Monday, January 30, 2012


Even beyond doctrinal dogma, there is much within Christianity overall that separates believers. Tradition and ritual is different to each denominational body. Linguistic terms sometimes do not cross boundary lines and can be easily misunderstood by those in the pew who are not that deep into their own group’s credo, let alone that which the other fellow embraces. Nonetheless, there are two points of reality common to everyone within the faith. The first, our “humanity”, owns each of us whether we wish to claim it or not. The Book tells us that “there is none righteous; no, not one” and we prove that to be so almost no more than our feet hit the floor on any given day. It matters not the congregation, the only time you’ll find unity within it, a “oneness” that is more than just harmonious agreement, is when an overt manifestation of His presence in the sanctuary brings those there into one accord with His mind, His will, His momentary direction. Of course, such event is found only in as much as each is willing to step into the flow as it comes forth, and the manner in which it takes place may well vary, but Jesus, Himself, resurrected in our midst via the Holy Ghost, is the second portion that we, the Church, share. He is the tie that binds. Indeed, if all that holds us together otherwise is a mutual fellowship wherein we gather and maintain attendance, what is it that we really possess?... The last few months have been a struggle, for my grandson, for his parents, for our family as a whole. We have found little or no support from the people with whom we worship concerning a serious matter that would seemingly evoke some sort of response, a bit of “we’re with you in this” from somebody. Then, Sunday evening, in the middle of song service, the Spirit began to move upon our youth and I watched as the boy folded up as if someone had stomach punched him, God’s presence coming up out of his belly, divinity overtaking him much as if he was being hugged by holy arms. Tears ran down his face. Tongues poured from his lips. His cousins, his mother, and others embraced it with him; and, for a while, there was no “program”, no agenda but the church, as a whole, allowing Him to have His way in ministering to those in need. Theology has its place, to be sure. Without “life”, though, it tends to lose something along the way……

Saturday, January 28, 2012


By the time the primary election process arrives in Kentucky, the field has almost always been reduced to one individual and all that we get to do is throw the switch. Why, then, do I watch the debates? Well; to tell the truth, I really don’t comprehend everything the candidates discuss, the issues, the solutions to them that they propose. Oh; I know what "unemployment" means, every bit as much as “national debt” and “bail out”. The mechanics, however, of why a “flat tax” would work better than what the other guy suggests is not within my ability to grasp. It sounds good; but so does “no child left behind” unless you’ve worked within the school system long enough to see the damage it has done. Likewise, hearing one of these Presidential hopefuls refer to the “Dodd-Frank Bill” in explaining his view, just leaves me with a need to go to Google for better clarity on the matter. I don’t come home everyday to an update on everything that takes place in Congress. It is, in my opinion, one of the glitches in the system. Lobbyists, the unions, and people with money to hire lawyers – they keep up with it all. The rest of us hold down a job or, in this economy, are looking for one, and will go to the polls voting for whomever more out of our individual mind-sets than anything else: our party preference, a man’s charisma, the image put forth by biased media, religious beliefs, etc. Personally, I plead guilty to looking for what’s on the inside of the fellow before me, his integrity, his character, who he is now, not so much the mistakes he’s made if he’s willing to look me in the face with them. His Christian faith is a plus, as far as I’m concerned, but not if it’s used as a political ploy. It annoys me when any two or more take up time in these televised contests, quibbling with each other over things that have nothing to do with the problems in this country. It warmed my heart to hear another speak of it being God, not the government, who endows us with “unalienable rights”. Indeed, it is in Him, and in Him alone, that I find peace about the state of things today, believing that, regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, He sits on high with all things in His hands……

