Sunday, February 26, 2012

"And To Everyone Else"

I categorically reject the wanna-be leaders of our country that feel so divinely inspired to criticize our President for apologizing to the Afghan people for the accidental burning of the Koran!

Granted, he did not want our troops there in the first place, nor did I. But, to heap charges of weakness upon him for showing great strength of personal character, points to the deficient characters of the men competing with Mr. Obama for the coveted position of leadership.

Not only did he manfully shoulder the responsibility of an unwanted war, left by his predecessor, he manfully worked to secure satisfactory resolution of a seemingly fruitless conflict. He proved a strong, sensitive, and discerning Commander in Chief, able to give comprehensive attention to a wide range of related issues. Did he deny our military strength? Did he deny our Christian Bible? Did he reveal any weakness in America’s presence in Afghanistan? NO!

Already, he satisfied the thirst for blood on the part of those finding George Bush inadequate to “take out” Osama bin ladin. Already he used a troop surge I might have questioned. Already, he supported “drone strikes” that left him looking more like a military strategist than a diplomatic peacemaker. But to charge the President with “weakness of character” says more about the “wanna-be’s” than it does about the man in the White house.

President Obama showed more strength of character, and exhibited more true Christian Spirit, than any of his political opponents, simply by caring enough about the Afghan people to treat them as he (and all of us) would want to be treated. Moreover, their criticism of Mr. Obama shows a lack of integrity I do not want in the White House.

The complaining candidates dredge up whatever they can dream up, if it will help them reach their goal and destroy him. I reject that win at any price philosophy. They willingly warp and twist THE WORD OF GOD, if that helps them achieve their goal, but that is the book on which I stand. They do not fully understand the contents of that Bible, having themselves a weak grasp of biblical faith.

I go to Church because that is where I learn how to interrelate with others in the church--first, and then to interrelate rightfully with others outside the Church. I Thessalonians 5:12-23 instructs me thusly, telling me WHAT NOT TO DO and WHAT TO DO.

Without dumping the whole load, look at the heart of the matter.
Mr. Obama’s apology was nothing short of practicing WHAT TO DO from 1 Thessalonians 5:15: “always try to be kind to each other.” For that, his opponents judged him as weak and lacking in strength. WHAT TO DO is being proactive and participating actively in what is good. Such proactive behavior makes winners out of everybody, and surely Americans do not begrudge respect for the Afghan people and what they consider sacred (We need not believe the Koran, but we can respect it as their Holy Book).

WHAT NOT TO DO, says Paul, is “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, BUT ALWAYS TRY TO BE KIND TO EACH OTHER and to everyone else” (v. 15, NIV, emphases mine).

We need to pay attention to that "everyone else". How much better would our world be if all our world leaders would follow the example of Mr. Obama to the Afghan people:
1. ”Make sure nobody pays back wrong for wrong…”
2. “always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.”

Pastor Jim Sparks found it a big adjustment learning to drive on the right side of the highway in London, with a steering wheel on the right side of the car and the gearshift in the left hand, etc. He suggests if we want to achieve anything, we must learn to adapt to a new way of driving.

I see military power, retaliation, hatred, and unkindness driving our world. This results in war and greed, poverty, starvation, suffering, hatred and retaliation. Do we really want a different kind of world, or do we just mouth the words?

From Warner’s World, you can...
use any political reference you wish, but if you want a different kind of world stop driving like the world drives and take this word from Saint Paul with you: DO NOT BE OVERCOME WITH EVIL, BUT OVERCOME EVIL WITH GOOD (Romans 12:21).

HOW do we do this?
If your enemy is hungry, feed him.
If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head (12:20).
If you have to kill your enemy, or anyone else, kill them with kindness.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Hardening of spiritual Arteries

Radical Renewal: The Problem of Wineskins Today. Houston: Touch Publications, 1996, by Howard A. Snyder. Chapter three of Snyder’s book attracted me for its theme, expressed in the chapter's opening sentence: “Jesus came preaching the gospel to the poor.” We all know this. We Christians take it for granted; yet, we promptly forget and ignore it.

Dr. Snyder also affirms what some of us already recognize, which is, “The Old Testament repeatedly speaks of God’s care for the poor, the fatherless, the widow, the oppressed.” To that, however, Snyder adds what has become an odd note for too much of the church. He claims: “Radical renewal calls us to hear this biblical concern for the poor, for here we feel the heartbeat of God” (italic added).

