The Church of the Rolling Wheels

“How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, and how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

Yes, and how many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea?
Yes, and how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?” 

Bob Dylan

It’s Sunday morning.  I’m watching CBS’ Sunday morning and drinking my morning cup of Starbucks.

I asked Karen if she wanted to go to church.  “No” was her reply.  You could feel the fatigue in her voice.     Since her days in Canada, Karen’s idea of a good time was to sit in the front row at a Church service with notebook in hand.   As vacationing newlyweds’, we explored as many new churches we could fit into twenty-four hours.  We were in love with the Church.

Thirty years later, like 75% of Americans, we were members of the “unaffiliated none.” What happened?

Like the rest of the congregation of the unaffiliated, we have had some tough experiences.  A church, who hired us, fired us for doing the very things they asked us to do.    Our mission statement came directly from the president of our denomination who often said, “We want everything God wants for our church.”  People were healed and set free.   With the help of the District Superintendent, we were set free from the “Evangelical Free Church.” Pastors who have affairs had a better chance of regaining their standing.   We felt like the couple who invested all their savings in a ministry only to be hoodwinked, swindled.   We lost our home and our livelihood.

People have had worse experiences in church history.     Imagine you are the Anabaptist who opposed Martin Luther only to be thrown into the dungeon as you hear him sing a stanza from “A Mighty Fortress?”

Think of all the bad things that can happen on any given Sunday.  Your family pastor acts more like a Judas (cf. John 12:6) than St. Peter. Your youth pastor is not only a glutton but a womanizer (cf. I Sam. 2:34, Hophni and Phinehas).  The fellow sitting next to you is sleeping with his mother or the unthinkable, your child (cf. I Corinthians 5).  The rich matter more than the poor (cf. James 2).   Instead of reducing your burdens, the pastoral team adds a never ending to do list (cf. Matthew 23:1).

After a few decades of more negative than positive experiences, Karen and thousands like her say, “I don’t want to go this morning.  There are better sermons online.  I am around enough crazy people at work.  My supervisor has a to-do list that pays more.”

Growing weary of Church is a national pastime.  Ask my neighbors.  Who wants to attend a church that over promises and under delivers?  People are tired of being assaulted by spiritual used car salesmen.

My ideal Church has more pull than Israel had for the displaced Jew.  Can you imagine a place where the magic of water, fire and oxygen are restored?   How about going to a place where the new Israel receives manna from heaven every Sunday?  Or a place where your eyes are opened, and you discover you are not much different than Judas or any other hypocrite!  Most of all, my ideal Church offers faith, hope and love and forgiveness.

SILVER LINING

You have to do everything you can, you have to work your hardest, and if you do, if you stay positive, you have a shot at a silver lining.”  Matthew Quick

I am surprised anyone in my house is a Christian and not a part of the angry atheist’s club.

Growing up in my household wasn’t easy.   It was like a religious version of “Silver Linings Playbook.”  Depending upon what medication I was on, it could be either hell or heaven.

Tedral, a syrupy medicine banned decades ago, cleared out my bronchial tubes, but it also changed me from a Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde.  Unfortunately, Tedral unleashed every creepy demon hiding in my soul.   A Christian friend, who considered herself as a spiritual daughter of Pat Robertson, said I had a legion of demons.

Thanks, makers of Tedral.  Now I am keeping company with the worst man in the Bible.

Church and the religious study were my way of keeping the demons of depression and anxiety at bay.   I bought theology books as if they were painkillers.   In the space of one decade, I accumulated 2500 of them.  Heroin might have been cheaper.   I love the smell of books regardless of what time of the day.   To paraphrase Lloyd Bridges, it was always the wrong week to quit accumulating books.

On any given Sunday, my wife and kids climbed into the car; we’d circle the neighborhoods to find a fix.   The local pusher was the pastor, and the drug was religion.    Usually, we’d end back in our driveway.  I’d hear a collective sigh of relief as if to say, “God, thank you for saving u from visiting that awful church.”  My kids learned how to pray in the back seat as we canvassed the neighborhood.   Can you blame them?  Who wants to go to “Our Lady of Perpetual Visitors” church every week?    I was like a pilot trying to find the vector, clearance, and runway with zero visibility.

THE CHURCH OF THE ROLLING WHEELS

“In a few hundred years, science has taken us farther than religion has in 10,000 years.  That’s true.  Science can teach us about what is out there but not what is in here.”  Life of Pi (Santosh to Gita Patel)
Americans, we approach our faith something like shopping at a grocery store.  We take two items from aisle two, a few from aisle four and the rest from aisle twelve. The early Church, the guys whom the apostles’ discipled, referred to my approach as “heresy.”   Unfortunately, my idea of doing deep Bible study was to read the Scofield notes or read notes from a Ph.D., who agreed with those notes.

Why do we approach faith and belief in such a haphazard way?

The American pioneer spirit created the “born again” approach to all things religious.

The early days of my faith emphasized the word “alone.” Salvation comes from God alone.  I am saved by grace alone.    I believed in the Bible alone.  I believed in faith alone.  After I had walked the” alone” path for a few miles, I found there were thousands of paths to choose.

If faith was a multi-choice exam, I wavered between “none of the above” and “all of the above.”

I was thoroughly lost the in the woods of “evangelical” relativism.     Every denomination had its highly credentialed doctors of philosophy to support their spiritual niche.  I had no idea there was a spiritual version of “MapQuest.”

Imagine my surprise to discover Martin Luther added the phrase “faith alone” to his translation of Romans 3:28.   I searched in vain to find “faith alone” in any verse of Scripture.  Thanks to Martin Luther, there are millions of displaced believers.

READ YOUR BIBLE

We’re not big on research.”  Joel Coen (Hail Caesar)

Most parents tell their kids to read their Bible and pray every day. My children asked (often), “Why didn’t you tell us to read your Bible?”

The Old Testament parent taught their children the Torah.   According to tradition, the average boy memorized the Psalms.   King David, the closest thing the Old Testament had to a Messiah, viewed Scripture as better than dessert (“sweeter than honey”).  If I were Eugene Peterson, I’d translate Psalm 119, “Your word is better than mom’s sheet apple pie.”

The death and resurrection of Jesus changed all that.  Instead of only memorizing the Word, we practice the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

We recently visited my 92-year-old mother.  One evening she turned to me and said, “Can’t you hear the loud music?    It’s the hymn, ‘Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.’ Like the characters of the Bible I was immediately afraid. The only person in the room who heard music was mom.    Was God calling her home?  Or, was God saying, “Start adoring me.”

It’s a good thing to read the Bible from cover to cover every year.   An even better plan is to gaze upon the “face of the Logos.”

 

 

How do you gaze on the loveliness of the Lord?    Bonaventure tells us how: “Christ flees,” says Bonaventure, “When we try to embrace Him with our intellect.”  Howard Hendricks taught generations of students to study the Bible inductively.   We were to observe, interpret and apply.   Like the Apostle, the Eastern Church shows us a better way through meditating on Jesus the Pantocrator:  Jesus is holding the Bible in His left hand.   Jesus dwarfs the Bible.  Do I need to spend more time with Jesus and less time studying?    Also, Jesus isn’t at all like me.  He is dark and foreboding.  Almost scary.  Underneath his clothing, you can sense His power.  Is Your Jesus to Weak?

AN INSPIRED JOURNEY

I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.”  Woody Allen

My first experience with eternity was the death of my grandfather.

I was three, and he was 70.  We shared the same birthdate, August 14.    He died on April 25, 1959.   It was in the middle of the night sudden.  Seeing him dead on his bed, I sensed the spiritual world of something very evil.  Death was the most unnatural and wicked of all events.  It was enemy number one.  Death was unnatural.

Three-year-olds instinctively do theology better than most adults.

The adults in my life told me death was natural.  I knew better.   It was creepy and downright scary.

Even though I was a first rate theologian at three, I had no idea how to process the emotion of death.  Whenever I saw a fresh pile of dirt, I thought, “There is Grandpa.”   Since we shared the same birthday, we will share the same death day.  Every year when April 26 came around; I breathed a sigh of relief.  I thought, “I’m good for another year.”

Unfortunately, Mom and Dad unwittingly taught me how to bury my emotions.   Anger, joy, fear or love were six feet under.  I became a professional at hiding my feelings.  Years later, a church deacon referred to me as “Pastor Spock” because he couldn’t figure out what I was feeling.    I was like Charlie Brown, who said, “I know of no problem too big or too small that I cannot run from.”

Even though Mom and Dad attended Bible College, we all knew Mom was the spiritual leader of the family.   Since the day Eve convinced Adam to say yes, every mom innately desires to wear the spiritual pants.  Usually, they are pretty good at it.

Like many families, we lived by the golden rule of, “what if.”     “What if” you drink a sip of wine, and you loved it more than life itself?   “What if” you played cards and turned into a card shark?   “What if” you danced, well we were white, with Mennonite background and we would look stupid.

The world was evil, and we were the holy ones, the faithful remnant.  There was huge, “Do Not Enter” on all things worldly.  Because of our unique position as the holy remnant, no one was holy enough to be our friends.

Being set apart from the world placed a real hamper on our social skills.  We were in permanent panic mode.  The world, flesh, and devil were out to get us.  Neighbors, church members, and extended family were possible agents of the devil. My only friends were neighbor boys Robin and Tim.  I’m not sure how they slipped into the category of friends.  Robin’s dad was a dance band leader who was usually on a road trip in Mexico.    Both boys didn’t have an ounce of our family’s Christianity in their souls. When mom said, “Wouldn’t be great if they were Christians?” My first thought was no, no, no. I don’t want them ruined.”

 

God offers all of us freedom to leave and follow Him.

 

 

ROUTE 66

“The road must eventually Lead to the End of the World.”  Jack Kerouac

 

After Dad had died, Mom and I toured the country.  We never traveled when Dad was alive, but now we crisscrossed the country with no agenda except sight-seeing.   Thirty years later, in history’s rear view mirror, our trip highlighted the places I’d eventually live (e.g. Dallas, TX, Cottonwood, AZ, Louisville, KY, Jacksonville, FL, and Nashville, TN). God directed me to each of them so that I might meet Him in a new way.

I moved 600 miles South to Dallas not just to attend seminary, but it was there I’d work another four years in Christian radio and find God in Karen.    Years later, after the birth of our first child, God led us to Cottonwood, AZ not just to pastor a church but to experience God through the ministry of a Vineyard Pastor.  The Vineyard style of worship and its belief in the gifts of the spirit changed the way I read the Bible.     Instead of treating the Bible as a textbook, it became alive and powerful.  After the birth of our second child, we moved to Louisville, KY where God gave me the gift of tongues.  It was also the beginning of the end of vocational paid ministry.   During the next decades, I experienced God in what St John of the Cross described as “The Dark Night of the Soul” and eventually ended up in Nashville, TN.

HAL LINDSEY AND THE RIDER OF THE WHITE PORSCHE

“It’s a fool looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart.”
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Everett to Pete)

Even though attending church was about as interesting as studying advanced Euclidian geometry, I boarded the Bible bus every Sunday.   Unfortunately, my Church had no concept of time management.    In theory, the church service was one hour.   While it usually started on time, it never ended on time.  There were no IPOD’s or IPhone’s to pass the time.  All I had were ceiling tiles.  It was in church I discovered pastors lie.   Each Sunday they promised, “I’m almost done” only to continue for another hour.

That all changed the day my sister brought me a copy of Hal Lindsey’s “The Late Great Planet Earth.”    It was a national best seller.   In a stroke of genius, Lindsey turned Scofield’s notes into today’s headlines.    Russia was Gog and Magog. China sported a 200 million-man army.   I started leaving the bathroom light on at night.

Lindsey served as a campus minister at USC having graduated from Dallas Seminary (aka Scofield Bible Academy).   He taught the rapture preceded the tribulation which preceded the millennium which preceded the eternal kingdom.   It was a complicated system explained by numerous charts and graphs.  Even though his opinions were more like science fiction, condemned by all the Church Councils, countless churches followed his bizarre ideas.

I envisioned the rapture happening as if it were a nightmare.  My middle sister was the holy one. She’d be floating up in the sky while my older sister and myself tried to hold onto her legs.

THE BLASPHEMY EFFECT

 “Lo! those who malign Allah and His messenger, Allah has cursed them in this world and the Hereafter, and has prepared for them the doom of the disdained”   Quran 33:57

My biggest fear, the thing I dreaded most was the very real possibility I committed the “blasphemy of the Spirit.”   I had no idea what it was, but it was in the words of mom, “a terrible, horrible sin.” As far as I could tell blasphemy was the exact opposite of the sinner’s prayer.   If someone said the sinner’s prayer and did not mean it, he was doomed to hell.  There was nothing you could do to save your soul.

Blasphemy was an obsessive compulsive’s nightmare.   Have I done this?  Will I do this?  What about that time three years ago when I…?   Instead of washing my hands ten times an hour, I said the sinner’s prayer ten times and hour hoping that one of them might reach the 100% sincerity requirement.  None of them did.

I was doomed.   At least Charles Manson had a chance to say the sinner’s prayer.  Even though I was only 12 years old, my fears and worries increased.

The fact that every preacher had a different definition of blasphemy only made me more worried.  I must have had a bullseye on me. Preachers seem to target the anxiety and depressed section of the church.

I was like the wandering Jew, who taunted Jesus on the way to His crucifixion receiving a curse to wander the earth until the second coming.

Why did I identify with the bad guys in the Bible?   I felt sorry for Cain, who murdered Abel.  I could see myself as Lot, relocating for all the wrong reasons instead of faithful Abraham.    I was Judas instead of the faithful apostles.   I acted and sounded like a Pharisee.

