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..." 

Wednesday
Jun292011

WHY WE NEED SPIRITUAL SUPPORT – AS A NATION

[Note:  This article is a follow-up to "Scripture-Directed Decision-Making" which is also found in the last section on the right, Walking the Walk.]

As individuals, we're all naturally damaged goods, all addicts, all slaves to our cravings – that's what original sin means. It's the only objectively-demonstrable Christian doctrine.

What's the remedy? St. Paul is explicit in Romans:

7:14.  We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.

6:20.  When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.

6:19.  Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.

6:6.  For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin

6:16. Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?

6:18.  You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

6:22. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.

8:15. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

Paul's pattern is clear: We are doomed to be slaves – either involuntary slaves to our cravings - or voluntary slaves to Jesus. (And I've seldom heard a sermon on that topic.)

But we aren't able to dig ourselves out of our pits alone. We need help both from the LORD and from each other.

Most of congregations are useless in providing that help. Why? Because there's a conspiracy not to talk about the elephant in the sanctuary. What's the elephant? That we're each so badly damaged that our cravings are programmed to kill us, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. What's the conspiracy? The unspoken assumption that we've all got it all together.

After any worship, listen to the conversations. "How are you?" "Just fine." "And you?" "Couldn't be better." We're taught not to bear false witness against our neighbor. How about false witness against ourselves?

But realistically, a congregation is too large a gathering for honesty. We need more intimate aggregations.

First Aggregation:  You, Yourself and Your Church

Jesus gives warns us in Revelation 3:15-16.  "I know what you're doing.  You are neither cold nor hot. How I wish you were one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm, neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth!"

Jesus was talking to the congregation at Laodicea and to each member.  Jesus is talking to our congregation and to you and me.  We're responsible for doing our part to heat up our congregation, or if that doesn't happen, to seek God's will on whether we should relocate to a church on fire for Jesus.

How will you recognize a lit-up congregation?  I can think of at least four signs.  (1)  It will have an intensive and effective prayer life.  (2)  Congregational members will really care for each other.  (3)  The Bible study will produce, encourage, and train mature Christians.  (4) The church will take the Great Commission seriously -- not only on the next continent, but also in the next block.

The United States has an epidemic of lukewarm churches and lukewarm Christians, and we should be terrified of being part of the vomit.

As my teacher, Bob Loreaux, said again and again, "You have to get down to business with the LORD -- in prayer and Bible study."  Prayer and Bible study about what?  About being in love with Jesus.  About surrendering ourselves to the LORD and being directed by the Holy Spirit.  About presenting our bodies as living sacrifices to Jesus. About making self-sacrificing love your lifestyle.

If we're comfortable, we're in danger. Jesus says, "Follow me." Paul says, "The just shall live by trust." How will we know if we're following Jesus? (1) We'll be stepping out into the unknown. (2) We'll be challenged to do self-sacrificing love. (3) We'll be uncomfortable. (4) We'll be excited and expectant. Like the apostles in Acts, we'll be asking, "What wild and crazy think is the Holy Spirit going to do next?"

If your life dull? Want excitement? Try praying the beatitudes in Matthew 5. You'll soon discover that your life has as much adventure as you can handle.

First Recommendation:  Ignite!

A word of caution: If we set out on our own to ignite our congregations, we'll burn them down. It's the Holy Spirit who does the igniting, not us. We have four responsibilities: (1) Walk the walk, rather than talking the talk. (2) Pray for the LORD's mighty love, power and work among us. (3) Love the brothers and sisters -- particularly those we find unlovable. (4) Let the Holy Spirit work through us, so in us, the brothers and sisters see Jesus' example.

Second Aggregation:  Private Confession

One of the destructive actions of the Protestant Reformation was doing away with private confession (to be replaced by an ultra-expensive alternative in the twentieth century – the psychiatric session). Of course, Roman Catholics, the Anglican/Episcopalians, and the Lutherans have retained private confession. At least in theory.

The Lutherans are a special case. Martin Luther wanted to have three sacraments – baptism, the Lord's Supper, and private confession. But confession didn't fit the formula for a sacrament – a rite instituted by Jesus which is the visible sign of invisible grace. So, he downgraded confession to the status of a recommended activity. 

Article 11 of the Augsburg Confession states: "Private absolution is retained among us and shall not be allowed to fall into disuse." Lutherans take verbal formulae very seriously – except when the formula is inconvenient. 

A hundred and fifty years ago, most Lutheran congregations in the U.S. celebrated the Lord's Supper four Sundays a year. On the prior Saturday evening, everyone who intended to commune had to be at church for private confession with the pastor. Today Lutheran congregations have communion every Sunday or every other Sunday – and almost no private confession.

