Sunday, July 15, 2018

46 Years Since Meeting Satan Face-to-Face, and Finally, at the Verge of Death on March 20, 2018, a Victory


On November 1, 1967 I sought the living God -- coming out of a Unitarian background -- and on November 2 I was answered by an overwhelming divine epiphany which I write about elsewhere. This happened at St. Michael's Chapel at South Kent School, South Kent, Connecticut.

About May 1, 1972, at St. Michael's Chapel, a friend and I experienced the total opposite. The chapel happens to be named after the warring angel who defeats Satan in Revelation 12:7-9.

I was up late one evening in the dining room of the Old Building doing some work when my friend burst in, horrified, on me and several other seniors. He described to us in halting breaths how he had been waiting in the chapel for another friend to finish some work in the adjacent library. As he was, the communion bells rang out three times from the balcony. Thinking he was being spoofed by someone, he called out for the prankster to reveal himself. Silence. So, he climbed the wooden stairs to the balcony, searched it, and nobody was there. There was no place to hide apart from where he searched, no other stairs, and all footsteps in the chapel were most audible. A sense of abiding and evil darkness overtook him, and he fled in horror down the hill to the Old Building.

I was the only one of the several seniors there who took him seriously (or was willing to admit it).

[But too, many years later, I learned that the friend he was waiting for had a similar experience some weeks earlier. He was in the chapel late one evening, keeping track of some lower form students in an adjacent building. Then the chapel bell rang three times, no one on the campus heard it, and a dark and foreboding sense of evil came in.]

In my young faith, I believed there was nothing to fear, so I suggested we return to the chapel and investigate, pray. It was just past midnight, and as we came within 20-30 feet of the chapel, we both looked into the windows. What we saw was a darkness that was blacker than black against the diffused light of nearby buildings, pulsating, alive, extraordinarily evil and very angry at our presence. Another step and we stopped, having come against a terribly tangible but invisible wall of air that was thicker than thick, impenetrable and driving us back. All my critical faculties were alert, and the experience was as real as anything I have known with the five senses. My friend and I turned and fled. I prayed until 4:00 a.m., trying to understand it. Face-to-face with Satan's presence.

One clue to what was happening is that the “witching hour” is known to happen from midnight to 3:00 a.m., when covens of witches (sometimes including warlocks), those into the deepest witchcraft, regularly meet to do their rituals and to curse their enemies, especially Christians. They prefer certain days and seasons on their pagan calendars, related ultimately to astrological factors. This evil presence was gathering just before midnight when my friend was initially spoofed, and it may have been proximate to May Day, one such pagan holiday – but at the time I did not know to consider this element. As well, the Housatonic Highlands of western Connecticut and the adjoining Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts are well-known for concentrations of such activity.

I was blown away by the experience at the time. The chapel where the very presence of Yahweh descended on me in 1967 was the very chapel where this demonic presence bearing the mark of Satan himself assaulted my friend and I in 1972. The contest of the darkness seeking to displace the Light.

Across the years, I thought I had merely stumbled on such an evil presence. But only recently — and given a more complete biblical understanding of the devil — do I realize that this may have made me a marked man. Namely, I was genuinely naive about the nature of the devil at that time, and yet recklessly, foolishly bold as a believer in Jesus, coming to confront the devil. Satan is angry with any challenge. All that has followed is certainly consistent with this understanding.

In thinking this encounter was a mere passing event, my focus in college was on growing in biblical knowledge along with my academics, and courting a certain young lady. Then, in 1974, my wife-to-be, Nancy, and I got sucked into a cultish church. I review this chapter in my life in the January 10, 2018 blog, and the key element is that I had falsely believed that, since I loved the Lord, I could not be deceived. Then I was deceived in accepting certain predicates in joining this church. Nancy and I married in the summer of 1977, and we left the church on January 10, 1978, with twelve others (out of about 200 people). The fourteen of us were publicly reviled in an emergency church meeting for daring to leave (!). It was great freedom to leave, then off to seminary the following fall, when our first son was also born.

Now the church, then called South Hills Christian Center outside Pittsburgh, PA, was run by a prima donna, Norman James. But in truth, his wife Becky "wore the pants" as one former member, who knew them up close, later said. As we also learned later, she often called down curses on those who had left the church. That, by itself, is the devil's handiwork. And some who left the church also called them Ahab and Jezebel. But I was nonchalant about this cursing reality, just as I was with the Satanic encounter six years prior. I trusted God in a naive way, not knowing the wisdom of Matthew 11:12 and Luke 16:16 against demonic territory.

Sometime in 1978 or 1979, my wife had a disturbing vision of me hoeing a field, doing work that needed to be done, but bent over low under an invisible and great burden. And with it was a vision of demons gleefully seeking to stick syringes in my back. In June of 1979, a virus struck my pancreas and destroyed all the beta cells, making me a Type 1 diabetic. There is no such history in our family. Over the years I just thought of this as happenstance, and due to an obviously insufficient immune system -- though in every other capacity over the years, my immune system has been very strong. It is, and has always been a daily burden, and especially as I get older. But as I consider my naivete and folly in confronting Satan in 1972, and my sin of pride that allowed me to be deceived into this church cult, it is clear -- not only biblically but experientially -- that Satan can only take advantage of our weaknesses, whether passive or active sin.

