Sunday, November 23, 2014

Words ...

For too long I have been in too much of a hurry to look up words I could not define when reading. After using words for a lifetime, I am beginning to enjoy picking up a dictionary and being sure I understand the true meanings of words. 

As we enter into Thanksgiving Week, we follow that with Advent and the celebration of Christmas. Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, we now commonly refer to as BLACK FRIDAY. What is “Black Friday”?

Black Friday begins the Christmas buying frenzy fomented by the marketers and frequented by multitudes of secular participants. Stores depend on this season for a disproportionately huge chunk of their annual sales. On this day customers vie with each other to be first in line, camp out on the streets, and do whatever else is necessary to insure getting into the store and grab the bargain they want, obtain the cheapest price they can get, or acquire whatever else may be their objective.

When my wife and I moved to Portland, OR a few decades back, we discovered “Friday Surprise” at Meier & Franks Department Store. She dragged me kicking and screaming to our first and my last last “Friday Surprise.” The doors opened to a huge stampede of humanity crushing its way through the doors and into the shopping areas. “Customers” screamed and yelled. People fought. Customers literally yanked garments out of the hands of other customers!

This was a shopper’s mayhem that continued weekly as we acquainted ourselves with life in that otherwise rather civil society over the next few years. Later, I worked nearby at Olds & King Department Store, but I never became part of another Meier & Frank “Friday Surprise.”

Black Friday, like Friday Surprise, is another marketing strategy utilized by an industry intent on capturing an entire population. Madison Avenue currently controls the television industry with an iron fist that makes the average citizen an enslaved audience that is increasingly controlled and dominated by the subtle impulses of greed, acquisition, affluence and self-serving rights.
You are prompted to spend, spend, and over-spend. Obtain what you want, what you deserve! Nothing down, enjoy now, pay next year! Or five years from now. As far as the television is concerned, good journalism, wholesome programming, and World News have long ago ben dumped into the Hell of poor ratings, denigrated to the inconsequential.

As you enter this festive holiday season, consider the definition of the word “sacrilege” … “1. The act of appropriating to oneself or to secular use, or of violating, what is consecrated to God, or religion 2. The intentional desecration or disrespectful treatment of a person, place, thing, or idea held sacred. SYN.—sacrilege implies a violation of something sacred, as by appropriating to oneself or to a secular  use something that has been dedicated to a religious purpose; profanation suggests a lack of reverence or a positive contempt for things regarded as sacred; desecration implies a removal of the sacredness of some object or place, a by defiling or polluting it.”

Interesting enough, my Second College Edition WEBSTER’S NEW WORLD DICTIONARY says what most preachers I know, pastors and priests, dare not say today for fear of offending church parishioners, or Santa Claus, or the Easter Bunny, or even the Chamber of Commerce!

FWIW, it seems we live in a profoundly profane and sacrilegious culture that profanes the sacred by replacing it with Santa Causes and Easter Bunnies and desecrates the faith for the sake of The Almighty Dollar that is now its Deity.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

From Where God Sits

Herb Shaffer, pastor-church planter alias Life Coach was but a name until recently. I encountered him at the Crowne Plaza in Lansing, MI while conversing with friend Bill Jones as the 94th session of the General Assembly of the Church of God in Michigan got underway. Now retired from pastoring 18 years and working at a slower pace writing, editing, and promoting books, I can no longer undertake the expense of attending the full Assembly but I attend the BIG day (2-day affair) as often as possible.

Concluding my conversation with Bill, I strolled over and this tall, lean-looking stranger shooked my hand. I recognized him from pictures in “Michigan Action”. This peer-stranger became a friend--especially when he picked up a book, wrote in it, and handed it to me – From Where God Sits. I found this to be his quest to see life from where God sits. 

