Saturday, December 18, 2010

Time for Casting or Time for Taking?

"I don't know if I can take much more."  

Have you heard that statement recently?  Maybe even coming from your own mouth?  Possibly the holiday planning, the pressure of seeing family or not seeing family, the end-of-the-year workload, exams, studying, commitments, parties, scheduling - it's all too much.

This week, I heard this statement from someone who probably had every right to say it.  A dear friend had passed away, and the circumstances surrounding their death is the epitome of a surreal tragedy.

When things happen, we say phrases like, "I have to deal with this on my own," or "It's something I have to take care of,"  or finally, "I don't know if I can take much more."

I spent a good portion of last night thinking over these statements, and then thinking through the bold claims of Peter and Jesus found two separate passages.  In 1 Peter 5:6-7, Peter writes:

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you."

Peter is writing to a group of people that have been living in constant persecution.  As 21st Century American Christians, I don't think that we can ever fully grasp what it means to suffer persecution at the hands of those around you.  We hear stories of martyrs and the persecuted Church throughout countries like Indonesia, Afghanistan, Iran, Somalia, Libya, etc, etc, etc; but the most that we are persecuted here is from words that sting and bring us to places of anxiety, but never fear for our life.

This is why I think this passage is so very apt for the 21st Century American Christian.  We are an anxious people.  We are born into a family that worries, we are raised to worry, we live our life worrying, and then eventually we pass our worry onto our children.  There are finances, school decisions, silly things called "our love life," pressures at work, and then our family and all of the choices that they have to make.  So we worry.  And when things get extremely tough, like in the situation of friends and family actually passing on, a deep, heavy, feeling comes over us - and we don't know how much more we can take.

Instead of trying to handle all of this worry and pain and hurt on our own, Peter tells us to humble ourselves, and cast all of our worry, anxiety, pain, hurt, grief, etc, on Him.  Because He cares for you.  Don't miss that - it is all BECAUSE HE CARES FOR YOU.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 11:28-30:

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

The scholars tell us that a yoke is typically put upon someone, as in a forced servitude.  So, the Jews were under the forced yoke of the Romans.  A slave would be under the yoke of their master.  Even, in some situations, a woman would be under the forced yoke of her husband.

These were not good yokes.  They were not taken willingly, but were placed forcefully.  Jesus says that we have to actually TAKE HIS YOKE and PUT IT ON OURSELVES.  We have to submit to Him; we have to willingly put on His yoke, because He will not force it upon us.

The amazing difference is that the yokes that were forced upon people were heavy, were filled with anxiety, with pressure, and with fear.  But Jesus' yoke is easy, is light, and is filled with rest for your souls.  What a stark difference between the two!  Jesus has nothing in common with a forceful master.  He is gentile, He is light and easy - and He gives rest.

When we submit ourselves to Jesus, we have to submit even those phrases of: "I have to take care of this myself."  "I don't know how much more I can take."  Because we are under His yoke.  We take upon ourselves, willingly, freely, a light, easy yoke that is provided for us by our Savior who PROMISES nothing but rest and gentleness.  Under this yoke, we are FREE to CAST ALL OF OUR CARES AND ANXIETIES UPON HIM.  Why?  Because He cares for YOU! 

Let's start to think radically for a moment.  What would happen if we took these verses seriously?  How would our language and phrases we use begin to change?  How would our minds and thoughts begin to transform?  What would happen to that curse of worry that has plagued each of our families for generations upon generations?  And then, most of all, when incredibly tough, hard tragedies happen - would we be able to know without a doubt that we are able to not just survive, but thrive in the midst of the tragedy because He is caring for you every month, every week, every day, every minute, every second of your life.  I think that it's time to start taking up our yokes and time to start casting our cares upon Him.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

There Are Much Worse Things

I absolutely love Stephen Colbert.  There I said it.  With his satirical impression of the crazy right-winged religious/political talkies, he manages to always come out somewhere between extremely funny and alarmingly real.  The great thing is when you actually catch glimpses of his intellect and own personal opinions, such as when he took a few jabs at Dr. Bart D. Ehrman - he of the former Christian faith now agnostic fame who refuses to acknowledge the inerrancy of the Scriptures.

On my Christmas playlist, I have most of "Colbert for Christmas" added into the mix, and quite often enjoy listening to the song, "There Are Much Worse Things to Believe In," sung as a duet with Elvis Costello.  At the end of the song, the lyrics are:

"You doubt, but you're sad
I don't, but I'm glad
I guess we're even
At least that's what I believe in
And there are much worse things"

This morning I read an article on my NPR app (yes, I am a hipster nerd) about two billboards that are on either side of the Lincoln Tunnel.  The one on the way into NYC has a picture of the manger scene and directly above it says, "You KNOW it's a MYTH: This Season Celebrate REASON!" - this sponsored by a group called the American Atheists.  At the end of the tunnel, there is another billboard with a manger scene which states, "You Know it's Real: This Season, Celebrate Jesus." - sponsored by the Catholic League.  Enough words have been written about the validity and truth of both boards, the faith/non-faith wars that have erupted between certain leaders, the profit that both have benefited from because of these statements - what I want to discuss is the simple statement, "there are much worse things."

It is no secret that I would fall on the side of Celebrating Jesus billboard, but let me ask the first of many rhetorical questions - What's wrong with a little hope during this CHRISTmas season?  We believe, this fills us with wonder, with joy, with peace and with hope - is there something wrong with this?  The fact that hearing Linus's voice on a Charlie Brown Christmas say, "Lights, please..." lisp and all warms my heart, because I know that the next few minutes will be filled with the story from the Gospel of Luke about the shepherds, the angels and the statement that unto YOU is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  What is wrong with this?  Aren't there, as Mr. Colbert points out, MUCH WORSE THINGS TO BELIEVE IN?

The story of Jesus' birth is an amazing story.  We believe it to be truth, because we believe that the Holy Bible is in fact the very words of God.  Is it so terrible to imagine that God would not only create the very world that we walk around in, the one in which we live and move and have our being, but that He would also come to this earth in the human form?  Is it so terrible and horrifying to believe that God would send His Son to save us?  Is it so horrible to hope in a new heaven and a new earth, because we know in our hearts that this world in which we live in its current state is just not right?

A lot of you can leave the super scholarly arguing about the validity of the Bible for the super scholarly to argue, but I would say that this CHRISTmas you have something very simple and very profound to say as you spread your Christmas Cheer - and that is that there are much worse things to believe in.  Once again, Merry Christmas - may your hearts, minds and souls be filled with all the wonder, amazement, joy, peace and hope of this Season as you Celebrate Jesus!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Do you know, right now, I am actually sitting in my home with Christmas lights lit up around my window, staring outside waiting for it to snow?

Yes, I am one of those.  I have a hot cup of coffee, a couple of pieces of toast, and I want snow!  Christmas means two things to me: Christ and snow.

Now, I know, I KNOW, there probably was no snow in Bethlehem the night Jesus was born.  I get that. But you can bet that there was snow for almost every single Christmas since I have been born.  And since I take this relationship that Jesus and I have very, VERY personally, I think He is in on that whole "Let It Snow" wonderfulness of Christmas.

Back to the point of this rather random blog entry - anticipation.

So much of this season is filled with anticipation.  Mostly, you can see the anticipation for the gifts that are under the tree, or hiding in the closet, in most kids' faces.  They cannot wait to rip into the gifts and immediately text their BFF's about all the choice product they received.  It's a tradition (well, maybe not the texting, but I'm sure that is slowly becoming a part of our traditions).

There is anticipation among the cooks of the household about picking out the perfect meal and baking the best treats to stuff our bellies with.  There is anticipation among scholars and students alike as they eagerly hand in the last assignment and check-out for the winter break.

There is anticipation in the chance to see loved ones again (or maybe that is anxiety, your choice).

For me though, my greatest anticipation is the chance to say, "Merry Christmas" to someone on Christmas Day.  Now, this is not some political blog post on the horribleness of losing the word "Christmas" to the PC crowd.  I honestly could care less.  I will say, "Merry Christmas," because I celebrate Christmas and that's that.  That's Freedom of Speech 101.

Here's why I get so excited to say, "Merry Christmas."  Because I LOVE to CELEBRATE the birth of my Savior.  What a fantastic time of year!  Forget the presents, forget the food, forget the relatives, forget all the weird traditions that have attached themselves to this time of year, and remember that we say, "Merry Christmas!"  We celebrate the amazing, wonderfulness of our Savior being born.  Such a time as this, God prepared beforehand, that we might come to know who our Savior is!

And that is the wonderful thing about Christmas.  With every cheerful exclamation of "Merry Christmas!" - you, dear Christian, are given the opportunity to tell someone about your Savior.  What a fantastically, simple way to evangelize!  Merry Christmas!  Merry Christmas!  God came to earth, to save sinners - Joy CAME to the World!

It is so easy to get bogged down in the traditions of the season, to the shopping, to the gifting, to the traveling, to the weirdness of "Happy Holidays," but I want to urge you to celebrate Christmas this year.  Celebrate it for the right reason, that our Savior is born, and happily, cheerfully, exclaim "Merry Christmas" to all!

