Friday, March 23, 2018

How Should the People of God translate the Royal Law?

Meet “The Translator – a Tribesman’s Memoir of Darfur” (ISBN:1400067448)

A subject I blogged about several years back is “How does one encounter genocide face to face?” I reported on David, a native of Darfur, western Sudan. As a boy, young Daoud Hari (not his real name) spent his childhood learning the ways of his Zaghawa tribesmen. With his camel, he did all the things normal to life in the Sudan.

The village children herded small goats and cattle in the wadis and small mountains outside the village. At night they played outside games together–too hot during the day. Anashel was a game where you search for a bone someone has thrown into the air when everyone’s eyes are closed.

Daoud called his camel Kelgi and he loved it like he loved his family. He described his life being like growing up anywhere, “except our families had camels instead of SUVs and the children rode donkeys instead of bicycles. Otherwise, it was chores and games and worrying about growing up and being respected, as it is everywhere.”

In 2003 helicopter gunships appeared over the villages, followed by attacking horsemen that raped and murdered citizens, and sacked villages, Daoud‘s family escaped. Sent north, Daoud completed high school and eventually volunteered as a translator, guiding journalists in and out of enemy territory, rather than take up a gun and the violence of war.

Daoud was caught and imprisoned while assisting Paul, an American journalist. He thought he would most surely die, and confessed, “I did not care too much because I felt mostly dead anyway after the attack on my village and the death of many friends and family. But I felt responsible for Paul and Ali and I did not know what would happen to them.

“I had been in prisons before,” Daoud wrote. “and I felt that if I died, it would be because I was doing something to help my people, and that was ok. But even in the prisons, I made friends with the guards because I know that everyone has some good in them and sometimes you just have help them get it out. I learned that, even in such places, people are people and there are opportunities for kindness and understanding.”

Imprisonment finally ended through negotiations by American Cabinet Member, Bill Richardson (later Gov. of N.M.). Daoud, eventually came to America, where he wrote in simple, straight forward language, eloquently human, details about his childhood, his imprisonments, his work with journalists, as well as his experiences guiding, protecting, interviewing, even burying, the most vulnerable.

I found parts of Daoud’s book grueling to read--the inhumanity, suffering and vulnerability. One father Daoud interviewed was forced to watch his young daughter lifted up on the blade of a bayonet, crying “Abba! Abba! Then he lifted up his gun, with my daughter on it, with blood from her body pouring down all over him. He danced around with her in the air and shouted to his friends, ‘Look, see how fierce I am,‘ and they chanted back to him . . .

“It took a long time for her to die,“ he continued, “ her blood coming down so fresh and red on this--what was he? A man? A devil? He was painted red with my little girl’s blood and he was dancing. What was he?”

Daoud concludes, “This man had seen evil and didn’t know what to do with the sight of it. He was looking for an answer to what it was, and why his little daughter deserved this. Then, after taking some time to cry without talking, he told me he no longer knew who he was.. . .“

With Daoud’s village gone, 2.5 million people displaced from Darfur, more than 240,000 remained in refugee camps in Chad, with many areas cleared of Darfuris. This young man has seen humanity at its finest and its worst. He risked his life to do in Chad and in Darfur what he could to share his tragedy with the world.

“One day,” Daoud says, “I hope to go home to Darfur and to help my people rebuild our communities once there is peace.”

May God enable our democratic nations to work toward peace in this war-torn, grief-stricken world. After finishing my reading of Daoud’s book, I found reading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Appendix 2 well worth the price of the book.

Darfur has new names in new places today and the name of Daoud becomes the name and face of multitudes of political prisoners, emigrants, and others held captive by a multitude of political and economic forces. Do we retreat to a politic of America First? Do we use our technical superiority to maintain an irrresistable Superpower to force Russia, or Iran, or North Korea to retreat until they can retrench and return? 

Or will we turn to the roots of our faith and hear the words of James the brother of Jesus as he described the Royal Law: If you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well, But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:8-9 RSV)

Is there a proper translation for answering this perplexing question? Will the church be the church or are we so full of worldly spirit that we no longer function as God’s People? I still have hope but how much of an answer is James offering us?

Thoughts about Violence and Lawlessness

The Moral Center by David Callahan, Orlando: Harcourt, Inc. 2006 [cf Demos Public Policy Center]

P51 - “America is the most individualistic, hedonistic, workaholic society on earth. But, because of the sway of traditionalists, we can ‘t think straight about managing these conditions when it comes to our most important social institution, the family.” The family is a basic conservative Christian value, the cornerstone that anchors our culture..

P77 - “…no one should be merely the means to someone else’s ends - whether its for pleasure, power, or profit.” Individual worth is a basic human value and a thoroughly Christian perspective.

P98 - “A child who watches two hours of cartoons a day sees nearly 10,000 violent incidents each year.” Assuming this is an accurate statistic, consider this in the light of p. 105--the average kid sees 40,000 commercials yearly. What kind of violent culture is raising our kids?

P98 - “Violence was also found to be prevalent in 68 percent of children’s programs, and a typical hour of such programs contained fourteen violent incidents.”  [“KEY FACTS: tv VIOLENCE,” KAISER Family Foundation, Spring 2003]
              RE: ADVIRTISING
                             P105 - “Parents, schools, and churches are fast losing their power to shape the
                             values of the next generation. Instead, that power is being ceded to private actors
                             who are motivated mainly by financial self-interest.” Do parents, schools, and
                             churches have any right to control what media is fed to our children or are we to
                             remain victims of corporate “legislative power”?

                             P105 - “It has been estimated that total advertising and marketing expenditures
                             aimed at children reached $15 billion in 2004, up from $100 million in Television
                            advertising spent in 1983. The average American kid sees 40,000 commercials a year.
                             Kids are also increasingly exposed to advertising at school and in other places, such
                             as summer camp. As Juliet Schor has written, marketing is fundamentally altering the
                             experience of childhood. Corporations have infiltrated the core activities and institutions
                             of childhood, with virtually no resistance from government or parents.”
                             [from Schor “The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture”]
                             What moral responsibility does a corporation have to parents and public beyond making
                             money for an investor or client?

              P121 p- “If Americans are exceptionally resistant to social control, and therefore vulnerable to
              criminal temptations - it is because they live in a society that enshrines the unfettered pursuit of
              individual material success above all other values.” quoted from Robert Merton Social Theory and
              Social Structure, qtd by Callahan. The only way a society can survive is by being social, through 
             cooperation and interrelatedness. To act otherwise is to be “anti-social”. How long can a basketball
              team  survive by playing as five individual stars rather than as a team?

              P122 - James Truslaw Adams calls “Lawlessness has been and is one of the most distinctive
              American Traits.”  This comes from an expert in law matters. What does the Bible say        
              about lawlessness?

              P124 - “If self-interest is such a great virtue and people step on each other legally all the time,
              how immoral can it be to step on someone illegally?” Good question.

              P130 - “Even as legislators have been busy imposing draconian standards of conduct on the poor over   recent                     decades, they have been equally busy insuring that the wealthy are held less accountable for their   bad                               behavior.”  If you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as                             yourself,’ you do well. But if you show partiality, you commit sin” (James 2:8-9 Bible).  

The value (truth) of this blog with its several book quotes, and my commentary added in red, is not based upon any reader’s perception of Demos as liberal or conservative. I have heard it criticized from the right as being leftist or liberal. My desire is that you and I deal with the basic values I have projected. Please keep your comments to the point.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Our Legacy of Violence

It was about 10:00 p.m on August 3, 1492 when the ship’s Captain sighted land. The fearful Spanish crewmen, threatening mutiny, guided their tiny ship into the warm Caribbean waters. Sea monsters allegedly roamed the depths and the crew feared the potential disaster of sailing off the edge of their flat world. By the time the Captain turned his ship homeward, Ferdinand Columbus returned to a hero’s welcome in Spain, credited with discovering  a New World.

The second trip went better. This time Columbus shipped five loads of Indians home for sale. Spain had a long legacy of slavery.

