Friday, December 18, 2009

Ephesians 2:8-9, Part 2

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

What does it mean to be a disciple of Christ? How does one become a disciple of Christ? Need a person only say “Hey! I am a disciple of Christ!” and then immediately find himself one of the faithful? Perhaps we ought to know what the word means first, and then we can move on to application. The English word “disciple” derives from two separate Latin roots, “dis-” and “cipere” that mean “two-” and “grasp” respectively. A disciple is literally one who hangs on with both hands. What does the disciple hang on to? Simply put, for dear life. In the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel according to John, Jesus observes, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). The first act of a disciple is to allow himself to be “disciplined” by his Master, to do the things that the Teacher instructs. Knowing what to do under any given set of circumstances is the first product of discipleship. This peculiar awareness is not acquired in a day, but it can be facilitated as the disciple increases his determination to be obedient.

We may spend a great deal of time quibbling about those things which we are expected to do as Christians, but the sum and substance of the whole matter was circumscribed by the Lord Jesus Christ himself in the Sermon on the Mount. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). There is no escaping that mandate. The ultimate goal of discipleship to the Savior is perfection. Peter teaches much in this same vein:

Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall” (2 Peter 1:2-10).

Can anything be clearer than that? Certainly the disciple is expected to be proactive, adding each divine attribute to the others previously acquired. Is this accomplished in a trice? Are we to be passive recipients? The answers are obvious.

John the Beloved taught the saints much the same, especially when it came to the time when the promised blessings would be bestowed:

Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:1-3).

What is it that a disciple, a son of God, must do in order to “purify” himself? Can this be transacted in a moment? How much time has been given to the children of men to achieve purification? How much time would be required for a lost and fallen man to become as God the Father is? Is this something that a man on his own could accomplish? Has the Father of All given any tools, provisions, or accommodations by which His children might partake of the divine nature? Surely this must be the case or He would not have required this of His children at all. What we will discover, however, is that the price of discipleship is miniscule in comparison to the investment that the Father and the Son have made in bringing about our salvation and redemption from death and hell.

At the heart of the matter is our relationship with God the eternal Father. We call Him Father; we are encouraged to address Him as such. Were all to be revealed to our minds and hearts, we would discover that our kinship with the God of Heaven is not metaphorical, but literal. As His literal spirit offspring, we are capable, with a great deal of help, to become as He is, just as an infant has the potential to become grown adult. This potential takes nothing away from the character of God, any more than any infant takes away from the adulthood of his parents. Just as loving mortal parents nourish, protect, and instruct their little children, so also God the Father nourishes, protects, and instructs His children, preparing and providing for their eventual exaltation, their own coming of age in the eternities. Therefore, we cannot dismiss perfection as something beyond human capacity. The truth is, there is no other acceptable destiny for the children of God save that of being perfected in Jesus Christ.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Ephesians 2:8-9, Part 1

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

I do not recall precisely how much of this passage of scripture we were required to memorize in Daily Vacation Bible School, but I am quite certain that that the first phrase was committed to memory. I do not believe that verse 9 was part of the memorization package, but I do know that when verse 8 was discussed, the subsequent verse was always in tow.

Regardless of what may be the standard interpretation in any given Protestant church today, in the 1950s in my little non-denominational church, the gift of God was eternal life for anyone who confessed Christ. It did not matter much when or where this confession took place, so long as it was direct and unequivocal. Failure to confess Jesus as your personal Savior before death, however, brought about an instantaneous thrusting down of one’s soul into hell. I remember reading countless tracts, most of them illustrated in fine detail, where the horrors of the Inferno were made quite vivid and undesirable. The confession seemed to be all; once those words fell from one’s lips, one’s personal destiny was changed forever. In conjunction with the power of the confession was the absurdity of any “works” that any one might do in order to ingratiate oneself with the God of Heaven. “Works” were meaningless when contrasted with the grace and mercy of God. As a result, no one of my teachers in that country church ever suggested to me that I needed to do anything to improve my eternal lot, save to say the providential words, “I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Savior”. Thus, I learned more about personal morality and integrity from the Boy Scouts of America than I did from my theological teachers. I do not say this to condemn the good people who taught me, but to demonstrate that that for them, entrance into the presence of God required little more than an abiding belief in Him and His Son.

As I grew older, the rhetoric became more and more strident about the importance of confessing Christ. At some point I came across another pamphlet which treated this subject in some detail. The storyline of the narrative involved two men, both terrible reprobates who between them had committed just about every sin known to man. They lived out their outrageous lives until they were quite old. As a happenstance, one of the men was taught regarding the love of God as manifested in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ just prior to his passing away. He confessed his Savior and at the moment of death was whisked away by the angels to dwell with God for eternity. The other man, unfortunately, had no such opportunity, or was momentarily distracted when the good news became available, and at the moment of death found himself hauled mercilessly down to hell by Satan’s minions. The message was plain: no matter how vile you may have been in your life, confessing Jesus before death made all ills go away. That singular act made it possible for you to abide in the eternal glory. I knew that I was supposed to understand that the mercy of God, His grace and compassion, was sufficient to redeem any man, no matter how sin-laden he may be. I was enough of a Christian at the time to believe that the power of God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ were sufficient to bring such a man into salvation, but I had some difficulty that the process was really that easy. I had some trouble with the reasoning, doubting that that two-man scenario had actually been spelled out anywhere in the New Testament.

