Monday, July 11, 2016


Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Mt. 4:1

He had not eaten for forty days and nights. His body starved, physically weak, he reclined on the barren earth of the mountainside, under a dead tree by the mouth of the cave where he spent his nights. His body emaciated, the shape of his bones clearly visible under his skin, his bowels had ceased to move and were it not for a cool pool of water recessed in one of the inner corridors of the cave, he would be dead of thirst, if not starvation. So how long do you think you could last without food?

The duration of survival without food is greatly influenced by factors such as body weight, genetic variation, other health considerations and, most importantly, the presence or absence of hydration. At the age of 74, and already slight of build, Mahatma Gandhi, survived 21 days of total starvation, only allowing himself sips of water. Well-documented studies report survivals of other hunger strikers for 28, 36, 38 and 40 days.

Such starvation as Jesus endured brings with it weakness and a monumental sense of exhaustion. Humanly speaking, Jesus was in no shape to be dealing with Satan, who thought of himself as Lucifer, angel and star of light. The deck was stacked. The field of battle was tilted heavily in Satan's favor. The Son of Man, drained of energy and effort; Satan at his zenith.

It is said that Martin Luther, the great reformer, considered the epistle of James to be an "epistle of straw." Yet we find in this little epistle the simple but powerful truth . . .

Resist the devil and he will flee from you. -- Jas 4.7

. . . which is exactly what Jesus did. Somewhere, somehow, in his emaciated condition, he summoned enough strength from his Father to resist this monstrous creature three times.

He won!

The last words we read are . . . "the devil left him, and angels came and attended him." A Personal Story

The story is told of a servant of God, a man, -- like the rest of us -- a disciple with feet of clay, who lay in the operating room of a large hospital. His surgery had gone south. This was now the third time the surgeons had him back in the operating room on an emergency basis, in the space of a little over a week. He was dying. He tells the story like this . . .

"I was in intense pain; pain the like of which I had never felt before. Medical professionals often ask, 'On a scale of 1-10, where is your level of pain?' The abdominal pain I was experiencing was off the charts. I couldn't imagine that pain could be this terrible.

"Everything was dark. I guess I was hallucinating, but I saw a valley which I thought was maybe the "Valley of the Shadow of Death," from Psalm 23. The walls of this valley were moving, each wall in an opposite direction. There were teardrop-shaped eyes in each wall, moving in the direction of their respective walls. The eyes were accusatory, making me feel guilty and ashamed. Frightened and helpless, I felt an evil presence, its hands wrapped around my ankles pulling me down, down . . . I cried, 'No! No! . . . there . . . there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.' Instantly, the hands around my ankles released and I was lifted by my arms into the presence of Jesus."

The Incredible Power of the Written Word

The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews speaks of this power . . .

"For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. -- Hebrews 4:12

Jesus used this power of the Scripture in the wilderness when he was tempted by Satan -- in the weakest possible condition a human can experience.

Shortly after my conversion to Christ, a dear man of God took me under his wing and taught me how to memorize Scripture. I can't begin to tell you now, 60 years later, how that has helped when I faced daunting experiences; experiences that I could never face had the power of Scripture not been in my heart.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Tuesday, October 20, 1942, around 11:30 a.m., I sat in Mrs. Sharp’s first-grade class at East Lake Grammar School in Atlanta, Georgia, with my head buried in my arms splayed akimbo on the varnished children’s table in front of me. In my dark brown, corduroy knickers squished between the oak chair and my posterior, there resided a substantial accumulation of reeking poop.

I was two weeks into my sixth year of life on this earth. Across from me sat Beverly Ann Taylor, with whom I was madly in love. She sat there with her blue eyes, light-brown hair cut into a cute page-boy, sniffing the air. Bunky Allen sat next to me on my left. Suddenly Beverly Ann Taylor’s hand shot up into the air. “Miz Sha-arp? Miz Sha-arp?” intoning a musical Southern drawl.

“Yes, honey?”

“Miz Sharp, sump’n smells awful ‘roun here.” I was bowliskied!

Beverly Ann Taylor, the love of my life, had, without shame, shucked me f’sho! Miz Sharp, dressed in her flower-print teacher’s coat, came ambling over to our table – on my side – sniffing! She stopped right behind me and sniffed. I didn’t move a muscle, head buried in my arms on the table. She leaned over. I imagined her coiffed, brown-red hair and spectacles perched on her nose, looking at me, and then she sniffed again. Right there, hanging over my reeking rear-end, she sniffed.

“David?” Pause. I didn’t stir. I ain’t sayin’ nuthin.

