Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Galatians 3 - Remember Your History

My dear but foolish Galatians -

Beware the judaizers who would rob you of your God-given freedom and lead you back into capitivity!

No doubt they talked of their sacred history. Of Abraham, Moses and the Law. But what of YOUR sacred history. Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. You received my message as if from an angel of God. You witnessed miracles. You tasted of the Spirit. Have you so soon forgotten? I ask you - did you receive all of this by obeying the Law? No - you received it by the Spirit. Why, then, return to someone else's slavery?

They talk of Abraham as if they only are his sons. Yet the scriptures say he is the father of many nations - not just Israel! And that God was pleased with him not by his following the law - which had not yet been given - but by his faith! So who teaches Abraham - me, when I speak of grace through faith for the nations, or them, who would shackle all peoples with Jewish law?

They talk of Moses, these sons of a Korah. Yet like their father they would drag you back into hopeless toil and slavery and death without deliverance. I urge you instead to follow the burning fire of the Spirit out of bondage and into the Kingdom. Like Moses I am no great speaker and I look less like Charlton Heston and more like Chucky Cheese, but by the grace of God I am what I am, an apostle to the Gentiles, and His grace is not without effect. Follow me as I follow Christ.

They talk of the Law as if they own it. Yet they are its slaves. The Law itself has so judged and sentenced them. The Law itself says "cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in this book of the Law." No man can keep the Law perfectly. And 12 centuries of the sacred history they prattle on about has shown one thing: Israel will not, cannot keep the Law! The people of God need a deliverer, not from the holy Law, but from the just punishment of disobeying it. The deliver, the Messiah of Israel, is Jesus of Nazareth. He did this by taking on himself, through crucifixion, the curse of humanity's failure to keep God's law. By believing in this we become dead to the Law's judgement and alive in the Spirit.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Galatians 2 – whose is the real Gospel?

My beloved Galatians, you have seen the judaizers with the fringes on their garments and listened to their spiel and now you are wondering if Paul is meshugallah, no? You are thinking maybe Paul’s freedom is a lie?

Listen and see who bears the lie. You need to know the whole story. I was once just like them. I was zealous for the law and I chased the Christians from Jerusalem to Damascus, just like they do. Blessed be the God of Israel he appeared to me on the road to that city and revealed to me the full gospel of freedom and liberty from the bondage of the Law. Soon I returned to Jerusalem to meet with the other apostles, the very same men claimed as authority by those puffed up poltroons who are trying to poison the wells of your spirits. Do you think those apostles opposed my gospel? No! They agreed with me! So right there is the judaizers’ first lie, and it should be enough for you to shake your dusty sandals in their faces.

Let me tell you another story – one day Peter and his crowd were in gentile Antioch, worshipping and living in unity with the gentiles, and then some judaizers show up, and even Peter goes weak at the knees and bends them in spiritual hypocrisy to the spirit of death and bondage to the Law. As I rebuke you today – so I rebuked him! No man’s teaching or cowardly, man-loving failure to teach should ever be suffered to challenge or weaken Christ’s gospel of freedom by grace through faith, not of works.

I mentioned they wear their fringes. They say clothes make the man, and indeed they are on the fringes themselves, the fringes of the Kingdom, if indeed they are in it at all. They are the last echoes of 12 centuries of resounding failure of my people to obey their own law. And the law they themselves cannot keep, they now push on you?! I have been entrusted with the gospel to the Gentiles, and Peter with the gospel to the Jews. Their gospel, pfhff – it is not mine, nor Peter’s, and certainly not God’s. And this is our gospel:

15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in[d] Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.”

Now my beloved Galatians, you know the “back story” about their false authority to preach, and my very real authority. Judge for yourselves. And I add this difference between them, and their endless prattling about the Law, and me and the Christ I preach and live through:

“For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!

Dwell on this, which teaching seems right to your minds and spirits? But know that I am not finished…..I have four more strong messages for you.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Galatians 1 – Rape, looting and pillaging on the spiritual frontier! Marshall Paul saddles up and rides

Paul is one sick missionary. His sickness (of unspecified nature) forces him to change his itinerary and convalesce in Galatia, a Roman province on the Black Sea in modern day Turkey populated by Celtic Gauls whose ancestors three centuries ago raped, looted and pillaged their way from modern-day southern France (“Gaul”) to their current home. They have become loyal, respectable, civilized Romans, although they still speak their Celtic tongue. Anyway – what Satan or some microbe meant for evil, God meant for good. The convalescing missionary is received as an “angel of God” by the Galatians. They receive his message completely and enthusiastically, every jot and tittle. The trouble starts after Paul leaves Galatia and some judaizing Christians follow in his wake, as the Book of Acts notes they were wont to do (Ephesus, etc.).  Suddenly these zealous but unschooled Galatians have been bewitched into “buying” the lie that religious works will get the believer into heaven.  

