Sunday, April 1, 2018

Walk With Purpose


I walked more than four decades. Whereas I once walked mostly for the pleasure of it, I eventually did it as a health measure to balance the time I spent reading, studying, writing, visiting parishioners, and attending administrative activities. 

Today is Easter and Spring is everywhere in Kentucky, but I remember the peaceful exhilaration I felt as a teen growing up on Lake Michigan shores walking in a snowstorm. With flakes driving down from every direction, the snow crunching crisply underfoot felt so very peaceful to me. I especially remember those late night walks to and from basketball games on cold, crisp, snowy nights.

In my youth we walked everywhere. Dad walked to and from work. I see his portly five-seven frame swinging along in his overalls eighty years ago. From first grade into high school, I walked to and from school, walking to Indiana Avenue grade school an the longer walks to Central. It was a good three-quarter mile to Central and I generally walked it four times a day. I remember often having a joyful few minutes of noon soccer time on the Superior Street playground before the afternoon bell rang.

I still walked occasionally after I became a pastor, but it was not popular. When living in the Mississippi Delta, the church had a PO Box and I occasionally enjoyed a good walk to town and the Post Office. That proved problematic, however; too many people recognized me and I’d have to turn down their ride, if I was going to fulfill my purpose in walking.

Then I had my accident in 1985. I was working inside and mostly alone when we were completing our new church facility in Three Rivers, MI, I was working up inside the gable on the south end of the sanctuary doing something or other and I foolishly attempted to adjust the platform on which I was standing. I caused the steel pipe scaffold to collapse. Fearing impalement, I jumped clear and came down more than twenty feet shattering my ankle and crunching my lower back in a twenty-foot free fall.

It was a careless accident-that eventually left me standing considerably shorter than my normal five foot nine frame, although I didn‘t realize it at the time. While in the military, I had learned to stand rigidly erect and I habitually walked almost “march time;” for many years. You could count cadence with my assertive walk: “Hup, two, three, four . . . “

After I got off my crutches, my son would scold me, “quit slouching, dad, stand up straight.”

“I am standing up straight!” I would snap, squaring my shoulders and stretching as tall as I could--stepping as straight as possible. But I continued having lots of ankle pain and limited mobility until I discovered that walking gave my ankle more flexibility and less pain. This started my intentional walking. 

By this time in my life, I discovered that a brisk walk refreshed me. And that encouraged me to plan a regular walking routine. Admittedly, sometimes I still needed motivation; walking an hour every day can get tedious. I soon learned how to motivate my walks by giving myself occasional treats of hotcakes and sausage at McDonalds--3 ½ mile roundtrip. That may not have been the healthiest breakfast, but it proved motivationally effective. I dearly love hot cakes and sausage.

That was during my final pastorate, and I found that I was often walking 20-25 miles a week, across several mornings. Often leaving the house before breakfast, I walked all over our little town … sometimes intersecting with Roland, my Lutheran pastor friend and we shared a passing Shalom of some kind, without lingering, both of us being serious walkers.   

My favorite jaunt was the abandoned railroad line behind our new sixty-five acre church campus. I could follow that abandoned spur as far east as I wanted, out into open country, but most often turned off at the east rim of town and wandered back to the parsonage via one of several different routes, anywhere from one to three miles, occasionally five, seldom further.

I was still walking past eighty. No longer able to walk like I once did, I found it getting more difficult all the time. Unable to maintain the brisk pace I once did, I did the next best thing; I walked as fast as I could--thankfully. Back problems finally caught up with me and I was finally forced to stop altogether.

I remember when I tried to get my aging father to walk. I wanted to enhance his life, improve his health, and keep him around as long as I could--only to hear him complain, “But my knees hurt.”

That frustrated and angered me. I didn’t doubt that he hurt, but I saw no reason to quit. I remembered when he became City Street Commissioner and drove around town in his pickup, supervising jobs--always accompanied by a box of chocolate candy on the seat. Of course his weight ballooned! When I complained about his 235 pounds, his only comment was “When you get to be thirty-five, you’ll start looking just like me.” He never understood the fire he ignited!

Take care of yourself I heard … exercise. Do whatever is necessary, but stay trim. I already knew my work was too sedentary.

When he finally retired and took to his Lazy Boy, I urged him to walk--at least a little--it’s good for the soul. Walk up and down the driveway! Walk up and down the block! Take your cane, if you need to, but walk … at least walk a little.” He died alone in the hospital, early Sunday morning, the last day of 1990, at 85--the same age my Grandma died, but she walked to town that day!

“I’d just as soon die with my boots on!” I always said. Eventually, I came to the point where most steps I took were steps of pain. I learned take a pain pill before starting a walk, When I got up in the morning I would turn on the coffee pot; I might be as stiff as a board, but I was going to walk anyway, until it got to the point that I could hardly make it back to the house after a walk to town.

As I now approach my ninety-first mile marker, I have rediscovered walking. There were several years of being a caregiver to my mate and many a day I accompanied her with her walker (stroller we called it) or a 4-pronged cane, until she became bedfast. The day she finally died at ninety-one, I rediscovered walking. I was becoming more unsteady on my feet and I decided to pick up her cane and “try" it. 

Very soon thereafter, I decided to “experiment” by walking to the cull de sac at the end of out street. Well! I made it. I made it well enough that I decided I would again start walking rather than spending so much time sitting at the computer. As a result, I renewed my love for walking and am now extending my trips a block at a time, and I am again fulfilling my practice of thirty-minute walks – a little slower but I am keeping on keeping on.

And what’s good for the body is good for the soul. I already know there‘s not much gain without a little pain. I accept that, and I take James 4:14-15 to mean keep walking. Keep walking in the faith that when we do what is right, God will be there doing what He does best--whatever is best for us. I will continue trusting Him, knowing that when I don’t understand His answer, I can lean on Him as my answer.

That’s what Paul told Timothy: I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him (2 Tim. 1:12). Seeing may be believing but I don’t have to peek around the corner to “see” precisely where I’m going. That’s walking by sight rather than faith.

Sometimes I‘d just as soon not see too far ahead, but I can also tell you that from Warner’s World, I’m satisfied to keep on walking--determined actually. It is the only way since I am not yet ready for confinement to my Lazy Boy
_____ walkingwithwarner.blogspot.com

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

FOLLOW THE CROSS BEARER


And he bearing his cross went forth. . . (John 19:17).

“I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” The speaker wears the white jacket of a physician. From the TV screen he speaks very personally about some health issue. It has come to be an accepted practice, and research suggests that many of us are gullible enough to buy a product relating to our health, based on his word. We take the word of an actor who plays the part of a doctor. It seems a little strange, but why else would coldly calculating manufacturers spend cold cash promoting their product this way?

This same script played out a few years back, during the expose of some of TV’s more famous Celestial Celebrities. “I’m not a pastor, but I play one on TV” became a favorite line for impressionists. There was much public concern over the flamboyant performers who purported to represent God’s church; and, yes, they had their constituents. But did people writing in and sending financial pledges involve them as participants in a meaningful New Testament fellowship? No, I don’t think so! In fact, some called it an outright scam. Others claimed it missed the mark and perverted the truth.

There is yet a further amending of this line, one that suggests further scripting with another slant. This one says, “I’m not a Christian, but I play one on TV.” Pierre Van Paassen’s gripping story “The Days of Our Years” pursued a line similar to this script.

The story shows us Ugolin, the Hunchback, becoming seriously ill. Physically deformed, social deprived, Ugolin never knew his father, and his mother was an alcoholic and an outcaste. Solange, Ugolin’s sister, loved her brother so much that she sold her body to buy the medicine Ugolin needed. On the other hand, the community discussed this scandalous behavior until it drifted back to Ugolin. Consequently, he drowned himself in the river. When Solange heard what he did, she gave way to angry despair and took her own life.

“Christians,” challenged the village priest at the funeral service; “Christians, when the Lord of life and death shall ask me on the Day of Judgment, ‘Where are thy sheep?’ I will not answer Him.”

Using his verbal whip a second time, the offended pastor declared, “When the Lord asks me the second time, ‘Where are thy sheep?’ I will not yet answer Him.”              

Again, he responds, “But when the Lord shall ask me a third time, ‘Where are thy sheep?’ I shall hang my head in shame and I will answer Him, ‘They were not sheep, Lord, they were a pack of wolves.’”

We do not follow Jesus very far without discovering that he walked the way of a cross bearer. Christianity is not a coat of arms that we put on and take off. It is not a marketing strategy that creates a desired effect, whatever the mirage or however illusory. Christianity is not calculated packaging guaranteed to sell a lifestyle image that somehow always manages to include being highly successful in our personal achievements. Nor, is Christianity a piece of jewelry we wear that protects us from bad things happening to us, like a good luck charm.