Having met numerous other Shaffers’ in many places across the country through the years, I learned Herb is a product of Maiden Lane Church of God in Springfield, OH. Now, to a Wolverine that suggests just another Buckeye, but everything I learn about Herb spells o-k-a-y . . . As a Life Coach, he administers the ISL Program formed in the minds of Area Administrators of IN, IL, MI, OH, & PA.  Initially envisioned by Don Smith in 1987, then Assistant State Minister of Indiana, the dream was to educate Ministers and Lay leaders in practical applications of church growth principles and teach a methodology for churches to embrace and practice. 

This Five Church System became the first framework around which the ISL Curriculum was designed. Currently, it teaches the Natural Church Development system designed to bring churches to health with the understanding that healthy churches grow naturally—a sensible conclusion. Meetings are planned for two day seminars (Friday-Saturday) each spring-fall for 12 hours of instruction, workshops and small group interaction.

Since books are dear to any Minister’s heart, you can understand my enthusiasm. On reading From Where God Sits, I found Herb’s highly-intriguing insightful analogies and descriptive phrase-turns, one liners, unique thoughts spun into short stories, an utterly wholesome view of life. He wrote them conversationally in easy-to-grasp concepts that frequently pushed the envelope for good devotional reading - forty-eight chapters in 146 pages!

His dry humor first hit my radar antennae. At other times I laughed out loud. A one-liner that captured me announced “behind every don’t is a bigger do.” Try applying that to the Ten Commandments and the Law of Moses! He didn’t write all of this in what I consider the most refined grammar and sentence structure, but what he did do was capture my attention! He challenged me--to examine myself more closely than I am accustomed to doing in the much reading that I do.

If you trip when he doesn’t write in the theological language or brand of conservatism--liberalism your theology prefers; rest easy, he will deliver a sound conclusion befitting those lessons taught by Jesus and modeled by Peter, John, Paul and the multitudes within Christian orthodoxy.

I am a better person for having taken this walk with Herb, and let me be quick to add “Thanks Herb, for Chapter Forty ‘Over the Hill or Top of the Ridge’” (Ch. 40, p. 117). I wrote my first piece on “Life Begins at Forty” nearly fifty years ago, but your myth debunking made me cackle. And frankly, it made my adrenaline pick up its pace ... 

You can always reach Herb at, shown at right n a teaching session. From Warner’s World, 
this is

Monday, November 17, 2014

Look to Jesus and Live

A young man stepped out of the cold, stormy night and entered the primitive chapel in Colchester, England. The preacher’s message was warm and inviting: “Look and live.”

Inside, a Methodist lay-preacher named John Egglen faced no more than a dozen or fifteen people. He repeated his text carefully, before hesitantly inviting his hearers to “Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.”

He spoke only briefly, in a rather homely fashion. Then, with the freedom of that era; John Egglen looked straight into the eyes of his youthful visitor, riveted his attention, and declared: “Young man, you look very miserable, miserable in life and miserable in death, if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment you will be saved. Young man, look to Jesus Christ, look. You have nothing to do but to look and live.”

Tourists visit that historic chapel today and read on the stone tablet marking the site: “Near this spot C. H. Spurgeon looked and lived.”

Looking to Jesus transformed that teenaged London lad into the fountainhead from which Londoners freely drank living waters for several decades. It transformed the young Spurgeon into a man with a heart for God and launched him onto history’s stage of action, where he initiated one of the most fruitful Christian ministries ever launched. It refocused Spurgeon’s life and created a wellspring to which people came from around the world to drink and find refreshment.

Hymn-writer W. A. Ogden described the experience of looking to Jesus and finding unsparing love that restores life in the superlative:

               I will tell you how I came, Hallelujah!
               To Jesus when He made me whole:
               ‘Twas believing on His name, Hallelujah
               I trusted, and He saved my soul.
               ‘Look and live,’ … my brother, live,
               Look to Jesus now and live;
               ‘Tis recorded in His Word, Hallelujah!
               It is only that you ‘look and live.”1
                                                                                The American SERVICE HYMNAL
Nashville/ John T. Benson Company, 1968 
(W. A. Ogden, “Look and Live”, p.239)

While we busy ourselves renovating our political structures and tweaking our therapeutic gospel; could it be that we would find life easier to live with if once more we would just look to Jesus … now …  and live?

