Friday, April 30, 2010

I am Thankful for Good Brakes

I was riding my motorcycle today through downtown Cleveland when the car in front of me slammed on their brakes to avoid an accident. I was only going about 15 miles an hour but I had to react fast. I was able to use my handlebar brake for the front wheel but not my pedal brake for the rear. I slid sideways but recovered in time. I had to laugh. I had told Jeremy Lambert, my student worker, a story about brakes just an hour earlier.

In 1959 we became a two-car family; Dad bought an Anglia, or English Ford, for his use and let Mom drive the 56 Chevy. In 61 he bought her an Impala. The Anglia was a boxy compact, three-in-the floor manual transmission. Dad prided himself in doing all of the maintenance work on it. I was of course his assistant in all of these projects. He drove it from 1959 through 1971. Sometime around 1964 or 65 he replaced the brake shoes.

Back in those good-old-days changing brake shoes was a little complicated. After removing the old shoes and installing the new ones there were two additional tasks to complete the job. First, the brake lines had to be manually bled, i.e., any air that had gotten into them in the process of changing the shoes had to be removed. This required someone, the assistant to the mechanic, to sit in the driver’s seat and press the brake pedal while the mechanic opened and closed a bleed valve on the wheel. This was repeated for each of the four brakes.

Once the brakes had been bled they had to be adjusted. This required a special curved tool that was inserted through a hole on the inside of the wheel to advance a tightening caliber. [Stay with me; I’m going somewhere.] Dad bent a screwdriver and made his own tool. Each of the breaks had to be manually calibrated so that they all grabbed at the same instant. I assume that with proper tools a mechanic could do this through careful measurements. [For the last few decades automobile brakes have been self calibrating.]

Dad didn’t have the tools; he had a method. Our cement driveway was sixty or seventy feet long. The method was to accelerate as fast as possible and then slam on the brakes. The skid marks revealed the order in which the brakes grabbed and thus indicated which ones needed to be tightened. Dad adjusted the brakes; I drove the car. After four or five joy rides down the driveway Dad said, “Son, I’ve almost got them set. This time I want you to go as fast as you can and hit the breaks as hard as you can.” Did I have a great father or what?

I gave it all the four cylinders could crank out as I accelerated down the racing lane. Just in front of the garage sat a fifty-five-gallon metal drum full of water. Prior to tackling the brakes, we had worked on Dad’s outboard motor adjusting the carburetor for our next fishing trip. To get the most speed and traction I needed to get closer to the drum before hitting the brakes.

As instructed, I slammed the brakes as hard as my pre-pubescent pencil-thin legs could. The car briefly tilted forward as inertia met friction and immediately changed its mind and lunged into the barrel. A geyser erupted before my eyes and rained oily water down around me as the little car-that-could drove the barrel into the garage before coming to a full stop. Dad with non-characteristic excitement ran up beside me and said, “Son, what did you do?”

I responded, “Nothing, I did what you told me to do and it just happened. There aren’t any brakes.”

He got in the driver’s seat and pumped, but there was no resistance. Then he climbed under the car and found the hole in the brake line. The metal tubing had rubbed against the car frame until it was paper thin. My extra effort had provided the aneurism that set in motion a little excitement and necessitated another father-son project. Dad never said a word about the event. I think he was in shock and full of fear. He wasn’t afraid of what might of happened; he was afraid of what was going to happen. What was my mother going to say about her pre-teen, youngest son being instructed to drive as fast as he could in the driveway?

I am thankful for good brakes. I try to use them as little as possible, especially on short driveways.

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 30, 2010

Thursday, April 29, 2010

I am Thankful for My Pocket Knives

Every man should carry a pocket knife. You never know when you might need one. I learned this from my father. I borrowed his once and forgot to return it. As he was getting ready to walk out the door for work he reached into his pocket to check for his keys. He pulled out the keys and asked, “Son did you borrow my knife again? I need it. I’d rather leave home without my britches than without my knife.” That’s a man with his priorities right.

It was not enough to carry a pocket knife. It had to be sharp as a razor, literally. As Dad sharpened his knife he would test it on his arm hairs. At least that was his method until Mom grew tired of looking at the bald spots. She instructed him it looked bad. He shifted to his leg hairs, nobody ever saw those bald spots. After Mom died he switched back to his arms.

He use to say, “a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one, son.” That may be true, but I have come to doubt it. The gash in my knee that was a half inch deep and three quarters of an inch long was my first reason to doubt. A similar cut on my hand offered further evidence. Besides, I’m not very good at sharpening a knife.

I have several knives I cherish. One is a “pig sticker” I inherited from my father but which I believe first belonged to my mother’s father. It’s too big to carry day to day without walking with a limp.

I have a small Buck knife my girls gave Dad and one I got for Christmas when I was a boy. When Dad was a boy he got a new pocket knife every Christmas. I carry an Case Cheryl bought me. But my most cherished knife is broken and scarred; it’s the knife Dad bought me for my eighteenth birthday. As far as I know it’s the only gift he ever picked out himself and gave me and it has an interesting history.

Dad bought the knife from a coworker who was a dealer. When I opened it I soon discovered one of the blades had a defect and would open too far. Dad took that knife for himself and bought me an identical one without the defect. He used a file to repair his knife, leaving a scar on the back of it. It became the one he used for the longest period of his life. One of the blades was broken off. The other one had an electrical burn near the base. He had cut through an old electrical wire that he thought had been disconnected for years; he was wrong. I have a couple more knives but none are cherished as much as that useless one. It is more cherished than its twin, which I still have somewhere.

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 29, 2010

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I am Thankful for My Pasture

Thirteen years ago we were blessed to move into our dream house sitting on ten acres of property. It is what is called a hobby farm. We have a big old red barn that collects my junk and dust. We have chickens, horses and cows. With a great deal of effort we were able to find the only ten acres in eastern Bradley County without running water or top soil.

We added the cows three years ago and I have been working ever sense to get a decent pasture growing. The first summer of my effort I planted a couple of hundred dollars worth of pasture grass and distributed several hundred dollars worth of fertilizer. We had a drought. It all died. Droughts happen. Things will be better next year, …not. Who ever heard of a drought in eastern Tennessee two years in a row?

Last year I planted some expensive Bermuda grass seed. Two days later Noah was canoeing across my pasture. Most of it washed away. The remainder was infested with weeds, but not just any weeds. They were the kind that you have probably seen all across the country, fields full of cute little yellow flowers. The fields are full of them because nothing will eat them or the plants they grow on.

Last fall (OK, early winter) I planted some cold weather foliage and reseeded for this summer. It is a mixture of legumes (clover and alfalfa) which add nitrogen to the soil and grasses which need the nitrogen. I kept the grazers off of it and added $300 worth of 20-10-10 a few weeks ago. God has supplied sufficient rain and my pasture looks great, except for a few of those pesky yellow flowers. I sprayed some of them with weed killer this evening. Otherwise, it is thick and lush. I have divided it into five sections so that I can rotate the cows and better control the weeds.

There are few things more relaxing than looking out your bay window and watching horses and cows grazing, especially after working so hard to produce the pasture. I am thankful I got to work with God to paint that picture.

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 28, 2010

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I am Thankful for a Night of not Writing

I'm through for tonight.  I hope nothing is enough.  I am thankful for being free to take a night off.