Paul flips out. To him, this is not about defending “his” turf or validating his own point of view. There is nothing personal or subjective here. To Paul the crisis is obvious: the grace-abidin’ community he has established on the godless spiritual frontier is under attack! Torah-totin' barbarians are inside the stockade, raping, looting and pillaging! This is war!! Warrior Paul knows that ground seized from the enemy must be defended against determined counter-attack. So he straps on the armor of God and sets out to take captive or destroy every human and spiritual argument that would set itself up against God’s revealed truth, the gospel of freedom and liberty for the believer in the sacrificial death and resurrection of the One who sent him, the Lord Jesus Christ.

If Paul has his way, no false teaching is getting away, to rob, kill or destroy another day.

As our brother Brian Chapaitis, missionary to Papua – New Guinea, said in his sermon at Jericho Congregational Church this morning, spiritual warfare is real. We Americans and other westerners are willfully blind to it. But Paul – he is not blind. Or apathetic. Or weak.  And apparently by and for God's grace he prevailed - history tells that Galatia was a thoroughly Christian territory until the Seljuk Moslems finally overran it in the 11th century.

For the history of Galatia: http://www.unrv.com/provinces/galatia.php

Saturday, August 27, 2011

II Cor 13 – Take Stock Before the Storm

The news today is full of final, last-minute advice about preparing for Hurricane Irene. I have heard it so often I am starting to tune it out. They say you have to hear an advertising message at least three times before it prompts a decision. Will all of the warnings prove necessary? We will know by tomorrow afternoon.

The final chapter of II Corinthians is like those warnings. The Corinthians have heard it all by now, but they hear it again, one last time, from the earthly workman and overseer of their spiritual house. (I do not say “builder” – Paul is just one contractor of many for the Owner/General Contractor.) He wants them to be ready for the coming, howling storm of being Christians in first century Rome. To mix metaphors, any tradesman will tell you that there comes a time in any job when it seems to be done, and you cast your experienced eye over the whole thing, running a mental checklist. “Roofcap? Done. Nails and debris picked up from the ground? Done…..” Only then can you pronounce it ready for presentation and payment.

Either metaphor works; the final warning before the storm or final checklist of an approved, workmanlike job for the owner:

For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you.

 5 Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? 6 And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. 7 Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. 8 For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. 9 We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored. 10 This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down.

 11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

Friday, August 26, 2011

II Cor 12 - Thorns in the Flesh, Visiting Heaven

That braggart Paul goes on and on. He saw heaven. He saw things no man has seen and they were SO COOL he can't tell anyone about it!

Top THAT, Toronto. Beat THAT, Benny Hinn.

I am not moved, or impressed. Maybe I am jealous. But as Paul readily admits he is spiritually showboating. And that's why I love the next part, about the thorn in the flesh. God allows the Devil to painfully pierce Paul. It hurts and it just won't go away and Paul says "PLEASE GOD MAKE IT STOP" and Jesus says:


I need you to stay humble.

My people must know that your power comes from me. Someday, Paul, your body will be gone, a broken vessel whose clay has returned to the earth from which it was made. My people learn to rely on the power and Kingdom that is not of this world.

But my son, my beloved Saul who became "small" for My sake, in imitation of Me - as in all things I have gone before you in suffering, and am with you in the painful present. I have allowed the Devil to pierce you with a single thorn in the flesh, for my Kingdom's sake. My Father allowed Me to be pierced by many thorns, a whole crown of them, and with metal spikes also, for the same purpose. In every pain, in every loneliness, I have been there first. I have suffered thorns and been left alone in the Garden. And I am still there, with my suffering loved ones. YOUR head feels YOUR body's pain. It is any wonder then that I am always interceding?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

II Cor 11 – What do I have to do to prove that I love you?

Paul gets a little crazy in this chapter. He admits it. But he’s going out of his mind because these foolish Corinthians seem to think that Paul is a weak, you-got-nuthin’ pushover because he isn’t demanding enough. It seems the Corinthians expect their “elders” to slap them around a little.

Everyone has seen the photo of Marilyn Monroe with the breeze blowing up her skirt. Less known is that her husband, Joe Dimaggio, went nuts when he heard about the shoot. Thinking his wife was acting like a tramp in front of dozens of drooling male photographers, he beat her that night. When a woman friend told her indignantly that no woman should let her man hit her, Monroe answered, “any man who didn’t treat me that way wouldn’t be much of a man.”

Like the troubled sex goddess of the 50’s, the bride of Christ in Corinth seems to think they deserve mistreatment. Some Strong Man spirit of condemnation or respect for false authority has made them think their “betters” should validate their status by abusing them. Conversely they despise the servant who loves them in patience, kindness and truth.  

