Monday, December 21, 2009

Sunday School Commentary by Dale Timien

Dale is a good friend of mine and he is leading our Sunday School class. Each week we discuss something new about the Bible or pose questions to the group for study. Dale responds by writing a commentary that is good to get us started on our journey of discovery. I've asked, and gotten his permission, to post these on this blog. Here is the first one. It is about Acts 5 and the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira.

Acts 5

Ananias and Sapphira
1-2 But a man named Ananias—his wife, Sapphira, conniving in this with him—sold a piece of land, secretly kept part of the price for himself, and then brought the rest to the apostles and made an offering of it.
3-4Peter said, "Ananias, how did Satan get you to lie to the Holy Spirit and secretly keep back part of the price of the field? Before you sold it, it was all yours, and after you sold it, the money was yours to do with as you wished. So what got into you to pull a trick like this? You didn't lie to men but to God."
5-6Ananias, when he heard those words, fell down dead. That put the fear of God into everyone who heard of it. The younger men went right to work and wrapped him up, then carried him out and buried him.
7-8Not more than three hours later, his wife, knowing nothing of what had happened, came in. Peter said, "Tell me, were you given this price for your field?"
"Yes," she said, "that price."
9-10Peter responded, "What's going on here that you connived to conspire against the Spirit of the Master? The men who buried your husband are at the door, and you're next." No sooner were the words out of his mouth than she also fell down, dead. When the young men returned they found her body. They carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
11By this time the whole church and, in fact, everyone who heard of these things had a healthy respect for God. They knew God was not to be trifled with.

Commentary:The death of Ananias and Sapphira.

The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was, that they were ambitious of being thought eminent disciples, when they were not true disciples. Hypocrites may deny themselves, may fore-go their worldly advantage in one instance, with a prospect of finding their account in something else. They were covetous of the wealth of the world, and distrustful of God and his providence. They thought they might serve both God and mammon. They thought to deceive the apostles. The Spirit of God in Peter discerned the principle of unbelief reigning in the heart of Ananias. But whatever Satan might suggest, he could not have filled the heart of Ananias with this wickedness had he not been consenting. The falsehood was an attempt to deceive the Spirit of truth, who so manifestly spoke and acted by the apostles.

The crime of Ananias was not his retaining part of the price of the land; he might have kept it all, had he pleased; but his endeavoring to impose upon the apostles with an awful lie, from a desire to make a vain show, joined with covetousness. But if we think to put a cheat upon God, we shall put a fatal cheat upon our own souls. How sad to see those relations who should quicken one another to that which is good, hardening one another in that which is evil! And this punishment was in reality mercy to vast numbers. It would cause strict self-examination, prayer, and dread of hypocrisy, covetousness, and vain-glory, and it should still do so. It would prevent the increase of false professors. Let us learn hence how hateful falsehood is to the God of truth, and not only shun a direct lie, but all advantages from the use of doubtful expressions, and double meaning in our speech. (Ac 5:12-16)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Paul's Contributions

The Apostle Paul is one of the key figures in the growth of Christianity from simply a splinter-Jewish group to the largest religion in the world today. How could one man make such a difference?

What's even more bizarre is that Paul was a Hellenistic Jew (named Saul), trained as a Pharisee, who hated the Christians and even led the early assaults in Jerusalem against them. He was a witness to the murder of St. Stephen and was considered one of the biggest anti-Christian's in Israel. Not satisfied with his "threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord" in Jerusalem, he attainted letters from the High Priests to go to the synagogues in Damascus to search for any members of the Way (Christians). On the road to Damascus he had a personal interaction with Jesus that changed his life forever.

Acts 9:3-9:9 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" He asked, "Who are you Lord?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do." The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

First we need to understand that the original persecution following the stoning of St. Stephen was according to God's plan. The Christians of Jerusalem had to be broken up to spread into the rest of the middle east. The communal life style of their first few years was set up to await His coming, and did not really go forth to preach the Good News to all the Earth. The persecution led by Paul caused many Christians to spread into Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and soon the rest of the Roman Empire.

Second, we need to know that Saul was a Godly man, who was devout in his Hebraic studies, and lived as a Pharisee. He was attacking the Christians because he believed they had blasphemed the Lord of Abraham, and the laws of Moses. God knew his heart, and that is why he chose Saul to become his instrument on Earth to spread the Gospel to the Gentiles and to help start the early Church.

Third, as devoted as he was as a Pharisee, he was just as devoted to the Lord following his conversion, if not more so.

Time and again in the Bible we learn that God chooses those whom we would not. Moses suffered from a speech impediment, David from Lust, and Saul the Christian hating Pharisee!

He can use anyone! He can use you!

Will you answer the call?

Will you stand for Jesus?

De Colores

Friday, December 4, 2009

Stephen, the First Martyr

The two groups of Christian-Jews were experiencing some difficulties in their communal living arrangements. The Hebrews, those born in Israel, were taking better care of the Hebraic widows, while the Hellenistic (Greek-foriegn born) widows were being "neglected in the daily distribution of food."

The Apostles realized that something had to be done, but they had too much on their plate already. So they ordained seven others to see that the apportionments would be equal for all. One of the men they chose was Stephen, "a man filled with the Holy Spirit," who was "full of grace and power, did wonders and great signs among the people."

Stephen was on fire for the Lord and preached to all who would listen. He spoke of the good news that Christ was the Savior to such an extent that one Jewish group was offended by his words and accused him of blasphemy against God and Moses. They had Stephen arrested and brought to the ruling Sanhedron to have him judged. They had many "false witnesses" who swore that Stephen spoke against the "holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazereth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us."

The book of Acts then says that as they looked upon him, his face was "like the face of an angel." What does this mean? Perhaps it means he was quiet and serene. Some think the Holy Spirit was with him, and it was obvious for all who looked upon him that day.

Then they asked him to reply to these charges. Stephen took the opportunity to preach! He boldly spoke of the history of Israel and of how time and again they turned their backs on God and his prophets. His harangue started with Abraham then went to Joseph, to Moses, to Jacob, then he attacks the idea that God lives in a temple, "Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hand." He's really rolling in his attack on them now and ends with, "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in the heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that recieved the law as ordained by the angels, and yet you have not kept it."

Okay. This made them furious! He had just told the most "religious" men of Israel that they did not hear, nor head the Holy Spirit, that they persecuted the prophets, and had murdered Christ! I wonder if the "Angelic face" made them realize that he spoke for the Lord, as they lost all control and took him out to kill him. They "dragged him out and began to stone him" to death. God was with Stephen through this. He was "filled with the Holy Spirit," and "gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jsus standing at the right hand of God!" As they were killing him, Stephen prayed for them, "Lord Jesus, recieve my spirit." He knelt down and cried, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them."

You can imagine the anger and venom with which each stone was hurtled at Stephen's head. One of the men there that day with the Council was Saul. He held the coats of those that killed Stephen and he "approved of their killing him." Saul hated the Christians and led much of the persecution against them that began following Stephen's martyrdom.

The Book of Acts states that the Church of Jerusalem was scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Saul led many righteous Jews and Romans against the Christians and was "ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women," and placing them into prison.

