This morning I sent a note and the following to Gov. Daugaard as he thinks more this weekend about this execution on Monday. It is from my Ph.D dissertation. It’s the story of Tolstoy writing a letter to the Tsar to stop six executions. Here’s the backstory…

CZAR’S ASSASSINATION, 1881.
The assassination of Czar Alexander II at the Catherine Canal in St. Petersburg, 13 March 1881: contemporary wood engraving.

5.2 Letter #257; To the Emperor Alexander III, 8-15 March 1881

Tolstoy’s letter to Emperor Alexander III demonstrates the scope of Tolstoy’s Sermon on the Mount application extended to the furtherest point of application; that the Sermon on the Mount is best course for Tsars and nation-states also. In his letter to Alexander III appealing for mercy on behalf of the soon to be executed assassins of the Tsar’s father Alexander II, Tolstoy pens with passion and prophetic clarity a letter quite comparable to Martin Luther King Jr’s famous and widely-circulated Letter from a Birmingham Jail (King’s 1963 open letter written to fellow clergymen to defend his strategy of nonviolent resistance in the fight against racism). Alternatively it could be seen as Tolstoy’s Philemon in that as the Apostle Paul penned a mercy plea for Onesimus the runaway slave, Tolstoy penned a mercy plea for the doctrine of Jesus to be applied to matters of civil, criminal and social justice. Tolstoy’s letter to the Tsar has had virtually no circulation and consideration by Christians or people in government. This must change so a new generation can consider his prophetic epistle.
On the first of March 1881 in Petersburg, six members of the revolutionary party, The People’s Will, assassinated Tsar Alexander II. A little white package wrapped in a handkerchief was tossed on his carriage and exploded. He survived that initial explosion and emerged from the carriage unharmed, however the team of assassins had a second and third bomb ready and it was the second explosion that took down the Tsar. With his face mutilated, disemboweled and with his legs blown away, members of the Romanov family and a physician rushed to the scene. Lying in the snow, the Tsar bled to death shortly after being given Communion and Last Rites. The reaction to the assassination was violent on both sides. The new Tsar Alexander III, having witnessed his father’s gory demise, immediately ordered the suppression of civil liberties in Russia and a mean wave of police brutality ensued. Revolutionaries and anarchists took “their inspiration from the murder of Czar Alexander II in 1881, advocated ‘propaganda by deed’—the use of a spectacular act of violence to incite revolution.”
During the trial and execution preparations to come, as violence was begetting more violence, Tolstoy had another one of his prophetic dreams; “he lay down in his study one day after dinner, fell asleep and dreamed vividly that he was both the executioner and the victim in the punishment of the assassins.” Upon waking from this dream Tolstoy wrote his letter to Alexander III asking for mercy for those who killed the Tsar’s father. Initially the letter was blocked by Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev, the Orthodox Church official and advisor in the Emperor’s court. Through an emissary, Tolstoy redirected the letter around the hostile and bloodthirsty church official to get it into the hands of the Tsar. After reading the letter, the Tsar sent an informal reply to Tolstoy to convey that because the criminal act was not against himself but against his father, he felt it was not in his right to pardon them.
Thirty-four days after the assassination, the assassins, one of whom was a General’s daughter, were executed. Unlike Tolstoy’s Letter to a Hindoo which was warmly welcomed in India and, through Gandhi, profoundly influenced an entire nation to heed the non-violent doctrine of Jesus, Tolstoy’s letter to the Tsar, to date, has had no discernible effect or further circulation. Had Russia heeded Tolstoy’s prophetic word (the doctrine of Jesus) as did India, perhaps they also would have known a peaceful revolution and been spared the horrible bloodbath to come.
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Taking Over Vermont, by Richard Pollak, April 1972, Playboy Magazine, pgs. 147ff.

Important article here and I’ll post a pdf to it so the next guy doesn’t have to go after it the hard way, as did I. No secret that Vermont is the most unchurched state in the nation, and the most liberal. Vermont had gay marriage long before the rest of the country. It’s a place where Bernie Sanders can thrive. But how did it get that way? Fifty years ago it was a strong Republican state. Basically, minibuses of countercultural dropouts descended on the state, set up communes and eventually made Vermont home, and voted, and ran for office.

