Thursday, December 8, 2011

Another Poem

The Atonement

He stepped out of His glory

And wrapped Himself in darkness

The Creator became the created

The Eternal conceived as mortal

He who knew no sin, became sin

For our sakes, love, grace and truth

Embraced all our bitterness

Bound up our brokenness

And healed all our diseases

Some would limit the atonement

In its history and in its effect

To the cross as seat of judgment

And the predestined elect

They would bury our transgressions

In a moment of confessions

And His foreknown pronouncement

The chosen decreed as innocent

But His propitiation

Brackets the incarnation

Fully God and fully man

Salvation without end

And its effect on all creation

Every tribe, every nation

The claim of His grace

Rests on all the human race

Yes, our sentence was commuted

His righteousness imputed

But His purpose was much greater

Full communion with our Creator

With pardon came renewal

Freedom from sin’s rule

Yes, full redemption

Holiness imparted

Entire sanctification

A new order of creation

November 2011

I have release a collection of my poems.  You may purchase a copy at   All profit will go to the New Covenant Church of God building fund.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A New Poem

Into Your Presence

In the cool of the day,
I run into Your presence
In the garden of Your Word.
Hungry for Your touch, Your face
Your will, Your warm embrace.
There I quiet my spirit
And listen for Your voice
Echoing through those ancient books
Scribed by human hands.
Both eternal and created,
Word of God born in thoughts of men.

More than a window into the heavens
Or a relic of the past,
The Spirit hums across the pages,
Grace and Truth for all the ages.
Love beyond imagination 
Wed to human communication.
Mysteries hidden from the angels
Written in the lyrics of mere mortals.
In the whole and in each part
Intoning Your very heart
Every syllable a revelation
Alpha and Omega within creation.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Agony and Ecstasy

Life is rich, full, and uncertain.  When this year began I wrote about being committed to a year of writing; I have written almost nothing.  I was diagnosed with cancer on February 25 followed by surgery on February 28.  My third grandchild (Tegan Smith) was born on March 3 and I drove to Wheaton, Illinois on April 4 to meet her (one week after surgery).  A tornado ripped through our place on Wednesday, April 27.  Our beautiful trees were leveled, but we had little damage to the house.  The barn roof had to be replaced. (I bought a new chain saw but still have dozens of trees that need removal.)  Later in the spring we had torrential rains and our basement flooded.  We also had 24 hours of record rainfall in early September and it flooded again.  (Our plans are to have French drains installed soon.)  In late July two of our professors accepted positions at another school and I was asked to pick up a couple of their classes.  I am enjoying teaching Historical Theology with Sang-Ehil Han as it was my focus area in my doctoral program, but it is a new preparation. In short, my dreams for this year have been supplanted by the agony of the unexpected and the ecstasy of survival.

And, I forgot to mention the water line in our front yard ruptured and I replaced it last month.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Hungry for Life

Cheryl decided this summer we should do the "Body for Life" program. I agreed to tag along on the meal portion of the program, but I made no promises on the exercise component. [To be fair with myself -- as if I would not be -- I was over worked with storm damage yet to be cleaned and still low on energy from my surgery.]

I said "tag along" because I made it clear I wasn't going to be legalistic about the meal plans, I would exercise my way and I wasn't going to put any effort into learning the program.

As best as I can figure it, the meal plan is simple. First, cut out or at least way down on the breads and other carbohydrates. I am not always certain what carbohydrates are, so I just assume they are the things I really like and I only eat them when Cheryl is not around.. Second, eat more protein and eat it six times a day. That translates into a protein snack mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and evenings. Third, eat much smaller portions for regular meals. Fourth, there is only one regular meal a day, lunch. She says I should think of three servings for lunch, each the size of my fist: one meat, one green vegetable, and one of whatever else she wants.

I'm not one to complain -- much -- but it does seem to my eyes she measures by the size of her fist, not mine.

Giving up cereal for breakfast has not been hard. I enjoy my egg, coffee, and half piece of toast (with homemade jelly) with her in the mornings. We are now having breakfast together most days.

Our mid-morning snack is usually half each of a protein bar. I bought them in bulk online at about half price. They remind me of a candy bar. The kind you might get in a  remote village in the so-called two-thirds world where they haven't discovered processed sugar or real chocolate. After two months of their pleasure I can honestly say they are not half bad, but Cheryl seems to get that half. Occasionally I sneak a more commercial (think they have flavor) breakfast bar.

Most evenings we have a protein smoothie. We blend a protein shake (bought in bulk online) with some yogurt and ice. They taste (chocolate or vanilla) like a a milk shake you might get in that same impoverished village. I end the day with a spoon full, as in all you can cram onto a tablespoon, of peanut butter.

This simulation of the mess hall in a POW camp has been going on for about seven weeks and I have lost fifteen pounds. It’s working and so I have given myself to some deep philosophical reflection.

