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..." 

Saturday
Nov072015

MEETING JESUS

In 1942 when I was eight years old, I learned that Benjamin Franklin read the Bible when he was seven. Realizing I was already a year behind, I picked up our King James Bible and started reading. I was able to wade through the begats in Genesis 5, but the genealogical lists in chapters 10 and 11 were too much. I quit and didn't try again for fourteen years.

No one was around to teach me that you don't read the Bible beginning to end, like a regular book. Instead, you start with the Gospel of Mark. It's the short version of the Gospels.

My parents and I were regulars at church, but there was no way to meet Jesus there or learn sound doctrine. The minister regularly preached from The Readers Digest, and I was the victim of conventional, flabby Protestant Christianity. By age ten in 1944, I had a firm understanding of the Christian religion: Have good manners; buy War Bonds; keep out of trouble.

My Mother was pious; my Father a skeptic. I took after him. If anyone had asked me about Jesus, I would have said, "He's a good guy." If asked about miracles in the Bible, my reply would probably have been, "They're stories. They don't happen now. They probably didn't happen then either."

And what did we think of Christians with strong beliefs, Christians who experienced miracles? How did we regard a faith healer, such as Oral Roberts? What did we think of Holy Rollers and the Assemblies of God? We didn’t trust them. While we didn’t think they were liars or fakes, we didn’t know such people, and we thought they were weird—like aliens from another planet.

We moved four times when I was growing up. In each community, my Mother would discover a woman whose judgment she trusted. Then Mother asked the key question, “What’s the church here?” So, we always joined the society church in town. In four communities, our churches were successively Presbyterian, Methodist, Congregational, and Protestant Reformed.

My Mother’s question was not just snobbery; it was sound business practice. My parents were the editors and publishers of the local newspaper. My Dad joined Rotary for the same reason. Both church and Rotary provided contacts with the town’s major advertisers and opinion makers.

At church, we were fed ethical-cultural pabulum and were untroubled by concerns about sin, repentance, atonement, salvation, sanctification, having a personal relationship with Jesus, or any other strong Scriptural medicine.

While I knew nothing of sin, my sins were a daily burden, and I knew them well as character flaws: Intellectual arrogance, a filthy mouth among guys my age, chronic tardiness, lust, and sexual fantasizing. Church offered no remedies, and I was no help either. I'd try to reform, but failed every time.

So, I grew up in a spiritual swamp. I had no teacher who could tell me about relating to Jesus. My ministers and pastors told me about Jesus and the Bible, but they didn’t tell me how I could have a personal relationship with Jesus. Also, they gave little or no evidence that they had a personal relationship with Him. They didn't talk about experiences of God's love and power in their lives.

All my life, Christian mysteries have been a frustration. Both in Bible class and in sermons, the clergy answered questions that begin with “What?” I wanted answers to “How?” questions, but usually I didn’t know how to frame them. My pastors were Biblical travel guides and Christian cheerleaders, but I needed spiritual engineering. I longed for experiential Christianity, but for the first half of my life I was stuck with intellectualized religion, and it was unsatisfying.

Yet, I was prevented from becoming a total agnostic because Jesus didn't give up on me, but sent a series of six earthangels to give direction.

First angel: Al Meyer was a good friend and was a year behind me in high school. We were lunching together when I was a senior, and I capped on him—hard. He was hurt and angry and lashed back: "You've read a lot of books, and you know a lot, but there's one book you haven't read, and that's the Bible, and my grandfather has read it six times."

Al's comment struck home, and I was so flustered that I didn't answer. Only later did I think of the obvious reply: "Sure, Al, and how many times have you read it?"

But I remembered Al's remark, and after I graduated, I bought a Revised Standard Bible—and that was four and a half years later—after I graduated from college. Every night before going to sleep, I read two chapters. I soon discovered that either my ministers hadn't read this Book or else they didn't take it seriously.

Here's an example of the difference between Bible in church and Bible in context: In high school, we teens went to church on Sunday night. It was a great place for dating. At the end of the session, we stood in a circle, crossed arms, and took the hands of the people on either side. Then, we piously intoned, "And now, may the Lord watch between me and thee, while we are absent, one from the other."

