Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Test of Faith

Diagnosis made Caryl part of a select group of sixty-or-so individuals around the globe fighting with an extremely rare lung disease. Doctors called it pulmonary lymphangiomyomatosis.  From her diagnosis to her death, she exhibited a strong and intentional faith, wrapped in the arms of a strong and loving family.

She owned and operated a flower shop in our city until forced to retire. Months of rehabilitation followed four corrective surgeries and a lung transplant at University of Michigan Hospital. In between times, she organized a greeting card company and raised awareness of the need for organ donors and transplantation.

In addition, Caryl raised funds to assist with her personal medical expenses. She spent additional time in an intensive letter-writing campaign advocating for increased awareness for lung transplant donors.

As to her own condition, she conceded, “I know God has placed me on earth for a purpose. I look at it as a God-given opportunity.” 

“She had her days,” admitted husband Michael, “but she never wanted people to feel sorry for her.” I was just so proud of her, he added.

Although making excellent progress, Caryl accidentally choked on a pill one day, lapsed into a coma, and died unexpectedly at the tender age of thirty-four. Wife and I first learned of her struggles through her parents. We had become friends with the parents through a mutual friend we each loved.  Our occasional visits often found us chit-chatting from table to table at a community restaurant enjoying Sunday brunch.

Caryl’s parents occasionally shared prayer requests that we carried back to our church family. They carried a heavy load of grief throughout Caryl’s extended illness and ironic death. Yet, they repeatedly shared with us the faith that made them who they were: “we don’t really understand, but God is good.”

“A lot of people take the attitude, ‘Why me?” admitted Caryl’s mom one day, and quickly adding, “Why not me; why someone else instead of me?” The exended family hitched its hopes to that powerful North Star we call faith. It was first expressed in Caryl’s Grandparents, dearly beloved and  longtime pastors of a local Pentecostal church.

The faith of this expanded family takes me back to those decisive words of Catholic Theologian, Hans Kung, who described Christians as “all those … for whom in life and death Jesus Christ is ultimately decisive” (Kung/On Being a Christian/tr. by Edward Quinn/Doubleday/1976/125).

I no longer have occasion to cross paths with any members of the Ted Flo family, and our mutual friend Jakeway went to his celestial reward at the age of ninety-five. In the meantime, I hope when people remember me, they will remember me for a faith that says, as Kung said so well, “for whom in life and death Jesus Christ is ultimately decisive.” A real Christian can hardly be described otherwise!

This is

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Great Commandment

A diabetic traveler named Snyder headed south on the Overseas Highway. About ten miles south of Homestead, Florida, he reported, “I had an attack and felt myself passing out. I knew I had better stop and wait for help.” He clicked on his flashers and slowly faded into a diabetic coma while hundreds of motorists raced by his parked car, sitting helplessly.

Eventually two men stopped long enough to rob him of $150. Half an hour later, the robbers returned. Discovering their victim was still without help, they added his watch and ring to their collection.

Hours later an anonymous lady stopped, but drove quickly away when asked for help. A State Trooper quickly arrived, acknowledging that an anonymous caller had reported a disabled motorist. An ambulance followed shortly.

Snyder later offered “sincere thanks” to the anonymous caller, admitting he might have been reluctant to stop and help someone in the past. “I think I’d be different now,” he confessed, “I would stop and do what I could.”

Unimaginable challenges dot our landscapes. We can work for people’s best interests, or we can take advantage of them. We can also turn our backs on them, but it is our call. In Snyder’s case, thieves took advantage.

The Good Samaritan models the option Jesus would have us follow (Luke 10). Admittedly risky, the good we can achieve readily outweighs most potential risks. We meet the Good Samaritan following a “hands on” training experience in which Jesus sent seventy witnesses into neighboring towns and villages to preach and teach.

They travelled two by two. After seeing people’s lives changed, and after experiencing God’s Amazing Grace, they returned buzzing like Bees. Jesus praised them for their efforts and reminded them that prophets and kings had waited to see what they had just experienced (23-24).

