Saturday, October 25, 2014

Keeping Neighborly Relations

I had a thought-provoking discussion with a young medical technician recently as she prepped me for a biopsy. While I quizzed her about her medical career, she responded by informing me that she had no medical insurance. She had to pay cash if she had a medical problem arise.

This young woman works for a prominent medical doctor in our community, a fine Christian man of a different denomination than me but a highly respected gentleman nonetheless. I’ve been pondering that and remembering when my spouse worked for a “Christian” business man who paid no insurance, paid minimum wages although he was quite generous in his personal gifts to some of his management people, and as an entrepreneur he always “operated” on the other guy’s money, paying his bills as late as possible and with other such tactics that supported his entrepreneurial business philosophy.

I am not an economist! However, this all seems to pre-suppose that as an employer if I cannot provide employee medical insurance I am justified in paying only what I can afford, even if I could not live on it. This brings us to the numerous news stories regarding institutions like McDonalds and Walmart and the issue of low level employees striking for a supposedly living wage. Going one step further brings up the issue of CEOs justifiably receiving obscene piles of money while paying only low-level salaries to down-the-ladder employees.

As I listen to economists and other public commentators sound forth today, there is in our culture the recognition that "business is business" and it is all about crunching numbers and the profit line. People issues are only “crunched numbers.”

Having gone this far, I now see my young medical tech as part of a large labor pool at the bottom of the social ladder being manipulated according to the myopic needs of capitalists who may vary from corporate executives to entrepreneurs who have borrowed a “shoe-string amount” to launch into business and travel the highway toward the American Dream.

I must say, by this time in my life I have become very uncomfortable with this philosophy that operates entirely out of one’s personal perspective, without regard for the other person, not to mention the common good. How do I as a Christian integrate the teachings of Jesus into my behavior so that my beliefs and my behavior become one and the same?

Some people answer this by privatizing faith; separating my private life from my public life, especially if I am a politician. This justifies schizophrenic behavior that separates the public me from the private me and produces an unhealthy split personality. This person simply says “business is business … politics is dirty business.” This person lives as a two-sided coin: one side is religiously nice and the other side is dirty – unclean – or whatever is needed, and the two never meet! Their behavioral life becomes entirely relative and controlled by their context—they have no solid creed to live by.

I do not pretend to have the answer! I offer no panacea to cure it all. What I know at this point is that I have chosen to integrate the teachings of Jesus Christ into my beliefs and behavior, because I believe life in Christ is the right way for people to live. So, here I am asking myself how can a self-professed Christian doctor (or whoever) hire and pay a wage for which s/he would not work. We are expecting our employee to work for an income we would find unacceptable, and we do this knowing s/he cannot afford to do better (or does s/he?)

The bottom line says (to me) if I don’t have the money to pay this person the usual expected amenities of society; that makes it okay for me to treat them as I would not wish to be treated and pay them a substandard salary so that I can get started. They will take the job because they need that income, limited though it may be, for they are hungry and they need it. The zinger in it is that Jesus said “in as much as you do it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.”

This bit of wisdom from Jesus reinforces the story he told about the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). There, Jesus told an enquirer that the way to eternal life was briefly summarized by 1) loving God supremely and 2) loving your neighbor as yourself! Simply stated, if I need a living wage for my family, so does my neighbor; if I need medical insurance (as commonly practiced in our economy), so does my neighbor!

My conclusion: To follow Jesus, and be a Christian employer, I must figure my business operating expenses in such a way that I treat my employee(s) as I would want to be treated. That may not follow the rules of an MBA degree in business management, but it certainly comes closer to living by the principles Jesus set forth for his disciples to follow.

I must live in ethical relationship with my neighbor; otherwise circumstances  do not justify my being in business.Here is a different way of expressing the point:

Christ has no hands but our hands to do his work today,
He has no feet but our feet to lead men in his way:
He has no tongue but our tongues to tell them how he died,
He has no help but our help to bring them to his side.

