Sunday, May 31, 2015

Jesus and His Sermon on the Mount

The Enormous Exception was a 1986 publication by Word Publishers in Waco. Author Earl F. Palmer was a UC Berkeley/Princeton graduate; and pastor at the time of Berkeley 1st Presbyterian Church for sixteen years. Occupying a slot in my library for several decades, it has given me a fresh opportunity to meet the Jesus of the Law and the Gospel in the Sermon on the Mount.

Of special interest was the author’s assertion on the dust jacket suggesting, “The only way this sermon makes sense is if Jesus Christ himself, who spoke these words, is strong enough to make them really true … The good news in the profoundest sense in the Sermon on the Mount,” Palmer concluded, “is to be found in the one who is preaching the sermon” (p. 52).

I find in the author’s assertion a quintessential truth, a most perfect manifestation of the truth needed to properly interpret the sermon from Matthew 5-6-7. People from Anabaptist tradition stress a quite literal interpretation of the piety taught in Matthew 5-7. Others, including some pre-millenarians, distance themselves from it far enough to claim that Jesus merely suggested ideals to aim toward, rather than teaching a lifestyle one should practice.  Allow me to share a few insights from the author.

The Beatitudes of Matthew 5:3-12 describe the life of blessing, that being how life really works. There are multiple roads, or ways, but not every way works. The author would agree that the only way the Beatitudes work, or even make sense, is if the one speaking them—Jesus--is strong enough to make them really true.  Is Jesus as strong as he thinks he is?

Matthew 5:17-20 reveals Jesus as the Lord of the Law. Tracing the threads of Abraham, Moses, and David in an over simplified manner, we see the people of God called into covenant relationship as God’s very own people, marked by circumcision. Following Moses out of the Exodus brings identity of deliverance as God’s people celebrating a calendar of feast days that further instruct as to their identity, their deliverance, and the kingdom they seek. Palmer finds,
           “We can now appreciate St. Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill to the philosophers of Athens.
               He proclaimed to them that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the ancient search of the
               Philosophers of Greece just as he is the fulfillment of Israel’s quest for a king like David,
               a father like Abraham and a redeemer like Moses (44).                                                                                 
 Jesus offer a new way in Matthew 5:38-48; a new interpretation: you have heard it said … but I say … I liked Palmer’s analogy of the great arc of the Law (39). Think of it this way, he writes: “Jesus treats the Law as if it were a great arc. He next extends the line of the arc around to its fulfillment, the circle for which it was originally designed;” i.e., to be his very own people. Elsewhere, he writes:
            “It is Jesus of Nazareth who really completes our yearning for identity, so that we know who we are
               and to what end that ancient promise to Abraham was made, ‘by you all the families of the earth
               shall bless themselves.’” It Is Jesus who fulfills the righteous will of God shown at Mt. Sinai and he
               Is able to incarnate in himself the Way (Torah) for which the Law was given in the first place …”
               (p. 42).

               “Because of Jesus’ words we who trust in his Lordship over all of life including the Law must now
               Trust in the Law which has its completion in the Lord we trust … We may not have a Moses in our
               own story but we do have ‘exodus’ and ‘deliverance’ experiences …” (p. 43).   

There is a wide range of thought today about the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Sermon on the Mount. There are issues of War and Peace, Capital Punishment, Love in a world of hatred, Forgiveness and punishment, ad infinitum. Jesus insisted the gospel is summed up in two statements: love God supremely and love your neighbor as yourself! In Matthew 7:12 he laid out the Golden Rule:  do unto others as you would have them do to you.

But, is that really gospel? It sounds so simplistic that some think it merely a diluted form of a warped Christianity that is utterly impractical. Hear Jesus again! “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” How much plainer could Jesus say the New Testament teachings of love complete, fulfill, fill up the Old Testament teachings of an eye for an eye, et al?

Did Jesus originate this idea of love? NO! He taught it in Matthew 22:37-40, but he referenced Leviticus 19:18 and Deuteronomy 6:5 as taught by the Law of Moses. Consider also Romans 13:9 and Galatians 5:14, where the Apostle Paul frames the same argument. In James 2:8, the brother of Jesus and head of the Jerusalem Church adds his support. These men should tell us something!