Many years later I came across a similar story that was far more poignant to my mind. The narrative again involved two men, both of whom were honest in their dealings with their fellow men, living by the light which had been afforded them to the best of their ability. Neither of them, however, had ever been introduced to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As the time drew near to their departure from this life, one of the men hears of the redemption of Christ, and confesses the Savior with all of his heart. The other man dies without ever knowing anything of Jesus of Nazareth. The narrator of the story posed an interesting question: Why should the one good man be brought into the presence of God and the other good man be thrust down to hell simply because the first was momentarily exposed to true principles by the action of a third party? This was a stunning observation to me. It brought into focus another troubling notion that had been tacitly taught in that little church. What has happened to the hundreds of millions of people who lived before the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh? I have heard that question posed to ministers of the sectarian world and the answer has been definitive: all those who lived out their lives without confessing the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior are utterly lost and damned for eternity. Even if they had no opportunity to know anything of Jesus because of where or when they were born? Yes, they are miserably condemned forever. I thought this doctrine just a little starchy, and one which made God to seem a little capricious. If it was He who determined before the foundations of the earth were laid, the bounds and limitations of the nations (see Acts 17:26), who then could be condemned for not receiving the Gospel if it were not being taught in those particular nations while they lived out their mortal lives? A minimum of four thousand years transpired from the days of Adam and Eve to the time of John the Baptist. What has happened to all those people? Since the days of Jesus and the Apostles, how many of the earth’s inhabitants have actually been in the presence of a minister of Jesus Christ? What may we say of the eternal lot of those who have not been able to choose for themselves whether or not they will accept Christ? I have since learned for myself that there is scriptural evidence that explicitly testifies that provisions have been made for all of them, that every man, woman, and child will have an equal opportunity to accept or reject the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The grace of God, the mercy of Christ, and the principles and ordinances of the Gospel are inexorably knitted together. That which is provided by God toward the salvation of men is far greater than anything a man or any group of men can do, but there is a price for discipleship; there is a requirement for those who profess to love the Lord. We will address these in future postings.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Romans 1:16, Part 4

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

In order to understand how the Jews, or any other people for that matter, have become a favored or a select nation to God, we have to understand something about the nature of covenants. The English word “covenant” derives from the Latin roots “con” and “venire” that mean “gather together”, with the added sentiment of “doing so by invitation”. When Jesus beckoned to those about him and said, “Come, follow me”, he was inviting his disciples to enter into a formal covenant with him. These invitations to be reconciled with God the eternal Father through His Son, Jesus Christ, have been extended since the days of Adam and Eve. Needless to say, those who have accepted the invitation have been blessed beyond measure.

The culmination of all of the covenants that can be offered to the sons of men is that which involves the duration of the posterity of the covenanters. Adam and Eve were promised that no matter what else happened to their children, a remnant would be preserved alive through all trial and tribulation. This promise was spectacularly fulfilled during the great flood wherein all of the inhabitants of the earth save eight perished in the waters. Noah obtained the same blessing, as did Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Portions of their descendants would receive certain invariable blessings because their fathers had been faithful and true to the covenants into which they had entered.

Judah, one of the twelve sons of Jacob, was promised that through his loins would come the promised Messiah, the Son of God who would redeem the world. Thus, no matter what else happened to his vast posterity, no matter how much death and destruction prevailed against his children, there would be a remnant preserved who would eventually be the means by which salvation would come. This was literally fulfilled in the person of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Joseph, another one of the sons of Israel, received similar promises regarding the blessings that would come into the world,by means of his children, at the time just prior to the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, assuring him that his family line would not die out. Needless to say, in order to keep these covenant promises to His faithful servants, extraordinary measures would need to be taken to protect certain segments of the families of these men.

In any given dispensation, therefore, the first who were given an opportunity to receive the covenants received by their righteous fathers, were the surviving descendants of those servants of God. The Jews and the other remnants of the House of Israel were given the first opportunity to receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the time of the Savior’s mortal ministry because their faithful ancestors were promised by God that it would be so, as part of their eternal covenants with the Father and the Son. In the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times, the dispensation in which we live, the restored Gospel was first delivered to remnants of the family of Joseph, the son of Jacob, because that blessing had been promised to him while he dwelt in the land of Egypt.

Thus, people, kindreds, and tongues may receive preferential treatment from God, not because of any intrinsic worth or personal righteousness on their part, but because their ancestors had been faithful.

To our knowledge, the Greeks derived from ancestors who at some point had rejected the fullness of the Gospel of Christ and therefore had no covenantal promise to protect or prefer them over any other body of men. Hence, we observe Paul’s practice of first preaching to the Jews of any city before turning to the Greeks and the Romans who lived there. The Greeks had every right to receive all of the blessings that God had prepared for His children, but they could not usurp the promises made to goodly men generations before by which the Jews had a right to hear the truth first.

The English word “Gentile” derives from Latin roots that mean “countryman, kindred, of the same family”. Ironically, the Jews referred to “Gentiles” as those who did not belong to their immediate family. Many other religious groups have come to use the word in a similar fashion, regardless of ethnicity or history. To the people of Workmen’s Circle, I was a Gentile boy; in the same spirit, I suppose I could have said the same of them. Thus are the vagaries of semantics.

As an addendum, I am reminded of an incident that took place in Israel when my wife and I visited there in 1982. Our main guide throughout the Holy Land was a young woman named Susie. As I recall she originally hailed from Boston, but had felt inspired to immigrate to Israel. At some point in our travels, she pulled me aside and said, “You know, you people are different from all of the other religious groups that I have taken on tour in Israel. I can’t figure it out.”

I replied, “Well, part of it may be that this is our ancestral homeland. To us, we have, in a very real way, come home.”

“Oh! Then you are Jews, too!”

“Not exactly. Jacob had twelve sons, two of whom were Judah and Joseph. You are descended from Judah, I and my friends are descended from Joseph, most from his son Ephraim.”

“Oh! Then you are Jews, too!”

We talked about this for some time; I am not certain that I ever made myself clear. For Susie, anyone who pertained to the House of Israel was part of the covenant family and, therefore, a Jew. That was a wonderful connection for me, notwithstanding her misunderstanding of the terminology. I have a deep and abiding affection for the Jews throughout the world, not because I washed dishes and scrubbed pots for them as a boy, but because they are my literal cousins, part of my family, part of an eternal covenant which God honors even at this hour.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Romans 1:16, Part 3

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

I am as certain as I live and breathe that this last phrase was never part of the curriculum of my Daily Vacation Bible School course. I can remember no instance of direct anti-Semitism in the Canyon where I grew up, but what I do remember was the complete absence of any discussion whatsoever about the Jews in connection with the Old and New Testaments. I was in my late teens or early twenties before anyone of my acquaintance ever observed that Jesus was a Jew, or that the Apostles were Jews. For some odd reason, Judaism never was a topic in a religious discussion.

