Wednesday, April 19, 2017

M'bird Preview 2

A sermon by M'birder RJ Heimen was the genesis for this talk.  RJ said that one of his parishioners suggested that divorce was a good thing, because the second marriage can be so much better given what you learn from the first.  This set RJ to thinking about the changes in his marriage, and so it did for M'bird devotees Debbie and Ellis Brazeal.

This is their 30th wedding anniversary, and they wouldn't be together (and in Ellis' case, maybe even alive} but for the Law/Grace theology of Luther and M'bird.  During their first marriage, Debbie and Ellis believed in a marriage based upon a "cause-and-effect" universe and a "self-created identity," as so poignantly described by David Browder in his M'bird Devotiinal of April 16.

Ellis was certain that, if he worked hard and led his family in all thngs Southern Baptist, he would have a good, even great marriage.  But, as Browder explains, life doesn't work that way.  Ellis' "chasing after the wind" left him in a year-long state of suicidal depression.

Debbie believed that, if she worked hard to make Ellis and others happy, then all would go well.  Her self-created identity didn't work any better than Ellis'.  Debbie wished that Ellis would die or that God "would take her home."

Then God, the rescuer and redeemer, stepped in. The "One whose property is always to have mercy" resurrected two dead and lifeless people and thereby their marriage.

Ellis learned that grace, not law, was the basis for all relationships.

 Ellis learned that he couldn't use the law (it's hard for a lawyer to be a Christian) to bring about the type of marriage that he wanted.  In fact, per St. Paul, the law creates rebellion rather than love.

Debbie learned that her identity was as a beloved child of God, an identity which she already possessed an didn't have to create.

This talk will lead us through Debbie and Ellis' three marriages.  As they told M'bird: "if our talk gives hope to just one other couple, it will have been worth it.  If our talk allows one person to forgive another person for 'being who they are,' it will have been worth it."

Their son-in-law is a huge Wes Anderson fan, and one of his favorite movies is "Rushmore."  There's a song by The Who which Wes uses in the film to reflect the breath-taking forgiveness and reconciliation wrought by the law/grace experiences of the characters.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Mockingbird breakout preview

Nietzsche said that he would only believe in a "God who dances."

As Mockingbird devotees, and survivors of three marriages, Debbie and I have come to believe in a dancing god.  Yet, this view of God only came after years, many years, in which we didn't.

A romantic courtship, with breathless excitement and anticipation of an American-dream marriage, quickly turned into a marriage of unmet expectations from both sides.  Indeed, each of us hurt the other (albeit unintentionally) in the very fashion that would cause the most pain.  We unknowingly tread upon the past hurts and expectations that each of us brought into the marriage.

Our marriage devolved into separate lives with no hope of reconciliation--none.  We certainly didn't believe in a dancing God--in one who could bring dance into our marriage.  We believed in a God who rewarded effort and wise decisions. We thought we had married the wrong person.  In fact, we each wished that the other was dead or that we were dead.

But then, the dancing God, the M'bird God, stepped in.  By God's limitless grace, we both began learning of a God who knew the depths of our dark hearts--the true extent of our sinful flaws, but loved us nonetheless with His limitless, eternal love.

Over the years, as we became more convinced of God's unfathomable, eternal love for us, we began to love each other.

My favorite parable is the kingdom one concerning the "treasure in the field."  Virtually always, the "treasure in the field" is construed as the Kingdom of God.  Yet, when you review the parables surrounding it (the lost coin, the lost sheep), it becomes abundantly clear (as I first learned from CI Scofield) that we are the "treasure in the field" that Christ sold everything (gave His life) to purchase. The character of a kingdom is determined by the character of the king.

This King is the savior and redeemer of individuals, of marriages, and of all creation.  As Sally Loyd Jones writes in "Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing:"

"God made everything in his world and in his universe and in his children's hearts to center around him--in a wonderful Dance of Joy!  It's the dance you were born for."


Saturday, March 18, 2017

"Closer to the Heart"--Why I love "Trailer Park Boys" (and Tomas Halik)

"Trailer Park Boys" has been around for ten seasons.  (Please note that TPB is NSFW--no sex or nudity, but the language might even be worse than mine.)  Yet, I just learned about it from my sons.  My son James told me that his favorite episode is "Closer to the Heart" (named after the Rush song of the same name), and it's mine as well.  For someone who grew up in the rock era of the 70s and 80s and attended many concerts, I can understand why the Rush concert is so important to one of the main characters--Bubbles.  Having graduated high school in 1979, this is a song that brings memories of that era of my life rushing back.