The Church I attended was not intended for sinners.

The Eastern Church practiced “The Jesus Prayer.”  It’s even simpler than “Come Lord Jesus Be Our Guest.”  But its infinitely better.  Monks say the prayer under their breath 24×7.   It’s their way of fulfilling Paul’s command to “Pray without Ceasing.”  Come to think of it; it’s their way of identifying with the bad guys of the Bible.    Every time you feel like judging someone—say the prayer.

People who go to confession usually have less money tied up in therapy.   If you go to confession once a year, you have given yourself a great gift.  People who do one push up a year or take one vitamin a year won’t see any change.  However, a person who goes to confession once a year is infinitely stronger and more whole than those who do not.

PRIMARY MYSTERIES

“Well, ain’t it a small world, spiritually speaking. Pete and Delmar just been baptized and saved. I guess I’m the only one that remains unaffiliated.”  O Brother, Where Art Thou?  (Everett to Tommy Johnson)

 

I was a twelve-year-old bundle of nerves.  Today was my baptism.  Our church wore white choir robes and practiced full immersion.  It was during this ritual; I confessed my faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. My pastor, Charles Crabtree said these words, “Because of your profession of faith in Jesus and in obedience to His command I baptize you my brother,” BRADLEY GEORGE, “in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

I was not baptized in the name of Bradley George but in the name of the Trinity.  The Trinity is the primary mystery of the Church. Every other mystery flows from the Trinity.  We begin our journey toward God with the most sublime truth.   God chooses to reveal the Trinity not just in Scripture but through the Church.

Trusting the Church is the most difficult part of the journey.   When you ask Jesus to be your savior is the same grace of believing the Church is God’s agent of salvation.

God uses the Church to begin, continue and finish salvation.  All salvation comes from Christ, but it goes through the Church.   As a baby trusts in his mother, we must trust in the Church.     The Church through the ages has carefully crafted the precise wording which frames our understanding of the Trinity and yet this mystery remains largely hidden.    Augustine wrote, “He cannot have God as his Father, who does not have the Church for his Mother.”   God gives us the Church to protect and watch over us.

 

THE MOTHER OF US ALL

“Well, a boy’s best friend is his mother” from PSYCHO

My Mother and Father were raised Mennonites.   Dad chose to enlist in World War II, a bold move for someone who lived in a community where peace not war reigned supreme. Dad survived the war, achieved the rank of Master Sergeant, sang tenor in a quartet and returned to Henderson, Nebraska.

Mom left her South Dakota farm home and headed to St. Paul Bible college.   She ate, drank and slept the word of God as taught by C.M.A. founder Simpson and his right-hand man A.W. Tozer.

“Where are you from?” The number one search category is porn.  Chesterton believed those who searched that kind of connection were a search for God.  The number two search is genealogy.  It’s a billion-dollar business.

 

Pilate asked Jesus that question implying that Jesus was a king.  Jesus’ answer in instructive, “My kingdom was not of this world.”     Because we are related to the Son of God, people react the same way to us. With Jesus, we say, “Our kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).  Our 401K account is located in a different zip code. Like Jesus, we have an old soul. The prophet Micah agrees, He refers to Jesus whose origin is from old, from ancient times.   The question, “Is this not Jesus whose father and mother we know?” is asked of us because with our new birth, we have come down from heaven to do the Father’s will.  Our family is now God’s family.  Mary is our Mother, Jesus our brother and God is our Father. Jesus returned home but in a sense never returned home.  With Jesus, we experience the saying, “A prophet is not welcome in His hometown.”    It’s lonely at the bottom.

DEATH AND THE CMA

 “I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”  Woody Allen

The Simpson and Tozer duo were essentially Pentecostals without glossolalia.   Healing was located at the cross beams on Mount Gethsemane.  When Jesus died, he healed all the world of their diseases.   I’d rather be top heavy on mustard seed faith instead of a genius of doubt.  I love the CMA.

Mom worked at the Orphanage in Henderson and played the piano in Dad’s hometown Mennonite Church.  It was love at first note.  They were an amazing couple.

Twenty-nine years later, when Dad fell sick with heart disease, we prayed.  If it happened in Acts, it was still happening today.  We’d pray, “In the name of Jesus” and “Silver and gold have I none…”    You get the drift.    Unfortunately, Dad grew sicker.  Even though we claimed all the verses, we could think of about healing, Dad’s health failed.  On their twenty eighth anniversary, their shared a snickers in Dad’s hospital room.  Sadly, on one bitterly cold, snowy January evening, dad’s heart stopped.  Mom called me on the phone, “Cold Blue.”  I jumped into my orange Volkswagen and drove through eight inches of snow to the hospital.    Dad had died, and mom started screaming.

I said, “Don’t you believe God can raise even the dead.  Stop screaming and started believing.”

I didn’t know if I believed but I knew mom believed.  Believing was a whole lot easier than having to deal with the darkness of death.   Immediately, she calmed down.    When the doctor broke the news of Dad’s passing, I confessed, “We are Christians.  We believe Dad is in heaven.”

I’m sure the doctor had heard those bold words before.   He only shrugged his shoulders.   As we waited in the lobby for my older sister, we asked God to raise Dad from the grave.      Nothing happened.

THE FAITH OF A GRANDFATHER CLOCK

“Protestants believe that the sacraments are like ladders that God gave to us by which we can climb up to Him. Catholics believe that they are like ladders that God gave to Himself by which He climbs down to us.”   Peter Kreeft

In the months following Dad’s death, we assembled an Emperor Grandfather Clock.  There were 100’s of parts and hours of careful gluing.

Our faith is like a grandfather clock.   For 350 years, scientists have been scratching their heads why grandfather clocks sync within 30 minutes.   Christian Huygens, the inventor, referred this mysterious syncing as an odd kind of symphony.   Future scientists referred to it as “the spooky coordination to the tiny forces created by sound pulses.”

Our faith is the supernatural syncing of the work of the people and the work on behalf of the people.   The New Testament is God’s manual to ensure the balance of faith and works.   Just as importantly, the balance between the work of the people and the work of the clergy.

People bring their gifts to God and clergy bring God’s gifts to the people. Unless the two are in harmony, our faith stops.  When the two become we, we have the Church, the temple of God on earth.

The Christian faith is the ultimate balancing act between faith and works and between the laity and clergy.   The reason why churches fail is the same reason why marriages fail.   There is a lack of harmony between the partners.  Husbands, as the family priest, fail to bring the message and gifts of heaven to the family.  When wives bring the gifts of the home to her husband we have God’s temple on earth.

Churches do their good deeds for all to see.  They blow the trumpet in Zion.  They perform their good deeds for all to see.  The pastor of its church, like Solomon, leads the congregation for all to see.  The people of God do all their good works in private. We pray, fast and give alms throughout the week.  When it is time for Sunday morning worship, we bring our lives as an offering to God.  Together with the Church’s offering, the kingdom of God begins to appear.

AN ORDER FOR WIDOWS

“Widows are an image of Church seeking to stay faithful.”  Pope Francis

At 53, Mom was a widow.  For the next 40 years, she lived alone spending her days in prayer.  In the early Church, there were orders for virgins, widows and even an order for gravediggers.

Timothy described the beginnings of the widow order in I Timothy 5: 6: “No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband.”   Deacons looked after these women who were of good reputation and engaged in works of mercy.  They were a protected class of holy ones.

FOUR THINGS THE WIDOW TEACHES THE CHURCH

  1. Widows teach the Church how to cry. David famously said, “Thou tellest my wanderings; put Thou my tears into thy bottle; are they not in thy book?” Ps. 56:8.   When the Church forgets how to cry, it forgets its ministry of compassion.
  2. Widow are heaven’s powerbrokers. Why don’t we provide a place for them to be united in prayer? Can you image an order of widows where 5 million are connected by a common desire to serve their King and have the protection and support of the Church?
  3. Widows teach the Church how to be vulne In Hebrew the word widow (anawim) means the unprotected ones. Martha Chen writes: “We are considered bad omens. We are excluded from all “auspicious” events. We are expected to stay by ourselves. We are not treated as human beings with life, a body, and emotions. Widows are everywhere, but they are rarely seen. We are an invisible group.”    Being invisible sounds like one of the prerequisites of doing mighty works for God.  Who are the movers and shakers of the kingdom of God?  Donald Trump or Mark Cuban?  No.  People like John the Baptist who decrease and decrease until they are invisible to the world and only visible to God.
  4. Widows teach the Church how to be alone.   When you alone with God, you live out the biblical adage, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”   After 30 years of alone time with God, the bridegroom becomes your closest confidant and friend.  Why do you think Jesus referred to widows so much in his ministry? As the second member of the Trinity, Jesus witnessed their prayers.

JESUS’ WOLFMAN

“Made it, Ma! Top of the world!”  James Cagney in White Heat

A few years earlier, I found employment at a local Christian radio station.  My pastor happened to be the station’s assistant manager.   If you were to name one job in the entire Monster.com database, I was not qualified to do; it was public speaking.

I avoided anything that might involve talking in public.  If you were required to read in class, I dropped the class. I waited until my senior year in college to take public speaking.  I even changed churches to avoid speaking.

God had other plans.

During Sunday night church service, I’d time my evening bathroom break to avoid being called upon to read the Bible. However, one night, I forgot to leave and read scripture like Alexander Scorby or Efrem Zimbalist.

I was a radio D.J. but not a very good one.    During my first newscast, I called the Platte River the Plate River and by the time I finished, the phones were lit up with concerned listeners asking, “Why did you hire this guy?”    Our boast of 100,000 watts of power was a mixed blessing for someone like myself.

The radio station was owned and operated by Grace College of the Bible.   Scofield, the former drunken lawyer, turned dispensational Bible interpreter, would have given the College five stars.   Every member of the faculty signed a shortened version of the Scofield Bible.  Some of them were pretty darn good speakers.

Chuck Swindoll was one of Scofield’s surrogates. He possessed an uncanny talent to explain to us that miracles had ceased with the apostles.  Israel was one day going to be back on God’s radar as the book of Revelation predicted.   It was a strange blend of believing every word of the Bible and liberalism.   Practitioners, like Swindoll and Lindsey used all the higher critical studies as long as they supported the seven dispensations.

We were disappointed in Dad’s death.  Why didn’t God heal him?   Scofield had the answer. I listened to dispensational teaching as my full-time job.  It was like I had an IV hooked up to my soul.   The Church was a parenthesis in God’s wonderful plan for my life.   Like Thomas Jefferson, we crossed out huge chunks of Scripture.   The Gospels belonged to Israel, and we had Paul all to ourselves.

Even though I ate, slept and drank the Bible (I even memorized many of the shorter books by the apostle Paul), I wanted to know more.  I was on a journey.

 

 

GOD’S SEMINARY

“Elementary, my dear Watson.”  from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes  

It was easy.   Go where all the movers and shakers of the Scofield system attended.  Charles Ryrie, the editor of the Ryrie Study Bible, was its theology teacher.  John Walvoord, the Revelation guru, was its President.  Lawyer Scofield teamed up with Lewis Sperry Chafer to form the seminary in 1924.  Dallas Seminary emerged as the mother ship of all things dispensational.    Additionally, one of the fellows from Church was a student.   Being a linguist, he loved the place.

The original languages were the heartbeat the Seminary.  Hebrew, Greek and a smattering of Aramaic were supposed to offer proof of Scofield’s scheme.    It didn’t take me too long to figure out how impossible this theory was.

During my first summer of Greek, I bought my first Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich Lexicon.  I looked up the word and, (“KAI”) discovering pages of options for one little word.  How in the name of all that is holy in the Greek-speaking world could the Greek prove the seven dispensations?   Each student was given his or her crystal glasses, and it somehow made sense.  Like creative lawyers, the Greek department could prove just about anything.

Norman Geisler was one of DTS’s newer teachers who was also a self-proclaimed Evangelical Thomist. He was a round hole in a faculty containing square pegs. The teachings of Thomas made sense. Having less philosophical training than even languages, I assumed Geisler was laying all of his cards on the table.  Like the original language department, he was picking and choosing which beliefs he believed.

On the eve of my graduation, I chatted with the department head asking for a good book to read following graduation.  He handed a thick Catholic volume, (Schillebeeckx’s “Jesus”) saying, “I can’t find much wrong with it.”    It took me four years to figure it out; there was the public and private version of the Seminary.  The lights (finally) came on. The donor base required conservative dispensational teaching.  However, the disconnect between big name Ph.D.’s and the Scofield notes was always increasing.

While I was at Dallas Seminary, I worked full time as a “DJ” at Criswell Bible Institute of Dallas.   KCBI FM was a great place to work.  Compared to my first gig as a DJ, it was like working in the major leagues.    My boss was a 22-year-old prodigy who had a first-rate Baptist mind.  He gave me a chance and continued chances to finish seminary without any debt.      The president of the Criswell Bible Institute was involved in the Bible Inerrancy wars.  They were brutal.  The president even offered me a job at the school if I obtained my Ph.D.   The stars aligned and I was admitted partly on merit and partly because of some well-placed endorsements.

CHANGING TIMES

“Come gather ’round people Wherever you roam -And admit that the waters – For the times they are a-changing.”   Bob Dylan

 

Before leaving for Waco, I met my future wife on a blind date.  Karen came from an amazing family who happened to be more rigid than I was (e.g. if you didn’t read from the King James Bible, you were a part of an apostate group).

 

Everyone is a Heretic

 

My theological education might be summed up by these propositions:

 

  • John Piper thinks Catholics are heretics
  • Fundamentalists think John Piper preaches a false Gospel.
  • Charisma Magazine thinks Joel Osteen isn’t preaching all of the Gospel.
  • John MacArthur thinks Charismatics are guilty of strange fire.
  • Many Fundamentalists think Rick Warren is heretical.
  • Fundamentalist Catholics think Pope Francis is an imposter.