Jesus came proclaiming and modeling a lifestyle of “peace on earth among men of good will,” a simple--but integrity filled-- “what you see is what you get.” In spite of his exemplary model of simplicity, love, integrity, self-denial, and cross bearing, we do not follow him far without realizing that not everyone who wears a cross follows Jesus in living the life of cross bearing. 

I often wear a cross on my coat lapel or around my neck. On occasion, I have asked another person wearing a cross on their clothing, “Why are you wearing that?” I find it interesting that frequently it is simply a decorative item, a piece of jewelry they wear for the outward enhancement. Although my question sometimes flusters people, they seldom admit to living the life of a cross bearer, although they occasionally admit to being a Christian.

As only one follower of Jesus, I follow him because he wore his cross on his back and not on his coat lapel. He came teaching his followers to live their lives “simply,“ explaining, “let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes, ‘ and your ‘No’ be ‘No.’” To this he added, “anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37). In following his footsteps through life, I find he went out to the Place of the Skull carrying his own cross. (John 19:17). 

These things assure me that how he played the game on the playing field of life matched the game he talked. He was a cross-bearer, not simply someone playing the part to influence me. Following him always involves cross bearing (Matthew 16:24). Yet, the further I follow him, I find that when he teaches his followers about cross bearing, there are those who fail to take him seriously and tell him the cross simply isn’t necessary (Matthew 16:21-23).

In that instance, Peter saw no more need for Jesus becoming a cross-bearer than the villagers in Van Paassen’s story saw any need to risk condoning the scandal of a family that fell between the cracks as needy neighbors.

George MacLeod recasts the story of Jesus in terms of the cross and argues “that the cross be raised again at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church.” He insists this is necessary and that he is only “recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves.”

Reminding us of that terrible place where Jesus was crucified, MacLeod challenges us to look beyond our lovely sanctuary cross, our glamorous jewelry, and our Madison Avenue marketing of upward mobility and get in touch with the real world. The place where Jesus died was at “the town garbage heap, at a crossroad so cosmopolitan they had to write his title in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek.” He further described it as “the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble,” concluding, “that is what he died about. And that is where churchmen ought to be, and what churchmen should be about.”

Jesus carried a cross on his back when he died, although some tell us he could have called a legion of angels to his defense. The way of cross bearing beckons us to follow him, but then we discover he carried his own weight. He was not a Movie Hero, playing the leading role while a professional stunt man did the dangerous stuff. He didn’t simply go in, drive out the moneychangers from the Temple grounds, and make a political statement; he became the sacrifice through his own death.               

The author of the Book of Hebrews caught a personal glimpse of what Jesus was really about and announced, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:2). Viewing this scene from a later perspective, George Bennard, the Methodist evangelist-hymn writer, felt the staggering weight, and penned this testimony,

              Oh, that old rugged cross so despised by the world,
             Has a wondrous attraction for me;
              For the dear Lamb of God left his glory above,
              To bear it to dark Calvary.

Jesus’ death allowed God to use that death as a uniquely sacrificial ministry to humanity. As Peter explained on the Day of Pentecost, “Jesus of Nazareth … accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs … was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men put him to death by nailing him to the cross … But God ... raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact … and has poured out what you now see and hear” (Acts 2:22-24, 32-33).

George Morrison of Glasgow reminds us, “there is one argument that stands unshaken through every age and every generation - it is the triumphant argument of the Cross of Christ.”

In spite of widening knowledge, deepening thoughts, and changing theories, Morrison argues, “yet in the very Centre, unshaken and unshakeable, stands Calvary, the lasting commendation of the love of God.”

Morrison’s reminder reflects the ignominious weight of the sin that brought sorrow to God, killed the Christ, and warped humanity. It is the asserting of an omnipotent self regardless of principles or persons that warps and deranges the spirit of humanity, rather than the circumstances in which people find themselves. It encourages people to pay exorbitant prices for cheap thrills, often defiling the chastity of innocent children, making mockery of womanhood, ignoring the needs of the world’s children, and making animals out of men.

This self-seeking drives individuals toward drunkenness, debauchery, and self-righteousness, all in the name of pleasure. It is a human nature perverted toward creating conditions that escalate wars and rumors of wars into World Holocaust, Middle East Holy Wars between Jehovah and Allah, and ethnic cleansings in Eastern Europe and central Africa.

Calvary, the place where Jesus died, became a signal light marking an all-important intersection for the tourists traveling between the City of God and the World Metropolis. It catches our attention, making us suddenly aware of the fast-moving traffic going through the intersection. It helps us avoid a terrible collision at an intersection we have taken for granted or simply ignored.

In time, Jesus’ disciples were transformed by the events following Calvary. Aroused by new awareness and greater sensitivity, they took up their own crosses. Personally following the Jesus-way of cross bearing, they made their way onto the highways and bi-ways of Europe, Asia, and Africa. They went as God‘s called out ones, the Ecclesia, described in the New Testament as the church.

 But we do not follow the cross-bearer far without learning that his church was not intended as a cold storage plant for the permanent preservation of biblical saints, or a locker plant to preserve them from spoiling. It was never intended to become a private club, offering exclusive memberships in a self-perpetuating world-class country club. It came into being helping people live better lives, beginning with those to whom Jesus ministered and continuing through the servant ministries of his disciples and their descendants.

True church members lose themselves in service to a hurting humanity, people who so desperately need healing--like the abused-lost child in their midst. Not really a resident hospital, the church serves as an emergency room ministering to the spiritually sick and the morally anemic. It offers more than a gymnasium for bodybuilding classes; it assists all manner of people in every kind of circumstance to develop moral and ethical muscles.

The church provides workers mountain-top-moments of vital inspiration--friendly, evangelistic, missionary, and enthusiastic. Representing the Spirit of That One who went about doing good; the church follows Jesus in cross bearing by taking up the challenges of ministry and servanthood.

Judith Harvey told of a Hoosier congregation faced with the task of putting a large cross into place on their new church structure. The cross arrived safely, complete with a figure of Christ on it. However, they had ordered only the cross, without the Christ. The job needed to be completed the same afternoon it arrived, but the additional figure on it made it too heavy for them to put it into place. No one knew how to resolve the dilemma.

When the person in charge finally returned, the cross was already up, leaving only the question of how they did it. The answer is revealing: “We could not lift it with the figure of the dead Christ on it; but when we took him off, the cross was easy to lift.”

Simply put, that describes the superficial kind of Christianity that is worn on the lapel and sung about in the sanctuary, that becomes a baptized sociology that is nice enough, but lacking the power to influence life any more than a political rally during a presidential election.

On the other hand, there are people out there in the real world like Wisedpong, a young Thai. Growing up in Thailand among the wealthy, his upper class parents urged him to educate himself and become wealthy. That only brought the confused young Buddhist to a dead-end in life. He had come to America seeking “the meaning of life.”

Trying to follow his parent’s advice, he admitted, “I started to realize that a good career and good money did not bring happiness, so I quit my job.” Next, he entered a Buddhist monastery, but within six months he realized, “no matter how hard I tried, it was not enough.” Disillusioned, he left the monastery and returned to business. His search now took him to Edmonds, Oklahoma in search of an MBA degree at Central State University.

His family stayed in close touch with him, writing almost every day, urging him to return and take over the family business. However, while still pursuing his degree, he met Dan, a Christian Minister to international students. With the help of a gospel tract he learned the way of salvation and he and his wife accepted Christ into their lives.

Wisedpong later began to feel God calling him. About that time, he met the pastor of a Thai-Lao-Cambodian Mission church. There, he saw Christianity expressed in his own Thai culture. Finding his call from God confirmed, he entered seminary, gained invaluable experience in an area Lao-Cambodian congregation, and made plans to return to Thailand as a bi-vocational pastor using his background in business and Buddhism to reach his Thai people for Christ,

It was H. L. Mencken, the Baltimore editor-atheist who charged religious people with caring nothing about the truth as long as they retain a “hopeful and pleasant frame of mind.” There is much in the religious world that offers people a positive attitude and outlook. Anyone, who knows anything at all about Christianity, knows it represents a viewpoint geared toward positive thinking. However, anyone who truly understands what Christianity is all about would never put his foot in his mouth by charging the Christian Church with being simply a society for positive thinkers.

What Mencken really rejected was the dark side of human nature that the “hopeful and pleasant frame of mind” attempts to ignore. It is in the cross that we see man’s dark side, for that is where we come to understand that man is never so vile as when trying to disguise and deny his evil nature. This is what took Jesus to the cross. We never saw it so clearly, yet we make our way through life like the tourist at Oberammergau.

