Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

My father lives in a different world than me.

He lives in Mallorca, Spain and the traditions are different in many ways. I always like to hear of the festivities for different occasions, so I sent an email asking him about Christmastide, and whether they decorate Christmas trees.  I received this long message which I want to pass on to my readers, complete with links and photos.  I am especially amazed by the snowflake lights.  At the bottom of the post you can listen to the song my father refers to in this message, sung by a child.

I hope you all have a meaningful Christmas celebration in honor of the Son of God who came to Earth to save us all.

Shalom,

Sister Olive

~♥~

Dear Dottir,

In the last decade or so, yes, Christmas trees, Santa Claus, elves and any commercialization possible has taken over.  Even here in this small village, in the little plaza up in town there is a Christmas tree with decorations.

Before this northern invasion, Christmas Eve was celebrated in the church, or quietly in the home, no tree, no gifts just a celebration of the birth and the mother.  Here on Mallorca and in Catalunya, they had another very strange custom. A young child sings the Sybila, a song of the Judgment Day. You can read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Song_of_the_Sibyl 

I have heard it sung many times over the years, because when I directed the church choir we were up in the organ loft, waiting for our turn to sing various Christmas songs from the region.  It is a haunting melody, very difficult for a child to sing, so they practice it for weeks before, no accompaniment of any kind, just that pure “white voice” as they call unchanged voices here. Here it is sung in a little church by a woman: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfirOs1RGIc

In the Cathedral of Palma they make a real production of it, with full choir, organ and a young woman singing http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aYV_Kqv44g– these may be beautiful, but I prefer the single child in the Deya church, innocently singing about the end of the world.  Every year a different child is chosen.

Before also, the decorations were basically “nerulas” or white paper cutouts like snowflakes, hung across the nave of the church and in houses.  The streets still are blazoned with lights, as traditionally – I first saw them in Barcelona in 1969 and was amazed. Take a look https://www.google.es/search?q=christmas+lights+in+Barcelona&hl=en&tbo=u&tbm=isch&source=univ&sa=X&ei=nZfRULDuGOyY0QWeuICoBA&ved=0CEMQsAQ&biw=1024&bih=614

As for myself, you know me – Stephanie and I would sometimes walk and look at the world, especially the stars which are exceptionally bright in winter, just appreciating Creation, perhaps lamenting its ultimate passing…

I will be doing that alone this year for sure, and will send my love to you all.  What I see from my balcony is this:

 Poppy's Window View

Where Chopin stayed in 1838 for the winter, so I have good company.

At night it is lit up, blocking the stars until late, when they are turned off.

 Poppy's View at Night

What will you be doing?  Have you found a compatible church where you can enjoy the songs of Christmas?

Lots of love,

Poppy

~♥~

Here is the link for the solo sung by a child, my favorite of the versions so far:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nANDw8XOHhU

 ~♥~

The Song of the Sibyl

On the Day of Judgment
The good go to heaven for their services.

An eternal King cometh
Dressed in our mortal flesh
He certainly will come from heaven
To judge the century.

Before the judgment is passed
A great sign will show itself
The sun will lose its shine
The earth will tremble with fear.

Then comes a mighty thunder
The sign of a great anger
In a hellish confusion
Rays and cries resound.

A great fire will fall from the sky
In a stench of sulfur
And the earth will burn furiously
And a great terror afflict people.

Then comes the terrible signal
A major earthquake
The rocks will break
And the mountains will collapse.

Then nobody will have gold pieces
Silver or wealth
And all await sentencing.

Death will leave you penniless
And all collide
Only men remain crying
And sadness will cover the world.

The plains and peaks are all the same
Good and bad will be achieved
Kings, dukes, earls and barons
They will have to account for their actions.

And then comes, unexpected
The son of God Almighty
He will judge the living and the dead
The good go to heaven.

The Unborn
Cry from the wombs of their mothers
And with her cries say
“Help us God Almighty”

Mother of God, pray for us
You, the Mother of All Sins
You have the judgment merciful
You have that paradise is open to us.

You who have heard it all
Pray to God with devotion
With all your heart and fervor
That should save us.

 ~♥~

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Black Elk SpeaksI love this description by Black Elk of his vision in which he saw the son of Wanekia, the Great Spirit:

“They led me to the center of the circle where once more I saw the holy tree all full of leaves and blooming.

…Against the tree there was a man with arms held wide in front of him.  I looked hard at him, and I could not tell what people he came from.  He was not a Wasichu (white man) and he was not an Indian.  His hair was long and hanging loose, and on the left side of his head he wore an eagle feather.  His body was strong and good to see, and it was painted red…while I was staring hard at him, his body began to change and became very beautiful with all colors of light…He spoke like singing:  “My life is such that all earthly beings and growing things belong to me.  Your father, the Great Spirit, has said this.  You too must say this.” 

~♥~

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“In My Father’s house are many mansions.  If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you”  John 14:2

English: Hans Christian Andersen at the house ...

I woke up this morning from a very interesting dream.  I was sitting in a cafe talking to an American fellow, explaining why I love Europe.  I said that Europeans don’t fret about hoarding possessions and money.  Instead they read books and go to concerts and sip wine with friends.

Then I told him a fantastic tale.  I said that my father lives in a palace facing the castle of Hans Christian Andersen, and it is just across the fjord.  I told him that my father and I visit him often at his castle for tea, and that Andersen wears a tall black hat like Abraham Lincoln.

Of course in my dream it was all true, so I was a bit disappointed to wake up.  But then my mind began to ramble on this idea, that if this life is a dream, I might awaken someday in that world.

Perhaps in Heaven I shall live in My Father’s palace across from Hans Christian Andersen.  Maybe we will have tea together- in a field of flowers under the moon. Then I might climb into my little golden boat with silken sails and glide across that crystal sea to visit Søren Kierkegaard and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Corrie Ten Boom and Mother Teresa and Black Elk…and Abraham Lincoln!

Why not?  Anything wonderful could happen in a world governed by King Jesus!

~♥~

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19th century painting of Our Lady.

I have been in Protestant circles for most of my life, and I find it curious that I have never heard a full-length sermon about the Virgin Mary, although her name pops up fleetingly and most often at Christmas.  I have often wondered why she is not properly spoken of in the context of Mother’s Day or other occasions considering that she was such a powerful and pure instrument of God. She is an amazing example of how every woman of God and mother should be. Although she was not rich or famous, she demonstrated a noble spirit and character that everyone could learn from. She remained humble even when she was chosen to perform the most amazing work for God’s plan.

Have you ever wondered why Christ didn’t just come down here on a fiery chariot like the one that Elijah departed in, or why He didn’t just walk here like Enoch or float down from Heaven on a cloud heralded by the sound of angelic trumpets? 

It seems to me that God wanted Jesus to enter here the same way that we all do, to experience being a helpless innocent child for a season.  And God wanted Him to have a mother while He was in this world as a seal of His humanity, and because there is nothing on Earth that compares to the love of a mother.

I did not care for some aspects of the movie “Passion of the Christ.” It was far too graphic for my taste, and it seemed like the director wanted to make Jesus into another Braveheart. But I did find one thing especially moving in the film:  the powerful presence of Mary. 

I had never stopped to consider what it must have been like to be the mother of Christ, to always be in His shadow observing His ministries, suffering, rejection, and death.  As a mother myself, it resonated with me in a mighty way.  I realized that God knew exactly what He was doing when He chose Mary.  She knew when to stay out of the way and when to be close.  She loved Jesus with incredible longsuffering and tenderness, and yet never interfered with God’s business.  Even at the cross, her heart was so strong and she too drank from a bitter cup that most of us would have refused. 

I don’t write this to steal any glory from Jesus the Messiah, because He is the one who willingly died to deliver us from sin and opened the door to Heaven for every soul. But I don’t think we should be afraid to talk about His earthly mother and learn from her character.  She is a Biblical woman to celebrate. Because there’s just something about Mary.

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One of my all-time favorite albums is Late for the Sky by Jackson Browne, and this song really “speaks to my condition” as the Quakers used to say.

Here are a few lines from it:

I’m just one or two years and a couple of changes behind you
In my lessons at love’s pain and heartache school
Where if you feel too free and you need something to remind you
There’s this loneliness springing up from your life
Like a fountain from a pool…

Fountain of sorrow, fountain of light
You’ve known that hollow sound of your own steps in flight
You’ve had to struggle, you’ve had to fight
To keep understanding and compassion in sight
You could be laughing at me, you’ve got the right
But you go on smiling so clear and so bright

-Jackson Browne

 

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I really appreciate the brave Brother Basilius blowing the trumpet from Africa about false doctrine in our times.  He writes about the prosperity gospel saying, “Gambling has simply been spiritualized…and now given a Christian name…” In other words, false teachers are selling a lie that if you put enough into the offering you might get back some blessings. This is a terrible misuse of Christ’s teachings to help leaders make money from the poor.

Please take a moment to visit this brother’s site at: 

http://savouringthegospel.wordpress.com/about/about-basilius/

Let’s savour the gospel together!

Peace be with you,

Sister Olive

~♥~

Related articles

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Palm Sunday was yesterday, and today the snow falls upon the white pear blossoms.  Tree brooms sweep the grey clouds across the sky. The daffodils have become clusters of snow cones, and a confused robin hops in circles with his beak pointing heavenward, flicking the snowflakes from his wings.

We are officially in the season of SPRINTER!

Peace be with You this Holy Week,

“Sister Olive”

Flowers (in this instance marigolds) strewn ab...

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Too late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient, O Beauty so new. Too late have I loved you!  You were within me but I was outside myself, and there I sought you! In my weakness I ran after the beauty of the things you have made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The things you have made kept me from you – the things which would have no being unless they existed in you! You have called, you have cried, and you have pierced my deafness. You have radiated forth, you have shined out brightly, and you have dispelled my blindness. You have sent forth your fragrance, and I have breathed it in, and I long for you. I have tasted you, and I hunger and thirst for you. You have touched me, and I ardently desire your peace.

Prayers of Saint Augustine, X, 27, 38

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Cover of "The Inner Voice of Love"

When I first read this passage in Henri Nouwen’s book The Inner Voice of Love, I felt as if the Holy Ghost was speaking directly to me and that I was seeing myself for the first time in a magnified mirror.  I suddenly realized that I have been searching for my father for most of my life; in sweethearts, friends, professors, and spiritual leaders. Perhaps some of you can identify with this battle:

 “You have to let your father and father figures go. You must stop seeing yourself through their eyes and trying to make them proud of you.

For as long as you can remember, you have been a pleaser, depending on others to give you an identity. You need not look at that only in a negative way. You wanted to give your heart to others, and you did so quickly and easily. But now you are being asked to let go of all these self-made props and trust that God is enough for you. You must stop being a pleaser and reclaim your identity as a free self.”

Excerpt from “The Inner Voice of Love:  A Journey through Anguish to Freedom” by Henri Nouwen

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I attended Mass recently, and I found the lyrics to this song to be haunting:

People, look east. The time is near 
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.

Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare,
One more seed is planted there:
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
That in course the flower may flourish.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the rose, is on the way.

Birds, though you long have ceased to build,
Guard the nest that must be filled.
Even the hour when wings are frozen
God for fledging time has chosen.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the bird, is on the way.

Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim
One more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as sun and moon together.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the star, is on the way.

Angels, announce with shouts of mirth
Christ who brings new life to earth.
Set every peak and valley humming
With the word, the Lord is coming.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way.

People, Look East” was written by Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965) and was first published as “Carol of Advent”

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“And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.”  Genesis 32:25

An angel simply touched Jacob’s thigh and dislocated it. Perhaps some angel touched our brows and dislocated our memory of why we had to come here and what we have to do.  Thomas Merton implied that this earth is Purgatory in his book Seven Storey Mountain. I sometimes think that we are fallen angels sent to Earth to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.”

The scriptures say a lot about what becomes of us after death, and what we are to do while in our bodies, but very little is said about why we came to this planet in the first place.  God told Jeremiah “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” (1:5)  The birth of the Messiah was predicted in the TaNaKh.  But I am pretty sure that most of us were not appointed to any sort of greatness.

I remember the seventies when my friends and I would smoke pot and drop LSD and sit around for hours asking questions like, “Why are we here?” and “Where did we come from?”

I don’t believe that all of us are simply the result of a big bang between two people.  Our flesh came about that way, but our mind and our spirit were designed for something higher. We are spiritual beings living in mortal bodies. No two of us are the same, and we all have this amazing potential to commune with the Divine.

Even Christ said very little about why each of us was born in the first place. He said we have to be born again of the Spirit.  He said “He that liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:26).  He said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”  He talked about the rich man and Lazarus going to separate places after death.  But He never told us why we came here, to a certain country and a certain time period and certain parents.  He never said it was all an illusion or a dream.  I find it somewhat surprising that none of His disciples asked Him about this.  They addressed so many subjects, but not that one.

I read somewhere that the rich are here to help the poor, and poor are here to save the rich. I also have read that good and evil angels are constantly involved in the affairs of men, and often wear disguises.  For me, one of the most terrifying stories in the Bible is of Nebuchadnezzar being spied upon by watcher angels because of his arrogance and his judgment finally being pronounced. For the whole story, read Daniel chapter 4, but here are a few verses:

I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed, and, behold, a watcher and an holy one came down from heaven; He cried aloud, and said thus…Let his heart be changed from man’s, and let a beast’s heart be given unto him; and let seven times pass over him. This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men…The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds’ claws.

I wonder why this doesn’t happen more often…we certainly have enough evil dictators. It is interesting to me that in the Bible many of the military and political figures are fallen angels. Ezekiel writes about the King of Tyrus “Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God (28:13).”  Daniel reports about the Prince of Persia who battled with a messenger angel for twenty-one days before being defeated by the archangel Michael. (10:13)

People laugh at me sometimes for believing “this stuff” but I find it much more imaginative to be an atheist. I felt terribly sorry for Hunter S. Thompson, even though he was a fantastic writer.  Take this statement of his:

“I have never seen much point in getting heavy with stupid people or Jesus freaks, just as long as they don’t bother me. In a world as weird and cruel as this one we have made for ourselves, I figure anybody who can find peace and personal happiness without ripping off somebody else deserves to be left alone. They will not inherit the earth, but then neither will I.”

How would he know about my inheritance, anyway?  Only the child knows what the father has prepared for him or her.  It’s a personal affair.  That’s why the scriptures say:

The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.  (Deuteronomy 29:29)

Should I believe the promises of Jesus or or the ramblings of Hunter S. Thompson?  That’s a tough one. Let me ponder that. Everyone who met or knew Jesus found Him to be faultless. He loved everybody, even the people that no one else understood or liked. (He would have loved Hunter S. Thompson.)

Jesus walked on water. He fed five thousand men (and their families) with five loaves of bread and seven fish. He ordered a storm on the ocean to calm down and it did. He healed people of all kinds of diseases. He raised Lazarus and others from the dead. After His crucifixion, He raised His own body from the tomb, and met His disciples down by the sea. He cooked fish for them after His resurrection! He wasn’t a ghost! His whole body went into heaven.

I think I’ll believe Jesus. I can’t see what there is to dislike about Him. I understand if people don’t approve of His so-called followers, but that’s a whole different matter.

There are lots of things I don’t know, but I know I am in good hands with Jesus, and I will understand it all someday.

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. (I Timothy 3:16)

~♥~

Work Cited:

Hunter S. Thompson, The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time

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And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”  Luke 18:19

I am haunted by my past, ashamed of my numerous failures, and constantly battling my self-serving nature.  I am afflicted with a disease called the human condition.  Christians refer to this as sin, the force that prevents our communion with a perfect God.

I can’t help but wonder:  If Jesus didn’t view Himself as good, then how do well-seasoned Christians tend to become so self-righteous?

I married a very religious Quaker baker when I was twenty-four who brought me to church to straighten me out.  He said that it took “the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon” to put up with me.  I can attest to the fact that it’s true.  But he wasn’t perfect either, although he thought he was. I tried to fit in by changing the way I dressed, the way I talked, the way I behaved.  I became fluent in the Christianese language.  But no matter where I went or how well I performed, I was still there…darn!

The truth is that I felt much more comfortable with my hippie friends than I’ve ever felt in any church. And church people have been very good to me. I just happen to enjoy the company of people who are really really real. I would rather attend a “love-in” or “rap session” any day over a church potluck.  (Without the dope and sex.)  Because among my friends, I could play an out-of-tune guitar and sing Donovan songs and recite T.S. Eliot and dance like a confused child until I almost fell down, and I still felt accepted and loved.

I’ll bet Jesus and those sinners had some great rap sessions when He was on Earth.  He accepted and loved people with all of their strange ways, and that is why I still adore Him even when His followers are disappointing.

I know I’m half-crazy, but could there be a problem with the church too? As Leonard Cohen asserts, “One of us cannot be wrong.”

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(Excerpt from “Divine Doorkeepers”)

Shane Claiborne is one of the founders of a New Monastic community called the Potter Street Community (formerly The Simple Way) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Claiborne worked with Mother Teresa during a ten-week term in Calcutta, and worked in Baghdad with the Iraq Peace Team.

Shane Claiborne was raised in East Tennessee where he and his family attended an old-fashioned Methodist church.  Being both idealistic and intelligent, he began at an early age to question what all of the activities and programs in his church had to do with Jesus or being a disciple. His sincerity and earnestness toward God are reminiscent of George Fox as a young man, going about questioning the authorities in religion and seeking for the true meaning of “taking up the cross” of Christ. In one of his books called The Irresistible Revolution, he speaks of wanting to follow Christ but not knowing where he could buy a staff.  By merely mentioning the staff in the context of modern life, he accomplishes two things:  He makes the reader laugh, and he puts forth the concept of embarking on a spiritual pilgrimage without the proper equipment.

Most of his writings evoke a sense of conflict internally and externally.  Claiborne uses a metaphor in his chapter entitled “Spiritual Bulimia” to illustrate the growing hunger for God and the fact that he was not being “fed” by the church:

I developed a common ailment that haunts Western Christianity.  I call it spiritual bulimia.  Bulimia, of course, is a tragic eating disorder, largely linked to identity and image, where folks consume large amounts of food but vomit it up before it has a chance to digest.  I developed a spiritual form of it where I did my devotions, read all the new Christian books and saw the Christian movies, and then vomited information up to friends, small groups, and pastors.  But it never had a chance to digest.  I had gorged myself on all the products of the Christian industrial complex but was spiritually starving to death.  I was marked by an overconsumptive but malnourished spirituality, suffocated by Christianity but thirsty for God. (Revolution 39)

Claiborne strengthens his analogy with strong verb metaphors such as “gorged”, “vomited”, “starving”, and “suffocated” as well as strong adjectives like “overconsumptive” and “malnourished”.  These all enhance the metaphor of the spiritual sickness that was tormenting him so that he could not “digest” the truth.

