The King of frosts: an excerpt from the current manuscript

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This is a sample chapter from my current manuscript–a compilation of reflections on nature.

The King of frosts

Winter also brings its revelation of beauty. The mantle of gleaming snow, the abundant clusters of ice crystals, the artistic work of the King of frosts give a glory to winter. The little brook bordered with a glazed and sparkling frost-work is not inferior in beauty to the brooklet when fringed with the most gorgeous flowers. Even skeleton weeds, when incased in ice and in the firm grip of crystal fetters, are radiant and resplendent.

Some years ago the writer witnessed a scene that still hangs as a picture of rare beauty in the chamber of memory. It had sleeted almost all night, but toward morning some snow had fallen. When day was come I went out into the woods. Every branch and twig was cased in pure crystal. Some of the willows, and even sapling oaks, were bent into half-circles, having their tops frozen to the ground. Objects that in summer might have detracted from the beauty of the scene were now beautifully bedecked with crystal gems. When the sun arose and sent his piercing rays abroad, some of the most gorgeous arches, most splendid canopies, and grandest cathedrals were to be seen. The dazzling sunbeams piercing the ice-incased twigs, which were thickly clustered together, were transformed into prismatic colors, and presented a most gorgeous scene. When it had become a little warmer I went out into the woods again, and I found that the twigs were being released from the firm grip of their icy fetters. The ice was falling in showers. There was music in the air, and one seemed to feel that nature was speaking to his soul.

When nature speaks, what does it say? If it only speaks of and draws attention to itself, then the message is mundane; but if it invites us to admire and praise the One who designed it and sustains it, then the message is divine.

“From some celestial source,
like water singly fallen
for some greater purpose
than simply quenching thirst,
a snowflake falls upon me—
without a darkened cloud,
without melancholy,
without a chasing torrent,
a single snowflake falls,
alighting on my body,
delighting in the small
illumination that it brings.”

© 2015 Brandon Scott Elrod

 

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In the footsteps of forefathers…

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On my latest return trip from Kenya, I had a layover in the U.K., and this time I wanted to see Oxford. The history, the heritage-it was all so fascinating. I don’t know about you, but I find it deeply moving to follow the footpaths where heroes have walked before me. Such was the case in Oxford. 

Oxford is a university town-it’s individual colleges peppered throughout its streets and alleys-and it is ancient. The oldest colleges date back to the 1200’s, and the “new” college is already hundreds of years old. 

Of course, Oxford is home to C.S. Lewis and Tolkein, and I just had to stop by their old haunt-The Eagle and Child-to soak in the literary legacy. I had to visit Christ Church Cathedral, where a young John Wesley served as a deacon. But the most impactful piece of history, without a doubt, was the monument to the Oxford martyrs. 

Three men of the clergy-Ridley, Latimer, and Thomas Cranmer-were leading England into its own Reformation. It was the mid 1500’s, and William Tyndale had recently been martyred for translating the Scriptures into English. Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in addition to spearheading reform within the Church of England, had also actively endorsed Tyndale’s translation work in its most recent form-The Matthew’s Bible. He was leading the charge to bring correction to the church and to make the Scriptures accessible to the common man in their own language. 

When Mary, Queen of Scots came to power, she overthrew the reforms that had been made within the church, and executed Ridley and Latimer immediately. Cranmer, on the other hand, was imprisoned for many months, as she sought to make a public example of him. Thomas Cranmer was finally burned at the stake in 1556. There is a marker today on Broad Street where he was killed by church authorities. 

   
 
I stood over this cross for some time, trying to wrap my mind around the event. It was a solemn moment, even as bicycles pedaled past, and the clinking of silverware from the adjacent cafe could be heard. 

The thought that I couldn’t shake was that “the blood of the innocents” was crying up from the ground. And so, with head bowed over that marker, I prayed to forgive the sin of murder on that spot, and to release the land from any curses that accompanied that bloodshed some 460 years ago. 

Tyndale is a hero of mine. And Cranmer-despite his shortcomings and questionable decisions-is a hero of mine too. He took some big risks on behalf of the kingdom of Heaven, and he paid for it with his life.

 His reforms were eventually upheld by Queen Elizabeth when she came to power. And he leaves behind a greater legacy today than a marker on Broad Street and a monument with his likeness. Well done Mr. Cranmer. 

  

Thomas Jefferson: Patriot and Heretic?

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125-Jefferson_Overlay Thomas Jefferson is a founding father of the United States of America, and is revered as a statesman and politician by many. And for those who tend to confuse being an American with being a Christian, intermixing the two concepts, Thomas Jefferson is heralded as one of our “Christian founding fathers.”

Those who have spent any time looking at Jefferson’s life and perspectives understand that he didn’t quite represent the Christianity that they may have in mind. He was clearly a deist, believing in a supreme god, but essentially one who kickstarted the events of mankind and then sat back and folded his arms, disengaged from being anything but a bystander.

