Wednesday, January 13, 2016

If the Church was a Hospital

IF The Church Was a hospital...
A hospital is a place
               ___for recreation
                              ___for buying a house
                                             x__to get well.
A hospital is there for the benefit of
               ___the doctors,
                              ___the nurses    
                                             x__the patient
The most important function of a hospital is
               ___the parking lot
                              ___back rubs from the janitor
                                             x__patient care
The best time to take someone to the hospital is
               ___when your neighbor’s house is for sale
                              ___when your cousin’s car has a flat tire
                                             x__when they are sick
If someone gets run over by a car, the best way to help them is to
               ___tell them how bloody they look
                              ___tell everyone else how badly they are hurt
                                             x__take them to the hospital
If the church was a hospital, who would most likely represent
the hospital?
               ___the patient
                              ___the ushers
                                             x__the unsaved

The word hospitality comes from the same word from which we get hospital. A hospital is obviously a place to get well as marked), and it is for the benefit of the patient. Patient care is a hospital function and the time to get them to the hospital is when sick. They find healing not by hearing how bloody they look or hearing how sick they are but by getting them into hospital care, even emergency care.

Now if the church really was a hospital, there are some things that might be happening, according to the Scriptures: For example: consider thoughtful words  from the two most obvious leaders of the 1st century church, Paul and Peter: Romans 12:10-13 (NCV):
               “Love each other like brothers and sisters. Give each other more honor than you want for                               yourselves.
               “Do not be lazy but work hard, serving the Lord with all your heart.
               “Be joyful because you have hope. Be patient when trouble comes, and pray at all times.
               “Share with God’s people who need help. Bring strangers into your homes. . .” and
I Peter 4:7-10 (NCV):
               “The time is near when all things will end. So think clearly and control yourselves so you will be                                              able to pray.
               “Most importantly, love each other deeply, because love will cause many sins to be forgiven.
               “Open your homes to each other, without complaining. Each of you has received a gift to use to                                         serve others. Be good servants of God’s various gifts of grace.”

When a church is truly functioning as a church, it will become a place where love drives the (church) family to relate through various actions of hospitality. Church members will become channels of grace (grace dispensers of God’s healing grace), and the church will begin ministering more seriously to the sick and suffering of body, soul, and mind,be they in the hospital, at church, at home, or in jail.

Instead of disregarding its healing role, the church will attempt to stay pure not by shooting its fallen and wounded comrades but by launching efforts to restore the fallen while also reaching out to the unreached.

Carl Stagner wrote a wonderful piece in the ChogNews of 11-25-15 describing a fallen California pastor being reconciled with the church where he fell.  I know other places where this story needs to be repeated, where estranged individuals need to be reconciled, where broken and fallen and failed people need healing … if only the church would obediently become the hands and feet of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose Ambassadors God has called us to be.

Paul described his conversion as a time when he no longer viewed other people as the world views them. Instead, he began to view them as God looks at them (sees them) cf 2 Cor. 5:16-21.

Thanks Pastor Paul for the wonderful challenge Sunday using the six questions at the beginning. You certainly challenged me to re-visit this critical question
from a different perspective ...

in Warner’s World,  

Friday, January 8, 2016

American Affluence

American affluence, for the family of Ethan Couch of Fort Worth, TX it offers a diagnostic tool for decriminalizing behavior that resulted in criminal charges being leveled against the “alleged” victim. American affluence prompts global residents of all colors, creeds, and cultures to utilize any behavior necessary to gain public access into the United States. That American affluence prompts a multitude of Americans today to “politic” for whatever means necessary to preventing those same global residents from accessing American soil, except under very controlled circumstances. Simply stated, American “affluence is a major problem today for all Americans.

