Monday, September 22, 2014

Saul Versus Paul

Dedicated to God, heart, soul, mind and body; Saul was deeply entrenched in the teachings of Master Teacher, Gamaliel. Thoroughly educated in the Hebrew faith of his heritage, pleasing God became Saul’s pearl of great price

His choleric temperament drove him to drink deeply, when others merely sipped from life‘s cup. Competitors quickly fell short of Saul’s driving passion to be a “Pharisee of Pharisees.” In quenching that thirst, he launched his crusade in defense of the Almighty. The self-sufficient, impetuously hot-tempered law student threw down the gauntlet defending Jewish monotheism against the heretics of this prophet called Jesus.

En route to Damascus, Saul made a life-changing discovery: life did not center in his values and beliefs. Suddenly, Jesus took on a whole new dimension, as the fire-breathing exponent of Jewish Legalism recognized a new perspective!

No longer able to look upon humanity “according to the flesh”, Saul discovered “God was in Christ, reconciling us to Himself” and he became a new man. , Paul now found himself an ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16; Romans 1:16-18).  

In the cross of Christ,
Saul of Tarsus experienced resurrection and empowerment
to live a new life.

“And I, “said Jesus, “if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (John 12:32 NASV).  Death came to Jesus, “that men … should cease to live for themselves,” and “live for him who for their sake died and was raised to life” (2 Corinthians 5:15 NEB).

Saul of Tarsus, a Hellenist Jew with a Pharisee’s pedigree as long as his arm, experienced a metamorphosis in meeting Jesus. That encounter transformed the arrogant Pharisee into a humble follower of Jesus, the Christ, and Saul, the terrorist from Tarsus, became Paul, the Apostle of Christ to the Gentiles.             

The message of the cross empowered the transformed Saul
to disengage from racism, culturalism, and creedalism and
be metamorphosed into Paul, the zealous Christian Apostle.

Through the cross, God empowered Jesus to overcome sin and death through the resurrection and enable Christ‘s disciples to live like Christ, or as “little Christ’s.

Paul consequently confessed, “For through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God.” Thus, he reasoned, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:19-20, NASV).                    

Through the cross
Saul found power to become Paul,
a man with a vision of hope for human potential.

Saul went into his spiritual cocoon a sinful worm; Paul came out a grace-full butterfly, enjoying
G od’s
R ichest
A t
C hrist‘s
E xpense.
From then on, Paul regarded no person from a worldly point of view; rather, he saw the cross of Christ as a divine invitation given to all:

               Beneath the cross of Jesus [I] gladly take my stand  . . .
               The very dying form of One Who suffered there for me;
               And from my smitten heart with tears, Two wonders I confess--
               The wonders of His glorious love And my unworthiness.
--Elizabeth C. Clephane, 1872

The church, concluded Dietrich Bonhoeffer, is “our hope for the present and the future.” He followed in the wake of our Ancient Fathers who said, “God [is] our Father, the Church our Mother, Jesus Christ our Lord, [and] that is our Faith.  Amen.”
               1 Mary Bosanquet, The Life And Death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  (New York:  Harper & Row, Publishers, 1968), p. 65.

at Warner's World

Are You an Agent of Peace or War?

Abraham Lincoln became sixteenth president as an agent of peace, but he confronted a nation separated south from north. "One of them would make war rather than let the nation survive,” concluded Lincoln, “and the other would accept war rather than let it perish.” Thus, the war came! 1

That war crippled America, scarred its national body for generations to come, killing 418,206, leaving 362,130 wounded citizens. Half a century later, American politics were so corrupted that adding pre-emptive strikes to our diplomatic arsenal only added American soldiers as another foreign invader.

War is expensive! By any measure, it is excessive, even wasteful! Iraq cost more than 4,400 American deaths. Thousands more carried wounds. The 2007 surge added 30,000 troops to Iraqi collateral damages--70-76,000 killed (Washington Post, 8-21-07), paid by credit card.