We are the only Bible the careless world will read,
We are the sinner’s gospel, we are the scoffer’s creed;
We are the Lord’s last message given in deed and word,
What if the type is crooked? What if the print is blurred?

What if our hands are busy with other things than his?
What if our feet are walking where sin’s allurement is?
What if our tongues are speaking of things his life would spurn?
How can we hope to help him  and welcome his return? (Anonymous)

From Warner’s World,

I am

Friday, October 24, 2014

The House That Hope Built

Noted Black Historian John Hope Franklin owned a Green House where he doted over his magnificent collection of Orchids. Filled with a variety of plants, his plant sanctuary hosted something in bloom during every season. Franklin called this his “house of hope.”

Life in Christ offers us a “house of hope” where eternal spring blossoms perpetually in the human heart. Refreshed and recharged through worship, Scripture reading, and extending friendship without expectation of something in return, He sends us forth to live as windows through which God’s Son-shine warms and comforts.

Across the decades, multitudes have found their faith refreshed and renewed through His “Blessed hope”:              

               Blessed hope we have within us is an anchor to the soul,
                              It is both steadfast and sure;
               It is founded on the promises of the Father’s written word,
                              And ‘twill ever-more endure.1
As songwriter William Schell wrote, Harold Arendt exercised this audacious hope through singing songs of faith that affirmed God‘s love for him. Young Harold grew up in a Church of God parsonage where he watched the people under his father’s pioneer ministry. He saw God filling the lives of Church of God people and filling other people’s lives with hope that enabled them to bless still others in turn. They were a living embodiment of the words written by the Psalmist: “As for the saints who are in the land, they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight (16:3, NIV).

Translating personal hope into working faith empowered Harold to pursue his dream of becoming an educator. To achieve his goal, Harold drove truck, worked in a bakery, clerked in a grocery store, and did piece work in a nearby factory. His hope-filled faith proved ever dependable and he obtained his education. Receiving that coveted Doctor of Education degree allowed Harold to invest the rest of his Christian life in public education.

He spent his best years investing himself in his pupils; until finally one day he received an anonymous telephone call. The mysterious caller announced, “I’m the boy who started the fire.”

Harold remembered that star football player from a few years earlier. “I’m now a teacher in the public schools,” he announced, “and I thought you would like to know that you are the one who inspired me to be a teacher.”

Harold recalled the fire that ignited in a box of shavings in the school’s brand new industrial arts facility. He remembered quietly but quickly stepping to the sink in the rear of the room, filling a bucket with water, and dousing the flames before returning to his desk - without fanfare.

School authorities only learned of it only when the troubled youth finally confessed, “I had never seen you excited and I wanted to see what you would do when you were excited.” 

Harold’s quiet demeanor and consistent faith somehow fired the aspirations of that young student. He felt inspired to become a teacher, just like the man he so much admired. Through Harold’s years of teaching, the hope he had first seen in the lives of other parishioners eventually became a capital investment in Harold’s personal life. In turn, Harold reinvested that capital and it paid off handsomely in the lives of young students like that young football player.

A quiet demeanor accompanied by consistent behavior very often offers the best of hope to others looking for personal affirmation. Such hope empowers people to stretch themselves. Hope conditions people to reach outward and upward. Such hope elevated Saul of Tarsus to a new level of human achievement as the Apostle Paul. 

Paul's house of hope prompted him to acknowledge that his relationship with Jesus hope kept him steadfast and sure, and caused him to further conclude, “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who are called according to His purpose.” 2  

1 William G. Schell, “We Have a Hope.” (Anderson: Warner Press, Inc., 1989), p. 727.
2 Romans 8:28, NASB.

From Warner's World,this is


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Characteristically Barney. . .

Ten days before his death, Pastor Ernest Fremont Tittle informed his Evanston, IL United Methodist congregation that while Christianity brings pain it is first and foremost a religion of joy.