This American businessman witnessed the Passion Play and was enthralled by the dramatic depiction of the story of the cross. Rushing backstage, he met Anton Lang who played the part of Christ. Stopping abruptly, he snapped Mr. Lang’s picture with his expensive equipment, much to Lang’s discomfort.
“Here dear, you take my picture,” he said as he saw the cross. “I’m going over and lift up the cross. When I get it up on my shoulder, you snap my picture carrying the cross,” he added, concluding, “Won’t that be a novel and exciting picture to send home to our friends in America.”

Seeing Mr. Lang frown severely, the tourist added, “You don’t mind do you, Mr. Lang?”       “This is very unusual …” but before he could finish the thought, the tourist hurriedly attempted to lift the cross and was unable--made of heavy iron-oak beams of two hundred pounds.

Puffing with amazement, the visitor turned to Lang, saying “Why I thought it would be light. I thought the cross was hollow. Why do you carry a cross that is so terribly heavy?”

Anton Lang, drawing himself to his full height, replied with compelling dignity and a bit of rebuke, “Sir, if I did not feel the weight of His cross, I could not play His part” (Let There Be Light/Fleming Revell Co./Benjamin P. Browne).

Whatever one may believe about the teachings of Jesus Christ, the seven last words he uttered at that epochal event of the cross climaxed a life in which he lived as no one else ever lived and his words impact our lives as no other words ever spoken. As I look about today, it is a day not unlike the day the Senator, the Clergyman, and the Boy Scout became fellow travelers on a small charter plane. When they developed an engine problem the pilot announced, “We’ll have to bail out.”

“Unfortunately,” he added, “there are only three parachutes. I have a wife and seven small children. My family needs me, and I’m taking one of the parachutes.” Having said that, he bailed out.

“I’m the smartest politician in the world,” suggested the Senator. “The country needs me; I’m taking one of the parachutes.” And, he jumped.

“I’ve had a good life,” said the Clergyman to the Boy Scout, “and yours is still ahead of you. You take the last parachute.”

“Don’t need to,” shrugged the youth. “There are still two parachutes left. The smartest politician in the world jumped with my knapsack.”

Humorous, yes. Funny, no! It is obvious to most of us that someone may be a smart politician, a Wall Street Broker, or any great power broker, but when you parachute you need more than a knapsack! And since September eleven an increasing number of people want something more spiritually secure when they do find it necessary to bail out.

In a world as spiritually dry as the Sahara Desert, the words of Jesus point us to water, from a living well that never runs dry. Without him we live parched lives that are filled with broken relationships and empty dreams. In the end we are slaves to our own selfish whims.

When Harold Boyer married my Irish Cherokee and me in the Gateway City of St Louis, MO the church building in which we were married was located at 4201 North Newstead Street. The congregation later relocated under Pastor Harold Williams. Thus, when Arlo and Helen Newell came to lead the congregation, they became the leaders of a church located where I believe every church ought to be. Adjacent to the front side of the facility was a six-lane highway. The church facility was just off the main thoroughfare and very close to a cemetery.

I believe if I had one sermon to preach, my message would be that God calls his church to intercept those who drive madly by on the Broad Way before they reach the Cemetery. _____ walkingwithwarner.blogspot.com

RECYCLE YOUR BOTTOM LINE BEST


RECYCLE YOUR BOTTOM LINE BEST

There are two ways of spreading light:

                                                                          be the candle

                                                                                                          or the mirror that reflects it.

 (Edith Wharton).

One Saturday, I joined my brother-in-law and nephew and headed for East Lansing, Michigan. The brilliant reds and yellows of fall glorified the crisp October day as we headed for Spartan Country. I looked forward to seeing Mark Harmon and his UCLA Bruins invade Spartan Stadium. Mark was a young man with an outstanding athletic career that came as no accident.

I was a high school freshman in 1941 when All-American Tom Harmon wore the magic 99 for the University Of Michigan maize and blue. Tom became the darling of college football, one of America’s premier players. He became a showpiece of success I never forgot. His collegiate thrill of a lifetime came when he received that coveted Heisman Trophy, given annually to the nation’s top collegiate football player.

Years later a matured and now married Tom Harmon made a new discovery. The former Wolverine eventually confessed his greatest delight in his Heisman was not when he received it, but more than a decade later as he sat at the dinner table with his wife and children.

“What is a Heisman Trophy?” a youthful Mark Harmon had asked his All-American dad. “Son, I guess the best way to tell you about a Heisman Trophy is to show you one,” the senior Harmon had responded. With that, the two of them got up from the dinner table and went into dad’s den, filled with an array of trophies. Lifting one of the trophies out of the case and handing it to Mark, the former Michigan star announced, “Son, this is a Heisman Trophy.”

What better way to motivate a boy than by letting him hold in his own hands the coveted trophy won by his very own dad! One such experience of seeing, touching, handling, and sharing, can unleash more motivated emotion than a whole library filled with heroic stories. For this reason, we look back to a rocky knoll outside the city gates of Jerusalem more than twenty centuries ago. There, a “carpenter’s son” died on a cross between two filching thieves.

Millions of people in every century have looked to this cross, seeing it as shining evidence that God loves mankind with an everlasting love. This conclusion, accepted widely across the centuries, agrees in substance that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. The cross of Christ confirmed for many that Jesus lived and laughed with people, while he lifted humanity by loving mankind to the death, even his own death.

Our minds wander back across the centuries and gaze on this supreme witness of God’s great love--the cross from which Jesus uttered his seven last words. Momentarily, we turn from the plight of our planet in this twenty-first century, hoping to rediscover the wonder and power of those last words from that cross--conclusions we value because he spoke them while going through the crucible of dying. It was not a time for the trivial!

His words cut through the pulp found around the edges, piercing through to the core of life at its essence, its bottom-line best. Jesus was dying and his words highlight his victory. He uttered his words only after playing the game of life as no one else ever played. We find in them a truly invigorating life, one filled with meaningful intention, one expressing profound profitability, and one truly worth investigating.

The bottom line of successful living means more than winning an athletic trophy, or building a Fortune 500 company. It means investing in personal character and achieving a personal ethic that always offers something worth giving, even when you don’t have a dime in your pocket. It suggests living “success-fully” or being full of success. To best invest in success, one needs to find a truly successful person and learn from them all you can, and no one qualifies for that genius like Jesus on the cross.

Booker T. Washington claimed success is best measured by the obstacles one has overcome while trying to succeed, rather than by the position one has reached in life. Jesus’ disciples came to understand this better after they walked and talked with Jesus and found him renewed day after dog day. They observed him in their comfortable circle of intimacy and saw how he succeeded in times and places where other men crumbled from the pressure.

They noted how his walk and his talk integrated into a singleness of purpose. Moreover, they envied the peaceful contentment he experienced; he was wholesome to be around. He was a well-balanced teacher whose company everyone enjoyed. They sensed his transcendence, his extraordinary wholesomeness that added authority o his words. They felt his authentic power, especially after praying in the late night hours after an exhausting day.

These were common men, homegrown Jews, neither pagan nor gentile. Although quite ordinary, they were well instructed in the ways of God’s Covenant People, as were all young Jewish lads. They knew about the centuries of traditional orthodox religious teaching. They prayed three times daily. They knew the Jewish scriptures. They also knew about things like pride, idolatry, and disobedience, known barriers to personal discipline. And yes, they watched Jesus forge a disciplined prayer life that somehow resulted in the kind of personal power they knew they all needed.

“Lord, teach us to pray,” we find them responding (Luke 11:1).

When Jesus prayed, the disciples became aware of the frailty of their own faith. The pressures of roller coaster living brought them a continuing awareness of need for a transfusing of consistency. They needed more than second-hand information. As they watched Jesus live out of the overflow of an unseen spiritual abundance, they knew he also lived his life at a strenuous pace. Furthermore, they knew his perspective was very different from the tepid, bland, business as usual syndrome of everyone they knew.

Much of our self-help therapy today promises more than it delivers. Ultimately, it falls far short of what we really need to know about achieving life success-fully--like the birthday card sent to an elderly lady by her prankster friend. When it came in the mail, she looked at the intriguing cover with more than casual interest.

 “How to Live to be a Hundred,” the card promised. Opening it, she found this superbly innocent bit of innocuity on the inside pages - “Get to be ninety-nine and be very, very careful.” People continue their search, but much of our search is just that innocent, innocuous, even naive. Simply put, it too closely resembles the rejection slip I received once, in which a helpful magazine editor reminded me my introduction promised more than my article delivered.

