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Open Ring Class

  • Living begins with joy and ends in peace

    Scripture: Philippians 2:1-11; 4:4-9

    1.  Self effacement, humility, is required of Christians. 

    Having the same mind in full accord means doing nothing in selfishness. Christians should be modest people working together to further God’s kingdom. Paul doesn’t want us to get caught up in petty arguments or pride, it interferes with God’s business.

    2.  The mind of the Christian as far as possible should be the mind of Christ.

    Paul turns to the model -- Jesus. Kenosis who empty Himself to become human. Dedicate your mind to God.  Take on the form of a servant like Christ.  “Became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess” one day.  Can ignore Christ in life but not in death. Don’t mess with Christ!  

    3.  The operative life style of Christian begins with joy and ends in peace.

    “Rejoice in the Lord always, again rejoice,” Paul declared from jail. He speaks to joyful faith in difficult times. We rejoice because we know God, let our gentleness be known to everyone. Lord is near, have no anxiety. Sometimes it is hard. When we are anxious we should pray with thanksgiving. Peace with God keeps heart and mind.

    4.  There are merit badges in the Christian walk.

    Be true, just, honorable, lovely, pure like Christ, graceful and elegant. If lovely, not ugly, someone might think we are a Christian! From Melville’s Moby Dick “be a patriot to heaven and eternal delight will be his who says I have striven to be thine.”


  • Living bravely in crisis reveals God to unbelievers

    Scripture: Daniel 3:10-25; 29-30

    1. Hubris (unlimited pride) has been a human problem since the Fall. Nebuchadiezzar’s gold statue is a classic example.

    Even though Daniel’s friends have been given high positions, when a golden statue is created and all told to worship it, the three confessors refuse so are thrown into the fiery furnace. Anre Noren Catholic scholar says, take the Holy scriptures and read for contemplation and meditation when your heart is open the Spirit will reveal God in the story.  We get caught up to much in little issues, parable or literal truth and miss the power of God’s message for living. The eternal is involved in the text so let the Spirit master you instead of the mastering the text. Consequence of hubris is aggressive hautiness, arrogance with expectation of privilege and power. Began in the garden and still a danger today. Who will be God? Will we choose self or God.

    2. In the arena of faith one must consider the cost. How much can I prepare to give to God?

    Advance decision needs to be made before crisis arises or challenge faced.  Three friends of Daniel made a decision early on that under any circumstances they would serve God. First test of diet was fairly easy. Second is a death sentence. Who is the God you will serve? “If our God delivers us fine, if not, we still will not worship your golden statues.” They had to decided to die for faith. Must also decide cost of lesser things. How often will you publically worship? How much time will you give to mercy or justice?  How much money? Will I witness to Christ when the opportunity arises. Response to ordinary the same as deep. Can’t be said, but must be a lived defense.

    3. Lives lived bravely in crisis by the faithful can reveal God even to unbelievers.

    One of the beautiful symbols is the fourth figure in the fire. The inivisible God always becomes visible to His followers in crisis. Crisis with God is very different from crisis without God. Our companion is the God who is our hope. Nebeccanezzer also saw God in the young men’s triumph. Fourth appeared like the Son of God. Afterwards the King blessed the God who delivered them. For a period of time, the king and people saw the greatness of God because of the followers. The idol disappears from the story. Life is a whole journey back to the one who loves us...God. Daniel not present in story. Strong testiment that God uses followers as well as leaders for His work. We in God’s view are equal to heroes of faith. Different gifts with different effect, but all with great potential to be used. We should examine again our commitment to God and ask should it be more?


  • Loving one another is the only thing worth living for

    Scripture: Exodus 25:17; Isaiah 58:3; Matthew 19:13 and 1 Peter 1:3-9

    1.  Mercy begins with God. Initial worship was at the mercy seat of the ark.

    Hebrew “kapor” meaning to cover over -- atonement. God said, “I will meet with you...speak with you.” From very beginning...mercy is what God is. Constitutive, always on, constant.

    2.  Human mercy is derived from divine mercy. Its absence blocks a valid relationship with God.

    Humans can choose, mercy on or off. Isaiah says, “you seek your own pleasure and oppress your workers...fasting like this will not get your voice heard on high.” You want to worship God, feed hungry, bring poor in, clothe naked. Do this and God will be your rear-guard. Heaven doesn’t need money. “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” 

    3.  Rewards of God’s mercy have a different vision, new feelings and a willingness to act.

    Seeing God’s vision brings new emotions: compassion, desire to do good, express unmerited love. When we see and feel, we ACT. Acts of mercy can be big or small. Everyone of us is called to be a steward of mercy on God’s behalf.

    4.  To love human beings is the only true sign one is a Christian.

    Soren Kierkegaard asks, “What is all this that would hinder you from loving?” What excuses. “To love human beings is the only thing worth living for...Truly a profession of faith is not enough.” Like for like. When we practice mercy, we receive mercy. In time and eternity, God expects us to manage His mercy business.


  • Money: God rejoices in those who give

    Scripture: Matthew 6:19-21, 24; Mark 12:41-44; Luke 19:1-10

    1.  God’s gifts to us can be transformed to gifts to God.

    God is first cause and differs from everything else. He is unlimited. Does not change. All gifts come from Being Itself. Natural response is Thank You and give back. Humans have potential. Wants us to be one with Him, filled with Spirit and His aims. He gives us talents to use. Give away gets bigger. 

    2.  The church must be a counter-cultural community about money.

    Lay up treasures in heaven, where all that we have is for the glory of God. We are not like culture around us. Storms, bank failures, death. Money is fragile. Only safe place for money is ministries of poor, hungry and lost. Church must be counter-cultural or it betrays Christ. 

    3.  Greatest love gifts of money to God flow from absence of discretionary income.

    Discretionary income – after paying food, shelter, education, transportation, etc. what is left over. Jesus watched treasury and He is watching us. Call disciples come look. Widow gave out of poverty. Jesus watching her loved her for it. Sacrificial giving is serious. 

    4.  Greatest functional gifts of money flow from Christ followers with wealth. 

    Jesus loved widow, but also loved Zaccheus. He gave half away and replaced four fold. He’s a Son of Abraham and I came to save him. God rejoices in God followers who give. All kinds of voices calling you – find God’s. The place God calls you is where your deep gladness meets the world’s greatest need. 

  • Our business is to offer love and mercy, not judgment

    Scripture: James 2:1-13

    1.  Don’t judge.

    Be aware as you travel through life. Go away from those who intend harm but don’t judge people by looks or behavior. Separating thoughts blind us to people who are loved by God. They are worthy of the cross but not worthy in our minds. Who comes to our door anonymously?  If we take the name Agape/Christian it has responsibility. We make I AM statements when we look for places and people to help...we serve Christ. Moments of rare beauty, light and connections appear even in sadness, displacement, sickness or death. There are many strong people with us in the work and the blessings come back, and come back, and come back.

    2.  Love your neighbor as your self.

    This is the Royal commandment. “Love one another and by this all men will know you are my disciples. I gave you an example.” Jesus said do love -- being and practicing this faith.  If judgmental about others we are probably judgmental about self, seeing our failures instead of our gifts. This radical religion frees us to love and discard our perceived selves to find mercy, love others and serve Christ.

    3.  Mercy triumphs over judgement.

    What measure of mercy we use will be the measure of mercy we receive. To love is a verb and its an action. The Bible doesn’t talk about outcomes or results, that’s God’s business. Our business is to offer love, mercy and The Good News of Christ to any in need.



  • Paul proved faith has nothing to fear from thinking

    Scripture: Acts 9: 1-19

    1.  The conversion of Saul is the most important in Church history. 

    Saul was the greatest persecutor and the greatest theologian of Church.  His writings helped convert millions throughout history. 

    2.  The miraculous Damascus road experience made Paul a twice-born person.

    Defining before and after in his life. Fanatical persecutor before and after the most zealous evangelist. Thought his conversion was foreordained. God had his eye on Paul. Jesus demands second birth. Not so dramatic for most of us. Self becomes second and God becomes first. Need to listen for God’s quiet demands and say yes.

    3.  The mortal hero of Paul’s conversion was Ananias. He is the model of the everyday hero of Christ.

    Mighty acts of God depend on humans.  Ananias, a mystery, except he was a disciple. Disciple’s a good second name. Ananias characteristics: was available to God, here I am Lord; willing to question God, he is evil and I am afraid; went in spite of his fears; showed the enemy love “Brother Saul”; told resurrection and baptized him. Paul received physical and spiritual sight. We can be God’s agents.

