Lunch with Kevin: My Conversation With A Dying Man

Lessons About Life While Facing Death

On August 7, 2018, Kevin left the struggles of this earth and entered eternity. Kevin was born December 11, 1949 spending most of his life striving to appropriate Christ’s life into his own. In this struggle, he impacted thousands of lives towards a fuller faith in the Triune God, including mine. He will be eternally remembered by His Lord and so many on earth.

This post was written over two years ago. Yet, it’s message rings true today.

Death teaches us how to live.

Life is learning to die.

Kevin is an good example of these connected truths (though he would probably deny this). 


Here’s the post from June 6, 2016:

What is it like to face death head on? To know you are going to die in 2-5 years? To experience the reality of death without actually dying? Two weeks ago I had lunch with Kevin. He’d been recently diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a terminal disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease after the famous baseball player who died of ALS in 1941. Kevin knows that he will pass from this earth sometime in the next 5 years. It is that final. There is no cure. He is dying.

As an Orthodox Christian, Kevin deals with his impending death with a radically different perspective. It’s actually more than a perspective. It’s a reality. He is experiencing the reality of death before he dies. And as a result, he is experiencing life as never before. You might say, in dying he is coming alive.

Counsel From The Conversation 

  • Everything changed with the diagnosis.” His relationship with his wife, children, grandchildren, and friends came alive. Almost instantaneously, familial and friendship love deepened. He wants to be with his wife and family constantly. They want to be with him. His friends no longer assume he’ll be here tomorrow but declare their love as often as possible.

In an email Kevin wrote: “the love of family and close friends is an especially soothing balm. My relations with my beloved wife and rock of 37 years have been transformed overnight. We see into each other’s eyes deeply; we speak meaningfully and with sensitivity, and hold each other with true love; and we now are beginning to understand what “pure love” means. I also cannot believe the number of friends and acquaintances who have reached out with kind thoughts and words and acts. I am spending as much time with my relatives and friends as possible, even though I am more prone to being introspective.”

  • I can see more clearly now. I see what I could not see before.” He writes, “My thoughts are clear and more focused. My mind does not wander as it did. I am more “watchful” over my thoughts…Useless thoughts are driven away more easily by repeating the “Jesus Prayer:” Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”
  • I am less preoccupied.” He’s not attracted to doing or thinking about certain things. Some activities he once gave his time to are not important anymore.
  • “All I want to do is pray.” He has a deep commitment to commune with God. He is ramping up now for what he will do for eternity.  A “bucket list” is nonsense. He’s preparing for eternity.
  • “This is for my transfiguration.” He told me that a friend who is a faith-healer wrote him advising him to resist those who would tell him he could not be healed. But, Kevin isn’t desperate for physical healing. He desires spiritual healing that he knows dying brings about. For him it is more important that he experience God’s presence to transform than God’s power to deliver. He doesn’t doubt God’s ability to physically heal people. He just knows that his need for inner “transfiguration” is much more significant than his need for physical comfort. He is being transformed by death.

Life From Death

Life is coming out of death. True living begins to happen when you begin to die.

Isn’t this how Christians are to live all the time? St. Paul died everyday (1 Corinthians 15.31). He was “crucified with Christ:” dead already. Yet he lived (Galatians 2.20).

Jesus teaches that new fruit only comes from a buried and dead seed (John 12.24). His resurrection demonstrates that life comes out of death.

You and I struggle to know how to live because we struggle to know how to die.

I asked Kevin to teach me how to die. He wasn’t sure he could do that. Yet the words he spoke were lessons I needed and wanted to hear.

Now it’s a matter of struggling to live out the lessons. I hope not to be diagnosed with a terminal disease before I begin practicing them. But, I am not even guaranteed tomorrow. I better start dying today.


I miss Kevin. Yet, he is in my thoughts and prayers more now than ever. He’s also much more aware of what I’m up to. I look forward to seeing him again someday. I love you, brother!

Share your thoughts below. 

Dr. K 

 

Stirring the Secret Sauce of Christian Living

Synergy is How It All Happens

Every Spring, with the harsh winter behind her, Kathy begins to prepare her little plot of land for delicious vegetables. She tills and feeds the soil and makes sure the garden is protected from pesky deer. She can taste the greens and peas, tomatoes and peppers, cucumbers and squash as she plants the seeds and starter plants. Heavenly showers and the radiant sun along with ground-level nutrients will feed these plants to maturity. Kathy fertilizes and weeds to help things along.

When it comes to having beautiful vegetables, Kathy knows two things: 1) she must exert necessary time and wise effort to prepare the soil, plant, and tend her vegetable garden and 2) she has no vegetables without all the resources God provides. She knows that good gardening is a divine-human enterprise. God gives life to all creation. She is simply participating in that life in a particular “gardening” way. By God’s grace she plants and He gives the increase. 

The technical word for this interaction of human and divine effort is “synergy.” Synergy is normally understood as “the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.” “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” could be one way of expressing synergy. 

Synergy and Salvation 

Though not the emphasis of this post, there is some debate among a few modern evangelical theologians about synergy as it relates to justification. In what ways do God’s will and the human will interact resulting in salvation? Synergism, as a theory of justification, is rejected by most evangelicals due to its association with Roman Catholicism and the belief in human free will.

In this debate, consideration is rarely given, if ever, to the understanding of the early Church regarding salvation. Augustine may be quoted but only as he fits into someone’s preconceptions. Perspectives are skewed in the direction of Reformation and post-reformation writers who shape modern theological understanding. Scriptures are often torn apart and used as daggers to slay the theological enemy of the “true gospel.” Without the grounding of established (early) Church dogma, it’s a chaotic and heartbreaking free-for-all.

It seems the first 1000-1200 years of the Church are ignored as if they knew little of the meaning of salvation and how God brings humanity to Himself. How was it possible for people have a relationship with Christ without the insights from the reformers and their devotees? 

But, as I said, synergism related to justification is not the emphasis of this post. ☺️

Synergy and Christian Living 

I want to emphasize synergy as an explanation and secret sauce for the Christian life. Synergy for Christian living, using the definition above, is the interaction or cooperation of God and humans to produce God-likeness and, actually, anything in the Christian life. 

The word “synergy” comes from the Greek words SYN: same, together and ERGOS: energy, work. It literally means: “work together.” In the New Testament synergism is the idea of being “workers together (Gr. sunergountes) with” God (2 Corinthians 6.1). 

Paul beautifully describes this work when he writes: work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2.12-13). Our past, present and future salvation is being worked in us by God as we cooperate with Him. This is not the normal evangelical understanding of salvation. Perhaps we need to pause, take a second look at Paul’s words, and wrestle with what he’s saying. 

In the past, I (mis)interpreted the word “salvation” in this verse as “sanctification” only to fit my theology. Now, I understand salvation to be the broad term for all the various aspects of our relationship with God – justification, calling, sanctification, glorification, adoption, imputation, etc. These are all aspects of our one “salvation.”

God is working each of these aspects into our lives. It’s our role to cooperate with Him. We are workers together with Him for everything related to salvation, in the broad sense of the term, in our lives. 