Claiborne uses Babylon as a metaphor for the worldly kingdom that wars with the kingdom of Heaven in his book entitled Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals.  In the chapter “The Empire has No Clothes,” he talks about the spiritual marriage of believers to God and the problem of the church lusting after the world system which is represented in this passage as a prostitute:

John’s language couldn’t be clearer:  we are to “come out” of her literally to pull ourselves out.  Let’s be honest here: this is rated R…Scholars point out that this is erotic language and that the words John uses are the same ones used for coitus interruptus— to interrupt sexual intercourse before climax.  As John is speaking of this steamy love affair with the empire, he calls the church to “pull out of her”– to leave romance with the world and be wooed by God, to remember our first love, to say no to all other lovers. (150)

After quoting John’s metaphor, Claiborne compares worldly desire to a whore who tempts believers into spiritual adultery, and Christ is portrayed as the one true love to whom a believer must always be faithful. This is a very powerful juxtaposition which is easily understood by the reader with all of its connotations.  Claiborne uses his illustrations in attempt to be a catalyst in the church system which he considers to be largely in conflict Christ’s teachings.  Like Bonhoeffer, he advocates monastic life within the secular community, not in an isolated place.

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(Excerpt from “Divine Doorkeepers”)

Søren Kierkegaard was a renowned Danish philosopher, theologian and religious author. He was born to an affluent family in Copenhagen, and his mother was employed as a maid in the household before marrying his father.

Kierkegaard was greatly influenced by Socrates and the Socratic method of thinking. His theological writings primarily focus on the flaws in the church institution and the crowd-driven mentality of believers. He was strongly opposed to the way that theology and organized religion had tarnished the Gospel message, and he believed that seminaries taught Christians to think and talk about God rather than to take any kind of action. His writings beg for soul-searching and an active response from the reader.

Dr. George Pattison writes of the author’s style in his introduction to Kierkegaard’s Spiritual Writings: “The discourses are not plodding expositions of ready-made dogmas, but have an almost conversational feel, sometimes serious, sometimes playful, but always seeking to open a dialogue with the reader, whose own response is anticipated and responded to” (57).

Kierkegaard tells stories about God humanizing Himself willingly out of His great love for people.  He depicts Christians as thieves and cheaters who twist the gospel to suit their own agenda. Here he portrays the struggle between worldly religion and true spirituality:  “…The Bible is very easy to understand.  But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers.  We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly…Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament” (Provocations 201). His representation of religious folks as “scheming swindlers” is a piercing metaphor that suggests deception and misuse of something valuable.

In one of his letters, Kierkegaard presents God as being a creator who fashioned humans in His own image, and loved them so deeply that He placed Himself into their lives. He asserts that the Incarnated God taught people about service to others by His own example.  In this passage he uses an analogy pertaining to artists and their productions to illustrate how even God lowered Himself out of compassion for humans:

If a poet or an artist puts himself into his Productions he is criticized. But that is exactly what God does, he does so in Christ. And precisely that is Christianity. The creation was really only completed when God included himself in it. Before the coming of Christ, God was certainly in the creation, but as an invisible sign, like the watermark in paper. But the creation was completed by the Incarnation because God thereby included himself in it. (Journals 324)

This statement bears resemblance to one of the parables of Jesus, in which God finally arrives on the scene Himself when his workers have rebelled against Him in the vineyard where he hired them to work (Mark 12:1-10, NKJV). These stories have power because they present the idea that God is one of our kind and that He loved us enough to get involved in our drama of sorrow and suffering and even our mortality.  Kierkegaard’s comparison to the creation without Christ as being as a watermark on paper adds a touch of mystery, because it portrays the idea that we don’t see everything that exists.

In the chapter from Provocations entitled “Behold the Birds of the Air,” Kierkegaard spins a fable about wood doves.  Using an opening like his fellow Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen, he writes of one wild dove that refuses to live in a dovecote under the care of a kind farmer: “Once upon a time there was a wood dove. It had its nest in the fearsome forest, where wonder and apprehension dwelt together, among the erect, lonely trees. But nearby, where the smoke rises up from the farmer’s house, lived some tame doves” (148). The wild dove is a metaphor for a person who chooses to live without divine authority.  The “fearsome forest” where “wonder and apprehension” live together is an aesthetic way of portraying the world and the conflicts that beset us each day.  The reader is hereby summoned into a sense of inner tension which Kierkegaard evokes to show the awful state of man without God. Through interactions between the wild dove and the tame ones, the writer portrays the inner friction between faith and the natural mind:

From now on, the wood dove began to worry. His feathers lost their glint of color, his flight lost buoyancy. He was no longer joyful; indeed, he was almost envious of the rich, tame doves… In worrying about his needs he had trapped himself in a snare in which no birdcatcher could have trapped him, trapped as only a free creature can trap himself. (Provocations 148)

The “tame doves” depict the faithful who don’t live unto themselves and need not worry about their livelihood or their future. Kierkegaard uses artful paradoxes and images to represent the anxiety that began to trouble the “free” dove, describing the loss of luster in his feathers and how he felt weighted down when he attempted to fly. The glossy feathers and lightness are symbols for joy and peace, and the lack of them implies strain and encumbrances.  The wild dove that “has trapped himself…as only a free creature can trap himself” is an apt representation for a man who cannot extricate himself from his ways because his ego is at stake. The author creates irony in that the tame birds are free and the wild bird is in bondage.

Kierkegaard was accomplished in the art of addressing controversial subjects with satire and paradox and allegorical tales, and by using graceful metaphors to illustrate his views in an evocative manner.

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When I was attending graduate school for my Master of Fine Arts, I was asked to write an extended critical essay of at least thirty pages, and I thought I would share it with my readers in small doses- starting with the introduction.

My mentor was quite impressed with the research for this piece, and asked me how long it had taken me to find all of the passages cited in the work. I told him that I had started gathering my material one semester early.

My father laughed when I mentioned it to him and asked me, “Did you tell him you’ve actually been doing this since you were twelve years old?”  Good ol’ Poppy, always making a good joke at my expense…oh well. I was pegged early on as the “religious one” in the family.

So, let’s move on to the essay itself, which I hope you enjoy and gain some insight from.

Peace be with you,

Olive Twist

~♥~

Abstract

“Divine Doorkeepers:  How Mystical Authors Usher Readers into the Spirit Realm” is a study of evangelical writers and how they use literary devices such as metaphor and simile to usher the reader in the door to experience the supernatural realm.  The books examined for this extended essay will come from Christian evangelical writers, revivalists, and reformers such as George Fox, Charles Finney, Dwight Moody, Charles Spurgeon, and continuing with writers to the present day.  The essay is an analysis of how they portray God and the workings of the Spirit to readers.

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Divine Doorkeepers: 

How Mystical Authors Usher Readers into the Spirit Realm

“Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in” (Psalm 24:7).

If you were trying to write or speak about a world that cannot be apprehended with the senses, what method would you use to be most effective?  How would you make it possible for someone to touch the intangible world, or illuminate the invisible mystical realm for the human eye?

Evangelists, revivalists, and religious reformers have always been particularly fond of metaphor in their writings to make God and spiritual matters clear to their readers.  Rather than merely stating abstract concepts in an ethereal way, they build a sense of God being tangible. They use stories like soldiers to round up and captivate the minds of skeptics and unbelievers. In an essay entitled “To Make the Final Unity: Metaphor’s Matter and Spirit,” Mark Jarman writes about this process of presenting the mystical to people in a natural way:  “If it sounds too religious to call metaphor an incarnation, then let’s call it a manifestation, for it makes available to the senses what is often intangible, invisible, unknown, obscure; metaphor brings to light, it reveals, it unifies the fragmented, it is an act of creation, indeed” (301).

Christian writers have historically used physical activity, images of nature and weather, and human characteristics to describe the mystical world, enabling people to apprehend God with their senses instead of in an abstract manner.  Perhaps for some of these writers, the spiritual dimension is as real as the physical realm.

By using strong verb metaphors, evangelical writers enable the reader to see the activity of the Spirit during times of revival and religious change. By using stories about nature they allow the reader to understand complex visions and theologies.  By applying human traits to God, they give readers a sense of the humanity of God and a feeling of kinship with Him.  Spiritual writers weave metaphor through their messages and writing in such a way that makes the supernatural seems natural, and the metaphysical seems like physical activity.

Jesus Himself said, “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matthew 13:13, ESV). Spiritual authors have continued in His style, using allegorical stories or parables to illustrate the spiritual world. In his essay “Follow that Metaphor”, John Savant writes:

“For a person of Christian faith, the Gospels are a similar tool, teaching more through experience and story than through argument or explanation. The Gospels work by juxtaposition, indirection, comparison, and suggestion: they are, in other words, poetic and metaphoric” (18).

In this essay, I wish to examine the kinds of metaphors that are traditionally used to illustrate spiritual events, such as (1) depicting a hero with divine weapons on a spiritual journey, (2) humanizing God in order to give the reader a sense of identification with Him, (3) using weather and nature to depict God’s power and activity, (4) using magical realism in order to “spin straw into gold” and carry the reader into a new dimension, (5) using illustrations that show God striving with man, and (6) using metaphors that relate to the lifestyles and occupations of ordinary people.  The authors addressed in this essay are George Fox, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney, Søren Kierkegaard, Charles Spurgeon, Dwight Moody, C. S. Lewis, Donald Miller, and Shane Claiborne.

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George Fox (1624-1691): Divine Alchemist

George Fox was a well known English dissenter who founded the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).  He traveled throughout Britain, challenging the “hireling preachers” of his time and suffering tremendous persecution.  Fox was born in Leicestershire, England (now known as Fenny Drayton). George was the eldest of four children of Christopher Fox, a successful weaver.

Fox frequently uses surreal imagery to portray God. He presents his life story in a way that leads the reader to believe that he was born into a world of powers far greater than himself, and was chosen to carry divine seed to a parched and weary Earth.  He artfully uses ocean waves and clouds, elements and stars, and sparkling fiery seeds to depict the movement of the Spirit.  His memoirs seem to have been written with a magic quill, because they twinkle with a fantasy-like quality.  His poetic style is reminiscent of Bunyan in that he depicts himself as a seeking hero on a spiritual journey. He creates a mystical sense of place by applying geographical dimensions and weather patterns to abstractions such as good and evil. Michael Graves asserts that creating using this kind of language enables the reader to visualize and vicariously “travel” with the author:

…to name life a Pilgrimage overlays a gloss of geographic factors which may have never occurred to the person who hears the metaphor applied to life for the first time.  At the very least, the idea of pilgrimage may call forth associations which have lain dormant… [e.g., living in an evil place; finding a straight path; traveling light (and in the light), etc.]…( 364)

Fox had visions from his youth, which he referred to as “openings” because his eyes were opened to the spiritual.  He contrasts light and darkness to show the spiritual battle within man’s heart and on the earth:  “I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death; but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness.  In that also I saw the infinite love of God, and I had great openings” (Journal 87).  He uses the ocean to portray the vastness of the forces of evil and good, and a sense of overwhelming waters inwardly and outwardly.  Darkness is a metaphor for death, and light is the symbol for the love of God.  Fox effectively uses alliteration here as well to couple “darkness” with “death” and “light” with “love”, while making the infinite into something finite and visible. Nature and elements were commonly used by Fox as to describe spiritual revelations. In his journal, he records an experience of being within a mystical cloud:

One morning as I was sitting by the fire, a great cloud came over me, and a temptation beset me; and I sat still.  It was said “All things come by nature”; and the elements and stars came over me, so that I was in a manner quite clouded with it.  But as I sat still under it and let it alone, a living hope and a true voice arose in me, which said, “There is a living God who made all things.”  Immediately the cloud and temptation vanished away, and life rose over it; my heart was glad, and I praised the living God. (Journal 94)

The visionary cloaked in cloud is reminiscent of the story of Moses. The imagery works because it shows that Fox was alone with God and people could not see what was taking place as they communed.  Then he creates the sense of light piercing through the cloud when the “true voice” speaks.  Elements and stars and clouds are real but uncontrollable things in the universe, and the juxtaposition helps readers to understand God as having the same unfathomable power. Fox writes of God sending him into the world with a message, in a manner that bears resemblance to Dante embarking upon his journey:

Some time after the Lord commanded me to go abroad into the world, which was like a briery, thorny wilderness.  When I came in the Lord’s mighty power with the Word of life into the world, the world swelled, and made a noise like the great raging waves of the sea.  Priests and professors, magistrates and people, were all like the sea when I came to proclaim the day of the Lord amongst them, and to preach repentance unto them. (Journal 102)

The words “world” and “Word” flow together in this description of the world swelling and raging as he is sent with divine power.  He creates with his language a sense of two great powers raging against one another, and the sense of this overwhelming task that the preacher has been commissioned to carry out. The analogy of the sea evokes a sense of great power behind him as he goes forth. Fox often writes about the “Seed of God” that he is “sowing” around Europe.  He describes his sense of God having prepared the soil in Scotland before he arrives with divine seed:

For when I first set my horse’s foot upon Scottish ground I felt the Seed of God to sparkle about me, like innumerable sparks of fire.

Not but that there is abundance of the thick, cloddy earth of hypocrisy and falseness above, and a briery, brambly nature, which is to be burnt up with God’s Word, and ploughed up with His spiritual plough, before God’s Seed brings forth heavenly and spiritual fruit to his glory.  But the husbandman is to wait in patience. (Journal 316)

This scene of the author’s horse touching Scottish ground could be expected to come from the pages of King Arthur or “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Like Jack, the hero sets out on a journey with only some magic beans and has to battle with evil giants as he climbs toward heaven. The sparkling seeds around his feet give a touch of mystique to his divine calling and the fire is a metaphor for the Spirit.  He uses the thick clods of earth and the thorns to show the resistance that he expects to encounter, and the condition of people’s minds before they have been tilled with patience. The mystical plough of God has been given to him as the gardener, and he is expected to work diligently.  Like Rumpelstiltskin in the Brothers Grimm tale, Fox seems to be able to “spin straw into gold.”  He transfigures the properties of earthly things into heavenly things by using fantasy-like literary devices.

John in the New Testament addressed new believers as “little children” in his letters, and Fox uses a similar style in his epistles. In one of his letters, he refers to converts as “children of the light”:

Sing and rejoice, ye children of the Day and of the Light, for the Lord is at work in this thick night of Darkness that may be felt; and Truth doth flourish as the rose, and the lilies do grow among the thorns, and the plants atop of the hills, and upon them the lambs do skip and play.  And never heed the tempests nor the storms, floods nor rains, for the Seed of Christ is over all and doth reign. (Epistle 227)

This passage is illuminated and lyrical, and the style evokes a sense of reverence. The tempests, floods, and rains are metaphors for the evils that can drown out the “Seed of Christ”.  The Truth is depicted as the rose, and as lilies among thorns, because they are flowers that are recognized as fragrant and lovely.  The lambs skipping represent the purity of children of God, and the tops of the hills indicate that believers transcend the world and its ways.  The elevated tone adds to the sense of being in this place of light and truth with the writer.

Fox’s metaphors, similes, and analogies depict might, authority, and movement, and a sense of light and beauty.  Through his poetic and magical style, he draws the reader into a sense of being in the presence of something glowing and desirable.

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Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758): The Town Crier

Jonathan Edwards was a great American evangelist and revivalist.  He was born in East Windsor, Connecticut and was the fifth of eleven children.  He and his siblings were all well-educated.  Edwards was not only a preacher, theologian, and missionary, but he was also considered a great intellectual.  He was very active in the First Great Awakening in the American colonies, and oversaw some of the earliest revivals in 1733–1735 in Northampton, Massachusetts.

In many of his memoirs, he seems to be a divine journalist and mystical meteorologist, reporting the amazing works of God in various communities.  Like Fox, he is fond of weather imagery and refers to a revival as a “shower of divine blessing”(Narrative 155), and a spiritual awakening among the youth as being “like a flash of lightning upon the hearts of young people all over the town” (Narrative149). These kinds of images shift the focus from the evangelists to God and enable the reader to visualize what the Spirit is doing.  The author also implies that preachers have no more control over revivals than they have over the making of weather.

Edwards depicts God in terms of supernatural strength and energy, using His strong arm to smite and jerk and awaken humans from spiritual slumber. He describes the revival in Northampton using many exercise metaphors and he emphasizes concrete verbs showing physical exertion to illustrate God’s presence in the towns. He refers to revivals as “works” and “awakenings”, and describes the Spirit striving vigorously to win over the hearts of people. Throughout his memoirs in A Faithful Narrative, he uses language that creates a sense of motion and strife and physical strain. Upon witnessing a great urgency towards spiritual matters in one community he writes: “…the Spirit of God began to extraordinarily set in, and wonderfully to work amongst us…and some of them wrought upon in a very remarkable manner: The only thing in their view was to get into the kingdom of heaven, and everyone appeared pressing into it” (150). The language connoting physical activity in these passages gives the reader a sense of motion and people straining to get closer to God.  In the last sentence, you can envision a crowd trying to squeeze through a door at the same time, pressing against each other in desperation to get in first.

Edwards describes the supernatural swiftness of the conversion of souls during this time, and how humans could not possibly have accomplished this on their own:

God has also seemed to go out of His usual way in the quickness of His work, and the swift progress the Spirit has made in His operations on the hearts of many…seized with strong convictions of their guilt and misery…

The work of God’s Spirit seemed to be at its greatest height in this town…When God in so remarkable a manner took the work into His own hands, there was as much done in a day or two at ordinary times, with all endeavors that men can use, and with such a blessing as we commonly have, is done in a year. (159)

Edwards humanizes God, and then creates a sense of tension between Him and people.  He puts flesh and bones on the Spirit, and allows the reader to see God at work in the souls of men. The reader gets the sense of men being sleepwalkers who God is sharply awakening from slumber. He juxtaposes physical strength and supernatural power, thus allowing the reader to sense the activity of God.