The strategy was published first in April 1972 in Playboy magazine. The article by Richard Pollak is worth your time. In posting the article here, it doesn’t seem to be elsewhere online,  I’m doing a service to the gents out there. No need for anyone else to order a old Playboy on eBay. Not to worry, my wife was a part of this “research” and the pdf linked above is a clean version with blocked out ads and unfavourables. The rest of the magazine has been destroyed.

South Dakota is a small state. Maybe Christians should move there in mass. More to report later, but I’m likely heading to Vermont for the last chapter of my life. It’s under wraps for now but I’ll put out a teaser that it has to do with a countercultural Sermon on the Mount idea I have long had in the making.

Tomorrow I take the train down to London to present a short paper on Saturday at a Bonhoeffer and Reformation Conference at St. Mary’s University – Twickenham.

Here’s a link to and abstract and to the paper – Bonhoeffer and Grey Martyrdom: The Cost of Convictions.

Should a President pick sides in civil strife? Obama certainly did, and set race relations in America back a generation. My reference is to the Ferguson uprisings. Infuriating many, Trump’s renunciations of the unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia yesterday were hardly specific, and usually he is very precise in naming who he wants to denounce in no uncertain terms. But yesterday he strongly renounced all hate and violence by the “many sides, and believe me there are many sides.” The only specific group Trump sided with yesterday were the law enforcement officers trying to handle the situation.

As one who found it significant that Obama could never name Islamic terrorism I initially hoped Trump wouldn’t ever play those games. How hard would it have been for him to condemn the white supremacists of the alt-right? Much gets read into his nebulousness. Perhaps it speaks volumes about his secret sympathies with Steve Bannon and others on his staff who, some say, are alt-right themselves. That Obama couldn’t say Islamic terrorism spoke volumes to me about his sympathies with those in his inner circle and staff who had Muslim-Brotherhood connections and affections.

It now being the morning after the drive-down in Charlottesville I’m wondering if there isn’t truth and wisdom in Trump’s denunciation of all hate and violence and in his vague comments on the many sides of hate and violence in America. It wasn’t just the alt-right in town yesterday, Soros-supported Antifa agitators were there too. Reports tells us an alt-left rock was thrown at the window of the alt-right car just prior to it mowing down the protestors. It would not be true to denounce the one side for violence and hate and not the other.

Spiritually there are many sides to a conflict and those who know our enemies are not flesh and blood also know powerful demonic spirits descended on Charlottesville yesterday on assignment to incite, fuel and feed hatred into a frenzy. There is wisdom in the President not choosing a side but in renouncing all hate and violence.

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Stanley Hauerwas is on a short list of the people I most admire. Of recent it has been my fortune to interact with and come to know personally this ‘leading theologian of our time’ since he served as Chair in Theological Ethics here at the University of Aberdeen (2014-2016). He has been a forerunner in areas I believe to be vital considerations for the contemporary church and his positive and shaping influence on my theological work will long continue. He has been a voice in the wilderness crying. My growing Hauerwas book and essay collection is now well-marked and in him I’d say I have found a kindred spirit. All that said, I intend to be forthright in my assessment of what I deem to be the worst thing I’ve read that he’s written.

Many times those of us who have been in face to face conversation with Stanley have heard him share his thoughts on something theological and then ask the question; Do you think that’s right? Hauerwas believes theology is done best in conversation, with friends. My friendship with him is more important to me than what I’ve written here. He knows I see myself as a work in progress and am willing to change my mind. I’ve come around in a major way to his views on war and peace.

Basically I’m responding here to his thoughts in his essay (A Sanctuary Politics: The Church in the Time of Trump) and saying, No, I don’t think that’s right.

My essay is in pdf form here: What is Truth in an Age of CNN?

