Chosen Conversations

May 6, 2023

Season 1, Episode 3.

Available on Apple Podcast here.

Available on Vimeo here.

Stan Wilson, Haley Villacorta, David Villacorta, and I have begun a series of podcasts/videos about “The Chosen” produced and directed by Dallas Jenkins.

These conversations seek to explore one dimension of “The Chosen” per episode. This week we focus on Peter and Eden in the first season.

Peter’s personality is aggressive but submissive when he encounters Jesus. Eden saw Peter’s potential yet lived with a frustration with him only eased by Peter’s encounter with Jesus. Peter and Eden provide a way for many to enter the story of Jesus and reimagine their own lives in that story

Join us for the conversation!

Chosen Conversations

April 27, 2023

Season 1, Episode 2.

Available on Apple Podcast here.

Available on Vimeo here.

Stan Wilson, Haley Villacorta, David Villacorta, and I have begun a series of podcasts/videos about “The Chosen” produced and directed by Dallas Jenkins.

These conversations seek to explore one dimension of “The Chosen” per episode. This week we focus on Nicodemus in the first season.

Nicodemus is a seeker filled with wonder and the capacity to transcend his traditions. Yet, he cannot fully and publicly commit.

Join us for the conversation!

Chosen Conversations

April 12, 2023

Season 1, Episode 1.

Available on Apple Podcasts here.

Available on Vimeo here.

Stan Wilson, Haley Villacorta, David Villacorta, and I have begun a series of podcasts/videos about “The Chosen” produced and directed by Dallas Jenkins.

These conversations seek to explore one dimension of “The Chosen” per episode. This week we focus on Mary in the first episode in the first season.

We see the dramatized interaction between Jesus and Mary in that episode as a proclamation of the good news of God in Jesus.

Join us for the conversation!

The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu

February 3, 2023

Forgiveness is a choice, according to Desmond and Mpho Tutu, and there is no wholeness in humanity’s future without forgiveness. Since we are all broken, “forgiveness is the journey we take toward healing the broken parts. It is how we become whole again” (p. 3). Forgiveness is how we heal the world, according to The Book of Forgiving.

Often, we may want to forgive but don’t know how to do it. The process is mysterious and difficult, especially when we are trying to divest ourselves of resentment and bitterness toward others and their actions. “On this path,” they write, “we must walk through the muddy shoals of hatred and anger and make our way through grief and loss to find the acceptance that is the hallmark of forgiveness” (p. 4). They also addresses self-forgiveness as well as needing forgiveness ourselves.

Moreover, this father and daughter team raises the question how we pursue both forgiveness and justice. Tutu’s experience with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa informs his approach to this topic. His wisdom, gained both through theology and practice, has much to teach us.

At the heart of the book is the fourfold path. It is “simple, but it is not easy” (p. 5). They explore these practices through stories, personal experiences, and theological reflection.

  • Telling the Story
  • Naming the Hurt
  • Granting Forgiveness
  • Renewing or Releasing the Relationship

“Telling the story is how we get our dignity back after we have been harmed” (p. 71). The truth must be told, and the story must be heard. If we don’t tell the story to someone (family, friends, church, justice system, etc.), it will fester in our souls and damage the soul further. Listeners must create a safe space, listen attentively without cross-examination, acknowledge what happened, and sympathize with the pain.

When we name the hurt, we give a name to the emotion which helps understand how the hurt has affected us. Naming the hurt is the beginning of healing. This moves the story “beyond bare facts to the raw feelings” (p. 95). If we don’t express those feelings, they will come out in other, unhealthy ways. In this way, “grief is how we both cope with and release the pain we feel” (p. 102). Naming the hurt includes lament. Listeners don’t try to fix, minimize the loss, or offer advice. They listen well, sympathize, and love the one who names their hurt (p. 108).

Granting forgiveness is an act of spiritual formation; it is growth, and it is a process. The authors offer many examples of forgiveness by people deeply hurt by a loss or injustice. We choose to forgive as we recognize a “shared humanity” of brokenness (p. 125). When we can come to the point where we wish the other person well and when we can pray for their health and spiritual life, then we know we have forgiven. We can then tell a “new story” (p. 132).

We may either renew the relationship (which is a perpetual hope) or release the relationship (which is sometimes the only option). This step beyond forgiveness is important for healing since to forgive another is not the final step of healing. Renewal is not a return to what was before, but a new relationship borne out of the fruit of forgiveness (p. 148). Tutu offers some strategies for a renewal process. Sometimes, however, we must release the relationship; sometimes the person has already passed, or the person is impenitent (or refuses relationship). In such cases, “releasing a relationship is how you free yourself from victimhood and trauma” (p. 154).

This is a helpful book filled with real-life stories, practical wisdom, and a call for healing in our world without undermining the practice of justice. I highly recommend it.