Synergy and Early Writers 

From the beginning of Christian thought, the reality of synergism, though the word was not used, is seen. Listen to St. Clement of Alexandria (190 AD): 

A man by himself working and toiling at freedom from sinful desires achieves nothing. But if he plainly shows himself to be very eager and earnest about this, he attains it by the addition of the power of God. God works together with willing souls. But if the person abandons his eagerness, the spirit from God is also restrained. To save the unwilling is the act of one using compulsion; but to save the willing, that of one showing grace. 

St. John Cassian (360-435) in his Conferences (Chap. 13) declares that human efforts cannot be set against the grace of God but that human effort and grace co-operate. 

And therefore the aforesaid teacher of the Gentiles [Paul], though he bears his witness that he had obtained the grade of the Apostolate by the grace of God, saying: “By the grace of God I am what I am,” yet also declares that he himself had corresponded to Divine Grace, where he says: “And His Grace in me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: and yet not I, but the Grace of God with me.” [1 Cor. 15.10] For when he says: “I laboured,” he shows the effort of his own will; when he says: “yet not I, but the grace of God,” he points out the value of Divine protection; when he says: “with me,” he affirms that [the grace of God] cooperates with him when he was not idle or careless, but working and making an effort.

Or, St. Peter of Damascus (12th c): 

Human effort is profitless…without help from above, but no one receives such help unless he himself chooses to make an effort. We need always both things, we need the human and the divine, ascetic practice and spiritual knowledge, fear and hope, inward grief and solace, fearfulness and humility, discrimination and love.

The early Church, the apostles, and patristic writers did not pit grace and works against each other. The synergy of grace and works made possible all things related to God. To accomplish anything worthwhile for God on earth, there must be synergy between God and humanity. 

For example, God alone is holy. We are not. Our actions and thoughts make this very obvious. The only way we become holy is cooperating with God; interacting with His holiness. We don’t make ourselves holy. And, God doesn’t make us holy against our will. We, God and us, work together to see holiness come about. Synergy makes holiness a possibility. 

Without the experience of synergy we’re in danger of swinging the pendulum between strict legalism and complacent libertinism – we think it’s all up to us or we don’t do a thing. Synergy stops the pendulum. 

Synergy in the Scriptures 

There are examples of synergy all throughout scripture.

We see synergy in Joseph’s life: “The keepers of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph’s authority, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper” (Genesis 39.23). Joseph worked yet it was God who prospered the work. How was the work accomplished? By God and Joseph working together. 

Nehemiah worked hard to prepare and build the walls of Jerusalem but only because “the good hand of my God” was upon him (Nehemiah 2.8). When opposition came, Nehemiah replied, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build…” (Nehemiah 2.20). The servants built. God prospered their work. The walls were finished because God and Nehemiah (and hundreds of helpers) did the work together. 

An understanding of synergism makes certain Bible passages come alive.

For the the Apostle Paul, synergism is how his and our life, ministry and inner transformation take place.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gave the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it (1 Corinthians 3.6-10).

This whole passage demonstrates the interaction of God and His servants to accomplish His work. The Greek word for “fellow workers” is sunergoi (syn – with + ergoi – work) from which we get our word “synergy.” You work with God and He works with you. 

In this case Paul is pointing out that we work together with God as He plows the field of our heart and builds the building of our lives. God works within us yet we participate in His work. Without our participation, nothing is accomplished. Without God’s work, nothing is accomplished.  

For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me (1 Corinthians 13.9-10). We are to work hard yet God works with us. 

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Galatians 2.20). How can Paul no longer live but still live? Answer: Christ in him; living life in Paul as Paul lived life. 

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3.20-21). His power works in us to do above what we ask or think. 

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Philippians 2.12-13). We work for it is God who works in us. 

Even Peter gets in on the action. Note that God has given us all His resources to live and be like God. Yet, as we become participants in God’s nature we are to make every effort to supplement our faith: His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature,…For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (2 Peter 1.3-7)

God develops all His virtues in us as we participate in Him and cooperate with Him in that process. 

Illustration of Synergy: Sword & Fire 

Pastor Jon Braun writes about a sword in a fire as an illustration of what strength is available to us when we are joined to Christ. This is an ancient illustration of synergy. 

“Imagine a steel sword being heated in a fire. The sword becomes red hot. Does the sword become blended with the fire so that the fire and sword become one substance? Obviously not. The sword is still distinctly steel and the fire is still distinctly fire. The steel does not become fire, nor does the fire become steel. But the sword does get hot. It partakes of the heat of the fire. The heat of fire, the energy of the fire, interpenetrates the substance of the sword.” (Divine Energy, pp. 74-45)  

“To expand on this ancient example, you heat a sword in a fire until it’s white hot. Then you dip it in a tub of water. What happens? The hot sword makes the water sputter and hiss. Or, if the red-hot sword is pressed against a piece of word, the wood will scorch — perhaps even burst into flames.  

Let us make two observations from this illustration. First, the fire has one kind of nature and iron a nature quite distinct from it. It is the nature of a sharpened sword to cut; it is the nature of fire to burn. Yet, now the heated sword can both cut and burn. The heat of the fire penetrates the sword. The sword does not become fire by nature. But it does participate in the heat, the energy, of the fire. Through all this, though, both the fire and the sword maintain their distinct natures. ”  

Now is it the fire or the sword that burns the wood which the sword touches? The answer is both. Once the sword participates in the heat of the fire, it can inflict a burn quite easily. The energy produced by the fire is passed on to the sword and heat becomes characteristic of the sword as well as of the fire. It is accurate to say that the fire burns through the sword. And it is every bit as correct to say that the sword itself burns the wood with heat from the fire.” (Divine Energy, pp. 114-115) 

“What causes wood to burn when touched by a heated sword? There are a least three correct answers: the fire, the heat, the sword. It is inherent in the nature of fire to radiate heat, and thus it has the capacity to burn. It is not inherent in the nature of steel to radiate heat. But it is in the nature of steel to be able to participate in the heat of a fire and radiate that heat. Similarly, energized by union with Christ, we have access to the qualities needed to be godly. Then we are capable of living God’s way….Living God’s way is not just getting a bit of help; from God, nor is it the old, “God is my co-pilot” scheme, where I’m in charge and He cooperates with me. It is me cooperating with Him. In cooperation there is one operation, but two parties working together. Our God and King works, and we, His servants, work with Him. In dynamic union with Christ, participating in the energies from God’s own nature, we are able to work together with God.” (Divine Energy, p. 125)

Thoughts on Synergy

  • Synergy is not among equals. Limited and finite humans work together with Almighty God. In our weakness, brokenness and nothingness, God is strong, pure, and all we need. Our contribution is minuscule compared to His power. He is great, we are not. 
  • Synergy changes the way we consider certain supposed dichotomies: law and grace, faith and works, Old Testament and New Testament, nature and grace, spirit and body, reality and symbol, God’s faithfulness and humanity’s faithfulness, secular and sacred, Church and state. These pairs of concepts are no longer in conflict but cooperate in a true understanding of the Faith and God’s will for us. 
  • Synergy sheds light on the interactive operation of the Trinity. Three Persons are indeed One as they work together in perfect unity. It is this unified cooperation into which all of us are invited and for which Jesus prayed (John 17.20-26). 
  • Synergy is the way you and I are to live. Our goal is to live in union with the life of the Triune God. God’s work, then, becomes our work and our work is God’s work. We seek to be in such (com)union with God that we do His will with ease and effectiveness. We spend the rest of our lives in this quest. 
  • Synergy gives us theological equilibrium. We are not carried away with fanciful notions related to grace and faith, works and righteousness, Jesus and Church, prayer and scripture. Accepting and practicing synergy provides a clarifying perspective on divisive theological issues. 
  • Synergy challenges us to be humble, to trust, to be faithful, and to commune with God. If we know that nothing happens in our life apart from God’s work in and through us, then we will do what’s necessary to allow God full access to our heart, mind, soul and body. Moment by moment, we acknowledge our need for His mercy and grace. 

