Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Thinking Man's Choice

Audrey Kushline believed in moderation. Abstinence from alcohol was not only impractical but unnecessary and absurd! In 1993 she thoughtfully organized Moderation Management to provide an alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous. Fourteen local chapters eventually organized.

Through attending Moderation Management (MM) sessions, problem drinkers were taught to reduce their drinking rather than totally abstain, as recommended by AA. Moderation Management recommended no more than nine drinks per week for women and fewer than fourteen for men. They insisted drinking was a learned behavior rather than a disease … until Mrs. Kushline found herself facing the Judge in an Ellensburg, Washington court room.

She faced two counts of vehicular homicide that resulted when a young father and his twelve-year-old daughter died as a result of her moderation. Her charges followed a head-on collision with a second vehicle, while driving the wrong way on Interstate I90.  At the time of her accident, Audrey’s BAC (blood alcohol level) was three times the legal limit.

Weeping while making her courtroom appearance, Audrey pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated and causing a wreck that killed two people. Following that unhappy experience, Mrs. Kushline disavowed the Movement she had organized. She resigned as the spokesperson and candidly admitted, “MM. . .is nothing but alcoholics covering up their problems.”

As a result of incidents like this, new voices now publicly promote abstinence from alcohol. The Smithers Addiction Treatment and Research Center of New York became one more of the pro-abstinence voices when they issued a public statement reaffirming an earlier commitment they had made to abstinence as the only viable treatment for an alcoholic.

Thinking people do understand that sober people generally think before they act. Bill’s clouded mind, however, no longer comprehends this fine line of thinking. His claim of “moderation” enables him (in his own mind) to deny what everyone else knows is “his problem.” It reveals to both his friends and his family his inability to think clearly; thus, betraying his insistent claim and his flawed condition.

Life offers many experiences that allow us to freely indulge ourselves without harming ourselves. Some other activities call for moderation. There are also those things that are best left alone--except at great risk. We can freely indulge in alcohol only at great personal risk to our health and to our relationships. Phengsene learned his lesson the hard way. The forty-four year-old Laotian emigrant to Minneapolis made the mistake of drinking and driving.

Margaret Zack, Staff Writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, sadly reported Phengsene drove his vehicle the wrong way of the southbound lane of Highway l00 in nearby St. Louis Park. His vehicle struck a second vehicle driven by Kevin Garnett. The impact killed Garnett‘s companion--Malik Sealey, then a guard on the  Minnesota Timberwolves basketball team.

The County Attorney argued that Phengsene made the decision to get in the car and drive the wrong way. The Judge, following state guidelines, sentenced Phengsene to four years in prison. His sentence received the same time given to Lynda Jackson a few months earlier, after she drove the wrong way on the Mendota Bridge and killed Lynda Frein. In addition, Phengsene faced the terrifying possibility of being deported back to Laos.

Whether or not one agrees with abstinence as the right response, one thing is certain: alcohol is a depressant. That means it reduces one’s inhibitions with the very first drink and after that there is no definable point at which a person becomes legally unaccountable for behavior (emphasis added). In other words, that first drink reduces one’s decision-making ability. It greatly reduces one’s ability to say “no!” to that second or third drink. And since alcohol has no definable line by which impairment can be judged, abstinence automatically becomes the one and only logical choice, simply because one loses more controllability with each drink taken.

In September 2002 Michigan’s 91st Legislature consequently eliminated the so-called voluntary intoxication defense by passing House Bill 5398. In the meantime, ten other states have also taken action to clear some of this legal fog, thereby effectively slamming the door shut on “too drunk” as a legal defense.

Simply stated, moderation management, or moderate indulgence in alcoholic beverages, does not work. It effectively puts too many roadblocks into place and seriously threatens personal health, family relationships, and public safety. Abstinence is not the only choice I have, but it becomes my “thinking man’s choice.”

From walkingwithwarner,blogspot.com...
It is my choice, but abstinence remains my only safe choice. It remains my most cost effective choice, and the most ethical choice - thus,my only responsible choice!

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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Profitable Punishment or People and Preventive Rehabillitation--One Man's Journey

Head over heels in my last two decades of ministry, I simply had no time to give--until I met Jim! Hearing Jim’s concepts convicted me! I became a volunteer Case Worker with juveniles in this new Victim and Offender Reconciliation Program, (VORP) and was soon negotiating consensual agreements between first-time offenders and their victims.

