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
Jun182011

TELLING THE TRUTH

Chapter 5 of Jack Towe's Spiritual Autobiography


Tonight in the audio-book section of the Ballard Library, I noticed that one part of a shelf was labeled "fiction" and the other was "biography".  That's inaccurate.  Oh, granted that biography – and autobiography – may have an edge in accurate reporting, but they undoubtedly lead the way in untruths. 

And that's inevitable.  It's a truism to say that all art is selective.  It has to be.  Life as we experience it is random, often dull, and mostly routine.  Any art, including writing, has to select gripping moments in order to fascinate us.

And where do we find the highest percentage of untruths among written works?  Perhaps in spiritual autobiographies.  It's no trick to establish yourself as a hero of the faith – just select those times in your life when God -- the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – impacted your life in unique ways.  And then leave out the rest. I've read dozens of such accounts.  Several even encouraged me.

So, in my own account here, it's time for some truth telling.  In moderation, of course.

One time at a Sign of the Cross Board of Trustees meeting, Bob Loreaux – teacher, friend, and Trustee – challenged me with a question:  "Do you want the LORD's will done in your life?"  It was a deeply serious question which challenged my qualifications as Director for the firm.  It was also a Sunday School question, and so I gave the Sunday School answer:  "Yes".

It was a lie, of course. The true and unacceptable answer would be: "Sure. Occasionally. At times and places of my own choosing."

How many times in my life have I rebelled against the LORD and consciously gone my way instead of His? Thousands and thousands.  (Oh, you may object, now you're exaggerating just to give a impression of being humble.) Nope. No exaggeration. Many thousands of which I'm aware at the age of 77. In the Golden Book, the recording angel may have me down for hundreds of thousands or even millions of acts of rebellion for all I know.

And, I suspect, dear reader, that may be your situation as well. We're all programmed that way. As G. K. Chesterton remarked, "The only Christian doctrine we can objectively prove is original sin."

Now, most spiritual biographies or autobiographies I've read do not acknowledge that we're all damaged goods.

Exception:  Su Vida by Santa Teresa of Avila.  "Su Vida" can be translated as "Her Life".  But, by a twist of Spanish grammar, it can also be read as "Your Life".

Teresa wrote her book for her confessor and thus was brutally honest. 

 I gave the book to my mother, ElDean Benninghoff Towe, who was known to her grandchildren as "Baba Dean". She returned it to me with the comment, "She's so worried about her sins. How could she be a sinner? She was a nun."

 Thus, it is in America where, among the dregs of Calvinism, we still associate sinning with sex.

 

However, I'm now going to disappoint you. If you thought this chapter was going to be a thrilling orgy of misbehavior, you're mistaken. It isn't.

Acts of rebellion are seldom exciting. For example, this morning, instead of reading some chapters in the Gospel of Matthew while eating breakfast, I played two games of Sudoku on the internet. Do you really want to read four pages of that kind of junk?

While I could report major improprieties, I'll spare both of us  And they're not important. God considers all acts of rebellion the same, and He doesn't take them lightly. Hear what the prophet Samuel told King Saul in Samuel 15:23, after Saul disobeyed the LORD's instructions neither to spare nor loot the Amalekites: "For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He also has rejected you from being king.”

So, I have much to confess. Much to repent. Many ways for the LORD to change me. I John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins,He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins  and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

He Cleans Us Up

Those words in boldface are about the hardest ones in the Bible to believe. If we faithfully confess to Jesus and then follow Him, He'll change us, clean us up, purify our lives. Him, not us. That's so contrary to what we think. We know perfectly well that it's our job to clean up our act, get our lives together, straighten up and fly right, etc. Well, Jesus, is telling us, "No, that's my job. I can do it. You can't."

And it's true. We can't. We're all programmed to be addicts. We each have one or two or three cravings which control us; we can't control them – and often don't want to control them. Realizing the same reality, St. Paul calls us  "slaves to sin". (See Romans 6:6, 17, 20) And the alternative is to become slaves to righteousness and to God. (Romans 6:18, 22).

