October 10, 2014

“Bible Studies” and Me…

Category: News — admin @ 6:02 pm

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But at night, had they not heard the howlings of demented wind,
the sharp, clean, windy raining to earth of acorns? Had all of them
not walked down lonely roads at night in winter and seen a light
and known it was theirs? Had all of them not known the wilderness?

—Thomas Wolfe
_______________

OK. I know I’m going to get clobbered, here. At least figuratively, by a lot of you. But I’m going to say it anyway, because it’s triggered by events that have just been coming down around me. And you write from where you are, is what I’ve always claimed. So I’ll just go ahead and say it. I’ve never liked Bible Studies or Prayer Meetings. Never been all that comfortable in or around such places. To me, Prayer Meetings and Bible Studies have always been just flat-out boring, and dreadfully dull.

I’m not talking about your Bible Study, or your prayer group, if you attend such a thing and enjoy it. I’m not saying you don’t get a lot of support from your “small group” people. So don’t go and get all offended. I’m only talking about my own perceptions. My own experiences. I come from the Amish. They don’t do such things. They never meet to openly pray, or study the Bible. Plus, they only have church service every two weeks. You come from a setting like that, and it’s a little different. It’s disconcerting when you suddenly walk into a world where there’s church every Sunday. And some sort of church or Bible Study every Wednesday night. It’s like, oh my, all of this is a bit much. It’s a lot of talk, from a lot of people who don’t have a whole lot of other choices. Do I really have to go? And it all got just a wee bit tiresome, for me.

I remember it so well, when I moved down to Daviess from northern Indiana after I left the Amish. The Wagler family welcomed me. And it was just naturally assumed I’d go to their church. Mount Olive Mennonite. A plain, plain group. Pretty much like the Beachy Amish, maybe even stricter in some ways. And that church welcomed me, too, just like the Waglers had. I was pretty traumatized right at that time. I had broken free, and I knew there would be no return. Ever. But I wasn’t quite sure what it was to walk forward. The people at Mount Olive made me welcome. They were kind, and I will never forget that kindness.

I remember the first Wednesday night service I ever went to, after leaving. Prayer Meeting, I think they called it. Same as a Bible Study, really, except it’s the whole church. Someone had a topic of some sort. “Topics” are usually dry as a bone. There’s lots of admonishing going on, about what it is to live right. And lots of Amens. After the topic that night, we split off into small groups. I tagged along with the little group of youth I was with, as we walked down to the basement. And we sat around, in a little circle. Someone asked for prayer requests. People said things like “We need rain. Crops are real dry.” Or “Let’s pray for so-and-so, that he’ll get saved.” I can’t ever remember a real meaningful deep personal request coming from anyone’s heart. But I digress. Back to that very first night. After the requests were gathered, someone started praying. A short prayer, maybe a minute or two. And then the next person prayed. I stirred, and looked around in panic. It was creeping right around, and soon it would be my turn. I’d never prayed aloud in public, before. I didn’t know how. What do you say? And then it was the guy next to me’s turn. He prayed. And then it was my time. My turn.

The only reason I remember that particular scene is because of that frozen moment. I sat there, silent and paralyzed. I couldn’t speak. After an agonizing ten or twenty seconds, I waved my hand. I pass. And mercifully, the guy on the other side of me didn’t blink or hesitate. He prayed his little prayer. And it went on around the circle, until it was finished. Nobody mentioned anything, about how I had not prayed. But I felt pretty ashamed. And yes, the next time at Prayer Meeting, I did manage to squeak out a few words. It was so hard to force myself. I just didn’t come from a place like that. And in time, I got to be decently fluent, when speaking aloud to the Lord. One thing, though. My spoken prayers were never, never long. They still aren’t. Not anything like the prayers from my heart. Those prayers go on and on, every day, like a preacher who doesn’t know when it’s time to shut up and sit down. I’m OK with that, though. I think the Lord is OK with that, too.

The Mount Olive Church people were pretty plain and strict. And if you didn’t show up at Prayer Meeting for a few weeks in a row, someone would come to investigate. Ahem. Any particular reason we’re not seeing you on Wednesday nights? And you shrivel, before an interrogation like that. You never really had a whole lot of choice. You had to go. A couple of things saved me, in the end. I came out to Lancaster, that first summer, to work for the money that I needed for college. And that fall, I enrolled at Vincennes University. So I wasn’t around, much, on Wednesday nights, anymore. I had a valid excuse, not to go to those Prayer Meetings. No one bugged me about not being there. And that was all just fine with me.

Those were Prayer Meetings. I’ve run into a few Bible Studies, too, in my wanderings. Little groups of adult singles, mostly, years ago. I went sometimes, just to mingle. And to meet people. But I was uneasy, at some of what went on. There was always lots of talk about some “victory” someone was living, right then. Lots of cheering going on, and bland talk about how good God is. Always, at some point, they’d try to get you to share your innermost dark secrets. Your sins. The stuff you were struggling with. The places of the heart that only the Lord knows. And maybe one or two other persons, in all the world, if that. I’m not gonna share that kind of stuff with people at a Bible Study. I’m just not, not when I just walked into the door. Why would I trust what they’re telling me to do? Why would I speak from the dark places in my heart? I wouldn’t. And I didn’t. I didn’t know them well enough, to go there. Not everyone was like that, of course. I met some real nice people at Bible Studies, people who truly cared, and were doing their best to walk a Christian life. It was the nosy ones that irritated me.