 

Instead of pursuing academia, we decided on the pastorate (Waco, TX wasn’t on God’s geography for my life).

 

 

We headed north with all of our belongings in cattle trucks and drove 750 miles to Kearney County in Nebraska. The Keene Church was a small, family church.  Small is a generous description.  Keene, a town of 8, swelled to 75 on Sunday Morning. The Church service consisted of music with the sermon as an afterthought.  Rod was the town’s pianist who led the cities’ annual Messiah production.  He also led the morning’s worship service from the Organ.  He was an amazing musician, and everyone knew it.  Our opening anthem said it all, “My Faith has found a resting place, not in device nor creed.”   Unlike the Lutheran Churches that dotted the counties landscape, it believed in a creedless faith.

 

Once a quarter we remembered Christ death and resurrection.  It was a sober service when every Evangelical pastor tried to say something new and creative to give the rite added meaning.

 

Our four years at this 100 year-old church were among the best of our lives.  It was if we were a part of a century-old family.   We sang their songs, ate their food and discovered the deepness of the family spirit.   It was tradition based on family.

While some of its traditions were laughable (e.g. don’t move the clock or the picture of Jesus and the pastor’s wife sits on the second role alone) Keene pointed to the living tradition of the two-thousand-year old Church.

 

I CAN ONLY IMAGINE…

God presides over the worship service.  The twelve apostles were all there along with a variety of different classes of angels. When Jesus and the twelve processed up the aisle, no one had any problem bowing.  Most fell prostrate.   When the pastor offered the grace of Jesus to the congregation, you could see it rest over the people.  Obviously, the Penitential Act was more than a ritual.  The author of our salvation brought wholeness. With the apostles listening, the deacon read the Gospel with a touch of fear and awe.  When it came time for the sermon, Isaiah’s words, “I will put my laws in their minds
And I will write them upon their hearts. I will be their God” came true in a most unusual way.  Words of knowledge and wisdom flowed from one person to another.  Until the entire congregation spontaneously prayed the Nicene Creed.
I sensed heaven coming down to earth as we prayed.   The prayers of the people were the prayers of all people in heaven and on earth.  As the service concluded, I thought to myself, ‘I wonder why we used a bulletin?”

 

NAMING OUR CITIES

“Houston, We Have a Problem” Apollo 13 (Jack Swigert)

Karen and I were married at Keene Evangelical Free Church.    The Minden EFC pastor officiated.   Pastors from the Funk, Wilcox, Holcomb, and Holdrege Evangelical Free Church witnessed our vows.

Churches in our denomination were named after their cities or after the cardinal virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love.  We’d never name churches after Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

Not too many towns in Nebraska were named Corpus Christi, Los Angeles or Sacramento.  It is like naming your child after Mary or Joseph.  Too Catholic.

Today we name our kids Ab · Ajax · Anibal · Apollo and our towns Funk, Spring Hill, and Cottonwood.

Can you imagine a town today named, “the most holy body and blood of Christ?”

Our faith is not some private faith you have to do by yourself; it’s a community thing.  The children of Israel walked the desert together.   Sure, they ate the manna as individuals but did so as a community.  The same is true today.  We worship God together and serve God together.  When we walk outside the walls of Church, we do it together.   We find our boldness in each other.

THE CORNER OF CORN AND CORN

“If You Build it, He will Come” Field of Dreams

 

When we lived at Keene, Karen referred to our parsonage as the corner of Corn and Corn.    Unfortunately, I am allergic to all things corn.  I’ve taken allergy medicine since I was one.  There’s nothing quite like having hay fever and asthma.  You feel like you are drowning as you simultaneously sneeze and gasp for air.

In the garden, God curses the serpent, the man, and the woman.   What’s missing is a curse on mother earth.

Throughout the Scriptures, the earth is looked up as a vehicle of God’s grace:

Hosea 4:3, “Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens, and even the fish of the sea are taken away.”

 

Joel 1, “The fields are destroyed, the ground mourns…How the beasts groan! The herds of cattle are perplexed.”

Paul, in Romans 8, refers to the creation as groaning.

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

Interestingly, Paul links our groaning with creation’s groaning for redemption.   The deepest, most profound of our prayers cannot be uttered.

In Joel (cf. 1:4), the prophet describes the earth as stripping itself of its fruit in a way similar to person stripping themselves of clothes in the act of mourning and prayer.

Psalm 19 links the canon of scripture with the canon of nature.   The Word is alive and powerful but so is creation.  

Jesus reminded His disciples that He was the bread of life.    In other words, God’s creation continues to create.  Joel looks forward to the day with the Word of God, and the Word of Nature are fully united:

“And in that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the streambeds of Judah shall flow with water;
and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord
and water the Valley of Shittim.


Sitting Bull walked barefoot on mother earth and sat on the dirt floor so that he could practice the presence God in nature. We have a lot to learn from the birds, trees and rocks.   When Paul talks about creation groaning or Jesus prophesying the rocks will cry out, we think it is more than a fancy metaphor or hyperbole.     I think Lewis and Tolkien captured the mystical communication of nature in some of their readings.

 

What happens to our attachment to things when we practice the presence of God in nature?    St. Francis understood what happens when we practice God’s presence in nature.   Two of Francis’ quotes are worth remembering:   “Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance” and “Keep a clear eye toward life’s end. Do not forget your purpose and destiny as God’s creature.  Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take nothing that you have received but only what you have given; a full heart enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice, and

courage.”

CREATION GROANS

There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.   Ben Williams

One of my coworkers had a mutt that needed a home. Now, twelve years later, Pepper is family. We have grown older together.  Our daily walks are more of a time to stop and leave mail than the chasing of rabbits.  I’ve also noticed that Pepper and I are groaning more than we used to.  “In Statu Viae,” describes the universe’s journey.  It is a journey of groans    Paul offers his explanation of why we groan: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”  (Rom. 8:22-24) I groan.  Pepper groans. The trees groan. God gives us the gift of groaning to remind us of the unseen hand of providence. If you have ever wondered what “providence” sounds like, listen to nature’s groaning.  The next time you hear someone or something groan, remember three things:

1) God does what he pleases. The next time I hear the wind groan, I hope to remember Psalm 115:3 Ps. 115:3, “Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases.”  The sound of groaning is God’s way of reminding us; I am in charge, and you are not.

2)  God gives man freedom.  Since the fall, mankind is destined to work by the sweat of our brow.  Our work is a sign of freedom and also our way of participating in the groaning of the universe.

3)  Try Not to Worry.   Jesus says, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?”… Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.”

 6,402

“…Greed, for lack of a better word, is good….”   Wall Street

My Old Testament instructor said, “I have as much or more training than a lawyer, I deserve to get a salary equal to my education.”

 

The Keene Church offered us a yearly salary of 6,402 dollars.  While it was a few dollars short of most pastor’s requirement, we lived in a 100-year-old parsonage, lived below poverty and loved it.   We probably had the smallest salary to go with the smallest church in the Midwest District.   But that didn’t matter.   We gave it our all.

The apostle Paul famously said, “I am crucified with Christnevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ lived in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith.”     John the Baptist’s life verse, “I must decrease so that He might increase.”

Unlike the Old Testament, which taught an upward mobility attached to the land of promise, the New Testament teaches “downward mobility.”   Jesus asks us to leave family and friends and cleave unto Him.  We suffer (God crucifies our ego) so that we might live. Lucifer’s fall from grace fills up only a few pages of Scripture.  Isaiah reports his fall from grace with a series of “I’s.”

  1. I will ascend into heaven,
  2. I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;
  3. I will also sit on the mount of the congregation…On the farthest sides of the north;
  4. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
  5. I will be like the’

 

 Isaiah was the first to say, “There is no “I” in teamwork.”

In contrast to Lucifer, the Son of God, in obedience to the Father’s will, left heaven’s court to become our Savior.   In Jesus’ high priestly prayer, John records Jesus’ conversation with the Father.   It contains at least 20 “I” statements:

 

THE 20 “I” STATEMENTS OF JESUS

 

1.I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you gave me is from you because the words you gave to me

2.I have given to them, and they accepted them and truly understood that

3.I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me.

4.I pray for them.

5.I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and

6.I have been glorified in them. And now

  1. I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while.
  2. I am coming to you. Holy Father,keep them in your name that you have given me so that they may be one just as we are. When
  3. I was with them
  4. I protected them in your namethat you gave me, and
  5. I guarded them,and none of them was lost except the son of destruction, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now
  6. I am coming to you.
  7. I speak this in the worldso that they may share my joy completely.
  8. I gave them your word,and the world hated them, because
  9. 15. they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.
  10. I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so
  11. I sent them into the world. And
  12. I consecrate myself for them so that they also may be consecrated in truth.
  13. I pray not only for them but also for those who will believe in me through their word so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.  And
  14. I have given them the gloryyou gave me so that they may be one as we are one,

 

My Four “I’s”

I noticed my soul was turning toward God when I begin to experience God’s greatness.  In the early days of my search, I was quite proud of my ability to see new truths. But lately, the closer I come to God, the smaller I see myself.  My soul is beginning to turn to God.

I’ve also detected a tendency toward thankfulness.  Previously, I had no peer in the arena of grumbling and complaining. I drove the bus of cynicism and skepticism.   Now, I love the Psalms, and I can honestly experience the will of God in thanksgiving (Ephesians 5)

I am beginning to see men and women as fellow members of the Master’s race (Mt. 5:29-30). Racism is the opposite of faith. Strangers might be angels.   Jesus keeps company with prisoners.  The lowest order in society is now the most prized.

I sense a connection between the creation and myself.    We are all creatures. Birds are my friends. Through the second Adam, I am becoming more and more like the original Adam and enjoy the kinship of creation.

PADDING OUR RESUMES

“Your best servant is the person who does not attend so much to hearing what he himself wants as to willing what he has heard from you.”   Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

Jesus promised us a return of 100 fold.  If we gave up everything like the apostles, expect the moon for your reward.   Jesus explains, “It not a matter of how long you were a Christian, it’s a matter of God’s generosity that anyone of us crosses over into heaven.”  Then Jesus adds, “The last shall be first and the first last.”    The MEANING behind this phrase is simple.      If I become a Christian at 45 and the next day neighbor turns me in, and the authorities chop my head off, my reward will be greater than a pastor who lived for himself and neglected his congregation.  Mother Teresa wrote:

“The more you have, the more you are occupied, the less you give. However, the less you have the freer you are. Poverty for us is freedom. It is not mortification, a penance. It is joyful freedom. There is no television here, no this, no that. However, we are perfectly happy.
Everybody today seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater developments and greater riches and so on, so that children have very little time for their parents. Parents have very little time for each other, and in the home begins the disruption of peace of the world.”  

The early Church referred to itself as “The Living.”   People viewed their life as a gift to be given back to God and offered to the world.   When someone asks you what you do for a living, your answer should be “Christ.”

Jesus, the Living One continues to speak to us saying, “Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of heaven.  Again I say to you; it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”

The lowest paying job in the Gospel was an apostle.  Why didn’t God make the apostles as rich as Abraham?  One reason might be that Pharisees loved money.  You can tell how much Pharisee is in your heart to the extent of your attraction of stuff.

 

Jesus’ does not want us weighed down by stuff.     Jesus’ command to take only the bare minimum reminds me of God telling Noah to build the ark.  I cannot imagine Noah was too concerned about remolding his condominium with the world about to implode.   Similarly, the apostles are building the ark of God’s new temple. Apostles are conquering heroes.  They deserve the biggest welcome mat you can afford.  Think of what they bring to your community?

Healing, forgiveness of sins and freedom…….

THE THREE BILL’S

“Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me, aren’t you?”  The Graduate

Bill was my mentor for Evangelism during seminary.  Before seminary, he was on staff for Campus Crusade for Christ.  He was also an exceptionally gifted exegete.   His master’s thesis became a published book on Divorce and Remarriage.   In one of our evangelism training sessions, he lamented the state of Evangelical publishing.  “Evangelicals are adopting the view held by Erasmus.  It gives Christians the right to divorce and remarry.”   Unknowingly, his book defended the basics of the traditional Catholic church.

Little did I know the pastor of the Keene EFC, Pastor Bill, was having a long time affair.  No one at the Church knew about it until he had resigned when he married the woman and asked to attend the Keene Church.   Having approximate one month of pastoral experience, I wasn’t exactly sure what to do.

Like most Evangelicals, I adjusted my opinion to fit the times. Bill and his new bride sang in the choir, and I was wondering “why me?”

I called my District Superintendent was also named Bill.  Superintendent Bill asked me to follow what I believed about divorce and remarriage.   What would theologian Bill say?  What about former Pastor Bill and his feelings?  The congregation adored former pastor Bill, so I told Superintendent Bill, in the words of Gandhi, “There go, my people, I must follow them.”

Most Evangelicals don’t adjust their theology as quickly as I did, but even if we adjust our viewpoints after a few generations, the practical effect is the same.

PRIME TIME DIVORCE

CBS’s the “Good Wife,” features the trials and tribulations of Alicia Florrick, played by Julianna Margulies.   Instead of being the “Good Wife,” Alicia devolves into a self-serving lawyer.  With her children grown, she is tired of giving and begins to live for herself.    She embodies pure evil.   Like the devil, her every action is calculated.    She neither forgives nor forgets.   Her Church attendance is purely political refusing to believe in God.

After serving time, Peter Florrick, becomes governor leaving behind his life with prostitutes and becomes a good and decent man. He knows finding God will help him politically and even though he shares his doubts about God, Peter is honestly searching for meaning.   Unlike Alicia, Peter becomes the “Good Husband.”

