COLLEGE PRESS TURNS SIXTY

Reminiscing on the Life and Mission of Don DeWelt

Written By: Rick Cherok

You didn’t see it on the television news and you didn’t read about it in your local newspapers. In fact, it’s doubtful if you heard about it all. But this year, College Press Publishing Company turned sixty-years old! While this may not seem like big news to some folks, we think this anniversary is well worth remembering. For sixty years, College Press has endeavored to produce true-to-the-Bible books and materials that have been used in churches, classes, Bible studies, and for individual edification. Moreover, College Press has reprinted some classics writings of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement that would otherwise be unavailable for modern readers. College Press has made it her mission to serve the church for sixty years and continues to do so today.

On May 8, 1959, Don DeWelt and his wife, Elsie (parents of Chris DeWelt, the current President of College Press), started College Press Publishing Company in the parsonage of the Carterville Christian Church. In addition to serving as a professor at Ozark Bible College (now Ozark Christian College) in 1959, DeWelt was the minister of the Carterville Christian Church in nearby Carterville, Missouri. DeWelt had already published four books, two with Old Paths Book Club (Acts Made Actual in 1943 and The Church in the Bible in 1958) and two with Baker Book House (Sacred History and Geography in 1955 and If You Want to Preach in 1957), but opening a publishing company was an act of both faith and foresight.

In his autobiography, DeWelt recounts how he asked Don Earl Boatman, the President of Ozark Bible College, if he objected to this new venture. “In essence,” DeWelt wrote, “he said ‘Go for it.’” From the beginning, College Press’ company slogan was “Every Christian a Bible Student,” and this slogan still motivates the efforts of College Press Publishing Company today. DeWelt’s autobiography also reveals that he named the company College Press so that it might travel with him if he ever moved on from Ozark Bible College to serve at another Bible College. And though he never left Ozark (until his retirement in 1984), the name DeWelt gave to the company has remained.

DeWelt began College Press Publishing Company with a book club. The “Bible Study Textbook Club” produced the well-known and widely distributed “old green commentaries” that got College Press off the ground. “How else,” DeWelt again recounts in his autobiography, “could one start a publishing company without any money?” The first volumes of the “old green commentaries” to emerge from the presses were reprints of DeWelt’s Acts Made Actual and Sacred History and Geography, as well as his fifth book, Romans Realized, and Don Earl Boatman’s Helps from Hebrews. Eventually the “Bible Study Textbook Club” published forty-three volumes that included commentaries on every book of the Bible. Interestingly, as DeWelt began the process of planning for the publication of the initial books in the series, he met a man who promised to provide $25,000 toward the project. With this promise, DeWelt moved full-speed ahead, but the promised money never materialized. Nevertheless, he wrote, “God blessed our stumbling efforts” and the “Bible Study Textbook Club” was a success. And from these humble beginnings sixty years ago, the College Press Publishing Company emerged.

Like C.S. Lewis, who believed that there was wisdom to be found in the past (Lewis referred to the uncritical acceptance of present assumptions over the past as “chronological snobbery”), DeWelt believed that there was value in keeping the writings of early leaders of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement available to modern readers. So, DeWelt wrote, “I conceived the idea of the Restoration Reprint Library” in 1965. “It was certainly one of the best ideas I had,” he went on to explain. Following in the footsteps of Old Paths Book Club, who had ceased their reprinting of Restoration Movement classics in 1966, College Press published ninety-two titles under eighty-four covers between 1966 and 1975. DeWelt noted in his autobiography that the College Press book club grew to some 5,000 people in the early years and he made his Restoration Reprint Library books available to them for the very low price of $2.50 per volume. “Upon looking back,” DeWelt wrote, “I know the price was, even for the time, far too low.” Nevertheless, he noted, “We sold over two-hundred thirty-four thousand copies of these handsome red-bound, gold-stamped books.”

Under DeWelt’s leadership, College Press also reprinted a number of source documents related to the early Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement. “How I conceived of reprinting the Millennial Harbinger I do not know,” DeWelt wrote, “but [it happened] sometime in 1975 or early in 1976.” Many people told DeWelt that the reprinting of Alexander Campbell’s monthly magazine, the Millennial Harbinger, an undertaking that would require producing forty-one hard-back volumes and over 27,000 pages, was an “impossible dream” that would cost over $100,000. “I doubt that we [had] $100 on the black side of the ledger,” DeWelt wrote, and his son, Chris DeWelt, recalls that his mother feared they may have to mortgage their house to complete the project. Nevertheless, College Press did complete the project (without the DeWelts mortgaging their home) which has become a valuable resource to historians as they explore the origins of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement and the life of Alexander Campbell.

