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.

 

 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

I Believe: Forty Meditations on the Nicene Creed -- Introduction


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. Although I wrote several new meditations, many of the meditations from the original book remain the same. You can find the book either in print through Amazon (and other sellers), or Kindle. What follows below is the introduction to the 40 meditations


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    When my wife and I lived in Washington State, I drove twenty miles to work each morning. I did the same twenty back home in the evening. Two hundred miles a week. Eight hundred a month. When I first took the job, I put the Chevy on cruise control, but after two weeks turned it off. The drive was monotonous enough without removing the excitement of holding a steady foot on the accelerator. The commute was so mind numbing, I sometimes pulled into the parking lot not remembering the drive – and that concerned me. Monotony can lead to complacency, complacency to carelessness. For some activities, carelessness can be dangerous. Like driving.

            Or worship.
 
            Many years ago, my wife and I regularly attended a local synagogue for Sabbath services. Although we were Christians, I enjoyed the Jewish liturgy and rhythm of the rituals because they reminded me of my Jewish upbringing.
 
            During each Sabbath service, Jews sing the Sh’ma – an ancient declaration of Jewish faith taken directly from Deuteronomy chapter six: Sh’ma Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai echod – Hear, oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. The Sh’ma is so important in Jewish religious history that persecuted Jews have died with those words on their lips in a final testament to their faith.
 
            One Sabbath as we sang the text I noticed a middle-aged man a few pews to my left singing with the rest of us, but his attention was focused on his fingernails. I watched in dumbfounded disbelief as he cleaned his nails with a toothpick – yet all the while singing Israel’s most profound declaration of faith.
 
            Like the Sh’ma, the Nicene Creed is a profound statement of Christian faith, rich with history and application even for the 21st century Church. Those ancient words remain central to the mystical depth of Christianity. They capture the essence of our belief in the Holy Trinity, the incarnation of Christ, His atonement, and resurrection. It proclaims forgiveness of sins, the role of the Church in our salvation and the imminent return of our Savior. Without those essential tenets, the foundation of our faith rests on sand.
 
            The doctrine of the Trinity unfolds with the words, “I believe in one God.” Christians understand the nuance – one God, yet three Persons. The unveiling continues as we proclaim the Father Almighty. We move to the second Person of the Godhead, Jesus Christ, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.” We focus next on the third Person, the Holy Spirit who, “with the Father and the Son” is adored and glorified.

            The majestic truths continue; God from God became flesh and blood in the incarnation through the Virgin Mary. The atonement assures humanity that Christ’s blood can cleanse the deepest sin. The Resurrection, Christ’s ascension to the Father, and the creation of the Church, all demonstrate the depth and breadth of the ineffable grandeur of God’s love and purpose to reconcile humankind with Himself.
 
            But like some who sing the Sh’ma, it is possible for majestic truth to become rote, for us to mouth words while – figuratively, if not actually – cleaning our fingernails.
 
            When we gather and testify to our faith, we do so in union – and communion – with two thousand years of prophets and apostles, priests and laity, saints and sinners, all who proclaimed – as we proclaim – “I believe.”
 
            These forty meditations provide us opportunity to turn off our spiritual cruise control. The highway is rife with potholes. If we are not careful, we could find ourselves broken down on the side of the road. But if we pay attention to what we say during each Mass, we might be surprised by what we hear.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

40 Medittions on the Nicene Creed


My revised book of Forty Nicene Creed meditations is finally in print -- paperback and Kindle. You can find it on Amazon. Search I Believe, Richard Maffeo and it will pop up on your screen. I priced it to sell: $9.99 paperback, 0.99 cents Kindle.

 Here's the link to the paperback: click here

Friday, September 19, 2014

9-11 and God's Judgment - Revisited



I am having an interesting discussion on one of my FaceBook groups regarding the question of national sin and if God does judge nations for their collective sin. This post comes in the middle of my discussion with the other writer, so it might seem at first disjointed. I believe you will quickly be able to understand his point, and my point.
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First, let me clarify what I am about to post. I do not presume to know what God is doing at any given time, or in any given situation. However, we can know some things about God and how He responds to humanity based on the Biblical text. For as long as I have been a Christian I have followed this axiom: “When the plain sense of scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths indicate clearly otherwise.”