    4.  End result of Paul’s conversion was permanent theology of Christianity.

    Paul proved faith has nothing to fear from thinking. Albert Schwitzer said, “Paul is the patron saint of thought. Those who want to squelch thought should stay out of his way.” Paul leads us to deeper understanding of sin and forgiveness, making us finishers for God.


  • People slide from faith. We are called to rescue.

    Scripture: James 5

    1.  God is not against wealth, but He is resolutely against economic and social injustice.

    James starts out like to be rich is a sin. Wealth is neither good or bad. Spiritually dangerous because it substitutes for God if primary focus or security. Jesus made it clear don’t store of treasures on earth but in heaven. From beginning to end God cries for justice...woe to those who make the poor suffer. God followers have two duties: fight evil and seek justice, salvation of immortal human souls. Jesus is ruthless in his comments about rich who disregard poor. No mercy for merciless. Passivity in the face of injustice is not acceptable to God or God-followers.

    2.  Christians are to be patient and enduring in the faith.

    Sometimes it takes a long while to come to God. Job took a long time, I had heard of thee, but now I see and repent. Remember prophets, Job, Keep the Fath, keep working and endure in the faith. Methusal tree 4470 years old lives in the most hostile environment -- brittle, cone but still fertile due to something inside.  Brittle cone Christians still fertile in old age or illness.

    3.  Christians should use unadorned language -- yes and no.

    Be clear - don’t swear, falsely or at all, Jesus said. But what you say be yes or no. Sterling self-evident truth and character who uses it. Nothing else. Integrity of one who speaks. Need to be trustworthy.

    4.  Prayer is a constant need of Christians, for self and others.

    Prayer is the answer. Sick pray, joyful praise, “Fervent prayer availeth much.” Ecstatic prayer is outside self seeing in God’s terms. Successful prayer is open to Holy Spirit and feels connected to God. Inner difference. Most prayer is spontaneous and situational. Formal prayers that speak better than you found in Psalm 61.

    5.  People slide away from faith. We are assigned to rescue.

    When anyone wanders from the truth and one brings him back, he will save his life from death and it will cover a multitude of sins. If you can’t believe anymore I know you care about others. Commit yourself to that and God will come back. Don’t want to be judgmental, just in the business of rescue. Brittle cone Christians.

  • Praise God for faithful who don’t allow fear to trump truth

    Scripture: Galatians 2: 11-21; 3: 28, 29

    1.  Early biblical revelations superceded by later, more powerful revelations. 

    First revelation Creation. Nature is not God, but created by God. Jerusalem Christians wanted to place Torah above Christ’s coming. Christ revealed how to live. 

    2.  One cannot let fear trump truth, here the fear of ecclesiastical authority.

    Original laws were to keep them faithful to God and separate from pagan cultures. Easier to say “I keep dietary laws than help the poor.” God declared all foods clean to Peter. Some believed ok for Gentiles to be saved but not to share a meal, Peter and Barnabas went along. Paul considered them hypocrites. Peter made a mistake here but was never afraid to preach the Gospel or die for Christ.

    3.  Justification, forgiveness of sin, is vested in the Christ event, not the law.

    Law and prophets were the forerunners to Christ’s grace. We know people are justified by faith in Christ not works, or who they eat with. Salvation is always unmerited love by God. Law is important for core issues -- love God, love neighbor and ten commandments. 

    4.  The first question is not “What do you believe?” but “To whom do you belong?” The answer is “Christ.”

    We live by faith when we belong to Jesus. There is a constant stream of righteousness and love that flows through Him into our hearts. Hope resides in us. Praise God for friends in the faith who don’t allow fear to trump truth...Christ is life on earth and in heaven.


  • Prepare Yourself to Talk about Serious Questions

    Scripture: Luke 10:1-5; Acts 16:25-34; John 3:1-7

    1.  The Gospel is a gospel.

    Agents for God in the witnessing business share good news.  In a gloomy world agents of glad tidings is a high calling -- hope, joy, purpose and relationship with God.  High calling to make Christ known to people.  We elevate hope in life and after life.  Joyful business.

    2.  Everything Christians do is a witness to the God of the Gospel.

    Christ sent out 70 to go before him doing deeds and sharing words of witness to God. Travel light, carry no stuff, don’t be delayed by chit chat on the road. Don’t have time. Heal sick and tell them God is near. Don’t be shy about sharing the Word. I do this because Christ commands it and so you, like me, can share the relationship. Explanational and invitational.  Would you like to join us.

    3.  The Gospel speaks to two major problems: an empty life and eternal life.

    This is the way we work. Share personal witness, offer hard truth talk about sin or wrong choices, offer other witnesses (books, names, stories) and ask if they want to pray. Gospel always speaks to the fact that we do not cease to be. Jesus tells Nicodemus “Life has to change. Need to be born of water and spirit to enter the kingdom of God.” Gospel promises new life in time and after life. Stewards of witness want to make life clear to loved ones before they die.

    4.  Witnessing is both planned and spontaneous.

    Planned witness was 70 followers sent out to villages where He would come later. Knew what they were doing and going to say.  The jailer ask the question of questions? “Sirs what must I do to be saved?” Paul replies “believe in the Lord Jesus and He will save you and all your household.”  All are called to the question of witness. Be prepared with stories, Psalms or favorite verses of Scripture, other’s stories. Be serious about witness but remember a job to be Christ’s partner in witness.


  • Primary sin has a way of returning

    Scripture: Daniel 5:1, 5, 6; 13-31

    1. Thanks is enough for servant of God.  They do not wish to be paid for doing good.

    The King was terrified by the ghostly hand that wrote on the wall, but he assumed he could buy the answer of what it meant. Bribed Daniel to get an answer, would make him the third highest man in kingdom. Daniel’s response “Let your gifts be for yourself...” Expect no pay for serving God. Daniel an onerocritic -- interpreter of dreams.

    2. Primary sin has a way of returning.

    Made an acknowledgement of rescue by God, but later reverts back to pride.  Walking on roof of palace said, “look at this great city I built.” Immediately a voice from heaven said, “your kingdom is gone.” King had a mental breakdown, went out and lived like an animal in the fields eating grass. Glory taken from him.  Jesus talks about the danger of recurring sin in Luke 18. Daniel said, “you have worshipped objects that know nothing, instead of the God who holds your very life in His hands.” 

    3. A major chacteristic of Sin is mural dyslexia: inability to read the handwriting on the wall.

    King not able or willing to read the writing that God puts on all our hearts and minds. Basic revelation. Those that are separated from God don’t get the message. “Your days are numbered, this God you don’t know has found you wanting, your kingdom will be divided.” Even after Daniel’s revelation, King assumes things will be the same, but that very night the Mede comes and kills him. His mural dyslexia was fatal. Eternal unworthiness has its penalties. Can stay blind in life, but not in death. There are moments in life when decisive action is needed. Repentance should not be postphoned, our own or others. Study, pray and tell the stories of God.


  • Salvus (salvation) means healed or made whole

    Scripture: Mark 129-45

    1.  Jesus repeatedly healed physical illness during His 3 years.

    Always immediacy. Whenever Christ heals it should be followed by service from the healed. Healing of Simon’s mother who immediately got up and served them to the leper. Jesus shows His authority.

    2.  Private prayer - alone - is required for a vibrant, powerful faith.

    Jesus often went off by Himself, prayed and got direction. He said, “We will move on and share the message.”  Author Reynolds Price, “since adolescence short or long prayers have always been a reflex for me.” Private prayer inspires, directs and gives peace. God is in the one-on-one business.

    3.  In serious illness humans look for hope and the ultimate hope is God.

    Price after a spinal tumor left him paralyzed, “Never doubted for even an hour that I belong to God and he was watching me.”  Later he had a vision of being with Jesus who baptized him and said, “Your sins are forgiven.” Price asked, “cured.” Christ, “that too.”  He lived...paralyzed, and in a second vision “How much more?” and the voice said, “more!” In many calmer hours to come Price’s response was “bring it on!” With Christ we can handle anything. 

    4. Salvus, the root word of salvation, means healed or made whole.

    Great things flow from difficulties. In Jesus we are complete or not salvation at all. “Ultimate negativity” is Paul Tillich’s term for exclusion from eternity. Jesus healed physically but He was really interested in spiritual eternity.