Dr. Tittle recalled the persecution experienced by Christians in that first century. They were poor. They were cruelly harassed. Yet, they were notably happy. By the time of the third century, Tittle concluded, a Christian could say “The church is the one thing in the world that always rejoices.”

This is something people of the Church of God Movement of Anderson, IN have always understood. Sixteen year old Barney discovered this unspeakable joy when he experienced a religious conversion in the 1880’s revivalism in southwest MI, led by Joseph Fisher, Daniel Warner and others.

As a result, he obtained his father’s permission and left home to travel in a musical ensemble with evangelist Dan Warner. Barney began by singing bass in that gospel group and that led him nation-wide into a life of musical evangelism. As a result, he served a long and fruitful life as a preacher-pastor, song evangelist, and prolific song composer. He eventually penned more than two thousand songs, spending his final years in Springfield, OH (His camp meeting cabin can be inspected in Anderson, IN where our friend Dale Stults relocted it).

Characteristic of Barney’s music was the unspeakable joy and the glory of the Christians who joined him in walking with Christ. When sung by faithful Church of God believers, Barney’s music produced a symphony of choral joy.

I never met Barney, although we grew up probably no more than five miles apart in our southwestern Michigan community. We were a few years apart, but he preceded me by perhaps for decades, although our lives overlapped each other. As a boy however, every time I attended church, his name topped numerous pages in the green hymnal from which I sang. I knew him only as the “Chief Singer,”1 but his lyrics fortified me as my life extended into the adult decades of life and ministry.

One of Barney’s hymns still much beloved is “Joy Unspeakable.” In it Barney assures me that the Grace of God’s is more than mere soft soap; it is vastly superior to the cleansing powers of that liquid I squirt into my dishwater as I wash my dishes. His inspired words remind me that

I have found His grace is all complete,
He supplieth ev’ry need;
While I sit and learn at Jesus’ feet,
I am free, yes free indeed.

It is joy unspeakable and full of glory,
Full of glory, fully of glory;
It is joy unspeakable and full of glory,
O the half has never yet been told.2

 Barney Warren’s songs of joy reinforce those teachings from the Bible teach me that at the very center of God’s great universe there is a deep, abiding, and everlasting joy.

Clement of Alexandria, one of the early church fathers of ancient history may have come as close to the truth as anyone ever did when he suggested that a beautiful hymn to God is an immortal man who is being built up in righteousness, and upon whom the oracles of truth have been engraved.
            1 This title gave voice to a book by Axchie A. Bolitho, To the Chief Singer, A Brief Story of the Work and Influence of Barney E. Warren. (Anderson, IN: Gospel Trumpet Company, 1942).

            2 B. E. Warren, “There Is Joy in the Lord,” Worship the Lord. (Anderson: Warner Press, Inc., 1989), p.616.

From Warner's World, this is

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Miracle of Forgiveness

Theologian Albrecht Ritschl declared “justification and reconciliation is the central doctrine of Christianity.” Edinburgh Professor, H. R. Mackintosh, said of Jesus, “In His person the Kingdom of God is here” (The Christian Experience of Forgiveness, Fontana Books, 1961, 12-13). Now Catherine Larsen describes colonialism, racism, political manipulation, and genocide as she observed it in Rwanda following the slaughter in that country (Larson/As We Forgive/ Zondervan/2009).

Larsen traces the obvious threads of reconciliation she found woven into public life in post-genocidal Rwanda. She met victims and perpetrators, including widows and orphans, intersecting at that place where Rwanda’s past and future clashed. Tutsi Antoine Rutayesire endured 100-days of Hutu neighbors slashing, bludgeoning, and burning his Tutsi neighbors and leaving one of eight of his countrymen dead.

Conflict became seemingly inevitable in Rwanda when the government released 40,000 prisoners back into society in 2003 and more in 2007. Although suffering, memory, and identity created huge emotional roadblocks to forgiveness, Larson reveals to readers how mediation, truth-telling, restitution, and interdependence played successful roles in initiating healing and in restoring relationships to a renewed level of wholeness.