Monday, April 26, 2010

I am Thankful Cheryl Reads This Blog

Cheryl is still on Swedish time. She came home ill but still got up at 3:00 A.M. this morning. Shortly thereafter she read my blog. I was sound asleep until around 5:00 when I began to be disturbed by banging in the kitchen. I’m not a morning person. When interrupted in the early morning hours my immediate thought is, “ignore it and it will go away. You can get more sleep.” But it didn’t go away. My frustration was exacerbated by the fact I didn’t go to bed until 12:30. I had 4 ½ hours of decent sleep followed by one hour of “I married her, but why?”

I gave up and went down stairs at 6. The coffee was made (surprise, surprise) and Cheryl was preparing scrambled eggs, grits, sausage, and toast. Now I remember why I married her, and it wasn’t for her cooking, which I only discovered afterwards to be wonderful.

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 26, 2010

Sunday, April 25, 2010

I am Thankful for Fresh Eggs

We have chickens, four hens and a rooster. We bought them last spring as chicks at the Tractor Supply Company, TSC, or as Cheryl calls it, “the store for real men.” We keep them in a 20 by 40 chicken yard next to the barn. In one corner is a 6 by 8 covered coop I built last summer where they roost at night and have nests to lay their eggs. I’m trying to let them set and hatch off some biddies but the varmints (skunks, opossums, etc.) keep eating the eggs. In the past month I have guided two skunks and one opossum into the light where the joyfully reunited with their departed loved ones.

Each evening I visit the coop and collect two or three eggs leaving one for the brood nest. Last week a full dozen eggs had accumulated and I was so hopeful we would have chicks in a few weeks. But something ate the eggs and I am having to start over.

A visit to the chicken yard is an adventure. They greet me at the gate, eyes darting between my hands which sometimes have table scraps for them and the opening that offers freedom and all the bugs you can eat. Using my boot as a barricade, I slip in without effort; I haven’t lost a prisoner yet. I do give them release time once or twice a week. They are appreciative and return to roost before nightfall.

In the yard there is a clear pecking order. Red, a Rhode Island Red, is the top hen. The other three defer to her. She will occasionally run up behind me and give me a quick peck as if trying to impress the others she has me whipped into line. I ignore it. Afterwards she and Henrietta will eat out of my hand.

The rooster is another story. He wants to rule the roost. His spurs are in and he works out at the gym every day. Also a Rhode Island Red, he prefers the surprise attack, think WWF “flying drop kick” with spiked heels. If the hens are watching he gets all cocky (pun intended) and comes at me head on, neck feathers flouted, spurs sharpened. Then at the last second he jumps, flips, and kicks.  I am armed only with my 14 inch barn boots which have served as a launching pad for a few impromptu flying lessons for him.

Recently, he has learned the boots are too tough for his spurs to penetrate. He now aims above them, targeting as high as my mid-thigh. This happens about once a week. I confess my commitment to non-violence does not extend to red-headed foes. I would never injure him, I need him for another generation. But once they are here we are going to have pressure-cooked rooster. I rule the roost; he just doesn’t know it yet.

It’s all about the eggs. Anyone who has eaten yard eggs knows the difference. The yokes are a deep amber color which is but a prelude to the rich flavor that God formulated before the beginning of time for our pleasure but which humanity in all our wisdom has diluted through selective breeding and artificial living conditions for the pitiful purpose of profits. (I feel a sermon coming on.)

I prefer my eggs scrambled and smothered in grits, but fried will do with extra grits. There is nothing quite like breakfast for dinner: eggs, grits, toast, and sausage. If we have any left-over rice, I can whip up a mean curried egg-and-rice. I might be the only human being willing to eat it, but it’s mean to me. And at least once a week I make myself an evening meal of cinnamon French toast bathed in honey. I have read where free range eggs are more healthy than the mass produced variety, that’s nice, but not necessary.

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 25, 2010

Saturday, April 24, 2010

I am Thankful Cheryl Is Home From Sweden

I am thankful Cheryl arrived home from Sweden this evening.  I picked her up in Atlanta.  She had a rough flight the last hour or so.  We had terrible storms across the south today.

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 24, 2010

Friday, April 23, 2010

I am Thankful for My Computers

I own two computers, a desktop I built six and one half years ago and a laptop I bought two years ago. Both are Windows based. Cheryl has an Apple I bought her three years ago. My laptop is a Dell with two 2.2 GHz processors and 4 Gigabytes of RAM memory.  For all of you young people, RAM stands for "Random Access Memory." 

I bought my first computer from Radio Shack in 1982. It was a Tandy, Model III; the monitor and computer were a single unit. It had 48 K of RAM. The salesman said “that’s all the memory you will ever need.” It takes approximately one million kilobytes to make up one gigabyte. My laptop is close to one million times as powerful as my first computer and it doesn’t have all the memory I will ever need.

In 1982 hard drives had not been invented. Programs such as word processing had to be loaded from a floppy drive before they could be used. Documents had to be saved on floppies as well. They were about six inches by six inches and they actually were floppy.

There were very few programs that could be purchased. If you owned a computer you had to know something about the computer language that controlled your system and you probably entered some programs yourself, line by line.

I had bought the computer for word processing. Cheryl and I were both in our doctoral programs. I was the second student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to purchase one. The first was a Th.M. student who had been a computer programmer before accepting a call into ministry.

I wanted Alethea to be exposed to the computer so I purchased a magazine with some games that could be typed into the computer. I selected “Pong,” a simple version of video ping-pong. I literally worked all night programming the computer for her to play video ping-pong the next day. When she awoke that Saturday morning I had just completed my gift for her. I excitedly brought her to the computer to show her the game we could play together. About 90 seconds later she spoke, “Is that all it can do?” She never played the game.

The computer worked fine for very simple word processing. I said very simple; there were no functions like “find and replace” or “cut and paste.” There was only one problem, we couldn’t afford a printer. The owner of the Radio Shack had promised me we could use his printer as long as we were in school. He kept his promise, but seemed less gracious with each printing visit. A couple of years later we were able to purchase a “Silver Reed Daisy Wheel Printer.” It printed about as fast as a good typist. Each page had to be hand loaded. As primitive as it sounds, we were on the cutting edge of technology.

I can be a real sentimental person, but I have no desire to see that first computer. One day I may regret letting Cheryl get rid of it. That would be the day I discover it is a collector’s item. For now, I’m thankful for my current computer. It’s all the computer I’ll ever need. “Ever” has been redefined as a period not exceeding two years, hasn’t it.

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 23, 2010

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I am Thankful for God’s Sense of Humor

God has a great sense of humor. I am allergic to everything He created except those things intended for high calorie food intake. A number of years ago I bought a large bottle of anointing oil for our church, the scented kind. I really like the affect of the lingering smell of frankincense, sandalwood, and other aromas intended to remind the anointed person of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. The only problem is that I’m allergic to something in the oil. Whenever I anoint somebody I get watery eyes and the sniffles.

During those times I often think of a visit to a nursing home in 1972.  Ken Andrews was my pastor at the Trussville Church of God on the north side of Birmingham, Alabama.  We did visitation together every week.  We focused on knocking on doors and personal evangelism.  Occasionally we did other visits.  On this occasion we stopped to see a young man who had been paralyzed from the neck down in an accident. (He had slipped on a wet porch on a rainy day and broke his neck.)  Ken asked him if we could pray for him.