This unfolding drama prompted a distrustful but inquisitive lawyer to enquire as to how he might become a disciple. Whatever his motivation; he felt their joy. Jesus, sensing his hunger, drilled straight to the bottom of the well: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart … soul … strength, and … mind; and your neighbor as yourself“ (Luke 10:27, NASV).

Feeling vulnerable and “wishing to justify himself, the Lawyer pressed Jesus: “And who is my neighbor?

Jesus responded by describing how robbers mugged a certain business traveler. Two church members found the victim in great need, but ignored him. They were busy being faithful!

Admittedly, the Samaritan had nothing to lose; he was racially-mixed and ethnically segregated. He was a racial and religious outsider, but familiar with life around the edges. He took the risk by doing what the “blue bloods” dared not do - offer help.

Jesus praised this risk-taker from society’s outer fringes with an unqualified endorsement. “Which one of these three,” He demanded, “do you think was a neighbor” to the victim?

The lawyer readily agreed the politically incorrect Samaritan showed the most mercy. With that, Jesus declared “Go and do what he did” (Luke 10:37, NCV).1 This simple no-frills command reveals the heart of Jesus. It could correct the course of human history, if we would practice it.

The Priest and the Levite avoided this discomfort and ignored both offenders and victim. The ostracized Samaritan took great personal risk, but did what he could.

So: “Who is our neighbor? And, what kind of neighbors will we be? Only at the foot of that old rugged cross is there place sufficient to allow human needs to intersect with God’s Saving Grace.

Nancy Nearing was a working mother with two children. When she learned her boss of six years was about to lose his kidneys to a genetic disease; she chose to intentionally give life rather than simply fret and wring her hands. She concluded, “I had a choice.”

This forty-two year-old Virginia technical writer worked with a team of computer programmers headed by Art Helms. As Helms’ friend and employee, she became his life-giving Samaritan by donating a kidney!

She gave her boss life. Most importantly, Nancy Nearing modeled a behavior consistent with the Great commandment of Jesus. He challenges us to choose between becoming Good Samaritans and become healers, or walk by on the opposite side of the street.                                                                                                                                                    
               1 Quoted from The Holy Bible, New Century Version, copyright 1987, 1988, 1991 by Word Publishing, Dallas, Texas 75039. Used by permission.
I am

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

An elderly neighbor decided one day to vacuum her parakeet’s cage. Just then the phone rang. She reached for the phone, but accidently lifted up the vacuum hose. She sucked Chirpy all the way through the vacuum tube and into the dust bag. Frantically tearing open the bag, she pulled out her beloved companion and rinsed him off gently under the faucet.

Dissatisfied, she turned on her blow dryer and carefully blew Chirpy dry. Later, when a friend inquired about Chirpy’s health, she admitted, “Well, he doesn’t sing much anymore!”

Would you wonder? Sucked in, washed up, and blown dry! That is enough to steal the song from the stoutest of songbirds. Can you relate to that? Just when you conclude that life cannot get any worse, a sudden Katrina washes away your neighborhood, an Ebola virus strikes down a neighbor, threat of an Islamic war with Isis seems obvious.

This is about how the God of the Bible often appears on the horizon. He comes in an unexpected place that has a strange name, like Bethel, or Peniel, or Sheckem. Sucked into a dirt bag of crippling circumstances, you find yourself washed in the waters of a paralyzing flood; only to experience the gentle winds of God’s Holy Spirit tenderly blowing you dry. That was life for Jacob.

Jacob began his adult life by leaving home armed with only a limited knowledge of family and friends. It was a long day by the end of that first day out, but he barbequed his goat and lay down to sleep. There quite unexpectedly, he met God, in a dream of all places. God revealed to him, in a way that he clearly understood, that God occupied more of the world than he had previously believed or experienced.

“Surely, the Lord is in this place” concluded Jacob upon awakening, “and I did not know it.”

Encouraged by this new Bethel experience, Jacob vowed promises and commitments to God based upon his new understanding. Bethel became his new house of God. Bethel became the place and time where he and God met in a new and personal way. We all need such times and places where God becomes personal to us.

