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The Slave and his Master

Posted by rjagilbert on January 13, 2013 at 12:40 AM

The man was an Anglo, with the fairest of golden hair and the bluest of eyes. To Rome, he was only a barbarian, captured and taken far from his homeland to be sold as a lowly slave within the ancient Roman Empire.


There came to the marketplace that day a wealthy nobleman of Rome, who saw the pitiful wretch upon the auction block and felt the spirit of goodness stir within his heart. Right then and there he purchased the prisoner, though the price was quite high. Even as the bill of sale was being signed, the auctioneer spoke cruelly into the poor man’s ear, “You are a slave, and all of Rome knows it. There is no other life for you but to do as your master tells you.”


Hearing the merchant’s sneering words, the master turned to his purchase and spoke gently. “Climb into my wagon.” When the slave obeyed, the master clambered up beside him and drove them both home.


The first thing the noble Roman did upon arriving at his estate was to call for a great platter of food. Seating the newly purchased slave at his table in front of the meal, the master told him, “Eat, and grow strong.” The Anglo sighed with despair at his plight, but followed his new master’s command.


Then the master led the man to the bath house. “I want you to be clean,” he said kindly to the slave. “See my son here? I want you to look as handsome as he.” The slave followed his master’s orders, and soon looked as civilized as the rest of the household.


Seeing progress made, the master took his new slave into the library. He brought in his most learned of servants and instructed the slave, “I want you to learn. Listen to my friend, so that you may know as much of his teachings as you can.” Still hanging his head, the slave did as his master said.


As time passed, the slave grew strong, healthy, handsome, and educated. His master instructed him in all manners of administrating the vast estate around them. But the slave remained sad, with his head downcast in all that he did.


“What is it that saddens you, my friend?” the master asked.


“I am a slave,” the man said with despair. “There is no life for me but to do as my master tells me.”


Hearing the auctioneer’s words that for so long had caused the poor man’s sorrow, the master spoke. “Go,” he ordered. “Walk in the sun. Be happy and free. Find love and marry. I have taught you how to live well, and all I ask is that you keep to those teachings. Do not return to the life that brought you to me: the life of the slave.” As an afterthought, he added, “If any question the freedom by which you live, you must tell them that you are following your master’s orders, for they will not understand the freedom I have given you.”


Confused—yet emancipated—the Anglo set out to explore the world beyond his former master’s estate. But as soon as he ventured beyond the nobleman’s protection, the world set itself upon him with their harsh and cruel laws. The people of Rome saw only the man’s golden hair and bright, blue eyes, and they knew him only as a slave.


“You are only a slave!” They told him. “You cannot be free.”


“I am only following my master’s orders,” he insisted. Knowing who his master was, they at first let him go on his way. But soon more Romans found him, and again they tried to take him captive. “I am only following my master’s orders,” the freeman pleaded. But they did not know his master, nor his master’s wishes. They seized the man and carried him back to the marketplace to be sold again into slavery.


As the poor prisoner was set again upon the auction block, who should appear but his master? “Do you know me?” the nobleman asked the auctioneer. The answer was no. “Do you know this?” the master suddenly produced the old bill of sale with which he had first bought the captive so many years ago.


“I do,” the auctioneer bowed low. “It is the law of property, and it deeds this man to you. Take him away.”


With that, the master led the slave again from the marketplace. When they at last returned to the estate, the Anglo was again cleaned, dressed, and fed. Then the master spoke again to him. “I want you to be free as much as you do,” he said. “But the world does not know my freedom. I think of you as my child, but the world only knows you as my slave. My laws are not the world’s laws, and the world’s understanding is not my own.”


Then the master took the bill of sale out again, and set it in a prominent place upon his mantle for all to see. “When the world looks upon this, it sees proof that you are my slave. But when you look upon it, I want you to see that you are free. For as long as you belong to me, you are truly free. Someday I pray that the world will see you as I see you, but for now they will only know your freedom by the price I paid for you.”


A Sentimental Christmas Song

Posted by rjagilbert on December 21, 2012 at 12:00 AM

(Sung to the (over-used) tune of Canon in D.)


I remember the magic

Interspersed with the tragic

When I wore my heart on my sleeve.