Oh, and if you love me, you can say, "Let it snow!" too.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Journey

Last week I posted a bit on thoughts of heaven.  To continue a bit in this train, I wanted to write a bit this morning about the journey and the process.  There is a fantastic hymn written by Henry Francis Lyte, called Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken.  Besides the fantastic, Anglican grammar that calls to me from these verses - it is the story of the journey to constantly follow Christ that compels me to worship when I hear/sing this hymn.

The first verse says:

Jesus, I my cross have taken,
All to leave and follow Thee;
Destitute, despised, forsaken,
Thou from hence my All shalt be.
Perish every fond ambition,
All I've sought or hoped or known;
Yet how rich is my condition!
God and heaven are still my own.

This weekend I was reminded again about the loneliness that following Christ can bring into your life.  I've seen women who choose to follow Christ even when their husbands refuse to acknowledge that He exists.  I've witnessed high school students who confess that Jesus is Lord, and then have to go home that night to parents who would rather drink themselves into oblivion than step foot into a church.  There are young children who have faith that can move mountains, when their parents merely go through the motions - thinking that if they just show up, they will be blessed financially.

It was a sermon on doubt, that reminded me all the more that I have this lonely journey in my own life.  At times it seems that no one can escape this portion of the journey.  I have yet to meet a single soul who has lived out their life following Christ and everything has been huge, wonderful, lush green hills and no valleys of despair.

This brings me to the last verse of this hymn:

Haste, then, on from grace to glory,
Armed by faith and winged by prayer;
Heaven's eternal day's before thee,
God's own hand shall guide thee there.
Soon shall close the earthly mission,
Swift shall pass thy pilgrim days,
Hope soon change to glad fruition,
Faith to sight, and prayer to praise.

This journey on the earth is hard, often times destitute, and even filled with people who forsake you.  What should we expect though?  "If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you," John 15:20b.  There are strong divisions in families, because there are strong-willed people in families.  The only thing that will bring you through these times of hardship on the journey is to focus on the fact that one day we will go from Grace to Glory.  The earthly mansions will be closed, our pilgrim days will be ended - and we will forever praise and worship in full sight of God, our Awesome Savior.  Rely on God's Hand - He is surely faithful to guide you through the valleys, even over the hills, and into our heavenly home.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Too Much Heaven on Their Minds...

10 points to the first "cool" person who knows where my blog title comes from!  Go!

Let me pose a question to you.  When was the last time you, dear Christian, marveled about heaven?  Let's get even simpler for our non-creative geeks in the room, when was the last time you simply thought about heaven?

Hopefully, it was recently, as in yesterday, or a couple of hours ago, or even minutes ago, or, "Hey, I'm thinking about it right now!"  Maybe I am starting a series here on Christian disciplines or something, but I think that it is VITALLY important to our relationships with God to reflect, think, meditate and hold strong hope in/on Heaven VERY OFTEN, if not consistently constantly.

When our minds are filled with the hope of heaven or the thought of heaven, you know what happens - we evangelize more.

When our minds are focused in on the fact that we are NOT home right now, you know what happens - we spend less money on frivolous things like Starbuck's Grande Pumpkin Spice Lattes and begin to tithe more than 10%.

When our minds are set on the wonder and amazement of a heavenly dwelling that is being prepared for us, you know what happens - we get to grasp what it means to worship God with our whole heart, mind, soul in Spirit and in Truth.

Some encouragement then, because maybe, like me, you have no idea where to start when it gets to thinking about heaven.  First, read Revelation 4-5, 19-22.  Yep, actually read that scary book at the end of your Bible.  You'd be amazed at how much you will be understand (even without a PhD in Greek).

Second, find theologians, church fathers, great pastors, who have written down their thoughts and reflections on heaven and soak it in!  Maybe you are not filled with great elocution like Augustine, Milton, Edwards, Moody, or Piper - but that is the great thing about being a member of the body of Christ!  You get to use other parts of the body for what they are made for - to uplift the rest of the body, to equip them, and to disciple them.  What a fantastic thought!

So, to begin your thoughts on heaven today, I am leaving you with a quote from none other than my personal "hero of the faith," C.S. Lewis (you probably could have guessed that).  This is from The Problem of Pain, something we should all read!  : )

"Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions.  For it is not humanity in the abstract that is being saved, but you - you, the individual reader, John Stubbs or Janet Smith.  Blessed and fortunate creature, your eyes shall behold Him and not another's.  All that you are, sins apart, is destined, if you will let God have His good way, to utter satisfaction.  The Broken spectre 'looked to ever man like his first love', because she was a cheat.  But God will look to every soul like its first love because He is its first love.  Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it - made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

When it's time to let things go

Have you ever noticed that humanity has a tendency to overcommit themselves?  This being especially true in Christian circles - we feel obligated to serve others and serve in the Church, and so we sign-up for every dinner, Sunday school class, food drive, usher duty, musician duty, media duty, etc, etc, etc.  This all then adds to our already pretty full schedules, do to school, work, homework, general reading duties, television obligations (yeah, I said it), grocery shopping, the never-ending pile of laundry and dishes, etc, etc, etc.

Then let's not forget the things that we keep in our life because we just love them.  For students this could be playing on sports teams, being in a play or musical, or being a part of debate club.  For adults, we still cling to what we loved as a child - so finding a group of "old" people that wear knee braces and pound the hardwood to shoot a ball through a hoop, or participating in your local theatre guild, or being on the Board of your community's art society - WHATEVER, it's a bunch of stuff, right?

It's stuff that fills your day.  Lots and lots of stuff.  My mom, still to this day, loves to make lists of all of the things that she has to accomplish each day.  (I know now where some of my OCD comes from).  One day, when I was young, I noticed that on her list, she had written down "Make my list for tomorrow" as a thing to do.  This makes me chuckle, even to this day.

All that to say is when do we let some things go in our life?  When do we realize that enough is enough, or that maybe we should not commit to one more evening being spent out as we cling onto our past.  Not that these things aren't enjoyable, don't get me wrong - I still love to grab the old running shoes and pretend that I "got game" with a bunch of "old" people.  But I learned a long time ago that playing basketball on a scheduled basis like I did growing up won't fit into my schedule now.

Recently, I've had quite a few people come to me saying that they are having a hard time with everything.  They've added that when they are in church they rarely get anything out of it.  I ask them about their life, and the reply in each situation has been an overwhelming amount of stuff that's going on.  None of the stuff is bad, in fact, most of it brings these people joy and happiness.  But, the stress and anxiety is rising, and sure enough, God feels far away.

Can I say something?  God is NEVER far away.  That Bible that is growing dust on your shelf, is ALWAYS there.  So, my next question is always about their devotion time.  Sure enough, it's a rarity.  There just isn't enough time in the day.  And I believe them.  With the schedules that I heard about, getting up earlier isn't going to happen.  And if it does, it's only going to lead to the person getting sick, being crabby, and really not having a good time reading the Word at 4 am.

So, my question to them is when is enough enough, and what are you going to cut out?  It is so incredibly hard to admit that we can't handle the situations that we put ourselves in.  It is even harder to let things go in our life, in order to be able to build up our relationship with God.  But, it has to be done.  Sometimes maturing in our walk and journey as a Christian is realizing that our commitment to God comes before anything else that we commit to.  If you can start off your day spending time meditating on His Word, praying to Him, and seeking His face for your day, then the anxiety about the tight schedules, or all of the things that have to get done won't be so bad.  Because He is faithful - we cast our cares upon Him.

My last bit of advice to these people has been this - practice saying, "No."  Not only practice saying it, but put that practice into play.  Actually be mature enough to know when your schedule is entirely too full, and realize that maybe it is time to let some things go.  I read somewhere anyways that this world is filled with "vanity upon vanities," so what are we really letting go of anyways?  Don't worry about it - God is faithful.  I guarantee that if you put devotion to Him back in your life, you won't miss out on anything you are supposed to be a part of.  Now, if you will excuse me, I need to go check off "blog" on my list for today.  ; )

Monday, November 1, 2010

Happy Belated Reformation Day to All!

So, I literally have 5 minutes, 5 MINUTES, to express some sort of profound love for what is known in huge circles as Halloween, but in choice circles as Reformation Day.  Yesterday is quite possibly my favorite holiday (aside from Christmas Eve, that will always remain #1 with a bullet).  We celebrate Luther nailing 95 thesis to Wittenberg's church door written against the works-based salvation through the system of indulgences that was proclaimed at one time in the RCC.

Luther was not the beginning of free-form thinking that went against the papacy, but he was at such a time that it became the most widespread revolt against it - what with the moveable press taking off, the German princes wanting to stand up for themselves, and well, the near bankruptcy of the RCC.  All of these added up to one massive revolution, that was intended to be a reformation. 

I must confess, I do not have any brilliant thoughts on the subject of the Reformation, just a few questions that I want you to ponder over.  First, let's all agree that for all its original intentions, the Reformation failed.  While, saying this, you might get a little squirmy in your seat, but it's true.  Luther wanted to reform the Roman Catholic Church, not start a new church.  While, his attempt failed, I whole-heartedly agree that Luther had every right to stand firm on the truth of the Gospel.  I wouldn't be here today if he didn't. 