Ironically, foot washing in John 13 precisely fits the formula for a sacrament: A rite instituted and commanded by Jesus, which is the visible sign of invisible grace.  But, foot washing has been ignored by almost all Christians in the Western heritage, except for fringe groups, such as Primitive Baptists or the pope washing the Vatican students' feet on Maunday Thursday.

So, what's the value of private confession? It's testimony time:

During law school, I attended University Lutheran Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Pastor Ice encouraged us to revive the ancient custom of private confession and absolution. I was one of the few who participated. Why? Unlike most church ceremonies, I did experience God's grace in confession. I felt cleansed and strengthened by the experience. (That seldom happens for me in the Eucharist.)

Does confession stop my sinful ways? Nope, but it does help.

I've had many pastors since, and with most I've asked for private confession. That usually surprises them. They know that private confession is one of their responsibilities, but no one had requested it before.

Second Recommendation:  Go to private confession.

Third Aggregation:  A Friend

We can get a similar result by meeting regularly with a friend, an accountability partner whom we can trust. And the ground rules with the friend have to be the same as for the confessional – What we say here stays here. Under no circumstances can we repeat anything to anyone else. We need those safeguards so we can be completely open and honest with each other.

Such a friendship is healing because we can develop congruence between our public and private selves.

But, in urban society, real friendship is scarce.

"A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter.  He who finds one finds a treasure.                                                                   A faithful friend is beyond price.  No sum can balance his worth."  Sirach 6:14-15

Shakespeare tells us what to do:  "Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel."

While talking honestly with a friend, solutions to problems often surface when your friend is listening and not saying a word.  (Which is the best result you can get from a psychiatrist or analyst at $300 an hour.)

Third Recommendation:  Be a friend.  Help each other.  Talk with each other regularly.

Another Word of Caution: The friend should not be your spouse or a fellow-employee. Yes, you and your spouse should be friends. Ideally, you both love and like each other. And you may have a good friend at work. But home and job are each special situations. You need a friend who is close, but separated, to whom you can confide freely about problems -- including problems with your spouse or your job.

Fourth Aggregation:  A Spiritual Director

Six months after coming to Seattle, I was referred to David Mesenbring, the Senior Associate at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral. At that time, he was still a Lutheran pastor.  On July 23, he was ordained an Episcopal priest.

We met for lunch, and I brought a set of specifications of my hopes for a congregation. He recommended six churches as possibilities. I also commented that I was looking for a spiritual director. He recommended that I contact Carolyn Hickman at the Ignatian Spirituality Center at the St. Joseph Jesuit Parish. I did. She interviewed me for an hour. Later she teamed me with Al Roehl as my spiritual director.  Al is a Lutheran pastor and a chaplain.

We meet monthly. With Al, I have the opportunity to be open and honest about all aspects of my life, as well as getting guidance on new ways of exploring my journey with Jesus. For example, this past Thursday, I wrote out my prayers (which is normal for me), but I did them in a new way of combining both intensive Bible reflection with prayer. It took an hour and a half. Here's an excerpt: 

"Thank You, LORD, for giving me this time to sit with You in the heavenlies. This is fun. (Have I ever thought about prayer before as fun? Not likely.) Could it be, Jesus, that You generally had so much fun being with Your Father that You’d gladly stay up all night? And so, prayer for You was a temptation? Dealing with the crowds and peoples’ demands was exhausting. Did You have to fight the urge to get away alone for prayer?"

Seattle's Ignatian Spirituality Center is unique. Google "Ignatian Spirituality Center" and you get Seattle. Getting an excellent spiritual director anywhere is a gracing from God, but it's easier in Seattle. 

Fourth Recommendation:  Get a Spiritual Director

Fifth Aggregation:  Accountability Groups / Bible-Directed Decision Making

Christianity in the United States is mostly a middle class activity, which fosters respectability. Both the poor and the power elite tend to shun churches because of their irrelevance.  Oh sure, some of the power elite attend church, but few seem to take the Gospel message seriously.  Ironically, the poor and the rich especially need Jesus' help.

I just looked at the copy of Time with a cover story on power players who self-destructed because of sexual cravings.  Same old story – from King David to the Gubernator.  The sexual scandals include politicians, CEO's, clergy, athletes.  And we lap up the media attention they get – it alternatively horrifies and delights us.

Consider:  God gives each man enough blood to power his brains and his groin, but not at the same time.

It is a terrible thing to arrive at a major position of responsibility – and be isolated.  As top dog, the people around you are all clawing for more than their fair share, but you have no one in whom you can confide.