Racial bias was almost totally unknown in my childhood and I was practically clueless even as a young adult. In the Chino schools, I can only recall one black student, and he was well-liked. I spent the first through the eleventh grade in an academic community where half of the population was Mexican or of Hispanic descent. As a boy, I mingled with the brown kids as freely as I did with the white kids. I did not perceive that there was any difference between them. Later in high school, it became clear that there was animosity between the two groups, and even violence, but I was not involved in any of the hostilities and no one asked me to take sides. I cannot imagine anyone being more color-blind than I was as a child.

Religious bias, however, did exist. The Baptists and the other protestants who directed the affairs at the little non-denominational church in Sleepy Hollow were decidedly anti-Catholic, which on more than one occasion caused conflicts among the kids riding the bus to school. There were a couple of Catholic families in the Canyon who took umbrage at the anti-papist rhetoric, made their feelings known in no uncertain terms to the minister, and the furor subsided. When Jack Kennedy ran for the Presidency of the United States, his religious orientation became a short-lived issue much like the ones in the Canyon: it flared up and then quickly subsided.

There was another bias that existed in my childhood which was as real to me as anything I experienced as a boy: left-handedness. In the elementary school where I first learned my letters, left-handedness was persecuted. It was not allowed and the teachers went to great lengths to eradicate it from the classroom. My attention was particularly drawn to this issue because of my own writing problems. I wrote with a big hand; that is to say, I was so clumsy that I could not get the letters to fit inside the blue lines of our writing paper. My teacher fussed with me day after day, attempting to make me conform to the standard. The other aspiring writers who received her attention were the lefties. I have always have tried to blame my peculiar scrawl on that teacher and I have been sympathetic to every left-handed person I have ever met. What was wrong with being left-handed? I never understood the concern until I took Spanish. The right hand is the “la derecha”; the left hand is “la sinestre”. There was something “sinister” about being left-handed. Sixty years later, the sinister nature of left-handedness seems laughable, but in 1950 the teachers were in dead-earnest. The odd thing is that no one ever said to anyone that being left-handed was inherently evil.

It was the same way with the Jews in the Canyon. I cannot recall anyone ever saying that Jews were inherently evil, but the prevailing sentiment was as if they were all left-handed. Not two miles from Sleepy Hollow was a facility called “Workmen’s Circle”. It was rather like a resort, established by American Jews of German extraction. I worked there as a dishwasher and pot scrubber in the kitchen. I think that I started out at fifty cents an hour. I learned a great number of Yiddish words, most of which I think are inappropriate for polite company. I liked being among the people there, even though the work was hard. I took to wearing white clothes on Fridays because that is what everyone there did. I knew nothing about the Jewish religion or why Saturday was so special to them. Once I started working there, however, I was treated a little differently than I had been before by the kids on the bus, like I was left-handed. The father of one of the girls who rode the bus to school was one of the caretakers of the place and I recall that she was considered left-handed, too, even though she had perfect right-handed penmanship.

As I grew older, I learned where this subtle notion about the Jews came from. Judas Iscariot was a Jew, the only disciple from Judea, or so the pundits taught. The betrayer of Jesus was presumed to be, of all of the Apostles, left-handed, inasmuch as he was the most sinister. As I studied world history, I learned of the great atrocities that had been committed against the Jews in the name of Christianity, justified in large measure because the Jews crucified Jesus. I had read the New Testament and knew that the Romans were also directly involved in the Savior’s demise. Why were not Italians treated as roughly as were the Jews? I knew that Jesus and the other eleven Apostles were also Jews by birth and nationality. Why had that not ever been a topic of discussion? Was there more than one kind of Jew? What did modern Jews have to do with the death of Jesus? Were they culpable for the sins of their fathers? If the Jews were so evil in the days of the Jesus and the Apostles, why then did Paul say that the Jews were first in line to have the power of God unto salvation? And who in the world were the Gentiles? These were issues that troubled me for a long time until I came to a knowledge of the truth. Understanding the significance of that final phrase in Romans 1:16 has made all the difference in the world to me. I will attempt to explain in Part 4.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Romans 1:16, Part 2

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

I have to say at the outset that any quibbling about the difference between “faith” and “belief” is bootless. The English word “faith” derives from Latin roots, “belief” from Germanic ones. They mean essentially the same thing. To say that “belief” is “passive, while “faith” is "active" is a useful distinction for English speakers, under some circumstances, but there is no such clever distinction in the Greek.

I do not think that a Sunday ever passed by in my childhood when there was not someone saying to me that I ought to “believe”. I am certain that when I was attending Daily Vacation Bible School that the teachers reinforced that notion, that if I ever hoped to be “saved” I would have to “believe”. For a long time I was not altogether sure what was expected of me. Did I merely need to be intellectually aware of what it meant to be saved? Did I merely need to know something substantial about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ? Was knowing the facts of the matter the same thing as knowing the truth of those facts? If there was the difference, how was it possible for me to know what the truth was?

Intellectual inquiry is relative easy; I did that all the time in school. If my teacher was personable and engaging, I generally accepted what that man or woman taught without much fuss. Fussing the classroom would come later.

“Faith”, according to Paul, “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”, or as it is translated in another place, “the assurance of things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1). I am certain that this verse in Hebrews was another one of the DVBS scriptures. I cannot imagine understanding this sublime passage at age eight or nine. How can one be “assured” or have “evidence”, if there is nothing to be seen or if there is nothing more than “hope” in the heart or mind? Science does not work that way. If I am in a chemistry laboratory, how can I “know” or be “assured” beforehand that the experiment is going to work just as it was outlined? Someone else may say to me, “Well, I have done this experiment a thousand times and I have never failed to get the proper result”. That is all very well and good, but someone else’s success is not necessarily mine, particularly if I have been a bungler of the first water in everything else I have ever done. I might be encouraged by an experienced party, but I cannot be “assured” success by a fellow student.