I soon found resolving issues of restitution taxing but satisfying. I was making a difference preventing more serious legal confrontations, reducing the resulting socio-economic costs for all concerned, and helping potentially problem individuals become productive individuals.


This outside-the-box effort of going beyond the norm quickly became several of my final years of pastoral ministry invested as a volunteer in court-mandated efforts that were making a significant difference in people’s lives, and especially young first time offenders.

When a new State-directed Youth Program instituted a new Work Release Program and changed our penal code, they created a new level of for-pay State jobs supervising in-house inmates and assimilating the administrative essentials of our victim and offender program.

I continued to pursue my church ministry. I was, however, increasingly troubled by a revamped Juvenile Justice System that appeared to value profit more than people. The State Department of Corrections (DOC) continued its court-mandated efforts with young, first-time offenders, but without the frequent and effective reconciliation resulting between offenders and victims as happened with Vorp.

No longer seeking to bring about some kind of resolution via restitution, new State efforts lacked any opportunity for forgiveness and neither offered nor achieved any of the essential moral-ethical character-building qualities affirmed by VORP. Local rehabilitation efforts consequently deviated and redefined downward.

In the meantime, national efforts redefined America’s Drug War as “the major problem” and reinforced “get tough” policing! Punishing bad behavior sounded good and showed social accountability; it seemed. Yet as I watched crime prevention become a secondary issue, new questions abounded.      

The new public focus on “making criminals pay for their crimes.”1 sounded good until I discovered social scientists responding to some of my questions. Hosea Anderson described “the hopelessness and alienation” felt by young inner-city black men “largely as a result of endemic joblessness and persistent racism.” He argued that it fueled “the violence they engage in” and further confirmed “the negative feelings many whites and some middle-class blacks harbor toward the ghetto poor.”

Anderson insisted it legitimated the code of the street “in the eyes of many young blacks.” He concluded “attitudes on both sides will become increasingly entrenched, and the violence which claims victims black and white, poor and affluent, will only increase”2 and  further expose “the depth of racial bias in the system.”

Anderson’s writings only added to my personal experiences of visiting deep inside the cavernous depths behind electronic gates, in maximum-security facilities like Joliet where residents did “hard time.” I knew the difficulty of working with prisoners. I understood some Correctional Professionals were helpful while others remained quite calloused.

My visits included converted murderers and multiple offenders. I had “my experiences” of being “conned” by brutal sex offenders and of befriending former pastoral-peers. I corresponded with parishioner-related inmates. I understood that prison served a useful purpose for some. On the other hand, I found it of little value to others; and, at times I felt the isolation some churches communicated to prisoners.

I knew inmates who had become solid “Christians” for whom further punishment held no redemptive value. I observed God’s transforming grace in prisoner’s lives first hand. I also felt the deep disappointment of seeing prisoners executed in spite of compelling evidence to the contrary, their pleas for commutation rejected. Prisoners like Karla Faye Tucker brought tidal-waves of public opinion from politicians and citizens alike, much of which seemed more vindictive to me than helpful.

I listened to politicians promise tougher sentencing guidelines with expanded prisoner spaces, who also voted to reduce preventive-rehabilitation funds. I watched fear, ignorance, and pressure overwhelm the public and ignore a loving God that best reveals the Christian faith.

Jesus transformed the cross into a purposeful symbol for defining faith. He defended the vertical relationship that loves God above all else and makes it a priority. He emphasized the horizontal relationships of loving our neighbors as ourselves as the other side of this two-sided Gospel coin. Giving as example, Jesus used the Good Samaritan to express the ideal expression of this horizontal relationship (Luke 10:27). Consequently, I conclude that we must focus on prevention more than punishment if we correct our badly flawed criminal justice system.

Faith supports victim’s rights while demanding that we balance punishment without surrendering to “hate hysteria”. Economic stewardship and sound gospel each call for better balance between cultural trash bins called prisons and preventive programs that uplift people.

A Michigan Department of Management and Budget spokesman praised a nearby city for being five-hundred jobs richer because they offered “good paying jobs” at a local prison facility. He acknowledged a proposal to add 2,500 new beds and concluded, “That’s good for the state and for the taxpayers” (emphasis added). Simultaneously, a local reporter described abused prisoners in a privatized jail that prompted officials in still another state to stop renting beds from the first state.

Making programs pay for themselves is neither new nor unreasonable, but it challenges the theoretical purpose of the justice system!  We must decide whether our primary goal is to punish people and make money, or to rehabilitate people and build society.

