Matthew 7:13-14

Enter in through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many there are who go in through it. Because narrow is the gate and straight is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. ~ Matthew 7:13-14

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Sometimes I have to check my calendar to remember where I was the week before.   Sometimes when traveling I have to ask myself where am I now?  The weekend of August 19- 21 was like that for me.  Landing in Buffalo got me dinner in Niagara Falls with Pastor Bob.  Hardly romantic, but very friendly.  I really love this guy.  An old time Pentecostal, funny, transparent, and with lots of stories.  I stay with some people and often need to do most of the talking.  With Bob I did not have that problem.  Wendy, Stephanie and I used to drive to Niagara Falls when we pastored in Michigan and went to prophesy conferences.  To this day Wendy and Stephanie laugh at my assessment that the falls is "a really big hole".  I remembered that when I saw that same big hole all over again with pictures of me and Bob, really nice.  I needed that respite after the flight which rerouted me to Atlanta due to weather in Chicago.  Got into Buffalo 3 hours later than planned, but we got there.  Met the nicest woman named Suzette too on the flight, one I should have never made into Atlanta.  Pastor Bob and I did not make it to his house in Liverpool, NY near Syracuse until exactly 1: 16.  Bob explained he does not tire until 1:15.  Sure enough he did not yawn until 1:14l, but by then we were already on the street where he lives.

I had a great reunion with one my favorite pastors, George.  He had on a Saturday driving to California a few weeks before called telling me he was cancelling our meeting for Friday Aug 19 because he was fired.  On Monday 2 days later as I drove back home he called to tell me his following at his church was reorganizing a new corporation with him as pastor.  He called exactly one week later to tell me he got a new building in the same area that cost them nothing.  He also re-invited me to be their 1st speaker in their new building for the originally scheduled date Friday August 19.  The name of his new church - Abounding Love Fellowship.  I am sure you have seen “ It’s  A Wonderful Life”.  The name of the town depicted is Bedford Falls which is fictitious, but the area it depicts is exactly where I was this weekend in  upstate western NY.  Pastor George, the same 1st name as George Bailey from the old Bailey Building and Loan, was the George of my weekend.  He and his wife Debbie who just happens to be the daughter of Pastor Bob had the widest smile I have seen since George Bailey with his wife Mary underneath the Christmas tree congratulating Clarence for getting his wings.  Jesus too says "its a wonderful life.”

On Sunday am at 6:15am I began my drive from Liverpool NY to Corning about 100 country miles southeast.  I emphasize country because there are no freeways in these parts.  One thinks of NY as crowds and technology, but NY State is not that way.  It is beautiful in these parts.  The air, the trees , the feeling of space , the land.  It was here I fell into a time warp.  I could not remember where I was as far as time goes but, I was exactly where my feelings wanted to go.  I was in Woodstock, not the concert or the town, not 2012,  but the 1980s.  I was on our land.  Our precious land.  Like the song,  " God gave this land to me".   We were residents of Woodstock in the 80s.  I have many stories regarding Woodstock and time to tell all that should be told,  but for now all I can say is being in upstate NY , the small towns,   the detours the soothing aroma of mountain air.  I was home again.  The drive was the destiny.  I was on the 2 acres Wendy and I developed for our front yard, the other 35 acres were woods for long walks.  It was on those 2 acres when I looked up and saw the face of Jesus.