Cabot left England and planted the British flag near Labrador in 1497. In 1501, Vespucci announced Portugal’s claims over their new territories. Cortez sacked Montezuma‘s Aztec Empire in 1519. Pizarro overran Peru, taking control of the silver mines.  Envisioning his illusions of grandeur, the Pope pompously granted Spain all lands west of an imaginary line three hundred and seventy leagues west of the Azores. Elsewhere, Britain claimed all of North America.

Life came cheap in this culture of violence and conquest. Torquemada’s Inquisition eliminated wealthy Spanish Jews and Jewish converts to Christianity. Violent conquest left other new conquests in ruin.

In 1533, Gomara reported that deaths from enforced labor wiped out more than 20,000 Cuban Natives. Although minority voices called for gentler treatment of the natives, some historians conclude that the object of the European nations “was wealth, both in gold and slaves; and the idealist’s vision was submerged under a flood of conquest.

11 Clement Wood, A Complete History of the United States
Washington, D. C.: Pathfinder Publishing Company, 1936, chapters 1-2).

Conquest and violence ruled the day, leaving the smoke of greed, gold, and gore spiraling heavenward, causing settlers in the thirteen colonies to rise up in rebellion. The birthing of the United States brought a breath of fresh air to the Colonialists, but not so for that first cargo of African slaves that arrived in America in 1619.

Democracy--human freedom and civil rights--characterized an ascending United States. Yet, slave-power quickly powered agricultural productivity for King Cotton. White Americans staggered beneath the burden of this cultural mindset for the next two and a half centuries. Gradually the colonists caught up with, and surpassed, those who stayed in power by right of divine right and other fascist inequities.

In spite of this, America led the world through an unprecedented machine age--eventually, a space age. Democratic principles, considered liberal for their resistance to the status quo introduced our current information age, sustained through technological superiority. In spite of this progress, America still leads the world in greed, gold, and gore.

Today we find ourselves a culture where violence is at epidemic level. It was not so long ago that a professional hockey player clothes-lined an opponent, flattening him with a potentially-lethal stick-block to the throat. For that, he received a 25-game suspension, yet was not barred for life. We could but conclude that this sport was more about winning and making money than entertaining. 

Meanwhile, security cameras captured film images of a male bandit concerned more with money than morality. A stunned public watched images of a man mugging a 101-year-old female victim--for $33. Elsewhere, an 80-plus senior lost $32--assaulted by someone that believed more in profit than people.

In some neighborhoods today, gang-members drive high-powered cars through powerless neighborhoods shooting innocent victims with high-powered guns. At the pinnacle of our political system, a President compromised our nation’s future by using a preemptive strike to launch the Iraq war at an estimated cost of $2 trillion. Our current President denigrates minorities and various ethnics while chanting “America First” and ripping families apart while deporting parents that escaped to America illegally in their flight for their lives.

Critics claim the amount of money spent warring in Iraq would have stabilized Social Security for seventy-five years, or provided health insurance to “every American” for a full decade. Such tax dollars would take huge bites out of hunger if applied to water-starved regions of Africa. Feeling the challenge of this violence, Bishop Lowell O. Erdahl prayed this prayer of confession:
          Captured by our culture and worshipping its false gods, we forget that we 
            are called in Christ to love and to be vulnerable. Trusting in ’saviors’ of 
            human creation, we abandon the security of God’s grace and even 
            become willing to sacrifice ourselves and our children on the altars of 
            these false gods. Christ sacrificed himself rather than use violence. He
            did not sacrifice himself in using violence” 
            (Lutheran Peace Fellowship Notes). 

I am happy to live in a nation that many of the globe’s less fortunate envy. Yet, as I review our history of human violence, I feel like weeping. I cannot deny our human complicity as a nation. Nor do I fail to recognize our repetitiously-perpetuated diplomatic failures. I quite agree with that Elder Statesman Thomas Campbell, who chastised his generation for the divisions they created over slavery in 1845.

Choosing freedom over slavery, as any freedom lover would do, Campbell assumed a Christ-centered focus - “not. . .of a politician, an economist, [or] a mere moralist, but that of a Christian.” Christians, concluded Campbell, “can never be reformers in any system which uses violence, recommends or expects it,”
William Herbert Hanna, Biography of Thomas Campbell 
Advocate of Christian Union. Joplin, MO: College Press, p. 189.

Jesus left us his model for choosing between peaceful co-existence, with non-violence and mutual respect; or hostility, with violence and disintegration. He left us free to choose the path we will walk and we can reap the rewards of peace and non-violence or pay the price of violence and disintegration.

A Thought on Aging

Kit lived to span ninety-one years, surpassing her medical prognosis by seventy years. At eighty she could see better than she did at six, when she wore her first glasses. Her lifetime of fragile health later accumulated twenty-one aortic and renal stents, numerous heart-related procedures, congestive heart failure, and a back fusion with four titanium steel rods. She enjoyed more energy, better blood pressure, fewer complications, and far less pain but she did not expect to live this long. Her long journey of faith allowed her to face life with renewed vigor.

America has been aging! By 1985 25,000 Americans enjoyed life at 100-or-over.  Predictions called for more than a million by 2050, with Americans over sixty-five totalling more than the entire population of Canada.  One resource reported eighteen American children born daily to fathers over fifty-five and cautioned that seventy people over age sixty-five were picked up by the Police for disorderly conduct. Another anonymous wag described age as the top of a high mountain where the air is rare and blue, and after “a long hard climb one experiences a bit of fatigue but experiences a wonderful view.”

Howard McClusky, University of Michigan gerontologist, agreed that we should “not sell ourselves short” because he concluded we’re capable of far more than we think.    S. I. Hayakawa agreed “there is only one thing that age can give you, and that is wisdom.”

Tyron Edwards insisted “Age does not depend upon years,” rather, “some men are born old, and some never grow so.”  McClusky might be right in asking that we give up some of our stereotypes about aging and admit that we are actually better at sixty-five than some of us were at forty.

In 1776, only one American in fifty reached sixty-five. By 1900, life expectancy was forty-seven but increased to seventy-six.  Anyone reaching sixty-five by 1984 still had a life expectancy of 16.5 years and the expectancy was that within thirty-five years at least one in five would reach sixty-five. This suggested many of us should reasonably increase our life expectancy.

Aging is inevitable and I have met some whose spirit and influence I would like to maintain. Gladys was a chronologically gifted friend, a widow who lived well beyond ninety. Leaders in her community selected her as Senior of the Year during her eighth decade, because of her volunteer work at the Senior Center, the nursing home, the Auxiliary, and wherever she could assist. Many remembered her best as “The Cookie Lady.”

I watched with amazement as she worked four days a week at eighty-two; I saw her assist her grandson in building his pizza business. I felt her touch on my life as she served as a surrogate mother at eighty-five.  Becoming a frequent dinner companion to me at ninety allowed me to help Gladys with her menu, because of her incurable Glaucoma. She served as one of my most dependable prayer partners and steadfast parishioners in my last years as a pastor

Gladys was but one of many seniors exceeding their prime while continuing to make life’s passage fuller and richer for others. She was part of a national treasure that will have increased more than two and one-half times by 2030--sixty-five million souls we do well to cherish.

A useful illustration recalls a Sunday when the Pastor Emeritus spoke in the absence of the Senior Pastor. As he left the church that day, he overheard an interesting conversation.

“We did a very wise thing when we kept Doctor Gladden among us as pastor emeritus,” a lady whispered to a friend.

“If he did nothing but just live his life here where we can catch his spirit,” the two agreed, “the influence of his presence alone makes it worthwhile.”

Aging is inevitable and I have achieved the inevitable. So: what is my expectation as I approach ninety-one? I remember a news story describing a Senate Cloakroom meeting between German Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, and American Senator Glenn Beal. It seems Adenauer revealed struggling with a siege of grippe while visiting America.  His physician reminded him “I’m not a magician. I can’t make you young again.”

“I don’t want to become young again,” quipped Adenauer, then in his 80’s; “all I want to do is go on getting older.” 

