Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Fire Insurance


Jesus asked Peter, "Do you love me?" (John 21:15)

I’ve heard the argument many times. Perhaps you have, too. It goes something like this: “People buy insurance for their life, auto, home, health. So, in case there is a God and an eternal judgment, why not believe in Jesus and get eternal insurance for the soul?"

Not only have I heard that argument before, I am ashamed to admit, I have also used it as a reasonable reason to ‘come to Jesus.’ But after more than 40 years of walking with Christ and watching one Christian after another turn from the straight and narrow way, I realize that if we ‘come to Jesus’ for 'fire' insurance, we will not stay with Jesus over the long haul. Life is full of too many complications, disappointments, suffering, and sorrows for people to remain satisfied with their ‘fire’ insurance policy, if that is the only reason they pay the premiums of obedience. And Satan is always ready to offer an alternative policy. He always has a boat standing by to take us to Tarshish (a reference to Jonah, if you missed it).

No. The hope of eternal fire insurance holds no one very long. I have learned during my 42 years living for Christ we must come to Him for a completely different reason than ‘fire’ insurance. We ought to come – we must come – because we are terribly sorry for our sins, for the people we have hurt, for our hypocrisies and compromises and pride and selfishness. 

We must come because Jesus is the only One – the only One – who can wash away each of those sins with His blood. We should come because He loves us. We should come because we want to love Him.

If we come for those reasons – His forgiveness, His love, His mercy, His compassion – if we come for those reasons, we are much more likely to stay with Jesus over the long haul, through all of life’s complications, disappointments, suffering, and sorrows.

Oh, Holy God – open the eyes of our hearts and draw us to your great and all-fulfilling love.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

I Believe -- Forty Meditations on the Nicene Creed -- the Third Meditation


This is the next of the forty meditations. You can find the book on Amazon. Follow this link here. (Also available on Kindle)

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Creed Statement: I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.

Today’s Focus: One God 

 
"Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in on attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced  . . . more true than truth itself." Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.2

But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15).
 
Less than two decades after the Lord Jesus ascended to heaven, heresy crept into the Church. The first theological challenge occurred when Pharisees who had become believers demanded of the Gentile converts that they be circumcised and “observe the Law of Moses.” (Acts 15:5)

This caused a great deal of dissension and confusion in the Church, and so, to settle the issue, the apostles convened a council in Jerusalem to discuss the matter. After considering both sides of the theological aisle, Peter, James, Paul, and the other apostles and elders came to a decision that they then promulgated throughout the Church.

The 15th chapter of the book of Acts lays the foundation for the next 2000 years of how God would guide His Church regarding faith and morals – and that guidance would come through Church leadership (see 1 Timothy 3:15).

Note what the apostles said in verses 24-27 of chapter 15 (NASB): “Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, . . . Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report” the doctrinal decision of the Church leadership in Jerusalem.

In other words, the apostles declared that those who required circumcision of the converts had no authority to do so. Further, they had no authority to teach doctrine since they had not been sent by the Church leadership.

This is a crucial point. 

The circumcision question was only the first of many heretical challenges to crop up during the next twenty centuries. Arianism raised its horns in the fourth century. Arius was a church presbyter who taught others Jesus was created by the Father, and therefore inferior to the Father. Such teaching caused dissension and confusion in the Body of Christ, and so to settle the question of Christ’s deity and the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the Church convened a council in Nicea in 325 A.D. After considering both sides of the theological arguments, the Church determined Arius in error and promulgated the Nicene Creed, which became the official Church position regarding Christ’s deity.

Nearly sixty years later, the Second Ecumenical Council in 381 A.D. affirmed the deity of Jesus and, in response to yet another heresy (this one formulated by Macedonius, who denied the deity of the Holy Spirit), promulgated the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed which officially declared orthodox Christian faith regarding the Holy Spirit and the Trinity. 

So what does all this history have to do with the statement within the Creed, “I believe in one God”? 

In early 2014 my wife and I had lunch with a young man, a member of the Jehovah Witness faith group. Jehovah Witnesses believe Jesus was created by the Father and, therefore, inferior to the Father – just like Arius taught in the fourth century.

