Thursday, August 28, 2014

Awana's Homegoing

My wife lost her last living sibling just this evening when Awana went to her celestial home, where she joins baby brother “Moe”, a pastor- evangelist, her saintly mother, and others of her 2nd generation Oklahoma Church of God family. She was one of nine siblings: one deceased, 4 brothers and 3 sisters, my wife being the youngest of the girls. My wife and Awana (Jammie) were remembered by some as the sisters of Hiram Stiles (the elder sibling) and the “Stiles Twins.”

When Jam’s next older brother went to war and became a Southeast Pacific Air Ace, she became a pilot too. But for her to fly, she had to join the Ferrying Command. Later she went to cryptographer school and became a government code breaker and whatever they do. Although this beautiful partially first-American girl was offered a Warner Brothers Modeling contract, she stayed in government service. When she was courted by the heir to the South American version of Warner Brothers, she passed that by and finally married a Seattle widower she met at her employment.

Ralph was a graduate of Beijing University. He excelled in the State Department as a Chinese/Far East Expert--Foreign Service Officer in Charge of several different posts around the world from Stockholm to Formosa. He was in China when it fell, receiving advance warning. Taking his sons, one under each arm, he ran the seven miles to the nearest port to escape the country, leaving his dying wife in the care of the household caretakers by prearrangement that insured their escape.

Awana mothered Ralph’s two sons and together they raised their combined family. She joined Ralph in the Geneva Conferences and supported his lengthy career in government and later as a Political Science teacher and author in residence at Harvard.

I knew this gracious lady nearly seventy years. Most amazing to me was the way they each loved each other. Being married to a poor preacher, my wife often did without things ladies love to enjoy but Awana loved pouring out her love onto her younger sister--like anointing oil. Generous to a fault; she gave to the point of extravagance, but they deeply loved each other.

Now in fragile health, my wife is unable to attend the Memorial service, but she is happy. She celebrates that she was able to spiritually re-direct Awana at a crucial time in their lives, and that Awana has now gone to her celestial reward without further suffering from the malignancy threatening her body. This is a family of siblings that anticipated meeting around God’s Great Throne for an eternal reunion with their mother, that will only be completed at such time as my wife joins that celestial circle.

There is so much about death that we do not know, but I like this poetic verse from our longtime Tulsa friend; it speaks of the Bible. Written by retired pastor Byrum C. Lee, 12-20-13; I think 94 at the time - it speaks of “No Last Chapter”:
  Some people, when reading a book
   Go to the last chapter and take a look.
   They want to see how it all ends,
   But to me, that sort of offends

The historian recalls, for us, the past—
Giving us a view of things tht last.
Reading it, may help our perspective,
As for the future we seek some directive.

But we’re more concerned about today—
"What, for me, does it have to say?”
The first chapter is now in the past,
And today’s more relevant than what’s last.

In the Bible, Genesis tells of the beginnings,
And the Revelation reveals to us its endings.
So it’s alright if you want to read ahead
To learn what John, the Revelator, said.

 Is there a message that, to me, it’s sending?
 To God, there is no beginning or ending;
 There is no middle, and no last chapter,
 For He knows what’s coming thereafter.

 And altho’ our life on this earth will end,
 The Bible, a message of hope, to us sends.
 There is life for us, in another world,
 And one day we’ll see it being unfurled.

From Warner’s World, I am

Friday, August 22, 2014

One View of Suffering

Rereading a favorite book by a favorite professor brought me this provocative statement: “Suffering as a mark of the church’s chosenness is the suffering which we do willingly on behalf of others” (Hendricks/ A Theology for Aging Broadman/78, italics mine).
Earlier, another writer picked up on this theme of suffering and the church (Hudnut, The Sleeping Giant). Hudnut sees Jesus emptying Himself, Phil 2:7, like the suffering servant of Isaiah 53.12 and affirming others as he affirmed God. Hudnut suggested the church is a people who deny themselves, Jn 13:14; Mt. 16:24; Mt 20:27 Rom 1.1; James 12:1; 2 Peter 1; Jude 1:1; he concludes it is a community based on denying itself.