If you google the question, "How many Christians are there in the world?" the typical response will be that there is somewhere in the ballpark of 2.1 billion*.  The asterisk is there, always, because it is hard to define what a Christian really is.  Yep, I kid you not, being a Christian is almost undefineable for the outsider.  If you google, "How many Muslims are there in the world?" there is no asterisk.  Just a straight number.  Now, I am not suggesting that this is the fault of Luther and Reformation Day.  But, it is something to think about.  Luther and the Reformers started the ability to question the authority, especially when the authority placed itself higher than the Word of God.  This, of course, is a great thing.  But, it is a scary thing that there is no certainty now in the world's ability to define what a Christian is.  There are so many denominations, so many different practices, so many theological debates - the outsider looking in is going to be confused, and happy to place * next to our name. 

Ponder that for a moment, or a day, or a week - and ask yourself what am I doing to help Christianity not be defined with a *?  Then ask yourself, what definition am I giving it?  If it is more than the simple Gospel, that we are saved by faith through Christ alone, then we have something more to ponder, yes? 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Elect Complacency?

It's probably no huge secret that if it would not look utterly ridiculous, I would probably tattoo "Just Read Calvin's Institutes" somewhere visibly on my body for all to see.  But since I love my husband, and I really don't want to outright offend some people, I will not be doing that any time soon.  This past week I have been in two discussions that involved the acronym T.U.L.I.P. and wouldn't you know it, in both conversations the opposing converser brought up the idea formatted below:

1. You are elect to be saved by God.
2. If you are truly elect, you will persevere throughout said elect life until the end.
3. Why then evangelize, and why go to church?

Now, there are vast holes in that logical formula, but go with it for a moment.  I am continually baffled that non-Calvinists will think that Calvinists believe that evangelism, missions, preaching of the Gospel is not necessary because if someone is elect by God to be saved, well then clearly God will save them.  Maybe its the term "elect" that immediately puts in to mind a small, collective group - but I am telling you, that as a Calvinist, I hope and pray that God's elect is the majority, not the minority.  A Calvinist does not believe in a small god; a Calvinist does not believe that God's works are minor; a Calvinist does not sit back and wait for God to take care of that small portion known as "the elect."  We read the same Bible that you do.  I sit back, in tears, marveling over Paul's words in Ephesians 3:14-21:

"For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith - that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen!!"  (emphasis mine)

I feel a little like Shylock saying this, but if we read it, are we not moved?  Is the Holy Spirit not at work within us?  Is the power of the Almighty, Amazing, Wonderful God of the Universe not at work WITHIN us?  No one comes to the Father except through Christ.  How are they to believe if they have not heard? How are they to hear without someone preaching?  How are they to preach unless they are sent?  Why would a Calvinist ever deny this?

Just because we believe that the elect are chosen by God to be saved at His appointed time, does not mean that God magically reaches down from the Heavenly throne and stamps their forehead with a tattoo that says, "Elected!" and that's it, they are saved.  No!  They are saved because they heard the Gospel, repented and believed.  This happens because God ordained it from the beginning of time by His gracious and good will.

Ah, and here is where all the wonderful "what if" questions come up.  "What if that person was elect and  at that time they were supposed to hear, and they didn't.  What then?"  Please see blog post here.  Nonsense is still nonsense even when we talk it about God.  This is the great and wonderful thing of missions and evangelism that the church of God gets to be a part of.  Is there no better time in the life of a follower of Christ than to pray with someone as they believe in Jesus as their Savior?  Is there no better time that is more precious and more wonderful than that?  Think about it on a vastly huge, cosmological level for a second.  God ordained for that moment to happen not only in the life of the vessel chosen for glory, but in your own life as a harvester of the Word that was sown.  You are given the opportunity to see God's greatest action of all, salvation, happen!  PRAISE GOD!  IS THERE ANYTHING THAT IS BETTER THAN THAT?

So, I would like to correct the assumption that is out there that Calvinist's don't do missions, don't see the need for church, don't evangelize to people.  Instead, let's think of it this way:

1. You are elect to be saved by God.
2. If you are truly elect, you will persevere throughout said elect life until the end.
3. If you are elect, someone will have come into your life to tell you about your Savior Jesus Christ, and you will grow in the grace and knowledge of your Savior both personally and corporately as you worship God here on this earth and in eternity.  

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What Nonsense!

This week I have been reading The Problem of Pain by none other than C.S. Lewis (I know, shocker of the century, I am yet again reading another Lewis work).  The first time I read this book, I was entirely too young, too stupid, and my brain not yet fully formed, so I understood probably next to nothing in it.  This time around though, I have my highlighter set to stun, because I am literally coloring in almost every page as Lewis waxes on.  

Sharing with you a bit of the second chapter - Divine Omnipotence, Lewis writes:

"If you choose to say 'God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it', you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words 'God can'. ... It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God."

I'm going to try my hardest not to turn this blog post into a gush on how much I LOVE LEWIS and his wonderful words, instead I want to point out the utter simplistic genius of Lewis statement - "nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God."  

Dr. Hawking, a man much smarter than myself and most of the lowly human life forms on this planet, recently published a new book, The Grand Design, in which much hoopla was given over him stating: "Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going."  

Clearly, I am no mathematician, scientist or physicist - if anything I probably belong to that wing of the world called "Philosophy" which Dr. Hawking insists in this very book that it is dead.  So, being a part of the world that is dead, I am going to start off by taking offense.  A very good friend and deeper thinker than myself wrote a wonderful response to this already, please read it here.  Dr. Hawking has vast contradictions in his statement, something cannot come from nothing.  The universe cannot cause its existence unless something was there to cause it.  Come on, that's Philosophy 101.  It also should be a part of Logic 101 in the wonderful world of Mathematics, but whatever; let's get to the point of this blog.

The fact of the matter is that sometimes we say wild and crazy things and think that they are immensely intelligent and universe shattering all because we begin the sentence with "If God can" or "What if it was possible to."  But let's face it, nonsense is still nonsense.  The very laws of science do not allow for the fantastical "what ifs" that we dream up.  Just because my brain imagines a world where every time I put my hands in the air I, and only I, am able to grab a beautiful, brilliant rock called a diamond that is worth millions of dollars does not mean that this is possible.  

We become indignant and full of self-righteousness at times, saying that God should have done this to change the world, or that God should have created this world without certain people or things if he was really all powerful, all loving, all knowing.  That's the rub though, we try so hard to talk about creating a perfect world according to our own standards and thoughts, but what if (yep I said it) our own thoughts and standards are evil to someone else in the world.  We would be creating what is supposedly perfect, but yet would still be harmful to someone else.  

That is the wonderful and amazing thing about God.  This world may not be perfect, but He is and He was - living in this world as the God-man Jesus.  So, while we try to imagine a perfect world that God should have created, He is sitting there offering you abundant life in this fallen world now, and a perfect eternity to come in the new heaven, new earth.  It might sound "crazy."  It might sound entirely stupid to you, but it's the only thing that is not nonsense, because the Creator, the Perfect God, has said it.  Instead of constantly putting the blame on God for this world and the harms it has done to you, try learning more about who God is, why He loves you even though you have done nothing to deserve it, and why He is even now preparing a place for you that is, for all intents and purposes, something that would be nonsense in this world.  

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

When living is Christ

There was this guy back at my alma mater who would literally walk around with a smile plastered on his face.  He would often be humming a tune, typically a hymn, and say, "Hi" to anyone that caught his gaze.  Now, I must confess, I never got to know this guy, because let's face it, I was a little creeped out by him and his "perma-smile."  He was genuine though, genuine in his happiness, genuine in his faith, and I am sure that today he is a great pastor somewhere - bringing hope to many through the Gospel of Christ.

He knew exactly what it meant to be "living as Christ" with his own unique personality.  The passage of Philippians 1:19-30 has always been one has completely fascinated me - because it is so incredibly straight-forward and simple, but also so deeply complex.

"For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."  This statement has been plastered over and over again by Christians on their blogs, their Facebook status, and a whole world of social networking.  It has become a sort of brand, if you will - "I am the type of Christian that knows that living is Christ."  But do we really know?  Do we really get it?

You see, because for Paul, "to live is Christ" means fruitful labor.  Yep, FRUITFUL labor.  Check it out, verse 22, it's right there.  "If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me."  Paul, ever the honest man, would much rather die and be in heaven with Christ - this is gain.  I think that we all understand that - this world is fallen, broken, miserable (at times), and dying for those in Christ, means a heavenly home, eternity with an Almighty, Amazing God, Love Unbounded - pretty much incredibleness.  Dying in Christ is gain.

What I think that we misunderstand though is the "To live is Christ" part.  For Paul, it was fruitful labor. It was necessary for his churches (see verse 24).  It was all for the glory of Christ, not only in his life and faith, but in the lives and faith of the churches that he planted, led and wrote to (see verses 25-26).  Not only is it for the glory of Christ, it is for missions!  Reading verses 27-30, Paul had every aim that as the people of Philippi were finding out what "living is Christ" means, that the Gospel, their faith, would become unified under their oppression and persecution - causing their persecutors to see their unified faith that would be glorifying God, and showing them that there is only destruction or salvation from the road that they have chosen.