In case you wonder, Stanley says my response here is the best defence of Trump he’s read to date. Perhaps he’ll say more later but so far he deems the most significant point of disagreement to be my use of the word “invasion” and that “the logic of [my] piece may be Constantinian in a manner [he] tries to stay away from.  He rightly challenges me to consider how Muslim migrations in our day can be conceived as a “godsend” and he reminds me “US foreign policy created the terrorist.”

2017 is the Reformation 500 year. In 1517 Luther nailed his 95 protests to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

In the midst of my research this week I came across a vivid description of the tumult of that entire century. It was “an era of great social ferments, natural catastrophes, famines, plaques and unusual men.” There was a Pope who was the father of four illegitimate children and another Pope calling down curses on a second Pope who set up shop in Avignon, who responded in kind. Then I read the following and thought about our century, particularly how the climate change prophets and people who tell us a warm summer means we are all about to die.

“The fourteenth century was a strange century indeed. In this period the ice drift cut off communication with Greenland, and the advancing glaciers almost literally pushed the settlements into the sea. European chroniclers of the century recorded two excessively cold winters. Crops failed in Norway and then in England and in France. There were excessive rains. The Sequoia tree rings in California ran to abnormal width, the Caspian Sea expanded, and the Rhine, the Danube, the Thames, and the Elbe froze. Fifty-five summers of this century saw violent floods, and the Cathedral of Mayence was submerged to the famous frieze over the door. In the Netherlands seventy-two cities were destroyed by the sea in one night and 200,000 people were drowned in one year….”

Hit pause.

Imagine if the Prophet Al Gore were alive then?

No wonder above the 1500 “Nativity” painting (still hung prominently at the National London Gallery) the painter inscribed: “This picture was painted by me Alexander amid the confusions of Italy at the time prophesied in the Second Woe of the Apocalypse, when Satan shall be loosed on the earth.”

Resume…

“…The Black Death, the Asiatic Cholera, The Athenian Plague, and famine killed thirteen million people in China and reduced the populations in France an England by one-third. The common people were impoverished, ill-fed and ill-housed. Yet, at the same time the secular and ecclesiastic princes lived in a byzantine luxury that only accentuated their aloofness from the common hoi polloi (the many). While the peasants complained that they “haue the payne and traveyle, rayne and wynd in the feldes,” the doorways of the castle of Vincennes had to be raised in order to accommodate the three-foot tall head-dress of Isabelle of Bavaria. A rigid caste system, perpetuating itself by a ruthless exploitation of the common people, was entrenched on the whole continent of Europe, upheld by secular powers and sanctioned “urbi et orbi” (To Rome and to the World!) by the Church. The popes and the princes knew the difference between a good statue and a bad one, but they knew not the difference between good and evil; they fought each other in palace and the field, with daggers and with crosses…” (Enrico C.S. Molnar, doctoral dissertation, 1947)

There is more but you get the idea. Maybe we could say when the Lord’s patience runs thin with a Church that has entirely lost its way, no longer looking or acting even remotely like Jesus, he shakes the earth, even the natural order, and sends in Reformers.

I only wish that a hundred years before Luther the Bohemian reformer Petr Chelčický had prevailed. His was a Reformation back to precepts of the Sermon on the Mount calling the Church to more resemble Jesus. Misreading Romans 13, Luther gave God’s sanction for the State to crush with great cruelty the masses in the Peasants Revolt of 1520. Oy.

 

The backstory…. On April 9 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota (where I was a minister for 21 years), a local Muslim man named Ehab Jaber walked into a Christian Conference where hundreds were gathered to hear speakers (including an ex-Muslim speaking on the topic:  “Sabotaging America: Islam’s March Toward Supremacy“). The local media hyped the entire event up as “anti-muslim” drawing out a sizeable protest, and in my view, we can thank them for their role in creating this incident. A Christian worldview event was spun by media as anti-Muslim and, surprise, it drew out a mad Muslim. If we want to de-escalate the tensions, maybe the media could help by not fuelling them.