I have not adequately explored either Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount or Palmer’s book, or given credence to the immense force of God’s love, but conclude with this word from Dr. Palmer:
            “When we dare to break the old expectations of terror for terror and rather introduce the new in-
               gredient of meaningful love (“bless”), the result is powerfully effective because we have invoked the         immense force of God’s love. In fact, Paul quotes Proverbs 25 (25:21-22) to prove his point. Love
               actually has the power to create a new reality … Paul’s use of the word bless points to a thoughtful,
               clearheaded, and tough love that is as wise as it is well intentioned …” (p. 55)

This small book (151 pages) evidences solid academic accreditation, supports thoughtful biblical exposition, and offers some solid word studies. From Warner’s World … I am              

The Joys of Family Life

We waited some fifteen years before belatedly experiencing grandchildren. Shortly after we married, we discovered one of us was under a death sentence of three to twelve months. God has transformed that dismal beginning into sixty-eight years, two living children and five premature births, and two wonderful grandsons (Austin returning an interception, shown above).

Our only daughter inherited problems that prevented her birthing children, leaving her brokenhearted. She devoted herself to her husband and mothered every child she met over nearly four decades of nursing. Our son, the last in the lineage of a dad who was the last of his line like his father before him, ultimately sired two sons in a broken marriage.

As grandparents, we lived six-hundred miles from our fast-growing grandsons and missed many of the benefits enjoyed by an intimate family. That makes us especially aware of the wisdom of the ancient Wiseman who suggested, “Children’s children are the crown of old men, and the glory of children is their father” (Proverbs 17:6 NKJV).  

That ancient writer said we should commit our “works to the Lord,” for “your thoughts will be established” (Proverbs 16:3 NKJV). This came home to me recently. It gave our son Scott the shock of his life but it underscored the value of making good decisions. When he determined his marriage was unsalvageable, he intentionally made several significant decisions that are paying huge emotional dividends.

Although Scott lived a long day’s drive from us, he made a career change to keep him close to his babies. This enabled him to become part of their growing up process in spite of the failed marriage. Withdrawing his life savings, he invested in a nice house that guaranteed a comfortable home for our grandsons and their mother. He provided intentional alimony that insured the necessities required by reasonable maintenance in a single-parent home.

When our second grandson was born, Scott accepted the challenge of the deteriorating marriage and agreed for the boys’ mother to return to work while he became stay-at-home dad for that first year. That year of at home brought an unexpected special bonding with Austin, not experienced by Kody. I didn’t really know if I could find a place for Austin in my heart; I was simply so full of Kody! But he was such a loving little guy; he just barged in, nudged Kody aside, and established his turf … and I am so blessed by them!

After twenty years of praying God to call the boys into some kind of Ministry, we thrill in watching Kody become established in a Youth Ministry in Fort Lauderdale, Fl. After several years of being coached and mentored by Peter Hass and the Substance Ministry of Minneapolis, Kody is now employed in a Florida ministry. The church has created a position that allows them to serve together and they plan a July Wedding (see Scott's growing family at right)..

Austin passed his 22nd birthday 3 days after I passed mile-marker 88.  He anticipates his senior year at University of Northwestern, as a co-captain completing his final year of varsity football. Anticipating a degree in business, he is evaluating God’s options for his life. Meanwhile, Scott and Austin went for their annual birthday bash--now a tradition that allows them to enjoy some of the fruit Scott planted during that first year of being stay-at-home dad to Austin.

Scott excitedly inflrmed me recently of going to a nice steak house for something a little nicer than the usual weekly lunch. They ordered dinner. Scott prayed, thanking God for the meal, for his son and their relationship, for Kody and Liz and their pending marriage, et al. Finishing his prayer, Scott glanced up to see Austin staring at him--grinning somewhat uncharacteristically.

Trying to process what was taking place, he almost unconsciously became aware of another presence. Liz, Kody’s tiny South Korean adoptee-fiancĂ©, is standing beside Austin, seated across from Scott. Perplexed … confused … trying to process … suddenly overwhelmed - Kody is not in Ft Lauderdale, he is standing beside Liz … ! (Engagement night shown left and I can hardly wait to welcome her!).

They needed to complete some wedding details, but they didn’t tell Grandpa for fear he would blow it - (that’s a whole other story of Grandpa and Facebook). They “sneaked” it past Austin and gave dad the thrill of his life by silently appearing unexpectedly. The writer of Proverbs announced “Children’s children are the crown of old men, and the glory of children is their father” (Proverbs 17:6 NKJV).

I was reminded of this word from Proverbs when this hit the fan last week and.I shared it second hand. Scott was so overwhelmed he couldn’t wait to tell me and let me share it with Granny-T. Obviously, we love our children, but we are especially proud of our grandsons and the splendid young men they have become (Kody seen interning  with Substance, Minneapolis in the lower right corner).