Paul knew this road as a persecutor all too well.  He, the chief of sinners, the chief persecutor of the church (at one time) knew that road.  He was on his way to the path of destruction, but Jesus stopped him on a road to Damascus.  Jesus stopped him completely and changed his life forever.  No longer was his life living to destroy people, but it was "living is Christ."  This is why he shows no fear in front of mobs in Ephesus; shipwrecks and snake bites don't stop him from sharing the good news that Jesus came to this earth to save sinners; imprisonment, what should be a shameful and despairing time, is filled with hope and opportunity to share the Gospel even more to those surrounding him on their way to death, even to those who keep him in the prison.  To live is Christ, is to take all of who you are, all that God has given you the capability to be, and in every single situation present the Gospel in a worthy manner (verse 27).

There are parts of the world today where Christians can identify completely with Paul's imprisoned circumstances, but for the majority of us, our lives do not present us with such dire, life-threatening circumstances.  There is still incredible hardships though.  Most of my family lives in Michigan, which has been suffering for a decade in an economic downward spiral.  In one day, 6,000 people were laid off from Ford.  6,000 people were out of a job in one day.  6,000 people were added to the already hundreds of thousands of people looking for a job in the state of Michigan.

Career goals, job potential, all of that no longer matters.  Finding a job to feed your family, finding any sort of work just so you don't lose your house - this is the goal.  The challenge now, as a Christian, as someone who professes that "to live is Christ" is to realize that the Gospel is more important than even your situation.  The Gospel, your faith, being unified together as a church in order that more and more may come to know the salvation through Jesus, is what you live for - even as you hunt for a job every day, even as you struggle to make ends meet when your wages are cut, or bonuses are denied.  Even when they foreclose on your home - to live is Christ, because there are those out there who dying and not gaining.

There should be some sort of comfort to know that Paul was in prison, and not a Martha Stewart, fluff prison, when he wrote these words.  Paul could have sunk into a deep depression; Paul could have given up on everything and turned from God; but he stayed firm, he persevered, he found that the only way to live was in a way where the Gospel would be presented in a worthy manner in spite of every situation he was thrown into.  "Living is Christ" is not an easy thing.  Every step of the way there will be things to throw you off, but there is comfort in prayers and the knowledge that the Spirit is with you, guiding and helping you every step of the way (verse 19).

"To live is Christ, and to die is gain."  Once again, I am blown away by how deep and vast faith truly is.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


You know that passage in the Bible where Jesus is giving a few parables to talk about the lost ones of the kingdom of God.  In one example, he equates the situation to a woman who has lost a coin and searches her whole house in order to find it.  Once she finds the coin, she runs through the city streets rejoicing and asking others to rejoice with her.

I must confess to you all - I never much understood why this woman would go rejoicing through the streets over a coin.  Yes, yes, the coin was worth a ton of money in our day.  I get that.  This is a HUGE deal in her finding the coin.  Her entire livelihood was at stake.  I understand the cultural significance.  What I never really connected with though was the running through the streets.  Maybe that is because deep down, I am really a shy, very personal person.  Now, I am sure that some of you will be laughing at that statement, because you know me and have seen me act like a fool on several occasions.  But, deep down, I promise you, there is a quiet, reserved woman that breaks through at times.  She is peaceful, shy and actually very, very private.

For the past two days I was at a council/conference of sorts and had the great pleasure of hearing many sermons preached (something that I quite enjoy - Nerd Alert, I know).  On Monday afternoon, I was sitting at the table with my Bible open, and on Tuesday morning I was sitting in my car frantically searching my bag for my Bible.  I took everything out of my bag... no Bible.  I went rushing into the conference area that was set up with about 40 dining tables the previous day to find the room completely changed into aisled seats.  My heart started to beat fast, very fast.  I was expecting to walk into the room, see my table from the previous day and pick up my brown leather ESV right from the table.  But no, the room was completely changed and my Bible was NO WHERE to be found.

I rushed to the back of the room, and tried to speak very calmly to a very nice, sweet lady about the whereabouts of my Bible.  She asked if it was a reddish-brown Bible that was thin and I almost screamed out, "YES!" but managed to smile and calmly say, "Yes, have you seen it?" instead.  She had seen it.  In fact, she had placed it on the back table.  But as we walked over to the back table, it was no where to be found.  The service was beginning to start, so I sauntered over to my seat, my heart beginning to feel lost.  Something was missing in my life.  My Bible, MY Bible, was gone.  My heart started to long to read it, all I wanted to do was READ it.  I began praying to God, feeling a bit like David at the time and wondering how far God was from me.  I was in serious longing for His Word, and I couldn't find it.  I was beginning to feel depressed, deeply depressed.  At a couple points in time, I think I even had to wipe away a couple of tears.

I began to think about how I could go online and simply order a new thin, brown leather ESV Bible and I would have it again in a matter of days.  But, I knew that it wasn't going to be the same.  This was the Bible that I had with me when I heard J.I. Packer preach on Psalm 67.  This was the Bible that I had taken with me to Dr. Peterman's class on Romans.  My entire book of Romans was filled with notes of "ethnic inclusions," "threads of pain," and "subjective and objective genitives" written in the margins.    Even more recently, I had begun work on a sermon in Exodus, so the majority of the book of Exodus was covered with notes for this upcoming sermon.

I was in pain.  This Bible, my Bible, was lost.  It wasn't in my hands as the preacher began his message.  I wasn't able to quickly look up the passage and begin to write things down in the margins.  No, I had to use my phone to look up the passage and then sit there and sulk that I couldn't underline a key passage.  I was depressed.

The service ended, and I walked by the back table just to see if someone had brought back my Bible and placed it on the table.  As I passed the sound/media area, I noticed a brown-red leather Bible sitting there that looked awfully familiar to me.  I snatched it up, opened the front cover and read my name that was printed on the first page.  I hugged the Bible to my chest and felt completely elated!  My Bible was back!  It was in my hands, I could open it and read it at any point in time, because it was in my hands, no longer missing, no longer lost, and I was completely full of joy!

I didn't run around like the woman who had lost her coin.  Like I said, I am not that type.  However, I could not stop grinning.  I let a friend know that I had found it, and then the idea for this blog came to my mind.

Even though my Bible was the piece that was lost in this story, when it was gone, I was the one that felt lost.  The second I knew that it was gone, I longed for nothing else in my life than to have my Bible back.  All I wanted to do was to sit down and read it, soak in His presence with it and pray through it.  I was not myself.  I was depressed, I was sad, I was angry, I was completely and utterly lost.  But once my Bible was found, I was found.  Part of me was missing and when I had it back, I was whole again.

So, the woman and her coin became more identifiable to me yesterday.  While I might not have run through the streets throwing a party for having found my once-lost Bible, I am blogging to the world that I have found my Bible!  And you better believe that I am rejoicing!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Worn Out?

This past weekend, I spent over 24 hours with teenagers at a massive convention designed to fire these teens up for the Lord, give them an opportunity to set their life right before the Lord, and also express their talents and gifts in competition.  My husband and I both volunteer with our youth group because for us, our own youth groups were vital parts of our Christian walk.  I spent the majority of my senior year with a group of "Jesus Freaks" (because THAT was when that song FIRST came out!) and a few older people who tried to pour as much of their lives into ours, help us in our walk and challenge us to be more like Christ.

This weekend reminded me how AMAZING those people are who served for my time in high school, because let me tell you, I feel very, Very, VERY old after this weekend.

You might be saying, "Wait, Steph, I know how old you are.  You are not THAT old.  Get over it."  All true, all true.  But, I have got to say, there was more than one time this weekend where I couldn't sit in the big group session, because my head could not take the LOUDNESS OF THE MUSIC that was coming from those speakers!
What is wrong with me?  I used to be so cool and hip, but man, I had this horrible feeling of being tired, feeling old, and just wanting a really long, good nap.

That was until...  Until I took a look at our teens who were at this convention - arms raised in full surrender, praising God; some weeping with joy, some weeping because God was dealing with them in a mighty way; some even being challenged about their future, their calling, and whether God was saying to them, "I want you for ministry to my church!"

This humbled and reminded me of my senior year, when I was just a young, punk teenage girl who thought that she could get away with ANYTHING, because she was a student leader in her own youth group.  It humbled me, because it was a few adult leaders at that youth group that took me and all of my problems under their own wings and helped me to see God's will for my life.  They challenged me, affirmed me, and prayed for me - some even praying for me still years later.

The words "Thank You," are not even close to enough.  The only words that one day will be told these people are "Well done, good and faithful servant."  And I know that they will hear those words, because this weekend challenged me to be more like them, once again, because they are still consistently being like Christ.

Ministry is hard and tough.  It requires time of extreme headaches and backaches.  Sometimes, like in the case of Paul, it requires snake bites, shipwrecks, beatings, and being left for dead.  Know that the refreshment is in the reward of seeing people - young people, old people, middle-aged people confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord, watch them change their life around, and see them live lives that are completely and totally for God.  This refreshes my soul more than anything else.  It humbles me that I have been brought to this point in my journey where I get to see the harvest and the seed grow.  All glory and praise to God, our Father, our Savior and our Sealer of Salvation!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Repetition is the Key to Success

I have been reading The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality by Kyriacos C. Markides lately.

