This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Lord's Prayer Part 2 - Our Father Who Art in Heaven I

As we continue our study of the Lord's Prayer, based on the structure of Romano Guardini's book, it is time to examine the first petition of the prayer, "Our Father, Who Art in Heaven."  This will be the first of two parts exploring this petition, as there seems to be a lot packed into it.  So, we will begin.

The words themselves point us in the direction of heaven, as our gaze goes upward and our face seeks to meet that of another, God the Father.  It is a deeper dimension than that though, in that the movement of man's heart is compelled to find its way to the heart of God.  The ironic thing about this however is that  our sins have hidden His face from us (Isaiah 59:2) yet here is Jesus, God in the flesh, telling us all of a sudden to address God in such a way as to seek his face!  Why is that?   Quite simply, we must remember that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God," (Romans 3:23) and that "there is none righteous, no not one" (Romans 3:10), because of what happened in Genesis 3, namely the Fall.  God is holy and righteous, and in his sight no wickedness or sin can share presence.  So, why did Jesus all of a sudden say that we can petition the Father face-to-face??  Here it is - "having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 5:1).  As to how this happened, it was when Jesus died on a cross, restoring life to us through His atoning death and resurrection, and that blood we believe covered a multitude of sins (I John 2:2).  As Catholic Christians, we would take this a step further by saying that the piercing of Jesus' side in John 19:34 that brought forth water and blood symbolized our new life in Christ by the sacraments of Holy Baptism (the water) and the Holy Eucharist (the Blood) - as Adam birthed his bride Eve from his side when God took the rib (Genesis 2:21-23), so the new Adam, Jesus Christ, brought forth His bride, the Church, with the flowing of blood mingled with water from His side.  As we are now the Bride of Christ as the Church, we can also boldy approach the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16), and this petition of the Our Father affirms that from the mouth of Jesus Himself.  However, this is not just a mere intellectual exercise, but rather we live these petitions in spirit because words are movements of the heart and of the mind.

We need to remember that God is a Who, and not a mere "what."  For many years, many of us have prayed the Lord's Prayer wrong, saying often at the opening petition "Our Father which art in heaven."  The reason this is wrong is that it reduces God, as so many false religions do, to the status of an abstract force instead of the person he is, and this depersonalization of God does violence to him as a being, a person - God is being qua being exemplified, a being totally transcendant yet personal at the same time.  When we correctly address God as a "Who" rather than a "which," it instills into our own being an awareness of someone above and all-pervading.  All we see in creation points to something else - creation is enveloped by something that transcends it, something mysterious yet profoundly familiar.  That someone is the Holy, the Divine - God!  In the Sanctus Hymn ("Holy, Holy, Holy") that we sing at Mass every Sunday just prior to the Communion of the Faithful, we profess this truth - "Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory - Hosanna in the Highest!"
That proclamation is also found in Scripture in two places - first, directly in Isaiah 6:3, and it is also found indirectly in Revelation 4:8.  Another place that affirms this truth in Scripture is Psalm 24:1 - "The earth is the Lord's and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein."   However, we must remember also that God the Father is not merely an authority we are touched by, but also possesses a countenance we are now called to look upon.  Being justified by Christ's atoning Death and Resurrection, we have that communion with the Father we need, but we must also remember some other things too.  First, God is not some touchy-feely goosebumpy thing, nor is he a big demiurge up there ready to whack us with a stick when we make a mistake either - God too has a heart, and it is to that heart which we are to turn.  In short, thanks to God's love for us that even cost him the life of his only-begotten Son, we can address God as a person rather than an abstraction!