“David, honey pot? Is that you?” Well, that’s it. The jig is up. I’m busted. No way I’m gonna get outta this.

“Yes’ m.” I heard Miz Sharp muffle a snigger.

“Well, honey pot," sez she, "What did you do?”

The tears came. “I went to the bathroom in my britches,” I wailed. Bunky started to snigger and held his nose. I almos’ pol’ axed ‘im right there in front of ev'r-body.

“Well, sweetie,” she said in a sweet-holding-back-her-side-splitting-laughter kind of voice, “what do ya’ll wawn't t’ do?”

I wiped the snot, which was considerable by this time, onto my sleeve and tried to speak, “I-I don’t know whut t’ do, ma’am.”

“Do you want to go to the bathroom down the hall?”

“No’ma’am!” said I with finality.

“Well, why not, David? You have to clean yourself up.”

“The big boys are in the bathroom. They’ll laugh and beat me up.”

Miz Sharp considered.

“Hmmm. Well, honey pot, you wawn't me to send you home?” Amazingly smart woman. How did she know that very thing was a'buzzin' in my noggin?

“Yes’m.” I whimpered.

“Kin’ I go wid’ im?” from Bunky. I looked at Bunky, grinning from ear to ear. Bunky had the face of a rodent. I swear -- brown, beady eyes close-set, a button of a nose with a tiny brown mole on it, and lips; look lak’ he been suckin’ on a crabapple all day long, at which, with that chasm between his two front teeth, he was no doubt the bestest in the whol’ wide worl.’

“You want Bunky to walk home with you?”

Nodding my head which was back buried in my arms on the varnished first-grade table, “Yes’m.”

“I ‘spose it might oughta' be aw-right,” said she. And with that, Bunk scraped back his chair on the asphalt-tile floor, and Miz Sharp pulled mine back as I stood up, wet condensation on the little wooden chair; damp, dark spot on the bottom of my brown corduroy knickers.

* * *

The walk home was four-blocks long. I turned to Bunky who was a lot shorter than me and said, “I think the dookey is a-slidin’ outta my drawers.”

“Oh no!” cried Bunky. “Is it dropped all the way down?”

“No, not yet.” I realized, of course, that since the knickers ended mid-calf with elastic holding them tight against my leg, that it just might slide all the way down, git stuck at the bottom -- my leg a'sloggin' it back and forth as I walked. I was so mad and embarrassed, I could spit green blood. We reached the gravel road that wound into the cemetery. Three mo’ blocks to go.

Bunky asked again, “Is it dropped yet?”

“It’s a slidin,’ Bunky, it's a slidin,' an' it feels bodacious slimy.”

“It stinks bodacious awful, too,” laughed Bunky. I balled up my fist and smacked him on the arm.

“Hey, that hurts,” he yelled.

“I’m gonna whup yo' ass, you laugh agin!” I threatened. We came to the familiar corner of Boulevard Drive and Fourth Avenue, where the patrol-boy usually stood. There was no patrol-boy because school wasn’t out yet. Later, when I got to fifth grade, me and Billy Rocker became patrol-boys at that very corner. By then, I had forgotten this dreadful day.

“Is it dropped yet?” asked Bunky again.

“Yeah, it’s sho ‘nuff dropped. It’s slid down on my leg now.”

“Where is it”?

“Right there.” I pointed to the soft bulge in the lower reaches of my knickers.

Two mo’ blocks of painful mis’ry. Half-way up what seem’ lak’ a hundred-mile trip on Boulevard Drive, between Fourth Avenue and Third Avenue, there was that dawg. He warn’t a big dawg. Jes’ a little ‘ol dawg. I remember when I tried to pick him up and got bit right on my cheek. They put the po’ dawg in sumpthin’ called “quarantine,” tel’ they figgered out if it had rabies. He was a yappy little dawg. As we passed his yard, I could see’im laying up on th’ front step. He jes’ eye-ballin' me. He ain't come out yappin’ his fool head off lak’ he always does. Sometimes I think dawgs jes’ know when to leave a body alone.

In what seem’ lak’ several years, we drag’ ourselves through the las’ block and finally arrive at my house at 32, 3rd Avenue. We walked past the magnolia, crabapple and sweet-gum trees in the front yard kicking at the cockle-burs and the fallen magnolia leaves. Past the big front porch with the swinging settee on it, and on up the steps of the smaller porch to the front door on my side of the house.

Lizzie Mae met us at the door. The school had already called her. She swung the screen door open and said, “You come on in here Mr. Davitt, (David is my middle name. Folks call' me that when I was a chile.) honey-chile, an’ les git you cleaned up.”