Those who would oppose synergism believing that any work of humans diminishes God’s grace, fail to see that a greater sense of God and His grace are actually experienced in synergism. As Jesus teaches us, “apart from me you can do nothing.” Synergists actually know that to be true. 

Conclusion

Seek to live in such communion with God that His will becomes your will and your will becomes His will. Then HIs work will be your work and your work will be His work. 

Always recognize you have work to do, yet it is God who does the work in you. 

Are you familiar with synergism as it relates to your own Christian living? Share your thoughts about synergism below. Thanks! 

Dr. K 

P.S. It is my prayer that this post is written in cooperation with God’s work in your life and mine. 

15 Shocking Statements of Jesus

If Jesus Doesn't Disturb You, Then You Don't Know Him

Seeking to accept Jesus’ words with a heart and mind which are free from preconceived ideas, is practically unthinkable. We’ve been trained to make sense of such teachings, making sure we’re accurately interpreting Jesus’ words so we can understand them better. It’s my contention that the sayings of Jesus are given to us not primarily to understand but to practice, not to comprehend but to experience. But realize, it’s in the real struggle to practice His words that we begin to understand them. We don’t think them into reality, we experience them into reality. 

So, here are 15 teachings of Jesus with which you can wrestle. In the context of our modern world and cultural norms, let alone our theological biases, these sayings are shocking. Taken at face value, they are unreasonable and impractical to live. Yet, because Jesus said them, we know they are true. 

I do not present much commentary since the point here is to challenge you to struggle in living these not to struggle in comprehending them.

Instead of asking, “What does Jesus mean?” ask, “How do I make this a reality in my life?” 

15 Shocking Teachings of Jesus 

  1. Assuredly I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18.3)
  2. Whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18.4)
  3. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives me. (Matthew 18.5)
  4. From the days of John the Baptist, until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. (Matthew 11.12) 
  5. Whoever loves his life will lose it, but whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12.25) 
  6. Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25.40) Jesus’ brothers and sisters are the hungry, thirsty, stranger, person needing clothes, sick, and imprisoned. 
  7. But I tell you, do not resist evil. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5.39)
  8. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. (Matthew 20.27)
  9. For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give HIs life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10.45) 
  10. Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luke 6.20) 
  11. I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. (John 6.53)
  12. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And this bread, which I will give for the life of the world, is My flesh. (John 6.51) 
  13. If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers, and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be by disciple. (Luke 14.16)
  14. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. (Matthew 5.11) 
  15. I am the way, the truth and the life. (John 14.6) The source of our processes (systems, designs), all reality, and all active being is a Person not propositions. 

Bonus: “And Jesus strictly charged them to tell no one about Him.” (Mark 8.30) Though not a direct saying of Jesus, he did tell the apostles to not spread the word about Him. 

It is easy to dismiss these sayings, explain them away, or soften them so they mean little. Down deep we know that taking them at face value is dangerous. Surely there’s some way to step around these realities so we don’t have to be confronted with their truth. 

But, being confronted by their truth is needed. You and I need to be shocked out of our mediocrity. Our openness to accept the status quo must be challenged. Jesus does this with Hislife and words. Do we see it? Do we hear it? Does it matter? 

Jesus’ teachings are often ignored because we don’t want Him to disrupt our ideas, theology, or opinions. We want Him to get us to heaven but not get heaven into us. We’d have to change so much about ourselves. Keeping Him at arms length allows us to live more comfortably. 

That’s why Jesus’ words are dangerous to the Christian life as we know it. They challenge us to change and they make us uncomfortable. 

But, I hope you’ll take up the challenge:

  • Decide to struggle with Jesus and His teachings.
  • Battle your “reasonings” and rationalizations.
  • Test your ideas against Jesus’ truth.
  • Be courageous and unassuming.
  • Let Jesus be your guide for living. 
  • Repeat this prayer to Christ for guidance and illumination daily: 

Christ, the true Light, You enlighten and sanctify every man who comes into the world. Make the light of Your countenance shine upon us, that in it we may see your unapproachable light, and guide our steps that we may keep your commandments. Amen. 

What is your response to these shocking statements of Jesus? What will you do with them? Share below. 

Dr. K 

Taking On Christ’s Yoke: A Fresh Perspective

Christ's Yoke is Participating in the Son's Communion with the Father

Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11.29-30)

These familiar and well-loved words from Jesus are cherished by many Christians. Jesus’ invitation with its promise of “rest,” draws many to come to Him, take up 

His yoke, and learn from Him. We can easily understand what it is to come and learn. But when Jesus uses the word “yoke” without comment, the reader is left a bit befuddled as to its meaning. Jesus does not literally wear a yoke around His neck. So He must mean something else; it must be a metaphor. But, a metaphor of what? 

What is a “yoke?” 

Literally, a yoke is a wooden frame joining two animals (usually oxen). There is such a thing as a single yoke, too.     

Metaphorically, a yoke describes any number of ideas as we will see below. 

Explanations of Christ’s Yoke 

On a Church of Christ website, Bailey McBride interprets the “yoke” to be some kind of force that enables us to defeat our immoral passions, helps us address our stubborn hearts, and provides an instrument of discipline. It is a powerful guide for our thoughts and actions, shapes us in the image of Jesus, and equips us to “deal with egos that drive us to all kinds of accesses.” 

Wow! I think he’s covered all the bases. Or has he? 

According to a Mormon website the yoke means, “To humbly do his will and allow him to guide and direct our lives.”

“Take my yoke,” according to John Wesley means to “believe in me: receive me as your prophet, priest, and king.” 

A writer in Ellicott’s Bible Commentary says, “the yoke of Christ is His teaching, His rule of life.”

Meyers claims the yoke is “His guidance and discipline, to which they are to subject themselves through faith in Him.”

A writer of Expositor’s Greek Testament says Jesus is referring to his disciples taking Jesus as their “Master in religion.”

Barnes says that the yoke “refers here to the religion of the Redeemer; and the idea is, that they should embrace his system of religion and obey him…and the Saviour here means to say that the restraints and laws of his religion are mild, and gentle, and easy.” Jesus still has laws and requirements but they are easy and light.  

“The yoke is the service that Christ gives us to do, and therefore implies more than his teaching.” (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible) 

The yoke is a submission to an occupation or obligation. “by the coming of the Saviour, they would first take on them the yoke of the kingdom of heaven, and then that of the commandments, finding this yoke easy and the burden light.” (Vincent’s Word Studies) 

“To take Christ’s yoke means to submit oneself to the authority of Christ. It means to put ourselves under his rule, to join together with him. He is inviting people to put their shoulders into a new yoke, one in which he is the yoke mate. And he promises that, as they submit to his authority and are yoked with him, they will find rest for their souls.” Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost 

Benedictine monk Br. Francis de Sales Wagner writes: 

So then, what precisely is the yoke of Christ for us? It is the vehicle of grace on the path of life by which we progressively and obediently come to know, love, and serve God. It means being a disciple of Christ, being true to one’s vocation in life—which may be lived out in many different ways.