And mostly, I remember this, about the nosy ones. They seemed garishly eager, to get you to talk. Come on. Share your struggles. Share your sins. It was, of course, so they could “pray” for you. You won’t get victory unless you confess. And repent. That’s what they told me. And the more they pressured me, the more I shrank from them. From what I’d seen and heard in the Mennonite and Beachy communities, people ask you to share your burdens so they can pray for you, sure. And I’m sure they do. Pray for you, from above. But then they run around and tell others, often. Their “prayer circle” friends, probably. Those that do, their talk is always cloaked with “loving” language, like, the poor boy is struggling and needs prayer. Please pray for Ira. But at its core foundation, stuff like that is nothing but flat-out gossip. That’s something I saw, growing up. Gossip, I mean. Not Prayer Meetings. And I can sense the roots of gossip, no matter what kinds of glossy words it’s coated with.

That’s all real sketchy detail, right there. And I know it’s sketchy, to explain where I’m coming from. It all was what it was, back when it happened. And I may have been a little overly sensitive. But that’s why I’ve always had issues with Prayer Meetings and Bible Studies. And that’s where I am, or was, until real recently. And to tell you why I’m in a different place, there’s a big time bunny trail coming up, right here. But I promise to circle back.

There’s an old friend in my life. His name is Reuben. We’ve known each other all our lives. We were pretty much best friends, in all that time. I mean, from back when we were kids. And a number of years back, he made some very, very bad choices. He chose to walk down some real hard roads. He made some destructive, destructive decisions. And his world blew up. Just blew up into smithereens. He chose to leave his wife and family, for an idol. He did that. Walked away from his family. And from where I was at that time, well, he chose to leave all we had known as old friends, for an idol, too. And we were totally estranged, he and I, for a few years. Oh, yes, we were. If you know the story, you don’t need to hear it told again. If you don’t know the story, then what you’re being told here is enough.

Let’s just say that I wrote savagely at him, right here on this blog. I swore to curse him and his seed forever. Never quite got that done, though. I wanted to, but somehow, it just never happened. And yeah, that writing is all still right where I posted it, back when. It’s a record of a journey, I guess. And no, I won’t point you to any of it. If you want to read it, track it down yourself.

He left, then, and moved to a faraway land for a few years. And then, about three years ago or so, he moved back into the area to reconnect with his broken family. Mostly with his children, his sons and daughters. He wanted to get back into the daily operations of his business at Graber Supply, too. And he reached out to me, to see if some kind of reconciliation could be possible. I was extremely skittish, when he approached me, put out the feelers. But I didn’t discount it. And over time, we got to where we could talk, face to face. And there was a glimmer there, of what once was before. I could see it was all worth repairing, the broken pieces. Time had moved on. It couldn’t be what it was before, I figured. The friendship, I mean. But it could be something. Something worth building back up.

And, yeah, I’m very aware that there are many people out there who have looked very strangely at me in the past few years. What are you thinking? We’re lined up, here, behind you, with our swords drawn. Ready to follow and strike and condemn Reuben for all his sins. What’s wrong with you? You were real mad. Seething mad, bent to destroy all he is or ever was. And then, all of a sudden, you just laid down your sword. Are you weak, or what? How can we hold our swords up, when you won’t hold up your own? How can we follow, when you won’t lead?

And yeah, I hear all that talk. Well, not so much talk as murmurs. I feel those people looking askance, all around me. And that’s OK. I am where I am. I choose to walk where I walk. If you think that’s weak, that’s OK, too. But my response to all such bloodthirsty Christians is this. Thank you. I appreciate your loyal support. But I got a simple thing to ask. Why don’t you live your own lives, and let me live mine? What possible business is it of yours, what choices I make about who I hang out with?

And over time, we relaxed a bit, Reuben and me. There was still some tension there, depending on what might come up, or what might be triggered in my mind. There were a whole lot of moments like that, in my head. But we worked hard at it, he and I, to reach a new dawn. And I have to say, it was all pretty seamless, when he came back into the daily operations of his company.

It’s been tough, for him, outside of my own issues. And no, this is not a sob story about the poor guy. We all pretty much deserve what comes at us, that way. But still, it has been tough. There’s a whole heck of a lot of judgment out there, at him. Totally deserved, I’m sure. But still. At what point does one begin to lower the walls a bit? Even for such a wicked sinner as him?