“Kin’ I come in, too?” asked Bunky.

“You git on home now, boy. I got enough to scratch here wid’out botherin’ wid’ you.”

Bunky Allen could not possibly have known whut was a goin’ on in my head. I could not have felt more embarrassed or ashamed. I reeked more of humiliation than anything else. Pooped in my pants, right there in front of Beverly Ann Taylor an’ all. Walk’ all the way home with that stuff a slidin’ down my leg. When I saw that sweet black face of Lizzie Mae, the tears erupted again.

Bunk knew better’n t’cross Lizzie Mae, so he back’ away and disappeared. Lizzie Mae took me into the house, sat down on a chair and began to unbuckle the military-web-belt holdin’ up my knickers. When they fell to the floor, there was a brown streak down the inside of my left leg. “Whooo Boy! You is a sho’ nuff mess!” said she. I just bawled.

Then something wonderful happened! Something that took away all the pain and humiliation and made me stop crying in an instant. Lizzie Mae took my six-year-old tear-streaked face in her brown hands, with my poop-stinkin’ to high heaven, and said to me, “You be proud, boy. You ain’t done nuthin’ wrong, jus’ a little accident, thas’ all. You be proud an’ you’ll grow into a real man.”

I don’t know if I ever made it into what Lizzie Mae or anyone else, might call a real man, but she made me feel like one, from that day until this. I’m grown up now. Well, maybe not. In any case, I often still feel that lump of smelly stuff a-slidin’ down my leg. I look at the corduroy knickers of my life and I don’t see much difference between what I see, and that smelly lump. But when these humiliating and self-abusing thoughts assault my brain, I try to see Lizzie Mae’s beautiful black face. And when I do, I think I catch a tiny glimpse of
. . . the Face of God.

Friday, June 19, 2015


Last night, while struggling with disciplining my thoughts so I could go to sleep, I asked God to make it happen. It seemed that as soon as I did, other thoughts came. I was impressed with the possible error (if not error, then possibly the misconstruing) of the idea of "accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior." There appears to be more than adequate biblical evidence for such an idea, yet the construct just doesn't ring entirely true. This is intellectual acceptance and possibly faith. Both are affirmable, especially the faith part. But something is missing.

Something is wrong with this doctrine.

What struck me is that it might not be an individual "accepting Jesus," but, instead, Jesus "accepting that person." I thought, if so, how does that come about? What are the dynamics that make this happen?

It reaches all the way back to the creation of humankind. Knowing full well that they would disengage with God, why did he do it? Knowing that having given us "free will," and that we would turn away from him, why did he go ahead and create us anyway? There is a passage in Justus that may answer this question:

The scene -- Jesus and the disciples were vacationing at the house of Simon the Tanner, on the white beaches of the Mediterranean near the city of Joppa. They were seated around a campfire in the sand, the afternoon fading into darkness . . .

"There was a time beyond the way men measure time,” he began, “when I and my Father lived together on the other side of the stars . . .”

What can I say to them? How can I speak to them of love that transcends their capacity to comprehend? How can I tell them that they, each of them, are both the objects and consequence of that love? That they, and they alone, are the objects of the deepest stirrings, the deepest feelings in heart of him who is Omnipotent, of him who is all-knowing, of him who is everywhere present, of him who cannont change, of him who is eternal?

“We considered what you might think imponderable. Our love for each other . . . infinite, eternal, and absolute. I and my Father are One. It is beyond the reach of reality for us to be anything else. Yet, in all the endless realms of omnipotent possibility, there was something we did not have and could not possess.”

“What could that be?” from Matthew, the intellectual among us. If any of us besides Jesus could wear the mantle of ‘theologian,’ it was this tax collector. The irony, as well as the curiosity was lost on none of us. “How could God, who is wholly contained in himself,” Matthew asked, “How could God not have something, anything he could have wanted? How is it that an omnipotent, infinite Sovereign lack anything he desired? If he lacked something, how could he be all-encompassing? How could he be God?”

Jesus smiled. It was the question he wanted. “One cannot have what is not his to own.”

“And what is there amongst all of reality that does not belong to Yahweh?” Matthew looked at Peter to his right and James to his left as if seeking their concurrence and support. He got it. The intense interest in their expressions compelled an answer.

“Your love,” said Jesus simply.

