Revelation: Flannery O’Connor

My first experience with Flannery O’Connor came last night in our small group.  I have to say that everyone that was in this group seemed to know her decently well exempt me, which was kind of odd because I probably read more books in general than most of the people in that room.  As I wrote though, it was my first experience with her writing and found it to be quite interesting.

From what I have learned, Flannery O’Connor was a white woman from Georgia.  Her father had died of lupus when she was a young girl of just 15.  She entered Georgia State College for women and was later inducted into the Iowa Writers’ Worship.  After she had accepted that position, she herself was diagnosed with lupus, only allowing her to live another 15 years.  During her lifetime, she wrote several short stories and two novels.  Though she was only 39 when she died, she left behind stories that have been read and studied.  Even today, there are those who attempt a degree in literary writing and read her stories for inspiration and contemplation.

Last night, I read one of her short stories, “Revelation.”  I felt as though there was not one word that was over used or a thought that was under developed.  It challenged me to remain engrossed with her stylistic pros and helped me to reach outside of my rational box I seem to be comfortable resting in myself.  Let me share why.

In this story, there is a woman named Mrs. Turpin who is talking with several strangers in a doctor’s office.  A little girl named Mary Grace is engrossed in a book she had been reading called, “Human Development,” which Mrs. Turpin notices from afar.   It is while Mrs. Turpin sits, she begins to realize how very lucky she is to be who she is.  She sees herself superior to each individual within the doctor’s office and finds the words to express her gratitude to God.  In essence, even though there are people who have money and are as common as she is, Mrs. Turpin cannot understand how these people exist; how these people are of a higher status than she is.

Eventually, Mary Grace cannot listen to Mrs. Turpin’s continued gabbing and chucks her book, “Human Development” at Mrs. Turpin.  All the sudden, the little girl wraps her hands around Mrs. Turpin’s neck and begins to choke her.  In a few moments, the little girl is given a needle to calm her down.  Mrs. Turpin tries to regain herself emotionally.  Mary Grace looks at Mrs. Turpin and says, “Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog!”  Mary Grace’s words hit her hard.  How could anyone call her that?

From O’Connor’s viewpoint though, she had painted Mrs. Turpin as the hogs in which she raised.  Mrs. Turpin is saved because she is entitled to be so.  Everyone can receive the grace of God.  O’Connor smashes the woman’s understanding of grace.  In essence, Mrs. Turpin is saved because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ.  Not because she is kind to her black workers or because she helps out at the local church.  No matter who you are, it is the blood of Jesus who has saved the black folk who worked on her farm, the “trashy people” who went to the doctor’s office and even herself.

One aspect that had gone under the radar was the character, Mary Grace.  To me, she was a snotty little kid who was so individualistic and selfish, she just read her book.  Realizing now that O’Connor was Catholic, I began to realize that perhaps “Mary Grace” was a picture of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in whom the Catholic Church called, “the mother of grace.”  That gives an interesting spin on how we are to look at this character in the story.

The revelation Mrs. Turpin receives in the last scene of the book is one that has challenged me.  In the end, everyone’s “good deeds” are burned away because they were done with human intentions.  As she watches a vision of a parade going by, the last group of people who were bringing up the rear was people who she noticed were like her. She realized that everyone was entitled to the saving grace of God. Not just the people who did great “human” things with their time here on earth.  She and her husband Claud were not any greater than the “white trash people” or the “black people” or anyone else.  Salvation was an equal matter issue to God.

O’Connor’s story gives us a lot to think about concerning how we perceive people, our virtues, and the saving grace of God.  I have found it to be a challenge to read not only because it was written so well but also because it was written during the time when certain words that described black people were used that is offensive to me.  I struggled to read those words even though I understood why they were used.

I am not sure if our perception of how we view grace is truly the way God intended us to see it.  What I do know is that O’Connor paints a picture of grace through a woman named Mrs. Turpin that is valuable and meaningful today.  We are all in this grace thing together.  I hope if you have not read any of her writings, you also will challenge yourself to read something that will bring you out of your own box and push you in all directions as her writings have for me.  God bless.

