Tuesday, June 21, 2016

GOD AND COUNTRY


Well, it's that time of the year when I feel like skipping church.  Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends, and later Veterans' Day, are usually extremely uncomfortable times to attend Sunday morning worship services.  There will usually be a bit of flag-waving and we'll sing patriotic hymns; perhaps we'll see a slide show praising our Founding Fathers or veterans or something like that.  Many in the congregation will seem more enthusiastic than usual.  And I - and I suppose a few others - will feel very uncomfortable - that is if we attend at all.  (I will also!  Uni)
Perhaps some of my readers will agree with me; some on the other hand, on reading the above paragraph may question my patriotism, even my devotion to Jesus.  My contention, however, is that my commitment to the Lordship of Christ precludes the above behavior.  As I understand it, Jesus does not wish to share the platform with others.

This has nothing to do with my "patriotism"!  I love my country; I pray for it; I thank God for America every day.  I try to perform my duties as a citizen:  I pay my taxes; I vote; I fly my flag on appointed days; I even served as a Marine Reserve.  But this has every-thing to do with my commitment to Christ!

Those of the early church in the Roman Empire confessed "Jesus is Lord" in spite of the demands that they confess "Caesar is Lord."  And many died for that distinction.  The Roman Empire was not too concerned about the religious beliefs of its subjects, as long as they could make the required confession.  But the followers of Jesus could not do so.  For them there was only one Lord.  Should it not be the same for us?

America is not a theocracy; it is not a "Christian nation"; it is a secular democracy and as such, it is part of "the kingdom of the world," which will one day "become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ" (Revelation 11:15).  But we're not there yet.

I  may attend some Fourth of July celebration, but I'll probably stay home and watch the celebrations on TV.  I'll grow teary eyed as patriotic hymns are sung and as I sing along.  I may even post Ray Charles singing "America the Beautiful" on my facebook page.  But I pray that I may always recognize that my allegiance to my country, as all my other allegiances will be under the Lordship of Christ.

Friday, June 17, 2016

WOULD JESUS GO TO A GAY BAR?

Most Americans were appalled at the slaughter in a gay night club in Orlando this past week.  The outpouring of sympathy and compassion for the survivors as well as the victims' families was quick and seemingly universal.  The words and acts of comfort, while never adequate, helped to soften the blow, at least for those of us not involved.  As a follower of Jesus, I was blessed, even proud to hear of many of the churches, of the ordinary Christians, as well as some of our spokesmen reaching out.
 
The pundits and politicians, however, were confused.  Should we call this a hate crime or a terrorist act?  After all, the perpetrator, a Muslim, boasted that he was doing this as a follower of ISIS. And I believe many in the Evangelical community are also confused.  We have been repeatedly told by many who claim to be our spokesmen that Islam is a great danger to America, threatening all we hold dear.  And on the other hand, we've been told that there is a conspiracy afoot by the LGBT community and their "liberal" fellow travelers to destroy America.  Throw in the fact that there are those of us who believe that every American has the right to own a semi-automatic weapon of mass destruction, and one can see why we are confused.  Guns, Islam and the gay rights' agenda - three issues that are perceived as hot button issues - have converged in this horrible act.

But where would Jesus be in all of this?  Where would we find the One who was accused of being "a glutton and a wine guzzler, a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Luke 7:34)?  Some readers were probably put off by the title of this post, but really, where would He be?

I believe His heart would be with the ones who reached out to those who were devastated by this tragedy.  He would be with the survivors - people already discriminated  against and now traumatized .  He would be with the families of the dead and wounded, some of whom may have found out for the first time that their loved one was gay or lesbian or transgender and some whom may not have been reconciled with their loved one's condition.  And He would be with the family of the dead killer as they attempt to deal with his actions.  And He would be with those of the Muslim community who now find themselves even more the objects of suspicion and loathing.

I believe we who are followers of Jesus, have a responsibility as well as an opportunity to help these who are all victims, to know the love of Jesus.  They need to know the loving compassionate Jesus, the One who left heaven's glory to become one of us.  They don't need more condemnation and political pronouncements. 

"When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."  Matthew 9:36

Friday, June 10, 2016

A LOVE AFFAIR GONE WRONG

" ... that the living may know that the Most High is Sovereign over the Kingdom of Man and grants it to whom He wishes, and He sets over it the lowest of men" (Daniel 4:17).

These words were spoken to Nebuchadnezzar, the great world ruler of his day, one year before he was driven mad.  We may see them as an ancient rebuke to a man, arrogant in the belief that all of his great realm was the product of his own doing.  We may fail to see that it is a truth as relevant today as it was two and a half millennia ago.

Today we see and hear in the world many Nebuchadnezzars, "speaking loud boasts of folly" (2 Peter 12:18 ESV).  And in the good old USA we have a loud mouthed contender for President who fits the description.  It seems that daily some new arrogant racist remarks spew from his lips.  And he is now the candidate of one of our two major political parties.

It wasn't long ago that Donald Trump was considered by many to be an anomaly, a rich source of material for the late night comics - nothing more.  The pundits and talking heads were predicting his disappearance from the Presidential race at any moment.  The pundits are no longer making predictions; their speculations are presented with great caution.  The comedians are getting sharper and more pointed in their comments.  Will this man become our next President??  If so, the statement quoted above will be verified.