I have never claimed to have seen Jesus only that I saw what he wanted me to see of HIm.  I cannot tell you exact dates, but it was after May 1983 when I got saved in Woodstock and before May 1986 when Wendy and I sold all we had to begin seminary and a life in ministry.  This was my 2nd special encounter with Jesus not counting actually getting saved.  What I had going for me was enthusiasm.  I did not have a lot of theology,   but I am sure Gods intention in teaching theology is to increase enthusiasm not dampen it.  I simply wanted to see Him.  A grown man in his mid 30s, I asked to see Him.  "I want to see you, I want to be with you.  I want to talk with you."  These were feeling thoughts and words I was saying.  In the midst of this monologue of music and moments I looked up and saw His smile.  Let me emphasize what I saw I saw His SMILE.  It was that big.  Not oversized, but huge with grace and forgiveness and kindness and goodness.  The one other characteristic I take home with me now is He had a small space between His 2 front teeth.  I only saw Him from His shoulders up , but He showed me His hands.  Rudd , strong , He then let out with a huge laugh.  A laugh without sound yet filled with expression,    I can hear it still, whenever I think of His Kindness and when I remember this day.  He says it is still this day.  It is His ever abounding Love fellowship.  He took me a young man lacking ...  and gave me a family and the basis for, through His smile, all I would ever need to have.  It is A Wonderful Life.  I wish everyone knew about this life with all my heart and as I write this I want the best for all.  I forgive all and I am forgiven by One, The One That Counts.

I did get to Friends Of The Cross Church in Corning.  Very special.  Got back to Pastor Bob’s church that evening .  His son-in law George came to visit Sunday night too.  George, as he shared his story of loss and gain, had on his face that familiar smile Jesus showed me that day almost 30 years ago.  I even got to present “James the brother of Jesus”  3 times that weekend.   If anyone knows that smile it would be James.  I have Bible -acted the Book Of James over 100 times for sure.  Its kind of a family thing now.  I use to say more often then  I do nowadays " look at a person’s baby pictures and you’ll see into who he is as God intended.  Acting the Bible is going backward as much as forward.  The more we learn shows just how much we need to unlearn.  Funny, with all I have learned and experienced there is no more I can have, save to look into His face.  Jesus I am sure looks just like His baby pictures, because His essence will never change.  This gives me the strength to just look up and smile into His Face and that space between His teeth and just Laugh.  It is A wonderful life.  Isn’t it?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Playing In The Narrow Gate

 I was driving to Banning Ca, Sat August 4 to be exact. I was thinks of many things on these trips.....of Jesus’ words "you are the salt of the are the light of the world". I was preparing in my heart’s mind for doing the Sermon on the Mount at Victory Outreach in Banning the next morning. When He says "you are" The you is His...Anyone can presume to be one of His, and yet not be His...presumptions can be dangerous. So when we hear the "we as Christians" phrase are we presuming faith...  and not simply presenting faith to the hearer? Jesus is always presenting ....this is one way of His being new and in the moment... all the time. It keeps Him fresh. "His mercies are new every morning" is not a bible verse to Him only, but a living reality of His Person; which is why it is scripture. When I do Sermon on the Mount I deliberately attempt to not play Jesus but attempt to allow Him to play me. This takes lots of pressure off me. I do not have to perform, but rather through concentration, can be ministered to ..He to me and through me. You can see why I love this so much. The travel, the drive ,the hours away are all worth the journey to get there. I do miss home and Wendy is home to me especially. The perk is that He plays me.

The understanding of this simple sentence, He plays me, did not come to me "overnight". In a way I cannot say it has even come to me now, but I can say I am learning its value everyday. I cannot tell you how many times I have asked pastors "do you enjoy pastoring?"... To enjoy the work is to find "the rest".  Rest is not time off, but time "in".........

So here I am, doing Sermon on the Mount on Sunday am....and I get to rediscover Jesus all over again. As He walks through each beat of each verse I am all too aware that He is demonstrating His word- presence again. Some people say to me " imagine being there 2000 years ago". I say to you yes, but what about just now? It’s that presumption again that blocks the experience we so need and also blocks what we so desperately desire. Jesus now.
Did you hear from God after SOM?” I asked the audience of about 100 packed into a small, but nicely air conditioned room. All the heads nod up and down. They understood the question. It takes a child to understand a child. We miss Jesus’ message so much and so often ... we miss that He is the Child....and like a child He wants to be with friends.... because He is childlike. The audience was childlike too because they understood the childlikeness of the question.