While high school brought many hurts (mostly in the area of love--I hardly had any dates), it also brought moments of wonderful camaraderie.  When I finally got a date to the Homecoming Dance (I was SGA president and was largely responsible for the dance), she then dumped me for her older sister's boyfriend.  Her older sister and I were both left out in the cold.  It took me years to get over this.

The camaraderie was as special as that found in Stephen King's works.  My favorite memories from high school revolve around our church league softball team--only, it wasn't composed of many church-go'ers.  I've never been much of a fan of church go'ers, or maybe more correctly, they've never been very enamored with me!  We were kind of like the Bad News Bears.  We even had one player who, like the character played by Matthew McConaughey in "Dazed and Confused," had already graduated high school.  We would stop by his apartment after practice for a Busch beer and to watch baseball on the TV.  We took our softball seriously and like the Bad News Bears were ultimately pretty successful.

Like my high school experience of camaraderie, that found between the three main characters of TPB is both endearing and unlikely and, therefore, that much more endearing.  The three protagonists (Julian, Ricky, and Bubbles File:Trailer_Park_Boys,_April_2009.jpg) couldn't be any more different, but they love each other--they have each other's back--no matter how idiotic the other's conduct.

They were drawn together, because they all grew up in the trailer park--not because they had anything else in common.  Julian is sort of the swashbuckling, good-looking one.  He constantly, literally in every scene, is holding a cocktail (a rum and coke) yet he's never drunk.  It's Julian's way of appearing cool.  Julian is also the one who drives a sports car, although each one that he drives is antiquated--just plain old.

Bubbles loves cats, really loves cats.  (I think he's called Bubbles, because his glasses are so thick.  File:Mike_Smith,_Bubbles,_April_2009.jpg)
One of my favorite episodes involves Bubbles starting a cat daycare.  Bubbles creates a merry-go round and other rides for the kitties.   Over the years, I've gone from hating cats to loving cats.  So, I love Bubbles' love for the cats.

Ricky is the one who is probably most like me.  He's always willing to start a fight, or to get in the face of someone.  Ricky is always trying to grow a new marijuana crop or otherwise come up with a way to sell drugs and make money--whether its selling drugs to the prison guards or selling at the Rush show.  However, importantly for his character, the most potent drug that he ever sells is hashish and that's just a one-time sale.  You are left with the idea that Ricky wouldn't sell anything harder, because he does care for people.

Each's loves and personalities is brought to the fore in my favorite episode "Closer to the Heart"--named after the Rush song of the same name.

Let's start with the introductory scene and song to set the stage.  Trailer Park Boys Theme and Opening Credits - YouTube

How could anyone create a nostalgic mood concerning a trailer park?  Yet, the creators of TPB nailed it--at least for me.

In this episode, Bubble's love of cats is almost his undoing.  Rush is coming to town, and Bubbles wants to buy a ticket.  But his sick cat takes precedence, so he has Ricky PROMISE to buy him a ticket.  Ricky's confrontation personality is always creating problems.  In this episode, his nature creates a series of events which leaves Bubbles without a ticket.

Yet, given their love for Bubbles, Ricky and Julian go to great lengths to get Bubbles into the Rush concert.  As it turns out, their efforts are recognized by the lead guitarist (Alex Lifeson) who lets Bubbles act as his guitar tech during the show, because he recognizes the lengths to which Ricky and Julian went to get Bubbles into the show.

The episode ends with Bubbles and Alex Lifeson playing together:  Greatest Trailer Park Boys moment - YouTube

So, this is where Tomas Halik comes in.  Halik says that:

"I can't help thinking that God doesn't particularly care whether we believe in him or not.  What really does matter to him, however, is whether we love him.  Or more precisely:  he doesn't care about our faith in the sense that the term is often used, namely that to 'believe in God' is to be convinced of God's existence."

"To assert that Christianity is not primarily about faith in God but about 'love'--love of God (and one's neighbor)--might come as a surprise. . . One doesn't become a Christian be believing that 'God is' but by believing that 'God is love.'"

Halik points out that Augustine and medieval theology asserted that "when people truly love anything, they are ipso facto already on the path to God, even when they don't realize it."