In like manner, a group of Episcopalians gathered for an annual conference one January. While together, they carefully endorsed a prepared statement of “revelation, renewal, and reformation,” calling for a “return to biblical Christianity rather than the liberal American translation of Christianity.” They wanted their church to deliver an authentic Christian faith.

They took this action, as reported by the news at that time, because “without a born-again experience expressed in renewal; neither the Christian nor the parish can be effective in the world to minister.” Their declaration claimed “the Scriptural promises of supernatural resources are true, have been experienced by some, and are available to all God’s people in order to be more effective witnesses.”

The full statement became the first for American Episcopalians. Prepared for review by the Lambeth Conference, it was prepared in hopes of receiving an endorsement by English Anglicans. Here were spiritually thoughtful and sensitive people attempting to deliver a promised product, trying to recover the process of recycling lasting values. At least some of them understood that people who succeed in life prioritize attitudes and actions calculated to achieve one’s goal. Achieving one’s goal usually takes more than simply living carefully, and they were attempting to focus on the known strengths.

Their statements of faith visualized the kind of persons they wanted to become, the objective they hoped to achieve, and they were refusing to accept anything less. We must recover some of this process if we are to join that select company of pilgrims who most often achieve their goals. One such person was a very young priest who struggled with an interminable variety of spiritual disorders. Haunted by a nagging vision of a more authentic life than he knew he had, he appeared driven by something he did not even comprehend.

As a result, he spent endless hours with his Father Confessor, enumerating seemingly inexhaustible minutiae of self-defeating behaviors from which he sought to be freed. Staupitz, the young priest’s Father Superior, finally determined to send the youthful Martin Luther on a holy pilgrimage to Rome. “O Rome,” the young Luther allegedly exclaimed, “thrice holy from the blood of the martyrs, I greet thee.”

As Martin toured the city, he thoughtfully examined many of the relics considered by the church as holy. He repeated Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica with deep feeling. Again he wrestled with God, agonizing at the altar, where he took so much time that two Italian priests prodded him for taking too much time and making them wait much too long. Later, as Martin joined in with a guided tour, he saw his rude antagonists entering one of the numerous area brothels. Finally, he understood their hurry to recite their prayers so quickly when at St. Peter’s.

Because young Martin was on a pilgrimage for personal peace, he visited the well-known church of St. John the Lateran. There, he climbed the famous staircase of Pilate. Like the other tourists, Martin earnestly recalled a relative whom he could pray out of purgatory and he thought of his grandfather. Thus, he began at the bottom of the stairs, climbed slowly, and prayed purposefully. Arriving at the top, he reportedly paused and pondered, “I wonder if it is so.”

These experiences caused Luther to later lament his journey to the eternal city. “I went to Rome with onions,” he admitted, but concluded, “I returned with garlic.”

Whatever his thoughts and feelings were at the time, his investment was neither wasted nor lost. His inward and upward journey paid off in valuable dividends that made him a more expansive person with a more far-reaching ministry. Once he ventured beyond the external trappings of the church--the only one he knew--he began to discover the essential elements of a personal and biblical friendship with the Almighty himself

Like Jesus before him, Luther also learned to value the worth of a friend. We all need a friend to whom we can pour out the contents of our heart, chaff and grain together, and know that the gentlest of hands will sift the contents, keep what is worth keeping, and blow away the remains with a breath of gentle grace.

Our deepest need comes in discovering a personal posture that exceeds our human circumstances, one that lives by an authority higher than the assertions of self. Reality for the disciples of Jesus began when they realized he lived life better than anyone they knew. They were beginning to realize that Jesus needed to connect them to a resource greater than themselves, before they could achieve the quality of life they were seeking. 

The disciples were like automobiles needing gas for continuing the journey; they needed a place for refueling. They recognized that resource for refueling as the place of prayer, a place where we can all find our faith fortified.

My departed friend Bob Chambers described a gentleman traveling the Mississippi River. The traveler fell into conversation with the pilot of the river steamer and asked how long the man had been a river pilot. Thirty-five years, came the reply. “Then you probably know every rock and sandbank in the river” agreed the traveler. “No,” replied the pilot, concluding. “I don’t worry about that. There would be too many to look out for. All I need to know is where the deep water is to keep from running aground.”

Jesus understood his disciples’ desire and pointed them to a personal friendship with the Heavenly Father, with all of its potential for personal discipline and spiritual maturity. In prayer and friendship with the Heavenly Father, the disciples need not worry about every sandbank in life’s river. With the guiding of the Father, they would discover the consistency of the deeper channel revealing inner renewal and upward mobility.

Without the relationship of that personal prayer life, we find ourselves wading in the shallows, like the disciples - found wanting. Stressed and warped by the pace of life, they endured their experiences like any other rebellious son refusing to acknowledge dad’s presence and authority and that didn’t meet the need.

But, how honestly can we look at our motives? What is it we most want to achieve in life? Why? Are we interested in the facts, regardless of the feelings? Are we more concerned with having our prayers answered or in sharing his company? Do we feel compelled to share his company in prayer, or are we only interested in his blessings? When we look honestly at the answers we want and the excitement we anticipate, do we find anything more than a psychedelic reflection that majors on minors and clings more to sensation than substance? Failure to examine ourselves honestly risks insulating ourselves from real relationships and being as empty and void as the disciples were.

A Seminarian enrolled in a Homiletics class and found his fellow students preaching their sermons to each other.  As each member delivered his or her sermon, the other students critiqued the sermons by means of classroom discussion, evaluation sheets, and audiotapes. One wag addressed the teacher by writing on his evaluation sheet, “Well, sir, it seems to me that he had a sledgehammer introduction and a tack-hammer development.”

When the disciples noted the prayer life of Jesus, they saw their sledgehammer defects and their tack-hammer results. They knew Jesus’ strength came through his prayer time during those lonely night vigils. They saw him deposit his time, energy, and personal accountability in the Bank where God serves as the Chief Operating Officer. They stared in constant amazement as he wrote out timely checks for spiritual resources and drew out dividends of inner strength, personal peace, poise, and power.

Recalling this event later, Luke reminded us of the priority we must all maintain. He referred to what Jesus told the disciples, when he announced, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised, but stay. . .until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49, italics mine). Obediently, they prayed for ten days, waiting expectantly in the appointed place for what they knew not.

“When the day of Pentecost came,” Luke announced, “they were all together in one place (Acts 2:1, NASV). But, unless you believe in what you’re doing, don’t bother! Every pulpit phrase-packer who ever lived has dug sermonic diamonds from this mine. Luke tells us the church prayed ten days, preached one day, and won three thousand new members. We read the story and obey by praying one day, preaching ten days, and wondering why we don’t produce better results. Thus, we conclude that revivals no longer work in this culture.

Might this be a biblical revelation of our frightful lack of personal focus on spiritual priorities? Could it point to our obvious lack of faith in prayer as the means of logging on to the Internet of spiritual power and mature living? Catchy cliches and power-packed slogans may be adequate for marketing Madison Avenue glitz and glamour, but they fall far short of fortifying one’s faith when faced with a cross of doubt, disillusionment, despair, or death.

“God helps those who help themselves,” our behavior announces. Notice how well it really works in the practical nitty-gritty as we adopt our philosophical adages like cracker-barrel sages.  Where we once proposed programs, turned mimeograph cranks, pulled levers, and punched buttons, we now order prepared programs from the web page of our favorite church growth guru. We perform all the administrative mechanics of whatever it is we want, and we enter it all into our hi-tech computer system. Then, in one final flurry of feverish piety, we do the “sacred” thing we were supposed to do in the first place and call ourselves to prayer.

Nationally, we spend billions of dollars fighting unjust wars to prevent an undesired domino effect in world politics. We spend billions more putting people on the moon, so we can dominate aerospace as well as utilize it for national security purposes. We give little thought to developing a Peace Department, and we support a social-political mindset that feels putting God‘s Children on their own two feet right here on earth costs too much public money and focuses too much on religion and morality.

On the personal level, some of us look like the college football player that busted a signal one afternoon. Seeing it happen, the coach shouted, “Hit the track,” and the huge lineman grudgingly began lumbering around the track, all five-eleven, two-hundred-fifty-pounds.
“Coach, isn’t that enough?” cried the hulk plaintively after a lap around the stadium. “Keep going. . .” shouted the coach, calling the player by name, as he watched him out of the corner of his eye. When the plaintive look persisted on the second lap around, Coach yelled and added, “I‘m going to run thirty-five pounds off of you!”              

“But Coach,” cried the big lineman, now playing comedian, “you’re not going to do it all in one day, are you?”