He responded "You can pray for me if you will take your glasses off, throw them on the floor and step on them."  He explained that he didn't need anyone praying for his healing who didn't have enough faith for their own. You can see the young man's point.

I pray for people to be healed using anointing oil to which I am allergic.  It is a little humorous.  Their healing makes me sick -- that didn't sound right, did it.  But God works that way.  He often uses the broken to minister healing to others.  I have seen it many times.  I have experienced it in many different forms. 

God's humor use to surface in hospital visits. Ministers frequent hospitals. God called me to be a minister.  For many years I would get nauseous each time I entered a hospital. I concluded I was allergic to the cleaning chemical smell that was so prevalent. But I discovered it was something else. Around 1986 or 87 I visited a church member who was critically ill with a neurological problem. She was parallelized and on a respirator. I was standing between her and the window when I became severely nauseous and faint. The room swirled around me and I braced myself on the windowsill. With sheer willpower I mustered my energies, prayed a pastoral prayer and rushed out of the building. Within a few minutes I felt fine.

I had never had such a visceral response in a hospital and so I pondered and prayed over it. Reflecting back over the visit I suddenly had a flashback to another hospital and another time. In 1967 my mother was in the Baptist Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida for tests. Her room overlooked the St. Johns River and while I was visiting her I sat on the window seat.  At one point I looked over my shoulder at the river many stories below and I got dizzy. As I remembered that event I quickly connected the dots of all the times my mother was in the hospital, critically ill and all the other times she suffered at home. My problem with hospital visits wasn’t allergies; it was psychosomatic. I was reliving the trauma of growing up with a chronically ill mother.

That insight brought healing and freed me from nervous reactions on hospital visits, at least most of the time. Perhaps God’s sense of humor is best understood as an expression of his grace. He puts us in situations that just don't make sense at least until he helps us connect the dots.  Then we better understand that all things do work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.  That might just be the moment He laughs the hardest, the laughter of joy.

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 22, 2010

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I am Thankful for the Moon

The moon is one of God’s great gifts to the earth and all of its creatures. Waxing and waning month after month with shifting shades of white, gray and orange. School children learn how it controls the ocean tides; old farmers know it influences all of life.

When I was a child we planted our crops and butchered animals by the phases of the moon. Dad always castrated his pigs and calves when the signs were in the feet. They would only bleed a few drops. My grandfather never bothered with the Farmer’s Almanac; I saw his pigs bleed incessantly. The moon even affects how well fence posts can be set. Most people don’t believe this until they witness this, but in certain phases of the moon a post hole can be dug and there will not be enough dirt to fill in the hole around the post. I’ve seen it many times, both in Georgia and in Tennessee.

There is just something magical about a full moon on the horizon. Large and colorful, magnified and painted by the earth’s atmosphere, it begs to be touched by the human hand.

When I was ten or eleven, our Boy Scout Troup went camping at Goldhead State Park. We went for a night hike along the lake shore. The moon was in its full glory, illuminating the sand and waters. The American space program was in its Gemini phase. One of the boys asked our Scout Master, Robert Kelley, if he thought humans would ever go to the moon. I was shocked by his response, “No, I don’t think we will. I know we will. The question is not if, but when.”

As a ten year old I was very pre-scientific about the heavens. How could God allow a human to ascend into the heavens and contaminate the moon? Surely He would stop it. But Robert Kelley was our Church appointed Assistant Scout Leader. He had been an Eagle Scout. Members of his family were prominent leaders in the church. Oh no, faith and reason in full blown conflict in my soul and then a burst of insight; science and faith are compatible. I could be a good Christian and study science (I loved science). And I owe it all to Robert Kelley and a Boy Scout camping trip.

As a child of the sixties the moon became the quintessential threshold of mystery and discovery, revelation and exploration. It remained a heavenly body appropriate for the glory of God and yet it was touched by human hands – at least by space suits containing human hands.

When I see a full moon my first thought is of the majesty, beauty and power of God. I am caught up in the awe of His creation. Given enough time my mind might wander to thoughts of NASA and future space missions, but then I project myself into my future resurrected self and I am walking on the back side of the moon, “where no man has gone before.” The side only God has seen.

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 21, 2010

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I am Thankful for a Father who was a Good Man

James Ellis Johns was a good man. When I was a child I heard my mother pray for him every day, “Lord save Ellis, he’s a good man, a good husband and a good father.” She often said “children, your father is a good man.” I frequently heard her describe him to others the same way. This was long before his salvation and it was true.

I grew up in an age of intense racism. When I was a preschool child I went to the water fountain at Penney’s. There was a long line but I spotted another fountain close by with no one waiting. I got a drink and turned to go back to my mother when a middle-aged white woman whom I didn’t know stopped me and rebuked me, “Boy, don’t you know better than to drink from the colored fountain?” The porcelain looked white to me.

I asked my mother what I had done wrong and she explained that white people were supposed to drink from one fountain and colored people were supposed to drink from the other fountain. I had gone to the wrong fountain but that was OK; Mom said it didn’t matter.

A few years later Congress passed the Civil Rights Act and things got tense across the nation, especially in the south. Persons of color were made equal citizens by law if not by fact. Racism is slow to release its control over social structures. Buses may have begun to place children in the same school rooms, but they were still worlds apart and their parents were even more divided.

Dad drove truck for Ryder Truck Lines. All of the road drivers based in Jacksonville were white. They made more money than the city drivers who made deliveries and the dock workers who loaded the trucks. Dad had started out on the docks before transferring to the city and then to the road. After the Civil Rights Act passed one of the black dock workers requested to transfer to the road. Some of the white drivers started a petition to change the union rules to prevent the transfer. Dad refused to sign. This act of goodness was in fact a brave and dangerous rejection of social norms.

I was probably twelve years old when I answered the phone that day.

“Is this James Johns' house?” The voice was muffled and artificially rough making it hard to understand.

“Who?” I asked, momentarily confused by the reference to “James.” Everyone I knew called Dad “Ellis” or “Speck.”

“James Johns,” he forcefully replied.

“Yes, this is his house, but he is not here. He is at work.”

“When he gets home you tell your Nigger-loving dad we know where he lives and he had better sign that paper if he don’t want trouble to follow him home.”

I thought it was some kind of joke and I handed the phone to my mother. Her response made it clear this was no joke.

When Dad got home I overheard portions of a conversation between them. Mom said, “They mean business.. You had better be careful.”

The tension continued for a few days and I got up the nerve to approach Dad. “Dad, why don’t you just sign the paper. If they don’t need your vote what difference does it make if you sign it.”

“Son, the way I figure it, he’s a man just like I’m a man. He has the right to support his family just like I do. I won't be signing no petition.”

I am thankful my Dad was a good man long before he was a saved man. He could not be budged from doing what he believed to be right. From him I learned that all men are created equal, but that some men have to be willing to suffer for that truth if it is ever to become a reality in social practice.

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 20, 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

I am Thankful for my Last Spanking

We are predisposed to remember our firsts: first date, first kiss, first car, etc., all of those life changing first experiences. We struggle to remember the last of a series of common events. With all of the anticipation of the last day of high school one would expect to remember minute details forever. I don’t remember a thing about it. Neither do I remember the last day of college or graduate school.

I do remember my last spanking. At twelve, I was too old and too big, so I thought.

