Jonah, Ruth and My Personal Journey

It has been a while since I have felt compelled to write in length beyond my brief morning Facebook posts. Frankly, I have been too preoccupied with my memoirs, “A Catalyst for Change”, soon to be published.

This a.m. as I read through the book of Jonah, quarantined like so many and of late bombarded by online sermons and political rhetoric, I seemed to have no choice.

Having been raised Pentecostal, my spiritual life has been bounded by three powerful pillars of influence: a relatively literal understanding of scripture, a powerful expectation of God in this present world and a personal witness of that power. As I age, the three seem to be pushing against each other. Hopefully the outcome of these forces (hear my physics background) create an “upward” resultant force!

I have truly seen the miraculous demonstration of God intervening in supernatural ways, both as a child and as an adult. I have also studied scripture and the writings of both conservative and liberal theologians. Frankly I have assessed (hear my judgmental side) their relationship with God on my impression of their impact on the Body of Christ within their particular community or the nation at large. Save Billy Graham, televangelist I have avoided.

America is an amazing land, with a history of Christian influence from multiple denominational persuasions and a full spectrum of academic spiritual analysis (paralysis from some). This has spawned churches on almost ever corner in most of our cities. You would think America had a handle on God!

That no longer seems the case given the political bickering within the Body of Christ.

Back to Jonah, Nineveh and the crew on his Ocean Cruise!

Jonah apparently had a call on his life and like myself at times, had decided that the people of Nineveh whom God apparently loved more so than Jonah (ya think!) were unworthy of his time and talents!

Ironically, just before my morning dive into this book, I was reflecting on a sermon heard just yesterday from the Book of Ruth. It seems that Ruth was a Moabite woman who had fallen in love with the son of a couple from Bethlehem (yes, that Bethlehem). While Googling, I stumbled upon a book entitled “Bethlehem’s Closet—A Reunion of Grace” by Donald H. Neidigk. His prose, address the myriad of characters in Jesus’ life, which include prostitutes, adulterers and incestuous characters. You know, folk like us but by His grace!

Maybe this is me coming out of “the closet”?

The thing that got me to thinking was a phrase from this writer, that described the religion of the Moabites. They believed in a very wrathful God named Chemosh that required the sacrifice of their son’s to appease his wrath. Who could ever fall for such a religion. Hello my far right evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ. “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son….”

Don’t miss my point, though I have not yet made it!

Just as Jonah could not comprehend that God could love these wicked, heathen people of Nineveh, we have our own bias and prejudices…rampant in today’s political divide!

Okay, my point is three fold:

1) as I have matured, I can no longer accept the scriptures as literal, read now annually for fifty years, during a life experience quite blessed.

2) I have not been able to outlive the reality that God is powerful in intervention when the people of God both repent and pray! I don’t see that happening in the middle of this pandemic!

3) had we been living that way, I cannot imagine a God who cares for folk who don’t know their right hand from their left, not intervening in America right now! If you recall, those were the words in the last chapter of Jonah, written as justification for God’s intervention, and they are wealthy (“have many cattle”).

Can you not hear the bias of this broken man, being transferred to God?

My perspective has changed tremendously, in that I now believe:

1) the Scriptures are God breathed but lovingly into folk who are desperately broken.

2) that brokenness unknowingly to the writers has been captured strategically for our awareness. Over millennia, God has patiently allowed men to transfer their brokenness to God in this Holy Writ. Yes, shaping what we know as “religion”…man’s broken attempts to define God.

3) God then lives into that brokenness by becoming flesh in order to satisfy the harshest demand of man’s religion… the sacrifice of His only son!

Don’t appreciate this post? Now you know how Jonah must have felt, even myself now for years, when this God whom both Jonah and I have followed, now asked to do something completely outside his belief structure!

But God provided a whale and He will get me through this.

Reading Book of Judges For The First Time

Actually perhaps the 50th, but somehow in my 71 year old spirit, it seemed a new book.

With each annual read through scripture my mind has its context in current events, with a motive still focused on bringing value to my sphere of influence, the local community. My challenge, as you may already sense, is avoiding run-on sentences. It seems that educators in my life have made me aware, but not sufficient to stifle my tendency.

