Saturday, February 28, 2015

Kingdom of Peace

Saul of Tarsus became a Christ-follower when following Jesus was easier said than done. As Apostle to the Gentiles, he entered a demolition derby! Warfare, racial strife, and special-interests polluted his landscape, undermining both individual and community interests.

Seeking to convert people, Paul invited audiences to repent of their personal sins and the failures of their culture by confessing Christ (Eph. 4:1, 7, 26). He admittedly terrorized people in the name of God before God rescued him from the tyranny of his legalism. Following his Damascus Road experience, Paul no longer regarded others “from a worldly point of view” (2 Corinthians 5:16, NIV, emphasis added).

Paul’s encounter with Jesus redefined his humanity, added new dimensions to his life, and transformed him into an Ambassador of Jesus Christ. Paul, especially commissioned, now represented God’s kingdom of peace (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). By the time of his death, his epitaph could have read, “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

When introducing Jesus into Athens, Paul first acknowledged their traditional beliefs and built on that. After establishing a common ground, Paul shared his new resurrection perspective and reflected on how God lives, moves about, and resides (has his being) in all humanity (Acts 17).

Of course the Athenians rejected Paul’s resurrection message as a wild herring. But rather than further defend his teaching, Paul trusted the Spirit of God to guide them and sustain him. With no ill will, and without debating cultural issues, Paul moved on like a prophet of old, maintaining the good will of the people. He urged them to trust in God and left them in God’s hands.

Arriving in Ephesus, he saw certain infantile views in the church and invited them to mature spiritually by enlisting under the Supreme Command of Christ. Put on your spiritual armor. Wear the grace that only God gives (Ephesians 6:10; 4:14-16; 1:6-7).

When we view each other through our natural eyes, we elevate our natural human hostilities. On the other hand, Jesus commissions us to offer love that unifies differences and forgiveness that reconciles broken relationships (Matthew 28:19-20). Wherever we go, amid the wars and rumors of wars that continually confront us, Our Lord invites us to be peace-makers. If we have nothing else to give, at least offer a cup of cold water to the stranger – in His Name!

One June evening at Church Convention I met a black man. James Earl Massey’s greeting to me passed quickly: “May the peace of God be with you, my brother” His word of “Shalom” prompted me, however, to re-consider the words Jesus spoke to His disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” Therefore, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and ... afraid” (John 14:27, NIV).

We were two men passing in the mass of pedestrians, carrying the baggage of differing ethnicities in a world filled with turbulence, terrorism, broken lives, and fragile relationships. Together, however, we shared a peace affirmed by songwriter Barney Warren. He described it as a joy he could not otherwise express, a theme that fortified his life and remained “sweet to his memory”. There really is a “Kingdom of Peace”:

               ‘Tis a kingdom of peace, it is reigning within,
                              It shall ever increase in my soul;
               We possess it right here when He saves from all sin,
                              And ‘twill last while the ages shall roll.1
               1 “The Kingdom of Peace” Barney E. Warren. Worship the Lord, Hymnal of the Church of God. Anderson, IN: Warner Press, Inc., 1989, p. 481.

In Warner’s World,

I am

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Plant Soy Beans!

Robert Manor, a Nazarene Pastor, told this illustrative story in a small book he wrote a few years back on Making the Small Church Grow (NPH/Kansas City). Brother John is the hero of the story. This southern cotton planter raised cotton until hard times brought him harsh difficult financial losses.

Threatened with bankruptcy, John eventually requested a loan from his banker. The Banker agreed to finance him, but only conditionally. John must follow the bank’s instruction specifically. 

“Plant peanuts and soybeans” the banker announced. Having no other option, John reluctantly agreed. He planted peanuts and soy beans as agreed. Larger profits resulted. John enjoyed four profitable years and finally returned to the banker, who agreed, “You are out of debt and on your own.” 

John scarcely believed what he was hearing and exclaimed, “You mean I‘m free of debt and on my own? Upon receiving the affirmation of his banker friend, Brother John was overheard wistfully sighing; “now I can go back to planting cotton.” 

We laugh at the story as a business model, but the picture we see is precisely what most local congregations do in real life. We survey our harvest fields, but we see mainly cotton. When the people we see are different, we feel uncomfortable; yet Jesus said,  “Look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest” (John 4:35, NKJV). Consequently, we accommodate what we see with our comfort zone and we continue planting cotton when we should plant peanuts and soy beans (italic added).