As I reach the top rung on my life’s ladder and think about my life expectancy, I find I repeatedly re-focus on life as a state of being and give less attention to the art of doing and accumulating. The Psalmist reminds me the Lord is my rock and I can, therefore, bear fruit in old age.  I can stay fresh and green because he is upright and there is no wickedness in him” (92:14-15, NIV).

If I achieve that; perhaps someone coming behind me will say, “The influence of his presence alone … makes it all worthwhile.”

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Church of God Anderson Movement has long proclaimed a trans-denominational, reformational and relational message focusing on Holiness and Unity and offering wholeness, reconciliation, and relationship. Before his death Sam Hines, the portly Jamaican whose green eyes (maybe blue) were always filled with laughter, addressed the rest of us through his writings.

Best known as Pastor of our 3rd Street Church in our National Capitol, Sam was a friend to many of us of whatever ethnicity, a man the church loved greatly and we all deeply respected and personally admired. The following excerpt from Sam's pen is filled with truth we need to recover from our current deep divisions and escalating violence. Consider his words in the spirit of Shalom …

 “… Before time began God had a purpose in mine, a secret but significant purpose. The incarnation of Jesus—this mind of God, this Word of God made flesh—made God’s plan public. In Christ, God revealed that seasons of time are controlled by the divine will, so that in the fullness of time, God can fulfill his purpose to head up all things in heaven and on earth in Christ. This may be the most explosive idea that has ever reached the human mind …

One of the major impacts of this idea was that both Jew and Gentile now belonged to the same family through Jesus Christ. The walls of division fell down, and all barriers to solidarity were removed when Jesus came … Divisions, inequities, and injustice based on age, race, culture, gender, social status, or economic position were removed in Christ. We who live in this period must continue Christ’s action. God’s goal all through the centuries has been to bring together under Christ Jesus all things in heaven and on earth.

Through Christ, God’s one-item agenda heads up a new solidarity—a new reconciled covenant community … God’s universal church is either going to demonstrate this solidarity or become a contemporary scandal, bringing blame and shame to the gospel by virtue of blatant contradictions between what we preach and what we practice.

Of course, the issues no longer center only on Jew and Gentile: they revolve around African American and white, Latino and Asian, native and immigrant, right and left, conservative and liberal, militarist and pacifist. The separatist arguments in the church focus on whether we are movemental; reformational; sectarian; denominational; pre-post, or a-millennial; Pentecostal; charismatic; or evangelical. They even focus on the use of traditional or contemporary music and on worship styles. These things send us heading in different directions and getting into our little boxes with divisive labels.

We also create and promote a dichotomy between what some among us label as social gospel on one side (and I am identified as one of the chief transgressors in this area, because we try to feed, clothe, and evangelize the poor) and evangelism on the other, as if these two are exclusively separate…”

The church must never allow cultural concerns or institutional interests to override God’s agenda of reconciliation, oneness, and solidarity … As God’s people, we must discard our own agendas and get on God’s agenda … We must repent of everything that has developed in our communities and regions that cuts us off from this solidarity … and this brings us all together in solidarity under our one head, who is Jesus Christ. (See Colossians 1:12-17.)
Samuel Hines &Curtis DeYoung/BEYOND RHETORIC/30-33.

Know this my beloved brethren, wrote the Apostle James: “Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. For the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rank growth of wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves (1:19-22, RSV).

It was Luther’s young friend Melancthon that suggested “It is faith alone which saves, but the faith that saves is not alone.”  Walkingwithwarner.blogspot

Friday, March 16, 2018

Ask the BIG Question

"My God, why

have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46).
Standing with the end of his rope in his hand, a young Christian saw no way out of his dilemma. In his desperation and finality, he knelt to pray: “I can’t go on, Lord,” he mumbled, “my cross is just too heavy to bear.”

Responding graciously, the Lord graciously replied, “My son, if you can’t bear its weight, put it inside this room and pick out another one; anyone you wish.”

Visibly relieved, the young man whispered, “Thank you, Lord,” and did as he had been instructed. Upon entering the other room; he saw many crosses. Some were so large he could not see their tops. There were all sizes. Just then, he spotted a small cross leaning against the opposite wall.

"I’d like that one,” he announced, and the Lord whispered back, “My son, that is the cross you just brought in.”

Crosses come in multiple sizes, and varieties. They introduce a variety of experiences as two Northern California teens discovered this when they found they were at the mercy of an out-of-control vehicle. The gas pedal of their moving vehicle stuck at sixty-five miles an hour while crossing Martinez Strait south of Vallejo, CA.

Already mid-way across; they made it through the tollgate and onto Fairfield highway, both brakes burned up. The driver steered the car off the road at seventy-five mph, ascended a thirty degree incline before plowing through trees and brush, finally slowing to between thirty and forty before both girls jumped.

The driver landed on her feet without even falling; the driverless car accelerated across the highway, crashed through the divider and back onto the southbound lane going the opposite direction. The driverless vehicle now rolled up the steep embankment, broke through the wire fence, and traveled an additional 1,056 feet before crashing into the dirt levee with a severed gas line.

When asked why they did not turn off the ignition switch, the girls admitted, “We were just too scared to think that far.”

Without someone in control, life sometimes proves terribly frightening. When life careens onward like the driverless-vehicle, it tests the faith of the strongest among us. It may leave us skeptical or it can cause us to doubt, but it will test our metal and determine the consistency of our character.

Should life find us faithless, we could share the fate of the two Irishmen, Pat and Mike. Pat, being an atheist, didn’t believe in God. Aware of this as he arrived at Pat’s funeral; Mike looked down at Pat and softly whispered, “Poor Pat, all dressed up and no place to go.”

Jesus spent thirty-three years unraveling the mysteries of human existence. Everywhere he went, he found need for exchanging whole loaves of truth for slender slices of personal human experience. Thirty-one times Matthew quoted Jesus, saying “I tell you the truth. . .” as he stretched someone’s insight and understanding and exchanged their narrow slice of experience for a full loaf of truth.

Mark, Luke, and John picked up additional threads from this gospel of Jesus. The individual threads of experienced truth proved as different as four witnesses filing their police reports on the same accident. “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples,” John heard Jesus say, “then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32, italics mine).

It was John who took note of Nicodemus trying to trade off the half-finished garment of truth he carried in his suitcase of Pharisaic traditions. John also reported Jesus conversing with Pilate. He saw Pilate as a man interested only in self-serving politics, a man whose real concern was, “What kind of authority does Jesus have?

Since Jesus was a Jewish king, was he really a king? If so; did he represent any threat to Pilate‘s provincial rule? Unsure as to why Jesus stood before him, this Roman Governor candidly inquired, “What is it you have done?” Now is the time to confess.”

Jesus spoke only of kingdoms and authorities not of Pilate’s political world of power struggles, but Pilate failed to understand, “You are a king, then! He insisted.

Jesus agreed that he was a king, but insisted that his real reason for getting involved in the world of human affairs--his Raison d'ĂȘtre, was to “testify to the truth.” He remained indifferent to the concerns ruffling Pilate and further interrupting his peace of mind.

Pilate’s reputation as a crusty career soldier made him insensitive about all things Jewish. He had offended everyone by needlessly bringing Rome’s hated eagles and Standards into the area overlooking the Temple. He had already used force to crush demonstrations against the Empire, and throughout his provincial rule he remained unnecessarily violent.

He believed in the superiority of Caesar’s armies, and in Roman law, and was probably even more puzzled than curious as to what Jesus was really talking about when he demanded that Jesus define “What is truth” (John: 18:33-38). John had heard Jesus explain to his disciples earlier that “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Pilate neither believed this nor understood it; and, John understood it only partially.

Interestingly enough, Luke didn’t use the word truth when he reported on Jesus. He scrupulously researched Jesus before reporting on him, and only when convinced of the authenticity of Jesus and the accuracy of his own reporting did Luke release his detailed report of the alleged life story, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

In his second volume, Luke revealed the disciples and the Jerusalem church gathering around them as God’s confirmation of the birth, life, and death of Jesus through the resurrection.