I have renamed the program "Hungry for Life." This double entendre speaks to a revised relationship with the condition of physical hunger and a desire to live life to the fullest.

I have adopted the mantra "hunger is our friend." This came to me as I wrestled with that demon of culinary desire. I was over weight (235 pounds, I think my Wii said "grossly obese.") because I had developed a wrong attitude about hunger.

For most of my adult life hunger was an enemy to be conquered.  Three or four times a day I beat the stuffing out of it.  Sometimes I gave it a good wailing even before it shook off the last beating.  But it was invincible, the Rocky Balboa of appetites.  There it was every morning ready for a few more rounds, not even bruised by the pounding I had given it the day before. 

The thought came to me as I lingered over my half of a protein bar, “hunger is my friend.”  Perhaps I was in a delusional state induced by malnutrition but it seemed all so clear.

Hunger spoke to me, “You are alive; you can feel, and you are losing weight.  As long as you have that slight sensation of emptiness in your stomach you are the master of food.” 

As I struggled to affirm my sanity I did what all preachers do, I spiritualized and formed a sermon illustration.  Hunger is nothing more than a God given desire, a necessary impulse for survival.  It is only when covetous sin entwines itself with our created nature that this inner voice of life begins to lust for more than it needs.  It is not hunger that makes people obese; it is unbridled lust for pleasure.  Somebody say “Amen.”

I now confess, I am not entirely sanctified.  The old man with his longings for processed sugar and french fries is not dead.  My hunger is a tainted and fickle friend. Cheryl brought pizza before me last night and I shamelessly consumed my fill. [“Oh, the woman that Thou gavest me.”]  I conclude that I may never in this life have a body for living, but I shall always be hungry for life.

I failed to mention we get one free day a week. I think it is like "eternal weight loss, once a dieter always a dieter, you've got to eat a little bit every day." And with selective memory that day of indulgence can show up at any time.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Value of Life

The storm continues to impact our lives almost three weeks after the winds ceased.  Downed trees had isolated four of our cows for three days after the storm.  I noticed them eating the leaves and thought little of it.  They had water and they were eating, everything should be Okay until I could cut a path for them.

Last Wednesday, two weeks after the tornadoes tore through our community, I came home and walked out to check on my cows.  I found one down, obviously quite ill.  I brought her some water and feed.  She got up and drank several gallons, but ate nothing.  It was dark by the time I got her quarantined from the other cows.  The next morning she was unable to get on her feet.  I concluded I would have to euthanize her that evening.  I came home at lunch and found her dead.  I was relieved; it grieves me to kill an animal. 

The questions lingered, what killed the cow?  Was it contagious?  I had searched my books and researched on line, but I couldn’t narrow it down.  It all happened so fast there was no time to get a veterinarian out to check on her.  Since I had so many downed trees to burn I opted to cremate her on Friday.  I used my tractor to drag a couple of logs out to the back side of my pasture.  As I approached the chosen site I noticed one of my cows lying down in the woods by herself.  I knew immediately she was one that had been corralled with the dead one and she was sick, very sick.

I gathered the wood and started the cremation process.  Then I came inside to call a Vet and do more research.  The Vet’s office informed me he probably would not make it out to my place for 24 hours.  I followed a hunch and googled "poison cattle feed."  “Cattle diseases” and similar phrases had not on the day before turned up anything consistent with the symptoms of the first cow.  Sure enough Oak acorns, bark and leaves are poisonous if consumed in large quantities.  The symptoms matched, and there was no treatment.

When I arose to go outside and rebuild the fire I witnessed a sobering scene.  The dead cow’s calf and another heifer, the two of which had been isolated with the dead cow when she got sick and I had therefore quarantined in the lot next to the fire, were lying down with their chins flat on the ground facing the fire where the cremation was in full force.

My mind flashed back to a childhood ritual.  I was perhaps seven and we were at my grandmother Johns’ to butcher a cow.  We were gathered at one end of her pasture with a pole tripod where the carcass would be hoisted for the initial dressing.  The rest of the herd had been corralled far away and completely out of sight.

I remember five things well from that day.  I remember the snap of the rifle and instant jerk of the cow down to her knees before she collapsed on her side.  I remember the force of the stream of blood when the throat was cut, pulsating with the final beats of the heart.  I remember the care with which my Dad and uncles made the incisions and dissections; great effort to not taint or contaminate the meat with unwanted substances.  And I remember the lingering, mournful bellows of the heard that began at the moment the rifle fired.  How did they know?  They had never to my knowledge bellowed at the simple sound of a gun.

Yesterday, in order to keep the bull away from the young heifer, I had to let the heifer and calf back into the section where the cremation took place.  I was astonished, but not surprised, as I watched the two bovines walk directly to the charred remnants of the cow, face the remains, bow their heads, and stand silently for ten minutes or longer.  Later they would lie, chins down, in the exact same spot.