Along with the publication of the Millennial Harbinger, College Press made other source materials for the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement readily available for modern readers and scholars. In 1983, College Press produced a single-volume edition of another of Campbell’s magazines. The Christian Baptist, was a monthly magazine that Campbell published for seven years prior to his forty-year run of the Millennial Harbinger. College Press also re-printed the twelve volumes of Walter Scott’s The Evangelist, and the fourteen volumes of Barton W. Stone’s The Christian Messenger (in conjunction with Star Bible Publications). Numerous additional publications associated with the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, both reprints and original publications, have made their way into the hands of the public through the efforts of College Press Publishing Company.

Between 1980 and 1989, College Press published thirty-nine volumes in their popular “What the Bible Says” series. “I really do not know how we came up with this idea,” DeWelt wrote. “Like so many other areas of College Press’ history,” he continued, “this idea just seemed to drop down from above.” The goal of the “What the Bible Says” series was to produce a definitive study of everything the Bible has to say about a particular modern subject. By the middle of 1989, following the publication of the thirty-eighth volumes in the “What the Bible Says” series, DeWelt noted that 104,533 books had been sold from this series. Following the initial run of these studies, an additional “What the Bible Says” book appeared in 1992 and eight more titles were published between 2007 and 2012.

Another important College Press publication milestone was the updating of their Bible commentary series. While the “old green commentaries” were the product of authors within the Christian Church/Church of Christ fellowship, the new commentary series reflected a developing relationship with the acapella Churches of Christ. Scholars from both fellowships were called upon to collaboratively produce “The College Press NIV Commentary” series. Between 1993 and 2000, College Press published nineteen volumes that provided solid academic commentary for every book of the New Testament. Another twenty-three volumes covering the entire Old Testament were also published between 1999 and 2009.

Amid the many books that College Press has produced over the past sixty years (far too many to even begin to list), it should also be remembered that this company has both operated as a ministry and assisted with the growth and development of many other ministries. Included among the many ministries that have had a connection, in one way or another, with College Press are:

  1. Peace On Earth Ministries (https://www.poeministries.org/),
  2. Literature And Teaching Ministries (https://latm.info/Home.aspx),
  3. Stone-Campbell Journal (http://www.stone-campbelljournal.com/).

Certainly the influence of College Press has been noticed throughout America and around the world.

After sixty years of publications and ministry, College Press Publishing Company is still committed to making “Every Christian a Bible Student” and producing high-quality Christian literature. If you have not recently checked out the books offered by College Press, why not help us celebrate our sixtieth anniversary by taking a few moments to browse the company’s website: https://www.collegepress.com/. Chances are you’ll find a book to read that is both interesting and edifying.

For additional information about the history of College Press Publishing Company, see the following resources:
• DeWelt, Don. Happy on my Way to Heaven: The Life Story of Don DeWelt. Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company, 1989.
• Knowles, Victor. “The Incredible Global Impact of Don DeWelt on the Restoration Movement,” One Body (Fall 2019): 6-11.

 

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AFFIRMATION

Written by: Chris DeWelt

There is no greater encouragement than a word of affirmation from someone that matters.

Just as Jesus was about to begin his ministry, he received as dramatic an affirmation as anyone could ever receive. As he came up, dripping wet, from the water of baptism, and with his cousin John standing with him, the Father spoke.

The Father spoke the truth over the Son.

“This is my son whom I love and with whom I am pleased.”

The baptism of Jesus, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the voice of the Father are all recorded by Matthew (3), Mark (1) and Luke (3). They all heard the voice. Peter was standing there watching and listening to all of this. Years later he tells us that “we heard the voice from the Majestic Glory” (2 Peter 1).

Later, the same three Gospel writers, Matthew (17), Mark (9) and Luke (9) record another time that the voice of the Father was heard, speaking over his Son. It was up on the mountain. It was the incredible moment known as “The Transfiguration.”

The Apostle John saw both of these events, but he chooses to let the other Gospel writers tell us about them. However, John (12) does add yet another time that the voice of the Father was heard when Jesus was present. It happened only days before the final events in Jerusalem.

Affirmation, from the only One that matters. And it came at critical times for Jesus.

Three times the Father speaks affirmation over his Son in the Gospels.