Where did the Christians go and what did they do? They went forth and spread the Good News "from place to place." Samaria became the next place where the Good News would take hold and many were converted to Christianity, thanks to the work of Philip and the testamonies of Peter and John.

This would only be the first of many times of persecution, but the Church would grow with each organized attack on it.

Remember, the early Christians "boldly" spoke the Good News.

Go Boldly into the World and proclaim the Good News, "Jesus died, Jesus is Risen, Jesus will come again."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Christianity Threatened traditional Jewish Traditions

The Sadducees had already brought Peter and John before them and told them to no longer proclaim Jesus as the Savior. Peter and John responded by praising the Lord and continuing to spread the Good News. The people of Jerusalem continued to respond, even to the point where the sick were carried out into the streets and laid on cots and mats in order for Peter's shadow to fall upon them as he came by, hoping for healing. The Book of Acts states that "they were all cured."

The High Priest of the temple (A Sadducee) was "filled with jealousy" and arrested the Apostles and put them in prison to await punishment. However, in the night an Angel of the Lord "opened the prison doors, brought them out," and told them to "Go stand in the temple and tell the people the whold message about this life." Peter and the others returned to the temple and began to teach. Later that day the High Priest arrived and called together the council and all the Elders of Israel, and sent for the prisoners to be brought to them. The police returned and stated that the Apostles were no longer inside, but the prison had been "securely locked and the guards standing at the doors." He soon learned that they were in the temple teaching. Again they were arrested and brought before the council.

The High Priest accused them of teaching in Jesus' name and placing his blood (or death) upon the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem. Peter's answer, "We must obey God rather than any human authority." This angered the Priests, but Peter's next words almost signed his death warrent: "The god of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom YOU had killed by hanging him on a tree." Uh oh! When they heard this, "they were enraged and wanted to kill them."

Peter and the others were saved from death by a leader of the Pharisee's on the Council, Gamaliel. He warned of making them martyrs and causing even more trouble with the Roman rulers of Israel. He also warned that "if this plan is of human origin, it will fail, but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them- in that case you may even be found to be fighting against God."

The Council was convinced and had the Apostles flogged.

How did the Apostle's respond to the whipping, which split their skin, and the public humiliation?

They "rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name." And despite being told once more to not speak in the name of Jesus, they continued to "teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah."

What can we learn from this? We are called to go "boldly" to proclaim Christ the Savior to the world. We may face trials, tribulations, ridicule, or even physical threats and responses, possibly even death, but if we are listening to God's will and following his plan, we will never be "overthrown."

God never leaves us. He never abandons us. He is always there. Even after we have walked away from him. That is his forever, prevenient grace. He loved us before we were born, he loves us today, and he will love us tomorrow. We fail.

I know I fail often.

He never does.


Monday, November 23, 2009

The Church in Jerusalem...Socialism?

The Apostles and the converts to Christianity were truly on fire for God as "when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness." The Book of Acts 4:32-35 says "the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common...There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need."

Wow...they were...Socialists!

This used to bother me. I'm a devout Capitalist, and a believer in things like Popular Sovereignty, Republicanism, Separation of Powers, Checks and Balances, and Civil Liberties. I believe in personal liberties, equality, and the basic idea that you can achieve anything you are willing to work for.

Then I started considering why the early church was this way. First they did not know how long Christ would be away from the earth, and many wanted to sit around and wait for his return. Second, it makes sense as far as spreading the Good News to have the devout followers in one place, working together to extend the blessings of God's promise to everyone. Many missions were undertaken to spread Christianity thoughout not only Israel, but to the various ends of the Roman Empire. Of course these were originally meant only for Jewish converts, but that would soon change.

So this communal living arrangement worked for the early Church in Jerusalem, but ultimately it failed. Why? Some waited around and did not want to work. Bickering between the various Jewish-Christian groups (particularly the Hellenistic and Jerusalem Jews) caused schisms, and then the growth of various heresies over the next three hundred or so years of history.

It is also worth noting that the Essenes movement (prior to Christ) also believed in Communal living and that the end times were here, and this may have played a part in the early development of the Church in Jerusalem.

In fact is was expected that those in the commune give everything to the Church. One story is told in Acts 5 about Ananias and his wife Sapphira. Apparently they sold a piece of property, gave some of the money to the Church, but told everyone they had given all. Peter was very grave about this saying that Ananias had not just lied to the apostles, but to God. Ananias and his wife then died on the spot for putting the Spirit of the Lord to the test. Why did this happen?

This is one of those passages that gives me pause. It doesn't seem to jive with everything else that had happened from the birth of Christ to the formation of the Church in Jerusalem. The only thing I can think of is that this happened so God could show the people that this Church was real, the Holy Spirit was real, and they were not just playing at creating something new. The passage goes on to state that a "great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things." The word fear is not a true translation of the ancient Hebrew/Aramaic as I understand it. It does mean fear, but it also means respect and honor. I wonder if the tale of Ananias and his wife was really a "course correction" for the early church?

More to come...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Break from History

I had a long discussion with my wife Tracey the past two days. Our discussion goes back to the age old questions about why God allows bad things to happen to good people? Why do children get stricken with severe diseases and illnesses only to die young? Why do accidents often steal our loved ones from us? Why do good Christians, who supposedly are living the life in relationship with the Lord, have to suffer and die like everyone else?

I have answers to these questions, but first I want to state that these are my ideas that have developed over many years of wrangling with these questions, and many of my brother and sister Christians may disagree. That is okay. "Seek your salvation with fear and trembling," or some similar quote from the Bible is at the heart of my answer. I have an older sister who was born with spinomeningoencephalocill, which means the base of her skull did not close properly when she was forming in the womb. This left her with profound brain damage. I had a cousin Bradley, who was one of the sweetest down-syndrome kids anyone could ever know. I have a son who lives with autism.

Did God do this to us? Does he say, "I'll curse that child and his/her family?"

In my He does not.

God gave us Free Will. He did this so we can choose to love him. Otherwise we would simply be automatonic slaves with no real meaning in our relationship to him. Free Will means we get to decide how we are going to live, and whether we will choose to follow his teachings. Free Will shows the infinite love He has for us. You may have heard the expression, "If you love something set it free, if it comes back it is yours." Free Will and our relationship with God is kinda like that.

However, Free Will does mean that we may make bad choices. It means we get to develop in a world that is humanly controlled, despite the divine inspiration he seeks through us. It means that we, in our sinful, fallen nature, must suffer. It means we must die. Some of us will develop horrible diseases. Some will die or be mangled in accidents. Sometimes our children suffer birth defects.

It has always angered me when I hear other Christians say, "God gave you this child as a test." Right. God decided, "I'll retard this child to see if his parent's will grow in their faith." If He is love and truly is a Father, as Jesus pointed out, he would not do such a thing. If we have Free Will, he certainly would not do such a thing.

So what do I believe? I believe mankind lives in a sinful state with Free Will. We choose whether or not to follow Him, to serve Him, or to be obedient to His will. To quote that bumper sticker, "Sh.. Happens!" This is the life we live. The Lord never promises Christians a better life in this world than the non-believers. Our rewards are in the afterlife with him, in eternal communion in the loving spirit of God.

Even Jesus was destined to die. He faced death knowing that he did not have to, but if mankind was to be lifted above their sinful nature, and to have everlasting life in God, it had to happen. There is an eternal justice, and the sins of man had to be reconciled. He did it.