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Stories from the Homeless (12)

Once again we made our trip to Love Park.  I have just found out that we are no longer able to serve the poor there because it no longer actually belongs to the city!  They sold the small plot of ground to the Federal government to make it a national park!  What on earth?  The homeless therefore have been kicked out of the park indefinitely.  They will need to find a new place to sleep in the city.  To me, it is sad.  Why on earth would people want to kick people out of a place where they can sleep?  They are not hurting anyone by sleeping on a bench.  They have never begged us for money or harassed any of us for any reason.  The homeless people we have dealt with from the beginning have been kind, honest, and teachers to others and myself.  For many of us, going across the world to serve as missionaries is not as easy as it is for others.   20 minutes away from where we live is our mission field.  It is where we go not once a year for a week but each Monday night.  We will not be discouraged though.  We will continue to go down there and love on these people.  They are no longer strangers but friends who are in need of a hand up, not a hand out.  I wish the city would realize that they are not helping the problem of homelessness.  They are only making it harder for people to find a place to lay their heads.  I am sure they will figure that out soon enough though.

Our trip last night was good.  We were missing a couple of people who usually go down with us due to school schedules and other obligations but we had a great crew of people who were ready to serve.  We brought down our usual sandwiches, coffee, and clothes and proceeded down to the subway to hang out.  It was not as cold as it usually had been before but we felt that perhaps more people would be hanging out there than a lot of other places we could have gone.  We also knew the area of the subway we go to quite well.  We knew where we could set up and not get in the way of other people who passed by and how to set up our areas to serve those who were in need of a warm drink and a lunch.

It is amazing to me how God seems to provide just enough of what we need.  We took down 31 lunches Monday night and somehow were able to give each person something to eat and drink.  To me, that just means that God has blessed our ministry and our passion to serve others.  It is always cool how God does that kind of stuff.

I didn’t see Keith tonight.  I wondered if perhaps he had found a bed with his wife in that Motel.  He was probably off somewhere doing something I will end up hearing about next Monday.  I have no doubt he would do that.  I guess I will just have to wait until Monday to find out.

As I was serving coffee, I met a guy named Bill.  Bill was a broad shouldered black man, wearing a bright orange coat and a large black hat.  He told me over and over again that people didn’t understand the homeless.  They just thought they were all lazy and didn’t have a right mind about themselves.  He said that perhaps people were lazy for sitting behind desks all day, eating chips and making tons of money to buy big things that made them even lazier.  He said that people today only cared about themselves and never reaches out to those in need – especially those in their back yards.  He was so thankful to see that we would take time out of our own schedules to help other people.  He wished that more people would care enough to help out.  We talked about sports, life, women, work, and the city.  He was a down to earth kind of guy.  He seemed genuine enough.  As he prepared to go, another man (I didn’t catch his name) came over and shared with me that he had 25 blankets he wanted to give us to hand out to those in need.  He was homeless a long while ago and was given these blankets for free when he needed them.  He was no on the giving end and wanted to bless others with this gift.  I just sat there and smiled.

As we gathered for prayer that night, I felt as though there was hope.  Hope that people would learn to give back.  Hope that we were doing something right and that we were making a real difference.  Hope that I needed to continue to serve others because I know Jesus would have been right there with us.  Hope.  It is the driving force that sustains me and helps me forget the worries I have.  It really is a beautiful thing.

Jesus in the Flesh: 1 John 1:1-4

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked on and that which we have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-that life was revealed, and we have seen, and we have testified to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was revealed to us-that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, in order that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his son, namely Jesus Christ. And we are writing to you concerning these things so that our joy may be fulfilled (1 John 1:1-4).

When I began my studies at Bible College, I found myself wanting to be in the Scriptures. I found that the more I read the Word of God, I felt as though I could make it through the day. It was, in many respects, my crutch that assisted me through my studies and through most circumstances that came my way. It was when I began to study biblical Greek the scriptures became alive in me. It was like I had just received a treasure map that would lead to an amazing gift. And, to this day, the Word of God remains the most important part of my life. Though I am not an “A” student, I am struggling through the passages and seeking God to help me understand His Word. I have learned thus far how to rely on God to bring understanding in my life. That has proven itself to be a great blessing.