There’s always a light that comes shining through, at some point, in a story such as this. Or the telling of it probably wouldn’t be happening. And that light came last November. Reuben and I had taken to hanging out, after work, every couple of weeks or so. We sipped scotch, and talked. (When we reconnected, I swore I would never drink with him. It took more than a year, for that little oath to fall by the wayside.) And it was mostly good, always. But one day, after work, he seemed a little excited. He had read some article on some internet site, written by some leftist woman who worked for Fox News. I don’t remember her name, and it doesn’t matter. But she was pretty well known. She came from the high-browed, elitist crowd. She was way too smart, way too educated to believe in such a thing as God. Faith was for hicks. And she wrote about how she came to know Christ. She lived in New York City. The center of the world. And somehow, she got drawn to attend a church there. Redeemer Presbyterian. She heard the sermons of Pastor Tim Keller. And eventually, she wrote, the hound of heaven hunted her down. Jesus stood by her bed, in a dream. And asked her to come to him. And now she knew. Now she believed in Jesus. And she wrote very unashamedly about her journey. And about where she was right then, and how she got there.

Reuben was fascinated by that article. It was so open and so honest, especially coming from a mainstream media personality. And he followed the link the woman posted, to Redeemer Presbyterian. And in less than a week, I saw the change in him. He was listening to those sermons. He told me about it. I’ve never seen the man more excited. He sent me a link or two. And one Sunday, when I couldn’t make it to Chestnut Street Chapel, I pulled up that link and listened. Tim Keller is a very dynamic speaker. And no, I don’t mean he yells and carries on. He doesn’t. He talks very calmly, infusing his message with lots of humor. But it’s always, always grounded in Scripture. And his message was inside out, from all I ever heard, growing up. Not that I hadn’t heard it before. It’s right along the same veins that Pastor Mark Potter has been preaching at Chestnut Street, these past three years or so. The same stuff. Powerful stuff. Life-changing stuff. It doesn’t take you long, to grasp the real truth, what real freedom is, when you hear Pastor Mark. And it doesn’t take you long, when you hear Tim Keller.

Reuben listened and listened to those Tim Keller sermons. I know that because the man wouldn’t stop talking about what he was hearing. Always, in every conversation, it got woven in, somehow, what he’d heard. And it changed him, too. His personality. He’s always been a driven man, as you’d have to be, to build up a business like he did. And he’s always had a tendency, sometimes, to let the pressures get to him. He’d get all snappy and uptight and loud. That part of him disappeared, almost completely and very soon.

And he told me, early on. “Every morning, when I get up, that’s the first thing I do. I drink coffee and listen to a sermon.” Well, what do you do with that? You cheer the man on, in this case. As I did. I was hearing the same stuff at my church, just at a more entry level. It’s preached for people like me, people who come from a guilt-ridden background like the Amish. Here is the path. It’s upside down, from all you ever heard. That’s what Pastor Mark preaches. So I could connect with what Reuben was telling me about what he was hearing.

I thought the whole thing might fade, for Reuben. He was living pretty loosely, in some areas of his life, back last November. Just like I’ve lived pretty loosely with my scotch for some time, now. And I saw him ponder and reflect on what was or wasn’t right. Not as a lost person. But as a child of God, awaking to the light, struggling to grasp, to see, to accept the gift that was there for him. And the next thing you knew, he was driving to New York City every Sunday morning, to actually attend Redeemer Presbyterian. Right into the big old evil city, he went. Week after week, and Sunday after Sunday. And he wouldn’t stop talking about what he was hearing. The gospel. I marveled. And I told him. When you hear a particularly good sermon that you think I might like, send me the link. He took me up on that. Two or three times a week, here comes another email with a link. I made a separate file, the Keller file, for what he sends me. And when I feel the need, I go and click on one of those sermons. I listen to what he heard. And I completely understand why Reuben is so excited about it all. Tim Keller is a true (and flawed) servant of God.

And no, it didn’t happen as you’d expect it to in any feel-good Christian story. Where everything suddenly gets all cleaned up and everyone is reunited and singing happy praises. And now everything is perfect. It didn’t and it’s not. Life is messy, and it’s just as messy for Christians as it is for anyone else. At least it is, if you’re honest. Which a lot of Christians aren’t, because they think they have to act all happy and bubbly about what Jesus did for them, all the time. That kind of pressure is an awful thing. So this little story doesn’t end like that. Reuben did not return to his wife. They are divorced. They remain divorced. I don’t judge that. How can I? I’m divorced, too.

And time passed on. A month or two ago, he told me one day. He’d love to start a men’s group of some kind. A Bible Study, although he didn’t call it that. He had in mind that a few guys could just hang out, upstairs in the conference room at work. And listen to a Keller sermon. They’re only forty minutes long, right across. And then there would be discussion. Sure, I said. If that’s what your heart’s telling you to do, then just do it. “Ah, I don’t know,” he said. “I’m not sure anyone will come if I invite them.” Well, try it. And he texted a few friends, a few weeks back. “Next Tuesday evening, at 6:30. I’d love to see you here, for a Bible Study.”