Regarding the poor in the Old Testament, the author suggests “The Old Testament reveals several significant facts, surprising facts about God’s attitude toward the poor”:

1. The Lord “especially loves the poor and does not forget them… (emphasis added).
God’s anointed one “delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy” (Psalm 72:12-13).
The Lord “does not forget the cry of the afflicted “ (Psalm 9:12).
God has been a “refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress” (Isaiah 25:4).

2. In the Old Testament social order the poor received an economic advantage (bold print added).
The people were commanded to loan freely to the poor, but not to charge interest (Deuteronomy 15:7-11; Exodus 22:25).
*Part of the wheat and grape harvest was to be left ungathered for the benefit of the poor (Leviticus 19:9-10; 23:22).
*Significantly, part of the purpose of the tithe was to provide relief for the poor (Deuteronomy 14:29; 26:12-13).

3. The Old Testament insists that God requires justice for the poor and will judge those who oppress them. God’s words by the prophet Zechariah are typical: “Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy each to his brother, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor” (Zechariah 7:9-10; compare Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 16:18-20, 24:14-22; Proverbs 31:9; Amos 2:6-7).
4. Finally, the Old Testament teaches that God’s people bear a special ethical responsibility to the poor. “Remembering their slavery in Egypt was to motivate the Israelites to show mercy to the oppressed” (stranger, emigrant) (Deuteronomy 24:17-22).

Why this concern for the poor? Snyder suggests, “In the Old Testament God’s concern with the poor is consistently tied to God’s justice and the working of justice among God’s people. Thus, biblical words such as the poor, the needy, the oppressed, the sojourner typically have moral content, pointing to God’s requirement for justice” (bold added).

The poor is a moral category. In God’s world there is no human condition which escapes moral significance, and the poor, and the treatment they receive, are strong indicators of the faithfulness of God’s people” (italic added).

Now, we all know Jesus emphasized the poor and vulnerable, but did he play down the O. T. emphasis, or did he affirm it? Snyder offers four statements answering this question.
1. Jesus made the preaching of the gospel to the poor a validation of his own ministry (Luke 4:18-21, citing Isaiah 61; compare Mark 11:1-6).
2. Jesus believed the poor were more ready and able to understand and accept his gospel (Matthew 11:25-26)..
3. Jesus specifically directed the gospel call to the poor (Matthew 11:28).
4. On several occasions Jesus recommended showing partiality to the poor (cf. Matthew 19:211; Luke 12:33, 14l:12-14).
He concludes: “In short, Jesus… the Son of God, demonstrated the same attitude toward the poor that God revealed in the Old Testament.”

From this, Snyder draws this parallel for today: “Like her Master, the Church must place special emphasis on the poor” (italics added). He further observes what I too have observed, “Protestantism is, in general, neglecting poorer people.” This I have experienced, in the white flight to the suburbs.

Snyder’s application for his book is this: “The priority among the poor is evangelism” and he makes a strong case for church planting and evangelism among the poor and letting the power of the gospel raise the level of the people (which it will quite naturally, but we are not to turn our backs on the poor after we ascend economically, as has happened across Protestantism).

This may be a better strategy than moving to the suburbs in a fine, upwardly mobile community that is hard to reach with the gospel. In 1771, Wesley commented, “Everywhere we find the laboring part of mankind the readiest to receive the Gospel.”

My application for this is what Snyder applies as a 3rd implication in ministering to the poor for today. He claims “Christian responsibility toward the poor does not end with evangelism.”

It is my contention that Christians today have a moral and ethical obligation (sense of justice) that demands rethinking political positions and working to repair a broken socio-political system that favors the ways of the wealthy and further burdens the middle and lower income people (much of it in the name of the Christian church and being moral).

If the church is to avoid spiritual and social hardening of the arteries, the church must be growing among the poor. I am

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Politics and Social Justice

Many scorn Obamonomics and deternine to limit the President to one term in office. He is not a Christian; he is a closet Muslim. He is too bright and intelligent to be a black man, except he was given an education via affirmative action he did not earn.

Worst of all, Mr. Obama is a Socialist. He represent the masses rather than the people in power. He wants to redistribute “our wealth” (which we earned) among the poor (who did not earn). Like the Clintons and all that liberal crowd, he insists on providing health coverage for everybody (which we all know we can’t afford, although we can afford war, tax breaks for the most wealthy, lifetime pensions for everybody who serves a term in Congress, ad infinitum).