Righteousness exalts a nation, but understand this: the deterioration…the dissolution…the diminishing of contemporary family life, especially in America: this is our social lynchpin! It is our foundational cornerstone! It is part of the glue that makes us 
stick together and it is irreplaceable in the future survival of our civilization!

From Warner’s World, I am

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Great Judgment Morning Jack Holcomb

Living Like Zenith

Norman Vincent Peale, the patron saint of positive thinking, waited impatiently for the limousine. The popular pastor-author of a long-running series of books and magazines on positive thinking and transformative Faith stood quietly studying the nearby statue of Julius Caesar. It lent an aura of the Roman Forum to Caesar's Palace in Vegas.

The tough-minded optimist turned to his wife Ruth and declared, “I’ll never be in Las Vegas again; I might as well try one of these slot machines.”

“Wait a minute, Norman, replied Ruth, “you don’t believe in gambling. Don‘t do it. And besides, someone may recognize you.”

Ever curious, Peale wanted to know more about this practice he had opposed for so much of his life. Arguing that “no one around here knows me,” he jammed a quarter into the slot. Nothing happened. As he yanked the lever down, a voice announced nearby, “Hello, Dr. Peale! I was at your church last Sunday.”

We live and breathe in an age of media marketing that values appearance more than the reality of the content. Jesus speaks to our age of political spinsters, advertisers, public relations experts, and TV preachers offering complete makeovers without personal regard for reality.

“Let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’, said Jesus; anything beyond these is of evil” (Matthew 6:37 NASV). Judge not, he added, because you will be judged in like manner Examine the log in your eye, before judging the speck in your brother’s eye (7:1-5).

Jesus called for transformation from the inside out, rather than the artistic makeovers of politicians, preachers, publicists, and public personalities. As the old preaching professor used to say, “Make your sermons so clear they cannot possibly be misunderstood!”

Viewing life through the lenses of Jesus builds character into life unlike the Pharisees of his day who valued appearance more than substance. Dr. Rowland Taylor, the Anglican Vicar at Hadleigh, was observed by those who knew him to live as a reformer. He took seriously the Spirit of Jesus and avoided unnecessary controversy. He lived a Godly life. He internalized the truths that he taught, and he nurtured the poor. On the other hand, followers and friends could not deter the authorities of Bloody Mary from burning Taylor at the stake for opposing their unbiblical practices.

The Bishop summoned Taylor, gave him a tongue-lashing, imposed a two-year imprisonment, and tacked on a death sentence. Just five days before the burning—February 5, 1555—Taylor presented his son with his only remaining writing, a book of Christian advice. Taylor commended his family to God, declared his confidence in God’s faithfulness, and reminded his parishioners to continue walking in the truths he had taught them.

Assured of his heavenly welcome, Taylor urged his people to avoid blasphemy by turning back to false religion, and added his confession: “In thee, O Lord, have I trusted: let me never be confounded.”

The Sheriff then took Taylor to Hadleigh to burn (his Memorial is shown on right). As weeping parishioners followed en masse, a guard thrust the tip of his staff into Taylor’s mouth, thus preventing him from further preaching. Taylor gave his shoes away, while also distributing his remaining coins among the blind along the way.

Without doubt, appearance has great value, but Christianity offers more than a mere makeover. Jesus invites us to experience a transformation, to be "born again" to make our “what is” in life one and the same with “what appears to be” in our life.

From walkingwithwarner, 
we invite you to consider the words of Jesus to begin reconstructing your life from the inside out and live like Zenith, “where the quality is built in”.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"I Will NEVER Say NO"

On a recent overnight stay with Dale and Cheryl Stultz in Anderson, IN, I browsed Dale’s book shelves and two self-published biographies jumped out at me. They were about people with whom I had some personal experiences. I Will NEVER Say NO is a 178 page autobiography telling of the ministry of Lavern and Aleta Beach, following his conversion as a Christian shortly after they married.

Their ministry journey began during the cold winter of January 1939 when Lavern was unemployed and sitting in a movie house in Coldwater, MI. He was enjoying a brief respite from the turmoil of his struggles to succeed as a responsible bread winner for his family. He had worked at his temporary job long enough to draw a pay check and send  money home to his family, who were sustained by the washings and ironings his wife took in.

While the movie proved interesting, he could not escape the conviction that God was calling him to invest his life in God’s service. Thus begins a life story summarized by the commitment he made to God when he became a Christian. His conversion to Christ led to a lifetime in Christian ministry under the auspices of the Church of God (Anderson Convention), in which he was eventually ordained.