Can any man know the future as well as he knows the past, so that “assurance” can be complete? That question, actually, is at the heart of the matter. If I perform the chemistry experiment correctly, quantifying all of the results, I can say afterwards, “I know that this procedure works, for I have done it myself”. Can I know ahead of time that I am going to be successful in some endeavor, as certain as I am afterward? Yes! That is what constitutes true faith. It is substantive foreknowledge. The “evidence of things not seen” works essentially the same way. Can I see an event before it takes place? Yes! That is what constitutes the full weight and measure of the calling of a faithful prophet, seer, and revelator. The eye of faith sees in to the past and into the future with equal facility, and perceives the truth of any event, together with its connection with every other element of truth. A prophet living a thousand years before an event takes place can be as certain of all that would happen as if he had lived every second of the event. This is the power and effect of true faith. Is everyone equipped with this sort of faith? Apparently not, for there are multitudes who assert that it is not possible for any man to know the future.

What did Paul know and understand through faith that assured him of salvation. As far as the reality of the resurrection is concerned, Saul of Taurus had seen with his own eyes and heard with his own ears the personage and voice of the Lord Jesus Christ while on the road to Damascus. He therefore knew that resurrection was possible. How did he know that he himself would be resurrected? He certainly must have “hoped” to be resurrected. From whence came his personal “assurance”? Paul’s early life had been filled with deeds that would later bring him to grief. He had persecuted the Christian disciples, arresting them and hauling them off to prison, where some of them later died. Once he understood that his actions were offensive to God, he was struck with terrible guilt. When the prophet Ananias came to him and blessed him so that he could recover his eyesight, Paul learned for himself that it was possible to have one’s deepest guilt swept away through repentance and divine forgiveness. At what point did Paul know that all of his subsequent efforts were acceptable to the Lord. The forgiveness for his past sins was a fait accompli. How did he know that he would eventually find grace in the sight of God and be received into His presence with rejoicing? He saw in the future that it would be so, the Lord God of Israel testifying to him on the day of judgment that his life was in order. This eternal success could only be perceived by the eye of faith.

How does one acquire faith unto salvation? The formula is simple, though the experiment is somewhat lengthy.

First, a man must intellectually accept that there is such a being as God. This is usually a conscious decision, even though children generally are aware of the fact almost from birth. An atheist, by the way, has forced this default state of mind from his philosophy. With one’s temporal eyes open, with the acquisition of more and more awareness, even the most hardened unbeliever is persuaded that there is more going on in the universe other than his own self-awareness.

The second principle of faith unto salvation is a correct understanding the characteristics, attributes, and perfections of that God who had been intellectually allowed. Some of this knowledge comes through study, but most comes by obedience to the commandments given by God to His children. We learn for ourselves that His desires for us are not malignant, but rather are the product of an infinite and eternal love for us. We learn, too, that He is as His commandments suggest. He cautions us against immorality, perjury, and covetousness, because He exhibits nothing of these flaws in His own conduct.

The third principle of faith unto salvation is to know for ourselves that our course of life is acceptable unto Him. That can only come as a result of Him speaking with us, assuring us that we have found grace in His sight. There is no more poignant aspect of the need for personal revelation than in its contribution to our personal salvation.

Faith, in the end, is a gift of God that can be acquired in no other way than that which the Father of All has established. The first principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God, for without it, repentance, forgiveness, and the redeeming covenants are impossible.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Romans 1:16, Part 1

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

I do not recall exactly how the Daily Vacation Bible School teachers introduced this verse, but I am certain that I learned at least the initial phrase by rote. Whether that counted towards my certificate at the end of the two weeks or not, I do not know. The statement is simple and straight forward enough, although to my young mind I had some difficulty really comprehending what was meant.

I was in my mid-teens before I ever really understood what it meant to be “ashamed” of something. As I look back on my childhood I can now perceive that there were things for which I could have been mocked, but nobody did for some reason. As far as being a stylish dresser, I was not. I received a new pair of Levis in the fall just before school and another pair at Christmas time. By the end of a year I had not only out-grown them both, but I had completely worn them out as well. Summer vacation was tough on clothes in the Canyon. I bathed regularly; my mother saw to that, and I doubt that I really got ripe enough to trouble anybody on the bus to school. Therefore, I do not recall hearing anyone say to me (as I have heard some children say to an object of their ridicule), “You stink!” I look of the many pictures taken of me as a boy and I am impressed at how much fly-away hair I had. Oddly enough, I got a haircut just before school started in the fall and another one just before school pictures were taken, yet my hair was always in a flurry. It has always been extremely fine and over the years I have used various methods to keep it in place, most of which have been spectacularly ineffectual. Again, however, I do not recall anyone ever making fun of me because my hair was not as it could have been. My point in all of this is that as a child I could not have told anyone what it meant be “ashamed” of anything, much less the “gospel of Christ”.

Jesus was an icon for me, but I am afraid that I did not know much about him, notwithstanding my many years attending that little church. We sang a song during Bible school: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so”. I accepted that, but again, I was nearly an adult before I knew for myself that the Son of God had a vested interest in my personal welfare. I cannot remember a time when I did not believe in God, even though I do not think that I could have said much about what He was like. As to Jesus being His son, a babe born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, I understood the basic sentiments surrounding the celebration of Christmas, but I could not speak to the specific benefits that his birth brought into my life. If someone had asked me if I were a Christian or if I accepted Jesus as my personal Savior, I might have said “I guess”, simply because I could not have identified myself with any other group of believers.