We are not the first people to live in a changing society, nor will we be he last. First-century life knew only cheap labor and slavery. Labor was hard. Slaves were plentiful and there were more where they came from. Nonetheless, Jesus modeled lifestyle evangelism and trained His disciples extensively. Divine confirmation came to His bewildered band of disciples when He reappeared among them within weeks after the cross.

It is true that people look and act differently from many of us, but all people everywhere need the gospel. We can take heart from the encouraging words of Jesus, rather than peeking out through our window shade at an uncomfortable “worst-ever” world scenario. As the Disciples’ grew in their understanding, they witnessed - beginning in Jerusalem.

The story of Jesus’ resurrection raced across Judea-Samaria like a lightning bolt! Wafting on the winds of God, their message drifted across the continents. As evangels today, we can do no less. We have a story that suggests we use every means available to influence others to faith in Christ’s atonement on the cross. Every thought, word, and deed that we use should inform people about Jesus and what living for him means.

Global needs today obviously require some rearranging of personal priorities and extending the boundaries of our individual comfort zones as needed. Therefore, let the church make the necessary adjustments.

1. Plan for personal growth
    by developing specific and measurable strategies for determining how well we are succeeding as
    Christ’s evangels.

2. Avoid activities that service only congregational machinery.
    The church needs dependable workers and program personnel. Model tithing and good stewardship     by intentionally developing at least one outreach worker for every nine maintenance workers; God     uses all ten. 
3. Encourage others to set goals and objectives.
    Mobilized members can free staff members to follow their calling of training and equipping                 members.
    Free your church staff to develop their gifts in facilitating, coordinating and training the                       congregation (Eph. 4:11-12).

4. Unreached people in your community mean potential growth.
    The harvest is “already white for harvest” (emphasis added). Jesus calls us to maximize the                 harvest  and avoid the ruts that come with being small, barely maintaining, and staying plateaued.

Being small is never sin, unless we disobey.
Do we need to look beyond the familiar?  

Does the Church of God need to stop planting cotton and begin raising peanuts and soybeans?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Bible and Economic Security

Our Endangered Values

Regarding Poverty:
1 verse in 16 in the New Testament refers to money or the poor,
1 verse in 10 in the 3 gospels,
and 1 verse in 7 in Luke.
Beginning the 21st century the average income in the
20 richest nations of the world was $27,591;
20 poorest nations was $211.00,
 average U. S. income about $55,000.
Carter did call the United States the stingiest of the industrialized nations.
With a gross income of $11 Trillion we gave poor nations but $.16 cents per $100.
Our total donations still equaled only $.22 cents per $100.
In the great tsunami, 11 nations equaled 200,000 fatalities
whereas 165,000 die of malaria monthly,
140,000 die of diarrhea monthly, and
240,000 die of aids monthly.
American Executive salaries (CEO’s) went up from 40 times to 400 times the average worker’s pay, while wages fell for the average worker in 2004, for the first time in many years.

American arms manufacturers and our Nato allies provide 80% of International weapons sales.

I copied these statistics some time ago when I read this book. On rediscovering my note card, I thought I would share his statistics………………….
They reveal the heavy emphasis upon poverty in the Bible.
This challenges the seriousness of our Christian stewardship,
for they show Americans living far better than most of the world.
This, I believe, is an issue most of us do not really want to deal with realistically.
Casting it off as Communistic or socialistic theory frees us to
ignore the ethical demands of the Bible for sharing our blessings.

Carter called us the stingiest of industrialized nations. While this is something we refuse to admit of ourselves. it remains true, unless his figures lie. They suggest how heavily weighted the slant of our political system really is. We favor the wealthy, and we continue to allow politics to broaden the gap between the affluent and the vulnerable, and leave increasingly fewer of us in between.

We do this by our insistence on continuing to ignore the broader scope of the issues and continuing to vote for our favorite party line. Both parties have faults but both parties do not support the continuation of these statistics as they presently exist.

Should we ever again become a people of The Book, 
and a nation governed By the people Of the people, and For the people, 
these statistics will change. 

