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..." 

Monday
Nov262012

MATURING CONGREGATIONS

PART TWO OF MATURING CHRISTIANS


With his examples of Christian soldiers and athletes, how does St. Paul show us that we should organize our congregations?

We're to be soldiers of Christ.  Paul doesn't mean this literally, of course.  Soldiers are professional killers.

Oh?  Are Christians supposed to be professional killers?  Paul evidently thinks so.  He says in Ephesians 6:12, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."  Are those enemies tough enough for you?  Too tough, actually.  But not for Jesus.  Are we in the ranks with Jesus leading? Or, are we expecting Him to pick up the pieces after we keep making stupid assaults?

Navy Seals

Let’s talk specifics.  Military forces have always had elite units.  Currently, the glamour group of the U.S. forces are the Navy Seals.  How does our congregation compare to the Seals?

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A civilian or a fleet member can volunteer for the Seals, but once in, Seal trainees completely obey the orders of superiors.

*   As members of a congregation, our commitment is casual.  We can – and do – leave if we’re bored, hurt, or dissatisfied.

Seal trainees live together.  Their training may occur at any time during the 168 hours of the week. After training, they're on-call 168 hours a week.

*  We're scattered, unless we live in Christian community.  We devote certain times to church, but tend to resent the intrusion if we're called to serve at other times.

Seals are in for the duration – unless expelled or they drop out.  They are subject to severe discipline for disobeying or for endangering others, themselves, or the mission.

*  One of our cherished Christian values is making sure no one's feelings are hurt.  Do we confront fellow Christians who are living in ways contrary to Scripture?  Perhaps if they're poor, but unlikely if they're rich or powerful. Of course, there is a rite of excommunication, but it almost never used.

Seal training is diversified and includes physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.  Spiritual? Of course. One is trained to give one's life, if necessary, for buddies, the unit, and the mission. That's spiritual devotion.

*  Our training in church is mental, and in a sense, is seldom spiritual.  Although the Bible emphasizes agape – self-sacrificing love, we are seldom called to be significantly self-sacrificing.  That mostly happens for Christians under persecution.

Seal officers give pep-talks and lectures.  But they are a minor part of the training, which emphasizes endurance and skills.  When reading is required, trainees must learn it and know it.

*  Our training is done through sermons and teachings, ritual, and discussion groups, with little or no preparation required.  Few members are fluent with Scripture.  And we seldom can remember what we've heard.

They are in training to be professional killers–hidden, silent, swift, instantly lethal.

*  Because the devil and demons are seldom considered, we're exposed victims.

Most of the training is not done by officers, but by non-coms -- petty officers -- who have been in combat and know what they're talking about.  Seals, like other military units, rely on non-coms to keep them alive –- both officers and grunts.

*  We rely on the Pastor for teachings in the faith. Sometimes Bible study is delegated to a lay person, but always with the understanding that the Pastor can retrieve the class.  We rely on the Pastor to keep us spiritually fit, but deprive him or her of most of the tools needed to do so.

Seals focus on mission.

*  We focus on ourselves, our congregation, and Jesus.  But mostly on ourselves.

Learning from the Seals

Conclusion?  We're a long way from being in fighting trim for the Kingdom of God.

Our best prospect seems to be in Christian communal living where we can grow into the body of Christ. Under the leading of the Holy Spirit, we can organize for evangelism and works of mercy. We can train each other to be soldiers of Christ.

But Seal training does provide an insight for a conventional congregation.  Note that the hard Seal training is done by non-coms.  In our congregations, we usually assume that the pastor is responsible for everything.  That shouldn't be so.  Shepherds don't produce sheep; sheep produce sheep.  Intensive spiritual training can be done in at least two ways –

First, identify people in the congregation who have had significant spiritual experiences, so others can go to them for specific help.  With whom can you talk and pray if –

You are in financial distress?

You are controlled by your cravings?

You are demonized or demon possessed?

Your spouse is dying?  Or, you are dying?

You want to have a vivid prayer life?   And so on.

If the answer is "the Pastor", then the congregation is incomplete as the body of Christ. Because the Pastor has Book learning, it doesn't mean that he is an authority on everything in Christian living. Rather, his responsibility should be to identify and commission as Elders those in the congregation who are most mature and most experienced.  So, when a person has a problem, he or she would know which Elder has answers.

Second, the Pastor can also team those who are babies in Christ with more mature mentors. That is an excellent way to build the body of Christ. In particular, the Pastor should be training Elders, who in turn are training people entrusted to their care.

We don't picture a Pastor as a community organizer, but that may be his or her highest and best calling.

Olympic Swimmers

When we think of great athletes, we tend to think of professional baseball, football, and basketball players. But, those coddled millionaires are often lousy role models. Instead, I pick Olympic swimmers, where the difference between gold and fourth is often a few hundreths of a second. Among women, the swimmers are often teenagers.

At the 2012 London Olympics two of the outstanding gold medalists were high school girls – Katie Ledecky, a sophomore, and Missy Franklin, a senior.

Katey LedeckyFifteen year-old Katie was the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic team.  She won the 800-meter freestyle (about half a mile).  In the final, she shocked the field by winning the gold medal by over four seconds, with a time of 8:14:63 – the second fastest effort ever.

During training, Katie woke at 3:45 a.m. twice a week before school, as well as every day after school.  She trained eight times a week, not only in swimming, but also with other physical training, including six-weeks of running, both spring and fall.