Despite this fact though, we need to also remember Who we address and not take that for granted.  God's allowing us to approach him in this way is not a privelege or a right; it is a gift.  He first called us, addressing us as persons.  In doing so, he gives us a face (nature) with an inclination to turn toward him.  Therefore, in addressing God directly, we are capable of seeking His face.   We do this in such a simple way though that it is unfathomable to our human wisdom - the "Our Father" tells us in effect to simply address ourselves to Him who is in heaven, and our prayers will reach Him.  James 5:16 reminds us that "the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much," and in Psalm 37:23 we are also told that "the steps of a good (righteous) man are ordered by the Lord, and he delights in His way."  And, finally in Proverbs 17:28 we are assured that "He hears the prayer of the righteous."  In other words, location is irrelevant, as He is omnipresent.  Time is irrelevant, because God transcends the time/space dimension we live in.  And, experience and state of mind on our part are irrelevant, because God is simply bigger than us!  Thankfully for us too, God has a great deal more patience than we often give him credit for, because I know that even my own prayers at times can be frantic, and yes, I am not too proud to admit that on more than one occasion I have fought with God - many times it was a one-way battle though with me doing the tongue-lashing, yet God always makes everything turn out despite my own limitations (praise be to Him for His mercy too, believe me!).  When God says "effective and fervent," he is talking about the prayer from the heart that sincerely seeks Him, and thankfully perfection is not a prerequisite for talking to God, which leads to the next point.  This righteousness - where does it come from?   In Romans 3:10 we are given the glaring reminder that "there is none righteous, no not one," and the reason for that is in Romans 3:23 - "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."  Yet, we are told about all these blessings that righteous men receive in the other verses we discussed, so what is that about??    2 Corinthians 5:21 gives us that answer - "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him!"  Again, through Christ do we receive the righteousness to boldly yet in humility approach the throne of grace, and although our earth-bound thoughts often take things for granted, it is an immeasurable marvel to know that God is accessible from anywhere, anytime, and in any human condition we may find ourselves subjected.  Thus, that is why we can address God the Father as a person, and can do so simply.

Now, what about the "art in heaven" part of the petition?  First, although God is everywhere and in all happenings, He is also transcendant - he is not "in" his creation, as a heresy called panentheism teaches (via Jurgen Moltmann and others, this has also permeated some sectors of Christianity unfortunately) but rather is He who is alone in himself.  What on earth does that mean??  For some, it means heaven is a dimension, and although it is that, I personally would hold that it is also a real location somewhere in the universe too.  Guardini doesn't invest a lot of detail debating where heaven's location is, but rather he focuses on what it must be, and there are four things that he notes:

1. Heaven is infinitely pure and holy.
2. Heaven is absolutely calm and hidden.
3. Heaven is strange yet familiar
4. Heaven is beautiful and blessed.

Heaven is, in Guardini's explanation, the inaccessibility of God, His "otherness," but it is also our ultimate homeland, a place of origin.  So, that tells us what this invocation is to mean then.

We ourselves start from the place we are when we pray this petition, and in the hour we live and what we are engaged in.  The God we seek is in heaven, and distinct from all else. To address him, we raise our minds above the earth, and that is because God must be granted his 'otherness."  And, that leads to a discussion of some important issues.

We as human beings tend to think certain ways, and when it comes to God it gets us into some hot water.  Therefore, when we pray this prayer, invoking "Our Father who art in heaven," we have to come to the admission that God is not necessarily like things, time or ourselves.  We don't prescribe to Him what He is supposed to be like according to our preferences, yet we must agree that he is one who is of Himself.  That being said, we have to prepare ourselves for the fact that God is going to be different from our own expectations of Him.  I believe the Thomistic approach of viewing this, as prescribed by the late Fr. Norris Clarke in his seminal text The One and the Many (Notre Dame, IN:  University of Notre Dame Press, 2001) is the best way, in that it affirms that God is love, truth, etc., but on a far more greater level than we as human beings can understand.  We know that  He is all those things, but not how.  We know, for religious purposes, that God is supreme wisdom, love, power, etc., but we don't know the details (Clarke, p. 233-235).  Therefore, being we are created in the imago Dei, we hold that God has those attributes which we share, but that they are in the most pure form with God.  That being said, we need to now discuss some cautions Guardini deals with at the end of the chapter, as they are important.

