Thursday, November 30, 2017

Love Finds Its Own Way

A young mother took her incorrigible eight-year-old to a psychiatrist because nothing suited her child; “nothing was right!”

Conversation quickly revealed the depths of the child’s bitterness from hearing her mother’s years of unwanted diatribe. The doctor listened patiently. Before long, he heard the agony of an unwanted child slowly confessing, “Nobody loves me!” 

After listening to her childish complaint; the doctor suggested, “Why, that isn’t true. I love you. I really do like you.”

The child, on hearing the doctor’s kind words of acceptance, quietly approached him and climbed up on his lap. While sitting there with tears streaming down her face, she kissed the old man. Returning home, the rebellious child made up with her mother and became a very different child at school.

Nothing heals like a dose of love. The doctor, by loving a bitter, incorrigible child, modeled a teaching that Jesus left for us. Through his medical practice, the doctor redirected the child’s misdirected focus and broke through her protective shield of enslaving self-centeredness. It is a lesson that I, like some of you, am still trying to more fully wrap myself around.

As Jesus approached the time of his betrayal, he offered one of his most significant commands. We view his statement in the light of his coming death, as we hear his pronouncement: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34 NASV, italics added).

Why are we so quick to condemn one another? Our harsh and unkind words often reveal more about us than the person we judge. What we see so often is something we find deep within, but lack the grace to admit.

During one of those terribly depressing days during America’s Civil War, President Lincoln frequently visited nearby hospitals around the area. On one of those days, a young man visited his wounded brother following a fierce and costly battle. As the young man exited his brother’s room, he accidently bumped headlong into Mr. Lincoln.

Accosting the President without recognition or apology, the hostile, hurting younger brother, filled with his own bitterness, rudely challenged Mr. Lincoln: “Can’t you get out of the way of a young gentleman?”

Without disclosing his identity, the kindly President asked, “Young man, what’s troubling you on the inside?” The President instinctively knew that something was eating at the inside of this young man; otherwise, he would not be so out of sorts with his whole world.

Self-centered living creates behaviors and attitudes that only love can cushion. Counselors and healers find self-centered living most often creating the greatest obstacles for living comfortably with one’s self, thereby making it difficult to relate with others.

People that withdraw inward, tend to wall-off others, except to blame. They do everything they can, except face the real problem--within. A good rule of thumb suggests that when we feel most out of sorts with others, a positive inward look offers the most promise for finding healing and health. Often times when we are the most unhappy, the healthiest (most healing) thing we can do is to stop where we are, step outside of ourselves, and find someone that needs our help.

That, in turn, fulfills one of the most important teachings ever spoken by Jesus--love your neighbor as yourself .. and ... I am Wayne at

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Metaxas and Luther

During the decade of the sixties I was appointed to read Holy Scripture in an Ecumenical Service in Fort Worth, TX. As fate would have it; that service was hosted by a Roman Catholic Church. Many times since then, I have pondered that unique experience and thanked God for the distinctive privilege. Through the years, I have continued to weigh the significance of the Protestant Reformation. I have now added to that cumulative experience Eric Metaxas and Martin Luther, the man said to rediscover God and change the world (MARTIN LUTHER / Eric Metaxas / Viking / NY / 2017).

What I found were 480 pages that can be readily read, and even understood, by both artisans in the Academy as well as most ordinary readers. Eric Metaxas, and a staff of editors, have artfully sorted fact from fiction and they offer readers from every level of reading skill a very readable  and authentic text—a superbly well-written book, with notes, bibliography, and index—every bit as good as Bonhoeffer and Wilberforce (earlier Metaxas offerings).

Metaxas reveals Luther as a highly complex man and he leaves us with an historical super hero of epic proportion; yet a humble man with an identifiable devotion to his Creator, a man with an unmistakable intellect, a man occasionally human enough to still be a German blockhead.

In Luther, we find a man that walked in common shoe leather, who by the grace of God left our common humanity a free marketplace where democratic ideas and ideals could thrive and take root in a new future. We see a man who desired above all to reform a Papal Institution from the inside out that he loved. Although he seemingly failed in that effort, he left that Institution redefined and changed by a transforming legacy of Scriptural authority and Scripture Reading with congregational participation, and expanded forms of worship and liturgy.

In helping the reader sort out numerous issues of faith, this author shines a spotlight that brightens our understanding of some of our faith’s most significant points of social and religious conflict during the Reformation, understand their historic value, and see the true worth of what Dr. Martin actually contributed to all of our lives.

Luther’s struggle with Rome reminds one of ancient Abraham artfully pleading with God over the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 18). Once Luther raised a dissenting voice in defense of Scripture’s authority over human institutions, there was no stopping place, no turning around, no changing course. He was on a journey whose end he could in no way measure. Wanting only to spotlight needed corrections, this humble monk was swept up in a tsunami of social, political, religious, even technological changes no one understood at the time and that we are still processing today.

Luther’s best intention of being helpful as a dedicated and loyal servant of the church quickly evaporated, as a quote quickly illustrates:
              The Church of Rome, formerly the most holy of all churches has become the most
              lawless den of thieves, the most shameless of brothels, the very kingdom of sin, death
              and hell so that not even the Anti-Christ, if he were to come, could devise any addition
              to its wickedness” (189).

The authority of the Scriptures as the Word of God, affirmation of the priesthood of Believers (as opposed to a segregated priesthood defining the church), the free church tradition, the right of dissent, separation of church and state; all find reaffirmation via the coalescing Reformation whose long roots ranged far and wide throughout history, from Wycliffe to Wesley. Luther, aided and abetted by an opportunistic printer that saw a chance to make a “quick buck” only provided the catalyst when he nailed his 95-Theses to the door of the Wittenburg Church for in-house academic debate.