It revolves around the travels of Dr. Markides to Greece and Crete, and his interactions with a head monk named Father Maximos.  It is quite a fascinating book and explains Orthodox theology and practice VERY well.  I can honestly say that I am intrigued by the life of the monks and nuns, so much that a hermitic lifestyle has become appealing in some ways.

As I was reading, one of the practices that caught my attention was when Father Maximos was explaining to Markides how grace can be administered into one's life.  One is to be constantly in prayer, repeating, "Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner."  You repeat this over and over, silently or out loud, in whatever you do - whether you are walking, sweeping the floors, cooking a meal, working in the field, etc.  As you do, God opens your heart to Him, grace pours in, and your relationship is formed.  For my Orthodox readers out there, I may have completely butchered the retelling of this practice, and if that is the case, I am truly sorry.  But I am pretty sure that I captured the basic gist of this.

In the movie Luther, that was released in 2003 with Joseph Fiennes playing the key role, a similar practice was installed in Luther's life where he would pray over and over, "I am yours, save me."  At one point, he prostrated himself on the floor and formed his own body into the shape of the cross as he repeated this prayer, again and again.

What is it about simple prayers that are repeated over and over that make them so effective?  Maybe it is the fact that you aren't trying to fill the space with words that are eloquently waxed, but that you are simply speaking to God, praying for Him to save you, to have mercy on you - and that's it.  I have had this experience before God's throne a few times.  The simplicity of the prayers have affected me so much that I usually end up weeping.  Something overcomes me, whether that be the Spirit of God, His grace or my own womanhood, it happens every time.  

Maybe we should call it the Practice of Simplicity, or possibly the Practicing Prayers of Piety (PPP for short).  But I think I am ready to challenge myself to try this out for a while, in everyday life, while doing the dishes, or cooking dinner, or driving to and from wherever - prayer without ceasing, repetitive prayer, simple prayer.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Oh, The Places You'll Go!

When you were a little girl, did you ever dream of that guy who would hold your hand for the first and last time, who you would share your first and last kiss with, how you would lie in his arms, cuddling up to him when you were cold or scared, and how you would say those words, "I love you," and then you would hear back, "I love you, too."  Did you ever dream about this?  I'm guessing that the majority of the female species has, because well, let's face it, God has designed us with these wonderful little things called hormones, and they start ticking at a certain age and then our minds and hearts start longing for someone to share all of our life with.

It's what happens to all of us, no matter how tough skinned we pretend to be growing up.  All we really want is for someone to say that they love us, and mean it.

Well, this blog is a little something of a confession, a little something of a tribute, and a little something of a reminder to my dear young women who I talked with a little more than a month ago.

In two days I will be celebrating with my husband six years of wedded bliss.  Yep, 6 years ago that man said "I do" to me, and now he's stuck with me - Midwestern accent and all!

*Side Note* - a little while back I asked him if guys were immediately attracted to women who had British, Scottish or Irish accents like women are attracted to men with those accents.  He said that he didn't really know, but that it was probably a possibility.  I then proceeded to ask him if my Michigan accent was a turn-on for him, and he promptly replied, "NO!!!!"  I guess that is something he looked passed in order to get to the good stuff about me!  OK, digression over.

So, 6 years.  We met almost 8 years ago, and let me tell you, neither of us really swept the other off of their feet.  In fact, I believe that my exact thoughts of the man were "He is a jerk," while he thought I was a bit of an "idiot" or "savant."  All that to say, first impressions apparently do not matter.  It took about 3 weeks of wearing each other out on biblical and theological discussions to realize that we actually liked each other.  It took another 5 months, a trip to Israel and some meditation of Augustine's Confessions to realize that we loved each other.  After that, everything just clicked.

Relationships before I met my husband were a lot of work, they were really hard.  I was constantly trying to figure out if the guy really loved me, or if he was just saying that.  But, I never had to guess with my husband.  I just knew.  I trusted him (and still trust him) completely.  There is no doubting.  This is love.  It's an amazingly freeing experience, especially for a woman who grew up with trust issues galore.  To take the words from the dear Sally Field, "He loves me, he really loves me!"

But that isn't the end of the story.  The fact is that I love him too.  In the beginning of my vows to him, 6 years ago, I had written that he "had awakened and aroused love in me, a love that cannot be quenched by many waters."  This was love that wasn't tainted by manipulation or fear, it was love that had grown between us from something much deeper than I could ever have understood or probably will ever understand.

Our love for each other was/is based on the fact that we have a Savior that loved us more than we ever will truly know.  Some may find it funny that when we first starting talking with each other that we spent most of the time arguing over theological or biblical issues.  But that has always been the case for us.  While, we may have moved passed the arguing stage and came to a more reflective/discussion stage, this has always been a huge part of our marriage.  Some deep and some not-so-deep thoughts about our Savior, worship to Him, prayer through Him and how our marriage will glorify Him.

There is a lot that we have done together over the past 6+ years.  We've travelled together to Paris and Mexico; we've led service trips together in the heart of Chicago; we've driven down and back up the East Coast; we've gone to our Nation's Capital together (he he, Jenny).  There are hundreds of more trips that will happen in the future, but the greatest place we will be one day is in heaven, both glorifying our Savior and our King, casting our crowns before His throne and joining in the worship together.  I cannot wait!  Thank you, my love, for keeping my eyes ever fixed on our Savior.  6 years down, praying for 60 more to come!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The OC Disorder

First prize goes to the person who can identify what television show the title of my blog is from!

We moved this past weekend for sanity purposes to a much bigger, prettier, closer to "T" place.  I have been slowly, but surely, putting our life away into closets, shelves, and drawers since Friday afternoon.  There are still little piles of stuff lying around that I am not quite sure where to put.  Pictures that have yet to be hung that I am debating in which room to hang them, or if I even like them any longer.  It's a long, involved process.

The problem is that I like organization.  I like organization so much that if I am making plans, I will stop whatever I am doing, call that person and make the plans definitive so that I can put it in my calendar right away.  My wonderful husband thinks I am weird, but the truth of the matter is that I just don't like stuff hanging out there, waiting to be done.  It bothers me.

So, what happens when your back and feet hurt so much that you can't just plow through and get everything done in a day, but you have to take several days to get your life in order?  Well, a bit of depression can set in.  A frenzy of trying to take care of things starts, and then nothing really gets done right.  Yesterday, I hung a picture and I am not sure that I even like where I placed it.  Now I am stuck.  But, it was the frenzy, what can I say?  The best thing I can do is to thoughtfully put other pictures around it to make it look better and then I will be ok again.

What on earth does all this ranting about obsessive organization have to do with anything today?  Ah... here comes the segue.  Sometimes I try really hard to get my Christian life completely organized.  Like, I'm going to talk to this person this week and God is going to save them this week - I've got it in my calendar.  I've set up the time to go to coffee with them, God will speak through me then, and wham-bam-thank-you-m'am, they are going to be saved at 11:35 am on Thursday; it will be great!  Really?  Really?  The last time I checked, God was in the habit of doing His own will, not mine.

When things don't go my way, then, depression can happen.  There are people in my life that I have been praying about for close to a decade now.  10 years have come and gone and still that moment has not happened.  The piles are building up, it's beginning to look like a mess, a little chaotic.  I can't put the date in my calendar, I have no control over when it is going to happen.  For someone of my particular quirks, THIS IS HARD.  THIS IS DEPRESSING.  WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?

The answer is this:  Wait.

Wait, be patient, stop trying to organize things that aren't yours to organize.  Lately, I have been spending time meditating on the Psalms, and I have been continually struck with the utter dependance on God that the psalmists have.  They get themselves worked up into a frenzy, but then remind themselves that it is God who is control.

Psalm 38:15 says, "But for you, O LORD, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer."

Psalm 42:11 & 43:5 say, "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?  Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God."

Psalm 46:10 says, "Be still and know that I am God.  I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!"

Wait for the Lord, Hope in His salvation and know that He is God - He is God of everything, of all people, and He works in His timing, not ours.

Monday, April 5, 2010

It's Only A Thorn

Well, another Easter has come and gone.  There are some here that LOVE Easter, for them it is the culmination of a church year.  Some of us enjoy Easter, but Christmas really is our favorite time of the year.  For some of us this means that we will not be gracing the hallowed halls of a church building for another 8 months until Christmas comes along.  Maybe Easter doesn't even mean going to church for you, that is a strikingly common possibility.

If you did happen to go to church yesterday, more than likely you heard a message on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and hopefully, something along the lines of how the Resurrection of J.C. frees us from sin.  Jesus conquered sin and death through His Resurrection, so we can also be more than conquerors by believing in Him.  Simple, yet amazingly powerful message, right?

By believing in the death and Resurrection of Jesus, you are free from sin.  It holds no power over you any longer.  Does it though?  Does it really?  I can't begin to tell you how often I am confessing the same sin over and over again, week after week - "Lord, I did it again.  Please forgive me."  It's almost as if I can't get passed it.  It's become an addiction in a way; it's a crutch; it's my "thorn in my side," if you will.  Yes, we say "Amen" when our pastors start preaching about how Jesus conquered death.  We even will say "Amen" when they start talking about how we are free from sin because of Jesus' sacrifice and Resurrection.  But then, we head home and stay stuck in our sin.