  1. The first affirmation at the baptism was immediately prior to our Lord going into the wilderness where he would face the accuser. In fact the accuser’s words, “If you are truly the Son of God…” leave little doubt as to the significance of the Father’s choice of time and of verbiage that had come at our Lord’s baptism.
  2. The second affirmation at the Transfiguration on the mountain was while Jesus was in the middle of ministry. He was dealing with those who believed and those who doubted him. He was dealing with disciples that were struggling, at that very moment with a demonic presence at the bottom of the mountain. And, of course, he was dealing with his enemies that constantly questioned his motives, his purpose and his very identity.
  3. The third affirmation came just days before the trial and the crucifixion. Jesus tells us that “my soul is troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I have come to this hour.” If there was ever a time to affirm him in his path, this was it.

Affirmation, from the Father to the Son, at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of his ministry. Affirmation, that specifically challenges the lying tongue of the one whose only interest is to kill and destroy. Affirmation, something that we all desperately need as we walk the path with our Savior. Affirmation, the one thing that we so very often fail to give, even when many of us are especially positioned to do so.

Affirmation. It is not just an empty pat on the back. It is doing the works of God in the lives of others. It is so very important.

I grow weary of those that say they do not need it. They are the very ones that need it the most. The Father knew that there was a time and a place to speak.

LESSONS FROM AIDEN

2HOW A BORDER COLLIE CAN TEACH US ABOUT FAITH

Written by: Rick Cherok

“Who is Aidan?” most readers will ask as they peruse the headline of this essay. Well, Aidan is a ten-year-old Border Collie who has been a part of my home since he was about nine weeks old. When I initially decided to take on the responsibilities of a canine companion, I undertook a significant amount of research before deciding that a Border Collie would be the best breed of dog for me. Soon afterward, a classified ad appeared in the local newspaper announcing that a family in a nearby community had a litter of newborn Border Collie puppies for sale. Within a few days, a friend and I made the half-hour drive to the home with the newborn puppies so I could look at them and decide (at a later time) if I really wanted to purchase one of them or not.

As my friend and I pulled up to the address we had been given, we immediately noticed several tiny balls of fur restrained within an accordion-style fence that had been stretched into a large circle in the front yard of a dilapidated house in the middle of a corn field. From the very moment I saw the puppies in their make-shift kennel, I couldn’t wait to pet them and to play with them. But as I made my way to their pen, all but one of the little guy ran as quickly as their tiny legs would carry them to the other side of the enclosure. The one small fellow who remained on my side of the pen was a brown-and-white puppy who seemed as though he had been wondering when I’d be arriving. When I reached down to pet him under the chin, he hopped right into my hand (at that time, he fit quite comfortably within the palm of my hand). Moreover, when I lifted him up out of the pen, he immediately began to snuggle against my chest! At that moment it was obvious both to me and the friend who accompanied me on this journey that I had just bought a Border Collie puppy. Through the years, I’ve repeatedly told people, “I didn’t choose Aidan, he chose me!” And to be perfectly honest, I’m glad he did.

    Over the ten years that Aidan has been in my care, he has been far more than just a mere pet. During periods of loneliness, he has been a friend and companion who never fails to demonstrate how happy he is to see me. On occasions when I’ve been overcome with stress or worry, Aidan has been a sense of calmness and comfort that has helped me focus on something other than the issues of my anxiety. Furthermore, in times of difficulty or hardship, even though he certainly has no concept about the issues with which I have wrestled, his very presence has seemed to have made life easier. Because of these, and numerous other reasons, I will never regard Aidan as merely a domesticated animal in my care. He’s a friend.

In addition to being a friend, Aidan has opened my eyes to a number of important aspects of life. I suppose it might be incorrect to suggest that he taught me these life lessons, but I can unequivocally say that I recognized the lessons after seeing them in his character, attitude, and personality. And, while these lessons have application to several aspects and areas of life (and you may have the opportunity to read about some other areas of life application for these lessons in future essays), my focus in this article is about the life lessons that apply to one’s spiritual wellbeing. So, below I want to share three lessons I have seen in Aidan that can serve as reminders to us as Christians about how we should conduct our lives.

1. He Keeps His Eye on the Ball.

    Border Collies are herding dogs with an incredible amount of energy and intelligence. They love to learn and they are always a bit curious about their surroundings. Yet, when Aidan notices a ball or a Frisbee, his attention focuses totally on that toy. He loves to play fetch with a thrown ball. And when he was younger, Aidan loved to track down a tossed Frisbee, catch it in the air, and immediately return it so that the whole process could be repeated. For Aidan, the game of fetch is all about pursuing and attaining the ball or Frisbee. Because his goal is to get the toy, he keeps his eye on the ball.