Do I believe that God has a plan for us and our world? Definitely. However, he works through His followers. He entrusts us with the earthly kingdom. Does God make his plans known? Yes, again, I definitely believe that God can do anything He chooses to do, but it will be for His glory, and to further the Body of Christ on Earth.

Some Christians believe that God has a plan for which shoes they should wear. I think this goes against the basic precepts of Free Will.

The greatest gift, outside of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, is the Holy Spirit. The Great Councilor. I believe that although God does not strike down our children, he offers the Holy Spirit to give us the Grace to overcome, to relate to, to understand, to accept, and to teach from our sorrows and pains. I know how Stephanie, my sister, effected me and countless others. I know how blessed I am to have Kevin in my life, and I have also seen how his enduring smile and infectious love of others effects everyone who comes in contact with him. I know how much I learned from watching my Grandfather Edgar die of cancer with grace and dignity.

All life is a lesson. If you let the Holy Spirit guide you, council you, and open yourself to the love, forgiveness, and acceptance that Christ offers, you can live in peace and acceptance. Yes, it still hurts. Yes, it is unfair. Yes, the pain never really goes away. But, the relationship with God is eternal. And in Heaven, all pain is gone, all disease cured, all children- perfect.

When I die and go to Heaven, someday I will dance with my sister. See there is one great truth. Those who never leave a state of innocence are destined to be in Heaven, and there they are perfect.

What a glorious day that will be.

Love in Christ to All,


Monday, October 19, 2009

The Growth of Christianity

Jesus rose from the Dead and appeared to his followers. The Book of Acts states this number was about 120 members. After teaching them for a period of time (40 days), He ascended back to heaven as a "cloud took him out of their sight." The followers then returned to Jerusalem and went to the "Upper Room" where they were staying.

The leaders at this time were Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James (Son of Aplaheus), Simon, and Judas (son of James). They were joined by many female followers of Christ as well, including Mary, the mother of Christ.

Peter immediately took the reigns he had been given as the "Rock" upon which Jesus would build his Church on Earth. He gathered them together and they discussed who would take Judas Iscariot's position as an apostle. Not able to decide, they let fate intervene by throwing lots, and the follower, Matthias, was added to the eleven apostles.

The the Day of Pentecost came and all of them felt the presence of the Holy Spirit as it came down from heaven like a "rush of violent wind" and tongues of something like fire rested on each of them as they were filled by the Holy Spirit. They began speaking in other tongues, and many foreigners heard them speaking and were shocked at this development. It caused such a commotion, that some men accused them of all being drunk "with new wine." Peter began to preach to them and told the story of Christ and all that had been foretold about him. His words and the Spirit filled the crowd and many asked what they should do.

His answer, "Repent, and be baptized." Amazingly, the Book of Acts reports that over three thousand people were saved that day and became devoted to following the apostle's teachings.

Many began to sell everything they owned to live in a commune style to learn and praise, but also looking to the day that God would return. They shared everything and "day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved."

Daily the apostles went to the temple and taught the Jews the good news. This disturbed the Sadducees who had Peter and John arrested for it, but they couldn't prevent the rapid growth of the Christian sect of Judaism. The Book of Acts records that the number of Christians were now over 5,000.

The leaders of the Jews brought them to trial, but they knew that Peter and John had caused a lame man to be healed and everyone was talking about the miracle. They decided to allow Peter and John to go free if they agreed to no longer do things in the "name" of Jesus. Peter, who had once denied Christ three times, refused, and in his righteousness, the leaders could not agree on a punishment and let them go.

It was only the beginning.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Peter's Story

The Church was truly founded about 33 A.D. when Jesus made Peter his Vicar. Jesus asked him, "But what about you? Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."

Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon (Peter), son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:15-19)

Let's break this down a bit. It was very dangerous for anyone to call Jesus the "Christ." The Romans had been fighting the Zealots of Jerusalem, and publicly naming Jesus the Christ would lead to his crucifixion. In Hebrew, this term meant the "Messiah," while in Greek it meant "The Anointed One." The anointed one was chosen by God for a special and unique mission on earth. The Jewish followers of Jesus believed he was the Son of God, who had come to save them from Roman rule, but eventually they understood the purpose was greater than that. It was to deliver all humanity from sin and death. The Old Testament "denoted the ideal king anointed and empowered by God to rescue his people from their enemies and establish his righteous Kingdom." The Romans would not have any Jews follow a Christ, as they knew that it would lead to an overall rebellion. Hence the punishment for any sedition was crucifixion.

In Greek the name Peter is Petros (detached stone), and rock is translated as bedrock. Here Jesus is making Peter the bedrock upon which the Church would be built. Peter really did not understand this until the day of Pentecost. At which time the Church could be said to be built on the foundation of the Apostles and prophets.

Some historians and theologians believe that the "keys" to Heaven were used symbolically on the day of Pentecost as the "door of the kingdom was unlocked to Jews" and later he acknowledged it was also opened to the Gentiles.

It wasn't too long afterward that Jesus and the Apostles celebrated the first Communion at the Last Supper. Jesus attempted to tell his disciples what was about to occur, but Peter, rash, bold, and strong, objected and said he would never betray Jesus. Jesus responded, "I tell you the truth, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." Peter's response: "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you."

But he did. Three times. He ran fearing for his life, and when the rooster crowed, he realized how he had betrayed Jesus by denying him. Jesus was put on trial, tortured, and crucified. What did Peter do then?

He went fishing. We can attempt to understand what he felt. He had betrayed the Son of God by denying him. Jesus was brutally murdered, and he had fled. He probably felt worthless and this was definitely the lowest point of his life.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the banks searching for his wayward disciples. He saw them throwing their nets to no avail. He called out to them, "Throw your nets on the right side of the boat and you will find some." They must have heard him, because they did so, yet at that time they did not realize just who it was that had called out to them. They found their nets so full of fish they couldn't haul up the nets. Seeing this miracle, John realized just who it was that had called to them from the shore. Peter grabs his clothing and jumps into the water swimming about one hundred yards to the shore as John was shouting, "It is the Lord!" Peter needed Jesus. He needed forgiveness, and he needed hope. The other disciples in the boat slowly made their way in, but Peter couldn't wait. He needed the Lord's saving Grace.

What does Jesus do? He cooks them a breakfast of fish. A true expression of love and friendship. Is there a greater blessing than to break bread with your closest family and friends? Do we not bring food after funerals to comfort our loved ones? What would Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter be without the great feast? I'll be honest, when I think of the Passion of the Christ and what he had to suffer, and what those who denied him had to deal with, I think this is the perfect way to bring them all back together again. Especially Peter.

He was probably beating himself up. He had denied Jesus, and failed in his promise to him. I think he sat there in stunned silence, probably his eyes swimming in tears. I wonder if he could even make himself eat?

Jesus knew his pain. He knew just what Peter needed. "Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" Perhaps this was a question about Peter's love of fishing, or his love of Jesus more than the other friends, or more than the other's loved Jesus.

Peter answered, "You know that I love you."

Jesus told him, "Feed my lambs." Peter may not have fully understood what Jesus had instructed. So Jesus asked him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you truly love me?"

Peter again replies, "Yes, Lord. You know that I love you."

