Thursday, August 28, 2014

Awana's Homegoing

My wife lost her last living sibling just this evening when Awana went to her celestial home, where she joins baby brother “Moe”, a pastor- evangelist, her saintly mother, and others of her 2nd generation Oklahoma Church of God family. She was one of nine siblings: one deceased, 4 brothers and 3 sisters, my wife being the youngest of the girls. My wife and Awana (Jammie) were remembered by some as the sisters of Hiram Stiles (the elder sibling) and the “Stiles Twins.”

When Jam’s next older brother went to war and became a Southeast Pacific Air Ace, she became a pilot too. But for her to fly, she had to join the Ferrying Command. Later she went to cryptographer school and became a government code breaker and whatever they do. Although this beautiful partially first-American girl was offered a Warner Brothers Modeling contract, she stayed in government service. When she was courted by the heir to the South American version of Warner Brothers, she passed that by and finally married a Seattle widower she met at her employment.

Ralph was a graduate of Beijing University. He excelled in the State Department as a Chinese/Far East Expert--Foreign Service Officer in Charge of several different posts around the world from Stockholm to Formosa. He was in China when it fell, receiving advance warning. Taking his sons, one under each arm, he ran the seven miles to the nearest port to escape the country, leaving his dying wife in the care of the household caretakers by prearrangement that insured their escape.

Awana mothered Ralph’s two sons and together they raised their combined family. She joined Ralph in the Geneva Conferences and supported his lengthy career in government and later as a Political Science teacher and author in residence at Harvard.

I knew this gracious lady nearly seventy years. Most amazing to me was the way they each loved each other. Being married to a poor preacher, my wife often did without things ladies love to enjoy but Awana loved pouring out her love onto her younger sister--like anointing oil. Generous to a fault; she gave to the point of extravagance, but they deeply loved each other.

Now in fragile health, my wife is unable to attend the Memorial service, but she is happy. She celebrates that she was able to spiritually re-direct Awana at a crucial time in their lives, and that Awana has now gone to her celestial reward without further suffering from the malignancy threatening her body. This is a family of siblings that anticipated meeting around God’s Great Throne for an eternal reunion with their mother, that will only be completed at such time as my wife joins that celestial circle.

There is so much about death that we do not know, but I like this poetic verse from our longtime Tulsa friend; it speaks of the Bible. Written by retired pastor Byrum C. Lee, 12-20-13; I think 94 at the time - it speaks of “No Last Chapter”:
  Some people, when reading a book
   Go to the last chapter and take a look.
   They want to see how it all ends,
   But to me, that sort of offends

The historian recalls, for us, the past—
Giving us a view of things tht last.
Reading it, may help our perspective,
As for the future we seek some directive.

But we’re more concerned about today—
"What, for me, does it have to say?”
The first chapter is now in the past,
And today’s more relevant than what’s last.

In the Bible, Genesis tells of the beginnings,
And the Revelation reveals to us its endings.
So it’s alright if you want to read ahead
To learn what John, the Revelator, said.

 Is there a message that, to me, it’s sending?
 To God, there is no beginning or ending;
 There is no middle, and no last chapter,
 For He knows what’s coming thereafter.

 And altho’ our life on this earth will end,
 The Bible, a message of hope, to us sends.
 There is life for us, in another world,
 And one day we’ll see it being unfurled.

From Warner’s World, I am

Friday, August 22, 2014

One View of Suffering

Rereading a favorite book by a favorite professor brought me this provocative statement: “Suffering as a mark of the church’s chosenness is the suffering which we do willingly on behalf of others” (Hendricks/ A Theology for Aging Broadman/78, italics mine).
Earlier, another writer picked up on this theme of suffering and the church (Hudnut, The Sleeping Giant). Hudnut sees Jesus emptying Himself, Phil 2:7, like the suffering servant of Isaiah 53.12 and affirming others as he affirmed God. Hudnut suggested the church is a people who deny themselves, Jn 13:14; Mt. 16:24; Mt 20:27 Rom 1.1; James 12:1; 2 Peter 1; Jude 1:1; he concludes it is a community based on denying itself.

This view affirms the church as a people who affirm others; who wash one another’s feet in the spirit of Jesus who came to serve not be served. The church becomes a people that encourage one another; it is a people who come together for what they can give rather than receive; we follow Jesus to deny self rather than serve self. Thus, Hudnut agrees Christianity is the power of positive action of people called to freedom--to be slaves--Gal. 5:13.