This view affirms the church as a people who affirm others; who wash one another’s feet in the spirit of Jesus who came to serve not be served. The church becomes a people that encourage one another; it is a people who come together for what they can give rather than receive; we follow Jesus to deny self rather than serve self. Thus, Hudnut agrees Christianity is the power of positive action of people called to freedom--to be slaves--Gal. 5:13.

The church is people who affirm God as the slave bows the head before the Master, prompting Peter to
write “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold
grace of God” (I Peter 4:10 NKJV). With this in mind, Hudnut asked, ““What have we done in this
country, that we hoard our gifts, that we put the private over the public, the national ahead of the
international—our national “self-interest” as we call it, ahead of half the world that goes to bed hungry.
 ‘Nowhere in the world’ de Toqueville wrote of us, ‘were there so many ambitious people with such low
ambitions? Why?” (Hudnut/118).

Returning to Professor Hendricks, he declares: “In my opinion, there is no point where average
American Church life and average American Christianity are so unlike ‘the true church’ as at this point of
Suffering (Hudnut/The Sleeping Giant/118).

“Self-inflicted and self-imposed suffering gives rise to false martyr and messianic complexes,” comments
Hendricks, noting that “suffering occasioned by others may not be on behalf of others.” Suffering
imposed by others is more Christlike than self-caused suffering, he believes, “but it is not necessarily a
benefit to others.”

He illustrates:
“It was of benefit a generation ago when the stand of the confessing church of Germany and the heroic
efforts of individuals to save Jews from destruction were widely known in some churches. The recent
opening of the bamboo curtain in China has revealed stories of persecution and vicarious suffering
throughout the last forty years. Isolated and tragic examples of suffering and martyrdom behind the iron
curtain in Poland have won world admiration and possibly greater religious liberty for others. In America
we have not often or deeply been in the circumstance of suffering, the deepest mark of Christian
chosenness-suffering for others.”

In pondering the issue of whether or not American Christianity is to “entirely or permanently” avoid
such suffering, Hendricks offers this positive assertion: “We need to be faithful enough to Scripture to
recognize that suffering is a mark of the chosenness of the church” and that much of our “easy
triumphalism and rejoicing in our privilege is lopsided theology. It is also a poor witness to one of
the biblical identification marks of the church of Jesus whose sign is a cross” (78-79).

Hendricks leaves us with his question: “how do you carry your chosenness? As a privilege to be enjoyed,
a mark of divine favor to be exploited, a wonder to be amazed by, a gift to be shared, a service to be
fulfilled, [or] a possible cross to be carried when circumstances may make it necessary?”

While you wrestle for yourself with this question, I will re-examine my own experience -
at Warner’s World - walkingwithwarner.blogspot, com. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Are We Overlooking an Obvious Answer?

Paraphrasing Phillip Yancy; we claim to be people of The Book, which suggests we ought to be a people of books. One such book is William Barclay old volume entitled The Master’s Men, 1959.

Barclay primes the pump with this thought: “In the vision of the writer of the Revelation the twelve foundation stones of the wall of the Holy City had inscribed upon them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (Rev. 21:14). The twelve apostles,” suggested Barclay, “are the foundation stones of the Christian Church.” 

It is right he concluded, “that we should study them, not only to learn the facts about them, but also to see what apostleship meant for them and what discipleship must mean for us” (p. 11). This fine little book of splendid character sketches surveys both the biblical and non-biblical content for each of The Twelve. Barclay is biblical scholar as well as a well-versed academic in classical literature. He uses his vast knowledge of detail to remain true to the biblical record while opening windows for new and greater understanding for contemporary readers.

The profound lesson I found in his sketches revealed the wide ranging diversity of this group. These hard working, blue collar commoners, lived in explosive times. Living under the seeming quiet of Roman rule, this tiny Jewish state literally crawled alive, a nest of rebellious maggots. They remained a potential holocaust, ready to explode at any moment, at a given word of rebellion from any of numerous sources. 

Yet, the disciples of Jesus lived peacefully and harmoniously in their common bond with their beloved Teacher. From first to last: Simon Peter to Simon Zelotes (Zealot), Matthew the publican to the sons of thunder; these men in any other social context would have erupted into irresolvable conflict that exploded and utterly destroyed any  and all possibility of negotiating a common life. 

