Thursday, June 18, 2015

Holiness Hygiene, or "Lord, Pass Me Some Soap"

“Hand cleaning is your professional responsibility” the hospital sign announced, prompting Epidemiologist Donald Goldman to caution hospital patients not to worry about speaking up, or of “offending” health-care providers. Shorthanded and harried hospital personnel sometimes get so busy they neglect to wash their hands. Goldman further suggested that if the computer industry could institute clean rooms, “health care should do no less.” Dean of Nursing Students at Georgetown University, Elaine Larson, concurred.

Frequent hand washing contributes to clean health-care facilities and to healthy bodies. There is also that spiritual hygiene that cleanses the human heart and builds healthy human relationships and wholesome communities in which to live. We awoke this very morning to discover that a twenty-one year-old Confederate ideologue shot and killed nine black Christians during a Bible Study in one of America’s oldest black churches.

America’s lack of moral and spiritual hygiene is reflected in the fact that President Obama has been circumstantially forced to speak to the nation following more than a dozen mass shootings since he took office. The gospel of Christ speaks to this moral dilemma of humanity--and it is far more than just an unresolved community issue--by telling us how to experience ethical metamorphosis, something that no agency of government can do and no other social agency or Advocacy Group is able to resolve.

Paul, the first century Christian Apostle to the non-Jewish world, experienced just such a moral transformation. He was en route to Damascus to further harass, terrorize, and imprison the Followers of the Way, as Christians were then known. He was, however, confronted  by a surprisingly supra-natural confrontation by Jesus as the Risen Christ, while travelling to Damascus--extraordinarily unexpected.

Saul experienced a moral reformation—a metamorphosis so complete that although he went into his cocoon as Saul, the arrogant Jewish Pharisee and murderous terrorist; he came out of his cocoon as Paul the Christian Apostle to the Gentiles, author of a classic definition of love, and beautiful as a Monarch Butterfly  (cf. I Cor. 13).  

Saul’s transition to Christian Apostleship as Paul prompted him to initiate a whole new approach to issues of personal faith—"the just shall live by faith." As a result, everywhere he went he challenged everybody that would listen to strive for life’s highest and best, by the grace of God. He urged audiences to discover God for themselves and learn how life with Jesus transforms one’s personhood, perspectives, customs and habits, and even one’s very life.

Paul’s metamorphosis enabled him to mentor people in responding to life in ways that reflect Christ’s claims upon their lives and ours. He argued that “rightness” (meaning righteousness) becomes a reality in our lives as we become obedient “from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you [we] became slaves of righteousness”  (Romans 6:17-19, NASV).

As the Maestro of this eternal symphony that we call life, Jesus Christ offers to tune the strings of our life-instrument, empower us to walk lovingly with Him, and direct us in walking wisely with others  in and out of the church (cf. Col. 4:5). He alone transforms the cacophony of pain and broken relationships that we have composed as our expressions of life; he alone can re-configure our efforts into the beautiful harmony of meaningful interdependent relationships and raise our lives above the slavery of self-indulgence and sin.

The Church of Jesus Christ, by its very presence, proclaims the possibilities of conversion (personal metamorphosis). It alone offers possibilities of a united community made up of one humanity that is no longer Jew and Gentile, slave or free, (“having put to death the enmity”, Eph. 2:16 NASV). 
And when the church is lives by the Manual that brought it into existence (Bible), it reconfigures social living and models human community as God intended it to be lived. This is the major theme of the NT Book of Ephesians as Paul described it.     

We can deny the existence of God, but HE will not be denied or ignored. When we ignore HIM, we do it to the moral destruction of all  that is meaningful and worthwhile in life. In other words, we break ourselves on his rules

And right now, our global community is doing a good job of destroying itself with wars, genocide, ethnic cleansing, poverty, and you can finish my sentence.

From Warner’s World, this is

praying, “Father, forgive us for our violent ways. . .”