In this way Paul's agony reminds me of the Lord, and of his Father. How often an Old Testament prophet says God’s people despised His many blessings and only sought God when as a grudging “Plan B” He allowed them to undergo affliction.  Neither God nor Paul his messenger desire to harm their beloved, and they are grieved when their beloved expects mistreatment from them as some twisted sign of authority.

Empathy and abuse cannot coexist. Paul says in verse 29, “Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” This is like the Lord. In her wonderful novel “The Road to Cana”, Ann Rice describes Jesus, wandering in the wilderness, suddenly aware of the anguish of each and every troubled soul on earth. Tonight, as I experience my first night of many as the old Page living at 144 Mansfield Avenue, I know that Jesus is with me, that in His compassion he “sorrows with me”, to use the term coined by our sister Michelle Jaquith. The lover of my soul may chastise me for my benefit – as Paul disciplines the Corinthians - but He will never abuse me. I am His beloved. He loves me.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

II Cor 10 - demolishing strongholds

Paul writes in vs. 3-5: "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds."

This morning I heard a story about this. Three stories, in fact. At our Jericho Congregational Church Men's Group, we discussed a "thought question" posed by Christian philosopher (and former UVM Campus Crusade for Christ director) J.P. Moreland in his book "Kingdom Triangle":

"What is real?"

Ask eight Christian men and you get eight views that particularly large elephant. Engineer Rich Parker noted that modern science does not determine what is real, it merely exposes it. The laws governing the universe discovered by Galileo and Pasteur were real before either man was born. Bob Terranova, a disabled person who ministers to other disabled people, described how Joni and Friends helped a disabled woman and her family this month; when God loves people through His body, that is real.

And finally, when someone mentioned the false "superstition" of third world peoples, Wycliffe missionary-on-furlough Brian Chapaitis talked about spiritual reality in Papua New Guinea. Over there, he said, people believe the spirits live in the rocks, the water, the trees. And the spirits are not friendly. The discerning Christian missionary acknowledges this reality. Rather than ignore the spirit world, as we Americans tend to do relatively speaking, the missionary walks down to the water. He speaks to the spirits in the rocks and trees. He tells them that Jesus is the One Great Spirit who is King over all the Spirits. He tells them in the name of King Jesus that they have no power to harass His people. He tells them to go into the abyss. He tells them to take a hike, because their salad days of feasting on suffering humanity are over. Starting now.

I see a common thread in all three stories: through His body Jesus demolishes the strongholds of invisible spirits, despair, illness, and proud worldly philosophy. Sin, the flesh, and the devil, the unholy trinity arrayed against the Godhead, thrive in darkness. Like all passing shadows, they die in the Light.

Monday, August 22, 2011

II Cor 9 - Paul Explains the Benefits of Giving

Apparently my Spiritual Advisor Paul the Apostle thinks I need another session on the discipleship of giving. So here we are again…..

Paul: Guy, my goal for you is that your enthusiasm for giving would stir others to action.

Guy: Paul, if you want me to be some kind of example, I need more than just a “you oughta do it” riff. Tell me what giving is good for. In fact tell me what’s in it for me.  There, I just responded to a call for giving by using the word “me” five times – that ought to tip you off.

Paul: Okay. Here’s how giving is good for you. Allow me to paraphrase one of Solomon’s proverbs (11:24-25): whoever sows sparingly with also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will reap generously.

Guy: I get the principle – it happens in my garden every year. When I’m tired of clearing sod and spading and de-rocking, I just think about the squash and beans and tomatoes to come. But Paul – them’s MY squash, MY beans, and MY tomatoes. So: by giving I will reap WHAT?

Paul: Guy, you are forever praying and singing that God be glorified in your life. Here’s your chance! By giving, your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.

Guy: Really?! You’re just saying that. No-one actually says ‘thank you God for prompting Guy Page to send me some money.’

Paul: Actually, some do. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you. But is that really the point, you getting cred before the Throne? What – God doesn’t already know? The important thing is that men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

II Cor 8 - The Apostle Paul knew NOTHING about having to pay for college

So it is Sunday morning, August 21, and I am meeting with my spiritual advisor, the Apostle Paul. As usual, I am doing most of the talking:

Guy: “Joe and I got back late last night from an intensive two day road trip visiting my (our? - can I still say that?) oldest son Tim in New Jersey. We took the same route Diane and I took on our adoption travels to Philadelphia, four or five trips in all, and we went through Lake George/Glens Falls, where she was from and where we often vacationed. [Sigh.] Bittersweet doesn't begin to cover it. Talk about transitions - it wasn't long ago that Joe was the happy little bundle of hope in the carseat in the back, coming home for the first time. This weekend he was still a happy bundle of hope, but sitting beside me in the front seat, getting ready to leave home for the first time. He’s going off to college this week.”