The church is people who affirm God as the slave bows the head before the Master, prompting Peter to
write “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold
grace of God” (I Peter 4:10 NKJV). With this in mind, Hudnut asked, ““What have we done in this
country, that we hoard our gifts, that we put the private over the public, the national ahead of the
international—our national “self-interest” as we call it, ahead of half the world that goes to bed hungry.
 ‘Nowhere in the world’ de Toqueville wrote of us, ‘were there so many ambitious people with such low
ambitions? Why?” (Hudnut/118).

Returning to Professor Hendricks, he declares: “In my opinion, there is no point where average
American Church life and average American Christianity are so unlike ‘the true church’ as at this point of
Suffering (Hudnut/The Sleeping Giant/118).

“Self-inflicted and self-imposed suffering gives rise to false martyr and messianic complexes,” comments
Hendricks, noting that “suffering occasioned by others may not be on behalf of others.” Suffering
imposed by others is more Christlike than self-caused suffering, he believes, “but it is not necessarily a
benefit to others.”

He illustrates:
“It was of benefit a generation ago when the stand of the confessing church of Germany and the heroic
efforts of individuals to save Jews from destruction were widely known in some churches. The recent
opening of the bamboo curtain in China has revealed stories of persecution and vicarious suffering
throughout the last forty years. Isolated and tragic examples of suffering and martyrdom behind the iron
curtain in Poland have won world admiration and possibly greater religious liberty for others. In America
we have not often or deeply been in the circumstance of suffering, the deepest mark of Christian
chosenness-suffering for others.”

In pondering the issue of whether or not American Christianity is to “entirely or permanently” avoid
such suffering, Hendricks offers this positive assertion: “We need to be faithful enough to Scripture to
recognize that suffering is a mark of the chosenness of the church” and that much of our “easy
triumphalism and rejoicing in our privilege is lopsided theology. It is also a poor witness to one of
the biblical identification marks of the church of Jesus whose sign is a cross” (78-79).

Hendricks leaves us with his question: “how do you carry your chosenness? As a privilege to be enjoyed,
a mark of divine favor to be exploited, a wonder to be amazed by, a gift to be shared, a service to be
fulfilled, [or] a possible cross to be carried when circumstances may make it necessary?”

While you wrestle for yourself with this question, I will re-examine my own experience -
at Warner’s World - walkingwithwarner.blogspot, com. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Are We Overlooking an Obvious Answer?

Paraphrasing Phillip Yancy; we claim to be people of The Book, which suggests we ought to be a people of books. One such book is William Barclay old volume entitled The Master’s Men, 1959.

Barclay primes the pump with this thought: “In the vision of the writer of the Revelation the twelve foundation stones of the wall of the Holy City had inscribed upon them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (Rev. 21:14). The twelve apostles,” suggested Barclay, “are the foundation stones of the Christian Church.” 

It is right he concluded, “that we should study them, not only to learn the facts about them, but also to see what apostleship meant for them and what discipleship must mean for us” (p. 11). This fine little book of splendid character sketches surveys both the biblical and non-biblical content for each of The Twelve. Barclay is biblical scholar as well as a well-versed academic in classical literature. He uses his vast knowledge of detail to remain true to the biblical record while opening windows for new and greater understanding for contemporary readers.

The profound lesson I found in his sketches revealed the wide ranging diversity of this group. These hard working, blue collar commoners, lived in explosive times. Living under the seeming quiet of Roman rule, this tiny Jewish state literally crawled alive, a nest of rebellious maggots. They remained a potential holocaust, ready to explode at any moment, at a given word of rebellion from any of numerous sources. 

Yet, the disciples of Jesus lived peacefully and harmoniously in their common bond with their beloved Teacher. From first to last: Simon Peter to Simon Zelotes (Zealot), Matthew the publican to the sons of thunder; these men in any other social context would have erupted into irresolvable conflict that exploded and utterly destroyed any  and all possibility of negotiating a common life. 

Perhaps the most overlooked lesson to be learned from the relationship of these men with Jesus is the common bond with him that utterly transformed their irresolvable differences into a harmonious symphony of a loving relationship.

When I look at the cacophony of conflict in today’s Middle East and I consider the centuries old dissonance of distrust, hatred, and revenge, I see only the hopelessness of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object. Yet, when I behold the social transformation of these twelve men living in their mutually loving relationship with Jesus, I have to wonder why our global community prefers living with dissonance rather than a harmonious symphony of peaceful living.

These men living together proved beyond any shadow of doubt that there is a transforming power that unites the most diverse and flawed of men and binds them in a common life more powerful than the strongest of human bonds.

From Warner’s World,
this is

wondering why our global community continues to discount this all important resource for peaceful living, when no one else has a better answer.