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)

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


Thursday, October 9, 2014

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


In 2007 I published a book of 40 meditations based on the Nicene Creed. I recently revised the book to reflect the changes in the English translation of the creed, promulgated in 2011 by the American Bishops. It is not a total revision. You can find the book either in print through Amazon (and other sellers), or Kindle. What follows below is the first meditation.

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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


[Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God” (Matthew 16:15-16).

For the seven years I recited the Nicene Creed as a Catholic (I came into the Catholic Church in 2005), I liked saying “We believe.” As a Jewish Christian, I understand the value of the communal proclamation of faith. For thousands of years my people have made similar proclamation each Sabbath when they recite the cornerstone text of their religion: Sh’ma Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai echod.  And for millennia, whether persecuted and ostracized to shtetls, or welcomed into towns or cities, Jews have anchored themselves to one another as much for protection as for self-identity.
Christianity, like its Jewish root, is a communal faith. The Lord Jesus said it first: “I will build my Church.” The Greek word used here – ekklessia – denotes those who are called out of the world and into God’s special community. Jesus did not establish a maverick faith wherein everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of Israel’s history during the period of the Judges understands how maverick faith leads to disastrous outcomes.
But long before the Church revised the Creed in 2011 to its original wording, “I believe,” I knew the communal ‘We’ in the Creed had potential to rob the community of the personal faith of ‘I’. Without individuals, there would be no community, and without individual faith, the community becomes little more than a religious shell.

The Lord Jesus went out of his way to teach the crowds about the one lost sheep, the one lost coin, the one lost son. He left the many to find the one demoniac, the one leper, the one lame. He singled out Zaccheus in the sycamore tree, the woman at the well, the tax collector at the table. “My sheep hear My voice”, Jesus said, “and I call them by name.”  Yumiko, Ethan, Dakshi, Oksana, Jose, Deloris, Michael . . . .  God calls each of us by name to become part of the community of “those who are called out.” As Pope Francis twittered in December 2013: “The love of God is not generic. God looks with love upon every man and woman, calling them by name.”
Perhaps one of the clearest examples of the importance of individual faith can be found in the sixth chapter of 2 Maccabees. By the time of its writing, the Jewish people had been living under Greek domination for more than three centuries. Many had already thrown away the ancient faith passed down from Moses for Greek philosophy, culture and lifestyle. Then, a little more than 160 years before Mary and Joseph laid their Baby in the manger, a Greek politician, Antiochus, determined to force the remaining Jews in his realm, under pain of death, to abandon their religion and practices. To expedite their apostasy, he profaned the Jewish Temple, “so that the altar was covered with abominable offerings prohibited by the laws” (2 Maccabees 6:5). He prohibited their celebrations of the Sabbath and their feasts. He made it a crime worthy of torture to even admit to being Jewish.

Enter Eleazar, the elderly Jewish scribe. When brought before the court and forced to open his mouth and eat unclean (i.e. non-kosher) meat, Eleazar made unambiguous his choice to serve God rather than man. He spit out the food in front of the men who could pass judgment on him, preferring death to defilement.

But that’s not the end of the story of his personal faith. You will find it in 2 Maccabees 6:1-31, and is well worth the read.
Those in charge of that unlawful sacrifice took the man aside, because of their long acquaintance with him, and privately urged him to bring his own provisions that he could legitimately eat, and only to pretend to eat the sacrificial meat prescribed by the king. Thus he would escape death, and be treated kindly because of his old friendship with them.

Eleazar, however, would have none of that charade. He answered, “At our age it would be unbecoming to make such a pretense; many of the young would think the ninety-year-old Eleazar had gone over to an alien religion. If I dissemble to gain a brief moment of life, they would be led astray by me, while I would bring defilement and dishonor on my old age.

He then added, “Even if, for the time being, I avoid human punishment, I shall never, whether alive or dead, escape the hand of the Almighty. Therefore, by bravely giving up life now, I will prove myself worthy of my old age, and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws.”

When we recite with those around us the words of the Nicene Creed, “I believe” we proclaim with Eleazar and with all the faithful martyrs who chose God over the culture: We will serve God and no one else. When we recite the creed together, we fearlessly answer the Lord’s question, “Who do you say that I am?”     We forever say: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Prayer (from Psalm 119:33-37): Lord, teach me the way of your statutes; I shall keep them with care. Give me understanding to keep your law, to observe it with all my heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for that is my delight. Direct my heart toward your testimonies and away from gain. Avert my eyes from what is worthless; by your way give me life.