    In Colossians 3:2, the Apostle Paul reminds us to “set our minds on the things above.” As I notice how intently Aidan watches his prize (i.e., his ball or Frisbee), and the energy he exerts to pursue it, I’m reminded of the fact that I must “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33). There are far too many things in this world that I allow to distract me from the greatest and most important goal of my life. Yet, just a simple game of fetch with Aidan goes a long way to remind me how important it is to keep my eyes on the true goal of eternal life with God. In fact, I want to focus on the kingdom just as intently as Aidan focuses on his ball during his time of play.

2. He Knows Being a Good Boy is Always Better than Being a Bad Boy. 

    Overall, Aidan is a very well-mannered dog. He doesn’t bite, he comes when he’s told to do so, and he generally obeys when I give him commands (e.g., sit, stay, lay down, etc.). When he acts appropriately and I tell him he’s a “good boy” and give him a gentle pat on the head (and an occasional treat), it’s obvious from his wiggling body and wagging tail that he both knows he has acted appropriately and he is pleased to receive my praise.

    On rare occasions, however, he seems as if he wants to push the boundaries just a little bit or to see if he can get away with something he’s not supposed to do. So he wanders into the neighbor’s yard, barks at someone passing by (he’s not aggressive, but his herding instinct sometimes motivates him to bark at people as if he’s trying to keep them in a herd), or he simply acts in some way that he’s not supposed to act. Yet, when I correct him, he lowers his head, approaches me very slowly and cautiously, and clearly demonstrates his submission to me for acting inappropriately. Moreover, if I tell him he’s a “bad boy,” he runs to his kennel, as if in shame, and hides until he thinks the my disappointment has dissipated. He clearly knows it’s better to be a good boy than a bad boy.

    As a follower of Jesus, I find the same is true in my life. While I know I’m saved by God’s grace and not my good works, I also know that I’ve been “created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph. 2:10). In fact, Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). I know that I’m better off being a “good boy” (i.e., doing good service for the Lord), but I’m ashamed to say that sometimes I fail to be the person I should be. As I see how Aidan tries to meet my expectations, it reminds me of how I must seek to “do all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31). Moreover, just as I still love Aidan and overlook those few occasions when he is a “bad boy,” I’m reminded of the fact that God has “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin” (Col. 1:13-14). I too was a “bad boy,” but God rescued me and brought me into the Kingdom!

3. He Always Wants to be With Me.

     One of the things I most enjoy about Aidan is how he always wants to be near me. When Aidan and I go for a leisurely walk in a nearby park, for example, I generally have no need for a leash to keep him from running away. I’ve heard horror stories from other dog owners who tell me their canine friends exasperate them by scampering off into area neighborhoods or dashing into heavy traffic, but I’ve never experienced these behaviors from Aidan. In fact, it doesn’t matter whether we are inside the house or out for a walk, Aidan always wants to be with me. At our house, he follows me from room to room and even sits outside the bathroom as I shower (he’ll come right into the bathroom if I don’t close the door!). Moreover, if he sees me putting on my shoes, grabbing a jacket, or doing anything he perceives of as a preparation for departure from the house, he guards the door wearing a sad-puppy face with the hope that I will not leave him behind. It warms my heart to see how much he desires to be with me.

    I can only imagine how much it must pleases God when I make it clear that I want to be near Him. When I study His Word or come before Him in prayer, I can only imagine how pleased He must be about my desire to be closer to Him. James 4:8 tells us to “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” Too often, however, I’m like the dogs my friends tell me about who take off on their own reckless journeys at the first hint of freedom they receive from their masters. And, like the frustrated owners of these dogs, I would guess that my personal pursuits that lead me away from God are incredibly frustrating to Him. Like Aidan, I must clearly do those things that demonstrate my desire to draw nearer to God, so that God might draw nearer to me.2-1

There are many other lessons I could share from my dealings with Aidan, and perhaps I’ll write about some others in the future. For now, however, I hope these three spiritual insights might be helpful to all who read this blog. In the Book of Job we read these words: “But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you” (Job 12:7). I can certainly testify to the fact that one domesticated beast in God’s creation, a brown-and-white Border Collie named Aidan, has offered me several tips for a better spiritual life and a deeper relationship with God.