Halik says that "only in the experience of love do we find the space to glimpse the meaning of the word 'God.'"  "Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love."  1 John 4:8.

If Halik is right, then Julian, Ricky and Bubbles are on the path to God, whether they know it or not!
Fortunately, over the last 20 years, I've shed many of my dogmatic views about Christianity and come to love my neighbor so much more.   God had to wrestle those dogmatic views out of me.  He replaced it with a sense of wonder at and about the love that God has for His created beings and order.  This newfound love 'in God' has given me a greater love for my fellow man.  Halik says that, in loving our neighbor, we love God. Amen to that!

Lenten Discipline versus "It is Finished"--which leads to sanctification?

The only time I've heard of a true Lenten discipline was when a friend of mine read Forde's "On Being a Theologian of the Cross" for Lent. He had started it two previous times but couldn't finish it, because of its devastating diagnosis of the human condition. He found that the Good News is the Best News Ever once we are confronted with and apprehend the libidinal, recidivistic nature in all of us. Then the proclamation from the Cross of "It is finished" rings like the bells on our wedding day with the hope of everlasting love.

Forde's book dealt with Luther's Heidelberg Disputation of 1518 which is simply daunting, yet breathtaking.  It is both the greatest insult to human freedom, to our thought that we can change, to our desire to control our lives to make them good;  and the Best News Ever--Christ has done it all--there is nothing left to be done.  According to Luther, sanctification comes when we experience thankfulness for the love that God has bestowed upon us while we were yet and are yet a sinner.  Luther said that we were and will be unto our death "simul justus y pecator"--simultaneously "justified" and "sinner." As we recognize again and again that this is true, we actually become more and more thankful to God for his acceptance of us in our sinful condition.  This leads to sanctification over time--to an ever deepening understanding of our own fallenness which leads to empathy and love for others who are "sinners like us" (remember the Chase/Akroyd flick).  Indeed, we are all sinners--we are all together in this "thing called life." (Prince)

At a recent Mockingbird Conference, a former seminary student of Paul Zahl's introduced him by telling a story about the first day in a class that Zahl was teaching.  The class was entitled "Spiritual Formation 101," so it was filled with students eager to learn how to become more spiritual, how to become more holy, how to become closer to God, and (whether they acknowledged it or not) they were seeking favor with God.

Zahl's student said that Zahl started the class by saying: "It is finished."  You would have thought that Zahl had uttered an expletive-laced diatribe, the response from the students was one of such offense.  They were offended, because it is hard for human ambition to die--particularly for those who think they are sacrificing to do "God's will."  Needless to say, I wish I had been there to see it.  Like those students, Zahl and Luther had the same effect on me.  Like the students, Forde's book had the same effect on my friend who had to force himself to read Forde's book as a Lenten discipline.

But my friend and I both agree that this theology saved our lives.  In fact, at the Mockingbird Conference, person after person told stories of how this theology changed their lives.

After Paul spoke Friday nite, a woman sitting by herself got up during the Q&A and asked: "I've been in church all my life, why have I never heard this before?"  Debbie and I went to dinner with her afterwards.  Her husband had passed away this past summer, and she was devastated and didn't know where to turn.  She found Mockingbird online, and it gave her a way forward.  She drove several hours to be at the conference.  It gave us such joy to hear her story--how the pure, unadulterated Gospel had given her a reason and the sustenance to live.

We then had lunch with a couple of sisters in their early to mid-20s from Houston.  We happened to have a couple of extra seats at our table for lunch, and the restaurant was packed.  The older sister teaches at UofH, and she had found Mockingbird online.  So, she and her younger sister had driven the four hours from Houston for the conference.

During Sarah Condon's talk, she talked of coming very closing to quitting seminary when she became frustrated with the primary focus being that of social justice and social programs, as opposed to Christ.  Then a friend suggested she attend the Mockingbird conference.  She did and stayed in seminary and now is an Episcopal priest.  Now, because of this message, she's one of the best young preachers in the country (maybe one of the best regardless of age).

Finally, the gentleman who started holding a Mockingbird conference in Tyler, Texas, told a similar story of suffering a setback in his life, not knowing where to turn, and then finding Mockingbird.

The founder of Mockingbird, David Zahl, chose this title for his ministry, because a Mockingbird sings the same song over and over and over again.  That's the job of Christians--to tell the "old, old story of Jesus and His love" over and over and over again. 