In 1988 I led the largest public policy petition drive in Massachusetts history for a ballot question that would have reshaped the national abortion debate in a profound and good way. But too, in organizing the whole state, I worked far too hard, and it added much stress at home. And apart from some modest prayer, I was naive as to what I was getting into, not considering the possibility of demonic opposition. But immediately after the petitions were submitted, we were hit with extraordinary demonic attacks that Nancy and I, and our two eldest sons, knew all too well (our third son was too young to know, and our daughter not yet born). I write about this in some depth in my book, Changing the Language of the Abortion Debate (available at johnrankinbooks.com). The reality of how I became a marked man, and targeted by New England witchcraft ever since, has been with me to this day. In Section Three of my book, Genesis and the Power of True Assumptions (available also at johnrankinbooks.com), I share the reality of how this continued in Connecticut after I moved back.

The key to all this, is that even in seeking to do the good, if we are bold or effective enough to merit the devil's ire, he will exploit our unattended weaknesses and sins and seek to destroy us. In my case, it was the folly of unexamined naivete, pride, and trusting in human energy over and against serious prayer.

And then further, here I land on the greatest sin in life. It is worse than naive folly, pride, or in trusting in human energy without sufficient proactive prayer. The sin is that of impatience.

The flip side of our strengths is our weaknesses. I am sanguine, I love the Lord and I love people, I am an optimist, and the glass is always 99 percent full. My father, an optimist, called me a "tunnel-view optimist" from my early childhood forward. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. It has also been natural to be a risk-taker for the Gospel, but I was also blind to so many things, whether concerning evil and deceitful people, or simple practicalities in pursuing good goals. I have relentlessly bitten off more than I can chew in my enthusiasm for the reality of the Gospel. Yet, very much good and dynamic ministry has been achieved, Satan is displeased, and has only ratcheted up stress on me to catalyze further folly in impatience.

Over the years, a pattern developed and deepened. When the good I pursued did not happen on my assumed or explicitly impatient timetable, I would get frustrated. This happened hugely in the 1988 Massachusetts pro-life referendum drive. Had I been a patient and wisely prayerful man, we would have prevailed over the deceit of the Massachusetts Attorney General. He blocked it on a technicality that would have otherwise been understood ahead of time, and overcome. And when frustration sets in, anger follows, and folly multiplies. And my anger began to erupt at various places, especially under financial stress.

Now, my father was not into financial planning -- he had a view, which I have had, believing that if you do the good, finances will follow. Not so. He was chief of hematology at the Hartford Hospital, with a general practice alongside. He simply loved caring for people. Hematology, from the late 1940's to 1990 was not high paying among doctors. And he did not bill about 40 percent of his patients, because they were too poor (many Black, Hispanic and White inner-city people). He never used a credit card and paid for everything in cash, only borrowing for the mortgage. He carried no debt, but also had no savings, health and life insurance, or retirement provisions. Only after my mother died young (age 54 in 1976, when my father was 58), did he change his planning. So, in my tunnel-view optimism, I had a similar assumption, but without a sufficient income most the time.

So, I would get angry under the duress of finances, or with respect to mundane items (I have cursed Microsoft more times than you can imagine), or when simply pressed for time. It took me years to realize and confess that my anger was against the Lord's timetable, against God himself. Even though I have always and naturally embraced his goodness and sovereignty, perhaps this also blinded me to the object of my anger.

As frustration for achieving good goals grew across the years, the anger became worse, and so bad that in the last two years I began to grasp it, and to pray and repent. But still, when I can't pay my bills, meet the utilities or mortgage, even facing basic food shortages, I was only partially successful. And since 2008, when adrenal exhaustion began to set it (before diagnosed), and my work pace and income dropped, I was trapped. And when the adrenal exhaustion hit Stage 4 two years ago, as formally diagnosed, I was in deep trouble. And it led to my crypto-genetic (unknown origin) stroke in 2014, which no doubt came from deepening stress, and my diabetes, for the first time, going out of control.

All this is due to my own sin of impatience, and thus a wide opportunity for the enemy.

In dealing with my adrenal exhaustion these past two years, I have had great success in regaining strength. But there were also two reversals emotionally, when my youngest son was in the hospital four times in nine weeks, and almost died (he is far better now); and when this January and February my whole computer system broke down, and I could do very little ministry, academic and financial work.

Nonetheless, I was okay, I thought, and in March, I was lecturing in Krakow, Poland, then flying to London, and up to Oxford for some academics. I got very sick just before leaving Krakow, and there was something demonic about it, but not readily identifiable. My strength started spiraling down. Limping into Oxford, I got my minimal obligations done, but on Thursday through Sunday, up to March 20, I was very sick, and could hardly leave my room for the bathroom. My diabetes raged out of control, but not due to my ratio of food intake and the insulin regimen. On Friday, face down on my bed all day, I was suddenly aware that I was being "sifted" by the devil. I cried out in prayer, I felt I weighed 400 pounds (not 180) and was dying. I called my wife at home through this entire process, seeking prayer. But no relief from the sifting illness.

I had to leave for the airport Sunday morning. I arranged for the taxi Saturday night (to the bus station), and the details were clear: 6:45 a.m. at Wycliffe Hall, 54 Banbury Road. "Yes, we know where it is." It took me hours, through the night, to pack my bags. I told them I was sick, and would wait inside the building until they pulled up. They did not show. I called, and the driver could not find it. They asked me to wait outside. But I was deathly sick, and it was -3 celsius and snowing. I started to get angry. I went to wait outside, and it took another 18 minutes and two phone calls, and I had to go onto the street, and try to flag the cabby down, who was 100 yards down the road. In the process, I cried out, "What have I done wrong Lord? Did I not set this up ahead of time to prevent me waiting in the cold? Why should I die because of their negligence?"