Back to Judges and current events, or should I say the chaos of our day. Though the Israel of Joshua’s day seemed quite the challenge for those willing to take a stab (some literally) at leadership, our beloved USA may now rival this biblical narrative.

Having now given at least 45 years to a sense of calling to cities (with a few exceptions, municipalities in and around North Carolina), it is becoming obvious as to how local municipalities shape the leadership of their state, and for those who escape serious political failure, our nation. Well, typically!

As I muse this early morning, we do have quite the exception currently. Apart from sufficient wealth (more and more required for any elected office), and limited television celebrity (we tested this with Ronald Reagan, whom I still count as a favorite), our current President has no experience in political office.

How did he get there? I suspect by inflaming an electorate, totally frustrated by a partisan polarity, no longer able to collaborate for the greater good in a civil fashion.

My sense, we live in a country that once boasted of religious anchoring, much like Isreal. Yet now, equally diminished in her righteousness and justice, the USA represents a growing culture seemingly missed by the institutional church. Interestingly however, still claiming a depth of spirituality among both “Dones” and “Nones.”

Now that I think about it, perhaps the Institutional Church has become victim to her own caution, “having a form of godliness, yet denying the power thereof”?

She now seems to have set out on a mission to once again control “her” nation by political means?

“In those days, Isreal had no king.” Judges 18:1

Perhaps our current chaos is God saying, “How’s that working for you?”


More and more I am hesitant to share my big picture thoughts, yet my heart’s physical tingling provides such awareness of time, that I must wrestle with what I will leave behind from my morning reflections.

All my life I have been exposed to the Judaeo-Christian faith, a foundational benefit many now have missed. Yet, the deeper I study scripture, so as to develop may own theology (working out my salvation with fear and trembling) rather than simply the opinion of others, the more I relate to the prophets of old who sensed God doing a new thing, counter in some ways to all they had believed.

Then suddenly in a manger in Bethlehelm and later on a hill called Calvary, this revolutionary transformation lived itself out in a way that drove devoted students of Judaism such as Paul, to kill if need be, to defend their faith. Of course we all know how that ended up!

Yet, here we are as Christians in 2019 A.D. with a massive divide in our theology, demonstrated at least in our definitions of justice, in some ways contrary to both the Old and the New Testament. Micah, to paraphrase verse 6:8, cried out, “What does the Lord require of you? Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly” yet the Body of Christ in America surely struggles with what that now means. Some offer religious ceremony and an escapism mentality, empowered by political might; while others, relative to my “upbringing,” employ full abandonment of any personal moral obligation! This again sounds much like the day into which the Christ was born.

Of course, just as the Jews looked for a Messiah, Christians have made a religion out of Jesus, seemingly with full loss of the power of Christ! Not to speak of brutal wars that have nurtured radical Islam.

Perhaps it’s not a new thing that God is up to but a return to the One thing that God is, and that Christ was in Jesus? If Christ has fully become man in Jesus, as I believe, then the resurrection of Jesus was evidence enough that we too will one day be like Christ, ushered into a realm we have lost all grasp of in our not so subtle efforts to convince others of the religion we call Christianity, as opposed to the Way of God?

“Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all” (I Corinthians 15:24-28).

I realize how I may sound to some, and am fully aware that they sawed Isaiah asunder!

In summary, when “spiritual death”, the enemy of God, has been fully dealt with, Christ, who became fully human in Jesus, will hand over His Kingdom to God and remain fully man and we as “men” will be at last fully Christ in God!

The Secret Sauce

It has been hard for me to to keep my early morning rhythm of late in my annual read through scripture. Shortly after my arrival in Colossians, I was stymied by the thought that Paul would imply that something was missing; or as he put it, “still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions.”

Processing for Facebook readers affords little space and thus the occasional retreat to my blog, though it reaches fewer readers.

“Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. ” Col. 1:24

Paul goes on to imply, at least in my understanding, that “the glorious riches of this mystery, Christ in you” is the secret sauce of the Church. As well, he speaks of a responsibility to “present everyone perfect in Christ”. Glorious riches, yes!! Suffering, self denial and a huge responsibility to present everyone perfect in Christ, Uhmmm!