We leave our cocoon of family and friends and we launch into a fresh new, but sometimes raw, life, where we discover that God far exceeds our awareness. Consequently, we renew our commitment. Bethel becomes our house of God experience and God becomes intensely personal.

I never knew a time in my young life when God was not real to me. I first sensed Him speaking to me in worship as a nine-year-old. When I was approached by my Pastor at the age of twelve, I accepted his invitation and he and I talked to God at the prayer altar. There, I felt a heavenly touch that impacted my life for the decades that followed.

By the time I was thirteen or fourteen, what had once been my fondest wish to become a professional athlete with the Chicago Cubs, now slowly flared up in a new flame of aspiration. A call from God into church ministry flickered within me, slowly becoming a lighted flame. That was nearly seventy-five years ago, but since that time I have experienced Him in strange places, both far from and near to the stained glass windows of a cathedral.

Sometimes God finds us with our heads pillowed on a rock, like Jacob, beneath an open sky. Occasionally, God finds us wading about in a stinking sheep pen. At other times, He appears out of nowhere to reveal Himself in a burning bush, as with Moses. He also comes in the silence of the soul, where no one sees or hears the battle that rages while we wait in ICU for the verdict of life or death during a health crisis. 

Sucked in! Washed up! Blown dry! Somehow God always comes through. Across the years I have found his Blessed Presence in the pardon of sin, followed by enduring peace and fortified with strength for the day. Sunrise waits on the morrow, bringing further promise of His blessings—all mine.

Such is the faithfulness of God! Thus, I sing:

               “Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
                              Morning by morning new mercies I see;
               All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—                              
                              Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!” 1
                1 The Worshipping Church, A Hymnal. Carol Stream, IL: Hope Publishing Company, 1990);  pp. 60-61, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” by Thomas Chisolm and William Runyan.

I am

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Who is Jesus?

Following his long day of seashore ministry, his evening boat ride across the Sea of Galilee allowed a brief respite until an evening squall threatened their vessel. Galilee has a reputation for its sudden storms and this one proved threatening even to seasoned fishermen. Fearful, the disciples awakened Jesus, only to watch with wonder as he commanded the storm to quiet.

The subdued storm departed as quickly as it arrived. Now, the fearful disciples whispered among themselves, “Who can he be? For even the wind and the sea obey him” (Mark 4:41, Goodspeed).

This question troubles us. It was Elton Trueblood who observed, “Jesus Christ can be accepted; he can be rejected; he cannot reasonably be ignored.” The Church has not always understood Jesus. It has, however, always recognized him as different: born to a maiden who never had sex with a man; His very name describes his mission--save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

Many saw him do miracles. Admittedly, his death brought some unusual circumstances. Some even reported seeing him numerous times following His crucifixion. According to Paul, Jesus was seen by a multitude of more than 500 persons. Paul and Peter agreed that God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Church historians later added four historically definitive statements that help us identify Jesus. Arius first suggested in 325 A.D. that Jesus was less than God, although more than man. The Nicene Creed declared Jesus fully God and fully man. In 381Apollinarius taught that Jesus had a human body and soul but a divine mind, leaving him less than fully human. In response, the Council of Constantinople proclaimed the full humanity of Jesus.

In 431 Nestorius taught that Jesus was two people: one human, one divine (schizoid). The Council of Ephesus affirmed the single nature of Jesus; he was but one person.

Still later, Eutyche taught that Jesus had two natures--a pre-incarnation nature and an incarnational nature. In 451 the Council of Chalcedon reaffirmed Jesus in what is today orthodox teaching: two natures (human and divine) but one personality. Christian Theologians still use these four basic concepts today.

Dubious doubters still ask: “Is he human? Divine? Both? Neither? Is he a lunatic, or a liar? Or, is he Lord of Life? When Martin Scorsese produced “The Last Temptation of Jesus” in 1988, he pictured Jesus struggling with his humanity; living as a depraved, lusting swinger, committing fornication, adultery, and the grossest of sins . These are contrary to church teachings and leave still unresolved, the question of “Who could he possibly be?”