This passage is one of the first major passages I have translated in Greek. This significance of these verses ring true even today as the issues surrounding these first several verses are still alive and well in today’s culture.

I remember my grandfather talking about the issues of Gnosticism when I was little. Though, at the time, I did not know the term as “Gnosticism” but as “another way people misunderstand the Bible.” My grandfather always said that if we read the Bible, we can figure out how the “misunderstandings of the Bible” can be brought to the light. I never forgot that. The way I have always understood Gnosticism was that there were a group of people who believe they had a great sense of knowledge. Not only did they believe they had great knowledge but they also believed that Jesus could not have come in the flesh because the flesh was evil and only the Spirit was good. How could it be then that Jesus came in the flesh? To those who considered themselves to have “great knowledge,” the Gnostics believed either Jesus came in a spirit-form or perhaps He really didn’t come at all. Perhaps it was just a story.

John then writes his letter during this time when Gnosticism is perhaps at its height of belief. In the first four verses of 1 John, John uses descriptive words that emphasize that in fact, Jesus was actually present in the flesh. Words like “heard,” “seen-with our own eyes,” “looked.” and “touched-with our own hands give us a clear picture of John’s message. It is not a message of hearsay but one of fact and testimony. Concerning the issue of sin, John says it is something we cannot avoid. In fact, if we believe we have no sin, we are liars! John’s language regarding the issue of sin is blunt and honest. He compares being saved (living in the light) with darkness (walking in darkness). There is no gray area in John’s message. There is no shade. We either live in the light or we walk in the darkness.

This is the message John proclaimed. It is this message that the world needs to hear. It is a message that is worth sharing with others. We can have boldness and be assured that Jesus really did come in the flesh. He was not just some spirit being somewhere in the eons watching humanity go to hell in a handbag. Jesus came to show us how to be like the Father. He came in order to show us how to be sanctified (how to be returned to the way things were meant to be from the beginning) and unite His people order that fellowship with others is not just a dream but can be a reality. We must be challenged by John’s message. We must be challenged to know the Truth of who Jesus is. For the sake of the world and the fellowship of the body, let’s share a massage of love, mercy and hope to a desolate and dying world. God bless.

Doing Church: Acts 3

Today’s service was quite entertaining.  I say entertaining because it felt like I had walked into a circus of activity.  People were all over the place, talking loudly about whatever the week’s dealings were with other people as the service was about to begin.  Chaos is something I struggle with in regards to Church life.  I grew up in a type of Church where people entered through the doors of the church and were quiet.  There was no “real talking” going on.  People came to clock in their two hours or so of Church life and that was not going to be replaced or compromised by building relationships/community with other people.  There were other times for that kind of “goofing off.”  One thing I have realized concerning The Well is that our fellowship and community life thrives both in and outside of the building in which we worship together.  There is an atmosphere that we are able to be “all that we can be.”  Yet, I wonder at times, how many people miss out on the blessings of preparing for worship being quiet and expecting God to whisper to us.  It is just something that I have been considering lately.

Gary preached today.  Our topic was Acts 3 and this unusual event when Peter and John were going to the Temple to pray.  I find it amazing that there were set times in which people prayed together as a community.  It was done, not because people were told they must pray at three.  It was intentionally done because people wanted to be in relationship with others and pray for one another.  People looked forward to these times of prayer.  It was a time to be with the body of Christ and lift up needs to the Church and to God in expectancy of God meeting those needs and His answers to their prayers.  I wonder what our churches would be like if we came with that attitude to times of prayer – how our church life would change dramatically.  I cannot foresee the body of Christ doing this – it would be an awesome thing to experience though.  It would involve people being intentionally devoted to a life change for themselves and for the larger body of Christ (and the world).  Maybe it is not something that is too hard to believe – it just takes a step in the right direction.  It has to start with someone – maybe it needs to start with my attitude towards it.   I guess that is something that I have to figure out first.  Just another thing I need to work on in my own life.