And if you should wonder where the first use of the words “by, for, and of” the people came into use, go back and read John Wycliffe. He first used this expression in his endorsement of his Wycliffe Translation of the Bible during the 14th century English Reformation.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Maintaining Focus

            The Apostle Paul traveled widely, but he never lost his sense of direction. Paul knew at all times where he came from and where he was going. He held his objective in focus at all times, giving us a model that suggests we need never lose our passion for people, whatever pressures we face.
            Like Paul, it is sometimes necessary that we “press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold” of us. That passion to share Christ’s love led Saul to become Paul, the colorful Christian Apostle who included anything within reach, in order to convey the customs, history, and language that shaped his rich heritage (Acts 13:14-43; 22:2; 23:6-9). Not the least of Paul's doctrines was the resurrection.
            Stephen Carter argues that as Christians we need this kind of focus, but he insists it calls for a forthright personal demonstration that is more than mere public relations and the purposeful slanting that form much of our national habit. Carter insists we need simple terms for telling others what we mean (Integrity/NY/ Basic Books/ 1996/37).
            Like Paul, one of the issues we frequently face is the resurrection. Did it happen? Was Jesus fact, fiction, or fraud? Without Paul’s doctrine of the resurrected Savior, our Bible doctrines mean little, and offer no more than a hope chest full of empty drawers (I Corinthians 15:13). I find encouragement in Paul’s doctrine, however, when I turn to the biographies of great Christians and read their testimonies.
            Helping me maintain focus, along with Paul, is John Jasper, who lived fifty years as a Virginia slave, including twenty-five years as a gospel preacher. Jasper died March 28, 1901, following thirty-five years of shepherding Sixth Mount Zion church of Richmond, Virginia. His biographer describes that first Sunday of March, when the eighty-eight year-old slowly mounted his pulpit (Richard Ellsworth Day/ Rhapsody in Black, the Life Story of John Jasper/Valley Forge, PA/The Judson Press, 1953/141-142).
            After reading from the book of Revelation, Jasper removed his glasses, delivered his valedictory sermon, and concluded with a dramatized conversation with an unnamed angel, recorded in the dialect of that day.
            “Now, Mr. Jasper, you can see all de folks you’se preached ‘bout. Want ter see Moses?”
            Yes, “I wan’ ter see dem,” The conversation gently rocked back and forth throughout the Old Testament honor roll. Finally Jasper agreed “but, not now.” He did not even want to see his mother!
            The exasperated angel fairly shouts, “Well, John Jasper, who does you wan’ ter see, anyhow?”
            Standing tall, the preacher and former slave, stretched forth his long arms with whited palms heavenward, and cried “O Angel! Jes’ lead me befo’ de Great White Throne and let me gaze a thousan’ years inter de face uf my Jesus!”
            Jasper completed that sermon but fell ill before the following Sunday. He rallied on March 28, long enough to whisper “I have finished my work. I am waiting at the River, looking across for further orders.”
            His departure epitomized a mindset reflecting the focus of the Apostle Paul. It adds perspective to what we as believers must never forget, as we transition from one difficult assignment to another: 
      Time is filled with swift transition,
      Naught of earth unmoved can stand,
      Build your hopes on things eternal,
      Hold to God’s unchanging hand.

I am walkingwithwarner,

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Transforming Terrorism into Testimony

I have long been an admirer of E. Stanley Jones, the longtime Methodist Missionary to India and lifelong friend of Mahatma Gandhi. I first encountered Jones in 1944, when a sixteen-year-old. I had ridden the bus from South Haven, MI to Anderson, IN to attend the combined June 1944 International Youth Convention-Camp Meeting of the Church of God. That was a huge venture for both the church, working with a war-time economy, and a boy who grew up under very narrow constraints. 

It was also the beginning of a literary journey on which I discovered daily devotionals like The Way. On that road I encountered volumes such as The Christ of the Indian Road, The Christ of the Round Table, Christ at Every Road, and others including his classic Conversion. The quintessential for me was Jones 1968 spiritual auto-biography that he entitled A Song of Ascents.In it, he recorded his song of life as a Christian.

I did not obtain this last volume until I met Clarence Hutchins, a fellow Kairos visitor at the #2 Carson City, MI prison facility where we were doing an in-house retreat with a group of inmates. Clarence was a retired Methodist minister, a member of the Asbury family, and a delightful friend. When Clarence learned of my taste for Jones, he provided me a copy dated October 11, 1996, for which I am forever indebted. Take the following passage for example (180-181).