Jesus again instructs him to "take care of my sheep." Again Peter does not reply.

Jesus asks him a third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?"

Peter was hurt, thinking maybe that Jesus did not believe his answers. "Lord you know all things; you know that I love you."

Why did Jesus ask him three times? Because Peter had denied him three times. He did this so Peter could forgive himself, and accept the loving grace and peace that Jesus offers everyone. However, he does then go on to let Peter know that he will again be placed in the situation of choosing to follow or deny him, but that next time he will choose to go willingly where he does "not want to go." This is a prophecy of Peter's future death as a martyr. Does this scare Peter? Not at all. He is a new man. His faith is now fully in Jesus, and he is willing to do anything God wills. He responds to Jesus next command, "Follow me."

How will you respond to His command?

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Jewish Community in Jerusalem at the Time of Christ

While their were many political groups, most of which served to undermine Roman rule of Israel, there were four main religious orders of the Jews in Jerusalem at the time of Christ. Many Christians read of the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots, but really do not know what the purpose of each was.

The Pharisees were perhaps the most influential and vocal of the groups in Jerusulam 2000 years ago. The first historical mention of them is by the Roman historian Flavius Joseph who wrote of the various religious groups about 145 B.C. They may have developed from the Assideans (the Pious) who rebelled against the rule of Antiochus IV (and the Hellenistic Greek culture) in the Maccabean revolt of about 165 B.C. The name Pharisee actually translates to Separatists or Those Who Live Separate, and they were often known as Chasidim, which means Loyal to God, or Loved of God. They believed in the Torah and the Oral Traditions of the Hebrew ideas of the constant revelations of God. They believed in the Free Will of man and the Sovereignty of God. They believed there was a "future for the dead," the immortality of the soul, and in reward and punishment for the rightious and the evil. They beleived in human equality (at least for Jewish folks), and their teaching was more about ethics (right and wrong), than theology (worship). Most Christian writings and doctrine make it out that the Pharisees were self-righteous hypocrites, who believed in the letter of the law, but not the spirit. In fact Jesus often rebuked them for these behaviors.

However some historians think Jesus may have been a Pharisee in that much of his teachings seem to come from basic Pharisee beliefs. In fact the way Jesus would debate the Pharisees is seen as a sign of inclusion amongst them, rather than an outsider. The Pharisees believed in the Oral Torah (Talmud. The ever-revealing truth of God) and believed that debates were ways to understand it. The ideas of resurrection and life everlasting, forgiveness for everyone, and equality were all ideas of the Pharisees and are found in the teachings of Jesus.

The Sadducees became the Levites or High Priests of the Temple after Antiochus IVs Syrians desecrated the Temple about 175 B.C. They replaced the previous High Priests and swore to protect the Temple from any future desecrations. They set themselves up as the High Priests and even rulers of Jerusalem after that time and would rule until the final Roman destruction of the city in 70 A.D. The Sadducees denied the Talmud (Oral revelations of God), and believed in the strict interpretation of the Law of Moses as found in the Torah. They believed in the total purity of the Priestly class and attributed everything in life to man's free will. They did not believe in resurrection or in eternal life. They did not believe in any spiritual world (demons, Angels, and Devil). Jesus apparently was rebuking the Sadducees when he said in Matthew 22: 31, "But about the resurrection of the dead- have you not read what God said to you, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead but of the living." The Sadducees were opposed in many ways by the Pharisees, especially on ideas of purity, the Talmud, resurrection, forgiveness, and eternal life.

The Essenes may have started out as the Pharisees, but eventually separated from them, though there is some evidence that they may have actually descended from the original Levites of the Temple that were deposed by the Syrians under Antiochus IV. They were a group of very strict and zealous Jews who fought with the Maccbeans in the revolt against the Syrians. They believed in strict observance of the purity laws of the Torah and were noted for their ideas of communal property (very similar to the early Christians in the Book of Acts). They believed in mutual responsibility for each other and for society as a whole. they believed in daily worship and study of the scriptures as found in the Torah. They often avoided marriage, though it was not a condemned practice. They believed everything that happened was due to fate as God had predestined everything and did not believe in the ideas of free will, though they cherished personal freedoms and stood against the practice of slavery. They beleived in the afterlife, resurrection, and in purification rituals, especially with water (some say John the Baptist was an Essene). Many Essenes believed they were the last of the Generations of Man and believed that a Messiah was soon to come and save the Chosen People. Many believe the Dead Sea Scrolls were the Essene Library that was hidden and preserved when the Romans made their final push to rid Israel of the Zealots and other Jews. They believed in forgiveness and non-violence, and some historians believe Jesus may have learned in this tradition. The Essenes were definately outsiders in the society of Jerusalem 2000 years ago.

Finally there were the Zealots. These were nationalistic Jews who would go to any lengths to rid their land of Roman rule. The Romans considered them to be terrorists and instituted crucifixian as a punishment for those zealots who attacked, murdered, or committed acts of terrorism (sedition) agains the Romans. In fact this is what the Jewish leaders of the Temple accused Jesus of doing when they brought him before Pilate. They said that his followers called him King of the Jews and the Messiah who would drive the Romans out. The punishment for sedition against Rome was crucifixtion. Most Zealots were looking for a Savior who would bring Israel Salvation, were opposed to the use of the Greek language, and were very loyal to Jewish traiditions.

It was into this polical and religious mix that Jesus came, taught, suffered, died, and was resurrected so that everyone could have forgiveness and a personal relationship with God. He says as much when Pilate asks "you are a king then?" Jesus answers, "You are right in saying I am a king. in fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me."

Truth, Love, Peace

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Early Christian Groups

The early Christians were a Jewish sect in Jerusalem and they became known as Nazarenes. They possibly took this name as Jesus was sometimes known as the "Nazarene." Another reference I've found states that the term comes from the Hebrew word "Netzer" as found in Isaiahh 11:1, and means a "branch," thus they could have been called the Branchites, or followers of the one they considered to be "The Branch." The word Nazur in Aramaic means separate, so they could also have gotten their name from being a new, separate sect of Judaism, and may have been a derogatory term, that they accepted for themselves.

One of the greatest of miracles is how Christianity spread from the 120 or so followers in the beginning of Acts to the largest world religion. They also referred to themselves as "The Way" (Acts 24).

The term Christian actually developed later by the Greek followers as they attempted to translate the term "Nazarene" and it means "Messianists". This would have possibly been a derogatory term as well, that the early Christians made their own.

The Nazarenes were located in Jerusalem and lead by several of the Apostles who had known Christ, such as Peter, and were led by James the Just whom some believe was the brother of Jesus, or perhaps a cousin.

The Nazarenes lived a Communal life, dedicated to spreading the Good News, and accepting Gentiles into the fold.

Another group of Christians in Jersusalem were the Ebionites. They followed the Jewish traditions and Mosaic Law, as well as the teachings of Christ, but did not consider Christ divine, and followed the Nazarene Church of Jerusalem and rejected Paul's spreading of Christianity to the Gentiles, without the Gentiles becoming fully Jewish in practices.

The early Christians believed that the leader of the Church was the community of the Nazarenes in Jerusalem. This changed when the Romans decided they had enough of Hebrew Revolution and Zealotry and in 70 AD they entered the city in force and killed those that refused to leave the city. Peter had moved to Rome, and it would eventually be the seat of the Church on Earth.