Such people are like the wealthy Israelites the Prophet Jeremiah described: “For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, "Peace, peace," when there is no peace” (Je. 6:13-14).

The rage of right-side politicians today is individualism, a specialty of Ayn Rand, the Russian atheist, social philosopher, and mother of the school of “Objectivism”. Rick Santorum idealizes the good old days when there was no social network to protect people in difficult times, when there were only hardy pioneers (individualists) who carved it out on their own, without help from anyone. They created our country, he claims! To hear him talk, you would think any kind of social networking is un-American and Socialistic.

Listening to current conservative Republican Presidential candidates, I hear them outline their political conservatism and am painfully aware they are building their political structures more on the philosophies of Ayn Rand than they are the moral integrity of the Bible. Although the social issues of health, welfare, and education are a relatively small number of dollars within our national budget, they take up a majority of the political campaigning. Each vies with the other to see who can have the smallest government, with the least number of entitlements et al. In doing so, they deny major themes of the Bible.

For example: when Moses reaffirmed the Covenant in Deuteronomy 26, outlining the first fruits and tithes, he reminded Israel to declare “before the Lord your God: ‘My father was a wandering Aramean… the Lord… ‘saw our misery, toil and oppression…”

He told them, “Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. And you and the Levites and the aliens among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given you…” To this he added: “When you have finished setting aside a tenth… you shall give it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.”

In chapter 27 Moses outlines the curses and blessings of Israel, all premised upon their obedience: “The Lord your God commands you this day to follow these decrees and laws; carefully observe them with all your heart and with all your soul” so that “you will be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised“ (26:16; 26:19).

Among the curses of disobedience is this one (v 19): “Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow…”

Years later, at the end of Joshua’s life (the successor to Moses), Joshua reminded the people “the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefather… Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled… But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses… gave you…love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul” (Joshua 21-22).

Joshua gave this word to Israel’s Leadership before he died: “Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses” (23:6). From the beginnings of the Judaio-Christian era the message has been one of individual responsibility with equality of opportunity and social justice for all as a major theme throughout the Bible.

Nor was this a word for Israel only. While the Israelites took the matter of circumcision to be a means of distinguishing Jews from Gentiles, the Bible sees it differently. Joshua’s departing message included this insight: “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live…” (30:6).

By the time Jesus taught his disciples “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine [or did not do], you did [did not] for me”, he was only fulfilling teaching that began with the Abrahamic Covenant, continued throughout the Prophets, and was brought to its fullness in Jesus (Matthew 25:40-46).

From Warner’s World,
Social Justice is neither left nor right, Democrat or Republican, social justice became the law with the Word of God and it finds its finest expression when we worship God supremely, and love our neighbor (including our enemy) as ourselves…

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Libertarian Anarchy

Have you had any of those “Hate Obama” messages? I have! America has been attacked from within by well-meaning people, bent on having their own way, and who fail to understand the times. They raise a flag of conservatism that claims democratic politics (Main Street politics, not just the Democratic party) are treasonous to American tradition.

They charge Barak Obama with being a non-American (born outside the 48 states), a Socialist (Communist) for advocating a cooperative approach to running the country), an intelligent enemy intent on destroying America as we know it. Oh, they also charge him with being a secret-but-devout Muslim, although I have heard his testimony of personal faith, and am aware of some of his Protestant Pastor friends. The biggest offense Barak Obama committed, although unspoken by his attackers, is that he was born black.

I see the current Tea Party phenomenon as representing the greatest threat to our American way of life since Adolph Hitler. Anything that suggests community-based cooperation, like some form of government, is socialistic, anti-reason, and anti-individual. Ayn Rand, as an atheist, idealized this brand of individualism, claiming the individual (she does not say which one) is at the center of society--the ultimate of society.

Do you understand what George Bush meant when referring to a free-market economy? It means everybody “voluntarily” does his own thing; each individual is the center of his/her world. That is economic anarchy, a form of Lone Rangerism.