When at the Spanish congregation later that afternoon doing Matthew 24 in Cathedral City Ca, I asked them are "you watching for Jesus?, Are you looking for His coming.?"  “Look up, your redemption draws near!” Or “are you where ‘there is a dead body  where the vultures gather?’" Up, or down?  With Jesus it is that His simple childlike way we begin to "see" how deep His simplicity is. Are you "watching" or just discussing end time theology? Our daughter Stephanie would say to me “Daddy what did Jesus say when you prayed?”  No complications for her.  I say to Stephanie these days "I want to be like you when you were 8 years old."

A week to the day from this writing Wendy and I went to Chick-Fil-Le for lunch. We went back at night with our home group friends too. The owner of CFL was quoted in a Baptist journal as being in favor of Gods view of marriage. Simply put, not same sex marriage. Well you would have to be a modern Rip Van Winkle to miss what happened. Mike Huckabee mentions giving CFL some business for August 1st to offset the bad publicity they withstood. The next thing you know....well what do you think?

At Chick-Fil-Le that day and night, people were really nice. I did not hear any gay fact I did not hear anything about anybody. People were just having a good time. It was that simple. Being against what is wrong is important, but being for what is right... is vital. If the believing community was simply presuming their faith...what we would have seen was no crowds at all in support of a brother. Or we would have seen an angry crowd claiming our rights and steeming mad at our "enemies". I have heard no reports of this. There was love and consideration all over the place. Imagine being an employee at CFL - they must have gay emplyees too. "You are the light of the world....a city set on a hill cannot be hidden"

You see the attack against a Christian’s “right" to be Christian is clearly what is happening. In this instance, the spirit of this anti "Christianity" was clearly understood by the believing community. This was an attack against God and His people; it was a direct assault. People came out because they understood this. That was all we had to do....all we had to be. It wasn’t a doing event it was a "being" event. It was also more of a being for something...for Some-One....than being against some one or thing. We did not have to defend our faith; we simply had to have faith. It was not a for Jesus was a from Jesus. We were not playing God here. How do I know? Because one cannot play God; only God can play God.  If we were playing God we would have made all the mistakes an actor makes when he or she cannot get into his character. People who play God get frustrated so we go into judgmental mode or we "theologize" or get angry.  Because God to people of a presumptive very unhappy or simply non involved. And so on.

That is not what happened that day. What did happen was a fullfillment of yet another verse from Sermon on the Mt "if someone strikes you on the right cheek turn to him the other one too".  It is important that we know the season we are in. To interpret God as God of eternity only is to miss the timing of His eternal words spoken in this day and in time. He is sovereign and is present. This very moment. God playing me, us. Thats what I saw at CFL. His light was shining through people.

So many people on Sunday morning many wanting a touch.... God The Listener....reaching through time and healing an angry, revengeful, forlorn and tired people…hearing Him once again. When we really hear from God it is as if for the first time. It may take a day or a week a month to really connect or a micro second, but seeking Him as He is to be reached by Him as we really are. A good sermon and the bible always challenges ones presumptions about God and replaces them with a challenge from God to be real again. "Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect".  He is not talking about perfectionism.

I asked the audience later that day,"are you watching for God as a child looking up?” Like Stephanie saying to me,"Daddy what did Jesus say?”  "Or do you just have a theology about His return?”  You see to face God each of us needs to face our greatest fear and personal prejudice from our times. I said to God as I took a walk break when in Indiana recently, “If I think about this or that I will be angry?" So He said "face your anger with Me beside you and be healed."  Jesus is not just bringing all things politically to closure, but things personal too. Ironically, facing these issues with Jesus is experiencing God now. I mean right this very moment. So as I shared on Sunday am we may not resolve all these things God has spoken into our heart today. But we begin today,.. again. Now. New.