So by 70 AD there were several Christian groups that had developed throughout the Roman Empire. Pauline Christianity, Nazarenes, and Ebionites.

Pauline Christianity would be the most successful. Though many other psuedo groups would develop over the next three hundred years, many of which would be considered heresies.

The Early Christians

The first century Christians had no Bible to learn from. As they were a Jewish sect, they studied the Torah, Jewish Law, the prophets, and the psalms, especially all the scriptures they felt foreshadowed Jesus.

They made simple affirmations of faith, such as "Jesus is Lord." They had no real formal creeds or confessions and there was little structure to their worship. Their studies led to a shift from learning from the priests and rabbis for scriptural interpretation to Jesus and his followers, and the believe that the truth of the ancient texts could only be understood through the context of Jesus' ministry. The early Christians used allegory to imbue symbols and new interpretations from the older Jewish Scriptures. They beleived that the story of Sarah and Isaac symbolized the line of true believers, that Hagar and Ishmael stood for the Jews that rejected Christ. They also came to believe that by studying the ancient prophecies that the truth of the Lord could be revealed.

Even as the Jewish Sect of Christianity grew, it was spreading into the Hellenistic world. All the early non-Jewish converts were expected to convert to Judaism, until the Apostle Paul's teachings would change all that. Paul was a Hellenistic Jew who had been converted after a time of persecuting the Christians. He taught that it was more important to convert all mankind to Christianity, than to continuing the ordinances of Judaism. He was called to task for this and had to return to Jerusalem to answer to the early Christian leaders.

The main issue was whether these new converts had to be circumcised. According to the Book of Acts 15:1-21, there were some who taught that unless "you are circumciaed, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved." Paul and Barnabus disputed this claim. The Christian Pharisees (yes, some of them had converted to Christianity), argued for circumcision and that all gentiles must be required to obey the law of Moses.

Paul stood and argued his case that, "God , who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. he made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith." He went on to state that "We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are." Paul won the arguement as James the Just (brother or cousin of Jesus, and current leader of the Christian Sect in Jerusalem), ruled that they should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are "turning to God", but to council them in what is right.

In fact the idea of interpreting the Torah to understand Jesus can be seen in James the Just's ruling in Acts. "The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: After this I will return and rebuild David's fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things that have been known for ages."

Remember, we are saved by Grace, not by man, or by our own actions. Only by accepting the love of Christ, recognizing his sacrifice and resurrection, are we saved.

Peace and Love,


Monday, July 13, 2009

The Early Christians

I've really developed a love of studying the early church, and am even considering going back to college to get a Doctorate in Religious History or some such degree.

The early Church was Jewish. The followers of Christ were considered a Jewish Sect mainly located in Jerusalem. In my opinion it is a shame that this is not more widely taught throughout Christianity.

We should never forget that Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi. Everyday, from the time he was little, Jesus, like all observant Jews would recite the Shema. This was the closest thing to a Creed to be found in Judaism. It was the greatest expression of their basic beliefs and their commitment to Judaism. The Shema can be found in the Jewish Torah, or the Book of Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord or God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

The word Shema actually means "Hear" in Hebrew, so this is a command, not a request! He's not saying "Hey guys, think about this," he is saying "Listen! These are the facts!" The "Lord is One" is very important, as the people of that time, around 1400 B.C., generally worshipped many gods, being polytheistic, but the Hebrew people were monotheistic and this was an important part of the Shema.

Love for God is to be total and with one's whole being. Many Jews take these verses very literally and have been known (in the last 2600 years) to tie notes to their heads and forearms, and to place small wooden or metal containers with these commands on the doorframes of their homes.

Jesus and the Disciples, who were all Jewish, would not only recite the Shema, but celebrated Passover with the famous meal, and the youngest at the table would ask specific questions of the elder, wise one, or Rabbi. The dinner consisted of bitter herbs, unleavened bread, and roasted meat(lamb) to remember the night of the original passover in Egypt that led to the freedom of the Jewish people.

So why have these practices, so important for the early Christians, been abandoned by the Modern Churches? In Mark 12:28-34 Jesus added to the Shema in a revolutionary way when he was asked by a teacher of the Law of Moses this question: "Of all the commandments, which the most important?"

Jesus responded by refering to the Shema first: "The most important one is this: Hear, O Issrael, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." He then took the commandment from Leviticus 19:18 and added, "The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these." Jesus did this to show that love for one's neighbor is a "natural and logical outgrowth of love for God." The teacher of the Law understood and realized that to "love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." This is important as this probably took place in the temple courts where the priests were preparing the offerings and sacrifices.

How often do Christians get so stuck in a routine, or ritualism, that they forget what we are actually called to do? To love God, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Jesus also changed the Passover meal with the famous Communion celebration, and this act shocked his disciples and led to great confusion amongst them. It was only after his crucifixion, death, and resurrection that they came to truly understand what he had done.

So why have we lost our Jewish origins and practices? When Paul began converting non-Jews, how did the Jewish-Christians in Jerusalem react? I'll get to that next time.

Love to all.

The above was inspired by the book The Jesus Creed by Scott McKnight, and by my study group at Church. I highly recommend this book as I have learned a great deal from it. I use the NIV Study Bible and all references from the Bible are taken from it.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

My Heritage

This is an edited version of a talk I gave for the Emmaus Community. In it I discussed two of the most influential men in my life and how they were disciples of Christ.

Today I’m going to tell you the story of two Christian men who meant a lot to me, whose examples of living the Christian life still guide me to this day. They were my grandfathers; Eddie Arthur Wetterman of Waco and Leslie Lowe of Lufkin.

Eddie Arthur Wetterman was a boy during World War I. His parents were 1st generation Americans, whose families had come from Old Prussia, before it had been united into Germany. I’d like to relate a family legend with you. I can’t verify this happened, but it is an old tale that’s been passed down in my family. During the war in Giddings, Texas, the family was threatened because they spoke German and had an old painting of the Kaiser in their home. A mob threatened to burn them out. My great-grandfather, Charles Henry Wetterman, reportedly took the painting out and burned it before the crowd, stating, “We are Americans.” This must have satisfied the crowd as they did not burn the home down, but the Anti-German sentiment was strong. Young Eddie and his three brothers were told never to speak German, but only English from that time on. While raised in the Lutheran church, Eddie became Baptist upon moving to Waco and marrying my grandmother Louise. They were always involved in the Church, despite moving many times across Texas. Eddie always looked for the next big challenge, and liked to take on new jobs. They raised three boys and one girl and they were always in Church.

Eddie suffered in life as we all must do. He watched his mother die of lung cancer in the late 1930s. He helped care for his father into the late 1950s. He worked throughout the Great Depression as a mechanic, and during World War II he worked on the plane factories that had sprung up between Waco and Dallas. Finally, in 1979, after suffering from back pain, the Doctor told him that he, like his mother, had lung cancer and that even with treatment, he only had six months or so to live.

Like so many facing death, he could have felt cheated, he could have wallowed in self-pity, or yelled at God, but he did not. Eddie wanted to make sure that he died after making peace with anyone who had any reason to be upset with him. He began contacting everyone he could, everyone he thought might have any reason to be upset with him. He didn’t tell them he was dying. He simply apologized for any problems they might have had between them, witnessed to them about God’s love, and made peace.