 

 

BE THOU MY VISION

An Ageless Song Written By a Blind Bard.

Written by: Rick Cherok

Little is known about the sixth-century Irish bard called Dallán Forgaill (c.530-598). We know that he was born in the ancient city of Maigen (now known as Ballyconnell) in County Cavan on the eastern edge of the Province of Connacht. And at his birth, around the year 530, he was given the name Eochaid (a popular name among the traditional Irish High Kings), reflecting the Irish royalty from which his father, Colla Mac Erc, descended. When Eochaid eventually lost his eyesight, his mother, Forchella, gave him the nickname Dallán, which means “little blind one” in ancient Irish Gaelic.

Young Dallán appears to have been a diligent student. When he lost his sight as a young man, some suggested it was the result of his excessive reading and intense study habits. Even amid his vision problems, however, Dallán refused to be held back. He became a bard (or filí), a professional chronicler who preserved history, oral tradition, and genealogy through poetry, lyrics, minstrels, tales, and ballads. On some occasions, when paid to do so or when angered by a patron (usually one who refused to pay a proper price for the bard’s work), bards would write satires that denigrated the character of the subject about whom they wrote.

In 575, at the Convention of Drumceatt in the northern regions of Ireland, the High King of Tara called for expulsion of the order of bards because of their satires and exorbitant fees. The bards were preserved, however, when Columba, perhaps the most important Christian leader of Scotland and Ireland at the time and a participant in the convention, convincingly argued that the bards were an integral component of Irish society. When Columba, also known as ‘Colum Cille’ (‘Dove of the Church’) died in 597, Dallán wrote the Amhra Coluim Cille (Eulogy of Saint Columba) to memorialize the defender of the Irish bards. This poem is one of the longest and most important poems of early Irish history.

Throughout his life, Dallán gained a reputation for his interest in Scripture and the poetic verse he produced. Not only did he help reform the bardic order in Ireland, but he rose to the rank of ollam, or chief bard and poet of Ireland. With this status, Dallán developed a following of students who wished to learn from his success.

In 598, while visiting a friend at the island monastery of Inishkeel off the northwest coast of County Donegal, Ireland, the monastery came under pirate attack. In the midst of the violent conflict, Dallán was beheaded and eventually buried on the small island. As early as the 9th century, Irish writers and church leaders had declared Dallán a saint within the Irish church.

One of Dallán’s enduring legacies is a poem he entitled, “Rop tú mo baile.” Though translated and revised, the English version of the poem still carries the basic idea of Dallán’s initial composition. Today, it is best known as the hymn, “Be Thou My Vision.” Notice the first words written by the blind bard in this poetic prayer to God

Be Thou my vision,
O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me,
Save that Thou art;
Thou my best thought,
By day or by night,
Waking or sleeping,
Thy presence my light.

The sightless poet called upon God to be his vision, the area of Dallán’s greatest weakness. He had to rely upon the Lord’s power in his life. As you read a few additional verses of Dallán’s song, reflect upon those areas of your life where you need the Lord’s power.

Be Thou my wisdom,
And Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee
And Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father,
And I Thy true son,
Thou in me dwelling,
And I with Thee one.
Riches I heed not,
Nor man’s empty praise;
Thou mine inheritance,
Now and always;
Thou and Thou only,
Be first in my heart,
High King of heaven,
My treasure Thou art.

Be Thou my breastplate,
My sword for the fight
Be Thou my whole armor,
Be Thou my true might;

Be Thou my soul’s shelter,
Be Thou my strong tower:
O raise Thou me heavenward,
Great power of my power.

Peace Be Still

A few days ago, I was driving to meet a recently graduated student for a lunch appointment. It was a bright sunny day in downtown Joplin, but that quickly changed.

In a matter of a very few minutes, a furious squall swept into the downtown area. The wind blew very hard, to the point where it rocked my little Nissan. I was fairly confident that we were not in a tornadic situation, so I waited it out. Within 15 minutes, I dashed for the restaurant where we were meeting and was well-soaked as a reward for my efforts.

It came from nowhere.

Maybe somewhat like the storm that overtook the little boat where Jesus lay sleeping.

Yes, sleeping. It is a puzzling activity.

When Carol and I were first married, I discovered that her sleep patterns were different than mine. I sometimes found myself saying, a little bit like the disciples, “how canst thou lie asleep?”