Perhaps the most overlooked lesson to be learned from the relationship of these men with Jesus is the common bond with him that utterly transformed their irresolvable differences into a harmonious symphony of a loving relationship.

When I look at the cacophony of conflict in today’s Middle East and I consider the centuries old dissonance of distrust, hatred, and revenge, I see only the hopelessness of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object. Yet, when I behold the social transformation of these twelve men living in their mutually loving relationship with Jesus, I have to wonder why our global community prefers living with dissonance rather than a harmonious symphony of peaceful living.

These men living together proved beyond any shadow of doubt that there is a transforming power that unites the most diverse and flawed of men and binds them in a common life more powerful than the strongest of human bonds.

From Warner’s World,
this is

wondering why our global community continues to discount this all important resource for peaceful living, when no one else has a better answer.  

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Gospel Pearl

Legend tells of the King sitting on his throne in heaven will go down and redeem my lost creation?” The angel Uriel volunteered to go as the light of example. Raphael volunteered to go as reason. Michael countered by offering to go with his sword. On the other hand, Gabriel offered to go with a song. When the Son said he would die, the King quickly responded by declaring, “Eternal Son, go down! Go down! For you alone are worthy to die for man!”

The Old Testament tells us when King David accepted the admonition of the widow of Tekoa, his banished and disgraced son Absalom was allowed to return home … unforgiven. The New Testament, on the other hand, tells us that when Christ died on Calvary, He cried out in the pain of victory, “It is finished!” 

We have no parallel for God’s finding of the unfound, but the banishment is over; the banished can come home. Reconciliation has been made.

The bridge over the gulf of man’s sin has been built and the road lies in readiness. The welcome banners flap in the breeze. God’s banished is free to come home. THIS IS THE GOSPEL, not one side of it, not the most important or beautiful part of it; this is the Gospel! Without it, there is no gospel. The unfound has been found. The sinner can come home.

God waits to receive you – like the good shepherd who looked for his lost sheep until he found it – like the woman who looked for her lost coin until he found it and brought it home. That gospel becomes the pearl of great price for which a person must willingly give up all else.

Warner’s World invites you to make Christ’s gospel your Pearl of Great Price  - the one issue in your life for which you would willingly give up all else. 
Where else can you find such a parallel? Where else can you go and make such an investment and get such a good return on such a small investment?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My Friend Obrad

*The author of the following Testimonial is Obrad Nikolic, Nis, Serbia, pastors in Nis, Serbia. Obrad formerly operated the Church of God, Reformation Movement Website at www.geocities. com/chogrefmov. He can now be found in frequent discussion on various Facebook pages.        
  Testimony of Conversion 
I was born into a family that was nominally Eastern Orthodox, but practically unbelieving. In our neighborhood there was an old lady who was a practicing Roman Catholic. She had some Christian influence over my sister and me. I still remember how she taught us to pray before going to sleep.

Also, from time to time she used to read to us from the Young People's Illustrated Bible. I was very much impressed with these beautiful illustrations of such Bible stories as the flood, the tower of Babel, and the great exodus of the children of Israel.

Unfortunately, when I was five years old, we moved away, and this was the end of this good woman's Christian influence.

Atheist Indoctrination 
At seven, I started to attend public school where I was systematically indoctrinated in atheism. At that time, my country, formerly Yugoslavia, was under a Communist regime, although it was not behind the so-called "Iron Curtain" and a bit more open to the West.

During my eight years in elementary school, I often wondered how anyone at the end of the 20th century could possibly believe in God, Adam and Eve, angels, heaven, and other names and places presented in the Bible. My conclusion was that believers were probably people raised in such an environment that they could not overcome such Christian indoctrination even when they grew up. I did not realize that, in fact, it was I who was being indoctrinated!

But when I was about 17 years of age, as I was leaving childhood and growing into adulthood, life became complicated and harder. Due to many circumstances, I entered a deep, personal crisis that lasted for a few years. I withdrew from my usual company of friends and, as a result, became very lonely and isolated.

I felt disappointed by the injustice, cruelty and hypocrisy of people around me. Life seemed gloomy and meaningless, like a cruel joke. We humans, I reasoned at that time, come from the darkness of nothingness. Then we live for a short while, only to vanish again, as if we had never been.