Many tax payers appear more interested in profit than in people, but how does that fulfill our social obligation? With State Corrections spending “$130 million a year employing 2,500 people in one system alone, and adding another $20 million in payroll when the next new multi-security prison opens,” where will it end? 

Whatever one’s belief, behavior best tells the story. An alert editor consequently warned local readers, “We’d like to see the public’s money put to more constructive use, by shaping people’s lives for the better, and providing the same positive choices for everyone.”

I pray “God bless that editor!” Author Jerome Miller documented a criminal justice system that alienates and socially destabilizes our society. Demands for arrest, jail, conviction, and imprisonment, frequently create more problems than they solve. Theoretically, everyone believes in personal accountability, but that suggests the public must become as accountable for the economy of human lives as for the criminals it catches and condemns.

The 1980’s “get tough” politics increased federal, state and local expenditures for police 416%, for courts 585%, for prosecution and legal services 1,019%, for legal defense, 1,255%, and for Corrections a whopping 990%. It punished more while preventing less.4  And contrary to many of my white peers, 76% of illicit drug users came from the white majority, and only 14% from the Black Community, with 8% from the Hispanic Community. Most incarcerated inmates were admittedly from poor and minority communities.
  
The public sector railed thoughtlessly against jobless minorities, lazy drug-abusing criminals, and the abuse of sex for creating babies with the help of tax dollars. Most agreed the Welfare System needed reforming, but contrary to fact, public awareness perceived most welfare clients as minority or poor rather than white. Welfare has now been constructively reformed, but little else has changed.

The Criminal Justice System still focuses on criminalizing what it cannot control by building more prisons. It punishes people more than it rehabilitates. It clones criminals, and graduates some with magna cum laude skills in crime, as recidivism shuttles inmates in and out of the revolving doors of prison. This maintains a system that protects itself but mostly fails to assist inmates in building new and better lives.

So … “When do we quit criminalizing what we cannot control?” When do we reform our ineffective prison system? When will we do as much prevention as we do punishment? When will we value inmate education as much as inmate-incarceration? When will we show as much concern for people as we do for profitable punishment?
Restore the Family Bible 

Our current focus on punishment recalls that old Frank and Earnest cartoon in which Frank concludes, “Not only is Ernie going nowhere fast, but he knows a shortcut.” Our short cut to profitable punishment takes us nowhere—in a hurry. In addition, it adds to the cost of more incarcerations; and that is not only poor economics but a worthless gospel!

Balancing people and prevention with punishment and profit calls for a change of heart. A change of heart would invigorate the church and help to restore established family values and a new public trust.
_______________
               1 Jerome G. Miller, Search and Destroy. (Cambridge/N.Y.: Cambridge Press, 1996), p. 81. 
               2 Miller, p. 97. 
               3 Karen Motley, Battle Creek, MI. “Enquirer News,” 2-10-98). 
               4 Miller, p. 2.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

God's Willing Worker

The world honors William Wilberforce (1759-1833) for his exemplary public service. Becoming God’s willing worker for humanitarian social reform came as an act of faith for William Wilberforce rather than as an accident of birth. It followed his personal encounter with faith after this twenty-five-year-old Member of Parliament realized the wisdom of abandoning what he called his heretofore dissolute and wasteful lifestyle.
           
Biographer William Hague describes the classic conversion Wilberforce experienced during the autumn of 1785.1 Hague finds it impossible to discern what other subconscious forces pushed Wilberforce into the agonies of his conversion experience that November. But he wonders if Wilberforce, after becoming a Member of Parliament representing the Yorkshire district, found the “excesses of the London club land he inhabited, with its gambling, womanizing, gluttony and restitution” revolting and dissatisfying.

Achieving membership in Parliament, and enjoying all the wealth he needed, failed to produce the satisfaction for which Wilberforce searched. Hague suggests that by November 1785 the peculiar mixture of influences Wilberforce experienced, namely the guidance he received from the writings of Doddridge, and the rational force of his friend Milner’s arguments, compounded by his boyhood receptiveness to religion “produced … a true conversion crisis.” 2

Wilberforce later described to his friend his emergence as an Evangelical convert as “like wakening from a dream and recovering the use of my reason after a delirium.” Although his wealthy Anglican family discouraged his evangelical and Methodist non-conformist leanings, walking with Christ became a lifetime journey for William. Dissatisfied with institutional religion as he knew it, his newly-found faith led him into the company of other transformed individuals also interested in giving active public expression to their personal faith.