  • Scripture is instruction for righteous living

    Scripture: 2 Chronicles 34:14-19; 29-33


    1. The last Book of the Law is thought to contain Deuteronomy 12-26.

    Not trapped by our genes or circumstances. Josiah’s father and grandfather where both evil kings, but he desired to know and worship God. Core doctrine of Old Testament: do away with pagan gods, do slaves justice, feasts, murder and trials, during war care for environment, marriage, adultery, justice and protection of weak, Israel to be people of God. It was a major loss to society when the Book disappeared.

    2. The Book of the Law was ordered to be kept by the kings but had not been. They were a long time scripture-less.

    King shall read book, not be arrogant, nor turn aside so he can live long in the land.  Evil kings had not followed law.  Symbol of God, the temple, had fallen into disrepair. If you forget the temple and God’s law, the community suffers. Josiah had a heart for God but was uninformed. He wished to be faithful and started to repair the house of the Lord at cost. He had a memory of God.

    3. When Josiah heard from the Book, he instantly repented.

    They found the Book in the wreckage and when Josiah heard the words of the Book, he rent his clothes, grieved that he had not done as kings should and repented immediately,  Characteristic of Bible -- it tells us when to repent and Josiah got the message, but did not stop with sadness.  He did something.  General rule, when you repent also take action. Josiah gathered everyone in Jerusalem and read the Bible to them.  Stood in his place and made a vow to worship God and all the people stood and promised to follow also. He got rid of the idols when he knew what to do. Bible tells us when to repent, listen, recommit to god and take action. Josiah was the second best king next to David and reigned 31 years.

    4.  The aim of Biblical faith is for our lives to be a parable of the Word.

    Lesson of Josiah was about the written Word. Transforming event was the English Bible authorized version that transformed the world, many died to make it so. It is amazing that we have the Bible available. Can’t be a full Christian without the Bible. “All scripture is available for instruction in righteous living.” Lived Word is crucial.  “We should each live our lives as a parable of the written Word,” said William Stringfellow.  Biblical faith distinguishes itself from all others because it insists on the presence of the Word of God. We have to live and be ready to speak on a moments notice the love of Christ.

  • Seek the wisdom from above in pilgrimage of faith

    Scripture: James 3:1-10; 13-18

    1.  Speech is a defining characteristic of the human animal.

    James addressed negative speech: might refer to teachers not living up to teachings, cursing, or injustice. Christian speech should be a blessing. Mentioned before why humans are different from animals, but a sixth -- speech. It is a critical gene humans have. You might teach animals (birds or monkeys) to repeat sounds but they don’t understand grammar or syntax. Speech is a great gift from God.

    2.  Speech has an enormous potential for evil.

    James calls the tongue a rudder or flame, more used the greater chance for iniquity, infects the whole body. Speech causes harm in three ways: lies or gossip; truth can be harmful (you’re ugly or dumb); and unused. Express love to God and others. Matthew 12:36 Jesus also warns “I tell you on the day of judgment you will render an account of your words.” Three tests -- is it true, is it needful, is it kind.

    3.  Seek the wisdom from above in pilgrimage of faith.

    Show your works by your life; be pure, peaceable, willing to yield, full of mercy and good will, showing no partiality. Wisdom driven by love is our business. Imagine if we didn’t have speech...all Jesus’ words of hope to the world. Tremendous gift to be able to speak about Christ. Soren Kierkegaard said, “To be a Christian is to be so specific as to not be confused with anything else.” Know who you are.



  • The first journey was over travelers and the church rejoiced

    Scripture: Acts 13:1-12; 14_24-28

    1.  Church at Antioch vibrant and seriously worshipped. God used it.

    Paul is the main man; had Jewish background, Roman freedom, understanding of faith, heart for God and people. His capacity to speak and write was unmatched. His immortal words still encourage us.

    2.  First missionary journey signals the movement toward universal faith.

    Three great strengths: Church behind them; friends in the faith to walk, talk, laugh and cry with; and Holy Spirit in the work. Jesus sent the 70 out in pairs, especially if at risk. God, Church, and each other is all we need for grand and victorious work. 

    3.  First encounter on the trip was a magician, Elymus. Sorcerers still exist.

    Elymus wanted to distract intelligent ruler. Always characters with their bag of tricks seeking to bend the will of God to the will of man. They use God or promise wealth and health. Almost always contrary to will of God. No sin, no need for salvation in their message. Paul not deceived. God made Elymus blind for a time and ruler stunned by power believes. Shows the power of teaching. 

    4.  When the first journey was over travelers and the church rejoiced.

    Church celebrated faith of Gentiles. Wasn’t easy. Paul stoned, left for dead, but lived. Despite suffering still joy. Glorious things happen when faithful. Rejoice that First Church always did the best thing in the worst times. How will we respond today? Two heart people love God and others while taking on the difficult challenges of ministry. 

  • The Spirit lives within us, helps us progress

    Scripture: Romans Chapter 8
  • The Ultimate Question for Christians: 1999 Brown Lecture Series | First Presbyterian Church Dallas, TX

    This lecture concerns the “ultimate” question - Do you love Christ?

    John 21: 15-19

    The Gospel of John is in many ways the most remarkable document in the New Testament. As Professor Reynolds Price has said, “The whole story is seen in the first three paragraphs.  The Word was God and God was the Word.  The Word became flesh.”  There are almost no moral teachings in this gospel, only the astonishing claims of Jesus culminating in the famed doubled amen statement: “Amen, amen I tell you before Abraham was, I Am.”  I Am – the name of God.  So, he says not that he is the only Son of God, but I am God himself, here and now; I have always been, will always be.  

    In John there are four post-resurrection appearances.  He speaks with a woman, the Magdalene, at the grave, he breathes the Holy Spirit on the eleven disciples, he satisfies the doubt of Thomas, and he helps the disciples catch fish and feeds them breakfast.  And then it comes.  The ultimate question for all Christians, but addressed specifically to Simon bar Jona, whom he called Peter.  “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

    There is one absolutely unique thing about the God of the Bible not seen in the Eastern religions, Hinduism or Buddhism, not in the Quran nor mentioned in the worship of Islam.  There are many similarities in the teachings of the Jerusalem cluster – Judaism, Christianity, Islam:  all posit a single God; all three say God is good, just and merciful; all three say he makes moral and ethical demands; that final fate (heaven and hell) depends upon one’s actions in life.  But the Bible says something absolutely unique.  It says that God is love.  That God loves humans - and even more surprising - that the Maker wishes his creatures to love him.

    Why did Jesus ask Peter and not one of the other disciples the ultimate question?  Because Peter had betrayed and thrice denied his friend and lord.  I think that is why Peter was chosen - to save Peter from the devastating, never forgotten memory of his denial of Christ.  So the question came three times.  "Do you love me?"  And three times the answer came: "Yes, Lord, you know I love you."  Do you see the balance?  There had been three denials and now three times the Christ allows Peter to confess his love.  

    That is recapitulated in each of our lives.  We deny and continue to deny, and yet in the deepest part of what we are, when he asks the ultimate question, with trembling heart we say, "Yes, Lord, you know I love you."  Based on the Peter episode, I think we can say with all certainty that beyond every flaw, every denial, every sin, he knows that we do love him.  Because he is the Savior of the world.  

    So the first point is that the ultimate question for Christians is: Do you love God?  Do you love the Christ, the incarnational I Am?  There are two other lessons from this gospel.  If the answer to the Lord is “yes,” it cannot be an abstract answer.  Peter receives a thrice repeated demand: Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.  What that means is that lovers of the Christ become caretakers of the world for the children of God from young to old.  For any need.  For every need.  What Jesus was saying at the end is this: “I was the shepherd.  Now I am leaving.  Serve awhile in my stead.”  Point 2: when we answer “yes” to love with love returned we are to be surrogate shepherds standing in for the chief Shepherd of the flock.

    The last lesson from the reading has three parts:  

    First, the discipleship of Christ always comes with cost, sometimes with very high cost.  A high cost does not come to all of us as Jesus told Peter his death would, but we have to be ready if it does.  

    Second, the cost to others and their call is not to be our concern.  Peter wanted Jesus to exclude the disciple who betrayed him, but Jesus says to him:  “If I want him to stay until I come, what is it to you?”  The interaction between a person and Christ is their business, not ours.  And no comparisons can be made.