I asked him if he had ever heard of Arianism. He had not.

Then he told us something so disturbing, I do not think I will soon forget it. He said he used to be Catholic and was raised in a Catholic home – but it was a home in which his family was ignorant of Church history. It was also a home in which none of the adults thought it important or necessary to read and study the Scriptures.

When as a young person he met members of the Jehovah Witness group, he began to study the Bible with them. Soon, he joined their fellowship –not only he, but both of his parents, three siblings, several aunts, uncles and other members of his family. They had all been Catholics, but Catholics ignorant of the richness, the depth, and the history of the faith dating back to the Apostles.

And so, an entire family was lost to the Church. 

When we recite the Nicene Creed and proclaim, “I believe in one God . . .” we can be certain our belief in “One-God-Yet-Three-Persons” is absolute and unalterable truth because the Church, founded on the Apostles, and affirmed by successive Church councils through the millennia, has definitively and authoritatively proclaimed that truth. 

Unless we settle in our hearts the question about who God has chosen to authoritatively teach doctrinal truth, we will always be at risk of being swept up in the latest – or the oldest –heresies.

Prayer: Oh, God, You are truth itself. Guide our hearts and our minds by your Holy Spirit into greater understanding of, and confidence in, the truth You delivered to us through the Church. Protect us, Holy Spirit, from darkness masquerading as light. Amen.

 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Lesson 19 in 1 Peter now online


The desires of the flesh, of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life will be the undoing of any Christian, regardless of position or spiritual maturity. This is one of the things we look at in Lesson 19. You can view it here:  (click the word 'here')

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Hush. It Will Be Alright -- Revisited

They have Moses and the Prophets . . . (Luke 16:29)

The other day I wrote an essay while in the valley of disappointment with God. In that essay I said I often think, especially lately, how good it would be if God would take a seat in my living room and tell me, “Hush. It will be alright” You can read the essay here.
But even as I wrote the essay, The Holy Spirit asked me why I think I need the Father to come into my living room and take a chair. After all, He left me the Scriptures of the prophets and apostles. They tell me all I need to know about God’s feelings toward me. They tell me often enough – “ Hush. It will be alright.” Of the hundreds of God’s promises I remember from 40 years of reading the Scriptures, here are some that filtered into my mind even as I contemplated the essay:

Behold I have engraved you in the palms of my hands. Your walls are always before me. (Isaiah 49:16);

I know the plans that I have for you, plans for your good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11);

I have seen your affliction. I am aware of your suffering. (Exodus 3:7);

I have loved you with an everlasting love. (Jeremiah 31:3);

God causes all things to work together for good, to those who love God and who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28);

What He opens, none can shut. What He shuts, none can open. (Revelation 3:7)

But as despondency settled over me, I argued with the Holy Spirit, telling Him how nice it would be, nonetheless, if the Father would take a seat in my living room.
Two nights later I opened my Bible to the place I’d left off the night before. Luke 16. It starts off with the parable of the dishonest manager, moves into a brief interchange between Jesus and some Pharisees, and a quick verse about divorce. Then the Lord brings us the lesson of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

The Rich Man lived in sumptuous splendor within his mansion. Meanwhile, the beggar Lazarus sat outside the man’s gate, covered with sores and begging for crumbs. Neighborhood dogs roamed by to lick his weeping wounds.
In time, both died. Lazarus went to Abraham’s bosom (a picture of paradise) while the Rich Man was in torment in hell. Here is part of their conversation:

[The Rich Man] said, “Then, father [Abraham], I beg you to send [Lazarus] to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”   He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”’
As soon as I read that last clause, ‘neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead,” the Holy Spirit changed a few words in my mind:

“Richard,” the Holy Spirit said to me, “you have Moses, the prophets, the apostles, and the words of Jesus. If you do not listen to them, neither will you be convinced even if the Father takes a seat in your living room.”
Ouch.