CFL was a kind of Day One . As I said Sunday am, today is the beggining. "Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect" is to live not for the moment, but in the moment. To not have to be the minister, father, all knowing one, etc, but to allow the One who does have all and know all play with you. We, I predict will have many more big moments like CFL. We will be attacked personally and corporately, Christians and Christianity on trial, we will be tempted to believe every lie the enemy, and I mean "the evil one", throws at us. Even more so we will be assaulted in family and very personal issues.  Bad times are the right time to be healed emotionally from what we have used theology to hide behind.  But remember it is Him that is "despised and rejected by men" and increaingly each and every day. "His mercies are new every morning.....great is thy faithfulness." Truth and Love are the same Person.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Journey To Hear The Listener

By Dennis Cole, August 1, 2012

Wendy and I have for several years attended a home group meeting at Marty and Leslie Fuentes’ house where we live in Albuquerque. Simply put we do prayer, fellowship, eat and have a bible study. Often times, as we did 2 weeks, ago it is a bible-doing. During prayer Marty was hearing my angst over recent travel and my on-going bouts with vertigo. He heard that I was to drive 733 miles on a Saturday deep into Texas heat to do a bible-acting presentation on Sunday am, and then drive home immediately after lunch on Sunday. Even for me this is not the norm, and especially after so much driving the day before it can be dangerous. I was not complaining to the group, {oh maybe I was}, I was explaining. We were about to begin a one week intensive Narrow Gate Theater School of Acting so driving home Monday would bring me home too late and too tired to lead people through acting ministry. Marty prayed last and said "Lord show us if there us a way we can help Dennis".......... Amen.

Marty by nature is a Vulcan. Well that is not quite right as he is human....but he is extremely intelligent and logic centered. He, like Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, is also from another world...only Marty’s world is "on earth as it is in heaven". Simply put, he talks like Spock, but acts like...well like the kindest person you can think of. He went upstairs and brought down his I pad and headset. He begins to show me how I can get the worship music that would pass my time and minimize stress. "This will help I want you to have this for Texas." Marty’s kindness was his answer to his own prayer....and to my anxiety and the necessary preparation for an intense week of acting intensive following the weekend of ministry and travel I was facing. I do not mean to sound like the acting school sessions are "heavy", but in order to be fun....that’s why they call it "play" needs the rest necessary for creativity to blossom. Somewhere "deep in the heart of Texas" at the midway point in the drive I knew we had a week for the actors. I could relax and enjoy the drive. This I pad technology with the headset is amazing. It was like Fernando Ortega was singing softly into my ear. I could hear the still small voice of God and was refreshed.

I got in late Sunday night/Monday morning at 3:40am and slept until 11am Monday. Sure I was groggy for a few body was in a kind of perpetual forward motion. Acting school began at 6:30pm and except for a rarity ...rain in Abq causing traffic and actor tardiness...we were ready. We had a plan, and after a few fun improvisational drills we got the "main course" of our acting food. We drew from a book by Taylor Caldwell called The Listener written in the 1950s. She was a gifted writer. Wendy and I, when we pastored in Southern Oregon in the years 1988 to 1994, would periodically take some time off on the Oregon coast. On one such occasion we found an old paperback of this book. We read one chapter. Wow! We then decided we would read each chapter aloud to each other and we finished the book that weekend. There are 15 stories. Each person has a need to visit The Listener. Some travel great distances because he listens....."very rare to be listened to." He never actually speaks accept for one line to one person. Nor is he seen until at the end of each person’s sharing i.e. when the curtain opens. As the story goes the curtain does not open for everyone, only the sincere. When it does he or she sees a different aspect of the Son of God; the aspect of Jesus that relates to what their conflict was in their "monologue". I remember when we read this back then we were gripped and moved to tears and found new hope because Jesus became so personal to us.

During the month of July I re-read the book. I was re-introduced to the powerful- personal insights the average person can have with the God who could be "everyman’s" God....if we allowed ourselves to come to where real need meets real hope. Often in worship we come to a "what can we do for God...or even what He has done....or what we should be like”......but rarely have I seen what I read in The Listener. The Listener, simply put, has been through worse and harder times than anyone in the world. When the speaker sees with his eyes that The Listener is Him, and for him or her, is suddenly the Real God.... the God he always believed now personal.  God comes to where we are... and that honest need facing what we do not want to face met by Him. The password to Him is let Him listen to you and He will let you listen to Him. See Him. Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.