    Finally, Jesus gives the instruction that allows the disciple to pay a high cost and to not make comparisons.  He says simply, “Follow me.  You follow me.”  This is the universal instruction to Christians. 

    So ends the great fourth gospel.  

    John has recorded the final words of Jesus.  I repeat them.  There is the ultimate question about love for the Shepherd.  There are the demands: tend the sheep; pay the price, even to death; be concerned with your discipleship, not that of others.  Follow me.

    Professor Price, in concluding his book, Three Gospels, wrote: “It had been two years since they first met him and they’d never see him again on earth.  It would only be slowly that they came to see how, in the time they shared his life, his hard ordeal and calm return had ended all things as they’d been from the start.  And whatever they lacked that final dawn, they gave the rest of their lives to his other task – to make all people know that God is at hand with his flaming love, comprehensible at last - and they never lost hope to see him come again to claim them.  One of their cries was ‘Lord come now.’  In other lives that cry has lasted near 2,000 years.  It is always the same.  'Come now, into my life now.  Come then, at the hour of my death.' "  

    That final day began with the ultimate question, "Do you love me?" and ended with the answer, "Yes Lord, you know that I love you."  On his behalf, I ask it again now.  

    Do you love the Christ?


    Brown Lecture #2     1999

  • There is no God, but God

    Scripture: I Chronicles 17: 1-16; 20

    David has to learn the difference between scieatia and spaientia.

    The story of David is the single greatest narrative of a human life shaped by family,  society, politics, human desire, sin, grief and insight into history warped by a search for power,” said Robert Altar.  Bill Moyers said, “The stories we learned in Sunday School correspond with high adventure and the quest of mortals to understand the reality of God.” Theologians call I Chronicles 17 “caesura” a break or pause. Recording the history of David’s movement of Ark to Jerusaleum and the rest of David’s life.  In this pause comes the prophetic revelation to Nathan who comes to speak for God.  Reason sees simple things, I live in a palace, and God lives in a tent. I should build Him a house. Discernment sees beyond reason to insight. Perfectly reasonable to David, but God does not agree.

    2.  Spaientia in the Bible requires revelation, here, the night vision of Nathan.

    At first Nathan says do what is in your heart for God is with you.  Then God comes to Nathan in night. Wisdom of discernment is not basic faith, but adorned faith. The night is a special time for God. In Psalms, 30 times God is addressed in the night.  Night is time of fear, prayer and revelation.  God tells Nathan, it is presumptious of David to decide when God needs a house.  God is always reminding them. “Thus says the Lord,” code word of prophets. Don’t get ahead of God.  Listen to what God says.  Quiet of night one should listen.  Lesson David had to learn.

    3. The second art of the night vision is a statement of God’s providence and a promise of God’s protection.

    Doctrine of providence is forseeing care and guardianship of God over His creatures, especially those who acknowledge Him as God.  God will protect Israel.  Short-term prophecy may not be true, but long-term prophecy is always correct.  Wars, Babylonian Captivity, and rest come.  Ultimately God’s protection is about end of life or time. God will never allow salvation to be destroyed by an event in time.  No platitudes in the Bible. God redeems all who are afflicted.  Psalms recognize the bleakness, long nights of despair and among all this is a caring presence.  David faces all of this so he can learn to depend on God alone. 

    4. The third part of the vision is the importance of family faith.

    God tells David when days are gone and you have gone to ancestors I will raise up a house to you.  Establish your name and your son will build a house for me and I will be his Father forever. Lineage of David remembered. Faith needs to be passed down.  Great sadness when children fall away from faith.  We have an obligation to children to hold them to faith and offer a church that will sustain them.  David said,  “there is none like thee Oh God!” and his dying words to Solomon are “obey the Lord and keep His commandments.” We are called to give our lives wholly to that God.

    5.  The final truth: there is no god like God, there is no God but God.

    Martin Bruber says, “If a person has sin cannot direct his heart to God.”  We are called to move past reason to revelation which draws us to God, discernment helps us stage a revolution against sin, allowing us to live consistent lives for our children and those around us.  

  • Through Scripture, God is our companion on the road

    Scripture: Nehemiah 8:1-3; 5-6; 814; 17-18

    Ezra given credit for main feasts that Jews still celebrate today.  First day of Jewish New Year Rosh Hoshana. Tenth day of fifth month Day of Atonement, no work, second feast Yom Kippur. Third feast Booths, temporary shelter, remembrance of exile and Eygpt. Ezra was reading from Book of Law.

    1.  It is a sign of spiritual health when the people of God desire to hear the Scripture.

    People demanded to hear the Scripture.  Unusual, priest and prophets usually brought people together to hear Word from God.  Scholar and priest attributed to Ezra, men and women called to hear, not separated.  Scrolls (Pentateuch 5 Books of Moses).  The Bible when translated in to King James Version was the most influential book ever and contributed to move to colonies where all are created equal under God, not kings.  Text ready to read in Ezra’s time. People had been away from worship for a very long time. Hearts empty because of the absence of Scripture.  Those with faith in God find their hearts empty if not exposed to Scripture.  Ezra read from morning until noon and stood above the people who stood in respect, he read and the people said Amen and bowed down to worship.

    2.  When the Scripture is read communally and authoritatively worship is induced.

    Private reading of Scripture is crucial and a powerful discipline.  Something special happens when Scripture is read together with other Christians.  In unison they placed their faces on the ground. Jesus said “even if two or three are gathered, I will be there.” Read book clearly and give people the understanding to know what is going on. Don’t say too much or too little.  Ezra talks movingly about Great God. Induces the desire to worship.

    3.  When the Scripture is seriously heard, tears are often induced.

    This days is Holy do not mourn or weep. Nehemiah governor, Ezra the priest read of ancestors unfaithfulness so people wept.  When one has wounded love one or God, one weeps. “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, steadfast in love, forgive us our sins.” Often weep for sadness and for joy because of hope. Psalm 34 only one example. Spiritual greatness of Psalms is it recognizes dark shadows of life but evokes a light of hope.

    4. The first of the booths is a memory that life is transient and that God is our companion on the road.

    Go and drink wine and eat portions, and feed those who have nothing. Be joyful and gather branches for temporary shelters (booths) and there was great rejoicing and they kept feast 7 days and on 8 day where solem. God is God on the journey. Let not your hearts be troubled, rejoice for the time we have spent together, remember we will see each other again.  Same truth applies to us. We need to be less casual about the gifts of life we take for granted. We have a tough and good companion to teach us truth.  Without written Scripture our lives are incomplete. We are People of the Book. 


  • Transfiguration: Jesus’ birth, his death & resurrection.

    Scripture: Mark 9:1-10, 14-41 


    Buddy Jordan: "If you’ll turn with me to Mark 9 verse 2; and after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves, and he was transfigured before them and his garments became glistening intensely white there no fuller on earth could bleach them. There appeared to them a Elijah with Moses and they were talking to Jesus, and Peter said to Jesus, “Master it is well that we are here let us make three booths; one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah,” for he did not know what to say for they were exceedingly afraid."

    "A cloud overshadowed them and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved son listen to him,” and suddenly looking around they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only. As they were coming down the mountain he charged them to tell no one what they had seen until the son of man should have risen from the dead, so they kept the matter to themselves questioning what the rising from the dead meant."

    "Fourteen; and when they came to the disciples they saw a great crowd about them and Scribes arguing with them, and immediately all the crowd when they saw him were greatly amazed and run up to him and greeted him. He asked them, “What were you discussing with him,” and one of the crowd answered him, “Teacher I brought my son to you for he has a dumb spirit and wherever it seizes him it dashes him down and he foams and grunts his teeth and he becomes rigid, and I asked your disciples to cast it out and they were not able.” He answered them, “Oh faithless generation how long I’m I to be with you, how long I’m I to bear with you, bring him to me."

    "They brought the boy to him and when the spirit saw him immediately it convulsed the boy and he fell on the ground and rolled about foaming at the mouth, and Jesus asked his father, “How long has he had this,” and he said, “From childhood and it has often cast him into the fire and into the water to destroy him but if you can do anything, have pity on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “If you can all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of child cried out and said, “I believe help my unbelief.” When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together he rebuked the unclean spirit saying to it, “You dumb and deaf spirit I command you come out of him and never enter him again."