Initially, he questioned whether or not he should leave public service. William Pitt, his close friend and future British Prime Minister, encouraged Wilberforce to allow his Christian life to produce action rather than mere meditation. William Wilberforce consequently sought the wisdom of John Newton, the former slaver that young William had idolized after meeting him when but a boy.

Newton encouraged Wilberforce to avoid becoming cut off from his friends. “It was Newton,” concludes Hague, “who not only calmed and soothed him but, from that time and for a good decade afterwards, fortified him in combining his religious beliefs with a continued political career” 3
           
William Wilberforce consequently became the point-man in a non-conformist platoon sometimes referred to as the Clapham Sect. These young evangelicals [born-again believers] came mostly from privileged Anglican families. They married and neighbored together in the Clapham area south of London. Lampooned as “Clapham Saints,” they became the nineteenth century social reformers (active c. 1790 – 1830).

Historian Stephen Tomkins describes them as "a network of friends and families … powerfully bound together by their shared moral and spiritual values, by their religious mission and social activism, by their love for each other, and by marriage." 4

His new associations fired his passion for further independent reform. Before long young Wilberforce, also being a man of privilege launched his own personal effort to improve working conditions for British factory workers. As the scion of a wealthy Hull merchant, he enjoyed the privilege of entering Cambridge at seventeen. At the university, he met another student named William--William Pitt, the younger.

These two young men became life-long friends and Pitt, the Younger, eventually became Prime Minister of Britain. Having no interest in his family business, Wilberforce joined parliament in 1780. The twenty-one year-old university student represented Hull while completing his studies. Later, he represented Yorkshire.

Wilberforce’s Clapham Sect friends added enormous influence into his life as a young Christian, with a social conscience. Thomas Clarkson was the son of an Anglican clergyman. Granville Sharp and Josiah Wedgwood were strong abolitionists. They were ably assisted by other Clapham associates and together this close-knit body of believers campaigned hard against British slave trade. Forming the “Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade,” they opposed allowing British ships to transport captured slaves from Africa to the West Indies (Official Medallion pictured right).

Slaves, being commercial property, endured the worst of shipping conditions. They were sold in the West Indies, and elsewhere, with all the other products of growing commercialization. Such influences prompted Wilberforce to pursue with quiet vigor the abolishment of slavery throughout the Empire and today the world honors him for his significant part in turning this page of human history.

Wilberforce assisted those of us who follow him by first turning a corner himself, and by then reestablishing a new direction while devoting his life to public service. Once he agreed to lobby against the slave trade, he continued to bring consistent anti-slavery legislation before parliament annually, vigorously  supported by his Clapham Sect friends.

With other abolitionists assisting, he and his Clapham friends raised public awareness by writing pamphlets and books, signing petitions, and participating in rallies. Wilberforce remained a faithful and willing worker; petitioning Parliament patiently but regularly with his anti-slavery legislation for eighteen long years.

By 1807, a sufficient number in Parliament supported Wilberforce that the British Government mandated abolishment of the trading of slaves. In 1833, Parliament enacted further legislation freeing all slaves found under the British flag. By this time, Wilberforce had become Britain’s retired Elder Statesman, and it was with a tear-streaked face that the elderly abolitionist listened quietly as friends read him the exciting news stating that Parliament had finally passed the anti-slavery legislation.

Wilberforce died shortly thereafter, after investing his life in causes that he deeply believed renewed society. In 1802, he helped organize the Society for the Suppression of Vice. He cooperated with holiness reformer Hannah More in the Association for the Better Observance of Sunday, also a member of the Clapham Community. He associated closely with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Throughout his long public career, William Wilberforce encouraged Christian missionaries to serve in India.

His 1825 retirement from public political life was followed by his death on July 29, 1833, very shortly after Britain’s House of Commons freed all slaves under the British flag.

William Wilberforce left a shining example of faith and piety for all to follow. He modeled a role for Christians of all times, especially those willing to invest time and talents in sharing God with others. Wilberforce honored others with the same acceptance he sought for himself, and the world has not forgotten. Tourists still visit Wilberforce’s burial plot in Westminster Abbey where his remains lay adjacent to his life-long friend, William Pitt:

            ... In an age and country fertile in great and good men,
            He was among the foremost of those who fixed the character of their times
            Because to high and various talents
            To warm benevolence, and to universal candour,
            He added the abiding eloquence of a Christian life … 5
_____
            1 William Hague, William Wilberforce, The Life of the Great Anti-Slave Campaigner. (Orlando: Harcourt, Inc., 2007), p. 78.
            2 Hague, p. 82.           
            3 Hague, p. 88.
            4 Tomkins, Stephen The Clapham Sect: How Wilberforce’s circle changed Britain (Oxford: Lion, 2010), p1.
            5 Eric Metaxas. Amazing Grace, William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery. (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2007), p. 278, lines from “To the Memory of William Wilberforce”

_____    I am walkingwithwarner.blogspot.com

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Father Forgive Them...