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


It’s early Wednesday morning here and I’m not in my normal routine, a dentist appointment this afternoon interrupting “life as usual”. In expressing my existence in such terms, however, I’m merely pointing to the regularity of a five-day work week, church on Sunday, Bible study tonight, all the ways in which we tend to order our steps as we, in truth, walk into eternity mostly like hamster in a tread-wheel. It is, after all, the nature of the beast if we don’t learn to experience the singularity within each moment as it comes to us. School, with the substitute teacher who has gained our unit, for me has become a continual flow of activity wherein her vibrant enthusiasm with the kids has taken us into abundant display of artwork and crafts. If we’re not creating snowmen and snowflakes in some form or fashion, we’re cutting out little penguin body-parts to assemble and glue together, decorating musical instruments made from empty coffee-containers or those cardboard cylinders left behind when the roll of toilet paper has been depleted. Quiet time is rare. At least one of our kids is always either unhappy, into mischief of some sort, or serving signals that there’s a need to visit the restroom. “Treasure”, though, is within the whole event, little things to keep and take with you, heart-warmers that mark it all as worthwhile: a child’s progress noted, even if only in an insignificant amount; a mannerism displayed by one of them wherein it’s evident that the two of you are connecting and communicating beyond a student/teacher relationship. I took my charge up the hallway to meet his mother yesterday. She was picking him up early and, coming around the corner from the office, she caught sight of us. “Mr. Jim!” she cheerfully exclaimed, putting her son’s name and mine together in the greeting and not realizing just how much it spoke to me of how glad she was about me being with him this year. Beth and I are dealing with the imminent death of her oldest brother. Our granddaughter is battling upper respiratory ailment again. This country is in a mess. Nonetheless, God is good, a melody that rises within me and meets me as I go….

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Wednesday evening’s visit to the rescue mission has stayed with me , not so much because of any special connection with the Holy Ghost that occurred while we were there, not in so far as the men, themselves, continually drifting in and out of my thoughts ever since. I say that, well aware that an “anointing” doesn’t always have to be, in form, an overpowering awareness of His presence. Such was this night… Names come and go, depending on whether the people to whom they are attached are “settled” in this area or merely passing through: Richard is one of the regulars, but infrequent in his attendance, a local who comes solely to worship with us, his gray stubble beard the only indication of him possibly being in his forties, everything else in his appearance marking him just one of the others. He wears a dark wool winter stocking cap, a thin, black leather jacket, and a necklace that he has obviously created, himself, attaching a cord to a small pewter feather identical to a larger one he has somehow fashioned into a ring on his left hand. Before we leave, he will withdraw a little bottle of oil from an inner pocket, apply a bit of its contents to our hands and our foreheads, and pray for our ministry. I think of him as maybe being one of those “angels unaware” spoken of in Hebrews. Dante, there for an overnight vacancy, approached us afterwards also, one of those who so often wish to discuss a portion of Scripture they have discovered, many merely wishing to evangelize us as to their point of view, but he simply a soul in need of encouragement in his search for truth. We gave listen and then directed him to the journey, itself, and the Christ who wishes to accompany him in it… It doesn’t take conversation, though, for worn, weathered faces to remain with me. Most never speak at all other than responding to an initial handshake, but their eyes witness to the road already traveled: other places, other sermons, their theology formed long ago as life taught it to them in the next step. They don’t need my personal translation of the Book. They need Him, broken and shared between us. Too often I feel like I fail in remembering that……

Saturday, January 21, 2012


“Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, just to take Him at His word”…The old hymn simply spilled out of me Thursday morning as I knelt to pray before leaving for school. I led the men at the rescue mission in singing it the night before, but this wasn’t merely a matter of the tune yet running through my mind. This was more like a connecting flow suddenly coming up out of my belly, the lyrics taking me into His presence, tears filling my eyes and bringing me almost to the point of tongues. It is the way such union has always come to me and it matters not the setting. What counts is only the attitude of my heart and my mind, whether they are willing to surrender unto His presence as He comes forth. Indeed, that alone is probably the only condition separating an individual encounter and a saturated sanctuary. People have to receive; and humanity is a mixed bag of morphing moods, opposite opinions, and thick-headed theologies. It’s challenge enough to bring us together in a denominational scenario. Standing before a group whose thinking is pre-set in Islam, atheism, sixteen different brands of Biblical indoctrination, and several strands of independent determination requires more than any one man, on his own, can muster in so far as achieving oneness in Him. You pray. You share. You trust in His Spirit going where you cannot. Worship remains each man’s choice……

