Category Archives: Blog

When In Doubt, Err On The Side Of Love

On Thanksgiving Day 1977, my husband’s father died of a massive heart attack, leaving behind a wife and 12 children — six boys and six girls. The family was Episcopalian, attending St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Newport, Ky., where the Pabst family tithed and the children were baptized and married.

Because of the family’s size, Mr. Pabst had to work two jobs to keep food on the table, clothes on everyone’s backs and the mortgage current. Decades before Uber and Lyft made it cool to moonlight as a driver, Mr. Pabst drove a taxi on the weekends in the Cincinnati metro area to supplement the income from his day job. This of course meant long hours well into the night on Fridays and Saturdays, and even into the early morning hours on Saturdays and Sundays. Consequently, he missed a lot of Sunday church services.

When he died and Mrs. Pabst contacted the church to make plans for the funeral, she was told flatly that there would be no funeral at St. Paul’s for her husband because his lack of attendance caused him to not be an active member.

What the… ?

Isn’t it the church’s responsibility to provide for the surviving family a place to grieve, to be consoled and affirmed in the unconditional love of God? I thought so too. And sure, there are those who say that churches have rules and protocols, creeds and dogmas that demand to be followed — and not only are they correct, but they are naming the very reason why so many individual mainline churches are empty, closing or closed.

One person who’s not swayed by this trend is the Roman Catholic bishop of Springfield, Ill., Thomas Paprocki. Forty years after St. Paul’s snubbed the Pabst family in their hour of mourning and spiritual need, Bishop Paprocki has gone to extraordinary lengths to show God’s people that the church can be just as cruel today.

In set of guidelines titled “Same-Sex Marriage Policies Decree 6/12/2017”, released earlier this month, Bishop Paprocki went beyond the usual garden-variety dictate that people in same-gender marriages be denied communion and other outward signs of God’s love and grace to also say that they should be denied funeral rites, to wit:

Unless they have given some signs of repentance before their death, deceased persons who had lived openly in a same-sex marriage giving public scandal to the faithful are to be deprived of ecclesiastical funeral rites. In case of doubt, the proper pastor or parochial administrator is to consult the local ordinary [bishop], whose judgment is to be followed (cf. c. 1184).

Yup.

The document goes on to prescribe the usual waterproofing of the church, its blessed objects and its pastoral ministers against any association with same-gender marriage, all of which you can read about here. But for now let’s stick with the funeral question, since it has personal resonance for me.

Reading about the full impact of Bishop Paprocki’s guidelines, it’s hard for me to believe he’s a member of the same church that includes Pope Francis. And although I know he’d never do it, I wish I could recommend that the good bishop read Chuck McKnight’s blog on the topic of LGBTQ Christian acceptance.

In the meantime, the old-school hidebound, rule-bound church that puts God’s people second is forgetting that this whole Christian movement was never intended to be about institutions but about the children of God first and foremost. The mainline churches are forgetting that it’s not their job to define an individual’s relationship with God, or to determine the validity of that individual’s belief or faith.

In other words, they’re forgetting that it’s their to job, as stated in the Bible and translated from Aramaic into plain English, to do this:

I give a new commandment to you: “Love one another; just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.” (John 13:34)

They’re forgetting that nowhere in Jesus’ ministry did he indicate that it was okay to not give honor to those who had died and hope to those who remained.

McKnight puts it this way:

… The thing is, at the moment when I first made the switch to fully affirm my LGBTQ friends, I still wasn’t 100% certain about it. I still had lingering doubts. But I realized that I was causing much greater harm by withholding my affirmation than what I risked by becoming affirming.

I may only be a very simple pastor who is not famous, much less is the shepherd of a megachurch, nor is really even someone who commands a particularly large audience at any given time. But I do know that what the church needs to be teaching, promoting and acting on is pretty simple. It can be found in these seven scriptures that my church refers to as our Core Beliefs.

I would love to see Bishop Paprocki explain how these verses are about anything but love — and lots of it. How his misguided understanding of same-gender love doesn’t fit within that definition of love. And how he can write such spiritually violent “guidelines” in seeming ignorance of how that sense of overwhelming love commands us to treat one another.