Some books you read for pleasure, others you read for information, or perhaps other reasons. For me, this book is timely to the world my two grandsons have entered as young Christian adults-- not just to celebrate an event that happened five-hundred years ago, but to better understand the signs of the times in which we are now engaged.

The single-most important issue for me is the conflict of theocracy (religion united with absolute power). Luther sheds God’s light on conscience and dissent as well as truth divorced from power and the possibility of dissent (or another church).Metaxas suggests, “By freeing truth and the ideas of the Bible from the institution of the church, Luther enabled these things to enter the entirety of the secular world, such that every good agnostic and atheist today knows that caring for the poor and the marginalized is a measure of our humanity” (445).

“In the past, we lived in a world where might actually made right, where truth was the power of the sword. Or where there was no actual right, so that the appearance that might made right held sway completely. The Catholic church was in those days the Christian church, and in those days the church much like the Turks and the Ottoman Caliphate battled with guns, not with competing truth claims. So just as today radical Islamists may believe there is no truth but the sword—that they can enforce their views through torture and death—the church once did this too.

But today we live in a world where even if someone can do that, there are voices that will rise up and say that is wrong. We live in a world where even though someone might be right and know he is right, he also knows that to try to force his views is as bad as holding the wrong views. That is the revolution that is the father and mother of all other revolutions” (443 bold and italicized mine).

This is my primary take-away from Metaxas and Luther
*OFF THE RECORD WITH LUTHER records quotes and sayings from the Luther's dinner table. They kept student boarders whose quotes of Luther were oft-repeated and eventually published. This is an expanded translation of here-to-fore untranslated work, until this version by Charles Daudert with forward by Luther expert Dr. Paul Maier. More of this book later.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Life's Odd Moments

“That’s mine,” I heard my wife say softly.
That’s a piece of Essie’s old dress,” said another voice that sounded strangely like my Oklahoma mother-in-law.
“That was from my old brown suit.”
“Why, I’ve got more pieces in here than anybody!” the voices continued back and forth, as snitches of conversation drifted into my consciousness.

Like a softly bouncing ball, the bantering continued back and forth as Kitty and her mother studied the individual remnants that gave direction to what would soon be their newest quilt top. The two veterans sorted and matched from their seemingly-endless odds and ends of scrap, only remnants of discarded clothing and throw-a-way items of all description--all useless remnants. 

I am a non-quilter, having grown up in a home without quilters. My wife learned quilting as a child at her mother’s knee. She and her mother saw something potentially useful in every old scrap. Thus, they searched and sorted through a drawer full of quilt tops, scraps that I viewed as utterly useless. After their careful search, they selected those they thought most promising, stacked them nearby and purposefully stitched them into another well-blended quilt top, attractively patterned.

Mary had been a quality seamstress in her younger days, making most of her clothes while raising a large family. Now worn with the weariness of her years and deteriorating health; her visits with daughter Kitty extended into lengthy periods of convalescence. The two, mother and daughter consequently filled quiet days, and months, with conversation beside the quilting frames, needles in hands, making the most of Mary’s gradually diminishing health.

Mary’s original hand-stitched quilts were creative master pieces. She created them with, artistic skill and stitched them with love. She had started teaching her daughter even before she took her to the country school nearby. Years later, I wrapped up in sleep under the protective warmth of one or another of those quilts--the lovely wedding ring pattern given as a wedding gift decades ago being my favorite.

Quilt scraps are just that--useless bits of cloth, candidates for the trash bin. To me, they appear insignificant and without purpose; but in the eyes of an artistic seamstress, they form a living vision. Mixing multiplied shapes and forms, they take on creative designs. The journey may be ever so devious, from a favorite garment, or even the discard pile. Yet, when appreciated and properly viewed, artistically matched-and-stitched together, they revealed a new creation and launched a new life of touching people.

Such useless scraps become heritage gifts for family members, or special-occasion delights. Once useless, now transformed; they become family heirlooms, generational treasures whose value increases with each passing generation.

That long ago conversation between two of the most important people in my life yet causes me to pause and reflect on the people I’ve known, the places I’ve been, and the experiences I’ve shared—mostly good, a few bad. Seen individually, many seem insignificant--people without purpose--experiences without worth--useless scraps.

Yet when viewed creatively, and stitched artfully together, I observe a new wholeness--a refreshing collage that reflects a loving God--a Master Quilter. When he views, sorts, and reassembles our useless scraps, and creatively stitches them into a fine, new quilt top, it transforms life and creates new meaning, restores lost values, and promises reassuring comfort.

Could this be what Paul meant when he told the church at Rome, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose… ” (Rom. 8:28, NKJV)? If He is for us, who can be against us? (Rom. 8:28, 31b). For, as he suggests, “who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Will tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril or sword? “I am persuaded that none of these things shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:35-39).

We press forward blind and unthinking, viewing life’s difficult assignments and odd moments but seeing little treasure. Consequently, we lack appreciation for those unpleasant and seemingly-useless odds and ends that life has stitched together for us. Until ... quite unexpectedly, but by the grace of God, we catch a glimpse of a lovely quilt top--a potential blessing for someone.

And so with day‘s end approaching, in spite of my oddly-shaped, seemingly-useless scraps of life, I reaffirm my faith in God’s creative ability to match my odd assortment of diversity and variegated color and I take new hope in his compassionate caring,

Time and again: has he not revealed His proven ability to recycle them into a usability that can transform my life while blessing another? I am

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

There's Room at the Cross for All

John Bunyan’s classic story of Pilgrim’s Progress describes Pilgrim toiling along on a lonely highway bounded on both sides by a stone wall. The burden of the heavy sack carried by Pilgrim bends his back low as he trudges forward. His load being large and heavy; his steps become slow and painful.