Can we imagine our life truly free from this sin?  Can we imagine our life in total power over it?  I'm not sure.  What I know is that for me, Easter is another reminder that I CAN have power over this sin in my life.  Not only CAN I have power over this sin, but I actually DO have power over it, all because of Jesus. So, the question really becomes what do I want more in my life - the power of Jesus' conquering death, sin and the devil or a thorn in my side?  That thorn might feel good, it might feel like I have to have it - it's a crutch though.  It's nothing but a lie of satan, and life without it is SO MUCH BETTER than death with it.  It's only a thorn, Jesus is offering you and me life eternal, thorn-free.  What do you say?  Are you in?

"To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father - to Him be Glory and Power Forever and Ever!  Amen!"  Revelation 1:5b-6

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Putting Words To It

Recently I read Elie Wiesel's memoir Night for the first time.  I am not quite sure why I put off reading this book for so many years, because it really is an exquisite book that recaptures one of the most horrific times in modern day history.

What struck me most while I was reading this book, and ever since I have tried to talk about it, is the idea of describing this event.  I have a hard time calling the Holocaust an event, or even a period of history.  It all somehow seems wrong to try to put labels on it that we associate with other things in life - like weddings, parties, the Renaissance, etc, etc.  Wiesel captured some of this feeling in his introduction to the latest edition of his book.  I cannot imagine experiencing what he went through, what he saw, what he felt, and then trying to use words to define these things.  Words would be forever tainted with that time in his life.  The word night will no longer mean anything but the darkness that came upon him and his family.  Even words that should mean life and beauty - like bread, soup, snow - all mean starvation and death.  Being chosen no longer means that you are set apart for God; no, being chosen, selected meant death.

Sometimes the words that we use so frequently to describe times like this lose meaning.  We can say evil, tragedy, horror - but these words have made us numb.

I say all of this, one to try to express my feelings about this book, but two because there is a danger in the Christian community that is growing.  We are becoming numb to words that we use every week.

Sin, Grace, Mercy, Worship, Glory, even the name Jesus...

Have these become labels?  Have they lost all sense of their true meaning?  Do we constantly say these words with phrases over and over again that we are numb to what they actually mean?  Do we still ponder and spend time in wonder on these words, or do have we become so flippant, so careless, so thoughtless in our actions and words that these can role off our tongues without a pause of reflection on what we are uttering?

Let us never forget the words that define our life with Him, let us never forget what they mean, and Lord, let us never take them for granted or cease to wonder at the meaning of them.

Monday, March 29, 2010

So this is life...

What can I say? Blogging is not a priority in my life. Is that a sin to say on the world of Am I going to be found out by the "secret policia" of blogger world? No one is knocking down my door right now, so I think that all is well in the land of delusions and conspiracy theories.

Part of the reason for my lack of flowing diatribes and far less scathing thoughts is that I have changed direction in my life, stopping a degree that was quite wonderful but not in God's plan at the moment. So, the requirement of reading 12,000 pages is no longer hanging over my head and I have been focused on other ministerial areas that don't necessarily include reading 12,000 pages on Calvin, Lewis, or the like. A shame, I know, a crying shame.

But, since I enjoy writing, and some have told me that they like this blog, I thought to myself, "Self, you can write on whatever you want, you make the rules, so just continue writing." Thus, the change in format, a bit. I will still try to maintain a focus on church history settings, but I am also leaving myself the freedom to write on Bible passages, ministry thoughts, great sermon illustrations that I experience in life, or just simple rants (such as this one). If I lose some of you, I am terribly sorry (well, not really), I'm doing this for my own sanity. So, I'm not sorry about losing you. Sorry. : )

Alright, until my next blog. Have a wonderful day, and it's good to be back!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Beauty vs. a Beast

Once upon a time in the city of Carthage....

I feel like that is how I should start this post, because parts of it feel like a story, or something that should be turned into a movie - something that could have happened, but really just feel made up. Is this the case? There are some scholars out there that would say that this was a case in which someone took extra liberties with the events that were transpiring during this time, but I fall on the other line of scholarship - that believe that we have a quite extraordinary document in our possession - one that is not only accurate, but telling in so many ways of the thought process of a martyr for Christ.

Do I have your scholarly minds intrigued yet? Do I have scholarly-tended minds out there yet? (only kidding, my friends, only kidding)

Last week, I mentioned that a theology of martyrdom was beginning to develop among the early Christian church. They believed that martyrs were given an extra measure of grace - that the Holy Spirit would give them supernatural endurance to be able to withstand horrible, horrible things happening to them. They also believed that they would be chosen by God for this - martyrdom was a calling, like someone is called to the pulpit these days, if you will. I don't think that they were wrong in thinking these things, they had the words of Jesus written down by the disciples at this point. They knew that He said following Him would mean persecution and even death. They also knew that the Helper was now sent, and it would be through Him that they would be able to give witness (by the way, the Greek word for witness is martyr - just something to ponder).

This brings us to Carthage in the year 203 AD. For those of you who do not know, although the freshman in high school that is in my Sunday school class knew this, Carthage is in Northern Africa along the Gulf of Tunis, just across the Mediterranean Sea from Italy's boot. In 203, Carthage was under rule by the Roman Empire. Just one year prior, the Empire at the time, named Septimus Severus, had issued an edict saying that no one was able to convert to Judaism or Christianity or any other religion besides Emperor worship. What did this mean exactly? Well, it meant that if you were already a Christian, you could remain one until you died. But that if anyone became a Christian, they would be killed. Basically, Emperor Septimus was betting that this would stop other religions dead in their tracks. If you weren't allowed to convert to them, then there was no one to take over once the older generations died off.

(Sidetrack - did you know that the greatest demographic to leave the Christian Church now is teenagers-30 year olds? What are we doing as the body of Christ to ensure that we aren't dying off?)

OK, so that was 202 AD that the edict went out. In 203, there was a woman named, Perpetua. She was a noble woman who had a father, mother, two brothers, a husband and had just given birth to a son. She sounds great, right? The leading lady of a movie - someone with gumption. To add on to her character, she and a group of four other people, including a servant girl named Felicity, were all catechumens of Christianity in 203.

Catechumens? What does this mean? Does this mean that she was a Roman Catholic or a Lutheran or one of those people? Ahhhh, not quite. A catechumen meant that she was going through catechism, i.e. training in becoming a Christian. This training would include being taught the message of Jesus, who Jesus was, what communion was, what baptism was, etc. This training, this catechism, would last for about 3 years too. If at any point, a catechumen decided that what he/she was being taught was a bunch of bologna, they could leave the class, and they would never have been a Christian. Here's why, because at the culmination of catechism, once they were taught everything and affirmed that they believed everything, they were then baptized as the initiation process into the Christian faith. They were converts at the moment of baptism.

So, Perpetua, Felicity and the others were catechumens in 203, a year after the edict saying that they could not become converts. But they are in year 3 of their catechism class; they fully believed that Jesus was their Lord and Savior, so each of them was baptized. All of this happens to Perpetua as she is being berated by her father. He is NOT a Christian. He pleads with her to stop "this nonsense" and to come back to him. He pleads with her for his grey hairs on his head; he beats her; he weeps over her. But, Perpetua stands against her father and with her Savior. She is baptized. A week later, they are imprisoned by the Roman guards in Carthage - the local governor decides that he is going to use these converts as a sacrificial gift to the Emperor's son, Geta, for his birthday present.

This should be a movie, right? I mean, two years into your teaching and training, you are told that you cannot complete it, or you will be killed. But, it's too late! You already know that this is the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE, so against the advice and pleas of all of your family, you are baptized into the body of Christ. And on cue, the soldiers come and cart you off to prison, where you await your death.

Normally, I would say that I could not even imagine what a person would have been going through during this time, but this is the wonderful thing about the story of Perpetua - she kept a diary. So, all of this stuff that I have been spouting off, as if I know what I am really talking about, is because we still have the pages of her diary. Fascinating! Now, some might be balking at whether someone would really be allowed to write down this stuff, plus she was a woman - back then women were about as likely to know how to read and write as a pig being allowed a seat at the dining table. But, Perpetua as a NOBLE woman. A noble woman would have had the opportunity to be taught how to read and write. She also would have been given special privilege in the prison. So, I tend to take this as a real document.

Moving on.

Perpetua, and her friends with her, were given special privilege in prison. Instead of being trapped in one of the crowded, hot, dark cells, they were moved to a more spacious, private cell - where their deacons could come and minister to them. Not only their deacons, but their family could come to. So, Perpetua again had to deal with her father pleading with her. He brought her son into the prison cell and pleaded with her for the life of her son. Perpetua began to pray for her son -fearing that she would die before he stopped needing her milk. Hours later, he stopped breast-feeding, and no longer needed her. Perpetua rejoiced that her Lord had released her from this, so she could die undistracted.

It was around this time too that her friends in the prison began to notice that God had been favoring her. They told her that she should pray to God for a vision. She prayed, and God did grant her a vision.