Mr. Pabst got a Christian burial. Forty years later, same-gender-loving Christians are getting the Christian burials they desire and deserve. The institutional church, and people like Bishop Paprocki, aren’t stopping that — they’re only getting in the way. They’re rocks in a stream whose water is the love that goes right around them as though they’re not even there. And no matter how slowly those rocks smooth their rough edges, that glacial progress is a distant concern for the water that flows by unaffected.

Love won at Calvary. It wins today. Love will continue to win. It always has, and it always will.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

After The Dust Settles, A Call To Re-Focus

Ladies and gentlemen, in the left corner of the ring — representing the liberal, progressive, “hate everything that is not liberal or progressive by their own definition” end of our current political spectrum — is Kathy Griffin, the self-styled “D-list” comedian figuratively holding the severed head of President Donald Trump. And in the right corner — representing the conservative, alt-right and “hate everything that is not alt-right or conservative by their own definition” end of the spectrum — is Ted Nugent, a one-hit-wonder rocker figuratively holding a gun to the head of former President Barack Obama.

What is left in the middle of the ring is all of us who were taught to treat people with dignity, respect and civility. Anyone who was brought up in the same Christian church as me was likely also taught to ask of themselves, “What does the Lord require of you?”

The answer being, “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 MSG) We were also told repeatedly that the most important biblical teaching from the Gospels is from John 13:34-35 (MSG): “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

So what happened? Why is the noise coming from the extreme left and extreme right so loud, so overpowering? Why do we have to read and listen to justifications for the total idiocy coming from the extremes, and why is it not drowned out by the voices in the middle?

Can we not clearly see that Kathy Griffin and her ilk are way out of line when they appear to call for the death of the President of the United States?

Can we not clearly see that Ted Nugent and his ilk are way out of line when they appear to call for the death of the President of the United States?

Can we not clearly see that a political point of view does not require a lifestyle or geographic location?

Many of those from the extreme right on the political spectrum say that because I am proudly and openly gay, don’t own a gun and advocate for the homeless, I am somehow also a huge liberal who is advocating a communist takeover and ultimately will go to hell for being a fag who doesn’t preach biblical truth. They truly do not know what they are talking about and are painting with a wide brush.

Yes, I am open and proudly gay. I have had only one marriage that will celebrate its 35th anniversary on the 25th of this month — a milestone that I would like to see how many of my homophobic accusers have achieved.

I don’t own a gun, because I really fear I would use it, which doesn’t mean I don’t think those who want a gun shouldn’t get one. Although I do think one needs to show they have mental stability before ownership of such a weapon is allowed.

I advocate for the homeless because that is what Jesus said was the biggest concern to our God and therefore a key to eternal life.

“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Creator, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ “ (Matthew 25:34-40 NRSV)

Many of those from the extreme left on the political spectrum see those on the right as racist, misogynist homophobes who are advocating a theocracy, and who will not be happy until we on the left are all dead. This, my friends, is an equally ridiculous view point that is just as dangerous to our survival as a country as the aforementioned stupidity coming from the right.

We in the middle must take back the conversation. We must loudly call for justice and mercy. We must advocate in all that we do for non-violence and forgiveness and all that this means. The words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King need to be at the forefront of our minds: “Violence is not only impractical but immoral.” Our actions, our lives, our relationships need to reflect this not philosophically, but in the reality of our day-to-day lives.

We must take seriously the teaching from Jesus, “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?” (John 20:23 MSG) We must understand that forgiveness is about our own lives and having a healthy personal outlook, rather than about the one we are forgiving.

If we are to survive as a world, then we in the middle had better wake up and find common ground with our sisters and brothers to the left or right of center before someone from one of the extremes does something that is not correctable and destroys any chance we have of continuing to claim, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all… are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

God bless,
Pastor Paul

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

Hygiene Kits for the Homeless: August 27, 2017

Several times a year we distribute nearly 500 personal hygiene kits to local homeless people. Since starting our hygiene kits ministry in 2010, we have distributed thousands of kits. Our goal is to distribute 2,000 kits a year.

Our next distribution is planned for Sunday, August 27, 2017 in place of our regular Church Without Walls service. As with the regular service, we will meet in picnic Pavilion 2 in Candler Park.

During our last hygiene kits ministry on May 21, 2017 we assembled 500 more hygiene kits for distribution to local homeless people. We were joined by members of the Decatur Rotary Club, which also generously supports our hygiene kits ministry with a grant and sourcing of supplies.