Few willingly concede that Jesus is a liar, a lunatic, or a false prophet, but that leaves him as our Lord of Lords. If He was a deluded fool, as some think; if he only thought He was God, he is not only a liar; he is also a false prophet. In this case, Christianity is founded on a colossal scam. If Jesus succeeded in deceiving us through trickery, we have been cruelly deceived and he is guilty of heinous fraud that deserves eternal hell fire.

Jesus leaves us no middle ground! We accept him fully, as God and man; with two natures in one person, as taught by historic church councils; or, he sinks to the level of Martin Scorsese’s 1988 movie.

More importantly, who is Jesus to us? The Bible describes him as our clearest picture of God. To the Artist, he is “one altogether lovely,” to the Architect the “Chief Corner Stone,” to the Astronomer, the “sun of Righteousness.”

To the Baker, Jesus is the “Living Bread,” to the Banker he becomes “unsearchable riches;” to the Biologist He is “The Life,” and to the Builder he is the “sure foundation”

To the Carpenter, Jesus remains “the door.” To the Editor, he offers “Good tidings of great joy.” To the Educator, he becomes the “Great Teacher,” to the Electrician, he provides the “light of the world,” and to the Engineer he offers a “New and living way.’
For the Farmer, Jesus is the “Sower and Lord of the harvest.” For the Florist, he is the “Rose of Sharon, the Lily of the Valley,” but to the Geologist, he remains the “Rock of my salvation.”

To the Horticulturist, Jesus is the “True vine,” and to the Jeweler, he is the “living precious stone.” To the Jurist, Jesus becomes the Righteous Judge of all men,” while to the Juror, he provides “Faithful and true witness.”

For the Lawyer, Jesus becomes “Counselor, Lawgiver, and Advocate,” but to the Philanthropist, he is an “unspeakable gift.” To the Policeman, he represents the “power of God;” to the Preacher, he becomes the “Word of God;” to the Sculptor, he provides the “Stone cut without hands,” while to the Servant, he is the “good master.”
To the Sheep-raiser, Jesus is the “good Shepherd,” but to the Statesman, he becomes the “desire of all nations.” To the Student, he is “incarnate truth,” and to the Theologian, he remains the final “Author-finisher of our faith”

The Toiler and workman find Jesus the “Giver of rest,” and need I go further? Indeed: one yet remains, for to the Sinner, Jesus is the “Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

I visited with a young Dutch woman in Canada. Raised an atheist by unbelievers, she immigrated to Canada, married, and divorced. She shared with me her struggle with life and her desire to be free of her tobacco addiction. After meeting a Christian friend, she went home and sought God, a God who was no god because she was an atheist. He was dealing with her life and she found him real! He brought her freedom from addiction and forgiveness for her sins and she became a dynamic and vibrant disciple of Jesus.

We can accept or reject Jesus, but we cannot ignore him! Reason makes him a lunatic, a liar, or a false prophet. Or else: he is who we believe Him to be - “Son of the Living God, Savior Who redeems us, Lord of all Hope and Glory!
       … Who else could He possibly be?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Living in Yesterday or Tomorrow

The Church of God stands on two feet: one foot in yesterday; one foot in tomorrow. Will we walk with yesterday’s traditions or go with tomorrow’s truth? England’s Coventry Church illustrates my point. This famed architectural icon was reduced to rubble in WWII. The city, while still smoldering, resolved to rebuild and replace the old Gothic church with contemporary architecture and art forms. The new structure allows one to look through a clear glass West wall and view the old ruins. This results in old and the new structures that are not completely separated. Each originates with the same roots, but each has meaning for its own time; one sees the war years and one views contemporary life.

Acts 2:41-47 suggests four factors validating a vital root system that also produces new top growth:
1) First Church Jerusalem formed when those receiving the “Word” were baptized and tradition gave way to the new truth of the resurrection, which believers began sharing. Jesus was the issue!
2) Believers continued in the doctrine and fellowship of the Apostles, with worship a priority.
3) Believers shared daily, involving the whole church in ministry--They became a missional church.
4) Growth resulted … the Lord added daily to their number.