Then my anger seized the worse control of my life ever. I cursed the Cab company and the driver in foul invectives. And as I did, my whole body started shaking, and started shooting fire from every cell, and my eyes were full of lightening shooting off in every direction. It was like a transformer exploding. Then I said loudly: I REPENT. I experienced what James says in 3:6 of his letter, describing a tongue out of control that curses men made in the image of God: "... and sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell." The hellfire stopped as I repented, and had you pushed me slightly, I would have collapsed.

The cab driver arrived, a Muslim man with the style of beard said to imitate Muhammad -- long and untrimmed, but with a shaved upper lip. He was in Pakistani dress. I struggled to get my bags into the cab, and at the train station, as I was so weak, I fumbled with my billfold to pay the fare of 6.2 pounds. As I pulled out a 5-pound note, he looked at me with great mercy and changed the fare to 5-pounds. Once in the bus, I was just praying to get home alive, as I had to fly first back to Warsaw (hub for Polish airways), then to Newark, then the 150-mile drive home.

Then amazingly, when the bus crossed past the Oxford City limits, a huge demonic oppression tangibly lifted. I was immediately and surprisingly struck by this reality. And only then could I say in prayer, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength," and as I prayed that all the way home, step by step as God gave me the strength. As a pastor friend in Oxford says: "Oxford is a city full of demons." There is a history in place. And yet with many strong believing churches. No question that the demonic assault was territorial in nature, and here is my observation: Satan brought his greatest strength against my deepest weakness and almost killed me, seeking even to overcome a strong heart. And how do I know that apart from this experience? It turns out that I had a burgeoning heart attack, stopped the moment I said: I REPENT. The electricity of my heart went wild. I have always had a strong heart, and after my stroke in 2014, my EKG was excellent as was my blood pressure (that is why it was labeled crypto-genetic). But this May, at my physical, my EKG showed an infarcation sometime since the last EKG, and my doctor said I had had a cardiac event, which is another way of saying some sort of heart attack. I knew it exactly, and told him so. And it was completely stopped the moment I repented of my hellish anger.

Since March 20, I have rested, and am steadily, if not always evenly, recovering my strength. The anger that almost killed me -- under Satan's strategic pressure -- is 99 percent gone. I am praying for the final 1 percent to eviscerate as well. I REPENT. As James also says: "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you"(4:7). And since April 28, the leading of the Holy Spirit has multiplied in proportion to my freedom from impatience. 46 years of a battle with Satan has hit a victory threshold, and going forward, I know the devil will try new strategems. But in the Name of Jesus, I am much better equipped to shut them down.

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Saturday, April 28, 2018

Jesus, in the Face of the Political Dishonesty of Annas


In John 18:19-24, when Jesus is hauled before the de facto high priest, Annas, he is met with deep political vitriol. Annas has long since forfeited his Jewish soul in order to try and claim his position of power under Roman political and military dominance. His son-in-law Caiaphas, the titular high priest, already sees political expediency in seeking to have Jesus killed.

Jesus is a threat to the status quo where the Jewish faith is quarantined behind the temple walls, with no freedom to address matters of religious, political and economic justice. This status quo only serves self-appointed religious elitists who yield to politically raw power, in order to keep their own positions, circumscribed power, and wealth.

So Annas questions Jesus about his teaching. Jesus answers in noting that he has taught openly, not in secret, and indeed, in the synagogues and temple courts.

Which means, he teaches not only in the presence of his disciples and others who welcome him, but also in the very presence of those who are seeking to have him killed.

Jesus knows this "trial" before Annas is a set-up, and he knows that Annas already knows the answers to any question he would pose. So Jesus levels the playing field, and calls Annas to account. "Question those who have heard me. Certainly, they know what I have said."

This challenges the theological and political dishonesty of Annas, face-to-face. And Annas responds with violence, breaking the Law of of Moses by ordering Jesus to be struck in the face. In other words, Annas shows his soul to be one that has forsaken the very Law to which he claims allegiance.

How often, across history, have professing Christian leaders yielded to raw political power, based on one form of rationalization or another? How many of them, like Annas, have forfeited their souls in such a pursuit? How much is that the case today?

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Friday, April 6, 2018

Rankin’s Proposal for the President: Healing a Toxic Political Culture


April 5, 2018

In the face of a toxic political culture, what can be done to introduce some honesty and charity? The need is to provide a level playing field for all ideas to be heard equally for all partisans – where they all know they are being given an honest listen in the presence of opposing partisans. That is, to accomplish what is presently an oxymoron in status quo politics.

A level playing field means 1) the pursuit of an honest definition of terms on any given topic, which 2) yields the information necessary for all partisans to make informed choices on policy matters, so that 3) partisan debate can flourish to the well-being of the nation.

Truth is then free to rise to the top, and only those who pursue the truth will have interest in such a level playing field.

Here the President, at the national level, and indeed, governors at the state level, can do a great service. Rooted in my three and a half decades of public policy ministry in the face of the most passionately debated questions, I am willing to serve the President in such a process as a non-paid consultant. What might it look like?

First, it can be titled: Presidential Conversations.

Second, choose a topic for each Conversation, e.g., To Build or Not to Build (re: immigration along the southern border).

Third, the President can select the most qualified partisan who strenuously opposes his stated policies on the chosen question. Then invite him or her to a prime-time televised one-hour conversation with a live audience and media who are broadcasting it live and in its entirely. Those partisans who accept commend themselves; those who refuse for no good reason disqualify themselves.