Meanwhile, David Callahan makes the very legitimate observation that we the American people are “a country filled with VIP lounges, personal assistants, chartered jets, exclusive restaurants, luxury hotels, and private golf clubs; a country where super rich celebrities and sports stars reign as demigods, where the wealthy engineer superior looks and health through expensive medical intervention; a country soaked in poisonous envy spurred on by a $250 billion advertising industry; and a country where millions of affluent people live behind guarded gates.”1

Our affliction has resulted in a huge political battle that consumes America today and causes some to charge others with envying the extravagance of “the top 1 percent of households (that) control more wealth than the entire bottom 90 percent combined.”2 My reaction to this struggle is to ask both sides this question:  “Honestly, just how much would it take to meet your emotional and spiritual expectations?  That question needs to be answered by both the 90 percent who continue to lobby for even an even greater share of the gross wealth, as well as by those who are simply trying to carve out a rightful share of their piece of the pie.

Truthfully, we can make a strong case for poverty contributing to corrupt character, social disengagement, and political suicide. It must also be argued that economic abundance does not truly measure happiness, health, and wholeness.  It seems that both sides of this political issue need to ask: “Is our American dream of peace and prosperity a practical reality, a vain illusion, or mere Madison Avenue marketing?”  Whatever your answer, it remains for each Christian Disciple to discern for themselves what is a “Christian attitude” about personal wealth as a follower of Christ?

An old letter, found in the Bible as John III, offers insight into this issue of affluence.  A certain friend challenges the local church leader for refusing hospitality to certain church visitors.  The recipient of this letter, named Gaius, apparently received the guests anyway.  Extending hospitality and ignoring the admonition of the friend has led to the dismissal of Gaius from the congregation--by one identified only as the inhospitable Diotrephes.

The author of the letter, John, seems to imply that Diotrephes accepts no authority but his own; i.e., he pleasures himself before others, all of which is a common problem in today’s American church. But note how the Prophet John prays for Gaius to “enjoy good health and that all may go well with” you, even “as your soul is getting along well” (III John 2 NIV).

The Public shares a common interest in prosperity as we enter 2016.  Nonetheless, hucksters of every persuasion pander to public persuasion while peddling their particular brand of “success gospel.” Creflo Dollar remains but one of a host of social and religious “Prophets-for-profit” who equate success and wealth with God’s blessing. On the other hand, a multitude of needy people occupy the global focus today and there are those who hesitate to relate this material prosperity and spiritual blessing to any kind of spiritual equation,.
Truthfully, some of us have learned that life does not always bring equal proportions and we wonder whether or not much comfort remains for one so sorely tried as Gaius. Perhaps John’s prayer for his friend can bring it into clearer focus for all of us.
John brings a divine dimension into prosperous living. By offering “soul insight“ he implies that the balance sheet of any individual or institution has justifiable correlation one with the other. Thus, we join Gaius in better understanding that soul prosperity means that inner personal prosperity that we should all strive for, first and foremost. 

John is consistent with other Bible teaching that elevating affluence, and freedom from annoying poverty, above soul prosperity often depletes the inner self and denies life’s higher values. Accumulation of money, possessions, and status has little real bearing on one’s true soul prosperity. Of course, this contradicts the ideology that as humans we even have a soul, as separated from the things of this material world. It may be noted, however, that preoccupation with such may result in an overdose of what America is afflicted with today, which is “extreme individualism, obsession with money, and social Darwinism, or survival of the economic fittest.”  
It seems that Gaius has conducted himself, as one “walking in the truth,” and John suggests that Gaius has internal abundance in both precept and practice. Not to believe in the right brings spiritual bankruptcy before one ever begins. Building one’s life on less-than-essential truths impoverishes the spiritual self. Consequently, John’s commendation of Gaius suggests “you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers.” This only further reaffirms what John heard from Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount. 
This suggests that how we act or behave assesses most accurately what it is that we most truly believe. Quantity and quality of life intersect here with our belief and our behavior. Practicing soul prosperity implies that whatever material blessings and physical benefits we may possess; they are all subject to whatever divine purpose guides us. Gaius prospered spiritually, John suggests, because he followed the rules of the inner person rather than the outer self.  He possessed himself and his circumstances, rather than being possessed by his circumstances.

On the other hand, self-reliance and radical individualism can morph into selfishness and self-absorption, as has happened today in the political arena of Western Capitalism and the free market economy. When the bottom line wins competitiveness most often sinks into the cesspool survived by only the most financially fit.