The recycling of maturing reformation and personal renewal only proves effective when we plan and prepare ways to develop, strengthen, and maintain inner integrity, and when we refuse to allow anything else to get in the way. Because we eat instant meals for dinner and watch on-the-spot CNN news from foreign battlefields, we find it incomprehensible that we cannot eliminate unneeded pounds with an “eat everything diet” that requires no exercise. In like manner, we insist on running off all our accumulated repentances, our over-due reconciliations, and our flabby materials, in crash programs of maximum spiritual maturity.
     
A virus of false expectation hinders our spiritual health. It appears in the form of microscopic-sized germs that enter in by the ways we believe and behave. It is small enough that our physical bodies cannot filter it out, but it seems harmless enough that our thoughts, desires, feelings, and emotions all consider it benign. After all, doing your own thing and asserting yourself is something everybody does isn‘t it?

"Have what you want, and refuse to take “No!” for an answer. The result is we pursue self-gratification, instant everything and we expect no interference. We cannot tolerate discipline, and we simply do not understand Jesus, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross. . .” (Hebrews 12:2).

Yet, Luke concludes that although Jesus knew a cross awaited him in Jerusalem, he “Stedfastly,” or “resolutely set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke (9:51 KJV/NASV).

Choosing to serve rather than be served, Jesus refused to consider any option other than Jerusalem. He concentrated on vetoing existing injustices, preferring to lift others rather than gratify himself. Rather than seek personal pleasure and achievement, he put people and principles above power and prestige. He made himself vulnerable, rejecting the vanity of false pride and refusing to stand under the protective umbrella of pharisaic orthodoxy.

“If God is dead,” reasoned Dostoievski, the Russian philosopher, “then everything is permitted.”

“Very well now,” he asked, “since you’ve banished the high and holy One, driven him from heaven and earth, what do you propose to do for morals? Who will determine for man what is good and evil, and to whom will men be responsible?”

In answer to his own question, this wise and thoughtful man concluded what most of us arrive at in one way or another, sooner or later, “If there is no God, then we are God. We make the rules.”

Without God, there is only humanism. The very word “humanism” strikes terror to thoughtful hearts, for mankind finds itself wanting to be God while behaving most often like the Devil. Adolph Hitler blotted out the word God and filled in the blank with his own brand of humanism - Nazi Fascism, symbolized by the broken cross and ruled over by whatever The Fuehrer determined was absolute. Thus, Bonhoeffer died with a rope looped around his neck and six million Jews died in the Holocaust. Moreover, it was all perfectly justified and moralized. Without God, the strongest among us become God, and law, and life.

You see, Jesus fully understood the need for a prayer chapel where decisive souls can honestly pray, “O God, save us from the playthings of our own whims!”

With all of our twenty-first millennium earning, we still need more than artificial intelligence to discover that the best administration, psychology, therapy, religion, science, and all the best of human learning was not written in the present generation, or even the past century. Nor, will it be revealed tomorrow, or in the next millennium.

A Minister decided he would not accept another pastoral call without having a clear understanding that he was the leader. Now that sends up red flags; but let‘s take a closer look. “Are you inferring that you must be the church boss, and that you will dictate church policies and programs?” I ask.

“By no means,” he quickly affirms, explaining that “Years of experience have taught me that when a congregation is at its best, the result is more than simply a majority vote on the part of all concerned members. The church body,” he assures me, “must take the time and make the effort to come together in that common consensus we call unity and accept as the voice of God.”

When Luke described the Jerusalem church as being “all with one accord in one place,” he understood it meant more than a simple majority vote, or even a one-hundred percent majority. The real majority was the common experience that became a powerful agreement and magnetic influence in this deeply diverse group. Used by both Luke and Paul, homothumadon was Luke’s description of unanimity, like a harmonious refrain of pleasing music. Amid a multiplicity of national identities, races, genders, and varied ideologies, they were agreed as one that they were voicing the mind of Him who is the “true head” of the church. Like God’s unmerited grace, it expressed a consensus, an extrinsic unity from outside the group rather than intrinsic or from within. It came as a result of the grace of God, freely given to a very diverse group, but it suggests to me that prayerful people rather readily find themselves in a position to access life at a higher level of expanded achievement.

So, if we are right in assuming that people really do hunger and thirst for a united church in our divided world, why should we not further confess our own need for prioritizing that prayer connection which best connects us with heaven’s hotline. Prayerless people are most often short on spiritual power and long on husks of their own making          

A minister went to Washington to fill an engagement as guest speaker at a local church. While there, he met a man who introduced himself as Harry Dent.

“Hello, Harry Dent” responded the visitor.

“I’m J. Strom Thurmond’s executive assistant,” Mr. Dent informed the visiting preacher. “Have you ever eaten in the Senate Dining Room?”

“Why, I’ve never even been in the Senate Dining Room, much less eaten there” the preacher admitted.

“Would you like to eat there?” asked Dent.

“Oh, yes,” answered the other eagerly.

“We’ll eat there tomorrow,” promised Dent.

The next day, the Senior Pastor, the Music Minister, and the guest preacher all lunched together in the Senate Dining Room. Following dinner, they toured the Senate Office Building, including some restricted areas. The visitor got ahead of the little entourage at one point, and seeing a room where a group of people were going in he started to follow.

An oversized Guard stepped between the visitor and the door just then, as if to say “You tourist, where do you think you are going?” Momentarily, Harry Dent appeared and the Guard stepped aside.

The visitor smugly entered the room when the Guard stepped aside, but he admitted later, “After we got into the room, suddenly it struck me.”

He realized that everywhere he had been that day, he moved about on another man’s authority. “Every room I had entered,” he confessed, “every place I had been, I had been on another man’s credentials.”

The twelfth-century Bernard carefully noted the church’s lack of solid credentials. “The churches are without people,” he concluded, because “the people are without priests, the priests without the reverence due them, and Christians without Christ … ” A French Monastery further illustrated this by operating with the assistance of inmates who were professional robbers by vocation.

When the Protestant Reformation finally launched into full gear, it came about in part because Martin Luther charged his superiors with operating a commercial venture in the church. Luther saw them profiteering at the expense of the personal aspirations of the masses seeking some kind of security in an insecure age. Father Martin consequently refused to further allow Friar John Tetzel‘s selling of expensive indulgences to go unchallenged. Historian, William Estep, described one museum by itself containing enough indulgences for purchasers to escape 1,920,000 years of purgatory.

Encouraging people to purchase their way out of purgatory by begging, borrowing, or stealing their way into heaven, simply to make the church treasury rich and leadership powerful, is like the contemporary Diploma Mill selling bogus degrees to the naive and unsuspecting. Church leaders were dealing in eternal securities with insufficient very earthy credentials, concluded Luther. Like the visiting preacher they were trying to enter into places where they held no credentials.

But; if Jesus had simply proclaimed his gospel without trying to practice it, his enemies would never have laid a finger on him. It was the exercising of his faith and the valuing of God’s presence more than the Pharisees’ praise that ignited their anger. Moreover, when he harnessed his team of belief and behavior to his ministerial wagon and drove the professional profiteers from the Temple courtyard, the priestly authorities knew it was time for them to take action.

Recycling Heisman Trophy values comes only with the studied insight of a mind that refuses to conform to circumstantial pressures. Jesus knew obedience is the organ of spiritual knowledge, and he quickly separated himself from those who talk a bigger ballgame than they play. Not satisfied with saying one thing and doing another, he spent his life showing that we act out of our beliefs. He believed so strongly that his behavior resulted in a magnificent obsession, choosing to deliver the goods even if it killed him. Consequently, he went to the cross--like a lamb goes to the slaughterhouse.

“Sermons can be learned from textbooks,” concluded Nina Willis Walter, “but the real text comes when you put your precept into practice, (and) show the way by what you do.

Believing one way and behaving another is one of the great paradoxes about which we remain quite ambivalent. When popular futurist, Arthur Clark, announced to his audience in Dallas, Texas, “the end of the city is in sight,” they cheered him wildly. Following Clark’s appearance, Blair Justice reported on this strange paradox of people wanting cities but not wanting the problems of the city.

People want the advantages but not the problems, reported Justice, acknowledging what we all know--that cities have problems and plenty of them. “The air isn’t clean, the water is polluted in a number of cases, and there’s enough to gripe about to keep a chronic complainer going indefinitely.”

Justice further agreed that griping and complaining would not help the problem. Neither will non-involvement and clapping at the prospect of no more cities.

“What will help?” he asked, concluding, “First, commitment to work on the problems, and second, work itself.”

Our ambivalence toward our cities further illustrates our critical attitude toward harmonizing our beliefs and behaviors together and uniting them into a symphony of musical sound with real meaning.