A breeze, or something like it, provoked the flames and they leaped slightly higher, illuminating faces. The puzzlement on each face evidenced profound lack of comprehension. “Simon,” he said, “You are a tanner of hides. You create fine leather for king’s houses. You love the work of your hands, do you not?” Simon thought of the end product of his labors, its softness, its rich fresh leather aroma and smiled in affirmation. “Tell me, Simon,” Jesus continued, “does your fine leather love you back?”

Simon’s eyes averted, “Well, of course not, but . . .”

“It may please you, but the pleasure is of your own creation. It cannot think or feel to love you back, yet you cherish its beauty and think it is love. It is not. Love that responds from the object of one’s love is not something that can be generated by the Lover—even if the Lover is the Sovereign God. The love of which I speak is not a mere decision, as if it were something one can move, shape or discontinue, as if it were something that can be shut off and on. Love, true, authentic love must come because one feels it deep within himself and expresses it because he cannot contain it. To "make a decision to love," is pure nonsense. You can decide that you can treat someone in a loving way, but that is a decision to control behavior in a certain way. It is not love. Such a decision does not require passion. It means that you have decided to be nice. Something you should have learned as a child. No! Love must spring, irresistibly, from the well of one’s being. That is why you have being. You were created in order to love, freely and confidently.”

"Do you think the Father and I, do you think the Holy Spirit of God, do you think that we do not feel heartfelt love and compassion for each one of you? Do you not know that when you suffer, we suffer? Do you think we, ourselves, would not empty our life for you, or die for you? Do you think we just "decided" to love you, like one decides to move a stone from one place to another, in a children's game? No, we are touched deeply and emotionally for you. We want you in our life and we want you to know it."

“It is not possible to love without the force of its power within you. You have no power to choose to love, you have the power to choose whether to express it. If it is there, you have the power to repress it. If it is not there, you cannot generate it or choose to express what does not exist.”

* * *

The shadows on our faces flickered with the flames. They were covered by consternation and seeking to understand—no, to appreciate what he was saying to us. “The Father has placed within you the capacity, the power, to irresistibly love him, yet you have the choice to release that love or not. You also have the power to determine by what measure it is released. You are free—free to release love or repress it. You are the only creatures on earth with that power.” Was he saying that we were created so that the Father would have someone to love him because we chose to give it to him, or withhold it from him? Such an inscrutable thought was too high for us.

“My Father and I wish that more than anything your minds can imagine,” Jesus continued. “Look above you.” Our heads lifted to behold a canopy of brilliance spread like a glorious, sparkling belt across a field of velvet darkness. “Can you count them? What you can actually see is an infinitesimal slice of what your eyes cannot see.” I thought about that. How could there be heavenly bodies that we could not see? If they were there, why could we not see them? “Before these,” Jesus said, “there were angels. Like you, they were created with the ability to love or withhold it. Those that loved were confirmed in their love. Now they love the Father because the thought that they could not would never occur to them.”

It did not occur to me then, on that lovely, starry night, but on reflection I realized that what Jesus was giving us was the very rationale for creation. Moreover, he was telling us why he had come.

“Yet, even they were not created supremely. They were not created in the Image of God.” He paused only for the briefest of moments, just enough to create a hunger, an anticipation for his next words. “You were,” he said. “You were created more like God than you can now comprehend. Of no other living being can it be said that it was created in the Image of God.” It was too much. Our minds were reeling. We needed closure and Jesus seemed to sense that. “That Image has been corrupted. I have come,” he said, “to give the Image of God back to you so that once again, you may freely love the Father and his Son, whom he has sent. There is much to say; there is much to teach you, but this much is enough. For now it is all you can absorb.” With that, he rose and shook the sand from his garments. “This day has ended. Let’s get some sleep.” He turned and walked toward the house. The twelve and most of the others followed. I remained. I needed to think.

It is clear to me now, that the notion of "accepting Jesus" does not entirely grasp the meaning of genuine engagement with God. Jesus desires to accept us. And the only thing -- the only thing -- that creates the venue for that is our desire to love him. If he senses, or knows, that we love him, that is all that is his acceptance requires. Changes in behavior (repentance) are not a part of this requirement. That may, or may not, come later; and if it does, it comes naturally, borne and energized by our love for him, but it is not a part of our acceptance by God. It is true, he already knows whether or not we will love him. That is the premise upon which the biblical teaching of predestination is built. So that when we come to love him, we discover that he knew it would happen all along. And, given our proclivity to evil as evidenced by our sorry lives, that stuns and amazes us. But the core issue is not predestination, it is the plain and simple fact that Jesus, God the Father, God the Holy Spirit are simply hungry for our love. It explains the reason for the cross, and since he first loved us, comes the full circle of his love for us, forgiveness of our sins and the rest of eternity in his blessedness.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. The apostle Paul -- 1 Corinthians 13:13

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


My precious wife, Bonnie, last night at some level of depression and frustration, said to me, "I hate Christianity!" There was no one else in the room but me, and our three puppies. They understood perfectly, and so did I. And, I believe, so did God. I won't take the space to discuss the provocation for such an exclamation. Suffice it to say that it was enough.