Just yesterday, one of my more brief (now modified per feedback) Facebook posts read:

For my Christian friends who struggle with having missed “the will of God”, (one of the more common complaints when evangelicals suffer), unless God is impotent and less loving than the Christ revealed, some of our doctrines of “choice” may have led us to err.   
The source of our suffering, (n
ot always physical persecution thanks to civil law and separation of church and state) but often just as brutal, may be less “missing God” and more the lack of fully embracing radical transformation, a primary message of the cross.  Perhaps, the cross was not as much to appease God per our sins (again for my evangelical friends), as to also demonstrate the price of true transformation, paid in the flesh of the man Jesus, as he fully embraced the transforming power of the Christ? Think of the supernatural power revealed following his resurrection!  Could that same transformation, a sort of being conformed to the image of Christ (who was God) be now rightfully ours?
If so why settle fire insurance and religious activity that less and less appeals to those desiring true transformation.  Press into your faith with an understanding of the price but with excitement and awe…it’s there for you!

Perhaps suffering is the unfinished, “still lacking,” piece that belongs only to the (big C) Church? Could the secret sauce be the true transformation of sinners like us, yet, found only in suffering and self denial? Much better than words proclaimed every Sunday in sanctuaries, with ever diminishing attendance, might be an in the streets witness of the powerful benefits of a relationship with the Living God, followed by the exceptional generosity of those saints who live in extravagance, myself included!

The secret sauce, Christ in us, the hope of glory!

I have to wonder what might happen in my city if the local Journal published the story of a crippled, homeless guy, who suddenly found himself walking normally, “not sure who the guy was, but when I asked him for some spare change, his words were, ‘”silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I unto you, in the name of Jesus stand up and walk!”

I know, at times I am too hard on myself, then I read “That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.” Col. 1:29 TLT.

Strength Made Perfect in Weakness

Each morning infinite possibilities await me, sufficient to require discipline and muted enthusiasm, if I am to fully maximize this gift of a new day! I seldom think of sunrise as holding a task to be completed, for it seems impossible to think of my calling as work.

I prefer to think of myself, too highly I know, like a bird dog on point; deeply conditioned with a desire to please, nervously awaiting the trainer’s signal to flush a newly scented covey. Every muscle restrained, a learned skill heightened by memories of loss when previously the prize was prematurely aroused. Frozen in time, the working canine awaits, nose pressed into the scent, eyes moving only slightly to gain peripheral assurance that everyone is positioned for the kill.

Perhaps I got a little carried away with my metaphor, even a trace of arrogance! Let’s call it confession, as once again, these thoughts were aroused after spending time with my leather bound friend, lifting the worn cloth marker from her spine, and with baited breath, opening this treasure chest of wisdom. The scriptures, now for over 45 years!

Somehow I have held on to the habit of scripture, rather than the occasionally recommended Bible study that seems shortly therein another rendering of the same stories. Fresh fire is what I find in my blind reading, new each morning though I travel a well worn path, fully expecting guidance from the Spirit. Somewhere in each morning, I will be captured by a phrase and my ruminating begins. Like a heifer chewing her cud, I allow this ancient text to render new thoughts, as I await beneficial application.

This a.m. the concept of weakness, in fact, the power of weakness was elevated in this 70 year old, now more easily entertained as I age. I found myself reflecting on moments witnessed in days gone by, as esteemed leaders struggled with the very tool so divinely designed to bring wisdom to themselves and others, were they only willing to be transparent. Much of my life has been spent in the role of second fiddle, providing painful first hand opportunity to witness as promising men and women, chose success and personal esteem over the value ad of wisdom. Ironically, they often self destruct over time, and all out of fear of exposure to this common trait called weakness.

That foolish pride which at times caused me to believe I could prevent any premature harm during their window of learning, now causes me grief of my own. For when the two met, my pride and their fear, missed moments occurred, that could have, and with with far less pain, produced rich deposits of wisdom. Wisdom is the only product that transcends one’s lifetime, though she requires her own toll, honesty with ourselves and those blindly following.

