God is good

It has been pretty stressful at times to move from Lubbock, Texas, which I have called home for the past 13 years, to a new community and job in Edmond/Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The worst part was being separated from my family for about 1 1/2 months this summer, before they moved to join me in August, but many things about the moving process are stressful and challenging even when a family is all together.

Throughout this moving process, I have been encouraging my wife and myself with the words, “Don’t worry about the house. God is going to take care of it.” We actually had our Lubbock home on the market since March of 2006, because although we did not know then where He would lead us, we felt certain that we were called to move on to new jobs and new opportunities during the summer. The completion of my PhD coursework at Texas Tech along with many other factors contributed to this family decision. How joyful we were this past week to see the following sign in our front yard in Lubbock!

Our house is sold!

Last Friday we were back in Lubbock signing closing documents on the house. Yesterday afternoon, we received a phone call from our realtor indicating that the buyers had accepted and signed the contract, so at this point we are no longer homeowners. What a relief! Making a house payment along with a new rental payment has been challenging. Now we just have the rent!

I admit that although I KNOW from repeated personal experiences that God does take care of things, and that he does and will continue to care for me and my family, it was still a great relief to sell our home. It was also amazing to see how God worked through this situation. We were prepared to pay about five times more than we ended up paying to close our home– but it worked out that we did not have to pay nearly as much. Our realtor was amazed, and also said that “It was God,” not him. None of us predicted the sale would turn out as well as it did, in fact we all were bracing for a much worse outcome.

So, our challenges continue in our new home and situations, but my primary thought in writing this blog entry is, “Praise God!” God is good all the time, and yet again he has demonstrated his power to act in my own life beyond my own expectations.

I think some people have the mistaken impression that once you become a Christian, you do not struggle or go through suffering anymore. That is definitely NOT true. Struggles, challenges, and even suffering remain a part of our lives on earth for a variety of reasons– but becoming a Christian does NOT make a person immune from these experiences. Being a Christian and seeking to know God’s Son, Jesus Christ, does mean that in all circumstances I know who I can call on for help. Who I call on to take the burdens of my worries and stresses, and who I rely on to see me through each day. Praise God! I am so excited about being free of the debt of our Lubbock home I feel like dancing! 🙂

A Prayer

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul…Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Excerpt from Psalm 23

In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came unto him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live.
Excerpt from Isaiah 38:1-3

Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.
Excerpt from John 11:3-5

Let us pray that God may be glorified, and His will be done.

Inspiration from Irwin

I heard Irwin McManus speak at a Promisekeepers event several years ago, and when I started looking for Christian-focused podcasts I was thrilled to find his California church, Mosaic, regularly publishes Irwin’s sermons as well as other presentations on their podcast channel. Unlike some other inspirational Christian preachers who sell their sermons online, Irwin and Mosaic are giving their content away for free. The messages are Christ-focused and Biblically centered, and I really appreciate the scripture, thoughts, and insights they share as I continue on my own walk of faith. They are planning on offering archives of podcasts for sale eventually, but the latest ones are and evidently will continue to be available for free.

Irwin’s latest sermon, “Does God Care,” takes on one of the toughest questions. Why do bad things happen to good people? If God is all knowing and all powerful, how could he let such seemingly senseless and evil things happen on earth?

I appreciate the fact that Irwin offers several perspectives on this answer, unlike Rabbi Kushner who wrote the book “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People” which I read several years ago and found very lacking theologically. Irwin points out that one of the most important things to realize is that GOD CARES, and he acts in our fallen world that yes– does have evil and sin in it– because He loves his people.

I think catastrophic life events often either drive people away from God or can serve to drive us right into the waiting arms of God. I don’t have all the answers, and Irwin admits he doesn’t either, but I appreciate his perspectives and hope more people will hear the Gospel message through the Mosaic podcast.

Podcast3: Step Aside Satan!

This podcast is a recording of a sermon shared by Pastor Leo Wideman at First Presbyterian Church in Edmond, Oklahoma on September 17, 2006. The title of Leo’s message was “Step Aside Satan!” His text was from the sixteenth chapter of the gospel of Matthew. Leo reminds us all to make sure we are focusing on Christ, and not falling into the trap of the enemy by focusing on ourselves or on the messages the world would have us regard as most important.