Jesus was the cornerstone of this new building not made with hands, which Peter declared the Jewish builders had rejected. When Peter frankly confessed the Jews had no salvation other than through Jesus, he also agreed that Jesus was [is] the truth that clarified all of our human half-truths and transforms them into sensible reality.           

Edward McDonald read these birth stories of Jesus and concluded that when God wants to do something truly important--like righting a wrong--he goes about it in a uniquely singular way. Rather than release divine thunderbolts or stir up earthquakes, he simply initiates the live birth of a tiny human baby.

The birthplace may be in the humblest of human homes; the mother may be of the humblest of peasants; but this mother’s heart holds the idea—God’s purpose, and she plants it in the mind of her baby. God then patiently waits for the seed he planted to take root, grow, and mature.

The cross did not confront Jesus by accident. Unlike the chance purchase of a one in eighty million lottery ticket, the selection of Joseph and Mary reflected a long and deliberate historical process, as well as a faithful walk of obedience to the will of God according to the best they knew. John did not miss the truth that the parents of John the Baptist lived their lives “upright in the sight of God,” and observed “all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly” (John 1:6).

Elizabeth and Mary each awaited the coming of God’s promised one. Both dared believe she could be “the one” whom God would choose to honor. Matthew and Luke both show their awareness of this God-consciousness in the leading characters of redemption’s unfolding drama that we call Christmas.

Parents like Mary and Joseph could achieve what they did in birthing and parenting Jesus only by being prepared and spiritually in tune with that internal radar system initiated by God’s eternal Spirit. Luke describes their parenting days as a process of growing stronger, a time filled with wisdom and grace: “When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord” (Luke 2:39-40).

The great events of human history are not always the battles of war, the political elections, or even the holocausts; the genocidal wars, the ethnic cleansings. The birth of a baby can and did become a human event of epic proportions. The events surrounding the birth of Jesus remind us that every child brought to the fullness of birth offers the potential for being a heavenly messenger. Every newborn baby is another reminder that God is not discouraged with humanity. God promised only one Messiah, but every new birth reaffirms God’s desire to become incarnate in each human life.

When history’s gate opened wide enough to swing on the hinges of Jesus’ life and death, it allowed more light into the room of enduring truth than any light bulb produced since time’s beginning. We respond, each in our own way. Some of us wear a replica of his cross on our lapel or around our neck--a mere ornament for some--a deep conviction for others.

The architect finds the cross a fitting symbol for designing the worship center. The cross serves as the goad driving the scholar to further intellectual pursuits, whereas the preacher who yearns to make a difference in people’s lives soon learns the cross fills the need of the human heart at any hour of any day, like no other.

The skeptic uses the cross to cloud men’s minds, whereas others find no more than a cloudy superstition. It provided an instrument of execution for the Roman soldiers crucifying Jesus; obnoxious to most, hated by many, revered by others. The cross pointed Emperor Constantine toward heaven, providing a banner by which he mistakenly thought he could convert others in his political and military conquests.

The cross branded Mary’s soul with piercing agony. The Sanhedrin viewed it as their “token of victory,” short-lived and imaginary. It guaranteed the motley crowd surrounding at Calvary one more holiday filled with more carnality and cursing than character and commitment. It simultaneously revealed to one an unexpected and eternal door into a terrible perdition, while opening an unexpected gate into a wondrous paradise to another.

For Jesus, bearing it on his back, the cross became both bier and throne, a timeless paradox predestined to eternity. For multiplied millions of storm-tossed souls, Hershel Hobbs found the sign of the cross a revelation of “an anchor, offering a haven of rest”

 The Sign of the Cross” by Hershel Hobbs,
Worship Resources For the Christian Year, ed. by Charles L. Wallis.
(New York: Harper & brothers, 1954), pp. 94-95.

This fourth word from the cross proves troublesome to even the most faithful. People that achieve great faith seldom arrive at their point of discovery without encountering troublesome questions on their journey.  Some questions offer more search than certainty; thus, the analogy of the pearl. A Pearl, like a searching question, always begins the same way--an oyster with a troublesome grain of sand.      

Jesus voiced his harshest reality from his that cross; a tormenting grain of sand that refused to disappear. Finally, his biggest of all questions exploded into words heard only by those nearest the cross of Jesus: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).

Even if Jesus was only reciting a familiar and beloved meditation, as is often suggested, the question pestered his humanity. We do not dismiss such struggles just because Jesus was Jesus. Nor, should we quench that questioning spirit when we are assailed by questions we cannot answer. Answering these nagging questions often marks our real starting point of faith, and it can launch us to a higher level of faith and maturity.

When Opal freely admitted, “God, you didn’t answer my prayer!” she entered this familiar freeway where we modern disciples frequently find our own heretofore-unexplored areas in the realm of the spirit.

Jesus met such a person one-day, a devastated dad. This man could find absolutely no one able to help him, nor could he find anyone to help or heal his critically ill son. In that moment, this despairing man passionately grasped at any and every passing straw. His noble quest eventually brought him and his young son to certain disciples of Jesus where rumors reported healing was available. Desperate Dad asked these disciples to heal his sick son. They obviously tried, as any good disciples would, but they failed miserably.

Returning about that time from the Mount of Ascension, accompanied by Peter, James, and John, Jesus quickly understood he faced a desperately hopeless situation, and no one had a solution. The frustrated disciples remained powerless. The forlorn father passionately begged for any kind of help Jesus could offer, telling Jesus his story and concluding with quiet desperation, “. . . if you can do anything take pity on us and help him.”

"If you can,” replied Jesus, “Everything is possible for him who believes.”

"I do believe,”  shrieked the anguished man. “I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:23-24).

This troubled dad might have understood Abraham Lincoln very well, when Honest Abe observed, “Probably it is my lot to go on in a twilight, feeling and reasoning my way through life as questioning, doubting Thomas did. But in my poor, maimed, withered way, I bear with me as I go on, a seeking spirit of desire for a faith that was with him of the olden time, who in his need, as I in mine, exclaimed, ‘Help Thou my unbelief.’”

Most of us are no different than this struggling father! We face days of doubt and our questions leave us vulnerable to demons of discouragement, depression, and despair. Furthermore, if we are not careful, the skepticism of our present age may challenge our sore spots. Without options, we may feel like that unhealthy victim in the barnyard being picked to death by bigger, healthier chickens.

Such unbelief can overflow unprotected shoreline like the coastal fog silently passing San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge on its way into Carquinez Strait where it blankets inland valleys. Such cold, damp skepticism can get us down on what we are not up on. Nevertheless, the true strength of our faith, the real test, is not in what we challenge but in whom we believe. To deny the reality of our doubt is not only a simplistic solution for avoiding something difficult it is to deprive us of further opportunity for developing greater faith. Faith is the one sure cure for defeating doubt.

On the other hand, doubt can carry us to a crucial fork in the road we travel and lead us into faithless disobedience. Going the other way usually carries us past doubt and leads to new discovery. Doubt often accompanies growth; and had Christopher Columbus not questioned the wisdom of his day and doubted that his world was flat, he would never have found his way to America. Confronting honest doubts often becomes a real growing pain of the soul. We would avoid it if at all possible, but we would take nothing for the experience!

We understand Jesus’ role better through this questioning word from the cross, for he shows us how he faced his cross experience but he also teaches us how we can overcome our obstacles. Had he taken a “so what” approach to truth by stoically accepting “What will be, will be,” that would have taught us nothing. Had he stuck his head into the sand of circumstance and refused to confront the sinfulness of human nature--thereby denying the substance of the Father’s demands--that would have hindered the whole purpose for which he came.

Had he chosen to do so, he could have yielded to his own frustration when things did not go right and give in to the cynicism natural humanity. However, he chose to live with the higher purpose of his Heavenly Father and surrendered that inclination of natural humanity. Ali Kazan faced then after cavorting about with his mistress. When he remarried, he wondered, “Is this what I wanted?”