When an elected official from a major urban complex reported a multi-million-dollar bond issue was passed by ten percent of the voters, he made this prediction. “At some time in the future when the county may have to raise taxes as a result of this bond issue, there will be all sorts of people setting up a hue and cry over too much spending. And these will be the very people who refused to go to the polls to make their voice heard when the issue was up for vote” (italics mine).

Someone defined success as having the courage to meet failure without being defeated. Whether the differences are political or the problems are personal, each offers some kind of possibility. Thus, Henry Ward Beecher informed his parishioners it isn’t wise for a man to pray for cream but live skim milk. Emerson went so far as to insist, “Do the thing and you’ll have the power. Do not the thing and you’ll not have the power.”

When Singapore fell in 1942, the Japanese captured Ethel and held her with four thousand other prisoners in a jail made for four hundred and fifty. She slept in a six and one-half by seven-foot cubicle. She ate spinach soup, unless she could catch a rat. Flies and filth became constant companions. Nonetheless, she found a possibility among her abysmal problems.

The prisoners asked the Commandant to allow an Easter service. Using her Red Cross band, Ethyl officially represented her group. Going through twelve interviews, she requested permission for early April. A five-minute worship would be allowed, and the prisoners began practicing faithfully. Meanwhile, rumors flew throughout the compound and the men set time quotas for each man to watch at his window.

When Easter morning finally came, the group filed into the courtyard humming softly accompanied by one guard--the only time he had no gun. While the sun was bursting over the dark prison wall, the prisoners sang as best they could, “Christ Arose.”

Once back inside, a guard stepped up, reached into his coat, pulled out a Malayan orchid, and put it in the hands of a woman, saying, “Christ did rise.” With that, he saluted and disappeared.

“I stood where he left me, eyes brimming with tears,” Ethel confided later, “knowing that we could never again feel forsaken in Changi jail. . .” adding, “No one will ever tell me that that tiny orchid was an ordinary flower.”

That single moment of hope rooted itself to a small piece of bark, blooming later, and budded throughout the remaining years of Ethyl’s incarceration. Passed from prisoner to prisoner, that “moment of hope” announced timely evidence of God’s beauty, proclaiming beauty in circumstances surrounded earlier by only humanity’s worst ugliness. 

When Astronaut Neil Armstrong stood on the moon; he announced to all of us back home, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” People, who find themselves confined by the small steps of humanism, find only one small step at Calvary.  

On the other hand, 
I know of myriads of people across the centuries that have discovered personally investing their lives in following Jesus Christ leads to achieving a giant step of improvement for themselves and a huge leap of hope for all of humanity
 _____ walkingwithwarner.blogspot.com

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Personalize Your Commiment


“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

During my seventy years of marriage I sometimes had fun with my Irish-Cherokee in having the last word. When she delivered her ultimatum that usually made it final, I always had the privilege of the last word, “Yes, mam!”

What we do comes out of what we are, and this final word of Jesus from the cross best reveals who he really is. We are allowed to listen in on his personal testimony. It reflects the fullness and finality of his commitment. It shows his trust in a loving Heavenly Father as well as recording his responsive and obedient final word. It says, “I submit my spirit to your planned action, Father and that is my final answer!”

“Yes, mam” spoke my light-hearted jest, but for Jesus it announced his final word of absolute, undivided obedience to the cause for which he came to earth. It expressed his agreement that God gets the last word. It declared finally and forever that even in our most abysmal circumstances and our deepest depths of failure; happiness, wholeness and holiness all lurk close by.

Jesus spoke to God as no one else ever spoke to him, calling him what no man ever dared call him. Many have called upon God in various ways, but only Jesus called him “Father.” This word may offer the greatest tribute ever paid to Joseph, that humble Jewish carpenter who put his misgivings aside and married his betrothed in spite of her besmirched reputation. In life’s worst moment, Jesus gave Joseph the finest tribute one man could give another. In recognizing Joseph, Jesus also gave us our clearest insight into the character of God Almighty.

The commitment Jesus made turned the eternal spotlight upon ultimate values. His well-timed birth became the occasion for symphonic anthems from angelic lips. Born in a manger, and living as a carpenter’s son, Jesus learned woodworking skills from Joseph and enjoyed the privileges of a two-parent home that lived upright before God and observed all the Lord’s commandments, As a result, Jesus developed the integrity of a wholesome character.

People recognized his good reputation and called him a good man. History acknowledges that he was a good man and one that went about doing good. There have been doubters and distracters from time to time and much remains unknown about his life, but we know he became a prophet and that he ministered to the people during a span of three years. As a prophet, he faithfully followed that long tradition that had preceded him.

Nevertheless, before three years passed, the nation’s religious leaders rejected him. Being easily threatened, the leaders of the Jewish temple establishment gathered other community activists and railroaded him through five quick trials, none of which would stand the scrutiny of a fair and legal justice system.

Before he could win greater popularity with the masses and further reveal the abuses the authorities heaped upon the ordinary people, those same leaders had nailed him to a rough-hewn Roman cross. They left him there to die under a misplaced sign that facetiously proclaimed him “King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38).

Once Jesus was dead, a wealthy benefactor we know only as Joseph of Arimathea begged for the broken body and placed it in the tomb he presumably intended for personal use. The leaders now returned to their places, assured they had done what was best for the nation, and again feeling secure in the power and prestige of their position. Meanwhile, the people returned home, smiting their breasts in disappointment, grief, and perplexity. For a time, the bewildered disciples only followed at a safe distance.

Jesus seemingly gambled everything he had; he put his life on the line for what he most valued, and in the eyes of a few he lost everything. Others look back with nostalgia and see him as the sad victim of misguided values and misdirected aspirations. Yet, if we have hearts to understand, this last word from the cross reveals some of life’s truest values. It shows us we can trust God. It assures us that God remains fully trustworthy, even in the worst of times.

Across the decades, I have had the privilege of hearing some of America’s great preachers. I remember one such friend sharing his experience of preaching from that verse in the bible that says, “Having done all, stand. . .” He then told how he met a stranger riding the local city bus to a park near the church where he preached. This lady from his city planned to commit suicide by overdosing with the bottle of pills she carried in her purse.

As fate would have it, her bus route required her to transfer busses at the corner occupied by his large congregation. She arrived at the corner just as people were entering the sanctuary for Sunday worship. Having a few minutes before her next bus came, she paused to listen to the playing of the chimes. “Nearer My God to Thee” invited worshippers to join the gathering crowd.

Feeling an unusual inner impulse, she impetuously joined others entering the church building. Once inside, she sat transfixed throughout the entire service. What she heard that day created an unexpectedly powerful internal response and she accepted the pastor’s invitation. Meeting the pastor in his office for prayer, she related her unhappy story.

In a climactic decision, this non-churched woman committed herself to a whole new set of values.  Her act of faith launched her onto a new road, a higher level than she had ever lived, and one she had never before traveled. In taking this formative step, she discovered a whole new life she had not known existed. She already knew life was not fair, but she now discovered that God is always very fair.

She had thought to end all her problems by ending her life at the park. Instead, she found a new and fresh life in a most unexpected place. New values brought her such unexpected joy that she began celebrating her spiritual renewal annually. What was intended as the last day of her miserable existence became the very first day of the rest of her life--new, whole, happy, and completely satisfying. She had found a knot at the end of her rope that offered her a place where she could hang on and feel secure.

Her bottle of suicide became that pastor’s symbol of achievement for lavish living. It took up residence on his library shelf, where it retold its story to anyone willing to listen. When her story no longer had value and she no longer found anything to live for, this dear lady discovered a secret that brought her a whole new life with everything to live for.

Her new commitment began her success story, and life bloomed brightly. Once dormant in a hostile environment, her life became a blooming “yes” to success.  Like the last word Jesus spoke from the cross, her life became her word to a God who lifted her up among the peaks of excellence, in a range she never expected to encounter or climb.

This last word of Jesus from the cross confirmed the wisdom of the prophets who confessed in their laments that it is “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). Whatever one’s existence, such experiences make life worth living. Yet, some want all the good gifts of life without ever acknowledging the giver of those gifts.

William Earnest Henley, the English poet, lay in a hospital for a long time hopelessly crippled. His courageous spirit made him many friends and a few enemies. His handicap, however, did not keep him from experimenting with the adventuresome style of the poet, Walt Whitman. Nor did it keep him from practicing other kinds of precise and formally structured verse.