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Old age has its moments. The last few days they seem to popping up more frequently. Monday afternoon my oldest daughter baked another batch of lasagna for Beth’s oldest brother who was just recently given a diagnosis of terminal cancer, actually a rather aggressive form of leukemia. His wife is not in good health either and the family is doing what we can to “be there” for them. In carrying the dish out to my car, however, I made the neighbor’s two dogs happy. Holding the hot, disposable, aluminum container securely on both ends and reaching to open the door with my pinky finger, I could only watch as the pan buckled to spill at least half the meal in the gravel driveway. Brenda just laughed. I felt stupid. A trip to WalMart to purchase more supplies for a second effort eventually did provide them with supper, but this old man seems to be “losing it” more and more as he goes. Sometimes I wonder… Monday evening, after being in the midst of that awesome move of the Spirit on Sunday, I opted to attend the weekly prayer meeting out at the church. It’s been nearly a decade since my last desire to participate in such an event, my lack of interest evolving out of what seemed to be an ever-growing tendency to encounter there what I’ve long labeled “that name-it-and-claim-it folk”. It got to a place where just about everybody there had a prophetic revelation to give you, an authoritative bit of Biblical chapter and verse wherein prosperity was promised and the devil was put under your feet. Evidently somebody has found some sense during my absence, though, for, on this occasion at least, what met me within the sanctuary was worship the way I remember knowing it in the beginning; or it could well be, of course, just another case of my senility having “dropped the ball”, throwing the baby out with the bath water and missing a lot of good fellowship in the Holy Ghost along the way. You live. You learn. You take the next step and then do it again……

Monday, January 16, 2012


Tomas Halik worked as a psychotherapist during the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia and at the same time was secretly ordained as a Catholic priest and active in the underground church. My first literary encounter with his writing had me anxiously awaiting his next book being published here in the states. Three chapters into it, I’m still finding connection wherein, although he speaks through his own religious experience and understanding, his description of life in Christ registers with the journey as I have known it to be thus far. When he identifies “speaking in tongues” as a “psychological regression into baby talk”, I realize he’s just never yet been fully submerged in God’s presence; and when he equates celebrity evangelists, with their rebuking demons and laying on hands to obtain healing, as being no more than a “quick alternative to years of therapy”, I figure he has only seen the sham that’s out there and never been in the midst of believers when “the real deal” steps into their midst. Pentecostals aren’t the only ones to have made a mess of this, however. What remains true is His promise, indeed His faithfulness, to go with us and meet us at the well… Sunday evening worship just seemed, for the most part, too programmed, too orchestrated for this old man. There was a time when, from the initial point of entry, my heart would have been one with what-or-whomsoever, but nowadays the broadcast camera and the PTL reproduction on stage tends to leave me feeling, before we even start, like the congregation has been seated in the gallery. I’m what the pastor quite often refers to as a “bullfrog”, not all that enthusiastic about stirring up the soup being served. Personally, I find him a bit of an arrogant rooster, able to crow as he wants, whenever he wants, the two of us having known each other for forty years, good friends, and able to see in each other, in spite of our differences, the Holy Ghost as an anchorage for our soul. Within that scenario, then, as his sermon progressed last night, more and more it brought me up out of the pew to a place where my hands were lifted, my eyes were filled with tears, and the guy inside this worn out vessel of clay just wanted to walk the aisles giving Him glory. Disagree about much, we do; but swimming together in His waters is a no-brainer……

Saturday, January 14, 2012

"The Next Step..........................."

