Friday, April 10, 2015

Building Relational Bridges

Dr. John Johnson and Professor of Missions, spoke at a local church where someone asked him this question: “So when you go to other countries, how do you tell other people they are wrong and we are right?”

Johnson, a cross-cultural missionary in Muslim countries for twenty-three years at the time, explained, missions is not about prying people loose from their tightly held cultural and religious beliefs and replacing them with new ones.

“I don’t tell them they are wrong and we are right,” Johnson admitted, “I work to develop relationships with them … Then I try to love them in the name and style of Jesus.”

As professor of ministry and missions in a Christian College, Johnson believed missions begin when we come into relationship with the God through His missionary Son. A passion is birthed in us that the peoples of this world will come to know God and live in relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus.

Pastor, Steve Stone watched this relational bridge become a convenient conveyor of truth between his church in Tennessee and a small Islamic community nearby. As the pastor, Stone went on the initiative by reaching outside the recognized box in his community; he welcomed members of the small Islamic community center into his neighborhood.

CNN later aired the story of the church’s hospitality. Eventually, Pastor Stone received a call from a group of Muslims in Kashmir who’d seen the segment. The callers informed him that after watching the program, one of their community’s leaders said to those who were gathered: “God just spoke to us through this man.”

As a result, one of the men went straight to the local Christian church and proceeded to clean it, inside and out, because of his desire to also be a good neighbor. The Kashmir group informed Pastor Stone “We’re going to keep taking care of this little church for the rest of our lives.”

We draw strength in the confidence that we have found new life in Jesus. It is also true that we desperately want others to know Him as well. Nonetheless, telling others they are wrong and we are right does little to help us establish a constructive relationship. It may, in fact, disrupt any existing relationship and prevent further chance for friendship.

Jesus intentionally broke through barriers that prevented him from befriending, counseling, healing, and serving others. As we follow Him, our mission becomes that of structural engineers building bridges and establishing relationships that allow us to love people and share God’s good news with them.

These necessary relationships become the bridges by which non-believers are enabled to complete their journey to faith. From Warner's World, we are

Thursday, April 9, 2015

"Such Were Some of You"

Doug [not his real name] joined our small self-help group and found new hope of strength for today and new possibilities of an improved life in a better tomorrow. I had recently joined this group that was primarily students, but included a few non-students, and we met at the Seminary where most of us were students.

All of us were active participants and there were no sideline spectators. Some were earning academic credits. A few faced issues with which they needed some assistance. In time, all of us would experience much more than just an academic credit as we discovered areas of personal growth and maturity and became more thoroughly committed disciples, in a group setting that was covenanted together in a circle of trust using the focus of Integrity Therapy developed by Dr. John Drakeford and Hobart Mowrer.

Doug was a member of the group when I came in. He had been dismissed from his Church Staff position after his third arrest, losing first his job and eventually his family. This floundering church musician now existed as a man without a country, until joining this small, close-knit circle of Christians. In the eleventh hour of Doug’s career, he came into the group and they loved him in spite of his homosexual behavior, giving him a place in their circle and room to rediscover himself.

Everyone accepted Doug as he was; socially rejected, personally defeated, without friend and sustenance, and at the end of his rope. He knew he was loved although he no longer loved himself. He had the support of the group just as he was, and time and space to become who he wanted to be, as well as encouragement to become all he could be in Jesus Christ.

Tediously, Doug scratched and clawed his way out of his emotional pit of hopeless disparagement and social abandonment. By the grace of God and the encouragement of his Circle of Support, life took on a new look for Doug, with new meaning.

Life for Doug slowly turned from a journey of repetitious defeat to a life of recovery in which he discovered God’s transforming power of metamorphosis. Like the tiny worm in nature that disappears into its cocoon and later reappears as a lovely Monarch Butterfly, Doug discovered happiness, wholeness, and a whole new sense of personal well-being.

The group taught Doug how to interact--openly and honestly, without rationalization and deception. Each group member became a conduit of God’s grace, as living waters of God’s healing grace flowed through our interrelationships and poured Doug’s life. Doug found new reason to hope for tomorrow through his new relationships with his new friends.

Through Christian discipleship, Doug discovered fresh reassurance when he discovered, “And such were some of you” (I Corinthians 6:22, RSV, italics added). Supported by this trusted circle of friends, Doug took the necessary time and painfully worked his way through responsible restitution and restoration of formerly broken relationships.