With regard to the “Gospel”, that was a word that was as opaque to me as was the linguistic history that produced the word in the English language more than a thousand years ago. No doubt someone informed me that the Gospel was the “Good News of Jesus Christ”, but I do not remember anyone saying to me what the specific “news” was. No doubt someone said to me, “You are saved by the Gospel of Jesus Christ”. Certainly it would have been good news, indeed, if I had considered myself in any particular danger. I had no idea was sin was, and it would take some serious brushes with both civil and spiritual law before that notion became real to me. And, as I have said before, physical death was fundamentally meaningless to me.

During the past fifty years or so, I have learned something of Paul the Apostle, his life and teachings, and of the world in which he lived both as a Jew and as a Christian. I have vicariously travelled with him as he labored in his ministry, as he was driven out of one town and into another, fearlessly raising his voice to the inhabitants of the land that they should repent and come unto Christ, because there was no other way in which they could be happy. I been in prison with him, beaten with many stripes. I have been imperiled with him upon the waters of the great deep, watching him quietly encourage men who thought that they were going to perish in the waves. I have stood with him before Festus and Agrippa, Felix and Ananias, Roman procurators and proconsuls, and even in the judgment halls of Caesar, before some of the mightiest villains that ever have lived upon the earth. In nothing did he hesitate to teach and preach. He feared for nothing, neither torture nor death. When he has said that he was not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, I have believed him, for he had exemplified his confidence in the principles of eternal life from the time the angel appeared to him on the road to Damascus until he was beheaded in Rome. He had felt the power of God in his life, and he wished that all men might feel that power the same way in their lives. I am grateful to be one of those men who have learned something of that power, one who has learned something of mockery of sin and yet has been freed from the guilt and shame that invariably accompanies the unrepentant wicked.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

John 11:35

Jesus wept.

I have to say that to a little boy who was tasked every day for two weeks to memorize a verse from the Bible, that the day that this verse was introduced to us was a grand one indeed. John 11:35 was touted as the shortest verse in the Scriptures, the longest being Esther 8:9:

Then were the king's scribes called at that time in the third month, that is, the month Sivan, on the three and twentieth day thereof; and it was written according to all that Mordecai commanded unto the Jews, and to the lieutenants, and the deputies and rulers of the provinces which are from India unto Ethiopia, an hundred twenty and seven provinces, unto every province according to the writing thereof, and unto every people after their language, and to the Jews according to their writing, and according to their language.

No, we were not required to memorize this passage.

There are other interesting facts about the King James Version of the Bible that were undoubtedly recited to us years ago, some of which I did not recall until today.

There are 39 books in the Old Testament, 27 in the New Testament for a total of 66. There are 1189 chapters (929 and 260) in the protestant KJV. There are 31,102 verses (23,145 and 7957) of which I only had to memorize 12 a year. There is no single middle verse of the Bible, but two verses located at Psalms 103:1-2. Psalms 117 is both the shortest chapter and the middle chapter of the Bible. Psalms 119 is the longest chapter. All of these are fun facts, but none of them explain why “Jesus wept”; I am quite certain that none of my Daily Vacation Bible School teachers ever explained why he did either.

The scene that precipitated the Savior’s weeping was in conjunction with the death of Lazarus of Bethany, a close friend of Jesus and his Apostles, the brother of Mary and Martha.

The chapter begins with John the Beloved noting in his narrative that Lazarus was ill, a fact that was communicated by messengers sent from Mary and Martha to Jesus who was teaching many miles away on the east side of the river Jordan (see John 10:40-42). Depending on Jesus’ location in Perea or Decapolis, the Savior could have been as much as 65 miles from Bethany. Upon hearing that Lazarus was desperately ill, Jesus testified to his disciples that their friend’s situation was to be a blessing to everyone concerned and that they ought not to be overly agitated. Jesus then continued preaching for another two days beyond Jordan before leaving for Bethany (see John 11.6). The Apostles apparently thought that Jesus’ hesitancy in returning to Bethany was fear of the murderous scribes and Pharisees who were intent on putting their Lord to death (see John 11:8). Jesus was quite clear, however, as to his motive for going to the home of his friends (see John 11:9-16). By the time Jesus and his disciples arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been in his tomb four days, suggesting that he had probably been dead a week. Martha met Jesus as he entered the town and expressed her conviction that Lazarus would not have died had the Savior been there. There is a sweet exchange between the two which includes another of my Daily Vacation Bible School scriptures, John 11:25:

Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:

Mary is eventually persuaded to meet Jesus in the same place where he met Martha, at the edge of town (no great distance, by the way). The mourners, professional and otherwise, rushed after the young woman and were irreverently gathered about to witness the exchange between Lazarus’ younger sister and the Savior. With all of the tumult and idle chatter, Jesus was not in a position to comfort Mary in the same fashion as he had Martha. Mary, therefore, continued in her distressed state with the unsympathetic mob arrayed about them.

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled (John 11:33).

The Greek word which is here translated as “groaned” derives from roots which mean “to snort with anger, indignation, blame, sigh with chagrin, sternly enjoin, straitly charge”. The Revised Standard Version of the Bible follows this meaning. If we accept this interpretation, we must decide with whom Jesus was indignant. With Mary? Highly unlikely! With the Jews who accompanied Mary to the cemetery? Far more likely. As was the case with the crowd who appeared when the daughter of Jairus died (see Mark 5:22-43), so also here we are confronted with a body of men and women whose sorrow is at best affected pretense. Why indignation? Because this show of feigned grief could not have but unnecessarily disturbed the faithful tranquility that Mary and Martha should have enjoyed as a product of their faith in Christ.

As Jesus is taken to the tomb, his weeping is misinterpreted by the raucous Jews:

Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died? Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it (John 11:36-38).

In raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus prayed to his Father in Heaven:

Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth (John 11:41-43).