One cannot, of course, take the words at face value. Here is a woman, who, when she prays out loud, there is a holy hush in the hearts of those who hear. Here is a woman who has made me feel infinitely loved, and through whom I feel God's love for me. She makes everyone she meets feel this way. Here is a woman who lights up a room whenever she enters it, people turn their heads and are awash with her smile and the joy in her voice. Here is a woman who, if she is not connected with the beauty, love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, no one is. What she was saying, actually had nothing to do with Jesus, his Person or his message.

Or maybe it did.

Perhaps she was just expressing what He must have felt when He "cleansed the Temple." Perhaps she was just expressing hatred for the brutish legalism of believers who practice their faith in constant fear of "Satan," instead of the holy Power of God's Spirit within them; people who are obsessed with "God's Standards," and with "obedience" and are afraid of falling into the hands of an "angry God." Perhaps she was really just saying, "I hate the Cult of Christianity." Perhaps she was just saying that she hates how institutional religion forms the spiritual character of those who buy into it; people who are Baptist, or Methodist, or Episcopalian, or Presbyterian, or Catholic, or Calvary Chapel, or, God help us, whatever. Perhaps she was saying how she hates the prison and slavery such religion brings. Perhaps she was saying that she hates any system of belief that does not bring whatever Jesus was talking about when he said,

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free."
Or when he said,
"If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."

You must understand, if you please, that I am no stranger to the "Cult of Christianity." My Bachelor's degree in Biblical Theology comes from one of the most fundamentalist Christian universities in the world. I received my Master of Divinity degree from one of the most evangelical seminaries in the USA. My Ph.D. also came from a fundamentalist institution. I have been pastor to several evangelical churches. I have tried to fit into this modern-day "Temple," that so needs cleansing. I have failed. I have utterly failed in the attempt. And in this, I rejoice.

Some years ago; actually when I would be considered by most, a young minister lacking maturity, I too, became frustrated with institutional religion. This resulted in my extracting from my considerable library, in which I took great pride, all of my seminary notes and syllabi, and depositing them into the trash. It was to become a singular event in my life and today at 78, looking back on it, I count it as one of the most freeing things I have ever done.

I knew three things:

1. Inside of me dwells the blessed Holy Spirit of God;

2. With 5 years of Greek and two of Hebrew, I could freely study the Scriptures in their original languages; and,

3. I knew I had a good mind.

With these tools, I knew I had at hand that which would enable me to discover the richness of relationship with God on my own. I no longer needed to rely on the thoughts of other men, however distinguished, in my spiritual formation. I was free at last. Thank God Almighty, I was free at last!

These elements have occupied my mind and my endeavor since that singular event. It has created an entirely different Christian anima. I feel a heady liberation from having to adopt so-called Christian dogma shaped by the minds of others, except from those whose minds and writings, I, myself, have judged empathetic, and can identify with my own spiritual discoveries.

Most of all, this process has brought me to the place where I am aware of the love, mercy and grace of God far deeper than anything I have ever known. This has been present with me now for several decades. As a young theological hopeful, I was taught that experience was a dangerous place to encounter God; that one must subscribe to a biblical, systematic theology if one is to remain stable and steadfast in the faith. Nothing could be more false, or more absurd. If one cannot experience intimacy with God, then one's faith is not faith at all, but a purely propositional, and thoroughly consummate fraud.

Knowing the love and passion of God as I do, it is difficult for me to conceive of his alleged "hatred" for anything. But what else would cause the man Jesus, God in the flesh, to deliberately and malevolently construct a punitive tool (scourge whip of cords), and with it violently wade into what he considered an evil human practice, overturning tables and knocking down cages of doves and freeing sacrificial cattle and sheep? What else would cause him to scream, "Get these things out of here! I will not allow you to turn my Father's house into a den of thieves."?

I think it is time for a little Christian anarchism. Believers have far too long subjected themselves to religious control. By this, I do not mean anarchism against God! I mean anarchism against what many believe to be a structured, neatly arranged, boxed-in Christian system of belief. It is time for believers to seek God in earnest. When Jesus died on the cross, the wrath of God against what happened in the Garden, was exhausted. The essential worth of the believer is forever measured by that cross. Relationship with God is not a religion. Relationship with God is not a system of belief. It is not a theological construct. Relationship and intimacy with God through His Son cannot fit within a box -- or even a Book. If that is all Christianity is, then I too, hate Christianity.