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Charles Finney (1792-1875):  Retained by God

Charles Grandison Finney was born in Warren, Connecticut, and was the youngest of fifteen children. As a son of farmers, Finney never attended college, but he apprenticed to become a lawyer. After his conversion, he became an important figure in the Second Great Awakening which swept over the northern states, especially upstate New York.  Finney believed that the revivals did not have great impact in the Southern states because of the evil of slavery. He has been called The Father of Modern Revivalism and he was famous for sermons that were preached without notes and without memorization, also known as “extemporaneous preaching.”  He developed the custom of the “anxious bench” for people who were anxious about their souls and wanted guidance.

Finney was a tireless spiritual leader who worked to bring about revivals in many communities in America and Europe.  Having been a lawyer before his conversion, he was well-suited to “plead the case of Christ”.  He was often told that his style was like a lawyer at the bar talking to a jury, because he was powerfully direct, searching, and persuasive in his language. Finney was criticized by other preachers in his time for his straightforward and plain style, and his illustrations that were directed at common people in ordinary occupations. He was told that his sermons were an embarrassment to the ministerial profession.  But he replied by saying, “Great sermons lead people to praise the preacher.  Good sermons lead people to praise the Savior” (Autobiography 74).  He frequently had to defend his style: “Among farmers and mechanics, and other classes of men, I borrowed my illustrations from their various occupations.  I tried to use language they would understand… my object was not to cultivate a style of oratory that should soar above the heads of the people, but to make myself understood” (Autobiography 70).

In one of his lectures recorded in the book Revivals of Religion, he uses the analogy of hardened ground to represent the hardness of the human heart that resists the gospel message.  Like George Fox, he refers to himself as the divine gardener that has been appointed by God to labor in the field and plant holy seed:

Fallow ground is ground that has once been tilled, but which now lies waste, and needs to be broken up and mellowed, before it is suited to receive grain.  I shall show, as it respects a revival in the church…

To break up the fallow ground, is to break up your heart, to prepare your minds to bring forth fruit unto God.  The mind of man is often compared in the Bible to ground, and the Word of God to seed sown therein, the fruit representing the actions and affections of those who receive it…

Sometimes your hearts get matted down, hard and dry, till there is no such thing as getting fruit from them till they are broken up…It is that softening of the heart, so as to make it feel the truth, which the prophet calls breaking up your fallow ground (32-33).

Fox previously used the analogy of “thick cloddy earth” in a similar manner. Finney explains that tilling represents self-examination which allows the heart and mind to become tender and receptive. He explains that no preacher can “sow seed” or have any effect until a man prepares his heart on his own first.

Finney also depicts the movement of the Spirit with language pertaining to weaponry.  For instance, he spoke of the Word of God as an arrow: “The Word of God had wonderful power…and I was surprised to find that a few words spoken to an individual would stick in his heart like an arrow” (Autobiography 32).  He refers to preaching as being like a sword:  “I concluded with such pointed remarks as were intended to make the subject go home…The sword of the Lord slew them on the right hand and on the left” (Autobiography 63).  The “pointed remarks” and the sword represent the effect of the truth on the minds of people, piercing them with self-awareness and “slaying” their evil natures.

Finney was disillusioned that many ministers in his day had been trained in such a way that diminished their spiritual potency and hindered their growth.  He writes of one such minister in his autobiography: “The fact is that Mr. Gale’s education for the ministry had been entirely defective. He had imbibed a set of opinions, both theological and practical, that were a straitjacket to him” (Autobiography 50).  The straitjacket is used as a symbol for a condition of being restrained and weakened in faith.

Charles Finney uses simple stories and style in a way that is persuasive and authoritative, and draws readers into a stronger understanding of their own spiritual condition and the workings of God.

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Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855):  Thinking Outside the Crowd

Søren Kierkegaard was a renowned Danish philosopher, theologian and religious author. He was born to an affluent family in Copenhagen, and his mother was employed as a maid in the household before marrying his father.

Kierkegaard was greatly influenced by Socrates and the Socratic method of thinking. His theological writings primarily focus on the flaws in the church institution and the crowd-driven mentality of believers. He was strongly opposed to the way that theology and organized religion had tarnished the Gospel message, and he believed that seminaries taught Christians to think and talk about God rather than to take any kind of action. His writings beg for soul-searching and an active response from the reader.

Dr. George Pattison writes of the author’s style in his introduction to Kierkegaard’s Spiritual Writings: “The discourses are not plodding expositions of ready-made dogmas, but have an almost conversational feel, sometimes serious, sometimes playful, but always seeking to open a dialogue with the reader, whose own response is anticipated and responded to” (57).

Kierkegaard tells stories about God humanizing Himself willingly out of His great love for people.  He depicts Christians as thieves and cheaters who twist the gospel to suit their own agenda. Here he portrays the struggle between worldly religion and true spirituality:  “…The Bible is very easy to understand.  But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers.  We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly…Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament” (Provocations 201). His representation of religious folks as “scheming swindlers” is a piercing metaphor that suggests deception and misuse of something valuable.

In one of his letters, Kierkegaard presents God as being a creator who fashioned humans in His own image, and loved them so deeply that He placed Himself into their lives. He asserts that the Incarnated God taught people about service to others by His own example.  In this passage he uses an analogy pertaining to artists and their productions to illustrate how even God lowered Himself out of compassion for humans:

If a poet or an artist puts himself into his Productions he is criticized. But that is exactly what God does, he does so in Christ. And precisely that is Christianity. The creation was really only completed when God included himself in it. Before the coming of Christ, God was certainly in the creation, but as an invisible sign, like the watermark in paper. But the creation was completed by the Incarnation because God thereby included himself in it. (Journals 324)

This statement bears resemblance to one of the parables of Jesus, in which God finally arrives on the scene Himself when his workers have rebelled against Him in the vineyard where he hired them to work (Mark 12:1-10, NKJV). These stories have power because they present the idea that God is one of our kind and that He loved us enough to get involved in our drama of sorrow and suffering and even our mortality.  Kierkegaard’s comparison to the creation without Christ as being as a watermark on paper adds a touch of mystery, because it portrays the idea that we don’t see everything that exists.

In the chapter from Provocations entitled “Behold the Birds of the Air,” Kierkegaard spins a fable about wood doves.  Using an opening like his fellow Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen, he writes of one wild dove that refuses to live in a dovecote under the care of a kind farmer: “Once upon a time there was a wood dove. It had its nest in the fearsome forest, where wonder and apprehension dwelt together, among the erect, lonely trees. But nearby, where the smoke rises up from the farmer’s house, lived some tame doves” (148). The wild dove is a metaphor for a person who chooses to live without divine authority.  The “fearsome forest” where “wonder and apprehension” live together is an aesthetic way of portraying the world and the conflicts that beset us each day.  The reader is hereby summoned into a sense of inner tension which Kierkegaard evokes to show the awful state of man without God. Through interactions between the wild dove and the tame ones, the writer portrays the inner friction between faith and the natural mind:

From now on, the wood dove began to worry. His feathers lost their glint of color, his flight lost buoyancy. He was no longer joyful; indeed, he was almost envious of the rich, tame doves… In worrying about his needs he had trapped himself in a snare in which no birdcatcher could have trapped him, trapped as only a free creature can trap himself. (Provocations148)

The “tame doves” depict the faithful who don’t live unto themselves and need not worry about their livelihood or their future. Kierkegaard uses artful paradoxes and images to represent the anxiety that began to trouble the “free” dove, describing the loss of luster in his feathers and how he felt weighted down when he attempted to fly. The glossy feathers and lightness are symbols for joy and peace, and the lack of them implies strain and encumbrances.  The wild dove that “has trapped himself…as only a free creature can trap himself” is an apt representation for a man cannot extricate himself from his ways because his ego is at stake. The author creates irony in that the tame birds are free and the wild bird is in bondage.

Kierkegaard was accomplished in the art of addressing controversial subjects with satire and paradox and allegorical tales, and by using graceful metaphors to illustrate his views in an evocative manner.

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Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892):  Spiritual Lyricist

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a British Baptist preacher, but his style stirred the interest of Christians of all denominations.  He is referred to by many as the “Prince of Preachers”.  He was born in Kelvedon, Essex and was converted on January 6, 1850. His conversion occurred when a snow storm cut one of his journeys short and he stopped into a Primitive Methodist chapel in Colchester.

Spurgeon preached up to ten times per week in different locations during his years of ministry. He was the pastor of the New Park Street Chapel (later the Metropolitan Tabernacle) in London for thirty-eight years and was a prolific author of many types of works.  He wrote sermons, an autobiography, devotions, poetry,a hymnist, prayer books,and more. Many of his sermons were transcribed as he spoke and translated into many languages.

Charles Spurgeon has a graceful poetic style in his writing and speaking, and his voice is elevated and lyrical.  He has a remarkably sensitive and gentle voice by comparison to other evangelical authors and preachers, as he is full of comfort and encouragement.  His writing is melodious and flowing and almost angelic in its tone, and his metaphors evoke a sense of divine music.  One of his most “musical” transcribed sermons is his aptly titled “Songs in the Night” (Job 35:10, KJV).    He begins by exhorting the reader about how to maintain good cheer in the midst of distress:

Anyone can sing in the day. When the cup is full, one draws inspiration from it; when wealth rolls in abundance around them, anyone can sing to the praise of a God who gives an abundant harvest.  It is easy to sing when we can read the notes by daylight; but the skillful singer is the one who can sing when there is not a ray of light to read by—who sings from their heart, and not from a book that they can see. (Songs I-1)

This passage contains many of the poetic elements used by Fox in his epistles, such as the contrast of light and darkness, and the exhortation to sing in the thick night. The songs represent joy and the night represents times of adversity. The full cup and the harvest are images of abundance. He uses them to clarify that it takes no strength of character to be cheerful when one has wealth and comfort.

Then his images shift when he speaks of singing without any light to read the notes by, from an inward book which cannot be seen. The darkness is a symbol for the times when things appear bleak to us and we have to grope for happiness.  The “skillful singer” is a graceful metaphor for the one who can retain joy in times of tribulation, and memorizing the words as opposed to reading them re-emphasizes the skill of the vocalist. The passage is richly sensual, engaging both sight and hearing and also full of contrasts of light and darkness, joy and pain, music and silence.  Rather than merely telling the reader of joy in the midst of trials, he paints glorious pictures and makes lofty music to illustrate his message.

Let all things go as I please—I will weave songs, weave them wherever I go, with the flowers that grow along my path; but put me in a desert, where there are no flowers, and how will I weave a chorus of praise to God? How will I make a crown for him? Let this voice be free, and this body be full of health, and I can sing God’s praise; but stop this tongue, lay me on the bed of suffering, and it is not so easy to sing from the bed, and chant high praises in the fires…confine me, chain my spirit, clip my wings, make me very sad, so that I become old like the eagle—ah! Then it is hard to sing. (Songs I-1)

His flowing musical style creates a tone of worship.  The coupling of the verb metaphor “weaving” with “songs” is aesthetically pleasing as weaving is rhythmic like musical notes.  “Chanting praises in the fire” is remarkably visual and conjures up an image of strong faith.  He writes that the desert has no flowers to weave a chorus and then asks how to make a crown of praise for God; these two sentences make the reader associate weaving with crowns, and this seems to imply the crown of thorns.  The old eagle is similar to T. S. Eliot’s verse from “Ash Wednesday” about the aged eagle that no longer stretches its wings, and both authors are speaking about mortality and loss of dreams.

While making melody can produce comfort in a troubled mind, Spurgeon is not referring to a real song, but to a supernatural state of mind which he asserts can be retained through the Spirit, which makes people resilient beyond the limits of human fortitude. The unfruitful fig tree is symbolic of the times of struggle, and the divine song represents an attitude of acceptance and peace.

He then speaks of not trying to create joy but to simply ask for it, and he uses a metaphor of an old well pump:

So, then, poor Christian, you needn’t go pumping up your poor heart to make it glad. Go to your Maker, and ask him to give you a song in the night. You are a poor dry well: you have heard it said, that when a pump is dry, you must pour water down it first of all, to prime the pump, and then you will get some up; and so, Christian, when you are dry, go to God, ask him to pour some joy down you, and then you will get some joy up from your own heart. (Songs I-2)

The water Spurgeon refers to is a metaphor for joy, and he tells readers that they are “poor dry wells.”  The old well pump was a familiar household appliance during the days in which he preached, and he uses it as a symbol for striving to find joy when the heart is troubled.  He tells his audience not to work at it on their own or “pump the well” because God can pour down the joy upon His people.

Spurgeon refers to God as the great composer of songs, meaning that God is the one who creates the joy that man cannot find inside of himself.

It may be darkness now; but I know the promises were sweet; I know I had blessed seasons in his church. I am quite sure of this; I used to enjoy myself in the ways of the Lord; and though now my paths are strewn with thorns, I know it is the King’s highway. It was a way of pleasantness once; it will be a way of pleasantness again… Christian, perhaps the best song you can sing, to cheer you in the night, is the song of yesterday morning. (Songs Part II-1)

Spurgeon suggests that people should encourage themselves by remembrance of better times, and he presents the notion of life having seasons.  Seasons illustrate that “pleasantness” will always circle around again after a time in which the path is covered in thorns. The thorns were used by Fox in his writings as well, and they are a symbol of piercing anguish and suffering in the human heart.  The King’s highway is another example of metaphor suggesting a pilgrimage. Spurgeon’s language and tone are effective, because rather than trying to appeal to the heart through abstractions, he creates imagery and music and moods through his flowing style and use of lyrical metaphors.

~♥~

Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899):  Soul-Winning Storyteller

Dwight Lyman Moody was born in Northfield, Massachusetts and was one of nine children. His father, a poor farmer and stonemason, died at the age of forty-one while praying on his knees when Dwight was four years old.

Moody was a shoe salesman before he became a missionary. He acquired great fame as an evangelist in England in 1872. He was invited by Spurgeon for speaking engagements and was also promoted by him. Moody mentions Fox and Finney in some of his writings, referring to them as great leaders in reforming and reviving God’s work among the slumbering churches. He had a soul-searching tone that was similar to Finney’s, and he had a gift for spinning stories in such a way that calls upon the reader to extend the tales and draw more conclusions on their own.

For instance, he asserts that the spiritual needs of humans are as real and treatable as physical ailments. In The Best of Dwight Moody, he writes of the importance of fellowship by using a medical simile:  “Church attendance is as vital to a disciple as a transfusion of rich, healthy blood to a sick man.”  This statement is effective because he shows in the statement that even a disciple can become spiritually ill if he does not maintain his “health” by following the precepts of God and being in a community of encouragers.  It also allows the reader to conclude that the disciple could die in a spiritual sense from lack of encouragement and fellowship. He juxtaposes the physical man and the spiritual man and alludes to the healing blood of Christ through the transfusion simile.  By being inconclusive in his stories, he allows the reader to make more associations.

Moody believed in using simple and plain style. In Dr. Joe McKeever’s article called “Why We Need Parables”, he writes:  “Dwight L. Moody used to remind pastors to ‘put the cookies on the bottom shelf so everyone could reach them.’ What he meant–and what he practiced as well as it could be done–was, ‘Keep the message simple.’ Make it accessible to everyone” (par 1).  Moody, like Finney, used the idea of a courtroom when explaining why flowery speech was not his method for addressing an audience of unbelievers.

My friend, we have too many orators.  I am tired and sick of your “silver-tongued orators.”  I used to mourn because I couldn’t be an orator…

Take a witness in court and let him try his oratorical powers in the witness-box, and see how quickly the judge will rule him out.  It is the man who tells the plain, simple truth that has the most influence with the jury (Best 198).

This passage depicts the urgency that the evangelist feels to “plead his case” and why it is so important to be understood as opposed to merely sounding lofty and educated.  It also carries the reader to think upon the consequences of being “ruled out” and the injustices that may result, and he juxtaposes earthly and divine judgment.

He uses a similar method in this passage where he tells the story of a little boy who catches a sparrow, and he uses it as an allegory for redemption:

A friend in Ireland once met a little Irish boy who had caught a sparrow.  The poor little bird was trembling in his hand, and seemed very anxious to escape.  The gentleman begged the boy to let it go…but the boy said he would not, for he had chased it for three hours before he could catch it.  He tried to reason it out with the boy, but in vain.  At last he offered to buy the bird.  The boy agreed to the price and it was paid.  Then the gentleman took the poor little thing, and held it out on his hand…in a little while, it flew away chirping (Best 16).

The purchase and release of the sparrow represents the redemption of souls by the grace of God. Moody also allows the reader make other associations, and think of the weakness of the little bird being like humans without the strength of Christ, and wondering if the sparrow fully appreciated its freedom.  One might also contemplate how the sparrow had no concept of what had transpired, and thus could not feel truly grateful, and that man is often the same way towards God. The reader continues to make associations beyond what the writer develops in the piece, and this is artistic because by understatement, the author causes the reader to think further on the matter.

Moody uses a balloon analogy to speak to believers about how to walk in a manner that is pleasing to God and allows them to meet their full potential:

You know, when a man is going up in a balloon, he takes in sand as ballast, and when he wants to mount a little higher, he throws out some of it, and then he will mount a little higher; he throws out a little more ballast, and he mounts still higher; and the more he throws out the higher he gets, and so the more we have to throw out of the things of this world the nearer we get to God (Best 72).

This analogy is very thought-provoking and clear. The balloon was a familiar mode of travel during Moody’s day which makes it appropriate, and it gives readers a sense of the time period the writer is speaking from. One can also visually see the effect of abstinence and self-denial through this portrayal of the man in the balloon, and how the level of spirituality a man reaches is determined by what he lets go of.  This matter of weight works well in association with the subject of burdens and encumbrances, and the balloon connotes lightness of heart and freedom.  The writer allows the reader to visualize so they can comprehend the principle more clearly, which is quite superior to merely explaining the concept without the illustration.

~♥~

C. S. Lewis (1898-1963):  Scholar of the Divine

Clive Staples Lewis was a highly acclaimed Christian apologist.  He was born and raised in Ireland and as an adult became a faculty member at Oxford University in England. Lewis had been baptized in the Church of Ireland at birth, but gave up his faith during adolescence. Because of Tolkien and other close friends, Lewis returned to Christianity when he was thirty-two. He became known for his strong intellect and ability to debate with spokesmen of different faiths and philosophies.  In an article entitled “How Does C.S.Lewis do Apologetics?” Dr. Pavel Hosek describes Lewis’ appealing style:

As no one else he succeeded in attracting the mind of the unbelieving reader…Many Christians testify that they only learned to really look for heaven after reading Lewis’ books. The way he is able to picture heaven and the spiritual world in general very often enables the reader to taste the heavenly quality, its atmosphere, beauty and splendor (par 11).