Do we understand where Ron Paul comes from with his libertarian political views? Why did Dr. Paul name his son, the Kentucky senator, Rand? Why are so many politicoes emulating the moral philosophy (objectivism) of the Russian emigrant, atheist, Ayn Rand? Anyone wanting to know the answers to these questions and other related questions should google a little free information. Here are some helpful quotes:

“The Ayn Rand Institute (ARI), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization headquartered in Irvine, California, works to introduce young people to Ayn Rand’s novels, to support scholarship and research based on her ideas, and to promote the principles of reason, rational self-interest, individual rights and laissez-faire capitalism [hands off] to the widest possible audience. The Institute is named for novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand (1905-1982), who is best known for her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.”

*Did you note that self-interest, individual rights, and unregulated (laizzes faire) capitalism are at the center of importance?

Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said in 2011, “Ayn Rand has a large and growing influence on American politics.” Fox Network quoted Don Watkins as asking-and-answering, “To what extent has Ayn Rand shaped our political landscape? So far, not nearly enough. Don Watkins is an analyst at the Ayn Rand Institute. You can follow his work at”

Quoting further:
“Rand is usually thought of as a political philosopher, but that is not how she viewed herself. “I am primarily the creator of a new code of morality,” she once said. Whereas previous moral codes bestowed sainthood on those who served and sacrificed for others, Rand’s morality extolled “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” *Note: She eliminates the sainthood of service and sacrifice for others in favor of the morality of self-service.

Again quoting:
“Above all, you can see it in the moral outrage of the Tea Party activists, many of whom carry signs championing Rand’s works and ideas. Recall the Rick Santelli rant that started it all: “This is America. How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills, raise their hand? . . . . We’re thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party in July. All you capitalists that want to show up to Lake Michigan, I’m going to start organizing. . . . at the end of the day, I’m an Ayn Rander.”

Santelli was not an ordinary workman ranting against government per se; he was ranting against Obama’s wanting to make his bailout help commoners with mortgages underwater, which was taking income from Santelli, a Wall Street Trader. Big business took Santelli’s ranting and turned it around as an anti-Obama, anti-socialism message because the government was “forcing” Santelli against his will as an Inside Trader.

“In other words, a Rand-inspired political movement would be a principled movement. It would champion laissez-faire capitalism—the total separation of state and economics—as the only system that fully protects the rational and productive individual, securing his moral and political right to pursue his own happiness.”
*I disregarded this story, which I found first in AlterNet, an alternative News Service, but then discovered the original on the Rand Institute Website. AlterNet’s interpretation of it was not original and is authentic.

Further reading of Rand revealed this term and its definition on Wikipedia:
“Anarcho-capitalism (also referred to as “libertarian anarchy” by anarcho-capitalists,[1] “market anarchism,”[2] “free market anarchism”[3] or “private-property anarchism”[4]) is a libertarian[5][6] and individualist anarchist[7] political philosophy that advocates the elimination of the state in favour of individual sovereignty in a free market.

“In an anarcho-capitalist society, law enforcement, courts, and all other security services would be provided by voluntarily funded competitors rather than through taxation, and money would be privately and competitively provided in an open market.

“According to anarcho-capitalists, personal and economic activities would be regulated by privately run law rather than through politics. Furthermore, victimless crimes would not be punished.” The bottom line of this line of thought is individual sovereignty in an unregulated (anarchic) market. But, when you eliminate all authority, all rule books, all cooperative efforts, except that which is voluntary, what do you have?

While Rand idealizes humanity, and imagines everything being peaches and cream, life tells us differently, as illustrated by this story of the Scorpion and the Beaver. The Scorpion asked the Beaver to carry him across the lake.

“If I let you get on my back,” responded the Beaver, “you’ll sting me and paralyze me and cause me to drown.”

The Scorpion reasoned, “I can’t swim. Thus, if I sting you while we are in the lake, I’ll drown too. Obviously, I wouldn’t do anything to cause that.” So, the kindhearted Beaver agreeably gave the Scorpion a ride. Sure enough, the Scorpion stung him, and the Beaver reproachfully asked, “Why did you sting me?”

Tearfully, the Scorpion replied, “I couldn’t help it, it’s my nature.”

Atheism and sovereign individualism have no successful way of dealing with the realities of human nature (what the Bible calls sin). That sin is what nobody talks about, but everybody does. From Warner’s World, I am

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Biblical Character of Unity

My friend asked what I thought was the biblical character of the unity we proclaim. That is a discerning question. The Church of God [Reformation Movement] has survived some 130 years because dedicated individuals followed the spirit of the commission D. S. Warner believed God gave him.