Three days before Senator Hubert Humphrey’s death. He received a visit from the founder of the Rainbow Coalition, Jesse Jackson. As the two men visited, the distinguished and ever-popular Minnesota Senator confided to his guest: “At such a time like this, you are forced to grapple with that which is really important. And what I have concluded about life is that when all is said and done, we must forgive each other, redeem each other, and move on.”
              
Following the former Vice President’s death, I joined a vast audience of American citizens and global community of admirers in watching our national leaders memorialize Senator Hubert Humphrey. Many who saw that service, watched quite unaware of the visit that had taken place between these two men a short time before.

Many observers filled with wonder as they questioned why Humphrey’s former political adversary, Richard Nixon, had occupied the special place of honor and was seated beside Muriel, Humphrey’s widow. Here were two successful men of high political standing, but each man approached his political problem-solving quite differently; each from a vastly different direction, and with very different results.

In spite of their conflicting socio-political differences, Mr. Humphrey had prearranged for Mr. Nixon to fill the special seat of honor next to Muriel Humphrey, his widow. When all was said and done, Hubert H. Humphrey desired more than anything else that people understand that he forgave his former political foe.

It was on his own cross that Jesus prayed “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34, RSV). The timing of this unique statement makes the words of Jesus among the most important words he ever uttered. Forgiving others holds a very high priority on the teaching agenda left to us through the life and ministry of Jesus.

It is a well-known truth that we live in a very imperfect world. This is primarily true because our world is filled with such imperfect people. As a common consequence of our imperfections, we frequently find ourselves in fractured and hostile relationships that remain badly in need of repair, and some even result in destructive wars.

Broken relationships can become genocidal wars pitting nation against nation, involving whole regions, and at times our whole global community. We live in a broken world that regularly needs mending. Friends, families, and even nations need often reconciliation and restoration of relationships. Whenever such occasions arise, forgiveness becomes a uniquely rare and special gift that not everyone can give. Participants may be a friends or enemies (Matthew 6:12) and may include family members, whole communities, and whole races of people. Such experiences can be potentially life changing, socially and spiritually transforming, as well as peace producing.

When someone experiences the cross of Christ as an experienced reality, their relationship with God becomes something of a musical keyboard in which God serves as the Master Conductor of the Symphony being played out in the life of a particular person, family, or community. As his sensitive fingers sweep across the keyboard of people’s lives, his fingertips skillfully transform the cacophony of sounds that people experience and transforms them into a symphony of peace and joy.


The Master’s touch lifts us upward toward a new level of spontaneity and vibrant living in what might otherwise be a joyless world. This Ode to Joy created by The Master’s skills lifts our discipleship journey ever upward. His Presence reveals new levels of discernment and discovery and identifies healthy and wholesome relationships in what might otherwise remain a fatally fractured global community.

Howard Loewen describes this new discipleship as “a particular, authentic representation of God’s people.”  Beginning with individual people, whole nations can be transformed.  Without this experience of forgiveness, which we all need at some time or other, few of us individually or nationally have any hope of ever recovering the common humanity we share under our Creator.

Without this representation of God’s people, we remain a global community filled with endless wars and rumors of war, forever in search of peace

... I am walkingwithwarner.blogspot.com

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Bad Bargain


Emily Harris, like most of us, loved finding bargains. Having some free time, this young Alaskan chicken-hypnotist-cyclist jumped on her $1,800 bicycle and pedaled off to shop for bargains. Journeying through the streets of Edinburgh, Scotland took Emily past a Charity Clothes Shop. Thinking to find something she could add to her wardrobe, she jumped off the bike she rides in her circus act, parked it just inside the shop where, according to a Reuters Reporter, she leaned it rather discreetly against a mannequin.

Unfortunately, before Emily could finish her bargain shopping, a shopkeeper mistakenly sold her expensive vehicle to a lucky customer for $15. Emily lost her bicycle, found herself without transportation, and received nothing in return … simply a profuse apology. Her bargain search had suddenly taken the shape of a terribly “bad bargain.”