When unveiling America’s new military-industrial phenomenon in 1961, President Eisenhower cautioned us regarding grave implications of the “immense military establishment and a large arms industry.” He accepted it, but agreed it was “new in the American experience, a total influence – economic, political, even spiritual.” (Emphasis added). 

Ike cautioned us to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence . . . sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex” (emphasis added). He admitted the potentially disastrous rise of misplaced power, and rightfully feared it. He further insisted, we must never let this endanger our liberties or democratic processes (emphasis added).

From the first, America’s founders gave civilian controls precedence over military powers. Eisenhower warned, take nothing for granted; “only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. . .”2

 Decades later, diplomatic efforts stumble in darkened corridors of the War Department while Congress marches meekly to the economic ambivalence of the Pentagon. Arms manufacturers “lobby” hard for jobs in the “growth industry” that now includes an unseen army of unaccountable para-military sub-contractors earning prime profit from weapons of destruction.

Should journalists dare to define the philosophical struggles between diplomacy and defense, few would dare to march by the peacemaker’s drumbeat.3 The teachings of Jesus no longer offer relevance to our national debate; therefore Christians ought to withdraw quietly from public dialogue, privatize personal faith, and allow diplomacy to wear its military uniform.

If true, that the Christian message of the cross has no relevance, let us delete John Wesley from the Internet of human history. Wesley defined himself homo unius libri--“a man of one book.” He proclaimed that book “the sum of all religion,” which he asserted “is laid down in eight particulars, and he described the Sermon on the Mount as an aggregate total of the New Testament message.”4

Jesus challenged humanity to forgive as God forgives.5 Jesus used the cross to interpret God’s indiscriminate love.6 Christian discipleship challenges us to integrate personal beliefs and behaviors with actions and attitudes, which Pastor J. L. Sparks calls “transformation.” Jesus intended for people to negotiate win-win solutions for everyone and eliminate the win-lose system of human relationships.

 “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth,” concluded Saint Paul. “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres ... And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 7

Martin Luther King led the Civil Rights Movement by challenging followers to “meet the forces of hate with the power of [Christ-like] love.” Addressing “white brothers all over the South,” King declared, “we will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering … Bomb our homes and we will still love you ... We will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process. 8

 During the Cold War, members of one local church began worshiping above a former missile silo. Seeing potential opportunity, they built their new facility on top the Titan II ICBM site. Solid with concrete, the once destructive missile site became a new symbol of hope for converting swords and missiles into plowshares and worship into peacemaking.

Pastor, Stewart Elson, called it a fitting closure to Cold War. He described it as “hope for a world falling prey to its own worst self” and called ending the Cold War and dismantling the nuclear defense system a superpower exercise of control, forever hampered by human frailties and political gaming.

John Bernbaum suggested that Jesus is the consummate peacemaker. He believed the Church of Jesus Christ, by virtue of its multinational character, “should by definition be an agent for world peace!”9

Although new faces present our day with the violence and hatreds of centuries-old  wars and broken relationships, we are still confronted with the Old Testament Scriptures that reveal a humanity created in the image of God. We still have the New Testament Scripture that reveals Jesus inviting all humanity to further experience the love of God, and to ultimately share God’s gift of reconciliation and indwelling peace.10
Agent of peace, or war: which are you?

 1 Abraham Lincoln, 2nd Inaugural Address, 4 March 1865. 
 2 Eisenhower's “Farewell Address to the Nation,” January 17, 1961. 
 3 Stephen Glain, State Vs Defense. New York: Crown Publishers, 2011. 
 4 The Works of John Wesley, Vol. V, p. 251. 
 5 Mt. 6:12, 14; 18:32; Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13. 
 6 Mt. 5:43-48; Luke 6:32-36. 
 7 I Corinthians Chapter 13:8, 13, NIV. 
 8 Marshall Frady, Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 2002), p. 5. 
 9 John A. Bernbaum, Perspectives on Peacemaking. (Glendale, CA: Regal Books, 1984, p. 254. 
 10 I John 1:5-7; 3:1-3,  et al.


