Bebaw Loves

The following was written by Joshua for Grace and Main Fellowship and Third Chance Ministries in February, 2012.

My grandfather—we called him Bebaw—was an exceptional man of whom I have many beloved memories. I could tell you countless stories about his sacrificial love in my childhood and of his eager and kind spirit—such as the many Christmas mornings where he crawled into the floor with me and said to me with playful sincerity, “Bebaw didn’t get any toys this morning.” After pausing for a moment, he’d ask, “Can I play with yours?” Of course, the answer was yes because toys were great, but Bebaw was better and he was always on my side. This man who held grudges against sports players for decades (Peyton Manning for his thrashing of Kentucky football, to name one), was the first to buy a Duke sweatshirt when I was accepted into the Divinity School at the University he had despised since 1992 when Christian Laettner broke all our hearts.

Bebaw passed in 2011, his wife (Memmi) passing several months later, and we all still miss them dearly. Every family dinner seems to be a little less full, nobody knows who is supposed to dish out the ice cream, and we all take turns trying to tell his stories like he did, but it’s not the same. Well into my adult life, Bebaw continued to be a generous and loving grandfather. When my wife and I were first married, it was the generosity of Bebaw and other family members that made it possible for us to make the trip back from Durham, North Carolina, to Ashland, Kentucky, for Christmas since we had just had to have new tires put on the car and didn’t have the money for the trip. Even after we had achieved some measure of financial stability, Bebaw was forever slipping money into my hands when we made the trip home with the almost ritual words: “For gas. Don’t tell Memmi.” Any time I’d try to tell him he didn’t need to do that he’d laugh and say, not entirely truthfully, “Bebaw has enough money to burn a wet dog.” In those last days of his life, he told me how proud he was of me and my heart melted at the thought of his love for me. His last words to me were the refrain I’d heard so many times before as a child, teenager, and adult: “Bebaw loves.”

In Ephesians 1:7-8a, the author writes, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.” In my life, I’ve had a world-class education in grace being lavished upon me, and yet I still cannot (and will never) comprehend the fullness of God’s grace in my life. To think that God not only gives us those things that we do not deserve and of which we could only dream to receive—for that is simply what grace is—but that God heaps this grace upon us to the point of overflowing is an astonishing realization. My grandfather lavished his grace upon me not because I deserved, for I surely didn’t, and not because I loved him, which I surely do, but because of his deep and abiding love for me. To Bebaw, it seemed the only reasonable response to the deep, deep love he held for his family.

The same is true exponentially for our God who is love incarnate. God doesn’t redeem us by blood and forgive us our trespasses because we deserve it, because we surely don’t, and not because we love him, for sometimes we do but sometimes we don’t and sometimes our actions belie our words, but because of God’s deep and abiding love for us who are made in God’s image and filled with God’s breath.

To paraphrase my beloved Bebaw, God has enough grace to burn a wet dog. To borrow his words, which he assuredly borrowed first from God, “God loves.”

Martyrs in the Plague at Alexandria

The following was written by Joshua for Telling the Stories that Matter.

In the middle of the third century, Christianity was not an acceptable thing to place one’s trust or faith in if you were a citizen or subject of the Roman Empire. Within the bounds of the pax romana there was no room for those who insisted “blessed are the peacemakers.” Though Alexandria was fairly far away from the heart of the Roman Empire it was a city of renown and prestige–it was a jewel within the crown of the Empire resting upon seven hills. So, in Alexandria the party line of persecution of Christians held with fervor and Christians were forced to worship and meet in secret lest they be turned over to the authorities and slaughtered by the blade of the Empire. Clergy and Church leaders were of especial interest to the rulers and powers of Rome–to convince a leader of the Church to renounce their faith weakened the resolve of others Christians while executing a leader who refused to renounce their faith deprived the Church of leadership the empire assumed it needed to continue.Essentially, there was a struggle to see who would garner the ultimate allegiance of the people: Jesus the sacrificial savior or the Empire and its assurance of security through control.

Yet, things changed when a plague began sweeping through the Roman Empire and claiming victims on all sides. It seemed that the disease cared little for whom allegiance was paid to as it killed both Christians and non-Christians with ease and speed. Alexandria was particularly hard hit by the plague with over 5,000 people dying every day in its deadly grip. Soon, people began abandoning those who showed any trace of a symptom of the disease and fleeing to the countryside so that they might escape with their lives. With the density of the urban population, the disease spread quickly. Many fled even going so far as to abandon their children, parents, and spouses in the streets because of fear of infection. Having escaped they did their best to keep a watch on the city so that the infection might die out with its victims and they might return.

