Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Pope: Pastoral? Political?

As a lifetime Protestant with strong Third Reformation (Anabaptist) heritage, I reject the governance practices (polity) of the Vatican Church State, as well as that of the State Church of Luther. I do support separation of Church and State and thank my Anabaptist forebearers for paving the way for the Free Church in America.

Having said that; I support the Pastoral Ministry of this Vatican Pope (Francis) and the moral authority with which he speaks. He is speaking to these very universal and humanitarian issues, although he is not my Papa. I am reading with considerable amusement the repetitious declarations of the News Media, and even some of my Protestant peers who need to update their Church History. The Media speaks regularly regarding the Pope departing from his pastoral corner and fearlessly jumps into (not avoiding) the political. With all due respect for separation of Church and State; and I do separate them, I find the Media reflecting a common misperception of the Media, as well as of others.

When referencing Emigration, Climate Control, et al; the Pope is (1) reflecting our American Founders political choice of Freedom OF RELIGION (including a free church) and not freedom FROM RELIGION. That Free Church and freedom OF religion  rather than FROM religion allowed Roger Williams to be a non-conformist in a Puritan culture and resolved other problems in founding Catholic Maryland. It allows The A-THEIST to live outside of religion if s/he so chooses but it does not  give him/her the right to arbitrarily deprive others of religion as the a-theist is prone to do in that predatory secular culture.

(2) The Pope is reflecting a pastoral issue! In my eight decades there has never been a time when treating others like we want to be treated was not a Christian teaching. While some people attempt to confine such issues as climate control, emigration, et al, to politics, these have  been humanitarian issues of Christian Stewardship since before I was born (the week Lindbergh flew his plane to Paris J). I grant you, the Church has allowed others to re-define its message and say what is pastoral and what is simply political, but that does not mean it has always been that way, nor does it mean it is biblical and confined to politics.It is a universal, humanitarian issue that is of significant importance to people's health and well-being, beyond any financial considerations.

Paraphrasing Jesus, he said we will be known by the fruits we produce. He specifically told his disciples they would be known by their love for one another and he strongly taught that if we follow him we will love one another and be known by that love (John 13:34). Elsewhere, he gave the example of the good Samaritan in Luke 10. In that instance, the command Jesus gave to the Lawyer  to go and do likewise (v. 37) might just as well have been spoken of one American and one Muslim. The Jews and mixed Samaritans hated each other just that badly.

From Warner’s World, I join those who hope and pray Pope Francis will lead America back to the altars of prayer and devotion, and the faith on which our American culture is built.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Confession of Faith

In E. Stanley Jones autobiography he recalled being in an evangelistic series in Columbia, S.C. back in the thirties.  Those were days of hard core segregation and relationships were sensitive. “I was on the side of human rights,” Jones remembered, “for I was bound in every man’s bondage. I could only be free in every man’s freedom…”

Jones felt that he should say something that evening, but freely admitted he “didn’t want to do so. So I put it off till the last minute, hoping I could be excused.” Later, as he entered the pulpit, he admitted “the inner voice said, ‘You’ve got to.’ So I hurriedly wrote out a note and before I spoke I read it to the audience.” Following is what he wrote:

      Before I give my address, I am reading an obituary notice which will           come as a shock to the friends of the deceased: Democracy died today         in the city of Columbia when American citizens were denied the right to       vote because of the color of their skins. For those who have eyes to see,       the ballot box will henceforth be draped in mourning.’ Shall we pray.”

One verse of Jones’s Song of Ascent is his “Christian Confession of Faith,” There was but one way according to E. Stanley Jones, God's Way, and his faith in God affected every facet of his life, as attested by his experience in Columbia, S. C. that evening, and as attested by his many books, which include The Way (1946 Devotional). As you read his testimonial, consider how your faith should influence every facet of your life:

“The Christian way is not an alien way; it is … the natural way to live  ... I am made in my inner
structure and outer relationships by Christ and for Christ; and when I find him, I find myself.