When Lazarus came forth from the tomb there were mixed emotions expressed. Needless to say Mary and Martha were overcome with joy. The disciples began to fully understand what had been going on for the past seven days. Many of those who had been skeptical about the Savior’s power and authority with God were immediately disabused of their skepticism, desiring to be received into the company of Christians. Then there were others, so thoroughly hardened in their hearts that they fled Bethany to the Pharisees in Jerusalem. Caiaphas, the nominal high priest of the Jews, then deliberately chose to plot against the life of Jesus Christ, fully knowing the import of that which had just taken place in Bethany.

Jesus wept on the way to Lazarus’ tomb for much of the same reason he has ever shown emotion. In the case of Mary, the circumstances were such that he could not immediately comfort her. There is no more tender heart in all of the eternities than that of the Lord Jesus Christ. He wept for those whose hearts and minds were so entangled in the temptations of this lost and fallen world that they could not perceive the hand of the God of Israel laboring among them until some sort of miracle awakened them to the truth. He wept for the belligerent, the Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees, even as the heavens had wept for the fall of Lucifer. Every soul is precious in the sight of God; He loves them all in spite of their recalcitrance and weeps for each of them even as a Father weeps for a child that has gone missing. Jesus is his Father’s Son; their sentiments are the same.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Romans 6:23, Part 2

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

At some point during my Daily Vacation Bible School Days, I had to memorize this whole verse. I guess that happened as the teachers supposed that we little children were capable of learning longer passages by memory. The marvelous thing about the whole verse is that there is a perfect balance between the inescapable problem for humanity and the providential solution of that problem.

As a boy I only understood death in terms of dead animals, not in terms of dead people. Likewise, those who were my instructors could never completely explain how it is that sin brings about death, especially since so many innocent children die in their infancy. Had any or all of these babes been guilty of some heinous crime by which they had offended God? I could not imagine any such a thing and so I waited for further light and knowledge on the subject. What I did not know at the time was that there were two ways by which a person might die. Not until I perceived that distinction did I really come to appreciate what it was that the Son of God did for me and for humanity in general.

So long as Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, obedient to the instructions given by God, there was no death on the earth in any of its present forms. When our first parents partook of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, a transformation took place which is almost impossible to comprehend, both in its scope and manner. Although I may not be able to articulate precisely the mechanics, the physics, or the chemistry involve, yet I do know that the Fall was substantial, a change so radical that man cannot fully appreciate what once was nor what has become of the earth as a result. The most accurate description, although a bit esoteric for some people, is to say that when the earth was created it was a Terrestrial Kingdom, one in which there was no disease, injury or death. No living thing could die so long as that state remained the same. The liability of that glorious state was, however, that there was no reproduction. Had Adam and Eve never partaken of the fruit, they would still be in the Garden, all things as they were in the day they were created, and we would not exist upon this earth. With the Fall, the earth became a Telestial world, the lone and dreary place that we experience every day. Those who would quibble about the present beauty of the earth and the loving fellowship of good men know little or nothing about what is possible while in the presence of the Father and the Son, as was the case with Adam and Eve before they partook of the forbidden fruit.

St. Augustine, a religious scholar who lived in the fifth century, concluded for reasons of his own, that the scriptural account of the Fall of our first parents was metaphorical, a symbolic story that veiled the real cause of humanity's dire circumstances. He suggested that the Fall came about as the result of gross immorality on the part of our first parents, although he never explains how a husband and wife in the Garden of Eden could be immoral. I do not believe a word of it. I believe that Adam and Eve partook of a fruit that introduced the possibility of physical death into their systems and, genetically speaking, passed that susceptibility on to their posterity. Every man, woman, and child who has every lived on this planet is a descendant of Adam and Eve and for that reason cannot, by any means whatsoever, escape that final mortal act on their own. Therefore, I can quote Paul the Apostle without any hesitation: “In Adam all men die” (1 Cor.1:22). Together with that which Adam and Eve brought upon all of us as their posterity, there was also their personal culpability for having personally transgressed the commandments of God. Adam and Eve suffered a spiritual separation from God for their disobedience, which is usually referred to as a spiritual death. They were cast out of the Garden and the earth fell from the presence of God. While we suffer physical death, the natural consequences of having partaken of the fruit, because of their disobedience, we are not directly affected nor do we suffer in any way for their personal sins. We have plenty of our own without being saddled with theirs. We may point to corollaries in our own lives, where our personal sins physically injure those around us without doing them excessive spiritual damage.

In the ministry of Jesus Christ we may more clearly perceive the distinction that is so often veiled by the philosophies of men. In the paragraph above I quoted from Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians. The context becomes extremely important if we are to understand the difference between physical and spiritual death.

If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:19-22).

To what does this refer? In what way has Jesus Christ affected our lives? Is this in reference to our personal sins?

Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, or what would be more germane here, the Tree of Death in opposition to the Tree of Life. Men are born, they live out their short time in mortality, and for no fault of their own, they fall back into the dust of the earth from which they came. None of us has ever been to the Garden of Eden. None of us has ever partaken of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, introducing physical death into our bodies. We die because Adam partook and there is no justice in that. Therefore, in the economy of God, physical death is an injustice dealt to the posterity of Adam and Eve that must be corrected. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the promise that every man, woman, and child who has ever breathed a breath upon this planet will one day come forth from the dust of the earth, just as Jesus did. “As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive”. Nothing could be simpler than that!

But what of Adam’s personal responsibility in the Fall of the earth? Adam is now assured of resurrection, but has he satisfied the law of Justice for that which brought the world to ruin? And if he did, when and how did he do it? Does resurrection suggest remission of sin? If all men are going to be resurrected from the dead, does that automatically imply that their sins are forgiven them? Clearly this is not the case or there would be no need for resurrected men to appear before the judgment bar of Christ and be judged according to their deeds done in the flesh; there would be no need to distinguish between those who are to dwell with God in Heaven and those who will dwell elsewhere. While there is universal redemption from physical death, there is no universal unqualified redemption from personal sin.