At 17, Missy Franklin won five gold medals in London, setting the world record in both the 100-meter and 200-meter backstroke.  In training, she swims only 5,000 yards a day – nearly three miles. Most of her competitors swim five or six miles a day.

Both of these young women are noted for being excellent students, as well as excellent athletes. And both are well-balanced people.  They have survived international fame, without letting it change them significantly. 

Missy FranklinFor example, Missy Franklin, now the dominant woman swimmer in the world, is finishing high school. She has turned down offers of about $1.5 million in endorsements so she can retain her amateur standing. In the fall, the plans to attend the University of California in Berkley and participate on the swim team.

Conclusion:  Becoming an Olympian requires total focus and commitment.  It also requires great courage and sacrifice.  As a former Olympian remarked, “As far as I’m concerned, that pool is filled with sweat.”

The differences between them and us are obvious.  But Paul expects us to be just as devoted to Jesus as they are to swimming.  If our congregations were organized to train us as spiritual Olympians, many, many things would be different.

Everyone in Full-Time Ministry

I'll mention an example.  In the '70s and '80s, I had contact with the Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. Founder Gordon Cosby had been a Baptist Chaplin in World War II.  He and his wife founded the Church of the Saviour in Washington after the War.  The first year, they had one member. Then he left. Then they grew to seven members.

In the '80s, Gordon Cosby was still pastor.  The congregation had 143 members and an annual budget of over $5 million.  None of the members were people of means.  All of the members were in full-time ministry.

Mary and Gordon Cosby. 1960All people seeking membership go through a formation processes – and that includes ordained clergy. They join a mission group and take classes in the church's School of Christian Living. They participate in the community's ongoing life of daily worship and celebration. Formation for an intern member lasts from one to three years. Annually, after a period of intentional discernment, all members renew -- or withdraw -- their covenantal membership.

I knew a woman who took advanced nursing education for a year. And for that year, she had to drop out of full membership in Church of the Saviour.

For Church of the Saviour members, the call to discipleship is the integration of two journeys in community--an inward journey to grow in love of God, self and others and an outward journey to help mend some part of creation.  Church of the Saviour became the catalyst for numerous helping ministries primarily in Adams Morgan, a low-income neighborhood two miles north of the White House. 

FLOC

I'll mention two examples of the work the LORD has done through their mission groups. 

First example:  On a Sunday afternoon in the '50s, two women went to Children's Home for a visit. Children's Home was the D.C. orphanage.  The two women were appalled by the warehousing of the orphans, and they experienced this as a call from the LORD.  They conferred with Gordon, and with his encouragement, they sounded the call to the congregation to see who might join them.

They founded FLOC, For Love of Children.  Their goal was to place every D.C. orphan in a loving foster home –- not only the present number of orphans, but the future stream as well.  They also had the objective of closing down the Children's Home.

For the first few years, the professional social workers looked on them as harmless do-gooders – at worst, only a nuisance.  But then, as their goals and methods became evident, the full power of the social workers descended on them.  But, they were successful in closing Children's Home.  They had a lot of battles, but FLOC survived and still continues its amazing ministry.

There is a word of prophecy that applied to them – and to others in similar struggles – from Henry Kissinger. Before he became President Nixon's National Security Advisor, Professor Kissinger wrote an article in Foreign Affairs about the escalating police action in Viet Nam.  He observed that "in a guerilla war, the conventional army loses if it does not win, and the guerilla army wins if it does not lose."

When the LORD organizes Christians for His work, they become guerilla warriors.

Dunamis

Second example:  The mission group, Dunamis.  "Dunamis" is the Greek word for "power", and the Dunamis group had a ministry to power.  They prayed for and befriended, when possible, United States Senators and Representatives.

Here's a testimony I heard.  A Dunamis volunteer pulled a name out of the hat, and it was a woman Representative from one of the plains states.  She had never heard of the Representative, but she wrote her a brief personal note saying that she was praying for her and would appreciate the opportunity to meet her.

Gordon CosbySo, she was overwhelmed when she received a thirteen page letter from the Representative — handwritten — both sides of the paper.  The Representative was in her second term.  She was unmarried, and her invalid mother was living with her.  The Representative had no friends in Washington.  She was lonely and depressed.

The Dunamis volunteer was the only person in Washington who had reached out to her personally in the past three years. 

Many members of Congress are millionaires.  They don't know any poor people.  But they frequently have to deal with legislation about poverty problems.  Thus, those Senators and Representatives, who had established personal relationships with their Dunamis contacts, often called on them as poverty consultants – because the Church of the Saviour is among the poor. 

Unfortunately, Dunamis is no longer functioning.

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However, Church of the Saviour is still going strong.  Since 1994, they split into nine mutually-supportive faith communities.  Their web site is --

     http://www.inwardoutward.org/page/who-church-saviour

And the listing of their 43 ministries can be found at --

     http://www.inwardoutward.org/page/ministries-church-saviour

Church of the Savior is an amazing example of a church, which from the beginning was designed to be a mature congregation producing mature Christians.

But, Gordon Cosby did it the easy way.  He started from scratch.  The road to maturity is more difficult for existing congregations.  Jesus told us about that when he warned the disciples about putting new wine in old wineskins.

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Purpose of this blog is to compile a book for my grandchildren to read in 25 years.

Copyright © 2012 by Jack Towe

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