I was surprised last evening when I led our two horses into the same section of grass.  They too walked straight to the cremation site, turned to face the remnants, bowed their heads, and stood silently for several minutes before beginning their grazing.  They had been far removed from the cremation three days earlier.

I cannot explain these patterns of animal behavior.  At the risk of anthropomorphisms, I must confess they speak loudly to me of the value of life and of the force that ties all living creatures together.  All that is is held together and connected by the Spirit of God.  All breath has its origin in the nostrils of God.
It is not my purpose to offer an apology for the vegans among us.  I eat meat and I plan to continue enjoying it for a long time.  Instead, I find in the reverence for life sometimes evidenced in the world of animals a call to truly give thanks at every meal.  All good things come from our heavenly Father, and those that nourish us come at a price higher than we can imagine.  Life in all its forms is the greatest of gifts.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

My Response to the Rob Bell Controversy

Thursday, April 7, 2011

I have of course not written on this blog for a month. Instead, I have written about my experience with cancer on my Johns Family blog. You are welcome to go there to read my journal on the experience. A link appears in the column to the right. Needless to say, the surgery has proven a greater hindrance to writing than I imagined.

This week I received a note from a friend in the Pacific Northwest asking my opinion of the current Rob Bell controversy. He asked if I thought Bell represented the fruition of reason run amuck. I responded with the following (quickly constructed and unedited) comments.

I deeply appreciate your question and way you phrased it. I do not believe that reason inevitably leads to chaos. In my opinion, it is not reason that is at fault in post-modernity; it is the set of a priori assumptions to which reason is being applied. Postmodern thought builds on two faulty premises, one long-standing and the other only recently re-introduced. The longstanding error is belief that truth can be known in a vacuum. That is, the Hellenistic worldview assumes there always exists a gap between the knower and the known. Grounded in dualism, this myth ultimately removes truth from the material world, and makes reason the sole arbiter of truth, which in turn limits knowledge to the individual’s ability to reason. Knowledge and truth, while universal in essence, are always private in experience; only the individual can know that he or she knows.

The second faulty assumption is new to the “modern” world. It is a rejection of the longstanding belief that creation is a closed system. Twentieth century physics replaced the certainty of Newton’s Laws with the uncertainty of Einstein’s theory of relativity, which lead to thoughts of alternative time-lines, the collapse of space into time, and multiple dimensions of existence. The material world has an infinite number of possible expressions. And if that is true, then how diverse must spiritual truth be?

I realize I am painting in very broad strokes but it seems to me that post modernity boils down to the union of these two presuppositions, (1) truth can only be known by the individual, and (2) all truth is relative. When these two are brought together the results are the deification of the individual and the nullification of absolute truth (Adam and Eve all over again).

For me the answer lies in a more Biblical epistemology, one that understands all knowledge and truth as (1) being grounded in the Triune God, (2) relational in character (always personal/never private), (3) always constant, consistent, and therefore rational, but (4) also trans-rational [truth cannot be confined to reason alone making reason to not be the sole arbiter of truth].

I have not read Bell’s latest book. Therefore, I cannot comment on his specific views. The reviews I have read suggest he is merely lost in the relativity/uncertainty of post-modernity. The strength of his approach seems to be his willingness to look at hard questions thru the lens of the cultural realities of his generation. The weakness of his approach seems to be an unwillingness to accept and teach with certainty the Biblical answers to those questions.

I have probably strayed too far from your original question. In short, the problem with post-modernity is its predisposition to limit reason to the role of being a tool used to defend truth as a private matter (reason as justification for my brand of truth). To borrow a phrase from Francis Schaffer, post-modernity represents the Western World’s “escape from reason.” I don’t think Bell offers a valid model for reaching a post-modern world. He, and others in the emergent church, are correct in their assertion that it is not enough to ask the right questions with this rising generation; we must understand their epistemology which defines truth as that which is “real” rather than that which is “logical.” They are wrong in that they fail to honor the Word of God incarnated and the Word of God inscripturated as being both personal and objective (present in time and space). We, as Pentecostals, should be providing the answer for post-moderns, truth is found in the person of Jesus who is both real and logical. He is known through encounter and understood through reason.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Elephant in the Room

I have been sidetracked from writing for the past several weeks by a health issue. I plan to post about that on my Family Blog on Sunday. What follows here is a draft of a section of the introduction to a book on Bible study on which I am working. The book is currently being called Encountering God in the Scriptures: Inductive Bible Study for a New Generation. Constructive feedback will be appreciated.

The Elephant in the Room

In 1970 James Smart, a leading Presbyterian scholar, wrote about The Strange Silence of the Bible in the Church. He was writing against a liberal theology which had combined with a progressive philosophy to produce the “social gospel.” Many of the leading churches had concluded the Bible simply wasn’t relevant for modern times; it was at best a record of how people long ago had sought to understand their world and the God who may have created it.