“And I find my brother. I find how to live as an individual and as a member of society. I am made for Christ as the eye is made for light. I can no more live without him than the eye can live without light.

“ … ‘Without him (Christ) was not anything made that was made ‘(John 1:3); ‘trough whom he (Christ) created all orders of existence’ (Heb. 1:3 NEB). Here are … John, Paul, and the author of Hebrews—saying … that all things, visible and invisible, in heaven and on earth, have been made by Christ and for Christ.

“If this means anything, it means I am structured by Christ and for Christ; in my makeup, it means I am made for him. The church has apparently never taken these passages seriously. It has quoted Augustine’s saying: ‘O God, thou hast made us for thyself, and we are restless until we rest in thee.’

“But these passages are more specific … When I live in him, by him, and for him, I live; if I live some other way, I tend to go to pieces—I perish. I may hold together in the pressures of a semi-Christian environment in a semblance of living, but … I am under the law of decay.

“ … I am destined by my makeup to be a Christian. I may live against that destiny, for I am still free; but … I get hurt—physically, spiritually, mentally, socially … I don’t know how to live. If I live in him, I do know how to live—this is the Way. Dogmatic? No, proved fact …”

Friday, September 18, 2015

Witnessing to Life in Christ

In early October 1996, I spent a weekend at a Kairos Retreat in the Carson City, MI prison. We were an interdenominational group of Christian men involved in the Upper Room Movement and we were meeting with a group of prison residents in the Number Two Prison facility at Carson City .  Among the visitors was an older retired UMC Minister by the name of Clarence Hutchens. Clarence had a relationship with Asbury College and Seminary that went back many, many years.

After Clarence discovered my affection for E. Stanley Jones, he mailed me a copy of Jones’s autobiography, A Song of Ascents. I had learned of it, yearned greatly to read it, and Clarence sent me a copy, or his copy, with his signature in it. This many years later, I am deeply indebted to this elder brother in ministry. Thank you, Clarence! It is one of the numerous books that I will not part with until I take my leave from this earth and enter the corridors of the celestial.

With that word, I share  “Witnessing to Life in Christ” according to E. Stanley Jones. This is but one of the many lessons from life Jones learned in his lifetime of walking with Jesus Christ as both Savior from the lostness of humanity on its own and as Lord of life.  

               “When you find Christ and His Kingdom, you find yourself. I can only testify:

               Bound to Him and His kingdom I walk the earth free; low at His feet I stand straight
               before   everything and everybody.

               I have served Him these seventy years but I have never made asacrifice for Him.  Sacrifice?
               The sacrifice would be to tear from my heart this wonderful ,increasingly wonderful, thing
               He brought me when I entered His kingdom.

               When my left hand begins to shake, as it has begun to shake at eighty-seven, precursor of
                the final shaking to the dust of my mortal body,  I smile and say;

               ‘But I belong to an unshaken kingdom, and to an unchanging person, so shake on, you will
               shake me into immortality.

               And when the final shaking comes, falsely called death, but which I know to be only an                anesthetic which God gives when He changes bodies, I know this final shaking will only do
               what it did to Paul in prison:

               Loosed his fetters and bade him go to an awaiting home where love and joy abound.
Dr. E. Stanley Jones

*This was the word I shared with my father late in his life. He died the last day of 1990, three days shy of 85 (I have now passed him by some 3.5 years) …

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Good or God?


That is the question John Bevere asks in his 2015 publication published by Messenger International, the publication arm of Bevere ministries. Why is good without God not good enough? Bevere seeks to understand and clarify this question.

Bevere is a new writer-speaker to me so I received this new publication rather cautiously, although it came with high praise after my son heard him speak in Minneapolis, I assume at Substance, a megachurch ministry led by Peter Haas. Having repeatedly encountered this possibility through contacts with numerous social justice groups, I was captivated with the concept that good is not good enough without God. It is a question that deserves consideration in lieu of so much social conflict round about us, with so many taking up social justice causes, there being so much civil unrest, racial tension, political stress, ad infinitum.