Jimmy, Shirley and I were in my parent’s bedroom for some reason. We were laughing and cutting up, having a really good time, joking about who was the best. I said some brash thing like, “I could spank both of you.”

At that moment my mother walked in to join the fun. She was laughing and said she could spank us all. Then she gave me a false spanking and walked out of the room. As soon as she was out of sight I boasted “I let her do it.” The Lord watches out for fools, but the foolish exhaust His patience. You can quote me on that.

From down the hallway came a resounding “You let me do what?”

Like a streak of lightening she was back in the room grabbing my Dad’s belt off the hanger in the wardrobe and swinging furiously. She left stripes from the soles of my feet to the middle of my back. I mean there were specks of blood. When she finished she was out of breath, gasped and exhaled, “did you let me do it that time?”

Sniff, sniff, “No, Mam.”

“Don’t you ever think you’re too big for me to spank.”

“No, Mam.”

In this instance, Mom wasn’t fair, just, or appropriate. I wasn’t disrespectful or belligerent. My last spanking wasn’t justified; it wasn’t reasonable, and it certainly wasn’t administered with my wellbeing in mind. It was memorable and effectively preemptive. Although Alethea may disagree, it taught me restraint in discipline. I learned from the experience and I never questioned my mother’s love for me because of it, just her lack of humor and her sense of aim.

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 20, 2010

Sunday, April 18, 2010

I am Thankful for an Early Lesson in Faith

My Aunt Mabel was my father’s oldest sister. She was my grandfather’s first born by his first wife, Martha Lee Johns. She and my Uncle Harley moved the Avon Park, Florida long before I was born. I didn’t see them very often but she left a lasting impression on me. She was hump-backed and had a raspy, high pitched voice. Most importantly for me, she was a link to my history. She was a story teller.

When we all gathered at my Grandmother Johns’ house, the old home place, the kids were sent to bed early and the adults stayed up and talked. A few minutes after being tucked into bed I was up and sneaking into my hiding place behind the sofa in the living room where I listened to the stories. Unfortunately, I was too young to remember the details but they captured my imagination and gave me a sense of belonging.

On a few occasions we drove to Avon Park to visit Aunt Mabel and Uncle Harley. They lived on the edge of town in a small wood-framed house that had been divided into a duplex. Out back were a few orange trees and a grapefruit tree. When I was about three or four we visited and the grapefruit were getting ripe. As we were getting ready to leave Uncle Harley asked Dad if he wanted to take some home.

We went out back and discovered the remaining fruit were all near the top of the tree. Dad said “that’s no problem. Jack can climb up and get them.”

I was proud and confident. I liked to climb and I liked being the solution.

He lifted me up to the lowest branch and I climbed. He called up instructions and I picked and tossed. After a few minutes he said, “that’s plenty son, come on down.”

“Down? How?” When you’re a kid it’s easy to go up but a different thing to come down. I offered some suggestions in the spirit of negotiation. “Can you come up and get me?”


“Get me a latter.” That was bold giving instructions to Dad. He wasn’t into the parental philosophy of negotiating with your children and he sure wasn’t into taking orders from them.

His response, “Jump and I’ll catch you.”


“I said jump!”

I jumped and he caught me, hugged me, tapped me on the bottom and set me down without comment.

Faith, trust and obedience are woven together into a single event. Faith without works (obedience) is dead. Faith without trust in the person making promises is but confident speculation. Trust expressed in obedience is the essence of Biblical faith.

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 18, 2010

Saturday, April 17, 2010

I am Thankful for a Corrective Word

We moved to Cleveland in 1984 for me to become the Minister of Education at the Westmore Church of God. I started teaching part-time at the seminary in 1985. Dr. Beaty was the Academic Dean and he asked me to teach a class each semester. In 1986 Cheryl started teaching full-time and I continued to teach one course a semester. In 1988 I left Westmore and in early 1989 we started the New Covenant Church of God as a Bible study in our home. It was a challenging time.

Cheryl’s ministry was expanding rapidly as she got involved in ecumenical dialogues and in leadership in the Society for Pentecostal Studies. I was ever mindful of God’s word to me that her ministry was my first ministry. Planting a new church in the buckle of the Bible belt is not as easy as it might seem, especially if you are driven to be faithful to your heritage and innovative in design and diverse in membership.

I became somewhat discouraged. One day I was praying for Cheryl and her various ministry involvements when God spoke to me, “I told you that your first ministry was Cheryl’s ministry. I didn’t tell you to neglect your own ministry.” I hadn’t realized I was letting my ministry slide, but I was. In all of the various stresses of my life I wasn’t giving God and the church my best. My passion for the Scriptures was waning; my love for preaching was cold; and my hunger for the salvation of the lost was weak.

This corrective word gave me a new sense of direction. I could be fully committed to Cheryl’s ministry and to mine. It was not an either/or situation it was a both/and calling. It was a simple word but it set me free. God did not desire for me to lose myself in someone else’s ministry. He intended for me to find fulfillment both in supporting Cheryl and in the full pursuit of my own calling. The result was that I once again fell in love with my ministry. I was free to do those things that gave me fulfillment.

I am thankful for this corrective word. It has made all the difference in my sense of wellbeing and fulfillment. The extent to which I have lived up to this may be debated, but I know I can be both a faithful help to my wife and a faithful servant of Christ. Indeed, both are necessary and enriching.

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 17, 2010

Friday, April 16, 2010

I am Thankful God Knows Where we Are

In the summer of 1983 I passed my qualifying exams in my doctoral program. The exams included five days of written tests and an oral exam with all of my professors participating. Passing the exams qualified me to begin the processes for writing a dissertation.

Following the exams I accepted the pastorate of the Middletown Church of God. It was a small church in the eastern suburbs of Louisville. I had wanted to pastor since leaving my teaching position at Northwest Bible College in 1979. I loved pastoring but we were starving. The church barely had enough receipts to pay the mortgage and utilities after sending our apportionments to the denominational offices. A teenager clipped our car and we lived off of the insurance money for a couple of months.

Late the next spring we were informed the Westmore Church of God in Cleveland was looking for a Minister of Education. There were two things I had resolved about my future ministry. First, I would never be an associate pastor again. Second, I would never live in Cleveland, Tennessee again. Cheryl was equally adamant about not returning to Cleveland. When we left Cleveland in 1980 she had boasted “God will have to roll me up like a basketball and bounce me down I-75 to get me to move back to Cleveland.”

But extreme poverty and other personal considerations made Cleveland look appealing to her. She suggested that I should call the search committee at Westmore; it was a paying job after all. I quipped, “God knows where I am and they know where I am. If He wants me there, they can call me.” I should have known better.

The very next day I got a call from Doug LeRoy, the chairman of the Board of Christian Education at Westmore wanting to know if I might be interested in applying for the position. I promised to pray about it, but ended the conversation just as determined to not consider the job as I was the day before.

After prayer and discussing it with Cheryl and in light of the coincidence of the timing of the call, I concluded I should go for an interview just to settle the idea in Cheryl’s mind. I was certain I wasn’t a good fit with Westmore and I knew I wouldn’t consider it. I made the call and we went for the interview.

The interview with the Board went well but I wasn’t really trying to impress them. I did get a feel for their commitments and I was impressed with them. I had a long meeting with the pastor, Paul Hinson. It was during that interview I felt God nudging me to accept the position. I left his office knowing they were going to offer the job to me and that I had to accept it.