It is now four decades since Smart wrote to challenge the church to return to the Bible as a God-given book worthy of dedicated study. Yet, instead of being resolved, the problem of neglect for the Holy Scriptures has expanded into much of the Christian world, especially in the more developed nations. Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and Charismatics, who were once known as “people of the Book,” are now woefully ignorant of the ancient texts. We live in a time when the Bible is cherished as an artifact and ignored as a revelation. For many it has become the proverbial “elephant in the room;” a presence too great to be removed and too mysterious to be explored.

All too often we are like the blind men of the ancient Indian proverb. Having never seen an elephant they were led to an old and gentle mare where they were stationed around it. Each was asked to describe the animal they were feeling for the first time. The one at the head spoke up quickly with a tone of fear as he pushed away the trunk, “it is a giant serpent.” At the opposite end his friend stood curling the tail around his hand and replied, “you silly man, it is no serpent; it is something we can use. It is a rope.” Another clung to a giant leg and announced “It is no serpent or rope; it is a tree under which we can take shelter.” The one at the side of the beast exclaimed “No! no! no! It is a wall. Behind it we will be protected.” Finally, the one being cooled by the flapping of the elephant’s ears added, “I know what it is; an elephant is a fan.”

If we were to expand the parable we might imagine how those who cannot hear experience the elephant. How would the experience of those who cannot smell be different from our own? How do people who only see elephants at the zoo or a circus experience them differently than the scientist who studies them, or the person who trains them to perform, or the person who uses them in the jungles as a means of transportation or a beast of burden? At the risk of overreach in our exploration of the parable, how would we experience the elephant in the room if it was wild and untamed, a beast that refused to be controlled? If we are to truly know the elephant we must realize it is more than the sum of its parts. It is a living and dynamic creature. We must also recognize our experiences with it, even our combined experiences, are inadequate to completely know it.

If we begin to experience the elephant from all of these vantage points, our understanding of the elephant would expand as would our questions about elephants. Just how big do elephants get? How long do they live? How strong are they? What noises do they make? What do they smell like? What do they eat? Where do they live? How do you train an elephant to stand on its hind legs?

Like the blind men most of us connect with only portions of the Bible. There are passages we like and others we hurry through or skip over. If we are not careful we will limit the Word of God to the role we want it to play in our lives. For some the Bible is to be revered but not explored; it is too awesome and demanding to be engaged. Others know it only as a textbook to be studied for its practical applications. Others cling to its presence, if not its content, as a shelter from the storms of life. Still others find in it a wall behind which to hide from the dangers of life. Still others get just close enough to be cooled by the freshness of its presence.

God is present in His Word. The Bible is far more than a record of how people sought to know God, or even how people once experienced God. The Scriptures are the voice of God echoing through the ages, the Word of God carried by the Holy Spirit to every generation, the presence of God making Him known to all who would attend to it.

Bible study should aim at knowing God and His purposes for our lives. It is a spiritual process. But Bible study should also be a reasoned and disciplined process. If the Bible is infinite and eternal as the voice of God, it is also historical and temporal. It is both a divine book and a human book. God’s Word inscripturated foreshadowed the mystery of God’s Word incarnate. In Christ God has become flesh; in the Bible God’s word has become human language.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Another Dream

I had planned to write something on the "State of the Union" address, but it is the first week of classes.

I have had some interesting dreams.  Two nights ago it was two slap-stick comedies.  I awoke from both chuckling.  That was unusual.

Last night I had a much more philosophic/theological dream.  In the dream Cheryl and I were sitting at the table with a bunch of scholars.  Some of us were discussing ecclesiology.  I made a few comments about the ecclesiology of the early leaders of the Church of God and my long-standing theory they were influenced by the publication of Donaldson's Ante-Nicene Fathers.

My good friend Dale Coulter was at the other end of the table. (Dale Teaches at Regent University and use to be a member of New Covenant.  I love and respect him and his wife greatly.  He has published an article on early Church of God ecclesiology.)  Suddenly I heard Dale speak up in his not uncommon, prophetic stacatto, the one where his volume and tone rise slightly, "If Heaven was to come down right now and I could go, I wouldn't if God wasn't there.  Enduring all that glory for eternity without His presence would be torture."

Now that's a dream to meditate on.  Dale, what are your thoughts?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Consider Creation

Consider Now Creation
In Its Whole and In Each Part
Every photon, neuron, and function
God Revealed in His Art.

His glory is painted on the horizons
His Beauty adorns each Flower,
His Majesty Engulfs the Heavens
The Eternal within Every Hour

All Creatures by Him Adorned
Each Kissed by the Breath of God,
Humans Alone in His Image Formed
The Creator Impressed on Sod

Each Day a Work of Art
Shaped by the Finger of God,
Each Moment a Monument
To His Creative Power

For this reason you were freed
His glory to proclaim
In Word and Thought and Deed
Announcing Salvation in His Name

January 13, 2011

Cards of Gratitude

Believe it or not I am up to date on my project to send a card expressing gratitude to a different person each day in 2011.  I have discovered: (1) designing the cards using photos I have taken is easier that writing cards, (2) writing cards from the heart is difficult and time consuming, almost as much as writing a daily blog -- ideas come easier than expressed affections, (3) expressing affections is difficult because that requires sincerity/truth and it has to connect with the recipient -- I struggle to express feelings; my language of love is action, (4) cards are difficult because they have to be concise -- context, affections, examples in three to five sentences.