In between birth and death, there is only pain and suffering, I decided. The next question was inevitable: Why do we live at all? I was on the edge of suicide.
So, I started to search for answers.

I went to a public library and checked out a book by Lao Tse, a Chinese Confucian writer. Everything looked so bright and promising as I began reading his book. There was peace, harmony, love, and integrity.

But by the next morning, I realized that the world still was the same as before I'd started reading, and, most important of all, I had not changed at all, either. It was not hard for me to conclude that books like this one promise much, but do not accomplish anything.

First Ray of Light
Yet, I kept on reading and searching. Soon I came across the works of a German philosopher named Arthur Schopenhauer. He agreed with me that all life is really as it seemed to me--cruel, unforgiving, and unpromising.

In spite of all his pessimism, old Artie showed me one more thing. His writings convinced me that Christianity is a saving religion. Of course, Schopenhauer was an atheist, and his definition of "salvation" was a bit different from the Christian definition. Nevertheless, the Lord used an atheist to witness to me about His Son and salvation! (God's ways are strange, indeed!)

Soon, I was reading the books on Christianity. Most of the books I read were from a Roman Catholic perspective because these were the ones I could find in the library. I was especially impressed by a biography of St. Francis of Assisi, a 13th century monk and one of the most faithful followers of Christ of all times.

As I read about St. Francis, I said to myself, If there is a life worth living, this is it, the life of unselfishness, humbleness and love for all men. From that time, I started visiting that old Roman Catholic lady I had known as a child when we'd lived nearby.           She was the only practicing Christian I knew at that time.

I would borrow Christian magazines and books from her and take them home to read. Still, I did not have any Bible, nor could I get one to read. But in these Catholic magazines and books, I found some quotes from the Bible. I would write them down in a small notebook and carry this with me in my pocket. Reading these verses and learning about Christianity was like finding a jewel. I would sell or give up anything to get this fortune!

One Scripture passage especially impressed me: "Now, therefore, says the Lord, Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm. Who knows if He will turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind Him - a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?" (Joel 2:12-14).

As I read these words, I felt that God was already "rending my heart", but I did not know that what was happening in my heart is called "repentance." There was no one to teach me this wonderful truth!

Struggle with Sin
A few months later, at the age of 19, I was called into the army to fill my obligatory term of 12 months for every young man. This proved to be the worst time in my whole life, even worse than when I thought life had no meaning!

My conscience had been awakened, so I was trying hard to resist sin and not to conform to the people around me. But I had no actual strength to do it. So, although I was trying hard to fight the sinful nature within me by shunning the evil around me, it was to no avail.

After a month or so, I would give up and begin doing the very things that I had abhorred before--drinking, swearing, fornicating, and so on--until I would get sick of it all. Then repentance would follow and another period of struggle and austerity. But soon sin would overcome me again.

This pattern went) on and on for some 12 months. My experience resembled that of Romans 7, but there was no one to show me the hopeful verses of chapter 8 of the same epistle. I did not have a Bible yet to find it myself.

After being discharged from the army, I felt totally sick of sin. A friend of mine, whom I hadn't seen in years, came and asked me to go to the cinema with him to see the movie "Scarface"! He obviously wanted us to become good friends again and to enjoy our evenings together by visiting pubs and such things. I had no heart to say no to him, but my behavior in those few days we spent together was such that he obviously concluded I was no good for company.

I was glad. All I wanted at that time was to be holy, to become a saint, and to live the kind of life I read about in those Christian books. I was tired of sin and weary of the world.

Coming to Know God and Myself 
Soon I started to attend a church where I got my first Bible. As I was reading and studying it, I even came to believe in God, Adam and Eve, angels, heaven, and all those names and places I had scoffed at when I was in elementary school! My great discovery was that it is not enough to want to be a Christian. Before that, I thought that all one needs in order to become a Christian is to wish it! But my experiences in the army and afterwards taught me otherwise. There was something inside of me that was "bringing me into captivity," as Paul says. That was my innate sinful nature.

I realized I was a slave to sin. "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:24,25).

And He did deliver me: He saved me by His grace, regenerated me from death to life, justified me, sanctified me and adopted me into His family as a son! Life was not meaningless anymore! I knew now who I was, where I came from, and where I was going. Life made sense.