Finally; Pilgrim reaches the top of the hill, only to find his way blocked by a cross. As Pilgrim gazes at the large cross a strange thing happens. He stares in amazement as his heavy load slowly slips from his back and rolls backward down the hill.
 At the cross, Pilgrim discovers forgiveness and relief from his heavy burden of sin and guilt He goes on his way quickly, filled with great joy. Soon, he begins to sing:
Blest cross: Blest sepulcher. Best rather be
The man that there was put to shame for me.
Bishop McDowell once told a large gathering, “I would not go across the street to give India a new theology, India now has more theology than it can understand, or to give China a new code of ethics, China has a vastly better ethical code than ethical life, or to give Japanese a religious literature, Japan now has a better religious literature than religious life. But I would go across the world again and again, if it pleased God, to tell India and China and Africa of my experience at the cross.”

The cross expressed God’s word of caring concern; He so loved that he forgave. It is the character of God the Father to forgive. It is the way of Christ to forgive. It was from the cross Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” For Americans and for Africans, for Jews and for Arabs, the word is the same. The word of forgiveness is a password to powerful living; it is the word that our literate society yet finds in great shortfall.
How hardly man this lesson earns,
To smile and bless the hand that spurns,
To see the blow, to feel the pain,
To render only love again,
One had it—but He came from heaven,
Reviled, rejected, and betrayed;
No curse He breathed, no plaint He made,
But when in death’s dark pang He sighed,
Prayed for His murderers, and died.         

Ira Stanphill wrote the lyrics and music to this beloved Gospel song, "Room At The Cross For You"
The cross upon which Jesus died
Is a shelter in which we can hide;
And its grace so free is sufficient for me
And deep is its fountain as wide as the sea.

There's room at the cross for you
There's room at the cross for you
Though millions have come, there's still room for one
Yes, there's room at the cross for you.

Though millions have found him a friend
And have turned from the sins they have sinned;
The Savior still waits to open the gates
And welcome a sinner before it's too late.

The hand of my Savior is strong
And the love of my Savior is long;
Through sunshine or rain, through loss or in gain
The blood flows from Calvary to cleanse every stain.
There's room at the cross for you
There's room at the cross for you
Though millions have come, there's still room for one
Yes, there's room at the cross for you.
This is walkingwithwarner, 
at that place where we all kneel on level ground.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Supersizing the Soul

Dr. Harry Ironside was once a gifted Chicago pastor. He preached at the famed Moody Memorial Church. Once while on a trip to San Francisco, Dr. Ironside came upon a band of Salvation Army people that were singing praises to God and preaching the message of Christ.

The Chicago pastor joined in with the crowd where he stood out on the street and added his praises, and when given opportunity to speak, he called on people to give their lives to Jesus Christ. At that, an unbeliever came up to him and addressed the crowd standing around:  “I challenge this preacher to a debate,” and he further announced, “I will show you how the gospel that he preaches is dust and ashes.”

Dr. Ironside quietly accepted the challenge. Directly addressing the challenger, he added, “I accept your challenge. We will set the date and the place. The place will be the Salvation Army Hall. The date will be tonight. I will bring with me one-hundred men who were in the depths of despair and darkness and who were lifted into marvelous life by the Son of God. You bring one-hundred men who have been saved by the gospel of infidelity, and we will have our debate tonight.”

Scour the earth! Where would you go to find a single song dedicated to infidelity? Could you find one-hundred people whose lives have been rescued, redeemed, and transformed by their disbelief of God? Go to the former Soviet Union and you will find a nation struggling to rediscover its national soul after leaving the atheism of Communism that did little more than enslave the nation for seventy-five years. Go to the Middle East where increasing numbers of people are leaving behind the empty promises of Islam and discovering new life and new joy in personally encountering the Living Christ, after meeting him in a dream or other extra-sensory experience.

Check all of history! Nowhere will you find the life-changing power of “Amazing Grace” as consistently and powerfully as you find it in the Christian Church.
I am,, 
thrilled that our Heavenly Father only waits to touch and transform your life … if you will but agree to it.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Declining Death Penalty

A page from an old sheaf of papers revealed a 10-28-11 news update on the decline in enforcement of the death penalty in the United States. That news brief included this interesting question: “Why does the U.S. remain an outlier?” 

With that question duly posed, the writer had this to say in the following paragraph:
          "A majority of Americans continue to believe that capital punishment is the only way to
          deliver proportional justice to a murderer. ‘Someone who murders another human being
          can only be made to pay for his actions by forfeiting his own life,’ says death-penalty
          advocate Casey Carmichael. ‘If the punishment for theft is imprisonment, then the 
          punishment for murder must be exponentially more severe, because human life is infinitely
          more valuable than any material item.’ This view is largely rooted in the Bible and its ‘eye-for-              an-eye’ ethos, which still exerts a powerful influence in parts of the U.S. where religious                        conservatives predominate.’  Abolition has taken its firmest hold in post-Christian Europe, and            has least support in the church-going United States,’ conservative Supreme Court Justice                      Antonin Scalia has written. 'I attribute that to the fact that, for the believing Christian death is            no big deal. Intentionally killing an innocent person is a big deal.’“

The problem becomes obvious with the realization that the basic assumptions in this paragraph are flawed, debatable, and/or simply wrong, even when viewed from a Biblical perspective. While the ethos of an ”eye for an eye” may be Bible based, and although it is true that it still exerts a powerful influence among conservative-Christians in some regions of the country; it is an incomplete view, fundamentally flawed, and draws a wrong conclusion.