Perhaps the clearest examples in Scripture of God’s eventual response to national sin (or, in the case of Revelation, global sin), is found in the Passover account in Exodus. The ten plagues, culminating with the death of the first born in Egypt, fell upon all Egyptians, men, women, children, babies, we are told, because of Pharaoh’s arrogance, his sin and rebellion (e.g. his derisive comment, “Who is the Lord that I should let the people go?” (see Exodus 5:2). Certainly the entire nation was not 100% guilty and worthy of such devastation (likely there were many who did not want to lose their free labor), but the judgment of God fell upon the entire nation, and so all suffered as a result.

Then there are Israel’s two captivities: The northern kingdom in 722 BC to Assyria and the southern kingdom to Babylon in 605 BC, 597 BC, and 586 (my dates may be a little off here. I am typing from memory). The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Habakkuk, and Joel (to name only five of the nearly dozen others) warned the nation would happen because of their national sins (e.g. Isaiah 5:3-13ff; chapters 28-29; Jeremiah 7-8, 15-17 (actually, chapters 2-38 is one long mournful plea and warning from God about their impending judgment); Ezekiel chapters 4-24 . . . I could go on to cite chapters in Amos, etc, but I think you get the point. God has always meted out judgment on Nations for continual national sins.  (Psalm 106:6-43 is a pretty good synopsis of how the Biblical writer viewed God’s response to Israel’s sin)

And then there are those passages in the NT which also warn nations (and the globe) about God’s judgment of arrogant sin. For example, Luke 10:10-15, Romans 11:1-23, 2 Thessalonians 2:7-12, and Jude 5-15.  And then, of course, there is the entire book of Revelation. The Lord’s warning to the seven churches in chapters 2-3 speak specifically to Christian churches who lose their first love, or become lukewarm, or tolerate sin, and so on through the two chapters.  And then beginning with chapter 4 of Revelation until the 18th chapter, the seals, trumpets, and bowls unleash enormous disasters on the world and those who would not “repent of their murders, nor their sorceries, nor their thefts” (9:21).

I skipped over God’s judgment on personal sin, but I might as well mention only two examples here: Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 is one. The text says it was the Holy Spirit who took their lives. Herod (Agrippa I) in Acts 12:23 is another. Then there are the multiple warnings in the epistles such as 2 Thessalonians 1:5-9; Galatians 6:7-8; 1 Corinthians 11:27-32, Roman 3:23, and 6:23, and dozens of similar NT passages.

St. Paul, in referencing the Old Testament writings, said this in 1 Corinthians 10:11-12 - Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.

The evidence, to me at least, in the OT (as well as the NT) is overwhelming in its demonstration that God does judge personal and national sin.

Human nature being as it is, history has proven too many times that we typically refuse to do right unless there is fear of punishment. How many times have drivers on the highway slowed down when a patrol car was traveling in the next lane? That’s a simple example, but the principle is I think valid. Deuteronomy 28 is a good example of how God threatens judgment to ensure obedience. And then we read a few chapters later (chapter 30): This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

Would to God! that the Church would accept even the possibility that the massive destructions we are slowly witnessing across our land might be the hand of God sent to warn us in the Church, as well as those outside the Church, that we better mend our ways or worse will happen to us.  Would to God! that our leadership might be as Daniel and Nehemiah, who believed the earlier prophets (e.g. Daniel 9:23 with Jeremiah 25:11) and recognized God’s hand in Babylon’s invasion of Israel and subsequent pillaging of the land and the people. They then set about to pray, to confess their national sin to God, and seek His deliverance. You can read the prayers of both men in Daniel 9 and Nehemiah 9. The prayers would make a good template for America. I have to wonder what would happen to America if our Church and national leaders fell on their faces before God, as those two men did, and confessed likewise.

You will remember God’s promise to Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” But I am reminded of God’s comment to the prophet Hosea about the religious leadership of his day (4:6): My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.”

I know I have written a lot in response, but I did so because I wanted to provide you the Scriptural context of my question regarding 9-11. I am sure we are still in disagreement, but since our Catholic faith is rooted and grounded in Scripture and Sacred Tradition, I like to look at things in that context.