In the days when I believed.

Now I’m left with an empty feeling

From a wound that has long been healing.

Once again it’s

Torn end to end by a

Sentimental Christmas song.



Take me back to when days were good.

I would go if I only could re-

Turn to my mother,

Bring another,

Memory I can’t get back to.

See the children in blanket sleepers

Christmas Eve as they close their peepers.

Warm in bed it runs through my head a

Sentimental Christmas song.


Take me away to where sleigh bells jingle

Snow in the air making my heart tingle.

Sing we merry, in a very

Sentimental Christmas song.

Take me away to when life was better

Cozy and warm like a Christmas sweater.

Safe and happy, in a sappy

Sentimental Christmas song.


Lying bare in a world gone cold.

Feeling hollow, alone and old.

What have I become, what have I done?

Running from the meaning.

Doubt and sorrow are all I see now

Not the packages beneath my tree now.

Feeling numb

Singing a humbug

Sentimental Christmas song.


Take me away to where sleigh bells jingle

Snow in the air making my heart tingle.

Sing we merry, in a very

Sentimental Christmas song.

Sing me a song full of love and caring

Teaching the lesson of hope and sharing

Unrealistic, socialistic,

Sentimental Christmas song.


Like the tree after Christmas day

All the splendor is stripped away.

Oh my world was, so fantastic

Then it all went Ecclesiastic.

At the end of my joyful living

Did I gain from my senseless giving?

All that’s left behind in my mind is a

Sentimental Christmas song.


Take me away to where sleigh bells jingle

Snow in the air making my heart tingle.

Sing we merry, in a very

Sentimental Christmas song.

Sing, bring the joy, keep the presents selling

Never the story of Christmas telling.

All we need is, to believe in a

Sentimental Christmas song.

The Tale of Monkey and Tiger

Posted by rjagilbert on December 4, 2012 at 12:25 AM

On their way to a great festival at the far side of the jungle, Monkey and Tiger found their path blocked by the low-hanging branches of a great tree. Monkey stooped low and quickly scurried beneath the obstruction, but Tiger would not. Tiger was king of the jungle, and he did not stoop. So out came his claws and he went to work. He clawed and he pushed and he broke the low branch in half so that he could continue unhindered along the path.


Soon Monkey and Tiger came to a huge boulder lying directly in their way. Monkey quickly stepped off the trail and clambered around the obstruction, but Tiger would not. Tiger was king of the jungle, and nothing would make him change his course. So he went to work. He bunched his muscles and strained his back and pushed as hard as he could. At last, the great boulder was rolled out of the way and the two were able to continue on their way.


After a while, the travelers came to the bottom of a great cliff. The trail ended abruptly at the bottom, and they could see that it continued again from the top high above. Monkey quickly scrambled on his hands and knees up the rocky cliffside, but Tiger would not follow. Tiger was king of the jungle, and he did not climb. He growled fiercely at the cliff, dug his claws deep into the dirt, and set to work pulling the trail down to meet him on the ground. But despite all his efforts, Tiger could not move the cliff out of his way. He heaved and he tugged and he clawed. He grunted and strained, but the cliff remained above him, and the trail did not move.


“Let’s go, Tiger,” called Monkey from the top of the cliff. “The festival begins at sunset. We will be late if we don’t hurry.”


Tiger called back, “Then I must stop the sun from setting!”


Monkey shook his head, “That is foolishness, Tiger. Just climb up here and we will be on our way.”


“I will not,” Tiger roared. “You must run ahead and tell the festival to wait for me.”


With that, Monkey ran ahead to the festival. Try as he might, he could not convince the others to wait for Tiger to finish moving the cliff. The festival began at sunset, and Tiger missed out.


The moral of this story? Sometimes the easiest solution is to change yourself.

The Legacy of "One Last Dip"

Posted by rjagilbert on November 24, 2012 at 12:55 AM

It was the last youth-group outing of the summer. Soon my friend David and I would be starting sixth grade. As we packed up the church van and other vehicles that had gathered for a weekend camping trip, David decided he still had time for "one last dip" in the lake.