Having been an atheist in his younger years, he was especially capable to address a broader audience than most Christian writers, and to consider questions that people ask about God and faith.  While Fox seemed to be an alchemist, and Finney seemed to be a lawyer, Lewis speaks with the voice of a professor addressing other scholars.  He uses metaphor and personification throughout his books, to enable the reader to comprehend the complexities of good and evil in a fallen world.

In Mere Christianity, he illustrates many of his concepts with comparisons to people.  In this segment, he describes what true pride is as compared to humility.  First he says that “Pride leads to every other vice; it is the complete anti-god state of mind.” Then he uses the metaphor of a young girl to illustrate the nature of pride: “What makes a pretty girl spread misery wherever she goes by collecting admirers?  Certainly not her sexual instinct: that kind of girl is quite often sexually frigid.  It is Pride” (Classics 103-104).  The way that Lewis personifies Pride as a careless woman enables the reader to see the true nature of this vice as being senselessly competitive and self-centered.

In his essay called “The Obstinate Tin Soldiers”, he compares people who avoid God to toy soldiers who, like Pinocchio, have come to life:

Did you ever think, when you were a child, what fun it would be if your toys could come to life?  Well suppose you could really have brought them to life.  Imagine turning a tin soldier into a real little man…And suppose the tin soldier did not like it…all he sees is that the tin is being spoilt.  He thinks you are killing him. (Classics 146)

Lewis is using the story to explain how people fear that their lives will be ruined if they allow God to take charge and kill their sinful natures, which really brings them to life. The irony here is hilarious and Kierkegaardian in style, because the toy which was never alive in the first place thinks he has been killed, and was made better but thinks he is ruined. It is humorous to imagine the soldier worrying about its tin being damaged. The story makes it seem silly that humans can feel so threatened by God.  Lewis is the master of creating imaginative metaphors that allow people to laugh at themselves.

In The Great Divorce, Lewis responds to William Blake’s book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and uses the metaphor of divorce to show that good and evil are opposing forces that can never be reconciled.  He uses a simile of a tree whose branches keep separating to illustrate this spiritual principle:

We are not living in a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the centre: rather in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks into two, and each of those into two again, and at each fork, you must make a decision…life is not like a river but like a tree.  It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. (Classics 465)

In this example, Lewis illustrates his belief that all roads don’t lead to Heaven and Christ is not merely another “great teacher.”  Like Kierkegaard, Lewis always seems to be in debating mode and tries to challenge those who think they are too intelligent for God. He always is seeking dialogue with his readers.

~♥~

Donald Miller (1971- present):  Mystical Ringmaster

Donald Miller is a best-selling American author and public speaker from Portland, Oregon. He founded “The Mentoring Project,” a non-profit agency that works with local churches to help fatherless young men. In his memoirs, Miller seems like a literary ringmaster entertaining the reader in a three-ring circus that consists of humor, sensitivity, and spirituality.  In To Own a Dragon, he writes about the emotional problems that are experienced by young men who are raised in the absence of a father figure. He begins by describing a documentary pertaining to elephants in which the narrator describes how young male elephants that lose their fathers become particularly violent and aggressive during their “musth cycle” (puberty):

Occasionally, two elephants in a musth would meet, and the encounter was always violent, going so far as to uproot trees in the fray of their brawl…I couldn’t help but identify…I mean, there were feelings, sometimes anger, sometimes depression, sometimes raging lust, and I was never sure what any of it was about.  I just felt like killing somebody, or sleeping with some girl, or decking a guy in a bar, and I didn’t know what to do with any of these feelings. (32)

Miller juggles sensitivity and humor in this passage, causing the reader to laugh about problems that aren’t innately funny.  He uses the angry young elephants as an analogy for adolescent young men who need paternal care in their lives. He describes how mature male elephants “adopt” young elephants and have a calming effect on them: “The green pus running down his hind leg and his smell like fresh-cut grass alerts an older, fully mature male, that this is a young elephant in need of guidance.  Upon finding a mentor, the young elephant’s musth cycle ends” (33).  Miller then writes of an older male mentor coming into his own life and offering guidance, and extends the analogy into the spiritual realm, explaining that the Heavenly Father can also assume the role of adoptive father and resolve many of these issues for men.

In another of his books entitled Searching for God Knows What Miller describes his own spiritual journey, prefacing the book with a story of being born in a circus surrounded by clowns:

Sometimes I feel as if I were born in a circus, come out of my mother’s womb like a man from a cannon, pitched toward the ceiling of the tent, all the doctors and nurses clapping in delight from the grandstands, the band going great guns in trombones and drums…the smell of popcorn in the air…and all the people chanting my name as my arms come out like wings…the center ring growing enormous beneath my falling weight.

And that is precisely when it occurs to me that there is no net…who is going to rescue me? (ix)

Through the absurd he illustrates the fears about life that surround people from their youth.  He creates the sense of terror by depicting the man coming out of the cannon and discovering he has no net to catch him, and wittily embarks upon the subjects of desperation and divine intervention when he raises the question of who will rescue him.  Miller always performs a graceful balancing act of seriousness and humor, making his writings entertaining and yet profoundly meaningful.

~♥~

Shane Claiborne (1975- present):  Gentle Revolutionary

Shane Claiborne is one of the founders of a New Monastic community called the Potter Street Community (formerly The Simple Way) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Claiborne worked with Mother Teresa during a ten-week term in Calcutta, worked in Baghdad with the Iraq Peace Team.

Shane Claiborne was raised in East Tennessee where he and his family attended an old-fashioned Methodist church.  Being both idealistic and intelligent, he began at an early age to question what all of the activities and programs in his church had to do with Jesus or being a disciple. His sincerity and earnestness toward God are reminiscent of George Fox as a young man, going about questioning the authorities in religion and seeking for the true meaning of “taking up the cross” of Christ. In one of his books called The Irresistible Revolution, he speaks of wanting to follow Christ but not knowing where he could buy a staff.  By merely mentioning the staff in the context of modern life, he accomplishes two things:  He makes the reader laugh, and he puts forth the concept of embarking on a spiritual pilgrimage without the proper equipment.

Most of his writings evoke a sense of conflict internally and externally.  Claiborne uses a metaphor in his chapter entitled “Spiritual Bulimia” to illustrate the growing hunger for God and the fact that he was not being “fed” by the church:

I developed a common ailment that haunts Western Christianity.  I call it spiritual bulimia.  Bulimia, of course, is a tragic eating disorder, largely linked to identity and image, where folks consume large amounts of food but vomit it up before it has a chance to digest.  I developed a spiritual form of it where I did my devotions, read all the new Christian books and saw the Christian movies, and then vomited information up to friends, small groups, and pastors.  But it never had a chance to digest.  I had gorged myself on all the products of the Christian industrial complex but was spiritually starving to death.  I was marked by an overconsumptive but malnourished spirituality, suffocated by Christianity but thirsty for God. (Revolution 39)

Claiborne strengthens his analogy with strong verb metaphors such as “gorged”, “vomited”, “starving”, and “suffocated” as well as strong adjectives like “overconsumptive” and “malnourished”.  These all enhance the metaphor of the spiritual sickness that was tormenting him so that he could not “digest” the truth.

Claiborne uses Babylon as a metaphor for the worldly kingdom that wars with the kingdom of Heaven in his book entitled Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals.  In the chapter “The Empire has No Clothes,” he talks about the spiritual marriage of believers to God and the problem of the church lusting after the world system which is represented in this passage as a prostitute:

John’s language couldn’t be clearer:  we are to “come out” of her literally to pull ourselves out.  Let’s be honest here: this is rated R…Scholars point out that this is erotic language and that the words John uses are the same ones used for coitus interruptus– to interrupt sexual intercourse before climax.  As John is speaking of this steamy love affair with the empire, he calls the church to “pull out of her”– to leave romance with the world and be wooed by God, to remember our first love, to say no to all other lovers. (150)

After quoting John’s metaphor, Claiborne compares worldly desire to a whore who tempts believers into spiritual adultery, and Christ is portrayed as the one true love to whom a believer must always be faithful. This is a very powerful juxtaposition which is easily understood by the reader with all of its connotations.  Claiborne uses his illustrations in attempt to be a catalyst in the church system which he considers to be largely in conflict Christ’s teachings.  Like Bonhoeffer, he advocates monastic life within the secular community, not in an isolated place.

~♥~

Concluding Remarks

The writers and orators in this essay were chosen because of their tireless efforts in the furtherance of God’s kingdom, with particular emphasis on revival and reform.  All of them address people with truthful compassion and concern for their souls, and none of them conform to the status quo religion of the day or are crowd-pleasers. While these authors seldom mention each other, they all are concerned with the common purpose of advancing the Kingdom of God, many of them at the expense of their own comforts and livelihoods.

At times their messages and styles bear striking resemblances to each other. Fox and Claiborne are iconoclasts, seeking to tear down the “graven images” of empty religion and draw believers to a deeper personal spirituality. Spurgeon and Moody both have a gentle chiding style in their writings and sermons. Kierkegaard and Lewis tend to personify God to establish our kinship with him, and they have a more argumentative and logical style which is well-suited for dealing with more scholarly audiences. Like Miller, they are also fond of humor and satire to illustrate their teachings.  Lewis, Fox and Kierkegaard enjoy using fantasy-like style to create fables and allegorical tales. The sense of a hero on a spiritual journey can be found in the writings of several of the mentioned authors, including Fox, Lewis, Miller, and Claiborne, who write their memoirs in a way that the reader can travel with them on their path as they seek answers to life’s questions.

Through artful literary devices, these spiritual authors coax unbelievers to contemplate the divine. Savant states that through metaphor we can open the doorway to the supernatural realm: “Precisely because metaphor suggests meaning or sensibilities beyond quantification–beyond plain-speaking and common sense–it serves as a tool, however imperfect, with which we can open up the mysterious in human life and destiny” (18). While earlier writers used farming and weather images to address people who lived on farms and dealt with seasons, seed times, and harvests, modern authors have evolved and become more scientific, industrial, and sociological. Though the metaphors of spiritual writers change to suit their audience, they continue to recognize that stories and illustrations are a powerful tool to make God and the Spirit realm more tangible.

~♥~

Works Cited

Claiborne, Shane. The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2006. Print.

Claiborne, Shane, and Chris Haw. Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals. Grand Rapids, MI: The Simple Way, 2008. Print.

Edwards, Jonathan. “A Faithful Narrative.” The Works of Jonathan Edwards. Ed. C. C. Goen. New Haven, CT.: Yale UP, 1972. Print.

Finney, Charles. “Charles Finney Systematic Theology.” Finney’s Revivals of Religion: Lecture 3 on How to Promote a Revival. Didaskalos Ministries, n.d. Web. 4 Nov 2010. <http://www.bibleteacher.org/finrev1b.htm#LEC3&gt;.

—. The Autobiography of Charles G. Finney. Condensed and Edited by Helen Wessel. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1977. Print.

Fox, George.”Selected Epistles of George Fox.” Renascence Editions. U of Oregon, 1998.Web. 4 Nov 2010. <http://www.luminarium.org/renascence-editions/foxep.htm&gt;.

—. The Journal of George Fox.  Edited by Rufus Jones. Richmond, IN: Friends UP, 1976. Print.

Graves, Michael P. “Functions of Key Metaphors in Early Quaker Sermons, 1671-1700.” The Quarterly Journal of Speech 69.4 (1983): 364-378. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 24 Nov. 2010.

Hosek, Dr. Pavel. “How Does C.S. Lewis do Apologetics?” (2003): n. pag. European Leadership Forum Research Center. Web. 20 Dec 2010. <http://www.euroleadershipresources.org/resource.php?ID=76&gt;.

Jarman, Mark. “To Make the Final Unity: Metaphor’s Matter and Spirit.” 301-318. Southern Review, 2007. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 24 Nov. 2010.

Kierkegaard, Søren. Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard. Ed. Charles E. Moore.  Farmington, PA:  Plough, 2002. eBook.

—. Kierkegaard Spiritual Writings: A New Translation and Selection by George Pattison. New York: Harper Collins, 2010. 57. eBook.

—. The Journals of Kierkegaard (edited by Alexander Dru. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1959), 324.

Lewis, C. S., The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics. New York: Harper One, 2002. Print.

McKeever, Dr. Joe. “Why We Need Parables.” (2009): n. pag. Web. 20 Dec 2010. <http://www.biblestudytools.com/pastor-resources/11610729.html&gt;.

Miller, Donald. Searching for God Knows What. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004. Print.

Miller, Donald, and John Macmurray. To Own a Dragon: Reflections on Growing Up Without a Father. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006. Print.

Moody, Dwight L. The Best of Dwight L. Moody. 6th Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1971. Print.

Savant, John. “Follow that Metaphor.” Commonweal 132.20 (2005): 17-19. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 24 Nov. 2010.

Spurgeon, Charles H. “Songs in the Night.” Spurgeon Collection on Bible Bulletin Board.  Tony Capoccia, 2004. Web. 4 Nov 2010. <http://www.biblebb.com/files/spurgeon/2558.htm&gt;.

~♥~

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A seventeenth century Quaker missionary was told by the Spirit to go and preach the gospel to a certain house.  He walked to the house and knocked at the door which swung open.  He called out a few times, and he saw through the doorway that no one was home.

So he thought to himself, “The Spirit clearly told me to preach the gospel to this house.”  So he proceeded to preach to the empty house.  After he was done, he departed with a clear conscience.

A couple days later, the missionary was at the marketplace and a man approached him.  He said that he had been in the back yard of the house where the missionary had preached, because he had stopped by to pick up some tools his neighbor had offered to loan him.  Since the front and back doors were open, he heard the gospel message from the back yard.  He gave his life to the Christ that day, because the missionary had been obedient to the Spirit, and had preached to the empty house.

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“The Ministry Of The Unnoticed” : My Utmost For His Highest : HEARTLIGHT ®.

This devotional really resonated with me, especially after reading the latest post by Brother James entitled “Letting Go of Fear” in which he addresses our worries over what people think of us.

Today many people seem to attend church with an agenda of some kind rather than simply to worship, and some use the Gospel and the House of God to magnify themselves instead of God. This passage speaks of the humility that is essential to a true walk with Christ. 

To read Brother James’ thought-provoking and beautiful blog, please visit http://dominicanes.me/.

~♥~

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(From EvangeLegends)

A young college student sat alone in his study and his eyes scanned a globe, when suddenly one little spot on it seemed to light up. He touched it with the tip of his finger. The Spirit told him to go to that place, a remote jungle in South America, to share the Gospel with whoever lived there.  The leading was so clear and certain, that he decided to depart right away.

His parents and friends were terrified about his safety, and tried to persuade him not to go. He only had enough money for a one-way ticket, but he was not concerned.  He packed a small backpack with a few food items and articles of clothing, and bought a plane ticket to the airport nearest to the spot where God told him to go.

When he arrived at the lonely airport and stepped off the plane, he was still a good distance from the spot where he had been told to go.  So he set out walking into the jungle in the middle of nowhere, by himself. After walking for several hours, he became very tired and hungry.  He reached into his backpack for a can of tuna fish he had packed, and he realized that he had not remembered to bring a can opener.  So he picked up various rocks, and tried to use them to open the can.  Nothing seemed to work, but he kept trying.  All he could do was to crush the can, so that the oily liquid from the tuna leaked out.  He drank the juice in discouragement, and continued on his journey.  Soon thereafter, his stomach became very upset and he felt like he might need to vomit.

Just then, a group of small men came running through the trees, and surrounded him.  Their bows and arrows were drawn tight and ready to shoot.  The young man did not know that it was the custom for the eldest member of the tribe to shoot first.  All of the younger men looked at the oldest man, as if waiting for him.  The old man said something in their language, looked at the others disapprovingly, and would not shoot.

The young missionary learned later that the tribe also did not believe in harming anyone who was already ill.  The oldest member of the tribe had told the others in their language “He looks sick to me.” God had made the student forget the can opener and had used that can of tuna to save his life. He otherwise would have been killed by the tribe he sought to minister to.

The natives took him back to their village to help him get well, and they all became very fond of him.  He learned their language and customs, and taught them about Jesus.  The entire tribe eagerly received and believed the Gospel message, and the Word spread throughout the region.

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(From EvangeLegends)

A Quaker missionary went to preach the gospel in a remote part of Alaska, and he found that the Eskimos could not understand the parable of the Good Shepherd, because they had never seen sheep.  As he was trying to figure out how to solve this problem, the Spirit reminded the missionary that the natives herded seals.  So he changed the parable to say, “I am the good seal herder, and I lay down my life for the seals.”  After that, the natives understood the parable perfectly.

~♥~

Parable of the Good Shepherd:  John 10:11-16

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(From EvangeLegends)

A missionary couple began to translate the Bible into the dialect of a certain tribe in Africa, and the whole village was excited when the first mimeographed sheets of the Book of Mark arrived.  The natives gathered in their huts every night to read the scriptures, and one evening they invited the missionaries to come and lead them.  The couple agreed, and after holding a study they visited informally with the people.  They asked one of the native men if he had enjoyed the meeting, and he replied, “It was good, but it isn’t what we normally do.”

“What do you usually do?” the missionary’s wife asked.

“We just read the Word, and go out and do what it says.”

~♥~

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(Intro to EvangeLegends: A Series of Missionary Mementos)

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”  Matthew 13:45-46

If a famous millionaire stood on a street corner and started throwing handfuls of dollars around, can you imagine the stir it would create?  The press would be there and headlines would cover the story and people would forget everyone around them in their desperation to grab as much cash as they could.  There would be viral videos of people trampling one another to get some money.

But very few people have the vision to press through the crowd to lay hold of Jesus, the priceless treasure. Here in America, when a preacher or missionary tells the story of Christ who offered Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, people laugh and mock and walk away.  The atheists create billboards about our sadistic God and useless Savior.