Writing on a subject that haunts humanity, Larsen offers Biblical solutions that prove practical in a world standing waist deep in violence and separated by generations of hatred. The Old Testament prophet could almost have been writing to our generation when he cried out, “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?” (Lamentations 1:12 KJV).

With the new genocidal wave of religious extermination, I see forgiveness as an issue of increasing importance to the church, Christians in general, and to the world at large. It could affect international relationships for generations to come.  Will we persist in using our words like battering rams, denigrating and dehumanizing, dividing and devouring one another? Surely, our explosion of computerized knowledge empowers us to Google resources we can apply to our broken relationships! Is a shared future an impossible vision for our globe?            

In view of the forgiveness that Larsen found following the slaughter of a million African souls of Rwandan families and friends suggests to me that our generation owes it to ourselves and our neighbors to at least explore the social-psychological and spiritual dimensions for achieving a more lasting peace in these war-weary days.

Oscar Romero believed that peace comes not with terror, fear, or silent cemeteries. As more than merely repressed violence, peace suggested Romero promises the “generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty.”              

Shalom, in the Hebrew language, defines peace as looking for the well-being of both victims and offenders, with all flourishing together as God was in Christ. God never erased the scars of crucifixion; He left them to testify to the pain of love, and John 3:16 was the extent to which He could extend himself to conquer evil.

Forgiveness offers active suffering when extended on behalf of victims. Forgiveness creates a pathway of redemption--peace--shalom. Only such love can conquer hostility and mend broken relationships. Thus, George joined the pastoral staff of a Columbus, Ohio Church of God when looking for a place from which to offer people safe Haven.

When I met George at an Anderson, IN Christian Convention he was using the following acrostic as he worked at building bridges with people searching aimlessly, looking for a safe haven from the stormy living that left them stranded:

Help those in need
Adore God
Value God’s grace
Encourage one another
Nurture spiritual gifts 
Forgiveness opens the door to the only real safe haven available for restored relationships. Only in God’s Shalom is there hope for a miracle on our broken planet. Only in Christian circles can you find people like George who can guide you to such a haven.
From Warner's World, this is

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Faith and Politics

Recalling great personalities of Evangelical History like Wilberforce and John Newton, Jim Wallis writes that “Similarly in the nineteenth century, American religious revivalism was linked directly with the abolition of slavery and other movements for social reform. Wallis references this conclusion from historian Michael Kazin: “From the Second Great Awakening in the 1820s to the 1920s, there was a period where social movements were infused with the evangelical spirit” (Wallis/The Great Awakening, Seven Ways to Change the World/Harper-Collins/ 2008).

Wallis is not alone in such thinking! This does dump him off in the far-away country of theological liberalism, as some would like to believe, and which many to-the-right political conservatives discredit as mere “political correctness.”  I have written about this before in reference to Nazarene Historian Timothy L. Smith, who among others found historical antecedents of the social-gospel in the revivalism of the nineteenth century Holiness Movement, rather than the later social gospel of liberalism.

Whatever current politics may assert, church history confirms “evangelical   Christians fighting for social justice, precisely because of what God had done for them—an activity with which evangelicals have not been associated in more recent years,” says Wallis.

We are reminded that nineteenth-century American evangelist Charles Finney didn’t shy away from identifying the gospel with the antislavery cause. He was a revivalist and also an abolitionist. For him, the two were closely connected. Finney, who has been called the father of American evangelism, directly linked revival and reform and popularized the altar call. Why?

Wallis suggests Finney one reason was, “They would commit their lives to Christ and then enlist for God’s purposes in the world. That’s the way it always is for revival—faith becomes life-changing, but rather than remaining restricted to personal issues and the inner life alone, it explodes into the world with a powerful force. For Finney, taking a weak or wrong position on social justice was a ‘hindrance in revival.”