This is the power to save.  This is the power to sanctify.  This Best News Ever has saved people for millennia--it certainly saved me.

One final note.  When Paul Zahl spoke, he said that his 40 years of parrish ministry had taught him that everyone has some deep down hurt, some deep down issue which, if unremedied, can plague us for our entire lives.  He queried: "What's the greatest movie ever?"  Matt Magill responded:  "Citizen Kane."  That movie illustrates what Zahl is saying.  Paul went on to say something to the effect that he has heartburn towards God, because so many, many people go through life with their issue unremedied.  A woman queried:  "What happens when you find your issue?"  Zahl:  "Just finding it is about 75% of the work. It will resolve itself thereafter."

I found my deep down issue in the early 2000s.  God, thru Paul Zahl's teaching and preaching, brought me face-to-face with my issue.  Then, through PZ's preaching and teaching, God gave me great liberty from this issue.  Not that I will ever be truly free from it, but I'm so much better.

So, what gives me heartburn about God is that, like the lady from Houston, I wonder why this message of God's radical grace to inveterate sinners is so seldom preached.  It's this message which brings liberty and life.  

I'll close with this.  From the Cross, Christ said:  "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."  Christ was forgiving those who hoisted him up on the Cross.  He was forgiving the religious leaders, the political leaders, and the crowd--the crowd filled with people like me and you--who chose to kill Jesus over Barabas.  My hope for my readers is that this sounds like the Best News Ever and that you get to hear it more and more and more.  And that this will dredge up whatever deep down issue has been plaguing you and give you abundant life.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Zero and Agatha, PZ, Scofield, the Kingdom, and Debbie

A kingdom is defined by the character of the King.  The King's disposition towards his subjects reflects the character of the King.  So, to understand the Kingdom of God (one of Jesus' favorite topics), we have to understand the character of the King.

C.I. Scofield says that, in the "treasure in the field" parable, we (not God) are the treasure.

Paul Zahl says that romantic love most clearly reflects the love that God has for us.

God told Hosea to marry Gomer to demonstrate God's love for His people.

Jesus is often spoken of as the Bridgegroom of His people.

For years, I thought Zahl, God and Jesus were a little crazy in likening our relationship to God to the romantic love of a man and a woman.  Then, I came across Scofield's interpretation of the "treasure in the field" which, in conjunction with The Grand Budapest Hotel, has given me a much greater understanding of God's love for us.

For the past couple of years, I've told my wife that I'm shocked that I've been faithful to her for so many years.  It sounds weird to say this (shouldn't my being a Christian be sufficient to keep me on the straight and narrow), but I'm shocked that I haven't wanted to have an affair, given that I struggled with lust for many years.  In fact, in around 2002, one of my law partners came to me and said:  "Ellis, what's happened to you?  You were the most lustful person that I knew, but now you're not."

In preparing a Sunday School lesson, it finally hit me that it wasn't duty or morality that had kept me from having an affair--that had freed me from lust--it was that my lust had been replaced by the love of Christ.  I was and am so enamored by His love for me that I don't have to seek that love from other women or even from my wife.

The beauty and magnitude of Christ's love has allowed me to put my love for my wife in its proper place.  I'm no longer grasping so for her love that I'm strangling that love--think of a child loving a kitten to death--hugging it so much that it's life breath is squeezed out.

Christ's love has stolen my heart.  How did this happen?

Christ first began working on me when I found out within a six month period that:  1)my wife wanted to divorce me;  2)my best client was possibly a crook;  and 3)I had an auto-immune liver disease which would necessitate a liver transplant in about 10 years.  This all happened around 13-14 years ago.  Thankfully, I had been attending Paul Zahl's bible study where I was hearing that:  1)grace, not the law, is the only thing that can change our hearts;  2)that I brought nothing to God but my sin;  3)that God's love was made manifest in weakness, not strength.  I had never heard these truths before.  They were such a "breath of fresh air," and I was at such a low spot, that my heart became captivated by this God.

Yet, I still didn't get the bridegroom idea.  Frankly, it sounds weird when applied to a man's relationship to Christ.

Then, along came Scofield's interpretation of the "treasure in the field" parable and the love of Agatha and Zero in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The Kingdom of God is like:  "a man who found a treasure in a field and sold everything he had to buy the field and therefore obtain the treasure."