I’d come, I told him when he asked. But this is blog week. I don’t go out evenings on blog week, much. But go ahead. And that Tuesday, I asked him. Anyone committed to coming, yet? “No,” he said. “I guess I’ll just go and wait and see if anyone shows up.” And that’s what he did. The next morning, I asked him. Well, who came? “I had a very nice time,” he said bravely. “All by myself.” And I felt bad for the man. Here he was, all excited. Wanting to just get together with a few guys, and share what he had found. And no one came.

Have one again next Tuesday night, I said. I’ll come, if no one else will. And so he scheduled it for Tuesday of last week. As that day came, I asked him. Did anyone commit to come? “No,” he said. “Are you still coming?” I plan to, I said. And I got to thinking. Who could I invite? This is Lancaster County. Everyone’s all busy all the time. It’s tough, to get something like this going. I called one friend. He’d like to, but he had other things planned. That’s totally OK, I said. I just thought I’d check.

Then I thought of my friend, Allen Beiler. He and his family have been coming to my church, now and then. I knew he was a market guy. Late in the week never suits him. He’s at market. But this was Tuesday. So I texted him. Would you like to come to a Bible Study here at the office tonight? I figured he would have something going. But he texted right back. “This is a little weird. I was just going to text you to see if you want to go hang out at Vinola’s tonight. So, sure, I’ll plan on being there.” Great. There will be at least three guys, I thought. That’s better than one, and it’s better than two. I texted Reuben. My friend Allen’s coming. He was going to text me to see if I want to hang out at Vinola’s. He’s coming here, instead. His response: “Amazing.”

I just puttered around at my desk after the others left at five. And right at six, Reuben walked in. He’d brought snacks and bottled water. He trundled everything upstairs, and set it out. Way too much food. And we sat there, talking, the two of us. We kept glancing out toward the road. A few minutes after 6:30, Allen’s big old dually pulled in. He parked, and walked up to join us. I made the introductions, and we sat and visited for a while. And then Reuben pulled up the sermon he had in mind for that first night.

We sat around the table and listened and took a few notes. Keller’s theme. Is God love or is He judgment? One side claims He’s all love. The other side focuses pretty much on judgment. And Keller asked. Does God judge us? Oh, yes, He does. He judges every single thought, every single action, every second of every day. Not that He’s standing there with a big old sledgehammer to whack you with, if you make a mistake (my words, not his). But He definitely judges everyone, all the time. Keller gets a lot said in forty minutes. He had several closing points. The one I remember was this. If God is the judge, that means we have no right to be. Not saying you don’t judge people’s actions. This is me speaking again, not Keller. We have to. In business, for instance. If you’ve given me a bunch of bad checks in the past, I’ll insist that you pay cash for any building materials you buy from me. Things like that. There’s ten thousand more examples.

But we never, never have any right to judge another person’s heart. Never. That’s God’s job. We have no right to be resentful or unforgiving at anyone who’s wronged us, either. No matter how deep that wrong was. And, yeah, I know a little bit about all that. It takes time, often, to get over a wrong, to heal from a wound that sliced deep. Lots of time, sometimes. And it takes Light that can only come from one source. Time. And Light. I guess it can all be broken down into two other things Keller keeps talking about, too. Forgiveness. And love.

And those two terms don’t mean anything close to what I was brought up thinking they mean. Forgiveness isn’t so much consciously forgiving someone else for the wrong they did me. It’s more like trying to get some small, small grasp of how deeply depraved my own heart is (Yes, is. Not was.), and how much I have been forgiven, simply as a gift, by grace. And love? That’s simply loving God.

After the sermon was over, we just sat around and talked. And it was open and honest talk. Good stuff, spoken from our hearts. And no, there was no closing prayer, although there certainly would have been nothing wrong with one. We just didn’t think about it. By soon after 8:00 or so, we were fixing to leave. And we talked about it. This was great. When can we do it again? We checked our schedules. We settled on next Tuesday evening, Oct. 14th. Here at Graber Supply, at 6:30. Allen’s going to pick the sermon we’ll listen to. Let’s try to get a few more people over, we agreed.

And now, for the first time in my life, I guess I can say I’m excited about going to a Bible Study. And if you’re a guy and you’re anywhere close, you are welcome to attend, too. I don’t care who you are, or what you believe. You can be one who sees things just like I do, or close to it. Or you don’t have to believe anything, about whether or not there is a God. You can be an agnostic, or an atheist. You’re still welcome. And I’m not just saying that. You really are. Yeah, you’ll have to listen to a sermon. That might be a negative thing to you. But it’s only forty minutes long, and I think you’ll be intrigued. And no, you won’t get clobbered, or ganged up on. You will be totally accepted. Same thing goes for all you judgmental Christians, too, of course. Come and listen, and speak your voice. You will be heard. I don’t care what your motivations are. You are welcome. And you will be totally accepted, too.

A couple of rules, and I mean, only two. You are expected to be cordial in your speech and conduct, of course. That’s a given. But the only two real rules are this. No drinking at the Bible Study. (You can go to the bar afterward, if you want. But you can’t drink there.) And if you smoke, you must step outside to do so. Those rules seem pretty manageable, I think.