What goes on in mosques, of course, is from the perspective of their worldview and what goes on in churches, of course, is from ours. These are not harmonious world views. Each believes the other is what is wrong with the world and that God is on one side, their side. I’m a Christian, and I have nothing nice to say about Islam. And of course, I don’t believe Islam to be just another way to relate to God. ((If there were other viable paths to salvation God would not have sent his only Son to die on a Cross to pay the penalty for our sin.)) Of course I think, as do all orthodox Christians in a variety of streams, that Islam is a grave deception and the antithesis of any sort of religion of peace.

So, on April 9, Mr Jaber walked into this Christian worldview event waving his Koran and made a scene until he was asked to leave by event security. In the parking lot he recorded a video and posted it on Facebook. In the video he showed off his collection of legal South Dakota firearms and kept repeating “be scared.” He has since been charged with making a Terrorist Threat, his weapons have been confiscated, and law enforcement found Meth in his home. He sits now in jail and laments bitterly how he has lost everything. The judge set a very low bail, $2500, apparently not considering Mr Jaber a threat to society. Mr Jaber told the court: “No one wants to bond me out so it doesn’t matter.”

My analysis… is twofold.

First, they have their guns and their book and we have our guns and our Book. Fellow South Dakotans will remember (lousy-)Christian US Senate Candidate, now felon, Annette Bosworth holding up our Good Book and her Big Gun during her failed 2014 Senate campaign. There are differences for sure in how Mr Jaber decided to make his video in the parking lot of an event in the heat of anger, thus the terrorist threat charges. But I think we should look more closely at the similarities. I’m not all that convinced what he did is all that different from what a lot of flag/gun waving Christians do. This meme illustrates the point.

If the book the gal on the left is holding up says don’t kill the other person, why is she holding that gun? Here’s why? Because since Constantine, the Church has embraced a grave heresy to find justifications to do the very opposite of what Jesus taught. The gal on the left believes her book gives her justifications to kill the other JUST LIKE the gal on the right believes her book gives her justifications to kill the other.

Second, I think it is high time Christians start acting like Christians and that means we start acting like Christ. That means we figure out a way to love this enemy. Missionaries do it all the time… they reach out to those who are hostile to them and who have even tried to kill them. That’s when the Gospel is most powerful. That’s when we are most like Christ. As is this guy is sitting in jail thinking hundreds of local Christians at an event hate him. I hope that is not true. He needs to know Christians love Muslims even though they take issue with Islam.

If the charges stick, a judge can sort through appropriate consequences. That’s Romans 13. Our job is Romans 12 (vss. 17-21). This guy has no prior offences, is not connected to some radicalised jihad sleeper cell, and he didn’t kill anyone– though I agree he was dangerously close to snapping in the near the future. It is GOOD that law enforcement got involved when they did. In this case, and I’m only talking about this case, I’m suggesting there is a window of opportunity for us to be Christians, for once.

So how do we love on our local (alleged) terrorist? My suggestion is that we post his $2500 bond and I’ll put forth the first $250. He needs to know there are people who care about him and that they are they very people who he views as enemies. This gesture would send this guy a message in a way that sending him a Bible wouldn’t. It would send him am important message that so far we have failed to communicate to him and others like him.

If this isn’t as good a time as any to finally try out that whole love-our-enemies thing, I’m not sure there ever will be a perfect time and way to obey what Jesus told us to do every time we have opportunity. It seems we always find spiritual-sounding and common sense rationales to not obey Jesus in this regard. We need to quit being kinda-Christians and start being Christ-like. It’s easy to love those who love us back, Jesus noted even the pagans do that – what sets us apart is enemy love and until we get to that point, we are still pagan in our love.

Last night I tried to set up a gofundme.com account to collect donations but gofundme cancelled my account because such a legal plea for funds is a violation of their terms and conditions. I’ll have to figure out another way this afternoon. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Still thinking about where people can send money to send this “message” to Mr. Jaber. Maybe I’ll ask the multicultural centre to put a donation jar in their office? Don’t send anything there yet.  But I really ONLY want these donations to come from people who are “friends of Jesus” and preferably Conservative Christians only – it needs to come from us. Mr Jaber needs to think about the fact that he was bailed out by friends of Jesus.