God casts contempt upon neither material prosperity nor physical health.  Neither does he predetermine one person to health and wealth and other individuals to poverty or poor health.  How much wealth or health we have is never a question with God. The gift of life and is accumulations all come as an undeserved gift from God, and it all remains a vehicle for serving others in the name of God, regardless of one’s circumstance.          

William Temple, the noted British church leader and essayist concluded that believing Christianity is the most materialistic religion in the world.  He understood that true Christians take life’s material side of life seriously.  That being the case, as disciples of Jesus we intentionally subject our search for affluence and security to the scrutiny of our inner values, i.e., soul prosperity.
When John prayed for Gaius, he confidently affirmed for Gaius and for us that whatever the day brings, joy and blessing will result when we receive it in faith.  The faithful steward will see the hand of God behind every blessing. This personalizing of faith, enables us to prayerfully practice true “Christian stewardship” by submitting all our accumulations to Christ’s lordship as Kingdom assets rather than personal assets. 

When the haves share with the have-nots, God blesses each in accordance with their need. So: does this speak to the affluent victim of “affluenza?” How does this apply to current discussion of emigration politics, and to other political views? Well: just how strongly do you insist upon practicing true spiritual values as the true basis for the good life as you know it?  The prayer of John for Gaius is that your days may “prosper according to the prosperity of your best self.  May truth guide you eternally, as you walk in the truth enlightens our journey.

Whatever level of prosperity you enjoy, or suffer; can God trust you to use his gifts wisely, as coming from Him?  Can God trust Americans to share with the world that he truly wants to bless?  It is in giving life that we discover new life--like Gaius. Or, as another oft-quoted early Christ follower wrote, “God has made us what we are. In Christ Jesus, God made us to do good works, which God planned in advance for us to live our lives doing” (Ephesians 2:10 NCV).
            1 David Callahan, The Cheating Culture, (Orlando: Harcourt, Inc., 2004, p62).
            2 Callahan, 18.

From Warner’s World, I am

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Pope: Pastoral? Political?

As a lifetime Protestant with strong Third Reformation (Anabaptist) heritage, I reject the governance practices (polity) of the Vatican Church State, as well as that of the State Church of Luther. I do support separation of Church and State and thank my Anabaptist forebearers for paving the way for the Free Church in America.

Having said that; I support the Pastoral Ministry of this Vatican Pope (Francis) and the moral authority with which he speaks. He is speaking to these very universal and humanitarian issues, although he is not my Papa. I am reading with considerable amusement the repetitious declarations of the News Media, and even some of my Protestant peers who need to update their Church History. The Media speaks regularly regarding the Pope departing from his pastoral corner and fearlessly jumps into (not avoiding) the political. With all due respect for separation of Church and State; and I do separate them, I find the Media reflecting a common misperception of the Media, as well as of others.

When referencing Emigration, Climate Control, et al; the Pope is (1) reflecting our American Founders political choice of Freedom OF RELIGION (including a free church) and not freedom FROM RELIGION. That Free Church and freedom OF religion  rather than FROM religion allowed Roger Williams to be a non-conformist in a Puritan culture and resolved other problems in founding Catholic Maryland. It allows The A-THEIST to live outside of religion if s/he so chooses but it does not  give him/her the right to arbitrarily deprive others of religion as the a-theist is prone to do in that predatory secular culture.

(2) The Pope is reflecting a pastoral issue! In my eight decades there has never been a time when treating others like we want to be treated was not a Christian teaching. While some people attempt to confine such issues as climate control, emigration, et al, to politics, these have  been humanitarian issues of Christian Stewardship since before I was born (the week Lindbergh flew his plane to Paris J). I grant you, the Church has allowed others to re-define its message and say what is pastoral and what is simply political, but that does not mean it has always been that way, nor does it mean it is biblical and confined to politics.It is a universal, humanitarian issue that is of significant importance to people's health and well-being, beyond any financial considerations.

Paraphrasing Jesus, he said we will be known by the fruits we produce. He specifically told his disciples they would be known by their love for one another and he strongly taught that if we follow him we will love one another and be known by that love (John 13:34). Elsewhere, he gave the example of the good Samaritan in Luke 10. In that instance, the command Jesus gave to the Lawyer  to go and do likewise (v. 37) might just as well have been spoken of one American and one Muslim. The Jews and mixed Samaritans hated each other just that badly.