“Eye for an eye” is an Old Testament concept. While well-intended for equal justice, when assimilated into the New Testament teachings of Jesus and the Kingdom of God, it falls far short of what Jesus actually taught (restorative justice). I began to understand this better when I came to the pragmatic realization that a prisoner could be fed and housed for a number of years and still be less costly than the death penalty, a statement of fact that I did not want to believe at first.

When I began to realize the impact of the number of commutations being given because of legally flawed jury decisions, I began to see
              1) the flaws in our justice system, and
              2) I began to realize the contrast between our theories about punishment and what Jesus taught   regarding restoring people.
I saw the idiocy of simply punishing people and turning them loose (or killing them) and ending up with an unsolved problem after all that expense.

I have no need to attempt a death penalty resolution with a single blog but I do give serious consideration to the opinions of the warden’s whose jobs are to preside over such executions. I take seriously when some of these men and women candidly confess that participating in the “planned, cold-blooded killing of human beings” has haunted them, that it often inflicts lasting trauma on those so employed, and that many of them turn to drugs and alcohol “from the pain of knowing a man died at their hand.”

When a 22-year veteran of the Florida Corrections System forthrightly declares,”The state dishonors us by putting us in this situation. This is premeditated, carefully thought-out ceremonial killing,” I have to take him seriously. When he advocates “an alternative that doesn’t lower us to the level of the killer: permanent imprisonment.” I do take new hope,

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Spirit of America

While the nation sadly watched workmen sift through the tortured ruins of Oklahoma City’s bombed-out Federal Center. There arose out of those ruins a spirit many Americans thought extinct. It was a spirit expressed in moving worship and courageous restructuring of broken lives. It resurrected a species of dream long since unemployed by a multitude of Americans.

What those viewers saw in central Oklahoma, I chanced upon by the grace of God when I married my English-Irish, Cherokee in 1947. Within the very early months of that marriage, we learned that she was terminally ill. Only then did we learn why she experienced such excruciating pain. At last I knew why she experienced continually repeating blackouts.

People say she was lucky: fortunate at the very east. Sensitive, and gifted; yes, she was different. Rather than call Dr. Death to euthanize her, she made an altar and rayed to the God of her mother to make the pain bearable. She was “ready to die” and she admittedly prayed for release from the intense suffering. But in the meantime, she promised God she would fulfill to the best of her ability any tasks he sent her way.

Recognizing the human limitations of our situation, the United States Air Force sent me home to Michigan with a discharge in my hand. The only “southerners” my family knew were migrants whom they considered undesirables, but they dutifully introduced their newest family member as their daughter-in-law. When out of earshot, however, they quietly confessed to their friends that she was “a good Southerner.”

My in-laws were simple people who lived close to the  land. Their word was their bond. Everyone was a neighbor to be politely greeted. My father-in-law graduated with the 1906 class at the University of Arkansas Medical School at Little Rock. My Mother-in-law’s people migrated westward from New England, travelling into Indian Territory via Wagon Train.

In time he became a Houston surgeon, until forced to retire from a disabling heart condition. They consequently returned to Central Oklahoma where he established a rural family practice midway between Tulsa and the City. As a “GP” he delivered babies, practiced family medicine, dispensed spiritual counsel when asked, provided socio-economic assistance wherever he could, and even tried his hand at preaching for about three years.

During this time, Doc and Mary raised their eight offspring while taking in several additional nieces and nephews. World War Two found their first-born working at Tinker AFB insuring that his department provided the kind of aircraft maintenance he expected his next younger brother to benefit from while flying A-26 “Flying Coffins” in the South Pacific.

Faith in God provided the steering wheel by which this family drove their vehicle of life. The children, once born, never forgot their “praying mother” going out back, down to the end of the path behind the house every morning at 5:00 o’clock. She remained unseen to prying eyes, but she was overheard now and then, since she prayed aloud to the God that ruled her world.

There were occasions when this “praying mother” had personal confirmations of answered prayers, like the time her number two son was away at war and on the other side of the world. Wounded and struggling hard to stay conscious long enough to return his aircraft home safely, he drifted in and out of consciousness, slowly losing his ability to hold his craft “on course.” As he shared later, privately with his mother, in private conversation, he described hearing the voice of his praying mother rising out of his semi-consciousness. By correcting his drifting flight pattern back to the sound of her voice, he realized after the fact that he had made his way back to home base and a safe landing.

The family would learn more upon reading the news clippings from the San Antonio Evening Light, which the girls had saved at the time while working in the Alamo City for Uncle Sam. Reporters described his crew on one occasion as missing in action behind enemy lines. Fortunately, he lived to return home and confide enough of the truth to his praying mother that he knew she knew.

Mary, being younger, eventually outlived Doc by twenty years, but in 1982 I put Tommie on board an Air Wisconsin flight that allowed her to gather with her siblings to receive the final edition of her lifetime ritual before they buried their mother. At 5:00 a.m. the day Mary died, Staff members at that Tulsa Hospital overheard, or listened in, to her asking God for grace, mercy, and strength as she named each living child before God one final time before she boarded the final flight of her eighty-nine-year journey.

Her Memorial Service attracted family and friends far and wide and they all made their way to the country church where her baby first began his preaching ministry. Although her children had been the first Sunday school in the once-booming village, the crowd now spilled out across surrounding yards and included twenty-seven pastors and wives.

The prayer mantle Mary left behind was picked up by a devoted son-in-law that retired in later years as a Foreign Service Officer and government expert on Far East Affairs, who continued to write Text Books and assist on political junkets at well past eighty.