A couple of months later we were in an orange U-haul truck bouncing down I-75 to Cleveland when God reminded Cheryl of her boasting. I am thankful God knows where we are and He remembers everything we say, every idle word and not just our “sacred vows.”

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 16, 2010

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I am Thankful for a Good Accreditation Visit

For the last four years I have direct our seminary’s efforts for reaffirmation of accreditation. We are accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (ATS). Accreditation with each must be reaffirmed every ten years. I directed the efforts ten years ago (it actually started 15 years ago). SACS requires a “compliance audit” prepared by the school’s administrators (which I had to coordinate and compile) and the development of a comprehensive Quality Enhancement Plan (for which I had limited involvement). A committee from SACS came last April and recommended reaffirmation of accreditation. Last December the SACS Commission acted to reaffirm our accreditation for ten years.

ATS requires a comprehensive institutional “self-study” conducted by committees and compiled into a single report. I directed the process, wrote several chapters, compiled and edited the report. The report was mailed in late February. A committee with members from different ATS schools studied the report and came on campus Sunday through yesterday morning. They interviewed members of the Board, administrators, faculty, staff, students, and alumni.

I am thankful their preliminary report was very positive. They had many good things to say about our school, and made some suggestions and recommendations for improvement. We will have to officially respond to the recommendations. I had predicted we would have three to five. They gave us three. This is extremely good. Most importantly they are recommending our accreditation be reaffirmed for ten years. Their report will have to be confirmed by the ATS Commission this summer before it is official.

It was a very good committee and they were very helpful. I am hopeful this is my last time to direct our reaffirmation efforts. I am thankful both efforts were successful. I am very thankful my role is complete.

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 15, 2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I am Thankful I Discovered Early That Our Sins will Find Us Out

When Cheryl is kind she says I developed a "precocious conscience" as a child, or I have an over realized sense of right and wrong. When she is more inclined to depreciate my gifts she asserts that I am “fixated in the preadolescent stage of law and order.” In James Fowler’s schema of faith development she once assured me I was a solid stage two (of six stages), a “mythic-literal” thinker/believer, i.e., a school child. I have been described by her as “locked in a black and white world,” “unable to maintain a dialectic tension between truths,” and, her favorite, “stubborn.”

In one of our episodes of sincere disagreement she blurted out, “You’re just like your father.” Two thoughts crossed my mind. The first was to go ahead and commit suicide by telling her she was just like her mother. Being a stage two and having the stage-appropriate fear of a literal hell, I quickly resisted the temptation to self annihilation and focused on my second thought, which caused me to burst into laughter.

Cheryl was clearly not amused at my sudden good nature and snapped, “What are you laughing about?”

To which I responded, “Cheryl, you’re never going to win this argument with compliments.”

“Oh, yeh. I guess it was a compliment to compare you to your Dad,” and she began to laugh with me.

On a similar occasion when we were mutually pursuing truth through competition of ideas, Cheryl blurted out “Do you want to know what your problem is?”

To which I responded, “I think I know, but you go ahead and tell me.”

Not taking the bait, she answered, “You enjoy being right too much.”

This time I tried not to laugh but I couldn’t help myself.

“What are you laughing at?”

Struggling to articulate while laughing, I snickered out “You are right about that. I admit it; I have never taken pleasure in being wrong.”

She caught the humor, laughed and the disagreement ended.

I am a left-brained, analytic, law-and-order, black and white kind of guy. Somewhere in childhood I heard and believed the stories of God’s intervention in human history. I also believed His words about righteousness and judgment would be fulfilled. I have woven into my psyche a belief that God sees all and judges all, even our innermost thoughts. “Your sins will find you out.”

When I was growing up we worked a small farm. My Dad was always precise in his work orders even if he wasn’t always clear. One year Jimmy was using our little one-row Farmall tractor to plant the corn. Dad instructed him in how deep to set the front sweeper plows and how the lower the rear, drop-seed planter. He further gave directions on what was the proper speed. He then completed a couple of test rounds as we walked along beside him. When we got to the end of the first row he paused to show Jimmy how he was to finish out each row.

“Son, did you see what I did? I slowed down and drove the tractor straight to the fence and stopped just a foot away from it. Then I raised the plows and planter, backed up, and completed a tight turn to go the other direction. That’s the way I want you to do it. Don’t start turning before you get to the end of the row. Can you do that?”

“Yes, Sir.”

Dad and I went off to work on some other project far out of sight. A couple of hours later I was dispatched to take Jimmy some ice-cold water. When I got to the field I noticed he was stopped on the other end. I thought he was resting in a shade, but when I got closer I saw him down on the ground picking up corn seed and putting it back in the hopper. He ordered me to come quickly and help before Dad showed up.

He had been ignoring Dad’s instructions and making quick turns at the far end of the field without stopping. Going too fast the planter flipped over and spilled its contents. Too frustrated to get the last few handfuls up out of the sand he side-kicked them to the edge of the fence and covered them with dirt so Dad couldn’t see them. All was well. No one would ever know.

Fast forward a few weeks and Dad is plowing the corn. When he gets to the right row on the far end of the field, there stands the most beautiful, densely packed hill of corn stalks right in the fence line. “Boys, how did this happen?”

Your sins will find you out. They will sprout and grow, no matter how private and hidden they seem at first.

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 14, 2010

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I am Thankful for Discipline in the House of God

The eleventh Commandment is “Thou shalt not act up in the house of the Lord.” My mother took this commandment most seriously. We were not allowed to wiggle, talk, snicker or commit any action that might distract others. I have always had allergies and a deviated septum. Consequently, I often made a wheezing sound when I breathed through my nose. Mom would punch me and whisper, “stop breathing.” How does a five year old stop breathing? I tried holding my breath but I lacked the will power to make it through a Pentecostal sermon. I tried breathing through my mouth but soon became dehydrated and miserable.

Our church had individual, auditorium style seats. They were designed to torture young children. If a preschooler sat up straight the laws of physics took over and like a miniature seesaw the chair would swing up to wrap itself around the child like a sardine sandwich. In order to sit you had to balance yourself on the fulcrum which was torture and led to the unpardonable sin, letting your feet touch the chair in front of you.

After church I once asked Mom why I couldn’t rest my feet on the chair in front of me and she instructed my calloused soul, “Son, if you touch that chair everyone in the row will feel it. You don’t know who might be sitting there. It might be a sinner under conviction and if you disturb them they might not get saved because of your interruption. You wouldn’t want that on your conscience would you?”

I’m not certain I fully understood what she was talking about but I figured it had something to do with touching chairs caused people to go to hell. That’s a heavy burden for a wheezing, aching four year old.

My great temptation was whispering to Shirley. That was forbidden. It got me several trips to the ladies room where I was instructed in the ways of righteousness. One night Mom leaned over as we whispered and shared, “If I catch you two talking again I’m going to spank you when we get home.” A few minutes later she leaned over and delivered the verdict, “That’s it. When we get home, you’re both going to get it.”

We were perfect angels the rest of the evening. Even on the ride home. Once there we quietly dressed for bed and slid under the covers in respective rooms, hoping she had forgotten her promise. I lay there waiting for Mom to go to bed ensuring my full reprieve. Finally, the lights were out and all was quiet. But the silence was quickly broken, “Shirley, Jackie, didn’t I forget something?”

“No Mam, we don’t think so.”