This yoke, this right mind of obedience under the law of freedom, this Love, is symbolized in different ways for those living out other vocations. It may be a wedding ring, or a clerical collar, or it may be something less visible but no less demanding—such as an illness, loneliness, or other difficult circumstances.

Yoke = Weed? 

It’s surprising what one finds on the internet. Here is Ras SpiritLeaf’s take on “yoke:”  https://spiritleafministries.org/articles/2-take-my-yoke-upon-you

When we take Hemp (Cannabis) upon ourselves in this way we are yoked to JahShua’s Father (Jah) and this is how he brings forth judgement unto truth (enables every individual to know what Jah is saying directly without any need for an intermediary).  Anxiety is relieved as the external noise is quieted.  Intermission and recreation and judgement unto Truth are found… via our breath. This is how Jah governs man. Yoke yourself so you yourself know… and the external controls, religious and otherwise, are replaced by what you now know as Jah reveals directly to you (babes; common folk) via his yoke.  Your anxiety and stress dissolve as you know and are known by Jah. Your life is preserved / health is restored. This is the result of “knowing” Jah:

HEMP is Jah’s government for the minds of men and his sustainable provision for every need. This is why Jahshuah instructed us to take it upon ourselves. Us… the people; the common folk. He did not instruct a leadership of any sort to manage this for us. He didn’t consult the reigning authorities. He understood separation of church and state. It isn’t up to any earthly authority. It is mandated by JahShua directly to The People to take his yoke (Hemp) upon themselves and via this sacramental practice find rest in our breath.

The NIV Study Bible has no note on Christ’s yoke.

The Life With God Bible (NRSV) indicates that the yoke is wisdom unlike the Torah. “Jesus is offering his yoke, which involves both old and new teachings, not simply the yoke of the Mosaic law…Jesus’ person, life, and teaching are the climactic expression fo God’s wisdom and will.”

The Orthodox Study Bible relates that “Jesus’ yoke is submission to the Kingdom of God. A yoke could be seen as a sign of hardship, burdens, and responsibilities…but in Christ, the yoke is easy, for the power of God works in each person.”

St. Theophan the Recluse writes:

A soul desiring to be saved from sins knows what to say to the Lord: “Take my heavy, sinful burden from me, and I will take Thine easy yoke.” And this is how it happens: the Lord forgives one’s sins, and his soul begins to walk in His commandments. The commandments are the yoke, and sins are the burden. But comparing the two, the soul finds that the yoke of the commandments is as light as a feather, while the burden of sins is as heavy as a mountain. Let us not fear readily accepting the Lord’s easy yoke and His light burden. In no other way can we find rest unto our souls. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 135

Questions I Have 

Is a yoke always for two creatures? In many of the explanations, it is assumed that this yoke is for two. Jesus refers to “My yoke” which implies his own, solitary yoke. 

How is the yoke obtained? It seems obvious that the yoke is not forced upon us. We are not oxen compelled to be in subjection. Jesus does not place His yoke on us. We are to take it upon ourselves. We are free to take it upon ourselves or not. 

Does the literal translation, “take the yoke of me” have any significance? If this is Christ’s own yoke, in what way does it become ours? 

Meanings of Yoke

From the writers above, I conclude that Christ’s yoke can mean any of these ideas:

  • Submission – to Christ’s authority as Master and Lord not only as Teacher; “submit to me and become my disciple.” Or, submission to the Kingdom of God (God’s rule) 
  • Belief in Jesus Christ 
  • Anything that Christ uses to manifest his grace – His rule, doctrine, and leadership                                                                                 
  • A means by which God guides our lives
  • Christ’s commandments (which are light)  
  • Discipline – training under the challenge of discipline; Dallas Willard takes the ‘yoke” as referring to all spiritual disciplines. 
  • Christ’s teachings/Instruction – learning from Jesus Himself 
  • Commitment/Discipleship – to Christ’s authoritative understanding of God’s truth
  • Instruction under discipline
  • Smoking cannabis  – Is this what all Christians must do? I know some up-tight ones that might benefit. But, I’m sure Jesus wasn’t inviting us to smoke weed. 
  • Sevice
  • Symbol of obedience 
  • Symbol of obligation and subjection 

This list demonstrates the challenge to discern the meaning of Christ’s yoke. Perhaps this is by design – it doesn’t really matter “what” the yoke is as long as we come to Jesus and learn from Him. Yet, I am unconvinced this is the case.  

I have two major reasons to question these explanations of the yoke and to espouse another explanation: 

1. Jesus’ use of the personal pronoun “My.”

Not one commentator on this passage notes this. I guess they all assume the “My” means nothing. He’s simply talking about “a” yoke, any yoke, the yoke that means nothing unless we give it meaning.

Perhaps they assume Jesus is using “my” as some kind of thing or idea that He possesses that He’ll share with others. If so, then most of the explanations of yoke given do not make sense. For example, if Jesus is wearing the yoke of discipleship, then Jesus must be being discipled. Nonsense. Is Jesus subject to discipline or even spiritual disciplines? Hardly. Is he receiving instruction from someone? Nope. This idea may have merit if the yoke is a symbol of obedience. However, I think something else is going on here with Jesus’ use of the personal pronoun making his invitation tantalizingly incredible.  

I take Jesus’ words at face value – the yoke He mentions is His yoke. He wears it daily. It is His experience of living life on earth. His experience is what He wants us to wear. 

What is “My yoke” that Jesus is wearing? Instead of guessing from the metaphor itself, why not take our clues from the context of His invitation. 

2. The context of Jesus’ invitation.

The often-forgotten verses preceding Jesus’ invitation are key to understanding the meaning of “yoke.” 

 All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. (v. 27)

Jesus states that only the Father fully knows the Son and only the Son fully knows the Father. And, if the Son wills, there are those to whom He will reveal the Father. Only then is the invitation given to come, take His yoke, and learn from Him.

Two realities stand out

  1. Relationship – the terms “Father” and “Son” denote a kinship bond deeper than mere organizational authority or educational mentorship. Here we get a glimpse of their essential oneness and their undivided nature. They know one another fully. This is a likeness like no other. 
  2. Knowledge – they are intimately, consubstantially (of one substance or essence) known by or in one another.  This is an experiential union like no other. 

With this in his mind, Jesus invites us to place His own “yoke” of intimate relationship with the Father upon ourselves. Their relationship is in union and oneness; love and goodness; beauty and peace. Christ lives life in the Father and the Father experiences life through the Son. By taking His yoke, Jesus invites us to do the same. 

Communion = Co-Union 

In real communion with Jesus Christ you enter into union with the Trinity. This is gradually accomplished as you continually place Christ’s yoke upon you. 

And when you do, all of life – being and doing – blends together in one unified expression of your union with the Trinity. All that God has for you, over time, becomes useful, kindly, good, beautiful, gracious, and holy. No longer is the Christian life burdensome and hard. Even the demands, rules, struggles, pains, and trials are experienced as good since they all are experienced in union with the Father, Son, and Spirit who are transforming every aspect of your life.  