And how do we become slaves to God? Give up on our willfulness. Start practicing the presence of God – or as I have heard it called, the Sacrament of the Present Moment. Before deciding what to do next, pause and ask, "Well, LORD, what do I do now?" And then, we have to learn to be more and more sensitive to His nudges -- and have the willpower and courage to follow them – because He expects self-sacrificing love. (Greek:  ἀγάπη.  agapē)

Return to False Impressions

And so, for the rest of this chapter and in the next, I return to false impressions by telling a few unique ways in which God impacted us.

I complained in Chapter 4 that even in Charismatic prayer groups I seldom experienced a seeking and receiving of the gifts of the Spirit. However, here are some exceptions:

On Thursday evenings back in the early '70s, Margaret and I attended charismatic gatherings at the Episcopal Church of the Advent in Cincinnati's Walnut Hills community. Walnut Hills had become a predominately African-American community, but Advent was still the Episcopal Church in Cincinnati attended by many patrician, old-moneyed families.

Murray Hastings was the Spirit-filled priest at Advent. And Murray was what you would get if you sent to Central Casting for an Episcopal priest. He was so handsome he was almost pretty. He played guitar and had a fine tenor voice. He was an excellent preacher and a profound teacher. But, he was also real.  And he was an excellent servant. 

Examples: While Murray was the priest at Advent, the congregation set up a daily lunch program for the community poor. Advent was the first organization in Cincinnati to sponsor a neighborhood low-income housing development under the Model Cities Program.

Another example of Murray's capability: Once when Margaret and I attended Sunday worship at Advent, a woman had a heart attack in the midst of the sermon. Murray came right out of the pulpit and down the aisle.  As he strode down the aisle, he told his wife to call 911 for an ambulance. By name, he called the MD and nurse in the congregation.  And he also called the Elders. 

The rest of us, he instructed to stay in our seats and pray, but he asked the people sitting around the stricken woman to move elsewhere in order to give the doctor and nurse room to work.  Then, he and the Elders stood in the pew behind and prayed over the woman for her healing.

Now, that's a textbook example of how, Scripturally, to deal with a crisis in a congregation, but I'll bet there's hardly a seminary in the United States that teaches its students to do it.

Gift of Interpretation:  Perspiring Palms

And here's an example of what happened at one Thursday evening gathering.  Murray was giving a Bible teaching when a man gave us a message in a tongue. The man wasn't loud or pushy. He spoke conversationally in an unknown tongue in a matter-of-fact way for less than half a minute and then sat down. Then, there was silence.  For perhaps a minute.

Murray asked, "Did anyone receive an interpretation?" No one spoke. "Well, St. Paul tells us that a message given by tongue is appropriate only when an interpreter is present. I'm taking that as a promise. Frank received a public tongue by the Holy Spirit, so I'm trusting that He also provided us an interpreter. One of you received the gift of interpretation, but may not realize it.

"While Frank was speaking," Murray continued," did you have an unusual physical experience? You may have felt a sensation like warm oil being poured on your head. You may have felt something like a warm bubble rising from your stomach to your throat. Or your palms may have begun to sweat –"

"Ohmygoodness," said the lady sitting next to us. She was twisting her handkerchief in her hands.

"Well, Julia, what's the message?" asked Murray.

(Because I had been with Pentecostals at Full Gospel Businessmen's meetings, I expected her to say, "Thus, saith the LORD! . . .")

But she didn't. Instead she wrung her handkerchief and said quietly. "Oh, no. I couldn't."

Murray patiently waited and then asked, "Did you receive a message?"

"Well, yes, I heard something, but it's too embarrassing. I couldn't repeat it."

"The LORD's message often differs from what we expect. But, think of it this way, Julia. There are about 80 of us here in this room. You have received a message from the Holy Spirit, and we're all waiting to hear what it is."

"Well! If you must know, the words that came into my head were, 'Don't be afraid of your emotions. I made them too.'"

No comment.