Listening to the Spirit for Discernment

November 28, 2022

In response to a dear friend’s question about listening to the Spirit and discernment.

I wish listening to the Spirit was a mechanical process that always had a clear outcome. Unfortunately, we human beings are the ones who still do the “listening,” and our listening is complicated by our own interests, biases, and fears. Just as our sanctification is a process (as we grow more into the likeness of Christ) that never ends until we are glorified with Christ, the same is true of listening to the Spirit–it is a process of sanctification itself. And, often it is a process of communal sanctification.

Discernment comes through prayerful listening to God and each other, searching the Scriptures, and communal relationships in the bond of love. It is not easy, and it is complicated. Sanctification is never easy.

Ultimately, it seems to me, we make the best communal decision we can with the right heart and trust in God’s future for the community. We listen, and then we do the right thing as far as we are able to see (discern) it.

We might also remember that the Spirit works slowly with some and more quickly with others due to any number of factors, and it is not expected everyone will be on the same page all along the process. Sanctification is not automatic, and it is often slow (like years of integrating churches and ending slavery) and always hard.

I trust God is gracious with the process even I as I don’t think we are promised uniformity or even consensus when thinking through difficult and complicated questions that are deeply embedded in our historic cultural practices.

Seeing the Spirit

February 28, 2018

For many the Holy Spirit is an impersonal, imperceptible, and indiscernible force.  Cloaked in mystery, many find it difficult to “get a handle” on the Spirit. The Spirit has no “face” like Jesus nor any personal metaphors, such as parent, mother, or husband, like Israel’s God.

Our desire, of course, is not so much to control or manipulate the Spirit as much as it is to have a way of conceiving or visualizing the Spirit’s identity. Without any framework for understanding, we are at a loss to even identify what the Spirit does in our lives much less experience God through the Spirit.

Our pneumatic imagination needs a little help. Paul, I think, offers such. The Spirit appears in practically every chapter of Paul’s letters, and saturates his theology. While “God in Christ” is the center of Paul’s theology, the Spirit is a living, enabling, and enriching presence that connects redeemed humanity with the Redeemer God. We have access, Paul says, to God in Christ “by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:18).

Without some understanding of the Spirit, then, our experience of God remains in a conceptual wasteland. That is not only lamentable but dangerous. Spiritual discernment entails that we “see” the Spirit at work in our lives or else we will mistake other spirits for the Holy Spirit.

So, what does Paul offer us by way of a conceptual landscape that will help identify the Spirit in our lives. I “see” in Paul a three-fold typology for thinking about the Spirit’s work. This typology is not a box in which to enclose the Spirit, nor is it a gizmo to manipulate the Spirit. Rather, it is a tool to unmask our eyes so that we might “see” what the Spirit is doing–to recognize the Spirit in our lives.


The Spirit’s foundational function is to facilitate communion between God and us. Our communion with God is the “communion of the Holy Spirit” (2 Corinthians 13:12).

Jesus did not leave us as orphans; instead, God poured out the Holy Spirit upon the church. This out-pouring is the gifting of God’s presence among us. We are inhabited by God through the Spirit (Ephesians 2:22); we are the temple of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 6:19). The Spirit is the one through whom we experience God in the present. The Spirit’s presence enables our communion with God; more than that, communion in the Spirit is communion with God.

This presence, which is the fulfillment of God’s presence in the temple in Israel and anticipates the fullness of divine presence in the new heaven and new earth, is how we now live in fellowship with God. We worship in the Spirit (Philippians 3:3), we pray in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18), and we are washed in the Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:11).  We are “in the Spirit because the Spirit of God dwells” in us (Romans 8:9). The Spirit is the air we breathe, and every breath is communion with God.

This communion, of course, is not merely vertical. It is also horizontal, that is, we commune with each other by what we share in the Spirit (Philippians 2:1). We love each other in the Spirit (Colossians 1:8). Because we have all been baptized in the Spirit and have drunk of the same Spirit, we are one body where ethnic, economic, and gender barriers are transcended (1 Corinthians 12:13;  Galatians 3:28).

We “see” the Spirit when we enjoy the sweet fellowship of others, experience the peace and joy of the Spirit in communion with God, and encounter God in the assembly of God’s people as we worship in the Spirit. We must not secularize these moments as if they are produced by our own internal powers. Rather, we relish them and delight in them because we know, by God’s promise, that the Spirit is present to generate them. They are moments where heaven and earth meet in the Spirit.


The Spirit communes with us, and this communion is transformative. The Spirit is no passive presence. On the contrary, the Spirit is an active, enabling and transforming presence. The Spirit dwells within us so that we might live in the Spirit.