It is as if Jesus is saying: “What I wear is union and participation with the Father and He with me. We are in complete union and oneness which can be yours when you come to me as a baby and take this yoke of union upon yourself.” 

Only Jesus can make such an offer as this. That’s what’s so amazing. When He offers Himself to you, as He does here, He is inviting you into the Mystery of life in the Trinity. This goes beyond anything you can imagine. It certainly goes way beyond any idea of humility, meekness, and rest you may conjure up from this passage. 

Christ’s yoke is a unified relationship with the Trinity, not a “thing” or “activity.” 

However, to take this yoke, experiencing the reality of union with Christ, is an ongoing, constant activity. That’s where “communion” comes into play. Do all you can to commune with the Trinity through Jesus Christ. Find that path and walk it diligently every moment of every day. 

Walking the path begins by faith when baptized into Christ, continues by partaking of His body and blood, and by coming to Jesus all the time in prayer. It persists by sustained communion with Jesus. And, it never ends even in eternity. In fact, eternity involves walking the path in communion with Jesus all the time.

The invitation for us all is to start coming to Jesus now. Then, start coming again tomorrow. Then, start coming everyday. Take Christ’s yoke always. Learn from Him moment-by-moment. Your soul will experience the rest which this kind of relationship with Jesus can provide.

If you have comments on this perspective or if you have questions, share below. 

Dr. K 

WHY Have Quiet Time with God?

Inspiration for Meeting God in Solitude

You can no longer ignore meeting with God. You’re too broken. You’re too busy. You’re too preoccupied. You’re living in a cesspool society. But, you need good reasons to do so…a powerful WHY that will inspire you to keep at it no matter what. You need a vision that resonates deep within that keeps calling to you in times of struggle and confusion.

A WHY is a reason, belief ore cause that motivates and inspires.

WHY

Made popular by Start with WHY and his TED talk on the subject, Simon Sinek presents an alternative way to live life and motivate others. Inspiration comes when people know WHY a company, organization, or product exists. Answering WHY helps capture the heart and motivates people from the inside out. 

The problem with evangelical Christianity is that many WHYs are presented which do not measure up. Why do we exist as Christians? What’s our purpose?

The answers are all over the map. Often, one phrase is taken from scripture and is made the absolute purpose for our existence. For example: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16.15). Or, “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6.8). Or, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6.33). Or,”Here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12.13-14). Or, “Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22.37). 

Then there’s St. Paul. In Philippians 3.9-10, Paul says that he wants nothing more than to know Christ and “be found in Him,” to have His righteousness and to live by faith in Him, even if it meant suffering and dying. Paul’s purpose was knowing Christ. Are we to be like him? 

Good Presbyterians would answer WHY with: “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” That sounds good. I wonder how it works out in real life. 

This all sounds confusing. Maybe there isn’t just one WHY to the Christian life. Or, maybe the answer is so simple we miss it.

Could it be that we’re trying so hard to find the answer in the Bible when the answer is a person? What if our purpose – our WHY – to the Christian life is Jesus Christ? He is our source, inspiration, cause, purpose, life, and reason for living. As we experience Him, we experience all we need to know to “live, move, and have our being.”

That sounds really good. Now, how in the world do we get to know Jesus Christ? 

The Heart 

Christians talk about the heart when they talk about knowing God. Yet, they primarily think this means engaging God with the intellect or emotions. It is good to use these faculties. However, knowing God is not just an intellectual understanding or emotional feeling. Knowing God includes the whole person – body, soul, and mind.

Knowing God begins and continues by engaging the heart. God wants your heart. You need God’s heart to be yours. 

An overlooked but trustworthy means to know Jesus Christ is to be with Him in solitude. It is in quiet, secluded time with the Trinity that Christ’s life in you can be experienced and can begin to be lived out. 

WHY solitude?

I share with you three WHY’s for your spiritual journey, especially as you commit to being with God in solitude. 

1. To experience communion with God; to know God. Is there any greater reason for living? Most of what we think about the Christian life has to do with WHAT we do or HOW we do it. But the reality that we exist to live IN the Triune God blows everything else away. To know God is to live in union with Him; it is not primarily an intellectual experience. Think of this in terms of your relationship with your spouse in marriage. To be in solitude with God is to learn to be in communion with Him all the time. 1 Cor. 1.9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the communion of his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

2. To enter the Mystery of the Trinity. This is similar to #1 but with an emphasis on the mystery that God is. God is beyond our knowing. This seems to contradict what I’ve just said about knowing God. But they are both true. I like how Dr. Thomas Hopko says it, “We cannot know God, but we have to know Him to know that.” What he’s saying is that we can’t know the essence of God but we can experience some of what He reveals to us about Himself. God is a Mystery we’re invited into, not to solve (as we often think of “mysteries”) but to explore. The Trinity is a mystery we enter into and spend a lifetime searching and probing. 

3. To know that you are being obedient. There is something to the feeling of assurance – a sense of goodness – when you know that what’s going on in you and in your actions is right. It’s a feeling of “shalom” — peace, delight, goodness, fulfillment, satisfaction, wonder, and joy all rolled up into one real awareness of the presence of God. All of this comes in true obedience as you “seek first the kingdom of God,” “come after [Jesus], deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow [Jesus],” and “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and body.” Why be with God in solitude on your journey? Because of the shalom of obedience  that comes from actually being with God.  

Please take some time to think about and meditate on these WHYs. It will make a difference as you meet the Trinity in solitude and as you struggle in these times. 

Dr. K

Is There Value in Possessing a Small and Narrow Mind?

Greatness is an Option when Smallness is a Reality

Lately I’ve been doing some thinking about a couple labels used by insular people to critique the perceived insular perspectives of others – “small-minded” and “narrow-minded.” 

In a time when tolerance as a virtue is given supremacy in our culture, I wonder if Christian culture has also been influenced by this same mindset. It’s understandable how this can happen. When every person is able to decide for themselves what is acceptable and what is not, we end up with an inability to adhere to well-defined, long-standing realities. We dismiss or deny actualities based on our current thinking which is often tainted by tolerance. We moderns know what is best.

We’ll defend our own ideas simply because they are our own. There’s no way we could be mistaken. We’re too smart or experienced to be tricked by anything that varies from our well-informed understanding. 

We are so much like Pilate asking, “What is truth?” when the Truth is standing right in front of him. He can’t see truth while staring at it. He’s blinded by his own position, politics, and prejudices, just like us. 

So, when someone challenges our ideas we label him or her as “small-minded” or “narrow-minded” in an attempt to protect our own hidden prejudices. 

These are the labels that I’ve been thinking about. 

No one wants to be small-minded or narrow-minded anymore. That’s for ignorant, cave men; jungle-dwelling tribal members who have yet to experience the modern world with its super-information highway. People who don’t read, can’t use the internet, or possess a 55 IQ qualify as small-minded. 

These terms are usually used in a derogatory sense. You should feel bad about yourself if you are small- or narrow-minded. Those using these words may see you as biased, uninformed, or just plain ignorant. It’s not a good thing to be small-minded. 

I disagree. There’s another way of understanding these terms. 