Doug consequently discovered new peace where once he had known only turmoil. New possibilities for further transformation of life invigorated him and he experienced further satisfaction in productive behavior and wholesome relationships. Like the Psalmist David, Doug discovered a new man within--a man after God’s own heart, a man of strong faith, an overcomer in spite of earlier failures.

Like many others whose personal struggles the Bible reveals, Doug eventually found that in his new friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ he had tapped into that power line described in John’s gospel as power “to become children of God” (John 1:12 RSV).

From Warner's World, I am


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Renewing the Mind

Roger Hazelton observed: “Difficult as it may be for us, a believing faith in God is all that can save us from our critical intellectual situation.” This teacher of philosophy at Andover Newton Theological School was writing in 1949 rather than 2015. He was also teaching students on their way into religious vocations, not all of which would fill pulpits. The book he wrote was oriented more to Christians than to non-Christians.

What I found most interesting was that he described our current times with almost prophetic accuracy, almost better than his own age when I was just beginning my career (Renewing the Mind, McMillan, 1949). “Such belief is not a residue but a resource,” claimed Hazelton.

This professor-preacher, a man of high intellect, believed, that a “world without God is a world without truth; indeed, it is no world at all, but mere nonsense. No drummed-up atheistic courage, no nihilistic posture of defiance, can long evade this fact. Hence if we are intellectually in earnest about getting well, a lost aptitude must be recovered, an abandoned birthright reclaimed, a precious heritage rewon. Plainly, the renewing of our minds demands that we learn again how to believe in God (emphasis added).

If such a recovery is to take place, insisted Hazelton, “our minds must become more childlike. This does not mean that we ought to be gullible; it simply means that we ought to be docile or teachable. By folk of our generation, at any rate, belief is not to be had on ‘I-told-you-so’ terms; and it cannot be generated and grown in the soil of ignorance and superstition. We do not need to be told what to believe, so much as taught how to believe. To some this may appear a childish and quite preliminary sort of discussion; but since where belief is concerned most of us are in the kindergarten anyway, learning its alphabet and practicing its scales, it may not be the wrong place to begin …” (22-23).

Hazelton saw human intelligence retreating “before the undisciplined squads of raw emotion or goes down before the shock troops of ruthless interest. Thought for power usurps the place once given to the power of thought. Reason gives up the battle for meaning and worth in human life, numbed by disaster and worsened by despair” (p. 6)

He concludes “A great and awful perversion has occurred. Man has sold his birthright of reason, and sold it cheap, for the pottage of a power-centered and power-obsessed culture” (p. 7). If this statement was accurate at mid-century during the Russian cold war, it is accurate many times over today when citizens are totally obsessed with the latest technology and governments are operated by power brokers.

People know how to build smarter computers (eg: the Smart Watch everyone is waiting for) but few people know how to read the signs of the times or tell the difference between truth and half-truth. Alfred North Whitehead once wrote, “The keynote of idolatry is contentment with the prevalent gods.” That describes us as a nation.

Or as Hazelton wrote, “To borrow a useful phrase, idolatry means “absolutizing the relative.” Whenever, we set up fragmentary and finite things as if they merited that full and ultimate concern which only God has the right to demand of us, we are in fact worshiping idols” (p 10).

We are a culture that values athletic coaches more than college presidents, the words of an athlete more than of a preacher. We get all excited when a bunch of one-and-done basketball players who have leased their abilities to a school for  a year, compile a record shattering thirty-eight victories without defeat. Yet I doubt that one of us will concern himself or herself as to whether they further educate themselves for the rest of the lives they will have to live after their professional careers.

After all, life’s bottom line is making money and education mostly concerns itself with making better people. All the while, people know more and more about gadgetry and things and less and less about reading, thinking, and truth (which may in actuality be non-existent).

“The task of Christian philosophy is not to establish an unsteady and artificial peace between the gospel and the world,” insisted Hazelton. “It is to penetrate all the nooks and crannies of human life with the spirit and significance of Christian faith (emphasis added). Morals and science, the arts and industry, letters and government must all be sought out, won, made captive to the mind of Christ” (pp 181-182). Obviously that would completely transform American culture.

The Apostle Paul pleaded with fellow believers “to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” This begins by not conforming to the surrounding world but to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 1:1-2 NASV). And if you read the rest of the chapter, you find a practical manual for everyday living by ordinary people.

We will see more lives changed and experiencing the transformation of which Paul spoke when more Christians get their heads (hearts and minds) really into the ballgame.