This is all, of course, interpreting the past from a modern perspective, and once again, it gets complicated when nationalism and religion are mixed together as one righteous campaign. What would happen then, if we were to look at Jefferson from an ancient perspective—one that predated the United States itself? Let’s assess him from the vantage point of the early Christian church during the second century.

Thomas Jefferson, late in life, produced a chopped up and reassembled version of the Bible. He did not intend for it to be published, rather, it was for his own personal devotion. And in his own words, he cut out lots of narrative, concepts, and theology that simply didn’t fit his sensibility. In it, he cut and pasted statements made by Jesus that Jefferson approved of and found wisdom in. This book has come to be known as “Jefferson’s Bible.”

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Two of the actual bibles that Jefferson cut from

From an early church perspective, there was another man who did something similar: Marcion of Sinope. Marcion didn’t like what he read in certain sections of Scripture, so he also cut and pasted what he personally approved of. Marcion, like Jefferson, tried to persuade others that, though believing in an incredibly different version of the Gospel, he too was a Christian.

Here we see just a quick snapshot of the similarities between Marcion and Jefferson:

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Marcion denied that Jesus was the promised Messiah; Jefferson also denied that Jesus was the Messiah. Marcion believed that Jesus was not really human; Jefferson believed that Jesus was not really divine.

In 144 AD, the church in Rome deemed Marcion a heretic and excommunicated him. It was early enough in the infancy of the church that they were transitioning from a burgeoning movement to an organization, and part of that process involved safeguarding the central truths of the movement. Anything that began to deviate from center was identified, and if correction was not an option, excommunication was implemented.

With all the similarities between Marcion and Jefferson, I believe the early church fathers would have had no choice but to brand Jefferson a heretic and excommunicate him as well. This does not make him any less of a patriot, nor does it diminish his ability or influence as a founding father. Nor does it deny the fact that he believed in and frequently alluded to his belief in “God.” It simply means that he would not have been considered a Christian by those early believers who were dying at the hands of second-century Roman government, all to protect and preserve the integrity of the precious truth they held dear.

I love Jesus, I love history, and I love the USA. But my experience within the Evangelical church is that we are too often very poor students of history, and we try to continually merge our church culture with societal culture. Sometimes they can occupy the same space, and sometimes they cannot.

I think our collective voice would really benefit from understanding our history a little better—and I have to believe we would gain more credibility with the world we are trying to reach out to if we held some perspectives that were true to history.

Susannah Wesley, mother of John and Charles Wesley

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Susannah Wesley, mother of John and Charles Wesley, long struggled with the concept of Justification (being made right with God, restoration to Him).

Her life, as was Charles’, was marked by a constant labor to appear in a positive light before God. It wasn’t until her seasoned sons came to an understanding of Justification and conversed with her about it, that she began to understand this truth of Scripture. She had led an exhausting life of effort to earn merit with God, and had passed this same mindset on to Charles.

Charles had spent grueling years as one of the very first missionaries to America, and the results were abysmal. It was in a deep depression and disenchantment of failure that God brought along his brother, John, who began teaching him a scandalous (at that time) doctrine of Justification and Grace. After much struggle to embrace this doctrine, Charles finally found the peace in God that he had been missing, and that his missionary efforts were starved of.

Susannah Wesley appears to have come to the same conclusion later in life. Take a look at one of her diary entries as she reflects a newfound pleasure and fulfillment in experiencing God:

Noon. ” To know God only as a philosopher; to have the most sublime and curious speculations concerning his essence, attributes, and providence; to be able to demonstrate his Being from all, or any, of the works of nature, and to discourse with the greatest propriety and eloquence, of his existence and operations will avail us nothing, unless at the same time we know him experimentally; unless the heart know him to be its supreme good, its only happiness; unless a man feel and acknowledge that he can find no repose, no peace, no joy, but in loving and being beloved by him, and does accordingly rest in him as the center of his being, the fountain of his pleasures, the origin of all virtue and goodness, his light, his life, his strength, his all; in a word, his Lord, his God. Thus let me ever know thee, O God!”

Some people only look for the easy path. Others, however, attribute difficulty and tedious labor to their standing with God. Is your Christianity marked by exhaustion and fatigue? We know that we can’t do anything to earn salvation. But, are you busy trying to earn God’s favor, affection, and blessing? Ephesians is repeatedly clear on the matter; if you are His child, you are so because of His kind affection which He lavishes on you.

If He is so generous with His love, why do we keep trying to earn it?

Priesthood: Obligation or gift?

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In our Sunday morning series, we have been exploring concepts of Identity that children of God are automatically called into.

Last month, we spent a good amount of time looking at our identity as priests. 1 Peter 2:9 tells us that we are a “royal priesthood.” Why? So that we may have direct access to God, and so that we may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light.

Wrapped up in this identity as priest is a sobering reality: our body (spirit, soul, and physical form) is a very holy place. You are His temple.