Thursday, June 11, 2015

And God Spoke

A story told by a certain Pietist rabbi reports he called his congregation together in the middle of a working day for an important announcement. He sent the children out to announce to everyone in the community that they should come immediately to the synagogue. The children did as instructed. They called every housewife from her housework, every clerk from his counter, and every workingman from his labors, as well as every businessman from his office.

Everyone came, crowding into the sanctuary to hear the rabbi’s important announcement. When everyone had gathered in, the rabbi arose with great dignity and declared, “I have an important, a very, very important announcement to make. Listen carefully that you may all hear it. There is a God in the world.” That being said, he adjourned the meeting.

Our modern world  does not fully understand the rabbi’s announcement, nor has it figured out how to control God. Consequently, it shoves him aside, and obscures him with relativism. Meanwhile, modern man continues to seek morality within man’s own nature.

A glance at this “naturalistic explanation of human ethics sounds very persuasive” (Kahn/The Ten Commandments for Today/12). A second glance sounds less persuasive when we recall that Darwin proved our zoological relationship with the animal world. This suggests that human morality derives from the animal world, BUT: what kind of animal is man? Are we competitive predators or are we cooperative herd-members?

It has also been observed that Freudian psychology. as understood by some and misunderstood by others, would “seem to rob man of his moral freedom” and thereby make anything like absolute truth  “totally meaningless. Victor Frankl gave us this word from Freud: “Try and subject a number of very strongly differentiated human beings to the same amount of starvation. With the increase of the imperative need for food, all individual differences will be blotted out, and in their place we shall see the uniform expression of the one unsatisfied instinct” Frankl later revised Freud’s conclusion after he found himself in the concentration camp and “we saw how, faced with the identical situation, one man became a swine while the other attained almost saintly status” (Kahn/9).

Others have insisted that Karl Marx was right to insist “that morality was simply the expression of class interest, that in the service of a good cause there are no bad acts.”

It seems that the laboratory of life tests all moral theories, as Rabbi Kahn suggests in his book I referenced earlier. Either there is a God in our world, or Adolph Hitler, the Fuehrer with the broken cross (swastika) was right when he justified his attempts to flush the Jews from Germany’s blood by declaring that  ”the curse of Mt. Sinai must be gotten out of our blood. It is a poison which has spoiled and soiled the free instincts of man.”                                     

Kahn, a respected Houston rabbi at the time; wrote his book, The Ten Commandments for Today as a challenge to the twentieth century (Doubleday 1964). “The underpinning of humanist ethics,” he concluded,  “is the familiar phrase, the dignity of man. But this is not a natural concept; it does not grow out of biology. Biologically, man has no dignity at all, any more than a vulture or a cockroach. Man‘s dignity, the dignity that makes it ethically wrong to murder him, the dignity that makes it wrong to deprive him of his property, or his family, is not by virtue of his being a child of nature, but by virtue of his being a child of God, And this is why the ten words [commandments] begin and must begin with the greatest of all the words, ‘I am the Lord your God” (italics by this writer).                                                   

Without further investigation of such classic writings as the ten words or commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, or the Bible, I note that our twenty-first century culture is still adulterating (diluting) the truth of God  with relativism. Judaio-Christianity stands firm in the ultimate truth that we live in a moral universe guaranteed by a living God who has worked in history—“who brought you out of the land of Egypt out of the house of bondage … You shall … You shall not…” (Exodus 20:1-3 NKJV).

From Warner’s World,
I share this conclusion from Rabbi Kahn’s book, which I am re-reading:
“There is a priority system in life, and first things must be put first” (25).

When we focus our major attention on secondary causes, we almost always end up with a mess on our hands! Ignoring priorities can only guarantee failure ... walkingwithwarner.blogspot. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

But God...

"Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select -- doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors" (John B. Watson).
As the acknowledged father of Behavioral Psychology, Watson argued that we need nothing to explain human behavior but the ordinary laws of physics and chemistry. Had his thesis proved correct, humanity would have healed itself of such destructive phenomenon as war, genocide, and ethnic cleansing. Mankind would have created a more peaceful society than currently exists.