Such critics called Henley dogmatic, but most agreed to his brilliance. As an editor, he influenced literature by promoting the fortunes of younger writers. Living most of his life as an invalid, Henley knew what many believers never discover--something Jesus modeled from his cross— 
          
            It matters not how straight the gate.
                        How charged the punishments the scroll,
            I am the master of my fate:
                        I am the captain of my soul.
English Writers by Tom Peete Cross, Reed Smith,
Elmer C. Stauffer, and Elizabeth Collette.
 (Boston: Ginn and Company, The Athenaeum Press, 1940), p. 577.

This word from Jesus affirmed for all time both who he was and why he came to earth! It remained for God, the eternal optimist of the universe, to have his last word and bring to completion his Mighty Act of Grace. Through the perfect life and love of Jesus, God overcame sin and made a way for salvation. Through Jesus, God created the church out of the followers of that cross-experience.

Through Jesus, God transformed an ordinary fisherman and converted him from a bragging blowhard into a billowing blessing. Through Jesus, God converted a brilliant Jewish scholar in spite of his opinionated arrogance and transformed him from a hostile prosecuting attorney into a holistic healer.

When God has the last word, two men meet. One is black. One is white. Neither speaks the other’s language. The Word of God, nevertheless, makes them brothers in the same family, members of the same church. God creates a fellowship that becomes worldwide, a church comprised of those whom God has called. In fellowship they study the story of Jesus’ life and ministry. That story becomes their authority and God commissions them to deliver the hope contained in that story to a world without much of a story to tell.

 God takes people’s unproductive struggles and potential failures and gives them a new hope-filled future. He takes people’s self-serving attitudes and ideas and recreates them as responsible stewards. He takes a person’s money and manners and shapes them into motivational missionaries who inspire others to better living. He takes that missionary’s time and talents and converts the trivialities of life into securities of eternal value. And for anyone willing to become a dispenser of God’s gracefulness, God promises to become an unlimited resource.

When filtering our life commitments through the life of Jesus, we see that our commitments focus in those values we hold dearest. That compels us to reflect on our humanity and consider the matter of conscience--a problem we all face sooner or later. Whatever we believe about conscience, we all makes choices and those choices are determined by our values. Whether or not we accept conscience as a valid concept, we still face the necessity of reconciling our values with our choices.

The guilty conscience has been said to cause more personal problems than any other one thing we know. From a moral point of view, Christian conversion relates itself to guilt, confession, interpersonal relationships, and conscience. Carl Henry claimed the conflict between theism (God) and atheism (no God) reduced to two competing views of conscience and its significance. On the one hand, atheism insists that cultural attitudes determine right and wrong. On the other hand, the bible points to conscience as a moral mirror that reflects right and wrong in terms both absolute and eternal.

The word conscience comes from the Latin prefix “con” meaning “with” and “science” suggesting knowledge, or science. Join the two and you have conscience as knowledge with science; i.e. knowledge accompanied by theoretical knowledge, or the common knowledge of facts. Our values set the standards of our conscience and determine the power it exerts in our lives, as well as the efficacy of our response.

A strong conscience without wisdom may repress a given impulse. A weak conscience may find itself impotent before that same urge. A wise and healthy conscience will redirect the expression of a given impulse, and lift it in a worthy direction by leading it toward the life it most values. Wise and healthy, weak and impotent, our value system expresses itself in each of our lives.

Being human, we never fall too low to experience conscience, nor do we ever stand above it. On the one hand, Peter faced his own conscience, with the help of Jesus. Thus, he conquered his admitted failure. On the other hand, Judas died from a guilty conscience, although his immediate cause of death came by hanging. The efficiency of conscience depends largely upon those dispositions and habits of character and will formed by that individual.

Through the process of repeated searing and callusing, the bible acknowledges that God hardened Pharoah’s conscience. When faced with their pretentious lifestyle of living in the furthest suburbs of the City of God where their real values were, Annanias and Saphira died of a guilty conscience. Yet, when we look at Jesus we see him face his humanity with a pure conscience. His singleness of commitment challenges us to accept our conscience as our best friend; “but” some quickly add; “don’t try to live a peaceful co-existence with a scorned conscience.” That can only suggest that all of us occasionally need to make peace with a sometimes-clobbered conscience.

Health-care professionals talk much today of holistic medicine. Doctors remind us to avoid treating our bodies separately from our spirits. Many people are discovering that living a holy life has a lot to do with living a life of wholeness. The bible suggests that people who are unhealthy in their body will begin their journey back to health by beginning with an emotional cure rather than a physical treatment. The Apostle Paul alluded to this when writing his Corinthian letter (I Corinthians 11:30).

We understand that a clobbered conscience can re-act in many ways, seen and unseen. Therapists help heal various neuroses and illnesses of mind and body by assisting people in coming to terms with their inner selves. The biblical story admits Judas killed himself after betraying Jesus; he could not live with the results of his chosen behavior.            

A Dallas Therapist suggested to me that repressing an urge or feeling is like having an intruder force his way into our home. We throw him out. We then ignore his knock at our front door, so he goes around the outside from window to window seeking entry by various means. Getting no attention from us, he continues his annoyance until his presence is no longer noticed. At some point then, he slips in unnoticed, under cover of some disassociated behavior. The point being, either way he needs to be dealt with.            

Paul insisted the Galatian church avoid the stringent legalism of their pretentious advisors: “Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised.” They act out of unseen, unknown, even misunderstood, motives. They do this, Paul reasoned, “to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ” (Galatians 6:12). According to Paul, those advocates of circumcision were acting out of twisted motives, and unseen factors, which they themselves had not sorted through.            

Our humanity allows us to value some pieces of life’s pie more than other pieces. Regardless of what we believe about the place of conscience in our lives, we still have that value system that causes us to prefer some things to other things, good and bad depending on the effect those things have on our lives.

Making peace with a clobbered conscience may take one of several options. We can accept conscience as a good friend, and make peace with it. Accepting conscience as a friend rather than an enemy positions us to allow the Spirit of God to act as a radar picket ship, cautioning us about identified objects, and even warning us against unidentified foreign objects. We may pursue our circumstances and choices as opportunities for personal growth, and let them do in our lives what God intended. Or, we can deny the existence of our conscience, reject its friendship, spurn its promptings, and risk its reactions.

When the oil light on the dashboard of my car shows red, I can add oil to the crankcase, rather than kicking it angrily and hurting myself. In doing so, I extend the life of my automobile and I make traveling easier. If I ignore it, like one man I know, I burn up the motor in my vehicle and pay an exorbitant price to get it repaired. Likewise, ignoring that red light on the dashboard of my life reduces me to the level of animal savagery and psychological behaviorism. It leaves me a victim of my own instincts and biological urges, and unable to choose for myself.

Acknowledging the demands of a sensitive conscience, however, elevates me to the highest level of humanity, created in the image of God, the Imago Dei. George MacDonald understood this well when he described someone as “sorely troubled by what is, by huge discourtesy, called a bad conscience--being in reality a conscience doing its duty so well that it makes the whole house uncomfortable.”              

Freeing my conscience to do what God intended for it to do leads me to raise the hood of my vehicle and pour the needed oil into the crankcase, rather than wasting time and effort beating the dashboard with a ball-peen hammer. Not only did Jesus come to conform us to God’s purposes, that remained the singular focus of his life as he testified later in Jerusalem: “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him” (John 8:29, italics mine)

The barbarous crucifixion of Jesus only revealed the further climax of a chapter seeming to end in pathos and defeat. The event comes to an eventual and tragic conclusion, an unavoidable event wrapped in sordid blankets of human envy, hatred, and rebellion. This single event in history might well have written “cancelled” across “blessed are the poor …the meek … the merciful … ” But while the Christian Church wrestled with the divine comedy, the eternal light of resurrection slowly dawned across the horizon of time.            

This was neither a cancellation nor surrender! It loudly exclaimed a personal choice, giving unashamed commitment to a trust fully discharged. The commitment of Jesus reverberates in human hearts across twenty centuries of time, confirming for us that we too are persuaded that neither death nor life shall separate us from the love of God.  In facing us with the fact that God always speaks the last word, Jesus pointed us toward the potential conversion of our own choices and values.            

Echoing through the halls of history, we hear the commitment, “Into Thy Hands.”
            Into Thy hands my spirit I commend;
            From Thee it came and drave me to and fro,
            Drave me to that to which I would not go.
            Thou, its beginning, art its proper end;
            I thirsted with a thirst men could not slake.
            I drank the cup no other man could drink;
            Thou did’st sustain me, for I truly think
            Mine was a loaf no other man could break.
            Thou gavest me a vision of Thy church,
            Thy power and the glory of Thy reign.
            The vision dimmed; Caesar were there again;
            Yet Spirit drave me to unending search.
           And though the search has not achieved its end,
            Into Thy hands my Spirit I commend.
 Loren W. Burch, “Into Thy Hands,” Christ in Poetry, 
ed. by Thomas Curtis Clark and Hazel Davis Clark.
(New York: Association Press, 1952), p. 123.