Program Length: 29 min, 18 sec
File size: 6.8 MB

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Show notes for this podcast include:

  1. Matthew 16
  2. First Presbyterian Church, Edmond, Oklahoma
  3. “Enter the Mystery” by Michael Popenhagen on the Podsafe Music Network

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Age of Catholic Christianity 70-312 AD

Notes from Pastor John Gruel’s lecture at First Pres Edmond 9/20/2006

Stratification of church which evolved during this period:
– Martyrs: (the Saints) those who died for the faith
– Confessors: those who stood
– The lapse: those who sin / fall short

Question came up: can renouncers be forgiven?
1- one answer: the church can’t forgive, only God can forgive
2- some said yes, the church can forgive sin
— at one time, a Bishop that was forgiving people who had been caught in the sin of adultery (Callistus)
— made analogy to Noah’s ark, clean and unclean animals together

2 groups
– those who said church must be kept pure, society of saints
– church is school of sinners, we need to be able to forgive

Sense that martyrs for who they were had a special level of holiness, had extra merit
– started talking about “treasury of merit” that eventually led to the selling of indulgences, praying to martyrs

Confessors were also thought to have a higher status

Cyprien, bishop of Carthage, said he wasn’t sure about martyr and confessor thing
– if you could make the penance match the level of sin, then you could forgive
– the decision of whether someone could be readmitted into the church laid with the bishop
– church started becoming this mix of worthy and unworthy
– power of the bishop to convey divine forgiveness

Main body of the orthodox church marched forward with “school of sinners”
– penance became a sacrament during this era
– salvation was at that point in the hands of the church, and specifically in the hands of the bishiop

When the church granted the power of forgiveness to the bishop, catholic christianity was complete

this model of leadership drove the church well through the era of the Roman empire

Christianity caught on, there was increasing interest among people of reason, the intellectual class
– some people like Paul began to write in a fashion more understandable to Greeks, communicating the gospel in a contextual way
– Tertullian was against this, didn’t want to reconcile the teaching with greek thought and philosophy

Are faith based approaches during this time, and reason-based approaches like what Paul wrote
– go to Acts 2 and read Peter’s sermon at Pentecost (fidaistic – faith based, more from the Hebrew tradition)
– go to Acts 17 and read Paul’s sermon in Athens (more contextual style)

These shows the contrast in these two preaching styles

struggle with gnosticism
– showed that greek thinking could be a threat, because of an inability to engage greek thought leads to heresy

Had a school developed in Christian gnosticism, was engaging the gnostic thought but providing orthodox answers
– fast forward to the 20th century
– think about CS Lewis: doing the same thing that Pandues was doing
– communicating with the philosophers of the day with where they are, he speaks their language, and inserts an orthodox theology
– read some of “The Abolition of Man”
– Francis Shaeffer also did the same thing

Sept 19th in Wall Street Journal
– what Pope Benedict thinks
– Christianity is informed by dialog between reason and revelation, the dialog between Athens and Jerusalem
– faith and reason are essential in the Pope’s view now

Student Clement become one of the first really Christian scholars
– combines with Christian thought and scripture
– “Just as the Jew had the law to teach his heart and guide him to the gospel, so too the Gentile had philosophy”

Origin succeeded Clement around the year 200
– carried on his work
– trying to bring all Christian truth into focus
– both stressed the aim of philosophy as the ethical, by focusing on that ethical they could reject the gnostic claim that creation is evil

Origin is noted for system for interpretation of scripture, threefold model
1- literal and plain meeting
2- moral application
3- spiritual and allegorical application (how does it relate to Jesus)

Origin: not all his allegories are as direct as Nathan’s story of the sheep to David, relating to Uriah and Bathsheeba

Origin was one of the first to do systematic theology
– at a basic level: this is taking the things we know from scripture, the doctrines we develop from those (revelation, creation, etc) and try to make those fit together in an organized way
– a system of thought that it all links together
– challenge is: there are always grey areas
– Origin did this for his desire to fit this into greek thought and philosophy
– got himself in trouble because he was kind of a universalist

Universalism holds that some day God will reconcile all people to himself

Clement and Origin took that risk of going too far to accommodate Hellenistic thought

Different philosopher-theologians crop up in history to interact with different types of thought: St Augustine, St Thomas Aquinas

Serendipity

I have a story to share that some will undoubtedly find too lacking in credibility to believe…in fact, I see it as no less than a miracle. Whether others do not, well, that isn’t the point. It is an example of serendipity.
My mother had been praying, asking for intercession as to what should be done with my father. My father, as Wesley shared in a previous entry, is terminally ill (lung cancer) and checked into a hospital earlier this week. Our next steps hinged on what the Chief Pulmonologist of the hospital would say, whether he would have to make an invasive test or not. Both my parents wanted to do the right thing, but were unsure whether the test was the right way to go and whether it would provide new information or insights into the experience. My mother asked for help and guidance in her prayers.
Without going into too much detail, on Thursday night, the chief of pulmonology came into my father hospital room. He was Nicaraguan. As he chatted with my parents, discussing the options, especially some particularly unwanted ones that involved a bronchoscopy, my mother asked him, “You’re from Nicaragua?”

“Yes,” he replied.

“My grandfather was from Nicaragua and moved to Panama. His name was Mayorga and his family lives in the town of Leon.”

“Really? I know that family! They are well-known!” This seemed to break the ice, so to speak. It set my mom at ease, and my father, too.