To make a long story short (I tell it too often anyways), David was left behind in the mountains of Southern Oregon, and our church went into crisis mode as the search to find him led into the night. (Keep in mind this was long before cell phones made for easy communication between mobile search parties.) I remember the women gathering at the church for an emergency prayer meeting with David’s mother while the men headed back to the lake to search for him. In the end, all was well, and short of a good grounding, David survived the adventure unscathed.


A few weeks ago David and I went on another adventure together. This time, we were the adults, driving a van full of children into Portland for a Christian concert. We hit a few mis-adventures of our own on the way up: traffic, parking troubles, lines, and eventually being told that the concert had sold out before we could get inside. The kids were disappointed, but we maintained a positive outlook and made the best of the night. I did not think about it until after we had returned home, but our reactions to those unexpected bumps in our plans may have been a better witness to the children in our company than all the loudness and lights of that concert.


The world thinks of Christianity as meeting on a Sunday morning to listen to a pastor speak to us, as though the words of the sermon are the most powerful influence on our faith. But thinking back to that crisis in Southern Oregon nearly twenty-five years ago makes me realize how much of my faith is based on the example set by those who came before me—not just Sunday morning, but on Saturday night and all through the week. My discipleship was formed not just from the planned moments of teaching, but from the reactions of my elders to un-foreseen circumstances. When I think about it, I realize how this is how it has always been.


Think back to that emergency prayer meeting held in Acts 12, or to Paul's fantastic shipwreck in chapter 27. These were not carefully-planned sermons. These were moments of crisis, in which the reactions of the faithful serve greater witness than all the combined moments of teaching within scripture. Their examples stem from the example of Christ, who many times left more of an impact through his reactions to daily events than through his sermons. Consider his reactions when the disciples would not permit the children to come to him. Did he understand better than we the importance of passing on his example to the next generation?


Think about this: when Jesus told the Disciples to "do this in remembrance of me", what was it he was instructing them to do? Was it the mere ritual of bread and wine? Or was it the larger act of fellowship within that upper room? Was it the remembrance of the price he paid for our sins? Or was it the example he passed on to his disciples in daily living that they, in turn, have passed on through the generations to us today?

Zombies in Sunday School?

Posted by rjagilbert on May 25, 2012 at 1:20 AM

There doesn’t seem to have been a single Sunday school session this year where zombies haven’t made their way into the discussion. It doesn’t help that I teach a class of junior high boys. These are not disruptions by boys who are living in a fantasy world or with over-active imaginations. These are discussions of real fears imparted to our youth by a Media devoted to spreading doom and dread to all. It does no good to address these disruptions simply by disciplining the disruptor since most times every boy in class has something to contribute to the flame.


I know the Bible says nothing about zombies, but it has become apparent that I (and other teachers around the country, I assume) might want to arm up on a little knowledge about this most prolific topic of discussion among young men. Here is what I have to say about zombies.


To my knowledge, there are six kinds of zombies. I will discuss what I know of them as follows:


Type 1: the original zombie. The original legend of the zombie comes from the practice of voodoo in the Caribbean islands and the south-east United States. These zombies often worked as slaves on farms and plantations. They were believed to be dead bodies re-animated by the local witch-doctor. However, several documented encounters with these zombies reveal that they were not in fact dead, but merely drugged out of their minds by a cruel voodoo concoction whose ingredients remain the topic of speculation. It seems the best cure for these poor souls was to apply a hearty dose of salt to their diet—an almost immediate improvement in cognition and memory often resulted. In one recorded case, a friendly visitor gave one such zombie a salty candy bar which revived the man’s senses enough for him to quit the plantation immediately and return home to his mourning wife and family. I have a boy in my class who insists on pointing out these documented cases, and I in turn point out that most if not all of them are more than a hundred years old.


Type 2: the fantasy zombie. Somewhere in Generation X’s childhood, undead monsters became cool. It did not help that fantasy role-playing games, such as Dungeons and Dragons, discovered the value of psychologically addictive horror and subsequently assimilated the un-dead element into their gaming worlds. These monsters are the main-stay of the video-game and horror-movie genres. When most children hear the word “zombie”, this is what they visualize. These zombies are not real, but they sure are scary.