It would be easy to take a glance at this reality and be intimidated by all it entails. It would be easy to view it as heavy and burdensome. But, how does God view this identity He has established for us?

“And you and your sons with you shall guard your priesthood for all that concerns the altar and that is within the veil; and you shall serve. I give your priesthood as a gift…” Num 18:7 ESV

I suppose it should be intuitive. Our identity is a gift. Priesthood is a gift. But just in case I get overwhelmed or intimidated at the thought, God gives us the affirmation in writing, “I give your priesthood as a gift.”

The Holy Spirit Hasn’t Changed

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As Desiree and I worked on The Holy Spirit of the Bible, a central message began to take form: the Holy Spirit hasn’t changed. He is the same Spirit that was at work as far back as the Old Testament takes us. This is particularly significant for Christians to understand who dismiss the complete work of the Holy Spirit because of confusion over Acts 2 and Pentecost.

I was reminded of this reality once again today as I read Numbers 11. Moses is exhausted, frustrated and burned out as he faces the reality of leading the children of Israel. As Moses brings his frustration to the LORD, God responds by offering to Moses to “take some of the Spirit that is upon him” and distribute it upon the Elders of the 12 tribes. Look at what happens as the Spirit of God, very early on in the Bible, falls on His people:

“…it came to pass, that when the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied.” Some sources state that this was a one-time occurrence. Other biblical texts state that they prophesied and “continued to do so.” The point is that the Spirit of God behaved here as He did elsewhere in the Old Testament, as well as in Acts 2, as well as in the rest of the New Testament, as well as He does today. God has not changed, nor has Jesus’s intent for us through His Holy Spirit.

Interestingly, the people’s response to this activity of the Holy Spirit resembles what it often looks like today:

Eldad and Medad, two of the Elders on whom the Spirit had fallen, were prophesying out among the people. “Then Joshua the son of Nun, the attendant of Moses from his youth, said, ‘Moses, my lord, restrain them.’ But Moses said to him, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them!'” Numbers 11:25-29

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14:1-5, reiterates the same exact sentiment when he states, “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy…One who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. Now, I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy…”

Many Christians believe that a transition happened after the first century, once the last of the disciples(turned apostles) died off, and that the Holy Spirit stopped being needed in the capacity Jesus told us we would need Him. The Bible, however, doesn’t indicate at all that such a transition would happen.

If there is any sort of transition identified in Scripture, it is between the Old and New Testaments, where Jesus changed how we interact with God. If there is any sort of delineator in the Bible between God’s former and current approach, it is hinged upon the work of Jesus Christ.

And while this, THE transition of all history, does change the access we have to the Spirit of God, it does not change Him, His attributes, or His behaviors as recorded in the Bible.

 

New Release: The Holy Spirit of the Bible

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The Holy Spirit of the Bible is a comprehensive look at the activity of the Holy Spirit throughout the Old Testament and the New. With such divergent views on the Holy Spirit in the Church today, Christians are often put-off, misled, or forced to choose a denomination based on how comfortable they are with certain teachings about the Holy Spirit. Our desire is to strip away the fears, hang-ups, and denominational filters from the minds of Christians in order for them to discover the Biblical portrayal of the Spirit of God. The premise of The Holy Spirit of the Bible is simple: We define the Holy Spirit by our fears and whims, and miss out on the best of Him!

Print version via Amazon

Print version via Paypal (Authors are paid higher royalties this way!)

eBook versions are also available on iBooks and Kindle!

The Semantics of Fear

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God woke me up in the wee hours this morning: He wanted to talk aboutme. I asked him, “What about me?” and the impression that I got was that He wanted to talk about my being fearful of my calling.

I’m not fearful of calling in the traditional sense of “What if God asks me to do something I don’t want to do.” Instead, I am fearful because I don’t want to miss out on my calling.

I argued back and forth with Him a little about this. “Isn’t it a good thing to be fearful of missing out?” There is a sobriety that comes with keeping your eyes on His lead. He responded by simply stating, “Healthy fear.” “But that’s what I’m talking about!” He was trying to show me that there is a healthy fear and an unhealthy fear of missing out.

I think I missed the point for a while until He pointed out a subtle distinction.

It is the difference between being fearful and being afraid. Listen to the difference:

Fearful: feeling fear, dread, apprehension, or solicitude

Afraid: feeling fear, regret or reluctance

I told God I was fearful of missing out on my calling, but He wanted to show me that the healthier perspective would be to be afraid to miss out on my calling. Being fearful involves dread, and I almost see it now as a state of being controlled: being full of fear. That doesn’t sound healthy to me at all. Being afraid, however, does not involve dread. And the aspect of “afraid” that stood out to me most was the part about regret.

I do not feel dread. What I do feel is an awareness of the regret that I would face if I were to become entangled in the affairs of this life and miss out on the best that God has for me.

I will no longer say I am fearful of missing out on my calling.

This is, once again, a reminder to me that my Father does not want me to be ruled by fear.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” 1 John 4:18