Expressions of Faith

an outlet of encouragement, explanation, and exhortation

Rich Villodas’ Big Picture Gospel

My kind of big picture definition of of the Gospel is I believe that the gospel is the good news that the kingdom of God has come near in Jesus Christ, and that in his life, death, resurrection, and enthronement the powers of sin and death no longer have the last word, and the primary fruit of the Gospel is a new Humanity. This is Ephesians 2: the dividing wall of hostility coming down, a new Humanity, a new community, a new family.

Rich Villodas, speaking at the Long Beach Church Collective, July 8, 2024

Prayer, Persuasion, Service, and Suffering

I was listening to an interview of John Dickson today on the Holy Post. The way he characterized the means by which Christians are called to change the world stuck with me. It wasn’t that his was a new thought. It was that his simple way of saying it was helpful. I found it worth remembering… and sharing! So, check out the three quotes below regarding our call to prayer, persuasion, service, and suffering.

If Christ is on the throne and He has poured out His Spirit, then prayer, persuasion, service, and suffering are more than enough. They’re the only tools Christ gave His people to change the world. Early Christians took hold of them and exercised them in the power of God’s Spirit, knowing that Christ had already won. They overturned the world with those four things.

I freely acknowledge that I have no special privileges in society. Christians have no right to tell the nation what to do. Persuasion, service, and prayer are all we’ve got, and all we really need… Christ showed us how to profoundly love and profoundly disagree at the same time. I am looking forward to fresh opportunities to embody this twofold ethical feat in His name.

Believers have one course of action when confronted with opposition. They are to follow the Lord Jesus in enduring suffering, refusing to retaliate, and committing to love enemies.

John Dickson

I was refreshed by his clear comments when so many Christians are invested heavily in politics, as if winning elections or seating judges is how Jesus changes the world! It was good to hear him remind listeners that even if Christians are in the majority [and even if all the Christians agree, I would add] our calling is not to coercively legislate those who disagree with us into oblivion, but rather to persuade. Such fresh air!

A Falcon 9 Launch!

This SpaceX Falcon 9 was launched at 8:48 PM on June 23, 2024, carrying 20 Starlink satellites.

There were clouds on the horizon as the rocket launched. The first portion of the video shows stage 1 streaking up through the clouds – focus was difficult. Then stage 1 stops firing, there is a pause, and stage 2 kicks in with the fan-tail plume. As the fairings that join the two stages and stage 1 itself drop back, there are two lights for the fairings and one for stage 1 behind the fairings in the exhaust plume.

About 48 seconds into the video and again at 56 seconds are what sound like sonic booms (amplified in my audio) – probably from stage 1 dropping back toward earth. I’ve not been able to hear these from Long Beach before!

After a break to walk around a tree (and bumping into my car since my eyes were looking skyward) there’s a bit more close-up video. A bit later, I took a still photo (over my neighbor’s house) of the stage 1 deceleration burn as it slowed preparing to land on a barge off-shore. Susie and I watched the SpaceX broadcast of the impressive landing.

Then I took another still photo of the exhaust plumes in the sky as they dispersed for some time after the launch. The plumes are brightly lit by the sun from below the horizon – pretty ideal circumstances for a good launch show! Notice the different color of the two plumes.

rocket launch exhaust plumes

I dreamed of seeing rocket launches as a boy watching Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo launches on TV! And now I’ve seen three in the past couple of weeks from my front garden. Wonders.

You can be informed of launches from Vandenberg by email. Subscribe to this newsletter; it is just the right information without baggage. The email alerting of a launch will have a link to SpaceX’s launch coverage at or elsewhere for other launches, such as those from Firefly. The link in the newsletter mailing will be specific to the mission, and opens on live coverage most of the time.

The M.O. is to watch the launch coverage to see that the rocket actually launches, and then watch West Nortwest (from Long Beach) for the stage 1 burn to appear rising orange in the sky. (Well, orange for a Falcon 9….) It usually takes about a minute or a bit more for the rocket to rise high enough in the sky to be visible from Long Beach, CA where I live. The best time to watch is for launches just after sunset on a fairly clear night; they can be spectacular! Daylight launches are often invisible from Long Beach.