I quickly came to realize that was not a helpful comment. In fact, it was somnolently insensitive (to say nothing of it being a dumb thing to say to your wife.)

As I look at Jesus sleeping, two ironies seem readily apparent: 1) Jesus is asleep and 2) Jesus is asleep in the midst of a storm.

The first one comes from my own tendency to believe that sleep is a poor use of time. The second irony is that Jesus appears to be unavailable when he is desperately needed.

Both understandings are false. Hence the irony.

This story works strongly against one of our highest cultural values – the efficient use of time. Time management is a good thing, one that we must steward well, yet like every other good value, when driven beyond its intended limits, things get out of balance. When good things get way out of balance the results can be cancerous.

Some say, “yes this is a problem in the west!” That is true, but I have seen it in many other cultures as well, particularly in eastern Asia where exhausted businessmen fall asleep on the trains that rocket them to their next destination.

It is a cultural issue, but it is not a mono-cultural issue. It is a human issue. And it misses the whole point of sleep itself.

And so I look at Jesus lying asleep.

Our North African friend, Augustine, said it like this: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.”

Mark 4:35-41 (NIV)
“That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’
They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’”

Many Biblical scholars believe that Peter provided Mark with much of his eye-witness accounting of the life of our Lord, with the oversight of the Holy Spirit of course. If this was the case, then I cannot help but wonder how that interview went? Peter knew that lake. Peter knew fishing. And Peter was terrified. So, what do Peter and the rest of them do? They look at Jesus – and wake him up – and say something along the lines of “Lord, what’s the matter with you! Don’t you even care that we are all going to die?” Jesus rouses from His slumber – stands up – looks around – and “rebukes” the wind and the waves. Did he then turn slowly to the disciples? I am sure that their eyes were bulging at this point. He answers them something like, “What do you mean, ‘What’s the matter with you?’ Are you suffering from that amnesia thing again?”

One reason that this whole scene is vivid to me is because it is a childhood memory! No, I don’t mean that I am really that old – I mean my childhood at Carterville Christian Church. It is much different now, but then it was a little white church in a very small town. My dad was the preacher then (besides teaching at the Bible College) and often on Sunday nights we would sing quite a lot of hymns – and sing all of the verses.

This scene of Jesus asleep in the storm is embedded in my mind due in large part to a song we would sing. It was a Sunday Night favorite! “Master, the Tempest is Raging! That song was two pages long! And we definitely sang all the verses, but more than that, the song moves, and it does so with dramatic style and panache. Master, the tempest is raging! The billows are tossing high!

The sky is overshadowed with blackness,
No shelter or help is nigh:
“Carest Thou not that we perish?”
How canst Thou lie asleep,
When each moment so madly is threat
A grave in the angry deep? [that is trauma!]
The winds and the waves shall obey Thy will.
Peace, be still! Peace, be still!
[And here is where it really gets going!] Whether the wrath of the storm-tossed sea, Or demons, or men, or whatever it be,
No water can swallow the ship where lies
The Master of ocean and earth and skies;
They all shall sweetly obey Thy will! Peace! Peace! be still!

I loved that! At the time, I did not fully understand why, but it moved me!

As a little 8 year-old boy with plastic glasses sitting on a hard pew in the old Carterville Christian Church, man I could visualize it all! I could for sure hear it all!

Some of the older sisters (who were probably younger than me now!) were warbling the soprano part. The basses were booming. Donna Rand the organist was working with both hands and feet!

The tenors were straining and everyone was singing at full voice!
It moved us all. I could see it on their faces. I could hear it in their voices.

Jesus said, and He still says, “Peace, be still.”

The closer I get to Jesus – the closer I get to a deep – deep peace. And here Jesus is doing what He told His disciples to do.

He put it this way, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid!” (John 14:27, NIV)

Peace be still!

Evicting an owner

I don’t know if you have ever been evicted.  It’s not a nice thing.  It is messy, and it hurts.  I never have been evicted, but years ago we owned a few apartments. On an occasion or two I had to tell the renters to leave or they would face eviction.  In Jasper county, the sheriff actually removes all of the belongings and puts them out on the sidewalk.  It was one of the reasons why I got rid of the apartments.

So how do you evict an owner?

When I was in another part of the world, I heard a fascinating, and troubling, story.

His grizzled coffee colored face, due to exposure to the sun, was animated.  His multi-colored round little cap that Muslim men wear was one of the few things in the room that looked clean.  It was cool in the very humble house, the smoky smell of a charcoal stove was mixed with the odor of tobacco.  The late September sun was sinking slowly on the Ukranian horizon.