As our world currently exists, humanity remains in the grip of religious philosophies and secular ideologies that find themselves unable to cure our selfishness, greed, and hatred. Evil behavior revisits humanity regularly, filling our fragile relationships with terrorism, threat of wars, all as contagious as an epidemic of Ebola.

The Christian Church, on the other hand, repeatedly achieves many things otherwise impossible except for faith in God. The Bible is filled with humanity’s encounters with its own limitations, but Biblical writers seldom stop there. Paul preached in Antioch of Pisidia where he traced Israel’s history from the Exodus out of Egypt all the way down to the Roman Courts where Jesus was observed standing before Pilate and facing death.

Luke further reported that when they had fulfilled all that was written concerning Jesus, “they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb.” Normally that would have concluded the story. Under normal circumstances Jesus would have been left to rot—dead by crucifixion. Luke adds two controversial words, however: “But God ...” (Acts 13:29-30 NKJV).

God made the difference then, by raising Jesus from the dead. God made the difference throughout human history by offering divine solutions as alternatives to human failures. Whatever one may believe about Jesus Christ, he lived a life in which humanity has yet to find moral flaw. We cannot imitate Him. We cannot reproduce His quality of life by our human means ... but God.

It is generally recognized in Christian circles that people can and do experience transformed lives by inviting Jesus to live within their hearts and reconfigure their lives. This is a change that multiplied multitudes have experience,  and continue to experience, through the power of those two controversial words - “But God…”
We all know the Church has many faults, as well as many critics! I also know the Church’s mission of human transformation remains historically uncontested and without viable competition. Giovanni Papini was a typical non-believer when he began researching his monumental Life of Christ. Research revealed a sequence of events and experiences that led Papina away from the Jesus of history, and enabled him to discover the living Christ and experience his own personal transformation. (Elson/And Still He Speaks/ 118).

It was while viewing a sunrise in the Swiss Alps that a teenaged British girl encountered the transforming love of God. She had no idea he actually existed until an unplanned moment found her vacationing family without overnight lodging. As sometimes happens, Jill’s family chose to make the best of their lack of adequate planning; they would sleep in their compact car ... but God.

But God … It just so happened that Jill, cramped and resting poorly, rose early the following morning cramped from lack of rest. She rose early the following morning and meandered aimlessly about the small ridge overlooking that popular tourist area. “And there,” she announces, “I watched the sunrise.”

Later, Jill read the Book of Romans in her bible. Her reading revealed to her that God had revealed Himself to humanity in nature. Admitting she had not read much of the Bible, she readily confessed, “I did ‘read’ that sunrise and a huge sense of God’s glory overwhelmed me.”

Jill’s unexpected “conversion” came when the realization of God’s transforming presence confronted her personal sense of unworthiness. Writing as Jill Briscoe, whom many of us have read and some of us have met, she penned the following lines that described her “Conversion”:

            The day breaks softly, filling me with awe.
                        It seems the other side of heaven’s door.
            That God forgives my sin, to me is plain. . .
                        Today, ‘spite of my sin - the sun doth rise again!’ 1

 Civilization has achieved a high degree of technological achievement. In spite of this, the transformation of the human heart still remains a spiritual metamorphosis beyond reach of humanity’s ability to re-create ... “But God.

I am
and now you know the rest of the story.
            1 Jill Briscoe, By Hook or By Crook. (Waco: Word Publishing Co., 1987) p. 37.


Sunday, May 31, 2015

Jesus and His Sermon on the Mount

The Enormous Exception was a 1986 publication by Word Publishers in Waco. Author Earl F. Palmer was a UC Berkeley/Princeton graduate; and pastor at the time of Berkeley 1st Presbyterian Church for sixteen years. Occupying a slot in my library for several decades, it has given me a fresh opportunity to meet the Jesus of the Law and the Gospel in the Sermon on the Mount.