Fourth, have the opposing partisan read a maximum 150-word prepared statement on a) the facts of the debated topic as he or she understands them, and b) an interpretation of what they mean for public policy. The President will likewise give his own 150-word statement.

Both the President and his dissenting partisan can each have one or two select advisers with whom to consult in the conversation that follows.

And fifth, I, along with a co-moderator of balancing perspectives, would question both the President and his partisan disputant equally on their definition of terms, and interpretations. Then they question one another as they see fit. All in a conversational pace.

This proposed format can be changed in any number of ways in service to the goal, which is very simple. Namely, to have each person heard as fully as possible, face-to-face, in public profile. This way, the public is best served in coming to know the real debates at hand, and thus better able to make informed choices. Any honest partisan should be glad to embrace such a face-to-face public conversation.

Other possible questions include, among many possibilities: To Filibuster or Not?; To Russia with Love?; To What Extent Can China be Trusted in Trade?; Israel, Iran and Palestine: What are the Facts?; To What Extent Can North Korea be Trusted?; Should the Government Help Underwrite Planned Parenthood?; What is the Agenda of the Never-Trumpers?; How does the well-being of men and boys affect the well-being of women and girls?; What is the relationship between religious freedom, and political and economic freedom?; and What Does Nathaniel Hawthorne Have to do with the Second Amendment?

Such conversations across the partisan divides can become must-see television – and presidential leadership can make it happen – all in the conviction that truth rises to the top on a level playing field.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

40 Years Ago Today I Left a Cult: Choosing Biblical Integrity and Freedom Instead


Today is the 40th anniversary of Tuesday, January 10, 1978, when my wife and I, along with twelve others, were the first group to publicly depart a nasty cult. It is as fully depraved as ever, these four decades letter. Below is a post from January 27, 2014 that describes it.

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"I was Once Deceived -- 'In Normantown.'"

Lakeview Christian Life Church, Bridgeville, PA, on Citysearch.

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In this series of "TEI stories," my purpose is to share personal anecdotes from across the years where my interaction with the Gospel and others is in view. The prior four stories in this blog go back to my college years and right after, and this one does too. A biblical faith is an honest one - in the sight of God and one another. So here, let me be candid about the time I was deceived, and how thankful I am that God's grace turned me from it.

Eight months prior to my deception, in January, 1974, I took "J term" for college credit, done at Grace Haven Farms in Mansfield, Ohio. It was at the apex of the "Jesus Movement" years, and Grace Haven leased a 360-acre farm and had a lodge not unlike Francis Schaeffer's L'Abri in Switzerland, where there and here, many college students and others engaged the Gospel. It was a wonderful ministry, forty years later Grace Fellowship Church remains, and I have good friends there still.

During the month I did farm work and was involved in community life. When it was my time to cook breakfast for sixty people, I decided not to go the scrambled eggs route, but cooked eggs to order, sunny-side-up or easy-over. I had to work a furious pace, enjoyed it immensely and was especially satisfied that I only broke one egg yolk in the process. Then I enjoyed my own easy-over eggs.

A significant part of the program was study. Here I read in depth about some Protestant offshoots of the nineteenth century that deviated from the biblical teachings on the nature of the Trinity - Mormonism, Christian Science and (the later named) Jehovah's Witnesses.

Back at Denison University in February, I was walking across campus and remember praying, in view of having studied these deceitful religions: "Lord, I thank you that I cannot be deceived because of how much I love you." God have mercy (and he did) - I actually prayed these words, and what a foolish and proud statement. Not unlike the self-righteous Pharisee in Luke 18:10-14:

"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men - robbers, evildoers, adulterers - or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

In other words, I set myself up to be deceived, and it came to pass from September, 1974, to January, 1978. Some friends in college and just married, Rick and Noel, with both being seniors, were eager to find "apostolic" authority. With them, my wife-to-be, Nancy, and I, visited a small satellite church outside Columbus, Ohio, when the overseeing "apostle" from the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, area came to visit. His name was Norman H. James. In truth, I was deeply wary, yet Nancy and I both thought we kept attending because the other one was - in a crazy season in courtship that had not yet come to engagement.

Nonetheless, Norman had some eccentric and false doctrines (though he was within confessional Nicene orthodoxy), and I eventually bought into at least two of them. In fact, our friend who led us to this church actually cajoled me into one. These were doctrines that were exclusivist, where Norman believed that the "true born-again church" was a very small portion of the larger church, he was at the center of it, and was the real (if yet to be acknowledged) Apostle of the "true" church. He proved to be a prima donna, expecting people to submit to his professed authority, no questions de facto allowed.

In early 1976, Norman ordered that his various small satellite churches all move to Pittsburgh, and they did so by the subsequent fall. "Prophecy" and twisted scriptures made this seem to be the great movement of establishing the "true" church with its worldwide epicenter in Pittsburgh, and Norman believed that Pittsburgh had been "given" to him by the Lord as his spiritual fiefdom. He encouraged people to drop out of college if need be, or transfer to a college in Pittsburgh, or leave secure jobs, including a friend, George, who left after 19 years as a government computer programmer, losing all his accrued benefits set to kick in after 20 years. One exception was made for a favored couple, Dan and Joanne, while the Dan was finishing pharmaceutical school.

Norman also directed the college students, explicitly, to lie to their parents as to why they were moving to Pittsburgh. I did not buy into this, but also, I had no risk because I was graduating that spring. Nonetheless, I told my father why I was moving there. Nancy was able, by God's grace, to do her senior year at Chatham College in Pittsburgh, and also earn her K-3 teaching certificate not possible at Denison (where she was an art major), all her scholarship monies transferred, and she graduated the following spring from Denison.