Let us be specific about exactly what happened in that Garden. We evangelicals are quite sloppy about that. We conclude that Adam's sin was that he wanted to "be like God." We conveniently ignore what follows, which is, "knowing good and evil." Adam wanted to know the rules. Adam wanted to be able, like God, to differentiate between right and wrong. Had this not happened, there would never have been a 10 Commandments. The concept of "Law," would never have been conceived. There would have been no need for mercy, no need for grace. Had this not happened, humankind would have existed for eternity within the intimate pale of holy and abundant love. No traffic lights. No stop signs. No "Rules of Engagement."

I have no idea where you, dear reader, fit into this discussion; or even if you fit at all. Nonetheless, I appeal earnestly to you: Lay aside your engagement with institutional religion, with the industrial church, and come to know the real Jesus. Come to know intimately, the One who walks beside you, who lives in you, the One with whom you, yourself, are one. For in so doing, you will know the joy of that stream of water of which Jesus spoke, springing up into an everlasting life of joy and peace.

The above started out as a prayer; it ended in an answer.

Thursday, January 2, 2014


A short welcome to those who have never visited this blog: As of the beginning of 2014, there will be a new piece placed here each month, minimum. If you find these words a comfort, enabling, informative and nurturing, please make it a habit to check back from time to time.

2013 has been for me, and those I love, an interesting year. Thanks to the good services of my surgeon, and the prayers and support of family, friends and people I did not know, I was able to visit my 77th year. It was a struggle, but it is over, and I remain alive – if not completely well. Not to worry, that will come.

Still, one can only go through these cliff-hanging experiences where one holds on to life with the slimmest strand of a web, so many times without seriously considering one’s life and mortality.

Like all men, my life has endured its share of failures and bad decisions, but somehow, my feet are still planted on the Rock that is Christ Jesus. I have come to understand like never before, that he alone is the Lens through which all of life and knowledge can be viewed, interpreted and experienced with authentic forgiveness, peace and effective love. I look forward now to the rest of my days on earth, however long that may be, with contentment and anticipation of good things. I especially look forward to giving as many of these days as I can to my family and friends.

When a person looks squarely into the face of death, utterly convinced of its certainty, as I did this past year, and then survives, it is sobering. I learned that when the time actually comes, all of us truly die alone. No matter how many supportive and prayerful loved ones surround you, the only thing that truly matters is, “what happens now?” Do I go somewhere? Heaven? Hell? Do I simply cease to exist and return to the oblivion of dust like so much roadkill? What kind of life have I lived? What kind of legacy will I leave?

Then something happens. All of these questions evaporate.

In my case, I saw a V-shaped tunnel similar to a valley with tear-shaped eyes along the sides of the V, moving in opposite directions, sad, accusing me of my failures and assorted sins. They were spread on fields of varying shades of green, which I interpret as my life, flowing like rivers or the rippling stripes of a flag in the wind. I felt an intense, evil force pulling at my legs, almost as if someone were gripping my ankles and straining fiercely. My abdomen was in excruciating pain – pain the like of which I have never experienced in life, even though I had in that lifetime, endured severe burns.

But then, I also felt a gentle but irresistible pressure on my wrists and hands, pulling in the opposite direction from the pressure on my lower extremities. And then powerful passages of scripture exploded in my mind; in particular from the shepherds psalm, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,” and other scriptures assuring me of God’s love and promise that I belonged to him and no power in the universe, seen or unseen, could snatch me out of his hand. And with that, I was comforted.

I learned later that my team of doctors – three surgeons – had concluded that I would probably not make it. My primary surgeon, leveling her hand and commenting on my condition observed, “When you came in, you were about here,” about chest-high with her hand, “after the first surgery you dropped down to here,” lowering her hand a few inches, “after the second surgery, you dropped down to here,” lowering her hand several more inches, “then after the third surgery, you dropped down to here,” lowering her hand even more. “That,” she said, “was about as low as you can go.”

Now you must realize that at 77, I have had many near misses with death in that time. Two near-fatal car wrecks, saved by a few seconds here, a few inches there, a brilliant ER doctor who knew the difference between angina and a Deep Vein Thrombosis; even as a child growing up without helmets for bicycles and seatbelts for cars, upon reflection, it seems a wonder that any of us survived our early years.