I have discovered great joy in this discipline.  It is wonderful to remember persons who have blessed me over my lifetime and to communicate words of gratitude.  I have also found myself praying for each person/couple and this may be the greater purpose of this exercise. 

One other dimension of this discipline is that it is private.  My series on thankfulness was public declaration.  Cards are private.  I recognize they are primarily a self-revelation but they are also a statement about the other person and a statement about our relationship.  There is in this an implied commitment and openness to response.  I did not anticipate this latter condition, i.e., I did not expect to hear back from anyone.  Several persons have sent messages of appreciation for my card.  Most have not.  While not expected, acknowledgement of receipt of the notes is most gratifying.

On A Work-break
1-25-11 at 11:00 A.M.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Thank You Mr. President

President Obama,

Thank you for your address at the memorial service in Arizona.  You were compassionate, insightful, and instructive.  You did what you espoused and rose above politics to address us all as the great American family.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Troubled by Current Political Opportunism

Our nation is responding to the senseless murders in Arizona this week. In the coming weeks we will discover more about Jared Loughner, the twenty two year old shooter, than anyone needs to know. He was clearly a deeply troubled, if not mentally ill (Okay, obviously mentally ill) individual.

I am on the record as being critical of current political speech especially by TV and radio personalities as polarizing and counterproductive. There seem to be more conservative pundits with incendiary speech than liberals but the liberals are just as viral if more polished and entertaining.

In this crisis, I am troubled by the political opportunism demonstrated by some on the left. I have seen and read numerous commentaries associating this event with the political right. There is no evidence thus far to link this young shooter to conservatism in general or Sarah Palin in particular. There is no justification for linking him in any way to contemporary political debate. His reported political influences include Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Given the fact that Representative Giffods was Jewish, this influence suggests a plausible theory for his acts of violence to be racism. I suspect however that time will reveal this to be the result of paranoid schizophrenia with a focus on mistrust of authority/political figures and not a cogent political statement.

Further, there is no evidence that I am aware of suggesting rhetorical images of physical struggle or even those of hunting or military conflict (“lock and load”) contribute to political assassinations. Political speech of all stripes has always been peppered with images of physical struggle. I suspect acts of violence against public figures are grounded more in fear (a primary emotion and one at the heart of paranoia) than anger (a secondary emotion).

I don’t recall anybody blaming members of the political left when John Hinkley, Jr. shot Ronald Reagan. If this most recent act of violence was in any way attributable to current political divisions in our nation (and I think not) then both sides are to blame for it is unreasoned evocative blame that is at the heart of the problem. The left blames the right for all of our social ills and the right blames the left for our loss of freedoms. If there is hysteria in our society it is fueled by unreasoned blame and personal attacks and these flow out of arrogance and fear.

It is a natural response to look for answers to questions thrust upon us by violence. It further seems nearly automatic to look or someone to blame when tragedy occurs. Unfortunately, periods of emotional stress leave us ill prepared for clarity of thought and appropriate response. All too often our reactions serve only to solidify our ideological positions and emphasize our social divisions.

In short, I find the current attempt by some to blame the conservatives an expression of the problem. Unreasoned blame of social/political movements and/or persons intensifies and solidifies emotional divisions. To express this type of blame in a time like this is nothing short of political opportunism and I find that very troubling.

There are many things we might legitimately debate in the wake of this tragedy. I would suggest the two most obvious are our nation’s approach to the treatment of mental illness and the control of handguns, and the interplay between these two issues. Yet, even these issues should not be acted upon in the current emotional environment. It is a time to grieve, to comfort, and to pray.

January 10, 2011

Friday, January 7, 2011

But Momma, It’s in the Bible

Over the holidays one of my family members asked me, what I was going to write about in 2011 now that the series on thanksgiving was nearly over. Just for a laugh, I responded, “Things That Tick Me Off.” Only, I used a Biblical word for “Tick,” a word I don’t think I have uttered since I was eight years old and my mother nearly washed my mouth out with soap for using it.  I begged for God's forgiveness before I went to bed; really, I did.

One of the blessings of growing up in a holiness, Pentecostal, southern environment is the shelter offered by the long shadow of the Victorian era. For example, women were not said to be “pregnant” or even “expecting;” a woman in that condition was said to be "in the family way.” Thus, we were shielded from the harsh realities of modernity and those of human frailties, being instead comforted by the poetic, if archaic, verse of the King James Bible. In that subliminal reality some things just were not what they seemed and our task as children was to navigate the glorious river of truth fraught with the difficulties of double entendres.

