Why Leadings?

Not to lead, but to be led            -- by the Holy Spirit.

See Leader, Servant, or Slave? in the section below, "Walking the Walk".

Jack in Denali National Park, 2012.

God's Wrath

Why was Sodom destroyed? Ezekiel tells us in chapter 16, verse 49: "This was the sin of your sister, Sodom: Pride, full-ness of bread, and abundance of idleness. Neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy."

That's also why Jerusalem was destroyed.

And now, with greed as our national virtue, what hope is there for the United States of America? We are afflicted by imperialistic pride, obesity, and entertainment addiction, and we are all called to do our part to "strengthen the hand of the poor and needy".

"Strengthen the hand" is the King James wording. Modern translations say "help the poor and needy." And there's a world of difference between the two. Helping the poor = as little as throwing some cash in the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas time. That's charity. It's doing for, not doing with.

My Grandmother was right about charity. On a below-zero day, she went out on the back porch with a skillet to throw hot grease on the back-yard snow. She shivered as she re-entered the kitchen and said, "Wooooh, colder than charity."

Strengthening the hand is much different. We get personally involved with another person who needs help, and we work with her or him to get the needed help. That's risky. You're vulnerable. It takes prayer, time and patience. You need knowledge and wisdom from the LORD. There are great rewards, however. You get a brother or sister.

Strengthening the hand is great work for our churches -- which we ignore far more often than we perform. Why? Because we're afflicted with the Ameri-can curse of individualism. Christians are to be a tribe -- a tribe that takes care of each other. In Galatians 6:16, Paul calls us "the Israel of God" -- the new 13th tribe.

Jesus said, "The poor you shall always have with you." He didn't mean that as a curse -- the notion that the poor are an inevi-table nuisance and expense, to be hidden in the slums. Rather, He was saying, "You shall always be among the poor."

When you strengthen hands, you fulfill Deuteronomy 15:4-5: "However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God . . ." It's a glorious responsibility and promise.

And how do prosperous Americans fulfill that promise? Generally, by making sure they have no contact with people who are poor -- and we have been that way from our beginnings in the 17th century. Early villages in Massachusetts solved the problem by out-lawing poor people. Today, we deal with the same problem by confining the poor in urban reservations, our slums.

As the Supreme Court Bailiff says at the beginning of each session, "God save the United States of America..." 

Sunday
Oct072012

MATURING CHRISTIANS

What is the purpose of a church?

An unbeliever reading the New Testament for the first time might conclude that the purpose of a church is to develop mature Christians who love Jesus the Messiah.  Because they love Jesus, they change the world through self-sacrificing love.

I've been a member of 16 congregations in my life – and associated with probably twice that many – and I've never heard the matter seriously discussed.

We don't go crazy on religion

Rather, the function of Protestant American churches – from a layman's viewpoint – was satirized by Mark Twain:  "I do not take any credit to my better-balanced head because I never went crazy on Presbyterianism. We go too slow for that. You never see us ranting and shouting and tearing up the ground. You never heard of a Presbyterian going crazy on religion.

"Notice us, and you will see how we do. We get up of a Sunday morning and put on the best harness we have got and trip cheerfully downtown; we subside into solemnity and enter the church; we stand up and duck our heads and bear down on a hymn book propped on the pew in front when the minister prays; we stand up again while our hired choir are singing, and look in the hymn book and check off the verses to see that they don't shirk any of the stanzas; we sit silent and grave while the minister is preaching, and count the waterfalls and bonnets furtively, and catch flies; we grab our hats and bonnets when the benediction is begun; when it is finished, we shove, so to speak. No frenzy, no fanaticism, no skirmishing; everything perfectly serene.

"You never see any of us Presbyterians getting in a sweat about religion and trying to massacre the neighbors. Let us all be content with the tried and safe old regular religions, and take no chances on wildcat."

My blood chilled when I first read that passage.  From Tom Sawyer, I had assumed that Sam Clemens had forsaken the Presbyterians when he left boyhood.  But I hadn't counted on his marrying a Sunday wife.  So, of course he spent a lifetime being dragged to worship Sunday mornings.  He doesn't claim to be bored.  He doesn't have to.  He shows it.  But he's also being too nice to comment on how often his intelligence was offended.