But these things were small, incidental to the events of 2013 -- three and a half weeks in acute care and another two and a half weeks in rehab. As I write this, I still have a ways to go before my stamina returns.

Now, my perspective has changed along with my expectations. I have no fear of death. None. I have seen it up close and personal. It is weak and ineffectual.

I love life, especially my life. I have three wonderful children and three wonderful step-children and a combined 10 grandkids. You think I’m not blessed? I have an incredibly nurturing, loving and supportive wife of more than 30 years. Add to this, three of the cutest Maltese puppies you have ever seen. One of them has adopted me and sleeps on my pillow with me every night just to make sure I am safe.

Up, over and above all of this is my relationship with Jesus, who fills my heart with joy, peace and love each moment of my days. He is the one who has sealed the fact that I will truly live forever. Think of that. Life does not end at death. The body may return to dust and is tossed out as you might toss out an old shoe, or the kitchen trash. But life continues, true life, empowered life, continues and continues, and continues . . .

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


When I was a boy, I attended Fifth Avenue Baptist Church, in Decatur, Georgia. This came about because of the Smith’s, who lived next door. Mrs. Smith insisted I go with them. Her boy, John Wesley, older, and a bit of a hero to me, also wanted me to go. That did it. I went and joined the “Royal Ambassadors.”

Each year the church held a revival. There were services each night of the week, a special preacher preaching. An altar call every night. Souls were saved. Me, too -- several times.

Fifth Avenue Baptist Church is gone now, a victim of white flight. The building itself, however, has a claim to fame. It was used in the movie, Driving Miss Daisy, as the church to which Hoke drove the elderly widow.

The “going forward” at the revival invitations may not have meant much. I began to get that idea when later, during the week when the church building was empty, me and Howard McClung and G.C. Bradshaw, decided to consume a pack of Lucky Strikes in the baptismal tub. They discovered the cigarette butts crushed out on the bottom, but they never knew who it was that did it. Later, as a teenager, I dismissed God entirely and decided he didn’t exist.

After all, I proved he didn’t exist when as a young soldier I stood on the launcher doors that housed Nike guided missiles underground; rain falling, lightning bolts being hurled from the clouds, thunder crashing in deafening roars, I screamed into the heavy raindrops driving into my face, “I know you don’t exist! If you are really there, strike me dead! Go ahead! Do it! I dare you!”

A huge streak of white fire began somewhere in the darkness above, coiling through the boiling clouds and snaked its way to a tree, a power pole, a flag standard or some high ground, maybe a mile or so away, instantly followed by a stupendous crash of thunder.

MISSED!!! I screamed. In the silence that followed, I could have sworn I heard a chuckle. The storm continued, however, despite my taunts.

I think deep down I wondered whether a lightning bolt just might vaporize me. Well God didn’t strike me dead. What a disappointment. My melodrama did prove one thing: I walked back to the barracks thoroughly confirmed in the belief that God did not exist. How could he have resisted such an opportunity?

I spent my entire military career of two incredibly long years in South Carolina, Arkansas and New Jersey. When I returned to Atlanta, I stayed a couple of months, then moved to Long Beach, California and stayed with my sister and her family. I got a job with the Long Beach Independent-Press Telegram as a copyboy, making $39/week. I had four bosses: Wylie, Stan, Burt and John. All of these veteran newspaper men would impact my life, but none like John. Or, perhaps I should say, John and his wife, Eva, as well as their fifteen-year-old daughter, Leemay, and their black cocker spaniel.

It happened like this: I was depressed. Not sure why. All I can say now after 23 years as a psychotherapist, I was definitely clinically depressed. Suicidal thoughts persisted. One night about midnight, I couldn’t sleep. I got up and walked out to the front porch of my sister’s house and lit up a Chesterfield. I looked up into a clear night sky with a full moon. As I gazed at that bright, silver disk in the sky, I said, “God, if you are up there, I need your help.” Quite a different experience from the missile launcher doors in a thunderstorm.

Next day. I swear. Next day John, searching for some misplaced copy, ventured out to my desk where I maintained a constant haze of Chesterfield smoke. I was going through three packs a day at this point. The man mentioned something about God. I don’t remember what else he said about the misplaced copy, all I heard was the name, “God.”

“God?” I replied.

He looked at me funny. “Yes, God,” he said. “God loves you, son.”

“God loves me?” dripping incredulity.

The exchange ended with my accepting an invitation to have dinner at his house. After dinner, Leemay went to do her homework, and John retrieved his Bible. “Uh-oh,” I thought. I prepared myself for a Bible-thumping. Didn’t happen.