Monday, September 15, 2014

A Life Lesson (Revised

I only know bits and pieces of Doc’s early life since marrying his baby girl. This many years later, I find my spouse the last living member of the expanded family that belonged to Doc. He was a life-long Oklahoma general practitioner who spent a short stint in Houston, TX. I’ve heard numerous stories not repeated here. Some family members remembered a time when Doc wrote off more than one million dollars in bad debts that his depression-era patients could not pay, a reminder that there had been better financial times.

By the time I met Doc he was still vigorous and dynamic, but was aging and old. I could easily envision him a force to deal with, standing six feet in his stocking-feet and ranging from 250-300 pounds. Four sturdy sons by Mary all towered over him, his baby standing 6’4 ½”.  When I came along, I found a man well into the latter years of his eighty-plus span. It had been an impossibly-long journey that had begun in North Carolina.

There, he was someone’s five-year-old mixed-birth male child, propped up on a plank in their part of the departing wagon-train. His responsibility was to hold the reins and hold their team of oxen on course as they began their personal “Trail of Tears”. Dee Brown described that journey in her gut-wrenching record in her best-selling narrative, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee. “Doc” made the journey as far as Lead Hill, AR.  There, he began his new life as a Razorback.

In that new and hostile western environment, he carved out his own niche, having grown up fast as a five-year-old. He paid the necessary toll - physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually, utilizing sheer grit and gumption. He graduated from the University of Arkansas before Oklahoma became a state. He paid for his medical education by working as a fireman shoveling coal, shuttling back and forth between Little Rock and the Crescent City.

A former translator for the nearby Indian Court, Doc was concluding years of working hard as an entrepreneur that provided the livelihood of several tenant families. Doctoring a wide-swath of east-Central Oklahoma’s impoverished, Doc served without fear or favor anyone unable to afford regular medical care. Simultaneously, he kept his hand in Oklahoma politics.

When his first wife died prematurely, he married a young Kansas girl whose New England descendants migrated west to build new in business and cattle. At some point, Doc and youthful Mary Woodard experienced a religious conversion following their marriage and were swept up in the Reformation of the Oklahoma Church of God. There, for three exciting years Doc proclaimed the Gospel of the Reformation Saints.

When the leadership exercised more exuberance than sense, Doc’s preaching days shortened. They offered to ordain him into gospel ministry, with which he had no problem. However, he had the good judgment not to throw out the baby with the dishwater! When they insisted he burn his medical books and renounce his medical training, he forthrightly rejected their extremism and never again preached.

He taught the bible to his growing family. He supported the church in many ways, yet refused to dissect their theology from the good sense God gives most of us. That forever changed Doc’s life, leaving him warped in many ways. It left his family searching and sometimes sickened, often striving to make sense of what was not always a pretty scene.

Mary held steady! Exposed to the gospel by Nazarene friends, she spent her life in the Oklahoma Church of God. Ever faithful, she completed her eighty-nine years long after Doc’s chaotic death. She followed faithfully; trusting God as her medicine, until departing from the East Tulsa Hospital she checked herself into.

For years she had awoke at five a.m. and done her devotions at the end of the path behind the house, before waiting on her family. Her final day, as every day; she enjoyed her audience with God while hospital staff fluttered about tearfully. Boarding her final flight, she left no doubt among the staffers of the Divine Presence and her final home-going--a whole other story.

I became part of this scenario long after Doc’s departure from church; yet, he was never far from it. That ordination committee did what they knew to do. Yet, in their zealous ignorance they possibly ruined one that potentially far excelled them as a powerful witness. Their gross misunderstanding was short-sighted and unnecessary.

Some of life’s lessons are more helpful than others; I leave that for your determination. For myself, I believe God alone determines such judgments. At times, people expected me to draw conclusions of immortal import, but I am happy to confess my infallibility.