But reading that prayer in context was a shocker. In Genesis 31, Laban confronts his son-in-law, Jacob, after Jacob & Co. has run off with his daughters, his flocks, and even his household gods. Laban and Jacob build a pile of rocks in the wilderness. Laban promises to stay to the north and warns Jacob to stay to the south. Laban regards Jacob as such a crook that he never wants to see him again, so Laban says, "May the Lord watch between me and thee…"

Second angel: Professor Arthur Jensen was my freshman English professor at Dartmouth College. During the course, we read Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. One classmate commented, "I find this story unrealistic. No person as cultured as Kurtz could go native and become that bestial." "Oh?" replied Jensen, "what do you men think about when you go to bed at night?"

Well, that convicted me of the reality of sin (although I would not as yet have used the word.) I felt powerless, but also realized that I wasn't alone. It was the human condition. Fortunately, readings in neo-orthodox theology during my junior and senior years made "sin" an intellectually respectable concept.

All this time, I was a functioning unbeliever, but Jesus and Christianity held a fascination. Why did I continue exploring Christianity? Why didn’t I explore other religions and other varieties of Christianity? Now in my eighties, I don’t really know the answers to those questions. Maybe a friend from Eastern Kentucky phrased the best explanation: “I was like a blind dog in a meat house. I knew there was somethin’ there, but I couldn’t get at it.”

Why did I think there was something there? I suppose my mother's piety had some effect on me, but I don't remember Jesus being a conversational topic in our household. Also, I grew up in a Protestant swamp. It was like patriotism and Saturday afternoon movies. It was part of the air we breathed, so it didn't occur to me to sample other religions spiritually.

With my curious mind, however, I regularly learned about religions of the world—matters for study and respect, but not indulgence.

We moved a lot when I was growing up. While writing this, I've reviewed my residences:

+ In Michigan: Jonesville, Ann Arbor, Charlevoix, Holland, and Mt. Pleasant,

+ In California: Susanville and Monterey.

+ Also, I lived in Hanover, NH. Cambridge, MA. Winter Park, FL, Oklahoma City, Schenectady, Manhattan, and Hudson Falls, NY. In none of them do I recall anyone telling me about knowing Jesus personally. I don't remember hearing about a contemporary miracle. So, in a sense, I hung on to Protestant Christianity without an experience to justify my allegiance.

In college, I went to church occasionally, took two courses in theology and rejoiced at getting the assignment to interview Paul Tillich for the college daily.

However, I did meet some Christians who had experienced God, but I met them only through books. In a sophomore Great Books course, we read St. Augustine's Confessions. Although the Divine Comedy and Don Quixote were the books I really enjoyed, I wrote my term paper on St. Augustine's mystical experiences. In my research, I read portions of Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill and discovered Santa Teresa of Avila. She was a sixteenth-century nun who conversed with Jesus. Santa Teresa is the doctor (i.e. teacher) of mystical prayer for the Roman Catholic Church, and she remains my favorite saint.

So I discovered there really was something in the meat house, but I still didn't know how to get at it.

Third angel: Just out of the Army in 1960, I lived at my parents' home in Winter Park, Florida. Needing a reliable guide to local churches, I called on the Rollins College chaplain. I wanted to join a neo-orthodox church. The chaplain patiently explained that neo-orthodoxy was a theological pastime in college and seminary, but wasn't useful with congregations. Hearing my interest in a Bible-centered church, he suggested the Lutherans. "Lutherans?" I protested. "Aren't they a bunch of farmers?"

I spoke truer than I knew. Lutherans have the highest percentage of farmers of any major denomination in the U.S. But I joined a Lutheran church anyway because the chaplain was right. They did take the Bible seriously.

I joined a Lutheran church in northern Orlando. For my confirmation preparation, my Pastor asked me to read Luther’s Small and Large Catechism. I read the whole Book of Concord. Along with the Bible, candidates for the Lutheran pastorate swear allegiance to the Book of Concord.

I somewhat scandalized my Pastor by saying I couldn’t accept Luther’s explanation of the commandment to “honor your father and your mother.” While I certainly did recognize my obligation to honor my parents, I couldn’t buy Luther’s huge leap to say it was a command to honor all those in authority over us. Especially I objected when Luther invoked divine and human sanctions against the pope, but only divine sanctions against temporal rulers. My observation: “It’s a blueprint for the Third Reich.” But he confirmed me anyway.

Fourth angel: Fresh out of Harvard Law School in 1963, I went to work in employee relations at the General Electric plant in Schenectady, NY. I didn't have a car yet, so I attended the only Lutheran church within easy biking distance—Zion Lutheran, where Robert C. Albohm was the Pastor. He was the best executive I met in Schenectady. After Sunday worship, while shaking hands on the church steps, he gave me a month's assignment in thirty seconds. I didn't like the man. I found him formal and distant. He seemed hollow until he showed his inner self when I humbled myself and went to private confession.