Isolation is the fate to which our congregations mostly condemn Christians in top positions, because our American church system lacks skills in being personal.

What's the result?  Isolated executives feel that their lives are grim, out-of-control, with unending stress. They may like the perks and the power, but many come to hate the work.  They naturally need fun, release, control, forgetfulness.

And what do they do?  It's easy to give way to their natural cravings. So, we find that people in top positions become alcoholics, drug addicts, sex addicts, gaming addicts, power-trip addicts or workaholics. Or they may splurge on acquisitions or speculations. Some burn out, run away, or become suicidal.  Many self-destruct.

We may gloat or feel sorry for them, without realizing that the person is our brother or sister. We face the same set of problems without the media attention. But we are all capable of ruining our reputations with those who love and trust us.

What's the remedy?

One is a small group you can trust, which focuses on Jesus and the Bible – a group that regularly prays for God's guidance in their group and personal decision-making.

Hebrews 10:24-25 says "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."

We make that counsel into a bumper sticker that says, "Go to Church This Sunday". But a large congregation is not a good place to spur and encouraging each other toward love and good deeds. The writer of Hebrews apparently had in mind an intimate house church.

Margaret and Me and Cancer

A tragic personal experience –

My wife, Margaret, and I had been in a succession of prayer groups.  But, at the beginning of 1997, we were not in a prayer group. 

During the first quarter, she had jaundice, and I used t refer to her as "my Chinese wife." On April 10 she was scheduled for surgery to remove her gall bladder. She was in surgery for an hour and a half. The doctor came out and ushered me into a consultation room. He said, "When we opened Margaret we found what we didn't want to find." He showed me stark, vivid, perfectly clear photos of her viscera taken by a tiny TV camera. I didn't need a med school education to see the cancer that swarmed over her organs. I felt a cement block drop into my stomach.

From April through September, Margaret and I prayed about and struggled with her cancer. Her oncologist recommended chemotherapy for ovarian cancer.  "But why?"  I asked.  "She doesn't have ovarian cancer." "Correct, but I recommend that chemo because it's milder than some of the alternatives." "Doctor, you make it sound as if we're playing darts blindfolded." "Your analogy is harsh, but not wrong. We're making an informed guess."

In marriage, there a reality:  Sometimes spouses can be open, honest, and direct with each other without being able to be convincing.

So it was with Margaret and me. She was a Lutheran chaplain at Cincinnati's University Hospital. She knew eminent, excellent physicians. She trusted them. I had much less trust. She listened to my concerns, but didn't hear them.

Just when we needed a prayer group, we didn't have one.  We not only needed regular prayers for healing, but we needed God's wisdom--and the group's wisdom--for Margaret's life-and-death decisions about cancer. She and I would have heard the group in ways that we couldn't hear each other.

Fifth Recommendation:  Get in a prayer and study group you can trust.  If necessary, start one.

Sixth Aggregation:  Continuity

American society is structured so we often move around the Nation or around the world if we rise to positions of prominence.  Moving destroys intimacy.  We leave good friends and good spiritual relationships behind.

Extreme example:  We expect a newly-elected presidential family to move to the White House and right away plop themselves into a D.C. church.  Some presidential families do just that, probably for public relations purposes--and then suffer through years of Sunday morning boredom.

But choosing a church that fits ain't that easy.

First example. I heard a former mayor tell his experience. Before he became mayor, he was an active Presbyterian. After his elected, he went for two Sundays more and then stopped. He served as mayor for four years. When his term as mayor was over, he went back to the Presbyterian Church. The pastor greeted him at the door after worship and said, "John, we've missed you.  I wondered why you stopped coming."  (Some Pastor.  He hadn't called on John in four years.)

John's reply:  "I came here for spiritual nurture, but after I was elected mayor, this congregation just became another place for people to lobby me."  (An able Pastor would have discovered the problem and stopped it.)

Second example. I moved to Seattle on July 1, 2010. It took me seven months to discover a church that matched my interests--Emmanuel Anglican Church. It's only 20 blocks from my apartment, and I could not have been more astonished when I discovered that we fitted. The emerging Anglican denomination wasn't even on my radar screen.

Conclusion: With the problems of the world impinging, a newly-elected president and his family must find it nearly impossible to locate a suitable congregation in Washington, D.C.  

Ideally, when a newly elected president moves into the White House, the pastor, friend, and support group would also move to DC--so there would be no break in spiritual continuity. As a result, the president could be spared much of the isolation, frustration, cravings and rage which are now part of the job.

Ideally, the same would be true for any person thrust into a prominent position who has to move.

____________

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

Copyright © 2011 by Jack Towe

____________

 I welcome your reactions.  Please click below on "Post a Comment".