Warner wed his proclamation of personal holiness and a united church (the spoken word) with the written (published) word. During the latter 19th century, he combined preaching and publishing, and out of that 2-fold thrust evolved the Church of God Reformation Movement, the church ministry being heavily nurtured by the publishing ministry for the first 50-75 years.

Like so many, my friend and I have spent our lives wrapping ourselves around Warner’s example--volunteering--sacrificing--giving [frequently] until it hurt. I recognize the great devotion that prompted so many to pour entire lives into that message of personal holiness, Christian brotherhood, and church reformation.

Unity has always characterized our message. On the other hand, we often proclaimed more unity that we practiced. In defining the biblical character of unity, I want to be positive, but I must honestly confess we have often fallen far short in practicing that facet of our Biblical message.

Looking back, I see well meaning people with the best of intentions, sometimes functioning dysfunctionally--from beginning. Is that bad? Is it good? Or, does is rather reveal the dilemma of our humanity? I suggest Warner et Company were flawed, as was their message. Some remain among us who overly revere the writings of our pioneers.

As worthy as they were, I find then quite human. I respect them. Their published message is worth referencing. Nevertheless, they were subject to their times, and while I will accept their guidance, I will not canonize their writings. Some things, they got right, but some of their choices could be improved upon.

They did their best with what they had, which was sometimes better than we have done with what we had. Were they infallible in their behavior, their beliefs, and their applications of scripture for their times? Hindsight says they, like unnecessary baggage, sometimes brought their fallibility into our cooperative ministry, which has occasionally left our witness weaker than it should have been.

I do believe the Church of God Movement is better positioned today than ever before, to be the Reform Movement our pioneers claimed to be in the beginning. I say that, warts and all--fully cognizant of some wretched flaws that produced debacles like the downfall of Warner Press, the demise of “Vital Christianity” magazine, Church Extension, et al.

I believe the Biblical character of unity must be defined biblically, rather than doctrinally. I grew up in a congregation “where Christian experience makes you a member.” We believed we were “A United Church For a Divided World”.

Those themes are consistent with the prayer of Jesus in John 17, for his disciples to be one, as Father and Son are one. Paul defined our one hope as having one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6 NIV).

“The Church’s one foundation,“ wrote Samuel Stone, “is Jesus Christ her Lord.” Christ’s followers share a common bond in Jesus Christ. That bond is trans-denominational [some would say, non-denominational] and is NOT simply the agreement found “within” the Anderson Fellowship. Nor is it in finding doctrinal (creedal) unity, or agreement on a set of Bible doctrines.

From the time I became a Church of God pastor until today, I have shared a level of fellowship within God’s larger Church Family, everywhere I served. Warner’s 1881 withdrawal from sectism at Beaver Dam, IN inspired me. Believing he did it to openly fellowship all of God’s people, I found him ahead of his time. I liked his intent; it motivated me, and I took it seriously.

Yet, I believe Warner had unresolved issues with organization and authority--due in part to his credentials being withdrawn by the Winebrenner fellowship with whom he associated. Dare I suggest he practiced biblical unity better in launching his ministry than he did after he developed his “Come-out” theology that he adapted from the Adventists of Battle Creek through Uriah Smith. That teaching is badly flawed, but later on that.

If you know the story of G. P. Tasker‘s conflict with “Anderson” you readily understand some of the problems with the “come-out doctrine. Doug Welch chronicled the details of that story and Tasker’s recall from missionary service in India (Ahead of His Times: A life of GEORGE P. TASKER/Douglas Welch/AU Press/2001). You might also read E. A. Reardon in The Gospel Trumpet Years, by Stultz and Welch; I found him thoughtfully challenging.

Biblical unity comes through personal discipleship with Jesus rather than uniformity of doctrine, be it holiness, the church, end times, or whatever. doctrine. Our Salvation in Christ creates a common brotherhood and is our common bond.

Biblical Unity is best expressed, I believe, when we cooperate with God’s larger family by working together on His “Unfinished Mission” of taking Christ to all the world (evangelism) [cf John 3:16; Matthew 20:19-20]. That is our common mission--our primary ministry. God did not call us to become a cookie cutter church body (sometimes called denomination); He called us to become an Emergency Room in a dysfunctional world.

To refuse to come together for that purpose is to reject the primary desire of God’s own heart. From Warner’s World, I am