Type 3: the drug zombie. Like the original zombie, these poor souls are merely people whose minds have been destroyed by drugs. I have met several of these in my life, and the best cure for them seems to be a good night’s sleep, perhaps jail time, and at least one good 12-step recovery program. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t just snap back to normal from this kind of destructive lifestyle. Many of the people I know who zombified themselves—even the ones who merely abused alcohol—have residual neurological damage if not prolonged cognitive difficulties due to their foolishness. Their future children can also be affected by this self-destructive lifestyle. My advice to my boys in this regard is that they have the power to avoid becoming this kind of zombie, and I plead with them to never take that path.


Type 4: the pandemic zombie. In recent years, FEMA and other organizations have promoted the very practical culture of disaster preparation. Unfortunately, amid the fuss, somebody decided that they might reach more people if they substituted the possibility of a pandemic flu virus with the more exciting suggestion of a “zombie apocalypse”. At first it seemed like a good idea—even I thought it was clever. How wrong we were. Once created, the concept could not be retracted. The idea quickly found its way into the gun-happy, survivalist sub-culture, where it mutated into preparation for apocalyptic urban warfare. These zombies remain pure fantasy and speculation. The do not exist. However, the media hype and the militant preparation for their “invasion” has been so well proliferated by books, internet videos, and mock news photos that it gives me cause for concern about where this movement could go from here. It is for this reason that I bring up these last two types of “zombies”, though they are nothing middle-school boys are going to want to talk about. These are the real dangers to our world.


Type 5: the political enemy. The word “zombie” can be easily substituted for the word “heretic” or “antichrist” when painting one’s enemies as targets for annihilation. The medieval church used the word “antichrist” so often to dispatch those who questioned her doctrines that the word has become synonymous with political persecution. Martin Luther was labeled as an Antichrist, as well as the first men to translate the Bible into English. How easy could it be, in this age of irrational fear and mass-media, for a political tyrant to label his opponents as “zombies” in need of slaying? In light of the afore-mentioned “zombie apocalypse” movement, where zombies can look just like humans and you won’t know for sure until it is too late, I can easily see this label coming into play. If that happens, the only defense is to encourage people to think for themselves. Which brings us to the final zombie type.


Type 6: the mindless follower. Everybody knows zombies want to eat brains because they don’t have any of their own, right? Historically this is what has made the mindless mob the most dangerous of “zombies”. These living humans look no different than you or I, but they do not think for themselves. Contrary to the legend, they do not want to eat the brains of the living, but they do seek to destroy those among the living who use their brains. Like the original zombie who is enslaved by nature of his diminished cognition, the mindless followers take orders from somebody else and are usually conscripted en-masse into doing the bidding of tyrants, dictators, and corrupt holy men alike. When Hitler came to power, his throng of mindless followers went after the teachers and intellectuals of Europe. The same happened in Russia and China. In all cases, the “brainy” were imprisoned or executed. Dictators don’t like to be questioned, but they love having mindless, obedient zombies to order around. Again, the best defense against this peril is to encourage others to think for themselves.


All of these zombie types can be scary to young children. Boys, especially, are drawn to what they fear. That is why the militant approach to this whole fantasy is disturbing. Young boys often want to believe that their destinies are tied to valorous combat and warfare. Zombies become just another something to smite—like Indians and Nazis and Russians.


Last Sunday I turned the weekly “zombie” deviation into an opportunity to share a Bible story. Remember Gideon? He equipped his tiny army with harmless noise-makers, crept into the enemy’s camp at night, and raised a ruckus. He never engaged his foes. What killed the opposing army was a weapon more dangerous than today’s most powerful nuclear arsenal. They died of panic. Using that Bible story, I was able to encourage my boys to keep their heads amid all this zombie hysteria.


Above all else, do not send the boy who can’t stop talking about zombies to sit with his parents. Remember that the enemy is not the disruptive boy, but the fears in his mind. You will not be able to show God’s love by disciplining him. God showed His love to us not by disciplining those who showed fear, but by showing compassion and comfort. God is bigger than these boogey-men, and He has a plan for our lives that is good, not full of horror and violence.