I once asked my mother why it was wrong to dance if people danced at church. For just an instant she had the look of a possum caught in the headlights of an oncoming eighteen wheeler. But she quickly gained her composure and threw down a trump card, “You know better than to ask a question like that.”

“But Momma, it’s in the Bible; David danced.”

Her response was the stair of a lion about to pounce on an unsuspecting wilder beast. Discussion closed.

Furthermore, I was often confused about the reason preachers got to use words I was forbidden to use. How could they get by with statements like “You are going to burn in hell if you don’t repent.” We were forbidden to even mouth or spell out the word “hell?” On top of that they could use the word “damn,” or at least cognations of it: “damned,” “damnation.” They even used the “B” word; “by this you know you are sons and not b…ds.”

My confusion was heightened when I began to read. For a long period of time my mother led us in family devotions every evening. It was more like evening Bible school than anything else. We read through books of the Bible beginning with the historical books of the Old Testament. We went around the family circle, each reading a verse until a chapter was completed. After Shirley and I had struggled through a few sets of verses with Old Testament names, Mom would let Jimmy finish out the chapter to move things along. After reading there was time spent in Bible quizzes; these were sort of a Bible Trivia game she developed before there were such games. Finally, we would spend a few minutes in prayer before being sent to bed.

On one of those nights we were reading through I Samuel. Now that is an exciting book for a young boy. It fell my lot to read 1 Samuel 25:22 “So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.”

“WHAAAAT DID YOU SAY? What was that word you used?”


“Let me see that. That word’s not in the Bible.”

She grabbed my Bible out of my hand and silently read. “Well, it might be in there, but I had better not be hearing you use it. I think ya’ll better just go to bed now.”

There was no quiz and no prayer that night.

And so I learned that the Scriptures are the infallible Word of God, profitable for reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. We believed in the whole Bible rightly divided. And for my mother that meant her children should study the Bible carefully, all except for those sections and words she divided out of it. Looking back on those cherished days, we never got around to reading the Song of Solomon, either.

January 7, 2011

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I am Thankful I Grew Up in a Pentecostal Church

I am very thankful that I grew up in a Pentecostal church. I am very content with my core images of God that were informed, if not formed, by Pentecostal worship. Last evening I sat in on our youth group meeting. I am always blessed to be with our youth; they lift my spirit. As I observed them praying in the altars I reflected on who God is to me.

In my childhood and youth God was both wholly other and ever present. He was a holy God who had to be approached with reverence, but He was also a faithful friend who never left us. In worship, our God-of-terror/God-of-peace was encountered. In these encounters people were “slain” in the Spirit and “made drunk” on His presence. Often, individuals were snatched up into a frenzied dance; others seemed more invited into a heavenly sachet.

His presence might call forth shouts and screams that seemed to lift the rafters. On other occasions a “holy hush” settled in on the congregation like a warm blanket of palpable silence. Songs were always sung from the heart as a testimony or witness to our common faith. Testimonies were fervent and spoke of life and death; “Pray for me. My husband was drunk when I left home and he said that if I came to church tonight he would kill me when I got home.” Yes, our worship was a dramatic presentation with the whole sanctuary a stage.

My classmates complained of their boring Sunday services. I remained quiet, unwilling to “cast my pearls” before those who had no point of reference. From our worship I inhaled three truths.

First, God is and He is present, or, at the very least, always near. I have had my seasons of doubt, questioning everything from my sanity to my destiny. I have wondered if I would survive, but I have never questioned if He existed or if He was an all-powerful, all-knowing, holy, and merciful God. At least, I have never doubted for more than a few seconds at the time.

Second, God speaks. This has been a theme of my life and ministry. Our God continually speaks. He has most clearly revealed Himself in His Word, both incarnated and inscripturated. Throughout history He speaks special words, sometimes audible and sometimes beyond language. He speaks through all the events of our lives. He speaks to individuals, to congregations and to nations.

Thirdly, God listens. All too often we view God’s act of hearing us as instrumental. That is, we focus not on His listening but on what He might do about what He hears. This implies God is valued more for what He does than for who He is. The truth that God listens to us should be cherished in and of itself. The one who is without beginning or end loves us enough to listen to our every thought. He hears not only our ideas but our heart. He is the friend who sticks closer than a brother. He is touched by the very feeling of our infirmities. He cares. He knows.

In sum, the core truth ingrained in me in my experiences as a child growing up in the Church of God is that my Creator desires an ongoing intimate relationship with me. He does not want to be an idea, a principle, a system worthy of my attention; He wants deeply interpersonal fellowship with me. And if I truly desire that He will make it happen.