    "After crying out and convulsing him terribly it came out and the boy was like a corpse so that most of them said, “He is dead,” but Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up and he arose, and when he had entered the house his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out,” and he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” They went on from there and passed through Galilee and he would not have anyone know it for he was teaching his disciples saying to them, “The son of man will be delivered into the hands of men and they will kill him, and when he is killed after three days he will rise.” They did not understand the saying and they were afraid to ask."

    "They came to Capernaum and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way,” but they were silent for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest and he sat down and called the twelve and he said to them, “If anyone would be last he must be last of all and servant of all.” He took a child and he put him in the midst of them and taking him in his arms he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me and whoever receives me receives not me but him who sent me."

    "John said to him, “Teacher we saw a man casting out demons in your name and we forbade him because he was not following us,” but Jesus said, “Do not forbid him for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me, for he that is not against us is for us. For truly I say to you whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward,” the word of the Lord."

    Audience: "Thanks be to God.

    Dr. Dan Foster: "Mark 9 is the second of the great chapters for the New Testament; I’ll send what next week is at by Marty’s email. I didn’t get back into town until last night and I had a hard enough time trying to get this lesson together much less saying what the next chapter is going to be. Mark 9 has as its central feature the transfiguration of Jesus but it contains multi factorial lessons, it’s really pregnant with lessons for the faith. All three of the synoptic Gospels contain the story immediately after Peter’s confession about the transfiguration and they differ slightly, but really not very much."

    "As we said last week there are people who don’t believe this actually happened as an event, the disciples clearly interpreted as an event, they put a time schedule on it, it’s six days after the sayings of Peter. Although in Luke, Luke says that the disciples were heavy with sleep when the transfiguration begun but they woke up and saw everything that happened. If you don’t believe that God can do miracles then you are not going to believe anything that sounds supernatural or miraculous, I do not hold that view, I believe that whatever God wants to do he does and as a consequence I will interpret this as I always do in terms of what it was meant to be. Although in passing if this turned out to be vision it’s a very instructive vision anyway, God has used visions all though the Bible to get truth but I’m presuming that this event was as it’s written."

    "The first thing I want to say is if the transfiguration is the most significant event between Jesus’ birth and his death and resurrection. The transfiguration is the most important event in the entire New Testament between Jesus’ birth and his death and resurrection. There are five important insights in the transfiguration story itself that are instructive for us and I want to go over those in sequence. Here is the way it read let me read it again as buddy said, after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves. Luke adds that the purpose as usual that Jesus took them up where he would pray, that’s a slight addition in Luke. He says it was about eight days that this happened about a week after that, so they went up on the mountain."

    "First and foremost the transfiguration is a crucial importance, is the main event because it comes immediately after Jesus’ first announcement of his coming death. He announces his passion and immediately afterwards the transfiguration occurs, it’s as though God says, “Listen disciples don’t make a category error here.” A category error is to describe one thing in terms of another, a classic example from a book called Dilemmas is that if somebody was asked a foreigner from Mars or something were asked to describe a university and went to a university and came back and said, “Well it’s a funny place, ever hour people get to move from building to building and on Saturdays they sit in a crowd in a big bowl and yell all day it’s a football thing,” that’s a category error. A university is a community of scholars not a place where only football takes place."

    "The category error here would be to consider Jesus to be a mere human; a lovely and prophetic human but a human himself because he is going to be taken and murdered and the most disgusting way. God seems to say in the transfiguration, “Listen don’t make a category error here,” and to make it sure that they did not the transfiguration takes place, the glorification of Jesus on the mountain on this high place. He is revealed in this event in his pre-incarnational and his post-crucifixional glory. He is in the human form now, but what happens in the transfiguration is that he is glorified, he is shown to these three disciples in his pre-incarnational glory and his post-crucifixional glory so that they would not forget, he was just not a very great prophetic human. He was transformed before them and his garment became glistening intensely white there is no fuller, there is no bleach on earth could make them."

    "Matthew adds that his face shone like the sun and Luke said that his face was altered, so the glorification was not just in his clothes it was on his very being, on this face. The New International Version says that his face was like lightening, so intense was the glorification there. The shining glorification is not all to the lesson here, because out of the cloud comes the voice of God re-speaking the baptismal statement, “This is my beloved son.” There is a duo glorification here; a visual one and a spoken glorification about Jesus. The transfiguration was a reminder that even though he would become the suffering servant his hidden reality was the glory of the God head itself. That is the first important thing about the transfiguration. It’s been said of Christians that high hours, shining hours what Maslow used to call peak experiences should be held on to that they would say that this experience should be held on to when they have to face the grief of his death, it was a high hour. I’ll come back to that a little bit later."

    "Now the next two lessons from the transfiguration event have to do with Moses and Elijah, verse four said and there appeared to them Elijah and Moses and they were talking to Jesus. Luke adds that Moses and Elijah were talking to Jesus about his upcoming death, they said, “Behold two men talk to him; Moses and Elijah who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Moses and Elijah appear and converse with Jesus in the event on the top of the mountain, and the symbolic lesson here is from the presence of Moses and Elijah is that there is a continuity between the faith of the first covenant, the Old Testament and the faith of the new covenant which is in the Savior."

    "The fact that they are joined together is a symbol of the continuity of biblical faith, it is one faith, in the Old Testament we have Moses and the law and Elijah is a symbol of the prophets. The old covenant, the initial phase of the faith the law and the prophets and it is one faith all the way it evolves, it evolves in the New Testament to the faith vested in the savior. It’s a powerful lesson here that Moses and Elijah are here, that they symbolize one faith to which we are called. The third lesson about Moses and Elijah is even more important, Moses and Elijah had been dead mortally for a very long time centuries, in mortal terms they had been dead for eons and yet in the event they are not only alive, they are recognizable as who they were."

    "This is true despite the fact that this is long before the perusia the second coming, there is in the New Testament there are significant statements about the fact that the dead when they die in some sense are put in limbo. Paul and the great fifteenth chapter of 1st Corinthians says that, when the world ends, when Christ comes there will be a final trumpet and he says, we will all be changed in the moment in the twinkling of an eye and the dead shall rise. The vision in transfiguration is different than that and I believe that there is an error in Paul’s interpretation about in some sense going into a shield like state to be in limbo after death. The symbol of the recognizable living Moses and Elijah is that when we die we instantly pass into the presence of God."

    "Moreover while we have no idea what heaven is like and what we will be like, what this says is that we are not ghosts, not fuzzy fog unrecognizable at all. We are in some sense in the same essence that we were before symbolized here by the fact that Moses and Elijah were recognizable. That is why we use terms like the when we had the Eucharist we talk about the communion of saints, we say not goodbye to our loved ones who die, we say in essence in C. S. Lewis’ terms so long, see you later in a while."

    "This is the powerful third lesson of the transfiguration that we do not go into limbo, but we go into the presence of God in the moment of our death. It is an affirmation that we do not cease to be even for a period of time and you simply have to say, “Well there is a conflict between some of the things that are said and you simply have to choose what you believe.” You’ve heard me say that many, many times you can and I repeat myself about these things, in the moment of death you can just simply sense the disappearance in the room. You don’t see anything but you just sense it, you can almost feel the soul leaving there and just leaves a shell there would you say. This is a powerful lesson from the transfiguration."

    "Now the fourth lesson from the transfiguration is that it is a fearful thing and awesome thing to come into the presence of the living God. Here to come into the presence of the glorified Christ and to hear only the word of God, it was awesome for them. Peter is so frightened that he does a very dumb thing he says, “Master let me make three booths; one for Moses and one for Elijah and one for you.” Now some of theologians say what he is really doing Mark doesn’t believe this, but what he says is that he is trying to hang on to Jesus, he has heard this is like the feast of the tabernacle. I’m going to give you a place to live so you don’t have to go to Jerusalem, you don’t have to go to Jerusalem to die and I’m trying to try to hold on to you. Mark apologizes for peter he says, “He didn’t know what he was saying he was just scared to death and he just blurted out anything that he could think.”"

    "There is no hint to me that he is trying to hold on here, I think he has just had his pants scared off because of the awesomeness of the glorified, the deified Christ and the word of God. Matthew says that when the disciples heard the voice they fell on their faces and were filled with awe. The fourth lesson is don’t trivialize the awesome power of God, a lot of folks particularly well I’m not going to judge, but there are a lot of folks who talk about God is so he is their very best friend he is going to be sure and give them a parking place so forth like that. It’s not, they trivialize God. I tell you the truth I think most of us will be scared to death when we first pass into heaven to be when the glory is there."

