We are former full-time Christian missionaries to Honduras begining a new chapter in Tennessee. Jesus is Lord. He is also Truth. All others must take a back seat. Brian is the writer. Cathy is the editor. Together we are one flesh, one heart, and one mind in Jesus's name. God bless!
Having read the Bible for years, today I read with an eye for things I’ve missed, words I may have previously taken for granted. We are covering the conclusion of Ephesians 2:11-22 in our Bible study. What caught my eye this week is Eph 2:14-15
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace…
Abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances?
If that is the case then what do we do with the words of Jesus in Mathew 5:17-18.
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
As always the law of noncontradiction applies. Scripture does not contradict scripture. Only our misunderstanding contradicts scripture. I wondered. As was the case with words like “judgment” and “power”; perhaps there were multiple Greek words for the English word “Law”.
There were not.
“Law” in Eph 2:15 is the same “Law” in Mat 5:17-18 and everywhere else it is used in the New Testament.
Law- nómos: anything established, a custom, a command, of any law whatsoever, a law or rule producing a state approved of God, a precept or injunction – the rule of action prescribed by reason – of the Mosaic law – the Christian religion: the law demanding faith, the moral instruction given by Christ, esp. the precept concerning love – the entire collection of the sacred books of the OT.
“To be (abolished) or not to be (abolished)? That is the question.”
I dug deeper.
Turns out – Eph 2:15 is a proof text for one of the worst heresies in church history.
Marcion (Markeeon) of Sinope 85 –160 AD was a nontrinitarian, gnostic theologian who preached that the God of the Old Testament was an angry vengeful God of Israel who had created the world from whom Jesus came to save us. Gnostics called this OT God the “Demiurge”. Marcion’s interpretation of Ephesians 2:15 was that “If Christ destroyed the Law by his teachings, the Law could not be good. Paul called the Law “good”, but for Marcion, the creator’s justice was only a cover for his savagery. From Marcion’s perspective, the Law revealed sin and thus enslaved people to the creator (The father). Christ came to abolish the entirety of this Law to free humanity from slavery to the creator. Since Christ came as the destroyer of the creator’s Law, he proved that the Law was evil, yet if the Law was evil, so was the divine Lawgiver.” Destroyer of the Law – Oxford Academic
Logical, but dead wrong.
Interestingly, Marcion-esque thinking continues to impact the body of Christ today. One recent example is Andy Stanley’s declaration that the church needs to “Unhitch from the Old Testament”. Think about it. Have you ever heard things like “That was just the Old Testament.” “The law was for the Jews” “We are not Jewish.” and “We aren’t under the law. We are under grace”? Martin Luther wrote, “love God and sin boldly…”
Maybe you were taught that the law does not apply to us today.
“We aren’t under the law. We are under grace” is true in the proper Hebrews 4:16throne of grace context. However, a commonly mistaken implication is that the Old Testament is nothing more than a history book with a few good life application stories. The law is for Judizers and Pharisees. Errors like this are the unintended consequences of poor discipleship and a lopsided gospel that is itself rooted in a need to please people. Ouch! So often “Daddy God loves you and has a plan for your life.” supplants rather than compliments the message that apart from Christ we are “dead in our trespasses and by nature children appointed to wrath…” Eph 2:1-3
Let’s face it. We are immersed in a culture of opposites, left vs right, good versus evil, this or that”. Ask most anyone “what is the opposite of light?” and they will say, “darkness”. The New Age which is just an old age conglomeration of Babylonian occultism and Gnostic dualism teaches that light and darkness, good and evil, etc., are interdependent. Like opposite sides of a coin, one can not exist without the other. Interestingly, dualism is also the root of dialectical materialism, the foundational teaching of Karl Marx. An estimated 110 million people died as a direct result of his teachings in the 20th century alone.
But I digress…
Darkness is not a thing. Darkness is the absence of light. As Roland Baker says,
“Our God is not the God of this or that. He’s the God of this and that.”
As we learned in Ephesians chapter one God’s will and plan existed before the foundations of the world. It is a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. Eph 1:10 In the end there are but two categories in creation.
“In Christ who gives us light” and “darkness”.
Hence Jesus did not come to destroy but to fulfill…” Mathew 5:17-18 “Fulfill” is the same word Jesus repeatedly used throughout the Gospels. Plēróō-to fulfill, to cause God‘s will as made known in the law to be obeyed as it should be, and God‘s promises given through the prophets to receive fulfillment.
The abolishing ofthe law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two… has been accomplished in the sense that the war was won before it even started. However, we will only realize its complete fulfillment in the fullness of time. We will know the fullness of time has arrived when Heaven and earth pass away Mathew 5:17-18. Until then the Law is the standard by which He conforms us to the image of His Son. Rom 8:29 The law informs us that we need to come boldly to the throne of grace. Hebrews 4:16 It defines our needs and inspires our gratitude for His grace. The Law is not bad because it kills 2 Cor 3:6 The Law is good because it kills. It binds our flesh, our pride, our selfishness, and self-centeredness that “is the root of all our troubles” to the proverbial altar and slays it as a living sacrifice so that we may be transformed by the renewing of our mindsRom 12:1-2. Only then can the spirit give life.
Our God is the God of this AND that. Among other things, He is a forgiving, wrathful, patient, jealous, consuming fire Heb 12:18-29. His thoughts and ways are not like ours. They are higher than ours. Isa 55 He alone defines Love. He alone is Love. Everything He did, does, and will ever do is love, in spite of how it might offend our natural, dualistic, and yes – Marcion sensibilities.
In the meantime, we can rest in the fact that as believers we are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. Eph 1:13-14
If you are anything like me you will be familiar with the temptation to fly through familiar verses in the Bible under the assumption that
“I already understand… because I’ve read it at least a hundred times…”
Others abstain from “headiness” because Holy Spirit informs their understanding. This is certainly true provided our understanding conforms to scripture. Still, we must always keep in mind that God’s word is truthJohn 17:17.
Our ability to hear God comes from the word of God Rom 10:17
We are to study to show ourselves approved unto God, a workman that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.2 Tim 2:15
Having determined that Ephesians 1:3-14 is one long sentence in the original Greek we considered how punctuation in different translations might impact our interpretation.
even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love, he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will Eph 1:4-5
Is it “…holy and blameless before him in love.”? Or “In love, he predestined us for adoption…”?
You might accuse me of more hair splitting. However, establishing literary context requires us to consider linguistic differences. At the very least it highlights our human propensity to assume.
We asked the question; who are we, us, and you? Jesus came first to fulfil God’s covenant with Israel. Mat 10:5-6 The gentiles were then grafted in Rom 11:11:36 We determined that in Eph 1 Paul is establishing the unity of Jewish and gentile believers.
…making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he outlined in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. Eph 1:9-14
“We” are the Jewish believers. “You” are the gentile believers.
Would it surprise you to learn that the final words of Jesus “It is finished” did not mean “everything is finished”. The promised Holy Spirit given in Acts 2 is not our full inheritance but a guarantee of what is still to come.
Guarantee (an earnest KJV) arrhabṓn: money which in purchases is given as a pledge or downpayment that the full amount will subsequently be paid.
There is an eschatological shadow of things to come in the book of Ephesians. Some people shut down when they hear that word. Others become energized and obsess over the wrath of the dragon in hope of anticipating the antichrist and his mark etc. But Jesus framed the end times in the context of childbirth. Mat 24:3-31 That birth is the reset of all creation back to its original state – the birth of His plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven, and things on earth.Eph 1:10
Like the rainbow we thought we saw in full, one day we will come full “circle” and realize the full possession of our inheritance.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 1 Cor 13:12
Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Psalm 85:6
It’s probably no coincidence that our weekly Bible study began with the book of Ephesians as what many are calling “revival” broke out at Asbury in Kentucky and apparently now on college campuses all over the country. Paul began his ministry in Ephesus in Acts 19 and 20 and it became a two-year revival. It’s a pretty eventful tale that includes mass repentance and occult books worth 50,000 pieces of silver (50,000 days’ wages) being burned. There was a riot and the seven sons of Sceva got the tar beaten out of them by demons. The tale ends with Paul wishing the Ephesian elders a tearful final farewell with a warning before he left to be imprisoned and eventually beheaded in Rome.
Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. “Also from among yourselves, men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn every one night and day with tears. Acts 20:28-31
The Letter to the Church in Ephesus in Revelations Chapter 2 may provide insight into who these “perverse wolves” were, namely false apostles and the Nicolaitans.