Yet missionaries willingly leave the comfort and safety of the American dream to carry the gospel to other nations.  Imagine what it would feel like to tell someone about Jesus for the very first time, someone who had never even heard of Him before.  At moments like these, the scriptures say that angels celebrate.  I sometimes imagine them leaning in to hear every word. The value of Christ is so immense that it captivates the interest of even the supernatural world.

Not only is it amazing to hear about the mystical experiences on the mission field, but also to learn of new people who have clear vision and voices, who sense His glory with fresh tender hearts.  They seem to see Jesus more purely than those of us who have sleep in our eyes.

Missionary stories have always moved me, because they light a flame of hope inside of me.  As a young student at a Christian college years ago, I hung on every word when a missionary came to chapel services or when any speaker told a story of someone on the mission field; I’ve never been able to forget the stories, even when I forgot the names or places.

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(From “A Cloud of Witnesses”)

Today is September 14, 2008 and I am standing before the church.  I can see Elder Thomas over my right shoulder as he reclines behind the lofty pulpit on a dark carved chair with velvety red upholstery.  To my left, his wife Annie and daughter Sheilah are seated with the church mothers, facing the altar.  I see Mother Lee opening her Bible, Mother General with her handbag tied to her walker, and Mother Hendrieth with weak shaky feet walking slowly down the aisle clinging to the arm of Donquarius.  Here comes Mother Craine towards the front row. The ladies hats are circled with lace and netting and brocade and braids of gold.  Their hats nod as the women whisper softly to one another.

To my right on the other side of the altar are the brothers: Deacon Williams with his stout strong frame, Deacon Hatten leaning forward with his hands on his knees, and Deacon Ronnie  wearing orthopedic pads and braces, while his crutches lean against the pew. His brother, Deacon Sammie stands near the white-gloved ushers at the back of the church.

Directly in front of me, I see Brother and Sister Spotford, who have been married a few months.  Her shoulder rests against his and their fingers are entwined.  Sister Hatten has come in from the kitchen to sit down next to where I usually am seated.  Sister Green, slender and graceful, is surrounded by her four lovely young daughters a few rows back on the right, and her mother rests at the end of the same pew next to the wall.  Sister Angela Passmore sits just in front of her, smiling softly and Sister Bertha is walking out of the office.

These are my brothers and sisters and parents by the Spirit.  Everyone is dressed in white today, because it is Missions Sunday, the second Sunday of the month.  How appropriate it is, considering the words I have been given about the bride. They look like a wedding party.

Today I shall be a mouthpiece for my Father. I have a message from the Spirit.  Two weeks or so ago, I was in prayer when I received this Word.  With apprehension, I asked God to give me a platform if it was truly His will for me to deliver it.  I never like to speak until I am sure.

Then it happened.  Sister Thomas, the pastor’s wife, called me yesterday and asked me to be the speaker this morning.  She said she would email me with the topic and scriptures.  After checking the email several times, I called her to let her know that her message had not come through.  I only had one night to prepare and now she was away from her computer, so she said “Just go ahead and speak on whatever you like.”

That is when I knew it was time.

I prayed earnestly last night, knowing that God had indeed given me the message and the platform.  The burden of the Word weighs heavily in my mind. I have no notes except for a scripture verse on a little card which is in my Bible.  All I can do now is to pray that His Spirit will come out of my mouth and do the work. Now it is time, and I am standing before the people of God.  This moment will always be frozen in my memory, as the day God let me speak with His voice inside of me.

I thank God for this opportunity to speak with you today.  This may come as a surprise to you, but God gave me a message for His people about two or three weeks ago.  I was in prayer by my bed after tossing and turning most of the night, as I kept pondering the state of the church, and why it is so powerless and hated in the world scene. I wondered why our district elder has been in his wheelchair for eleven years, and all of the saints together cannot pray well enough to bring about his healing. I kept crying and asking God, “What is wrong with us?  Where has our power gone?” 

The next morning, I awoke crying again and knelt by my bed and said, “Lord, why am I crying like this?” 

The Spirit of God broke into my thoughts, and said, “Because my heart is breaking, and I am sharing it with you.” 

“Why?” I asked. 

“Because the hearts of My people who are called by My name are not right before me, and I can’t come into my house, because I am holy, and I can’t come into an unholy place.” 

“Why are you telling me this, Lord?” I cried. 

“Because I want you to tell my people that I am holding them responsible for this lost generation, because they are driving people away from My Kingdom.”

I told the Lord that I would speak His words if He gave me a platform, because then I would know that they were true and not just my own imaginings or emotions. 

As you can see, God confirmed his message.  Sister Thomas called me yesterday to ask me to speak, so I am doing as I promised God I would do.

I will call this message today “The Bride of Christ”.

I will begin with a scripture in which Jesus is telling the Pharisees, “It is not enough that you will not enter the Kingdom of God yourselves, but you are also preventing others from entering.  You travel over land and sea to find one convert, and then you make him twice as much a son of Hell as yourselves.” 

Today, churches are still doing the opposite of what Jesus intended them to do. We are driving people away, instead of drawing them in.  The world sees the corruption and greed in the church and wants no part of it. They see through our programs and our polish and see everything for what it is.  Who do we think we are fooling?  We aren’t fooling people.  Or God, for that matter. 

There was a time when the world came to church when they had a need that they could not deal with on their own.  When they had exhausted all of their human powers and needed divine intervention, they came to church.  But now, the church is going into the world looking for what it has to offer.  One elder I know called this “spiritual adultery.”  The church is Christ’s bride, and has no part in the world. 

But we cut on our television and let the world tell us how to dress and wear our hair, how to make more money, and how to have a better sex life.  We have learned money-making skills from the world and are using them in the church. Religion has become a business today, a highly profitable business.

But God doesn’t operate like the world does. We should be focusing on God for all of our needs and letting Him guide us, but we are learning from people who are ruled by a different set of values.  We are citizens of another Kingdom, but we are bowing to the gods of the world. 

People make many excuses for why the church is so worldly.  “The church is a human institution” they say, so it can’t be perfect. But it is not a human institution, and it is supposed to be without a spot or blemish, according to the scriptures. It is a divine institution, and the first time the word “church” appears in the Holy Scriptures is when Jesus spoke of it to Peter and said “Upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” 

The world judges Christ based upon its view of the church, and that is how it will always be, regardless of the excuses we make.  You cannot tell the world to ignore the church and look at Christ.  They know that the church is supposed to be founded upon Jesus. 

The Bride represents the Bridegroom. Married couples represent each other whether they are together in public or apart. Mrs. Spotford here represents Mr. Spotford and he represents her even when they are absent from one another.  

The church is Christ’s Holy Bride, and her only focus should be making herself as pure and beautiful as possible to meet Him. This is all that she should be concerning herself with. Pleasing Christ.

Think about a wedding you have been to.  The anticipation of the Bride is intense.  Have you ever seen a bride looking ugly or ragged?  No, the bride prepares herself to look radiant and graceful and without a blemish.  The crowd enjoys seeing the flower girls, the ring-bearer, and the bridegroom waiting there.  But all eyes are looking for the Bride to come down the aisle.  She is the centerpiece, the jewel of the ceremony.  When the piano plays the bridal march for her coming, the crowd stands and stares at her glorious elegance and beauty. Has anyone seen an ugly bride?  I never have. 

But the Bride of Christ isn’t looking good at all.  She doesn’t even look like a bride.  She looks like something else. (Chuckles come from the congregation.)

The world is looking for a suitable Bride of Christ, and cannot find her.  As long as the Bride is corrupt, the world will continue to play and behave as they do.  When the people of God get serious, the world will follow suit.  When worldly people observe the saints falling at the altar weeping and repenting, they will do the same thing.

We must address the greed and the corruption. God never said that money was a seed of the Kingdom.  The seed was the Word of God.  We must stop trying to sell Jesus and the gospel to people, and stop oppressing the poor by constantly nagging them for money.  When evangelists on television and in our pulpits tell us to sow a seed (referring to money), they just want to reap a harvest.  Jesus said the seed is the Word of God, and the harvest we are seeking is souls.  Not money.  People are being tricked by religious leaders.

Jesus said if we cause one person to stumble and turn away from Him, it would be better to have a millstone tied around our necks and to be cast into the sea.  God is not pleased with His church and the scriptures say that judgment will begin in the house of God. 

I had a dream once that I was standing in a hotel lobby and a man came running in shouting “We need a sanctuary!  We need a sanctuary!”  Then there was a sound of weeping inside one of the hotel rooms down the hallway, and the door was open so I saw the man run inside that room. 

When I awoke, the thought came to me that a hotel room is where you go when you can’t go home.  The Spirit placed the thought in my mind that God cannot go into His House anymore, so He has to go to wherever people really want Him; in the hotel room, on the street corner, in the jail, in the hospital.  

Many times I have felt like giving up on the church, because I am so weary of the lies and deception.  But I love Jesus so dearly. I also love God’s congregation, and I have a vision of the Bride of Christ glowing and drawing people to God with her radiance and beauty and gentleness and love.  I just can’t give up on this vision. I hope that you will help me make this dream come true.

I am going to kneel at the altar now, and you may join me there if you like, but first let me read this scripture from Revelation 19:7-9:

“Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb’”.

It is done and I kneel at the wooden altar, and there I leave some diamond tears as a gift for my Beloved.  He comes to my side and places His invisible hand upon me. He is pleased with my offering today.

Then I feel an arm around my waist and a cheek pressed against mine.  It is Sister Hatten who is kneeling beside me. “That was beautiful,” she says softly.  As I pull myself off my knees, Sister Michelle comes and embraces me tightly, then Brother Spotford, then the pastor.  Elder Thomas’s eyes are sparkly and wet.  “We need more messages like that,” he says with earnestness.

~♥~

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(From “A Cloud of Witnesses”)

Sister Brenda was the wife of Deacon Proctor.  I always loved to hear her rich melodious prayers, and the way she clapped her hands as she prayed on her knees.  She had a beautiful glow about her face, and fiery eyes.

She composed her own spiritual music, and I learned many of her songs.  She and her husband would say that Brenda had a terrible speech impediment before she became a believer, and she used to be ashamed to talk to people.  But she said when she was reading about Moses and his fear of speaking, the Spirit assured her that He would help her.  I couldn’t tell that she had ever had a problem, but the deacon says she stuttered badly at one time.

One day in church, Sister Brenda was testifying and said, “Sometimes when I ask people if they are saved, they tell me they are just to keep me from bothering them anymore.  So now when they say that, I ask them what they were saved from.  If they can’t answer that, they probably aren’t saved.  A person who is truly saved is always anxious to tell people what God delivered them from.”

Once Sister Brenda approached me at church and said, “I dreamed about you last night.  You were climbing up a ladder, and I was right behind you.”

“Wow, that’s a really good dream,” I said. “I hope you haven’t had any dreams about us falling into a pit or anything.”

She laughed and shook her head, saying, “Sister Olive, I would’ve called you if I had a dream like that, and I would’ve said, ‘We need to shape up and get back on track.”

Sister Brenda died before I had finished writing about her. It’s ironical that she reached the top of that ladder ahead of me, and I am still trying not to lose my balance or fall down.

She passed away suddenly one Sunday morning in June.  I was in Tennessee at the time, and Elder Foster called to tell me the bad news.  He said, “As I was driving into the parking lot, I heard sirens and saw the ambulances pulling up,” he said.  “I thought it was one of the older members who had been having health problems, but as I went in, I saw Sister Brenda on the floor in front of the altar and the paramedics working hard trying to revive her.  They finally put her on the stretcher and took her in the ambulance, and she died at the hospital the next day.”  Sister Brenda was among the youngest women in our church, so it was a terrible blow to all of us.

Deacon Proctor lost his mother several weeks after losing his wife, and is still holding on by faith and inner strength. Ella Mae tells me that she finds it almost unbearable for her to hear anyone else sing Sister Brenda’s favorite song in church.  I can still hear it right now in my mind:

Just another day that the Lord has kept me

Just another day that the Lord has kept me

He has kept me from all evil

And my mind stayed on Jesus. 

Just another day that the Lord has kept me

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Sister Shirley is a radiant saint with a gift of mercy.  I have heard her speak about how she loves to visit the elderly people in her neighborhood, and rub them down with oil and give them comfort.  She visits people in the care home and sings songs about Jesus to encourage them.  She doesn’t mind doing the dirtier jobs and dealing with the more aggravating residents who no one else has patience with.  There is one woman who always has stool under her fingernails, and a nasty disposition to go along with it, but Sister Shirley sits by her bed and cleans her nails and talks gently with her.

Sister Shirley has had a lot of tragedy in her life, such as the drowning of her son when he was a teenager.  One Sunday, Deacon Proctor asked her if it was okay for him to speak about her son and she nodded.  But as the deacon talked about being in the hospital room when Sister Shirley’s son died, I saw her glasses fogging up with a mist, and she kept taking them off to clear them.

Sister Shirley was once stabbed by a woman and was taken to the hospital.  The doctor told her that the knife had missed her heart by less than an inch, and that she could have died. The woman who stabbed her has been released from jail and Sister Shirley always speaks to her with kindness whenever she sees her at the grocery store.  The woman glares at her as if she is crazy.

Sister Shirley had a terrible marriage, but remains friends with her ex-husband and often speaks to him about Jesus.  She has a son in prison that clings to her desperately whenever she visits and often calls her just to talk.

Sister Shirley has a quiet faith, despite all of the bad things that have happened to her, and she is a beautiful example of the love and compassion of God.

 ╬

(For More Portraits like this, see “A Cloud of Witnesses” category or page.)

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(From “A Cloud of Witnesses”)

The first time I saw Deacon Wayne in church, I noticed how animated and joyous he was during worship services.  He would have made a great Levite priest in the tabernacle, because they had to wear bells along the hems of their garments, and they were forbidden to stop moving.  If those bells stopped jingling, they would die instantly by the hand of God.  Deacon Wayne was slender and constantly in motion, and was immensely graceful.  His bearded face had an Abe Lincoln honesty to it, and I could always see reflections of Christ in his persona and demeanor.  A few weeks after I met him, I learned that he was the son of Elder and Mother Foster, and this made perfect sense.  He was married to my dear friend Glenda.

Deacon Wayne was an incredible vocalist with the “Men of Faith” singing group.  His voice was rich and deep, and my favorite song that he sang was “My soul loves Jesus.”  He was very modest whenever I complimented him, and would say humbly “Pray for me.”  Whenever I asked him how he was doing, he would say “I’m maintaining.”  I liked this saying very much, because we have to maintain our faith, like we maintain our yard, our car, or our marriage.

Sister Glenda has spiritual dreams, and sometimes they reveal future events. When she first recounted one of her dreams to me, her daughter Tameika was twenty-nine and unmarried and feeling that she would never find a companion.  Tameika had encouraged by her friends to look for a companion through the internet.  She was matched up through a website with a man that she visited, and she found that he was disabled and unable to work or drive.  She told her mother about the man, and Glenda told her that God had something better for her if she would just wait on Him. Tameika told her mother that maybe she should give the man a chance, but her mother discouraged the idea.  Reluctantly, Tameika listened to the advice of her mother, although still thinking of the man.

About this time, Glenda had a beautiful dream.  She dreamt that Tameika was in a gorgeous wedding gown with a huge diamond ring on her finger, and she was just floating with happiness.  In the dream, they were in a church in Blountstown.  She recounted the dream to her Tameika, who didn’t take it very seriously.

A couple of weeks later, in the month of August, Glenda and Tameika were in Blountstown, and a preacher named Christopher came to a house they were visiting. He was immediately attracted to Tameika. The two of them went on a date that same night, and when they returned, the preacher told her family that he had “met his rib”.  The whole family was shedding tears of joy. Glenda told me that the preacher was “just precious” and that she was so happy for her daughter.  Her dream had been fulfilled.  The preacher gave Tameika a ring right after Christmas, proposing to her in front of her parents and sisters.

Tameika married Christopher a few months after, and he relocated.  I had the privilege of hearing him sing in our Mother’s Day service, and he delivered the message the following Sunday.  I can only say that he is amazing and kind and humble.

Another amazing thing to me is that Tameika’s entire family is so musically talented, and so is the preacher!  I have brought my guitar for visits to their house, and we sound like a professional gospel-singing group when we get together. I have learned from them that it is better to wait on God than to try to handle things ourselves, because we can really mess things up on our own.

About a year after their marriage, Deacon Wayne suddenly died. He had just arrived at the paper mill where he worked as a supervisor, and a young woman came in to give him the shift report.  As she began to read it, his whole body began to shake, and then he just slumped over.  The woman called for emergency help, but he died before anything could be done for him.

I remember that Friday night, because the Foster’s were all called out to the hospital from church, and his wife Glenda was supposed to sing a solo that weekend at the district service.  I am told that Deacon Wayne was gone before any of his family arrived at the hospital and no one got to say one single word to him.

His wife recounted the night of his death in great sorrow:

“He worked the graveyard shift at the paper mill, and I cooked him fish for his last supper.  Oh, Sister Olive, he kept telling me he was so tired, and I was trying to encourage him.  I rubbed the bald spot on top of his head while he sat at the table and I kissed him.  I reminded him that it was only two weeks until his vacation.

“Our new home had just been finished, and we were moving everything into it.  As I think of it now, it seemed like he was in an awful hurry to fix it all up, like he knew something was going to happen.  We had been decorating it and dreaming of many years together, and hoping for new grandchildren since our daughter had just gotten married.

“I feel almost like it’s my fault, and that I should have made him stay home, or done something different.”

She described the children crying themselves to sleep at night in their rooms, and how she was torturing herself inwardly. Mother Foster shared her anguish at church openly on several occasions, and Elder Foster suffered more privately. Seeing the grief that this family suffered made me realize that we have to cherish those that we love, because we never know what can happen.  I will always remember Deacon Wayne as a great father and husband and man of God.

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(From “A Cloud of Witnesses)

“Let your speech be always with grace…”  Colossians 4:6

I especially remember Mother Gladys’s straw hat, her faded dresses, and her wooden walking cane. I loved it when she would strike the tambourine and begin singing, “Oh I want to see him, look upon His face…” or “It’s gonna be the crowning day…”  She had a resonant voice, passion for the Lord, and a sweet and humble spirit. She was tall, slender and stately with a broad smile, and it was obvious that she was lovely in her younger days. She had tremendous faith in God and had an air of holiness and grace about her.