The “baby” later retired from pastoral ministry. He was “on-call as a longtime Chaplain the day the bomb blew. Following that terroristic debacle he turned to his telephone for some necessary debriefing, calling his sister, also a minister married to a minister, who had taken their dad’s place.

Long accustomed to the realities of naked tragedy, he was nevertheless jaded by the glut of too many body parts and too much suffering. Finding sanctuary in humor as was his custom, he talked of looking for his son-in-law who worked near the Federal Center. He approached the damaged building with its glass wall strewn across the younger man’s desk, but not knowing where Larry was at that moment. He looked down at his feet as he approached the desk and there, amid the rubble and splintered glass, he recognized two pictures from Larry’s desk: his two grandsons.

“You can do a lot of things,” he chuckled with jaded emotion barely concealed, “but you just don’t mess with my grandchildren.”

What surprised many observers of this traumatic debacle was the way he citizens of this region rallied together from all across the Sooner State. The faith and fortitude of the people in this region was forged in the fires of survival, and most have lived much of their lives with a fierce Mother Nature noted chiefly for drought’s, floods, and tornadoes. It was a tanned, leathery-skinned, weather-beaten peanut farmer that said to me, “The only way we could survive out here was to help each other.”

An experience I had one day later reinforced for me the gentle ferocity of these sturdy south-westerners. I was driving a carload of kids to a Youth Rally in Odessa, TX, some one-hundred thirty miles distant. The trip revealed only open prairie, sage brush and sand, divided equally by two tiny gas stations and an easy bypass of Odessa’s mid-sized neighbor, Midand.

My car broke down en route. Although stranded and apparently isolated, it was but a short time until I took note of a cloud of dust on the horizon signaling some sign of life. We watched it progress over the hill and soon discerned a pickup truck heading our way, where there appeared to be no-way. A casually-dressed old rancher stopped, asked about our problem, and told us he was headed into town. We had neither rope nor chain for towing, but he voluntarily agreed to push us into the nearby village—that turned out to be eighteen miles.

Introducing us to his mechanic, this Good Samaritan informed him to take care of us. He then made sure we had refreshment. Between the two men, they soon had us on our way to Odessa, rejoicing at being part of the human race.

This region has long been called “Bible-belt” country. Predominantly Baptist, it includes Methodists, Christians, Churches of Christ Acapella, and other lesser-known denominations. These people believe in prayer, patriotism, and personal responsibility to each other and to God. The Bible is part-and-parcel of their cultural heritage. Lampooned by many in the media, many well-meaning Americans accept the caricature as fully accurate – “religious right wing extreme.”

Right or wrong; I know this: when you take from anything that which makes it something, what you have left equals little or nothing. What we saw in Oklahoma City witnessed to the hearts and souls of a citizenry whose faith loves God supremely and treats one’s neighbor as one’s self. That Spirit of America is the essence of what made and kept America great. 

Distilled as the Spirit of America, it is what the girl I married more than seventy years ago was all about when at her best.

From Warner’s World, I am

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Hang On to Your Dreams

Dare to dream. Now some of you will throw away your dreams, simply because they are too big, too costly, or they are impossible to achieve. Some of you will stop short and simply confess that you simply see no way to possibly fulfill your dream.
Missing your goal is not a sin; but aiming too low could be the sin of your life. To get priorities straight, you need to set the right goals and never take your eyes off that goal. History suggests it was a single person that kept Aaron Burr from becoming president of the United States. One single vote kept Andrew Jackson from being impeached. General Motors, Ford, Dupont, and AT&T, all began their gigantic operations as tiny dreams in the mind of but one single person.
Problems are what you see when you take your eyes off your goal. The day David took his father’s provisions to his older brothers provided him his first trip to a live battlefield. Once there, David saw Goliath make fun of King Saul and the Army of Israel. He saw everyone cowering in fear of this gigantic enemy.
Although David was but a shepherd lad, he knew loneliness, bad weather, and difficult sheep. He had faced savage attacks from wild animals. Singlehandedly; he had killed a lion and a bear with little more than a slingshot and his bare hands. But having grown up in the faith of his family and friends; he had learned to trust God, and beyond a doubt he knew God had helped him in his most desperate time of need.
As a result, David didn’t know any better than to naively ask what would happen if someone killed this giant that mocks our people and our God? Long before Bruce Barton ever said it, David had already discovered that “Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared believe that something inside him was superior to the circumstances around him.
King Saul, the Army, David’s brothers; all saw themselves as grasshoppers compared to Goliath. Cringing with fear, they waited for someone to come along and bail them out of a difficult circumstance. In the process, they traded their dreams for easier circumstances, while losing the opportunity to win the greatest victory of their lives.
The lesson for us remains obvious: know that the problems you see are God’s opportunity for you to achieve what otherwise might seem utterly impossible.

I am
and because God is the greatest possibility thinker in the universe, I challenge you to work with him and take a step beyond merely dreaming and see what the two of you can achieve...

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Doc's Daughter - 5

Tommie Stiles arrived in Anderson, Indiana for the first time, fresh from the warm waters of the Gulf Coast and Houston, TX. She had been further north several times; but on this occasion she had visited the Michigan family of George Buller in Benton Harbor. The Buller’s had several girls, one being in the High Street dorm across the Street from the Dean with Tommie, so she fit right in. Another of the Buller girl's had been my “first love” at Grand Junction Camp Meeting the year I was twelve. I did not see her for a whole year, only to discover then that she lived but twenty miles down the lakeshore from me.

It had been in Benton Harbor that Tommie saw her first jumbo-sized peach, big enough to require quartering to fit into a large-mouth Mason fruit jar.  After she met me and visited my hometown of South Haven several times, she never in all our seventy-plus years ever lost her sense of “utter amazement” at the fruit we produced-and-consumed (to this day I enjoy an enormous consumer of fruit products).