He had been a Sunday school teacher for years and he continued to do so, even as the chemo therapy took what little hair he had left, made him thoroughly ill, and made his feet swell to the point he could barely walk.

I remember the last time I visited with him. It was a Sunday, and I was about 12 years old. I reached down and kissed his cheek, I remember my eyes swimming in tears. He reached out, touched by head and I remember him saying, “Live a good life. Be a good person. Always do your best.” It was the first time I every saw my father cry.

The next day, my Aunt, who lives in Indiana, told my grandfather that they had to return home. They had come down to be with him when he died, but he had lived a week longer than expected. That morning he went outside and sat in a chair in his front yard, listening to the sounds of his neighborhood, the birds singing, the feel of the warm sunlight on his skin. He sat there for several hours, then returned into the house, laid down, and died. My father swears that Grandpa Eddie didn’t want his daughter to have to make the trip home, only to return for the funeral, and that he made up his mind to die that day. Despite being a fairly poor man, he had one of the largest funerals I’ve ever seen, as people lined the walls in standing room only to pay respects to this good Christian man.

My other grandfather, whom I referred to as Papaw was Leslie Lowe. He was born in Scrappin’ Valley in deep East Texas. He had a rough life as they grew up poor, and worked in the fields to grow enough food to feed the family. He and his brothers had many fights with some of the other families in the area. His father was a gruff man, who by all accounts was very stingy, and never showed the children much affection. I remember him telling me that he could not remember his mother ever hugging him or telling him, “I love you.” He and his brothers worked through the Depression and all of them went to War by enlisting after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Leslie served in the Navy, leaving his young wife and three children behind.
Upon returning home from the war, another child, Kenneth, was still born. Leslie became a shipwright, and worked in the dockyards of Beaumont. In the mid 1950s, the scaffolding he was on broke, and he fell several stories and suffered a broken back. He couldn’t work for over a year, and the family lived on canned peas and cornbread, as my grandmother worked in a chicken factory to help the family survive.
Leslie was bitter and like his father, was harsh on the children. My aunt Helen was hardheaded and would stand up to him only to be knocked down time and time again. While he had been raised to be a Christian, I’m not sure he really knew what that meant. In the late 1950s the family was Pentecostal, and though he would sing in Church and minister to others, he remained a difficult father, and fell many times short of the Christian ideal. He got into a few fights, drank too much upon occasion, and was a man who seemed to always have a chip on his shoulder.

Then, in 1972 he suffered the first of four major heart attacks. He no longer could be employed, as the Doctor’s told him only about a fourth of his heart was still working properly. My grandmother then took a job working at Lufkin Foundry to help pay the costs of living. While he was bedridden he began watching television, including Billy Graham, and though I’m loath to admit it, the P.T.L. club. He began to realize what it really meant to be a Christian and he began to change. I wish I could ask him what the turning point of his life was, but that’s a question I’ll have to ask him in heaven one sweet reunion day.

As a child I stayed with him, then everyday after school until the fifth grade. I was very close to my Papaw and I never knew him to be anything but loving, kind, and the most wonderful man I ever knew. He had indeed changed, as my mother and aunt are witness to.

When my parents stopped going to Church, I began going with my Papaw and Mamaw. He exemplified a Christian man to me then. I remember him kneeling in prayer every service, and when I spent the night with him, we would kneel at the foot of his bed and pray. I remember him singing “I’ll Fly Away” as we drove all over East Texas together in his red dodge pickup. It was his favorite song and to this day I can hear his voice singing that wonderful old hymn.

I remember him telling me not to put my faith in man, as I had with a certain charismatic young preacher, but in God. I wish I would have taken this advice to heart, as after being told I shouldn’t want to be a Police officer due to if I ever had to shoot someone, I’d go to Hell, I quit the Church for twenty years.

The last time I was with him, I went to Church in a fairly foul mood. I didn’t hug his neck that day, or tell him I loved him. The next day, a Monday, August 29th, 1983, he suffered his last heart attack and died entering the emergency room of the hospital.

These two men, who meant so much to me, were both Christian disciples, though their stories and lives were different. One was always full of Christian love and filled with the Holy Spirit, the other was a work in progress most of his life, but today both are in Heaven and are examples to us on what it means to be a disciple.

My grandfather’s, Eddie and Leslie, each taught me through their lives about Christ. Each knew about priority, discipline, reality, empathy, initiative, and were most generous with sharing the Good News. They had faith, were humble, had hope, and showed love.

I inherited some of my grandfather Eddie Wetterman’s Sunday school lessons. I’m posting a copy of a special one to you so that he may continue to be a disciple for Christ even though his physical being has been gone now almost thirty years. In it, Grandpa instructs us to Stop, Look, and Listen. We should stop living for the world, and start living for Christ. We should look for God’s love and the work of the Holy Spirit all around us, everyday. We should listen to the teachings of Christ and use his instructions to be servants for others.

In closing I give you my Grandfather Eddie Wetterman’s words, “Could it be that right now some of us are approaching a critical crossroad in our lives. Please take time to Stop, Look, and Listen to what God is saying to you.”

Are you willing to respond to God’s call on your life? Will you gratefully and wholeheartedly respond by becoming true Disciples of Christ Jesus?


Transcribed lesson from Sunday School teaching of Eddie Arthur Wetterman circa 1977.

Stop, Look, and Listen. Small, simple words, but they represent some important concepts that are essential to Christian life.
We need to Stop pursuing the pleasures of this world for they are passing and many times harmful in their consequences.
We must Stop loving the world since it too will pass away and give little if any help to the Christian life.
We should Stop wasting our time for it is the greatest commodity that we have.
We need to Stop thinking wrong thoughts for they will lead us away from God and into Spiritual captivity.
We must Stop neglecting prayer since this is our live line to spiritual insight and strength.
We need to Stop neglecting Bible study for without it we become easy victims of Satan’s teachings.
We are advised to Look to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.
We Look to Him for our salvation.
We Look to him for sanctification in our daily lives.
We Look to Jesus for Baptism in the Holy Spirit.
We can Look to Christ for victory over temptation.
We can Look to Jesus for a clean example for living the Christian life.
We Look to Jesus for that blessed hpe beyond the grave and eternal life with him.
The life that is continually looking to Christ will find power to survive the temptation Satan can bring against the children of God.
There are important things to Listen for. To hear mans to recieve sound by using your ears. Read these words in Mark 9:7 “And a voice from the cloud said this is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” And also in Mark 11:24 when Jesus said, “Listen to me. You can pray for anything and if you believe you have it, it’s yours.”
But Listen to the rest of what he said. “But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in Heaven will forgive you your sins too.
We need to Listen to God’s Word not just with the ear, but with the inner soul.
It is important to have God’s guidance if we are to live the life and do the things He desires that we do. Some times drastic things happen before we will Stop, Look, and Listen.
It is very dangerous to live at a pace where there is no time for spiritual things.
I am sure that many will miss heaven because they did not Stop, Look, and Listen. I have read in the paper where there were three people killed at a rail road crossing as they failed to head this old warning to Stop, Look, and Listen. Could it be that right now some of us are approaching a critical crossroad in our lives? Please take time to Stop, Look, and Listen to what God is saying to you.