Once their persecutors had fled in the wake of the plague, the Christians of Alexandria began to come out of hiding and to take care of the sick and dying. They knew that it would likely cost them their lives yet they felt compelled to care for the abandoned and dying by the faith they refused to deny even under threat of torture and death. Soon, the non-Christians who had fled Alexandria began to hear that many of the Christians had stayed behind and had chosen not to save their own lives so that they might comfort those who were already losing theirs Since the city had been abandoned by all those who could afford to escape, there was little persecution of the Christians even though they had come out of hiding. They met in public to worship and proclaim their faith and were welcomed by those who remained because they offered hope and healing when everybody else had run for their lives. Most of those who remained died and were buried with the ones they cared for. Since their faith bade them stay and the world bade them go, they are martyrs having died on account of a faith that changed and held them.

Grace and Main’s Sunday Night Worship – February 26, 2012

The following is the liturgy from Grace and Main Fellowship’s Sunday Night Service of Worship and Prayers on the First Sunday in Lent: February 26, 2012. Joshua wrote and designed (most of) this service. It is patterned after, and uses the benedictory blessing from, Morning Prayer in Common Prayer.


The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

 

Even as we journey through Lent : let us raise our voices in song.

 

Song: O Lord, Hear My Prayer

“O Lord, hear my prayer, O Lord, hear my prayer: when I call, answer me. O Lord, hear my prayer, O Lord, hear my prayer: Come and listen to me.”

 

 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us, sinners that we are : and hear these our prayers.

 

Psalm 25:1-10

To you, OLord I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.
Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!
Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.


Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us, sinners that we are : and hear these our prayers.

Genesis 9:8-17
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us, sinners that we are : and hear these our prayers.
Mark 1:9-15
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us, sinners that we are : and hear these our prayers.

Group Reflection on the Scripture

 

The 4th century Church Father we know as John Chrysostom was given the name “Chrysostom” because it means “golden-mouthed” and the Archbishop of Constantinople was known to be eloquent and gifted in speech and word. He was also an outspoken opponent of Church leaders abusing the power invested in them. In one of his homilies, he said, “But why [did the Holy Spirit appear] in the form of a dove? The dove is a gentle and pure creature. Since then the Spirit, too, is ‘a Spirit of gentleness,’ he appears in the form of a dove, reminding us of Noah, to whom, when once a common disaster had overtaken the whole world and humanity was in danger of perishing, the dove appeared as a sign of deliverance from the tempest, and bearing an olive branch, published the good tidings of a serene presence over the whole world.”

 

Prayers for Others

The Lord’s Prayer

 

Renew us, Lord. For those who have been baptized as your followers, remind us of the vows to you and to our sisters and brothers that we claimed in that moment. For those who have yet to be baptized, move in our hearts even now and bring us the peace that passes all understanding. Amen.

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you.
May he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm.
May he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you.
May he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.

Amen. 

 

Nestor of Magydos, Follower of the Lamb

The following was written by Joshua for Telling the Stories that Matter.

Publius knew he was right–he didn’t necessarily like that he was right but he was certain nonetheless. As the governor appointed by Rome to manage and control Pamphylia, he knew that Nestor was going to be a problem. After all, Nestor refused to be quiet no matter how much Publius or Publius’ men insisted that silence was better for him since Rome was now ruled by Decius. This led Publius to wonder openly why a man would knowingly flirt with torture and death for the sake of people who could not repay his loyalty. Especially when, by Publius’ reasoning, there seemed to be no reason why Nestor couldn’t continue as priest and bishop if he submitted himself to Rome and those in power in Pamphylia. Nestor’s silence could not be persuaded, though, and Publius was becoming increasingly frustrated with the speed at which the Christian groups were growing. No matter how hard he tried to dissolve and crush them, they continued to grow unabated. In many ways, it seemed that his efforts had only made it worse. The Christians looked to Nestor for leadership and he provided it ably. So, Publius was confident that he was right when he said, “Until we have got the better of the bishop, we shall be powerless against the Christians.”

So, Nestor was arrested by the order of the emperor Decius through his servant Publius andheld by Roman soldiers against his will. The Christiancommunities responded in a way that confounded Publius when they praised God for Nestor’s faith and prayed that he would not relent under the pressure that Rome would predictably apply. Meanwhile, Nestor had a vision while sleeping in his cell. In the vision, he watched as a lamb was led from its pen to the place appointed for its sacrifice. He watched as it was bound and laid upon an altar. After the lamb was slaughtered, Nestor awoke with confidence and resolve. He eagerly told of his dream to those Christians brave enough to visit him in prison and offered only one interpretation: his Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb that was Slain, had called him to follow after him in martyrdom. His visitors rejoiced with him even while they mourned their own loss as Rome prepared to deprive the Church of a bishop and provide for the Church another martyr. Publius was shocked to see Nestor’s apparent lack of fear but he proceeded with his horrible task.