Support for Smallness 

There are specific areas of our thinking where smallness is to be celebrated. It’s foolish to think that every idea has value and should be accepted. There are some people who espouse the idea that a Triune God does not exist. Many religious groups, including Moslems and Mormons, do not believe that Jesus is of one essence with the Father. The true Church has always worshipped the Trinity, one in essence. The Church is being small-minded and that’s a good thing.   

Normal Christianity values a “small” mindset over being broad-minded or “thinking big.” Modern societal norms pressure us to think and act like consumers, desiring more and better, striving for more comfort and less suffering. Yet, thinking small denotes humility, contentment, and perhaps simplicity. Are there any virtues more dismissed in our culture than these? 

Jesus teaches us that the small and narrow way is the only way to life.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it. Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. (Matthew 7.13-15)

In this context of “narrow” and “broad,” Jesus introduces false prophets. True Life is only found in the narrow and small. False prophets operate in the wide and broad leading to destruction. Sounds to me like we’re supposed to experience the narrow and small not the wide and broad. Our “way” of life is to be small and narrow. 

It’s small-minded to experience Jesus as THE Way, Truth, and Life and to live in the Father through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. We cram our lives with so many distractions from the Way, so many ideas that are not Truth, and so much that sucks Life from us, that we easily succumb to the broadness of our culture and society.

This includes the broad Christian culture that embraces anything that resembles something Christian. If it happens in church it must be OK. If our favorite theologian teaches it, it must be true. Popular Christian musicians sing heresy and we’re blind to it. The new, hot Bible teacher goes off the interpretive rails and we think he’s/she’s just being creatively innovative. 

Jesus became small when He became man. Yet, in taking on human “narrowness” he experienced human life to the fullest. I imagine a fuller human life is only possible as we become content, humble, and live in union with the Trinity as Jesus did.

Paul illustrates in his life and also writes that we are to be content in whatever situation we’re in. Normative Christian living prioritizes the narrowness of humble, godly contentment. (Philippians 4.10-13) Making sure we’re not small-minded is never mentioned. 

Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. (1 Timothy 6.6-9)

We need to be well aware of our desires (“lusts”) because destruction is found in our desire for “broad” and “more.” However, it looks like contentment is found in our desire for “narrow” and “less.” 

Context Matters (and often we don’t actually know the context)

I do understand there are ignorant, petty, biased, bigoted, and reactionary people all around. In these cases, “small-minded”/“narrow-minded” might apply. We need to be cautious about placing these labels on others since each one of us possess these same characteristics. 

Additionally, to label someone “small-minded” when they are simply challenging or disagreeing with us, is well…you know. 😏

Obviously, in using these labels (whether we should or not could be debated), context matters. It might be best not to use them at all. 

Bottom line? I’m comfortable with being labeled small- or narrow- minded in the sense of theological truth, Church teaching, and spiritual practice. I want to be small-minded vs. high-minded or broad-minded. I want to know what it is to experience the narrow and small way like Jesus did. 

I want to be small-minded when it leads to humility and contentment. I want to be narrow-minded when it comes to truth. (Problems arise we think we know the truth when it’s not really the truth.) 

Being small-minded doesn’t have to be an unfavorable attribute. It may just as well describe someone who is humble and content. 

Small and narrow – seems to be the way of Jesus. 

What do you think? Still not convinced? Got you thinking? Have you struggled with being small (content, humble)? Share your thoughts below. 

Dr. K 

What Every Christian Should Know About Prayer

It's Not What You Think

You only truly know what you experience. So when a disciple made the request to Jesus, “Teach us to pray,” Jesus did not give his disciples a book to read, a program to follow, or a video to watch. He didn’t form a small group to study prayer. He didn’t give them words to study, exegete, or preach. He gave his disciples words to say and a way to say them. That, according to Jesus, is what it means to pray. That’s how you learn to know how to pray. You learn to pray by praying. There is no theory here, no theoretical ideas at all.

 

You don’t understand Jesus’ words in order to say them. You say them in order to understand them. 

Jesus made prayer accessible and good. We’ve made prayer complicated and intimidating. Let me save you hours of frustration and help prayer become simple again. 

Learn to Pray By Praying 

Learning to pray is a meandering path for many Christians. My journey with God in prayer has taken me from a period when I dismissed prayer as unnecessary to the present where prayer has become an integral part of each day. Along the way were long stretches of inconsistent time with God followed by short bursts of focused effort. On my own I tried my best to learn how to pray by reading books on prayer. “I need to pray! So, I’ll read a book about prayer.” Huh?

However, what I needed to do was actually pray. Learning comes in doing. You learn to play the guitar by playing the guitar. You learn to swim by swimming. You learn to cook by cooking. You learn to pray by praying. Jesus knew this. When asked to “Teach us to pray,” Jesus gave his disciples words to say and a way to say them.

We have much to learn from this brief exchange. But first let’s see that…

Prayer is best learned by repeating a set prayer.

Jesus gave his disciples a liturgy, a prayer liturgy – a form or order to follow with meaningful words expressing the essentials for living in relationship with God. Good prayer liturgy is the way you learn to pray. Good prayer liturgy teaches you to know God and yourself in relationship with Him. It’s that simple. 

Here it is simple and plain. Learn to pray by saying this prayer from Jesus in the morning, at meals, and at night. 

Our Father in the heavens, hallowed be your name

Your kingdom come

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, 

Give us today our bread 

and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors 

and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. 

Don’t listen to the ignorant naysayers who believe that repeating a set of words becomes boring, methodical, nonsensical, and rote. They don’t actually know what they’re talking about. Real liturgical prayer is filled with meaning, struggle, surprises, depth, and wonder. Follow Jesus. He knows what he’s talking about. 

I have been saying these words almost daily (and now multiple times during the day) for over 5 years now. After all these years, I’ve not tapped into the depth of their meaning though new experiences of prayer sometimes happen. This prayer, in particular, is an inexhaustible treasure of God’s life, love, and light. 

Say it consistently with a humble heart and you’ll discover its treasure. 

How will you implement Jesus’ prayer to his disciples in your own daily life? What obstacles do you need to overcome in order for this to happen? When will you start? Share below. 

Dr. K 

Hospitality on Steroids: Three Weeks That Changed Our Lives

You Never Know How the "Stranger" May Impact Your Life

What comes to mind when you think of “hospitality?” Does a romantic B & B tucked away in a secluded forest or located on a hill overlooking a gently flowing river come to mind? How about a luxury hotel where your every comfort is provided from satin sheets to monogrammed robes? Maybe you think of an attentive host and waiter that make you feel at home when you eat at the local Cracker Barrel. Perhaps you think of last Saturday’s pool party at the Johnson’s filled with good food, cool drinks, and fun activities.

It may be true that most of us like the idea of hospitality more than actually doing hospitality. 

When thinking of hospitality, do Abraham and Sarah ever come to mind?

One day, while relaxing outside his home on a hot day, God comes to Abraham in the form of three strangers. Abraham insists that they stay for a while, refresh and rest. He and Sarah then prepare bread, meat, and other provisions so that the needs of their body and soul could be met (the body and soul are intertwined). In the midst of their hospitality, a significant conversation takes place including the news that Sarah is to birth a child in her old age. 