The author began with a clear attempt at discerning both good and evil. I found his scriptural reference in Hebrews 5:11-12, 14 (NLT) full of suggestive thought: ”But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” That made sense to me and seemed pretty orthodox.

It wasn’t until chapter four that he suddenly challenged me by making a distinction in the ministry of Jesus, emphasizing a difference between the Lordship and Jesus the Savior (48-49). Here, as elsewhere, he made good use of the marriage relationship to clarify the walk of the Christian with Jesus as Savior and Lord. He clarified this way (49): “I have sometimes referred to Lisa as my ‘little gourmet chef.’ I may have called her this a dozen or so times through our marriage, but more properly, in the past thirty years I’ve referred to her thousands of times as my wife. Why? Because that declares the position she holds in my life. The other title conveys a benefit I’ve received from her being my wife.”

Continuing: “Just because Lisa cooks for me doesn’t mean I belong to her. When I was single … she made me an amazing meal. That didn’t give us a lasting relationship. It was the covenant I made to forsake all other girls and give my heart solely to her as husband that solidified our marriage relationship.” Forgiveness of sin via Jesus the Savior is not quite the same thing as submitting to His lordship, ownership and rule in our lives.  

I thought of the professed Christians I have known who accepted the forgiveness of sins while utterly rejecting the notion that he influence our lives in daily and public behavior. Accepting one without the other is like my marrying my wife but reserving the right to spend one day, or other specified time, having  a fling with other women, or with a specific other person – a marriage relationship that does not build!

Chapter nine deals with a word with which I grew up in my Faith tradition – “holiness.” I was also familiar with his reference (Hebrews 12:14) but the translation was very contemporary (NLT): “Work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.” Coming from a tradition nurtured by the Holiness Movement, I found Bevere’s writing very different in language, but very authentic, clear, biblical and life applicable. He described a religious experience, with which I was very familiar, but it came in language that was very contemporary and non-traditional, yet I could not possibly misunderstand or disagree with it.

I was forthrightly surprised at the author’s candidness in writing. There is a common criticism abroad that suggests pastors/churches dilute their message in order to acquire their large listening audience. On page 153 Bevere described a devotional moment he experienced when finding himself directed to read from Revelation 3:2, which offers this frank declaration: “Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God” (NLT). I confess to being more than a little surprised at his frankness in writing; I had to admit he was simply telling it like it is, without gloss or spin. Yes, I liked that quality in his writing.
Bevere speaks to our contemporary society, a culture that has a huge religious tilt, but remains a culture steeped in myopic narcissism, anti-authoritarianism, and the lawlessness of libertarian politics. Would I recommend your reading it? NOT if you want to stay the same as you were when you started reading; John Maxwell does recommend the book, and I know many of my peers revere him.

Most of all: give some serious consideration to the concept that just maybe good without God is NOT GOOD ENOUGH. This is Warner’s World and I am

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Laying hold of the Greatness of God

Pastor Jeff began a new sermon series this morning on who God is. Perhaps I should confess that whenever I find pastors these days proliferating their ongoing series of sermons, I always find myself wondering who I am hearing  - Pastor, or John Maxwell, or Bill Hybels, or Max Lucado, or . . .

I can’t say I never borrowed a sermon I heard preached or lifted from a book, but I generally edited the outline so as to make it my sermon without putting up quote marks. So, this conversation is probably one-sided and unfair. I find Jeff an excellent teaching pastor, Whatever it is worth, Plato the Greek Philosopher, also left us a small jewel of wisdom worthy of the ages, when he concluded that “The life which is unexamined is not worth living.”  

It could be reasonably claimed that our information age is the most psychologized, analyzed, and criticized (critiqued) of any age in modern history. However, over indulgence and preoccupation, with self-examination, can make life more difficult. I would even go so far as to suggest that life without examination most surely leaves life with an inadequate sense of meaning.