Equally bad for American families like my own was the Health Report relayed by Dr. Phillip Lee, which he delivered to the United States Congress while serving as Assistant Secretary of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Nearly one-fourth of all persons admitted to general hospitals have alcohol problems,” concluded Secretary Lee, “or are undiagnosed alcoholics being treated for the consequences of their drinking.”

Alcohol consumption remains the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. It becomes a major risk factor in treating every injury and every  trauma. Heavy alcohol consumption by Americans  threatens to provide an exceptionally bad bargain potentially affecting the birth of  a vast multitude of our children.  Medical authorities describe this capability of alcohol as “teratogenic.” The verb form “terato” is highly suggestive :“a combining form meaning monster, (or) monstrosity.” Webster’s New World Dictionary, (Second Edition, 1970), describes teratogenic as an agent like a chemical or disease “that causes malformation of a fetus.”

In other words, alcohol consumption creates the potential capability of congenital defects, growth retardation, and learning disabilities among prenatal infants. This significantly increases the risk factor within the family circle for more than seventy-five million American family members currently affected by alcoholism. It ups the ante while offering no bargains!

Malik Sealy and Kevin Garnett discovered this the hard way when they were young members of the Minnesota Timber Wolves basketball franchise. Their worst scenario came while returning from Garnett’s twenty-fourth birthday celebration. Souksangouane Phengsene, a forty-four year-old impaired driver from Minneapolis, smashed head-on into Garnet’s Range Rover, while driving the wrong way on southbound Highway 100.

Sealy died on impact! The Prosecution charged Phengsene with choosing to  personally drive his car although impaired. The Judge found him guilty and gave him the maximum sentence of four years in prison, while still determining whether or not to deport Phengsene back home to Laos.

Alcohol is a depressant. Beginning with that first drink, the consumer’s inhibitions gradually decrease. There is, however, no legally defined point at which a person becomes legally unaccountable for drunken behavior (Dui). Consequently, more than ten states have already slammed the door on the “too drunk” defense. In attempting to clear the legal fog. Additional states continue to pass laws that define consumers of alcohol as guilty by reason of choosing to drive.

As this relatively new law becomes more widely used, it eliminates virtually all hope of defense by reason of intoxication. It correctly categorizes consumption as an obvious personal choice. It makes our highways a much safer place on which to drive and it accurately defines drinking and driving as anything but a good bargain.

From Warner’s World, this is walkingwithwarner.blogspot.com
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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Select Your Sin...Carefully

Billy received a cucumber in a bottle as a gift. Being a curious lad, he wanted to know just how such a large cucumber could be swallowed by such a small-necked bottle. One day Billy watched his next door pick a cucumber out of his garden and slip it into a bottle: his moment of truth had come!
           
Billy readily understood that the neighbor’s cucumber could never escape from its bottle. But more important, it became deeply personal when he thought about some of the choices he faced that could, like the cucumber, be easily captured in a circumstantial bottle. One small and insignificant sin could easily be defined as a small cucumber; yet when confined by circumstances, that little green cucumber could discover that escape from the bottle was impossible.

“The reason I am here today,” confessed a prison inmate, “is because I stole an apple from a Fruit Market when I was a boy.  I went inside looking for something to go with my lunch. I was in a big hurry so I and crammed the apple in my pocket although I didn’t intend to steal it. I discovered that it was so easy, one thing led to another, without being caught. Stealing that apple became my first step toward committing murder.”

Thoughtless acts and words in our lives can grow rapidly into life-destroying habits. Like the small cucumber Billy’s neighbor put into the neck of the bottle; just one careless behavior can grow into a dwarfed tree. When captured in the dry climate of that empty bottle, it continues to grow by absorbing the sustaining moisture from the air in the bottle, yet adds no lasting value to life.

Given sufficient time, just one small but bad behavior grows easily into a bottle-necked habit that effectively limits your freedom or controls your life. Given sufficient time, a credit card account can accumulate and surpass your ability to maintain payments, eventually destroying your reputation for integrity. Wisdom suggests that we choose our ruts carefully; for we may be in it far longer than we planned for.

On the other hand; disciplined study habits can produce superior scholarship and other academic achievements. The beloved Apostle John understood this when he challenged his first century audience. “Beloved, now we are children of God,” John announced, “and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be,” but “when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as he is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (I John 3:2-3, NASV).

By preparing ourselves for the better things of life, we may well avoid becoming a large cucumber in a small bottle. Better that we follow the example of the old farmer who first sighted his fence post across his field, then pointed his tractor in that direction, plowing while he went.

