  In light of God’s gift to me, the ‘I’ reminds me to ask myself, “How then ought I to live”? Many of you will recognize this hymn. The lyrics are part of my answer:

I am Thine, O Lord, I have heard Thy voice,
And it told Thy love to me;
But I long to rise in the arms of faith
And be closer drawn to Thee.

Draw me nearer, nearer blessèd Lord,
To the cross where Thou hast died.
Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer blessèd Lord,
To Thy precious, bleeding side.

The next letter in Christmas is ‘S’   I think of the word Solace. For many people, Christmas is a joyous time of family and friends. But for many others, Christmas is a time of sadness. Loneliness. 

Christmas is a time to remember God remembers your loss. And your sorrow. It is a time to remember with assurance that God remembers YOU. I hope this hymn will be of comfort:

Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain . . ..

Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears;
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears.
Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay
From His own fulness all He takes away. 

Next we come to the letter T, which reminds me of Thankfulness. Do you remember this once-popular song of encouragement? When upon life's billows you are tempest tossed, when you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, count your many blessings name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.” 

“Count your blessings, name them one by one; Count your blessings, see what God hath done; Count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.” 

It is unlikely we will be able to recall all that God has done for us unless we get alone and quiet with Him. Please take the time this Christmas season to do so. Bring a pen and a pad of paper, and let the Holy Spirit take you on a remembrance tour. You may be surprised to remember the so many things for which you can be thankful to the Lord – and not just for the mountaintop experiences, but also for the valleys. It is often in those valleys that we learn the most about our Father’s relationship with us.

‘M’ is the next letter in Christmas. With that letter we should never think of Christmas without thinking of the mother of Jesus – Mary. Why did God choose Mary to mother His Son? We really don’t know the full answer to that question. But here are a few reasons to consider: 

Mary demonstrated great humility before God. It was in humility Mary said to Gabriel: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.” The Greek word used here for ‘handmaid’ carries the idea of being a slave to God.

At the same time, Mary demonstrated obedience to God despite what that obedience could cost her. In Israel’s first century culture, unwed pregnancy was a capital offense punishable by stoning. Mary, knowing her pregnancy would cost her betrothal to Joseph, her reputation, and perhaps even her life, nevertheless laid herself at God’s feet and told the angel, “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

Finally (if there is a final thing we can say about Jesus’ mother), Mary loved the Scriptures. In an era when Israelite culture didn’t consider it a priority to teach girls the Scripture, it is clear Mary read and memorized God’s word. Her adoration of God (Luke 1:46-55) is an example. In those short ten verses of her Magnificat, Mary quoted or alluded to at least six Old Testament texts. (1 Samuel 2:1-10, Psalm 34:2, Psalm 35:9, Psalm 98:1, Psalm 103:17, Psalm 107:9).

Now the letter ‘A’ – For His gift to us 2000 years ago, I try to live according to the theme of this song: 

All to Jesus, I surrender;
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.

What does ‘all’ mean?  All my hopes, my desires, my expectations, my joys, my sorrows, my losses, my failures, my successes . . .  All to Jesus, I surrender to His will, to His perfect plan for my life. 

And finally, we come to the last letter, ‘S’ in Christmas. In this letter I see the concept of Service. 

Christmas is not so much a time as GETTING as it is in GIVING. “God so loved the world that He GAVE us His Son, so that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life.” 

Anyone who’s lived as long as we have knows the joy of giving gifts to another – to see their eyes sparkle because you remembered them. And I am not talking only of family and friends now. What about those less fortunate than many of us? There are so many needs out there – how can we hope to meet them all?  

We cannot meet them. But there are organizations that combine five dollars here and ten dollars there that help hundreds, even thousands of needy people. Nancy and I support a variety of Christian organizations that minister to the physical and spiritual needs of children and adults who live in such poverty as we could only imagine. 

Christmas is a time we can do at least nine things: 1. Come to Jesus in humility and in thankfulness; 2. Live a life of Hope – a life of confident expectation before Him and others; 3. Remember the resurrection of Jesus because His resurrection assures us that we also will rise from the dead; 4. Remember also that it is In Christ alone that we are complete; 5. Remember that Jesus alone is our eternal Solace; 6. Remember to Thank God for His goodness toward us; 7. Learn to better imitate Mary the mother of Jesus; 8. Strive to surrender All to Jesus; and 9, to recommit ourselves to Service in Christ’s name to others. 

Merry Christmas to you and yours, and a blessed 2020.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Unless We Tell Them

Every year at Christmas I think back to December 25, 1972. Some of you already know my story. 

I had just finished a book by Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth. What he said puzzled and excited me at the same time.

As I rehearse the memory of that Christmas of 47 years ago, I wonder how it could be that I’d lived 22 years in America and did not know Jesus died for me. I only knew His name as a swear word, and that He was the god of the Gentiles. 