Various theorists are committed to selling the general public on the idea of unlimited human achievement and self-directed living. That fits into the mindset of most secularists and humanists, for our formerly Christianized culture is rapidly turning rabidly secularist, humanist, and democratic.

Such persons argue that we have no limits, that we can change our lives, and that we are only held back by the limitations of our own belief system. On one hand, numerous new-age thinkers promise us we can be in total control of our own destinies. Some few will confess, however, that despite the best efforts at our being TAed, TMed, Rolfed, assertiveness –trained, consciousness-raised, and blissed out, they frequently find living more difficult than ever.  

A while back, I read a small volume of sermons entitled A Glory In It All. Written by John Knox in 1985 and published by Word at Waco, it contained the post-eighty reflections of a man wanting to live-out his remaining days with as much intention as possible. Knox recalled the biblical story of the Rich Young Ruler meeting Jesus and concluded, “We all come to life running and eager; too often we limp out of it sorrowful and disillusioned.”

Sooner or later, most of us will, like Knox, encounter the fact that we will never achieve the dreams of our youth. A few fall short of expectations. Others experience disappointment with their achievements. As a youth, I envisioned a certain level of greatness. Decades later, I find myself a well-seasoned senior, and the years continue piling high on life’s beach at high tide during a storm. As the waves continue rolling in with unrelenting frequency, I find myself forced more and more to accept the limitations of both my human abilities and the inevitability of my pending mortality.

Experiencing that truth, suggests Knox, is one of the “most serious crises of our lives,” yet out of it comes new opportunities. Seldom does crisis ever enter our lives without bringing with it a positive opportunity  for discovering a new and better possibility. These come as gifts from God.
Rather than waiting until life is about to conclude; they come throughout life bringing equal opportunity to each and every individual, freely and without discrimination. They come offering all of the “greatness” of God that our hearts can possibly hold.

Thus, Sidney Lanier’s verse in “The Marshes of Glynn” becomes highly suggestive and meaningfully expressive for me when he writes,
     As the marsh hen secretly builds on the watery sod,
     Behold I will build me a nest on the greatness of God.  
     I will fly in the greatness of God as the marsh-hen flies
     In the freedom that fills all the space ‘twixt the marsh and the skies.
     By so many roots as the marsh-hen sends in the sod
     I will heartily lay me ahold on the greatness of God.

But, back to Pastor Jeff’s sermon on the God Who Is. Remember when God called Moses at the burning bush? Remember what Moses heard when he demanded to know who was calling him? God said, “I am who I am!” - I am is Alpha and the Omega, beginning and end ...  

When Moses learned who was calling, he discovered who he was: not just another Hebrew slave baby headed for extinction, he was the Hebrew Prince that a mother’s faith led into the House of Pharoah where he would grow up and become the Messiah of the Exodus.

In laying “ahold of the greatness of God” we discover the truth of life thyat is stuffed full with the abundance and greatness of The God Who Is. . .

I am


Monday, September 7, 2015

"I Am a Child of God"

Occupational health-care conferees, mostly doctors and nurses, hastily negotiated their way through the crowded facilities at the San Francisco Convention Center. Immersed in this swirling mass of humanity stood a tiny five-foot three-inch mother fulfilling her deepest joy as traveling companion to her middle-aged daughter, an Occupational Health-Care Specialist (COHN-S) from the Midwest.

While daughter filled her days with bell to bell conferences, Mother stood in lines, collected available print-outs, picked up freebie’s, prepared refreshment breaks and arranged for restful solitude on breaks. She inspected favorite meal sites, pre-arranged meals with proper diets that allowed for pleasurable escape moments. In general she helped maximize the daylight-to-dusk melee of classes, convention sights, display booths, and tourist specialties.

Two-thousand miles from home, mother and daughter quietly and efficiently absorbed conferences, classes, casual encounters, hand-outs, and “giveaways,” intentionally seasoned with sprinkling of tourism tossed in, but this was hardly new to this female combination;  they had been a bonded twosome almost from the premature birth, the mother’s first live birth after five pregnancies.