Norman was legalistic and petty in micromanaging people's lives, using the image of the "plumb line" accordingly, and in fact cajoled into existence perhaps several dozen marriages in the Pittsburgh church (actually located in the South Hills through various locales until property was bought, under several names over the years; they are virtually invisible on the internet today). The church had a large ratio of new college graduates, and people of the same age, while Norman was a high school graduate raised Roman Catholic before becoming Pentecostal/charismatic. He preached marriage, and through proxies and the pulpit, insisted that all the single men and women soon find a spouse within the church. The order was given. They did so, almost without exception, as on assignment. Thankfully, by this time my Nancy and I were already engaged, having a history well prior to this church, and we married in August, 1977, following her graduation.

While in this church, I was known as one who actually knew the Bible. I was only 21-24 years old in this season. Norman and most the leadership knew it largely as a series of proof-texts, whereas in my prior experience in 1) reading the Bible relentlessly, in whole books and always seeking to learn context, 2) the Anglican liturgies from the Book of Common Prayer, along with the hymns, in prep school, 3) my involvement in the Fellowship of Christians in University and Schools, 4) in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and 5) in learning some skeptical as well as honest biblical scholarship in college, I was wired and prepared to learn the whole biblical storyline on its own terms. And too, my upbringing (see the first blog post from March 9, 2010) blessed me with a love of hard questions. And yet, these forty years later, I know how little of the Bible I then knew, how much more I now know, which also means I now know more how little I know compared with what there is to be known.

Then the explosion. Norman was forcing a friend of mine (the former government computer programmer, George), to resign as an elder for the "sin" of - hold your breath - having his two older sons attend the youth group of a different church. Norman's church, aka in my own language, "Normantown," had no such youth group as the demographics were so young. Norman was requiring this man to lie as to why he was resigning as an elder of one of the house churches (small groups in the larger church), and not to tell anyone ahead of time. But George's wife Pat couldn't hold it in, she told me and Nancy, with George present, in December, 1977. So along with some petty hypocrisies evident, the four of us decided to leave the church. When I made the decision, it was a breath of fresh air to my soul. Awaking from a toxic fog.

Norman was planning to come to the Wednesday, January 11, 1978 scheduled house church meeting, to oversee my friend's resignation, and appoint a new elder (Dan, the pharmacist). George thus, in fear, called the meeting for the prior evening, January 10, in secret, to announce the real reasons why he was resigning. He taped it in order to give it to Norman (which he followed through on). Ten others joined us in choosing to leave the church - the first public exodus from Normantown. But one woman in the house church, Maggie, was horrified, and immediately called Norman. The fury was so great that Norman phoned all the elders, and word of such "infamy" spread like wildfire through the church. Norman also phoned the fourteen of us through the night, and called an emergency meeting of the whole church the next night - some two hundred people - to publicly decry and "dis-fellowship" (excommunicate) all of us ex post facto. He also directed that no one in the church communicate with any of us. We were to be "shunned."

Our neighbors in the apartment above us, in a two-family home, Lenny and Colleen (having also a young child), were members of the church, so they immediately shunned us. And, as it so happened, I was switching jobs that week, taking a slightly better paying job in retail management, and had two days off in the interim. So Lenny, making a momentary exception, seeing me at home for two days in the middle of the work week, asked me if I had lost my job. The expectation in the church was that those who left it would be cursed by their own "sin" of leaving, and descend into personal turmoil and failure in work and marriage. When I answered Lenny, he was crestfallen. Another man in the church, Jim, saw me in traffic some weeks later, and oh, the glare of his eyes upon me. May God have mercy - they were entrapped in a cult.

My wife and I then visited the leader of Grace Fellowship Church ministries in Mansfield, Ray, who along with his wife Eunice, were so hospitable to us. He concluded by saying I should be in seminary, and it came to pass for the fall. As it is, Norman, at that time, prohibited people from going to seminary, and generally disparaged higher education.

However, I knew that having a secret meeting on January 10 was not the right way to go about it, even though it was not my decision. George was in deathly fear of Norman, and he acted accordingly.

So, in February, I wrote Norman and said as much, and reiterated the reasons why we left. He was so enthusiastic in receiving the letter, thinking we might be persuaded to return to the church - to "snatch us from the fire" as it were - that he personally rushed over to our apartment, while I was at work and my wife was at home (not knowing either variable), knocking on the door. I never did dislike the man, and intuitively have always felt the grace of God can reach his heart. We met with him and an associate pastor some time later, we told him further why we left, and I also asked some questions about his theology and his conduct relative to our friends. Norman said he found no fault in us, only fault in the people with whom we associated in leaving the church. And he invited us to rejoin the church, where "exciting" things were happening - "The Spirit is on the move." It turns out that the associate pastor also later left the church.

Nancy and I responded, 1) we find no fault in our friendships, 2) no thank you to the invitation to return to the church, and 3) we are heading off to seminary. Then he said, "You can go to seminary while staying in the church." We demurred. But I concluded the conversation something like this: "Norman, now that we have had this conversation, I trust that if ever we cross paths again, we will do so as friends." He did not disagree, but still, such a resolution was not his purpose for the meeting.