Of special interest was the author’s assertion on the dust jacket suggesting, “The only way this sermon makes sense is if Jesus Christ himself, who spoke these words, is strong enough to make them really true … The good news in the profoundest sense in the Sermon on the Mount,” Palmer concluded, “is to be found in the one who is preaching the sermon” (p. 52).

I find in the author’s assertion a quintessential truth, a most perfect manifestation of the truth needed to properly interpret the sermon from Matthew 5-6-7. People from Anabaptist tradition stress a quite literal interpretation of the piety taught in Matthew 5-7. Others, including some pre-millenarians, distance themselves from it far enough to claim that Jesus merely suggested ideals to aim toward, rather than teaching a lifestyle one should practice.  Allow me to share a few insights from the author.

The Beatitudes of Matthew 5:3-12 describe the life of blessing, that being how life really works. There are multiple roads, or ways, but not every way works. The author would agree that the only way the Beatitudes work, or even make sense, is if the one speaking them—Jesus--is strong enough to make them really true.  Is Jesus as strong as he thinks he is?

Matthew 5:17-20 reveals Jesus as the Lord of the Law. Tracing the threads of Abraham, Moses, and David in an over simplified manner, we see the people of God called into covenant relationship as God’s very own people, marked by circumcision. Following Moses out of the Exodus brings identity of deliverance as God’s people celebrating a calendar of feast days that further instruct as to their identity, their deliverance, and the kingdom they seek. Palmer finds,
           “We can now appreciate St. Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill to the philosophers of Athens.
               He proclaimed to them that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the ancient search of the
               Philosophers of Greece just as he is the fulfillment of Israel’s quest for a king like David,
               a father like Abraham and a redeemer like Moses (44).                                                                                 
 Jesus offer a new way in Matthew 5:38-48; a new interpretation: you have heard it said … but I say … I liked Palmer’s analogy of the great arc of the Law (39). Think of it this way, he writes: “Jesus treats the Law as if it were a great arc. He next extends the line of the arc around to its fulfillment, the circle for which it was originally designed;” i.e., to be his very own people. Elsewhere, he writes:
            “It is Jesus of Nazareth who really completes our yearning for identity, so that we know who we are
               and to what end that ancient promise to Abraham was made, ‘by you all the families of the earth
               shall bless themselves.’” It Is Jesus who fulfills the righteous will of God shown at Mt. Sinai and he
               Is able to incarnate in himself the Way (Torah) for which the Law was given in the first place …”
               (p. 42).

               “Because of Jesus’ words we who trust in his Lordship over all of life including the Law must now
               Trust in the Law which has its completion in the Lord we trust … We may not have a Moses in our
               own story but we do have ‘exodus’ and ‘deliverance’ experiences …” (p. 43).   

There is a wide range of thought today about the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Sermon on the Mount. There are issues of War and Peace, Capital Punishment, Love in a world of hatred, Forgiveness and punishment, ad infinitum. Jesus insisted the gospel is summed up in two statements: love God supremely and love your neighbor as yourself! In Matthew 7:12 he laid out the Golden Rule:  do unto others as you would have them do to you.

But, is that really gospel? It sounds so simplistic that some think it merely a diluted form of a warped Christianity that is utterly impractical. Hear Jesus again! “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” How much plainer could Jesus say the New Testament teachings of love complete, fulfill, fill up the Old Testament teachings of an eye for an eye, et al?

Did Jesus originate this idea of love? NO! He taught it in Matthew 22:37-40, but he referenced Leviticus 19:18 and Deuteronomy 6:5 as taught by the Law of Moses. Consider also Romans 13:9 and Galatians 5:14, where the Apostle Paul frames the same argument. In James 2:8, the brother of Jesus and head of the Jerusalem Church adds his support. These men should tell us something!