Guardini notes on page 16 of his text that human beings have this propensity to defend themselves against God, and one of the ways we tend to do this is create God in our own image, making him innocuous by projecting man's own image upon God instead of seeking a true face-to-face encounter.  Much of this is embodied in the way popular culture views Jesus, God the Son.  Because He was human too, it is a temptation to try to paint Him like we want Him to be, and one of the most glaring examples was one  I came across a few years ago in a New Testament class of all places at my former university, and I call this one the "Caveman Jesus:"

I am not sure what on earth the artist had in mind for making this abomination, but to me it makes our Lord look like a boneheaded retard who can't tie His own shoes, and that borders on the blasphemous.  In the efforts of many to "humanize" Jesus and God, making them thus more culturally-relevant, this sort of thing happens frequently.  As Guardini correctly notes, stuff like this is not God,  but rather a projection of man's self upon God.  It is, in essence, trying to re-create God in man's image, and that is insulting to the Holy One who created the whole universe and everything in it.  Equally offensive though is this picture, which I call the "Hippie Jesus," and it is unfortunately a portrait that has shaped many's image of Christ for centuries:

Although generally we tend to be a little less offended at the second than the first, fact is neither of them I believe represent the true Jesus.  Will you go to hell if you have these pictures in your home?  Not at all - as long as you're not worshipping the picture, I think it is fine, although that first picture is just in bad taste!  It is time for us to maybe get back to worshipping God as He is, where He is, rather than trying to project our images onto Him.  The opening petition of the Lord's Prayer, "Our Father, who art in heaven," exhorts us to do just that - we are, in essence, praying "I want you God, as you are in yourself."  As God said to Moses in Exodus 3:14, "I AM WHO I AM," so should we approach God.  His Hebrew title YHWH, as a matter of fact, means simply that - "I AM!"  When Jesus came, the name He took for Himself at the Annunciation, Y'shua, actually also translates to "I am the salvation."   Jesus IS our salvation, and as part of the Godhead, it means that God too is our salvation.  Therefore, when we address "our Father, who art in heaven," we are addressing the very source of our salvation, as well as the fact that He in Himself is our homeland - and as Matthew 11:28-30 tells us, it is in this "homeland" that is God that we find our rest.  And, this concludes the teaching for now, but I hope it edifies your spirit.  

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Lord's Prayer Part 1 - "Thy Will Be Done"

Preface - I am going to be posting here for the next several weeks a series of studies I am doing at our parish church on Sunday mornings, and the first is an in-depth study of the Lord's Prayer using Romano Guardini's 1932 classic The Lord's Prayer (New York: Random House, 1958; republished by Sophia Institute Press, Manchester, NH - this is the English edition). When the parish embraced the idea of a weekly Bible study, I felt the need to "go back to the basics," and felt this book was a good place to start.

Romano Guardini (1885-1968) is one of the premiere theological masters of the Roman Catholic tradition, and as a theologian and philosopher, he has exerted a great deal of influence over many, including the late Pope John Paul II (then Karol Wojtyla) who actually wrote a graduate thesis in his younger years on Guardini's personalist philosophical position.  I was personally introduced to Guardini's material in a graduate Theology class at Franciscan University of Steubenville, and his orthodoxy, as well as his ability to bridge theology and philosophy, drew me to his work.  I now use it extensively in my own research.  

The material presented here is based on an outline of the chapter, which I will expound upon, much as I did when I taught this material to our parish class.  

The "Lord's Prayer," as it is often called, is a very integral part of our devotional and liturgical tradition as Anglo-Catholic Christians, and it is also viewed by the author of the text, Fr. Guardini, as a 55-word catechism.  In this series of studies on Guardini's classic text, we will be taking a phrase at a time from this essential petition, and examining it in detail for its theological richness.  The way the text is set up, Guardini felt it best when he wrote the book to start with the phrase "Thy will be done," as he calls it a "gateway phrase" to the rest of the prayer.  It is that now which we will talk about at length.

On page 4, Guardini says that we are exhorted to ask that God's will be done due to the fact it is something worth asking for.  It is precious for which we have to ask, as well as holy and salutary (meaning giving all due respect to Him of which we ask).  With that being said, it is important now to discern what God's will is, and in following pages Guardini states five things:

1. His holy intention - both for the world in general and for us in particular.
2. His eternal counsel.
3. The fruit of his wisdom.
4. The force of his stern decrees
5. The loving desire of his heart.