I’m not sure where this thing is going, or if it’ll ever develop into much. For now, it is what it is, I guess. Just a few guys, hanging out. I’m looking forward to what might yet come, though.

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(35 Comments) »

  1. I’d come in a heartbeat if I could.

    BTW, that pressure to confess in that kind of venue? Spirit of control.

    Comment by RAM — October 10, 2014 @ 6:27 pm

  2. I remember my first Bible study prayer time, it was all people I knew from our church all of them were older, except one, and when it came to prayer, we all could mention something/someone to pray for. Then prayer was started by someone and when that person was done, another would start, and so on. My heart is pounding, because I never pray in a group before, except at the dinner table. After the fifth person pray, I just started praying for what was on my heart, just like I would in my own room, after that it got easier. We were told that before we started praying, that we didn’t have to. But the pressure that would of been on me, if I was the only one that didn’t. God is Great tho.
    In ODB devotional today was a bible verse that meant alot to me, and has to do what is going on in my life right now. I think it addresses what you were discussing about people that gossip. It is Romans 2:1 (The Message) Those people are on a dark spiral downward. But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done.
    Pastor Rick Warren, said it so well, if every Christian could come to church Sunday morning and admit to the sins that they have commited that week, and our fellow Christian’s would not judge each other, the church would be better place, and each of us would be better Christians. Thank you Ira

    I might come some Tues. night.

    Comment by Warren — October 10, 2014 @ 6:58 pm

  3. Sounds like what might have been said by Peter or John to their friends about coming to hear Jesus .
    You have written some pretty good stuff this week Ira , good honest down to earth real Gospel truth .

    Comment by Jerilyn Henderson — October 10, 2014 @ 8:03 pm

  4. I’m a woman. Ya know where this is going to go. Not that I care either way. I mean, if you guys feel the need for male bonding. That’s great. More power to you. Just curious as to the intent of the male only invite.

    Comment by Lisa DeYoung — October 10, 2014 @ 8:36 pm

  5. First of all, regarding Reuben, don’t worry about people who think you should not forgive him. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This is exactly how a Christian must live. God is love, mercy, compassion and forgiveness. We are to live in His way. Regarding your little group meeting to hear and discuss sermons, this is absolutely great. To me it sounds more relevant in that the preacher is helping you understand God’s word in the context of everyday life. And all the men in the group get to discuss it and help each other’s thoughts on the matter. A good blog tonight, Ira. Keep up the good work.

    Comment by Rosanna F. — October 10, 2014 @ 9:07 pm

  6. Good post, Ira!!
    I understood it! Very much!!
    I am bookmarking Keller’s page….and would like to listen some day! :) I hope your group grows and wonderful things happen!!

    Comment by Twila — October 10, 2014 @ 9:28 pm

  7. Courage, Ira- the truth is like a sword and you have spoken the truth of so many; the welcome in your voice for the difference in others and the willingness to share the food of God’s table, no matter how meager, how challenging or how few, speaks greatly of the forgiveness in your heart and the onward direction of your soul.

    Comment by G.Charmaine — October 10, 2014 @ 9:47 pm

  8. I went to seminary. I am educated beyond my intelligence. But I learned almost as much in “Bible Studies” as I did in formal (and expensive) classes. Every now and then I see a life that is changed through my singing or preaching, but I can name a couple DOZEN folks who are missionaries or “full time Christian workers” (aren’t we all?) because of a Bible study or a small group. There is power in fellowship. You and Reuben might be on the ground floor of something big (and exciting).

    Comment by John Schmid — October 10, 2014 @ 10:32 pm

  9. Ira, your post is the Gospel story in blue jeans: broken relationship, grief, pain, honesty, love, peacemaking, forgiveness, reconciliation. Now deeper levels of friendship in serving God together. The Word living among us. Full of grace and truth. Redemption in Real Time. Now that’s freedom.

    Happy Christianity is as false a doctrine as Health and Wealth Gospel. It does great harm with the silent shame and despair it breeds.

    Loved the oral prayer story! Totally identify with the terror. :)

    Comment by Ava — October 10, 2014 @ 11:24 pm

  10. Glad to see that you’ve encountered Tim Keller. He, along with many others from the Reformed tradition, preach the truly biblical Gospel of justification of grace alone by faith alone where we bring nothing to the transaction except our sin. This is the Gospel that captivates the soul by the beauty of the magnitude of the Cross, rather than crushing the soul by stuffing it into man’s judgment of what discipleship looks like. If you like to read you’ll find this same soaring gospel emphasis found in the writings of Piper, Sproul, C.S. Lewis, Edwards, Calvin, Luther, Augustine, St. Paul, and many more. Drink deeply and you’ll find satisfaction for the soul. I don’t know that anyone will find this more releasing then those of us who were raised in the Amish/Anabaptist tradition.