Equally unsure of what they were doing, the Emmaus Road disciples agreed they “thought he was the one. . .” Confused with the events of Jesus’ trial, Peter finally returned to his fishing nets. In spite of his circumstances Jesus, nevertheless, held his focus on his objective, his heart tuned to his father’s will, and hammered away on his anvil of suffering until forging a faith for withstanding adversity straight from hell. In doing so; he opened the door of hope wide enough for all of us to enter in and find strength for today with assurance for tomorrow.

By going to the cross, Jesus’ life and ministry dramatized a living sermon titled “Facing Life Realistically.” My friend Robert used to tell me, “When I become good enough, I’m going to become a Christian and join the church.” Like others, he secretly feared that God was too big and too busy to bother with someone as little and bad, and as insignificant as he felt.

"Who am I,” we ask, “that HE should notice me? I could never be what he expects me to be anyway.” Or; we conclude that human nature remains incurable, since it is obvious this celestial experiment has continued for centuries without changing human nature one iota.

A few years ago I joined a large gathering of civic and religious leaders at the nearby University. Local clergy and the press listened to the widely advertised debate on the existence of God. Dr. Paul Weiss argued for the philosophical existence of God and Dr. Thomas Althizer outlined his “God is dead” theory. Had that been faith’s final word, I would have relinquished all religion, resigned my church ministry, and surrendered to the cynic’s despair.

I see no more than a hair of difference between their theoretical rationalities, one arguing God’s rational existence, the other arguing against God’s existence. Thank God, I still had “The One” who defers not to fatalism and does not fall into the abandonment of cynicism’s bottomless pit. On the cross, there is Jesus confronting the full impact of humanity’s wickedness and forthrightly challenging death’s nakedness by confessing God‘s loving grace.

“My God, my God, why…?

The words rang from the central cross. His soul was troubled. The vacuum was devastating as he viewed God’s handiwork in that hour (John 12:27).  Yet; Jesus experienced God personally enough and powerfully enough to be the God adequate for personal experience, practical justice, and saving security. Like all humanity; we need to face this challenge of the eternal “Why…?”

Are you among those wondering whether or not Jesus’ questions were answered? Since he obviously died on his cross, consider what we currently know:

(1)       Jesus paid for his “good” life, with a cross,
(2)       Jesus died in the despair of separation from God,
(3)       God allowed Jesus to suffer and die, without rescue,
(4)       When Jesus died, the very earth reverberated with the mourning of darkness and   turmoil,
(5)       God does not always answer “yes.”

"Does God ever answer no?” Nagging questions shock inquirers and non-believers alike. Both young and old challenge this truth when personally experienced. For the sake of achieving peak excellence, however, spiritual explorers must intentionally throw aside self-comfort. The pearl of great price can be yours, but only by becoming the precise jewel for which you will sacrifice everything else you have.

Friends called Joseph Priestly the “joyful lunatic.” One day a friend spoke to Joseph as he prepared to leave for America. “Americans are a crazy lot,” exclaimed the friend, “maybe they will let you be.” With that, he handed Priestly his coat, announcing, “There is twenty pounds of my conscience pinned in the lining of my coat.” Priestly went on to become the father of American chemists, the man we remember for discovering oxygen.           

Too many Christians have only a second hand faith they found on sale in someone’s bargain basement. They avoid asking hard questions that threaten their faith. They find it too threatening and uncomfortable to change the order of things. Their synthetic spirituality requires them to parrot the creeds of orthodoxy and attend passive entertainments that pass for worship and avoid the stigma of sins that prove toxic.

Such faith is but a cheap counterfeit, a generic capsule taken in once-a-week dosages. Such individuals remain unburied until after their prescribed three-score and ten years, although they died before reaching thirty-five having paid little or nothing. Anyone that would come after me, must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” Jesus noted (Matthew 16:24).

The disciples had hardly understood when Jesus reminded them earlier; and some did turned away and follow him no further. There have always been those who find his way too uncomfortable, too demanding, and too disappointing. However, Jesus had faced his vision quest long before arriving at the cross. His wilderness temptation at the very beginning of his ministry determined the kind of Savior he would become.

“If you are the Son of God. . .” Satan had challenged Jesus in the wilderness. “It is written,” Jesus replied, pushing forward with his goal of ministry as the Son of Man. Although he revealed the fullness of God, Jesus served with the humility of a servant (Colossians 2:6-10; 1:15-19, 26-28).

Arriving in Gethsemane shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus experienced the ultimate intensity in his struggle. Exercised in soul, sweating bloody perspiration, he prayed in full surrender, “Not as I will, but as you will? (Matthew 26:39).

As we follow Jesus in our pursuit to know him better, we begin to understand the reality of his substitutionary death. He endured what our repeating failures and undeniable selfishness called for us to endure (Romans 1:28-32). Because we persist in flopping about like fish out of water, unable to lift ourselves out of our moral quicksand by means of our failing human resources; Jesus did it for us.

He paid our penalty, although he knew no sin. He became as sin, although it was really our sin. He offered his cross as God’s personal response to human need. His suffering qualified him uniquely as our Savior, for although he was “very man” he was so much more. He broke the very principal of sin, by living above and beyond sin. He took our sin into his own death, doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Thus Paul concluded, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9-13).

Not for one moment do I doubt that Jesus suffered great anguish. He lived; he walked; and he died in the fullness of God’s love, doing it uniquely as no other. Moreover, he offered each of us a starting point for finding our own faith, beginning at his cross. There, we see him taking our place, although his word from the cross allows for the very real possibility of separating ourselves from him. Yet, he makes it abundantly clear that separation from him never expresses his will. Although he never promised an escape hatch from life’s difficult dog days, he reassures us there is a way under--over--around--through the very worst of times.

Having achieved a life more excellent than anyone ever lived before him, and having consistently pursued the truth that God sent him to reveal, Jesus yielded himself up on the cross (Mark 15:37). Admittedly, some thought he called for Elijah and took him a pacifier of drugged vinegar with which to face his death. But while the earth recoiled and the temple veil tore in half, Jesus yielded himself up to the Father, not as a sacrificial victim but as Christus Victor.

Herein is our quest. How do we find the stepping stones of faith as we put one foot ahead of the other in life’s murky waters? Outwardly, we laugh at the Little League coach who told his young team, “Here we are lads, undefeated, unscored on, and all ready for our first game.”

Inwardly, however, we yearn for the faith described by the faithful Bishop who prayed,
            Out of the shame of my coward heart,
                        Out of my night of defeat,
           Lift me, O God, to the battle again,
                        Cover my bitter retreat.

            Out of despising my weakness and route,
                        Out of the love of my soul,
            Purge me, oh purge, with the hyssop, dear Christ,
                        Give me my spirit made whole!

            Beaten, but still undefeated, I pray,
                        Thou of unconquerable hand,
            Reach me my poor broken saber again,
                        I pledge thee to die or to stand.

            By the wonder of Heaven’s forgiveness,
                        By the lovely lure of thy light,
            By the spirit of victory eternal,
                        God fling me again to the fight!
“Undefeated” by Ralph S. Cushman, Spiritual Hilltops.
New York/Nashville: Abingdon Cokesbury Press, 1932), p. 47.
In this word from the cross, the doubter finds light at the end of life’s darkened tunnel. Jesus’ followers soon learned they too would suffer the agonies of life as well as the ecstasies. Their discoveries along that path Jesus walked, somehow transformed their doubts from despair to delight.

Years in a Chinese prison shaped the character of Watchman Nee in such a way that the quality of life influenced more people than he could reach personally as an evangelist-teacher-author. Like first-century Paul, Watchman Nee’s twentieth-century life in a Chinese prison provided platform for powerfully proclaiming God’s gospel.

Like Paul, Watchman Nee’s ambition took on the theme of overcoming with Christ by participating in his triumph over death. Like Jesus before him, it took a trial and an execution to call from Watchman’s “judges, from a fellow prisoner, from his executioner, and from the common people the admission that he was a faultless man.”