From Warner’s World,

Monday, November 10, 2014

Religion and Violence

Catholic theologian Karen Armstrong caught my attention with her publication of Fields of Blood that discusses religion and the history of violence (NY, Knopf, 2014). Elsewhere, I have written about America’s violent history, a violence that long defended slavery, practiced ethnic genocide, and otherwise left an ugly picture. I concur with Armstrong’s defense of religion(s)  that recognizes it as a substantive force of reconciliation and non –violence more than the practice of hostility and competitive force that some suggest.

She references historian John Bossey who reminds us that “before 1700 there was no concept of ‘religion’ as separate from society or politics (cf: Wm. Cavanaugh/The Myth of Religious Violence/159/John Bossy, “Christianity in the West, 1400-1700/Oxford/1985/170-71). As we shall see later in this chapter, she writes, “that distinction would not be made until the formal separation of church and state by modern philosophers and statesmen, and even then the liberal state was slow to arrive. Before that time, ‘there simply was no coherent way yet to divide religious causes from social causes; the divide is a modern invention. ‘People were fighting for different visions of society, but they had as yet no way to separate religious from temporal factors.”

“This was also true of the English Civil War (1642-48),” she concludes, “which resulted in the execution of Charles I as the creation in England of a short-lived Puritan republic under Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658).”

Armstrong counters the notion that religions are intrinsically violent (as per Crusades etc), and that violence comes primarily from secular sources such as the nation-state, and especially when that political power behaves in the manner of the Roman Caesar and views itself as the supreme value. Caesar emphasized this by demanding his subjects worship him as their Deity.

She well documents events like Abu Graib, 911, and other aspects of the current conflict between ISIS and Western Culture. She illustrates how the perpetrators of 911 felt great compassion for Islamic peoples and causes, sufficient to become radicalized, but were also very “lite” in their Islamic faith. They were hardly conversant enough with the Koran to know its teachings forbid the harassment et al of other religions, and especially Judaism and Christianity. Their violence resulted more from their secular/political ideologies than their teachings from the Koran.

Another idea that captured my attention is found in the following quote (Armstrong/274-75). She writes: “James Kelly and Barton Stone railed against the aristocratic clergy who tried to force the erudite faith of Harvard on the people. Enlightenment philosophers had insisted that people must have the courage to throw off their dependence on authority, use their their natural reason to discover the truth, and think for themselves.

“Now the Revivalist insisted that Americans could read the Bible without direction from upper-class scholars. When Stone founded his own denomination, he called it a ‘declaration of independence’: the revivalists were bringing the modern ideals of democracy, equality, freedom of speech, and independence to the folk in an idiom that uneducated people could make their own. This Second Awakening may have seemed retrograde to the elite, but it was actually a Protestant version of the Enlightenment. Demanding a degree of equality that the American ruling class was not yet ready to give them, the revivalists represented a populist discontent that it could not safely ignore.

“At first,” she continues, “this rough democratic Christianity was confined to the poorer Americans, but during the 1840’s Charles Finney (1792-1875) brought it to the middle classes, creating an ‘evangelical’ Christianity based on a literal reading of the gospels … Like the Second Great Awakening, these modernizing movements [social issues] helped ordinary Americans to embrace the ideal of inalienable human rights in a Protestant package ... the Great Awakenings in America show that people can reach these ideals by another, specifically religious route.”

I found Armstrong supporting the notion that we can be true to our faith while also lifting up the downtrodden and the vulnerable. To recognize the social aspects of our faith ministry is not necessarily to delute (liberalize) our faith, as some contend.