Paul: “Guy, you are blessed with three godly children, and with the provision for them. Now then – just as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel in this grace of giving.”

Guy: “Laying it on pretty thick, aren’t you Paul – both the flattery and the guilt? Didn’t you hear what I just said about college? Do you have any idea how much it costs every month to send someone to St. Michael’s College?”

Paul: “I met St. Michael once, when I was caught up into the third heaven. A worthy warrior and messenger of the Almighty! By His grace may Joe benefit from his protection and learn from his example. But as for you, Guy, remember my account of the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. They gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.”

Guy: “But – Paul – how can I do this?”

Paul: “You can start by doing what the Macedonians did – they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will. Guy, I am not commanding you. I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know – I read about how very much you know in your blog all the time! – the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”

Guy: “You’re asking a lot, Paul. Maybe more than any man has a right to ask another.”

Paul: “Not just “any man” is asking you, Guy. It is he who said, ‘If “any man” would be my disciple, let him take up his cross, and follow me.’”

Thursday, August 18, 2011

II Cor 7 - Godly Sorrow

Vs. 10 - "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldy sorrow brings death."

The Apostle isn't talking about losing-someone-you-love sorrow, he's talking about I'm-sorry-I-done-wrong sorrow. Our sister Michelle Jaquith recently told me that she had always wondered what "I'm sorry" means, so she looked it up in the dictionary. Quite literally the expression means "I sorrow with you." In the context of Chapter 7, godly sorrow is telling God and others "I am sorry - that is, I sorrow with you over the wrong that has been done to you by me." Flowing from this understanding and empathy comes the urge to change, or as Paul describes the sorrowful Corinthians, "what earnestness, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern." There is nothing half-hearted or passive about godly sorrow; moved by the pain it has caused, it takes whatever action is necessary to set right the wrong. Regardless of the cost. Would we expect any less from the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God? If godly sorrow puts us on a hard, narrow road, at least it is the road of freedom and eternal joy, and we have the consolation of His example and company and that of our fellow pilgrims. This is the way, walk ye in it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

II Cor 5 & 6 – Dropped from the Checklist

As a Cambridge Justice of the Peace, I sit on the town’s board of civil authority. Tonight we updated the town’s voter checklist. We added new names  – hey there, Josh Nalette of Lamoille Valley Church of the Nazarene! -  and deleted others. Including this entry: "Page, Diane. Deceased."

(Excuse me, I just paused to eat a big bite of chocolate chip cookie dough comfort food. There, that’s better.) While the other JPs were talking for 20 minutes about property values up at Smugs, I pretty much was looking at my wife’s name. (Grief is like that – you are going through a normal day and wham something happens and it hits you. This was just a little more obvious than most.) Anyway I ended up thinking that someday, the mighty of this world also will be reduced to three words in an unread report somewhere in Chicago or New York or wherever: Obama, Barack. Deceased. Trump, Donald. Deceased. The Captains and the Kings Depart. In Act V of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Prince Hal eulogizes the fallen challenger Hotspur:

Ill-weaved ambition, how much art thou shrunk!
When that this body did contain a spirit,
A kingdom for it was too small a bound;
But now two paces of the vilest earth
Is room enough.

But enough depressing talk from the second most read body of work in the English language.  Here’s some encouragement from Numero Uno: “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heavens, not built by human hands” (II Cor 5:1). Towns and their records are momentary things, like the flowers that fade. How wonderful to know that Diane’s name, and mine, is written forever in the document that really counts, the Lamb’s Book of Life.

*  * * * * * *

In Chapter 6:3, Paul writes, “we put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.” Then he goes on to say how he and Timothy put up with an awful lot so that others might be blessed. I wonder if I have any idea what kind of stumbling blocks I put in the way of others who are lurching towards the cross. Do I have “inordinate affections” – do I love anything too much (America, myself)? Do my prejudices repel people desperate to meet Christ, whether they know it or not? Do I speak too often of God’s will for others – or maybe, not often enough? Or both?

“Do not be yoked with unbelievers” is invoked when a believer wants to marry a non-believer, and rightly so. But it also has applications for business partnerships and in any way (even internally) when what is holy risks being profaned by too-close contact with evil influences. I avoid painful, useless yoking not by obeying a set of laws but by examining myself in the Spirit and the Word, and by loving Jesus more than anything or anyone.  

Monday, August 15, 2011

II Cor 5 - Heaven, and Reconciliation, and Love

To live by faith and not by sight (v. 7) is a wonderful thing. To say "yes" to God is to say "yes" to heaven. To a life of love. To being a new creation. To being God's partners in the daily Great Work of Souls, the ministry of reconciliation.