He fought back.  He did a whole book of satirical writings on Christianity, Letters from the Earth.  However, it wasn't published for half a century after his death because his wife and daughter considered it blasphemy. However, it is chock full of spiritual insights.  For example, one entry, Letter to the Earth, is a profound, satiric commentary on both prayer and charity.

Sunday boredom

I too was a bored and discontented and ignorant Presbyterian boy. But even then I resented the sermons and teachings. They kept answering what-questions. I wanted the answers to how-questions. This is weird; it's an engineer's approach to Christian experience. A basic how-question is "How does God work in our lives?"

The result?  I had to spend most of my life figuring out how God works – unusually without capable guidance. I would have been blessed by regular contact with people working to be mature Christians.  But our churches are not set up to do this.

Paul stresses the importance of mature followers of Jesus six times in his letters, and Hebrews 5:14 caps it with "But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil."

Paul also uses analogies for trained, mature followers of Jesus:  Soldiers and athletes.  Of soldiers, Paul four times specifically writes of being a soldier of Christ.  For example, in II Timothy 2:3, he encourages us, "Join with me in suffering like a good soldier of Christ Jesus."

Run for the Prize

He also writes three times of being a trained, winning athlete, e.g. in I Corinthians 9:24.  "Run in such a way as to get the prize."

Are mature Christians to be found in our churches?  Of course.  But they are unusual. Typically most of their maturity has been developed outside the congregation – in their private reading and prayer life, in suffering, as well as in intensive ministries, which are often in parachurch organizations.

Of course, the best training program for mature Christians is persecution.  But note, that too comes from outside the congregation.

The American churches I've seen are mostly dysfunctional for producing mature Christians.  And by now, we are so set in our ways, that dysfunction may be irreversible.  If a person tithes, is regular in attendance, and participates actively in congregational organizations, we consider him or her a fine Christian. 

But that doesn't meet New Testament standards. We're at risk of being labeled "lukewarm". And that's the pits, because Revelation 3:15-16 tells us "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth." And that's a Bible text I've never heard as the basis for a sermon.

How Would It Look

OK, if a congregation were set up to produce mature Christians, what would it look like?

It would provide a huge smorgasbord of Christian experience.

And here, we're in dangerous territory.  God is sovereign.  He works when and how He wills. We can't predict His actions.  However, experienced Christians can tell us what He has done in their lives, so we can get a feel, a range, and expectancy of how He can work in ours.

If a congregation sought to answer the how-questions – to produce the smorgasbord – what would the questions be?  Here's an incomplete list, to which I'll add more as the questions occur:

How can I receive Jesus?  How can I have a personal relationship with Him?

Why be baptized?  Is sprinkling effective?  I was sprinkled, but being immersed appeals to me.  Should I be re-baptized?

If the LORD's Supper is just ritual for me, how can I change that?  How can I have a meaningful experience of Jesus' redeeming power when I receive His body and blood?

How can I be baptized in the Holy Spirit?

I find prayer boring.  Can it become effective, exciting, fun?  If so, how?

I know I'm supposed to read the Bible, but it doesn't interest me.  How can I change that?

I'm dissatisfied with my Bible study opportunities:

+  Our regular Bible study is at second or third grade level, with no preparation required.

+  I've tried Bible Study Fellowship.  Preparation is required, but it's at college freshman level – with short, pat answers.  Also, Pentecostals and Charismatics are not welcome.

+  There has to be a way to study Scripture at the practical, academic level we find in medical school, business school and law school. We should use Scripture as the basis for solving the real problems we confront in life: No pat answers. Lots of study. Lots of questions. Learning to parse Scripture. Learning to disagree without being disagreeable.  That kind of study would prepare us for life.  When real problems overwhelm us, we will already know the relevant passages of Scripture.

I've lost my first love for Jesus?  How can I get it back?