The truth of the resurrection brought new life to old wine skins of tradition. Secular thinking by current public media slowly batters today’s Christian Church into submission by slowly crumbling its moral foundations through venues such as enlightened TV. If society is to survive this cultural assault of reason, the church must provide more of the divine that created our humanity.

This cultural confrontation challenges the church with awkward moments, such as the young soldier found himself at Redstone Arsenal’s Guided Missile School. The Colonel’s troop inspection went well, until … he stopped, looked down at a young soldier and snapped, “button that pocket, trooper!”

               “Right now, Sir?” he stammered.
               “Of course, right now,” shouted the Colonel.
               That said, the soldier discreetly reached up and buttoned the flap on the Colonel’s shirt pocket.

Tradition will define issues such as human rights but only “Truth” will lead to God, and in this time when the human rights doctrine reigns supreme, we should remember that human rights have little meaning without their Creator. In biblical days, Jewish worship came at the end of a week lived in service. As the poet said:

If I can do some good today,
If I can serve along life’s way,
If I can something helpful say,
               Lord, show me how.
                              If I can right a human wrong,
                              If I can help to make one strong,
                              If I can cheer with smile or song,
                                             Lord, show me how.
                                                            If I can aid one in distress,
                                                            If I can make a burden less,
                                                            If I can spread more happiness,
                                                                           Lord, show me how (Kleiser).
I like Sam Rayburn’s definition of worship: devotion, determination, and boyant hope. The Psalmist expressed his devotion in worship when he wrote, “Come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker. Isaiah (6) found worship is initiated by God. Worship results when the created responds to the Creator with personal offering, prayer, praise, and present Judgment.

Genuine worship is worthy action … worth ship. Further worship results from firm commitments of belief. It is more than the pseudo-religion that says “Every time I hear a new-born baby cry, then I know why I believe.”

Worship becomes corporate in our common thoughts, devotion, and appreciation, and we find our hearts “strangely warmed” like the Emmaus Road disciples. Worship that is honest, worthy, and creatively based on faith, will result in action, interaction, and reaction on the part of the participant. So, while Jesus died, people saw the rent veil and for the first time they saw looked into the holy place—they saw God (Mt. 27:50-51ff). Said, C. T. Studd:  “Some people want to live near Chapel Bell, but I want to run a rescue mission six yards from hell.”


Clergy and laity stood shoulder to shoulder, without distinction. Each believer became part of the Priesthood of Believers. The Protestant Reformation acknowledges every individual as having direct access to God. This means each Christian has direct entre to God on behalf of others—this being the true meaning of the priesthood of believers.

Recent years have observed society moving from centralization to decentralization, from denomination to local church. All the while, mobile Americans reshape our country. Three great mega-centers hold forty-four percent of the population.. Mega-trenders describe Chipitts going from the Great Lakes east to Pittsburgh. Thirteen percent of our nation’s 300-million live connected to the I94 corridor as part of Chipitts. Boshwash snakes its way down the East Coast from Boston to Wash, DC, with twenty-five percent, and Sansan serves the 475-miles from San Diego to San Francisco--six percent.

While Vocational Chaplains have become something of an industrial specialty in recent years, it should be recognized that there should be no need for clergy to go where laity already are. A Texas tourist parked his car in Acunia, Mexico one day. Immediately, a little fellow ran up and offered to guard his car for a fee, seeing only an “ugly American” with money. This young boy then offered to pimp his sister and use sex to increase family income. He offered an opportunity of forbidden fruits “where no one will ever know.” 

What a prime opportunity to witness to the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the worth of a Christian family!

THE EARLY CHURCH BROUGHT ITS FAITH TO BEAR ON PUBLIC AND POLITICAL ISSUES OF THEIR DAY. Luke is an excellent resource for evaluating human rights. Or, consider how Paul faced issues of slavery, marriage, monogamy, and the role of women. The Church is more than a social institution and it should offer more than mere political structure. Jesus described it as salt, and leaven. Christians add flavor to a culture that needs the leaven to make the life bread to rise.