“My Father,” Jesus prayed on the Mount of Olives, “if it is possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done” (Matthew 26:42). Thus, some berated him as the “Gambler:”
            And sitting down they watched him there,
            The soldiers did;
            There, while they played the dice,
            He made his sacrifice,
            And died upon the cross to rid
            God’s world of sin.
            He was a gambler, too, my Christ,
            He took his life and threw
            It for a world redeemed.
            And ere his agony was done,
            Before the westering sun went down,
            Crowning that day with crimson crown,
            He knew that he had won.
 Ibid. G. A. Studdert-Kennedy. p. 120.

Some say he gambled, but he won the trust of his father and as the son he was “counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honor than the house” (Hebrews 3:3 KJV). Consequently, I committed to following his words from the cross. His was the trust of one trusted to do the will of him whose very existence makes our living that of a manager overseeing the estate of a beloved master who has left him to manage its affairs.

Once he was convinced of his own stewardship, Paul told his friends, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”

Because he humbled himself and became obedient to death on a cross, argued Paul, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place … above every knee, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow … in heaven and on earth … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).

Herein, God made provision for the humblest of players on the team of humanity to hit a grand-slam homer against the worst curves that life can pitch to us. I was further away from home than ever before, but my new bride and I were enjoying the fulfillment of presence rather than waiting for the fulfillment of a promise. We were very young and married only four months when the Air Force shipped me from Scott Field, Illinois to Kelly Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. 

Drastic surgery had forced Tommie to drop her classes at Anderson University, but we pushed ahead and married. Now we were told I would receive my discharge from the Air Force so she could go home to die. Their diagnosis promised her three months to live, not more than twelve.

We had increasingly suspected something was seriously wrong. Her frequent blackouts occasionally lasted a couple of hours. Finally, we had comfortable quarters in the annex that was part of Highland Park church’s educational wing. The rooms has been vacated by Sister McNeil, the elderly widow of a longtime Texas pastor. Life was looking up for us.

Tommie’s frequent visits to Fort Sam Houston on the north side of the city posed no threat, not until Captain Van informed her she should not return without me accompanying her. Unfortunately, my Personnel Officer, G. I. Poole, a B-25 Flyboy, refused to release me on the day of her next appointment and she rode the transit line to Fort Sam without me.

When she blacked out on the bus, the kindly driver remembered her from a previous trip and made a special effort to deliver her to the same building as before. Furious that she came unaccompanied, her doctor called Kelly Field and demanded to know why I did not accompany her per his request--only to hear, “He has been sent to Japan.”

“Why didn’t you tell me your husband was gone?” the angry medical officer demanded of his bewildered patient. If he is,” she reported quietly, “he left since this morning,” explaining that we had breakfast together at home earlier that same day.

The story of a young Airman who had been on orders and shipped to Japan the week before now slowly unfolded. His departure was assumed, although he worked in the office every day that week and enjoyed commuting from their cross-town apartment at the church. He knew his job, as a clerk typist, was only temporary until he received shipping orders overseas as a radio operator.

We never knew the details, but Captain Van called in the Colonel, his superior, and the Colonel quickly placed a phone call to AACS Headquarters at Langley Field, Virginia and spoke to someone he knew.

“Joe, we have a man down here that I need a discharge for. We bring men home from overseas for less than this. . .” and she heard her diagnosis for the first time - “Cancer in the last stages.”             

She had not heard it before, although she had some suspicions. She knew it was in members of her family and that Aunt Leora had a serious bout with it, but now she learned far more than she ever wanted to know - just when she was ready to settle down, live a full life raising her own ball team, and follow her preacher-to-be. Counsel on where to go for further treatment accompanied her diagnosis - a very bleak future.

The recommended Cancer Institute would treat her, provide living quarters and give me work for as long as she survived.  By the end of the month, however, I was a civilian and we were on the bus for the long ride from San Antonio, Texas to South Haven, Michigan. In the meantime, we prayed.

She asked God specifically to release her from the searing pain that burned internally, sometimes causing her system to shut down in a temporary blackout. “God, if you want me, I’m ready,” she prayed, “but if you have still have a job for me to do, with your strength I’ll do it.” We made this prayer the essence of our personal but private commitment to God, determined to trust him and pursue whatever he had for us to do. We did it on our own and without the counsel of “Brother B” our Highland Park pastor who remained a good friend until his death decades later.

Ignoring the offer of the Cancer Institute, we began a four-year Exodus that led us back to Michigan, to Anderson University and a first-of-the-year transfer to Portland, Oregon. By the time I received my Bachelor of Theology degree in 1951, I was father of a six-week old infant we had been told we could never have.
Some time earlier, Tommie’s doctor had asked if she would allow him to examine her in the company of several other doctors. She and her Adventist doctor, a man of devout faith, often talked about spiritual matters. They traded off as she listened to his disappointments at not becoming a medical missionary and he helped her through her experiences such as losing twins by premature abortion.

Following her examination, the doctor reported sixteen physicians had examined her. Then, placing his hands at the top and bottom of his abdominal area, he announced, “We can see where you had cancer … the scar tissue. But you don’t have it now!” She had stumbled along on a narrow, poorly lit and rocky road of ill health for four trying years. Had I not graduated when I did, we would have been forced to leave the damp, low altitude of Portland‘s Willamette Valley after three successive episodes of pneumonia that last winter.

However, the cancer that brought my discharge was gone, g-o-n-e- without any help from the Cancer Institute. As I re-tell this story once more; it is hard to remember the details accurately, especially those earlier and more difficult days. She went home finally, after more than seventy years and there are some things I cannot forget.

The Irish-Cherokee depression baby born in the Indian Territory that I married in 1947, was still alive and free of cancer at seventy-five. Whatever other problems she had, she forgot she was supposed to die within the year; she ignored the warning that she could never birth children, and although she lost five premature babies, she gave two children a raising they never forgot. In the meantime, she supported me through graduate school, maintained our home in church and community ministries, and touched literally hundreds of peoples’ lives--many completely outside the church.

One such person was the physician who became her close confidante, treating her during a critical period of fragile and leaking arteries and the passing of a blood clot through her heart. While we entertained friends at our Texas home one holiday, the phone rang. It was the hospital, calling for “Sister Warner.”

This gruff old-school teaching-Medic, a former executive of the American Medical Association, was making his first phone call after suffering from a heart attack. A hard-shell Baptist; he could swear like a sailor, but he called to say, “Thank you for your prayers” and to ask would you please pray for his favorite son-in-law who had been critically injured shortly before.

He concluded his confession to “Ms Preacher” that he would now be much more understanding of his heart-care patients.During this period, she knitted twenty-seven sweaters within the year, just to keep hurting hands busy. Her arthritic hands had swelling joints and protesting fingers. The pain caused the tears to freely run down her cheeks, but she continued. Such behavior might appear obsessive-compulsive, or neurotic to the reader, but at seventy-five she rejoiced with hands whose fingers remain permanently deformed but still able to serve. She lost her crafting abilities long before ninety but she still used her hands well at ninety-one.

In her prayerful commitment made at twenty; she gave God whatever future she had and she spent it like a spendthrift that knew no limits. Promised three to twelve months by doctors trying to mechanic her body, she survived seventy and one-half years of a marriage expected to terminate within that first year--1947.

Through the years, I often saw her struggle for strength to get through a day. Drawing upon a reservoir of strength that was not her own, she lavished life and love on family, friends, and any along the way she thought needed it. Those who turned her way found her a fountain of unending joy, compassion and discernment, a fellow traveler with a standard of excellence and integrity that offered a useful measure by which any and all could profitably measure.

I was a boy when I met and married her. When full of years, and wiser, I became more aware that she lived far longer than promised. I helped her guard and conserve her declining days, turning them loose like valued coins of time only when certain of receiving full value. She lived her ninety-one years and six months fully, one day at a time, fortified by deep faith and fully committed to That One who long ago cried out from his rough-hewn Roman cross on Golgotha’s hill, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
        
This is the fortifying personal faith I witnessed firsthand! Like Paul, I am “convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). Becoming a disciple of Jesus helps us view life differently, like Timmy’s Grandma in the introduction of the book from which this has been edited.            

Little Timmy confided to his young friend, “She sees how to fix a lot of things. She sees what a fellow meant to do, even if he didn’t do it. She sees when a feller is about to cry and she sees what to do to make him feel right.”      

            For me, seeing is believing! _______ walkingwithwarner.blogspot.com.