Like a good writer, she stretched my mind and expanded my understanding. She cleared my thinking about religion being widely united against violence and added to my understanding of religion as a social uplift as well as a spiritual renewal. From Warner’s World, I am

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Doubt Conquering Faith

Tromp, tromp, tromp marched an endless army of rain drops. Peeking through the curtains, Charles Naylor saw only heavily burdened clouds filling the leaded sky with cold rain. Depression flooded through the window washing away his flickering hopes.

Hadn’t God called him from the classroom and into the pulpit! The eager young enlistee in God’s Army left his schoolroom behind and was following God’s call into evangelism. Like a pebble tossed into placid waters, his call had taken him in ever-widening circles around the nation. But now, stuck here with his injured grandfather, no calls came.

Glancing about the room, he felt the pleasure of helping in this family emergency, but two months … without any calls … “how could God be pleased?” Grandfather’s injury had been serious enough to require care, and Charles loved his grandfather dearly. Yet, the pain of separation from his preaching ministry flooded his mind with incriminating thoughts that threatened him with thoughts of failed obedience.

As Charles meditated on the pit-a-pats of rain stoically marching past his window, he thought “Well; if I can do nothing, I am the Lord’s anyway.” The cloud of gloom seemed to rise slightly and a warming ray of fresh gratitude peeked into his mind. He took up his pencil and paper and the words of gratitude began pouring forth to God for the comforting thought.

Troubled emotions gave way to trustful security and before long Charles felt a deep inner sense of God’s Fatherhood. Personal conviction gripped his innermost being as he realized that Paul’s words in Romans 8:35-39 expressed his deep, personal convictions. Guided by Paul’s words, Charles translated those inner convictions into verses that expressed poetically the worshipful commitment he felt.

When a fellow minister set his verses to music, it resulted in a hymn that I have sung since childhood.” It is a hymn of faith that defines faith at work in troubled times when overwhelming difficulties cause us to reevaluate our faith. Not only does it remind me of who I am; it reaffirms me for Whose I am - “I Am the Lord’s:

               Whether I live or die,
                              Whether I wake or sleep,
               Whether upon the land
                              Or on the stormy deep;
               When ‘tis serene and calm
                              Or when the wild winds blow,
               I shall not be afraid--
                              I am the Lord’s I know.

               When with abundant store
                              Or in deep poverty,
               And when the world may smile
                              Or it may frown on me;
               When it shall help me on
                              Or shall obstruct my way,
               Still shall my heart rejoice--
                              I am the Lord’s today.
               During the more than four decades that Charles occupied his own bed of affliction, scores of people sent letters to Charles declaring how his affirmation of faith had blessed them in their darkest and most difficult hours. Recalling the depression of those dreary days he spent caring for his beloved grandfather, Charles no longer doubted that faith conquers doubt.
               Knowing that his hymn shaped the contours of many people’s walk of faith, C. W. Naylor concluded           
               There’s no defeat in life
                              Save from within;
               Unless you’re beaten there
                              You’re bound to win.2

               1 Worship the Lord, Hymnal. (Anderson, IN: Warner Press, Inc. 1989) p. 639. 
               2 C. W. Naylor, Secret of the Singing Heart. (Anderson, IN: Warner Press, 1974) p. 11.

From Warner's World, I am

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

"Such Were Some of You"

I met Gene when I joined a small Christian self-help group. We were part of a seminary community where we were each finding new meanings to life in those oft-sung words of that old hymn that reminds us there is “strength for today and hope for tomorrow …”

Dismissed from his church after his third arrested, Gene had lost both his job and his family. Until joining this small circle of close-knit Christians, the former church musician existed as a man without a country,  Only in his eleventh hour did Gene find healing through a group of people that loved him.
In spite of Gene's homosexual behavior, our group accepted Gene for who and what he was. We loved him as a human being created in the image of God and we extended to him unlimited grace that supported him as he was until he could become who he wanted to be--in Christ. 