Jones writes,
               “The cross was sin, and he [Jesus] turned it into the healing of sin; the cross was hate, and he turned it into a revelation of love; the cross was man at his worst, and Jesus turned it into God at his redemptive best.
               The answer, then is, ‘Don’t bear trouble, use it. I remember when that answer dawned on me through a verse: ‘You will be dragged before kings and governors for the sake of my name. That will turn out an opportunity for you to bear witness’ (Luke 21;13-14 Moffatt). I inwardly gasped as I saw it: Don’t bear the injustice of being dragged before ruling powers—use it, turn it into a testimony. Take whatever happens—justice and injustice, pleasure and pain, compliment and criticism—take it up into the purpose of your life and make something out of it. Turn it into a testimony… ”

Shortly, Jones adds this example from Paul.
               “Take Paul. The authorities, religious and political, put him behind prison bars for years, cut him off from his beloved preaching. Did Paul eat his heart in frustration? No, he wrote those deathless Epistles which have guided and blessed the world. Had he not been shut up he would have preached, but his preaching would have been lost, for there were no stenographers and no recording machines. And besides, the spoken word would have been comparatively shallow. Now shut up in prison he had time to think  and to pour his very lifeblood into those letters. His imprisonment meant loosing the gospel on the world. In a specific instance, this principle of using what happens is vividly illustrated in the peerless love poem of the thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians.”

Jones follows this insight by relating a personal experience with his friend Gandhi:
               “In a specific instance, this principle of using what happens is vividly illustrated in the peerless love poem of the thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians. I once read it to Mahatma Gandhi in Moffatt’s translation. When I finished he could only say: ‘How beautiful, how beautiful.” And there were tears in his eyes. Where did that chapter come from? He had given his very life to those Corinthians and yet they turned on him in criticism: ‘His bodily presence is weak, his speech is contemptible and he is not a real  apostle.’ Did Paul bear that? No, he used it. He dipped his pen in the blood of his broken heart and wrote of love—love for the people who were criticizing him and even rejecting him.”

We face terrorist enemies today who thrive on publicity, public relations, and  the strong public reaction they can create in the media and in public affairs. They know they cannot defeat America militarily, and I don’t even worry about that detail. What I find difficult to understand is how so many Christians so readily acquiesce to the pressures of our military dominated culture. Ask anyone today about the doctrine of non-violence and they refer immediately to Martin Luther King and his learning of non-violence from Mahatma Gandhi. They show no understanding at all that Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement came right out of the pages of the New Testament proclaimed at Daddy King's Baptist Church, or that Gandhi's Freedom Movement in India was ignited by the teachings of Jesus as read by a Hindu who well-understood the teachings but never discovered the Teacher behind the principles.

From Warner’s World at ... 
Am I a mere dreamer to wonder if Christians can transform terrorism into testimony by loosing the Person behind the principles of non-violent peace-making … ? 

Monday, February 9, 2015

68 years ago

I was called to the front of the church and congregation by the pastor of the church at 4201 North Newstead in St. Louis, MO. It was February 9, 1947 and he had just completed his sermon. Special singer, Elbridge McKenzie, fell victim to a bad cold that day and could not do his musical presentation but Dr. Harold Boyer offered his congregation a surprise by inviting me and my bride (by previous arrangement) to come forward.

We had come in from Belleville, IL, where I was stationed at Scott Field, on a bitterly cold Suday morning so that he could officiate our wedding. Some 300 or more congregants were present but neither of our families could be present and I was soon to ship to San Antonio for possible overseas duty.

We were married that day, feted by Associate Pastor Patton at her home; and we launched upon a journey that we learned 4-months later in San Antonio would end in her premature death within 3-12 months. Today marks the beginning of a tenuous and tedious journey that rather than ending in a bitter anti-climax has now criss-crossed America for 68-years of educating for service, giving that service, and continuing for better or worse through a retirement of more than 18-years of re-directed serving.

The 20-year-old bride outlived herself so many times we've almost stopped counting - a living miracle of life although fragile. I simply rejoice in the grace of God that brought us this far . . .

Walking in the Resurrection

Myron Augsburger wrote a wonderful little book entitled Walking in the Resurection (Herald Press, Scottsdale, PA, 1976). I don’t remember where I ran onto the book, but I read it the first time in 1988, remembering how much I asppreciated Augsburger at our national Anderson Convention.

I have referred to the book many times and am captivated to this day by the concept in the title. I love studying Anabaptist history and appreciate the great publishing ministry of Herald Press at Scottsdale. This book is number six of more than a dozen books by Augsburger who had an illustrious career as a scholar, college president, head of the educational Coalition of Christian schools, et al. I find him especially pertinent to our teachings about the Kingdom of God for 2015 and I share them for their clarification.