Pastor Albohm was a good lesson: I don't have to like a man to work well for him. And he directed me to the fifth angel when he encouraged me to help the vicar with Thursday night jail ministry. (It's a revelation to hear Paul's letters read aloud in jail, in their original context.) By going to the jail, I met a few of the men.

My fifth angel was in the Schenectady jail. He was a concrete finisher. I don't remember his name or why he was doing time, and I don't remember how I thought I could help him. But, I do remember two events. Of his work on New York highways, he said, "And man, when that concrete starts to set, you best trowel." 

The other event I recall is my feeling of helplessness. I knew this man needed Jesus in his life, and I had no idea how to help him. But I remembered him. So, three years later in Oklahoma City, I was ready when I saw an ad for The Lay Institute of Evangelism.

Sixth angel: Bill Bright headed Campus Crusade, which brought the Lay Institute to Oklahoma City. In '66 I was a foreman at the General Electric computer plant. To any observer, I would have appeared successful: I was on the fast track with GE as an employee relations management trainee. I taught Sunday school, directed a play, and had an active social life. But, I knew it was all a fraud. I was trapped by my character defects (my sin and my sins).

Nightly I confessed my sins, but that did no good. I could say with Paul that I was a slave to sin. Romans 7:14. I was so bored by my sins that I felt like a Buddhist with a prayer wheel. "Well, Lord, tonight it's the same old stuff." I didn't even sin originally.

Then, I saw that The Lay Institute for Evangelism was being presented at a nearby Presbyterian Church. Remembering the concrete finisher, I was eager to go. The first session on Sunday night was excellent. It was exactly two hours long, but it felt like only forty minutes. It was the first time I ever found church exciting. I was so thrilled that on Monday, I invited five Lutheran friends to go. The fee was five dollars apiece to cover the cost of learning materials, and I paid the thirty dollars for all six of us. (Thirty dollars won’t buy a full bag of groceries now, but thirty dollars in 1966 is the equivalent of $219 dollars today.)

My seminar leader was a man in his mid-twenties. He said, "When I was in college, I knew all about Christianity: Don't smoke. Don't drink. Don't mess around with women. And as far as I was concerned, that wasn't the good news; that was the bad news. But, Jesus isn't like that. He takes us as we are. When we love Him, when we follow Him, what we want changes."

The memorable evening was Wednesday, February 19, 1966. Bill Bright, founder and president of Campus Crusade, preached on John 15, where Jesus says, "I am the vine; you are the branches. . . . Abide in Me."

At the end of the sermon, Dr. Bright said, "Now we're not going to have a sawdust trail here, but I want you to receive Jesus tonight as your Savior and Lord. So please, every head bowed. And right now, if you are ready to turn your life over to Jesus, please stand."

I stood and kept my eyes closed. But it felt as if my five Lutheran friends were all staring at me. Standing up for Jesus wasn't a Lutheran thing to do. Then Dr. Bright led us in the Sinner's Prayer—

"Dear Lord Jesus, I am sorry for my sins. I repent of my sins. Please forgive me. I want your will done in my life. Please come into my life. Take charge of my life. Please fill me with your Holy Spirit. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer."

As I prayed with Dr. Bright, nothing happened as far as I could tell. I sat down. Then Dr. Bright counseled us. "When you go home tonight, take out a piece of paper and write out a full list of your sins. Take your time. You'll be surprised how the Holy Spirit will bring to mind sins you haven't thought of in years. When your list is done, write across it I John 1:9 and destroy the paper by shredding or burning it. Then, pray the Sinner's Prayer again. Invite Jesus into your life. Believe and know that you are a redeemed child of God."

It sounded like white magic to me. I considered ignoring his counsel. But have you ever been to a doctor and you doubt his prescription, but because you are paying his fee, you decide to have the prescription filled? Why? Because otherwise it all seems like a waste of money. That's what I did. I wanted Jesus in my life, but I was also skeptical. Because I'd paid the thirty dollars, however, I decided to do what Bill Bright said.

I wrote my sins on the paper, and indeed, as he said, I discovered several forgotten sins. Then I burned the paper and read I John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Then, praying the Sinner's Prayer, I invited Jesus into my life. And what happened? Nothing, as far as I could tell. But, my non-reaction, like the thirty dollars, was significant.