Our Wednesday evening class, this week, looked at the last half of Romans, Chapter Twelve, examining such verses as if the apostle Paul were actually speaking to Christianity at large instead of merely singling out the Jews concerning their boasts of being “God’s chosen few”. It was quite refreshing for me to hear a group of Pentecostal believes talking in terms of their humanity, with no claims of having been somehow transformed into authoritative conquerors of death, hell, and the grave, righteous representatives of His holiness ordained to establish His kingdom on Earth. Well, maybe it isn’t always that bad; but much too often it sure sounds like it. Reality, for me, as Tony and I were discussing afterwards, is the Third Person of the Trinity who indwells me without ever over-powering me, the actual in fact substance of who God is in all that He is, but a divine Entity who mostly just tugs on the anchor-line and pricks my heart, my conscience, and a Presence who manifests Himself fully, here and there in my journey, more faithful in His commitment than I am in mine… This past week has been a mixture of me working in a Special-Ed unit whose format, since before Christmas, has been drastically altered, not so much in a bad way, but most certainly so as to have created much in the way of new challenges for each of us. Beth has been running errands for her oldest brother and his wife, the two of them with health problems and in need of family. The grandson who is a senior this year also either had his wallet stolen or he lost it somewhere Tuesday and that had her driving him to replace his license, cancelling credit cards, doing what was necessary to restore him to life as usual. I had the day off Thursday for another dental appointment. Last night was high-school basketball games in the church gymnasium, the students auctioning off cakes to help support their prom. Pastor and I got into a bit of a bidding war, him attempting to ensure his wife’s pastry was the most expensive, me winning with a final offer of seventy-five dollars for one baked by an elderly widow within our congregation, good-natured fun and he’ll no doubt having something to say about it from the pulpit Sunday morning. Such slice of the calendar, though, brought me no revelations from on high. Throughout the course of it, an old man was just deep in his thoughts, reading, writing, and chewing it all over as time passed around him. That doesn’t mean He wasn’t with me in it. Always, He is near……

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Tomorrow’s dental appointment and a salute this coming Monday to Martin Luther King will give me three consecutive four-day work-weeks as an entrance into 2012. Every Wednesday is something I await with a bit of enthusiasm, either the Bible study class or the monthly visit to the rescue mission occupying that repetitive spot on the calendar. This Friday is another of the grandsons’ basketball games. Spring Break is right around the corner! It recently occurred to me, however, deep in thought while driving to school, how easy it is to “lose the moment” by merely walking in the mundane routine of our existence, looking only to the future toward some event we think will give us rest or bring us excitement. I think God understands that it’s just who we are. I’m not so sure, though, that He approves of such practice. The Detention Center and the rescue mission may well be worthy causes, ones wherein hopefully my zeal is more about being a vessel for His outreach than it is about occupying a pulpit with my ego; but, likewise, working in Elementary Special-Ed is a privilege and must never be allowed to become nothing but a paycheck. Going through the motions, dealing with life as it comes to me, has to be or I fall into the rut and miss most of His resurrection as it takes place around me. It’s like being in your automobile and suddenly realizing where you are, the last twenty-five miles or so a blur you don’t remember passing through……

Monday, January 9, 2012


”It is not prayer we seek in prayer, but God, Himself. It is not an experience of God, but the living God inherent in, and yet transcending, all experience.”

My two copies of James Finley’s tribute to Thomas Merton are loaned out to friends, so I am not sure which man should get the credit for the above quote. Nonetheless, whoever said it, as far as I’m concerned, has captured the gift that Jesus actually purchased for us via Calvary’s crucifixion and Sunday morning’s resurrection. We speak of Christ having “spanned the gulf” between Heaven and Earth, but seem unwilling to think of such bridge in terms of an existing connection available unto us. Like Caesar of old, “He came, He saw, He conquered”; then He ascended and we’ve been trying to cross on our own ever since. We preach the Book. We build our individual Towers of Babel. The doorway to Infinity, however, is a living extension of the Trinity, a Reality who dwells within those who would dare to plumb their own depths, the One waiting to take us “through the veil”, God, Himself, the “cleft in the rock”… Over the weekend I heard three sermons, each one dealing with a different aspect of benefits that the Holy Spirit extends unto us, none of them addressing the subject in terms of the Third Person of the Trinity actually being the embodiment of such treasures. Grace, faith, peace, answers to our pleas for whatsoever, are all seen as items we can achieve through our “works”, indeed the achievement thereof being the focus upon which we should come full force. I see it, however, as more of a need for us to “push into Him”, to “become one with the Indwelling”, and therein find all that He is, the Keeper of my soul, the Assurance in my next step. In losing that bit of truth, it seems to me that the Church, as a whole, has either drifted into religious sleep or charged into what the Bible, in one place, calls “strange fire”…….