The Ride-Along

Posted by rjagilbert on May 1, 2012 at 1:45 AM


This is a true story:


A woman brought her SUV in to have her alignment serviced. The mechanic could not find anything wrong with the vehicle’s steering or suspension. “There is something definitely wrong,” she told him, “The whole car shakes when I drive on the freeway.”


Determined to find the problem, the mechanic kept the vehicle overnight. The next day he told her, “I still can’t find anything wrong with it. I’ve gone over it with every piece of diagnostics equipment in my garage and the alignment, tires, and suspension systems are all perfect. I even test drove your car up and down the freeway and could not get it to shake or shudder or anything like how you described.”


The woman insisted that her car had a problem. To prove it to her mechanic, she asked him to ride with her as she ran an errand across town. As soon as she entered the freeway the SUV began to shake and rumble loudly. It felt like the entire car might fall apart.


“I know what your problem is, Ma’am,” the mechanic said. Bracing himself as best he could as she swerved into another lane, he pointed to her speedometer. “Your SUV was not designed to go ninety-five miles an hour.”


There was a problem, but the mechanic could not find it within the context of his garage. He had to ride along with the woman on her normal, daily routine. Then.... “Aha! There it was.”


It is within the nature of man to hide his flaws. We blame the suspension when our ride gets rough. We blame the steering when we slide off course. We arrive at the hospital with our wounds already bandaged. We attend our counseling sessions in our best behavior. We call out to God for healing in our lives, but we arrive at church in our finest clothes, smiling and friendly and looking as if nothing were wrong. “What problems?” ask those to whom we have brought our troubles. Like the real problem behind the shaking SUV, this is not something we can solve within the context of a visit to church on Sunday morning or a counseling session at the end of our day.


How did Christ model healing? Did he wait for the sinners to behave? Did he wait for the unclean to wash? Did he wait for the wounded to bandage themselves and limp or crawl to where he held court?


Jesus met them in the streets. He lived with them. He ate with them. And when the problem inevitably presented itself, he was there to say: “Aha!”


When we ask Christ into our hearts, it is like that mechanic riding along with us through our daily lives. We may pray every morning and night, and we may seek counseling from our elders, but the problem may not be present at those times. Like the mechanic on the freeway, Christ’s voice may come to us in the middle of our day, when we least expect his comment or welcome his advice.


In the end, the mechanic was not able to help the woman who liked to drive her SUV faster than her tires could manage. She refused his advice and took her business elsewhere. If Christ were to ride along with you, and if he were to point out the source of your pain, would you refuse his voice?



Jesus is Here--Quick, Call Security!

Posted by rjagilbert on April 22, 2012 at 1:15 AM


I first noticed him as I raised my head from prayer. He was walking slowly, deliberately down the center aisle, straight toward the pulpit where our pastor was just beginning his Sunday-morning sermon.


I had never seen this man before. His skin was bronze. His hair was bushy and unkempt. He wore a bulky, leather jacket and clutched his Bible close to his left side with a stiffness that put me on edge. His head was down as he walked purposefully forward.


As a member of my church’s security team, my first thought was: A shooter!


It was the Sunday after Easter. Our little church campus was bustling not only with members but with many new faces who had come for our annual Easter message and returned this week, liking what they had experienced. There were a lot of people I didn’t know, but they did not leave as unsettling an impression as I got when this man crept forward along the aisle. I could tell he had not come to hear the pastor speak.


As I watched anxiously from the far side of the worship center, he turned aside and sat in a pew two rows from the front. There were a lot of empty seats he could have taken, but he chose to sit beside a group of young girls seated apart from their parents. He did not stay there long. Dissatisfied with the pew, he rose again and walked quickly out through the back doors. He had not made eye contact with anybody on his way in or out, but his behavior at this point attracted the attention of two of our security volunteers who were on duty. They soon found him outside the door to our elementary-aged Sunday school class.


He told the man who guarded the door that he was Jesus. He had a message for the children. When the men refused him entry to the classroom, he turned to leave, but instead entered our Spanish-speaking service and asked the pastor to relinquish the pulpit. When they, too, refused, he began pacing the halls, asking people for money.