While the distinction may seem subtle, there is a difference between the power of the resurrection vested in the Lord Jesus Christ and the power of the atoning sacrifice for sin. Every law of God is fixed and immovable, absolutely founded in truth. One may obey those laws, one may attempt to ignore them, or one may choose to rebelliously break them, but no man may change the consequences for any of these actions. Obedience invariably brings blessings; disobedience brings punishment. Is it possible for any accountable adult to pursue his course upon the earth without committing sin? Yes, but only one has done so.

In another place in Paul’s epistle to the Romans, the Apostle testifies “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), another one of my Bible School scriptures. I am not a sinner because Adam was a sinner; I am a sinner because I have committed sins. If I am to receive forgiveness for my sins, I must do it in the same fashion that every man has received forgiveness. I must adhere to the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I must first look to him in whom I may have any hope of salvation; the Lord Jesus Christ who is the singular example of complete obedience to the will of God. I must understand what he is like and then try to be like him. That is what it means to be a disciple. I must sincerely repent of my evil doings, everything that I have ever done that is contrary to the will of God. That may take some time as I learn what the mind and will of God is. I must confess my personal transgressions and rebellions to God and forsake them. I must enter into any and every divine covenant that is placed before me, determined to live in accordance with the truth throughout the rest of my mortal life and in so doing, be prepared to live according to the truth forever.

If I do all of these things, what happens next? Well, the truth is that the most important part has already taken place. During the time that Jesus suffered in the garden of Gethsemane, throughout the remainder of the dreadful night that was his last mortal one on earth, all the while that he was displayed outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem, crucified with the two malefactors, Jesus suffered the punishments for sin, serving as a proxy for all those who would come unto him. The entire spiritual debt of redeemed humanity was satisfied at the point when he said “It is finished”. While the resurrection was a free gift of God to all men who would be born into the earth, the atoning sacrifice of the Lamb of God provided all men with an opportunity to be free from the spiritual death that each had brought upon himself through disobedience. Both are gifts, for no one would have these blessings without the sufferance of the Father and the Son. Thus, through the resurrection we obtain immortality and through the atonement we may acquire eternal life. We are free to choose.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Romans 6:23, Part 1

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

During my first year of Daily Vacation Bible School, only the first half of this extraordinary verse was required for memorization. Since I was only seven or eight years of age, I am quite certain that I had no idea what any one of the three nouns meant.

I had never seen a dead person as a boy; I would not be in the presence of a corpse until I was 23 years old, conducting a funeral for an old man in the mountains of southern Mexico. Of course I had seen dead things. The Canyon was littered with plants and animals that had simply breathed out their last, had fallen from the sky, had dropped in their tracks, or had been sent into the ethers by a passing motorist. I sensed no natural sorrow in the death of animals, possibly because the Baptists asserted that animals were not alive in the same way that human beings were. I did feel a twinge, however, when my skunk-loving dog, Butch, was hit by a car near La Vida Springs because he could not see well enough to get out of the way. I never saw the body; my father disposed of it before telling the family. Death, therefore, was as foreign a concept to me as it was to Adam and Eve while they dwelt in the Garden of Eden.

All I really knew about sin was that it was “bad”, but I was not altogether certain how anyone went about offending God. The stories told about sinners all involved activities that either I did not understand or were those for the which I had no inclination. I was a free spirit as a boy and although I did things that displeased my parents, I never really considered those things to be sins. By the time I was sixteen, however, I learned for myself that there were things that a person could do that would put him or her at cross-purposes with the laws of men. It was then that I learned how and why one could and should be sorry for one’s conduct. Oddly enough, even in these circumstances I did not consider myself to be a sinner inasmuch as I had not done any of these things to irritate God. The pieces of that puzzle would be put in place once I came to understand who my friends, neighbors, and family really were, together with an awareness of their relationship to the God of Heaven.

At eight years of age, “wages” was a non-concept. I do not remember even having an “allowance” until I was pushing twelve. I suspect that somewhere along the line, one of the teachers tried to relate wages to the law of the “harvest”, that one reaps what one sows. This, of course, would have made little or no sense to me either, inasmuch as all of my agrarian pursuits involved the apricot tree next to the house and the vegetable garden in the front yard. I was a bit of a literalist as a child and as a result, “picking the tomatoes” was not the same thing as “reaping and winnowing the grain”. The phrase “natural consequences” did not come into my vocabulary while in childhood. It was a tag that was eventually given to help me understand the relationship between good and evil, virtue and vice, happiness and misery. It also helped me to understand that there was a difference between “consequences” and “punishment”, which thing I had never before supposed.

Notwithstanding all of this ignorance, the phrase “the wages of sin is death” became firmly etched into my mind and heart so that when I did come to a point where the words were no longer foreign to me, that I could really appreciate the abyss next to which I had been walking throughout my childhood. If I had not been particularly frightened before, I was terrified in retrospect. How many of my choices had been inadvertently correct? How many times, at the very last moment, had something nudged me away from moral and spiritual catastrophe? And these resultant tragedies would have been catastrophes that I would have had a great deal of trouble living down for the rest of my life.

I know now that sins come in degrees. Someone once made a neat distinction between “sin” and “transgression”, the former referring to knowingly doing something wrong and the latter referring to something done in ignorance. What may we say of “sins” which we were “taught” as a child because of bad examples set by adults? How about addictions of one sort or another? Is there a difference between the activities that began the addiction and the lapses that occur as we are attempting to overcome the habit? We are extraordinarily clever in slicing and dicing our semantics in order to ameliorate the intensity of our guilt. But in the final analysis, we have to say of our misconduct, “These are all mine; I am responsible for them all; I will not equivocate about any of them; I am a sinner!” This is both the beginning of wisdom and the beginning of forgiveness, whether we are dealing with God or our fellowmen. The great comfort, the consolation and hope in these distressing circumstances, is that there is a second half to this verse.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