The hospitality of Abraham and Sarah is portrayed in the icon above. They welcome and attend to these three unknown messengers of the Lord. They work hard in providing what is needed. The strangers find refreshment and rest. In that setting, God “shows up” in an unsettling yet amazing way.  

Three Weeks Of Intense Hospitality 

As you may have noticed, this is the first UnCommon Journey post you’ve received in almost four weeks. It was not my intention to cease writing over this period. It just happened. It happened mainly due to a ramped-up demand on my time by folks in our home. It’s not that the people were demanding, always wanting something from me. It was the situations that brought them into our home that needed so much attention that I had no time to blog. The need to engage with folks immediately prevented me from interacting with you. Please forgive me. 

Forgive me for not communicating with you as I so desire and enjoy doing. I have so much to learn about navigating through demanding times while keeping other necessities afloat. Let me share with you what’s been happening here. 

It all started when Tyler, through Airbnb, asked about the possibility of his family staying with us for the funeral of his brother-in-law. Through a few messages it sounded like a fit so he booked with us. They were to arrive the very next evening (Monday). We keep our rooms prepared for guests at all times. Good thing! 

When they arrived, the story began to unfold. Jim, a 38 year-old man, had died suddenly, leaving this family in grieving shock. Arriving at our house was his wife and 10-year old son and two step-children, father and step-mother, sister and Tyler, and later three sisters to the wife. The family was raised in Ooltewah but were now in New York and Florida. Jim was to be buried “back home, here in Ooltewah.” It was fascinating watching this family pull together, support one another, and honor Jim in everything. 

On Tuesday they pulled together pictures, memories, family/friends for the wake on Wednesday.  

On Thursday the funeral and graveside were held. Afterwards, family and friends (about 50) gathered back at our house for catered meal, catching up, and reflections.They interacted with people they hadn’t seen for 10-15 years. We prepared Homestead House for them and cleaned up after them. Young cousins swam. Games were played in the front yard. There was lots of talk, laughter, eating and drinking. 

Friday was time with family and clean up until everyone left Saturday morning. 

I had significant conversations with various family members but especially the dad who was grieving deeply over the loss of his only son.

It was our privilege to minister to each person –  body and soul. We didn’t use trite words of comfort; only genuine works of grace that we hoped would help comfort their hearts. 

Every evening and morning we prepared breakfast for 10 people and cleaned up afterwards. Hours every day were devoted to grocery shopping and preparation for the next day’s breakfast. There was constant movement, conversation, and attentiveness all day long. I took it as a personal challenge to commune with God in this busy environment. The Jesus Prayer became my heart’s “go to” during these hectic times. Rhonda and I did this work on our own and found great joy and satisfaction as we engaged in a labor of love for this grieving family. 

The whole experience deepened our understanding of hospitality. It helped change our hearts to greater sympathy and mercy to others. 

(Names have been changed in this story for reasons of privacy.)

After these dear folks headed home, we welcomed a hurting family that same afternoon. Father, mother, and daughter had just gone through major health scares making this get-away a necessity. Again, we served and conversed in ways we hoped would encourage, strengthen and sooth their bodies and souls. The two children (grandchildren) practically lived in the pool.

While this was going on, another couple stayed Saturday night. Then a mother-daughter combo came Sunday through Tuesday, over Memorial Day. It seemed a never-ending ministry of preparing, cleaning, and then preparing again. 

We had one day to “relax” until friends, Greg and Becky (HH partners) from So Cal, stayed with us to survey the area for potential retirement locations. It was a joy to have them in our home for five days during which we had our first Homestead House fundraiser.

Friday night 16 people gathered for food, drink, and a presentation of the impact of Homestead House Ministries on the lives of individuals and ministry leaders. It was loads of fun and of financial benefit to our ministry even with countless hours of preparation, planning, and implementation. The Lord was so good. 

Greg and Becky headed out Tuesday morning.

That evening we welcomed another group of So Cal friends (and HH partners). We prepared and fed dinner to 11 family members. Our friends and their two young daughters stayed with us a couple more days while the father headed up a conference at Covenant College, Lookout Mountain, GA. 

While all this was happening, we were dealing with a significant family issue. Also, Rhonda was still working daily at Bryan College, preparing and cleaning once she got home. (I think she’s an angel!)  I was attending to the needs of our guests – preparing, serving, and cleaning up breakfasts, grocery shopping, spending time with guests, and working around the house to make our guests feel comfortable. All this for about 21 days straight. 

Honestly, this is the first time in almost four weeks that I’ve had a lengthy opportunity to sit at my computer and write. 

What we’re learning about hospitality

When we devoted our lives to the ministry of hospitality, we had idealistic notions of what that looked like. None of that has faded. However, we are more realistic about what genuine hospitality entails. 

  1. True hospitality is a lot of concerted effort. Sometimes it’s just plain work – good work – but work nonetheless. But, as my father would say, “I get tired in the work, but not of the work.” We want our guests to keep romanticizing hospitality. We’ll try our best to do the grunt work with grace and love so it doesn’t come off as “sacrificial.”  
  2. Genuine hospitality provides the opportunity to meaningfully give life to others and receive it in return. It is so encouraging to encourage others. Genuine love is usually reciprocated. We don’t love in order to receive. Yet, this often happens. 
  3. Welcoming the stranger, a good description of hospitality, gives room for God to show up in unexpected ways. Conversations often turn to heart concerns. Life situations are disclosed. Loving hospitality is a safe place for people to unburden themselves. We listen. Sometimes that is all that’s needed for God to minister to hearts and encourage another step forward. 
  4. Hospitality demonstrates that care for body and soul often makes words unnecessary. For us introverts, too much chatter can be counterproductive to our desire to minister. We just want to do for others and not have to talk so much. We can pray as we “work behind the scenes.” It’s not that we don’t like people. We simply want to meet their needs in ways authentic to us and to others. Being hospitable is the perfect way to do this.
  5. Compassionate hospitality means that it is crucial to know the love of God. Only in communion with God can real love be experienced. God is love. We rarely are. To connect with people in love we need to stay connected to God’s love.

I hope you’ll consider how you might open your home and heart to the fascinating and challenging ministry of hospitality. Host your friends or neighbors for dinner. Accept a traveling missionary into your home. Host a theme party for your small group or Sunday School class. 

Do this out of your love from God and for God. Commune with God as you prepare. Then, share the goodness, love, and mercy of God with the “strangers” who enter your life. 

You will be blessed when you do. 

If you have questions about a ministry of hospitality or comments, please share below. 

Dr. K 

The Great Need of Christians For Spiritual Fathers

Compared to Teachers, They are Rare

Finding a spiritual father has been a life-long goal of mine. One is not easy to find. They hide in solitude and silence. They are simple and unconcerned about publicity. They are among us yet we’re blind to their presence. I’ll not give up my search. However, I may need to adjust my expectations.  

My own biological father, Joel Kettenring, helped me know God by his example and by his preaching. He possessed a  great heart for God and a wholehearted dedication to serving Him. He probably had a lot more to offer me spiritually than I was looking for at the time. Yet, I was deeply influenced by his obvious desire to know God more deeply.

Perhaps his example stirred in me a desire for a “spiritual father” – a man whose ongoing experience of God is deeply transforming his life; a man being humbled as he struggles to die to self and live in Christ.  