I did not talk to him myself. By the time I responded to the call from security, the church was in lockdown. I saw him in the worship center, then again as he repeatedly stalked the hallway outside the elementary classroom where I had locked myself in with the children and two young teachers. From there I received my information by cell phone from those who were tracking his movements through the unsecured sections of our building and the parking lot.


Eventually the police arrived. They spoke with him for some time, then asked him to leave and not come back. Relieved that we had not encountered anything worse than a delusional messiah, we began to let off our adrenaline in the form of jokes.


“What would Jesus do? He’d try to gain access to the children.”


“Well, he did say to suffer the little children to come to him.”


“Great, this puts us on the same side as the Pharisees.”


“Now you’re going to see him in Heaven and he’ll say ‘I was hungry and you did not feed me, I asked for money and you did not give any to me, I tried to talk to the children and you did not let me—depart from me, I do not know you.”


That last joke made me think. How do we know he wasn’t the real Jesus? If Jesus came to visit us today, dressed in black leather and sporting a Mediterranean tan with unkempt hair and an old, worn Bible, would we lock down our children’s wing and call the police? After all, doesn’t Jesus love the little children? So I asked my own kids this question: if somebody claimed they were Jesus, how would you know he wasn’t?


Analyzing this man’s behavior, I compared him to what we know of Jesus. First, would Jesus seek out the children? Scripture seems to support this behavior. But would Jesus ask for money? He talks an awful lot about it in the Gospels. Maybe this guy was Jesus.


Further information from the men who spoke to this stranger gave more insight into his behavior. He demanded that one of our security officers kneel before him so that he could baptize the man. Did Jesus ever baptize anybody? This stranger also expressed his frustration with one of the older men of our congregation for not teaching our children to obey all the laws. Wouldn’t the leader of a religion want his followers to show their obedience to him like this?


This is where the true Jesus can be discerned, for this is the difference between Christianity and all the other “religions” of the world. Our Jesus did not come to be worshipped or obeyed. He did not baptize followers to “serve” him. Our teacher did not give sermons for the purpose of dictating rituals and laws for us to adhere to. And he did not die on the cross to provide symbolism and ceremonies to be used by his priesthood—in fact, he did not establish any priesthood on this earth to which our loyalty is obligated.


The Jesus I know came to do a job—and do it well he did. The Jesus I know settled religious disputes once and for all not only by his teachings but by what he did. The Jesus I know silenced once and for all the recurring notion that blood must be shed—an adequate sacrifice given—before man can achieve God’s favor. The Jesus I know removed forever the tyrannical trend of man-made priesthoods and corrupted hierarchies that demand religious adherence to law and loyalty.


Yes, the Jesus I know loved children, but he also loved mercy and truth. He said and did things that still resonate to this day in our world. And in fact, the very reason he had to go through the suffering he did was because, even today, men would walk into churches and onto street corners and write in books and speak on television claiming to be Jesus or to be speaking for Jesus and then leading people astray and leaving a wake of hurt and injury and distrust. The difference between these petty imitators and the real deal is found in all that Jesus opposed—not just the “church leaders” who kept him from seeing the children (that would be me), but the entire tyrannical, man-made system of worship and obedience that so many people confuse with Christianity.


It is by this familiarity with the real Jesus that I can say with certainty: “That man was not Jesus.”



God in a Cage

Posted by rjagilbert on February 26, 2012 at 3:00 AM

There once was a boy who found a mouse and named it God. He placed it in a cage and did everything he could to make God happy, but when morning came he awoke to find the cage door open and God gone. The little boy wept until his mother arrived.


“What is wrong?” asked his mother.


“God is dead,” the child announced.


“How can you tell?” she asked.


“Just look,” the boy pointed to his cage. “The cage is empty.”


“God is not dead,” mother said. “He is just not in your cage.” She looked around the room. “I can see signs that he has been busy all night in your bedroom. In fact, if you look around for him, I’m sure he’ll make himself known.”


“But he is not in my cage,” the boy lamented. “To me he is dead.”


“Stop looking for God in your cage,” mother chastised the youth. “He is free and alive. He could be anywhere, but you won’t find Him unless you look for Him.”


“Mother!” The boy suddenly shook his head with disgust. “You’ve become a pantheist!”