I have not adequately explored either Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount or Palmer’s book, or given credence to the immense force of God’s love, but conclude with this word from Dr. Palmer:
            “When we dare to break the old expectations of terror for terror and rather introduce the new in-
               gredient of meaningful love (“bless”), the result is powerfully effective because we have invoked the         immense force of God’s love. In fact, Paul quotes Proverbs 25 (25:21-22) to prove his point. Love
               actually has the power to create a new reality … Paul’s use of the word bless points to a thoughtful,
               clearheaded, and tough love that is as wise as it is well intentioned …” (p. 55)

This small book (151 pages) evidences solid academic accreditation, supports thoughtful biblical exposition, and offers some solid word studies. From Warner’s World … I am              

The Joys of Family Life

We waited some fifteen years before belatedly experiencing grandchildren. Shortly after we married, we discovered one of us was under a death sentence of three to twelve months. God has transformed that dismal beginning into sixty-eight years, two living children and five premature births, and two wonderful grandsons (Austin returning an interception, shown above).

Our only daughter inherited problems that prevented her birthing children, leaving her brokenhearted. She devoted herself to her husband and mothered every child she met over nearly four decades of nursing. Our son, the last in the lineage of a dad who was the last of his line like his father before him, ultimately sired two sons in a broken marriage.

As grandparents, we lived six-hundred miles from our fast-growing grandsons and missed many of the benefits enjoyed by an intimate family. That makes us especially aware of the wisdom of the ancient Wiseman who suggested, “Children’s children are the crown of old men, and the glory of children is their father” (Proverbs 17:6 NKJV).  

That ancient writer said we should commit our “works to the Lord,” for “your thoughts will be established” (Proverbs 16:3 NKJV). This came home to me recently. It gave our son Scott the shock of his life but it underscored the value of making good decisions. When he determined his marriage was unsalvageable, he intentionally made several significant decisions that are paying huge emotional dividends.

Although Scott lived a long day’s drive from us, he made a career change to keep him close to his babies. This enabled him to become part of their growing up process in spite of the failed marriage. Withdrawing his life savings, he invested in a nice house that guaranteed a comfortable home for our grandsons and their mother. He provided intentional alimony that insured the necessities required by reasonable maintenance in a single-parent home.

When our second grandson was born, Scott accepted the challenge of the deteriorating marriage and agreed for the boys’ mother to return to work while he became stay-at-home dad for that first year. That year of at home brought an unexpected special bonding with Austin, not experienced by Kody. I didn’t really know if I could find a place for Austin in my heart; I was simply so full of Kody! But he was such a loving little guy; he just barged in, nudged Kody aside, and established his turf … and I am so blessed by them!

After twenty years of praying God to call the boys into some kind of Ministry, we thrill in watching Kody become established in a Youth Ministry in Fort Lauderdale, Fl. After several years of being coached and mentored by Peter Hass and the Substance Ministry of Minneapolis, Kody is now employed in a Florida ministry. The church has created a position that allows them to serve together and they plan a July Wedding (see Scott's growing family at right)..

Austin passed his 22nd birthday 3 days after I passed mile-marker 88.  He anticipates his senior year at University of Northwestern, as a co-captain completing his final year of varsity football. Anticipating a degree in business, he is evaluating God’s options for his life. Meanwhile, Scott and Austin went for their annual birthday bash--now a tradition that allows them to enjoy some of the fruit Scott planted during that first year of being stay-at-home dad to Austin.

Scott excitedly inflrmed me recently of going to a nice steak house for something a little nicer than the usual weekly lunch. They ordered dinner. Scott prayed, thanking God for the meal, for his son and their relationship, for Kody and Liz and their pending marriage, et al. Finishing his prayer, Scott glanced up to see Austin staring at him--grinning somewhat uncharacteristically.

Trying to process what was taking place, he almost unconsciously became aware of another presence. Liz, Kody’s tiny South Korean adoptee-fiancĂ©, is standing beside Austin, seated across from Scott. Perplexed … confused … trying to process … suddenly overwhelmed - Kody is not in Ft Lauderdale, he is standing beside Liz … ! (Engagement night shown left and I can hardly wait to welcome her!).

They needed to complete some wedding details, but they didn’t tell Grandpa for fear he would blow it - (that’s a whole other story of Grandpa and Facebook). They “sneaked” it past Austin and gave dad the thrill of his life by silently appearing unexpectedly. The writer of Proverbs announced “Children’s children are the crown of old men, and the glory of children is their father” (Proverbs 17:6 NKJV).