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

I finished reading The Sparrow and Children of God by Mary Doria Russell yesterday. I very much appreciated these two books, which I really recommend reading as one work. Let’s just say for now that the story told herein deeply challenges the tropes that permeate pop-christianity. Mary Doria Russell is a deep thinker who converted to Judaism as she wrote these books. I don’t particularly agree with her views on the distinctions between Christianity and Judaism or the significance of these views, philosophically and theologically speaking. Nevertheless, the story told is told well and very much worth the emotional toll it takes as it roils through devotion, good intentions, evil, unintended consequences, suffering, injustice, and…. well, perhaps you get the point that this is a serious work of fiction.

I found myself thinking, at times, “But this is all made up!” as I was pushed into considering extremely uncomfortable situations and themes. And yet, history is replete with events that parallel the events in the story Russell creates. How does one interpret those events in the light of God? Theodicy, indeed. But that’s not really why I’m writing. It is what pours out as a preface to what I intend to focus on, which is a really interesting interpretation of Exodus 33.18-23 that I had not heard before.

Perhaps you recall that Exodus 33 records the conversation between Moses and Yahweh immediately after the golden calf incident in the wilderness at the foot of Mount Sinai. Moses insists that as Yahweh sends him and the people to the land Yahweh has promised them that Yahweh himself come with them – not just an angel. Yahweh agrees, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

The “conversation” continues…

18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”
19 And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
21 Then the LORD said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”

Exodus 33.18.23, New International Version

I’ve always heard this interpreted in light of God’s holiness and overwhelming glory and so on. I’m not disagreeing with those interpretations; but perhaps there is more? Deeper? One of the characters, Father John Candiotti, at the end of Children of God suggests that this passage is about the passage of time…

“There’s a passage in Exodus – God tells Moses, ‘No one can see My face, but I will protect you with My hand until I have passed by you, and then I will remove My hand and you will see my back.’ Remember that?…”

“Well, I always thought that was a physical metaphor,” John said, “but, you know – I wonder now if it isn’t really about time? Maybe that was God’s way of telling us that we can never know His intentions, but as time goes on… we’ll understand. We’ll see where He was: we’ll see His back.”

Mary Doria Russell, writing as Father John Candiotti (a fictional character in Children of God)

I suppose I think Father Candiotti’s “we’ll understand” is a bit optimistic. But his reinterpretation of the metaphor of seeing God’s face vs. seeing God’s back as a about time…. That’s sticking with me. The preparation for, and that thought alone was worth the reading of the two books!

And there was another, related quote near the end Children of God.

In all the shrouded heavens anywhere
Not a whisper in the air
Of any living voice but one so far
That I can hear it only as a bar
Of lost, imperial music
Edward Arlington Robinson, from his poem Credo

Patterning Our Praying as Jesus Taught

We can form our prayer using “the Lord’s Prayer” from Matthew 6.9b-13 as the pattern.

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™

I proceed like this as a way to use the Lord’s prayer as a pattern:

  • Address God. Praise and honor Him.
  • Express a desire for God’s name to be honored in whatever you are praying about.
  • Express a desire for God’s will above your own in what you are praying about.
  • Present immediate needs to God… what you need “this day.”
  • Ask for forgiveness in anything related to this prayer – (have you forgiven others?)
  • Ask for deliverance from temptation and the evil one in anything related to this prayer or its contents.

We need not include every piece of the pattern each time we pray. Sometimes praying is short – what we call “breath prayers” for example. Rather, if a portion of the way Jesus prays in this passage applies in a clear way, pray like Jesus in that particular matter. This allows us to tailor our praying to follow the pattern that Jesus taught.