Friday, July 10, 2009

My Sister, Stephanie

I'm posting edited versions of various talks I've given for the Emmaus community. I think it's important to know where I've come from, to realize where I'm going.

In 1963, Tom and Betty Wetterman, a 21 and 19 year old, were a young married couple and were about to become first time parents. What for most people should be the greatest day of joy in their lives became a nightmare. But even in the worst of days, the Holy Spirit was with them.

Their newborn baby, Stephanie Denise Wetterman, had serious problems. She was born with Spinomeningoencephalocyll. That means her skull did not close properly as she was forming in the womb. Part of her brain had slipped out of her skull into a bag of flesh that had formed on the back of her head.

No child ever born with this particular birth defect, of this severity, had ever lived. The young mother was told by the Doctor, “Forget this baby. It is going to die. You are young. You can have more babies.” Stephanie was given two weeks to live, though the doctors believed it probably wouldn’t be that long.

The family prayed for help to come, but the neurosurgeon in charge waited for several weeks, expecting the child would die. She did not.

Eventually another neurosurgeon became involved. He offered to attempt a radical surgery to replace Stephanie’s brain into her skull, take off the excess skin sack, and to cover the hole in her skull with a wire mesh. The brain’s swelling could be controlled with a shunt that would funnel excess brain fluid into her stomach to be reabsorbed into her body. The prognoses for her surviving the surgery was very low, but there was hope, and the family: the parents, grandparents, and their brothers and sisters in blood and in Christ, prayed. She survived the surgery.

Tom had worked as a mechanic at the time, and Betty had been a legal secretary, but quit her job to stay with the baby at the hospital. Tom took a second job and worked long hours, but it was impossible for the young couple to pay the mounting bills. The family prayed.

A hospital administrator called Betty into her office one day and told her that if she didn’t have anymore insurance, or the money to pay the bills, she would be asked to leave the hospital. The young mother, distraught and overcome with the burdens she faced and the prospect of her baby being kicked out of the hospital and dying due to lack of medical care, was sobbing as the neurosurgeon entered the room to check on Stephanie. He asked her what was wrong. She told him what had happened. He told her not to worry about it anymore, that there was no way the hospital would kick them out, and that he would take care of it.

The administrator never again spoke to Betty, and they were never charged for the surgery or the hospital stay.

The baby suffered through 13 surgeries the first 9 years of her life, 10 of them before she was a year and a half old. The first saved her life, and she was the first such child to live with that birth defect. Unfortunately, the brain had to be separated from the skin it had become attached to, and the scraping of the brain left her profoundly retarded and subject to grand moll seizures, one of which left her paralyzed on half of her body.

Many will hear her story and say for what purpose did this child live? What possible effect could a profoundly retarded child have on our world?

My sister Stephanie had many problems. To control the frequency and severity of seizures she has to take some very hard drugs including Phenobarbitol. She can do little for herself now, but I remember when we were both young, and how she would try to walk in her physical therapy class, how she would laugh at her little brother’s antics, how she would radiate God’s glory as she belted out songs such as “Jesus Loves me this I know” and other children’s songs. She loved her papaw, and he loved her. He had lived a very hard life, but three heart attacks and his love for his grandchildren, especially Stephanie, greatly affected him, and he died a good, Christian man.

I remember our parents in the choir of our church, while Stephanie and I would sit in the pews listening and watching. She would move her hand to the time of the music and smile the greatest smile. She touched many lives including the pastor of our church, many ladies who have had to care and look after her as she got older, extended family members, and many others.

However, the greatest impact she had was on me. From her I learned empathy for others. I learned to see the pure love of the Lord reflected in her. I remember being called a “retard” because she was my sister, but I always loved her and as a child dealt with such teasing the best way a young boy could.

Eventually, as an adult, I became a special education teacher, knowing that I could make a difference in the lives of not only my students, but their families as well. It means so much to have a teacher that has seen such handicaps in their own lives. I know, especially since one of my own sons is autistic, and I have to attend school meetings as the parent, not just the professional.

Stephanie’s presence in my life, and God’s Grace made me who I am today. Despite these lessons, there was a time I tried to do things my way, and not God’s way. I knew him, but had no real relationship with him except during holiday prayers before meals and the football games. Eventually, my wife got me to begin attending our church, but I kept a distance. I knew I needed more, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it.

My sister, Stephanie, will turn 46 in a couple ofmonths. Hundreds of people have come into her life and are amazed by her life’s story and the pure love she and others like her radiate. I have had her caretakers tell me about how she continues to astonish them and how her simple smile can help them through a difficult day.

Stephanie has been one of the greatest influences on my life. Would I be the person I am today without her? Because of her I became a Special Education teacher, and now work with at-risk kids, most of whom come from broken homes, have broken lives, and little hope They need to know there are people who truly care about them. They need to know God’s love.

Every child I touch and make a difference with is a blessing made possible by God’s grace and my sister’s presence in my life.

God touched me through her. If God can use someone like her, imagine what he can do with you.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Call to Respond

(This is an edited version of a talk I gave at an Emmaus Event.)

I’ve always been a Christian, but I have not always lived the Christian life. Do you know what I mean?

See I was raised to believe that Christ was the Son of God, my personal savior, and that he died on a cross that was mine and bore all the sins of my life, so that I might have eternal life. I’ve always believed that, but I have not always lived it.

As a young teenager I was a devoted Christian. I loved Church and attended whenever the doors were open. I hung on every word of the Charismatic preacher and knew I wanted to dedicate my life to serving the Lord. So what happened? What went wrong? Where did I go wrong?

One day, the preacher’s wife was teaching my Sunday school class and she asked us, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” At that time I thought it would be great to protect and serve the public. I wanted to be a policeman and I told her so.

She answered, “Oh Eddie, if you become a policeman you might have to kill someone and you will go to Hell!”

I was shocked. I was stunned. That answer did not jive with the stories of the Bible I had read, such as King David wiping out entire tribes of people and still being God’s Beloved.

I was a kid, but these few words, said by another human being whom I had respected, turned my heart to stone.

I stopped going to Church. In high school I was fairly popular, had lots of friends, went to lots of parties, and did the usual teenage things such as drinking and worst of all became sexually active with several partners. But through it all, I never lost my belief in Christ, but I did abandon my relationship with him.

However, He never abandoned me! Amen!

It took me a while to recognize God’s Grace. In 1992 I married my wonderful wife, Tracey, and we attended a church in Albuquerque for a short time. We enjoyed this church as it was very large, we could be lost in the crowd and never had to commit. We could be faceless and nameless. I did love the preacher though. He was an ex-surfer, who sat on a stool up on the stage, and read the Bible from front to back, using historical references and huge maps. My kind of Bible study. Unfortunately, we soon moved back to Houston and again I stopped going to Church.

Then in 1995 my oldest son, David, was born. Like many young parents we decided our children should be raised in a Church. I remember thinking, "I didn’t need it, but they did."