Publius followed through with Decius’ wishes and tortured Nestor cruelly. After all, if Publius wished to keep his position and his favor with Rome, then he had no choice but to punish and kill Rome’s enemies–loyalty has its benefits but it also has its costs. When Nestor refused to deny his faith and make a sacrifice to the gods of Rome, Publius encouraged him to make the sacrifice even if he didn’t mean it. Publius didn’t understand why Nestor found this proposal so horrid but then Publius didn’t understand that for Nestor to do so would be to place his faith in the saving power of Rome over that of his Lord who also died innocently.So,Nestor was crucified by Roman command and eagerly followed his Lord from this world to the next.The Church that Decius and Publius hoped to crush by murdering one of its bishops grew even more in the gruesome wake of Nestor’s martyrdom. Publius had been so confident that he was right–surely, killing their leader should crush their spirits!–but he was magnificently wrong. What Publius and Rome never quite understood, and what they still don’t understand today, is that there was another Shepherd who watched over all the little sheep who followed after him, of which Nestor was only one. Publius had known he was right, but–praise God–he was gloriously wrong.

The Great Benediction

The following was written by Joshua for Third Chance Ministries.

After the greeting in the first two verses of the Book of Ephesians, we read four verses (3-6) that are commonly called “The Great Benediction.” In these verses, the author speaks of blessings—both the blessedness of God and the blessings that God pours out upon each of us. In particular, the author insists that we are blessed through Jesus with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,” which is commonly taken to mean “the hope of resurrection, the good news of immortality, the promise of the kingdom of heaven, [and] the dignity of sonship,” as Theodoret once wrote.

The fourth verse begins by speaking of us being chosen “in Christ” before even the beginning of creation—that is to say, that God was working salvation for us long before we sinned or even before we were created. God’s saving love is shown to be so big as to overwhelm sin even before its existence. But, the fourth verse goes on to say that we have been chosen “to be holy and blameless before [God] in love.” Often, this is said to mean that we were chosen by God because we were foreknown to be good or because God foreknew that we would choose God.

Any time we speak of God’s knowledge and/or foreknowledge, we are in deep, theological water, but this verse in particular seems often quoted to support some idea of a capricious God who has chosen us arbitrarily. Jerome offers some clarification in his commentary:

“Paul does not say he chose us before the foundation of the world on account of our being saintly and unblemished. He chose us that we might become saintly and unblemished, that is, that we who were not formerly saintly and unblemished should subsequently be so…So understood it provides a counter-argument to one who says that souls were elected before the world came to be  because of their sanctity and freedom from any sinful vice.”

In this verse then, we do not see an image of a capricious and arbitrary God who punishes us before we’ve even existed, let alone offended, but rather we see a God whose love itself makes even sinners into saints. We see an image of love more powerful than even our brokenness and selfishness–in short, we see an image of hope.

The author goes on to insist in the fifth and sixth verses that our destiny–our innate purpose for existence–is, in fact, to be adopted as the full children of God and for this to be accomplished through Jesus Christ. This is not done because of our efforts or merit, but rather as a demonstration of God’s goodness, love, grace, and mercy. In fact, verse six makes this clear by saying that this is done “to the praise of his glorious grace…” John Chysostom even argues in his homily on this verse that everything God does is with this end in mind. In short, all that God does gives glory to his innately gracious nature.

Don’t miss that or forget it: we are the children of an inherently gracious God whose great rule of action is grace, mercy, and love. The love of God can and will conquer all things, but it may not do it like you expect. Any other gospel is a lie.

Go in the peace of that knowledge.

Sophie Scholl and Companions, Martyrs

The following was written by Joshua for Telling the Stories that Matter.

Hans and Sophie Scholl had allied themselves with a secretive group within Germany. In the early 1940s, this was akin to signing your own death warrant given the subject that the group was concerned with: Nazi atrocities and how they might be stopped. They were university students and they were proponents of nonviolent resistance. Instead of planning assassinations and armed coups, these people–including Sophie’s husband Hans–formed a group that became known as “The White Rose.” Encouraged by their philosophy professor–Kurt Huber–the White Rose wrote, published, and distributed pamphlets about what the Nazis were doing. In their own words: “We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!” They published statistics about the numbers of Jews and political dissidents arrested and executed in the name of “Nazi progress.” Along with these statistics they appealed to the people of Germany to refuse to be a complicit part of genocide and atrocity.They also took to graffiti with a tar based paint on university buildings. Their graffiti proclaimed a great desire for freedom that they felt Hitler and his ilk were slowly strangling in Germany.