From Warner’s World, I join those who hope and pray Pope Francis will lead America back to the altars of prayer and devotion, and the faith on which our American culture is built.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Confession of Faith

In E. Stanley Jones autobiography he recalled being in an evangelistic series in Columbia, S.C. back in the thirties.  Those were days of hard core segregation and relationships were sensitive. “I was on the side of human rights,” Jones remembered, “for I was bound in every man’s bondage. I could only be free in every man’s freedom…”

Jones felt that he should say something that evening, but freely admitted he “didn’t want to do so. So I put it off till the last minute, hoping I could be excused.” Later, as he entered the pulpit, he admitted “the inner voice said, ‘You’ve got to.’ So I hurriedly wrote out a note and before I spoke I read it to the audience.” Following is what he wrote:

      Before I give my address, I am reading an obituary notice which will           come as a shock to the friends of the deceased: Democracy died today         in the city of Columbia when American citizens were denied the right to       vote because of the color of their skins. For those who have eyes to see,       the ballot box will henceforth be draped in mourning.’ Shall we pray.”

One verse of Jones’s Song of Ascent is his “Christian Confession of Faith,” There was but one way according to E. Stanley Jones, God's Way, and his faith in God affected every facet of his life, as attested by his experience in Columbia, S. C. that evening, and as attested by his many books, which include The Way (1946 Devotional). As you read his testimonial, consider how your faith should influence every facet of your life:

“The Christian way is not an alien way; it is … the natural way to live  ... I am made in my inner
structure and outer relationships by Christ and for Christ; and when I find him, I find myself.

“And I find my brother. I find how to live as an individual and as a member of society. I am made for Christ as the eye is made for light. I can no more live without him than the eye can live without light.

“ … ‘Without him (Christ) was not anything made that was made ‘(John 1:3); ‘trough whom he (Christ) created all orders of existence’ (Heb. 1:3 NEB). Here are … John, Paul, and the author of Hebrews—saying … that all things, visible and invisible, in heaven and on earth, have been made by Christ and for Christ.

“If this means anything, it means I am structured by Christ and for Christ; in my makeup, it means I am made for him. The church has apparently never taken these passages seriously. It has quoted Augustine’s saying: ‘O God, thou hast made us for thyself, and we are restless until we rest in thee.’

“But these passages are more specific … When I live in him, by him, and for him, I live; if I live some other way, I tend to go to pieces—I perish. I may hold together in the pressures of a semi-Christian environment in a semblance of living, but … I am under the law of decay.

“ … I am destined by my makeup to be a Christian. I may live against that destiny, for I am still free; but … I get hurt—physically, spiritually, mentally, socially … I don’t know how to live. If I live in him, I do know how to live—this is the Way. Dogmatic? No, proved fact …”

Friday, September 18, 2015

Witnessing to Life in Christ

In early October 1996, I spent a weekend at a Kairos Retreat in the Carson City, MI prison. We were an interdenominational group of Christian men involved in the Upper Room Movement and we were meeting with a group of prison residents in the Number Two Prison facility at Carson City .  Among the visitors was an older retired UMC Minister by the name of Clarence Hutchens. Clarence had a relationship with Asbury College and Seminary that went back many, many years.

After Clarence discovered my affection for E. Stanley Jones, he mailed me a copy of Jones’s autobiography, A Song of Ascents. I had learned of it, yearned greatly to read it, and Clarence sent me a copy, or his copy, with his signature in it. This many years later, I am deeply indebted to this elder brother in ministry. Thank you, Clarence! It is one of the numerous books that I will not part with until I take my leave from this earth and enter the corridors of the celestial.

With that word, I share  “Witnessing to Life in Christ” according to E. Stanley Jones. This is but one of the many lessons from life Jones learned in his lifetime of walking with Jesus Christ as both Savior from the lostness of humanity on its own and as Lord of life.  

               “When you find Christ and His Kingdom, you find yourself. I can only testify:

               Bound to Him and His kingdom I walk the earth free; low at His feet I stand straight
               before   everything and everybody.