God seeks the Alicia’s of this world.  When Alicia Florrick ran for District Attorney, her opponent (David Hyde Pierce) lived the straight and narrow life never remarrying.  His reason?  He confessed he was a “Jesuit” (aka a practicing Catholic).  When Alicia’s daughter becomes a Christian, Alicia observes her faith in action and even sees prayers answered (cf. The recovery of fellow attorney Louis Canning (Michael J. Fox).    Even in her adulterous relationship with the firm’s investigator, she discovers he is Greek Orthodox.  As Alicia found out, God never stops finding us.

The most famous divorcee in the Bible is Hosea.

God calls Hosea live out “mercy, not sacrifice” and to ignore Deuteronomy 22:20 ( “But if this charge is true, that the girl was not a virgin, then they shall bring out the girl to the doorway of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death because she has committed an act of folly in Israel, by playing the harlot in her father’s house; thus you shall purge the evil from among you.”)

God asks Hosea to be the Good Husband.  Because of Hosea’s mercy, Gomer, the prodigal wife, returns to Hosea.

Hosea was the freest person in the Old Testament because he was not only merciful while never   surrendering the truth.

The Greek word ἔλεος (mercy) is translated “kindness or concern expressed for someone in need, mercy, compassion, pity, or clemency.”   Danker and Bauer, in their Greek Dictionary of the New Testament offer five reasons Mercy should is linked to Freedom:

  1. The freedom which stands in contrast to the constraint of the Mosaic law looked upon as slavery (Galatians 2:45:1).
  2. In contrast to legal serfdom (James 1:25refers to νόμος τ. ἐλευθερίας).
  3. The liberty of a Christian (1 Corinthians 10:292 Corinthians 3:17).
  4. This freedom must not degenerate into license (Iren. 4, 37, 4;1 Peter 2:16).
  5. In contrast to the slavery of corruption stands the glorious freedom of God’s children (Romans 8:21).

 

Francis, known as the merciful Pope wrote:

Jesus’ attitude is striking: we do not hear the words of scorn, we do not hear words of condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, which are an invitation to conversation. “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.” Ah! Brothers and Sisters, God’s face, is the face of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about God’s patience, the patience He has with each one of us? That is His mercy. He always has patience, patience with us, He understands us, He waits for us, He does not tire of forgiving us if we are able to return to Him with a contrite heart. “Great is God’s mercy,” says the Psalm.

THE GEOGRAPHY OF FAITH

“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” The Wizard of Oz

Karen taught school for about 12 years before we were `married.   After graduating from Tennessee Temple University, she taught school at Hamill Road Baptist Church.   The Church school demanded cult-like loyalty and obedience.   They used Abeka as their curriculum.   It was pretty good teaching English and Geography but some of it gave “provincial” a new meaning.  After Hamil Road Baptist Church, she left family and friends and chose a new path.   It was a bold move for a single woman.   It wasn’t the first time she struck out on her own.   Karen boarded a bus from Ontario, Ca and found a home in Knoxville, TN.    Karen, like her spiritual ancestor Sarah, was willing to go wherever God led us.

How does Church teach us about geography?      It begins in Matthew 28:18-20 where Jesus commands the Apostles to “Go into the entire world and preach the Gospel. ” At Pentecost, Luke is careful to record that “every nation under heaven” heard the Gospel in their language.  Egyptians, Cretans, Arabians, Judeans and the lists go on.   When Jesus prayed the high priestly prayer in John 17, “that they may be one,” He was obviously taking the long view.  All these nations take the Gospel to their geographical area.

Americans believe geography starts with us.    We give billions, protect most of the world and pioneer almost everything.    Our resume also includes killing millions unborn babies and sanctioning greed and violence.

All of heaven is praying for the unity of God’s family.   When Christopher Columbus came to America, it was an answer to prayer.  Columbus was not primarily an explorer but a missionary.     What do North and South America have in common?  God sees us as one family. Theologians have often said, the Church needs to breathe with both lungs (East and West).  The Americas need to breathe as one America as one family.

Someone (South America) needs to hand us some oxygen.

 ZERO SUM GAMES

“Winning isn’t Everything, it’s the only thing.”  Vince Lombardi

Zero-sum games are games where if I win you have to lose.   I have to take away something from you to “gain” or “in,” and you must do the same to me if you are to “win.”

In zero sum theology, Heaven’s checking account is limited.  If God heals, provides, rescues the Presbyterians than the local Baptists are out of luck.   The great cloud of witnesses knows this is not true.
I think the Pharisee in all of us objects when God provides for people we think our outside the camp due to our categories of ceremonial uncleanness.  I get all bent out of shape when someone who does not obey any of my rules receives God’s blessings.

“Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that through this belief you may have life in his name.”  (John 20)

God’s bank of mercy is big enough to write checks for anyone who seeks to be holy.   God writes checks for Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists and even atheists.    Pope Francis wrote:

“It is not easy to entrust oneself to God’s mercy because it is an abyss beyond our comprehension. But we must!  “Oh, I am a great sinner!” “All the better! Go to Jesus: He likes you to tell him these things!” He forgets, He has a very special capacity for forgetting. He forgets.  He kisses you. He embraces you, and He simply says to you: “Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more” (John 8:11).”

WHERE TWO OR THREE

“Tell ’em to go out there with all they got and win just one for the Gipper.”  Knute Rockne All American

I flunked Bible Instruction class. I thought the Evangelical Free Church referred to a church with no offerings.

 

The “Free Church” tradition is an umbrella term that focuses on freedom to worship, teach, and governed itself the way it chooses.   Independent Baptists, Evangelical Free, Quakers and Pentecostals all are Free Churches and find their meaning in the passage, “where two or three” go to Church.    The Jewish Encyclopedia informs us that “Binding and Loosing” was a
Rabbinical term for “forbidding and permitting.”

 

Even the Pharisees claimed the power of binding and loosing. Under Queen Alexandra, the Pharisees “became the administrators of all public affairs so as to be empowered to banish and readmit whom they pleased, as well as to loose and to bind.”  (Retrieved from http://www.ewtn.com/faith/lent/days/2ndThursday.html)
Ezekiel tells the story of seven guards (angels) and a man dressed like a priest who had the power to bind and loose.   God sent emissaries to Israel’s Washington DC to execute judgment.  Those who were saddened and resisted were “loosed” and given an X on their forehead.   Interestingly, Ezekiel is careful to point out that regardless of what age, sex or profession, you were in the crosshairs of God’s judgment.

Like Adam and Eve, the children of Israel sinned.    The law provided a built-in measure to find forgiveness (cf.  “When a man or woman shall have committed any of all the sins that men are wont to commit, and by negligence shall have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and offended, they shall confess their sin, and restore the principal itself, and the fifth part over and above, to him against whom they have sinned” Numbers 5).   When you add Leviticus’ prescription for sin offerings, there was more to it than, “God, I’m sorry for my sin.”

Scott Hahn says it well, “The Old Covenant did not die out, exhausted and spent, but rather came to new life with the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.”    Jesus gave His apostles the authority to judge and forgive.

 

Where “two or three are gathered” is New Testament shorthand for saying final authority is not found in the Bible but in the Church.

 

 

RECEIVING JESUS

“My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sister thanks you and I thank you.” Yankee Doodle Dandy

 

I look and act like my mother.  She has always had a deep love for the Bible.   Even at 92, she attempts to memorize Scripture.   I attribute any love for the Bible to her example.

Another life changing experience were the Navigators.  My experience with this college ministry was more like second-hand smoke; I never was a Navigator, but I witnessed the Navigator effect second hand.

 

Lynn and Doug, were seasoned Navigators.  They handed us scripture memory packets like lifesaving medicine.     In retrospect, those packets contained Scripture that supported the Navigator way of life.  I found out first hand that the Bible is alive.  It changes people who read and apply its message.     At Keene, one of the newly married couples were going through a rough patch.  I asked them to memorize Scripture.  The four of us memorized the New Testament version of Proverbs, James.

 

On a Sunday night, we blew the church away as we all recited its 2296 words.

 

According to the American Bible Society, Americans love the Bible but do not read it.  88% own a Bible, but only 35% read it at least once a week.  25% of Americans never read the Bible.  Even though the Bible is the Word of God in the words of men, it is no easy task to read the Bible.  King David had an interesting love affair with God’s Word.   In David’s world, the Scriptures were better than gold or food.

If David’s love of Scripture was a bit strange, Ezekiel’s was even stranger recounting, “He said to me: Son of man, eat what is before you; eat this scroll, then go, speak to the house of Israel. Therefore, I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. Son of man, he then said to me, feed your belly and fill your stomach with this scroll I am giving you.”

 

It’s good to love the Scripture, but in a way it is so Old Testament.  In the Old Covenant we read about the Logos, in the New Testament eat drink the Logos.

 

 When was the last time you received Jesus?

 

The disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?” He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.
Also, whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.

          We meet Jesus when we visit the poor, the imprisoned, the homeless.  We also receive Jesus when we receive a child in Jesus name.

 

ARE YOU SAVED?

 “Well that’s it, boys, I’ve been redeemed.   The preacher’s done washed away my sins and transmissions.  It’s straight and narrow from here on out, and heaven everlasting’s my reward.”   O Brother Where Art Thou

 

Michael G.  taught Sociology at Kearney State College. His classroom antics were the stuff of legend.  Before Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hutchins, there was Michael G. . Week after week he dismantled his version of Christianity.

 

In class, he was angry, vile and profane. I agreed with most of Michael G. ’s accusations as they were based on half-truths and misinformation.    After one colorful diatribe, he asked the class of 75 students, “Are there any Christians in this class?”  No one raised their hands.

 

Even though I had a public speaking phobia, I rose to my feet. Michael G.  gave me the floor and I shared my version of the faith.  After a few weeks of me impersonating the Apostle Paul, Michael G.  thanked me for my courage and we returned to the business of Sociology.

 

That same year I carpooled with another student. In the course of the semester, I asked the fellow if he was a Christian.   We talked all afternoon.  His dad was a professor so he had all kinds of questions.   Miraculously, he  repeated the sinner’s prayer.  I lost track of him after that afternoon.  But years later I saw him at a Christian concert saying, he was attending seminary. He’s was devoting his life to Christian ministry.   Even though my understanding of Christianity was incomplete, the Holy Spirit faithful translates our lives.

 

If you are asked, “Are you Saved?”, it’s better to view the answer to that question like you view the books of the Bible.   Instead of finding the answer in one confession, it’s the total of the books of your life.

Elijah (AKA
“my God is YAHWEH”) recently was saved from wicked Jezebel.   He faced 400 plus prophets and Baal.  God saved him, and he won.  His entire life and career focused on being God’s mouthpiece.  He was no stranger to the voice of the Lord.  The writer of Kings frequently uses “The word of the Lord comes to Elijah” (cf. I Kings 17:1-2; 18:1-6).  Interestingly, God offers Elijah refresher courses on how to hear God’s voice.   I Kings 19 v, “Then the LORD said to him, “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will be passing by.”

Remember the time the disciples were in a boat.  Fresh from feeding the five thousand, like Elijah, they experience nature at its fullest.  The winds howl, the thunder claps and as Matthew states, “the boat was being tossed about by the waves.”  Where was Jesus?  Mark tells us He was “About to Pass by.”   Instead, Jesus saves the apostles and the apostles confess:      “Lord you are the Son of God.”

Even when we fail to receive Jesus, He still saves us.  

 

 

MUSTERING MUSTARD SEEDS

“I’m the King of the World”  Titanic

 

If you have not noticed, God prefers the small and insignificant.    Instead of Rome, He chooses Bethlehem.  Instead of the learned Pharisees, He chooses a group of unschooled anglers.   The apostle Paul defines mustard seed Christianity this way: “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,”

Faith the size of a mustard seed refers to the smallness of the Christian.  After a lifetime “taking up your cross,” the Christian become the size of a mustard see.  After practicing, “I must decrease so that He might increase,” he/she consistently prays with no thought of him/herself only thinking of God’s will.  God is the God of the poor, the simple, and those whose hope is in God alone.

You do not “MUSTER” up this kind of faith.  You become this kind of faith. People find mustard seed faith when they submit to the sovereignty of God.  When Habakkuk witnessed Judah’s sin and future ruler, God is advised: “The just shall live by faith.”

Mustard Seed Faith is creative like Genesis.  You are moving in concert with God. The reason we fear is that we are out of sync with the plan of God.  Habakkuk refers to this as sin. Because of our crazy view of faith and forgiveness, we dismiss sin and mustard seed faith evaporates.  God hates greed even if it is a part of our capitalistic culture (Hab. 2:6-8). God is opposed to our ruthless/heartless abortions (vv. 9-11).  God is always opposed to being drunk or high (cf. 15-17).  When enough people in society begin to live like mustard seed Christians, then the Church will be big enough to support society.   That is what Jesus means by “birds perching on its branches.”

 

THE FORECAST IS CALLING FOR LIGHT

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”   Martin Luther King Jr.

When our son was only a few years old, we visited the Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.  Deep within the cave, the guide extinguished all artificial light.   Even though I was holding my son, I could not see him.   I thought, “Deep darkness is scary.  In a sense, this is what Matthew was writing about as he said, “This people living in darkness have seen a great light” (Matthew 4:16).

The last thing you want is for the devil to sneak up behind you and start using your vocal chords.  That’s what happened to Peter.          After Peter makes the greatest confession in the history of Israel, he yields the right of way to the devil and rebukes God.  Fortunately, Jesus the ultimate motivator leads Peter, James and John on their first pilgrimage.    Peter, singing the lead, offers his version of Jesus’ recent homily, “This Little Light of Mine.”  John joins in along with James.  By the time they get to the top of Tabor, Jesus turns to them and says, “Are you guys ready to see some real light?”