God's will, therefore, is the epitome of the divine glory and perfection, and our very existence is dependant on whether God's will is accomplished in our own life.  And, that leads to the evident tension which our own sinful nature ensnared us with at the time of the Fall.

On page 5, Guardini says that although the Christian prays that God's will be done, it therefore must be possible that his will may not be done.  What does that mean??  It is really quite simple - God gave humanity free will, and therefore at times human free will can come into conflict with God's will.  At this point, I want to reference a later Catholic theologian, Cardinal Jean Danielou, who in his classic 1965 text Prayer as a Political Problem (New York:  Sheed and Ward, 1965) notes on page 102 that Christianity doesn't merely consist of just "knowing" God, as any religion can have that as its objective, but rather that men know God truly.  This means discerning the will of God and following it.  As such then, Guardini continues, God's will is rightly called a "should," a probability rather than a promise.  In other words, here is what Guardini is saying - God's will is there, and it is the way God intended man to live, but the free will factor must be considered when dealing with humanity as persons in themselves.  Some things are God's will and don't require petitioning, for instance - the sun rises, the sun sets, and the natural laws of the universe are in operation because God willed them to be so - Descartes had it right when he said God is a God of science, for true scientific principle is part of God's creation.  What Guardini calls on page 6 the "character of inevitability" applies to this as well, and as far as the teaching of the Church goes, it is affirmed in the fact that what is called in metaphysics the Principle of Sufficient Reason, a dynamic principle, is formulated as saying that "every being has sufficient reason for its existence." (Clarke, W. Norris.  The One and the Many. Notre Dame, IN:  the University of Notre Dame Press, 2001. p. 21).  What that means is that God will is the sufficient reason for our existence, and God has spoken that will through two great "books:"  One is called by Fr. Norris Clarke "The Book of Nature," which has created things speaking to us directly, and the other is "The Book of Revelation," which is where God, through Scripture and the Holy Tradition of the Church's teaching (together called the Deposit of Faith, or Fidei Depositum) himself reveals to us his own inner nature and his free gifts and special plans for humanity (Clarke, p. 7).  It must be understood that Revelation perfects nature, but can only do so when this petition, "Thy Will Be Done," becomes the prayer of the heart, which is the whole premise of Guardini's point on this subject.  Also, Nature will never be opposed to Revelation (this is called philosophically the Principle of Non-Contradiction) because again, God created Nature, and it always bears evidence of his creative will.  Therefore, as Guardini notes, in the cases of the sun rising and setting, the seasons changing, etc., God's will is entrusted to the course of nature he created.  This is also affirmed in Scripture in several places, notably Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 and Matthew 5;45.

However, there is a difference when it comes to higher and exalted things, and none is more higher and exalted on the earth and in God's created order than man himself - God created us in his image (Genesis 1:27) and man was given dominion by God over the earth as part of God's intended will (Genesis 1:28-30).  However, when man fell and the sting of sin infected humanity, it became a possibility that man could actually obstruct God's will.  Therefore, in order to bring God's will to fruition, it cannot come through the compelling force of nature, but rather through something that arises in man's inner being - the origin of that must be in faith and revelation, and come from the heart, and intellect, is rooted in love, and must be freely accepted by man's free will.  The only thing that can make this work is a purity of heart and willful cooperation of man.  It means man has some conditions to meet as well:

1. A recognition of truth
2. Creation of noble works
3. A just order in society, etc.

A pure and willing spirit is not guaranteed by compulsion - as Guardini notes on page 8, providence and destiny don't take the same course with man as the rising sun and falling rain, but are linked to man's active willingness.   However, on the negative, this willingness can also be threatened by indolence, self-seeking, vanity, and apathy, and if it is, man is in rebellion against God's will and can obstruct it in his own life.  The freedom of the human heart and will, therefore, are what produce the nobility of character that allows man to accept God's will.  What this means therefore, is that the human will has both positive and negative:

1.  The human will harbors good, constructive, and elevating powers.
2.  However, it can also entertain corrupting, degrading, and disruptive forces.