Why should I tithe?  "I give $10 a week, $500 a year.  It's my fair share of the congregational budget." How would I benefit from tithing?  Should I give more than 10%?

Jesus said, "The poor you shall always have with you."  I understand that He means, "You shall always be among the poor."  But, you may think, "I'm thoroughly middle class.  I don't really know anyone who's poor, and I suspect I'd bungle any ministry I tried to do.  But yet I feel led by the Holy Spirit to get into a challenging ministry.  How do I start?"

Do miracles happen now?  If so, like what?

I've heard about the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Does the LORD still offer these gifts?  If so, how do they work? Why do they work?  When do they work?

The Gift of Giving

Let's take a specific example, the gift of giving, found in Romans 12:8.  Giving – that's a gift to which we don't give much attention.  If I tithe and then give additionally, doesn't that cover the Biblical gift?

Sometimes it can be a wonder to bring in a person with an unusual testimony.  For example, in Cincinnati, a congregation can invite Lyndon Johnson to testify about the gift of giving.  This particular Lyndon is also a Texan, but he's a Republican. 

Twenty years ago, his savings & loan had gone into bankruptcy, so he was broke.  He was at an Oral Roberts rally, and the Holy Spirit told Lyndon to pledge a quarter of a million dollars to Oral Roberts University, payable in six months.

So, he did.  His wife thought he was crazy.  Lyndon wondered about that himself.  For the next six months, he worked diligently as a mortgage broker, usually with churches.  He hardly made enough money to keep his family afloat.  With only 36 hours to his six-month deadline, events started happening very fast, and in a day and a half, he put together a $9,500,000 deal.  So, he notified Oral Roberts University that he could fulfill his pledge.

"And that's impossible," he explained.  "Deals that large take a long time – for me, but not for the LORD."

More How-Questions

We're all addicts.  We all have pet sins that control us.  That's what original sin is all about.  How can we be delivered from our addictions?  How can we stay delivered?  Should our congregations have several Sinners Anonymous groups?

How can we receive the LORD's guidance – and follow it?

What should we make of other faiths?  Should we cooperate with them? Should we try to convert them? Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, new ageism, paganism, Christian sects?

Should we evangelize?  (Since 1940, the Mormons have grown from one million to 14 million world-wide. Their young adults learn linguistics and a foreign language and then proselytize for two years all over the world.)  But most of us American Christians are too sophisticated and too timid to meet and converse about Jesus with other people in the same block.

Are we really supposed to take the Great Commission seriously?  If so, how?

I've heard that there are prayers for inner healing.  How does that work?  Can Jesus really change our personal histories and deliver us from childhood traumas?

My neighbors next door are gay.  What is my responsibility to them?

Some of my friends live in Christian community.  They're like a tribe.  They worship together and do Bible study together and eat together every day.  You may think, "I'm both attracted and repelled by what they're doing. That's tribal living.  I fear for loss of my individuality and privacy.  They say it's Scriptural and the best way to live."  Should we explore this?

Should we fast?  How do you fast?  And why?

What's all this about spiritual warfare?  Battling with the devil and demons sounds Medieval to me.  Do we still take this seriously?

A Personal Comment

In writing this article, I'm also preaching to myself.  I'm a long way from being a mature Christian, because I'm still learning how Jesus can control my cravings.  In Jesus, I know that I can be delivered from the power of sin.  St. Paul tells us so in Romans 6 and 8.  But I tend to live too much in Romans 7.

Most my congregations have provided little help in my spiritual walk.  Until I came to Seattle, I had pastors who provided little in the way of answers or guidance.  Rather than the smorgasbord of spiritual experience and intensive training, we received an endless diet of Happy Meal sermons.  Happy Meals?  Yes.  Some were dreary Lutheran theological treatises, but still we left church with no sense of being called to live our entire lives together as self-sacrificing followers of Jesus.  So, we left the church on Sunday mornings with as much ease and relief as Sam Clemens -- Mark Twain.

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Purpose of this blog is to compile several books for my grandchildren to read in 25 years.

Copyright © 2012 by Jack Towe

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