UPDATE 2 (4/26/2017) 12:34 CST: A pastor in Sioux Falls reports to me that Mr. Jaber is no longer in the jail. And, the editor of the Argus Leader just sent me a text to take down that picture of Mr Jaber that I lifted off their website. I said, sure.

We believe everything they tell us 
They’re gonna’ kill us 
So we gotta’ kill them first 
But I remember a commandment 
Thou shalt not kill 
How much is that solider’s life worth? 
And what ever happened to peace on earth?
– Willie Nelson

Don’t scoff that away. It is actually sensical.

Weapons don’t cause war, Governments do. And more precisely, what is ultimately behind war are the Jacobin political philosophies (including neo-conservativism today) which mask the real culprits: the shadow oligarchy driven by greed and imperial obsessions.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how it is those who most oppose gun control measures in America are adamant about the disarmament of other nations? Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

“The incitement to perpetual war has been achieved without any real threat to our national security” said Ron Paul.

That would be…… true.

Yesterday in the headlines I read that though we have the “mother of all bombs,” Russia was quick to boast that they have the “father of all bombs.” It’s like a couple of intoxicated and hormonal frat boys arguing about who has the greater measure of manhood. The one unzipped, so the other did as well. The Lord of Hosts who measures all things is hardly impressed. What do you suppose impresses our Lord about a nation? What commands did Jesus say we had to keep to be considered great in the Kingdom of Heaven? Hint: enemy love.

The beating of war drums, the rationalisations and war propaganda, the things we tell ourselves must be true…. it’s the work of a high-ranking demonic spirit assigned to entice both sides of war to go with the crowds down the road that leads to destruction. Tolstoy used the word hypnotised to describe patriotic people caught up in war frenzy.

War is a political tool. That we must use force to promote American goodness in the world, peace and prosperity for all, is simple bullshit. It is a bold rejection of the way of Christ, nothing more. It’s a lie, and for the lie our sons/daughters, serving as slave-soldiers, die. And in far greater numbers do the precious children of others in the world, die.

My daughter’s 30 year old Syrian friend reports Syrian people don’t care about Assad, they just want to live without war. American Christians who post on Facebook how cool it is and good it is that we dropped the mother of all bombs need to realise, according to this Syrian friend, that military conscription requires Syrian young men to fight. So, our boys go to kill their boys who really don’t want to fight back, but have to – and those who are really behind the bloodshed are in luxury somewhere sipping their fine Gin, plotting the next move in their war games.

“... He said bullshit. I thought he was a minister?? It’s okay for soldiers to curse when they are doing ‘God’s work of war’ but ministers,,,, I thought were only supposed to pray for our soldiers and be sure to not forget to have Vets stand and be honoured in our churches on Veterans and Memorial Day??

Question: what are we supposed to “pray for our soldiers”?? That they are safe, swift and successful in their work of creating widows and orphans in other parts of the world serving with their lives and sworn allegiance to do the dirty work whims of those who are hardly forthright with what they are really seeking to accomplish?? I thought true religion was to care for orphans and widows, not create more of them? Silly me.

Let China deal with North Korea this weekend. Let Russia deal with Syria.

Here’s my Easter hope for our supposedly Christian nation….

As for me and my nation, we will serve the Lord.

Translation: As for me and my nation, we won’t fight their wars.

 

This article – Sorry, Nobody Wants Your Parents Stuff – prompted me to share these thoughts:

I liquidated my dad’s house when he was killed and my mom then moved into her own little place. Then I liquidated her home when she moved in with us. Then when she died I did it again with her stuff. Then I moved to Europe and liquidated our home, acreage and belongings. Last year we, mostly Kristen and her brother, liquidated her parents home when they moved into assisted living. It’s painful to see a life times worth of stuff end up in a dumpster.

That said, shame on those who turn down free family stuff and opting instead to buy trendy crap on their own, and usually with credit. Learn how to refurnish something, get artsy with old stuff. Be thankful. It may not be much, but it’s your inheritance and it blesses your parents to be able to pass things on. I love giving to my kids. If they want it they can have it, now. Books, coin collection, pictures, guns…. they show interest and I give it to them. Oh, but I had to work hard for this stuff and I don’t want to give my kids the impression there is any such thing as a free lunch! I had that thought too. But it was canceled out by my desire for my kids to know me as generous and that maybe they’ll value generosity too.