Due to man's Fall, he is prone to evil and his free will often counters God's will, hence making God's will in danger of contradiction.   As a principle, the higher the nature of what God wills, the more it is imperiled.  Also, the nobler something is desired by God's will, the less assurance is evident that it will be done and the more frail the divine will appears on earth.  However, God has a plan regardless, and although the desire for his redemptive love on the part of his creation appears singularly ineffective, there is a slight possibility of its fulfillment.  The paradox of the Christian, therefore, is that he knows the way of the world, and although original sin was washed away in the waters of the baptismal font, the propensity to sin makes the Christian have a realization that in his own ways he can do things that can contradict God's will, which is why the grace of salvation is constantly renewed through a spirit that is responsive to God's Holy Spirit.  God doesn't force man to conform to his will, and never has - however, there are consequences we bring on ourselves when we don't follow the will of God.   This is therefore the paradox and struggle of the Christian life.

However, the hope is very encouraging.  For one thing, the self-will of man doesn't substitute for the will of God, and due to that, it is only through divinely-sanctioned grace that the mystery of God's will can be accomplished through (not by!) man.  Therefore, the accomplishment of God's will must be granted by the same God who demands its fulfillment, and only the free will of the Christian who prays the prayer, "Thy will be done."  It is the responsibility of the Christian therefore to understand the mysterious nature of God's will, including the truth that it can only be accomplished by the gracious gift of the same God.  God's will is not sent either as a lifeless force, but rather he infuses it with his power - we are given that when the Holy Spirit indwells us.  And, the power (called the "power from on high" in Acts 1:8) is what brings the salvation of mankind (via the Gospel message of Christ's mission - see Romans 1:16) to those who choose to believe and accept it.  The glory of God and the salvation of mankind, therefore, are one in that they are the same work of the Holy Spirit.  In time, the will of God will be the standard by which mankind will be judged - in the end, in other words, God's will prevails.  Therefore, the petition "Thy will be done," has a significance in that it assures the Christian of that restoration of what God intended us to be, and by bringing our will into harmony and submission to God's, we are assured of his ultimate salvation so long as we walk in that will and don't deviate from it.  Therefore, Guardini calls this petition the "gateway" because everything else rests upon how we respond to God's will, and therefore it is the axis of this prayer.  

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

R.I.P., Carpenter's Home

Sunday I was reading a story in the Lakeland Ledger that immediately got my attention because it is big news - the famed Carpenter's Home Church building is coming down after 30 years.  The story had originally been prefaced on February 17th, but the new one claimed front-page coverage.  This is significant not only in the history of Lakeland itself, but for many people it has a personal dimension, and I am no exception.

Much of what was taught at Carpenter's Home over the years was stuff I would not personally agree with, and there has been some controversy with the megachurch over the years too.  Despite that, however, a part of my own history has Carpenter's Home in it, and I wanted to talk about that here.  I was never a member, nor did I attend, Carpenter's Home - nonetheless, I am involved in its legacy.

First though, a little about the history of this famous and sometimes notorious church.  Lakeland has always been a sort of church-going "mecca" for decades, and for some reason the Assemblies of God has had roots here since the beginning - it has a college (Southeastern University), its district offices, several affilliated churches, and of course the largest megachurch in all Florida; Carpenter's Home was the latter.  However, Carpenter's had humble beginnings, as its history goes back to what was then the original First Assembly of God in Lakeland.  First Assembly was founded in 1921, and it met in a building on Lemon Street we now know as the "old stone church."  This is where my first intersection with Carpenter's history comes.   When Barb and I first came here in 1992 and I started my classwork at Southeastern, I was a member then of the Foursquare denomination and we desperately needed a church to attend.  So, upon looking, I found one - it was called Family Praise and Worship Church, and was pastored by Rev. Gene Pansler (the son of the former Vice President of Southeastern, the late Dr. Clarence Pansler).  Family Praise and Worship Church at that time met in "The Old Stone Church" on Lemon Street, so I got to know that building well.   Over the years, as First Assembly expanded, the property of "The Old Stone Church" was acquired by the Shelton family, and they were the ones who leased it to Rev. Pansler when he made the decision to affilliate with Foursquare and start a church here.  Unfortunately, the Foursquare congregation only lasted a few years until it closed, but its presence in the historic building kept it around for a while longer.  Unfortunately, no extant photos of it could be found to show here, and I am not sure if it even is still there or not, but it is significant to see that a functioning congregation of some sort lasted all those years.