“Yes, I did. I promised you two something. Get up and get the belt.”

We did and she did.

To disrespect those things and places dedicated to the service of God is to disrespect God. I am thankful I was taught this at an early age.

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 13, 2010

Monday, April 12, 2010

I am Thankful for Wisteria

My wisteria bush is in full bloom. The blossoms are beautiful and carry the sweet aroma of childhood memories, PTSD. You see, my wisteria was rooted from the bush that was in our back yard when I was an innocent, well behaved child. It is the bush to which Momma sent us with instructions, “Go out back and cut me a switch. Cut a good one. You don’t want me to have to cut my own.”

A good switching was her favorite form of punishment and my preferred method as well. Her hand on the bottom was a little too up-close and personal. It also tended to wander up the back where it left a series of CSI quality full-hand prints. I only got the hand when the infringement sparked an instant stimulus-response reaction in her, something like her perception I had just “talked back.”

The belt was to be avoided at all cost. It was the instrument of rage. John the Revelator missed one important element of that Great Final Day of the Lord, that "White Throne Judgement Seat;" all liars will first meet my mother with a belt just before entering the fire that quenches not. This will actually be an act of mercy as it will make the eternal flames more tolerable. I didn’t meet the belt often. Life was too precious to traverse the lines that triggered malice without forethought.

Cutting a switch was Mom’s corporal punishment at its best. Although I didn’t recognize it at the time, it was planned and controlled discipline. Cutting the switch was part of the process. It gave us time to think about what we had done. It also gave Mom a few minutes to calm down. Calmness increased the accuracy of her swing but it did nothing to reduce the force behind it. In late spring and summer a wisteria branch is tough and limber. Swung with force it wraps itself around a child’s body stinging as it goes.

It was a different time. No one considered this as anything but what it was, a mother fulfilling her responsibility to teach her child right from wrong. There were never any bruises or damage that left scars, just a few whelps resulting in respect for authority in general and our mother in particular plus a few "good" memories.

Around the age of ten I applied my budding skills in problem solving to the dangers of wisteria. How does one weaken the force of nature’s perfect whip? Solution: use the knife to cut half way through the whip about eight to ten inches up the handle end. About three to four swings into the ordeal and the instrument of torture breaks. Mom believes she has done her duty, feels a twinge of guilt, wonders why she hits her adorable youngest son harder than the others and everybody lives happily ever after.

It was the perfect scheme and it worked for a long time, more than a year. But then Shirley enters puberty and begins to make a lot of trips to the wisteria bush. I am moved with compassion and let her in on my secret. The little traitor goes directly to Mom and reports my brilliance. The resulting seismic eruption will no doubt soon pass the outer bands of our galaxy.

“Jackie David Johns, you get here right now. Go cut me a switch; I mean a good one and it had better not be doctored either.”

When she had finished I had shed a bucket of tears and my legs were lit up like a Christmas tree. Believe me, I never doctored a wisteria switch again.  Ah, the sweet smell of wisteria. 
Cleveland, Tennessee
April 12, 2010

Sunday, April 11, 2010

I am Thankful Camdyn was Baptized Today

Camdyn announced to her mother this past week that she was ready to be wet with water at church. This came as a surprise since her mother and father had not been priming her for decision. They had been leading her into a personal relationship with Christ and worship. Alethea talked with her about what it meant to have faith, to be a Christian and to be baptized. Her father examined her and agreed she was ready. This morning she stood before her church, confessed Christ as Lord, and was baptized.

This was a wonderful day. It would have been better only if I was there. But Camdyn wanted to baptized today. Her determination made it that much more beautiful. I am full of thanks.

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 11, 2010

Saturday, April 10, 2010

I am Thankful for a Day to Work Outside

It was a glorious day. I worked outside for about six hours. It was cool and sunny. My primary task was to “snake” (drag) downed trees from around the barn and into the woods. Some of the logs were quite large but my little Farmall did the job.

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 10, 2010

Friday, April 9, 2010

I am Thankful for a Word About the Word

[This is a second entry for today, making up for yesterday.]

Inductive Bible Study changed my life. I was introduced to the method under Howard Newsome in my master’s program at Wheaton College. The method was pioneered by Wilbur White in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. White was a world renowned Bible teacher who went on to found New York Theological Seminary.

The method was developed at the height of the modernist/fundamentalist controversy in Christian theology. The Enlightenment and scientific reasoning caught up with the study of the Bible in the late nineteenth century. One movement, the modernists or liberals, built their interpretation of the Bible around a scientific study of the origins of the text, the school of religions approach. They gave us the Social Gospel movement which declared the essence of Christianity is the work for the betterment of society.

The Fundamentalists or conservatives argued there are certain fundamentals that must be believed if one is to be considered Christian. The cornerstone of the fundamentals was faith in the Bible as the inerrant, verbally inspired Word of God. This group applied the deductive component of scientific reasoning to the defense of the Bible and other key doctrines. The scriptures could thus be divided into historical books and doctrinal books. All were factually true but only the doctrinal books such as Paul’s epistles were to used for doctrine.

Wilbur White offered a third way of approaching the Scriptures. His method, which first gained popularity under the name “Scientific Method of Bible Study,” began with the assumption that the Bible was a living book which could speak for itself. The challenge was to study each Book of the Bible as a text that contained its own clues for interpretation.

The inductive method moves from specifics to general conclusions. The student makes observations about the facts and how the facts are connected before moving to interpretation and application: observations before interpretation before application.

The process begins with reading a book through in one setting looking for its internal structure. Additional readings allow the student to see more details in the structure creating subdivisions and sub-subdivisions allowing the learner to work through the book paragraph by paragraph always seeing each paragraph as a section of the whole. Once paragraphs are identified and named, the student begins a careful analysis looking for repetition of words and ideas, progressions of thought, regressions. Looking closely at the details one can begin to see how the details are connected. Meaning, the basis for interpretation, is often found in the connections.

Inductive Bible study requires that the student be willing to set aside preconceptions and let the Bible say what it says. No one can do this completely. We all bring our assumptions to the task. These assumptions guide the questions we ask and the conclusions we reach. What we can do is look closely at the text trying to find all of the internal connections that we can make and discipline ourselves to not jump to conclusions.

The inductive method moves the task from interpreting the Bible to letting the Bible interpret us. Bible study becomes exhilarating and convicting. I quickly found my core beliefs being reinforced once I was willing to let God’s word sit in judgment over them. I found some of my understandings of the Bible to be built on mere human tradition; they had to go. The beauty of the method is that anyone with basic reasoning skills developed in early adolescence can do it if they are only willing to practice the discipline.

I loved this method and I wanted to teach others the method. I was at the time the Minister of Education at the Indian Trails Church of God in Aurora, Illinois. I couldn’t wait to introduce the method to my Young Adult Sunday school class. Or, could I?

As I began to prepare for the new series it hit me like a corn cob to the side of the head that I wasn’t teaching my peers in graduate school. I was teaching young adults in a blue collar congregation. Let me clarify. My class was comprised primarily of high school drop-outs. The youngest members of the class were a fourteen and fifteen year old couple that had been married for over a year. (Their parents had driven them to Mississippi so they could get married and it wasn’t a case of have-to; she wasn’t pregnant!) These were not people who failed to appreciate education; these were people who despised education. [Within the church were some wonderful people who really cared for Cheryl and myself whom we will always cherish, but on the whole we were as odd to them as Martians.]