“We are hard pressed … perplexed … (and) struck down,” Nee could truthfully join Paul in adding “but not destroyed.” And like Paul before him, Nee could admit in deep humility “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10, italics mine).

Chou En-lai had met all night with the founders of the Chinese Christian Three Self Movement and had personally laid down the gauntlet, clarifying official Party position on freedom of Christian witness. "We are going to let you go on trying to convert people, provided you also continue your social services,” agreed Chou. “after all, we both believe that truth will prevail.

Convinced Communism was true and that Watchman’s Christianity was false, Chou concluded, “…therefore, if we are right, the people will reject them and your church will decay. If you are right, then the people will believe you; but as we are sure that you are wrong, we are prepared for that risk." The presentation was both gracious and ruthless, but Watchman was prepared to take that risk. His detention oversubscribed his published sentence of fifteen years. He wrote his final letter ten days after completing twenty years of prison life on April 12, 1972.

"The summer sunshine can give a little colour to the skin, but it cannot affect the illness,” he admitted when writing to the beloved sister-in-law he addressed as Elder Sister. In the message he left for us to savor, Nee assured her that in spite of his illness, “…I maintain my own joy, so please do not worry. And I hope you also take care of yourself, and that joy fills your heart. Wishing you well, Shu-tsu.”

Signing the name he used when the two played together as children, Watchman wished that her “heart within be filled with joy,” and he used the “four characters: hsi-loh, (joy), and man-tsu, (full).”

“Can we perhaps detect here a twinkle in his eyes? Wonders Watchman’s biographer. The four characters, he notes, are those “used in translating the words of Jesus to his disciples: ’Ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full.’”

What the sixty-nine year old prisoner could not write without being censored, he expressed cryptically for his reader to interpret privately. Since God is always present, concluded his biographer, there is no situation on earth in which we are powerless to do anything, based on the indisputable life of detention Nee lived for twenty years.
Angus I. Kinnear, Against the Tide, The Story of Watchman Nee.
Fort Washington, Pennsylvania 19304: Christian Literature Crusade,
1973), pp. 175-180.

I remember when Watchman Nee was a rallying point for prayer on behalf of Chinese Christians during the 1960’s. Every generation since has also found itself facing situations asking “Why?” Every "Why?” offers a potential double-play that threatens to throw us out. This is
inviting you to explore your big “Why?”
It holds a potential grand-slam guaranteed to win your biggest ballgame.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Respect Requisite Relationships

Dear Woman,

                   here is your son

                                           ... Here is your mother                                                       John 19:26-27) A man in a Western state lived as a hermit years ago. After living his life in the solitude of a lonely mountain area with his herd of sheep, he made national news when he moved into a nearby valley community and took up residence in the front window of an empty shop. Living the life of a loner has limitations.

One can choose to become a hermit and live in distant mountainous solitude, but sooner or later the life’s quality becomes more enjoyable when shared with another.

The good life is most often lived in bunches and is best lived in the fullness found in relating with others like us. In spite of the ability of some like this writer, for example, to absorb lots of solitude, life most often tastes better in the plural.  It is in our family, friends, and neighborhoods that we most often find the greatest riches. It is when we interface with those we love as much as life itself that life blesses us to the optimum. It sees that relationships bless our lives as nothing else can.

By the same token, when bad times come as they always do, they seldom affect us in single, solitary actions. Our most serious moments involve concern for another, someone we love as much as of life itself, like the eight-year-old grandson I watched recover from surgery after discovering the seriousness of his Avascular Necrosis.

The threat of a hip replacement; the possibility of life in a wheelchair [like my great granddad Warner]; drew me out of my orbit of self-absorption and exposed a cluster of vulnerabilities.
Thus; our most meaningful times often become those gatherings like the family reunion, where families gather, renew, and celebrate neglected relationships and discover new family members previously unknown.

Solitary living offers some rewards, but the investments made in the larger circles beyond ourselves are the ones that most enrich our lives. I now look back and glow with pride remembering how my point of concern overcame his physical disability, became a three-year varsity defensive back on his University team and recognized co-captain with conference honors.

The Biblical Creation began with one solitary man. Seeing the dissatisfaction of Adam’s solitary life, God did not rest until he provided a helpmate. God endowed the man and his helpmate with a gregarious nature, intending for them to live in community, both with him and each other. Whereas our Western culture has placed exorbitant values upon rugged individualism, God created life to be lived in relationships.

People ask “What is in it for me?” and reflect a common choice we must all make in deciding whether our best moments are those personal or public.

John R. Mott looked at our human diversity and concluded there are only two kinds of people. Some are givers. Some are takers. Relating this to the church and faith, Mott suggested “A multitude of laymen are in serious danger.”

Dr. Mott then added, “It is positively perilous for them to hear more sermons, attend more Bible classes, and read more religious and ethical works, unless accompanying it all there be afforded day by day an adequate outlet for this new truth.”

In other words, he was insisting Christianity expresses itself best through our relationships. Being a man of prayer and great devotion, he saw the utter inconsistency of claiming to receive the Grace of God privately without sharing it with another. He understood life is never intended to be lived privately and without any accountability to any other.

Life never intended for us to receive “only” and spend it as we please, however, whenever, or wherever. We are potential participants in life through the giving and sharing of ourselves with others.

A reporter once asked one of football’s greatest coaches, Bud Wilkinson, “What would you say is the contribution of modern football to physical fitness?”

“Absolutely nothing,” replied OU’s legendary coach of the nationally televised Sooners. Pressing the issue, the reporter asked Wilkinson “would you care to elaborate?” “Certainly,” Wilkinson replied, “I define football as twenty-two men on the field desperately needing rest and forty thousand people in the stands desperately needing exercise.”

This gridiron veteran understood what hundreds of church pastors have discovered--while twenty to thirty percent of congregational teams get involved in playing the game, the majority sit in the bleachers spectate passively. They ignore the Psalmist’s warning to “Declare His glory among the nations” (96:3).

According to Dr. Mott, if a man has religion, “he must do one of two things with it; if it is false, he must give it up; if it is true, he must give it away.”

This relational word from the cross jabs us awake and elbows its way into the center of our attention. Jesus’ third word from the cross lifts up his widely practiced principle of relating responsibly to others and mutually withy others. With physical life seeping slowly from his body--like the tide returning to the sea; his concern for his beloved mother, Mary, remained personal and purposeful.

Standing before his cross, Mary this noblest of women suffered silently as women have done through the centuries. Recalling the strange circumstances surrounding the unusual birth of her firstborn, she felt the tremor in her heart as she heard the thud of the hammer against the nail heads piercing her son‘s body. Hanging as a common criminal on that cruel Roman gibbet, Mary’s memory remained distinct as fresh dew in early morning. It shaped a memory she treasured above all others.

She remembered her astonishment and wide-eyed excitement upon visiting Elizabeth in her special hours; the hushed awe of those Eastern Kings; that strange music accompanying those humble shepherds. And yes; there was that strange prayer of the prophet Simeon… but this…?

The word Mary heard from the cross revealed the humanity of her son, as he gave her, his mother, to John, the disciple he loved with “special” love. Directing Mary away from himself, Jesus charged John with her well-being. He made John a surrogate son to do what he would have done.

This word proclaims a divine perspective of a relational theology and unfolds it before our very eyes.  We are left to meditate on how much Jesus valued these human relationships so essential to all of us.

Studying the edges of the larger picture, we glimpse God’s firm approval on our homes as places where men and women live together and raise their children in the safety of a private harbor. Christian homes are secure places where members learn how to mutually relate with one another in an environment of acceptance. Our homes should be living laboratories where each enjoys patience and love, while learning how to live together. In this quiet drama, Jesus touched his finger to the pulse beat of social history and gave us “the needed corrective” for our worst of human social ills.

Epictetus, the Greek philosopher, agreed before his death that he would like for life to find him busy at something noble, beneficent, and for the good of all mankind. “But, since that is little likely to befall me,” he allowed, “I should choose next to go out remembering what is due to every relationship in life.”