The hygiene kits ministry happens in three phases:

  • Collection of hygiene kit supplies year-round.  (Click here to see a list of what we collect; we can use your help!)
  • Assembly of the hygiene kits on the date and time indicated above, at picnic Pavilion 2 in Candler Park in place of our regular Church Without Walls service.
  • Distribution of the hygiene kits to local homeless people immediately following assembly of the kits.





“I Just Don’t Understand Why I’m This Way”

I’m a gay woman tormented by hell fears since I was 16. When I’m not practicing I’m OK but lonely, and when I’m in a relationship with a woman I love… I fear hell. Surely God looks worse on gay people. I just don’t understand why I’m this way. I love it but hate it only for fear of hell. If you can help me at all with any of that I’d be eternally grateful. God bless. My name is Lynda and I love God dearly and try hard to be a good Christian.

Dear Lynda,

I am so sorry you are living with this fear of not being OK with God and of being sent somewhere that prevents any kind of relationship with God.

There are certainly a lot of people today who fear “hell” as if it were a particular place. But when one does the research and study surrounding the word “hell” and its true meaning, one is more likely to find that it actually means “the total absence of God”. In other words, hell is not a place but rather a state of being. In which case it really is about your attitude to God versus being about a physical place.

The next thing I suggest you consider is: Who supposedly ends up in this place where there is a total absence of God? Well, by definition that would be people who have no relationship with God at all. In fact, Jesus said that the only unforgivable sin is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit – and in order to do that you would have to totally reject your relationship with God.

I realize that at this point you may not feel as though I’m addressing your concerns – but please bear with me, take a deep breath and answer these two questions:

    Do you love God?
    Do you want a relationship with God?

If your answer to those two questions is yes, then “hell” is not now, nor has it ever been, a possibility for you. Read the story of the “Prodigal Son” found in Luke 15:11-32. You will see in this story that as soon as the son desired a relationship with his father, this happened:

“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’

But the father wasn’t listening.”

The point of the parable being that the father (God) only cared that his son (the sinner) wanted a relationship with him. Nothing else mattered – least of all, past behavior. “The father wasn’t listening” to his son’s attempt at a confession, because all the father cared about was that his son had turned back to him.

As far as you and your girlfriend are concerned, your love for each other is what is important to God. The love you share with her, having God at the center, has no possibility of “hell” ever being part of your life’s picture.

God desires to be in relationship with us, and who we fall in love with has zero to do with hell. Celebrate your love for your girlfriend and your relationship with God – and, my dear sister, you will be just fine!

God Bless,
Pastor Paul

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

Holy Week 2017 Pastoral Call to Fast and Pray

You may be asking why we encourage an annual fast at our church. Our history is that we first started doing it 14 years ago. And for the last five years we have attempted to make our fast more focused on the work God would have us do as a church.

Throughout these past five years we have continued to focus our prayers on our church and its direction — on how to better do the work God has laid out for us.

We have had significant growth in outreach to the community and to God’s people. The miracle stories seem to happen at a dizzying pace. As we celebrate our 19th anniversary, as we celebrate our past and present, we will look to our future.

Now that this church is beginning its 20th year of ministry, the pastoral staff and I have been moved by God’s spirit to again call for a day of “Fasting and Prayer”. I pray that all of you consider joining with Vicar Alyce, Lance and me in this fast. I will be at the park on Saturday the 15th to pray and fast and offer support for any who would like to join me from 10am till 2:30pm.

It is only with your support that we have become a church that is affirming, inclusive and progressive in our ministry, and it is only with your help and prayer that it can continue. Please consider joining us — either in person with us in the park, or at a location of your choosing.

Here are the details of our time of prayer and fasting: I will lead us through the day; others are invited to help as well. If you have small children don’t let that stop you from participating, let us know you intend to be there and we will get child care for the main part of the fast and prayer on Saturday. If you have a signed “covenant” with the church I appeal to you to participate in this sacred and holy time of reflection and seeking God’s direction for this fellowship.

Church Fast
Individually we will be encouraging folks to focus on the question of “How do I experience freedom?” For instance:

    1. How does this translate for you in the life of Gentle Spirit Christian Church? What freedoms have you experienced?
    2. What can each of us do to support these freedoms through our vision and mission?
    3. What do we need to do as individuals to continue to live as free and spiritual people?