I know your works, your toil, and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. verse 2
Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. verse 6
The Nicolaitans were licentious, antinomian, and practiced syncretism. Antinomian can be likened to “greasy grace” today. Syncretism was the unhealthy compromise with pagan society and the idolatrous culture of Ephesus. I am told that similar to the allegorists in Alexandria, the Nicolaitans taught that scripture could only be correctly interpreted by them the elite clergy thereby elevating the “interpreter” above the word itself.
Perhaps you can identify similar patterns within the global Body of Christ today.
If I think of revival in the context of Ephesians I see normal Christianity being practiced in an abnormal setting. It looks like dead people raised Eph 2:1-10 and sleepy people waking up. Eph 5:8-14 Some are more excited than others about the light Christ gives.
American revival (awakening) history began in 1741 when Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon titled “Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God”. The fear of God fell and sparked mass repentance that continued into the 1770s. There were at least four more major awakenings that followed. I say four because there was little if any contention regarding the validity of the welsh and Azua street reveals near the turn of the previous century. That being said, it occurs to me that in addition to profound spiritual renewal, the years surrounding every great awakening were marked by various crises, socioeconomic upheaval, and major wars. One might even wonder if genuine revival is God’s way of saying,
“Wake up! A storm is coming!”
“buckle up check your eternal destiny and fill your lamps with oil”.
Whatever our conclusions regarding the definition of “revival” today, we must be mindful that God’s end game is not intermittent encounters with His presence but rather a spotless bride, a wedding, and a wedding feast. 2 Corinthians 11:2, Ephesians 5:27, Revelation 19:7 In that sense what people call revival might be likened to ashower in which the bride scrubs the dirt off her hands and feet – by the washing of the water of the word.Eph 5:26
Finally, the bride is not represented by one stream, form of worship, experience, or denomination but by those who abide in His word, John 8:31 and keep His commandments. John 14:15-31
The prerequisite of these is to know what His word says.
Not only what our favorite teachers say about it.
Our goal is to study His Word deeply and together. If you are in Greeneville Tennessee and not doing anything special on Thursdays, maybe join us at the Rock at 6 pm. There’s a handful of Acts 17:11 modern-day Bereans who will be in the main sanctuary searching the scripture for pieces to the puzzle set before us.
You just might have the piece we’ve been searching for.
Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose, I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him,
What is Truth?…
On the surface, Pilate’s question known by some as the Jesting of Pilate seems absurd. Was he arrogant and just sarcastic? Or was it a serious question posed by a man whose very survival depended on his ability to discern truth while trying to manage colliding worldviews?
Truth has been the primary battleground from the beginning. The ongoing deception of the entire world began in Genesis 3:1 with the question “Did God really say?”. Truth was the battleground when Satan tempted Jesus in Mathew 4. Jesus defeated Him with scripture. Later the disciples questioned Jesus regarding the time of the end. He prefaced the entire Olivet discourse with,Take heed that no man deceives you. Mathew 24:4 He further warned them in verse 24.
For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall shew great signs andwonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
If truth is the battleground, it behooves us to clarify what truth is.
If you’ve ever navigated by compass then you know how challenging it can be to stay on course. If you travel by land you plot your course from landmark to landmark. If you are sailing in the open ocean you must keep your eye on the compass at all times. There is a big difference between one degree off for one hundred feet and one degree off for one hundred miles.
Epistemology is the study of knowledge specifically how we determine what is true. Throughout Western history, most people, especially Christians believed the universe was governed by objective truth. That truth was both knowable and absolute. That we have a scientific method at all is the direct result of scientists taking Prov 25:2 to heart. It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honor of kings is to search out a matter. They assumed the God of the Bible created everything according to the objective laws that He also created, then they prayerfully and worshipfully sought to discover how He did it.
Many are unaware that we have been progressively submerged in an opposing culture of relativism since the advent of postmodernism in 1979. But don’t get stuck on the terms. If words like relativism and postmodernism sound confusing just imagine an entire school of philosophy proudly based upon the words “did God really say?”. Perhaps you have heard “your truth is your truth”. “My truth is my truth”. “If you love me you will honor my truth.”? Long story short postmodern relativism is a large part of we ended up
Assertions like “Truth is objective” or “Truth is relative” are called presuppositions. We can’t prove them beyond a shadow of a doubt so we presuppose or assume they are correct then reason and construct our reality from there. What I would like you to understand is that all worldviews and truth claims are built on one’s presuppositions. World views rarely change until the underlying presupposition changes.
Only God can establish correct presuppositions. 1 Cor 3:6-9
While we can not change the presumptions of unbelievers by arguments alone, sometimes our own theological presuppositions can get off course. This applies to all of us. While we know that discussions between opposing world views can become hostile, discussions between believers must not. Their purpose is mutual edification and sanctification. Prov 27:17Isaiah 1:18 In any case the Bible gives clear instructions on how to approach any discussion.
but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason (Apologia– Greek for a reasoned argument) for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
1 Pet 3:15-16
How often do we listen to an assertion about God that strikes us as patently false and yet we remain silent out of a sincere desire to love and honor the speaker by honoring their truth? Respectful questioning is the way that “Iron sharpens Iron”. We listen to, and share thoughts, perceptions, and ideas, then compare them with the Word of God. This methodology is what Paul the Apostle praised in Acts 17:11.
The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now, these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. Acts 17:10-11
When we first come to Jesus our surrender is often accompanied by an encounter with His invisible attributes, his eternal power, and his divine nature. This experience becomes our testimony. Our testimonies are vital because faith comes by hearing… Rom 10:17 Testimonies help bolster the confidence of believers and challenge false assumptions in the minds of unbelievers.
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. Rom 1:20
Unfortunately, Mormons, Muslims, and Hindus also have experiential testimonies. Testimonies inspire us to seek and delve deeper into the truth. But testimony alone is not enough to establish the truth. Hence the full text of Rom 10:17 says Faith comes by hearing and
Hearing by the Word of God!
The God-breathed Word 2 Tim 3:16-17 is what tunes our ears to hear. It is whatultimately separates the practice of Christianity from other faiths. It supports, confirms, and sometimes refutes our perceptions and ideas. The Bible is a glass – amirror in which we see dimly and therefore know in part. 1 Cor 13:12 It is through the lens of the Word that we begin to apprehend the faith Heb 11:1 required to follow Jesus. 2 Cor 5:7.
His Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105 At the end of the day Truth is found in the sum of it. Psalm 119:160 I don’t know about you but nothing gets me more excited than when a truth I haven’t seen is revealed in His Word. I know what it means to feel like one who finds great spoil. Psalm 119:162. Most of all I praise Him for His truth. I rest in the assurance of knowing the power and importance of His Word because I know He has magnified His Word above all His name.Psalm 138:2
If the Word of God is most important to God then it follows that it should be most important in the life of a believer. It is impossible to know God apart from it. Thankfully Holy Spirit makes it possible through revelation amidst our self-disciplined study and our God-given powers of understanding.
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. John 16:13
They have been declared in His Word.
As for other ways of hearing and knowing God, e.g. prophetic words, we can be certain that they are real. So is falsity. Falsity happens when a speaker usurps the authority of God’s Word. Therefore we are commanded to test everything.
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. 1 Thess 5:19-22
At the risk of being redundant,
we test everything with the Word of God.
Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. Rev 19:10
We ask Holy Spirit to guide and lead us into all truth contained in scripture – to teach us about the character, nature, and plan of our God who does not change. Mal 3:6, Heb 13:8. We endeavor to be good Bereans in the interpretation of revelations, ideas, perceptions, presuppositions, and experiences. We all see as in a glass darkly. It makes sense that we all might see better if we see together. We believe that we can and should Study God’s Word both individually and as a community because Jesus affirmed it when he prayed,
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. John 17:17
We’d lost everything we owned in a landslide just two days before. Most people are baffled that the experience of losing all but our lives and being rendered homeless in the third world became one of the greatest blessings of our lives. Still, I had nothing to give her on her birthday. Nothing that would sufficiently express my love and gratitude that she is my wife. I wanted to tell the world about God’s goodness that is expressed in and through my bride. I did my best in a blog. I am attempting to do the same now.
Today is Cathy’s birthday
But I feel like it’s mine because she is the greatest gift that Lord has ever given me. I may have more in the way of material things to give her this year. But nothing compares to what she has given me.