L.D.’s lifetime commitment to God confirmed what became a fact of life for him, as well as the title of a self-published autobiography” I will NEVER Say NO. I first met the Beach’s in 1974 in North Platte, NE as part of an entourage of youth and youth leaders from Battle Creek. We were en route to the 1974 Denver International Youth Convention. I had arranged for our group to overnight in North Platte and sleep in the sanctuary of their attractive A-frame type structure.

They hosted us in a most gracious manner. As an extra benefit, I enjoyed a tour of the huge Union Pacific Bailey Rail Yard complex. Wikipedia describes it as halfway between Denver and Omaha. It covers 2,850 acres and is over 8 miles in length and 2 miles wide. It has 200 separate tracks totaling 315 miles of track with 985 switches, 766 turnouts, and 17 receiving and 16 departure tracks. Union Pacific employs more than 2,600 people in North Platte, who are responsible for the day-to-day operations.
An average of 139 trains and over 14,000 railroad cars pass through Bailey Yard daily. They sort some 3,000 cars daily using the yard’s two humps. The eastbound hump is a 34 feet tall mound and the westbound hump is 20 feet high. These are used to sort four cars a minute into one of the 114 "bowl" tracks, 49 tracks for the westbound trains and 65 for eastbound. The bowl tracks form trains headed across North America, East, West and to the Gulf-coast of the United States, as well as the borders of Canada and Mexico.
Also included are 3 locomotive and servicing centers called eastbound run thru, westbound run thru, and the service track that handles more than 8,500 locomotives per month, a locomotive repair shop that can repair 750 locomotives monthly, and a car repair facility that handles nearly 50 cars daily. The car repair shop replaces 10,000 pairs of wheels each year. The yard features an in-motion wheel defect detector developed by Union Pacific that uses ultrasound to inspect each wheel. It is the only such detector in the world. UP has also developed a method for changing wheels in the field on empty westbound coal trains, which enables three workers to use a hydraulic jack under the couplers between two cars and exchange the trucks. This has reduced the time needed to replace trucks from up to 12 days to 8–12 minutes.
Locomotives can be serviced in a NASCAR like pit stop facility called a Run-Thru staffed by four different crafts—an electrician, machinist, fireman oiler, and a car man. Locomotives are serviced in 45 minutes without detaching them from their trains. The cars go through the car department to get fixed and the locomotives go to the diesel shop. 
Because of the enormous amount of products that pass through Bailey Yard, Union Pacific describes the yard as an “economic barometer of America.”
While there I learned of an upcoming Mission’s work camp the Beach’s planned for building a parsonage at Cotton Tree Bay Church on Cayman Brac about 90 miles south of Jamaica. Working with the Beach’s was Pastor Robert Hazen and an experienced and skilled group from Lansing Pennway. I was interested!  I could easily rendezvous with them at I94 and I69 so I signed up.
I Will NEVER say NO describes L. D. Beach’s search for God as a  young married man in his hometown of Coldwater, MI, doing his best to keep his little family afloat in Marion, IN. Their journey took them from Marion to Wabash, IN in 1943. They launched their ministry ship by working with that small struggling congregation at Wabash, a state project.
Mankato, MN; Port Huron, and Mt Pleasant, MI; Sioux Falls, SD; Fairfield, IL followed, each bringing their achievements, disappointments, and all the extraordinary personal and family experiences that go with spending life in the bubble of a church parsonage. Coldwater and  Sanford, MI followed. Finally, there came that hiatus at Sanford that allowed them to invest a year of volunteer service at Cayman Brac, BWI.
They returned stateside to serve at North Platte, NE where I became personally acquainted with them, after knowing of them for many years. Chapter eighteen outlines the story that crowned their career, in which they took great pride: “To build a Parsonage”. It outlines the story of Faith Villa, the attractive cement block (with stone surface) home that I helped build on the beaches of Cotton Tree Bay Church of God, Cayman Brac.  
For me, that was a priceless experience. I would never forget Oley Brown and others whose names escape me momentarily--some of the greatest of God’s humble servants.  Project Coordinator, L. D. Beach concludes with this simple statement: “The work campers arrived on the scheduled date and the parsonage was completed on schedule. This was a great accomplishment for this congre-gation. Upon the completion of the parsonage, ‘Faith Villa’, for the Cotton Bay tree Church of God, we returned to North Platte, Nebraska and continued our pastoral duties.”
The Beach’s retired and the kids published dad’s book, complete with a cd in the jacket at the end of the book. Meanwhile, Lavern and Aleta graduated their course with honors and went to be with the Lord, having fulfilled their commitments.