After Mother Gladys retired from her job at the school for the deaf and blind, she became the “nurse” of her neighborhood.  People say that she would walk house to house taking care of people who were sick or elderly.  She was always poor, but if you visited her she would go straight to her garden, and give away some of her fresh vegetables.  She never refused anyone the help that they needed.

She was a great encouragement to me personally.  After we had been having tent services for several nights and I had testified a few times, she was the first one to approach me with a warm smile and a hug, and say, “There’s that missionary.”  I felt honored by the way that she said it to me.

Mother Gladys was diagnosed with cancer, but she never lost her faith.  When I went to visit her she said to me, “If the Lord wants me to get up, I will get up, and if He doesn’t, I won’t.”

Whenever people visited her, she would say that she just wanted to “have church”.  Sister Doris says that when people would ask her what songs she wanted to hear, she would say, “Anything with blood in it” (referring to the blood of Jesus).  She never complained about her suffering, because she did not want to cause her family or friends more grief.  So she just stayed in her bed at home, and gradually stopped eating and speaking.  She was a sweet and godly woman her whole life.

I did not know her for long enough, because she died soon after I joined the church. It will be amazing to see her again someday in the Kingdom of God.

~♥~

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(Song Lyrics from Tim Peters)

Tim was one of my favorite musicians at a Christian coffeehouse when I lived in Oregon.  He had a delightful folksy style with a mix of humor and spirituality that I immensely admire.  I previously posted another one of his songs.  He is a very gifted and introverted fellow, and I have enjoyed singing his songs for many years.

Please see the “PAPER ANGELS” page or category for more songs and poems by friends of mine.

~♥~

I’ve been rich, I’ve been poor.

I’ve been thrown out head first through a closed door.

But I decided a long time ago

Aint gonna worry ‘bout it no more.

I’ve seen fools who could pass every test

And crooks that no one could arrest.

I finally took it to the Lord in prayer.

I said “Oh Lord, why must it be

Crooks in high places get off scot-free?”

He said, “Cast all your cares on Him.

Don’t worry about it, Slim.”

~♥~

But I’ve seen cheaters who were doing fine

And good men who had to walk the line.

I asked the Lord, I said, “Will it always have to be this way?”

He said, “I’ll be coming soon.

It may be in the morning, maybe on the first of June.

Don’t worry about some other guy.

He’ll get his by and by.”

I said “Oh Lord, if you’re a loving God,

Then why won’t you give me what I crave?”

He said, “Slim, what do you want with all that worldly trash?

You’ll only end up as its slave.”

~♥~

I said, “Lord, I know that you’ve said

That we must love our enemies,

Forgive if we want to be forgiven.

That’s why I’m down here on my knees.

And though I don’t know the reason why

Little children sometimes have to die,

I know they are with You in Paradise,

Don’t have to worry about it no more.”

~♥~

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“What is the Meaning of the Person of Gandhi the Indian?”

As a man of faith, you are troubled by the thought: what will Providence do with Gandhi? And what is the meaning of the appearance of this strange person among the statesmen and politicians of our time?

A warning from God. That is surely the meaning of the leader of the great Indian nation. Through that person, Providence is showing politicians and the statesmen of the world, even Christian ones, that there are other methods in politics than skill, wiliness and violence…

Fasting, prayer and silence! There is hardly a statesman in Europe or America who would not ironically see these three secrets of the Indian statesmen as three dry twigs pointed on the battlefield against a heap of steel, lead, fire and poison. However, Gandhi succeeds with these three “spells” of his; he succeeds to the astonishment of the whole world. And whether they want to or not, political lawmakers in England and other countries will have to add a chapter into their textbooks: “Fasting, Prayer and Silence as Powerful Weapons in Politics.”…

Those are the three sources of great spiritual power which make man victorious in battle and excellent in life. Is there a man who cannot arm himself with these weapons? And which crude force in this world can defeat these weapons? Of course, these three things do not include all of the Christian faith, but are only a part of its rules, its supernatural mysteries.

Sadly, in our time, among Christians, many of these principles are disregarded, and many wonder-working mysteries are forgotten. People have started thinking that one wins only by using steel, that the hailing clouds are dispersed only by cannons, that diseases are cured only by pills, and that everything in the world can be explained simply through electricity. Spiritual and moral energies are looked upon almost as working magic.

I think that this is the reason why ever-active Providence has chosen Gandhi, an unbaptized man, to serve as a warning to the baptized, especially those baptized people who pile up one misfortune on another upon themselves and their peoples by using ruthless and harsh means.

(This letter was written by St. Nicholas Velimirovic to a British Noble named “Charles B.”)

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~♥~

The lady doesn’t get to know Rodney very well because he starts coming to discipleship meetings only a short time before he is released.  He has a great sense of humor and lightens up the mood whenever he comes in. Iris would never have known that he had experienced so much neglect and abuse if he had not told her, because he is always so jovial.  It is always a delight to see him make the suicidal and emotionally disturbed youth laugh and play.

Like many other young men in the detention center, he has been committing crimes since the death of a family member that he deeply loved. In this case it was his stepfather, the only one who took time with him and taught him anything.

He describes how the family was all gathered at the hospital, and Rodney stepped out to use the restroom.  He came back and his “daddy” had died.  Rodney says he went crazy in the room, yelling and throwing things, and security had to take him away.  He says that he could never forget that moment because if he had known, he would have kissed his daddy on the cheek and told him he loved him first.  But he can never go back, and it hurts him deeply.

Yet Rodney is very cheerful and always expresses his gratitude to God.

He said one thing to Iris that she can never forget.

He said, “I believe that if you gave me an empty cup and asked me to drink from it, I would drink it because I know that the Holy Ghost would be in the cup and it would help me.”   The lady took out her lavender handkerchief when he said it and dabbed her eyes.  She still gets misty-eyed when she thinks of the kind of trust that he had in her.

~♥~

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My father told me a beautiful story of how they celebrate and reenact Good Friday and Easter in Mallorca, Spain where he lives.  First, they choose a young man from the village to portray Christ.  Then they choose other villagers to play the Roman soldiers and the two thieves and other important characters.

The young man in his complete costume with his robe and crown of thorns carries the cross throughout the village and he pauses to reenact the stations of the cross.  When he arrives at “Golgotha” he is crucified between the two thieves, and when he dies, all of the village churches darken their lights until Sunday morning.  On Easter morning, the bells chime and all the lights are cut on for sunrise services.

When I heard this story, I thought how sad it is that in America, which is known throughout the world for freedom, we are restricted from religious festivities in public places, and how much I would love to see such a beautiful event in my own country.

I want to wish everyone a meaningful Good Friday and Easter, as we commemorate the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ in our own hearts.  These events are so inexplicable and unspeakably beautiful that I will not even attempt to compete with greater minds on this subject.  I will simply ask that you contemplate the force of divine love behind these events this weekend with me and others around the world, and give thanks for all that was accomplished by Christ for every one of us.

As it says in one of my favorite hymns:

They bound the hands of Jesus in the garden where He prayed,

They led Him through the streets in shame,

They spat upon my Savior, so pure and free from sin,

They said “Crucify Him! He’s to blame.”

 

Upon His precious head they placed a crown of thorns,

They laughed and said behold the King,

They struck Him and they pierced Him, and they mocked His holy Name,

Alone He suffered everything.

 

(Chorus)

He could have called ten thousand angels

To destroy the world and set Him free.

He could have called ten thousand angels

But He died alone for you and me.

~♥~

 

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Here’s another poem from one of my “Paper Angels”

~♥~

I saw the omnipotent’s flaming pioneers

Over the flaming verge which turns towards life

Come crowding down the amber stairs of birth;

Forerunners of a divine multitude,

Out of the morning star they came

Into the little room of mortal life.

I saw them cross the twilight of an age,

The sun-eyed children of a marvelous dawn,

The great creators with wide brows of calm,

The massive barrier breakers of the world,

And wrestlers with destiny in her lists of will,

The labourers in the quarries of the gods,

The messengers of the Incommunicable,

The architects of immortality.

Into the fallen human sphere they came,

Faces that wore the immortal glory still,

Voices that communed still with the thoughts of God,

Bodies made beautiful by the spirit’s light,

Carrying the magic word, the mystic fire,

Carrying the Dionysian cup of joy,

Approaching eyes of a diviner man,

Lips chanting an unknown anthem of the soul,

Feet echoing in the corridors of Time.

High priests of wisdom, sweetness, might, and bliss,

Discoverers of beauty’s sunlit ways,

And swimmers of Love’s laughing fiery floods,

And dancers within rapture’s golden doors,

Their tread shall one day change the suffering earth,

And justify the light on Nature’s face.

~♥~

By Pamela

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An old friend of mine named Margaret gave me this poem years ago, and I find it to be appropriate with Spring upon us.  I don’t know if it’s just me, but I read deeper spiritual meaning into this piece, and a tale of the ongoing warfare between darkness and light. And the King reminds me of Someone too.

Margaret may not have intentionally depicted this struggle, but I’m curious if you can see it too…

~♥~

The lady of the forest rode

Beyond her green land strand.

She sought to find the king’s highway

And come upon his land.

She wished to reach the castle keep,

And speak unto the king

Who held within his castle walls

A key, a song, a ring.

She rode upon a palfrey bold

Who trappings were of chains of gold.

And in her arms she gently bore

A book of tales of old.

A sorrow lay upon her brow

That once had been so clear

And pain was grieving her swift eyes,

Leaving them cold and sere;

For the man with the twisted stick

Who hobbled through the land

Had left her trees ungreened and dead,

Had chilled them with his hand.

His beard was long and purely white,

And round his brown he wore

A frozen band of clear crystal

That glittered edge to core.

He left behind him cold white tracks

That filled with cold white snow,

And he cast aside with careless aim

Red berries there to grow.

Upon his shoulder a raven sat

As black as starless sky,

And croaked into his ancient ear

All tales of far and nigh.

The lady of the forest rode

Up to the good king’s keep,

And called and cried to be let in

To tell why she did weep.

He asked her then what was her haste

To which she did reply,

The twisted man who held a stick

Made everything to die:

He came in greyness and in white,

Was ravager of gardens,

And gentle though she always was,

She could not give him pardon.

Not knowing name for such a one,

In herself she called him grief,

For he destroyed all that he saw,

And she now sought relief.

The wise king was a gentle man,

And knew her heart’s hard plight.

He knew her love of living things,

How she guarded with her might

The heather nests of newborn fawns,

The dim dawn’s first grey light,

The fragile wings of silver moths,

The fragrance of the night.

Yet there was nothing he could to

To drive the man away,

For only Time has power enough

To make him come or stay.

And Time who waits upon the hill

Has never heeded mortal call

But sifts the sands by his own whim,

Controlling redemption, rise and fall.

The lady of the forest felt

Some comfort from the king,

For the named Old Man Winter,

He promised her that Spring

Would follow at his heels,

And dance the gardens from the ground,

For Winter had power but for awhile

To whiten sight and sound.

But Spring, renewer, giften green

Upon the weary Earth,

Would bring an end to sorrow’s rule,

To coldness, death, and dearth.

Winter, the man so bent with age,

Whose glance freezes and touch kills,

Will know the end of his long rule,

And will return to the hollow hills.

He will leave the forest and the rills,

And hobble back to the hollow hills.

By Margaret

~♥~

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“The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds…” Isaiah 1:5-6

I have read many blogs that have struck a chord with me and I have admired them very much, but one woman has opened my eyes to a world that no one should ever have to experience.

Stella Marr began visiting my blog recently, so I decided to visit hers and see what she was writing about.  I was shocked and horrified by her personal stories.  Stella is a former prostitute who writes about her ordeal with anguish and bravery, and her voice is immensely important in this time when our world has become so hypersexual. This subject resonates with me because I was molested and misused by numerous men during my childhood years.

One of Stella’s most poignant writings is entitled “An Ex-Hooker’s Letter to Her Younger Self.”  Please read it here:  http://secretlifeofamanhattancallgirl.wordpress.com/

Jesus always stood up for women who were victimized in society and He restored their dignity. As a Christian, I feel that we should encourage and comfort people like Stella who are using their voices to try to put an end to great evils, in this case the horror of sex trafficking. Because she has endured so much injustice and is brave enough to come forward with her story to try to help others, I would like to nominate her for the HUG (Hope Unites Globally) Award.

I admire you, Stella!  I pray that you will find comfort and peace in Christ and that you will hear His voice calling your name…

“Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…I am gentle and humble at heart and you shall find rest for your souls.”  Matthew 11:28

~♥~

Here are the guidelines for the award: http://ahopefortoday.com/2012/01/14/hope-unites-globally-hug-award-guidelines/

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(The Iris Diaries)

“And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy.” Hosea 2:19

A lady with silver hair dropped her lilac-colored slippers beside her bed, and crawled under the lavender chenille bedspread.  She dreamed that she was traveling on a familiar path with a group of hikers.  There was a deep sense of peace as they all walked together and talked with soft voices.  The grass and trees were lush and green, and they came to a brook with pebbles and rocks in it.

The lady was slower than the other hikers and afraid that her feet might slip.  The guide stopped everyone and came back to where she was struggling along.  She recognized him from another dream!  He held out his hand and walked with her through the water to the other side, and she felt the strength of his arms as he held her up.

She asked him, “Are we still headed north?”  “Yes”, he said, “sometimes it may not look like it, because the road winds around at times, but you can rest assured that we are still headed the right way.”

Then the leader addressed the group, “Some people are going to be passing us in a moment.  Just ignore them.  Don’t listen to anything they tell you.”

Just then, a strange crowd drifted by.  They were flat and fluttered in the breeze as if they were cut out of paper.  Their faces were very odd and evil in appearance.  They were headed the opposite direction, and laughed as they passed the hikers, saying, “What’s wrong with you guys?  You’re heading the wrong direction.  Can’t you see that?  How stupid can you be?”  They kept laughing wickedly, and the lady was glad when they had passed by. Everyone trusted the guide and whatever he said, and there was a beautiful sense of love and unity among the travelers.

The lady woke up with a familiar feeling of peace around her.  She had often visited this world of warmth and brightness in her dreams, and felt that she belonged in these idyllic forests and meadows with soft pastel skies and dew sparkling on the flowers.

Sometimes a beautiful fox would appear, and she would run like a child laughing out loud as she chased it. In her recurring dreams she was young and strong, and her heart would ring with joy as she ran.

One night, she dreamed that she was at a beautiful wedding banquet and she recognized a man that she knew.  He had on exquisitely lovely garments when she saw him, made of unearthly looking fabrics in rich hues.

She also dreamed once that the stones in her rings were all being removed and replaced with new stones.  She saw the most incredible gems she had ever seen, and she was told that she could pick anything that she wanted.

Once she dreamed she had been serving the familiar man, when he suddenly made her sit down and he massaged her feet, and asked her how she was doing.  She was astonished by this act of humility, because she only wanted to serve him. He gave her a diamond ring that had been glowing on his own right hand, and light was streaming from the stone in golden threads.  He said that he would only give the most beautiful gems to his daughter or his bride.

The lady woke up shivering with joy and peace, and tears sparkled in her eyes.  She loved this man more than life itself.  In a previous dream, she had asked him the way to the gates of the city, and he had handed her a key without giving directions, as if she already knew how to get there.

Now she possesses two priceless gifts- a key and a ring.

“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.”  John 14:1-4

~♥~

Photo came from Simply Orthodox ☦

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I wish to thank my old friend, Sparrow, for this treasure he gave to me many years ago.  While the language is very simple in its style, the undercurrents are very deep and powerful.

 

You know, I’d do anything to make people think about Jesus;

I’d walk on nails or go down in the ground.

Cause when they see His face and they understand

That He’s us,

Then they’ll know that Jesus is all around.

I met a brother on the path

And he started to laugh.

He said, “This path leads in Circles,

Round and round.”

I said I had to agree,

But I asked him, “Can’t you see

That it’s not the path

But the way that you walk that counts?”

I met a sister deep in prayer

And her face was lined with care.

She said, “When will they

Let me out of this cage?”

And I told her, “The cage is you,

And you’re the keeper too.

And you’ll let yourself out

When you see there’s no one to blame.”

I’d do anything to make people think about Jesus;

I’d walk on nails and go down

In the ground.

Cause when they see His face and they understand

That He’s us,

They’ll know that Jesus is all around.

(Jesus gonna shut you down.)

Jesus is all around.

By Sparrow

~♥~

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QUESTIONS?

Don’t go ’round confused– if you have anything you wish to ask me about my faith, my life, or my statements, please ask me.  I would like to have more dialogue with my readers, and to clarify anything that may be unclear.

If I am able to answer your question, I will do so in the most conscientious manner possible. Be aware that I don’t haggle over non-essential doctrine or anything that might create unnecessary controversy or division in the Body of Christ. We need more unity, and less fragmentation.

Also, it goes without saying-  I don’t know everything…don’t ask me the stuff your two-year old is asking you, like “How did God get here in the first place?” and “How come everything isn’t perfect?”  I might try to answer and make a real fool out of myself, but you wouldn’t want that, now would you?

So now that we’ve cleared up the ground rules, I am going to start a page entitled “Dear Olive,” so you can submit your inquiries using the “comment” link.

Peace Be With You,

Sister Olive

~♥~

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Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?  I Corinthians 6:19

There was a time in my life that I realized that I could not defend my faith, and it took only a few questions from an unbeliever to make me completely fall apart. I knew that I loved Christ and that I believed, but I could not explain why to a non-Christian.  It really bothered me.  I know there are many things we can never answer, that will always remain mysterious.

I am not one to haggle over doctrine, and before I followed Christ it always turned me off  to hear people reciting the same phrases and answers to everything I asked them. We are not supposed to be programmed like robots. Having said that, I knew that I needed to be able to say something meaningful to people who inquired in a sincere way about Christ. And I had to have a compassionate human voice.

We are spiritual buildings and temples of the Holy Ghost- our bodies actually are the church!  The scriptures say that we have a solid foundation, which is Christ, but some of us have never built upon it with even a few stones, or perhaps we have used only the cheapest materials.  When the winds of trouble begin to blow or the sands of confusion shift, we collapse and have to start all over.

This story is an example of one man who constructed a powerful spiritual cathedral that was truly unshakeable. It inspires me to be all I can be for the sake of Christ and the Gospel.