What happened next made the Gospel trio think of what happened to Moses when he received the law.  Unlike Moses, who experienced God as a thick darkness (Deuteronomy 4:11), Jesus gives off light.   In fact, “His face shown like the sun.”  John would later write, “He is the light which shines in the darkness and which the darkness cannot overcome (John 1:5).

Soon they would see similarities between Mount Golgotha and Mount Tabor.  Their crucified Lord hanging between two thieves preparing to offer Himself for the sins of the world.   Today, Jesus standing side by side with Elijah and Moses, like living icons, teaching the disciples about future glory. This day also would remind them of the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus’ glory flashed upon the Roman soldiers.   Like the disciples, they had no choice but to fall to the ground.

Peter mentioned the event in his epistle.  I’m sure Jesus clothing, sewn by His Mother was bright as snow and as Daniel saw in his vision, Jesus ‘ hair was white as wool.    Thinking about the transfiguration reminds me one day soon, I will experience my transfiguration at the Parousia.  Paul explores this topic and offers his commentary in I Corinthians 15:52 “in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”  The Bible refers to sin as darkness.  God allows us small epiphanies to shows our need and God’s perfect holiness.  Paul advises the Corinthians (cf 2 Corinthians 3:18:  “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit”). The prospect of our glory adds to our faith.  Thomas Aquinas wrote: “Above all is this necessary when hard and rough is the road, heavy the going, but delightful the end.” Acts 14:21: ‘Through many tribulations, we must enter into the kingdom of God.’

 

TAKE UP YOUR CROSS

       “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).

 

It is the only sermon I have memorized.   No, it’s not Jonathan Edward’s, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  It was Jonah 3:4 “Forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”    Jonah preaches and Nineveh repents.About hundred years later, God sends another prophet to Nineveh.  This time, it is Nahum. Instead of repenting, Nineveh gets an earful:

“Woe to the bloody city, all lies, full of plunder who’s looting never stops! The crack of the whip, the rumbling sounds of wheels;
horses a-gallop, chariots bounding, Cavalry charging, the flame of the sword, the flash of the spear, the many slain, the heaping corpses.”

What do you do if you live in the midst of corruption, violence and lies? It is easy to channel your favorite prophet and condemn the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.   But there is an ever better way.

Thomas a Kempis wrote, “Take up your cross, therefore, and follow Jesus, and you shall enter eternal life. He opened the way before you in carrying his Cross (John 19:17), and upon it,  he died for you, that you too, might take up your cross and long to die upon it. If you die with him, you shall also live with him, and if you share his suffering, you shall also share his glory.”  (Thomas A Kempis, Imitation of Cross, (Book 2, Chapter 12 Retrieved from http://stpaulcatholicchurchathens.org/20June19.pdf­).

        Regardless of what time in history you live, it is always today. 
Today, Jesus calls us to “Take up Your Cross.”

 

God uses the holy few to change, inspire, and change the many.

THE FORECAST CALLS FOR WIND

“Time rules over us without mercy. …we live or we die by the clock. We never turn our back on it and we never ever allow ourselves the sin of losing track of time.” Castaway (Chuck Noland to Russian Employees)

Dad was on a boat headed for Okinawa.   It was ship filled with GIs.    A typhoon almost ended Dad’s life.  As the ship was about to capsize, his mom and dad were awakened to pray.  As was their custom, they dropped to their knees and prayed for their son’s safety.  The storm subsided.

Scientists refer to the wind as the flow of gasses on a really big scale.  Meteorologists refer to it as air in motion relative to the surface of the earth.  Today, engineers tap into it to provide electricity and a host of other uses. Hindus worship it as Vayu.  For the Greeks it is Zephyrus, The Hebrews thought of it as basically spirit.  So did the Greeks.  The Hebrew word “spirit” (ruakh) means “wind or breath,” The NT word (pneuma) also can mean the wind.

As a red-blooded American, when the winds blow, I look to the weather channel and not to Vayu or Zephyrus or God.

DIVINE WIND
The Holy Spirit, God’s divine wind, allows the Church to change and grow so that we reflect His image.  As the Apostle Paul wrote (cf. Ephesians 4), Satan blows isms into the Church causing many disciples to fall out of the boat of faith.   Think of them:  Liberalism, Americanism, or Atheism.  The devil is not in the details but in the isms.  Peter Kreeft says it well, “If it is new it is probably not true.”  But then again, the Holy Spirit is always doing something new. The rushing winds of Pentecost continue to blow.    

CRUMB GIVERS

“Dog movies nowadays are not what dog movies were 50 or even ten years ago. For one thing, the dogs have become better actors.”  Benjamin Cheever

The Catechism states: “Creation holds a great secret—the presence of a passionate God, a God who is the hidden love poured forth into creaturely being and that, by means of creation, reaches out as it were to man who is both gifted to perceive this “presence” and beckoned to return this love to God.”   Pepper and the animal kingdom are in touch with God.  God’s creatures practice the presence of God by being creatures.

I read somewhere that the dog in Jesus day wasn’t a welcome family member like he/she is today but more like scavengers ready to devour anything.  Who are the dogs in our day?  People who we view as “vile and contemptible and exclude from our personal tables of communion?

I don’t think the list ever changes.  The dogs are the poor, the sick, people from different countries, and the imprisoned.  They are always the outsiders looking in.  I think the goal in life is to be like Jesus and continually move to the outside; Jesus leaves His home base so that someone from the outside could look in.

When you think of it, both the woman and Jesus were walking away from their home turf.  They both were taking a risk. The disciples serve as Jesus gatekeepers.  Yesterday, they rebuked families with children.  Today, keep the children away.  Now the Gentile, who keeps on pleading and crying out to Jesus.  John the Baptist and Jesus sing dance and preach to deaf ears.  However, this woman is already convinced of Jesus and leaves home to meet him.  Jesus honors this effort traveling about 40 miles to meet up with here.

In her way, this woman was an apostle of unity.  If Jesus was the Messiah, the war between Jews and Canaanites ends in Him.

“Observe what is right, do what is just;
for my salvation is about to come,
my justice, about to be revealed.

I imagine the Canaanite Woman was busy every day doing what was right and just.  Then, one day, a thought comes to her, and she thinks, “I need to make a trip to Israel.”   Family members say, “That’s crazy.”  For some reason, she thinks Jesus is coming.  Therefore, she set off to find peace for herself and healing for her daughter.    When Jesus said she had faith, He was not exaggerating.  Can you imagine traveling 50 miles by yourself on a hunch?   She joined the caravan of believers beginning with Abraham.    What caravan are you a part of?  Do you move out of your comfort zone and make the outsiders welcome?   It only takes a few crumbs when someone is ready to receive.

 

If you are like me, I am a “crumb giver” for Jesus

 

WE KILLED GOD, TODAY, WE ARE HIS FAMILY

“Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.”  Flight 93 passenger Todd Beamer

 

“On September 11, 2001, 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four airliners and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States.”

God asks us to do three impossible things, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”     Jesus expects us to forgive, bless and pray for them.   People forgive by nature.  Think of how the United States forgave Japan for its attack on Pearl Harbor.  Alternatively, the German people for following Hitler?

What is the secret?    Jesus advises us to “Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful.”   God is so merciful that even after killing Him, He makes us a part of His family.  Paul describes God’s heart for enemies, “For if, while we were God’s enemies, Christ died for us.”
Revenge is never in God’s heart, but it is deeply embedded in our heart.   Where do you start?

Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.

          Malcolm Muggeridge described the curse of the modern age as the tendency of putting everything in categories.   Fill in the blanks and find who you are cursing:

Muslims are all ___.
Christians are all____.
Baptists are ____.
Liberals are all ____.
Homosexuals are all ___.
You get the drift.   Christians can learn a lot from Islam.  When Mohammad Ali passed away, we learned what an amazing man he was.  Christian Apologist, Peter Kreeft wrote an excellent introduction, “Between God and Allah.”  If you do not have time to read it, a one-sentence summary might be:  Islam is a beautiful faith that needs Jesus.

Try this prayer:  “In the name of God, the infinitely Compassionate and Merciful. Praise be to God, Lord of all the worlds. The Compassionate, the Merciful. Ruler on the Day of Reckoning. You alone do we worship, and You alone do we ask for help. Guide us on the straight path, the path of those who have received your grace; not the path of those who have brought down wrath, nor of those who wander astray. Amen”

 

LET MY PEOPLE PROPHESY

“…But first, you must travel a long and difficult road – a road fraught with peril, uh-huh, and pregnant with adventure. You shall see things wonderful to tell. You shall see a cow on the roof of a cotton house, uh-huh, and oh, so man startlements…”  O Brother Where Art Thou?  (Blind Seer to Everett, Pete and Delmar)

 

When Karen I were learning to practice the gifts of the Spirit, it didn’t play very well in Western PA.   It was 1994, and the Toronto Blessing was making the headlines.     After a week’s visit to Toronto, we began to see small tokens of the Spirit.    The District Superintendent stopped what might have been a new work of God.    Even though we were asked to leave, God’s work was not finished.   Twenty years later, a medical doctor touched by Randy Clark attends his school of healing.   What visitation awaits Western Pennsylvania?

Prophecy is in our DNA.   Gene Getz launched the “Fellowship Bible Church” movement in the 1970’s (cf. “Sharpening the Focus of the Church”) found success excluding the gifts of the Spirit.  Just as Billy Graham became a world-phenomenon due to the sacrament of baptism, Gene Getz tapped into the universal gift prophecy.   We love the “one another” passages because they fuel our prophetic selves.  The opposite of the prophetic spirit is a judgmental spirit.  Pope Francis, the prophet of our day said,   “I believe that the church not only should apologize to the person who is gay whom it has offended,” the pope told reporters, “but has to apologize to the poor, to exploited women, to children exploited for labor; it has to ask forgiveness for having blessed many weapons.”
What Happened to Prophecy?  Tertullian believed it was the bishops who expelled prophesy.  While we did not have bishops in the EFCA, they did a good job of expelling the charisma from the Church.   Even though they were champions of Scripture, they reduced Paul’s command “Do not quench the Spirit, do hot despise prophesying” to a bygone era.   If you read the book of Acts, there were well-known prophets in Antioch and Jerusalem.   I cannot forget the four prophetesses in Caesarea.  We do not see much of a shift by the time the church manual, “The Didache” was formed (cir 90 AD). In fact, parishioners were instructed to give a share of their income to the prophets.  When you compare the Didache with that of the writings of Ignatius–there is no mention of the prophetic.

THE MAGIC OF WATER

If there is magic in this planet, it is in the water.” Loren Eiseley

The nation of Israel lived and died on their water supply.   Until I lived in a farming community, I didn’t realize how important water was for farmers.   Mark, a third generation farmer thanked God for the rain.  Tears formed in Mark’s eyes as he prayed and read Psalm 150.  Farmers believe in the power of water.

There is more to water than an odorless, tasteless, very slightly compressible liquid oxide of hydrogen H2O, which appears bluish in thick layers, freezes at 0° C and boils at 100° C” (Webster’s Online Dictionary).   Like most things, we have researched and studied water to the point of squeezing out every supernatural drop. Hindu’s believe water is sacred especially when two or three rivers converge.  Those who touch or drink from it receive spiritual strength.  The strong get stronger, and the pure become purer.The Hindu religion believes in water while much of Christianity forgot about the power of rivers, streams, and sacred pools.

Jews believe in the power of water.  Leviticus 11:49 (cf. 15:5, 17:15) describe how water removed defilement.   Jesus’ original audience believed Siloam’s waters were living. The feast of Tabernacles featured seven water ceremonies from the pool of Siloam.  Bruce Grisby writes:

“This “sign” (σημεΐον), according to the pseudepigraphical, “Lives of the Prophets”, unfolded when Isaiah prayed for water while hovering close to death. God answered his prayer and miraculously sent him water from the fountain of Siloam. Subsequent reflection on this miracle established the Jewish axiom that a free-flowing fountain of Siloam signifies God’s blessing—especially in the Messianic age—and a stagnant or dry fountain signifies God’s wrath.” (B. Grisby, La Mirada, CA   Novum Testamentum XXVII, 3 (1985)

Are there pools like Siloam today? Of course!!  God never changes.   There are plenty of places in the world where God’s presence and nature touch.  One example is Lourdes France.

         The Lord of Lourdes

200 million people have visited Lourdes with only 68 miracles (that’s a pretty low percentage (0.000000335)). But miracles are a more than a little difficult to quantify.  Lorraine Murray, the author of “The Abbess of Andalusia: Flannery O’Connor’s Spiritual Journey” writes about the impact of Lourdes on O’Connor:

“As for Lourdes itself, Flannery described it in her inimitable fashion as a commercial nightmare defaced by what she darkly called “religious junk shops” filled with tacky paraphernalia.

Still, she didn’t want to disappoint her cousin, so she put aside her qualms about commercialism and crowds, and bathed in the healing spring. But, as she divulged later, when she reluctantly took a step into the water, it was not her health she was praying about.

A few months after the pilgrimage, doctors reported that her hip bone was somewhat stronger, and she was able to walk – at least for a while – without crutches. This improvement, Flannery noted, might have been due to Lourdes, or to someone’s prayers, but in either case, she was grateful to God.

There was, however, another healing in her life, which meant more to her. It seems her attempts to write the second novel had been stalled for some time, and she had prayed about this at the shrine. And when, not long after, she finally completed the first draft of “The Violent Bear It Away,” she credited Lourdes.”