Salvation involves transformation. Because we are children of God, God sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts and we experience the intimacy of divine communion. But this is not the end game; it is not God’s goal. This intimacy includes a shared life, and it transforms us. We are increasingly, by the Spirit, transformed (metamorphized!) into the image of Christ from “one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The Holy Spirit is the presence of divine holiness within us, and this holiness bears fruit. Paul called it the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22). This is what it means to “live by the Spirit,” that is, it is to manifest a life of love, joy, peace, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The Spirit leads us into a such a life by renewing our hearts, empowering our souls, and moving our wills.

The presence of the Spirit is a necessary first step for such a life, and without that presence there is no transformation that images Jesus who himself was led and empowered by the Spirit. The reality of that presence, however, is evidenced in a holy life as we are “sanctified by the Spirit” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

We “see” the Spirit when we are patient with the stubborn, when we are kind to the ungrateful, when we are at peace in the midst of the storm, when we are generous with the poor, and when we are gentle with those who disagree. We must not secularize these moments as if they are self-actualizations. Rather, we give thanks that the Spirit is at work in our lives to empower them. We credit the Spirit rather than our programs, our will power, or our own goodness.


God gives the Spirit as a communing and transforming presence. God created to commune with us, and God redeems to transform us. And God goes one step further. God gifts us so that we might participate in the transformation of the world.

“Through the Spirit,” Paul writes, God gives the body of Christ the capacity to serve each other and the world. These “manifestations of the Spirit” are for the “common good,” and the gifts are “activated” and distributed by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 12:7-8, 11).

It is important, however, to note that presence comes first, then transformation, and finally giftedness. We might think of this as a spiral of activity where there is reciprocity but also movement toward a goal. God dwells in order to commune. That communion transforms us, and, as people in the process of transformation, God gifts us so that we might participate in the mission of God. The gifts are best used by transformed people. This is why 1 Corinthians 13 comes between 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. Giftedness without love is useless; more than useless, it is detrimental. Transformation must shape the use of the Spirit’s gifts.

Too often the lists of 1 Corinthians 12 become the focus when talking about gifts. Romans 12 also has a list of gifts. The two lists are not the same; in fact, there is little overlap. Neither are exhaustive, and together they are not exhaustive. They are illustrative.

Gifts are whatever capacity we have to participate in the mission of God. Whatever “talent” we use to further the mission of God–whether it is software programming, musical ability, environmental passion—they are divine gifts. Too often we talk about “talents” as if they are natural dispositions independent of God’s work among us. One of the reasons we feel so distant from the Holy Spirit is because we secularize our gifts; we minimize the Spirit’s role. Giftedness, inclusive of “talents,” is a manifestation of the Spirit!

We “see” the Spirit when transformed people (or, better, people in the process of transformation) use their gifts in service to the mission of God, which is the transformation of the whole world. We “see” the Spirit when an environmental biologist cares for the creation, when a nurse compassionately cares for the sick, when a debt mediator reconciles a creditor and a debtor, and when an actor embodies the gospel in a drama (even if the drama never mentions God at all). We “see” the Spirit’s gifts in action when brokenness is healed.


Often we don’t “feel” the Spirit in our lives, and sometimes we misinterpret what the Spirit is doing. There is no promise that we will always “feel” the Spirit, and there is the persistent danger that we will misinterpret what the Spirit does. This is why is it is important to “see” the Spirit through the lens of the biblical narrative, the story of God. Whether we feel the Spirit or not, God has promised the Spirit’s presence, and God has provided a narrative that frames our understanding of the Spirit’s work so that we might “see” the Spirit.

The most significant danger we face, I think, is the minimization of the Spirit. We minimize the Spirit when we secularize what is, in fact, the Spirit’s work. We often fail to “see” the Spirit because we attribute whatever goodness, joy, or warmth we experience to powers other than the Spirit. We fail to “see” the Spirit because we are blinded by our own pride.

The Spirit is personal, discernible, and visible. The Spirit is God among us to transform us into the image of Christ and to gift transformed people with good works for the sake of the body and the world. We “see” the Spirit every day, if only we have eyes to see what God is doing.

Holy Saturday–Sitting By the Grave

March 26, 2016

Good Friday, and then Easter.

But a day is missing in that story. To move from Friday to Sunday we must walk through Saturday.

Saturday, however, is a lonely day. Death has won. Hope is lost. Jesus of Nazareth lies in a tomb. His disciples are afraid, hiding, and deeply depressed. Everything in which they had invested for the past three years seems pointless now.  They forsook their Master; they lost faith in that moment. They are leaderless, hopeless, and aimless.

On Holy Saturday we sit by the grave to feel the gloom of the grave, to face the reality of death itself. It is a day to weep, fast, and mourn. The late second century church (e.g., Irenaeus) fasted from all food on this day because it was a day of mourning. They did not break the fast until Easter morning.