               I have served Him these seventy years but I have never made asacrifice for Him.  Sacrifice?
               The sacrifice would be to tear from my heart this wonderful ,increasingly wonderful, thing
               He brought me when I entered His kingdom.

               When my left hand begins to shake, as it has begun to shake at eighty-seven, precursor of
                the final shaking to the dust of my mortal body,  I smile and say;

               ‘But I belong to an unshaken kingdom, and to an unchanging person, so shake on, you will
               shake me into immortality.

               And when the final shaking comes, falsely called death, but which I know to be only an                anesthetic which God gives when He changes bodies, I know this final shaking will only do
               what it did to Paul in prison:

               Loosed his fetters and bade him go to an awaiting home where love and joy abound.
Dr. E. Stanley Jones

*This was the word I shared with my father late in his life. He died the last day of 1990, three days shy of 85 (I have now passed him by some 3.5 years) …

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Good or God?


That is the question John Bevere asks in his 2015 publication published by Messenger International, the publication arm of Bevere ministries. Why is good without God not good enough? Bevere seeks to understand and clarify this question.

Bevere is a new writer-speaker to me so I received this new publication rather cautiously, although it came with high praise after my son heard him speak in Minneapolis, I assume at Substance, a megachurch ministry led by Peter Haas. Having repeatedly encountered this possibility through contacts with numerous social justice groups, I was captivated with the concept that good is not good enough without God. It is a question that deserves consideration in lieu of so much social conflict round about us, with so many taking up social justice causes, there being so much civil unrest, racial tension, political stress, ad infinitum.

The author began with a clear attempt at discerning both good and evil. I found his scriptural reference in Hebrews 5:11-12, 14 (NLT) full of suggestive thought: ”But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” That made sense to me and seemed pretty orthodox.

It wasn’t until chapter four that he suddenly challenged me by making a distinction in the ministry of Jesus, emphasizing a difference between the Lordship and Jesus the Savior (48-49). Here, as elsewhere, he made good use of the marriage relationship to clarify the walk of the Christian with Jesus as Savior and Lord. He clarified this way (49): “I have sometimes referred to Lisa as my ‘little gourmet chef.’ I may have called her this a dozen or so times through our marriage, but more properly, in the past thirty years I’ve referred to her thousands of times as my wife. Why? Because that declares the position she holds in my life. The other title conveys a benefit I’ve received from her being my wife.”

Continuing: “Just because Lisa cooks for me doesn’t mean I belong to her. When I was single … she made me an amazing meal. That didn’t give us a lasting relationship. It was the covenant I made to forsake all other girls and give my heart solely to her as husband that solidified our marriage relationship.” Forgiveness of sin via Jesus the Savior is not quite the same thing as submitting to His lordship, ownership and rule in our lives.  

I thought of the professed Christians I have known who accepted the forgiveness of sins while utterly rejecting the notion that he influence our lives in daily and public behavior. Accepting one without the other is like my marrying my wife but reserving the right to spend one day, or other specified time, having  a fling with other women, or with a specific other person – a marriage relationship that does not build!

Chapter nine deals with a word with which I grew up in my Faith tradition – “holiness.” I was also familiar with his reference (Hebrews 12:14) but the translation was very contemporary (NLT): “Work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.” Coming from a tradition nurtured by the Holiness Movement, I found Bevere’s writing very different in language, but very authentic, clear, biblical and life applicable. He described a religious experience, with which I was very familiar, but it came in language that was very contemporary and non-traditional, yet I could not possibly misunderstand or disagree with it.

I was forthrightly surprised at the author’s candidness in writing. There is a common criticism abroad that suggests pastors/churches dilute their message in order to acquire their large listening audience. On page 153 Bevere described a devotional moment he experienced when finding himself directed to read from Revelation 3:2, which offers this frank declaration: “Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God” (NLT). I confess to being more than a little surprised at his frankness in writing; I had to admit he was simply telling it like it is, without gloss or spin. Yes, I liked that quality in his writing.
Bevere speaks to our contemporary society, a culture that has a huge religious tilt, but remains a culture steeped in myopic narcissism, anti-authoritarianism, and the lawlessness of libertarian politics. Would I recommend your reading it? NOT if you want to stay the same as you were when you started reading; John Maxwell does recommend the book, and I know many of my peers revere him.