    Comment by Phil Miller — October 11, 2014 @ 4:02 am

  11. Thanks again for your very interesting blog. I never know what to expect and this blog was a big surprise. Sounds exciting. I hope you guys will be able to be able to learn a lot and I also hope you keep your readers informed about where this is taking you.

    Comment by Mary Keim Maarsen — October 11, 2014 @ 5:57 am

  12. It sounds to me that y’all have a good time in the lord and would love to join you if I lived closer.

    Comment by George Moore — October 11, 2014 @ 8:25 am

  13. I think this blog is my favourite…. but I also know I have other favourites, so make it my favourite today. I wasn’t raised Amish–for me it was a series of Mennonite churches from Old Colony, to Conservative Mennonite Churches of Ontario (like Nationwide), to Midwest, to a short ‘trial’ at New Covenant, so my background is different but I ‘feel’ your blog way down deep. I was terrified of groups and sharing like that. I heard the rumours birthed in such meetings, and the judgement over what people said and it took forever to trust anyone on a spiritual level, or any level for that matter. I like how you tell it so honestly. But I also like how you’re giving it a chance, and how you gave Reuben a second chance, even if it took time, as well it should. A blog like this, with honest ‘telling’ of how things are or were, while extending that kind of grace, tells me more of God than a lot of preaching I’ve heard. As I read it, I imagined the next book… You have another story to tell… I felt it in this blog :)

    Comment by Trudy Metzger — October 11, 2014 @ 8:37 am

  14. I had a best friend. Then through a series of bad choices, we got in an argument and the estrangement lasted 14 years. This spring I came across a book I had bought for them. They had moved, but I tracked them down, sent the book and a heartfelt letter apologizing for my conduct and saying I was wrong. I heard nothing. Oh well… Then I noticed I had a message on Facebook. It was them, and they said all was forgiven and forgotten years ago. We spoke on the phone for hours. Now I have my best friend back and life is good. It’s never too late.

    Comment by Missy — October 11, 2014 @ 9:49 am

  15. Very lovely

    Comment by Pizzalady — October 11, 2014 @ 10:23 am

  16. It sounds like you are sitting at God’s table getting fed on his word. This blog encouraged me so much. I have been facilitating Bible study, (Beth Moore) for ten years, I have learned more of his word, who he is to me and the world than I have ever learned in Sunday School. I am 70 plus years old. I have heard of Tim Keller but haven’t read or heard him speak. On the thing about forgiveness, it is more for our benefit than it is for the one who wounded us. As long as I don’t forgive them, they continue to hurt me. But it is a hard thing to do. I am thrilled to see how God’s grace continues working in your life.

    Comment by Hilda Simmons — October 11, 2014 @ 11:01 am

  17. Great article, Ira. I’m puzzled sometimes about this whole forgiveness thing and you helped to clarify with your “bad check” example. There is a situation from the past that I also continue to work through. Ambivilance reigns when you truly want to forgive yet must prevent the victimization of those who need your protection.

    I could also relate to some of those prayer-meeting things. Fortunately I’ve been part of many wonderful group experiences as well. May your men’s group be a positive and life-changing experience for everyone who is part of it.

    Comment by Kathy Marner — October 11, 2014 @ 11:52 am

  18. What a great story, Ira! Is anything too hard for our God?? If someone had told you a couple of years ago that you were going to write this post someday, I can only imagine what you would have said. But look at what God has done for you and Reuben! And as great as that reconciliation is, how much more that He has reconciled us to Himself… Looking forward to seeing what God will do as you all meet to hear His Word faithfully proclaimed!

    Comment by Tharren Thompson — October 11, 2014 @ 3:46 pm

  19. Dear Ira,

    As the adage says, Meekness is not weakness. Love and forgiveness are the right response, and it sounds like God is blessing you through this godly response toward Reuben. I hope you all keep your meetings informal and joyous. I think many times things get so organized that it can take the spirit out of it–don’t let that happen. And I think snacks and bottled water are wonderful fare. Keep avoiding the scotch, and keep letting our gracious God and Savior fill your cup!

    Comment by A Christian — October 11, 2014 @ 7:11 pm

  20. Sounds like good things to come from this….A Bible study that is pure and has no purpose other than to connect with God’s spirit in your lives….I think this will be a blessing to all who can be there. Great Blog, as usual!!!

    Comment by Pam — October 11, 2014 @ 7:21 pm

  21. A song by Jason Upton, “Table” I think it is (it starts, “Love … is a winding road….”) comes to mind. Every person’s journey is truly fascinating, if we don’t edit it to sound religious or to deny the real supernatural things God has done, even if one is not a believer. I hope your Men’s Group can get to this honest level with an increasing number of people. Lancaster County needs this as much as anyplace.

    Comment by LeRoy — October 11, 2014 @ 8:35 pm

  22. I believe you have found the simple message of Jesus….To love God and love each other. That is all. You are inspiring. God bless you!