Yes, how could it be that I never heard the truth that Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, took all my sins – even the totality of my most heinous sins – that He substituted Himself and paid the penalty I deserved to pay for those sins? 

But how could I know it? No one ever told me. It was not until a few months earlier in 1972, on the most holy day in Judaism – Yom Kippur – that God unveiled to me the soul-rending truth that I was lost in sin and without hope of forgiveness.

The point? 

How many attend church each Sunday, sometimes several times a week, and don’t really understand why Jesus died? How many have never heard, week after week, year after year, Jesus died in their place, as their willing substitutionary sacrifice? How many, who look at a cross or a crucifix time and time again, do not yet understand Jesus’ death – and only His death – can purchase their forgiveness if they continually come to Him humbly in confession, thanksgiving, and a determination to obey His commandments? 

I lived for 22 years without ever hearing God's wonderful promise of forgiveness until someone told me of it.  Even so, as we approach the end of 2019, how many still have never heard the full reason for Calvary’s cross – and won't know it unless WE tell them?

America is Under Satanic Attack

As you know, the House impeached the president last night. If you do not think what has been going on in this nation for the past three years is nothing less than a full frontal satanic assault – not only on Mr. Trump, but against the unity of our nation – if you DO NOT think this is a direct assault by demonic forces, then, listen!  You are not paying attention. If you are like me, if you love this nation and are fearful of what we will become of us if Satan and his human tools have their way – then I urge you to take up the spiritual weapons God has given us and are listed in Ephesians chapter six. Those of you familiar with Scripture know God has many times sent His angels to protect His servants and to communicate with us. He sent angels to speak with Abraham, with Jacob, with Daniel, with Mary, with Zacharias, with Cornelius – to name only a few. One of the spiritual requests I say often in situations like this, when Satanic forces are so clearly at work, is a request of the archangel Michael. We first meet him in the Biblical book of Daniel. I have taken to ask of the archangel to protect our president and his family: “Oh, Michael, the archangel, defend President Trump in this battle. Be his defense against the wickedness and the snares of the devil. May almighty God rebuke the devil, we humbly ask. And do thou, of Prince of the Heavenly Host, but the divine power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who roam throughout the earth, seeking souls to devour. In the matchless name of Jesus the Messiah we ask. Amen.” Christmastime is a time of great distractions as we prepare to celebrate that wonderful holy day. But if God’s children fail to be vigilant in this horrible spiritual battle for the soul of this nation, we will have lost far more than we can now imagine.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

A Different Kind of Death

This is adapted from an essay appearing in my second book, Lessons Along the Journey. It originally appeared in 2005.
------------- "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 36:26). From time to time I see an elderly man who attends the same 10:00 Mass as I. I’ve never spoken with him. He sits on the other side of the sanctuary and is usually making his way toward the exit during the final song. The first time I saw him, I thought I’d seen my wife’s stepfather returned from the dead. The man resembles Cy so closely. And because of the remarkable resemblance, my thoughts went back last Sunday to one of the last times Cy and I were together. Cyril James Farrell died peacefully in bed on April 29, 2005, five months before his 90th birthday. It could have been a different kind of death. Throughout his working career, Cyril was a fiercely competitive salesman with little time for family, and even less time for God. Quick-tempered, opinionated and a no-nonsense kind of guy, Cy told you what he thought, even if it wasn't polite or kind – and it often wasn’t. He found fault with strangers, circumstances, and family. I didn’t like being around him when he got into one of his moods. Many of us know the passage of years often solidifies a person’s bad patterns. But for some people, life-events can have the opposite effect. That's what happened to Cy. In his mid-seventies, his legs began to hurt so badly he couldn’t walk more than a few yards without stopping to rest. Following two fruitless surgeries, the once determined and vigorous man was forced into a wheelchair. In his last months, he couldn’t get out of bed without help. Although baptized as a child and he attended Mass with his parents, by the time he joined the army, he’d left his childhood faith behind. It was not until he was 85 and sick did he recognize, as if for the first time, why Jesus died. Jesus died for him. And with that recognition, Cy surrendered his life completely to the Lord Jesus. Imperceptibly to those who saw him every day, Cy began to change. And those who'd known him as long as I, knew the change was extraordinary. Despite his loss of health and strength, I never heard him complain or find fault, except to say about his legs, "Isn't that the craziest thing? They don't work anymore like they used to." Judging from the remarks of those who attended his funeral, no one else heard him grumble, either. They simply remembered him as a man who always met others with a patient spirit, a ready smile, and a kind word. More than 300 white-haired friends showed up at the church to commemorate his life. Many more wanted to come, but lived too far away, or were too frail to travel. I believe they loved the man in the coffin because Cyril James Farrell left a legacy worthy of a Christian – a legacy that attests to the grace, mercy and patience of our heavenly Father who stays with us, year after year, waiting for His prodigals to come home. I know why Cyril James Farrell died in peace. It was because he died in the arms of his Savior. It could have been a different kind of death.