Instead, these two wonderful people enveloped me in love. They made me see that Jesus’ suffering on the cross was an expression of God’s love for me. I cannot explain what happened next. All I can say is that I left that home that night feeling cleansed, a new person, a new creation. That was 56 years ago.

Twenty-two years later I stood in front of a hundred or so inmates at Lompoc Federal Correction facility in California. I was doing a seminar for Prison Fellowship, Chuck Colson’s newly formed ministry. It was crammed with two lectures in the morning and two in the afternoon, starting Monday and going through Friday. In between the lectures, we sandwiched small-group sessions.

At the end of one of the lectures, I noticed a disheveled young man, long hair, pimples, dirty T-shirt sitting about two-thirds the way back on the left side of the chapel. He was weeping. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Making my way through the crowd at the front, I sat down beside him. His weeping increased in intensity.

In my shirt pocket was a Campus Crusade tract entitled, Four Things God Wants You to Know. I contemplated taking it out and walking him through its pages. I resisted the impulse, and in doing so learned one of the most important lessons of my Christian experience.

St. Francis said it best, “Preach the Gospel always. If necessary, use words.” I learned that day that the Love of Jesus does not need words. I learned that the Holy One is alive and well. He needs nothing beside himself to form Christ in the deepest reaches of the human heart.

Good doctrine is important. It instructs us in spiritual policy. It shows us how be guided in our lives. Didactic reasoning and propositional faith has its place. But it has never, nor will it ever substitute for a person to person, heart to heart, encounter with God. As I heard a southern preacher proclaim one day, “A Holy Gawd cain’t meet up with a sinful crittur’ without sumbody feelin’ sumthin!’”

“The letter kills,” said Paul, “but the Spirit gives life.”

The reality I learned somewhere along way of my own spiritual journey is that the deepest of all human needs is to feel loved. The deepest need of the human heart is to feel loved unconditionally, and the only Person truly capable of and credentialed for that is the One who gave life -- through His death.

Friday, October 5, 2012


Jeremiah Wright. It seems a malignant exercise even to write his name. There he stood and ranted, hair groomed to perfection, arrayed in resplendent robes, scholarly glasses perched on his nose, behind an ornate pulpit, in front of television cameras projecting images of him around the whole world, screaming – screaming – uncomposed, unbridled, with mindless fury unloosed, spewing hatred and incendiary, vituperative racism against our country, and by association, each one of us. “Not ‘God Bless America,’” he cried, “Oh no! God Damn America!

No John the Baptist this man. No Elijah. Not even Balaam’s ass. As Emerson wryly noted, “If the hive be disturbed by rash and stupid hands, instead of honey, it will yield us bees.”1

Jesus, (whom Mr. Wright declares, was a black man living in a country dominated by white Europeans), Jesus said, “He that has seen me has seen the Father.” If Jesus has taught us anything about the “Father,” he has taught us that his heart is not filled with hatred, but Love. If this is true, Jeremiah Wright clearly does not speak for God.

That said, the thought came to me this morning to pray for Jeremiah Wright. A prayer that might go something like this: “God please reveal your love to this man and draw him to yourself. Bless him and create your heart within him; help him to become the kind of man you would have him be. Mold him into the likeness and character of your dear Son.”

Did not Jesus also teach us to “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”?

That Mr.Wright is an enemy, I have no doubt. His poisonous language and hatred toward people of other races leaves no ambiguity about the depraved animosity of his character. If ever anyone needed the Lord, he does. I have searched my heart, and I am not sure I am capable of loving a man like this. But I can love the Image of God in him, I can love what God wants him to be. And I can pray for him.

I wonder how many Christians have also prayed for Mr. Wright? Can we not all agree that he needs it?

The decendant of slaves, he became pastor to a future President of the United States. He is now surrounded with affluence and fame. Or infamy, depending on perspective. Not bad for a guy who came from a country that gave him everything he has. Yes, Mr. Wright, needs prayer, as do all of us. He may need it more or less, but God loves him, and although it is hard, if we claim Jesus as our Lord, we should, too.

And yes – indeed -- God, please bless America . . .

[For] “. . . our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. [Therefore, we pray] “. . . that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” – Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg
While we as a nation are no longer engaged in a civil war, we have largely forgotten what it means to be civil. We need to come together again as a people united under God and know once again that new birth of freedom. We need to explore more deeply those things we have in common and neglect those things that divide us. Despite our differences, we need to seek the God who expresses himself in each one of us.

1Emerson, Ralph Waldo, Selected Essays, The People's Book Club, Chicago, 1949. p. 156