Those of us who have spent time at graves–in my case the grave of a parent, wife, and child–understand this grief, the despair of the grave. I have spent much of my life running away from graves, and I have rarely spent much time thinking about Holy Saturday.

It is much easier to skip from Friday to Easter than to dwell on Holy Saturday. As what happened in my life, we skip grief as much as possible. It is easier to run from grief. We prefer to escape it rather than face it or endure it.

Holy Saturday reminds me to grieve, to lament. It reminds me to rail against death, the enemy of both God and humanity. It reminds me to protest death and renew my hatred for it. It reminds me to feel again and sit with the disciples in their despair.

Indeed, to sit with the disciples is to sit with humanity in the face of death. When we sit at the grave we recognize our powerlessness. We cannot reverse death; we cannot defeat this enemy. Holy Saturday creates a yearning for Easter. We need Easter for without it we are dead.

But Easter is a faint victory if we do not fully recognize the horror of death. Death threatens us with non-being, and it dismantles life so that there is no meaning, purpose, or joy that lasts. Easter is God’s gift; it is God’s “Yes” to Death’s “No.”

Yesterday we remembered the death of Jesus on Good Friday, today we sit at the grave, but tomorrow, Sunday, we are renewed by the hope of the resurrection.

Jesus walked that path, and we follow him.  We, too, will have our Friday; one day we will be entombed and loved ones will mourn at our graves. However–by the grace and mercy of God–on that great day we will rise again to walk with Jesus upon the new heaven and new earth.

That is the meaning of Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter.

A Lord’s Supper Home Meal — A Method

July 24, 2012

On many different occasions, and some recently, I have been asked about how I conceive or conduct the Lord’s supper as a home meal. Others who are doing something similar have wanted to compare their practices with my own. I have never explicitly addressed this on my blog but now is an opportune moment.

The Lord’s supper as a meal is not a weekly event for me but it is fairly common.  In my small group, several of my classes and other occasions I have led or participated in group meals as the “Lord’s supper.”

Why do this?  Well, first the Lord’s supper is a supper, that is, it is an evening meal (the meaning of deipnon). Second, I think the supper was intended for smaller groups. The Jerusalem church, though 3000 strong on the day of Pentecost, met to “break bread” in their homes in small groups. Third, the supper as a group meal engenders intimacy among its participants. There we experience fellowship at the most basic level through eating together; there we show hospitality toward each other; and there we experience grace around the table.

When I lead the Lord’s meal, I have a fairly general outline of how the meal will proceed. This is not rigid but I think ritual is important or else the meal will lose focus and degenerate into a generality that cannot carry the weight of the moment. Nevertheless, the meal varies in order, Scripture texts, and meditation. But here is the general order in which I lead the meals (by the way, the food is already on the table as we sit down).

1.  Lighting of candles.  I like two central candles on the table to symbolize the light of creation and the light of new creation.  We give honor and praise to the Father and Son in this way as we remember that the Holy Spirit (the flame of love) illuminates us and brings us into the presence of the Father and Son.

2.  Each participant has a small candle in front of their plate.  I ask each, in turn, to light their candle (the lighter is passed around) and give thanks for something that God is doing in their lives. We begin with our basic response to the light of God, that is, we give thanks.

3.  I offer a meditation on the Lord’s Supper using a text of Scripture. This may range from the traditional texts like 1 Corinthians 11 or Luke 22.  But I don’t limit myself to them. Other texts also come into play such as Psalms of thanksgiving (like Psalm 116, 107, 118) and other texts that carry the meaning of the meal within them or through application.

4.  Breaking of the Bread. I use a whole loaf that is large enough for every person at the table to take a substantial piece (not just a pinch).  I take the bread in my hands and talk about the meaning of the bread.  The bread is from the earth that nourishes our bodies but the bread is also a means of experiencing the new creation through as the raised, living body of Christ. We eat this bread for both physical and spiritual nourishment.  I then break the bread and offer a prayer of thanksgiving, and then distribute it.  I give it to the people on either side of me and they break off a piece and pass it down to those around the table.  As each one gives the bread to the other, they say:  “This is the body of Christ which is given for you.”  We all eat the bread.

5.  We begin eating and drinking what is available on the table.

6.  At some point at the beginning of our eating (after we all have food on our plates), I will remind the participants of the two candles and that by the presence of the Spirit, the living Christ is the host of this table.  If we have some ongoing intimacy as a group (that is, this is not the first time we ever met or a special occasion), I will ask each to share something that is happening in their life in their walk with God (struggles, triumphs, etc.). This is a community meal.  At the end of the sharing, we pray for each other.

7.  Towards the middle of the meal, I will remind the table that this is the communion of the saints, which includes the saints around the world at present but also the communion of the saints who now inhabit the heavens with God. I begin by recalling the presence of Sheila, Dad and Joshua at the table with us, and ask each to remember one who is already in the heavens but present at the table with us even now. We remember that we commune with the saints as well as with God.