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. I Corinthians 3:10-11

~♥~

One morning, the Elder (Geronda) Epiphanios Theodoropoulos was in a conversation with 2-3 visitors at his home. One of them was an ideological atheist and a communist.  Suddenly, someone from outside came rushing in, and informed them that the city of Athens had been flooded with photographs of Mao Tse Tung, with the inscription “Glory to the great Mao”. It was the day that the Chinese dictator had died.

Geronda Epiphanios: That’s the way things are, my child.  Atheists do not exist.  Only idolaters exist, who take down Christ from His throne and in His place they enthrone their own idols.  We say: “Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”.  They say: “Glory to the great Mao”.  You pick and choose which one you prefer.

Atheist: You also choose your drug, grandpa. The only difference is, that you call it Christ, others call it Allah, or Buddha, etc. etc…

Geronda Epiphanios: My child, Christ is not a drug. Christ is the Creator of the entire universe. He is the one Who governs everything wisely, from the multitudes of infinite galaxies, down to the minutest particles of the microcosm. He has given life to all of us.  He is the One Who brought you into this world and has bestowed you with so much freedom, that you can actually doubt Him, and even deny Him.

Atheist: Grandpa, its your right to believe in all of those things.  But that doesn’t mean they are true.  Do you have any proofs?

Geronda Epiphanios: You think all of this is just a fairy tale, don’t you?

Atheist: Naturally.

Geronda Epiphanios: Do you have any proof that it is a fairy tale? Can you prove that what I believe is false?

Atheist: ……………….

Geronda Epiphanios: You didn’t reply, because you don’t have any proof either.  Which means, you believe they are fairy tales.  I spoke to you of believing, when I referred to God; you, however, although rejecting my belief, essentially believe in your faithlessness, since you cannot back it up with proofs either. However, I must tell you that my belief is not something “out of the blue”; There are certain supernatural events, upon which it is founded.

Atheist: Just a minute! Since we are talking about believing, what would you say to Muslims or Buddhists for example?  Because they also talk about believing. And they too have high moral standards.  Why is your belief better than theirs?

Geronda Epiphanios: So! The criterion of the truth is supposedly judged by this question of yours?  Because the truth is most certainly one; truths cannot be many in number. The thing is, who is the possessor of the truth? That is the major question. Hence, it is not a matter of a better or worse belief! It is a matter of the only true belief!

I agree, that other beliefs also have moral teachings. Naturally, Christianity’s moral teachings are incomparably superior. But, we do not believe in Christ because of His moral teachings. Or for His prompting to “Love one another,” or for His sermons on peace and justice, freedom and equality. We believe in Christ, because His presence on earth was accompanied by supernatural events, which was a sign that He is God.

Atheist: Look, I also admit that Christ was an important philosopher and a great revolutionary, but let’s not make Him a God now……

Geronda Epiphanios: My dear child!  All the great disbelievers in history were snagged by that detail.  The fishbone that stuck in their throat, which they just couldn’t swallow, was exactly that:  That Christ is also God.

Many of them were willing to say to God: “Don’t tell anyone that You are God incarnate; Just say that You’re an ordinary human, and we shall be more than ready to deify you. Why do You want to be an incarnate God, and not a deified human?  We are willing to glorify You, to proclaim You as the greatest among men, the holiest, the most ethical, the noblest, the unsurpassable, the one and only, the unprecedented…  Isn’t that enough for You ?

Ernest Renan –he was the head of the chorus of deniers- thunders out the following, with regard to Christ: “For tens of thousands of years, the world shall be uplifted through You”, and “You are the cornerstone of mankind; if one were to wrench Your name away from this world, it would be like shattering its foundations” and “the aeons shall proclaim that amongst the sons of men, never was there born anyone that could surpass You”.  But this is where Renan and his likes stop. Their very next phrase is: “But a God, You are not!”

And those poor wretches cannot perceive that all of these things constitute an indescribable tragedy!  Their dilemma is inevitably relentless: Either Christ is an incarnate God, in which case, He is indeed, only then, the most ethical, the holiest and noblest personage of mankind, or, He is not an incarnate God, in which case, He cannot possibly be any of these. In fact, if Christ is not God, then we are talking about the most horrible, the most atrocious and the most despicable existence in the history of mankind.

Atheist: What did you just say?

Geronda Epiphanios: Exactly what you heard!  It may be a weighty statement, but it is absolutely true. And I will tell you why.

Let me ask: What did all the truly great men say about themselves, or what opinion did they have of themselves ?

The “wisest of all men”, Socrates, proclaimed that “I came to know one thing: that I know nothing”.

All the important men in the Old and New Testament, from Abraham and Moses, through to John the Baptist and the Apostle Paul, characterized themselves as “earth and ashes”, “wretches”, “monstrosities”, etc…. [1]

But, strangely enough, Jesus’ attitude is quite the opposite!  And I say strangely enough, because it would have been natural and logical for Him to have a similar attitude. In fact, being far superior and surpassing all others, He should have had an even lower and humbler opinion of Himself [2].  Ethically more perfect than any other, He should have surpassed everyone and anyone in self-reproach and humility, from the moment of the world’s Creation to the end of Time.

But, the exact opposite is observed!

First of all, He proclaims that He is sinless: “Who among you shall check Me for sin?” (John, 8:46). “The lord of this world is coming, and he can find nothing in Me.”  (John, 14: 30)

He also pronounces very high ideas of Himself: “I am the light of the world” (John, 8, 12);  “I am the path and the truth and the life”  (John, 14: 6).

But, apart from these, He also projects demands of absolute dedication to His Person.  He even penetrates the holiest of man’s relationships, and says: “Whomsoever loves their father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me. and whomsoever loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew, 10: 37).  “I came to turn man away, against his father, and the daughter against her mother and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Matthew, 10: 35).  He even demands a life and a death of martyrdom from His disciples: “They shall deliver you to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you shall be dragged before leaders and kings for My sake…. And brother shall deliver his brother to death and the father his son, and the children shall revolt against their parents and shall put them to death…. And you shall be hated by everyone, for my namesake…. And he that shall endure to the end, he shall be saved…. Do not fear those who destroy the body….. Whomsoever shall deny Me before mankind, I too shall deny him…. Whomsoever has forfeited his soul for My sake, shall recover it” (Matthew, 10: 17 onward).

And now I ask you:  Has anyone ever dared to demand for himself the love of mankind, forsaking their very life? Has anyone ever dared to proclaim his absolute sinlessness?  Has anyone ever dared to utter the words: “I am the truth”? (John, 14: 6)  No-one, and nowhere!  Only a God can do that. Can you imagine your Marx uttering things like that?  They would take him for a lunatic and nobody would be willing to follow him!

Now, just consider, how many people sacrificed everything for Christ’s sake, even their very life, having believed in the veracity of His words regarding Himself!  If His proclamations about Himself were false, Jesus would have been the most despicable character in history, for having led so many people to such a huge sacrifice!  What ordinary man – no matter how great, how important, how wise he may be – would deserve such a tremendous offer and sacrifice?  Well?  No-one!  Not unless he were God!

In other words: Any ordinary man that would demand such a sacrifice from his followers would have been the most loathsome person in history.  Christ, however, both demanded it, and achieved it. Yet, despite this ‘achievement’, He was proclaimed by the very deniers of His divinity as the noblest and holiest figure in history.  So, either the deniers are being illogical when they proclaim this most loathsome figure as “holiest”, or, in order to avoid any illogicality, and to rationalize the co-existence of Christ’s demands and His holiness, they must concede to accepting that Christ continues to remain the noblest and holiest figure in mankind, but, only under the condition that He is also God!  Otherwise, as we said, He would be, not the holiest, but the most loathsome figure in history, being the cause of the greatest sacrifice of all ages, and in the name of a lie!  Thus, Christ’s divinity is proved by His very deniers, on the basis of those very characterizations of His person!

Atheist: What you just said is really very impressive, but it is nothing but speculation. Do you have any historical facts that would confirm His Divinity?

Geronda Epiphanios: I told you at the beginning, that the proofs of His Divinity are the supernatural events that took place while He was here on earth.  Christ did not rest on the proclamation of the above truths alone; He certified His statements with miracles as well.  He made blind people see and cripples walk; He satisfied the hunger of five thousand men and manifold numbers of women and children with only two fish and five loaves of bread; He commanded the elements of nature and they obeyed; He resurrected the dead, amongst which was Lazarus, four days after his death. But the most astounding of all his miracles was His own Resurrection.

The entire edifice of Christianity is supported on the event of the Resurrection.  This is not my speculation. The Apostle Paul said it: “If Christ had not risen (from the dead), our faith would be futile”. (Corinthians I, 15: 17).  If Christ is not resurrected, then everything collapses. But Christ was resurrected, which means He is the Lord of life and death, therefore God.

Atheist: Did you see all of this?  How can you believe it?

Geronda Epiphanios: No, I didn’t see any of it, but others did: the Apostles. They in turn made this known to others, and they actually “signed” their testimony with their own blood. And, as everyone acknowledges, a testimony of one’s life is the supreme form of testimony.

Why don’t you likewise bring me someone, who will tell me that Marx died and was resurrected, and that he is willing to sacrifice his life in order to testify it?  I, as an honest man, will believe him.

Atheist: I will tell you. Thousands of communists were tortured and died for their ideology.  Why don’t you embrace communism in the same way?

Geronda Epiphanios: You said it yourself.  Communists died for their ideology. They didn’t die for real events.  In an ideology, it is very easy for deception to seep through; and because it is a characteristic of the human soul to sacrifice itself for something it believes in, this explains why so many communists died for their ideology. But that doesn’t compel us to accept this ideology as something true.

It is one thing to die for ideas, and another to die for events.  The Apostles didn’t die for any ideas.  Not even for the “Love one another”, or any of the other moral teachings of Christianity. The Apostles died for their testimony of supernatural events. And when we say ‘event’, we mean that which is captured by our physical senses, and is comprehended through them.

The Apostles suffered martyrdom for “that which they heard”, “that which they saw with their own eyes”, “that which they observed and their hands touched” (John I, 1) [3]

Just like the clever speculation by Pascal, we say that one of the three following things happened to the Apostles: either they were deceived, or, they deceived us, or, they told us the truth.

Let’s take the first case.  It is not possible for the Apostles to have been deceived, because everything that they reported was not reported to them by others. They themselves were eye and ear witnesses of all those things. Besides, none of them were imaginative characters, nor did they have any psychological inclination that made them accept the event of the Resurrection.  Quite the contrary – they were terribly distrustful.  The Gospels are extremely revealing, in their narrations of their spiritual dispositions: they even disbelieved the reassurances that some people had actually seen Him, resurrected.

And one other thing. What were the Apostles, before Christ called them?  Were they perhaps ambitious politicians or visionaries of philosophical and social systems, who were longing to conquer mankind and thus satisfy their fantasies?  Not at all.  They were illiterate fishermen. The only thing that interested them was to catch a few fish to feed their families.  That is why, even after the Lord’s Crucifixion, and despite everything that they had heard and seen, they returned to their fishing boats and their nets. In other words, there was not a single trace of disposition in these men for the things that were to follow.  It was only after the day of the Pentecost, “when they received strength from on high” that they became the teachers of the universe.

The second case:  Did they deceive us?  Did they lie to us?  But then, why would they deceive us?  What would they gain by lying?  Was it money? Was it status?  Was it glory?  For someone to tell a lie, he must be expecting some sort of gain.  The Apostles though, by preaching Christ – and in fact Christ crucified and resurrected – the only things that they secured for themselves were: hardships, labours, lashings, stonings, shipwrecks, hunger, thirst, nakedness, attacks from robbers, beatings, incarcerations and finally, death.  And all this, for a lie?  It would be undoubtedly foolish for anyone to even consider it.

Consequently, the Apostles were neither deceived, nor did they deceive us. This leaves us with the third choice: that they told us the truth.

I should also stress something else here:  The Evangelists are the only ones who recorded true historical events. They describe the events, and only the events. They do not resort to any personal judgments.  They praise no-one, and they criticize no-one.  They make no attempt to exaggerate an event, nor eliminate or underestimate another.  They let the events speak for themselves.

Atheist: Are you excluding the possibility that in Christ’s case, it was just an incident of apparent death?  The other day, the newspapers had written about someone in India whom they buried and three days later they exhumed him and he was still alive.

Geronda Epiphanios: My poor child!  I will recall the words of the blessed Augustine again:  “O faithless ones, you are not actually mistrustful; indeed, you are the most gullible of all.  You accept the most improbable things, and the most irrational, the most contradictory, in order to deny a miracle!”

No, my child. It was not a case of apparent death with Christ. First of all, we have the testimony of the Roman centurion, who reassured Pilate that Christ’s death was a certainty.

Then, our Gospel informs us that on the same day of His Resurrection, the Lord was seen talking with two of His disciples, walking towards Emmaus, which was more than ten kilometers away from Jerusalem.

Can you imagine someone, who could go through all the tortures that Christ underwent, and three days after His “apparent death”, spring back again?  If anything, he would have to be fed chicken soup for forty days, in order to be able to open his eyes, let alone walk and talk as though nothing had happened!

As for the Hindu, bring him here to be flogged with a scourge – do you know what a scourge is? It is a whip, whose lashes each have a lead chunk or a piece of broken bone or sharp nails attached to their end – bring him here, so we can flog him, then force a crown of thorns on his head, crucify him, give him bile and vinegar to drink, then pierce his side with a spear, put him in a tomb, and then, if he comes back from the dead, then we can talk.

Atheist: Even so, but all the testimonies that you have invoked belong to Christ’s Disciples.  Is there any testimony on this matter, that doesn’t come from the circle of His Disciples?  Are there any historians for example, who can certify Christ’s Resurrection?  If so, then I will also believe what you say.

Geronda Epiphanios: You poor child!  You don’t know what you’re saying now!  If there had been such historians who had witnessed Christ resurrected, they would have been compelled to believe in His Resurrection and would have recorded it as believers, in which case, you would again have rejected their testimony, just like you rejected Peter’s testimony, John’s testimony, etc.  How can it be possible, for someone to actually witness the Resurrection and yet, NOT become a Christian?  You are asking for a roasted fowl, on a waxen skewer, that also sings!  It just can’t be done !

I will remind you though – because you are asking for historians – of what I said earlier: that the only true historians are the Apostles.

Nevertheless, we do have testimony of the kind that you want; and it is by someone who didn’t belong to the circle of His Disciples: it was Paul.  Paul not only wasn’t a Disciple of Christ, he actually persecuted Christ’s Church relentlessly.

Atheist: They say that Paul suffered from sunstroke and that it was the cause of his hallucination.

Geronda Epiphanios:  My child, if Paul was hallucinating, the thing that would have come to the surface, would have been his subconscious.  And in Paul’s subconscious, the Patriarchs and the Prophets would have been top ranking.  He would have hallucinated about Abraham, and Jacob and Moses, and not Jesus, whom he considered a rabble-rouser and a fraud!

Can you imagine a faithful old granny seeing Buddha or Jupiter in her dream or delirium?  She would most probably see Saint Nicholas or Saint Barbara, because she believes in them.

One more thing. With Paul, we have –as Papini notes- the following miraculous phenomena:  First of all, the abruptness of his conversion. Straight from faithlessness to faith.  With no intermediate preparatory stage.  Secondly, the steadfastness of his faith. No wavering, no doubts.  And thirdly, his faith lasted for a whole lifetime.  Do you believe that all these things can occur after a case of sunstroke?  They can in no way be attributed to such a cause.  If you can explain how, then explain it.  If you can’t, then you must admit the miracle.  And you must know that for a man of his time, Paul was exceptionally well-educated. He was not your average little person, who was totally clueless.

I will also add something else.  We today, my child, are living in an exceptional era. We are living the miracle of Christ’s Church.

When Christ said of His Church that “the gates of Hades shall not overpower Her” (Matthew 16:18), His followers were very few in number. Almost two thousand years have passed, since that day. Empires vanished, philosophical systems were forgotten, world theories collapsed. But Christ’s Church remains indestructible, despite the continuous and dramatic persecutions it has undergone. Isn’t that a miracle?

And one final thing.  In Luke’s Gospel it says that when the Holy Mother visited Elizabeth (the Baptist’s mother) after the Annunciation, she was greeted with the words: “blessed are you amongst women”.  And the Holy Mother replied as follows: “My heart magnifies the Lord. Behold, from this moment on, all generations shall call me blessed” (a’ 48).

What was the Holy Mother at that time?  She was just an obscure daughter of Nazareth. How many knew her?  And yet, since that day, empresses have been forgotten, distinguished women’s names have been extinguished, the mothers and wives of great generals went into oblivion. Who remembers, or even knows, Napoleon’s mother or Alexander the Great’s mother? Almost no-one.  But, millions of lips across every length and breadth of the world, throughout the ages, venerate that humble daughter of Nazareth, the “more precious than the Cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim”.  Are we, or aren’t we –the people of the twentieth century– living in this day and age the verification of those words of the Holy Mother?

The exact same things are observed in a “secondary” prophecy of Christ:  While He was staying at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him and poured her expensive fragrant oil over His head. Christ commented: “Amen, verily I say to you, that wherever this gospel will be preached in the world, it will also mention what this woman did, in her memory” (Matthew, 26: 13).  Now, how large was His circle of followers at the time, so that one could say that they outdid themselves in order that their Master’s prophecy be fulfilled?  Especially a prophecy such as this one, which, by today’s world standards, is of no importance to most people.

Are they or aren’t they miracles?  If you can, explain them.   But if you can’t, then admit them as such.

Atheist: I have to admit that your arguments are pretty solid. But I would like to ask you one more thing:  Don’t you think that Christ left His work unfinished?  That is, unless He deserted us.  I can’t imagine a God that would remain indifferent to mankind’s suffering.  We are down here toiling, while He, up there, remains apathetic.

Geronda Epiphanios: No, my child.  You aren’t right. Christ did not leave His work unfinished.  On the contrary, He is the one unique case in history where a person has the certainty that His mission was accomplished, and had nothing further to do or to say.

Even the greatest of philosophers, Socrates, who discussed and taught during his whole lifetime, and towards the end composed an intricate “Apology”, would have even more to say, if he had lived.

Only Christ – in the time bracket of three years – taught what He had to teach, did what He had to do, and finally said (on the Cross): “It is finished”.  Another sample of His divine perfection and authority.

As for the abandonment that you mentioned, I can understand your concern.  Without Christ, the world would be a theatre of insanity.  Without Christ, you cannot explain anything: why are there sorrows, why injustices, why failures, why sicknesses, why, why, why…. Thousands of monumental “why”s.