In Houston, Tommie had found employment with Stanolin Oil and  Gas following her year at Tulsa and was attending first Church on 11th Street in the Heights. She had just served as the Youth Representative on the Pulpit Committee of First Church of God when they called Max R. Gaulke. This sturdy North Dakota German, then pastoring the church in South Saint Paul Park, MN, would find the prestigious pulpit in Houston to his liking. He was an excellent musician with expertise in Christian Education; he was a Masterful pulpiteer and an extraordinary pastor.  

Max became quite successful in this South Texas urban megalopolis and would eventually feel compelled to launch a Church of God Bible College and that positioned him to become our future friend and peer at a time when Tommie and I would host many of his GBC student groups, but I am getting ahead of my story.

Tommie’s move to Anderson became complete in September 1946, and she began her classwork still smarting from the direct assist from Doc that removed her from the Tulsa campus. She never did have any Northern blood in her veins but the move went okay until she fell ill late in the term and nearly died. That is another story, but it was the AC--NC State Basketball game that brought us together and we discovered each other’s existence, except neither of us liked the other (at top of page Johnny Wilson is being recognized for his extraordinary athletic career as an AC Hall of Famer).

I had sought Jeannie’s company, a student acquaintance. In turn, Jeannie had redirected me by introducing Tommie to me. After that the pieces had fallen together like pieces of a puzzle. It seemed that God redirected her life away from medical studies in Oklahoma, at least for the time being. After she and I met and grew together as we did, it would later become obvious to both of us that God had redirected her from medicine into ministry. She would spend her adult life as her pastor’s wife where she dispensed helpful medical information that opened many doors for both her and me across the decades.

Under Doc’s tutelage Tommie had been trained, along with her mother, as a Physician’s Assistant (granted, unlicensed). One of her favorite stories she was still telling at the time of her death was of delivering a breach baby for a fifteen-year-old black girl, under Doc’s verbal direction; his hands were simply too big for the task.

That baby grew up hearing this “miracle story” throughout his life. It thrilled Tommie immeasurably when she attended her mother’s funeral in 1982 and had a BIG BLACK STRANGER ushered to the seat beside her when he made a late appearance. Immediately at the close of the service, this strange black man swept her off her feet, and with great exuberance he thanked her from the depths of his soul for “saving his life” (by delivering him when Doc could not).

Meanwhile, I had come along and the rest was all history. Tommie’s Oklahoma Church Elders had wanted to ordain her as a teen, but she had the gall, or starch, to refuse. When her call into medicine via Doc metamorphosed into life married to a preacher, Tommie suddenly found herself the “Queen of the Manse.” Later, when she and I looked back across our seventy-year span of marriage, we saw more than six decades of Christian ministry which we spent mostly pioneering mission churches, interspersed with more profitable and less difficult circumstances, though’ not necessarily always peaceful. Sometimes they were more than difficult, even disappointing.
Fragile health compounded even the less strenuous times, especially after her near-terminal encounter that brought—as we believed—the providence of God. It had resulted in my immediate discharge from the Air Force because she “would live no longer than 3-12 months” and “we bring men home from overseas for less than this.” Or, that was what she heard the Colonel tell his friend on the other end of the line at my Virginia Wing Headquarters.

As it turned out, God gave her ninety-one fragile years of difficult living; but, she lived her life personally victorious. She had mothered two children she was not supposed to be able to bring to birth and she had the satisfaction of being able to touch many lives along the way. By the time she reached her journey’s end, she would take nothing for her journey, even if she was ready to move on.

It is now more than two months since Tommie’s departure. I am not any the less aware of many changes that came about in my lifetime of living with her. I remember the multitude of years of medical bills that made medical insurance absolutely essential; yet based on my conservative rearing, insurance was something I might well have been unable to afford and easily ignore, except for her staunch insistence and financial discipline.  

My independent West Michigan Republican father believed Social Security and big city Democratic social planning found in Detroit and Chicago all belonged to far-out liberals and socialist crooks that were part of FDR’s intolerable socialistic policies conservatives hated.

Dad did not like FDR. Yet, I came to the day when I fully understood and appreciated that my father and our family were deeply indebted to FDR for dad’s 3-day “WPA” job that gave him opportunity for a permanent job and a chance to work his way up the ladder to be appointed City Street Commissioner in our little town.

Living with this Cherokee who had fire in her veins when aroused, taught this stubborn, block-headed German with a smattering of unintentionally “learned chauvinism” several “new things” well worth knowing. Among others, I learned to eat vegetables and healthy salads rather than chowing down on the meat and potatoes of my youth.  I am yet surprised I did not eat my mother out of house and home—a quart of peaches at a time, or a dozen plate-sized pan cakes at a sitting.

I learned through her patient-but-persistent and loving ways many here-to-fore unpracticed disciplines for better living: good preventive health measures; medical maintenance, dental care, and other issues of self-care not always afforded in my “at home” years. When necessary, she was known to issue such challenges as “Will you make an appointment with the doctor or I do I have him come here?” What’s a guy to do…? 
When serving small churches with inadequate incomes; she managed; we SACRIFICED TO MAINTAIN THE INSURANCE that greatly benefited the family over the decades. We bit the bullet—especially when Michigan Blue finally priced us out of the market after thirty years in the plan. In spite of better years, the accumulation of medical bills left us retiring still mired in debt. Retirement intensified the stress after the Church Extension debacle that cost Tommie the invested differential she had set aside for bridging our retirement shortfalls (someone  changed her secured bonds to unsecured bonds, unbeknown to us).