John 3:16

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

This was the first verse of scripture that I ever committed to memory. I am certain that I had heard the passage before I attended my first day of Daily Vacation Bible School, for that would have been the Baptist way. John the Beloved’s stunning statement lies at the heart of traditional Christianity. This is the hope of every believer, that God somehow, for some reason, loves the world in spite of all of its ills, and to prove that love, sent His Son into the world to redeem it and all who dwell within. If one does not believe this fundamental principle, he cannot consider himself to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

In the heart of most believers, however, lie several questions. “Why am I loved? Am I loved because I am good? Am I loved because I am in the world and have partaken of it? Why would God the Father sacrifice His Son for me? Why should I have everlasting life?” So far as I can recall, neither the ministers nor the teachers of my youth ever addressed those questions to my satisfaction. I wonder if they knew for themselves all of the answers. I am not being critical or snide; I am simply relating my experience. After a few years of contemplating these questions, I simply found myself in the same boat as everyone else who desired to have faith unto salvation. If I cannot answer those questions, can my faith be strong enough to withstand all of the trials and tribulations that are common in this world?

We live in a time of great cynicism. Many people have looked around this planet, surveying its history, and have concluded that there is not much going on here that is lovely or of good report. Charles Darwin seems to speak for a great many intellectuals when he concludes that the abundant and diverse life on earth is the product of two basic principles: survival of the fittest and natural selection. The strong and the clever survive and propagate themselves, adapting to the natural and social orders that have come into being over the millennia. Much of the survival and selection techniques seem to be quite brutal, depressing in fact, especially if one is not particularly strong or selectable. Some men have concluded that a loving God could not be the author of all of this violence and duplicity, therefore He must not exist. The premise is correct, but the conclusion is erroneous.

What is it that God loves about the world? In short, He loves that which it once was and He loves that which is its potential.

When the world first came into existence, once all was organized and set forth as it was ordered, the Lord God pronounced it “very good”, and so it was. There was no death or disease. There were no scars made by the fang and claw. The earth rested in a paradisaical state after it was brought into being. The nature of life in this condition was free from aggression and chicanery, quite dissimilar from the way it is now. The change that took place to bring us where we are now was fundamental, a change that came to pass in part because of a being who had freely chosen to be something other than what he could have been. God did not create death, disease, destruction, duplicity, or any of the other great ills which we see around us. These came about as the natural consequences of individuals choosing that which was at variance from His will. When there is the possibility of good, there is always the possibility of evil. God the Father chose that which was good and created the paradisaical earth; Lucifer chose that which was evil and has attempted to impose that evil upon the children of men. He has been astonishingly successful, primarily because “natural men”, the inhabitants of this earth who follow their Darwinian instincts, are inclined to gratify their desires for popularity, wealth, and power.

Natural men are those who have forgotten who they really are. They dwell upon the earth generally ignorant of their divine heritage. No one should be surprised, however, that the title “God the Eternal Father” is more than metaphor. God loves the children of men who are in the world, not because they are in the world, but because they once lived with Him, as His spirit children, before the foundations of the earth were laid. If we listen to our hearts carefully, cannot we say with Paul the Apostle, “Abba, Father”, the Spirit of God bearing witness to our eternal spirits that we are the children of God? God loves us for the same reason that goodly parents love their offspring. Because of His great and abiding paternal love for us, He sent His Son into the world to provide a way by which we could return to His presence, without the scars and stains of mortality, perfected, sanctified, and exalted in every way. The atoning sacrifice and the power of the resurrection vested in the Lord Jesus Christ makes that eventual entrance into the Kingdom of God possible. Without him we would merely curl up in the dust and partake of the forlorn hope of the damned, having momentarily thrashed about in a lost and fallen world, and as disembodied spirits forever exiled from that which God would have us partake.

God the Father sent His Son into the world because it was possible to save it. Jesus Christ was not on a fool’s errand. Every man, woman, and child who has come here upon the earth is capable of instruction, improvement, and eventual perfection, notwithstanding the abounding wickedness that surrounds us, of which we partake at times. Like every goodly father who has ever lived among men, God desires His children to grow into maturity as His sons and daughters. He, therefore, has done all that is necessary, according to eternal law, to help us choose life and light through what we call the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a product of His pure love, an aspect of His perfection, and the grandest invitation that has ever been extended to anyone, anywhere, in time and in all of eternity.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Verse By Verse

When I was a little boy, not much older than the picture that I use for my profile, I attended a little non-denominational church in Carbon Canyon, California. From time to time it was run by the Baptists and then by the Nazarenes and then by other groups. I participated in that church from the time I was about five years old until my mother, my sister, and I moved away when I was sixteen. I was frequently in the Christmas and Easter plays. I rang the bell every Sunday morning to bring the believers to the chapel. I sat in Sunday School where we learned about the Old and New Testaments from teachers who seemed to be interested in the welfare of the children in Sleepy Hollow. I enjoyed myself immensely. I cannot say that I applied every teaching into my daily walk and talk, but I think that I instinctively believed that what was being taught was true.

One of the greatest experiences that I had took place during the summer time. The church sponsored Daily Vacation Bible School. I am quite certain that it lasted for at least two weeks each summer. Every day I would walk across the creek from my house to the basement of the chapel where we would all learn how to do ceramics, wood, leather, and copper work, all of which had some sort of Biblical theme associated with it. I was a terrible artisan, but I kept at it. We were all expected to memorize one scripture every day for the two weeks, so that as a result of each summer's work, I had learned ten or twelve basic scriptures that informed the Christian faith. I wasn't particularly good at memorizing anything, but I put my mind to it.Sixty years have past since those days.

For more than fifty years of that time I have been a fervent student of the scriptures, ancient and modern. For more than thirty-five years I served as a religious educator at high schools and universities throughout the United States, teaching young men and women many of the things that I had learned as a little boy in that little Baptist church. I am not a Baptist and never have been, but I have come to love the truth through the principles that I received at their hands. The postings that will appear here at this site will reflect what I have learned about those simple truths that I first accepted more than a half a century ago.