We joined a church in Katy, Texas, but again never felt a part of them. Many of them made much more money than we did, had huge beautiful houses, and honestly we felt inferior, and never felt at home there. After a few months we stopped attending. Six months later we received a card in the mail asking for our tithes. Not a “Where have you been, we missed you,” but “We need the money you promised us.” This made me very angry, self-righteous, and …well, dumb! I began to believe that I could be a Christian without going to any Church. I viewed all Christians as hypocrites and treated those I met from that perspective. I swore I’d never join a Church again. I would not be a hypocrite. My heart had become a stone and I did not walk with Christ, but he never abandoned me.

In 2000 we moved from Katy to Caldwell, Texas and had our second son, Kevin. Our lives in Caldwell were not easy. Tracey had trouble finding a job after having the baby. I took a huge paycut to leave Alief Independent School District to work for the Bryan Independent School as a teacher. My wife and I had trouble making all our bills for a while, and we argued for the first time in our marriage and grew to resent each other.

The worst part of this time was the slow creeping feeling of dread as I came to know something was wrong with our baby. He never liked being hugged, he couldn’t be consoled, and despite walking very early, he was very slow to develop speech. At three and half years old, he could say “mom, dad, and coke,” and that was about it. I remember yelling at him, begging him to speak to me, to say I love you, to acknowledge he could hear me, to just be with us!

Turns out he is a high, functioning autistic. Part of me wanted to be angry at God. Why me? Why my family? See I also have a profoundly retarded older sister, I had a Downs Syndrome cousin, and now I had an autistic child. Honestly this sort of thing can break a marriage. I’ve heard my mother say of raising my sister, that it either makes your marriage stronger, or ends it. I have to give my wife credit. Despite all our troubles, she never seemed to consider leaving me. I probably would have! God protected us. He blessed us, but again, we didn’t realize it at the time.

Finally she said, “I’m taking our kids to Church. You don’t have to go, but I’m going.” I figured this was only a passing phase and if I went along with it, she would get tired of it and I could go back to devoting my Sundays to Football.

We attended a couple of churches and finally went to the First United Methodist church of Caldwell. The second Sunday we attended the Open Doors Sunday School class and met many wonderful friends there. They immediately made us feel accepted and they were reading the Purpose Driven Life, and the chapter that Sunday was “Why you need a Church Home.” Yeah, God was talking and this time I was listening.

We joined the Church. I rededicated my life to Christ’s service. Then Pat Baker, who had become not only a good friend, but a mentor and someone I greatly admire, asked me to go on the Walk to Emmaus.

The Walk to Emmaus is a religious retreat where you spend 72 hours listening to, and responding to, a series of talks about your personal relationship with Christ.

I went, but hesitantly. I spent the first night wondering if I was in some sort of cult, but I had a wonderful time, and realized that I had denied myself a personal relationship with Christ. Man my walk was awesome. If you are a Christian, consider the Walk to Emmaus. There is nothing I can recommend more.

On the Walk I learned what it means to have a personal relationship with Christ, how to work to strengthen the Christian Community (notice I didn't say a particular denomination), to develop skills to become a better disciple of Christ,

I learned that as a member of the Body of Christ we have a mission! We must go forth and share the Good News that Christ died and has risen so that we may have eternal life with him. We are reminded in Romans 15:16 that we have a “priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God.” We are to serve others, and we are to live the Christian life. Our mission is to bring others into a relationship with Christ.

Remember that Life in grace is a journey, not a destination and not a lifestyle to be achieved. It is a pilgrimage of love that never ends in this life. We all have had events that have shaped our lives and led us to becoming who we are, but those events are only steps in the process of life. God grabbed Moses’ attention with a burning bush, but that event only served to begin his life’s mission of working for the Lord. Jonah’s time with the whale was an event, but it was what he did later in Ninevah that is the true message.

We are called to bear witness to Christ through the quality of our walk, not just the quantity of our talk. It must become every Christian's purpose to seek ways to serve Christ in Church and to employ our energies and gifts for love of others. We should be joyful. Live a Christian life.

Finally I learned that we are to have a clear concept of our priorities. We must attempt to keep our focus on Christ and to have a clear concept of our mission as Christians. The world needs change, and it can happen when we put forth the effort to change it.

Some folks do not like the Emmaus movement, some do not like aggressive Christians, some do not like Christians at all. We cannot force change on people, but we can love them as they are and present an authentic witness to them through our actions. When you are disappointed or downtrodden remember it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convince and change. You keep the authentic witness and God does the rest. Jesus promises to be with us always. In John 8:12 he says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

When my walk was over I stayed high on the mountain for months. I now volunteer in my church and do all I can to share God’s love with everyone I encounter. I strive to be a better husband, father, friend, and teacher. Despite all this I have bad days too. I stray at times (too many to count, but now I know who I serve. For much of my life I abandoned God. But He never abandoned me.

As for my son, Kevin, he’s doing very well and will be staring the third grade. He is reading on level with his “normal” classmates, loves to be hugged, and is a great blessing. He is a light and God works through him. Just as he will work through you.

Be Joyful and Stand.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Why Stand?

You ever heard the phrase "You gotta stand for something or you will fall for anything?" I believe this. I try to to live this. However, I am definately the opposite of perfection, and I fail as often as anybody. That being said, I keep getting back up and trying again.

You see I have help along the path of life. I have a friend who is always with me, giving aid and comfort when necessary and a swift knock upside the head when I'm in the wrong.

I bet you know what's coming next. Your right. I am a Christian. Jesus is my personal Savior and I want to serve him. I have been considering some radical changes in my life and creating this blog is one of the smaller ones I feel compelled to do.

So yes, this blog will be about my core Christian beliefs, the Holy catholic church, and my own struggles to live a Christian life. Those of you that know me personally, know that I can be crass, obnoxious, drink too much (I'm a lightweight when it comes to alcohol), and I have not lived the ideal Christian life in any sense of the word.

But I'm still saved.

Christ doesn't care about that stuff, as I have repented of my sins, and he has restored me to his service. He forgives all. The big stuff and the little stuff. Even better, he forgets what he forgives. That's his divinity. We humans (except for the extremely rare few, of which I am not one) are generally incapable of true forgiveness and really can't forget the hurts, especially the big ones.

So I'm creating this blog as a kind of self-searching, answer seeking exercise of the heart and mind, and hope that maybe someone else can learn from it as I will be learning by doing it. There are so many questions about religion, God, and the Church today. I'm hoping to take on many of them herein. I will do so with a prayerful heart, seeking the knowledge from His Word and various theologians, pastors, historians, and even non-believers.

What kinds of questions am I talking about? Why was Jesus Baptised? What is marriage? What about Homosexuality? What about the "Big" sins like murder, rape, etcetera? What is the role of the Church today? Why do I get angry when I listen to Christian Talk Radio and all I hear are accusatios, judgementalism, and anger from people who should be speaking of God's love and forgiveness? What about the afterlife? Is there really a devil and demons? How did the Church evolve from a Jewish Sect to the leading world religion? Why are there so many different "types" of Christians? And finally what does it mean to be saved?

I'm not going into this with any real gameplan. I'm just going to blog about whatever strikes my fancy at the time, but I am hoping to be led in the Spirit, and I hope, if nothing else comes from this, that someone, somewhere, may take some solace, inspiration, or knowledge from my meager efforts.

So join me. Stand for something. Even if you disagree with me. I invite you to stand with me.