Jesus, in a homely but dramatic manner, brought the best of our human intentions together: charging his followers with responsible relationships through this act of linking together the two people he most loved in life. As surely as we sow a thought, we reap an active behavior. Sow a habit and we soon reap a character. By sowing character, we eventually reap a destiny.

In spite of the truth that everything Jesus did and said reaffirms this truth, non-involvement still paralyzes large segments of our Faith Community. Parents still abdicate parental roles, neglecting to provide correction and training for their children. Couples give birth thoughtlessly and parent children fearfully, professing their fear of losing the love of a sometimes wayward and disobedient child.

Some prefer to jeopardize the future of their offspring rather than risk investing responsible parental involvement. Others are selfishly into their own preoccupations with life and leave their homes totally inadequate because they neglect making their home the training center God intended it to be, with the help of the church. These parents leave the church as effective in its spiritual warfare as a one-legged man running in a track meet.

While working at the Ann Arbor Center for the Study of Youth Policy, Ira Schwartz suggested people should only talk about children being our greatest national resource. Contradicting what most of us say we believe, Schwartz pointed to the fact that we had more children living in poverty than at any other time in recent decades. “We have more children, by far,” he suggested, “in institutions - group homes, foster homes, detention centers, psychiatric hospitals - than ever before.” That is true a decade later.

The head of a large government medical center, with a psychiatric ward of several hundred patients, reported the greatest number of patients in his wards were there because they lacked home discipline--second only to substance abuse via alcohol.

Jesus’ third word from the cross helps us understand that our homes are the foundation on which our social structures are built [rest]. What a marvelous thing God did by bringing Joseph and Mary together and providing them a son via the Holy Spirit. What an awesome influence for any father to exert upon his son, that his son would teach other men to pray as Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “Our Father … in heaven …”

God took outrageous risk with Joseph and Mary, perhaps more than our government pledging to put a man on the moon by an announced time. God made himself uniquely vulnerable. Yet, Joseph and Mary illustrate in their parental success with Jesus the overwhelming worth of the home as an institution deserving of both divine approval and human involvement.

God foresaw the value of basic relationships and he blessed the eternal consequences of those relationships. Like all couples, Joseph and Mary were free to be takers or givers. They were free to choose between responsible behavior and irresponsible living. By elevating humanity above the biological level of the animal kingdom, God endowed humanity with the capacity for moral and ethical development. Once initiated, he was beyond the point of return and he had to hold to his intentions.

In her studies, early anthropologist Margaret Mead described what has been called the exaggerated males. She found that -
            We muffle him in feminine affection, and present his father to him as
            an animated whip to enforce his mother’s role of affectionate ruler.
            All through his impressionable years he associates with women whom
            he cannot take as models, interesting and admirable as often they are.
            This being so, without being able to identify with the only adults
            he knows, denied the stimulating companionship with men, he falls
            back on the age-group, that standardizing leveling influence in which
            all personality is subordinated to a group type.
Arthur Witt Blair and William H. Burton,
Growth and Development of the Preadolescent.
(New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1951), pp. 110-111.

Much of the social breakdown in today’s family comes from the double standard forced by a male population anxious to maintain its “good ‘ole boy status,”  oftentimes supported by thoughtless Christians fearful of giving Mary equality with Joseph. We certainly need men like Joseph who will take seriously the need to provide male role-models for sons, daughters, and step-children. We need them every bit as much as we need Mary’s to complement their family’s. Every child has a civil right to benefit from  both a Joseph and a Mary model and no child should be deprived of either.

The charge Jesus gave to John and Mary at the cross finds precedent in the concept Jesus taught his disciples, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34). In like manner, Paul seemingly implies that it was the will of God for Christian believers (both husbands and wives) to become mutually submissive to each other. “Submit to one another,” Paul told his friends, “out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:22).

David Popenoe described the average American as “anxious, unsettled, and insecure,” seeing the erosion of personal relationships and failing social values. Addressing the decline in fatherhood and marriage, Popenoe called fathers one of our “two most important” role models in children’s lives, and suggested our national response should be the “reestablishment of fatherhood and marriage” as strong cultural realities. His ultimate concern “…is that slowly, insidiously, and relentlessly our society has been moving in an ominous direction - toward the devaluation of children.”
David Popenoe, Life Without Father, The Free Press (Simon & Schuster Inc. 1996), pp. 13-14. 

As the home goes, so goes the nation.  Thus, Margaret Sangster described a work-weary widow wending her way into a North Galilean village, looking like a warped toothpick. Coming out of the countryside, she accepted a small house from the villagers who saw her agony-filled eyes at near flood level. She bothered no one and the villagers avoided disturbing her, being especially kind to her since hearing the teachings of the new Galilean prophet.

That all changed one day when a brown-eyed girl fainted on her doorstep. The villagers did not accept the girl in the scarlet gown, but the widow took her in. Eventually, the widow delivered the baby and cared for him as if he were her own.

“You loved him, your son, so much that all other babies are dear to you - for his sake…?” the young woman posed the question. The older woman answered all the questions about her son’s learning, and about his cleverness, but she never spoke of how he died.

Eventually, she gave the baby a blanket for a gift, filling the young mother’s eyes with tears. The lonely old lady described making the garment. She told of waiting months for the birth of her son, and of embroidering a tiny “J” in the corner. Of course, the young mother went out telling everyone of the kindness, of her convalescence, and of the other woman’s son born in the South of Jerusalem.

As the story spread around the countryside, the youth who had fathered the infant finally stepped forward and confessed his responsibility for both the mother and the child. With the villagers visiting the aging widow, the reunited couple determined to stay. Then on the anniversary of the star, the villagers brought gifts to the widow, including a carved manger scene. Finding the feeble widow weakening, the villagers sought her blessing.

In time, she could no longer recognize them, seeing only the countryside and her own son.  “The fields of Kerioth are so green in the springtime,” she whispered “and soon he’ll be running home.” As her weakened body slipped from time, some heard her whisper, “Come home, come home, my little one, for it is bedtime. Come home. Judas. . .”
(Golden Moments of Religious Inspiration, ed. by Ruth M. Elmquist
/New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1954), pp. 28-39.
“The Mother” by Margaret E. Sangster).

A seminary Professor I once knew vacationed in the Smokies with his family. They enjoyed food at a small cafe noted for its steaks and country-fried ham where they watched a family of four enter and sit while waiting to be served. The newcomers gave their order - except for Junior, who demanded a Hot Dog. The waitress explained they had no Hot Dogs on the menu, and retreated. The family held a quick summit conference, called the waitress back, cancelled their order, and explained they would have to go where Junior could have his Hot Dog. As the home goes, so goes the church.

Many a church pew finds itself occupied by a new kind of secular critic today. This modern mind can observe a clover field filled with a drove of hogs, a herd of sheep, a flock of geese, and a herd of cattle. After a great deal of consultation, this thoughtful person still cannot determine why the hogs grow bristles, the sheep grow wool, the geese grow feathers, and the cattle grow hair--although they all feed from the same patch of clover. Similarly, Mr. & Mrs. Critic go home from church and eat ham, mutton, baked goose, and beefsteak before sleeping on a feathered pillow. Then, after a good night’s sleep, they brush their hair with a bristle brush and clothe themselves in wool. Yet, they dispassionately reject the bible as God’s Word--all because their prejudices, misconceptions, and misunderstandings cannot explain how so much variety can come out of a single field of clover.

That’s how it was when they nailed Jesus to his cross. They nailed his hands so they could not serve. They nailed his feet so they could not carry him to places of service. The heart of Jesus, nevertheless, went out to the watching crowd. Seeing his beloved mother among the bystanders, Jesus pointed her out to John and John to her. This word from Jesus to each of them incontestably condemned the religious irresponsibility of all of us who attend church and experience little more than a light case of moral intoxication.

They get just enough of the spirit of worship to make them feel good; just enough to immunize against the real thing. Being without a truly transforming experience, they feel good for having attended. They are satisfied that they are part of a worshipping community, but they fall far short of walking with Jesus and they see no need for displaying their faith through interpersonal relationships in the public arena.