As I sought God about changing directions from what I had announced, I became a plaintiff. “Father, I just don’t trust them to rightly divide the Word of Truth.”

His response was brief and to the point as usual, “I have taught you out of My Word haven’t I?”

One simple question took me to the woodshed. The issue was not that I didn’t trust the members of my class. The issue was that I didn’t trust God. I didn’t truly believe God was present in His Word; that He was speaking to whoever would listen. If He had taught me, He could teach anybody. My view of Scripture was high, but not high enough. God does not need me to mediate his Word for the less educated. He can do that for Himself if I will just bring people to the Word and help them look for themselves.

There is a place for teachers, instructors in sound doctrine and righteousness, but when it comes to Bible study, the only good teaching is that which brings people into an encounter with God in His Word. Anything else is an exercise in vain glory.

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 9, 2010

I am Thankful for Early Lean Times

[OK, I missed another day. I have been ill. I will catch up.]

On December 21, 1974 Cheryl and I got married. Less than two weeks later, on January 1, 1975 we pulled the 4X6 U-haul into the driveway of our first apartment in Wheaton, Illinois. Two days later we went through orientation for grad school and classes began. We haven’t slowed down much since then.

Wheaton was an exciting time in our lives, discovering the joys and challenges of marriage and the difference between graduate education and undergraduate, not to mention being financially responsible. Cheryl got a job at a day care and later transitioned in clerical work at Creation House Publishers. I became part-time minister of education at the Indian Trails Church of God in Aurora, Illinois and later transitioned into being a security guard at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

We were poor. We ate a lot of meatless spaghetti until we finally swallowed our pride and got food stamps. We didn’t have a phone or a television. Each week we had a date night. First, we went to a corner convenience store and called our parents, collect of course. Second we went to McDonalds where we split one order of fries and one milk shake. Then we drove to K-Mart where we went to the appliance section and watched a TV show. We were poor, but we were happy.

There were a couple of financial miracles that first year and a half of marriage, but mostly we learned to work hard and live within our means. The first lesson took; the second not so well. We also learned that happiness does not come from material possessions, but material goods can indeed be blessings from God to be enjoyed and used. With reflection, happiness and thanksgiving seemed right at home with thread-bare carpet, chicken-pot pies, old cars, and Friday night dates at K-Mart.

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 8, 2010

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I am Thankful for Spring

I enjoy all of the seasons but spring is my current favorite. Summer is a time for outside work and recreation. I love the outdoors in the summer almost as much as I cherish air conditioning: work, sweat, and cool off. The fall is an even better time to work out side. It is also a great season for travel and enjoying the beauty of God’s creation. Winter allows for a slower pace. I don’t like being cold. Sitting around a cozy fire just breeds contentment. But I must admit the shorter days are depressing.

Spring however combines the best of the other three. It is the perfect time to work outside, not too hot or too cold. It invites recreation. If a cozy fire inside during winter is comforting a fire outside in the spring is like being wrapped in the blanket of creation. Spring is a time of new beginnings. Baby birds are hatching. The trees are in full bloom. The bees are pollinating the blossoms. Life is bursting forth everywhere you look. Spring is the season of hope.

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 7, 2010

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I am Thankful for Cheryl’s Ministry (Part Two)

I began this series in January writing about God’s grace and His voice. I have been blessed to hear God speak specific words to me on a number of occasions. They always seem to challenge my perceptions and/or plans.

In January/February of 1988 I spent two weeks in India where I was a guest of my friend Moses Choudary and I served as a convention speaker. Actually, I preached seventeen times in seven days. It was a phenomenal experience. Spiritual forces were palpable, God’s presence was as great as I have ever known and one of the greatest miracles of my ministry took place.

As I stepped off of the plane in Atlanta I was exhausted and exhilarated at the same time. Nine months earlier I had graduated with my doctorate. Two months earlier God had spoken to me about preparing to leave my position as Minister of Education at the Westmore Church of God. I had images of becoming an international evangelist of some sort. My prayer was simple, “Father, I am thankful I am now free to travel. I want to travel around the world and preach your Word.”

God’s response, “You are not going to travel internationally for a while. Cheryl is going to travel.” I must admit I was disappointed for a moment which gave way to curiosity. What in the world would Cheryl be doing traveling around the world? I had peace and an intense awareness I would be at home with Karisa and Alethea a lot.

Cheryl was soon a participant in the annual Roman Catholic – Pentecostal International Dialogue, a member of the Executive Board of the Association of Theological Schools in the US and Canada, a member of the Commission on Faith and Order of the National Council of Churches, President of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, and speaker at colleges and universities around the world and all of that was just the beginning.

I have been blessed to travel a little, sometimes with Cheryl. But as the girls were growing up I was the parent staying home. I was so proud of Cheryl and I tried to instill that pride in the girls. She was not gone all the time. Most of her trips were for a few days and the longest were for a couple of weeks.

I can tell you from experience it is easier to be the one traveling than the one left behind. Being a single parent, if only for a couple of weeks at the time is a challenge, especially for a left-brained, analytical learner like myself. There is a reason why most women are better at multi-tasking than most men.

I don’t know how the girls remember those times.  We haven’t talked about it. I'm not certain I would like to hear their judgment of my parenting skills. I remember feeling overwhelmed and inadequate. There is just too much to do. I also remember feeling good about having special times with my daughters: pizza, spaghetti, TV. In truth there was no time for special events. I suspect they remember it very differently from me. I am thankful I had the opportunity and regret I didn’t make better use of it. I am very thankful Alethea and Karisa had a great mother who set an example of how to both serve her family and fulfill a call to ministry.

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 6, 2010

Monday, April 5, 2010

I am Thankful for Cheryl’s Ministry

I am a feminist. I have always believed women should be free to fulfill the call of God on their lives. As a Pentecostal I grew up in a conflicted environment concerning the roles of women. We were radically committed (1) to living by the teachings of the New Testament which offered multiple examples of women in ministry but also seemed in some texts to limit the roles of women and (2) to the anointing of the Holy Spirit which clearly rested equally on women and men. I seriously studied the Scriptures on this topic and concluded the Word and the Spirit agree, women were free to do whatever God called them to do.

When I married Cheryl I was fully committed to her being free to pursue God’s call on her life. I believed God’s call for her would fit in perfect harmony with His call on my life. Consequently, I gave Cheryl her first book on feminist theology. What I didn’t realize was that we would each have to discern God’s will as individuals and as a couple. I knew precisely God’s words when He called me to preach His Word. Cheryl’s call seemed less precise. I assumed her ministry would unfold in a manner that complemented mine. What I didn’t realize was that this assumption automatically gave primacy to my ministerial calling.

I don’t remember the exact time or events leading up to my epiphany. It was sometime in our first five years marriage. I was complaining to God that Cheryl’s ministry wasn’t fitting as well into my perceptions of my ministry as I had assumed it would. God spoke with precision, “Your first ministry is Cheryl’s ministry.” Those words transformed my theology of marriage and ministry. My call to preach, though clear and precise, did not take precedence over Cheryl’s ministry. I was not more important than she or anyone else. My covenant of marriage with Cheryl required that I assume her fulfillment, and therefore her call, was my first priority. Isn’t this the essence of marriage, finding our fulfillment in the wholeness and fulfillment of another?