Around 1964, First Assembly had grown to the point that it needed a bigger building, and it purchased a large parcel of land between Main Street and Rose Street just east of downtown Lakeland, and there it built a larger building.  Two years later, in 1966, its most notable pastor, Rev, Karl Strader, took the reins of the First Assembly congregation and it grew more.   Strader, who at 83 is still very active, also drew some fire because of his more "charismatic" teaching, which included among other things a great emphasis on personal prophetic ministry and other things the soon-burgeoning Charismatic movement would be noted for.  As a matter of fact, he was noted as a sort of "maverick" in the Assemblies of God (Stephen Strang, "Strader, Karl David," in Burgess, McGee, and Alexander, The Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements {Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1988}p. 833) despite his progress at growing a huge congregation which Gary White in his Ledger article Sunday rightly said anticipated the rise of the large megachurches later.  The growth was so phenomenal, as a matter of fact, that it compelled Strader and the church leadership to plan in the early 1980's a larger facility, and that is where the current building came into the picture.  The Main Street property was later acquired by another congregation, a Word/Faith church affilliated with Kenneth Hagin's ministry called Family Worship Center, and they too became a large church - they still occupy the property today, although since they have had to build two new large sanctuaries to accomodate their crowds too.

The immense 10,000-seat Carpenter's Home sanctuary

It was in 1985 that the new facilities, located in north Lakeland near US 98 North, were opened, and this facility was the biggest anyone had seen to this point - it seated 10,000 people.  In addition, a school (Evangel Christian School) was started, as well as a radio station (WCIE) and a large retirement complex (Carpenter's Home Estates).   This is the building which is also today being demolished.  Both Barb and myself had a lot of history with Carpenter's at this juncture too, as in 1986 at a concert Barb received what is called the "baptism of the Holy Spirit," with evidence of tongues.  Interesting enough, I was having a spiritual transformation of my own over 1000 miles away, when earlier in 1986 I was born again and baptized in water.  It would be three more years before I received the Pentecostal experience in a whole different way and another place, but all of that factored into how we ended up in Lakeland in the first place.  Carpenter's continued to have a few issues even in its heyday in the new mammoth sanctuary, as soon Strader attracted attention from the local Assemblies of God district for some of his more controversial teachings, and the result of those was a church split in 1989 from which sprang Victory Assembly - Victory acquired land a couple of miles away on Griffin Road and built a sizeable church of its own, which today is itself a megachurch.  Later, in 1992, a controversy surrounding a Ponzi scheme involving Daniel Strader (Pastor Strader's son) landed him in jail for a length of time and also affected the church's publicity negatively.  Then, in the same year, a controversial South African evangelist by the name of Rodney Howard-Browne began holding revival meetings there which evolved into the "Holy Laughter" movement, and this in turn created some problems due to its excesses.  To be honest, Barb and I attended some of those meetings in 1993, and I was not overly impressed - the theatrics seemed staged to me, and people were "falling under the power" more out of a Pavlovian response than they were to a real moving of the Spirit, and the general irreverence displayed for things holy was almost blasphemous.  This led to a slow decline of the famed megachurch in the late 1990's, and by 2005 the membership of the church had dropped to about 10-15% of what it used to be, compelling them to sell the facilities to another rising megachurch organization, Without Walls in nearby Tampa, which was founded in the early 1990's by Randy and Paula White (now divorced) who had Church of God roots.  Without Walls, however, soon was in its own decline, and by 2011 the great edifice stood vacant.  And, today it is slated to be demolished.  It is a tragic ending to the story.