Once Thomas craigslisted something I gave him — had a bill due he couldn’t pay (both my boys are masters with craigslist, better that than the credit card – new is overrated). It bothered me at first but good for him trying to get the highest price. (It was a window unit air conditioner.) Better to sweat than borrow!!! I’ve passed on my aversion to debt to my son!!!

Kristen and I lived the first fifteen years with furniture from garage sales, we’d joke about our furniture being early garage sale era. The kids beat it up anyway, why get something good? Hand me downs are God’s provision in your life.

I’d encourage older people to start early liquidating their estates so their kids aren’t foolish with the stuff later. I had my kids walk through my home and tell me what they wanted. If they all wanted the same thing I took note and they traded this for that. The rest I sought a home for- don’t worry about recooping dollars- there is a bigger blessing in giving it away to young people in your church. If something means something to you, stick a note on it or your kids won’t have a clue later.

Liquidating your stuff is both scary and freeing. It’s a spiritual journey, of sorts. It is not God’s will that you have a full home and still need a storage unit. When you want to buy something, ask first if it’s a legacy purchase or just more crap for your kids to deal with.

This was Tolstoy’s favourite painting, by his artist friend Nikolay Ge. It is called What is Truth? – “showing a solid Pontius Pilate and a fiery-eyed Christ in conversation.”  The Russian censors stopped its distribution because it depicted religion as a challenge to government. Christ is defiant here, not submissive, and Tolstoy loved the philosophical implications. Tolstoy had no taste for traditional church art, mostly Madonnas and Saints, that people kissed with devotion.

Tolstoy considered Ge’s work (spelled Gay outside Russia) to be “a new epoch of Christian art…. taking a simple motif… Christ and his teaching in conflict with the teaching of the world… depicted with complete historical accuracy the moment when Christ… after being tormented, beaten and dragged from one jail to another and from one official to another, is brought before the governor… Christ sees before him a deluded man bloated with fat, but he decides not to spurn him… and so begins to express to him the essence of his teaching. But the governor is not concerned with this. He says ‘What is truth?’ and goes away. And Christ looks sorrowful at this impenetrable man” (Tolstoy’s Letters, Volume II, pgs. 460, 462, 467 and 508).

In Tolstoy’s time the typical Russian peasant home had a couple pictures on the wall that they adored each day. An icon of a saint and a picture of the tsar. The one they believed to be God in heaven and the other god on earth. Tolstoy challenged all that, and believed Jesus’ teaching was politically subversive. I agree.

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Tolstoy (who loved America but never visited there) had this to say about American politics, American prosperity and America’s salt and light destiny in the world:

“Prosperity, prosperity! What a shameful plea that is, which you American platform-makers address the voters. They do not say, ‘we will give you an honest rightful government,’ but they say, ‘We’ll make you fat and sleek. If you vote for me, you will have a double chin!’ And no one rises to say, ‘What will your full dinner pails profit if while gorging your bellies you lose your immortal souls?’ The fall of America, when I see the deserted shrines of your forefathers, I think it will come more swiftly than came the fall of Rome… [Yet] I know the salt has not yet lost its saver. Listen: ‘We who know the truth, must first change the world in ourselves internally, before the world can be changed in others externally. If we know the truth of life, and do not live it, we are as a lighthouse set upon a hill in which the light has gone out. Forgive me if my judgments have been harsh, or have seemed so. Only remember that you live in a light-house set upon a hill, and that in the last few years, it has seemed to many watchers that the light which was once the light and hope of the world, whose rays penetrated into the uttermost parts of the world, was about to be overwhelmed by shadow. Pray that your Americans would see to that light, and keep it day and night. It is the flame that their fathers lit, and it has become the light of the world, as well as yours. It would be a dark world without it.”

– In “Tolstoy Prophesies the Fall of America” by Stephen Bonsol, New York Times, 7 July 1907.