Our marriage is our ministry.
That’s what I tell people, especially young couples prone to the temptation of seeking their own significance in Jesus’s name.
Quite often the message falls on deaf ears.
Ephesians 5 begins with Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children...and concludes with the mystery of one flesh that is marriage. And while the church has often emphasized Wives, submit to their own husbands, as to the Lord, sometimes to the point of abuse, the overarching emphasis is Husbands, love their wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. The chapter concludes with
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church”.
There is no better or faster way to touch the heart of God and the mystery of Christ’s relationship with His church than in the context of marriage -no easier way to comprehend what God is doing in and through us the Bride of Christ.
We were in Northern Uganda ministering to South Sudanese refugees from yet another civil war. I was a videographer consumed with a self-appointed mission to be a voice for the voiceless. Naturally, I assumed Jesus had called me to teach South Sudanese orphans how to film.
I usually tell people that all I did in Harvest school was repent. The Lord had been stripping me of the idolatry of “my” ministry and “my” purpose when we got to Uganda. Cathy was oblivious to the struggle that I could not articulate at the time and has an entirely different recollection. But I saw it as the lowest point in our marriage. Not because of any discernable problem between us. Rather what God showed me about myself revealed an inner jerk that Cathy had not seen. It made me fear for my marriage. Alas the love of God shines brightest amid our repentance.
At the end of the outreach, one of the base leaders asked these war-torn, traumatized children to say how each of the missionaries had impacted them. Naturally, I expected to hear about videography. Instead, they unanimously agreed that they were most affected by our marriage. They “saw how Cathy and I loved each other” and
“They wanted what we had”.
Our marriage is our ministry.
Everything else flows from there.
If you’ve read The Most Beautiful Woman then you know that Cathy was the forerunner in our mission work. I am Cathy’s husband – her covering. I was more like Joseph with Mary as she bore the Lamb of God.
On the mission field I never completely transcended my tendency to be the proverbial watchman on the wall always on patrol and or the one who just wants to ‘git er done. That’s fine when you have to haul hundred-pound bags of beans or sheets of tin roofing up the side of a mountain filled with potential banditos. But missions is about relationship, not just humanitarian projects. At the end of the day; who cares how many people you feed or house if the occupants are going to hell?
Thank God for my beautiful wife.
Where I am prone to bulldoze the one for sake of the mission, Cathy invariably stops for the one.
That said, she’ll bulldoze through whatever she must to get to the one.
Everywhere she goes she connects with others, especially children out of a pure and child-like heart.
I had no intention of ever marrying again when I met Cathy. We became friends when she heard I might be her key to getting into the jail to minister. “Hi I’m Cathy” she began. “I heard you can tell me how to get into the jail.” “depends on how long you want to stay there…” I almost joked. We started ministering at the jail every Thursday night. Soon after we began hiking together. She’d been fasting for ten days on the first hike. It was sixteen miles on the Kalalau trail on Kauai where we lived. She handled it like a Marine. Suffice it to say, I was more than a little impressed. Nine months later, we were engaged.
Only Cathy would marry a crazy guy like me to spend the next 12 years living with inmates and their children and then tell people that she
felt privileged and spoiled because of it.
I often joke that I had a crush on Marcia Brady as a kid.
I would have fallen head over heels in love with Cathy if I had met her as a kid.
By the grace of God, she didn’t meet me as a kid…
If you spend any time at all with Cathy then you know she is super sensitive to Holy Spirit, and she often cries when she worships, reads, or speaks God’s word, especially when speaking to those who don’t know they need Jesus.
Make no mistake she is the reason for any favor I have with the Lord.
He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD. Prov 18:22
Like a lot of parents with adult children these days we have a son who for reasons unknown to us abruptly stopped talking to her three years ago. It hurts me to watch her suffer as only a mother can.
I’m writing this in hope that he reads it.
But also to dispel any illusion that might lead people to believe we have all our proverbial ducks in a row.
We are just little children. 1 John 2
We have found that God teaches us various aspects of Himself through the process of our becoming identified with His heart via circumstances and relationships. Like Mary with Jesus in the movie The Passion of the Christ,
Sometimes Cathy struggles to let go.
Then she does it with patience, forgiveness, and grace.
She loves her son from a distance and prays that God will soften his heart.
It’s what God did and does with us.
After God and people, Cathy loves anything related to horses. We used to do equine-assisted discipleship at the children’s home where we lived for three years in Honduras. As is the case with people Cathy was drawn to the most broken unwanted albeit ornery teenage horse named Diablo (the devil).
We renamed him Mr. Botangles.
A few fun facts that few people know about Cathy are that she was the Hawaii state Karate champion, she taught Kareem Abdul Jabar to windsurf, and taught our missionary dog Mariposa Loca to swim.
I could go on about all the things I love about my beautiful, fiery, passionate, insanely forgiving, Holy Spirit-filled wife and how she never ceases to amaze me – all the myriad things I have learned by simply watching her… Still, there is one thing that I miss.
I miss seeing the world through her eyes.
While video production was my forte. Cathy loved still photography. Her camera went everywhere with her on the mission field until it was swept away in the landslide. Photography is an easy way to connect with people in the third world if for no other reason than many people have never seen a photograph of themselves or their family.
Cathy never missed an opportunity
She has an uncanny ability to peer into people’s eyes and capture their souls. Unfortunately, nearly five years’ worth of photos were buried under the mud. Thankfully I produced and uploaded this slideshow just before the mountain came down.
If it doesn’t bring a tear to your eye then you might to want check if you still have a pulse.
I plan to see through her eyes again starting today.
Regular readers may be scratching their heads especially since I am so prone to rant over life-sucking self-centeredness and narcissism in the body of Christ.
Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.Proverbs 27:2
I am ranting over the awesomeness of my bride the way I believe Jesus will one day rant over His.
For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.Isaiah 62:5
I’m trying to articulate my gratitude to God for the gift He has given me. As usual, words do not suffice
It is through my marriage to Cathy that Jesus teaches me the most about His heart for His bride. It is through her being my bride that Cathy models what it means to be a bride. That is part of the mystery.
and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. Mark 10:8
It is in the context of marriage that the depth of God’s endgame is revealed. The realized Kingdom of Heaven is a marriage.
Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;Revelation 19:7
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.Revelation 22:17
And while you don’t have to be married to know and love Jesus, let alone be loved by Him, marriage is the foundation of any Christian community. As far as “community” is concerned, a given Christian community is only as healthy as its marriages.
Everything else flows from there.
As for me, I remain joyfully mesmerized by my bride. It is because of Cathy that I even have a clue as to what it means to love and be loved. It is in her presence that I can most easily appropriate the love of God which is His presence.
“It’s not glamorous here but it is glorious” – Able Carrico –
While you won’t find the glitz associated with big social media-driven mega ministries, there are enough love, joy, and miracles in this place to confirm God’s presence. In our case we see the Lord calling us deeper into the other fruits of the spirit especially peace, patience, faithfulness, and self-control which can be unwittingly sidelined in charismatic circles. More often than not their cultivation takes place in the context of His longsuffering.
All that being said, the following is excerpted from a previous blog and describes just one of my experiences with a Holston child. It is my experience and by no means representative of the average Holston child or any official position of Holston or Holston staff. If your spirit is quickened and your heart resonates with what you read then you just may be called to work here with our rejected, abandoned, and traumatized, adolescents, and or their parents.
Snapping turtles will invariably bite any hand that tries to feed them. I was a snapping turtle as a teen. Those who have heard my testimony or read some of my previous posts will know what I mean. God loved me despite me. Ephesians 2 Several of those whom I’ve had the distinct pleasure of serving are the same. One particular boy has a special place in my heart. I can’t tell you his real name so I’ll call him “Sid” after “The Evil Sid” from the movie Toy Story.
Sid is the marginalized and forgotten archetype of a traumatized child.
Our Sid made a bomb just for fun and accidentally blew himself up. While his physical injuries were healed it was part of the reason for his being sent to Holston. I get that. I made bombs when I was a boy too. In this case, it was the overarching paradigm for Sid’s daily existence. He laughed while telling me he’d enjoyed the burns on half his body because he “got high for free”. “They gave me the good drugs!” he laughed. As one might expect, Sid had a particularly foul mouth. My supervisor counted the number of times in the course of three minutes that Sid referred to me in the urban rendition of a female dog. She told me she quit counting at forty-seven. That’s not accounting for the myriad of other profane conjunctions. He was particularly frustrated that day because he’d dropped the pencil with which he’d planned to stab me. “Go – head bend over and pick it up so I can kick you in yo face!” I held his gaze and calmly kicked it away.