Thankfully, I’ve had many fatherly men in my life. They were influential at a particular time moving me along in my journey to the Father. Pastor Joe and Pastor Bill, Drs. Wayne, Klaus, Dallas, and Tom were instrumental in showing me a meaning of Father whether as a shepherd, teacher, or unofficial mentor. I am eternally grateful that they showed me what a true father is and what he is not. 

I’ve learned two realities on this father-journey: 

  1. Only God the Father can be the father my heart longs for.
  2. The journey is about becoming a spiritual father as much as finding a spiritual father (even though I know I need one to become one). 

Apostle Paul 

The Apostle knew the crucial significance of a spiritual father in the life of the Christian. We need instructors and teachers. But our greater need is for fathers who live authentic Christian lives worth imitating. They are much more rare, harder to find, easy to miss. 

St. Paul writes (I Corinthians 4.15-16) – For though you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you have not many fathers…Therefore I urge you to imitate me. (in other letters he writes something similar – 1 Cor. 11.1 Imitate me as I imitate Christ, Phil 3.17, 1 These 1.6, 2 Theses 3.9)) 

True spiritual fathers have the credibility to say, “Imitate me” since they have the genuine life in Christ to back it up. 

Teachers 

Today we have a myriad (Gr. murious) of instructors (NKJV –  “ten thousand;” innumerable). Everywhere you turn, there are instructors. In church you have pastors, Sunday School teachers, small group leaders, elders or deacons. In schools there are professors, researchers, and teachers. There are countless books by instructors. Thousands of websites by writers. Hundreds of conferences loaded with speakers. Friends with advice. Well-meaning relatives who preach their opinions. People communicating through movies, books, brochures, CDs, radio podcasts, satellite radio, seminars, webinars, ebooks, and bumper stickers. Instructors are a dime a dozen. 

We have more than enough “paidogogos” (Gr.) – meaning: trainers, instructors, teachers, guides, guardians, tutors.  

These instructors pass on information. They appeal to the intellect. They want you to think better, make informed judgments, stimulate your brain, refine your reasoning, become smarter, grasp arguments, comprehend ideas, and sharpen your reasoning. They seek to persuade with logic and emotion. 

They don’t necessarily need to follow their own teaching. The idea is: as long as the information is good, they are good. 

Fathers 

Fathers may want all this for you, too. But they understand the real necessity to live what they teach so much so that they hesitate to teach truth unless they are living it. They know God relationally and experientially. They are more about experiencing life in Christ than trying to analyze and explain it. 

This kind of “spiritual” father can truly have authority and exercise responsibility because he/she lives God’s life – dying to self; repenting of wrongdoing; battling sin, flesh, the world, and satan; humbly submitting to a higher authority, and actually participating in God’s will. 

Above all, these spiritual fathers model life in Christ. They are real-life examples of living death, purposeful struggle, moment-by-moment communion with God, bold humility, loving kindness, joyful peace, faithful long-suffering, true wisdom, and beautiful goodness. They manifest the qualities of gentleness, humility, patience, compassion, discernment, and love. 

They are rare indeed. 

They are not interested in simply passing on information. They want to BE the information they pass on. 

Their goal? Again, we turn to the Apostle Paul: My little children, of whom I travail in birth until Christ be formed in you  (Galatians 4.19).

A true spiritual father wants nothing more than to see Jesus Christ in his children. Therefore, he wants nothing more than to see Jesus Christ in his/her own life. 

Today

Let’s be honest. We have plenty of Christian leaders who want something different than this. They’re devoted to building or maintaining their own little kingdoms (church, school, organization, online platform) and finding people to follow them into it. They’re dedicated to persuading people to a certain theological way of thinking. They’re committed to helping others become better people, changing the world to become a better place, or raising family members to be good. And they do this by instruction. 

Rare is the leader who, out of their own Christlikeness, influences others in becoming like Jesus as they follow their example.  

What we have are scores of teachers who, on occasion, act like fathers. What we need are fathers who, on occasion, act like teachers. 

Let’s make this really practical for a second. A big mistake often made by fathers to their children is to focus on instructing them rather than being a father to them. I write from personal experience. Ugh! It’s much easier to tell our children what to do, or demand it of them, than guide them gently, lovingly, and patiently. Our heavenly Father relates to us as a Father who lovingly guides by example and patience. We need to do the same. If you’ve blown it in the past with your children, there’s no better time to become more fatherly than now. Ask their forgiveness for being so demanding and begin building a Christ-like relationship with them as you become more like Christ. 

I’m confident there are true spiritual fathers out there. They’re hidden in their humility and total devotion to Jesus and His ways. They are not popular or even well known. 

I’m also confident I’m not close to being one. I’m far too worldly, self-absorbed, judgmental, and unloving to qualify. To find one, I look through a window not into a mirror. 

I”d love for us all to find a spiritual father here on earth. Perhaps, while we’re searching, we can seek to imitate Jesus Christ and the Apostles. 

Are you up to the challenge? Few are. I hope you are an exception. 

Share your thoughts about spiritual fatherhood below. 

Dr. K 

An Invitation to Real Apostolic-Like Living

The Challenge of 1 Corinthians 4.9-16

From some corners of evangelical Christianity come the cries for apostolic ministry – ministries of authority, physical healing, signs, words of knowledge, prophesy, and the “supernatural.” The desire is for apostolic results. But, what about the apostolic kind of life that goes with it? These results did not come through empty vessels but through men shaped by asceticism, hardship, resistance, and prayer. A modern apostle might say, “It doesn’t matter. The supernatural is God’s work. It matters little how I live or who I am.” The Apostle Paul would disagree.

In 1 Corinthians 4.9-16, the Apostle Paul, from first hand experience, describes what being an apostle looks like: 

  • last of all
  • sentenced to death
  • a spectacle to the world, angels and others
  • a fool for Christ’s sake
  • weak
  • held in disrepute
  • hungry and thirsty
  • poorly dressed
  • beaten
  • homeless
  • involved in manual labor
  • reviled yet blesses
  • persecuted yet endures
  • slandered yet speaks well of the slanderers
  • the scum of the world
  • rejected like garbage

Contrast this with the modern-day “apostle,” who is trying hard to be:

  • relevant
  • distinguished
  • privileged
  • popular
  • successful
  • influential
  • diplomatic
  • well-liked
  • recognized
  • powerful
  • comfortable

Paul’s description could easily be dismissed as only applying to first century apostles. If only he had not gone on to say,

 I admonish you because you have countless guides who want to tell you how to live but not many fathers who are actual examples of how to live. That’s why I say, “live as I live; imitate me.”

You and I are not apostles. But we are to become apostle-like Christians as Paul describes. This is at the core of our journey with Jesus Christ and his apostles.

It is a journey to nothingness.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle writes, “Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies”  (4.10). Nothingness is the place we experience everything good. 

It is only in dying that we experience real life.

Do you know much about the Apostles? Unfortunately, I don’t. 

Today, let’s find out more about these men who changed the world in their living and in their dying.  

Spoiler alert: with one exception, they all died as martyrs. How did they live? How did they die? Let’s do some research. Then, let’s do some self-examination in light of what we find. 

Share below a gem that you discover and how it impacts you. And share this post with others. 

Dr. K