As one who has been attempting for the last 60 years to observe and interpret American politics and history from a Christian and biblical perspective, I have been trying to wrap my head around all of this.  Presidents and Presidential candidates have come and gone, but never anything quite like what we are now seeing.  How is God working all of these things for good?  How should I as a follower of Christ, react?

Some pundits and even scholars have cautiously predicted the possible collapse of the Republican party  That's doubtful; we've heard similar predictions about one party or the other every election cycle in my memory.  But perhaps what is happening will lead to the collapse of the Religious Right, or at least the (illicit?) love affair between many Evangelical Christian leaders and the Republican Party.

To the embarrassment of many followers of Christ we have heard for years those who are (or believe they are) our spokesmen making authoritative political pronouncements, even to the point of endorsing Presidential candidates.  We have winced as we have heard people whom we have respected - even admired - inserting their foot in their mouths.

And here we are today - Republican leaders doing their little two-step:  "Donald Trump may be a hateful racist bigoted bully who seems to have no concept of truth, but we'll still endorse his candidacy."  Really?  Well, what about those on the Religious Right, some of whom have already given him their blessing?  Are they going to do the same?  Or will they (we} finally realize that they (we) need to keep their (our) mouths shut and get back to the business that Jesus left us here to do - making disciples, loving our neighbors?

I can't predict what will occur on election day or in the four years following.  I do hope, however, that somehow God will use whatever He sovereignly brings to pass to purify His church and to get the church in America (myself included) back on course.

            SEE:   I'm a Member of a Voting Bloc?
                        She's a Good Hearted Woman
 
 

Monday, May 9, 2016

OUR FRIEND AND MENTOR GLADIS

Last Friday, May 6, Uni felt an urge to call Gracie, the daughter of our old friend Gladis Gibson, in El Paso, TX.  We had heard that Gladis was in hospice care and her health was rapidly declining.

When Gracie answered, Uni said simply, "I called to ask how your mother is doing?"

Gracie replied, "She passed this morning."

This was not a blow to us, as we had known it was coming for quite awhile; nevertheless, we still grieved.  Gladis would have been 92 on her next birthday.

We had known Gladis for over 60 years.  She and her husband Bill had had a great influence on our walk with Christ during that period.  I was honored to do Bill's memorial service in 2009 when he went to be with the Lord.

I first met Gladis and Bill in 1956.  I was 19 years old and it had been only a year since I had committed my life to Christ.  "Churchy" things were still new to me.  I knew that the little church we attended supported foreign missionaries, but at first my opinion of missionaries was that they were social misfits, isolationists, old maids - people who couldn't make it in the "real world."  Two events happened to change that opinion.

The first was a news item about what the world considered a horrible tragedy.  On a sandy beach along an unknown river deep in the jungles of Ecuador, a number of young American missionaries were savagely killed by members of a tribe known then as Aucas.  The reports of their discovery made headlines throughout the country.  LIFE magazine did a huge spread of pictures.  Radio and TV commentators discussed the event.  It was, for much of America, a first exposure to independent missions and to many it seemed senseless.  But this event had an impact on many in my generation.

The second was the meeting with the Gibsons, then in their 30's, not long after that event.  Bill was from our little church in Michigan and Gladis was from Oklahoma.  They had met in Bible college and had been sent out by our church as missionaries with Gospel Missionary Union, an independent mission organization.  They were at the time on a one year furlough from serving in the jungles of Ecuador.

Bill and Gladis had served with those martyred men and their families.  They were dear friends and had known of the plans to bring the Gospel of Christ to this stone-age tribe that had never had contact with "civilization" before.  They had prayed and planned with these men and their wives and families.  Bill regaled us and our church youth group with stories of their adventures in the jungles.  He had even flown over the Auca village with Nate Saint, the missionary pilot, one of the martyrs.

The Gibsons were not simply good story tellers, they were normal people, yet people who had given their lives completely to Christ, and they spoke of those martyred men as being ordinary people just as they were.  I was impressed with Gladis when she played softball with us at a church picnic; she was stronger than many of us men.  She could hit harder and run faster than any of us.  As she later confessed, "I spend a great amount of my time trekking and sometimes running, through the jungle."

The Gibsons took Uni and me under their wings.  They mentored us - not by teaching us theology or how-tos, but simply by modeling the Christian life.

Later, when we moved from Michigan to Texas, we lost track of each other for a few years.  Then when I was attending Dallas Theological Seminary, Bill looked me up and found me in the coffee room.  The Gibsons were then serving in El Paso as directors of GMU's ministry in South Texas and Northern Mexico.  The friendships resumed.

Down through the years, Bill Gibson would sometimes speak at churches I pastored.  They'd also sing and Gladis would play her accordion.  I was privileged to be the speaker at the biennial retreats held for the South Texas missionaries, as well as in the little chapel where they were active.  Sometimes I would receive a phone call from Gladis informing me, "Our church bulletin says that you will be preaching on _______.”  We'd make arrangements at home, jump in the car and drive to El Paso for the service.

Gladis and Bill never ceased being missionaries for Christ, even after they retired.  They continued to serve in Grace Chapel in El Paso.  They started a Bible study in the mobile home park where they lived; it's still going on.  Gladis served as an R.N. in a clinic.  When she could no longer care for herself and needed to live in an independent living facility, she immediately started some Bible studies in both English and Spanish, with other residents and the care-giving personnel.

"Precious in the eyes of the LORD is the death of His saints."  Psalm 116:15