 

HSN-HEAVEN’S SHOPPING NETWORK


        “Online sales projected to be 370 billion dollars in 2017.”  Statista

I’ve worked for the Home Shopping Network for six years and have fielded over 100,000 calls.  We sell all kinds of things primarily to women.   Customers buy “evil eye pendants” designed to ward off the curse of the evil eye.  Jewish, Muslim and Christians believe some individuals have the power to look at people, animals or objects and cause them harm.

Because of their reality, Christians have devised prayers (Vaskania) that protect us from Satan’s schemes.

Some might say superstition replaces faith.  Good luck charms, horseshoes, four-leaf clovers, and bracelets can’t replace faith.  On the other hand, good luck charms like any good myth point out spiritual reality.       People place horseshoes over their doors to keep witches from flying over their houses.   American Indians and Buddhists also believe in horseshoes.   Stores sell evil eye bracelets whose history goes back go back thousands of years to ancient Egypt.

7 Reasons to Use the St. Benedict Medal

1.To destroy witchcraft and all other diabolical and haunting influences.

  1. To impart protection to persons tempted, deluded, or tormented by evil spirits;
  2. To obtain the conversion of sinners;
  3. Especially when they are in danger of death;
  4. To serve as an armor against temptation;
  5. To afford protection against storms and lightning;
  6. To serve as an efficacious remedy for bodily afflictions and a means of protection against contagious diseases.  (retrieved from https://www.stpeterslist.com/8560/8-things-you-must-know-about-st-benedicts-medal/)

WHERE DOES GOD LIVE?

“He adored New York City. He idolized it all out of proportion. Eh uh, no, make that he, he romanticized it all out of proportion. Better. To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a town that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin.”   Manhattan (Woody Allen)

In the Old Testament, you had a pretty good idea where God was.  He was in the Holy of Holies.   When David moved God’s residence to Jerusalem, it was for good.

Evangelicals don’t talk much about the New Jerusalem. We might be tired of all of the charts and diagrams.  St. John’s vision of the New Jerusalem is God’s way of saying, “Heaven is a real place.”

If you think New York City is inspired (cf. Thomas Howard’s “The Secret of New York City”), imagine the magic of the New Jerusalem?   The New Jerusalem, shaped like a cube (cf.  the Holy of Holies), will be the place where God lives.     If you thought Mayor Koch was great, imagine a city where God is in charge.

St. John the Revelator offers his take: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” It’s a heavenly version of imperial Rome’s choir governed by God.

 GEOGRAPHICAL APOLOGETICS  
        
“If Christianity is untrue, then no honest man will want to believe it, however helpful it might be; if it is true, every honest man will want to believe it, even if it gives him no help at all.”
C. S. Lewis

Thomas Aquinas made famous the “QUINQUE VIAE” (aka five proofs for God’s existence).

  1. The unmoved mover.
  2. The first cause.
  3. The argument from contingency.
  4. The argument from degree.
  5. The teleological argument (“argument from design”).

There are plenty of reasons to believe in God’s existence.  One reason is the very existence of Jerusalem

The existence of Jerusalem points to God.  What other city has been attacked (52 times), captured (44 times), and beaten (23 times)?

Jerusalem is mentioned ten times as much as the Church (800 occasions). Jewish mystics believe there are 70 names for Jerusalem and that each of us is born with a Jerusalem heart.   God made mankind with an innate love for both earthly Jerusalem and the Jerusalem from above.

Unknown to most spiritual treasure hunters is the gold mine of 4th Ezra.  This fictional book takes place a decade after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Ezra cannot understand why God allowed His city to fall.   In the midst of his despair, he encounters a woman also grieving over Jerusalem.  Ezra’s channels his inner rabbi and exhorts her saying:

“Shake off your great sadness then and put away the multitude of your sorrows so that the mighty one may show you favor and the Most High may give you peace and rest from your labors. While I was speaking to her, look! Suddenly her face shone brightly, and her countenance became a flashing splendor. I became afraid of her, and I wondered what was happening.  Without warning, she let out a noise, a great voice full of fear so that the earth itself shook with the sound.  I watched, and she no longer appeared to me as a woman, but there was a city built and a place with great foundations.

Ezra asks us to stop grieving over our earthly Jerusalem’s and start yearning for the New Jerusalem.  The New Jerusalem isn’t a top priority for this Christian. I don’t share that homesickness that our Jewish brothers when they pray, “Next year in Jerusalem.”

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem is our way of acknowledging the reality of the New Jerusalem.  Like John, when we experience the Holy City coming down from heaven into our hearts, it is God’s grace. The longing for Jerusalem is really about your love affair with Christ, her husband. “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither.”

POSERS

 “Not this knee. This knee will NOT be bowing at “the name of Jesus”. My knee will remain straight and unbent because I know and understand “the name of Jesus.” I know what this name means, and so I cannot in good conscience bow my knee to this name. Jesus is Jehovah to me, and Jehovah is as good and as morally upright as Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.”  Atheistic Blogger

The Greeks and Romans agree with Bowen.  Kneeling is uniquely Judeo-Christian.   The word for kneeling occurs more than 50 times in the New Testament.  When Joshua experiences the God of Moses, he kneels.

Christians believe in the power of posture.

We kneel.

Paul predicts every knee will bow at the name of Jesus.  So does Isaiah. The power of Jesus name changes everyone into a confessing servant. It’s time we learn the sacred art of kneeling.

When I go to Church, it’s like I am on equal terms with God. I stand around looking for someone to talk.  I sit down grab a program and listen to the band.   We stand and listen to some funky music, hear a motivational talk, give if we want and then walk out and leave.

When Muslims pray, they make sure their space is sacred clean, and they kneel on their prayer rug. When Catholics pray, they have to kneel. When they encounter the Sacred Host, they kneel.  They cross themselves repeatedly throughout the sacred space.

Three ways to get ready to kneel:

1) Practice Makes Perfect
When you pray in the evening, kneel.  When you go to Church and pray, kneel.  On Good Friday, we lay prostrate as if to say, “Only God can set things right.”

2) Imagine When Everyone Kneels
Can you imagine 100 billion people bending the knee and confessing the truth of Christ?

3) Pray for Boldness   Remember Tim Tebow?  Tebowing became a household word. (verb) to get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different.

THE ORDINATION KNEEL

God performed a miracle in 1994 in Jacksonville, Florida.   Three of us were receiving holy orders.  The bishop laid hands on us and we received the sacred power of the Church.   While the Church family prays, we lay prostrate as if to say, “God, I believe in the power of the Church.”    In my own power, I am completely inadequate.  Through the power ordination, I am given the right to “speak with the ‘I’ of the Church.

 

SUNDAY’S “TO DO LIST.”

“You don’t understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could’ve been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.” On the Waterfront (Terry Moloy, Edie Doyle and Father Barry)

 

Uncle Pete practiced the Sabbath.  He farmed hundreds of acres of prime real estate.   Even though he was a millionaire several times over, on Saturday evening at sundown, he turned the irrigation off and walked away not returning until Sunday night. The presence of Jesus in Pete’s life on Sunday was more important than his investment in the field.

 

 

The Sabbath rest is in Jesus.  He said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Jesus is the new Sabbath. 

 

 

 

 

HOW MUCH OF YOUR HEART DO YOU USE?

“Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”  Mahatma Gandhi

The day I found out I had an aortic aneurysm was more than a little scary.   I knew I had an irregular heartbeat but aortic regurgitation with a scary bulge on my aortic garden hose?  Instead of enlarging my spiritual faith, my faith shrunk.  I needed to be around people who had hearts of faith.

Even though scientists believe we use more of our brain that we think, let us assume we use only 10%.   Now, let’s apply this idea to faith.  Where does faith reside?  In our heart.  We believe, trust, obey and love with our heart.  How much of our heart to we use?

If our heart is similar to the spiritual country with territories yet to be conquered by Christ, the average Christian probably uses 10% of their heart when it comes to faith and works.

Can you increase the percentage you use?   There are some people (cf. Abraham, spirituality’s version of Einstein) who are born with a larger capacity for faith.   You train your heart (like your brain) so that it enlarges.

Israel conquered only a small part of the land of Canaan in the book of Judges.

Like Joshua and Caleb, we conquer the enemies of Christ in our heart by capturing territories (e.g. pride, greed, anger) for Christ.

Saints are both born and become saints.  God calls them (like Jeremiah) in their mothers’ womb to give us a picture of what means to have a “heart for God.”

We love to have friends who are geniuses.  How much more important to be around geniuses of faith.   

 

THE SECRET KINGDOM

 

President Obama called saying he needed some advice for his last year in office.    He said the only regret he has after eight years in office, is my lack of official recognition.   That’s pure fiction of course. If the President came to visit me tomorrow morning, his office would have contacted me about three weeks ahead a time.  I would see a motorcade of about 50 people.  Secret service, White House aides and of course the television crews.   Everyone would know that He came to town.

How does the Kingdom of God differ from earthly kingdoms?  Three important differences:

        When the kingdom of God comes, few notice.   Instead of seeing it on the evening news or social media, it comes secretly not by external influence but as John Henry Newman observed “it was that He came, not as the world cometh, not by an influence from without, but by an inward power; not subduing the outward man through the senses, but touching the secret heart.” 

        When the kingdom of God comes, few notice usWhy? It is not about you or me.  We are laborers, but it is not in a democracy where every vote counts.   When the final gun sounds, who cares how long you labored?   As Paul pondered martyrdom, was Caesar aware of the kingdom of Christ taking shape in Paul’s jail cell?

        When the kingdom of God comes, few believe.  If Jesus’ had a political platform, few would embrace it.  The kingdom of God is 99% invisible.   Angels, God’s invisible army, are fighting the Devil’s army, also invisible.    Fulton Sheen once said, “An atheist is someone with no invisible means of support.”

 

EARTH’S BODY FARM RESURRECTED

“I Believe in the Resurrection of the Dead” The Apostles Creed

If you are looking for somewhere to go during this Summer, check out Tennessee’s BODY FARM.   For over 30 years, Dr. Bass and his cohorts research how bodies decay in a variety of settings.

Think of the numbers of people who have died throughout human history.   Researchers place the number at 108 billion.  The Christian belief clearly states all 108 billion in universal body farm will be rising.   Unless you are a saint, your body will decay to the point that even the fictional TV Bones will not have a clue.

When we share the Gospel, we are testifying that the Almighty God will “in his almighty power, will definitively grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus’ Resurrection.”

Done well?  Get ready for the Resurrection of life.

Done evil?  Brace for the Resurrection of judgment.
Admittedly, this is probably one of the most difficult Christian doctrines to swallow.  It is 100% faith.  The starting point is Christ’s resurrection.  Jesus said, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I.”   All 108 billion of us will rise in our bodies because of Jesus’.

What kind of deeds are you sowing?    Jesus gave us the answers to the final exam.  Why not design our lives to match what He considers important?   The measure of your life will not be known until God publishes the sowing statistics.  That happens on the ‘last day’ or the end of the world.

 

HOW BIG IS YOUR BODY?

“The world’s largest man weighed 1235 pounds” Time Magazine

The American Association of Anatomists lists 7500 different body parts.  Thanks to my daily crossword puzzle, I probably know a few more the Apostle Paul.   When he compared the spiritual gift mix of God’s body to a human body, Paul only listed the eye, the head, hand and the foot.  Think of the number of moving parts if you take 7500 times 6 billion people?

If the human body is complex, how much more the body of Christ?  Even though the Bible only mentions a few gifts, I think the authors were showing us its diversity.  If our body has 7500 parts, the body of Christ probably has 75 million parts/gifts. When Jesus raised the widow’s son from the grave, He demonstrated one of the reasons God gave spiritual gifts.

 

Spiritual gifts breathe life into the Body of Christ.  They are God’s version of CPR. The next time you offer someone a cup of cold water, you just sent 3500 joules to a believer needing a jolt of God’s grace.

 THE LORD’S SUPPER: WAR IN REVERSE

“History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives.?  Abba Eden

The best pastry chef in town easily was Remontel.   Originally, from Paris, he opened up a small cafe in the heart of 19th century Mexico City.  It was a huge success.  Whether it was bridle, calisson, dariole or crepe suzette–it was the best food in town. Mexican officials ignored his complaints, so Remontel petitioned the French government for compensation.  The king was already furious that Mexico had failed to repay millions in loans, and now he demanded they pay 600,000 pesos to compensate the pastry chef for his losses. When the Mexicans balked at handing over such an astronomical sum, Louis-Philippe did the unexpected: He started a war known as the pastry war.

Pastry Wars probably do not qualify as a just war.

Surprisingly, the bloodiest conflicts have been over Communion.  Think of the 30 years’ war where 30% of the German population die.  In a sense, it was a war over the Lord’s Supper. The Corinthian believers were in the simmering stage of the conflict.   It was the “Haves vs. the Have Not’s”.

 

The setting? The world’s 1st Eucharist War. Humankind’s greatest sign of self-giving becomes a selfish event.  The skirmish was so serious that Paul instituted the death penalty for those eating and drinking without first examining themselves.  Unity is such a big deal that the early Church forbade anyone who had shed blood in his or her life to take communion.

 

 

 

 SHALOM TIMES INFINITY

Most of us do not think of Communion as SHALOM times infinity.  We also do not think of Jesus’ mom as an agent of peace. However, think of it. If I were Mary, I would have plenty of enemies.  I would hold the Roman army, Pilate, the Pharisees personally responsible. If it were me, I would start a letter campaign or at least simmer inside until my Son came back the second time.  Instead, she committed herself to the will of God.  She remembered Jesus’ words “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

THE CHURCH AS A KINGDOM

“I’d rather be a king in hell than a servant in Heaven” from Paradise Lost

 

“You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  (Luke 22:28-30)

“Do you not know that the holy ones will judge the world? If the world is to be judged by you, are you unqualified for the lowest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels?” (I Corinthians 6)

When Jesus came down from the mountain after an all-night prayer meeting, He chose 12 apostles, a.k.a. 12 kings.  Since Jesus’ kingdom is an already now and not yet, the apostles began sharing the rule the moment Jesus conferred to them the office of apostle.   As kings of the new kingdom, the apostles do not judge like their Gentile contemporaries.