So John and Peter go to the Temple to intentionally pray with the body of Christ in the temple and see some guy who had been dropped off by the front doors of the Temple.  His story began a long time ago – since he was born.  He couldn’t walk.  He would sit and beg for money while his friends went in and prayed with the community.  Here’s a question, after hearing this passage, that I have to ask, “Why didn’t the man’s friends bring a few people outside and pray with the man during the times of prayer?”  My sister is in a wheelchair.  She cannot walk on her own and is has resorted to using an electric wheelchair as her mode of going from one place to another.  What we went to enter a church and there was not a ramp to assist her to enter?  What if there were 30 steps to the church and no way of getting her in the building?  What if I told her that I was going to leave her outside while I went in to worship?  Does anyone else have a problem with that?   It does not say that the man was sick with a disease in which he could not be in community with others.  He was unable to walk… I know in my heart of hearts I could not worship God, Maker of Heaven and Earth, who sent His Son for me, in order that I can be restored to fellowship with Him, and leave someone outside.  I have to ask what kind of friends these men really were to the man?  It is amazing how entangled we can get with our own thoughts and wants.  The men who left his buddy outside are probably like today’s Church goers – they were late to get up in the morning, late to eat breakfast, and late to leave that day and rushed through the doors at 10:35 when the service starts at 10:30.  We have lots of people like that in the Church.  Would it have been a big deal to bring the guy through the doors?

When Peter and John go to enter through the doors, the man is there, asking for money.  Peter is led to share with this man something he was not expecting, “I have no silver and gold, but what I DO have I give to you.  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk (v. 6).  How ridiculous that must have sounded to the man.  What kind of nerves do these guys have?  They just told me to get up and walk!  Don’t they see that I am lame and unable to walk?  If I were able to walk, I would be in the temple during prayer.  In fact, Peter and James had to take the man by the hand and lift him up.  Once they helped him up, the man’s muscles in his legs became “strong.”  He could put weight on his feet for the first time.

As the man is able to now walk, he jumps up and down, praising God.  I am sure, for those who were praying, it must have been an interesting scenario to listen to.  The religious leaders were probably getting upset.  “Didn’t those people outside have any respect for prayer?”  All the sudden, the noise got louder until they walked in the main sanctuary.  Someone disrupted the afternoon prayers, and chaos was ensued.  The religious leaders attempted to regain order but the surprises on the faces of those in the temple were not just silent, they must have also be vocalized.  What about the guy’s friends who had brought him to the temple and left him outside?  What do you think they thought when they saw this guy they had been bringing to the temple for the past couple of years to beg felt as they saw this guy walking and jumping for the Lord?  Their mouths must have dropped.

There were those who were angry and those who were scared.  Those who were amazed and those who perhaps attempted to “get back into the spirit of worship through prayer.”  Peter than give a little speech concerning this man’s restored life.  Needless to say, it was not what they wanted to hear.  Peter never seems to pull any punches when it comes to his convictions in the Spirit.  The chapter ends and prayer ended.

It is an interesting story.  It is written for us for a reason.  Maybe for some of the reasons I question as I read this story.  Maybe for a lot other reasons we have not looked at in this post.  It is safe to assume though that we can be confident that it was important enough to be included in this narrative of the early church.  I hope it will bless you as it has challenged me.  God bless

The Book of Common Praise: Faith 413

I have gotten joy from reading old hymns of the Church. In these simple hymns, the Word of God is put into music. If you ever have the ability to pick up an old hymnal, take some time and read the words from it. Here is a hymn you might enjoy reading from The Companion to the Book of Common Praise.

Faith: 413

1. Increase our faith beloved Lord,
For Thou alone canst give
The faith that takes Thee at Thy word,
The faith by which we live.

2. Increase our faith! So weak are we
That we both may and must
Commit our very faith to Thee,
Entrust to Thee our trust.

3. Increase our faith! On this broad shield
All fiery darts be caught;
We must be victors in the field,
When Thou for us hast fought.

4. Increase our faith, for Thou hast prayed
That it should never fail;
Our steadfast anchorage is made,
With Thee, within the veil.