8.  In connection with this remembrance, I ask each to share a name for whom we might pray.  Depending on time, they may explain why the name, but usually I just ask for names without explanation.  This is for a time of intercession.  We pray over the names, and I don’t usually list the names again in the prayer but simply acknowledge that God has heard and we call up God to act.

9.  In this context, I will share or ask another to share another scripture.  One of my favorites at this point is Psalm 116.  It is a thanksgiving Psalm that reminds us that we cannot repay God’s goodness except to lift up the cup of thanksgiving and celebrate a meal with God (the Psalm is written in the context of a thanksgiving sacrifice).

10.  Towards the end of the meal, I take the pitcher that is filled with the fruit of the vine and talk about the “cup” we are about to drink.  I remind us that this is the blood of Christ which is poured out for us for the remission of our sins. In this moment we experience reconciliation with God–we are forgiven.  But I also remind us that the “cup” is something we share with Christ, that is, we share the cup of suffering as persons who follow Jesus to the cross.  We are reminded that we are disciples committed to follow Jesus daily, even to a cross.

11.  Pouring the Cup.  I take the pitcher and pour some into a cup (something like a wine class perhaps) for the person sitting next to me.  As I pour, I say, this is the blood of Christ for you and invite them to share the cup of Jesus. In turn, they pour the cup for the person next to them and around the table till all have their cups filled. Someone then prays over the cup, giving thanks for what God has done in Jesus. And we drink together as we say “Thank you, Jesus.” Many times we cling our glasses together in a toast.

11.  As each pours the cup for the other, I ask that they affirm that person for something in their life. In what way do they see Jesus in this person who sits at the table with them? For what do they give thanks for them and acknowledge their communion in Christ?  In this way, we share an intimacy with each other and express our gratitude for each other as we express our gratitude to God.

13.  As we drink and conclude the meal, I don’t want the cup to simply end with a sip. Rather, as we drink and continue to drink (and finish eating as the case may be), I ask each person in turn to share one word (with an explanation) that is prominent in their heart and mind at that moment. What are they experiencing? We share a word that expresses our heart.

14.  Sometimes dessert is offered as a taste of the eschaton–as a present foretaste of coming joy.

15.  As the meal winds down and we conclude eating, I end the meal with some kind of benediction. It could be a prayer, a blessing, a Scripture reading.

This is a method; it is certainly not a standard or the method.  I think the meal can be conducted in any number of ways.  However, I do think several things are important:

  • Scripture (the Word) to Open the Meal
  • Bread and Fruit of the Vine
  • Communion of the Saints
  • Intercession for the Saints
  • Expressions of Gratitude
  • Benediction as Closure

Perhaps some might find this helpful.  For whatever its value, there it is!    🙂

Meeting God at the Shack — Published on Kindle

December 3, 2011

Since the publication of William Young’s book The Shack in the light of my own personal journey into the world of spiritual recovery (which I experienced in 2008).  I found much in Young’s novel that paralleled my own experience.

It is now available on Amazon entitled:  Meeting God at the Shack: A Journey into Spiritual Recovery.

For those who have read my previous material on God, faith and suffering (such as Yet Will I Trust Him or Anchors for the Soul), this book is a continuation of my journey. I think it is more profound and more mature than my previous writings on the subject. It is, nevertheless, still ultimately inadequate as an “answer” to the struggle of life, faith and peace in human hearts, including my own. Nevertheless, God offers peace even when there are no “answers”.

The first part of this book discusses spiritual recovery while the second part addresses some of the theological questions that concern many. But even in the second part I am much more interested in how this parable and the theological questions it raises offer an entrance into the substantial themes of divine love, forgiveness, healing and hope. These are the main concerns of the book.

I think the question the novel addresses is this:  How do wounded people come to believe that God really is “especially fond” of them?

Only after reading the book through this lens are we able to understand how Young uses some rather unconventional metaphors to deepen his point.

My interest is to unfold the story of recovery in The Shack as I experienced it through my own journey. So, I invite you to walk with me through the maze of grief, hurt, and pain as we, through experiencing Mackenzie’s shack, face our own “shacks.”

James A. Harding: “A Bible Reading on Giving”

March 2, 2011

James A. Harding, the namesake of Harding University and co-founder of Lipscomb University, placed as much emphasis on giving, tithing and trusting in God’s provisioin as he did any other topic.  The sin of covetousness is idolatry and it “hurts the church more than any other,” he wrote.  We hate the extreme, but we tolerate the subtle when it is the “chief end and aim in life” to make money, where someone “comes to meeting with tolerable regularity, lives well, dresses well, and gives about two percent of his income publicly to the Lord’s cause” but thinks of making money ten times more than anything else.  Such a man “trusts in money” and “he heaps it up” because he does not trust God to take care of him or his family (“Two Dreadful Sins that are Very Prevalent,” Gospel Advocate 29 [1887], 658).