I was reminded of this word from Proverbs when this hit the fan last week and.I shared it second hand. Scott was so overwhelmed he couldn’t wait to tell me and let me share it with Granny-T. Obviously, we love our children, but we are especially proud of our grandsons and the splendid young men they have become (Kody seen interning  with Substance, Minneapolis in the lower right corner).

Righteousness exalts a nation, but understand this: the deterioration…the dissolution…the diminishing of contemporary family life, especially in America: this is our social lynchpin! It is our foundational cornerstone! It is part of the glue that makes us 
stick together and it is irreplaceable in the future survival of our civilization!

From Warner’s World, I am

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Great Judgment Morning Jack Holcomb

Living Like Zenith

Norman Vincent Peale, the patron saint of positive thinking, waited impatiently for the limousine. The popular pastor-author of a long-running series of books and magazines on positive thinking and transformative Faith stood quietly studying the nearby statue of Julius Caesar. It lent an aura of the Roman Forum to Caesar's Palace in Vegas.

The tough-minded optimist turned to his wife Ruth and declared, “I’ll never be in Las Vegas again; I might as well try one of these slot machines.”

“Wait a minute, Norman, replied Ruth, “you don’t believe in gambling. Don‘t do it. And besides, someone may recognize you.”

Ever curious, Peale wanted to know more about this practice he had opposed for so much of his life. Arguing that “no one around here knows me,” he jammed a quarter into the slot. Nothing happened. As he yanked the lever down, a voice announced nearby, “Hello, Dr. Peale! I was at your church last Sunday.”

We live and breathe in an age of media marketing that values appearance more than the reality of the content. Jesus speaks to our age of political spinsters, advertisers, public relations experts, and TV preachers offering complete makeovers without personal regard for reality.

“Let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’, said Jesus; anything beyond these is of evil” (Matthew 6:37 NASV). Judge not, he added, because you will be judged in like manner Examine the log in your eye, before judging the speck in your brother’s eye (7:1-5).

Jesus called for transformation from the inside out, rather than the artistic makeovers of politicians, preachers, publicists, and public personalities. As the old preaching professor used to say, “Make your sermons so clear they cannot possibly be misunderstood!”

Viewing life through the lenses of Jesus builds character into life unlike the Pharisees of his day who valued appearance more than substance. Dr. Rowland Taylor, the Anglican Vicar at Hadleigh, was observed by those who knew him to live as a reformer. He took seriously the Spirit of Jesus and avoided unnecessary controversy. He lived a Godly life. He internalized the truths that he taught, and he nurtured the poor. On the other hand, followers and friends could not deter the authorities of Bloody Mary from burning Taylor at the stake for opposing their unbiblical practices.

The Bishop summoned Taylor, gave him a tongue-lashing, imposed a two-year imprisonment, and tacked on a death sentence. Just five days before the burning—February 5, 1555—Taylor presented his son with his only remaining writing, a book of Christian advice. Taylor commended his family to God, declared his confidence in God’s faithfulness, and reminded his parishioners to continue walking in the truths he had taught them.

Assured of his heavenly welcome, Taylor urged his people to avoid blasphemy by turning back to false religion, and added his confession: “In thee, O Lord, have I trusted: let me never be confounded.”

The Sheriff then took Taylor to Hadleigh to burn (his Memorial is shown on right). As weeping parishioners followed en masse, a guard thrust the tip of his staff into Taylor’s mouth, thus preventing him from further preaching. Taylor gave his shoes away, while also distributing his remaining coins among the blind along the way.

Without doubt, appearance has great value, but Christianity offers more than a mere makeover. Jesus invites us to experience a transformation, to be "born again" to make our “what is” in life one and the same with “what appears to be” in our life.

From walkingwithwarner, 
we invite you to consider the words of Jesus to begin reconstructing your life from the inside out and live like Zenith, “where the quality is built in”.