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Friday evening was passionately filled with watching my grandsons play basketball. Varsity very decisively beat the opposing team, holding them to minimal scoring while successfully plying their own skills with the hoop at the other end of the court. Our younger boys, however, earlier found their game a mirrored reflection of that one, their loss not quite as drastic, but bad enough. I approached the young assistant coach afterwards, suggesting that, even though we had lacked equal height in that particular contest, the kids had shown much grit in their defense, our offense being the main reason for the loss; but he determined that proper execution of the basics would have eliminated any such advantage for the other side, our real troubles being that we possessed only one fellow who had any real talent, pointing to a fellow who is a good player, to be sure, but one whom I personally perceive to suffer from ego and attitude. Such opinion, though, was kept to myself while pondering if this is what we promote in sports, just how does that carry over into what we teach them in the sanctuary… In re-reading a bit of Ravi Zacharias yesterday morning, I was taken quite with his take on a question put to Christ by two of the disciples at their initial discovering of the Messiah. “Where do you live?” they wanted to know; and the author thought such a simple interrogative, of all the queries one might ask of a man just pronounced by John the Baptist to be “the Lamb of God”, surely giving reason for pause concerning its motive. He pointed to its significance being a matter of importance to that culture, those people at that time, their value of such credentials; but my own thoughts reversed the roles. How would each of us, I wonder, respond if Jesus were inquisitive of our existence, not necessarily seeking a physical location, a post office address, but a descriptive analysis of where we reside in our day-by-day identity, indeed, in our manners, our interaction with others, and our relationship with our Creator? What might we say in return?.....

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Last night’s midweek Bible study took us into the first half of Romans, chapter two, with a short reference back to the previous class. While no one “went to war” over perspectives, it was evident that one lady, my age, simply saw the world divided into two categories, lost or saved, the one thing separating the sheep from the goats being a confession of Christ, therein requiring no further discussion concerning human nature, God’s grace, and just how the two coexisted in the journey we all walked. Just like Monopoly, all one needs is the right card, one that reads “Go to Heaven. Go directly to Heaven. Do not pass judgment. Do not collect that which you deserve.” There’s a small paperback in my collection written by a guy named Shelley and entitled “What Is the Church?” It’s the best thing I’ve ever read on such topic, one segment of it opening with a scene set in the original “Alice in Wonderland” where the heroine and the pompous caterpillar are having a conversation. When he speaks of “glory”, she asks him to define such term; and he gets rather inflated, as if insulted by her audacity, declaring that whatever word he uses, whenever he chooses to use it, means exactly what he intends it to mean at the time. Nothing less! Nothing more! This, indeed, at least as far as my own digestion of the class suggested to me, way the very subject we were addressing: tunnel vision; being unable to see any farther than the doctrinal dogma we have cemented into our individual confession of faith. I wonder if there’s any significance to the fact that any great physical structure must be built with a “give” allowance, an ability to sustain outward force by being a bit “elastic” in its material design. Truth may well be “black and white”; but His mercy covers a lot of area in any direction one might be from center……

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


”Each society suffers from a we-have-finally-arrived syndrome in which the attitudes, achievements, and opinions held by it are given a colossal significance that towers over what other such bodies say… The desert where prayer flourishes is the desert of our own hearts, barren of all the slogans that we have been led to believe to be our very identity and salvation. We learn that to love Jerusalem is one thing, to prostitute ourselves to it is another.” ….Palace of Nowhere

The author, in this portion of his book, appears to be interweaving the church, as a moral institution, into the subject of contemplation. “In religion,” he states, “it frequently occurs that we give God a name, then equate Him with the name we have given Him; and, in so doing, we make ourselves, in effect, God’s God. Instead of acknowledging Him as the source of our identity, we make ourselves the self-proclaimed source of such identification, making Him the one made in our image and likeness, defining all things and giving shape to the perimeters of life.” When he speaks of running and running “in our squirrel cage, thinking that the constant squeaking of our achievement wheel verifies our reality and worth”, I am reminded how easy it is get “lost”, even in ministry. Indeed, “the crux of the matter” is that we cannot be like God without God; and prayer, in its most sincere form, begins “when it becomes the one thing necessary, when we go to our closet as into a sacred place, realizing that our own heart is the actual location where Jacob’s ladder touches the earth.” The balance then, that state of failing to connect, of finding yourself swimming in His waters, wet but not fully submerged, of maintaining a thirst to know Him even deeper in the fullness of all that He is, is life itself, the breath that keeps us on a daily basis. The Trappist monk and I may, indeed, see a few things from different perspectives, but on this gift we are agreed. It is free unto all who are willing to humble themselves to receive it……