Most of all: give some serious consideration to the concept that just maybe good without God is NOT GOOD ENOUGH. This is Warner’s World and I am

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Laying hold of the Greatness of God

Pastor Jeff began a new sermon series this morning on who God is. Perhaps I should confess that whenever I find pastors these days proliferating their ongoing series of sermons, I always find myself wondering who I am hearing  - Pastor, or John Maxwell, or Bill Hybels, or Max Lucado, or . . .

I can’t say I never borrowed a sermon I heard preached or lifted from a book, but I generally edited the outline so as to make it my sermon without putting up quote marks. So, this conversation is probably one-sided and unfair. I find Jeff an excellent teaching pastor, Whatever it is worth, Plato the Greek Philosopher, also left us a small jewel of wisdom worthy of the ages, when he concluded that “The life which is unexamined is not worth living.”  

It could be reasonably claimed that our information age is the most psychologized, analyzed, and criticized (critiqued) of any age in modern history. However, over indulgence and preoccupation, with self-examination, can make life more difficult. I would even go so far as to suggest that life without examination most surely leaves life with an inadequate sense of meaning.

Various theorists are committed to selling the general public on the idea of unlimited human achievement and self-directed living. That fits into the mindset of most secularists and humanists, for our formerly Christianized culture is rapidly turning rabidly secularist, humanist, and democratic.

Such persons argue that we have no limits, that we can change our lives, and that we are only held back by the limitations of our own belief system. On one hand, numerous new-age thinkers promise us we can be in total control of our own destinies. Some few will confess, however, that despite the best efforts at our being TAed, TMed, Rolfed, assertiveness –trained, consciousness-raised, and blissed out, they frequently find living more difficult than ever.  

A while back, I read a small volume of sermons entitled A Glory In It All. Written by John Knox in 1985 and published by Word at Waco, it contained the post-eighty reflections of a man wanting to live-out his remaining days with as much intention as possible. Knox recalled the biblical story of the Rich Young Ruler meeting Jesus and concluded, “We all come to life running and eager; too often we limp out of it sorrowful and disillusioned.”

Sooner or later, most of us will, like Knox, encounter the fact that we will never achieve the dreams of our youth. A few fall short of expectations. Others experience disappointment with their achievements. As a youth, I envisioned a certain level of greatness. Decades later, I find myself a well-seasoned senior, and the years continue piling high on life’s beach at high tide during a storm. As the waves continue rolling in with unrelenting frequency, I find myself forced more and more to accept the limitations of both my human abilities and the inevitability of my pending mortality.

Experiencing that truth, suggests Knox, is one of the “most serious crises of our lives,” yet out of it comes new opportunities. Seldom does crisis ever enter our lives without bringing with it a positive opportunity  for discovering a new and better possibility. These come as gifts from God.
Rather than waiting until life is about to conclude; they come throughout life bringing equal opportunity to each and every individual, freely and without discrimination. They come offering all of the “greatness” of God that our hearts can possibly hold.

Thus, Sidney Lanier’s verse in “The Marshes of Glynn” becomes highly suggestive and meaningfully expressive for me when he writes,
     As the marsh hen secretly builds on the watery sod,
     Behold I will build me a nest on the greatness of God.  
     I will fly in the greatness of God as the marsh-hen flies
     In the freedom that fills all the space ‘twixt the marsh and the skies.
     By so many roots as the marsh-hen sends in the sod
     I will heartily lay me ahold on the greatness of God.

But, back to Pastor Jeff’s sermon on the God Who Is. Remember when God called Moses at the burning bush? Remember what Moses heard when he demanded to know who was calling him? God said, “I am who I am!” - I am is Alpha and the Omega, beginning and end ...  

When Moses learned who was calling, he discovered who he was: not just another Hebrew slave baby headed for extinction, he was the Hebrew Prince that a mother’s faith led into the House of Pharoah where he would grow up and become the Messiah of the Exodus.

In laying “ahold of the greatness of God” we discover the truth of life thyat is stuffed full with the abundance and greatness of The God Who Is. . .

I am