One cannot read the biographies of such leaders without discovering the “evangelicalism” within their perceived theological liberalism. I cite Martin Luther King who came out of a solid-south conservative experience and did his educational studies in a more theologically liberal northeast school. 

At the height of the Montgomery bus boycott, King was receiving death threats on every hand via phone and mail. I was a young pastor in a small southern town not that distant from Montgomery and aware of the perceived liberalism of Dr. King, among other things. Stewart Burns recounts King’s epiphany in his writing To the Mountaintop, discovering at the midnight hour that ‘religion  had to become real to me’—not merely the hand-me-down family business—and I had to know God for myself. With my head in my hands, I bowed down over that cup of coffee. Oh, yes, I prayed a prayer. I prayed out loud that night ...”

Confessing his weak, faltering and fearful ways, King admitted “At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced Him before. I could hear an inner voice saying to me, Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness, stand up for justice, stand up for the truth. And lo, I will be with you, even until the end of the world. I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone, No, never alone. No, never alone. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone.” (We recognize that hymn).

Reading a book like Jim Wallis’s The Great Awakening would do much to help conservative Church of God Christians to revive their faith and filter their politics through the red-letter words of Jesus in the Bible rather than through the left and right sides Democratic and Republican politics. It might even give the reader a better feel for the challenge issued by Dr. Jim Lyons of Church of God Ministries to become involved in a new generation of abolitionism—human trafficking.

Lyon's call is not an enlistment of the weak and the timid; the fearful, the cynic, and the doubter! It is a clear Trumpet note calling for a radical defense of the imago dei and the Christian doctrine that every human being has value, that no matter who or what one is, the church cares, if for no other reason, because we are all created in the image of God.

From Warner’s World I am 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Active Listening

Communication today most often means finding the right “gimmick” for grabbing someone’s attention by using the “correct method” of enabling us to give them what we want them to hear. Multitudes of educational media experts teach us how to communicate. We have developed great expertise knowing  how to communicate, but who do we teach to listen?

How well do you listen? Or, are you just looking for the right opening for jumping onto the conversational train that will once more give you direct control of the conversation? Too many of us are like the pastor who had a visit from an excited former member who had become a rural pastor  a few miles distant.

This young beginner-pastor returned home filled with youthful excitement at perceived progress; he couldn’t wait to share his good news with his idol and former mentor. As the younger man excitedly enumerated his successes, the older man sat behind his desk straightening. He put his pens and pencils back in place. He put drawer items back into the proper drawer and quietly rearranged each drawer. Never once did he give the young man the courtesy of even looking up at the enthusiastic youth.

Consequently, the young man told his story, limped to a limp conclusion, and lamely left the office  greatly disappointed and deeply disillusioned. The old veteran communicated his message very well, but he said almost nothing.He didn’t have to speak; his actions spoke louder than words, as he communicated his message of unconcern that caused the younger man to go back to school and eventually spend his life teaching young seminarians The Awesome Power of the Listening Ear (John W. Drakeford, Broadman Press).

Jesus modeled good listening. He listened with his head (ears), his  heart, and his eyes. He listened to both God and the people he encountered. Consequently, he also heard from both God and men, because he listened well. By listening actively, he communicated attentiveness, love, and concern. He practiced his own teaching, which was, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15).

Our most powerful means of communication today is the awesome power of our listening ears. Are you a spouse wanting to communicate with your marital mate? Are you a parent wishing to touch base with your child? Are you a concerned friend hoping to touch a point of need in the life of a friend? Are you a Sunday school teacher hoping to share a lesson? Are you someone who needs to have your life touched?

Try communicating your concern by your actively listening to the words being spoken  to you. Communicate by listening! An adventure in good listening may be the most significant key you have for communicating the message you wish to share.

From Warner’s World,
this is walkingwithwarner.blogspot,com

reminding you that God’s ears are ever attentive to your prayers (I Peter 3:12).

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