Joshua modeled Godly wisdom when he made an exemplary choice that we can each follow: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). The poet expressed this eternal truth in readily understood poetic form:


            I took a piece of plastic clay
                        And idly fashioned it one day;
            And as my fingers pressed it still,
                        It moved and yielded to my will.

            I came again when days were passed,
                        The bit of clay was hard at last;
            The form I gave it still it bore,
                        But I could change the form no more.

            I took a piece of living clay,
                        And touched it gently day by day;   
            And molded with my power and art,
                        A young child’s soft and yielding heart.

            I came again when years were gone,
                        It was a man I looked upon;
            That early impress still he wore,
                        I could change the form no more.
            --Unknown
           
The poet’s metaphor underscores an eternal verity that gives new meaning to individual lives, while also underscoring a reason the church needs to return to Sunday school ministries and solid teaching of Christian educators.

From Warner’s World, you can reach me at walkingwithwarner.blogspot.com

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Monday, March 28, 2016

The Kingdom of God According to Matthew's Gospel

THE KINGDOM OF GOD, AS OUTLINED IN THE GOSPEL
ACCORDING TO MATTHEW

INTRODUCTION
Wisemen and kings sought the baby Jesus as the King of the Jews.
Mt. 1:1 - traces Jesus’ genealogy back to Abraham via David.
Mt. 2:2 - shows the Wisemen seeking Jesus (Jewish culture was fully aware of this prophetic tradition).
Mt. 2:7 - acknowledges King Herod’s personal belief in the common concept of the authenticity of Jewish prophecy.
I John 5:11-13 - expresses the basic purpose for writing all of the New Testament (Jesus).

I. JESUS CAME TO ESTABLISH HIS KINGDOM, AS FOUND IN THE CHURCH.

A. NATIONAL ISRAEL BECAME THE PROTOTYPE OF THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH [ONLY], RATHER THAN THE FULFILLMENT OF THE KINGDOM AS TAUGHT BY MILLENIALISTS.
1.     Deut 5:15--The Jewish Sabbath was a sign of deliverance and covenant relationship [with Israel], rather than a reason to enforce Saturday worship.
2.     Col. 2:16-17--The Law of Moses was typical of the Law of Grace; a type of … Thus, the NT reflects Christ as the Lamb, our Passover, et al.
3.     RO. 4:13--14--Paul taught the Abrahamic Covenant as being fulfilled through faith in Christ. Millennialists teach that it will restore Israel to a literal and political kingdom.
4.     I Peter 1:16-20; Ephesians 1:4---Christ’s sacrifice was fore-ordained from Creation; thus, Jesus’ death and resurrection succeeded rather than failing! Millenialists claim it faliled because men rejected THE KINGDOM, thereby prompting God to come up with the church concept as a temporary expediency (a parenthesis in time) until political Israel could be restored as a political Kingdom. Millenialists insist upon a literal kingdom, whereas Scripture teaches a spiritual kingdom.