    "Revelation says, “Every time they mention it the elders fall down on their face,” it’s an awesome thing to fall into the hands of the living God. If you think about the big bang you just see a little derivative thing that he built a world out of a big bang, think what it must be like to be in his awesome presence and that’s what they saw here."

    "Now the last lesson from the transfiguration is that only the Christ is worthy of worship. Now there were two great heroes of the faith here; Moses and Elijah great heroes of the law and the prophets. What Peter says is well there is a lot of one and the same will make a booth for each, now he is scared to death he has not though this through. The voice comes and says, “This is my beloved son,” and they fall on their faces in awe, then when they lift up their eyes they see no one but Jesus only. The writers say great heroes and heroines of the faith, great preachers, wonderful saints like we have a church full of here are worthy of respect and love but not worship. The central feature of worshiping Christians is that they have eyes for Jesus only, and they don’t confuse anything in the world as being of equal importance, for Christians Jesus has a way of dimming the glories of the world so that he alone is seen."

    "It’s wonderful to have respect for the strong in the faith, it’s wonderful to have a great preachers we’ve had a whole bunch of them in this church got one sitting here in the front row, but they sometimes get worshiped. Sometimes Sunday school teachers I mean people I teach a Sunday school lesson somebody says something to me about that, that’s just not worth saying. You can say well, it’s good to teach Sunday school and occasionally you think the lesson is okay or something right, but no deification of the servants of God, that’s what I’m trying to say I hope that’s clear."

    "Now, very briefly I want to point out several other important things in the 9th chapter of Mark, and the second thing I want to say is that in the healing of the epileptic Jesus chose his fully human nature. He was exasperated and irritated in the healing of this epileptic boy, it’s a classic description of someone who has grand mal seizures it’s a beautiful description. Interesting passing it will take me too long if I do, but Jesus calls us this demon deaf and dumb, one of the things we’ve just discovered in the recent time is that there is a form of continual convulsive activity in the brain that is not accompanied by convulsions it’s called CFES, Convulsion Free Status Epilepticus."

    "What you do when you convulse over and over again is that you die from that, but we just I didn’t know about this myself until about three weeks ago. We had a patient like this who came in, a man who came in and couldn’t speak and couldn’t hear and just had his eyes and we couldn’t figure out why, everything we looked at he didn’t have encephalitis, we thought it might have West Nile or something he had not a single thing. Finally with prolonged EEGs of the brain, it was clear that he had a convulsive disorder which is going on, and it’s a convulsive disorder that locks you in and it turns out like everything else these days when you start to read you find that this is well not recently well established but its known, I didn’t know anything about it."

    "A deaf and dumb spirit I swore to say, “Well I want to Jesus calls you deaf and dumb I guess maybe he knew ahead of time that we are going to find that now in 2007, we were going to find it trapped in epilepsy,” and it happens with older people. The warning is and you can’t do it we are just a regular EEG it’s too quick you have to sometimes trace some for three days and may people who are in Intensive Care Units who are unconscious actually turn out to have this form of epilepsy, but at any rate."

    "Jesus comes in and there is a crowd there and it’s astonishing, now he’s not transfigured anymore but the crowd when they see him they are amazed. What the New International Version says about it is that that they were full of wonder when he just walked up. He says, “What’s going on here,” and the father answers him, “You see I’ve got this kid with convulsions,” and he describes it in a beautiful way and he says, disciples tried to cast it out and they couldn’t,” and Jesus answers, “Oh faithless generation, how long I’m I to be with you.” Translate that, how long I’m going to put up with this stuff."

    "It’s probably aimed at the disciples because he had told them and they had gone out and heal people but they couldn’t heal this one, and he was exasperated, disgusted because he thought they did not have a full enough faith. How long I’m I going to have to put up with you, and then though he says, “Bring him to me,” when the kid comes, when the lad comes he convulses again that’s stress. He’s coming convulsions could be set off by any kind of stress."

    "He is coming in, he convulses again and his father having brought him there says to him, “But if you can do anything have pity on us and helps us,” and Jesus is irritated again by this. He says if I can, if you can, I can just hear him, “Don’t you know who you are talking to, haven’t you heard of these healings that I’ve done. If I can,” so he is irritated, he’s teed-off about this; the lack of faith that the disciples and his father’s statement, but that doesn’t drive away his mercy at all, doesn’t drive it away and he says, “You can do anything if you believe,” and then the father speaks for all of us, “I believe, help me unbelief."

    "Calvin commenting on this wrote, “He the father discloses that he believes and yet acknowledges himself to have unbelief,” then he adds, “There is none of us,” Calvin says, “There is none of us that has not experienced both that is believe and unbelief in ourselves,” this man speaks for all of us at certain times of our life. John Bunyan catches this in a remarkable way and the solution to it, at the end you remember pilgrim who has become Christian is approaching the end of his life, he’s is going to go to heaven he has lost his faith, he didn’t want to cross the river of death and so forth but he is not even sure that the crystal city is real and his friend helpful says to him, “Oh Christian do you not remember Mount Clare?” What a description for the mountain of transfiguration, “Don’t you remember, didn’t you hold to that high shining hour, don’t you remember mount Clare? The mount that shows the Christ didn’t you hold on to that, hold on and believe that Mount Clare.”

    "I think if you don’t remember anything else about this chapter just that phrase that there is a mountain called Mount Clare that reveals the ultimate truth about God. That’s the real importance of the epileptic healing here not just the healing itself, but its meaning and it’s very comforting to realize that the savior of the world being fully human has all the accoutrements of being fully human, he would get mad he didn’t do it very often just in the temple, clearly he could get irritated here, he got irritated at his family one when they tried to say that he was crazy and so forth. It’s comforting to know that the savior of the world has a lot of things that are like us because then he understands these things for ourselves."

    "The third thing I want to say is that the sacrificial passion was not canceled by the glorification of the transfiguration. Right after this healing that Jesus then tells him again, this is a second prediction of the passing he says, “The son of man is to be delivered to the hands of men and they will kill him and when he is killed after three days he will rise, but they again did not understand and they were afraid to ask him.” Jesus is telling them that he has to die he came to die, without him dying the great sacrificial event for the forgiveness of our sins would not have occurred, he had to die. As a consequence the glorification that he participated in which anticipated the post passional events did not cancel the need for him to die. That’s pretty impressive because most of us say, “You know who are they are not going to crucify us look at this,” so the passion devoid of glory is absolutely devoid of glory except symbolically at the end of it, had to be carried out."

    "The forth lesson is this, that the quest for greatness that is the demands of the ego are anathema to Jesus. The demand for ego reward is anathema he hates it, he hated pride and when he found out that disciples were arguing about who was greatest, he took a child and put him on his arm and held him. I love these pictures in the New Testament of Jesus holding these children, because he understood that a child at least early in the development is not paralyzed by ego or even an understanding. What he is saying is, “You need to be child like in your faith and have the same demands as a child. You should quite in your demands to be first and in fact if you really want to be great you will be blessed, and the way to accomplish that is to be like this child.”"

    "Then he says, “By the way,” he can’t ever not say this, “And we see a child take care of it in the, when you see a child any child.” I should say I mean a child and age in a child is adulated, because all of us a children of God. What he is saying is when you take care of a child you take care of me, so here is another one of these powerful lessons in this chapter. You take care of a child and you take care of me you see."

    "Then the last formal point and then I want to come back to a real life situation is that Jesus is comfortable with allies who may not be his disciples, that’s the last point. John says, “Teacher we saw a man casting out demons in your name and we forbade him because he was not following us,” but Jesus said, “Do not forbid him for he that is not against us is for us.” Antipathetic mean that when human beings who are not yet in faith act as though they are, that they practice love and mercy, that they and the terminology which is being used here about this man cast out the demons of loneliness or pain or suffering in other human beings that Jesus says, “They are on my side because they are doing what I am doing.” I believe the Savior of the world accepts as allies those who are not yet fully informed about the Savior."

    "Now to be sure in Mathew 12:30 he says, “He who is not with me is against me,” and interpret that to mean that if one who is not a disciple is living in ways opposite to what God desires, but that’s not an ally with somebody who is not part us. He says both way, “If you’re not with me you are against me that means if you are not living in love and mercy you are against me, but if you are living in love and mercy you are my ally and we don’t forbid him.” They had to learn that Jesus concerned about what humans do is not narrow in such a way that good people not yet in faith are worthy of inclusion in the humans who are living like they should live."