In response to the above a friend said he wondered what Tolstoy might think of Putin. My reply was: The T-man said he hated three things in this world: Autocracy, Orthodoxy and Militarism which he deemed the three pillars of Russian government. He would NOT be a fan of Putin or the Donald. But then again he rejected all forms of earthly government and pioneered a version of what is considered today Christian Anarchy.

Maybe I should wait to write this until I’ve actually completed my PhD. But, since I’m nearing the half-way point, and not new to theological studies, but mostly since I’ll be one hundred years old in fifty years and my health is already waning, I thought I’d better put this on paper while it was fresh in my head.

The last thing the world needs is another spiritually dead academic to lead another generation away from the wonders of God.

  • Having a connection to a local church is vital – and not just filling up a pew. Involved, serving, teaching. This is as important as any course or seminar available to you. Christian community is the incubator for discipleship and theological studies should be discipleship on steroids. Submit to spiritual disciplines and become a disciple of Christ.
  • Seek out professors and people who are praying people. Yoking to a dead man will soon kill you. One of the things we loved about sending our boys to the House of Prayer in Kansas City for their bachelor degrees was the dean of the school said they require their instructors to be in the prayer room every day— they want the students to see the back of the head of the professor in the prayer room two hours for every hour they see the front of the professor’s head in the classroom. If you can’t find a spiritually vibrant supervisor, make sure your area of study puts you at the feet of the vibrant. Be suspicious of theology that comes from people both living and dead, who weren’t often on their knees and tender before God.
  • Ask God to speak to you and to lead you, to guide your search, highlight what you need to see/find/understand. Ask for discernment – eyes to see, ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to you– , ask his help understanding and articulating such that you can tear down speculations that set themselves up against the knowledge of God. Ask God to make you a voice, not an echo – to give you a new word and a now word. I used to pray before pastoral counselling sessions and preaching and because I now have a long history with God giving me the right things to see/say, I now pray before reading and writing. And, I ask God to activate the testimony and revelation that has been resting and dormant in the Cloud of Witnesses. The greatest source of underutilises encouragement in the Body of Christ comes from the Cloud of Witnesses. You do understand, don’t you, that theological studies puts you in the midst of testimony and encouragement of the Cloud of Witnesses?
  • At some point long past I wrote on the blank page in the back of my Bible; “if you don’t shout it when you are preparing it, they won’t shout when you are preaching it… preparation must be worship.” I feel the same about theological studies. In my office at the university I have on the bulletin board this clipping from J.I. Packer… “Any theology that does not lead to song is, at a fundamental level, a flawed theology.” My supervisor is a Christian Ethicist who is writing books on things like: Singing the Ethos of God.

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I have a friend who recently got a PhD and when I asked what the focus was he rattled off something that he obviously wasn’t passionate about and then said; My dissertation was read by two people and maybe they really didn’t even read it all that close and it will never be read again.

It made me sad. Basically, he made no contribution to the Kingdom with the stewardship of time he was given to dive deep into the things of God. He used the time to get a degree so he could get a job in a university. And to think parents like myself have paid top dollar to send our sons and daughters to the universities to sit at the feet of these dry wells.

My wife had one concern with me taking this hiatus from ministry and pursuing the PhD… that I’d spend a few years working on something that will make no Kingdom difference. I can report that God has me on the trail of defining and laying the foundation for an obedience movement which is something the Body of Christ has yet to see. We’ve seen movements of all sorts–– holiness movements; monastic movements; ecumenical and social gospel movements; Zionist and restoration movements; faith, charismatic, health/wealth and signs and wonders movements; missions movements; and the Church globally is enjoying a prayer movement presently taking shape in a variety of ways including a New Monasticism movement.

However, in two thousand years, has the Church ever seen an obedience movement where a generation of Christians takes the Sermon on the Mount seriously? No. If God has me on the trail of this theme, maybe it is because those days are soon to come.  When I study these things, there is some shabba (special sauce :-), anointing) on them and to handle these sacred things with prayer has become vital to me.

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