“You a b#&*!” Sid snapped.
Still, Sid was witty at times. “I need to s*&t!” he blurted. “Can you find another word?” I asked. “Ok,” Sid said. “How about “shoot?”. “That’s fine,” I replied. If you keep cussing it’ll be another grounding. “Grounding” at Holston means sitting alone at a table where you can read, write, color or draw without talking to any other kids as they play games or watch T.V. Sid was always grounded. In fact, his record was twelve hours without being grounded.
Later that evening Sid told me he was about to shoot himself.
“Are you thinking of killing yourself?” I asked completely forgetting our prior conversation.
“Blank No!… Remember? You told me to find anotherword.”
“Can you unlock the bathroom?”
Sid ran away for a second time a few days later. We call it AWOL. The police brought him back in handcuffs a few hours later. He was cursing and spouting off about “swinging on staff” as soon as the cuffs were off. I guess he thought he sounded pretty tough even though he’d clearly been crying. The cops told us he’d surrendered when they threatened to release the dog.
They thought that was pretty funny.
They didn’t have a dog.
Every day I’d greet Sid with a smile and a hand on his shoulder. “How ya doing Sid?” to which he’d reply,
“Blank you! You blanking blanker!!!”
“Sigh…That’s a restart on your grounding Sid.”
This went on for weeks. Every day I’d let Sid snap until he was tired of snapping which was usually when he fell asleep. I’d hold him accountable and give him every available consequence. I’d tell him he needed to stop proverbially blowing himself up – that threatening me amounted to him holding a gun to his head and screaming “stop or I’ll shoot!” But Sid didn’t care. At least that’s what he wanted us and maybe himself to believe. One day the Lord prompted me to stick my head in his room after he’d had a particularly rough phone call. He had at least three tears streaming down his face as I spoke.
“You don’t want to hear this now”, I began. “But let me just plant one seed. If you ever get tired of blowing yourself up and give your life to Jesus, that demon that is destroying your life will leave.”
“Hell yeah,” Sid said.
The next day I told Sid I loved him after he called me and other staff the usual slew of explicatives. He finally laughed.
“You really like the bad kids don’t you?”
Then one of Sid’s sidekicks, asked me if there is anything a kid could say or do that would make me hit them?
“Absolutely not” I replied.
“Well…what if I hit your wife?” Sid grinned.
It was around that time that Sid started to open up about the most horrible trauma you can imagine.
“My mom is a whore.” he began. “One of her boyfriends was beating her up. I thought he was gonna kill her. So I grabbed a bat and beat his @$$! Then my mom called the police and pressed charges on me!”
Sid’s favorite aunt shot herself in the chest and bled out in front of him when he was 12. “I didn’t know what to do…” he said nearly crying before he could get his walls back up. Sid had concluded that not giving a “blank” is the key to survival. I told him that’s only true if you’re planning to do life in prison.
“That’s where I’m going,” he said.
Then a miracle happened. Sid started saying “thank you” instead of “F-you” and “good night” instead of “Blank you mother blankers”. One day he stopped on his way to do his laundry, turned to me, and said,
“You know I could be a really good man if I changed.”
If you don’t quit; you win. -Heidi Baker-
The next day Sid asked me a question. “Hey, Mr. Brian, ya know what you remind me of?” “What’s that Sid?” Given the previous night’s revelation, I was half expecting some genuine spiritual fruit.
“A Q-tip!” he cackled.
“I can see why you might say that” I laughed.
Sid’s shoulders sank as he walked away.
Then Sid tried to form a gang of other broken boys. He facilitated a classroom brawl and tried to lead a rebellion. In the end, they took him out in shackles and drove away.
One plants, one waters, but only God gives the increase.1 Corinthians 3
I wept for Sid.
The longsuffering of our Lord is salvation. 2 Pet 3:15
One reason why I have such a heart for the Sids of the world is that they have had transparency imposed upon them. Their Sid reputations are fully documented often in a way that embellishes the bad. They don’t bother to pull punches in telling us the truth about what they think. Where others see a menace to society, I see budding apostle Pauls if the scales would fall from their eyes.
Hence when “F-you!” suddenly becomes “thank you” you can be fairly certain of genuine transformation.
We do a lot of things to facilitate transformation. At the end of the day, I suspect that one of the most significant ways a child encounters the Love of God at Holston is when we don’t beat the tar out of them when they do everything in their power to prove they are “Children appointed to wrath.” Ephesians 2:3. And while so many in our identity-focused culture recoil when I say that I work with Sids because,
I am Sid
Those who really know me know it’s true. The Sids of the world is what will keep me at Holston.
Any power or ability I may have to love is the fruit of my brokenness. Luke 7:47
My prayer is that the gift of repentance would fall as it did in H.A. Baker’s Visions Beyond the Veil. Still, the older I get, the more I am convinced that places to which God has us “GO” are more for our transformation than His need for us to accomplish His will. Those who proclaim they want “More! More! More!” – those truly called to the “deep that cries out to deep” will encounter, and become increasingly identified with the brokenness, and sorrow, of our Lord, not only His joy. Isaiah 53.
If this message resonates with your heart and you identify with the Sids of the world, then maybe give Able a call and he’ll point you in the right direction.
Today is Halloween and I for one am cringing. The sheer number of professing Christians who believe they can sanctify the most culturally accepted and overtly Satanic Holiday on their ritual calendar is, in my view, insane. I know people who vehemently defend it as a cultural manifestation that should be honored. Nothing could be further from the truth. While names change according to time and culture, torture, sex and blood rituals, and human sacrifice have their roots in the worship of Baals and Belials of antiquity, the reason for God’s judgment of Israel in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Habakkuk.
The “Harvest” that so many believe they are celebrating to supplant Halloween in Jesus’s name has nothing to do with Jesus. Its roots are found in a Druidic tradition whereby a human sacrifice would be offered and buried in a corn field to ensure a good corn Harvest. Ironically corn has almost no nutritional value and depletes the soil of nitrogen. Even more ironic is that so many shun God’s feasts first mentioned in Genesis 1:14 but embrace Halloween.
You can only argue on behalf of your confirmation and normalcy bias after reading this.
My former wife Jamie, now deceased, was a victim of Satanic Ritual Abuse. While the so-called Satanic Panic of the 80s and 90s has been conveniently dismissed as a conspiracy theory, she had childhood scars to prove it. For example, there were hundreds of scars up and down her back from a box cutter. They would cut her each time she screamed. I will spare you the more gory details of what she endured. You can ask me in person if you want to know more.
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. Ephesians 5:11-12
While I’m not going to write a dissertation on occult ritual abuse, I never would have believed it had I not lived with its consequences for more than a decade. There is a plethora of available info for those interested in the resulting trauma-induced mental illness on websites like The Insight Foundation. Suffice it to say that there are two schools of Satanism. The more contemporary and sensationalized Church of Satan is atheistic and mocks the idea of an actual being called the devil.
The other is theistic and knows the devil is real.
I’m writing this now because on this day I am reminded of how often we apply the Blood of Jesus like Ketchup to things that need to be crucified not sanctified.
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:14-18
A lot of people will disagree but it seems to me that “being conformed to His image” involves constantly learning and coming to terms with just how miserably conformed I am to the world. It’s not a popular message.
It was in the wilderness of foreign missions that Holy Spirit showed me how flippantly I had regarded the Blood of Jesus through which I am redeemed and afforded the opportunity to become a son. John 1:12-13 Instead of pursuing the knowledge of Christ and Him crucified in the fellowship of His sufferings, I had used it as a comforting condiment to justify and cover my petty worldly existence like ketchup on a really bad cheeseburger. I’d redacted the word of God to make it fit my normalcy and confirmation biases. I conformed it to fit my worldview instead of letting it conform me to the image of His son. I made excuses when brokenness and repentance were required. The process began in Africa, and Honduras and continues today. I call it peeling the onion of self. I know it was Holy Spirit, not just my discursive thought because the fear of God fell on me. The closest comparison I can find is what happened to the delinquent Chinese boys in H.A. Baker’s book Visions Beyond the Veil.
Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness… 1 Tim 4:7
Halloween is not a day for celebration. It is a day for which we need to repent on behalf of ourselves and our ancestors.
The blood of Jesus is not a condiment!
But don’t take my word for it. Our prayer is that people would take Halloween and their worldview before the Lord and scrutinize it through the lens of scripture like the noble Bereans in Acts 17:11.
Now, these Jews were nobler than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
Enantiodromia is a Greek word that means “running in opposite ways”. Its contemporary use began when Carl Jung coined it to describe the tendency of one extreme to give birth to its polar opposite. Enantiodromia is most easily depicted in a pendulum where the extent of one swing is largely determined by the extent of the previous one. We see it in history where uber-conservative societies become licentious and vice versa. Perhaps it is most evident in Christianity and politics, especially when the two are combined.
“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” ECC 1:9
As I’ve said before, the mission field taught us a lot about the goodness and faithfulness of God amdist life-threatening situations and everything in the natural going wrong, amidst all of our earthly expectations being unfulfilled. We have come to understand that suffering is and always has been the norm for most of the world. Now we are in Greeneville Tennessee ministering to equally broken people and the as of yet unbroken one percent
whom God loves as much as the other ninety-nine.
We have found the tribulation of Rom 5:1-5 and the patience of James 1:1-4 to be vital in our understanding of the word of God and God’s ultimate plan. We have purposed to walk all of this out in the context of Prov 3:5-8. God always provided exactly what we needed to survive despite our not having a paycheck for 6 years. He guided us to whom we should serve and provided for them too. He will continue to provide because
He is the provider.
The proverbial midnight hour is His favorite time to come through.
We have learned the “name it and claim it” prosperity theme that undergirds so much of contemporary theology often results in confusion and frustration because people askamiss that they may spend it on their pleasuresJames 4:2-4. That might be a hard word for those who have never experienced the conditions in which the majority of His bride currently resides. We have seen a similar error in gluttony for signs, wonders, and demonstrations of power. I sometimes wonder; is it unbelief or are people just bored with T.V.? Jesus did not come to entertain us. He came to destroy the works of the enemy. Interestingly He was rebuking the Pharisees when he declared “a wicked and perverse generation seeks after a sign.” Later in the same chapter, He warned about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees who in addition to being the religious leaders of the day were also opposing, political factions. It was amidst this political and religious division that the Sons of Zaddock set themselves apart from the leavenous religious and political turmoil to preserve the genuine Jewish calendar and scriptures at Qumran.
We have learned that the purpose of prayer is for us to align with God’s will – not to align His will with ours. We have learned that His will is best even when it seems to fail in our eyes and external circumstances appear tragic. We have learned that His will has little if anything to do with our comfort in this life, that earthly comfort and prosperity are incidental to His purpose.
Tribulation is not.
We have learned that the Christian walk is NOT about OUR blessing. It is a stripping away of our self-centered desire to be blessed. It is a 1 Corinthians 3:15 burning up our cravings and fluff. A Heb 12:27 shaking of our silly significance, self-image, performances, facades, and narcissism to reveal the Romans 7:24 body of death that hangs around all of our necks for which God gave His only begotten Son so that all who believe would be saved and walk in Romans 8:1-4 freedom.
We have come to understand that our life is not about OUR identity.
Today we look at ourselves in the mirror and see that much dross remains, much that needs to be stripped, much in us that still needs to die. This dying is a vital step in our continued healing. James wrote “let patience have her perfect work so you may be complete desiring nothing”,‘Nothing’ismēdeís – desiring nobody, nothing. Not one man or woman or anything. We understand that this makes zero sense to those who presume to teach and promise prosperity, justice, and Heaven on earth now. It’s a genuine paradox until we take that first step in obedient faith. We have friends whom we deeply love and who insist on preaching these very things that we have already obediently rejected – the things that Jesus rejected. Luke 14:26. As scary, enigmatic, and lonely as this sounds it is not because He doesn’t want us to have anyone or anything. Rather He wants His desires to become our desires. Psalm 37:4 He wants to give us everything – to have what He has. He can’t do that if our hearts, and minds, are full of our own cravings, and ideas about how things ought to be.
His will won’t be done in our lives if we are fighting Jesus in Jesus’s name.
People often cite Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses in 1571 as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Yet the English Reformation preceded it by 40 years when Mary Queen of Scots, a devout Catholic, began ordering the deaths of hundreds of protestant heretics in Jesus’s name.
John Hooper the Bishop of Gloucester was among the first. The queen somewhat graciously offered Hooper a pardon provided he would publicly recant his anti-Catholic views. He refused and was sentenced to be burned at the stake. As the story goes, high winds on the day of his execution made it hard to get a suitable fire started and only Hooper’s legs and groin were burned. One might think he’d have been tempted to change his mind and recant. Instead, he cried out,
“For the love of God, good people, let me have more fire!”
Hooper defiantly beat his chest until his arm fell off. He did the same with the other until it also fell off.
Eventually, these stubborn Hooper-inspired reformers prevailed and became the dominant political force under Queen Elizabeth, a devout Protestant, and the Church of England was born. Ironically, this new and allegedly doctrinally sound church held onto some Catholic traditions like “vestments” (Priestly garb) along with some other liturgical traditions. Some believers became incensed. They saw it as clear evidence that the spirit of the antichrist was in their midst. So, they split from the apostate Church of England, and the Puritan or the “Precisionist” movement was born. The Church of England’s clergy were quite offended of course. And it didn’t take long for the very people who had survived Mary’s reign of terror to begin arresting, jailing, torturing, hanging, drawing, quartering, castrating, and disemboweling their Puritan brethren
in Jesus’s name.
Some fled to Amsterdam in 1608 where the Lutheran Reformation was in full swing and the myriad core protestant denominations were formed. Among these were my own ancestors, John Alden and Priscilla Mullins who eventually left for the New World on the Mayflower. John Alden was among the men who signed the Mayflower Compact. He served as assistant governor of the Plymouth colony from 1631 until his death in 1687.
He persecuted Quakers and Baptists in Jesus’s name.
Two years ago Amos 3:7 was foundational for those wanting to believe in a God-ordained, prophetically declared election outcome.
“For the Lord GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.”
Ironically the book of Amos tells the story of Israel falling into idolatry and hypocrisy during a time of political stability and prosperity. While there is no doubt that Donald Trump was elected according to God’s will in 2016, the same biblical principle applies to the election of Joe Biden in 2020 because
The inane politicization of the Christian faith has always resulted in absurd, blasphemous and sometimes dangerous theology. It always has and always will divide the body of Christ from Him and each other. Each swing of the pendulum produces more Mary Queens of Scots and John Hoopers. At best we will remain divided until we realize that we are one body, one bride united in the same mind and same judgment that He intends to make spotless and that His Kingdom is as Jesus clearly stated,
If it were His disciples would have fought and killed for it as when 1000 Sicarii Jewish Patriots tried and failed to make Israel great again at Masada in 73 AD. Most of them ended up killing their wives and children and then themselves rather than surrender.
Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth, I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. Acts 10:34-35
It occurred to me as I traveled to so many places on the mission field that at any time my government could label the people I served as enemies and my children could be sent to kill them. My grandmother was a missionary in China and left just before the Japanese invaded.
Today we have Christian Nationalists prepping to fight China or Russia. Meanwhile, I live in a Tennessee county that was divided during the Civil War. Today Christian Nationalists and Marxian Leftists are discussing the likleyhood of yet another one to be fought in Jesus’s name. At some point, the body of Christ needs to own the hypocrisy of singing “God Bless America” while cheering the bombing of His people to hell in Jesus’s name. Like it or not we were not given the ministry of political transformation. We are given 2 Corinthians 5 ministry of reconciliation.
In Jesus’s name
Today the Church has so many false gospel flavors that align with what entitled itching ears want to hear. We have the left-wing WOKE gospel with its neo-Marxist roots. We have the right-wing replacement theology that makes the church into God’s chosen over the rejected Jews and the USA into Jerusalem. We have Christian nationalism and progressive Christianity that mix the aspects above in varying degrees. There are Christian witches and New-Age Christians. We have Interfaith, Chrislam, and the Perennialism of Oprah and Richard Rohr. We have a prosperity gospel, grave sucking and canceling racism by the authority of Gandalf. We have the Vatican siding with globalists, validating the New Age and denying the existence of Hell. We even have emerging AI Christians ready to evangelize those worshiping an AI God in the metaverse. Instead of screening our views in accordance with Paul’s warning in Galatians 1:8-9, we divide ourselves based on our subjective opinions of how the world ought to be and the resulting constructs of God’s and our identities.