    Comment by Mary English — October 11, 2014 @ 11:52 pm

  23. A “leftist” woman worked for Fox News!?! Guess I missed that one.

    Comment by cynthia r chase — October 13, 2014 @ 12:01 pm

  24. Thanks for the post! I checked out Tim Keller’s site and was impressed. Keep on with your Bible Study. You are on to something and will be blessed. My husband and I are part of a small group and love it. What is shared there stays there and the care is as it should be. Blessings! Keep writing, growing in the Lord, and being honest! (Also liked your post of noises in the house and the idea of having your pastor pray over your house. Smart man!)

    Comment by Janet Martin — October 13, 2014 @ 5:06 pm

  25. I had some of the same thots and feelings about bible study after leaving my Old Order back ground and being a member of several Menno church’s.Seemed like a dryness and lack of enough honesty for me,I was always thinking about what was really going on in my life and others.My 12 step group has been there for over 24 years and that is where I find the reality in my life.To each his own and may we all find peace…

    Comment by lenny — October 14, 2014 @ 12:07 pm

  26. What an amazing post. This level of forgiveness can only be achieved with God in the mix. However, it took your willing heart and Reuben’s humility to make it all flow. I’m glad you didn’t candy coat matters. The pain you experienced changed you, I’m sure. It brought you great sorrow on one end and now reconciliation on the other. If you were given the chance would you erase this whole situation from your life?

    I experienced something like this in my life. Not to the degree that you did, however. A girl I went to school with whom I had known for many years. She hit on my boyfriend and blamed it on him. Well, I knew her well enough to know how she could be when drinking. We ended it right there on the spot. She and I did everything together. We were good friends, laughed a lot. I considered her my best friend. It really hurt. I moved away to TN, years passed, and I wrote to her a kindly letter. She never responded so I let it go. Come to think of it two other “friends” I had went after my boyfriends at the time. Unbelievable! No wonder I don’t have any girl friends from my long ago past. I don’t deal with any of this sort of rubbish anymore. When I became a Christian my life changed…a lot.

    In my twenty three years as a Christian I have only three Bible studies that I feel deepened my relationship with the Lord. The others were kind of what you experienced. I guess now I figure maybe I’m there to contribute more than to consume. But in all honesty, I don’t attend a lot of Bible studies. I prefer being taught by scholars, historians, or the clergy in regards to the Bible. Classes are more to my liking. That’s just me.

    I’m glad Reuben found a church he gets fed at. That’s what matters. “When the student is ready, the teacher will come.” My family and I started attending a new church about six months ago. The pastor includes a lot of history in his sermons which I love. This past Sunday he talked a bit about the life of a tax collector and how their livelihood came from what was collected beyond that which the Romans required for taxes. Basically, he took what he wanted from his fellow Israelites, stole from them, and considered it his pay. Well, who can feel warm fuzzies for someone who does that? Jesus did. He called Matthew and Matthew came.

    Hope your enjoying the beautiful autumn colors and cool breezes. You gotta love the fall. Be well, friend.

    Comment by Francine — October 14, 2014 @ 12:21 pm

  27. We have a good friend and neighbor in Ohio. Back in the seventies, an oil well on their farm began producing. They earned quite a bit of money from the mineral rights until all their neighbors got wells of their own, but that’s another story. They used their money to fix up their farmhouse and remodel the Wesleyan Methodist Church where his family had been members for generations. Our neighbor still attends services now and then, but he says his patience wears thin when everyone tries to outdo each other in “testifying.”

    Comment by Cynthia R Chase — October 15, 2014 @ 8:41 am

  28. Awesome. Just plain awesome.

    Comment by Emelda — October 15, 2014 @ 5:07 pm

  29. Well, I have a bit of a different thought here. Truth is extremely important when it comes to living a good, solid, Christian life and for being real while living it. I am a dispensationalist. Does anyone know what that means? Check out Ephesians chapter 3:1-6 and ponder what exactly that means.
    Try http://www.salembible.org for some real challenging truth that is life-changing.

    Sincerely, in Christ,

    Ron Stonis

    Comment by Ronald Stonis — October 17, 2014 @ 9:12 am

  30. I also have some study papers which I have written on “dispensationalism”. If you really are interested and not just curios, I can make one or more of them available to you for free. I do hope you will check out the website http://www.salembible.org for some “healthy” messages. It is all bible teaching and it is quite sound.

    Sincerely, in Christ,

    Pastor Ron Stonis (retured)

    Comment by Ronald Stonis — October 18, 2014 @ 11:14 am

  31. Great blog, Ira. I appreciate your honesty and non-judgmental approach, just say it like it is. Whatever you’re comfortable calling this new support group, you’re on to something real. Good things will happen.

    And I’m guessing your next book will have a lot to say about Redemption.