The Bible tells the story of Elijah standing on a mountain as God was about to pass by. First came a great windstorm that shook the mountain, then an earthquake, then a fire. But God was not in any of these impressive acts of nature.


Quantum Physicists have been searching for several decades now for the theoretical “God Particle” that, as they understand it, holds the entire universe together on the sub-atomic level. How foolish is it, though, to assume that the God they are looking for (be it the creator of the universe or an inanimate glue that holds it together) is a particle at all. What if God is not a particle? What if God is more than a particle? What if He is found in an energy field or a chronological measurement of time?


How arrogant it is to assume that God can only be found under the conditions and specifications man has laid out to find Him in! Are we not like the boy with the cage when we lay out our own expectations of what God is? Do we place a running-wheel of repetitive rituals out for Him and complain when He does not appreciate our effort? Do we lay out a shallow dish of praises and a transparent bottle of sacrificial gestures to encourage His favor toward us? Do we slam the cage shut once we feel we have God inside—determined to enclose Him within the confines of our own understanding?


Proverbs 3:5 tells us to trust in the Lord with all our heart, and to not lean on our own understanding. How many of us have limited God’s presence in our lives by setting His standards in accordance with our own understanding? Over and over again within scripture and in personal testimonies, we read about God’s hand being seen in the lives of men long before they turned to Him and asked for salvation. Could it be that God is always there, but we just don’t expect to find Him until we open our eyes and start looking? Could it be that the only real act of salvation is acceptance of something that has always been there—something as present and real and un-changing as the gravity, air, and light around us? Could it be that baptism, alter calls, and laying on of hands only announce to the subconscious to start paying attention to the gentle whisper that has been there since birth?


Imagine how the story of Elijah might have ended if he gave up and went home because his expectations of God did not match those of the gentle whisper that came to him up on that mountain. Have you ever done that? Have you put God in a cage? Are you so certain of what you are looking for in a God that the Creator of the Universe could pass you by without you ever recognizing His voice?


Elijah saw a windstorm, an earthquake, and a fire. What kind of grand manifestations might we mistake for God in this culture? My church sends our youth to annual Christian conferences where loud rock music, light-shows, and guest speakers tell them what God wants them to do with their lives; they come home inspired (temporarily) to follow the current pop-topic ministry. Is that God’s voice, or man’s? I have witnessed spectacular television specials hosted by lavishly dressed evangelists—seated on gold-plated thrones in splendid cathedrals—promising God’s prosperity in our lives. Is it really God’s will that we seek such things? My church hosts bible-studies and movie nights with video curriculum filled with action, drama, and emotionally gripping sound-tracks that can really encourage a man to want to do exactly what the writers of that video want them to. Once again, is this God speaking to our hearts, or man?


Adolf Hitler had a very successful propaganda machine working for him as he began building his power in the 1930s. How I wish more Christians could watch one of Hitler’s propaganda movies. How close it comes to modern “inspirational” Christian entertainment is disturbing. Lights, glamour, loud music, bonfires, banners, masses of people all seemingly coming together in unity. It is easy to see how such a man-made act of inspiration could lead some to think they hear God’s voice speaking to their heart. I know several youth members who felt like failures for falling away from what the guest speaker at last year’s conference told them was God’s plan for their lives. I know fathers who feel they failed their families because the steps to success imparted in the inspirational Men’s movie-night study did not work for them. I know how the impoverished family feels after watching an emotional short-film during the pastor’s sermon on faith offerings. I’m sure a lot of other Christians feel like failures for not living up to such splendid illusions.


Really, folks. Who is setting the expectations for God in our lives? When a rock concert tells us which direction God is going to take us, or when a movie makes us weep with conviction, or when a televangelist assures us that God wants to prosper our finances, is that not man’s expectations?


The God I know is an interruption. He does not play by man’s rules. He does not meet man’s expectations. When we lay down the terms in which God can manifest in our lives, we are just as much the fool as the physicist who overlooks every measurement that does not point to his already established theory of what he should be looking for. (If that sounds like a statement of circular reasoning, it is.) We do not limit God. We only limit our ability to see His hand in our lives and to hear His voice guiding us toward His will.