    "Now I always believe, that the great things about the faith is that they are lived out and you see them in real life situations. I want to tell you about the one that illustrates two of the principles here that we’ve been talking about in this great chapter; that is the issue of unbelief and the issue of life after death. I think I’ve mentioned this; I’m the president of the Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas. This is all the members of the national academy, so elected to the national academy who live in Texas and the organization has taken on a response to the rising above the gathering storm report, which is saying that if we don’t do something about the teaching of Math and English and Engineering and Science in the schools the United States is a goner."

    "That’s the prediction is that if we don’t do something about this the innovation, just for example the number of patents in this country has been going steadily down and most of them are from foreigners. It used to be 10% increase a year 3% now, the evidence is overwhelming that we are not doing well and that India, we graduate seventy thousand Engineers a year in the United States and half of them are internationals, and India makes two hundred thousand engineers we don’t even know how much China makes, we are losing the most important and smartest people in the country you understand. Well, the academy has decided to try to do something about this in the Texas Schools to examine it and this conference we had thirty five master teachers from around the state and some of the most terrific programs that has overcome these defects even in minorities. We are trying to see if we can put together something that will help change the schools in Texas and use two of our programs have been going over all the nation."

    "The dinner the opening dinner, the kick off of this experiment was in the Houston Museum of Natural History, it was an incredible place to have it amongst the dinosaurs and so forth and so on, we didn’t get to see Lucy Thomas. There were three hundred people there, these teachers and many of the academicians who have thought about this. I had given a little history at the start, as I say I was the MC as the president and I had given a little history at the academy where it started, and I pointed out that the academy was started by our senior senator Kay Bailey Hutchison together with two Nobel laureates in Texas that is; Michael Brown at south western and Rick Smalley who won the prize in physics at Rice. He died fairly recently from acute leukemia, he was only fifty something like that and I had mentioned that his wife whom I had never met was here, Debby was here."

    "After the introduction of, after I introduced Senator Hutchison and when I listened to her remarks we served the dinner and I was sitting next to the key note speaker for the night who was Dr. Leon Lederman who also won in physics, he has discovered many particles I won’t go in to that, he is a very charming person and then on the other side of him was Debbie Smalley who I had never met. I knew because she had shared emails with the academy of people who knew her husband very well about his struggle with leukemia and ultimately his death, and I was touched by one of those when she was asking for prayer so I had sent her and email and saying, “You don’t know me,” and that’s all I know that I had never seen her before and she was a very attractive middle age person. She started to, I said, “I appreciated what you shared with us,” so she started to talk about her husband and I only want to say two things about it related to this."

    "He and Lederman sitting in between us, Lederman is a Jew I don’t know what he thought about this conversation that’s going on. She said when he got leukemia, this sounds like a strong Christian person maybe better than most, he told her, “That I don’t know whether what we are facing but if we have only one minute of joy in ten thousand minutes I want us to focus on the minute of joy and not the ninety nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine minutes of sorrow and pain.” She said, “You know,” he got a bone marrow transplant and everything else but she said, “He never once complained of struggle.” This not a religious man, “He never once complained, he focused on joy and not on the problems.”

    "Then she said, “He did not have a religious faith, but I had told him that I did,” and I had seen an email about that. “When my mother died I was convinced that I would see her again,” and she said, “You know Rick Smalley is a person when he focuses his mind on something,” he discovered the fullerene the thing, he is really the father of nanotechnology here it’s going to. She said, “When I talked to him about eternal life he was interested and he begun to learn all he could about the Christian doctrine of eternal life.” He was symbolic of, “Debby, I believe help my unbelief.”

    "You see centuries later the same thing that the father of the epileptic said came with one of the most brilliant minds of our country, and we don’t know because he died fairly soon, we don’t know whether he was able, I don’t know she didn’t know for sure. She has this hope she said to me, “I believe that he may be in heaven,” well that’s her hope. I suspected that might be true because if he can’t believe that’s one thing, if he just refuse to believe that’s another and what refuse to believe is to not open the mind to the possibility of it and he opened his mind and heart to studying it you see, if he can’t get there then God is going to have mercy on him, I’m absolutely … If he had said, “I’m not going to believe a word of this,” and he probably did a lot of it just because of his wife’s faith and so forth."

    "The point I’m trying to say is that these things we talk about here on Sunday mornings are not abstract things, and the lesson is that we need to be ready in the real world to speak to our faith and actions and sometimes as in this case in the theology of it as it was with Debby and Rick. As Mark 9 is what we are about in a spiritual sense we have eyes only for Jesus that’s central, and we proclaim the message of salvation and love because of that and we proclaim the reality of life with God after death and the communion of the saints that we will see each other and will receive all the children; old children, little children, homeless children, sick children, whatever. Our business is in taking care of the children and we do it in a child like way not for ego reasons but for the honor of bearing the name Christian which means to be like Christ. That’s why Mark 9 is so powerful, there a lot of other things I could have said but in the forty minutes that’s the best I can do, but don’t forget who we are and don’t forget who he is, that’s what we are in the business of."

    "Let’s pray, heavenly father we thank you for the events you share for us, to mold us in what you want us to be, we thank you for the incarnation event, we thank you for the transfiguration event for the power it brings to us about the nature of Jesus of Nazareth. We thank you for the fact that the Savior could be tired and exhausted and irritated and exasperated with us and Lord if we confess we are also are exasperated with ourselves and others too, so that’s encouraging. We ask that you would make us worthy of carrying his name that you will bless our church, that you will bless the church universal, that you would somehow help this world that seems so dark to see the light that is already here and help us to be at least little pinpoints, little flash lights of that light. We ask all these things in the name of Jesus of Nazareth whom to know is life eternal and life fulfilled while we still live in Jesus name, amen okay."

  • Warning and Consolation

    Scripture: Luke 12:1-12

    Point one: Hypocrisy is a serious sin in Jesus’ view.  And, He also thinks it is dangerous, as evidenced by His beginning with a “beware.” “When so many thousands of the multitude had gathered together that they trod upon one another, He began to say to His disciples, ‘Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.’”  The word “leaven” here is used to indicate “spreading,” as putting leaven into dough would make it swell up.  They were spreading hypocrisy, in essence causing other people to become hypocrites and Jesus said that was a very bad thing.  A formal definition of hypocrisy is, “a pretense of having a virtuous character or virtuous life, and morality or religious beliefs that one does not possess” - a fake, in other words.  A simple description is that the inner life does not conform to the outward life.  There is a discrepancy there and that is a dangerous thing.  A person comes to church every single service, and runs a business that is stealing from stockholders.  A person comes to church every Sunday and does not put money or time into the efforts of the church.  The drive to hypocrisy is the desire for public praise or trust or reward.  One of the reasons Jesus was probably angry about hypocrisy was another characteristic of hypocrisy – hypocrites tend to be continually judging others negatively.  The reason for that is, when they judge others negatively, it makes their righteousness look better.  Jesus was into truth.  He said that the truth would make you free.  But, hypocrisy enslaves.  He really thought hypocrisy was a terrible thing.

       I want to differentiate deliberate hypocrisy from functional hypocrisy.  The one is malignant and the other is entirely benign.  What I mean by functional hypocrisy is that all of us, on the journey to faith, are less where we are than where we want to be.  If we assess our lives in terms of mature sanctified Christianity, we recognize we are not there.  So if we look at ourselves truthfully and honestly, we say, “You know, the fact is I am a hypocrite.  I’m not as kind or as good or as giving as I want to be.”  That is a functional hypocrisy – it is not deliberate, it is not chosen.  In fact, one is very disappointed in it.  And that is benign, completely innocent.  In fact, one is not doing well on the journey if one is not aware of the fact that there are things that need to continue to grow in our lives. God uses that as an instrument.  It is the process, really, of sanctification.  Every one of us could say there are some things we need to work on.  But, what the Bible makes clear is that God is patient.  It is o.k. to be who we are, where we are, while God is changing us into what we can become.  So there is a big difference between deliberate hypocrisy and functional hypocrisy.  We need to clearly understand that in this Bible verse, God is talking about chosen, deliberate, play-acted virtues that have nothing to do with reality.  