We had 10 actors in the school. God gave me 4 brand new monologues to write and I adapted 6 from Taylor’s book. We had the most special time that you could imagine. When Wendy and I began the school our vision was a community of compassionate believers. The Greek word for mercy literally means inside skin. This is what actors need in order to play someone else. Bible acting...Jesus is the Word of God care, compassion, empathy, understanding and community. Through the Listener hearing our own hearts and we actors identifying with the hope and pain of those whom we played....we found a love for one another we did not have before the week began. The comments from the team of actors were reinforcing, uplifting to God and to one another.  We of course want to develop this script into a full play....screenplay? ....Why not!

There is more to this story, but not about our acting school. Driving home on Sunday in the Texas midday heat I heard of the Albuquerque heat from Wendy.  This is how I remember the conversation. Wendy to me...."Dennis the swamp cooler is completly shut down....looks like this is it for the swamp cooler".....”Wait I have a call coming in......Dennis its Marty {Mr. Spock, not the one from Vulcan, but from heaven}...."Marty called to say he has a plan to fix the swamp cooler".  Marty had no idea the swamp cooler had just shut down but somehow out of the blue he "saw" a plan to fix it. It was The Listener again, speaking and showing the way. Sometime later while I was still driving home with Marty fixing old "swampy" I spoke to Wendy, laughing with Leslie as clouds covered the intense summer heat on the roof of my house where they all were back home in ABQ. I was still 12 hours from home, but I was at home in my car ...resting and relaxing. I was listening to my favorite songs and sounds and planning without stress a wonderful week with my friends.

True acting is like true prayer. They both are transformational. Spiritually speaking, transformational living is like walking the earth without gravity. Living life beyond the social mores that confine relationships within "earthen vessels".

The Journey Through The Narrow Gate will always have an element of surprise. You may not always want to go on that day’s journey. If it’s always without conflict and never with probably is not the Narrow Gate journey either. Watch out for those wide gates and broad roads, the easy path that leads us to false hope and ultimate confusion. If you find yourself on this road consider The Listener.  He has a way of bringing blessed peace and clarity.  You will find Him probably in a less populated part of town perhaps an old street you used to walk that looks a little different today. He wants you to visit the old ways to make you new. If you feel yourself getting a little unsure, a kind of lost, do not panic. State your needs and fears, the One who listens.... He will listen. And show you.  Those who love you are those who listen to you, and those whom you listen to. …Come to The Listener via the Narrow Gate and let your heart open up.....begin again with the One Who Listens.

Journey Through Normal

By Dennis Cole, July 22, 2012

Have you ever been moving along in the spirit of Louis Armstrong..."bright blessed day dark, sacred night"...and suddenly some bad news....sad tragic...awful. I am sorry for those moments for you. Some times that is all one can say "I am really sorry, when I heard the news...... I was devastated with disappointment. Is there anything I can do?"

I was whistling down the hallways cooridor of Rye High School in the Jr High section as I so often did in those days.  The year 1963, the month November. I might have been singing. Suddenly there was some stirring I heard a squeal, an awful sound of pain. It came from a student. Was she crying, I thought. I remember going into my final class 8th period. I do not remember what it was, only that we had a substitute that day. There was a buzz of information. The President has been shot. What does that mean to a 9th grader? Truly I do not remember how I felt... only that I remember that day so very well. For a long time I would gauge one’s age based on BK or AK, that is before the Kennedy assasination or after. To me to this day, those born after the assasination seem much younger and much more fortunate. Our substitute surely must have been stressed, because he talked on and on about ...trying to console and reconcile but without a meaningful vehicle for doing so.  A call to prayer? Words of wisdom or consolation? Prayers were banned from public schools the year before ...did that effect consolation? Interesting thought.  Mercifully...finally Mrs. Emma Jean Brown our principal interupted his droning speech...." at so and so time our President John Kennedy was assinated in Dallas.... please go to your homes now is dismissed"