Graham Pulkingham and Gifts for Building

Graham Pulkingham was rector of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Houston, Texas, from 1963 to 1972. Under his pastorate, the congregation grew from a few parishoners to an attendance of 2,200. He was prominent in the Charismatic movement, and Church of the Redeemer was the subject of an article in Time.

When we heard that he would be speaking at Church of the Advent, Margaret and I eagerly attended. Shortly after Graham began his talk, he said, "Murray invited me here to talk about the Church of the Redeemer, but instead of giving you a religious travelogue, the LORD is directing me to do something different." He then took a poll. (I don't remember the actual numbers, but the relative numbers are about right.)

How many of you speak in tongues? 83 out of 125 raised their hands.

How many of you have had the gift of tongues? Perhaps 20 raised their hands, many with uncertainty.

[Graham then gave us a brief instruction on the difference between a public and private tongue, as St. Paul explains in I Corinthians 14.]

How many have received the gift of interpretation?  9 hands.

How many have received gift of prophecy?  8 hands

The gift of healing?  14 hands

The gift of faith?   17 hands, but many with uncertainty

[Graham told briefly about the gift of faith as stepping out in mission as directed by the LORD. It's a different kind of faith than saving faith.]

The gift of knowledge?  2 hands

The gift of wisdom?  3 hands (and one of them was Margaret's)

The gift of miracles.  None

The gift of distinguishing between spirits?  The gift of deliverance?  2 hands

Graham Pulkingham had just quizzed us on the ninefold gifts of the Holy Spirit in I Corinthians 12.

He commented to the audience: "You see the pattern. Most of you have sought and received the manifestation of tongues to build yourselves up. Few of you have sought or received the gifts of the Holy Spirit for building up the church. You have it backwards. Repent, and seek the LORD's gifts for your congregations."

A Word of Wisdom – or Knowledge? – for the Administration Committee

While I was director for Sign of the Cross Housing, we had two committees: Administration and Ministry. Contrary to my expectations, it was the Administration Committee which was effective in seeking the LORD's will in decision-making. On this committee were two lawyers, an investment counselor, and a P&G brand manager. Here's an examples of their work:

At a regular Tuesday Administration Committee meeting, I came to them with a practical problem. I had a Friday deadline for two funding proposals. I was going to have time to write and submit only one. I wanted their recommendation on which to choose.

One was a conventional Foundation request, probably for $10,000.

The other was a juicy opportunity to get maintenance and repair funds -- Federal funds channeled through the City of Cincinnati. The grant would provide $15,000 per apartment for the 1/5 of our apartments which were in the worst condition. At the time, we owned or managed 92 apartments, so we could seek a grant for 18 apartments, $270,000. (Of course, this was the choice I preferred.)

Because we utilized lots of donated second-hand materials and volunteer labor, we usually did total apartment renovations for under $12,000. With a quarter-of-a-million grant, we'd be rich.

I expected a quick decision, but they chose to pray over the issue. They asked for the LORD's guidance. We spent a while in silence. Then, one by one, they gave their replies. "Let's go with the Foundation request." "Yes, I get a bad feeling about the Government money." "Stay clear of it."  "Yes, I agree.  Go for the Foundation."

I was disappointed. I thought they were making a mistake, but I had asked for their opinion, so I followed it, and we later won the Foundation grant.

But, it was a year later when I discovered the LORD's wisdom in this matter.  I was talking with the owner of the largest property management firm in our community, Over-the-Rhine.  Tom owned or managed 2,200 apartments.  I mentioned the City improvements grant, and in reply Tom was fierce.  "Worst trick-bag I ever saw.  The City gave me six million, but the deal was that they inspected all my apartments, not just the ones we fixed up.  They had inspectors crawling all over my buildings.  The list of code violations was miles long, and the whole package cost me eleven-million, so I lost five million on the deal."

I told him how our Administration Committee had refused the City money through prayer.  Tom's  response:  "We gotta start praying more."

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

Copyright © 2011 by Jack Towe

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