Later as my mother reflected on the conversation, tears came to her eyes and her voice quavered. She felt that God had stepped in for her. I had to point out that only God COULD have stepped in on this situation. Consider that my great-grandfather on my mother’s side was Nicaraguan, something I had NOT known until she told me Friday morning. And, that the chief of Pulmonology for the hospital we were at–a destination decided upon by the ambulance driver in the early morning hours on Thursday–also was a Nicaraguan who knew the Mayorga family…and who happened to control the fate of my father in regards to achieving desired outcome.

Well, one could chalk it up as mere coincidence, but my mom and I choose not to. Serendipity is the hand of God at work in the world, more than just coincidence. May you receive this story in the spirit it was intended.

Power of Prayer and Communion

Last week, I was called in to do an interview about what I do at work–facilitate professional development at the District level in the area of Instructional Technology. The interview was great because it allowed me to share what I’ve been doing the last 4.5 years. As I kept talking, I was getting more and more excited because the conversation–essentially a summary of what we’ve done–reminded me of how far we’d come.

At the end of the interview, after the digital recorder and tape recorder were turned off, the interviewer–a Harvard ph.D of Asian descent–looked over at me and said, “Do you have any spiritual motivations for what you’re doing?” I was shocked by the question. We were sitting in a public school building in a room to ourselves, but this lady had clearly crossed the line.
However, an honest question gets an honest answer. I responded, “Yes. Ever since I’ve been working with children, later with adults, I have felt that my work touches people for eternity. What I show someone in class isn’t as important as how i do it, and even then, all work done is a prayer.” I shared that I am a Christian. The researcher appeared overjoyed to hear this. In a few minutes, I understood why.

“I could tell from the moment I met you that you were a Christian.” She said a lot more about her impressions, but let’s just say that while those comments were great, I was reeling from the shock of having a spiritual conversation in that public school building. It was a surreal experience, I kid you not. Perhaps, one can even characterize it as “supernatural.” She shared her experiences as a Christian, but she used those to amplify my experiences, to help me view them through a different filter.
I shared with her the story of Peter in the boat and Jesus commandment to come to him. I likened the experience to that of educators who are struggling to overcome fear and oppression represented by current legislation. As we ended our conversation, she started to reach across the table to take my hand but stopped short…neither one of us wanted to cross the line of propriety. We had connected as Christians in our beliefs and sharing of the Spirit, an experience that does NOT happen every day for me with absolute strangers. I jokingly said to myself (internally) that I needed to hang out with more born again Christians or more strangers….

She asked me, “Do you mind if we pray?”

“Not at all,” I replied. I bowed my head, closed my eyes and entered into meditation. The prayer she spoke was Spirit-filled. I was immediately touched by the words and I hadn’t felt the Spirit like that in a long time. That very day, I remember experiencing despair that K-12 education would ever see change and “giving it up to God” on my drive to work.

But, praying with this person I had never met before and probably wouldn’t see again, her words hit me like a freight train, again and again. She prayed that God give me the courage to be bold, and being bold, that I might go out and do what needed to be done. She made a connection to Peter’s story of walking on the waves, she prayed for my wife and I and blessed me in what I had done.

I have to tell you that everything she said shook me to my core because I needed to hear it, experience it in prayer. I only wish the digital audio recorder I had with me had been indeed been on to record the prayer. I told her that I would never again doubt God answered prayers quickly. The prayer restored my confidence and left me exhilirated. I shared the story with others, and meant to write sooner here, but other events took precedence.

I honestly wish I could share exactly how the prayer went, but the euphoria of the moment washed the words from my mind. I do not remember them. I like to describe this as receiving one’s daily bread, not counting on prepared words or speeches, only trusting to the Lord and letting the Spirit guide one. This had been my experience with the Spirit before so I was not surprised that it was what happened. When I left that meeting, I knew God had answered me and I knew that both the Harvard researcher and I had shared a moment of communion that would stay with us both forever.

When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted.
Psalm 138:3

Prayers for Miguel and family

Please keep Miguel Guhlin, his father and family in your prayers. Miguel’s dad was hospitalized today and prospects for a recovery do not look good. Updates will be posted– but whatever happens this is a difficult time for the Guhlin family. May the God of peace comfort his sons and daughters in this time of suffering and uncertainty.

Podcast1: The Age of Catholic Christianity by John Gruel

This podcast is a recording of a Wednesday night adult Christian education class taught by Pastor John Gruel of First Presbyterian Church in Edmond, Oklahoma. John’s topic was “The Age of Catholic Christianity 70 – 312 AD: Persecution and Orthodoxy.” Among many reference texts for this lesson is Bruce Shelley’s “Church History In Plain Language.”

Program Length: 1 hr, 6 min, 2 sec
File size: 15.9 MB

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  1. Text notes from this lesson
  2. Bruce Shelley’s “Church History In Plain Language.”
  3. First Presbyterian Church, Edmond, Oklahoma
  4. “Enter the Mystery” by Michael Popenhagen on the Podsafe Music Network

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