Funny I should think about Rye, it just so happens I was in Rye NY just a couple of acting weekends ago. I was visiting NYC and Springfield Ma over a 3 day journey. I did some bible at 2 churches. Really special and the pastors very supportive. The reason I was in Rye was this wonderful couple who housed me in MI had recently moved to Danbury CT with a great new job. Knowing I was a Yankee fan they insisted on buying me a ticket to Saturday’s game. I could not say no. This was my 1st ever visit to the new Yankee Stadium. I wanted Dacy, my best friend from the 8th grade and through high school in Rye, to come with me but he was unreachable. So, on my journey from seeing the game at Yankee on the way to Hartford CT to drop off my rented car, just as I am driving past the Rye exit Rt87,..Dacy calls! I decided it was meant to be. He met me at the Rye High School track and we walked and talked for one hour and I really do not know how many times around the track. We commented on that very Jr High School building because it faces the beautiful John Nugent football stadium. I was planning on going into details with you about the game the church meetings...I even got to do baptisms with Pastor Fern in MA. I will get to these stories someday I am sure. In the Book of Jude, the shortest book in the Bible, Jesus brother says something to the effect... I would like to talk about something easier and enjoyable...but some thing has come up.  Just like that afternoon in Rye interrupts with "headline news".

I refer to the shooting in CO. How sad. How shocking. It could have been me or you. I was in between pastoral ministries when we lived in southern Oregon in the 90’s. I was working for "We Care" say no to drugs organization that got advertisers to discount their goods on a laminated card marketed for students, i.e. free fries with purchase of one Big Mac. On one day I visited the principal of Springfield High School in Springfield, Oregon. He was very sincere and hopeful. "We have gotten through the worst; we are turning the corner on the teenage drug culture.” He allowed our organization to give discount cards to his students free of charge with the message Just Say No. A few years later there was the shooting at Springfield High School.  You heard about it. Maybe you forgot but you knew about it then. I thought of the principal. I should have called. As I write I cannot tell you why I did not call then. I could have said "I am so sorry..Is there anything I can do?"

These JFK things are so common. We see so much violence on TV, in movies, on the computer, even in games....but when it really happens we are shocked......then we go back to normal?? Is it normal.....or is it the new norm?  Maybe we should call it  ...stressful....the new stressful. It is so stressful that we a hopeless normal which is escape from the stressful so we can pretend that there is a normal. What if tragedy happened to you or someone you are close to and no one said anything to you? Maybe no one wanted to disturb you because you were suffering so. What if we all just say its normal don’t think about it,  let’s go to movie, have a beer, things are not that bad...the world has been around for along time now will be around a lot longer...cheer up."
They say the churches were filled after 9-11.....for 2 weeks. Then we did our collective best to escape into normality. "When will they ever learn when will the ever learn?"   Let’s change that to “We".

I want to do better than my substitute teacher did when JFK was savegely murdered. No malice toward him, but I know better now. I, we all, have lived through devastating disappointment. I am sorry for your loss of hope and the despair that accompanies the loss. We all know better.. down deep we do. “The answers are not in the institutions, or their buildings, or in Hollywood’s movies, not even in the NY Yankees. The final words in Romeo and Juliet from the prince of the city...”All are punished". Godly sorrow leads to repentance. This is the good death. The other death is a dead end, and a hopeless journey into dead ends, until the final dead end and no more time to make pretend that there is another dead end so we can make pretend.

There was one other savage murder. When we mourn over that one, all the other JFKs, 911s, Colorado’s, Oklahoma City’s and Springfield’s begin to make sense. Death is painful to face but He died to show me He was there in my worst pain. He suffers more 911’s than we can know. He suffers yours and mine and your neighbor’s and that guy you hate and despise? Well He loves you both. He has the hope of a child who has never been betrayed.. and the wisdom of one who’s closest friends betrayed Him at His darkest hour. He knew and knows the heart of every man and woman who lives or ever lived. In the aftermath of this shooting I want to say to anyone who is still around to listen... I love you.  My sincere prayer is that you and I can share this Love, one to another as one dying man to another."  There is hope in death.  Because He died so death could die; and we can live in peace in harmony and in shalom. Travel Mercies.