January 6, 2011

I am Thankful for God’s Protection

That’s the best title I could come up with for my topic, but it’s a little misleading. More precisely, I am thankful for God’s protection of the children in my and Cheryl’s watch care, specifically our children and grandchildren, but others as well. As a pastor, I have been to the emergency room many times for all kinds of accidents. By God’s grace we have never had to take a child there: no stitches, no broken bones, and nothing indigestible swallowed. We’ve never even lost one at the mall, an air terminal, a National Park, or a foreign city (those seem to be the favored places for loosing children). And believe me; we have had plenty of opportunities and a couple of temptations. With all seriousness, I recognize that few people have been as blessed as we have been in this area; we are responsible people, but it is the grace of God that has protected the children placed in our care. I am thankful.

While I am on the topic of accidents, I should apologize to Cheryl (I should, but I probably won't).  I have gotten a few laughs at her expense.  She does have ADD and has had a couple of close calls with the lawn mower and a fallen tree, but in fact, during the thirty six years of our marriage she has only had one automobile accident and that did not involve another car.  Noone else was in her car and she was not hurt. That is a pretty good record for someone who averages between 25,000 and 30,000 miles a year.  I am thankful.

January 5, 2011

Monday, January 3, 2011

I am Thankful for the Prospects of 2011

I have begun my 2011 discipline of writing notes of gratitude to those persons who have been a special blessing to me during my life. So far, I have spent more time designing and printing the cards than actually writing on them, but I have written one each of these three days.

It is January 3 and I am having withdrawals from my “I am Thankful Series.” I have a compulsion to write about the blessings of my life. The problem is that writing the series took so much energy it interfered with other writing projects on which I now need to work. My plans are to post my progress on a couple of those other writing projects on this or another blog. I would appreciate some critique with suggestions for improvement once I begin to post.

One of the projects is a major rewrite of a textbook on the inductive Bible study method. Cheryl wrote the original text in the mid eighties. The second project is an inductive Bible study guide for the Gospel of Mark. I will be living in that Gospel for the first half of this year. In an effort to strengthen that project and keep me focused I have announced to New Covenant that I will be preaching a series of sermons through Mark from now until Pentecost Sunday.

I am thankful for the prospects of 2011. As I enter this year I have high hopes for my writing ministry. I have equally high hopes for New Covenant; I believe we are going to “see the fruit of our labors.” That was the last prophetic word given to me by Sister Faye Whitten. This will also be the year in which Peanut makes the long journey into the light of day; who could ask for more than that? It has been a long time since I entered a new year with this level of and diversity in promises on the horizon.

Last year was a year of inner healing and answered prayers in my life. I believe this year will be a year of renewed strength and wholeness. My prayer is that this will be a year in which I bless many people. Pray for me, in the concluding words of the old-time Pentecostal testimonies, “that I will ever be faithful…I just want to be a blessing to someone.”

January 3, 2011

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Reflections on the Year of Thanksgiving

With clear direction from God, I have spent one year blogging about that for which I am thankful. My original thought was to make brief one-sentence to one-paragraph statements each evening. Instead, I have discovered verbosity an incurable malformity of my nature. Ask me what time it is and I am driven to build you a clock, with instructions and a history lesson on the meaning of “time.” I have known about my condition for decades; I have long ago analyzed and theorized about its origins. But not until this year have I grasped the extent of its hold on my psyche.

I began this year with two simple goals for the project. First and foremost was to be obedient to God. I have not questioned why He gave me this assignment. I have always thought of myself as a thankful person. And so I did not begin with a sense that God was forcing me to develop an unwanted character trait. I had a suspicion He was going to do an inner work and teach me some things and I was hopeful about His grace touching some of my inner struggles through the process, but I did not give much attention to possible outcomes for the exercise.

My second goal was to develop discipline and skills as a writer. I have known for some time that I would spend much of my latter ministry as a writer. I have never felt gifted in this arena. But God spoke it into my heart when I was a grad student at Wheaton College. One of our peers was an editor at one of the Christian publishing companies in the area. I don’t remember her name, but I do remember vividly one brief conversation. I made a comment about being impressed with her skills as a writer and that I would love to have that talent but I could never see myself as a writer. She responded with what was a Word from the Lord for me, “I think you are wrong. One day you will be a writer and a good one.”

Those words were burned into my soul. I have just known that God’s call on my life included writing. I have also known that ministry would develop in the latter portion of my vocational life. I entered this project on thanksgiving with a desire to become a better writer. With just a couple of exceptions, my prior writings have been stiff and inclined toward the academic. My desire is to communicate in an engaging, and where appropriate, entertaining way. Perhaps I am delusional or misguided, but I am committed to this effort.

At this juncture, it is irrelevant how many people might read what I write. With the advent of the internet, my calling might not even require my work be publishable. I’ll just keep blogging. My fondest hope is that I be found faithful to the heavenly calling. My prayer is that I might be a blessing to someone. My expectation is that I will learn and grow through the process and in that may He be glorified and may I somehow be found pleasing in His sight. All things are possible.

Through this effort I have discovered some things about myself and some things about thankfulness. The discoveries are interwoven I have noted some of these observations in previous blogs, but I will pull some of them together and add to them here.