Christian witness is not a specialty for the few; the church is Body of Christ--God’s witness to Republicans, Democrats, Catholics, Protestants, Communists, Capitalists, you name it. We dare not leave our social problems to Public Agencies that are not “God-fearing…” Technology requires our human touch more than ever. Education requires Christian theology for its a-moral society.

Too often, the church resembles the lady I heard of in Wheeling, WVA. She slipped while mowing her yard. Stunned by her fall, she heard a childish voice say, “Mama, why is that lady lying down with her lawn-mower?”

Why, son, that’s a hillbilly. If they work at all, they always do it the easiest way they can find.” Let that never be said of the church!        

OUR WORLD NEIGHBORHOOD FACES CRISIS that offers expanded opportunities for those willing to take the risk. We no longer live in the world of DS Warner, but if we have the rootage, we will find ways to relate to our world just as he did to his. 

From Warner's World,  we are known by the company we keep, the causes we represent, the commitments we prioritize, and we should never give up on being part of the solution!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Saul Versus Paul

Dedicated to God, heart, soul, mind and body; Saul was deeply entrenched in the teachings of Master Teacher, Gamaliel. Thoroughly educated in the Hebrew faith of his heritage, pleasing God became Saul’s pearl of great price

His choleric temperament drove him to drink deeply, when others merely sipped from life‘s cup. Competitors quickly fell short of Saul’s driving passion to be a “Pharisee of Pharisees.” In quenching that thirst, he launched his crusade in defense of the Almighty. The self-sufficient, impetuously hot-tempered law student threw down the gauntlet defending Jewish monotheism against the heretics of this prophet called Jesus.

En route to Damascus, Saul made a life-changing discovery: life did not center in his values and beliefs. Suddenly, Jesus took on a whole new dimension, as the fire-breathing exponent of Jewish Legalism recognized a new perspective!

No longer able to look upon humanity “according to the flesh”, Saul discovered “God was in Christ, reconciling us to Himself” and he became a new man. , Paul now found himself an ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16; Romans 1:16-18).  

In the cross of Christ,
Saul of Tarsus experienced resurrection and empowerment
to live a new life.

“And I, “said Jesus, “if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (John 12:32 NASV).  Death came to Jesus, “that men … should cease to live for themselves,” and “live for him who for their sake died and was raised to life” (2 Corinthians 5:15 NEB).

Saul of Tarsus, a Hellenist Jew with a Pharisee’s pedigree as long as his arm, experienced a metamorphosis in meeting Jesus. That encounter transformed the arrogant Pharisee into a humble follower of Jesus, the Christ, and Saul, the terrorist from Tarsus, became Paul, the Apostle of Christ to the Gentiles.             

The message of the cross empowered the transformed Saul
to disengage from racism, culturalism, and creedalism and
be metamorphosed into Paul, the zealous Christian Apostle.

Through the cross, God empowered Jesus to overcome sin and death through the resurrection and enable Christ‘s disciples to live like Christ, or as “little Christ’s.

Paul consequently confessed, “For through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God.” Thus, he reasoned, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:19-20, NASV).                    

Through the cross
Saul found power to become Paul,
a man with a vision of hope for human potential.

Saul went into his spiritual cocoon a sinful worm; Paul came out a grace-full butterfly, enjoying
G od’s
R ichest
A t
C hrist‘s
E xpense.
From then on, Paul regarded no person from a worldly point of view; rather, he saw the cross of Christ as a divine invitation given to all:

               Beneath the cross of Jesus [I] gladly take my stand  . . .
               The very dying form of One Who suffered there for me;
               And from my smitten heart with tears, Two wonders I confess--
               The wonders of His glorious love And my unworthiness.
--Elizabeth C. Clephane, 1872

The church, concluded Dietrich Bonhoeffer, is “our hope for the present and the future.” He followed in the wake of our Ancient Fathers who said, “God [is] our Father, the Church our Mother, Jesus Christ our Lord, [and] that is our Faith.  Amen.”
               1 Mary Bosanquet, The Life And Death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  (New York:  Harper & Row, Publishers, 1968), p. 65.

at Warner's World