I also share another part of my own story with Carpenter's Home, in that from 1995 to 1997 I worked as a security officer there.  Given the immense size of the congregation and the active schedule of concerts featuring a lot of superstars of Christian music, security became a necessity.  When I was hired on in April 1995, I was mostly assigned to the adjacent Carpenter's Estates (the retirement community), but did work some concerts and other events at the church too.  Carpenter's, despite its controversy and excesses, did provide a great service to many of us Southeastern students then, and although the job didn't pay much, it still was sufficient to pay the bills.  Many of my co-workers, as well as a couple of my ranking supervisors, were actually my classmates.  The experience of working there also helped me to meet a number of fascinating people, which was a blessing in itself.  However in time I moved on, and it soon became apparent that the church was declining and couldn't maintain the security detail it had, so it was later dissolved.

Carpenter's Home was also where I walked the aisle and received my Bachelor's degree in 1996.  For many years, it was a tradition for Southeastern to hold its commencement services at Carpenter's Home (Strader, to his credit, always supported Southeastern and its mission back in the day, which is why so many of us students were given good employment opportunities there too), and that continued to be the case I believe up to the early 2000's, when the venue was changed to Victory Church nearby.   Today though, I am not even sure Victory is the venue anymore, as Southeastern has itself in recent years seemed (at least to me) to disconnect itself from many of the local Assemblies congregations that once supported it, which is an unfortunate story for another time.

To give some concluding thoughts, Carpenter's was an institution in Lakeland for many years, and ironically had the congregation still been around today, I am sure they would have had quite the celebration for their 30th anniversary - Gary White, in the Ledger article, also made that observation.  The tragic saga of Carpenter's Home though is one that many should learn from, because there are lessons.  First, bigger is not always better - often, with large megachurches, they lose a lot of what made them into the great institutions they become, and as they do so, there is no place to go but down.   Second, excesses can do more harm than good, despite intentions and sincerity.   In my many years of involvement personally with the Pentecostal tradition, I can say honestly that I have seen it all - and, some of that involved some pretty bizarre stuff.  Excesses are a lot like a triple-fudge layer cake though - it may taste good, but if you indulge in a lot of it you will end up dying of some diabetic-related malady.  The Holy Spirit still operates today - God is immutable, and that includes the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead.  But, we also need to exercise good discernment skills too, lest we fall into some potentially dangerous trap.   Pastor Strader now lives at the Estates he helped build, and by all indications he is still vibrant and active at age 83.  And, a remnant of Carpenter's still exists in Lakeland, just to the north of the original sanctuary - it is called Ignited Church, and is pastored by Stephen Strader, Karl's son.  Ignited doesn't draw near the crowds it used to, as it has a more modest facility and unfortunately is prone to some of the same excesses that brought down the original church - a few years back, Ignited tried to re-create the "Laughing Revival" of years previous by inviting an offensive, foul-mouthed, tattoo-covered bully by the name of Todd Bentley to conduct "revival meetings," but it was to no avail.   Bentley, like so many other charlatans, quacks, and slick-talkers before him, soon generated his own controversy and the "revival" ended with no fanfare or fizzle.  I only hope that Stephen Strader and his pastoral staff will learn to exercise a little more discernment regarding who steps onto their sanctuary platform, because the last thing Lakeland needs is another hyped-up "revival."  In recent years, Lakeland has become sort of a "burned-out" district in regard to religious phenomena - there are still solid churches and individual Christians of all denominations to be found, but they are not quite like they used to be.  It is sad really, because the once-great spiritual legacy this town had is something that could enrich those who learn about it.  However, with charlatans, showmen, and others faking revivals to put money in their own pockets, much of the newer generation here has grown cold - and Southeastern has even followed suit, because for all the talk of creating a distinct Pentecostal identity you hear on that campus, it has yet to be put into practice, especially with professors in the Religion Department there who have their own agendas and don't really concern themselves with the spiritual formation of the students they teach.  Is there hope for a true spiritual renewal in Lakeland, that can bring back some of the good legacy of the past?  With God, all things are obviously possible, but it's not totally up to God - people need to have a desire for it.  Maybe one day God will have mercy and make it happen, as there may still be hope for Lakeland yet.

This sort of concludes my own chronicle of the ending of a great legacy of a famous church in Lakeland, and the good thing is that many o of us who have had some involvement with the old Carpenter's Home will preserve the best of what it was.  God be with you until next time.