At the half-way point I wrote: I have been writing this series on being thankful for almost six months. I have discovered a few things about myself and thankfulness. First, being thankful is easier than being creative. Second, being thankful is sometimes spontaneous and sometimes hard work. Third, expressing thankfulness is a window to one’s soul. Some of the things I am most thankful for are too personal to share. All of the things I share expose my inner self. Fourth (a corollary to the previous), expressing thanks is an exercise in humility. This may seem obvious, but this public discipline has made me aware that the more deep my thankfulness the more conscious I am of my weakness. True thankfulness often is an acknowledgement of our own insufficiency. Fifth, thankfulness may be married to the whole spectrum of emotions: joy, grief, fear, hope. Sixth, expressed thankfulness is sometimes a diversion from deeper, more self-disclosing, thankfulness. Seventh, thankfulness is sometimes more difficult to express than to feel. Expressed thankfulness is a statement about the person/object of thankfulness. It is an effort to honor and therefore requires careful wording lest the other person be dishonored. Ungracious grace can disgrace.

[I had another entry of reflection on August 31 : .]

At this point, I would observe that I began the year with an emphasis on grace. The grace I wrote about centered on God’s voice. I am very thankful for those times God has spoken a word to me. These personal theophanies have been central to my life. Even their absences have been critical in my formation. Looking back over those entries it dawns on me that the grace of God and the Word of God are inseparable. In His Word He gives Himself; this is grace. His grace communicates His love and mercy; this is the Word of God. Thanksgiving is a gift from God that flows from His other gifts the chief of which are the knowledge of Him, His name, and His active presence in our lives.

A review of the year also reveals an emphasis on family, past and present. I was born into and nurtured by an exceptional family. My parents were not perfect, but they formed a dynamic union that afforded me great opportunity to ponder good and evil, right and wrong, better and best. We are the product of those who went before. My parents’ greatest gifts to me included (1) they believed in me and my siblings, (2) they modeled righteousness and strength, and (3) they worked hard to build a better future for us. My Dad use to quote an Ensign in the navy who told him “Johns, a man is a failure if he doesn’t raise his children to be better than he is; he has all of his own mistakes from which to teach them.” I am not certain of the full truth of that maxim but I am certain my father lived by it and I am better off because he did.

Other people are very significant in my life. Several of these passed away this year. Others reconnected after some time and distance. The birth of children always calls forth thanksgiving. Pastors and teachers were prominent. Gratitude is always personal.

Other observations I would make include the following.

1. Thankfulness is an attitude and an affection and not an emotion. We can be thankful even when we do not feel like it.

2. It is easier to be thankful than to express thanksgiving. Expression requires commitment; commitment involves risk. For me the greater risk seems to be fear of being misunderstood.

3. The discipline of expressing thankfulness increases thankfulness, refreshes memories, and quickens the mind. The link between being thankful and expressing thankfulness is strong but not automatic. Expressing thankfulness requires effort. It is easier to express thankfulness to God than to people. The truly thankful will express gratitude to those persons who bless them. This must be genuine and therefore spontaneous, but it also requires effort to articulate specifics.

4. Expressing thankfulness is a form of testimony. It requires recall and naming. In gratitude we know ourselves as both subject and object. It is a creative interpretation of those truths and values we hold as we see those truths outside/beyond of ourselves. As a corollary, gratitude is a link/conduit between our inner selves and the world/people we know.

5. True thankfulness is an expression of humility (I am the object/recipient of someone’s grace) but the temptation to pride crouches at the door (“I must be special to be so blessed”).

6. Gratitude is an expressed affection. The affection is dynamic in that it links our selves, the gift/blessing, and the giver.

7. Some of my deepest thanksgivings are too personal to be expressed.

8. My thanksgiving flows from the eternal to the deeply personal to the material and back again. I suspect that gratitude for the extra-ordinary gifts of life is enhanced by gratitude for the ordinary gifts of life. We would appreciate the phenomenal/eternal more if we learned to appreciate the common/temporal more.

9. A corollary suggests that we would appreciate God more if we learned to appreciate the persons in our daily lives more.

[On a side note: I observed that the most comments I got were (a) about the troublesome General Council (8), (b) an entry critical of arrogant and obnoxious people (6), and (c) an entry about the death of a friend (6). It appears we are more likely to put forth the effort to respond to others when they are dealing with negative emotions than when they are experiencing positive ones.]

Finally, I used this blog in 2010 in part to publically tell some people I appreciate them. In 2011 my calling is to show gratitude daily in more direct, tangible and personal ways. I am going to try to write a personal “Thank You” note every day. I will try to make occasional entries about how that exercise affects me. I will also continue to make entries in this series, just not on a daily basis. But then again, the habit may be hard to break.

January 1, 2011

P.S.  I would be interested in what others have observed about the series.  Help me take my blinders off.