Not money, but the kingdom was Harding’s central concern. How one holds their wealth and how one treats the poor are as significant to discipleship as any other value. He was not opposed to making money, but he advised loaning it to the Lord. “If Christians are wise,” he wrote, “they will be diligent in business; and then, when they have money, they will use it with a free hand in ministering to widows and orphans, in caring for the poor, in having the gospel preached, or to sum it all up, in lending it to the Lord” (“Scraps. Wealth and How to Use It,” Gospel Advocate 26 [1886], 674). Indeed, Christians should think of their careers as not only participating in the kingdom of God but also that their income is for the sake of the kingdom of God.   “If every Christian in the world would run his business, whatever that may be, solely for the advancement of God’s kingdom; if he should consider himself as being in the world simply and solely for that purpose, what a wonderful change we would have in the world” (“Three Contradictory Theories,” The Way 3.1 [4 April 1901] 4).

Harding was a firm believer that every follower of Christ ought to give “at least” ten percent of their income to helping the poor and helping others proclaim the gospel (“The Churches and the Societies—A Contrast,” Gospel Advocate 25 [1883], 794). Harding practiced what he preached. In 1902 Harding testified that some thirty years previous he had decided to tithe and that over those years he had increased the percentage “eleven times” (“Scraps,” The Way 4 [10 April 1902] 10). L. C. Sears, Harding’s grandson, tells us that “in later years [the Hardings] were giving 65 percent of their income” to the kingdom of God (“J. A. Harding,” in Harding College Lectures 1967 [Austin: Firm Foundation Publishing House, 1967], 74).

His “Bible Reading on Giving,” which is rooted in some specific testimonies from Scripture, has added power because it aries out of the life of family who embodied the principles taught therein. He published it several times, but for the first time in The Way 3 (January 26 1899) 10-12 which was one of his first articles in his newly founded periodical.  The lengthy article is provided below.

     The topic class of the Bible School recently had for the subject of the day: “The Bible Doctrine of Giving.” We will endeavor to reproduce the lesson here as an example of what we do in that class and what will appear from time to time in the The Way. As we read the rich promise of God to those who give, nothing but a lack of faith will prevent us from becoming more generous and whole-hearted in his service.

     1. Abraham paid tithes to Melchisedec.  “And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he [Abram] gave him a tenth of all.” (Gen. 14:19,20, R.V.; read the entire chapter; also Heb. 7:10.) From this we learn the custom of paying tithes was at least four hundred years older than the law of Moses. It was incorporated in that law, but was recognized as a righteous thing to do for hundreds of years before. The Arabs, the Greeks, the inhabitants of Sicily and those of the Roman province of Asia, the Carthaginians, Phenicians [sic], and many other ancient nations, especially those of the East, paid tithes. Among the Mohammedan States is I practiced to this day. Many Christians regularly give the full tenth of their incomes to the Lord; some of them, much more than this. The law of Moses required a tenth to be given to the Levites; and, as it appears, a second tenth was to be expended at Jerusalem at the annual feasts for feeding the poor. If every member of the church of God would give one-tenth of his entire income to the Lord, what an abundance we would have for attending to our poor and for spreading the gospel! Abraham’s giving did not impoverish him; he grew richer and richer; and no man of his day was so highly honored and blessed by the Lords.

     2. “And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.” (Gen. 28:20-22). When Jacob made this vow, he was going from his father’s house, with no property but the staff in his hand; when he returned twenty or forty years later, he was rich in wives, children, herds, flocks, and servants—so rich that he considered it a little thing to make his brother a present of five hundred and eighty animals, including goats, sheep, camels, kine, and asses. He did not lose anything by giving a tenth.

     3. “Honor the Lord with they substance, and with the fist fruits of all thine increase; so shall they barns be filled with plenty, and they vats shall overflow with new wine.” (Prov. 3:9,10.) Here is a positive promise that if a man will honor the Lord in giving, as he ought to do, he shall be blessed with an abundance—a promise that all believers in the Bible are assured was most fully kept in Old Testament times; but many are not so fully assured that it holds good now, and hence they are afraid to give. Many  Christians, according to their own confessions, give but trifling sums for the support of the religion of Christ, not as much as they spend for coffee or tobacco or for some secret society or for a pleasure trip to Niagara. Some will spend more for a piano for their children than they will give in five years for the cause of Christ.  Surely they do not believe the promise holds good now; but we will see about that when we come to the quotations from the New Testament.