    Point two:  All our secrets are known to God.  In verses two and three Jesus says, “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed; or hidden that will not be known.  Therefore, whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light; and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed upon the house-tops.”  In the eschaton all secrets will be known.  Here Jesus is talking about words, about what one says.  But the same issue has to do with deeds.  What one has done in the dark will be revealed in the light. Basically what Jesus is saying is that the God of the Universe is omniscient and knows every single thing about the world and also about our souls.  Our darkness is already known to Him.  We may think it is hidden.  We may hide it from somebody else, but not from God.  If you are aware of that, it’s scary.  But when you think through it, there is a positive side to this that I want to emphasize.  It is both a threat and a tremendous comfort that He knows.  What I mean by that, since He is omniscient, He also knows our secret good, our secret kindnesses, our secret mercies that we are too modest to talk about.  We don’t want to brag on self when we have done something kind or good.  (Even though there are times when, if it can be done sensitively and modestly, it is good to share things we have done in order to illustrate, to make a witness, make a testimony in order to spread the Gospel.)   But God knows our secret good as well as our secret darkness.  Jacques Maritain, the existentialist Catholic theologian, wrote about this very beautifully in his book, Existence and the Existent, 

         “The idea that we are known to Him who scrutinizes the loins and heart dissolves

         us at first in fear and trembling because of the evil that is within us.  But on deeper 

         reflection, how can we keep from thinking that God, who knows us in our nakedness, 

         our wounds, our secret evil, but also knows the secret beauty of the nature He has 

         bestowed upon us – the slightest sparks of good and liberty we give forth, all the 

         impulses of good that we drag from the womb to the grave, the recesses of goodness, 

         of which we ourselves have no notion.  The exhaustive knowledge of God is a loving 

         knowledge.  He knows our goodness as well as our sin.”  

    He is saying we don’t realize how much goodness there is in us.  Don’t ever forget that.  He knows the best in us and, in the sanctification process, He wants to diminish residual evil in us and build up the goodness which is there.  So, Jesus said there are no secrets with God; but properly understood, that turns out to be a comfort because, one of the odd things about people who are not in faith is that they tend to diminish any conception of evil in their lives (excluding giant evil).  They don’t worry about not showing mercy or giving.  Christians are the other way around.  They see all their own faults and fail to see their benevolences.  We still have things to work on, but I also don’t want to downplay the sum total of Christian goodness.  If we added up all the goodness that has been done in this one church, “it is such to make the angels sing.”  We need to remember that.

    Point three:  Spiritual death is more dangerous than physical death.  In verses four and five, Jesus says that people who can kill you cannot thrust you into hell.  Who you really ought to fear is God, not religious authorities, not Pharisees.  Eugene Peterson’s contemporary translation catches this, “I’m speaking to you as dear friends.  Don’t be bluffed into silence and insincerity by the threats of religious bullies.  It is true they can kill you, but then what can they do?  There is nothing they can do to your soul, your core being.  Save your fear for God who holds your entire life, body and soul, in His hands.”  Fear God, not Pharisees or Romans.   But, there are in the world true “two-death” people - people that both kill one physically and kill one spiritually.  A classic example of that would be drug dealers.  They incite drug addiction; they induce it in kids.  They get them hooked – all for money.  They die in overdoses all the time and often times, simultaneously, they sink into full spiritual depravity which separates them from God.  They are “two-death” people, soul killers for money.  We need to fear and to fight double death people, not the Pharisees.  They may kill you but they can’t do anything to your soul.  You worry about the one who has the power to cast one into hell.  It is unfortunate the way Jesus’ words might be interpreted here.  He is talking about human killing, but it sounds like He is talking about God – who allows us to die, but doesn’t kill. 

       I’d like to say here a word about Hell.  It is clear from the Gospels that there is damnation in the world for humans.  Jesus used the word “hell;” He talked about damnation and salvation.  It is something we wish didn’t exist, wasn’t necessary; but, I think it is necessary, although we certainly don’t want to be in it ourselves.  Peter Berger says, “There are experiences in which our sense of what is humanly permissible is so fundamentally outraged that the only adequate response to the events, as well as the offender, seems to be a curse of supernatural dimensions.  There are certain deeds that cry out to Heaven.”  (An example he uses is the Nazis and the Holocaust.)  “Deeds that cry out to Heaven also cry out for hell.  These are deeds that demand not only condemnation, but damnation in the full religious meaning of the word.  That is, that the doer not only puts himself outside the community of humans, he also separates himself in a final way from a moral order that transcends the human community and that involves a retribution that is more than human.”  He would say that hanging Adolph Eichmann and the Nazis is not enough.  A death penalty is not enough for killing six million humans.  It demands God’s damnation.  The universe would not be fair if there were only Heaven, when we are made free that we can do these monstrous evils.  Hell is not intended for minor things, but for monstrous evils that demand justice, which is God’s damnation.  

    Point four:  We should not fear, because God is our watch-guard from the beginning of life to the end.  When Jesus had been mentioning the fear in the point before, that somebody might be cast into hell, He realized that’s scary, so He immediately moved to take away our fear.  That is characteristic of Jesus - “Well, I’ve just said something that is very scary, so I need to assure you.”  “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies and not one of them is forgotten?  Why, even the hairs of your head are numbered.  Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”  Fear not, you are ultimately safe in the hands of God, the Father.  Part of God’s business is getting rid of fear.  That was known before the Gospels.  A classic example is in the 34th Psalm.  “I will bless Yahweh at all times.  His praise shall be on my lips continually.  My soul glories in Yahweh.  Let the humble hear and rejoice.  Proclaim with me the greatness of Yahweh and together let us extol His name.  I seek Yahweh and He answers me and frees me from all my fears.  Every face turned to Him grows brighter and is never ashamed.”  So Jesus moved from the fear statement to the comfort that Yahweh hears and helps us.  If He is God of the sparrows, Jesus says, He is much more the God of His children.  You are worth a lot more.  

    Point five:  The one unforgivable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  “And I tell you everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God.  But whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God.  And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”  It is interesting.  He says, “You know, if you’re not with me, you’re against me.”  Then He says, “That’s forgivable, but it’s blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that is not forgivable.”  Where you start with the idea of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is with the prologue to John.  There, in the Logos Doctrine, we are told that the word of God enters the life of every human.  The light of the Word is in the life of every single human that has ever been born.  So there is, in each of us, what Aquinas would call “a natural law,” an intuitive understanding of what it means to be human – not fully explained, but there is an intuitive nature, for example, to be kind, to take care of your children, etc.  There is no one who has not had the influence of God (even before Christ appeared.)  As a consequence, this seems to imply that, even in a primitive intuitive state without the written word or church or anything else, you still have to say “yes” or “no.”  And if you say “no” to God, that is unforgivable.  It means to not be open to the possibility of God.  It means to have a hardened heart, that you do not give a possibility to God - and that is an unforgivable thing.  This is not verbal blasphemy.  This is not saying, “Well, I don’t believe in a god.”  This is deed blasphemy.  If you are inhuman to other people, that is blasphemy.  It is God that is calling one to be human and if you refuse to do that, it is blasphemy and unforgivable.  To say “no” to God is deadly in the literal sense.  There is a fate for us that depends on what we say intuitively or to revealed teachings of God - an exclusion in eternity from God - which is the definition of hell.  James Denny, the great Scottish theologian, in describing this exclusion said, 

         “The ideas which seem to me to comprehend all that is of faith on the subject are 

         those of separation and finality.  There is such a thing as being excluded from the

         fellowship with God.  There is such a thing as final exclusion.  It is not for us to say

         on whom this awful sentence falls or whether there are many or few.  We can trust 

         the Father of our lord Jesus Christ that it will not fall on any who do not freely and 

         deliberately pronounce it on themselves.”


    They pronounce it on themselves by saying “no” to God.  Exclusion does not come to anyone who has not chosen that fate themselves.  Now, the God and Father of our lord Jesus Christ knows about extenuating circumstances, about poverty, lack of education.  He knows about all these things and exclusion will never be administered unfairly.  A child who never has had a chance to learn about morals and so forth is not judged in the same sense as those of us who have had every chance to learn.  God only excludes from Heaven those people who choose not to be there and who have the capacity to understand the difference.  But, we shouldn’t shy away from the fact, unless you want to shy away from what all the Bible and Jesus Himself says, that there is such a thing as damnation – because there are deeds by humans that cannot get justice without supernatural payment.