Of course - it's not that easy and simple. There is groaning on this earth such that I long to be clothed with my  heavenly dwelling. Like when I just stink of BO and am streaked with gritty oily grime so bad that I JUST CAN'T WAIT to get into the shower. But oh the joy and relief and happiness when I do......man, it's heaven.

People may think I'm crazy. But I just don't see them from the same worldly point of view. Having been reconciled myself, I help Him as an ambassador to not conquer, but to reconcile this crazy world to Him. Crazy? Depends on your POV. His neighbors thought Noah was crazy, too.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

II Cor 4 - Treasures in Earthen Vessels

I know a brother who is a faithful “watchman on the walls,” warning the church (those that will listen) of current and likely future events and what the Word of God says about them. In his careful, thoughtful, interpretations of the Word he is one of the most scrupulously scriptural people I know.  He lives alone and in intermittent, chronic pain.

I know a sister who praises God with almost every other breath and prays trustingly for healing for herself and others.  For every one of the many years I have known her, her compounded illnesses have made Diane’s look by comparison like a papercut and a sniffle.

The day before Diane died, I met a sister at the hospital who has done more to stop the legal killing of the young, weak, and old than any other person in Vermont. One of her flesh and blood had just suffered crippling, 10-on-the-pain scale orthopedic trauma. She is living proof that those who do hand to hand combat with the Spirit of Death are not spared trial and tribulation.

I look at these dear, godly folks, every one of whom would proclaim Hallelujah to the hilltops if their suffering, or that of their loved ones, were to miraculously end, soldiering on, soldiering forward, through the mustard gas and bayonets of the trench warfare of Kingdom. And I ask – why, Lord? Why, why, WHY? You are love and grace and they are your beloved children, princes and princesses all as Pastor Peter Anderson proclaimed this morning  - why do you not deliver them??

…..And I find His answer – one of them, anyway – in II Corinthians 4:

“But we have this treasure (the life of Christ) in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hardpressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body…..therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary glory are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

This is a hard teaching – who can accept it?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

II Cor 3 – You Yourselves Are Our Letter

Recommendations? Timothy and I don’t need no steenkin’ recommendations, Paul tells the Corinthians. The proof of their competent ministry is the new life in Christ found in the believers at Corinthians.  “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God,” he adds. And he tells the Corinthians they are a letter of recommendation from Christ, “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

Shifting quickly from the objective to the subjective, this is how I feel about our children. In particular, I see Diane and her maternal “ministry” in all three of our children. Our oldest, Tim, got his brains from Diane. He is one of the smartest people I know. The boy who was taught to read and write at a very early age is an articulate speaker and writer. I will never forget how Tim, as a sophomore in college, destroyed the competition in a game of Pictionary or some such English language skill/creativity game. His competition that day was Craig Bensen (Doctor of Divinity), me (30 years in journalism), and two of the smartest people I know, Bob Brunelle and Steve Smith. Didn’t matter. We were outclassed.  

Yesterday I asked Joe what part of Mom he believes has been imprinted on him. He mentioned her commitment to education and diligence in homework, and I agree. One of my defining memories of Joe is coming downstairs on Christmas morning about six years ago and finding him awake, sitting on the couch – reading his math book! His stocking was untouched. Has any other child in the history of the world ever done that? I doubt it. That's one reason Joe was an honors student at the toughest high school in Vermont.

Diane was no wilting flower who could be told what to do. Well, neither is Imani! When she was about six she marched into our bedroom with a long “spear” (walking stick) in her hand and announced, “I am Imani Angel Page, Amazon Warrior, and I will be who I will be!!” And so she has always been, and God willing will be, an oak of righteousness firmly planted. Some of that is the personality she was born with, and the rest is learned – and I think I know who one of her main teachers was.

No doubt I, or anyone, could find fault as well. She was a hurting person at times, and at times hurting people hurt others. But there is great comfort in looking at three loving, growing, godly young people and saying to Diane’s memory, “well down thou good and faithful servant.”

Switching back to the somewhat objective – Paul’s appraisal of the Corinthians is a challenge to all believers to conduct all relationships as a potential “letter of recommendation” from and to the Lord. May my life’s legacy be people brought closer to the Kingdom by my daily decision to practice encouragement, blessing, truth-telling, service, and – in one word – love.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

II Cor 2 - recovering from radical surgery

To a church that has at Paul's command in I Corinthians put an unrepentent sinner under discipline, the apostle writes the following to address the complications that might result from such radical sinnerectomy:

"If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely. 6 The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. 7

("Don't be worried about how I feel, I'm fine. I'm more worried about you.")

Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. 9

("Just like discipline at home - make sure you hug them after they get a spanking. The point of discipline is restoration, not condemnation.")

Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. 10

("Disciples of Jesus need to learn that holiness requires painful, difficult choices. Sometimes the greatest enemy of the best is the merely good. When persecution comes, your families will be threatened - yet choose God.")

Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, 11 in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

("ALL is forgiven. If you forgive someone, so do I. We are united in our forgiveness. Now let us close ranks and not let the devil do further damage.")

I think there is a role for surgical church discipline, largely honored in the breach in our litigious, independent age. In I Corinthians, he shows us how to wield the scalpel; in II Corinthians, how to treat post-operatively with a minimum of pain, inflammation, infection, and bodily deformity.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

II Corinthians 1 - Comfort and suffering, Moravian-style

II Corinthians is actually III Corinthians. That is, it is either the third or fourth actual letter Paul wrote to this gifted, volcanic, hair-pulling congregation. I suppose these two letters are in the Bible so that no pastor can ever dismiss one of Paul's challenging teachings to church leaders by saying, "yeah, but Paul, you never had to shepherd MY flock." Written as winter approached in 55 AD, it had a "I hope I didn't come down on you guys too hard in my last letter" message. Maybe that is why he mentions the word "comfort" nine times in the opening paragraph. "Suffering" or a synonym appears seven times. So....comfort in the midst of suffering, I am sensing a theme here.....but what exactly does he say about it?

Boiled down, I think it is this:

Jesus suffered to bring me comfort. As his disciple, he lets me suffer to bring others comfort. This comfort takes many forms:

1. "What you are going through sucks brother, I know because I've been there;"
2. "Here's how I got through it;"
3. Doing anything up to and including dying in order to love another into the Kingdom.

I spent the last night and day worshipping at the Ithiel Falls Camp Meeting in Johnson. Every summer this historic tabernacle and campground on the shores of the Lamoille River in Johnson is the site of 12 days of multi-generational camping and worship. Most of the folks are Nazarenes. One of the things I like about Nazarenes is their sincere, intentional desire to press into Holy Spirit holiness for their lives. Last night a young pastor named Nathan shared a wonderful challenge-by-example: he told the story of the two Moravian missionaries and would-be slaves. It's a remarkable story, and backed up and amplified by accounts in the official history of the Moravian Church.

In 1730, two young men named Dober and Nitschmann were part of Count Zinzendorf's Moravian/pietist movement, and they felt a powerful call to bring the gospel to St. Thomas, then a slave plantation under English control. An escaped slave told them that none but slaves were allowed there. Undeterred, they resolved that even if they were to be sold into a lifetime of slavery, they would go to St. Thomas and preach the gospel to the captives! It made quite a ruckus in church circles, and when the embarked from Copenhagen, it was with the blessing of the Danish royal family. Story/legend has it that as the ship left the wharf, friends and family were crying for them to return. One of the two men raised his hands and cried:

"May the Lamb of God who was slain receive the reward for His suffering!"

These two brothers were willing to suffer and die as Christ did, to bring the comfort that He brought.


I had heard that story before, and had always wondered: whatever happened to those two guys? Well, now I know - when Dober and Nitschmann arrived on the Danish ship at St. Thomas, they discovered, lo and  behold, the escaped slave had been wrong! They did NOT need to sell themselves into slavery after all! With much rejoicing they set about their great work. Fifty years later, 15,000 souls had been brought into the Kingdom. Their willingness encouraged anti-slavery Christian activism everywhere. All because two young men were willing, like Abraham, to suffer and sacrifice in response to the call of God.

The only problem with this great story, for me, is that the application is not immediately clear, to me. I do not feel compelled to surrender U.S. citizenship and move to North Korea. But I look at what these guys did: they embraced a biblical worldview; they were open to God's burden, no matter how heavy; they sought confirmation from other brothers and sisters; they obeyed, trusting God for the results. Holy Spirit, lay your burden on me, I know you will help me carry it.

Once last thought on 18th century Moravian missionaries to the Americas. During an Atlantic passage, a mighty storm arose. a young English cleric was terrified he would die in the storm, and asked the Moravians why they were so calm. They told him of their assurance that because Jesus died for their sins they would go to heaven through grace, not works. The young man believed. His name was John Wesley. Hmmm, I wonder whatever happened to him?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

I Corinthians 16: but FIRST the end of chapter 15

I've got that joy, joy, joy, down in my heart, after reading the end of Chapter 15, subtitled "The Resurrection Body" in the NIV. I wrote back in Romans about an "In Memoriam" Roll the wonderful Lamoille Valley Church of the Nazarene sent to our family, remembering all those who had left this body for the next, including Diane. It reads in part:

"If to die is to join in hosannas to a risen, reigning Lord,
and to feast with Him at His table on the bread and wine of His board;
If to die is to enter a city and be hailed as a child of its King
O grave, where soundeth thy triumph?
O death, where hideth thy sting?"