And indeed, when my schedule had me coming through Pittsburgh in 1989, I wrote Norman ahead of time to arrange a visit where my interest was in an open-ended theological conversation, separate from the details of our departure from the church. In receiving no reply, I called the church office, he was unavailable to talk, but his eldest son, also named Norman (but not Jr.), spoke with me. Yet, no meeting was possible with his father. "Little Norman," as he was then called, was a teenager in 1977, and once I took him and his next oldest brother, and the two eldest sons of my friend, to a Pittsburgh Pirate's game. I liked him, and in the 1989 phone conversation, it was pleasant enough. When I was in town in 1998, I tried to set up a meeting with Norman (the elder), and no reply. Several years ago, I sent a copy of my one of books, The Six Pillars of Biblical Power, to Norman (the younger) who had since become senior pastor. No response.

This I did in a proactive attempt to lift up Jesus, even though I knew some of the hell into which the church has descended in the meantime. I only know a few details of these intervening years, not even scratching the surface I am sure. In the 1990s, our college friends were divorced, de facto at Norman's behest. Noel started questioning Norman and his wife, it was unacceptable, and sometime later Rick unilaterally divorced her and locked her out of the house penniless, with virtually no possessions. This we learned, because she and my wife talked at some length on the phone afterward. It turns out, too, that there were quite a few married couples where divorce was insisted upon by the leadership in Normantown, because one spouse was asking impermissible questions, and better it was in Normantown to keep one person in the church, than to have them both leave and keep the marriage intact. One such woman unilaterally divorced by her husband was Maggie, then single, who in our house church in 1978, was initially horrified by our "rebellion" in Normantown and had immediately called Norman. Years later Maggie had questions, but they were not permitted ...

This is a hallmark of idolatry. Norman and his group of pliant elders, on the one hand, insisted on marriage for the young adults within the church, in the name of the biblical covenant; but on the other, as soon as one spouse began to challenge Norman's authority, divorce was decreed. Indeed, membership in Normantown meant being "married" to Normantown. When I last heard from my friend Rick, who had led us into the church, it was in a letter in the spring of 1979 when I was in seminary. I had sent him an announcement of the birth of our first son the prior October. He was cordial, but also said that he had no purpose in further communications since I had "divorced" myself from the church.

Now, when I invent a term that invents itself, "Normantown," some may think of "Jonestown." I am not making this analogy, for the members of Normantown may live in a cult (and their church property and adjoining neighborhood of houses occupied by members gives it a geographical fortress mentality), but they also work real jobs in the outside economy. I pray they have no such willingness to literally drink poisoned Kool Aid, and I highly doubt its possibility; but the idolatry in place is just as dangerous to the soul. Various people in Normantown, when I was there, treated Norman's words as the Word of God, even over the Bible at junctures. As I began to realize this, my soul was already preparing to depart Normantown.

In the 1990s I met a minister of the Gospel in a meeting in Connecticut, who pastored a church in the Mount Washington section of Pittsburgh in the 1970s, Joseph Garlington. He has since preached the Gospel internationally and extensively. He knew Norman well, and said to me that he has never met a man more practiced in the art of manipulating other people. Let me add though, manipulators are virtually always first manipulated in their youths, insecurity of the soul thus multiplies, and a vicious cycle ensues where manipulation of others is an internal hedge against being manipulated, a cycle that needs to be broken for all concerned.

By God's grace, we escaped. I was deceivable due to foolish pride. "Fool me once and shame on you; fool me twice and shame on me." And as a result, as I began seminary, I focused on the biblical ethics of freedom, "no coercion in the Gospel" as I then phrased it, and my life has been thus shaped. Do pray for those still in Normantown, that God's grace may happily interrupt their lives too, though in truth, for those who have been there thirty or forty years, the die is deeply cast. But nothing is impossible to God.

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[Addendum: January 28 - the church has no website, but after this posting, I discovered a place where many former members vent themselves, the CitySearch site linked at the top; February 6 - I added my own comments]

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Proactive Structure of the Lord's Prayer


As noted in my prior post, Pope Francis is concerned that the Roman Church's traditional translation of the Lord's Prayer might confuse believers, so as to think God might somehow lead them into temptation.

But his new rendering only produces an opposite problem, introducing a passive tense and voice not in the grammar. Thus, I have challenged him on lexicographic, grammatical and theological grounds. Let me further address the latter.

There are four all-defining subjects within the prayer. Here they are, followed by each of the four lines of the prayer from the original Greek:

1. Family – Our Father in the heavens, holy is your Name.
2. Politics – Your kingdom come, your will be done, in heaven and on earth.
3. Economics – Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
4. Spiritual Warfare – And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

I teach a whole 2-3 hour seminar unpacking this prayer, and go into the reasons why I believe such a translation is accurate. For here, focusing on the clause in question, let me make these observations.

1. The prayer involves a) complete dependency on the goodness of God's kingship, b) calling for his kingdom to come, and thus c) acting in life accordingly.
2. If we do not know how this is the foundation for an overcoming proactive faith (e.g., the letters to the seven churches
in Revelation, v. 2:7 and its repetitions), we can easily slip into a passive, defensive mode.
3. So whereas it is folly to seek to oppose the evil one on our own initiatives, it is folly not to take the authority, led by the Spirit, to drive out demons in personal and political contexts, as Jesus commissioned his disciples.
4. When Jesus is led by the Spirit into the testings/temptations of the devil, he is the One with the proactive power to defeat the evil one. We pray that God will not lead us into the same testing, but based on what Jesus has done, to take his victory his employ it actively in his Name.

In my book, Genesis and the Power of True Assumptions (Second Edition), available at www.johnrankinbooks.com, the whole theological foundation in Parts I and II of the book lead to Part III and its focus on spiritual warfare. Those who know this biblical territory will readily see how the Lord's Prayer is the foundation for a proactive and overcoming faith, and how there is no passive tense in the Christian life.