I had always thought that this parable was likening the Kingdom of God to a treasure, but the parable doesn't say that.  It says that the Kingdom of God is like a man who sells everything to buy the field, because that man wants the treasure.  The parable is telling us the character of the man who is running the Kingdom of God--the character of the man who is the King.  Who sold everything?  Jesus.  Would we ever really sell everything to obtain the Kingdom?  No, but Jesus sold everything (on the Cross) to obtain us.  If Jesus is the man in the parable, then Jesus views us as His treasure.  If that's true, then we live in a kingdom where our King views His subjects as His treasures.

This is a love that goes beyond parental love.  This is a love reflected by the quickening of our hearts by romantic love. Cue The Grand Budapest Hotel and the love of Zero and Agatha.

The love of Zero and Agatha is young love at its best--fresh, new, exhilarating and to its observers--intoxicating.  Zero is the lobby boy at The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Agatha is a baker at Mendl's where they create the most beautiful and wonderful sweets--think Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory--except even better.

Zero and Agatha fall in love--they are all of 16 or 17.  They marry, then the movie goes silent on their relationship.  In fact, their love and relationship is like a "treasure hidden in a field."  It's not the main relationship or even the main story of the movie.  The main relationship and story is between Zero and his boss--the head concierge--Mr. Gustave H.  So, the love relationship is even that more compelling, because it has to be teased out from short vignettes amongst the overall prevailing story.

At some point, we learn that Agatha has died in child birth.  At the end of the movie, we learn that Zero has sold everything for love.

When Zero was a lobby boy, he had a tiny room in the hotel where he stayed--where he and Agatha stayed.  We learn that Mr. Gustave H inherits many amazing properties from one of the hotel's longtime customers and that, when Mr. Gustave H dies, he leaves all of these properties to Zero.  Zero, as a young man, becomes the wealthiest man in the country!

Then, the fascists take over--fascist communists.  They nationalize all of Zero's properties, but they allow him to keep one.  Which one does he keep?  The least of the properties in terms of its value--the Grand Budapest Hotel which had become run down and lost its splendor.

Yet, Zero keeps the Grand Budapest Hotel, because it is a treasure to him.  We learn why.

When Zero in his elder years continues to visit the hotel, he always stays in the tiny room that he had when he was a lobby boy--the tiny room which he and Agatha shared.  Zero gave everything (sold everything) but kept the rundown hotel (the field with the treasure)--the treasure being his love for Agatha who was long since dead--dead for many a year but still captivating Zero.

This love was so beautiful that it broke my heart.  It was so beautiful because Agatha and Zero were each other's treasures--just as we are God's treasures--just as my wife, Debbie, is now my treasure.

But Debbie is only my treasure, because I am Christ's treasure!

Monday, May 23, 2016

My Many Marriages

Paul Zahl, in Grace in Practice, says that our marriages are begun with a spark of grace.

"Wow, that beautiful girl loves me."--Ellis

"He bought me a white linen Ralph Lauren dress.  He really cares about me."--Debbie

Then, Zahl points out that the law comes creeping in.  We all know that "law is death"--it almost killed our marriage.

For the first ten to twelve years of our marriage, I tried to establish marital and familial relations which were consistent with my upbringing and my personality.  Debbie did the same.  (Of course, we can also reject what our parents had, but then we still bring the law into our marriage trying to do the opposite of what our parents did.)  In other words, our view of what a marriage and family should be like became instruments of judgment over against our spouse.  This almost resulted in a divorce.

Then, as I've written before, I began attending PZ's Bible Study and began learning that God, rather than judging us, was graciously loving us.  This knowledge of God's demeanor towards me allowed me to begin displaying (in some part) this same demeanor towards Debbie.

Thankfully, Debbie found a wonderful Bible Study at Covenant Presbyterian.  Debbie wanted to fix our marriage and family.  Like me, instead of finding a Bible Study that focused on how to fix yourself and/or your family, she found one in which the grace of God towards His beloved children was taught.

Debbie and I learned to forgive each other.  We began to see each other, albeit only dimly, as God saw us.  This brought about a metamorphosis in our marriage.  Our first marriage died, and a second one was born.

During our second marriage, we had learned to forgive each other for our weaknesses.  Debbie forgave me for my temper, and I forgave her what I perceived to be stubbornness--but which was actually Debbie protecting her heart.