I am thankful for Cheryl’s ministry. She has done things for God I could never accomplish. She is a leading representative of Pentecostalism in ecumenical circles around the world. She has preached and taught on every inhabited continent. She has published probably more articles in a greater variety of journals and books than anyone in the Church of God. She has served as distinguished lecturer at more seminaries than anyone else in the Church of God and probably all of Pentecostalism. She is one of the leading scholars of religion in our time and a prominent voice in social ethics. On top of all of that she is co-pastor of the New Covenant Church of God, the guiding force in our worship and congregational life.

I cannot tell you the number of times when people discover I am from Cleveland, Tennessee I have been asked, "Do you know Cheryl Bridges Johns?" I have a wisecrack that my holiness commitments want let me give to strangers. I’ll soften it here. "Yes, I know her. My wife let's me take her out to dinner ever now and then."

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 5, 2010

Sunday, April 4, 2010

I am Thankful for the Resurrection

Early Christianity came to refer to Sunday as the “eighth day of the week.” They were referring to the resurrection of Christ. Sunday was the first day of the week. God had completed creation on the sixth day and rested on the seventh. When Christ arose, it was not just the beginning of another week. It was the beginning of a whole new creation. In the resurrection God began a new created order. Those who die to sin and are baptized into Christ become part of this new creation; the old is passing away, all things are new.

Sunday was also the new day of rest. The appearances of Christ between the resurrection and the ascension were on Sundays, making it forever “the Lord’s Day.” These appearances climaxed on a mountain in Galilee and the ascension of Christ into the heavens where he is enthroned at the right hand of the Father. It was on a Sunday he entered into His eternal rest, Sabbath in the presence of the Almighty. Those who enter into Christ enter into His rest, His Sabbath.

In the resurrection the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world prepared Himself, as the true High Priest, to be presented to the Father and thereby making a way for us to come into His throne room without fear of rejection. Through the resurrection we enter into our eternal Sabbath, love, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit. Our rest is to worship God in His presence knowing we are not only accepted by Him but also fully joined to Him. By the resurrection we know as we are known.

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 4, 2010

Saturday, April 3, 2010

I am Thankful for the Tomb

A longstanding Christian tradition holds that when Jesus was in the tomb his soul/spirit went down into hell where he preached to the Old Testament saints so that they might believe and be saved. That teaching is based on Ephesians 4: 9-10, (Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) The Apostles Creed includes the statement that Jesus “descended into hell.” As for me, I think the Biblical text is a simple reference to the entombment of our crucified Lord with a backdrop of the incarnation itself as a descent into earth.

The body of Christ was in the tomb for three days. There is some disagreement as to how long that was. Tradition has established the three days began on Friday before sunset and ended Sunday at sunrise. In other words, Jesus was in the tomb for portions of three days. Some have argued he was crucified on Thursday. It really doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that he was dead, completely dead, beyond resuscitation. I don’t understand what transpired while the body of Christ rested in the tomb. I simply know the one human who was also God died; He experienced the full curse of sin. He was cut off from the living and I believe from the Father and the Spirit.

This was not his first visit to a tomb. He had no doubt been to burial places many times in his life on earth. We know he went to the tomb of Lazarus and he cast demons out of the Gadarene who lived in the tombs. It strikes me He began His incarnation with nine months in a mobile tomb. We think of the womb as warm and cozy, a place of comfort and nurture. It is in fact a dark and muffled environment. I am personally convinced the unborn respond to their emotional environment. I also believe the psychological building blocks for communication are formed in prenatal experiences. He who is the Word of God, the exact representation of the Almighty Creator of all, began His incarnation as we all begin life, isolated and dependant.

From one tomb to the next Jesus fulfilled all that it means to be human. He swam in amniotic fluid, He gasped for His first breath of air (the spirit of life), He nursed at His mother’s breast, He pooped and puked, and went through all of the stages of human development. He was tempted in every way like each of us. And He did it all without sin. Whatever happened in the tomb, it was consistent with His divinity and His humanity. It represented His final temptation (reference to movie not planned) and He overcame. Not even death and the tomb could tempt Him out of the will of the Father. And so He remained dead for three days, until the fullness of time as appointed by the Father.

I am thankful for the tomb, the ultimate witness to the humanity and divinity of my Savior.

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 3, 2010

Friday, April 2, 2010

I am Thankful Jesus Died for Us

It is Good Friday, the day we remember the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. I will not sermonize, much. I do want to say I am thankful He laid down his life for all of creation. We often say “I am thankful Jesus died for me” with the emphasis on “me.” Such gratitude is appropriate but often skewed. Myopic interpretations of the crucifixion easily lead to a limited atonement and a depreciation of creation. It is as if the incarnation was just a necessary but insignificant step toward Christ’s death and resurrection. Correspondingly, the glorified Savior is perceived as having a spiritual body and little connection to the material world.

The gospel is that God became flesh in Christ and through His death and resurrection He remains forever fully human: fully creator, fully created. The Ancient of Days became the Eternal Baby, the fountain of life that cannot be stopped, ensuring the never ending renewal of creation.

The significance is that Christ died to redeem all of creation, all of the material world, all that lives, not just me (Romans 8: 18-23). Further, Christ died for all of creation in all of history, past, present, and future. He did not die just so that our souls could go to heaven. He died so that our entire lives can be redeemed unto the glory of God. Everything that happens to me is redeemed so that it serves with all other events in my life for my good and the glory of Christ. Every blessing and every evil becomes an instrument in God’s righteous plan for all things. And this is true for all that is in Christ. We indeed are his body, His created existence expressed in love and unity with all of His creation.

And so we call this Good Friday. It is noteworthy that the first Friday was the last day of creation and when God surveyed all that He had made he said it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31).  On Calvary God again surveyed all He had made only now it was marred by sin, dead and dying. Yet, He proclaimed once more “it is finished” (John 19:30) and with those words He affirmed again “My creation is good,” adding “it is worth dying for.”

Thus, Jesus did not lay down His life to deliver us out of creation. He gave Himself so that we might fulfill the purpose for our existence, so that we might reign with Him and tend to His creation.

I am not alone. I am not worthless. I am not insignificant. I am an heir and a joint heir with the One who fills all of creation.

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 2, 2010

Thursday, April 1, 2010

I am Thankful for Little Blessings

I put my motorcycle in the shop yesterday for new tires, an oil change and a safety inspection. I was told to expect it next Tuesday. They called this afternoon and said I could pick it up today. When I got there the total price was about $80 less than I expected. Those are extremely small blessings, but they are the kind that can lift my spirits in weary times.

I have found that the joy connected with little blessings is often tied to other things, other hopes and possibilities. Getting my bike back early means Cheryl and I can go for a ride one day over this long weekend. Another little blessing is that the weather this weekend is going to be beautiful, perfect for riding. Little blessings are linked.

In the end, there are no little blessings. All blessings flow from God and express His love for us. The challenge is to recognize all of God’s gifts and celebrate them not because of how they connect to our desires but because of how they express the eternal goodness and righteous character of God. When we recognize God’s presence in all of the good that comes into our lives we are actually embracing the greatest gift of all, God Himself. There are no little blessings. “Count your blessings” is not as quaint as it once sounded to me.

P.S. for those who are following this blog, I know I missed yesterday. I was not feeling well when I got home last night. I am thankful God understands.

Cleveland, Tennessee
April 1, 2010