Chapter one emphasizes the new life, which Augsburer relates directly “to the resurrection” and he quotes Gerhard Delling: “Without the resurrection of Christ, there would be no reconstituting of human life and existence by God, and the whole of man’s life and existence is always implied here … inseparable from making it possible for man to walk in a new way” (17).

Of special interest are Augsburger’s views regarding “Citizens of Christ’s Kingdom” chapter 7:
“One of the most revolutionary convictions one can hold is to believe in the present, spiritual, universal kingdom of Christ and to give it loyalty above all else …  and that the disciple of Christ has a primary responsibility to all other followers of Christ around the globe supersedes all nationalism” (81).

(P 83)
“The kingdom of Christ is a new humanity which He is creating in fellowship wit Himself …  spiritually transformed …a new reality breaking into time and extending beyond time” (with references).

“From Augustine to the present, the church has had a prominent amillennial emphasis identifying the reign of Christ with His rule in the church. Alongside this has existed a strong premillennialism, emphasizing the coming millennium when Jesus will reign on earth in a manner affecting all people and nations. I agree that the New Testament teaches a great coming culmination for the kingdom of Christ. However, we dare not fail to emphasize the reality of the kingdom of Christ now to emphasize the reality of the kingdom of Christ now as He invites men and women to Himself around the world, building a kingdom of those who call Him Lord” (emphasis added).

“Present-day Israel needs to be seen in context with God’s universal purpose for all people. The Gentile has been grafted into the historic Judaic roots. The Arab is my brother. The Middle East conflict calls me to recognize God’s work among the Arabs even while He used the Jews as a reminder of a special revelation of Jehovah … But whatever the future details of His plan, we know His purpose – the building of a kingdom open to all.
               “The  kingdom of God centers in Jesus Christ, and is expressed today in His body, the church … the new people of God …”

“This people is global, transnational, a fellowship of the redeemed… No longer is the kingdom of God active in the world through Israel; it works rather through the church … The disciple’s ethic is basically centered on Christ.”

“To know Christ as Lord means the transformation of one’s total way of life. As members of the kingdom of Christ, our style of living corresponds to the character of His kingdom … Our sense of responsibility for social concerns will be directly related to our commitment to Christ and His love … The disciple, in understanding himself, must keep check o whether his decisions and actions are motivated by the spirit of this age or by the Spiit of Christ … The disciple is called to live a new life in society, not to try to create a new society for the world.”

That this kingdom of Christ is global, and that all nations will be judged for the way they have actd in relation to God’s worlk in history through Israel, is clearly expressed in Matthew 25:31-46.”

“Our identification is clearly with the King of kings in contrast to secularism which can only affirm belief in man but not in God. … Secularism is simply another form of atheism. It orients life around man as though God did not exist.”
 (And I add, herein lies the inherent weakness of much of our current social advocacies today).

This quote from Augsburger (p91) sums it up for me:
               “My faith is not authentic if I only want to enjoy the experiences of piety but will not soil my hands in loving service to my fellowman. If I believe in the Trinity, the ultimate expression of mutuality of love, I will extend this love to other personalities.
               “To be a member of the kingdom of Christ is a present reality, my identification today. My citizenship as a disciple is in heaven and I take my direction from there. In the world I am an ambassador for my king (See 2 Cor. 5:20). This life is a pilgrimage, but one for which the way is known, the destiny sure. Our identification is clearly with the King of kings in contrast to secularism which can only affirm belief in man but not in God” (emphasis added).

In a later chapter “Relating to Government” Augsburger concludes his book:
“… in a specific manner the disciple of Christ who lives as a member of the kingdom of heaven is called to give his total life in service for the benefit of others. If we are true to our calling, we will be involved in many services of education, ecology, poverty, health, management, and the life, which are needed by our fellowman. We will give ourselves to the more needy and difficult areas of human problems. We will own and use property as stewards for the cause of Christ, but not ask that others die to protect it for us … I can delight in helping the downtrodden. I can devote my energies to bring freedom to the oppressed, healing to the suffering and broken, encouragement to those who despair of their lot in society, and extending fellowship to all that may discover that each of us is made in the image of God and that this image can be restored” (bold and italic added).

From Warner’s World,
There is a whole semesterand more of kingdom theology to be found herein...