Today a few of the previously fervent “Trump prophets” are saying that Trump lost in 2020 because America and especially God’s people did not turn from their 2 Chron 7:14 wicked ways. Maybe it’s just me but I really didn’t need a prophet to tell me that. God has always given a nation its leaders based on the righteousness of the people.
2 Chron 7:14 has always applied to God’s people first even though we often apply it to everyone but ourselves.
He will heal our land if we repent.
Repentance for the body of Christ begins with asking ourselves, “Is Jesus being lifted up, or is someone else being glorified in His name?”“Am I really praying “Thy will be done”? or do I want my will done in Jesus’s name? Are we being led by Holy Spirit as we mediate on God’s word? Or are we being led by books written and promoted by celebrity pulpits? Do we believe what God has already said?
Or do we believe God changes in accordance with what we want to hear?
We have justified our blood-thirsty patriotism with our opposition to abortion. We pointed the finger and demanded repentance from those who don’t even know Jesus. Now we cheer over the repeal of Roe V Wade. But Roe V Wade never was a law. Neither is its repeal. It has only clarified the division between those who would never choose abortion and those who always will. Meanwhile, we remain one nation under God, subject to His discipline in Jesus’s name.
As a nation, we are perverting the Imago Dei by sexualizing children, normalizing paraphilias, and following the exact path of reprobates whom Paul described in Rom 1:18-32 and Jeremiah rebuked for 40 years. We shake our heads and roll our eyes in disgust when we learn that some schools in the so-called Bible belt provide litter boxes for kids who identify as “Furries” and send our kids back to school the next day.
Our silence about the hard things guards our comfort. Our willingness to cheer others who contend with evil preserves our vicarious self-righteousness.
We sing and pray and cry out for revival but we won’t sweep the leaven from His temple and our own lives. We are far too concerned with preserving our grandiose illusions about our identities. We won’t allow, let alone invite God to search and try us so we can truly heal. If we are biblically literate and even a little honest we see that the USA fits the type and shadow of Ninevah in the Book of Nahum or maybe Babylon in Revelation 18.
We’d rather imagine ourselves as a repentant Israel under Cyrus in Isaiah 45.
While I wish him no harm, and might even vote for him if he runs again, I often wonder if God won’t take Donald Trump out completely for the sake of His biblically confounded bride. That so many continue to proclaim any political party or candidate as a fulfillment of the gospel of the Kingdom is absurd. What frustrates me most is that political leaven is just one of many reasons why our witness is so powerless and that only 6% of Americans today have a biblical word view. It is why the left correlates Christians with Nazis, atheists call us crazy,
And young believers deconstruct in droves.
Listen, I have no issue with those who want to improve our country and way of life. After all, God calls both politicians and plumbers. I happen to think plumbers are more valuable and honorable. But if politics is your call then go for it. I do have a problem with those who believe the Bible and God’s plan are about MAGA, Social Justice, or any other false gospel. Those who would question or mock my political atheism should consider Galatians 1:8-9 and maybe do a word study on “accursed” – “Anathema“
Our experience on the mission field and countless others like us is proof that God is true to His word, that the true Gospel is the only answer for humanity and He preserves us in accordance with His will despite external circumstances. The abundant life is found in deliverance from all that holds us captive, Luke 4:18, the wounds that cause us to devour one another in Jesus’s name. Psalm 147:3 That abundance often comes with repentance amidst tremendous suffering and loss. Those who insist on fighting an earthy battle in the flesh, against the flesh for their best life now may soon find themselves fighting against God Himself in Jesus’s name. These will almost certainly be caught in a snare. Luke 21:35 What do you think? Will we learn from the past and repent before it’s too late? Will they know us by our endurance and love? Or will there be more John Hoopers before we are done? Mathew 10:16-18
“In the crushing, in the pressing, you are making new wine.”– Hillsong Worship-
So we made it to Greeneville Tennessee, a place that five months ago we didn’t even know existed when God so clearly called us here. Everything that could have and should have gone wrong during our transition didn’t. Every good thing that shouldn’t happen so easily did. We are now living in the friendliest place I’ve been to date. Even the most menial, and in my case, normally irritating tasks like getting the water turned on and opening a bank account turned out to be the most fun I have had in a while. The bank was the best because they served gourmet chocolate chip cookies and coffee. I know. I’m like a little kid. The point is we are adjusting remarkably well. Still, there are periodic reminders that I am still in the process of reentry from the mission field.
Yesterday I finally realized that “Ingles” is not a Hispanic store for English speakers.
Holston Home where I now work is one of the most incredible places I’ve been. It began as an orphanage over one hundred years ago. Today it is a place of healing for traumatized children and sometimes their families. It’s a job for which I am particularly qualified. Not because of my professional counseling background but rather because each day that I work I come face to face with my broken teenage self who grew up to become an even more broken parent and eventually healed.
Those who regularly read these posts know my walk with the Lord began in jail. What many don’t know is that my former wife also went to jail and our two children went into foster care. My ex-wife was released before me and so the kids went home with her. But she was broken beyond repair. I was told that the court wanted to place the kids with me but I wouldn’t be out for another year. One day, I was summoned to the guard shack. My lawyer was on the phone. She told me that something horrific had happened to my children as a result of my ex-wife’s lifestyle and acquaintances. The courts wanted to terminate her parental rights but according to the law, they could not terminate one parent’s rights without terminating both. I realized at that moment that there was only one way to end the cycle.
I told my lawyer to terminate my parental rights.
It was ten years before I heard of their whereabouts. Needless to say, I paid a huge emotional price and I questioned my decision through the years. Today my daughter is married with a son and works as a manager for an import-export company. Last I heard my son builds cellos for a living, is studying pre-med, and has a girlfriend he loves.
My ex-wife died as a result of IV drug use.
I’m not sure if the Lord brought me to Holston Home because I know what it means to be broken like the children here or because I was broken like their parents.
Maybe it’s both.
The boys with whom I work like that I’m a former Marine, especially those that need to borrow my self-control. That’s code for physical restraint. I guess it’s cooler to be taken down by an Ex-Marine than a five-foot female.
Of course, that is also a key to what ails them.
We got COVID shortly after returning to Kauai from Honduras and I took it like a hardcore former Marine who knows how to stuff any and everything he feels. I even interviewed for my current position at its peak. I felt horrible.
“If you like me now, you’ll really like me without COVID!” I joked via Whatsapp
The qualifying question during the interview seemed to be “how would you react if a kid called you every name in the book?” I said something to the effect of
“Why I’d feel right at home.”
Humor has always been a key to my resilience. But perhaps you see the connection between that and what ails the boys.
It was 4 am in Hawaii and near the end of my bout with COVID. I was sitting in a recliner because it hurt too much to stay in bed. My fever was breaking and I was getting the chills. The temperature outside was 70 degrees. I was bundled up in sweat pants and a thick hoody under a comforter but I just couldn’t get warm. I was shivering and shaking.
Sometimes it takes a physical affliction to disarm us and reveal more truth.
All at once, I was 15 again, the same age as my grandson Elijah, the same age as the hurt broken boy I recently “lent my self-control”. It was Christmas Day 1979. I’d been living alone in a house with three finished walls and no heat. It was minus twenty degrees outside and maybe 20 degrees inside. Everyone in town knew my situation but no one said anything, let alone did anything. I became the “bad kid” that everyone wanted to keep their kids away from lest I corrupt them. Now I was a lonely kid under a blanket, desperately trying to keep warm. I remember trying to be tough – trying to be hard as I strengthened the imaginary armor I’d created to protect me from a brutal world. I stoked the fires of my anger as I very intentionally transformed all my grief into rage. Anger became the energy source that kept me warm and safe. I would eventually use that anger to throw my father through a wall when he showed up and took a swing at me during an argument.
I began shivering and sobbing like a little child in the recliner. I tried to choke back the tears at first but I’ve learned through the years to let the tears flow when they come. I must have been pretty loud because I woke Cathy up and soon she was by my side holding me and weeping with me as I choked out the memory between sobs. The connection was made, we prayed. Healing came with a deeper revelation of why we were going to Tennessee.