Collectively we will be praying and seeking God’s guidance in the following area:

In times of searching we have examples in the Bible of others calling for prayer and fasting to set themselves aside for God and to determine God’s leading. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert fasting and praying. Jesus set himself aside to better/more clearly hear God speak and direct Jesus in all that he needed to do. We are no different in this church. We need God’s direction and wisdom to clearly speak to us.

We are setting aside Easter weekend to put ourselves aside and concentrate on God, to allow God to speak with each of us and to all of us as a church. Our church will start our period of fasting and prayer at Good Friday services on April 14th at 7pm with First Christian Church of Decatur and end it at our Easter (Freedom Sunday) Sunrise Service at on April 16th at 7:06am in Candler Park, picnic Pavilion 2.

Our schedule:

  • Maundy Thursday Service on April 13th at 6:30pm at First Christian Church of Decatur, with Unity Fellowship.
  • Good Friday Service on April 14th at 7pm with First Christian Church of Decatur at the foot of the Cross on the front lawn.
  • Holy Saturday Fasting and Prayer on April 15th from 10am-2:30pm in Candler Park, near picnic Pavilion 2.
  • Easter (Freedom Sunday) Sunrise Service on April 16th at 7:06am in Candler Park, picnic Pavilion 2, followed by a potluck breakfast cookout.
  • Easter Sunday Celebration Service on April 16th at 10:30am with First Christian Church of Decatur, in their main sanctuary.

God Bless,
Pastor Paul

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

The Road to Freedom: Free to Come to the Table

Lenten Study for April 5, 2017. Part six of our weekly “Road to Freedom” series, culminating in “Freedom Sunday” on Easter. Here’s last week’s study.


Readings:

On the first of the Days of Unleavened Bread, the day they prepare the Passover sacrifice, his disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations so you can eat the Passover meal?”

He directed two of his disciples, “Go into the city. A man carrying a water jug will meet you. Follow him. Ask the owner of whichever house he enters, ‘The Teacher wants to know, Where is my guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?’ He will show you a spacious second-story room, swept and ready. Prepare for us there.”

The disciples left, came to the city, found everything just as he had told them, and prepared the Passover meal.

After sunset he came with the Twelve. As they were at the supper table eating, Jesus said, “I have something hard but important to say to you: One of you is going to hand me over to the conspirators, one who at this moment is eating with me.”

Stunned, they started asking, one after another, “It isn’t me, is it?”

He said, “It’s one of the Twelve, one who eats with me out of the same bowl. In one sense, it turns out that the Son of Man is entering into a way of treachery well-marked by the Scriptures—no surprises here. In another sense, the man who turns him in, turns traitor to the Son of Man—better never to have been born than do this!”

In the course of their meal, having taken and blessed the bread, he broke it and gave it to them. Then he said,

Take, this is my body.

Taking the chalice, he gave it to them, thanking God, and they all drank from it. He said,

This is my blood,
God’s new covenant,
Poured out for many people.

“I’ll not be drinking wine again until the new day when I drink it in the kingdom of God.”

They sang a hymn and then went directly to Mount Olives. Mark 14:12-26

Regarding this next item, I’m not at all pleased. I am getting the picture that when you meet together it brings out your worst side instead of your best! First, I get this report on your divisiveness, competing with and criticizing each other. I’m reluctant to believe it, but there it is. The best that can be said for it is that the testing process will bring truth into the open and confirm it.

And then I find that you bring your divisions to worship—you come together, and instead of eating the Lord’s Supper, you bring in a lot of food from the outside and make pigs of yourselves. Some are left out, and go home hungry. Others have to be carried out, too drunk to walk. I can’t believe it! Don’t you have your own homes to eat and drink in? Why would you stoop to desecrating God’s church? Why would you actually shame God’s poor? I never would have believed you would stoop to this. And I’m not going to stand by and say nothing.

Let me go over with you again exactly what goes on in the Lord’s Supper and why it is so centrally important. I received my instructions from the Master himself and passed them on to you. The Master, Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, took bread. Having given thanks, he broke it and said,

This is my body, broken for you.
Do this to remember me.

After supper, he did the same thing with the cup:

This cup is my blood, my new covenant with you.
Each time you drink this cup, remember me.