     4. “There is that scattereth, and in increaseth yet more; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth only to want. The liberal soul shall be made fat; and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.” (Prov. 11:24,25, R.V.) It pays to please God. He who is generous and liberal in ministering to others, who does to others as he would have them do to him, pleases the Father, and the Father will not fail to bless him most abundantly here and hereafter.

     Jesus says: “Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or mother, or father, or children, or lands, for my sake, and for the gospel’s sake, but he shall receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions: and in the world to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29,30, R.V.). So Jesus spoke then, and he changes not. He is “the same yesterday and to-day, yea and forever;” and he who does not believe it is as much as an infidel, it seems to me, as he who does not believe “He that believeth [10] and is baptized shall be saved.” Every word of God is true, one as true as another; every promise of God is good, and any one of them is just as certain to be fulfilled as any other as any other one when the conditions have been complied with. When one takes God at his word and acts on his promise; when he is liberal and grows in liberality, the fulfillment of the promises greatly strengthens his faith till he can say in full assurance by faith: I know that God “is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him.” Such faith becomes like knowledge, and is called knowledge in the Bible.

     5. “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord, and his good deed will he pay him again.” (Prov. 19:17, R.V.) Sam. Jones, I believe it was, who, in commenting upon this passage, said: “If you like the security, come down with the cash.” If a man gives to the poor in the name of the Lord, he lends to the Lord; and who can believe that with such a loan in his possession the Lord would let that man suffer from want? Even a kind, just man would promptly pay a debt, if he could, if he were to see the lender pressed hard for the money. Especially would he be prompt in returning it, if it had been loaned to him in sympathy when he himself was in some straits. If men are thoughtful and generous in such things, is not God infinitely more so? Many a man has refrained from giving to the poor when they needed help badly, or from contributing to the Lord’s cause when a fine opportunity for doing good thereby presented itself, because he was afraid he would come to want if he should spend his money in that way. What a mistake! That is the very way to lay up money so as to be sure to have it at hand ready for use when you really need it. It is right to be wise and discreet in giving, but be sure to give.

     6. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, who, if his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone; or if he shall ask for a fish, will give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them; for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matt. 7:7-12, R.V.) It is sometimes said that Jesus does not argue; the he simply states his case on his own authority without giving reasons to convince the understanding of his hearer. But notice how fine and strong the argument is here, and how logical the conclusion. Men who are weak, sinful, and selfish give good things to their children, when they ask for them; how much more, then, will the infinitely good, strong, wise, and unselfish Heavenly Father give good things to his children? It is only necessary that they should ask him in faith, with a confidence and affection similar to that which they feel to their earthly fathers. A kind, earthly father will withhold no good thing from his affectionate, obedient child that he can in righteousness give to him; so the Heavenly Father withholds no good thing from them that walk uprightly. Notice also how clearly the conclusion follows from this argument. Inasmuch as God’s child can get what he needs, when he needs it, by asking for it, he can afford to give freely to other that need; so Jesus says, in conclusion of this paragraph: “All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them.” And this is what it is to love your neighbor as yourself. Do you believe what Jesus says here, my brother? If you do, you will act upon it; if you do not act upon it, you do not believe it.

     7. “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, shall they give into your bosom. For with what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again.” (Luke 6:38, R.V.) Here the Savior teaches not only that we should give, but that we should give abundantly; for even as we give to others, so also will men give to us; God will see to it that it shall be so; he gives to us through men. Man a man is poor and has a hard time, and devotes nearly all of his time and thought to making a living, and makes a poor one at that, simply because he is close and niggardly and fearful. If he would take God at his word and begin at once, with a cheerful heart, to give a liberal pr cent of his income to the Lord’s cause, his affairs would brighten up at once.  Do you doubt it? And what will become of you if you live and die doubting Christ? The beautiful story of the Shunammite woman (see 2 Kings 4:8-37; 8:1-6) illustrates how God deals with the generous-hearted who do good to his servants. This woman saw that Elisha was a man of God, and, at her suggestion, she and her husband built a room for [11] him “on the wall” and furnished it, that he might turn in at any time as he passed to and fro. As a result of her kindness, God gave her a son, and when her property had been lost to her and her son by their long absence on account of a famine, it was all returned to her again, with all the fruits of it from the time of her departure till she returned. This is not an exception; it is simply an illustration of the rule.

      8. “But this I say, He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Let each man do according as he hath purposed in his heart; not grudgingly, or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound unto you; that ye, having always all sufficiency in everything, may abound unto every good work: as it is written, He hath scattered abroad, he hath given to the poor; his righteousness abideth forever. And he that supplieth seed to the sower and bread for food, shall supply and multiply your seed for sowing, and increase the fruits of your righteousness; ye being enriched in everything unto all liberality, which worketh through us thanksgiving to God.” (2 Cor. 9:6-11, R.V.) Let us notice carefully the lessons to be drawn from this passage.  Paul was exhorting the Corinthians, as he had before taught them, and the disciples of Macedonia and Galatia, to give to the poor saints in Judea. The land of Palestine was greatly troubled at this time. The troubles that culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem, and in the awful miseries that afflicted the Jewish people at that time, were already distressing the people; business was interrupted, agriculture interfered with, and the Hebrew Christians were poor and poorly prepared to stand the famine.