Try to understand!  Man cannot approach all of these “why”s with his finite logic.  It is only through Christ that everything can be explained. All these trials merely precondition us for eternity. Perhaps then, we might be honored by the Lord with a reply to some of those “why”s.

It might be worthwhile, if I read you a beautiful poem* from Constantine Kallinikos’ collection “Laurels and Myrtles,” with the title “Questions”:

I asked a desert father of seventy years,

whose silver strands were blown by the wind:

Tell me o father, why, on this earth,

do the light and the dark inseparably move ?

And why must they – like twins – together sprout:

the thorn and the rose, the tear and the smile?

Why, in the loveliest part of the woodland green

have scorpions and vipers concealed their nests?

Why must it be, that the tender bud,

before unfolding its fragrant bloom,

be struck by a worm in the heart of its stem,

And left to die, like a shrivelled rag ?

Why are the plow, the seed and the hands

a must for the wheat, to become our bread?

Why must everything useful, noble, divine

always be purchased with tears and our blood,

while selfishness ever  rampantly reigns,

and lewdness is swallowing up the world?

And why, amongst such harmony around,

must tumult and disorder find their way?

The hermit replied, with his somber voice

and right arm pointing to the sky,

that there, beyond those clouds of gold,

the Almighty weaves a tapestry divine.

But since we are wanderers of the lower plane

We see nothing but the knots and strings below,

It is no wonder, why the mind sees wrong,

when it should always be thankful and give praise:

for the day will come, when Christians all,

with souls that ride the skies with wings,

will gaze atop God’s tapestry and see

how careful and orderly everything was!

My child, Christ never abandoned us.  He is forever with us, as a helper and a supporter, until the end of time.  But you will realize this, only when you become a conscientious member of His Church and be joined by Her Sacraments.

~♥~

[Re-published, from the book of the Holy Recluse Monastery of the Theotokos “FROM THE LIFE AND THE TEACHING OF FATHER EPIPHANIOS”]

* The poem has been loosely translated, for its message only.

I found this story at this site:  http://thehandmaid.wordpress.com/a-geronda-and-an-atheist/


R E F E R E N C E S

[1] From within sacred history, we observe how Abraham considers himself “earth and ashes” (Genesis 18: 27). Similarly Job (42: 6). The great Moses hesitates to undertake the mission of liberating the Israelites from Egypt, believing himself to be too small and inadequate for such a job: “And Moses said to God : ‘Who am I, that can go to the Pharaoh, king of Egypt,… I am not capable… weak voiced and stuttering, I am” (Exodus 3: 11, 4: 10). The same is said at a later date by the Judge Gideon: “My Lord, how can I save Israel?…. for I am the youngest of my father’s house…” (Judges 6: 15). David calls himself “a dead dog, and a louse” (Kings I, 24: 15), a worm and not a man, the disgrace of mankind and the derogation of the people” (Psalms 21:27).  Isaiah cries out: “woe is me, the wretched one, for I am deeply troubled, because, being a man and having impure lips, I reside amongst the people with impure lips, and yet I have looked upon the king, Lord Shabuoth with my very eyes”  (Isaiah 6:5).  Jeremiah laments: “O Sovereign Lord, behold, I cannot speak, for I am the younger… Cure me my Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved. For You are my boasting.” (Jeremiah 1:6,  17:14).  The three Young Men utter a confession about themselves and all of the population: “…for we have sinned and broken the law, by distancing ourselves from You, and we are sinners in everything and we did not obey Your commandments… with a crushed soul and a humbled mind, may we be received by You…”  (Daniel, Azarias’ prayer, 56 and 16).

John the Baptist, the “greatest amongst those born of woman”, confessed : “I am not the Christ. And they asked him: Who then are you? Are you Elijah?  I am not. Are you the Prophet? And he replied: No. …. I am just a voice in the wilderness, crying out “straighten the path of the Lord… I am not worthy enough, to even loosen the strap of His (Christ’s) sandal…” (John I, 20).  Finally, the one and only and unprecedented Paul, considers himself a “monstrosity” and unworthy “to be called an apostle”, a “wretched person”, and “the first amongst all sinners” ( Corinthians I, 15:89, Romans 7:24, Timothy I, 1:15).  But, we won’t take up any more time here…

[2] by applying the standard of:  “the greater you are, the more you should humble yourself” (Sirah, 3:18).

[3] This is precisely what is stressed in John’s Gospel:  “the one who witnessed, testified” (19: 35); In other words, the one who wrote those things was the one who actually saw the soldier pierce Christ’s side with the spear, and he saw blood and water coming out of the wound.

[4] “They hesitated to prostrate themselves to Him” (Matthew 28:17). “And they (the apostles), upon hearing that He was alive and was seen by her (Mary Magdalene), disbelieved”. (Mark 16:13).  “He derided them for their disbelief and their hard-heartedness, because they did not believe those who had seen Him risen”  (Mark 16:14). “It appeared to them (the Apostles) that their (the myrrh-bearers’) words were like ravings (foolishness, delirium), and they disbelieved them” (Luke 24:11). “We had hoped that He was the one who was destined to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). “If I do not see the imprint of the nails on His hands and place my finger on the imprint of the nails, and place my hand on (the wound of) His side, I shall not believe.” (words of Doubting Thomas, John 20:25), etc.

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“I believe in Jesus; I believe He is the Son of God, but every time I sit down to explain this to somebody I feel like a palm reader, like somebody who works at a circus or a kid who is always making things up or somebody at a Star Trek convention who hasn’t figured out the show isn’t real.”

~Donald Miller

If you’ve never read Donald Miller, you should check him out sometime, because he is a Christian writer with a delightful and often humorous way of fleshing out human frailties and existential questions.

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I’m not sure what made me think of it just now, but I may as well write it down.

I remember years ago when I attended a Good Friday church service in Oregon, and a doctor came to speak about the medical perspective of Christ’s crucifixion.  He told us that Jesus actually died of a broken heart, not from bleeding from His wounds or excruciating pain or other factors.  Jesus must have been very strong physically.

The scriptures say that when He was pierced in the side by a soldier, blood and water gushed out.  The visiting doctor said that for water to be mixed with his blood in this way, His heart had to have burst already. Otherwise, it would have been only blood that poured out.

People all around me started weeping into tissues and handkerchiefs and I quickly joined in. My heart broke thinking of how we wounded Him with our cruelty and our ignorance and our apathy. It made me feel so ashamed.

Remember those drops of blood on His forehead in Gethsemane?  Those revealed the depth of His pain as He prayed for us in the garden. Even as a child, I understood it and whenever I considered my own pain, I remembered that bloody sweat on His brow. I understood that His sorrow was even greater than mine, and it gave me solace. I knew that His love towards me was beyond the grasp of my understanding.

It still gives me comfort today through all of my personal battles. I pray every day that I don’t break His heart again with my attitudes and actions.

OLIVE TWIST ©2012

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An old friend sent me this poem in the wee hours of the morning, saying it was on a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap and she thought of me. Good ol’ Dr. Bronner!

I almost cried when I read it along with a brief  history of the author.  It really “speaketh to my condition” as the Quakers used to say.

On the last line, I wanted to see some words about invincible women too, but I’ll deal with it somehow…

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‘if’ by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master,
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

(Well, I must concede that “you’ll be a woman, my daughter” wouldn’t rhyme or sound quite as good…)

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Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

“Rudyard Kipling’s inspirational poem ‘If’ first appeared in his collection ‘Rewards and Fairies’ in 1909. The poem ‘If’ is inspirational, motivational, and a set of rules for ‘grown-up’ living. Kipling’s ‘If’ contains mottos and maxims for life, and the poem is also a blueprint for personal integrity, behavior and self-development. ‘If’ is perhaps even more relevant today than when Kipling wrote it, as an ethos and a personal philosophy…

“The beauty and elegance of ‘If’ contrasts starkly with Rudyard Kipling’s largely tragic and unhappy life. He was starved of love and attention and sent away by his parents; beaten and abused by his foster mother; and a failure at a public school which sought to develop qualities that were completely alien to Kipling…”

Thanks again, Dr. Bronner!

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In the first sermon that Jesus delivered, He said “Blessed are the merciful.” This true story illustrates how we Christians do a lot of damage when we become too smug about our views, and place our doctrine above the souls of desperate people.

(The Iris Diaries)

I asked a nurse with cold white sterile hands scribbling on a chart to direct me to Opal’s room.  Before walking in, my eyes scanned the name on the brushed aluminum nameplate with apprehension.  I stepped in quietly, wondering what to say to her.

Opal was dying.  I knew it as soon as I looked at the old woman. A sense of urgency rattled me like unexpected thunder. It was dreadfully cold in the room.

Opal was lying thin and pale on her bed. Her face was tight like pale yellow parchment and her whole body seemed to be laboring and exhausted under the cold white sheets.  Tubes were in her nose and needles in her bruised trembling arms. Her lips and eyelids were purple, and the oxygen machine breathed like a slow steam train in a dark tunnel. Her fearful eyes opened like hollow caves when she heard me walk in. It was difficult even to look at her in such agony.

I sat down in the stiff plastic chair next to the bed and drew my shawl around my shoulders.  Focusing on the woman’s frightened face, I introduced myself and asked Opal how she was feeling.  The poor woman began to speak between heavy breaths, with the disturbing rhythm of the oxygen in the background:

“I have emphysema and I don’t expect to live long.  I smoked for most of my life, and that is why I am ill.  I have been in this hospital bed for several months, and I am scared of dying.  I am worried about my soul, and I have been asking how I can find peace with God. I rarely have a visitor since I have been here.”

(Opal has to pause for deep breaths.)  “My brother is a Mormon and he came to see me once, and I asked him what I needed to do about my soul.  He said that I would have to do missionary service for the church.  I told him that I was too sick to do anything, and he seemed very sorry that he couldn’t do anything for me.” 

“I also asked a priest who came down the hall one day to come and talk to me.  He came in and sprinkled some holy water on my forehead and made the sign of the cross over me, and told me that I was saved.  But I knew I wasn’t, because I didn’t feel any different when he left me.  I cried and cried.” (I touched her hand and asked her to rest for a moment, since speaking is exhausting for her. She pauses for a few minutes then continues.)

“The other day, a group from some church came in to visit my roommate and pray with her.  I called out to them to ask them what I needed to do to be saved, and they said I would have to be baptized.  I explained that I cannot be immersed in water, because I would die if I did.   (Opal coughs deeply.)  A man in the group apologized to me, saying that there was nothing they could do for me, and then they continued visiting my roommate and praying with her.  I felt so terrible and hopeless, and I have been so scared.”

Tears came to my eyes as the old woman was talking.  I had learned about Opal from the man who told her she would have to be baptized.  I worked with him at the office downtown. He always wore polo shirts and tortoise-edged glasses and spoke in a heated voice.

I had hoped to find Opal before it was too late.  I told her that the thief hanging on the cross next to Jesus did not have time for any rituals.  He simply asked Christ to remember him when He returned to His Kingdom, and Christ had promised “Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”  I explained that faith is all God requires, and asked her if she would like to pray.  Opal was very eager to, and we prayed quietly together.  Opal asked God to forgive her for everything that she had done wrong, and asked if she could be His child.

I asked Opal if she would like to have some Bible verses read to her, and she said yes.  We talked for a long time and read scriptures together, and the old woman was noticeably comforted.  Her face looked more restful and calm. I offered to come regularly and visit and study the Bible with her, and Opal was very pleased.  We did not get to be friends for very long.

After a few weeks, I went to see Opal, and the nurses said that she could no longer talk or communicate because she had lost oxygen to her brain. I asked to go into the room with her anyway, and the nurses consented.  I had heard that people can still hear others even after they can’t speak anymore, so I stood near Opal’s bed for awhile, twisting the corners of my shawl in my fingers and dabbing my tears. The oxygen was puffing loudly inside the translucent tent where Opal lay serenely.  I spoke gently and reminded her that she was a child of God, and that Jesus had promised to never forsake those who love Him. I left Opal alone in the cloudy tabernacle with God.

The next time I went to see Opal, the nurses said she couldn’t visit and that they couldn’t give any details, because I wasn’t a member of the family.  I knew then that she had left this world, and I was glad that her suffering had ended.  Opal is breathing easier now.

“To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.“(Revelation 2:17)

OLIVE TWIST ©2012

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A Cloud of Witnesses:  Portraits of Faith

Elder Foster is graceful with hands that swim like fish around him as he speaks. He bows from his slender waist and lowers his head slightly, greenish brown eyes looking up to others with humility.  His caramel-colored suit is well-tailored, his shoes polished, his white shirt crisp.

Mother Foster has amazing hats and weathered hands and I have seldom seen her silver hair.  She braids it tightly against her scalp and tucks it under her hats.  Her waist is nicely trim for an elderly woman, the collar of her dress edged with white lace, her black ballerina slippers small and cozy.  Her smile is broad and warm and her eyes always seem to look upward and inward to invisible things.

Elder and Mother Foster are my spiritual parents, and I am just one of their clumsy and confused children.

Elder Foster has ministered to his church for almost forty years, and he is still the most energetic pastor I have ever seen.  He seems much younger when he preaches because he jumps and shouts and runs down from the pulpit into the congregation.  His agility is amazing at these times.

He can be so fiery during his sermons, yet he is so gentle and humble afterwards, when he shakes my hand and says, “Are you behaving yourself, Sister Olive?” or “Be encouraged, Sister Olive.” I guess this is why one preacher who visited our church refers to him as a “Gentle Giant”.

Many times Elder Foster speaks directly to me about things in my life that he has no way of knowing, and he encourages or corrects me with great gentleness. I recognize in those moments that the Spirit is speaking to me and that I have to be obedient, if I want to grow spiritually.

Elder Foster once remarked, “You know the trouble with many of us is that we trust the mailman more than we trust God. When we address a letter and put a stamp on it and place it in the mailbox, we have confidence that the mail will arrive where it’s supposed to go.  We don’t call the mailman or the postmaster to keep track of the letter, or call to make sure it arrives at its destination.

“But when we address a prayer to God, we don’t have confidence that it will get to God, or that it will accomplish the thing that we are asking.  Our lack of faith is why many of our prayers are unanswered.”

Elder Foster puts more money into the offering plate than he receives from the district for his services.  He is always speaking about people who exemplify the life of faith.  He tells of a poor preacher who had no money, but went to the grocery store and got a cart and put the food he needed in it, and he prayed and trusted God to take care of him. The preacher walked up to the cashier lane, and a man stepped up with his wallet open and said, “Pastor, let me take care of that for you.”

Our elder also speaks of a minister who heard that someone in his church had died.  The minister went to that house and the man’s wife had covered him with a sheet as she awaited the mortician.  The minister said “The Spirit didn’t say anything to me about this brother dying.”  Then he pulled back the sheet and the man got up.

One Sunday a strange man came into our church to leave an offering envelope for a family member.  As he came down the aisle, I noticed the intensity of his face and eyes as he looked around nervously.  He hurriedly handed the envelope to Sister Shirley near the altar and left.

Elder Foster was preaching later in the service, and told us that he had had a dream the night before, about being down by the fish creek and meeting a man who was demon-possessed and that he had cast the demon out of the man.  When he awoke he thought that he must have eaten something the night before that caused him indigestion and strange dreams.  But then the man from his dream walked into church and left the offering.

The elder often speaks about the importance of preaching the gospel “in season and out of season”, because you never know when that Death Angel will come around and take someone.  He says that one night a phone call came for Mother Foster from a woman that she worked with at the paper mill.  Elder Foster did not want to disturb his wife while she was sleeping, so he told the woman to call his wife another time.  Mother Foster went to work the next morning and the woman had died.

Elder Foster also recounted this story with great sorrow:  “A man came up to me one Wednesday night after the service was over, asking how to get saved.  I was in a hurry that night, and asked him to come and see me on Sunday.  When he didn’t come on Sunday, I inquired about him and found out that he had died.  I have learned never to make anyone wait again, because the Devil will try to cut them off beforehand.”

Mother Foster is an amazing spiritual leader as well.  She diligently taught all of her children about prayer and faith while they were young.  Several of the Fosters’ sons are preachers now.  Mother Foster says that one of her boys, Aaron, used to preach through the open window from his high chair when he was a baby, and would tell people about Christ.  She says she used to have terrible migraines until one of them put his tiny hands on her and prayed, when he was only a little baby boy.

She says they have never had a lot of money but they acknowledge that God always provided for their needs.  Mother Foster once testified about a woman with five children that lived down the street from her years ago. Sometimes the woman would come to her door and tell her she didn’t have any food for her children.  Mother Foster said that she always bought just enough food for her family for seven days at a time, but she would open her refrigerator, and give the woman some meat and vegetables and bread for her children.  As Mother Foster gave the bag of food to the woman, she would say to her, “Now, come back around here this evening, because I want you to see what the Lord is going to do for me, because I gave you what you needed.”  She said that without fail, someone would show up before dinnertime, and knock on the door and say, “I just caught some fish, and I have more than I need.  Would you like some?” or someone would bring her greens and vegetables from their garden.  She says that God always provided whenever she was obedient.

Mother Foster told me an amazing story about a woman who asked her to come to her house:  “I went to visit this poor woman and she told me that her husband had been abusive to her for many years, and I told her ‘God would never want anyone to place themselves in danger. So we are going to take this problem to God, and pray that your husband will leave and never come back.  First I need you to go to the closet and get a pair of his shoes, and bring them here.’ The woman went and got his shoes, and I told her to put them right in front of the door, with the toes pointed as if they were about to walk out.  She did this and then we started to pray out loud.  We prayed and prayed with all our hearts, until I had a clear feeling, and I told her that it was done.  I told her she had to believe that God was going to do answer our prayers.  I said, ‘It might not be today or tomorrow or even this week, but you have to trust God.’  Well, it turned out that her husband came home that very night, and took all of his belongings and left, and he never returned home again.”

Mother Foster taught me to pray earnestly on my knees until I sense that the work is finished, and then to believe God.  My prayers were never answered until I learned to pray in the proper way.  Mother Foster taught me that God loves to act of our behalf, when He knows that He will be glorified in it.

I have learned so much from the Foster’s about living by faith, and “pressing on” until death, and I am eternally grateful for their testimonies, and their examples.

“Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.”  (I Timothy 6:12)

OLIVE TWIST ©2012

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