It is an upside down kingdom.

The last shall be first.
Leaders are servants.
Kings like the Apostle Paul, suffer and endure all kinds of suffering.

Unfortunately, the Corinthians resembled the children of Israel in the wilderness.  When their Moses talked, they groaned, complained and acted like pagans.   Even though they had crossed the red sea and escaped the life of bondage, they were acting like the subjects of the prince of darkness.

Usually, we do not think of churches as outposts for the King.   But we are.  Because of that, we should not spend all of our time focusing on the here and now.

There is a lot of work to be done.

Since it was their first day on the job, Jesus showed the apostles how kings spend their time: “ALL who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and even those who were tormented by unclean spirits were cured.”

How do you treat the kings in your life?

 JUST JOSEPH

“Joseph is the best dad a guy could ask for.”  Jesus

I work on the phones all day.  You have no control over what the caller will say, do or request.  At least that’s what I used to believe.  In 2012, I began to ask St. Joseph for his help.   It’s an amazing resource for those who need help at work.  Instead of having crazy, unpredictable calls, I have calls ordained by God.

 

Who is this Joseph I am talking to every day?

 

In the Old Testament, you knew everything was cool between you and the Lord if God called you just.  A just man was a happy man studying God’s word day in day out.  Such was the testimony of the legal dad of Jesus, Joseph.   As one pastor put it, “Joseph lived the law as the Gospel.”

Someone who is deep in Scripture knows a thing or two about discernment.  Joseph knew the different between his spirit and His Spirit.  Joseph lived during the time when God had given up on the Jews.  As a man of Scripture, had Joseph ever thought about Isaiah 7:14 as relating to himself.  The original recipient of that prophecy, AHAZ, was the exact opposite of Joseph.  Instead of embracing Isaiah’s prophetic invitation, he brushed it off as a cold and calculating politician.  Even though Isaiah instructs AHAZ not to fear, his faith is in the here and now.  In contrast, Joseph awakens from his prophetic dream, fully armed with the awareness of a new day for the people of God.  The Immanuel of Isaiah’s prophecy will soon be with us.

As children of the new covenant, the followers of Immanuel are referred to as believers.  We believe in the impossible and yet the historical reality of Jesus’ virgin birth.   Like Joseph, we drink from the same river of life hearing God’s voice even though God may have given up on His people.  We seek to remain undefiled seeking to enter the story of salvation as we awake from our sleep.

 

 Ask God to show you how to be holy like Joseph.

 

IT’S SUPERNATURAL

“I See Dead People” Sixth Sense (Cole Sear)
While I am writing this morning, my dog Ozzie is sleeping, the birds are chirping and of course, my guardian angel stands by my side.   Someone gifted with second sight, thought mine had a purple hue to it.  One evening as I was struggling with sleep apnea, I heard my guardian angel say, “George, wake up.”

 

He’s the closest thing I have a to a brother.   He is as real as Ozzie or my wife, Karen.

 

Believing in angels is hard wired into our soul.  They are the superheroes who bridge heaven and earth.    Psalm 91 promises:

“No disaster can overtake you; no plague come near your tent; he has given his angels orders about you to guard you wherever you go. They will carry you in their arms in case you trip over a stone.”

He’s there to protect you.  He’s there also to feed you.

 

How did God feed the children of Israel for 40 years?   Angels. God, through the hands of angels, continues to give us food from heaven. Jewish priests lifted up the Bread of the Presence and said to the people, “Behold, God’s love for you.”  (Babylonian Talmud, Menahoth 29a).  Today, God’s ministers lift up the bread of the presence and say, “Behold, God’s love for us.”

God’s love for the 7 billion people is without partiality.  His desire?  To offer manna from heaven to the 4% that lives in the United States and the 35% that lives in China and India.   Did you know the Jewish Rabbis believed there was manna coming down from heaven before Adam and Eve sinned?  They also believed that in the future, God would rain manna from heaven from his heavenly temple.  Did you know when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily (epi-ousias) bread,” He was referring to the supernatural bread that comes down from heaven?

There is something supernatural going on at Church this week.  You cannot see it with your eyes, but you can experience it in your hearts.  It has called the Love of God.

 

 

THE IMMANUEL EXPERIENCE

“God with Us is an amazing thought” Karl Barth

 

Those who follow the Scofield way of life discount the prophetic but instead pay close attention to the demonic.   The reason, of course, was our understanding that God’s Word found its resting place in 66 books of the Bible.    When the final apostle died, revelation stopped.  So did the apostolic example.  Almost immediately, there was a serious departure from Jesus’ teaching.

 

In this view, Jesus’ impact on the twelve wasn’t even one generation.   God not speaking to His children is an impossible viewpoint.  Can you imagine a dad staying silent for 70 years?  One of the main reasons we believed such nonsense was our understanding of salvation.  It was pure legal fiction.  Salvation took place in heaven.  It was important what you did on earth but as my Sunday School teacher pontificated, “I can leave church this morning and kill ten people, and I’d still make it to heaven.”

 

The Trinity is no more and no less the eternal beings chatting with each other.  They have been talking for eternity.  How could the Trinity devise a plan where the Trinity stops talking to its creation?

 

           LIVING TRADITION

          “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.” Jaroslav Pelikan

 

Ornithologists believe there are 10 billion birds in the USA in the spring and 20 billion in the fall.    When God said “Let the birds fly,” He wasn’t fooling around.  Did you know there are 5000 different species of ocean fish with hundreds of thousands yet to be discovered? God’s creative grace, exists in superabundant amounts.

When I think of the Pharisees, I don’t think “GENEROUS.”  Pharisees don’t come up with 101 ways to thank mom and dad. In fact, they were the original Scrooges.    Pharisees obey each of the ten commandments but come with 101 ways to break the spirit of the Law. Instead of washing their heart with hyssop, they focus on their hands, feet, forks and knives.  Instead of dedicating their lives to God as a CORBAN (the Hebrew word for an offering (Leviticus 1:2; Numbers 7:13).  The Pharisees developed a narrow, provincial, and stingy tradition.

The tradition made in God’s image is teeming with good; its imagination is fertile, and it multiplies.   It turns the wild into the sacred, and it spreads like leaven consuming the entire earth.  A great example of a living tradition is Sunday worship.   The Sun-day becomes the Son-Day.   The Resurrections makes all of the traditions of the world holy.  Living Tradition takes the wild, raucous Saturnalia festival and creates the living tradition of Advent and Christmas.   It takes the Sumerian goddess myth of Inanna hanging on a cross rising from the dead creating into the truth of Easter.   The tradition begins in the heart.  Allow the living tradition to take root.

 

 

NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD

 

In Isaiah 7, Ahaz discounts the prophetic, displays contempt unwilling to believe God.    In Luke 1, Mary embraces the power of         God and believes God’s promises.  God chose a resident of His holy mountain to be the new Eve.  As His devoted follower, Mary experienced God on repeated occasions.   The Savior’s name, “Immanuel” is not only the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy but the experience of the devoted Old Testament saint, Mary experienced the “Immanuel” God throughout her young life.

Some people think Mary sinned after nine months of carrying Immanuel and 30 years of living with Him.  How could anyone transgress after those experiences?  Joseph and Mary modeled their marriage after Jesus family in heaven.  Do you think Mary and Joseph had other children after the Son of God was born?  The apostles were changed men after spending three years with Jesus.  Can you imagine living 30 years with Immanuel?  For Mary and Joseph, “WWJD” was more than a saying.  Nothing is impossible with God.  Think of that statement for a moment.  If you lived with Jesus for 30 years (like Joseph and Mary) can you imagine your prayer life?

 

SPEAKING TO CREATION

“Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”  St Francis

 

Being an adult is overrated.    In the kingdom of God, childlike faith counts for a lot more than a high IQ.  The only attitude that counts is humility.  Job’s advice to kingdom seekers?   “Ask the beasts and the birds of the air and they shall tell thee.”  We tell our dog what to do all the time.  Maybe we should ask him a few things.   Perhaps we should start groaning like the creation and making unintelligible sounds like babies.

The animal kingdom is in touch with God. Ask my dog Ozzie.  God’s creatures practice the presence of God by being creatures.  God’s kingdom also includes children.  Isaiah states, “A little child will lead them” and “the baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.”   We are not talking about some distant kingdom but the here and now.  Babies and little children are innocent and fearless.  Like our dog Ozzie, only God knows their speech.

What is the best way for modern day man to practice God’s presence?    A recent biographer of Francis of Assisi describes his uncanny relationship with the animal kingdom.  His personal physician treats his diseased eyes with a red-hot brand. Francis made the sign of the Cross over the iron and said: “My Brother Fire, noble and useful among all the creatures the Highest created, be courtly to me in this hour. For a long time, I have loved you, and I still love you for the love of that Lord who created you. I pray our Creator, who made you, to temper your heat now, so that I may bear it.”

 

WE WATCH BUT DON’T WAIT

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.”  Mother Teresa

In the Old Testament, we waited for the coming of the Messiah.  In the New Testament, we watch for the return landing of our Lord. The Psalms and the prophets urge us to wait while the Gospel commands us to watch.  Biblical watching is a learned activity filled with grace that is about as rare as white peacocks or bismuth crystals.

Isaiah writes, “no one watches (calls upon God’s name)” because sin has dulled our spiritual senses.    Theologians call this numbness, sloth.   Aquinas wrote of it: “Sadness in the face of spiritual good.  Man is made for joy in the love of God, a love which he expresses in service. If he deliberately turns away from that joy, he denies the purpose of his existence.”   A hectic, overbooked schedule is the chief symptom of sloth.    Another symptom of sloth is the absence of play.   The best way to enter His rest (cf. Hebrews 2-4) is to do things that are not productive.    We begin to watch for the Lord when in the words of Isaiah, “The Lord our Father returns and visits us.”

The job of the Holy Spirit is to wake us up, every day.  Jesus told His twelve, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak'” (Matthew 26:41).     Watching equals vigilance.      While sleep is a gift, it’s better to go without sleep. The parable of the virgins speaks to the sleeping habits of the spiritual. The goal of the Christian is to learn how to “watch and pray” and sleep less.

Isaiah prayed,” Lord, make us turn to you and learn how to watch.”  (My paraphrase)

 

 

BAPTISM SAVES

“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  I Peter 3:20

As an Evangelical, I was encouraged to share my faith.  I took this seriously.  I participated in a city-wide telephone calling asking people if they were saved?

I was brash enough to call the Roman Catholic Bishop of Grand Island.   I asked, “Are you saved.”   Lord have mercy upon my arrogance.  He was kind enough to talk to me saying.  “I don’t think you know who you are talking to, but I am the Bishop of Grand Island.  I know Bill Bright and even visited his campus.  I have been there and have returned to my faith.”

If there is, a doctrine hammered into the hearts of fundamentalists.  It’s how we divorce baptism from the new birth.   Instead of seeing the Christian faith as the completion of the faith of Israel, we saw it as a decisive break.  We focused on the New Testament passages that emphasized talking.  “If you confess with your mouth” (Romans 10:13) or belief (cf. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, Acts” (Acts 16:9).   Jesus, the apostles and 2000 years of Church didn’t agree with our practices.

BAPTISM SAVES

 

John 3:5 (RSV): “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’”

Acts 2:38: “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”

Acts 22:16: “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.”

1 Corinthians 6:11: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

Titus 3:5: “he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit,”
The Reader’s Digest version of our Faith?  We believe in our hearts, we confess with our lips, and we are baptized.  Like the Philippian jailer, Christianity joins confession with baptism (cf. Acts 16:31).

Ezekiel predicts the saving power of baptism:
“I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes careful to observe my decrees.”

THE SPIRITUALITY OF DEPRESSION

 “Darkness is such that I really do not see—neither with my mind nor with my reason—the place of God in my soul is blank—There is no God in me—when the pain of longing is so great—I just long & long for God. … The torture and pain I can’t explain.  If I ever become a Saint—I will surely be one of ‘darkness,'” she wrote. “I will continually be absent from Heaven—to (light) the light of those in darkness on earth.””  Mother Teresa
I used to spend two or three hour a day in my prayer closet.  I wasn’t praying.  I was thinking about ending it all.  I was told Christians don’t get depressed.  I wasn’t supposed to feel this way since with Jesus there is joy, peace and love.  I memorized the mental health chapter of the Bible (cf. Philippians).

Instead of the noon day light, I experienced the Noon Day Demon.  The National Institute of Mental Health’s Web site (www.nimh.nih.gov) estimates about a quarter of American adults (58 million) suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder.

Day after day.
Month after month.
Year after year.

In Psalms 118:13, David says, “I was hard-pressed and was falling.”

 

 

The Dark Night of the Soul (St John of the Cross)

 

  1. One dark night, fired with love’s urgent longings — ah, the sheer grace! -I went out unseen, my house being now all stilled.

 

  1. In darkness, and secure, by the secret ladder, disguised, — ah, the sheer grace! — in darkness and concealment, house being now all stilled.

 

  1. On that glad night, in secret, for no one saw me, nor did I look at anything, with no other light or guide

 

  1. This guided me more surely than the light of noon to where he was awaiting me — him I knew so well — there in a place where no one appeared.

 

  1. O guiding night! O night more lovely than the dawn! O night that has united the Lover with his beloved, transforming the beloved in her Lover.