I closed the Bible and repented for pouting. And for finding fault with God. And for insisting on seeing a fulfillment of my dreams, and not His. My hopes, and not His.
Life’s circumstances often make it easy to succumb to doubt and to pouting. But the Holy Spirit always reminds us – if we will listen – we do not need to fret and worry and stew about any of those circumstances. Moses, the prophets, the apostles, and the words of Jesus assure us again and again – and again, God is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His deeds. (Psalm 145:17)

And we can cast all our broken dreams and shattered hopes on Him, because He cares for us. (1 Peter 5:7)
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You can find my YouTube Bible study through 1 Peter if you click here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Hush. It Will be Alright



 For you I wait all the day (Psalm 25:5)
 
I heard her before I jogged around the corner. A long, slow, desolate cry.  Blonde pig-tails, blue jeans, a long sleeve pullover shirt. She couldn’t have been older than four. She sulked in her driveway as Dad unloaded groceries from the van. He called gently for her to come inside.

“I dontwannacomein. I wanna stay here.”  She said something else but her woeful sobs swallowed her words.  As I neared, she turned in my direction and started walking toward Dad. Maybe she felt embarrassed because I heard her crying. Or perhaps she was nervous to be around a strange man. 

I continued running along the sidewalk and soon turned another corner toward home. But my thoughts remained behind with that precious little girl. I let her image play again in my mind. Rosy face, tears rolling down her cheeks. She reminded me of my own children decades ago. And memories returned to me of the days when their tears fell down their cheeks. I used to kneel in front of them, pull them close and hold them tightly, wipe their tears and tell them, “Hush. It will be alright.”

Hush. 

It will be alright.

But now, after all these years, I wonder if it will be alright. It does little good to make believe my doubts don’t exist. God knows what I think before the words even cross my lips.

The days of pulling our children close to ourselves and wiping their tears and telling them it will be alright are gone for Nancy and me. They are no longer four-year-olds. They’re in their thirties. Two of the three live on the other side of the country.

And sometimes I wonder how my Father in heaven feels when He hears my cries.  How He feels when He sees my tears. I wonder if He wants to kneel in front of me, pull me close to Himself, hold me tight, wipe my tears and say, “Hush. It will be alright.”

I wonder those things because so many times, especially since some of my dreams and my deepest hopes have withered and died before my eyes, and I let loose mournful tears on my wife’s shoulder . . . . I wonder how He feels toward me when I don’t feel His presence with me. And all I have left is my belief in the God described by the Bible as One who does hear my prayers, who does hear my sobs, and who does hold me to Himself – even though I cannot sense it.

But oh, how I wish, sometimes so desperately wish, I did not have to walk so often by faith. Oh, how I wish I could once – just once -- catch a glimpse of His face. And hear Him say, “Hush. It will be alright.”

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

I Believe: Forty Meditations on the Nicene Creed -- Second Meditation



This is the next of the forty meditations. You can find the book on Amazon. Follow this link here. (Also available on Kindle)
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Creed Statement: I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.

Today’s Focus: I BELIEVE

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, on your own intelligence rely not; In all your ways be mindful of Him, and He will make straight your paths (Proverbs 3:5-6).

            I had heard about the rappelling tower. Its reputation loomed larger than life weeks before my arrival in San Antonio for military training. I stood in line with two dozen others and stared soberly at the fifty-three foot rickety wooden structure. My palms start to sweat when I stand on a chair.

            "Pick up the rope in front of you." The sergeant’s bark broke into my thoughts.
 
            With a series of twists and jerks, he demonstrated how to wrap the rope around, under and behind our waists and thighs to form a saddle. Then he marched us to the ladder and we climbed toward the clouds. Clumps of dirt fell from the boots of those ahead of me.
 
            When the last straggler took her place on the platform, the sergeant asked, "Who's afraid of heights?"

            I raised my hand, hoping he’d send me back down the ladder. I was wrong.
 
            "You’re first," he said.
 
            With the proverbial patience of Job, the sergeant fastened a rope through the "D" ring and guided it around to my back. My stomach churned as I stepped toward the ledge. Like a robot, I obeyed the sergeant’s instructions and grabbed the line in front of me with my left hand and the line behind me with my right. The tail end fell what seemed five miles to the ground.
 
            Sweat dripped from my forehead as I leaned back into space. Resigned to my fate, I let out a few inches of rope. In a moment, I was perpendicular to the tower wall, fifty-three very long feet above the Texas soil.
 