Sophie and Hans must have been anxious as they approached the university building where hundreds of students were attending class. They carried suitcases and this would be very conspicuous for two young people during the day. But they had no other easy way to carry the leaflets into the hall without the suitcases and so they did it anyway. Few knew who the members of the White Rose were but loyalists were on the lookout for suspicious behavior. They arrived at the class building and began quickly unloading the leaflets into several piles in the common area to where the classes would be dismissed.Once the classes began to empty, the students would pick up the pamphlets and read yet another stirring argument against passive acceptance of evil. The Nazis had recently lost the battle of Stalingrad and so the White Rose hoped to capitalize on it and convince yet more people that the Nazi campaign was not only evil but doomed to failure. Its writing hearkened back to the first leaflet they had released: “Isn’t it true that every honest German is ashamed of his government these days? Who among us can imagine the degree of shame that will come upon us and our children when the veil falls from our faces and the awful crimes that infinitely exceed any human measure are exposed to the light of day?”

Hans and Sophie had dropped off the pamphlets and were fleeing before classes were dismissed when they noticed a handful of pamphlets still in the suitcase. Sophie grabbed them quickly and ran back to the building. She ascended the stairs and in a poetic–and partially prophetic–gesture she flung them into the air and let them flutter down to the floor. She was witnessed by the custodian who turned in Hans and Sophie. Soon, Sophie and all those who associated with her were arrested and facing trial for treason. They had dared to speak ill of those who would not accept the truth. For this, they were tried and condemned to be beheaded. On February 22, 1943, they were executed in the guillotine. Sophie was strong and confident to the end of her life and was not deterred by those who hoped to whitewash their sins. She died a martyr because she refused to stop seeing and decrying the atrocities that were being perpetrated. Her dying words were: “God, you are my refuge into eternity” while Hans preferred the prophecy of “…your heads will fall as well.”

Elias and Companions, Martyrs

The following was written by Joshua for Telling the Stories that Matter.

The five men gathered together and agreed on one particular thing: they felt called to go and be a comfort to brothers and sisters who had been arrested by the Roman Empire. Elias, Daniel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Samuel were Christians in Egypt during a time when Christianity was entirely unwelcome within the bounds of the Roman Empire.Rome had made it explicitly clear that those who were Christians were enemies of the state and would be treated as such with little regard for their nonviolent convictions. Elias and his companions had known people who had been seized and murdered for their faith and therefore they knew well that this calling could be their first step on a path that led inexorably toward their own martyrdom. Yet, they could not shake the conviction that God was calling them to go to Cilicia and comfort Christians that were slaves in the mines there. So, they packed their things and they went out. They arrived without interference and they found the ones they were looking for. They sang songs and prayed with these faithful individuals whose faith could not be deterred by Roman power. When both the comforters and the afflicted had been encouraged by their mutual faith, the men prepared for the journey home. That’s when the problems started.

Rome was exceptionally adept at discovering and identifying Christians. By most accounts, they were also fairly successful at breaking the faiths of those whom they captured. They knew well that those who visited Christians in prison and slave camps were likely to be Christians themselves. When Elias and his companions visited their brothers and sisters, they marked themselves for Rome’s attention. As they were returning home they were stopped in Caesarea by a group of soldiers assigned with their interrogation. Their captors asked them why they had made the journey and probably expected to hear some complicated lie that might cover over what Rome knew very well: these men were Christians and therefore unwelcome in the Empire. What they heard however was a frank admission by the men that they were Christians and they had traveled to comfort their brothers and sisters. Surely, they were surprised at the ease with which they had confessed–it was as if they weren’t ashamed of the fact. The men had counted the likely cost of their journey–their own lives–and found it to be an acceptable price for serving God. They were tortured and asked to deny their faith but they did not. They would not be broken. Finally, they were beheaded.

Yet, after their deaths two men came forward named Porphyry and Pamphilus and insisted that these men who had traveled far to provide comfort deserved to be buried. They confronted the Empire and insisted on kindness.They must have known the likely outcome of their insistence since Rome was not interested in being kind so much as they were interested in controlling and dominating the minds and hearts of the people. They were accused of being Christian because of their insistence that the men be buried and mourned. They admitted that they were and were tortured before being burned to death. This wasn’t the end, however, as another man named Seleucus came forward and spoke loudly in praise of the men who had been willing to lay down everything to follow after their executed Lord. He spoke highly of Pamphilus’ and Porphyry’s courage and bravery in the face of a grisly death. The soldiers seized Seleucus and he was also exposed as a Christian. For this crime and for the crime of speaking highly of those whom Rome despised and had killed, he was beheaded.It seems that all had indeed counted the cost and were willing to pay it for the privilege of following after a God who had been executed for loving too much, as well.