5. Increase our faith, that unto Thee
More fruit may still abound;
That it may grow exceedingly,
And to Thy praise be found.

6. Increase our faith, O Saviour dear,
By Thy sweet sovereign grace,
Till, changing faith for vision clear,
We see Thee face to face

Posted in Prayers. 1 Comment »

Go Make Disciples (Matthew 28:19-20)

I have struggled the past couple of weeks to understand The Commission of God. God’s Commission is simple in theory yet hard in practice. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all I have commanded you and behold, I am with you, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). This is the commission I have had memorized since I was a young child. It was one of those “memorize this verse and get a gold star next to your name” verses (for those of you who know what I am talking about).

To me, The Commission of God was important. Apparently too many pastors I had heard throughout my life, they also thought this passage were important. I can’t think of one situation where I attended a church that a pastor did not, at least once, teach on this verse. Their message basically went like this:

“Folks. Jesus told us to go. We need to go out and make disciples of all nations. We need to spread ourselves thin and reach the world for Jesus. This is after all, The Commission of God, is it not?”

Over the past couple of years, I have had the extreme joy and challenge to study biblical Greek at Lancaster Bible College and now at Biblical Theological Seminary. It was just a few weeks ago; I was challenged to write a paper for a class I am currently taking on the missional church. It was a broad assignment that left the door open for anything concerning the missional church and/or postmodernism. I began to consider what I would write on and thought a great idea would be to understand the differences in how we deduce positive growth in a Church in today’s culture. Still, as I considered the topic, I thought it was too broad of a thesis. It was then, in my Greek class, we began to look at participles. My mind went back to Matthew 28: 19-20 and asked how we should ultimately translate this passage in light the adverbial participles and the imperatives within the verse. Based on my understanding of the verbs listed within the passage, I would parse them this way:

Πορευθέντες
πορεύομαι
: to go
verb, aorist, passive, participle, plural, nominative, masculine

μαθητεύσατε
μαθητεύω
: to make a disciple
verb, aorist, active, imperative, second person, plural

βαπτίζοντες
βαπτίζω
: to baptize
verb, present, active, participle, plural, nominative, masculine

διδάσκοντες
διδάσκω
: to teach
verb, present, active, participle, plural, nominative, masculine

τηρεῖν
τηρέω
: to obey
verb, present, active, infinitive

ἐνετειλάμην
ἐντέλλω
: to command
verb, aorist, middle, indicative, first person, singular

In Greek, participles are verbal substantives (or verbal adjectives), meaning that participles can be used either as verbs or adjectives (The Basics of Biblical Greek, Mounce, 329).

As I have noted already, the aorist imperative of this verse is “μαθητεύσατε” (”make disciples”), making it the main verb. In many sermons I had heard before, the main thrust of the sentence seemed to fall on the “Go!” rather than “make disciples.” I have come to realize that the imparative is “make disciples” and therefore is the direct command Jesus is calling His disciples to do. The word “Go!” or “Πορευθέντες” fits into the “Attendant Circumstance” category of participles (Greek NT Insert, Chapman-shogren, 33). Attendant Circumstance participles normally are: aorist participles, aorist main verb, indicative or imperative main verb, and precede the main verb. Ultimately, it is impossible to make disciples if you are not going. Since the go is needed in order to make disciples, we need the participle “Go!” “Go!” is the driving force of the imperative. So, in essence, it would not be wrong to say, “Go make disciples of all nations.” This might seem like a small difference but it holds a great importance to the passage and ultimately The Commission of God.

Finally, we have to ask how we are to “make disciples.” Jesus tells us to do it through the means of baptizing and teaching these new disciples all that Jesus had taught them. The responsibility on those who accept The Commission of God is enormous. It is no small deal.

“Therefore, go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you and behold! I am with you, even till the end of the age.”

Thanks to “Grasping the Cross” for the insight and parsing which has made this passage more meaningful to me.  Thanks also to Scot McKnight for his quick response to an email I sent him regarding this verse.  I totally agree with you, brother.

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