            "Jump!" the sergeant commanded.
 
            I pushed away from the wall and plummeted toward earth until I gripped the rope and stopped my descent. Euphoria swelled in my chest when I realized I was still alive. I pushed again and fell another twenty feet. One more shove and I landed gently on the dirt.
 
            Sometimes my struggle with confidence in God’s power, presence, and love is a little like my struggle with that monstrous fifty-three foot tower. Biblical faith is more than intellectual assent to God’s existence. It is God-centered and births an active, risk-taking confidence that proclaims, “I will trust God no matter where He leads and no matter what He tells me to do.”

            Just as I needed to believe the rope would hold me, I need to believe God will not leave me hanging in space – or let me fall. And though I might wonder if the Father really knows how far it is to the bottom, I’ve also experienced what the Psalmist learned, "Those whose steps are guided by the Lord, whose way God approves, may stumble, but they will never fall, for the Lord holds their hand" (Psalm 37:23-24).
 
            That’s one of the things the Creed helps us remember – not only what we believe, but in Whom we believe. No wonder you and I can trust Him, even if He asks us to lean into His arms and dangle fifty-three feet above the ground.


Prayer: Lord, I believe in You. Increase my faith. I trust in You. Strengthen my trust. I love You. Let me love You more and more. (Pope Clement XI)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Whose Interests?

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. (Matthew 7:21)


So I'm reading in Mark 8, Jesus tells St. Peter and the other apostles, “The Son of Man must suffer many things . . . and be killed.” And Peter, whom Jesus had already chosen as the first earthly head of the Church (in the parallel passage in Matthew 16) – Peter rebukes the Lord.
 
You know the story. Jesus then said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan, for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”
 
And I had an epiphany. I realized, if Jesus spoke so harshly to St. Peter, do any of us today – the person in the pew, or the deacon, or pastor, or priest, or bishop, or cardinal . . . .  if Jesus spoke in such a manner to St. Peter, do we think Jesus will speak differently to any of us, regardless of our title or position, when we put man’s interests over God’s? Political interests over God’s? Financial interests over God’s? Career interests over God’s? Personal interests over God’s? Friends interests over God’s?
 
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever – as the Holy Spirit warns us in Hebrews 13:8. And so, we would be wise to fear – from the pew-sitter to the one in the pulpit, even to the one in the paneled office – yes, it is wise to fear lest we do anything to cause Jesus to say to us, “Get behind Me, Satan, for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”
 
Our God is still a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Too-Familiar Jesus

 I posted this several years ago. It still resounds with me.
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And [Jesus] could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he wondered at their unbelief (Mark 6:5-6).

Of all places, Nazareth should have been the town where people flocked around Jesus. After all, it was the place He'd grown up -- the place His mother and family still lived. Yet, the Lord couldn't perform miracles there because His former neighbors thought they knew Him too well. Jesus is simply a carpenter, the son of Mary who lives down the street.

Like Jesus' neighbors and childhood friends, perhaps a reason we rarely see God's power in our lives is because the Jesus we grew up with is too familiar. Many of us have known about Him ever since we were in the cradle. We know the stories and the things He taught. We know about His mother and father. We know about His friends and disciples.

So our knowledge of Jesus lulls us into familiarity. Familiarity dulls us into complacency. And complacency hardens us against His ability to miraculously live out His life within us.

Perhaps that is why Jesus said, The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it (Matthew 13:45-46). 

The familiarity-complacency cycle can only be broken when we decide to seek the Pearl as if He is unreservedly the most important thing in our life.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Choices

I posted this several years ago. I thought it good to post once again.
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If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve . . . but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).

Sometimes choices can complicate life. Eating out is a case in point. When my wife and I lived overseas, the choices were easy. Walk into a restaurant (one of three from which to choose) and the waitress hands you a menu. One page. Nothing on the back. Options included chicken, fish, and hamburger. Thirsty? Select cola, ice tea or coffee. Like some dessert? Try frozen yogurt or a fruit dish.

It never took long to decide what to have.