He spoke through his Tatar translator who in turn spoke to our Russian translator, Tanya – who in turn, spoke to us in English.

I sipped what they had served me, cloudy tea in a glass jar.

The old man’s face was intense, much like the other even older man who sat next to him on the edge of the small bed in their one room shack.

“They told us we had 30 minutes to gather the things we wanted to take!” he said.  “Stalin had made it look as though our people were Nazi sympathizers, and now all of us were being forcibly removed from our homes.”

He told us how, in the night, they were suddenly escorted (he was a boy at the time) from their houses, placed in trucks, some of them in dump trucks – and driven thousands of miles away to far off Uzbekistan.

This would be a little bit like you being moved from the Midwest to Saskatchewan – no, they speak English there.  Maybe more like being moved to the deserts of Mexico, with only minutes to gather whatever you could carry with you, leaving everything else.  Failure to board the trucks would result in a rapid execution.

He told us how he and his family watched from the truck as the local people, who were not of a Tatar origin, poured into their houses, looting and laughing and carrying everything away, even before the trucks pulled out on the long journey.  It was a journey on which many would die, many from a broken heart.

“All that time we were in that far-off land, we thought about the hills and fields and mountains of “Krim” (Crimea) and we would weep for home.” He spoke the words with deep emotion.  I didn’t need the translator to see it.

But then history had shifted and now, as if by a miracle, now they were able to come home. The communist idiocy had ceased and they could return.  Yes, they could return home!

But there was one huge problem.  When the old man, and thousands of fellow Tatars like him, went back to his childhood, he found that it belonged to someone else.  Other people lived there.  The papers were in the current dweller’s name, or so said the government – The old owners had been evicted.

As they say in Russia: “Is big problem!”

So they had set up a little shanty town where they sort of lived in scores of make-shift homes.  We had gone to see the ways that we could help them, and hopefully bring this marginally Muslim people group a glimpse of Jesus’ love.

Forgiveness is hard!  The greater the wrong the harder the heart becomes, in self-defense, and the more difficult the task of forgiving.

So how do you evict an owner?

Jesus returned to this earth – the place he created to have fellowship with his created ones – the beings to whom he had granted the infinite gift of choosing to love or not love Him. He returned to the place from which he had been evicted, so very strangely, and yet so divinely, by the tenant’s choice.  Typically, we think of the story being that Adam and Even had been tossed out of Eden.  I think that just indicates our overwhelming tendency to only see things from our perspective.

The flaming sword cut two ways!  The one who was tossed out of the relationship was not the one who bit the fruit.  No the ‘affected party’ in this instance was the one who created the fruit, the same one who created the teeth which processed it, and the stomach which received it.

Yes, the owner was asked to leave – on the demand of the tenants.  Now it was He who could no longer enjoy their company in the cool of the day. I often wonder what it was like when it says that our first parents heard the “sound of the Lord God as He was walking in the garden…”

But this whole thought process goes deeper. And it gets personal. The story isn’t simply about someone else. Jesus also came to my heart and found it to be occupied. Oh, he could have evicted the tenant, using force, which, unlike the Tatars, He fully possesses.  He had and has both the authority and the power to do so.

But no, that is not His way. He being God, preferred to draw me out by the influence of love and forgiveness.  He gently, and directly, tells me the truth – and the truth makes me clean and free. This freedom makes it possible for Him to take possession of that which is rightfully His in the first place. My heart. And in so doing, Eden is restored!

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was His own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:10-12 – NIV)

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. (Rev 21:3 – NIV)

The Gift of Tears

During the course of life, we cry for many reasons. Sadness, physical pain, emotional pain, sorrow of death, great joy, laughing too hard – these are some of the occasions of this God-given phenomenon of tears. It is odd, is it not, that they show up at both extremes of our emotional spectrum. Though we might fight them, tears are tied to our deepest feelings. Tears also tend to turn up in larger quantities at both ends of our lives. It is when we are little children and when we grow old that we cry with the least restraint. Could it be that it has something to do with greater spiritual sensitivity?

I have wondered in the past why would God choose to have water flow out of our eyes when we feel these deep feelings? He could have just as easily made our elbows ache, or our ankles tingle, but, no he put the sign of our deepest feelings in the very place where we look at one another. Our eyes. It’s hard to miss.