Such people would not understand Nurse Sarah, whose faith followed her from her place of worship to her place of work. It fell Sarah’s lot to care for a gruff, lonely male patient who made all the nurses dread doing duty in the surgical ward. Every nurse who crossed his path found him difficult, behaving so miserably that staff members brought him his essential medications, gave him his food promptly at mealtime, and otherwise responded to his troubled and obnoxious calls only when they could not do otherwise.

Following serious surgery, the patient’s surgical wound healed nicely but his wounded spirit failed to find the needed will to get well - until Sarah Smith came to work on his floor. Warned by previous staffers, Nurse Smith called on the resources of her personal faith and began meeting his curses with smiles. She made extra trips to assure him of fresh drinking water. She inquired about his special needs. When he took a turn for the better, she smiled with evident pleasure. After a few days, the doctors began discussing his improvement and possible departure. When it finally came time for him to leave, this terrible-tempered patient in room 610 had only one question to ask. “Why have you been so nice to me?”

“What do you mean?” inquired sweet-smiling Sarah.

"All the other nurses came and went,” he explained cautiously, “doing only what their duty demanded. But, you smiled when I cursed at you. You were kind so many times when you didn’t have to be, and I’d like to know why.”

“I’ve been nice to you because God wants to love you;” Sarah Smith smiled again, confiding to her transformed patient, “I’m letting him love you through me.”

It takes a minimal amount of faith to become a Christian, but it requires an active and growing faith to become a relational Christian. It takes only a mustard seed of faith to open a bank account, but it takes a series of serious investments to convert that bank account into an active financial investment. It takes sound money management to maintain that account as a sound, growing, and profitable investment. Only serious study of the market, wise investing, and the Christian practice of stewardship and good money management principles will enable the entrepreneur to expand the worth of the account and achieve the goal of comfortable living.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich showed the life of the German people after the fall of Hitler as they viewed the truth about their country, which they had previously ignored and refused to believe. Martin Neomiller, the primary strategist for the Nazi resisters, was often heard to tell his American audiences,

            First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because
            I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I
            did not speak out because I was not a Trade unionist. Then they
            came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
            Then they came for me, and there was no one left but me.

Many in the German church believed Neomiller was being a little “wooden headed,“ but the hypocrisy of this kind of disengagement from the political process is more obvious to us more than seven decades later. It also illustrates a more serious hypocrisy that comes even closer home, offering us just enough religion to keep us from being miserable when we sin, without providing enough moral fervor to transform our lives and cause us to participate in that spiritual process.

As someone noted; many would be horrified to hear Christianity doubted, but they would be equally horrified at seeing it practiced. We are sufficiently vaccinated to feel no fever of sin when we slander our brother, gossip about our sister, or live one life in church and another at the office. Not seeing the mite in the other person’s eye can be tragic, but refusing to treat the log in our own eye quickly brings visual glaucoma.

Jesus’ third word from the cross calls us to mutually responsible relationships that make the cross itself our ultimate symbol. In speaking this word, Jesus invites all who will come within hearing range, to move beyond the subtlety of self-complacency and live on the high plain of interpersonal relationships. Practical Christianity begins with that vertical relationship of the cross, as the inquiring lawyer admitted to Jesus; i.e., loving God supremely (Luke l0).

However, when Jesus told the story of this Good Samaritan, he instructed the lawyer to “Go and practice it yourself.”  Jesus not only illustrated this pointed, pertinent, and practical lesson in Christian character; he also gave us a specific instruction. Using popular jargon, we should admit Jesus told the lawyer he needed an attitude adjustment. It is that same “attitude adjustment” that many of us need to experience anew, so we can better relate to others on our journey through life (cf. Luke 10:37, Williams).

We begin by loving God supremely. But, that beloved disciple John wrote later in life, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (I John 3:17).  He was saying we follow the model of the cross best when we share God’s grace through loving relationships and when we practice loving our neighbors of whatever color, creed, or culture as ourselves. 

For all his eloquent philosophizing about human rights, Rousseau left a poor model as he wallowed in his creaturely vomit, sneaking through the dark night of irresponsibility to leave his babies on the door of the foundling home.

This story from India helps us search for the contours of Christian character. It illustrates our interdependence by painting a verbal portrait that reveals the importance of these relationships to our own development. Dr. Wealthy Fisher recalled Sadu Sindar Singh going out with other Christian believers every winter, to witness in the remote areas across the Himalaya mountains. On one occasion when it was cold and snowing, this outstanding Indian leader stumbled across something in the snow. Uncovering the nearly frozen form of a man, Sindar Singh determined to carry the frozen victim to safety.

“No,” said Sindar’s companion, “I’m going on. We cannot make the journey ourselves if we carry him.”

Nevertheless, Sindar Singh began to carry the man, and soon he realized the warmth of the man’s body helped him to be warmer than he had been without the extra burden. As Sindar continued carrying the victim, the man began to move. After walking with his heavy burden for a long distance, Sindar saw a light. He knew it would be a house, but as he approached within about a hundred yards of the house, he stumbled over something buried in the snow. Looking down, he quickly recognized the frozen form of his former companion who had walked on ahead, leaving him to carry the nearly frozen body he had found.

The man, who had pushed forward by himself in order to save himself, had frozen to death in a snowy grave. Sindar Singh repeated the verse that crossed his mind: “He that saves his life shall lose it.” In that thoughtful dawning, he realized the man he had found in the snow had kept him alive, the same man his co-laborer had feared would become a burden and possibly cause both of them to lose their lives.

In this responsible word from the cross, Jesus shows us how to walk with him, discover life, and save ourselves. Dr. Marlin Hotle, Executive Director of the Christian Holiness Partnership, remembered attending Camp Meeting as a child and becoming confused after hearing someone disgustedly remark, “That evangelist doesn’t preach holiness. He preaches a social gospel."

Hotle had read enough of John Wesley to know that Wesley’s message caused early Methodists to wage war against slavery, and later prompted other Holiness folks to apply “social holiness” in inner-city missions.  Hotle had no problem with those who protested abuses of the welfare system, but he insisted that real holiness feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, visits the fatherless, and weeps with those in prison. He concluded that God’s holiness works for social justice
(Holiness Is a Social Gospel” by Marlin R. Hotle, Editor The Holiness Digest,
Clinton, TN.: Christian Holiness Partnership, Vol. 13, No. 4), pp. 4-5).

Those who follow the role Jesus modeled quickly discover that giving a helping hand is a sure way to find new life. By taking our cue from the life of Jesus, we rediscover what Sindar Singh discovered --life is encountered, enriched, and expanded, when we reach out with a helping hand. How thankful I am to live in a nation whose government honors this fundamental Christian concept enough that we can provide a social safety net some  denigrate by calling it “Welfare.”

Welfare reform was an idea whose time had come and no one understands that better than the disciples of Jesus: life reveals its most abundant dimensions when we allow God to freely channel his manifold blessings of grace through our lives into the lives of others.

             There’s a destiny that makes us brothers;
                        None goes his way alone:
            All that we send into the lives of others
                        Comes back into our own.
From “A Creed” by Edwin Markham.
The Best Loved Poems of the American People, ed. by Hazel Felleman,
(New York: (Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1936), p. 299.

A Scotchman had the good fortune to rescue a certain lad from a dangerous bod near Darvel. The simple Scot refused the gratitude of the Nobleman whose son he rescued, but he agreed the man could help educate his son. That Scotchman’s son went on to graduate from St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School and later discovered penicillin. His name was Sir. Arthur Fleming. During World War Two the Nobleman’s son was stricken with pneumonia, but he lived because of Penicillin. His name was Winston Churchill.

I am 
,,, looking back on a long life with solitude that I valued.
Yet: one thing I have learned as a Christian: life is relational. At its optimum, it is enhanced and enriched when shared with the Christ that teaches us how to live life at optimum best--relationally with one another.