Gene tediously scratched and clawed his way out of his pit of self-disparagement and social abandonment. By the grace of God, and with the encouragement of his widening circle of supporters, Gene’s life turned from its repetition of defeat after defeat and launched into a  full recovery.
Conversion became personal, powerful and productive. God’s transforming power became obvious in all that Gene did. His group-family taught him how to face himself openly and honestly, as well as how to interact with them. The group became the conduit for God’s grace, channeling living waters of health and healing into Gene‘s life.

With the help of his new friends, Gene found new reasons for hope. Christian discipleship and reading of the Scriptures, brought him Biblical reassurance when he read, “And such were some of you” (I Corinthians 6:22, RSV, italics added).

Supported by this circle of friends, Gene took the necessary time to work his way painfully through responsible restitution. As a result, Gene discovered new peace that replaced his former turmoil. New possibilities for transformed living invigorated Gene as he found renewed satisfaction in productive behavior and wholesome relationships.

Gene found himself a new man--a man after God’s own heart, like the Psalmist David. Through faith, he overcame his earlier failures. And like others whose stories the Bible tells, Gene found that in his new-found companionship with the Lord Jesus Christ, he had tapped into an undiscovered power line that the disciple John described as power “to become children of God” (John 1:12 RSV).

From Warner’s World, I am

Monday, November 3, 2014

Loving People and Outliving Hatred

Jesus believed in life. He believed in the power of Divine Love. To the twelve men who became the original disciples of Jesus, he said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you. By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35 NASV, italic added for emphasis).

Elsewhere, Jesus taught that life could be fully lived by compressing it into two all-encompassing rules:
     1) love God supremely; and
     2) love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:38-40).
In exercising this love, Jesus concluded, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40). And the reverse of that is 25:45: “to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.”

While reading today, it occurred to me that for me to love all men inclusively, and that seems to be what Jesus calls for, is to accept pacifism and war against no man. What else is pacifism, but intentionally refusing to fight with our neighbor? In our humanity, we want to pick and choose the issues we support and the people we love. We love selectively! We love the life of the unborn fetus but we have no such scruple against a terrorist, whom we demonize as our enemy, and with whom we go to war.

Did not Jesus say, “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? Instead of that, Jesus said, go the second mile, instead of just loving your neighbor, love your enemy and pray for those who abuse you (cf Matthew 5:38-47).

While Christians struggle with such a teaching as Jesus gave us, it seems that it took someone like Ghandi to look at the issue squarely. It was Ghandi who declared, “Mine is not an exclusive love. I cannot love Moslems or Hindus and hate Englishmen. For if I love merely Hindus and Moslems because their ways are on the whole pleasing to me, I shall soon begin to hate them when their ways displease me, which they may well do any moment. A love that is based on the goodness of those whom you love is a mercenary affair” Armstrong/(Field of Blood/Knopf, NY 2014/305, emphasis added).

“The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them,” suggested George Bernard Shaw, “but to be indifferent to them; that’s the essence of inhumanity.” That indifference is the one thing that the love of Jesus will not allow us to do. We dare not remain indifferent; thus, Eleanor Roosevelt was quite right when she said, “Life was meant to be lived … One must never, for whatever reason, turn his back on life.”

I’m not suggesting Mrs. Roosevelt was thinking of Jesus when she made her comment about life, but I cannot think of anyone else for whom those words take on more real meaning than Jesus. If anyone understood what it means to live life to the full, I believe it was Jesus. And realizing the wisdom of those words, he refused to turn his back on life when he had numerous reasons for doing so. Gospel wisdom suggests that Jesus went to the cross because he had not outlived his love for a humanity that he wanted to live to the fullest.

I believe it is important to live life to its fullest, and who other than Jesus could William Croswell Doane have been referring to when he concluded, “He had lived out his life but not outlived his love.” Jesus lived out his life in loving service, then surrendered his life on that Roman cross because he had not yet outlived his love.