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Matthew 4

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Is the Pope Mistaken in his Revision of the Lord's Prayer?


Pope Francis is recommending that the Lord's Prayer be revised in one clause, for use in the Roman Catholic Church.

Namely, he says: "Lead us not into temptation" should be rendered "Do not let us fall into temptation."

There are deep problems with this change, and it is not a matter of distinction between the Roman church on the one hand, and the Orthodox and Protestant communions, on the other. It is a matter of the biblical text to which we all name allegiance.

My concerns are lexicographical, grammatical and theological.

Let's walk through the concerns.

1. Lexicography: In the Greek of Matthew 6:13, the verb in play is eisphero, and most simply means to "bring in." It cannot be rendered "fall into."

2. Grammatically, this verb is rendered eiseinegkes, which means it is in the subjunctive aorist active tense. Subjunctive refers to "possibility" (to be brought or not to be brought into temptation); aorist refers to a simple past or indefinite tense with no sense of duration; and the active refers to actions directly taken, as opposed to falling into something passively. Thus, the actual text in the prayer is: "Do not bring us into temptation."

But the Pope changes it to "Do not let us fall into temptation." Now, the prior renderings of the Lord's Prayer -- in Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism -- use "Lead us not" or "Do not lead us" as a way to say "Do not bring us." And this nuance of difference is not problematic. In both these different renditions, it remains a prayer about how God leads us. He does lead us, he does bring us (or "carry us forward" as it can be additionally rendered in the Greek).

The problem for the Pope is that "lead us not," as opposed to "do not let us fall," suggests that God tempts us to sin, not the devil or sinful human nature (e.g., James 1:13-14). The Pope wants, as it were, to protect God's character as holy, apart from the devil or human sin.

So, out of concern to protect Roman Catholics from such a wrong view of God, the Pope is willing to change the lexicography and grammar of the biblical text. Why? This leads us into theological factors, or how we study and understand the whole Bible.

3. Theology: In Matthew 4:1, we read: "Then Jesus was led (anago) into the wilderness under the Spirit, to be tested [or tempted] by the devil." And in v. 3, "the tempter" comes to test him. When the Lord's Prayer is read by the Jewish audience of Matthew's gospel, in chapter six, it is very soon after the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness in chapter four. These readers, and we, can easily see how Jesus -- as the Son of God -- faces the devil head-on. The devil misquotes Scripture, twisting it to try and deceive Jesus. But Jesus knows the written Word inside out, himself being the Living Word (logos in John 1:1) to begin with, and the devil cannot comprehend/overcome it (katalambano in John 1:5). So the devil departs, and the temptations are vitiated.

Accordingly, we we pray, "Do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one," we do so in light of two realities. First, Jesus has been led into the most severe of temptations to overcome them on our behalf. And second, we know we cannot handle such temptations in our own persons. Thus, there is no sense that God tempts us. He has brought Jesus into the path of temptation so that he delivers us from it.

Thus, I do not see in the Greek text the fear that people will think God tempts them. I am glad for any input.

*** In this language change for the Lord's Prayer, Pope Francis inadvertently renders an active faith passive, and robs believers of spiritual authority in the face of temptation, indeed, of the tempter himself.***

Addendum 16 July, 2018:

In Jeremiah 35, Yahweh instructs Jeremiah to ask the Recabites to drink some wine, to dishonor their Nazirite vows. They refuse, Yahweh vindicates them powerfully, and uses them as an example as to why Judah now faces judgment for their sins. Thus, Yahweh does bring temptation to them as a test, and they pass the test, thus sealing judgment on sin, including the sin they refused to commit. The same ethic of testing is also seen in Ezekiel 3:20, as Yahweh puts a stumbling block before a rebellious Israel, to test them. We pray for the Lord not to bring us into temptation, and hopefully, because we do now want to be in such a place as ancient Israel and Judah, where it was necessary.


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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The 50th Anniversary of my Conversion


[excerpted from The Six Pillars of Biblical Power by John C. Rankin, see johnrankinbooks.com]

From age seven, I grew up in a church in the Unitarian-Universalist Association (UUA), and there I was taught to be a skeptic of the Bible. My father had moved from a Presbyterian church where he was affronted by judgmentalness, then from a Congregational church where he was dismayed by serious hypocrisy, and wound up in the UUA because the minister was intelligent and faithful to his wife.

My upbringing was healthy, where my father as a physician loved to care for people, loved and respected my mother (who died just after I finished college), loved the five of us children. My early years were not polluted by poverty, fratricide, divorce or one of a number of other toxins that assault children. Thus, I was free to wonder about the universe. When I was reading an early manuscript of this book to my father, then 90 with failing eyesight, and I came to this juncture, he mused with laughter, and said, “You know John, as a young boy you were always thinking.” The gift of thinking – so very precious, and something I have always pursued.

As an eight-year old, in the fall of 1961, our Sunday School teacher read to us the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand men (plus women and children). She said up front, “And of course, we know that miracles cannot occur.” I thought to myself, Why not? I was skeptical. She continued to explain how what really happened was that Jesus inspired thousands of selfish people to unstuff their tunics, which were full of bread and fish, and share them with each other, all because Jesus inspired one little boy to bring forth his five small barley loaves and two small fish.

I thought she was explaining too much, even though I had yet to learn of the social impossibility of such in first-century Jewish life, where modern individualism is a foreign concept. The people are away from the town spontaneously, it is late, no provisions have been made, and whatever food they have they naturally share with one another, beginning with the needs of the children.