I sometimes joke that most kids run away from their parents but I was so bad that my parents ran away from me. Sometimes it’s genuine humor. Most times it’s a sign of some residual armor that needs to be stripped away and tossed. That’s just part of the continued process of sanctification as we are being conformed to the image of Christ. The fact is that I was a deeply hurt and broken child well into adulthood.
There’s no room for armor and false pretenses in the Christian walk.
To this day I don’t really know, let alone understand what happened to my parents – to my family apart from generations of bitterness and unforgiveness. I once asked my dad as an adult, if there was one thing about his life that he could go back and change; what would that be? “I wouldn’t have had ” F-ing” kids!” he replied.
“You guys ruined my marriage.”
I love my dad. He died several years ago. I got the call while leading a middle school process group of 13 and 14-year-old boys. Ironically they were complaining about their fathers. “What’s wrong Mr. Gray?” they asked as I hung up the phone. “My dad just died,” I replied.
The therapeutic poignance was deafening.
It’s both fascinating and faith-building to watch the Lord direct my steps and turn even the hardest, most hurtful things into pure gold. I hope you can see that and don’t give way to sadness or worse – pity as you read. Compassion literally means “to suffer with”. It is the ability to identify with and join in the suffering of others. Compassion is the fruit of suffering from which the world tells us to flee.
Compassion is what qualifies us to participate in God’s plan.
It was about a week after my COVID-ridden interview that I started thinking about my old childhood friend Craig Hammerly. “That’s weird,” I thought. I hadn’t thought of him for years. Craig was the unauthorized friend with whom I used to play in the woods between our houses when we were 6 or 7 years old. I say “unauthorized” because Craig was that “bad kid”. My mother forbade our friendship. So I’d grab my Tonka dump truck, excavator, and matchbox cars and meet Craig secretly to play. Craig didn’t have any toys so it was up to me. I remember I’d always be trying to build something. Craig just wanted to crash the race cars into the Tonka trucks and destroy everything. It was kind of irritating but I rolled with it. Craig lived alone with his grandfather. Rumor had it that he “did things to Craig” – the kind of things that people didn’t talk about let alone do anything about. Craig got held back and we grew apart by the time I was in the third grade. Soon he became the school bully that everyone was afraid to fight. Craig couldn’t read but he sure knew how to punch. Elementary school mythology had it that “he’d knocked out a high school kid in a fight. Heck, even the teachers were afraid of him.” His identity became the kid who could beat up anyone – except maybe his grandfather. Craig moved away sometime before the 6th grade and I never heard of him after. It seemed kind of random that I’d feel prompted to look him up on the internet after 50 years. But there he was. His picture was all over the internet. It was no surprise when I learned that Craig, who called himself Damien Knight had been on drugs and in and out of jail for most of his life. He’d just been arrested again a week or so before.
Craig beat his roommate to death with his fists
Maybe you come from one of those miraculously functional families that loved Jesus and each other. Maybe you are cringing or weeping as you read this. Maybe you’re scratching your head and trying to make sense of seemingly disconnected albeit traumatic data points. Maybe you just think I’m crazy. Or maybe you recognize that “there but for the grace of God go I”. One of the many ways that God speaks to us in and through the circumstances of our own lives – past and present. When I look at Craig I see myself minus Jesus. There’s no going back for guys like Craig and me only forward. But maybe I can help boys – boys like we once were to choose a different path. What I know for sure is that I had no idea why God told us to move to Greeneville Tennesee. It was such a blind leap of faith that part of me questioned my hearing at times. Today it is clear what God is doing or at least what he’s continuing to do in my life. It’s what He’s always been doing. He’s crushing and pressing.
He’s making new wine.
I don’t know what Craig’s future holds. I do know that with God all things are possible. I know that God used prison to save my eternal life and begin the transformation that resulted in the wild adventure that is my life today. Of course, I didn’t know it at first. I know the goal is to count it all joy in the midst of trials and testing. But let’s face it. The crushing and pressing hurts and all we want to do at first is to make it stop. Most of us are doing well if we can count it all to joy to have passed through them. Still, every day I am excited to see what God weaves in and through my life and where he places me as a living stone fitly framed in His house. I hope you can do the same.
It’s been more than three years since I’ve been back home to Kauai and just over two for Cathy. We’ve made the journey twice in the last five years. This has been the longest period we’ve been away from
I used a question mark because on one hand, I have no permanent home, not on earth anyway. On the other anywhere I lay my head is home.
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:11-13
Our friend Nick Franks who runs, among other projects, the Into The Pray podcast and Fire Brand Notes blog out of Edinburgh Scotland with his wife Mairi recently asked us a poignant question. It was in the context of a conversation about our coming out of the literal and proverbial wilderness.
“What will you bring with you?”
I didn’t have an answer. The question hasn’t left me and I’ve tried to answer it several times since arriving on Kauai.
Transition will do that…
It’s been over five and a half years since we stepped out of the confines of careers and the comfort of regular family and social life in pursuit of an obscure calling to deny self and pick up a Cross that we barely understand. We chose a life of relative poverty to love God and others. We did our best to stay connected with the past as Facebook likes and comments waned with prior illusions of intimacy. Some family and friends resented our decision and wrote us off completely. Others dismissed us on theological grounds. Soon no one seemed to notice that we were gone. It was in many ways a foreshadowing of our eventual transition from life on earth. Some call it death. We have experienced many deaths. I’m not whining or being melodramatic. Most people never have the opportunity to apprehend the superficial and vaporous nature of all they hold dear in this world.
Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. James 4:14
We’d entered as sojourning strangers into strange lands. I went with childish dreams of improving the vapor in His name. Little did I know that I was being sent to serve for my sake more than anyone I aimed to fix. We aimed for love, community, and impact. We landed in the depths of loneliness and at times despair. Again and again, we came to the end of ourselves and found that
Here in the vapor buildings crumble, farms decay and human bodies do the same. Meanwhile, God whispers as He builds His house from His throne in eternity. You don’t have to travel to the third world to find the wilderness and the truth it reveals. But it’s a whole lot easier to find it and abide in it there. Perhaps the biggest difference between the wilderness in the first world and that of the third is in the number of anesthetizing distractions. Most people choose anesthesia where it’s available.
One thing is certain.
It’s harder to hear His voice on Kauai. That may sound counterintuitive if you are prone to confusing the creation with its creator. Most everyone arrives here in what I call the Garden of Eden 2.0 with fairytale expectations of encountering some transcendent peace in its sunsets, rainbows, and waterfalls.
Today the irony of the life I left behind seems clearer than ever.
I keep asking people here about their endgame.
It occurs to me as I emerge from the wilderness and step into the land of Netflix and retail that a vast amount of human labor, what I call “monetized life” in the first world involves insuring our comfort against “the fellowship of His suffering”. There’s car insurance, home insurance, flood insurance, fire insurance, medical insurance and medical savings accounts in case we don’t have enough insurance. There is dental insurance, and life insurance, and unemployment insurance to ensure we don’t lose our insurance if we lose our income. We insure ourselves against future suffering with Social Security insurance then insure ourselves against the failure or inadequacy of that insurance with IRAs, and 401Ks. Everyone knows we will need to supplement our Medicare and Medicaid insurance with private medical insurance. We buy identity theft insurance to ensure no one steals our insurance. We purchase security systems and fire alarms. We buy organic vitamins, supplements, food, and water filters. We invest in exercise memberships and equipment, heart monitors, Fitbits and weight loss plans to ensure we don’t use our insurance before we get to enjoy the fruits of it for ten or fifteen years. We call this retirement. It is the ultimate goal of human life. When the appointed day of our death, the existence of which we’ve done all we can to deny finally arrives, someone else takes the proceeds of our insurance and buys insurance for themselves.
It would be comedic if weren’t tragic.
Meanwhile, eternity continues and God builds His house. 1 Cor 3:9, 1Pet 2:5
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11
The inherent narcissism that plagues all of fallen humanity in varying degrees tends to block the realization that our compliance or defiance has zero effect on the final accomplishment of His will. Our participation in His plan is a wonderful and sacred privilege for us not a necessity for Him. That’s a hard red pill for anyone bent on fixing the vapor in His name. At the end of the day, our only real hope for finding meaning, and purpose as we sojourn through the vapor is to learn to abide in Jesus. We do or we produce more rags that endear us to the world. Isaiah 64, Rom 3
Yearning for Jesus is what causes us to abide. We don’t truly yearn until we realize that nothing in ourselves and the world suffices.