Sometimes mired in turmoil, “providential assistance” at pivotal points always brought us safely through potentially catastrophic situations. And even if Bank of America should own our "stuff"; we genuinely appreciated Government Medicare and available Supplemental Insurance that helped pay our medical expenses, enable us to live frugally, and give our devotion to God.

Experience has taught me much about the rights of people to have available health care as a citizen’s right of each that no citizen should be without such because of it only being available “for profit”. Ministering to needy families across the decades further strengthened this growing conviction as we watched “the system” wear people down under hashtags  of unworthiness because uneducated, poor, illiterate or in prison.

 While our national history documents the near genocide of First Americans, the enslavement of black Americans, the rejection of emigrants, and  the grinding into fine a fine powder other socially unequal, individuals branded as lazy, worthless, or some other criminal offense; I could well understand their seeming lack of self-esteem and personal pride.

Our culture and sometimes our church systematically elevated self-serving entrepreneurs that valued personal desires while devaluing community and social values of the common good. Seldom do I hear the church rise up and address the nation with the message of the ancient prophets as they announced long ago proclaimed,

                “The Lord says …Tell my people what they have done against their God …” Israel
                 complained about being good but God treated them poorly. The prophet reminded
                 them they misused their holy days; they were unfair “to your workers”, they “argue
                 and fight” etc.

They further reminded offenders to
               “free the people you have put in prison unfairly and undo their chains. Free those to
               whom you are unfair and stop their hard labor. Share your food with the hungry and
               bring poor, homeless people into your own homes. When you see cruel words and
              pointing your fingers at others.” someone who has no clothes, give him yours, and              
             don’t refuse to help your own relatives … stop using cruel words and pointing your                                  fingers at others.

We are seldom reminded today that only when we
              “feed those who are hungry and take care of the needs of those who are troubled”
              only “then your light will shine in the darkness, and you will be bright like sunshine
              at noon…” (Isaiah 58, NCV).
I was years deep into my seventy-year journey of matrimony and ministry with Tommie before I became fully sensitized to the ancient message of the biblical prophets and understood it as the other side of the New Testament coin that is the message of Jesus. Tommie has now moved from my care while I finish my journey as an Evangelical Christian that strongly affirms the single message of biblical salvation and social responsibility. It is a two-sided coin with a singular announcement - “Thus saith the Lord. . .” 
I move on from this day forward ... but not without hope …

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Doc's Daughter - 4

Three of Doc's  four Stiles’ girls made their way pretty well in the world. There is no telling what the precocious youngest-of-the-four might have done, had she not turned aside from medicine; but … well, she did - she turned to ministry and the support of her pastor husband -  not overly self-serving or lucrative, I’d say now. At the time, however, it seemed like the right thing to do.
Essa Mae, the elder, became a quiet, fragile but pretty, old maid school teacher and Master Librarian. She survived her rough beginnings and lived a quiet full devoted life as a genteel, sensitive, single lady; except for her unfortunate encounter with Charles Pair who defrauded her of more than he gave her in a short marriage that cud not rob her of her character and her certainty of who she was.

After Tommie and I began our student days in Portland, Mae joined us. At one time or another we had both of my sisters, and Mae. Once in Portland; Mae became a vital communication link in the office staff of Pacific Bible College assisting A. F. Gray and Otto Linn, the President and Dean. Throughout the years following Portland, Mae spent long periods nearby, or living within our reach. Periodically, she was just another member of our household; she frequently enjoyed assisting in rearing our Meredith and Scott; they dearly loved “Aunt Mae,” and thoroughly enjoyed being “Aunt Mae” (no online pictures of Mae and Vi).

Mae struggled with some dementia issues later in life. She became quite settled in the Baptist culture of Waco, Texas and did well, living alone among her own circle of friends where she became quite well established in her own little domicile. By this time, Tommie was able to return the favor and spend considerable time with Mae in Waco and they enjoyed amiable and intimate harmony as the eldest and youngest sisters. She enjoyed her close-knit fellowship with the small and struggling Church of God congregation; taught a Sunday School class if I remember, and found Baptist culture quite acceptable.

Mae died in May of 1997, still in her eighties, just prior to my seventieth birthday. She was interred in the family plot in Welty, OK barely two months before the family would celebrate Ben’s faith-filled life under the direction of Freewill Baptist Pastor Berton Perry. Longtime friend of both the Stiles’ family and we Warner’s, Russell Noss, a pastoral fixture in Oklahoma  and a fellow student from our Bible College days, accepted it as a great honor to officiate at Mae’s Memorial Service.
Russell did a noteworthy job of fortifying the family’s tenderness for elder sister Essa Mae. Baby sister then invested the additional time and energy needed to expedite the closing out of Mae’s business affairs, but with Tommie now gone, I find I still have some of Mae’s most “personal”.

Viola first worked for the government in San Antonio. After she married Bill, a North Texas graduate of Texas A& M and fellow CPA, the two shuttled back and forth between Shell’s Houston and Midland offices building a comfortable living. Their home on North Big Spring became our get-away home away from home, a secure shelter during those early Texas years when Bill spent much of his time investing in his Midland business enterprises.

Simultaneously, George H. W. Bush the wealthy young New Englander and Military Veteran, was establishing himself in the Texas oil business by buying up right-of-way’s between oil leases and slant drilling, and trying to raise young George to follow in his steps.

Vi and Bill provided financial stability to the struggling wife of a poor preacher serving a Texas Mission church. Later, they made years of study possible at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary under Dr. Bob Naylor, the Jerusalem of Southern Baptist education. Those were invaluable years I would not trade--priceless to buy.