There was destiny and hope before me. The world was still wicked and full of suffering, but all of this had been overcome (2 Cor. 4:4; 1 John 5:19,4,5)!

I have found God, His grace offered in Jesus Christ, the Savior, and victory over sin! Praise the Lord for His indescribable gift! More than 10 years have passed since that day, but the sense of destiny and a calling to a life of meaning, love and joy have not vanished. In fact, that life has already started. And the fullness of it will come when my Lord comes to take me where He is!

Warner’s World,

Monday, July 21, 2014

Flying High

John Gillespie Magee, Jr. was an American airman during WWII who joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. McGee was killed at the age of nineteen, flying a Spitire during the Battle of Britain. He was born in China and lived in Washington, D. C. where his father served as Rector of St. John’s Church across from the White House.

“High Flight” was said at one time to be among the best-known poems among aviators and could allegedly be found, elegantly framed or carelessly tacked, on home and office walls around most military airfields. It can be found in its entirety on page 243 of Michael Collins book , An Astronaut’s Journey.

Following is an excerpt from “Carrying The Fire by Michael Collins, An Astronaut’s Journey, p. 198, entitled ‘HIGH FLIGHT” by John Gillespie Magee, Jr

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered  wings:
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless  halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

From Warner's World ... the prayer of my heart is that amid the darkness of our global community we never lose our sensitivity to flying high enough to put out our hands, and reach beyond space and time, and touch the face of God ... I am

Sunday, July 20, 2014

God's Loving Grace

God’s Loving Grace   
God’s loving grace spans a huge gulf between time and eternity. It allows us to love ourselves as He first loved us and connect into a fully-human family that excludes neither the Death Row convict nor the lonely Aids victim. God’s grace knows no limits when we accept what He freely offers.

George’s challenge proved very different but equally difficult, for he could not speak in public without stuttering hopelessly. By the time I met him, he had become a gregarious young Bible College student with a marvelous talent for singing. However, George was so bashful that he circled the school campus three times before mustering sufficient courage to enter and enroll.

Eventually, George found his place for serving God, through singing. He proved enormously popular with the youth and his music and personal testimony left everyone with a song. Following graduation George had a highly successful career as a Church of God pastor, convention preacher, and Family Life Counselor.

His path crossed mine frequently as we crisscrossed the country in our travels. He always greeted me with that thick West Georgia accent, a warm handshake, and a relaxed smile. His cheery words reverberated with passionate joy, even after the doctor told him to quit preaching or lose his voice.

Cancer finally conquered George’s body but it never captured his song or his smile. Friendship with George gave me guidance for experiencing God‘s loving grace.

Read the rulebook before playing the game

The writer of the book of Hebrews offers a repository of biblical characters that found the faith to succeed. Abraham became the Father of the Faithful, but not before exposing his wife Sarah to compromise and finding redemption for own is flawed character.

Act by faith, regardless of feeling
You may spend a fortune analyzing your fears, frustrations, and failures, if you choose. Your Analyst may offer the perfect rationale, or label your problem with the right cause-and-cure, and never give hint of possible recovery. This frequently results in a “paralysis of analysis.”

However, there is One, through whom God’s Kingdom becomes personal, active, and dynamically present. His major message and mission remains that of transforming people’s lives (Romans 12:1-2).

Live life as a means of grace

The light by which I write requires that I wire electricity into my home. My light waits my switching on the light. At any time of day or night, I can enter my room, flip on the switch, and allow the current to do what electricity does best--light my work area.

Like George, we all have frailties from which we need to freeing, as only the Gospel can free us. When we allow God to empower our lives; we can switch on the current and enjoy the light that comes with being connected to the power. We then do our work as extensions of that power to which we have connected ourselves.

Myron Augsburger defines this believing faith as “behaving in relationship.” He suggests salvation and discipleship offer an experience of grace through which we say “yes” to the Lord daily. Failed marriages, criminal behavior, unholy addictions, and hate crimes linger like terminal illness, but God’s well of grace never runs dry, no matter how bad the drought!

               1 Myron Augsburger, Walking in the Resurrection. (Scottdale/Kitchener: Herald Press, 1976), pp. 21, 33.