Monday, January 2, 2012


“Prayer emerges from and leads to a certain way of knowing that is most difficult to communicate in words, the immediacy of the experience making almost impossible to do so. It is much like describing the taste of salt to someone who has never tasted it. Such encounter with God is, like love and death, an unexpected and unprecedented event.”…”Palace of Nowhere”

The subject of the above paragraph, in grasping what its author means, must first be defined in terms, itself, as to how each of us holds it in our own personal dictionary. The book I just pulled from my computer shelf expresses it as “addressing God” with a number of possible issues. The question it leaves is whether or not we expect, in doing so, any sort of conformation at all that divinity is actually receiving our efforts. Are we satisfied with merely “shooting messages into outer space” in the name of “faith”, content to accept that however events evolve is, in itself, an answer from on high? My words are not meant to mock another’s endeavors, nor to suggest that I, myself, always find connection “through the veil” every time my spirit cries out in need. In no way do I claim it possible to “own” Him in such manner. Using St. John’s imagery that there is a path to walk with “no light except the one that burns in your heart”, Merton speaks of setting out “to find Him who calls you out of nothingness to union with Himself, even though an inner wisdom tells you know that “to reach Him whom you do not know, you must go by a way you do not know. You’re “lost” before you even start! Yet, in “letting go” of everything within us, a desire to see, to taste, and to experience the presence of God overcomes fear, opening a door for Him to fill our void. There are no guarantees. Our invitation remains His to accept and there is no shame if the union falls short. Reaching out through Christ unto Him, though, ought to be more than just making a list, fulfilling a requirement. Calvary didn’t just buy us a free pass into Heaven, but purchased, as well, the availability of a Holy Ghost escort into His throne-room In that I rest, the promise of His peace upon me…...

Sunday, January 1, 2012


“Contemplation does not simply find a clear idea of God and confine Him there within the limits of that idea, hold Him there as a prisoner to whom it can always return. On the contrary, contemplation is carried away by Him into His own realm, His own mystery and His own freedom. It is a pure and virginal knowledge, poor in concepts, poorer still in reasoning, but able, by its very poverty and purity, to follow the Word wherever He may go.”...Thomas Merton

One may wonder why a tongue-talking Pentecostal should rejoice in the theology of a Trappist monk, but the above author was an “eye-opener” for me, his book “The Palace of Nowhere” now seemingly unattainable and James Finley’s sharing of wisdom he found within such pages being the only link I possess to it. Merton and I certainly do not see eye-to-eye on all things and some of his terminology leaves me with questions as to how he, himself, defined a few words. His use of “contemplation”, for example, coupled with his classifying it as a form of “mysticism”, leaves me with a bit of hesitancy concerning the subject matter; and yet his whole description of making contact with the Creator witnesses to me of my own experience and is a far cry from that which is preached by my own bunch. If nothing else, the paragraph above speaks to me of coming into His presence, yet always with a knowledge that “greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world”; and that, alone, keeps things in a perspective quite different than what all these celebrity television evangelists have been feeding us for the last couple of decades. That first fellow sees himself as graced and unworthy of such union. The last group believe themselves to be “anointed and appointed”, their knowledge of the Book coupled with their arrogance entitling them to call the shots concerning whatsoever. I have no problem with “faith”. I just find it to embrace all of Him regardless of what comes to me and not a measureable means of “handcuffing” God. Finley sees each of us, as Christians, finding our own way to THE Way which is Christ, our journey a stumble centered on He who not only IS that path, but our anchor-line as we go as well. It is a road, he suggests, that must be walked in humility with abandonment to the life and death questions that He asks of us. Progress in prayer is always a gift……