There are two kinds of sin in this world. Rebellion, and oblivion. We are just as guilty of turning our backs on God when we stop looking for Him as when we outright rebel against His laws. We can condemn those who kill, steal, and commit adultery, but if we remain ignorant of our Creator—or worse, if we create our own false idea of what God is, we are far more damned than those filthy, murderous heathens whom we scorn. Scientists, Christians, and the rest of us could learn from this proverb: Denial of Reality is the deadliest sin.


Distracted by The Preparations

Posted by rjagilbert on November 27, 2011 at 12:45 AM


Luke 10 tells a story of two sisters, Mary and Martha, whom Jesus visited while in their village. The Bible says that, during that visit, Martha became distracted by all the preparations, while Mary was focused on fellowship with Jesus. When Martha spoke up, Jesus answered that Martha’s concerns were many, but “only one thing is needed”, and that Mary had chosen it.


Historians can tell you how important fellowship is: every culture, no matter how ancient, had customs and methods of gathering together in fellowship with one another. Jesus himself said, “Where two or more have gathered in his name…” Clearly there is a blessing from gathering—even more so when gathered in Christ’s name. Naturally, with a gathering of any length comes hunger; the larger the gathering, the more mouths to feed. Thus, Archaeologists find the custom of slaughtering a large animal during a fellowship gathering in most ancient civilizations worldwide. In the Hebraic culture it was a bull or a ram. Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son even speaks of slaughtering the fatted calf to celebrate; the loyal son then talks of wishing to celebrate with his friends over a meal of one of his father’s goats.


Like Martha, it is natural for people to get distracted by the preparations and miss out on the true meaning of festivities. Most cultures, including Judaism, placed the importance of their festivals on the obligatory slaughter of their feast meat. The reverence of such large, crowd-feeding animals as cows and rams is a deviation by many cultures from the true purpose of the celebration. A more extreme deviation can be found in the many cultures – some even in Biblical times – where the preparations escalated to human sacrifice.


Jesus came to our world fully aware of the misguided reverence in sacrificial festivals around the world. Much of his ministry was spent confronting religious leaders within God’s chosen nation who had become distracted by the laws, the rituals, and the symbols. Now look at what he does at the last supper. This is a supper founded on the ritual slaughtering of a lamb, but Jesus does not base any symbolism of his ministry on the lamb. Instead he waits until after the meal. He passes up the festival meat, and instead picks up bread and wine to use in his message. Bread and wine: neither of which require that anything die in its preparation. At that moment, God’s son set a precedence that has lasted from then until now; there are no more excuses to confuse the sacred act of fellowship with the shedding of blood.


Here’s my question: Jesus asked us to “do this” in remembrance of him. What distracts us from remembering Jesus? Is it the preparations? Is it the symbols? Is it the rituals? Is that really what he asked us to do?



The Fruit of Eve

Posted by rjagilbert on September 5, 2011 at 3:25 PM

In Eden God once put a tree

Bearing knowledge of how things “should be”.

Not of Evil and Good,

Nor a literal food

But of man knowing better than He.


Now Eve bought the lies of the Snake.

The forbidden fruit she did partake.

She said “I know the plan,

Better than the I AM.

I am certain that He’s made a mistake.


“Adam, you should be wearing some pants. (she said)

And you should not work hard like the ants.

And in birth and in rain

I should never feel pain.

Now I must hide from God in the plants.”


Then God came to Adam and his wife.

Said He, “Why have you brought on this strife?

Though I yearn for you still

You’ve rejected my will

And you’ll wrestle with me all your life.”


“Now Adam,” I AM said, “As for you,

I can tell that you ate the fruit too.

Now you must build a house

And provide for your spouse.

For I speak not in ‘should be’ but ‘do’.”


When that Serpent practiced to deceive,

His lies changed the perceptions of Eve.

After taking a bite,

How it poisoned her sight.

Her rebellion to this day we grieve.


Satan’s promise, when pondered, seems odd.

He said man could grow equal to God?

Only when we agree

To be lesser than He

Can we see that our own path is flawed.


Now in every man there grows a tree

Bearing knowledge of how things ‘should be’.

When we argue the plan

Given by the I AM

We reveal our fallen ancestry.