Onn her spirit's last day in her corruptible body, I read to Diane the first chapter of the latest Pendergast novel, "Fever Dreams". Pendergast and his wife Helen are on safari. Sometime before I read the part where a lion shows up and kills Helen, Diane fell asleep. (She woke up a half hour later.) Sometimes life does imitate art.

So in the airport on the flight home - the same one where I met Adrian Gonzalez' high school buddy - I found the sequel to Fever Dreams. And guess what, guess what......I discover in the first chapter that Helen is ALIVE! It is too wonderful, too miraculous, to believe, but believe Pendergast does. And so do I believe that as Jesus lives, so does his daughter Diane, imperishable, in glory, in power.

And on to chapter 16, like the denouement of Romans an anti-climactic "housekeeping" epilogue that still yields a nugget or two. First: Paul refers to people setting aside money for donations on "the first day of the week." I suspect he means they meet for fellowship on the first day, and for convenience's sake that's when the collections should be made, in fairly pain-free installments. So - worshipping on Sunday that includes regular giving already had at least a template, although not a universal command.

Also, I just got off the phone with Tim in New Jersey. His 26th birthday is next week. He is at a crossroads in various spiritual and geographic ways, and needs the support of the body. I read vs. 10-11 to him as he considers moving to another location:

"If Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you, for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am. No one, then, should refuse to accept him. Send him on his way in peace so that he may return to me."

He does love getting letters, as did the Corinthians, enough to begin the process of elevating it to Scripture! Tim's standards are not THAT high, though. I hope people will let me know if they need his address. Am looking forward to seeing Imani at Ithiel Falls tonight.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I Corinthians 15 - Gonzo and A-Rod, and how bad company corrupts good character

Vs. 32-33 gives this down-to-earth application of the impact of the resurrection:

If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”

I am sitting in JFK Airport in New York, waiting for my delayed flight to Burlington. I'm coming home from my annual DC training week. Coming home from this trip last summer, I was waiting in the airport and ran into Bishop Salvatore Matano. We had great fellowship. Just minutes ago, I was sitting in the airport sports bar drinking my non-alcoholic beer watching the Red Sox game, and the guy next to me has a Red Sox hat on. Long story short - he is a close childhood friend of Adrian Gonzalez. (I saw the pictures on his I-Phone to prove it.) He talked about how happy Gonzo is playing and living in Boston, and how his wife is expecting their first child after many years of trying. If all goes well on both fronts, the Red Sox will be celebrating a World Series victory a day before the child is born!

Not wanting to miss the opportunity to witness and learn, I mentioned to Gonzo's friend that I had heard he is a Christian. Yes, the friend told me. When AGonz was on long road trips in the minor leagues, the young Roman Catholic married to his high school sweetheart faced a choice: he could go out and party with half of the team, or have a good dinner, Bible Study, and early bedtime with the other half of the time. Wisely, he chose not to take the "eat, drink and tomorrow we die" approach and went with the Bible study. One thing led to another, and now he is a committed believer, leading mountain retreats in the offseason for other ballplayers and their families and being very active in a San Diego church called The Rock. By God's grace he did not led "bad company corrupt good character." As AGonz's friend was telling me this, ESPN was reporting on the news of Yankee superstar Alex Rodriquez participating in illegal poker games, a serious violation of baseball policy for which he could be fined and suspended. Talk about bad company corrupting!

For baseball nuts like me, it's very interesting to hear about the lives of the guys with the .300 batting averages. But really - the soul of the fellow on the stool next to me is just as worth saving as Gonzo's. I asked the guy to tell Gonzo that there's a brother in Vermont that is praying for him and his family, and not just because the Sox need him. The guy said, "yeah, there is life after baseball." And I thought, yeah, ETERNAL life after baseball - ain't it the truth!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I Cor 13: "each of you has......."

"When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up."

The first thing I see here is that Christians are meant to come together. God does not ask me to, in the words of James Taylor, "walk that lonesome road, all by yourself." Instead like the Beatles we are enjoined to "Come together, right now, over me." Hmmm.....is that "shukkah" sound Lennon makes his version of speaking in tongues?

I am not a lonely God unto myself, as humanism and New Age religion would make me. I am part of a living organism. Thank God!

The first church in which I experienced the sort of spontaneous, potluck worship Paul seems to describe above was at Cambridge United Church. Craig Bensen, the pastor, made sure everything was done decently and in order and brought a word of instruction, but he allowed each of us to bring whatever we thought best to the table. It was freedom, as well as a responsibility that everything be done "so that the church may be built up." Most weeks, it was wonderful. The Holy Spirit accepted our invitation to be an active participant.

I am NOT saying that more planned worship doesn't "fit" the description above. I am saying it was an exhilarating experiment. And that at all points we must keep the Spirit in the loop lest our words and music be just that, words and music.