Links to the Lord’s Prayer with Music


The Lord’s Prayer (It’s Yours) – Matt Maher

Lord’s Prayer at Hyde Park United Church (Creative Common License)

The Lord’s Prayer – Clarion-Goldfield Treble Clef Ensemble (Creative Common License)

The Lord’s Prayer – Toa Payoh Methodist Church (Creative Common License)

The Lord’s Prayer SDA Choir in Sacramento


Padre Nuestro de la misa católica

Padre Nuestro – Traditional | Notre Dame Folk Choir

Padre Nuestro (Bethel Music en Español)


The Lord’s Prayer Dance, 2001, Church of the Good Shepherd, Arcadia, California

The Lord’s Prayer – Khmer Hymn 187

Syriac (a dialect of Aramaic)

The Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic (Abun d’beschmayo)

ABWOON D’BWASHMAYA (The Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic)

Abun D’bashmayo – ابون دبشمايو The Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic

Abun D’Bashmayo || ആബൂൻ ദ് ബശ് മായോ || The Lord’s Prayer

Quaker Testimonies

I often read Johan Mauer’s fifth day commentaries on Recently his writing included an excerpt listing “Quaker Testimonies” taken from the developing Faith and Practice of Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting. I found it refreshingly…. er, Quaker?

I mean that in contrast to the drift of many Friends groups toward generic American evangelicalism, abandoning testimonies historically valued by Friends. I’m not advocating a stance that ignores the times in which we live in favor of some idealized past. (Frankly, our past has never been ideal!)

However, these are testimonies that faithfully represent Jesus’ character and teachings that Friends have tried to seriously pursue and embody. They remain Jesus’ teaching and character; they are not obsolete! If we are to follow Him, we try to live these testimonies in an age of 21st technology and often violent global society where they remain relevant and necessary as the life to which Jesus calls.

But let me get to the testimonies! You can read the whole commentary by Johan here. The testimony portion that I want to highlight (by quoting) follows.

We understand the Quaker testimonies as a call:

  • to live simply and sustainably;
  • to seek nonviolent responses to conflict, and refuse participation in war and preparation for war;
  • to speak the truth and keep our promises;
  • to make common decisions based on our community’s practice of prayer and discernment rather than majority rule or force of personality;
  • to regard each other—and all people—with a commitment to equality and equity, rejecting all false distinctions based on social, cultural, or economic status;
  • in the wider world, to support, advocate, and initiate efforts toward peace, justice, care of Creation, and relief of suffering in ways that are consistent with these testimonies;
  • in all things, to put Love first.

As we set forth these values and commitments, we acknowledge that they are to some extent aspirational, not an inventory of our successes as of today.

Needing Christ

One thing I knew by this time: I needed Christ and not merely His religion… The Bible says that God does not wait for me to merit His love but heaps it upon me without my deserving it. It says also that there is neither male nor female in Christ… How good, how indescribably good! What good news for me a woman, a woman born in India among Brahmans who hold out no hope for me and the like of me! The Bible declares that Christ did not reserve this great salvation for a particular caste or sex.

Pandita Ramabai, An Honourable Heritage: The Pandita Ramabai Story in her Own Words (eBook: Community Christian Ministries, 2019), pp. 27, 28, 30-31.

Notes on Free Speech, Civil Disobedience, and Following Jesus

This post is written in support of the Long Beach Friends Church message of May 5, 2024 to provide links to associated material for further study. Listen to that message here.

David French wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times that clarifies many of the concepts and legal issues related to free speech and civil disobedience.

This is the commitment card for the Birmingham Campaign that Martin Luther King, Jr. let. There is a brief comment on the commitment card here.

The Bible Project podcast on the Sermon on the Mount, episode 15, explaining “Turn the Other Cheek” discusses Martin Luther King’s approach to civil disobedience. Below is Martin Luther King Jr. as quoted in this podcast episode:

Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It’s a sword that heals. The ultimate weakness of violent retaliation is that it’s a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar but you cannot murder the LIE nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate so it goes returning evil for evil ,multiplies evil, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. I love that darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Read Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermon “When Peace Becomes Obnoxious.”

Fulfilling, or “Filling Full” the Law and the Prophets

I thought this highlight from this week’s Bible Project playlist on the Sermon on the Mount was really helpful and captured an important concept – so helpful and important that I wanted to remember it and pass it on. So, here it is.

When read on its own, apart from the whole biblical story, biblical law often is misinterpreted, leading to religious-looking behaviors that allow ongoing contempt and hatred in our hearts. But Jesus and the apostles say that these commandments, taken together with the rest of the Hebrew Bible, are instructions that restore human beings’ love for one another. In this way, love _fills full_ the Law and the Prophets.

Bible Project
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