    Comment by Ethel Bontrager — October 20, 2014 @ 12:34 pm

  32. I don’t want to add a negative point here, but I feel compelled by the love of Christ to share this truth with you.
    Tim Keller preaches a false gospel. He will lead you, eventually, astray from the real truth. I would humbly ask you (challenge you!) to type in “The false doctrine of Tim keller) and read what you come up with. He does not mention sin as the root problem of all “unsaved”, “uncoverted” sinners. He does not mention the death of Christ as a substitutionary atonement for our sins in order to be saved. Every person needs to be regenerated (i.e. born again) in order to be saved and go to heaven. This is clear in the gospels and New Testament. We are all born sinners, conceived in sin and without Christ’s shed blood and trusting in it, no one can be saved. Tim keller does not preach this kind of message, no matter how good he may sound.
    Please go to http://www.salembible.org for the real truth.

    Pastor Ron Stonis

    Comment by Ronald Stonis — October 22, 2014 @ 9:02 am

  33. Dear Pastor Ron,

    It’s great to hear the voice of a pastor who loves the Gospel as much as you clearly do. But I would be very careful indeed about making judgments about a fellow pastor’s ministry via Google search! (I’m certain that you would not think it fair of me to call you a false teacher just because of what I read when I typed “the false doctrine of dispensationalism” into a Google search!) So let’s forgo stacking the internet deck against Pastor Keller, and focus instead on what we see he actually says.

    I’m sure that if you wanted someone to evaluate the ministry of Salem Bible Church, you’d want them to go to your actual teachings to do it. So here’s a good place to start–an article titled “The Meaning of the Gospel”, accessible at http://extendingthekingdom.org/?page_id=17. I think that’s a good summary of what he believes about the Gospel.

    Does he say it exactly the way you do? Nope–not even close. But is he declaring the Gospel clearly, winsomely and effectively? You betcha. (Just ask Ira and Reuben–because God used Pastor Keller’s sermons to work a miracle of reconciliation between those two men that should astonish anyone who is familiar with this blog!)

    Here’s the thing, when it’s all said and done: Maybe you feel you can preach the Gospel better than Pastor Keller. And maybe you can. But guess what? You can’t preach a better Gospel! Because the Gospel is bigger than Pastor Keller, bigger than Pastor Stonis, bigger than eschatology, bigger than anything or anyone that sets themselves against it! Don’t we serve an awesome God??

    Thank you for your passion for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and I pray that your people at Salem Bible Church will grow day by day in their love for God, His Word and His people!

    Comment by Tharren Thompson — October 22, 2014 @ 9:51 am

  34. It amuses me when the Christians start in on each other, first a little pebble tossing and then eventually the stones start flying. Maybe I don’t have much room to talk due to a pretty checkered past, it seems I broke all of the 10 commandants except the the one that talks about killing and that was a close one. There is little to be proud about that fact and I don’t want to relive any of it, however after the dust settled and I had to get down to the business of finding out who I really was, a few things became clear to me about the God of my understanding. He has my best interests at heart, he is very merciful and he has a sense of humor. I have heard it said that religion is for people who don’t want to go to Hell and spirituality is for people who have already been there. That would apply to me in several ways. Didn’t Jesus say something like my way is easy and my yoke is light? It’s when man’s dogma and self made, this is the way it has be regulations, start popping up that I start backing away.

    The book by William James, The Varietys of Religious Experiences and also the writings of the sleeping prophet Edgar Cayce have been very helpful to me in opening myself up to God and a bit of understanding my relationship to him. I consider my self a novice at discerning Gods will at times, what I do daily is what is in front of me and that is Gods will for me for the day. I believe that what I’m able to do for others is the only thing that matters in the end and that ain’t always easy. Peace to all.

    Comment by lenny — October 22, 2014 @ 2:10 pm

  35. To Tharren:

    I went to the website you left for me to read on the gospel by Tim Keller. From what I read, it sounds like he does preach (at least in that article), the true gospel. I apologize for writing that he doesn’t mention “substitutionary atonement” because he did. He does seem to play down “sin” as the root cause of our condemnation and there seemed to be a neglect of mentioning the consequences of not believing in Christ’s shed blood for those sins. I mean spending eternity in Hell.

    I like the fact that he mentioned that the gospel involves more than simply atonement for our sins. It is certainly much more. When you read and study Ephesians chapter two, you dioscover that His death included us (i.e. we died with Him because we were “in Him”). Our position, as children of God, is heavenly and I mean “in heaven”. This is why we are designated as “pilgrims” and “citizens of heaven”. When Jesus died, we died with Him. When He arose, we did too! When He went to heaven, we also went with Him! (Eph. 2:4-6). it is difficult to grasp, but it is true nevertheless. The term “in Christ” becomes prominent in the Epistle to the Ephesians and it behooves us all to find out precisely what that entails. We are in a real, organic union with the Son of God, which in turn gives us the power to live a truly righteous life while living in these bodies down here on earth. (Tim Keller didn’t say all this, but I am adding to what he may have been alluding to)

    In the final end, I don’t mean to cause a negative reaction to anyone reading Ira’s blog, but to urge us all to be careful in whom we follow because error can lead us astray. We only have one life to live and certainly we want to live it to the glory and praise of God.

    Thanks for pointing me to that presention of the gospel by Tim Keller.

    Ron S.

    Comment by Ronald Stonis — October 24, 2014 @ 9:06 am

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