I went to bed and had a good night's sleep. Next morning, Thursday, I was early to work, had a good day at the shop and went to the Lay Institute again that night—same thing happened on Friday. By Saturday, I was beginning to recognize results. I no longer had a need to cuss when I was with men. Sexual fantasizing hadn't been a problem. And I hadn't been late to work. All miracles to me. More were on the way.

For ten days, life was really good. Jesus had come into my heart! And as He had promised, He had cleaned me up. It was his doing, not mine. I felt liberated from my sins. In particular, four things had happened:

+ I no longer felt the need to cuss. I had been delivered from my slavery to profanity.

+ Lust and sexual fantasizing didn’t bother me.

+ When I prayed to Jesus, I felt a gentle pulsing in my Eustachian tubes—a pleasant sign of his presence in my life.

+ Getting to work early became easy and natural—for the first time in my life.

But, on the eleventh day, wham, the lust and tardiness came back. But now, I discovered something new. When temptation hit, if I turned to Jesus and sent up a quick prayer—"Jesus, help!"—the power of the temptation was broken for a moment. I could choose whether I wanted to give in to the temptation or, in Christ, to resist it.

Before I invited Jesus into my life, that quick, arrow prayer hadn't worked. Now it did. The experience was amazing. I realized that I was tossed in the mixer noted by Isaac Bashevis Singer, “Has God given us free will? Of course. We have no choice.”

How does this free will / determinism work in practice?

If I choose to stay with Jesus, I can. 

If I choose to go with temptation, I can.

Jesus can rescue me, but He will also let me decide.

This may be one of Paul's meanings in Galatians 5:1: "It is for freedom Christ has set us free."

All these events caused bewilderment, and it took a while to sort out what was happening. I realized I had been delivered from chronic profanity. My insecurity among boys and men had led me to cuss, and for some twenty-five years, I had overcompensated with profanity, vulgarity, and blasphemy.

My mouth was so bad that, in college, the Army, and law school, friends intervened to say that my dirty talk was excessive. That was a shock. My conversation even fell below collegiate and Army standards.

However, overnight I was delivered from the need to cuss. And it happened as Paul says in Colossians 1:12 and 13: " . . . giving thanks to the Father who . . . has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of his love . . ." 

I hadn't prayed to be rid of profanity. I hadn't thought of asking. I didn't suppose God had that kind of power. As a matter of love, Jesus just made it happen.

What about my ambivalence when I invited Jesus into my life? I was both skeptical and eager. I was concerned about the thirty dollars. That's normal. I seldom act from a single, pure motive.

But consider how we are as parents. We're pleased by any good thing our kids do even if we know their motives stink. Evidently God is willing to do the same. He accepts our actions which are prompted by the Holy Spirit and ignores our selfishness.

And how about my lack of emotion in receiving Jesus? I wondered about that until I considered the alternative. What if I had experienced violent emotions? I would have thought I was going crazy, because I mistrust my feelings in making decisions.

In contrast, some people do have strong emotional reactions when Jesus comes into their lives. For example, I saw one man's tear ducts open when he returned to Jesus. His cheeks became a waterfall. But that wasn't my way. I realized that the Holy Spirit is a great craftsman. He customizes each blessing and each gift for each person. And so he did with me.

God blessed me with a physical change as well. When I prayed to him or was conscious of his presence, I experienced a gentle pulsing in my Eustachian tubes. It was and is a pleasant reminder. A very personal gift. Does he do something like this for everyone?

Was this a born-again experience that Jesus talks about in John 3:3? "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." Yes, I realized, it was, even though the Campus Crusade people didn't use those words. I had just relied on Jesus' promise in Revelation 3:20: "Behold I stand at the door and knock, and if any man hears my voice and opens to me, I will come in to him and eat with him."

Later I experienced one strong emotion—anger. Typically for me, the emotion did not happen on February 19, but several days later. Why anger? I realized I'd been had. For thirty-two years I'd been in church, and for the past decade I'd been a tither. With the investment of all that time and money, no one had ever clued me in. No one had told me how to receive Jesus. What a waste! That's why I was angry.

Fortunately, God's love kept washing through me and cleaned out the anger too. As I had been blessed with Jesus' presence, so I wanted others to be blessed. And I started witnessing.

 

 

 

Martin Luther

"Religion is not 'doctrinal knowledge,' but wisdom born of personal experience."

—Martin Luther. Source: Wikiquote

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

Copyright © 2012 by Jack Towe

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