"I beheld a ladder of bronze, marvelously great, reaching up to heaven; and it was narrow, so that not more than one might go up at one time. And in the sides of the ladder were planted all manner of things of iron. There were swords there, spears, hooks, and knives; so that if any that went up took not good heed or looked not upward, he would be torn and his flesh cling to the iron. And there was right at the ladder's foot a serpent lying, marvelously great, which lay in wait for those that would go up, and frightened them that they might not go up. Now Saturus went up first (who afterwards had of his own free will given up himself for our sakes, because it was he who had edified us; and when we were taken he had not been there). And he came to the ladder's head; and he turned and said: Perpetua, I await you; but see that serpent bite you not. And I said: it shall not hurt me, in the name of Jesus Christ. And from beneath the ladder, as though it feared me, it softly put forth its head; and as though I trod on the first step I trod on its head. And I went up, and I saw a very great space of garden, and in the midst a man sitting, white-headed, in shepherd's clothing, tall milking his sheep; and standing around in white were many thousands. And he raised his head and beheld me and said to me: Welcome, child. And he cried to me, and from the curd he had from the milk he gave me as it were a morsel; and I took it with joined hands and ate it up; and all that stood around said, Amen. And at the sound of that word I awoke, yet eating I know not what of sweet."

In her time in prison, God granted her two more visions, but I am going to leave those out and give you some homework or something further to read about. This first vision is what I find to be most important, because it parallels the account of what happened in the arena. If you did not catch it in the vision, Saturus, the man who taught them in their catechism class, offered himself up to the guards to be killed along with his catechumens. Something else of great import also happened during this time. Three days before they were to be brought out for the games, Felicity, the servant-girl, was still 8 months with child. They began praying that she would give birth to her child, otherwise she would not be able to be executed with her Christian family, since the law prevented pregnant women to be executed. Before the third day, she gave birth, and a woman who was nursing was found and took the child. Felicity rejoiced that she would be able to go to the arena with her family - this servant-girl was no longer a servant, for in the family of Christ, there is neither free nor slave, nor male or female, nor Jew or Gentile, only one body, one family - all together.

At this point in our story, Perpetua has given over her diary to a deacon, and he picks up where she left off. The day came, and all were prepared. They walked into the arena with their faces filled with joy, beaming bright, ready to go to their heavenly home. Saturus, the leader who willingly gave himself up to die with his students, was being prepared for a wild boar. As the gladiator attempted to tie Saturus to the boar, the animal turned on the gladiator and killed him. Saturus managed to get away with merely being dragged around. He was next to be tied to a raised bridge where a bear would have his way. Saturus greatly feared the bear and did not want to face it. He was tied to the bridge, but the bear would not come out of his den. Saturus was returned to the gate, almost completely unharmed. What did we mention earlier about a special grace given to martyrs?

For Perpetua and Felicity, they were stripped naked and put in a net, being made ready for a savage cow, who had been trained and raised to kill. When they were brought out, the crowd cried out against the gladiators, for they saw two women, one who had just recently given birth to a child, whose breasts were dripping with milk, and the other who also was still tender-looking and was known to be a noble woman. The gladiators brought the women back in and gave them robes to cover themselves up with. The cow trampled Perpetua and ripped her robe along her thigh. She began to cover up her naked thigh, and took a pin to her hair to make sure that she did not look disheveled. She glanced over at Felicity who had likewise been trampled by the cow, walked over to her and helped her stand up. The crowd was won over by the hearts of the two women, the cow was called back, and the women returned to the gate.

Once they returned, Perpetua began to ask what happened and when they were to be given to the cow? She had not felt a thing. It took many people pointing out the marks, bruises and cuts on her body to convince her that she did indeed face a cow. Again, the Holy Spirit seemed to have given a supernatural endurance to be able to withstand horrible pains.

When they returned to the arena, Saturus was forced to face a leopard. One bite from the cat, and Saturus was finished. Before he died, he took the ring from the finger of his guard, dipped it in his own blood, and told the guard to remember the faith that he and his friends had. In the midst of dying from a leopard bite, he remembered the guard standing over him and made sure that the guard knew what Christian faith was all about.

The rest were brought up to the platform and beheaded one-by-one. Perpetua watched her friends being killed and waited for her turn. When the executioner came to her, he lowered his sword but missed the mark and pierced her collarbone instead. She cried out in pain, and the executioner's hand began to quiver. She gently took the shaking sword and guided the mark true to her throat. As her vision had foretold, she watched Saturus climb the ladder before her and soon after joined him in the heavenly garden robed in white.

This is the story of Perpetua, Felicity, Saturus and several other converts to Christianity in 203 AD in Carthage. Tertullian would later become the Bishop of Carthage and be the one to coin the phrase, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." As much as Emperor Septimus wanted to stop people from converting to Christianity, it was stories like these, the witness that they bore that began to spread the seed of the gospel. More and more people became Christians because of the faith of the martyrs. If a noble woman could withstand her father, be able to say goodbye to her son, face a deranged cow and eventually, calmly place the sword to her throat, then there must be something to this Man she called Savior. It could make for a great movie, but I think it makes for an even better reminder to our faith - that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (martyrs) who have gone before us, faced far greater and more horrible things than we could ever imagine, and remained faithful to their Savior.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Little Things...

Hopefully, last week's blog has you riveted for this discussion on martyrs of the Christian faith. I cannot tell you how much these stories have meant in my own life - both challenging me for the better and continually reminding me that prayer is of the utmost importance.

Last week, I ended with the one disciple who did not suffer a horrendous martyrdom, but instead he lived and continued to make disciples, as instructed by his teacher, rabbi, friend, and Savior - Jesus. This disciple was John, yes, the John who wrote the Gospel, the book of Revelation and three letters all found in the New Testament. After John was released from being exiled, he went back to Ephesus and became the Bishop there.

This week I want to introduce you to (or if you have already heard of these people, I want to remind you of) two men - both bishops, both very important men in the grand scheme of church history, both martyrs.

The first man is a Bishop from Antioch named Ignatius. Ignatius was Bishop during the time of Emperor Trajan. Now Trajan did not want to go hunting for Christians, as Nero had done, but he also could not stand by and let people not worship him. At this time, the Emperor of Rome was the god. As a citizen of Rome, or inhabitant in Roman jurisdiction, you were supposed to worship statues of the Emperor, burn incense to him, and say a prayer. The Roman rule was always a little more lenient to the Jews in Jerusalem, but the Christians did not receive this leniency. Christians were known as atheists, not because they did not believe in God, but because they did not believe in god. They were also thought of as being cannibals (because they ate someone's body and drank that person's blood) and as being fond of incest (because they called everyone brother and sister).

Trajan was pretty calm though, in the grand realm of crazy Roman Emperors, so while he did execute Christians because "of the name" and their atheistic beliefs, he did not hunt them down. He tried to keep everything legal, one must have an accuser, one must be brought before the court, and then if found guilty, one must be executed.

This is where our dear friend Ignatius of Antioch comes in. Ignatius was a pretty bold Bishop, so it is no surprise that he was accused, tried and found guilty of being a Christian. While on his way to Rome to be executed, he wrote seven letters to different churches. There are two important things about these letters:

1. Ignatius quotes what we now know as the New Testament as words of encouragement and Scripture. This is about 200 years before the New Testament was to be canonized, so Ignatius is doing a great service to what would later on become a rule for canonization. Ignatius is recognizing the words of Peter and Paul as Words from God. This is HUGE, especially since during his time men who would later be known as heretics were starting to strip away certain letters and books of what would be the New Testament because they did not agree with what these books said.

2. Ignatius asks the church in Rome to NOT interfere with his death. He writes to them:

"I am corresponding with all the churches and bidding them all realize that I am voluntarily dying for God - if, that is, you do not interfere. I plead with you, do not do me an unseasonable kindness. Let me be fodder for wild beasts - that is how I can get to God."

Ignatius goes on in this letter, pleading with the church in Rome, to let him fight with wild beasts so that he can only go to Jesus. This letter opens up what we now can see as the theology of martyrs. There was an amazing willingness to die for the sake of Christ among these men and women. They truly believed that God had chosen them for this purpose and that the Holy Spirit would grant them an extra measure of grace to withstand being torn limb from limb by beasts. They desired to share in the sufferings and victories of Christ. Ignatius is the prime example of this theology.

Our second bishop that I want to discuss is Polycarp. Polycarp was the Bishop in Smyrna, right around the corner from Ephesus. There are several fascinating things about Polycarp, but for those of you who do not know the man, prepare to have your minds blown. Remember when I said that John, the disciple of Jesus, made disciples himself? Well, meet Polycarp - disciple of John, disciple of Jesus.

Minds blown, right?

Polycarp was captured by Roman guards for being an atheist, he had an incredible vision of his pillow burning and knew that he would be burned at the stake. Someone recorded Polycarp's trial and martyrdom, so we have what could be the actual words of Polycarp written down for us. One thing that you should know about him was that by the time he was captured and put on trial, Polycarp was an old man. So, the Proconsul pleaded that Polycarp remember his age and forsake this Christ. Polycarp's response? He says this, "Eighty and six years have I served Him (that is Jesus), and He hath done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?"