As the years have rolled by, God has brought further changes in our marriage.

First, we began to appreciate one another for our strengths--appreciation which we had when we married but which had been subjugated by recrimination over the years for all the things we do wrong.  Debbie's empathetic nature gave her the ability to minister to my mother--who can be off-putting.  Debbie's tireless care towards my mother changed my mother and dramatically improved my relationship with my mother.

Second, we began to understand that you don't get certain strengths without the concomitant weakness.  Since Debbie was so empathetic, she was disorganized.  Her focus was on people, so she was not good at setting and accomplishing tasks.  On the other hand, I am task-oriented, which means that tasks come before people.  We realized that her strengths offset my weaknesses and vice-a-versa. We realized that the marriage is to be a partnership--a symbiotic relationship--that, as written in Genesis, we were to be One.

Third, when reading Zahl again recently, I realized that the "leave and cleave" language in Genesis refers not just to putting our new family first (in some sense) but that it also means that one's marriage should be, and has to be, different from the one that my parents had and from the one that Debbie's parents had.  Our marriage is to be a new entity--formed by the meshing of my strengths and weaknesses with Debbie's strengths and weaknesses.  In other words, we are not to "do" our marriage like our parents "did" theirs--no matter how good our parents' marriages were.

Where will our marriage be in another five years--if God lets me live that long, I can't wait to see.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Fifty-five (55) and Counting...Grace in Death

I was checking out at the doctor's last week, and they give you a printout with your prescriptions and it has your name, address, and there it was:  55 (my age).  How did it get to be 55?

What's it like being 55?  Well, I've been thinking about death a lot.  The last time that I spent this much time thinking about death, I was 36 and in a state of deep depression.  I was considering taking my life.  Then, I heard about a Jesus that I had never heard about...the Savior of sinners--deep-down irrepressible sinners...sinners who would be sinners until they died.  A god who would love His children even if they never changed!!!  It saved my life.

Now, at 55, my thoughts of death aren't depressing, but they do make me ponder about the God that I began learning about in January, 1998.

I've heard a couple of sermons lately that deal with death.  The first was by Bishop Sloan at the Advent on Ash Wednesday.  This man is full of grace.  From what I can tell, he is more liberal than the Advent.  Yet, he appreciates and supports the proclamation of the Gospel at the Advent.  The Bishop is a true Christian--he is not put off by others with different views.  Instead, he supports those that proclaim Christ's grace to mankind.  He doesn't group people.

At the end of his sermon, when he was talking about man returning to dust, he proclaimed:  "We are returning to that from whence we came--love."

The second sermon was given at the funeral of a friend dating back to 5th grade.  The pastor said that, when he was talking with David about the state of his cancer, David said:  "When I was first diagnosed, I thought I was on a path to recovery."  Three weeks before his death, David learned that his "path wasn't headed where he thought."  His cancer had taken a turn for the worse.  "I won't recover, but I wouldn't change anything--I have Jesus."

As the pastor continued, he read verses from the Scripture dealing with our afterlives.  He kept reading verses which said that "all" would be saved.  After the funeral, I asked him if he believed in "universal redemption."  What?  "The salvation of all by virtue of Christ's death on the Cross." I replied.  No, he doesn't believe in that, but he had not considered it before.  I told him that I had only come across this idea about 3 years ago.

So, at age 55, I take heart that, when a friend is facing death, he says that he wouldn't change anything.  He, like Bishop Sloan, understood that he was going back to pure love.

At age 55, I take heart that Jesus came to redeem everyone and, if that's Jesus purpose, then it denigrates Christ when we claim that only those with faith will be saved.

At age 55, it hurts me when I hear a person thanking Christ for saving him and others with faith.  It's that group thing--our group is okay, our group is preferred, and yours is not.

Thank goodness that God knows nothing of groups---Jesus came for both the Jews and the Gentiles.  In other words, Jesus came for the believers and unbelievers.  God wouldn't have it any other way--after all, He is love, and we are day by day getting closer to our reunion with that love.

Thank goodness that my thoughts of death are no longer about suicide but about reunion with our one, true Father.

Thank goodness for those who, wittingly or unwittingly, proclaim these truths, truths which allow us to enjoy each day of our lives--whether in health or illness, whether in riches or poverty--and which give us the basis for proclaiming God's love to all.