From Warner’s World,
I am,

asking that the Christ empower us to love all people, everywhere, and be indifferent to no person, anywhere

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Tomorrow is Church Day

It is Saturday afternoon and I just watched a football game in which my grandson’s team blew-out their opposition: University of Northwestern 49—McMurray/Jacksonville, IL 13.

I didn’t go to the game but I watched it streamed on my computer and that is just one of the blessings I enjoy today by being progressive and making considerable effort when I really hated being dragged by my kids into the computer age. I typed my college and seminary papers and for nearly forty years I typed out my Sermon outlines on my trusty Underwood upright typewriter, after learning to type while in the Air Force.

In 1990 my kids gave me no choice, teaming up with my wife, and they insisted I buy a Word Processor while we were visiting in Minneapolis. That began a costly road, but once started there was no going back. Many times I found this new life confusing and terribly frustrating, but the rewards have been far greater, and I would be most foolish of all men today were I to try to go back to my trusty Underwood Typewriter.

Such is much of life. A story from the life of Colerdge tells of a friend who looked at the poet’s weed-filled garden, and said to him, “Why don’t you dig up those weeds and plant flowers?” The beloved poet allegedly replied, “I don’t want to prejudice the garden in favor of flowers. We just let it grow up as it is.”

That may sound strange to you, but I well remember the young mother who brought her children to our church years ago. She came from a more liberally oriented denomination and she was soon to depart from us and meet her husband in Japan, where he was stationed with the Air Force. She eagerly shared how she planned to take her children and visit the scenic places and historical sites while there and one of her major objectives would include exposing her children to all the great religions of the world.

When I quizzed her further, she informed me that she planned to then let them choose for themselves which religion they would follow. Like Coleridge, she planned to let the flowers and the weeds in her garden grow up together, without influencing them via cultivation.
That’s an interesting perspective and sounds so idealistic, but it is highly risky as some parents find out in today’s world when their children become terrorists et al. Unfortunately, if ou do not guide your children churchward, Christward, Godward, and heavenward, YOU WILL BE THE ONLY ONE WHO IS NOT INFLUENCING THEM. The world will have its influence. The unbeliever will have his influence. The criminal element will have its influence; as will the drug pusher, the pimp, the procurer, the bookie, the chisler.

They will all have their degree of influence upon your child however much, or how little, you influence your child! Unfortunately, the streets of our cities offer no diplomas and confer no degrees, but they educate with exacting precision. The nation’s only hope today lies in the Godly nurture and admonition of the children under the loving and endearing hands of their parents.

And if you think they are not hearing, you had best pay closer attention. When my daughter was but 2-3 years old we lived in a place where we listened to a radio station on the Mexican border. Every week we tuned in and listened to W. Dale Oldham on “The Christian Brotherhood Hour.” That same summer we drove north to attend our North American Convention. One day, we stood a short distance from a group of visiting preachers, whom we recognized on sight. While they conversed among themselves, our little daughter suddenly bolted across the grounds toward those visiting preachers, loudly exclaiming, “That’s my Dr. Oldham”!

Dr. Dale turned toward us to see what was happening and saw her running full tilt toward him. He opened his arms and scooped her up as she catapulted herself into his arms. She had heard a familiar voice coming from a stranger she had never seen, but it was a welcome voice she knew from home 1700 miles away and she knew it was right and friendly and safe. Needless to say, he stood there and wept

Tomorrow is church day and that brings me to a verse I encountered somewhere in my past:

You asked me why I go to church;
I give my mind a careful search.
Because I need to breathe the air
Where there is an atmosphere of prayer.

I need the hymns that churches sing;
They set my faith and hope on wing.
They keep old truths and memory green,
Reveal the work of things unseen.

Because my boy is watching me
To know whatever he can see
That tells him what his father thinks.
And with his eager soul he drinks

The things I do in daily walks,
The things I say in daily talks.
If I with him the church will share,
My son will make his friendships there.

Every child has a right to a dad and mother who love each other and who share their very best with their children. This is Warner’s World and I am