     (a) In exhorting the  Gentile Christians to contribute to their wants, Paul teaches the following lessons:

     (b) Giving in God’s service is not squandering the means for your own support in old age or sickness; it is rather a sowing from which you may expect to reap a big harvest, when the need comes, if you have sown liberally.

    (c) If a man gives little, he will receive little; if he gives much, he will receive much.

    (d) Each one should give cheerfully as he chooses to give, and not at the dictation of another; for God loves a cheerful giver.

    (e) God is not only able to supply you abundantly with all that you need, but, when you do liberally and cheerfully give in his service, he will supply and multiply your seed for sowing, and he will increase the fruits of your righteousness, so that you shall be enriched in everything, and your liberality shall cause many thanksgivings to go up to God.

     My brother, do you believe this doctrine? Then you will give liberally, and, as your faith grows, you will give more and more. You will not long be content with giving a tenth; soon you will give fifteen cents on the dollar—then twenty, twenty-five, thirty, thirty-three and one-third, thirty-five, and so on; for you will find that the more you give, the more you will have to give, and the more good you can do, and the more the name of God will be glorified in you. As Solomon says: “The liberal soul shall be made fat; and he that watereth shall be watered himself.”

     9. “Be ye free from the love of money; content with such tings as ye have: for himself hath said, I will in nowise fail thee, neither will I in any wise forsake thee. So that with good courage we say, The Lord is my helper; I will not fear: what shall man do unto me? Remember them that had rule over you, which spake unto you the word of God; and considering the issue of their life, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and to-day, yea and forever.” (Heb. 13:5-8, R.V.)  This is a good passage and one that we need to meditate much upon. “Be ye free from the love of money.” As an illustration of what it is to love money to the very greatest degree, consider the following incident:  While waiting at a railway station, a few nights ago, I overheard a man say to another: “My greatest pleasure is in making money; and my next greatest pleasure is in keeping it.” What a worshiper of Mammon! With him money was far above every other God. Never before had I heard a man so openly and boldly announce himself a money worshiper, an idolater, an utterly selfish man. Perhaps there are not many as bas as he proclaimed himself to be; but there are many people who love money, who hoard it, who are misers without knowing it. Many others are selfish and spend money rather for their own pleasures than for the cause of Christ. The miser takes pleasure in making money and in keeping it; even self-denial and pain become pleasures to him when they enable him to make and keep money. The Christian should take pleasure in making money by honorable diligence that he may spend it for Christ; self-denial and pain should give him pleasure when he realizes that thereby he is advancing the cause of Christ. As the chief pleasure of [12] the ardent Mammon worshiper is to make and keep money, so the chief pleasure of the child of God should be to advance the cause of his Master in every way that he can. With him the all-important thing should be the service of Christ, the glorification of his name, the extension of his kingdom, the salvation of his people; this devotion should be so far first in his heart that all other interests are as nothing in comparison with it. God help us to be real Christians.

      This passage teaches that the Christian need not concern himself about how he will come out, if he is thus free from the love of money, and content with such things as he has, for the apostle reminds us that  God has said: “I will in no wise fail thee, neither will I in any wise forsake thee.” And Jesus, long before this letter to the Hebrews was written, had said: “Seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you;” and the Master was talking about our temporal needs—food, raiment, and such things—when he said it. Then the apostle exhorts these Hebrew Christians to remember the ancient worthies who had the rule over them, and who spoke unto them the word of God; and he tells them to consider their lives, to observe how they terminated, and to imitate their faith. He wants us to consider Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Jeremiah, Daniel, and the great host of heroes of the former days, and to live lives of faith and self-denial like they did.  Are you afraid to do it? Do you fear that such a life would not turn out so well for you? Then he reminds you that Christ has not changed; he is the same being they served—just as strong, just as wise and good and loving, just as considerate of his servants as he ever was, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and to-day, yea and forever.” He just as positively tells us under the new covenant the he will give us temporal blessings as he spoke it to them under the old covenant; his assurances that he will hear and answer prayer now are just as full and complete as they were then. All that is lacking is that we should believe now as those grand servants of God believed then, and the blessings will be poured out upon us in abundance.

      I have quoted, in this article, as I do generally, from the Revised Version. If you will compare the quotations with the same passages in the Common Version, you will see how much stronger and clearer some of them are in the Revision.   J.A. H.