Had I but one lesson to leave those nearest me when I depart, it is that we can trust this Sovereign God who sometimes seems to leave us dangling on limbs of uncertainty. What He does in our lives, will sooner or later reflect our best interest--if we but trust Him! Doc's kids also shared this conclusion while "Mose" (pictured) and I spent our lives as career servants of the church. 

Believing the best is yet to come, 
we all look forward to the best of all judgments possible 
. . .

Monday, September 1, 2014

Living in a World That Is Only Half True

Indeed, wrote Peter Jaret, “a healthy diet, quality sleep and regular exercise can help any man build muscle, improve libido and raise energy levels. No prescription required” (AARP Bulletin, Jul-Aug, 2014). Jaret’s article, “Low-T: Real Problem or Ad-Driven Fad?” contests current marketing protocol targeting American men. This is standard advertising practice that flies in the face of governmental regulations on truth in advertising, et al.

Marketing ploys would have us believe, “Millions of men 45 or older may have low T … So talk to your doctor about low T.” His rationale includes this warning from Dr. Stephen Woloshin, professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for health Policy and Clinical Practice, who calls this practice, “the mother of all disease mongering.”

An increasing mountain of evidence supports what I already knew deep in my gut: business and the insatiable thirst for greater profits has led to the media taking the public captive and feeding it an increasing dosage of narcissisms, when our society is already addicted to me-ism in all of its variant forms.

Sex sells anything! The result is you cannot buy a new car without being tantalized by a sensuous woman to lust after, or be seduced by. You cannot watch a ball game without reading a Viagra sign to remind you that if your sex drive is decreasing with age, you are abnormal rather than simply experiencing normal aging. Never mind the fact that we have a real social problem today with an overabundance of sexual predators and that our families and children are under constant threat!

These are deeply symptomatic of a far greater problem. Our troubled society has deep-seated difficulty with sorting fact from fiction and reason from feeling. Data shows, suggests Jaret, that data from Internal Medicine (IMS) Health shows “T sales rose from $324 million in 2002 to nearly $2.3 billion in 2012. Sales could hit $5 billion by 2018.” What this really means is that by simply adjusting the truth to accommodate false illusions, lying to the public has become both acceptably legal and very profitable.” It further suggests that contemporary political protocol allows “lying” as an accepted behavior and business practice.

Amid our distrust today of government, and even truth itself; there remains little truth anywhere, because everywhere truth is re-packaged and slanted into the skins of justification to produce a product of phoney-baloney that marketers have found both highly productive and grossly profitable The net result is an increasing amount of distrust of everything and everybody everywhere. The end product is where we find ourselves – living in a truthless and ruthless society where truth is only what one perceives it to be; we no longer have moral absolutes.

Need I go further? It has come to the point that I am so dissatisfied with my culture that I am thoroughly tempted to disconnect my cable and flatly refuse to longer participate in that captive audience owned by the advertisers. They don’t know that they have already offended me to the point that their commercials turn me away from further purchasing their product; they lied to me and betrayed my trust!

While I cannot extricate myself from this predicament, I can become a very self-determining individual that will selectively buy by my standards rather than theirs, that I will buy only what I need for my day to day existence, and that I will as much as is within me base my choices upon my principles of financial management, which in my case begins with being a good financial steward before the God of the Bible.

When Jesus uttered his famous words, “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32), I suggest he was not simply proclaiming his belief in an antiquated provincial religion; he was affirming the ultimate ground of reality anchored in God Almighty. Jesus was reminding humanity of an ultimate realm of moral absolutes; he was affirming that compromising these absolutes will ultimately destroy all that is of value in our humanity and our human relationships.

We can philosophize all we want over this issue, from any and all perspectives of religion, ethics and morality but lying is a deceptive practice of human behavior. When accepted as a social norm it will eventually destroy all bases for our living together in any kind of social relationship. It is slowly destroying America and adulterating our so-called democracy. It allows a fast-growing cancer to speed up its growth as it slowly destroys this global body we call our world civilization.

From Warner’s World, the next time you are tempted to accept-or-offer a slanted half-truth as a whole perspective, consider the lie that destroys our common ground for relating to one another.