“Mama” still remembers when the head nurse of that neonatal unit informed her rather candidly that she need not get too attached to that baby because “you’ll never raise her!” That had launched a long journey in which this mother had committed herself to THE ALMIGHTY if he would but enable her to raise her baby; she would do whatever she needed to do and she had kept her word with diligence.

Decades later, she had faithfully reared the two children God gave her; she had diligently and patiently nurtured her often critically ill asthmatic  first-born into her adult years. Now, they were enjoying some of the more pleasant benefits side of their long relationship as she accompanied  her daughter-nurse to medical conferences in such tourist towns as Boston, New Orleans, and San Francisco. 

In San Francisco, not far from where she and her pastor husband had formerly pastored a church, she found herself amid a swirl of unknown humanity. It came as a huge surprise to her when someone walked up from behind her and laid a discreet arm on her shoulder. Turning her head, she found herself staring eyeball to eyeball with a stranger she had never met, although she knew full well who he was.

She had observed him passing through the crowd numerous times. One could hardly miss him with his entourage trailing close behind. She recognized him from reading his books and seeing him in the news repeatedly. Only this time, the gentle, soft-spoken, handsome black man stood momentarily parked, silently and physically blocking the forward movement of this small-statured Irish Cherokee from Oklahoma.

Looking directly into the eyes of the little lady with whom he had exchanged glances of acknowledgement several times during the day from a distance, the noted Neurosurgeon spoke softly and very privately said, “I’m glad I’m one of God’s children; aren’t you?”

With eyes locked momentarily, each soundlessly acknowledged and affirmed the other. It was one of those holy moments Christians occasionally experience, when two strangers otherwise unknown to each other, recognize that they share a common bond in that spirit world in which each knows they are standing in the presence of the ULTIMATE SPIRITUAL PRESENCE who  inhabits all of God’s children.

Ever sensitive to the Creator who calls us to give Him our supreme devotion and to share with others the devotion and respect we would like for ourselves; she later described to me something of her fleeting encounter with Dr. Ben Carson, a spiritual giant many recognize as a man of deep faith.

Dr. Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon, the man with the “Gifted Hands”, once a ghetto kid in Detroit, MI, has now retired from Johns Hopkins and turned his attention to the internal problems of our nation. He is making a serious bid for the office of President of the United States. I don’t know if I will vote for him, for I frequently disagree with some of his political solutions, but I watch and admire him as the news media follows him. 

One thing I do know, while I sincerely respect a few others on the political spectrum, there is no other single individual on our presidential horizon whose personal integrity and Christian character I would trust more than Dr. Ben Carson. Issues will bring variety of opinion and differing views, but those are not always what is most important, for if you can trust an individual, you can generally live with the differences of opinion that happen quite naturally.

A little-known song writer took heart from Paul’s suggestion that “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). Encouraged, that writer took pen in hand and began writing:
            Praise the Lord! My heart with His love is beaming,
                        I am a child of God;
            Heaven’s golden light over me is streaming,
                        I am a child of God
            Let a holy life tell the gospel story,
                        I am a child of God;
            How He fills the soul with His grace and glory,
                        I am a child of God.
                                                            Barney E. Warren/A Child of God/Worship His Majesty/Gaither Music Co./1987/p. 557. 
Events like this do not happen to my wife every day but I have learned across several decades that she has a certain sensitivity (discernment, if you will) that makes experiences like this not common place, but not out of the ordinary either. It is not at all unusual for two Christians to be strangers in a crowd and find each other as fellow disciples of Jesus. There is a knitting of spirits!

How much better it would be if only our world could rediscover the rich love and rewarding respect that comes with sharing life with God as children of God. Perhaps then our world could find its way out of the deep morass of distrust, disrespect, and disillusionment, in which it finds itself. From Warner’s World, I am