Am not ducking the role of tongues and women on purpose. Am down in Virginia on a work trip, and there's no time to say what might be well said. Or not.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I Corinthians 13 - Jesus Never Fails!

A down and dirty way for me to study the scriptures - any scripture - is to ask what it says about God. In the case of this well-known chapter, I do this by substituting "Jesus" for "Love":

4 Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. Jesus does not envy, He does not boast, He is not proud. 5 Jesus does not dishonor others, He it is not self-seeking, He is not easily angered, He keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 Jesus always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Jesus never fails.

In fact those words remind me of a favorite hymn:

Jesus never fails
Jesus never fails
heav'n and earthy will pass away
but Jesus never fails.

So I looked up the history of this hymn. What an inspiration, God is so good, and indeed for those who love Jesus faithfully He never fails.

Jesus Never Fails

The following is a tract published by the hymn's author that was sent to (a Christian hymn website) by his daughter. We are so thankful to have the privilege of recording the author's own words on this hymn and being able to speak to his daughter!

So many requests have come in for the story of this song that I am preparing it in this form so that any who may be interested may have it. During the last twenty years this simple song has literally gone round the world on its Mission and stories still come in telling of its blessing and helpfulness. As a school boy Christian I had a burning desire to be a foreign missionary. That was not to be. Later I had an urge to write a song that everyone would sing. My popular song was a dismal failure, yet God, in His Own time and way, granted my wish and “Jesus Never Fails” has reached to the uttermost of mission fields and the multitudes have sung it.

The song was written at Somerset, Kentucky, while I was there with the Dr. O.E. Williams Evangelistic Party. I received some very disturbing news from my family some 600 miles away. Worried and homesick, I sat down at the old square piano in the “Old Kentucky Home” where we were staying and as my “fingers wandered idly”, a simple melody developed beneath them which seemed to sing, “Jesus Never Fails.” Then and there the words and music of the Chorus were born. I accepted this as the answer to my heart’s prayer and I thank Him that it proved true. Reassuring news came from home. He did not fail me. However, the others in the party insisted on using the song that I selfishly thought was just for me. Evangelists all over the land began using it and soon it spread to every quarter of the globe. Scores of testimonies have come from Missionaries, Evangelists and others of the blessing that this simple three word message has been to them. It has been translated into ten European languages and into Chinese.

The missionaries on the torpedoed Zam Zam sang it while floating in the shark infested waters of the South Atlantic. It was carried into the concentration camps of Germany by these same faithful witnesses and we may be sure that God used it there to His Glory. No one will ever know in how many ways this message has appeared on mottoes, plaques, etc. Dr. Philpott tells how a Motto was slipped into the casket of a Jewish news boy. His pals who did it reported, “It went to Heaven with Bonnie.” Mrs. Williams tells me of a man who heard the Chorus as he was on his way to drown himself. He tarried to hear the Gospel Message, was gloriously saved, and is now preaching the wonderful Grace of The Jesus Who never fails.

“Jesus Never Fails” has become a sort of musical slogan of Bible Believing Christians everywhere. Men sang it at the battle front as they girded themselves for the fray. On the Home Front, Saints sing it as they do battle with the forces of sin, in true confidence that the Captain of their Salvation fails not. I surely have every reason to praise God for this Song that He gave me in the hour of my need and which has gone on to bless the entire world with its message of triumph. God has indeed permitted me to be a Missionary, and hosts of His Children are singing the Song He put in my soul.

Dr. Wm. Ashby of London, England, tells me of a Church in that blitz-torn City which had “Jesus Never Fails” painted on the front of the building. For a long time the Church was spared all except minor damage. One night the pastor, who had been staying in the basement, went to spend a few hours with his family, which had been sent to a safer area. That night a bomb fell that wrecked all but the front wall of the building. The motto stood with its silent testimony until the war ended and it was torn down. That Church became known as “The Church where Jesus Never Fails.”

Some have asked why I wrote “May pass away” instead of “Shall pass away”. The thought is to bring the truth of the song into the present tense. Let Heaven and Earth pass away at this moment if it be His Will. He fails not and the future is secure. Let come what may, He is with us NOW! “Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed ….”

Yours in His Precious Name,
North Collins, New York (near Lake Erie)
September 1, 1947

Here are all of the words......

  1. Earthly friends may prove untrue, doubts and fears assail;
    One still loves and cares for you, one who will not fail.
  2. Tho’ the sky be dark and drear, fierce and strong the gale,
    Just remember He is near, and He will not fail.
  3. In life’s dark and bitter hour love will still prevail,
    Trust His everlasting pow’r—Jesus never fails.
  • Chorus: Jesus never fails, Jesus never fails;
    Heav’n and earth may pass away, but Jesus never fails.