 

          IT’S A GOOD THING I’M NOT THE POPE

“Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.” John Milton

A magisterium is an authoritative guide to understanding Scripture.    The Bible alone was never my “Paper Pope.”   I needed a personal magisterium.  My magisterium included:

  1. A study Bible with great notes.
    2.    Your pastor or if you don’t have a smart pastor, a radio preacher.
    3.    A group of Christians who share my presuppositions.Some of us are not content to have any authority over us saying, “I have the anointing and do not need any man to teach me.”

I don’t think we understand God’s user manual unless with admit three things:

1) Scripture contains everything I need to know about Salvation (but not everything).  I have been married for over 30 years.  But where in the Bible does it talk about how to get married?  Can I perform the marriage ceremony myself?  And yet Paul tells me marriage is one of the most important ways God teaches me about himself.  Tradition, not the Bible, teaches me the most about marriage.
2) He who hears you hears me.  If we are the body of Christ, there must be some organic link between myself, the original twelve and all of the believers before and after me.  There is a body of faithful believers throughout the ages that links us to the words and deeds of Jesus.  Tradition is the living link guides us unto all truth.  The body of Christ lives.  We have the complete revelation of Christ.  Throughout the centuries, the body of Christ is witness to its growth and development. Truth never changes, but it is always growing and maturing.

3) Not all Truth is Created Equal.  Traditionally, the Church teaches there should be four of them:

a.    The Trinity
b.    The Virgin Birth
c.    The Mystery of the Holy Spirit
d.    The Mystery of the Church

Bishop Marcion

Second-century shipbuilder turned Bishop; Marcion suggested the Church drop the Old Testament.  He believed the Old Testament God to be inferior to the God of the New Testament.”  Marcion not only removed the Old Testament but denied the resurrection of the body and the Second Coming.  He promised his fellow Bishops that he “will divide your Church and cause within her a division, which will last forever.”   Unfortunately, he was partially correct.  His aberrant beliefs spread throughout the Church and lasted for centuries.

  TOUCHING EVERYTHING

   “Christianity redeems everything it touches.”   Pope Francis

The solar festival Natalis Invicti was celebrated on 25 December.  The Church redeemed the date as its own to celebrate Christ’s first coming.  Cyprian saw the connection.  The rest is history.
According to Bede, Easter originally celebrated the Teutonic goddess Este of the rising light of day and spring, not too many of us remember the Este roots, but the world celebrates Easter.

Christianity also changes the meaning of words.   We developed a new word for love (agape).  The same might be said of the vocabulary of the Trinity.  In the world of Aristotle, substance means “being as existing in and by itself.”  Christianity redeemed the word and today it means “divine being in its unity.” In Greek philosophy, hypostasis referred to “reality as distinguished from appearances.” Today it refers to the unique relationship with the Trinity.  Matthew 28 records Jesus’ marching orders:“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

As members of the Church, we are called to redeem everything we touch.   The Didache (2nd century) offers us this prayer for unity:

“We give you thanks, O Father, for the life and knowledge which you have made known to us through your Son Jesus; yours is the glory for ever and ever. As the grain once scattered in the fields and the grapes once dispersed on the hillside are now united on this table in bread and wine, so, Lord, may your whole church soon be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom; for yours is the glory and power, through Jesus Christ,”
 

THE LAST DAY of GOOD WORKS

“I don’t know about you, but I’m working my way to heaven.”  Anonymous

 

About thirty years ago, we started on a pastoral journey.
Philippians 1:6, “He that beginning a good work will complete it on the day of Christ.” At the time, I focused on the first part of the verse.  Today, the last part stood out.  “God will finish what He started.”

The work Paul was, “God’s work.”  It’s the same word used in Genesis 2 to describe God’s work in creation.  Paul’s ministry, which was the creative work of God, will be completed on the final day.

If pastoral work was a jigsaw puzzle, we only have half of the pieces.  When God heals the soul of a person, it is not a widget completed by five o’clock.

Philippians 1:6 teaches that at the day of Christ, all of the loose ends and all of the pieces will fall together.   The verse also suggests Paul’s work continues even to this day.

 

When God starts something, God has the end also in mind.

 

MARY POWER

“Who is afraid of Virginia Wolf”  Edward Albee

 

Why is the modern Evangelical so afraid of the Virgin Mary?

 

For some, allowing Mary access to your prayer list is tantamount to saying no to all that Jesus accomplished on the cross.   If you ask, “What is the worst case scenario if you ask Mary for some help?”  Their answer?  “Behind the Mary door are all the demons of hell.”

 

The demon card makes cowards of us all. A few years ago, Karen and I visited EWTN (The Eternal Word Television Network).  The bookstore was an extended tribute to Mary and the Saints.  The verse, “You shall know them by their fruits” changed the way I believed about Mary and the Saints.   These men and women were holy; making the ultimate sacrifice, martyrdom.

 

 

Four Things to Remember about Mary        

 

  1. Mary shows us how to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The angel informed Mary of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, but it was Mary who felt led to share the good news.  It is almost as though Mother and Son are already united in the work of redemption.   When any believer “believes” the word of God, like Mary they respond.

 

  1. Mary’s visit brings a blessing to the household of Zechariah.Elizabeth represents the Old Covenant and Mary the New.  Later, Jesus told his disciples “If it turns out to be a worthy home, let your blessing stand; if it is not, take back the blessing” (cf. Matthew 10:13).   Like Peter, we do not have silver and gold, but we do bring the name of Jesus (cf. Acts 3).

 

  1. Mary demonstrated raw courage and absolute dependence upon God.  When you think of the Angel’s greeting and merge that with the prophecy of Simon, she had a clearer understanding of Jesus future mission than even the 12.I picture Mary traveling through the hills of Judah singing the Psalms similar to today’s Psalm: “God indeed is my savior; I am confident and unafraid. My strength and my courage is the LORD, and he has been my savior. With joy, you will draw water at the fountain of salvation.”

 

  1. Mary is Full of Grace. When God commissions someone for ministry, he gives them a new name.   Abram becomes Abraham.  Jacob becomes Israel.  Simon becomes Peter.  Saul becomes Paul.  Mary becomes “Full of Grace.”  We SEE HOW full of grace she is when she steps inside Elizabeth’s door. Mary with the Son of God in her womb blesses the entire home.  Elizabeth releases a miraculous prophecy and John the Baptist salutes them both.

 

 

CALL ME FATHER BRADLEY

I became a Father, a priest on October 24, 1994, along with two other men.   About ten years earlier, I was ordained a pastor.  What was the difference?   When you become a priest, you receive an indelible mark in your soul.  You receive holy orders conferred by a Bishop.   I was not only connected to Peter and the 12 but also to Aaron and his priesthood.   My job was to rule God’s people in the same way God ruled Israel through the 70 wise men shared in the spirit of Moses.   The morning after my ordination, I wore the clothes of a priest.  Instead of greeting me “Bradley” they added “Father Bradley.”  Now, it was impossible to do theology alone.   I was a part of a vast order of priests.

 

If I take Jesus literally, we can no longer call our dad, “Father.”   The new name for Father’s Day is Dad’s day or “Pop’s Day.”   We also must rewrite the scripture, “When a man leaves his “Dad” and Mother and is united with his wife.  Even the genealogy needs to be rewritten to say, Joseph, the “dad of… ”  Paul’s quote of the Old Testament passage, “Honor your Pop and Mother,” sounds strange.

When I call my dad, “Father” it causes me to reflect on his role as a mediator between myself and God the Father. It’s an awesome role.  God uses him as the priest of the miniature church called the family.

When the spirit leads, call your dad Father and see what happens to your understanding of God the Father.
When Jesus forbids his followers to call no man Father, He was using hyperbole.  Only God can confer titles.  Only God can confer fatherhood.  As Paul said in I Corinthians, “God is the only true Father since he created us all.” 

FALLOR ERGO SUM

“I am therefore I err”

Kathryn Schulz’ TED talk “On Being Wrong,” asks the question, “what does it feel like to be wrong?”  Her answer, “The same way it feels to be right (aka as the “deceitfulness of sin”). 

Isaiah’s day began much like any other.  But in a split second, heaven and earth intersect and Isaiah drops to his knees in confession: “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”  Isaiah discovered Fallor ergo sum by seeing God.

Many people begin each day with the confession, “I believe in God.”  I don’t believe in myself.   I reflect the image of God, but I am not the unchangeable, incomprehensible, and ineffable God.  I am a weak and an easily confused sheep.    Fallor ergo sum.  I must believe in God.  I am beginning to believe confession is a great place to begin each day.  Ancient Israel began each day with the Shema:  Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  Jesus confirmed that He is the Lord of the Shema.  To confess that Jesus is Lord is basic Christianity.

Need a fresh perspective?  Confess your sins to a priest.

 

 

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

Mother Nadine was a cloistered nun for over a decade. A close friend of Archbishop Curtis, she belonged to a silent order of nuns.  Then, God released her to form the Intercessors of the Lamb.  Nadine, who died in June of 2013, received about 200 people a year to offer them prayer and guidance.  A longtime friend of her said, “I have never known Mother Nadine to be wrong when it comes to the prophetic.”   I spent a long weekend in silence hoping to hear from God and I did.   Her prophetic word was, “You will become a priest in the Catholic Church.  It will not be a gradual thing but one giant leap.  The Church will be your family. You will teach my Church the Bible.”  She paused and said, “I know the Archbishop really well.  I will arrange dinner with him and see what he has to say.  He really is very open to the Holy Spirit.  If he doesn’t think you should become a Roman Catholic priest, you are called to be a priest.”

I knocked on the chancery door.  The Archbishop’s right-hand man greeted me.  It was a cold and uninviting place.    The priest shared the diocese’ vision of priestly formation.    He summed it up saying, “We like to use men who come from our own churches.”   Even though God shut the door, the truth of Peter’s Church continued to draw.  I may not be a Roman Catholic priest but I know I am a priest.

In 1992, the Charismatic Episcopal Church (CEC) began in San Clemente, CA.  Randy Adler was known as a prophet.  He discovered the sacraments as if they were gifts of the Spirit.  As he was preaching one Sunday, the Lord said, “Baptize all the babies.”   Adler introduced the sacraments as gifts of the Spirit.  The rite of confirmation, the introduction to the life of the Spirit occasionally overpowered the recipient.   When Adler offered communion, the Spirit overtook his own hands.

As the CEC grew in the ancient faith, the Roman Catholic Church drew them like a magnet.  Priests like myself recognized Peter’s authority.  So much so the CEC requested an official relationship with Rome.   Even though the little ship of the CEC sought to board the Bark of Peter.

When Pope Benedict resigned, the new Argentinian Pope was also a friend of the Evangelical and Charismatic movements.  Tony Palmer, was a Bishop in a communion very similar to the CEC viewed the new Pope as a spiritual father.   Since his wife was already a Catholic, he asked Bergoglio (Pope Francis) if he should become Catholic.  The future Pope responded, “Don’t convert-we need bridge builders.”  The Bishop of Rome recognized communions seeking reconciliation.

CHURCH OF MESSIAH

 

Everyone loved our six-year-old son, especially Louis the church elder.  Louis, was a massive logger with strong roots to Scofield Academy.  He led the charge in our dismissal.  Being fired from a Church is like divorce.   Everyone in the family chooses sides.  Everyone loses.  Especially the family of the pastor.   The week of our divorce, Karen meets Elder Louis at Walmart.  Instead of the usual high five, my son experienced church politics first hand.  Louis, without saying a word, walked out of the store.  My son turns to his mom as if to say, “Did I do something wrong?” The kids of a church divorce feel stressful, sad and angry.  Even though I was the object of their wrath, the children of the Church suffered the most.

 

For the first time in a decade, we were a member of the “nones.”  After a few months of waiting, I received a call from a priest involved in the renewal movement of the Episcopal Church.  He recommended a new charismatic communion that combined the sacramental, evangelical and charismatic.

 

With our two small kids in tow, we drove the 942 miles to witness this new work of God.    The bishop dove deep into the Bible plumbing its treasures.  Its worship included free expressions of the Holy Spirit.  The clergy was dressed in white reminding me of heaven’s worship in Revelation 4-5.    The deacon swung a golden bowl full of incense (cf Revelation 5:8).  Like heaven’s worship, it was loud. with a clear hierarchy. Whenever we are near God, we confess. We recognize we are sinners and fall on our knees. The highlight of the service wasn’t the pastor’s sermon but communion.     We felt like Vladimir’s men searching for truth:

“We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendor or beauty anywhere on earth. We cannot describe it to you. Only we know that God dwells there among men, and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places. We cannot forget that beauty.”

 

EPILOGUE

 

August 24, 2025
Something strange happened this morning in church. Our pastor was preaching on Matthew 16.   After a pregnant pause, he announced:  “The reason people don’t people BELIEVE Peter was the Rock is because they don’t believe the Church is flesh and blood.   After he showed us the parallels between Eliakim and Peter, how “rock” was used in Scripture, he announced his resignation.  He was leaving the pastorate.  As our pastor shared his journey. He urged all of us to follow our conscience.

During the next few decades, almost all of the Evangelical and Charismatic Churches around the world did the same thing.
During the coming years, most of our little church followed our pastor to our new church home, St Luke’s Church.   Hundreds of new mission groups were springing up around the world.   In the next few years, the Church became evangelical, charismatic and sacramental.  The preaching sounded sacramental.   Healing occurred through the whole mass and for the first time in 2 millennia, Peter’s shadow healed.  The Church again resembled Acts 2.

 

 

Bradley and Karen celebrating the graduation of his two children.  Brad calls Spring Hill, TN home.

 

You can contact him at Journey2faith@ymail.com

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