To be a fly on the wall during these proceedings! The local ruler is pleading with an elderly man, because he doesn't particularly want to see an old man get ripped to shreds by wild beasts or be burned alive, and what does Polycarp say? He SCHOOLS the Ruler with wisdom that can only be acquired from a lifetime of serving Christ and basically says that he has served Christ for 86 years, why would he stop now for a young punk who has done nothing?!?

As he saw in his vision with the pillow burning, Polycarp was burned alive at a stake.

Besides showing us amazing wisdom in a time that could be extremely frightening, Polycarp has become a part of something else quite amazing. Polycarp, like John, like Jesus, also made disciples. One of his disciples was a guy name Irenaeus. Irenaeus worked mainly against the heretics that were forming and calling themselves Christians. Irenaeus came up with this genius thing called Apostolic Succession. Basically, Apostolic Succession said that in order to be a Bishop of a Church, you had to show that you were a disciple of a disciple of a disciple of Jesus. Why? Because if Jesus imparted some sort of secret knowledge (which was a claim of one of the heretical groups called gnostics), then He would have left that knowledge with his closest disciples, who would also pass it on to their disciples.

So, when Irenaeus had to deal with the Gnostics, his defense for not having any sort of secret knowledge about another way to salvation was that his teacher, Polycarp, who learned from John, who learned from Jesus, did not give him that secret knowledge. This is what I like to call a Patristic Smackdown! This helped to insure that what we hold today as Orthodox Doctrine - meaning the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, Jesus being Fully God AND Fully Man - remained steadfast and became Orthodoxy.

This is a fascinating time of Church History. Lives are literally at stake, words that are written could become a part of orthodoxy or could be heretical at the drop of a hat. When I read the stories of Ignatius and Polycarp and how their letters and lives served to further the canonization of the New Testament and the Orthodox Doctrines that we still hold to today 1900 years later, I cannot help but be amazed at the Holy Spirit. He moves through the body of believers, working to continually lift up the Savior, working to continually push forward what is TRUE. Maybe this is why I am never completely worried about the future of the Church, because the TRUE Church is being taken care of by the Holy Spirit, and if that is enough to move mountains, then that is enough to keep me steadfast in the Word and the Truth.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What Moves Me...

About 6 years ago, I was visiting the church I went to in high school back in the Grand Rapids area of Michigan, and one of the main pastors at the place began his message by giving a quote from G.K. Chesterton's book Orthodoxy. I cannot for the life of me tell you what he quoted, but I do remember what he said after he read the passage. He said something to the effect that there was a large number of people that had started to read this book in their community, which was followed by a large "Whoop!" He also said that this book was doing some great things, affecting these people and moving them.

I left that service, found the local Barnes and Noble where I purchased the book. Well, it has been 6 years, and I am now getting around to reading Orthodoxy. Apparently, I have a 6-year waiting list for all good books to be read. This blog entry is not going to be about the rather rotund Chesterton though. I have yet to finish the book and digest it; I have underlined one incredible line so far, but I am still working on it. This entry is about what that pastor talked about 6 years ago - something that was affecting and moving the community.

When I first became a follower of Christ back in the year 2000 (there is my timely-nod to all things Leno/Conan right now), the first "Christian" book that I read aside from the Bible was the book Jesus Freaks collaborated together by dc Talk and the Voice of the Martyrs. I spent many nights in tears as I turned each page of this book, reading the horrific stories of people from around the world and throughout history that have been tortured, persecuted, made to watch loved-ones be killed, and then ultimately were killed themselves all because they said, "Yes, I am a follower of Christ." These stories, along with a few other things, were the most transformative thing to have ever happened to me in my early years as a Christian. With each story, my faith grew stronger. I realized that I was a part of something global, something historical and something much larger than myself.

I wanted to spend a few blogs discussing and writing about these stories. Hopefully this will encourage you in your prayer life to be focused on the countries that are persecuting Christians today. I heard a horrifying statistic the other day that there are more people being martyred today than there were during the first 250 years of the church. Whether you believe that prayer changes things or you believe that by praying you are now entering into God's will for that person(s), prayer will affect your heart and change your focus. I can think of very little that is worth focusing on more than the persecution of our brothers and sisters around the world.

Let's begin then. A man named Jesus came to a tiny part of the globe called Israel and pretty much turned the world upside-down. He spent three years pouring into the lives of men and women, healing thousands upon thousands, raising the dead, and teaching about a Kingdom that anyone could come and be a part of. He was murdered, but since He was not a mere man, but was God AND man, He raised Himself up from the dead. After His resurrection, He told the men and women that He spent the most time with to go out into the world and make followers (disciples) of every nation, by teaching and baptizing them. Before He was crucified though, He had told His followers that if they continued to follow Him, they would be persecuted as well even to the point of death.

That's interesting. Have you ever had a really great teacher in school? You know, someone that you look back on and think, "Man, I really LOVED Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So's class! I could hang on every word that they said!" These teachers were almost friends in a way. You respected them a lot for their knowledge and their incite, but your conversations with them made you feel like you were actually close with these people. Anyone have this experience besides my nerd-self? As much as I loved these particular men and women and what they had to teach me, I really doubt that if they told me that I was going to be tortured, persecuted and most likely killed if I kept following what they taught me that I would continue to follow their teachings. In fact, I can tell you right now that if my art teacher back in high school told me this, I would have put my paint brush down and walked over to the Economics department for the first time in my life. I'm not sure that my art is worth dying over, or being tortured for that matter.

But this is what these followers of Jesus did. He warned them, straight out, if you follow Me, they will torture you. If you follow Me, they will persecute you. If you follow Me, your family members will hate you. If you follow Me, they will kill you.

This is what inspired me so much ten years ago. Jesus had 12 guys, 12 really close guys that He spent a lot of time with. These were His chosen men - He hand-picked these guys to become fishers of men, and stop their lives as fishermen. When their Teacher, their Friend, their Mentor, and their Savior left them, they didn't despair, they didn't go back to their old ways, they picked up where He left off, went out into the world, healed thousands, and brought the message of the Kingdom to all nations.

We are told that Thomas, that guy who doubted that Jesus had risen from the dead, went all the way to India to make disciples. Get out map one day and look how far Israel is from India, then realize that this dude walked it in sandals. I'm impressed, that's all I am saying. James, Jesus' brother, remained in Jerusalem and preached to the Jews and Hellenists. Let me say that again - James, Jesus' brother, remained in Jerusalem to reach out to the Jews there. If you had a brother that was just murdered by some people in a particular town, would you decide to continue living in that town and try to show them that God loved them?

Andrew went to Italy and started working to teach people about the true God instead of the non-existent gods. James, one of the sons of Zebedee, remained in Jerusalem to reach out to the Romans, the Romans were the other conspirators in the group that killed Jesus, by the way. Bartholomew traveled to India, Turkey and finally to Armenia. While in Armenia, he preached about Jesus and the King's brother decided to stop following the false gods and became a follower of Jesus.

Philip traveled to Turkey and Syria making disciples. Matthew wrote his gospel in Jerusalem then traveled to Africa and began making disciples in Ethiopia. Jude (also known as Thaddeus) travelled to present-day Iran. Simon the Zealot began by traveling to Egypt and North Africa. He then went all the way up to what is now known as Great Britain. After that, it is said that he traveled back to Persia and met up with Jude to work together in that area. Peter did a lot, as we can read about in the book of Acts and his own letters. Primarily though, he went to Rome and was the first Bishop of Rome.

What happened to these guys?

Thomas - put in a furnace, and when the fire didn't kill him, he was speared to death.
James, Jesus' brother - brought to the top of the temple roof and thrown off from it.
Andrew - was hung on a cross for three days, preaching the entire time about Jesus while he grasped for air, on the third day he died.
James, the son of Zebedee - beheaded in Jerusalem for preaching about Jesus.
Bartholomew - the King of Armenia was pretty ticked that his own brother had become a follower of Jesus, so he had Bartholomew beaten with rods, then crucified on a cross almost to the point of death, taken down and flayed.
Philip - tied to a pillar and stoned to death.
Matthew - dragged outside the city gates in a town in Ethiopia, nailed to the ground with spears and beheaded.
Jude - was beaten with sticks and clubs until he died.
Simon the Zealot - After Jude's death, Simon continued to make disciples in the area and moved onto Syria. There, he was tortured and crucified by the governor.
Peter - Emperor Nero had begun the persecution of Christians by this point and made it a personal goal to find and execute Peter. Sometime around 65 AD, Peter was captured in Rome, and it is said that he was crucified upside-down.

There are hundreds of others that suffered the same fate as these men did. But I want to turn now to one who didn't. James, the son of Zebedee, had a brother, his name was John. John was not martyred. John was persecuted, and he was supposed to be killed, but for some divine reason when he was put into a vat of hot oil meant to burn him alive, the oil did not do anything to him. Emperor Domitian had him exiled to the island of Patmos instead. At this rocky, desolate place, His Savior visited him and brought him visions which he wrote down as ordered - now known as the book of Revelation. Once Emperor Domitian died, John was released and returned to Ephesus, becoming the Bishop there. He verified the Gospels that Matthew, Mark and Luke had written, then wrote his own Gospel. He also did something of the utmost import in Ephesus.

John made disciples.

And this is where we will pick up in my next blog.