Then, in the winter of 1962, our teacher turned to the Old Testament, starting with Genesis. She gave a detailed explanation of how Genesis was a primitive myth among primitive people who did not know science or other modern means of knowledge. So I thought, If it is a myth, why bother? I was again skeptical.

Skepticism is good if used in pursuit of the truth. The goal is to test everything equally to see what proves true and what does not. That which proves true can be embraced with confidence, along with the freedom for the risk-taking nature of faith that follows. But skepticism employed to avoid the truth does not serve the good, nor true power. Thus, to be skeptical of the Bible is fine; it is a question of why, and to what end. Truth proves itself to the honest skeptic – and the truth of the six pillars of biblical power proves satisfying.

In reading this portion of the manuscript to my father, he again laughed heartedly and in agreement, quoting the Latin for being “skeptical of skepticism.”

In my skepticism of skepticism at this early age, I was rooted in a prior amazement at my existence in the face of an awesome universe. I remember wondering where space ended. To find out, I hitched a ride with Flash Gordon (that will date me and define my reference) and traveled to the end of the universe. And do you know what we found? A brick wall with the words posted on it, “End of Universe.” Now it was a little comforting that in the age of Sputnik that the sign was in English and not Russian. But it was also unsatisfying. What was on the other side? And what was on the other side of the next wall?

Then there are the questions about time and number. What happens one minute after time ends, or what is the biggest number? What is the biggest number plus one? And on and on. No one can deny the reality that this known universe, in which we can measure our existence, is bounded by the necessary and helpful concepts of space, time and number. And we all acknowledge that since we can describe the limitations of these measurement devices, there must be something greater. And yet we cannot wrap ourselves around that which is greater, for we are finite and limited. Where does such a trajectory take us?

In the face of this trajectory, I was nonetheless a self-conscious agnostic by age 14. An “agnostic” is usually a term for someone who does not know if there is a God (from the Greek roots a + gnosis, “to be without knowledge”). But it was an open-ended and positive agnosticism, which is to say I was always impressed by the beauty of the universe and amazed by my own existence and self-awareness. I was open to whatever truth proved to be, open to the idea of God. But I did not know one way or the other in the summer of 1967.

I was in Boy Scout camp, and each Sunday we were required to attend chapel service. One Sunday morning, as I was getting dressed, one of my tent mates was resting on his bunk bed. I asked him why he was not getting ready. He answered, “I am an atheist.” So I asked him, “What is an atheist?” He said that it meant he does not believe in God, and all I had to do to get out of chapel was to tell the scoutmaster that I was an atheist. I said, “But I don’t know.” So I went to chapel.

That September, I began ninth grade (“third form”) at South Kent School, a small prep boarding school for boys in the Housatonic highlands of western Connecticut. South Kent had a daily chapel schedule rooted in the Episcopal liturgy.

It was required, but I determined not to participate, saying to myself, I don’t believe this stuff. So I did not sing, recite, pray, genuflect or take communion. But that proved a “dangerous” thing to do. For while other students were participating at one level or another, I ended up occupying my mind reading the words of the liturgy and hymns, as they were recited and sung. I was interested in the possible existence of God.

On November 1, 1967, All Saints Day in the Anglican calendar, I was standing outside the chapel in the interlude before walking down the hill to dinner. As the air pricked my spine, I felt alive. It was delightfully cold, and in those rural hills the Milky Way was exceptionally clear that evening – like a white paint stroke against a black canvas. I considered its awesome grandeur and beauty, and then I posed to myself this sequence of thought:

If there is a God, then he must have made all this for a purpose, and that purpose must include my existence, and it must include the reason I am asking this question. And if this is true, then I need to get plugged into him.

I wanted to know either way, and I was convinced that if there were a God, then it would be most natural to become rooted in my origins. To be radical before I knew what radical meant. But I wanted verification. The “if” clauses were real.

This was a commitment to myself, in the sight of the universe, in the sight of a possible God. It was in fact a prayer to an unknown God.

The next evening, November 2, All Souls Day in the Anglican calendar, I was the first student into chapel, taking my assigned seating in the small balcony. As I sat down and looked forward in the empty sanctuary, I said under my breath, “Good evening God.” Immediately I retorted to myself, “Wait a minute John. You don’t even know if there is a God. How can you say ‘good evening’ to him?”

But also immediately, I became aware of a reality that was prior to and deeper than the intellect, of a truth that held the answer to any and all of my questions. There was a God, I knew deep within me, and I knew that I had just lied to myself by saying I did not know, even though it was only now that I knew I knew. My heart knew before my mind knew, but as part of the whole that my mind was now grasping. I had yet to speak it (see Romans 10:9-10). Thus, I mark my conversion from the night before when I posed the question of God’s existence in the face of his beautiful universe.

In this moment, God’s presence ratified the reality of my belief as I simultaneously discerned a Presence literally hovering over me, filling the entire balcony. And, critically, this Presence was hovering and waiting for my response. It was powerful, inviting and embracing. This all happened within a moment’s time, and I realized that I did believe. No sooner had I exhaled my agnostic retort, did I then inhale and say, “Yes I do (believe).” As I did, this literal presence of God descended upon and filled my entire being – heart, soul, mind and body.

Now I knew nothing at the time of the divine name and nature of Yahweh’s presence and glory, as experienced by the Israelites in the exodus community with the tabernacle, and later in Solomon’s temple. Nor did I know anything of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Yet the grace of God came into my life that November evening, as he but gently crossed my path with a touch of his Presence. I asked an intellectual question in view of an awesome universe, and was answered by the Presence of the awesome Creator.