That all changed when we moved back to America. Walk into a restaurant (one of a hundred from which to choose) and the waitress hands you a menu. Dessert choices alone fill a page -- front and back. Dinner offerings fold out to three pages. A year after returning home I still felt paralyzed by all the choices. To keep my sanity, I often simply ordered a burger and fries.

But if you think three pages of menu choices can complicate life, consider that Jesus offers us only two choices -- follow Him or reject Him. You’d think it wouldn’t take long to decide.

And for some, it doesn’t.

But many men and women, even after years of staring at the menu, remain undecided. They're still studying the choices, front and back, looking for a better deal.

There isn’t any better deal. That’s why God repeatedly warns us to choose -- today -- whom we will serve. Choose -- today -- to follow Christ.

And Scripture makes it very clear, one day the restaurant will close its doors. When that happens, the chance to choose will disappear.

Forever.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Lesson 13 on YouTube Bible study in 1 Peter


My latest YouTube posting is now online.


When I turned my head and looked at Jesus, I said to Him, “Lord, why are you doing this?” Jesus looked into my eyes and said only, “Do you have to ask?”  I talk about this in my latest YouTube study through 1 Peter. Take a listen when you have time.
 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Not Just A Protestant Thing




Now [those in Berea] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. (Acts 17:11)


I first met Tania in 2011. Sixteen at the time, she and her family attended the same parish in Tacoma, Washington as my wife and I. Her mother and Tania also attended the Bible study I led at the church. But I became more closely acquainted with her after she asked me to be her confirmation sponsor. I agreed because I sensed she wanted to know God – not just know about God.

My wife and I met with Tania many times over the next several months to discuss the lessons the parochial vicar had assigned the confirmands from their textbook. I also assigned her additional readings and memorization work from the Scriptures to supplement what she was learning in the confirmation class.

After her confirmation, Tania asked if we could continue our Bible study lessons. For the next year and a half Tania, my wife, and I met about once a month. We studied Romans, Colossians, Galatians, and St. John’s gospel. She also memorized dozens of additional Scripture texts. I felt it a great privilege to watch her grow in her faith.

Tania is now a student at a Catholic college in the Midwest. In a recent email she told me she was attending a campus Bible study. Part of her letter read: “One of the girls teasingly called me a Protestant because I have various scripture passages memorized that I [brought] into the conversation.”

Though pleased to know Tania is still studying and memorizing Scripture, her classmate’s comment stirred a different emotion. In the ten years I’ve been in the Catholic Church I’ve often heard from young and old alike the same seriously flawed message: Catholics don’t need to read the Bible – and we certainly do not need to memorize it. That’s what Protestants do.

How tragic that such a dreadful delusion continues to circulate in the Church, a delusion that leads so many Catholics down the wrong path – especially since the Church teaches quite the opposite. For example, here are only a few statements in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that illustrate her judgment about this matter:  

. . . [T]he Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord's Body. She never ceases to present to the faithful the bread of life, taken from the one table of God's Word and Christ's Body. (paragraph 103)

In Sacred Scripture . . . the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them." (paragraph 104)

The Church "forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful. . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ. (paragraph 133) 

The Church often looks to the Blessed Mother as a model of holiness and humility. Equally important, we ought to emulate her devotion to Sacred Scripture, for we know the Mother of God was very familiar with God’s word. For example, her Magnificat is only ten verses (Luke 1:46-55), but in it the Virgin quotes or alludes to no less than thirteen Old Testament Scriptures: 

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid's lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him. He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.*

Regular reading and memorization of Scripture is unquestionably not just a “Protestant” thing. Rather, it is most certainly, a “Catholic” thing.

I hope Tania’s college classmate – and everyone reading this sentence – will take seriously the Church’s admonition about the surpassing value of regular study and memorization of God’s word. If we do – and only if we do – we will learn the Scriptures truly are a lamp to our feet and a light to our path in this darkened world. (Psalm 119:105)


* Here are the passages Mother Mary quotes or alludes to in her Magnificat:

Genesis 17:7
Genesis 17:19
1 Samuel 2:1-10
Job 5:11
Psalm 34:2
Psalm 35:9
Psalm 138:6
Psalm 103:17
Psalm 98:1
Psalm 118:15
Psalm 107:9
Psalm 132:11
Habakkuk 3:18