As I turn to Scripture and ponder this part of how God has made us, I am heartened when I read about Joseph and how and when he wept. I consider him to be a shining example of manhood and integrity. He stood strong in adversity. He literally fled from the temptation of sexual immorality. Even though he came from, shall we say, a heavily dysfunctional family, he remained patient and godly in the grip of very difficult and trying times. He unashamedly announced to the king of Egypt that God in heaven is the only one who knows the future. He was a man’s man.

Is it not revealing that in the account of Joseph’s life we see that he wept as frequently as any character of Scripture? Well, maybe David cried more, but not by much. Joseph was a leader of leaders. Remember how he could not contain himself when he saw Benjamin, his younger brother whom he had not seen for so many years?  In that moment he must have felt great joy and deep sorrow in a single stroke. Genesis tells us that his emotion was so great that he had to leave the room (Gen. 43:40). So noticeable was his outburst that it was reported to the house of Pharaoh (Gen 45:2). His tears flowed for a long time with the arrival of his father in Egypt.  (Gen 46:29). Later, when Jacob died, Joseph wept yet again because his brothers had sent word that their father had supposedly left instructions for Joseph not to harm them (Gen 50:17). Following those tears, he uttered incredibly wise words concerning how God takes our worst and turns it to good and even to salvation. Was that wisdom that he spoke seen through the prism of his own tears?

I used to fear tears. Kind of ironic.

Remember Joseph, and thank God for tears.

Overcoming tribalism

A deeply meaningful verse for all of us is one that is very familiar: Galatians 2:20. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” (ESV)

It was not that long ago that a respected teacher of God’s Word pointed out to me that Galatians chapter two has a single context from verse 11 all the way to the end of the chapter.

Beginning with verse 11, Paul recalls an event that demonstrates his clear understanding of the inclusive nature of the Gospel. It is for all people. It is for everyone. Paul confronted Peter when Peter acted hypocritically in refusing to have fellowship with Gentile believers, specifically not being willing to eat with them. This was especially painful to Paul when the people that were being excluded were no doubt people whom he had been discipling. In addition, Paul’s close friend and co-worker, Barnabas, had been directly affected by Peter’s failure.

The text makes it clear that this withdrawal by Peter happened when other Jews appeared in Antioch, and Peter seemed to feel the need to “make a statement” about his ethnic group. Paul blasts him for his choice. In fact, Paul feels so strongly about this subject that he goes on to say that being crucified with Christ has a lot to do with our choices concerning how we look at ourselves and how we look at people of other ethnic groups.

My teacher friend, who pointed out the context of Galatians 2:20, went on to observe that what follows the confrontation in verse 14 are, in his opinion, a continuation of Paul’s direct words to Peter. Some translations put the close of the quote in verse 14 (ESV), but many place the final quotation marks at the end of chapter 2 (NASB and NIV).

What this means is that when Paul said that “he was crucified with Christ,” he may well have been saying it directly to Peter in front of the Antioch church. I know that this is an arguable point as to whether it was or it was not a part of his rebuke, but it must be said that at the very least it is Paul’s own commentary on what took place.

Peter’s failure in Antioch is a clear indication of the power of the tribe. Even the Apostle of Jesus Christ who brought the Gospel to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius (Acts 10 and 11) had clearly exhibited spiritual amnesia. Under the pressure of those who believed that the Gospel belonged to their ethnic group and that everyone who wanted to be a follower of Christ had to first become a Jew, Peter had succumbed to what was familiar. He had caved to the comfortable.

Today, we in the western church run much the same risk. How do we view other ethnicities, either here among us or distributed in the more than sixteen thousand people groups worldwide?

It is not a long journey from ethnocentrism to xenophobia.

Let us, with Paul who had to experience this personally, be crucified with Christ when it comes to our tacit superiority over other ethnic groups. Such attitudes, whether verbalized or not, must die!

The kingdom of heaven does not simply transcend all ethnic lines, nor does it erase them. Rather the kingdom of heaven includes every ethnic line that exists in all of mankind.

The fruit of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ – His own blood – was used by our resurrected Savior to ransom people “for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God and they shall reign on the earth.” (Rev 5:9b-10, ESV)

The fruit of our own choice to be “crucified with Christ” will do the same.

The present kingdom of heaven (i.e., the church) will reflect these values and these understandings. The alternative is tribalism and a sad distancing ourselves, like Peter in his weaker moments, from those who are not like us.

May our attitudes and our assemblies reflect a Christo-centric message where the crucified Christ draws all people to Himself.