“That is why for Christ’s sake”, Paul explains, ” I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

2 Corinthians 12: 10 NIV.

Reflections and Confessions

Picture 1This morning I can not easily brush off the concerns I have for the greater community and the Body of Christ.  My pain is not so much for the brick and mortar campuses, the branch offices of the Institutional Church, though they do serve somewhat like “canaries in coal mines” for the Body of Christ.  Some of those campuses have in fact followed the lead of local banks, merging when inefficiencies and profit losses become evident.

I have watched with embarrassment, and yes, even been guilty of coming to the aid of several well anchored houses of worship in transition, as they subtly morphed from periodic red ink, to sustained losses that eventually result in the necessary sell off of assets.  Then for survival comes the telltale dumping of such beneficial ministries as Community Development initiatives, senior care, child care and day schools.  Ultimately, it seems they are left with no option but downsizing to new sites or bankruptcy.  I do applaud those who saw far enough ahead to consider the concept of satellites and novel technologies beyond amped music, smoke and lights!

Serving now 45 years in the belly of the beast, my lot has ranged frosenior associate to board member, consultant and coach.  I have participated in desperate attempts to improve program delivery, even launch outpost ministries, while strategic thinking was often supplanted by mystical approaches to fasting and prayer.  In reality, it wasn’t the need for more prayer but a struggle with change and the fear factor of investment risks; and worse yet, further loss of income.  The latter then demands pastoral pay cuts, or may incite constituencies that favor a gifted associate over the senior pastor.

Having now worked with congregations from well under 100 to mega-like congregations of several thousands, across racial and ethic lines, much time has been given to reducing congregant dissatisfaction, while attracting promising associates and yes, senior pastors of vision; all well meaning.  Then there are the less fortunate junior staff who rotate through this melee, trying as they may, only to find their families broken, often leaving with a limp, though celebrated for damage control purposes, as “moving to greener pastures” or “feeling” a call to the marketplace.  Under less sophisticated boards, guarded by senior pastors, the occasional use of a scapegoat personality is likely!

On the front side of this post, I went to my first blog written the Sunday after publishing my less than best seller, “Repo: The Church in Foreclosure” in 2009.  My first paragraph in November, 2009:

“I was awakened early Sunday morning with a sense of relief that my long days of painful ridicule of the church were in fact over.  There also seemed to be a changing of my heart, to a place now focused on describing the true church vs. the one America has produced.  Obviously some of that old me is still in me but I want to be free!  I hope in the days ahead you will see the true writer behind this blog!”

Having now reached almost a decade since that day, I have only to see what was a very awkward write, scathingly antagonistic toward the institution I so loved, now seem prophetic.   Perhaps its time to open the book once more.

Off the Rails But in His Plan

My “too early” morning read of Gen. 37 strikes me as one of the most pivotal moments in scripture, as well as revealing the way God works our weakness toward good.

Joseph, the “truth teller” to his detriment, brings a “bad report” of his brothers to a dad already having difficulty with his first born, Reuben who had slept with Jacob’s concubine, his other brothers’ mother! All the brothers, now turn on Joseph, plotting his death.

Perhaps Reuben sees this as a chance to win back his rightful firstborn blessing by protecting Jacob’s most beloved son, Joseph.

In so doing, Joseph’s life is spared but only to be sold to a band of Ishmaelites (remember Hagar), who transports Joseph into Egypt, where he advances to leadership and sets up the birth of Moses, followed by the famed Red Sea moment!

The Red Sea event sets the stage for a redemption narrative only to be fully revealed thousands of years later by way of the Lion of Judah (Jesus). It was Judah’s twisted idea to sell Joseph into slavery in order to avoid further conflict with the father, Jacob.

Oh yes, don’t forget the foreshadowing of Calvary in the subplot of the most precious son’s coat of many colors, dipped in blood, then presented to the Father.

You can’t make this stuff up!

If your life decisions have not always been good, take courage, The Father has a plan and your redemption is secure! You might consider sharing this with someone troubled by a life that seems to be “off the rails.”