So much of our missionary journey has consisted of learning this.
So what do I bring?
“A whole lot less than what I left with.” is my first response. You might think people would be interested in the lessons we’ve learned in the context of a life lived in a manner so foreign to that in the US and especially Hawaii. Yeah well…not so much. I’m not shocked or offended. It’s just an observation. COVID fear, or should I say terror has wreaked havoc on the souls of people in pursuit of worldly bliss. Six years ago I’d think twice before going into the local Walmart. “Did I really have time to negotiate the gauntlet of conversation in every aisle?” Walmart was a community meeting place and “talking story” was a cultural expectation. Only “haoles” (foreigners) ignore the presence of others. Ironically “haole” means “without breath”. According to Hawaiian lore, the spirit is in the breath. Anyway, need bread and milk? Make sure you have at least an hour. That’s how it used to be. This time I went with the sole purpose of seeing who I might see. I was pretty excited after three years. No one even looked me in the eye. They just scurried along with zombified stares. One woman stopped short as she entered an aisle in which I stood alone. She sighed and appeared rather flustered before turning around and choosing an empty aisle.
It seems she was afraid to share thespace.
A few weeks ago I got to share at Puka’s Ministries. “Puka” means “hole” in Hawaiian. In this case, it refers to the piercing in Jesus’s hands, feet, and side, that He endured for our transgressions. Services are held under a tarp across from the beach. It’s how Cathy and I always thought church should be done on Kauai. I mean why does any church need a building with a sixteen thousand dollar per month rent bill or an eight hundred thousand dollar mortgage? There are plastic chairs, the kind that guys like me need to be careful lest we lean back and they break. There’s a make-shift plywood stage and the dirt floor turns to mud when it rains. There are two porta-potties across the field and they serve a free lunch after the service. If nothing else you will know Puka’s by their love. The worship leader and Pastor are old friends and supporters of ours. They are familiar with brokenness. Hence, their ministry is mainly to the broken. “A broken spirit and a broken and contrite heart, God will not despise”. You won’t find a better church on the island. There are former inmates, addicts, jail guards, rag-tag surfers, homeless, and successful business people who might not seem as familiar with brokenness. Their humility tells a different story. I showed our most recent video that no one could see due to the glare of the morning sun. We tried to cover the gaps between tarps with a blanket to block the light. But to no avail. So I began with my own broken roots to include addiction and jail lest anyone be tempted to place the visiting missionary on a pedestal. I spoke about missions, God’s call, ongoing repentance, and the obedience that is the antidote to fear. I felt like a river overflowing its banks. Cathy said she’d never heard me speak so fast and…so scattered.
“Next time slow down and maybe say less.” She said.
I realized as I began that I am an overfilled wineskin ready to burst. I probably sounded like a machine gun. Turns out the answer to Nick’s question is
“apparently a whole lot more than I can share in forty-five minutes.”
In addition to bursting at the seams, the Lord has given me a renewed love and burden for the Bride of Christ. That might sound strange if you are a regular reader of mine.
We’ve been out on the fringes alone, forerunning and pursuing the Lord and His most lost sheep for so very long that we figured the wilderness was our one and only calling. But then I have always said that Psalm 37:4 “Delight your self in the Lord and He shall give you the desires of your heart” is not about us getting what we want as much as it is about Him placing His desires in us. It’s as surprising to us as it is to anyone that He would be calling us back with a renewed passion for a ragtag blemished harlot destined to become a spotless bride.
It was only in October that we were looking at the condition of the United States and the blatant apostasy in so much of the church and saying,
“We don’t know if we even want to visit again!”
Still, I think it was Augustin who wrote, “The church is a whore but she’s my mother.” Hosea married a whore named Gomer. She was a type and shadow of Israel and the contemporary church.
Alas a man makes his plans but the Lord directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9
This past November we were sitting on a rock by our blessed river – the one into which the landslide fed our home and all our worldly possessions exactly a year before. The waters of our preservation and our stripping had remained our most sacred place to worship and pray. It flowed onward unimpeded in spite of us like the days of our lives. Bits and pieces of roof and fluorescent yellow flooring were strewn all around us. And God spoke. Cathy and I looked at each other with tears in our eyes and simultaneously said,
“We have to go back.”
It was just like the moment in December 2015 when we stood on opposite sides of our bed in Kauai, looked at each other, and simultaneously said,
We thought we were headed directly to Honduras. Ten months later we were in mission school in Africa.
Anytime God moves us He reserves the right to change the course and direction. Understanding this would save more than a few from the snare of offense.
We arrived back on Kauai on December 7th, Pearl Harbor Day, and started our ten-day quarantine. Ironically the department of health official at the airport seemed to think she’d busted us for having a fraudulent COVID test. “She’s the type that will be guarding the camps,” Cathy said. We went out once or twice after quarantine and immediately got COVID. “Praise God!” Cathy exclaimed. That’s a blog in itself. The point here is that it was during that time that God guided us and repeatedly confirmed that He was sending us to Greenville TN.
We’d replied to a call for help by Will Hart on the IRIS Global alumni Facebook page. IRIS runs the mission school we attended in Pemba Mozambique. The more we learned about what God is doing in Greeneville the clearer the vision became. I should also point out the fact that the growing clarity followed our decision to be obedient. Lord willing and unless something radically changes, I will be working at the Holston United Methodist Home for children. My role will be similar to the one I had as a counselor at Hina Mauka Teen CARE on Kauai. The difference is that discipleship is the goal instead of the risk I faced in a public school setting. I will have ten to twelve boys to disciple. In addition, the unlikely partnership between a charismatic ministry like IRIS with a United Methodist Church and a 100-year-old children’s home seems proof enough that God is disrupting what Nick calls the “denominational maze”. We aren’t sure exactly what Cathy will be doing. But I suspect it will involve stopping for the one and maybe some involvement with the equine therapy they do at the school. We are excited.
Still, the transition is bittersweet.
Our tears at the river were partly a result of the fulfillment of our faithful waiting in the wilderness with no visible direction other than to put one foot in front of the other and trust God. They flowed because of His love and faithfulness. They flowed because we are leaving the people we have grown to love as our family.
I married Josh and Paulet in 2018 and they have joined the ranks of our many adopted spiritual children. We planted and watered. Now it’s time for God to give the increase as only He can. We had waited and trusted and waited some more and never gave in to the confusion the enemy tried so hard to sow into our lives and our marriage. Trials that are known to destroy marriages on the mission field only brought us closer together. We came out more solid and more in love with God and each other than ever before. I am more in love with and mesmerized by my bride today than on the day we first met. She only becomes more radiant and beautiful as the years pass by like the rushing waters of our river in Cerro Azul.
I think the Lord may be trying to tell me something about His own passionate love for His bride.
If you haven’t seen it yet, our final video is posted below. It begins with our rehabbing the 380 sqft cabin in Cerro Azul and ends with its destruction in the landslide. The shots of the people in between are a window into the lives and souls of the Honduran people we have grown to love so very much. We will continue to glean the lessons the Lord taught us through them for years to come. We remain part of Hope In Time Ministries and will help Josh and Paulet. We will continue to serve on the board and I will help with the website and newsletter. We will visit Honduras again as soon as we can. Who knows? Perhaps one day we’ll bring teams of kids from Tennessee.
We would like to thank all of our supporters through the years and especially our four monthly supporters. We could not have done it without you! We never did much in terms of raising money for ourselves and we never asked you for money. Instead each and every one of you heard from the Lord and came through at the midnight hour. Not only did you help us financially but you each played a major role in the growing of our faith. That you heard so clearly from the Lord about our need should build your faith as well. Those who donated immediately after the landslide saved our lives, our mission, and countless Honduran families in the aftermath of two back-to-back Hurricanes Eta and Iota.
We are eternally grateful.
That said, I will be archiving the Gray Hope Donorbox campaign at the end of February. Monthly donors will receive a “donation failed” message after that. You don’t need to do anything other than mark it as spam to avoid receiving the same email each month. Those donating directly to Hope In Time will remain unaffected. If anyone feels led by the Lord to support our transition to our next mission you can click here; Gray Hope Missionaries before our departure to Tennessee on February 28th, 2022. Thank you again for laying down your monetized lives here on earth for the sake of the Gospel and our mission to the people of Honduras. We love you and may God bless you. We pray that you know the peace that surpasses all understanding that we have come to know so well in this season.