B. THE KINGDOM THEME PREVAILS THROUGHOUT MATTHEW’S GOSPEL.
            1. Mt. 3:1-3—JOHN ANNOUNCES JESUS AND HIS KINGDOM; A fulfillment of         Daniel 2:44 and Isa. 40:3. John fulfills Malachi 3:1.
          2. Mt 4:17-20--Jesus issued his kingdom call using Isaiah for a reference (Isa. 61:1. Luke                       4:18-21 describes this as does Mark 1:14-15. Compare Mt. 4:15 with Isa. 42:7 and Luke                       2:32).
          3. Mt. 5-7--The Beatitudes are Kingdom ideals. Note 6:33 and 7:21. Of all the teachings                         of the NT, it is the teachings of Jesus that provide the most primary evidence we have,                         rather than Paul or Peter, or some other interpreter of Jesus. Reformed theologians lean more              toward Paul, yet, Paul was merely a self-admitted interpreter of Jesus. It is the words of Jesus             that form the primary corpus of evidence, and I personally value the words of Jesus while on               the cross as being the most authoritative biblical evidence that we have.
         4. Mt. 10:4--8 John questioned Jesus who gave this as proof of himself and his kingdom                           (The Jews expected Elijah to return; see Mt. 17:13--Jesus says Elias (or Elijah) has
             returned already in John the Baptist (11:14).
         5. Mt. 12:22-28--The Kingdom is come--if Jesus does the works he does … 2:40-41- Son of                    man 3 days dead (40), only sign is that of Jonah (41). 12:43-45--Describes the sin of Israel                  rejecting Christ.
         6. Mt. 13--A Kingdom parable describing a Sower (13:19). 13:30 describes the Tares. He                        leaves the tares with the wheat until judgment, leaving no place for a Rapture as described by              Millenialists. 13:37-38--Jesus is the sower and the seed is the sons of the Kingdom. 13:40, 43              Harvest is the Judgment. 13:44-49--Further describes the Judgment, which the people                          understood (51). The people were offended and disbelieved (57-58), thus Jesus did few works              there (58).
          7. Mt. 16:28--The Greek text here uses a double negative which means “in no way” will they                 taste death before the Son of Man comes in his kingdom.
          8. Mt. 18:1-3--The greatest in the kingdom of God is a child (contrary to the conquering                          Roman generals and other such secular concepts)
          9. Mt. 19:23--Expresses the difficulty of entering the Kingdom, but publicans and                                    prostitutes 21:31-32 ARE entering ahead of the TENANTS (33) who are rejecting Israel                      (42- 45). Jesus told them the Kingdom was taken from them, which is contrary to the                            millennial teachings about the restoration of Israel in our future, and it was at the core of                     their reasoning for killing Jesus: better that he die than the whole nation.
         10. Mt. 22--Describes the marriage feast (also described in Revelation as end-time). The                            invited reject the invitation (5-8); those assembling must be in wedding dress (11-14),                          elsewhere described as robes of righteousness.
         11. Mt. 23:13--Woe to the Jewish system; 33-36, 38 Israel rejected and left desolate.  That                        does not hinder the Messiah’s coming (39).
         12. Mt. 24:14--This was fulfilled at the day of Pentecost (cf Acts); the Gospel Age (the                  last days--Acts 2:17) precedes the end.
         13. Mt. 24:15--Fulfilled (literally) in 70 A.D. when General Titus literally destroyed                                  Jerusalem and national Jewish identity. “This generation” shall not pass before this is                          fulfilled (34).
         14. Mt. 25--Further Kingdom teachings on the end/judgment (1,
         15. MT. 26:1-2--Jesus became the Passover Lamb during Passover (cf 26-29). See                                      Hebrews 8--Christ now THE HIGH PRIEST (no more Old Testament having mediated a                      more perfect covenant (a New Testament (8:6) that makes makes the old covenant obsolete                  (13). Again, we don‘t enforce Saturday worship because we are no longer under the Old                      Testament (Heb. 8:13). The whole book of Hebrews reinforces this right-ness                                        (righteousness) of the New Testament over the old covenant.
         16. Mt. 27:63--Tomb secured to prevent fulfillment of prophecy of rising again (cf Mt.                              16:21, 17:23, 20:19; Mk. 8:31, 10:34; Luke 9:22, 18:33, 24:6-7 and John 2:19).             
         17. Mt. 26:53-54--Jesus accepted death, rejecting 12 legions of angelic help in order that the                    scripture might be fulfilled (42).
         18. Mt. 28:7--Disciples were sent to Galilee to meet the resur- rected Jesus (cf. 26:32).                               28:16--Eleven went to Galilee for Jesus’ first post resurrection appearance. 28:18--The                         disciples received authority of Heaven and Earth to the end of the (gospel) age to spread                       the kingdom teachings (cf 13:40- 43).

II. THE KINGDOM OF GOD ACCORDING TO MATTHEW IS THE RULE OF GOD, OR THE KINGLY REIGN OF GOD, IN THE HEARTS AND LIVES OF HIS PEOPLE.

1. We conclude that Millennial theology merely postpones the Kingdom until a later time, thereby          leaving it without a theological foundation for the salvation message that heralds the good news of      God’s current rule and reign “on earth as it is in heaven.”
2. Millennial theology offers “another gospel,” which in actual fact becomes a false gospel.
3.     The Gospel taught in Scripture teaches us that
G od
                        O ffers
                                    S inful
                                                P eople
                                                            E ternal
                                                                        L ife
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God” John concluded, “so that you may know that you have eternal life” (I John 5:13, NIV).

The book of Revelation purposefully interprets Old Testament symbolism and powerfully reinforces God’s personal purposes in protecting his people wherever they find themselves on the time-line of history.

walkingwithwarner.blogspot.com encourages you to allow God's Word to be your guide for understanding the teachings of the church. Enjoy your walk with our Lord and be blessed as you wak with him.