One of the trade-offs in later years was Tommie’s assistance to Vi around the time she was closing out her working years (1992). She assisted Vi for long months at a time, for reasons related both to Vi’s health and hers, as well as in getting Vi and Bill through the fourteen difficult years of Bill’s severe Alzheimer journey. That was a story all its own and it resulted in Tommie and I spending weeks and months apart, but so necessary, and in its own way, even rewarding.

Another aside: I still have a wide assortment of unused “Hardware tools and knick-knacks” in my “BC basement.” That “Assortment” originated with Bill when he closed his Midland Hardware venture prior to leaving West Texas, and it has served me in variously emerging times of need all the way from Texas, west to California, and back east to Michigan. You wonder about the “ridding out” that I need to do in Battle Creek, now that Tommie is gone … well don’t!

The third Stiles girl—the pretty one three-years older than Tommie, remained the independent sibling—the black sheep of sorts. Given the name Awana, she reflected both her beauty and her Cherokee heritage. She (Jam) pursued her independent ways by becoming a pilot like her next older brother Gib (Gilbert) - her idol.

“Jammy” (seen left) trained in dry, sunny Sweetwater, TX and became part of Jacelyn Cochran’s Women’s Air Service Program (WASP). HOWEVER, WHEN FLYING BROTHER returned from the military, he brought her days of ferrying planes to Britain to a flying screech. That was when she turned to Diplomatic Service where she became a linguist-cryptographer.

This took her abroad and introduced her to Foreign Service where she later had opportunity to reject a contract with Warner Brothers Studios. Beautiful in many ways, and highly photogenic, Awana (Jam/Jammy) lived a life many would envy. Filled with worldly glitz and glamour, her life of working in government service sometimes found her rubbing elbows, as it were, with world famous figures such as her dear friend “The Madam”  - General and Madam Chang Kai Shek). She enjoyed a long and personal friendship with this gentle Chinese Christian.

“Jam” terminated her personal career when she met and married Foreign Service Officer Ralph N. Clough, government Far East Expert. A graduate of the Shanghai University and the University of Washington, Ralph had been forced to leave his dying young wife without attending to her final details after being informed they were about to be overcome by ChineseCommunist forces and the only hope for him and the two boys was immediate flight.  

At his dying wife’s insistence, Ralph left her to the care of the native workers and he and the boys barely escaped with their lives. With his two young sons, one under each arm, Ralph fled the seven miles to freedom, hitch-hiking his way stateside. On reaching the States, he met his wife’s family, only to have his mother-in-law drop dead on the spot with a heart attack upon hearing the news of her daughter’s death (sometimes part of the glitz and glamour shared with fame and fortune). 
Ralph and Awana spent fifty-four years together serving around the world while adding two girls to Ralph’s two sons, while Ralph served various embassies as the administrative and career professional under the Diplomatic Appointee. They served together in Sweden, spent multiple tours of duty in Taipei, were part of  the 1964 Geneva Conferences and we will never know what all else they did.

I watched those years of growing intimacy, love, and appreciation extend for decades while developing into a tender, warm sisterly “twin-ship” of more than sixty-five years, during which I was a personal beneficiary. Three years apart, their sisterly bond was unbreakably strong, financially, materially, and emotionally . I cannot say “enuff” for Jam today. I owe so much to them — particularly to her--and perhaps more to their praying mother--Mary Violet Woodard Stiles. 
When I returned to school in Fort Worth after fifteen years of pastoring, tuition was there providing years of seminary study while pastoring the Ridglea church. Through the years, Mae spent long days and months at a time caring for our children. Jam showered “luxuries” and “niceties” on her baby sister that my German frugality could never have considered anything but extravagant.

Doc’s baby daughter had a year of pre-med under her belt at Tulsa University by the time we met. She remained Doc’s last fatherly hope for a successor in Medicine after his brood of boys rejected medicine for other pursuits. She finished high school at sixteen. Impossible as it seems, she starred in track and basketball and worked as a telephone operator in nearby Bristow. At the Telephone Company, she began learning the technician’s trade--hard for me to imagine—this soaking-wet 90-pound female running up and down telephone poles, which she apparently did as well as she ran track as her school’s “mini-mite.”

In late life, Tommie's Doctors discovered the real extent of the damage of her malformed back wall of the heart. Although she had had lived with it since childhood and experienced what they then called "Dropsy", the damage was such that she should never have been allowed to play basketball or compete in track, as she did, quite successfully, or even work as she sometimes did. But early medicine was not the miracle it is today. 
Upon reaching Tulsa, she acquired an office job at eastern Oklahoma’s 50,000-watt Voice of Oklahoma-(KVOO). She enjoyed a “brief” stint in broadcasting. It was a career that began and ended all at once in 1943 when news of FDR’s death in Warm Springs, GA marched across the teletype and the male newscaster was out of pocket when he should have been on cue. This precocious teen, with her usual aplomb and lack of timidity, marched herself into the studio, quickly read her teletype message verbatim to the mike, and announced to the known world that FDR is dead!” Her career lasted just long enough to realize the import of her teletype message, what she had done, and for a deflated male ego to announce her firing – she would never forget it.

By the time I arrived, dad had yanked her out of school at Tulsa to escape the wealthy thirty-year-old Houston Lawyer insisting on matrimony before she could finish her medical education. That upset Doc! As a compromise between Doc and Baby Doc, he shipped his baby girl out of state to Anderson, Indiana and the personal care of the Dean at Anderson College, Dr. Russell Olt.
In this way, Dad thought to insure that his young daughter would benefit from a minimum of one year of foundational Bible Study, assured that she had her head screwed on straight. Later … he would see about her career et al … and … well ...
I am