What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master. You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns. You must never let familiarity breed contempt. 1 Corinthians 11:17-26

The Road to Freedom: Free To Do The Work

Lenten Study for March 29, 2017. Part five of our weekly “Road to Freedom” series, culminating in “Freedom Sunday” on Easter. Here’s last week’s study.

Readings:

When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me — you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:31-40

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously —
take God seriously. Micah 6:8

The Road to Freedom: Free to Define Your Relationship with God

Lenten Study for March 15, 2017. Part three of our weekly “Road to Freedom” series, culminating in “Freedom Sunday” on Easter. Here’s last week’s study.

Reading:

The Pharisees, along with some religion scholars who had come from Jerusalem, gathered around him. They noticed that some of his disciples weren’t being careful with ritual washings before meals. The Pharisees—Jews in general, in fact—would never eat a meal without going through the motions of a ritual hand-washing, with an especially vigorous scrubbing if they had just come from the market (to say nothing of the scourings they’d give jugs and pots and pans).

The Pharisees and religion scholars asked, “Why do your disciples flout the rules, showing up at meals without washing their hands?”

Jesus answered, “Isaiah was right about frauds like you, hit the bull’s-eye in fact:

These people make a big show of saying the right thing,
but their heart isn’t in it.
They act like they are worshiping me,
but they don’t mean it.
They just use me as a cover
for teaching whatever suits their fancy,
Ditching God’s command
and taking up the latest fads.”

He went on, “Well, good for you. You get rid of God’s command so you won’t be inconvenienced in following the religious fashions! Moses said, ‘Respect your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone denouncing father or mother should be killed.’ But you weasel out of that by saying that it’s perfectly acceptable to say to father or mother, ‘Gift! What I owed you I’ve given as a gift to God,’ thus relieving yourselves of obligation to father or mother. You scratch out God’s Word and scrawl a whim in its place. You do a lot of things like this.”

Jesus called the crowd together again and said, “Listen now, all of you—take this to heart. It’s not what you swallow that pollutes your life; it’s what you vomit—that’s the real pollution.”

When he was back home after being with the crowd, his disciples said, “We don’t get it. Put it in plain language.”

Jesus said, “Are you being willfully stupid? Don’t you see that what you swallow can’t contaminate you? It doesn’t enter your heart but your stomach, works its way through the intestines, and is finally flushed.” (That took care of dietary quibbling; Jesus was saying that all foods are fit to eat.)

He went on: “It’s what comes out of a person that pollutes: obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness—all these are vomit from the heart. There is the source of your pollution.”

24-26 From there Jesus set out for the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house there where he didn’t think he would be found, but he couldn’t escape notice. He was barely inside when a woman who had a disturbed daughter heard where he was. She came and knelt at his feet, begging for help. The woman was Greek, Syro-Phoenician by birth. She asked him to cure her daughter.

He said, “Stand in line and take your turn. The children get fed first. If there’s any left over, the dogs get it.”

She said, “Of course, Master. But don’t dogs under the table get scraps dropped by the children?”

Jesus was impressed. “You’re right! On your way! Your daughter is no longer disturbed. The demonic affliction is gone.” She went home and found her daughter relaxed on the bed, the torment gone for good.

Then he left the region of Tyre, went through Sidon back to Galilee Lake and over to the district of the Ten Towns. Some people brought a man who could neither hear nor speak and asked Jesus to lay a healing hand on him. He took the man off by himself, put his fingers in the man’s ears and some spit on the man’s tongue. Then Jesus looked up in prayer, groaned mightily, and commanded, “Ephphatha!—Open up!” And it happened. The man’s hearing was clear and his speech plain—just like that.

Jesus urged them to keep it quiet, but they talked it up all the more, beside themselves with excitement. “He’s done it all and done it well. He gives hearing to the deaf, speech to the speechless.” Mark 7

The Road to Freedom: Free To Believe God Loves Me

Lenten Study for March 8, 2017. Part two of our weekly “Road to Freedom” series, culminating in “Freedom Sunday” on Easter. Here’s last week’s study.

Readings:

By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Their grumbling triggered this story. Luke 15:1-3

Then he said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’

“So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.

“That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.

“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’

“But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.

“All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’

“The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’

“His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’” Luke 15:11-32