"For us let it be enough to know ourselves to be in the place where God wants us, and carry on our work, even though it be no more than the work of an ant, infinitesimally small, and with unforeseeable results."
-- Abbé Monchanin

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Scripture Passage of the Day

So den, wat we goin say bout all dat? God stay fo us guys to da max. Cuz God stay lidat, who going agains us? No mo nobody!

-- Fo Da Rome Peopo 8:31
Da Jesus Book (Hawaii Pidgin New Testament)

Quote for the Day

". . . we are asked to 'resemble God' just at this one point: not in His omnipotence or His eternity or His impeccablilty, but simply in the undiscriminating or unconditional character of His love."

-- John H. Yoder
The Original Revolution

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Scripture Passage of the Day

I shua bout dis: No mo notting can make God stop loving us guys. No matta if we stay alive o we mahke, no matta if get angel guys o leada guys in da sky, o if get spirits wit power dat go agins us, no matta wateva stay happen now o goin happen bumbye, no matta get guys wit power up dea inside da sky, o down dea inside da groun, no matta get all kine odda kine tings dat God wen make -- no mo notting dat can hemo us from God, so he no love us no moa! Cuz us guys stay tight wit Jesus Christ, da Spesho Guy God Wen Send, an he our Boss.

-- Fo Da Rome Peopo 8:38, 39
Da Jesus Book (Hawaii Pidgin New Testament)

Quote for the Day

"You've been angry all week, Simon, but you're taking it out on the wrong things. It's better to take it out on God. He can cope with all our angers. That's one thing my long span of chronology has taught me. If I take all my anger, if I take all my bitterness over the unfairness of this mortal life and throw it all to God, he can take it all and transform it into love before he gives it back to me."

-- Aunt Leonis in Dragons in the Waters
by Madeleine L'Engle

Monday, February 26, 2007

Neighbor-Loving Isn't Mere Neighborliness

Tarris Rosell, program associate with the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City, Mo. and associate professor teaching ethics at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Kan., has a very good article at the Ethics Daily web site. Read Neighbor-Loving Isn't Mere Neighborliness. It will challenge you.

Scripture Passage for the Day

My good friends, cuz God wen show dat kine love an aloha fo us guys, den us guys gotta show love an aloha fo each odda too. No matta no mo nobody eva wen see God fo real kine -- if we get love an aloha fo each odda, den God stay wit us an his love stay to da max inside all us guys.

-- Numba 1 From John 4:11, 12
Da Jesus Book (Hawaii Pidgin New Testament)

Quote for the Day

"What do I communicate to a man about the love of God by being willing to consider him an enemy?"

-- John H. Yoder
The Original Revolution

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Scripture Passage for the Day

If one a you guys donno wat fo do, aks God fo help, fo give you da smarts you need! He no goin give you guys hard time. He goin help you guys, God give plenny to everybody, you know. But if you goin aks him fo someting, you gotta trus him. No ack like you no can make up yoa mind. Da guy who not shua, he jalike one wave inside da ocean dat da wind stay blow all ova da place. Da bugga ack like he get two brains, you know. He everytime no can make up his mind da way he tinking bout doing tings. Dat bugga betta not tink he goin get someting from da Boss, cuz he not.

-- Da Letta From James 1:5-8
Da Jesus Book (Hawaii Pidgin New Testament)

Quote for the Day

". . . knowing the depths of Jesus Christ is not just a method. It is a life-long attitude."
-- Madame Guyon
Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Scripture Passage for the Day

So den, how come you guys everytime like make argue an fight wit each odda? You know why? Cuz inside you, you like go all out fo get someting, and same time, you like get one nodda ting. Az why one part everytime fighting one nodda part. Wen you guys like someting, an you no can get um, you guys even like go kill peopo. Cuz you like get um so bad, but still yet you no can. You guys everytime like make argue an fight! You no can get notting, cuz you not aksing God fo um, az why! Yeah, you aks fo um, but still yet you no get um, cuz inside yoa heart no stay right. Da kine stuff you aksing fo, ony fo make yoa own self feel good, az why.

-- From James 3:1-3
Da Jesus Book (Hawaiian Pidgin New Testament)
[During the height of the takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, a pastor supportive of the takeover movement was leading a men's prayer session at mission meeting in Zimbabwe. He asked the men to share a favorite scripture verse and then he would make some nice observation on the significance and beauty of each verse and how he also appreciated it. I had recently been struck by the force and relevance of this passage and quoted it as a favorite of mine. (From the NIV not Da Jesus Book). When I finished there was a nervous silence and then, "Anyone else have a favorite verse?" I suspect he understood.]

Quote for the Day

"What is wrong with the violent revolution according to Jesus is not that it changes too much but that it changes too little; the Zealot is the reflection of the tyrant whom he replaces by means of the tools of the tyrant."

-- John H. Yoder
The Original Revolution

Irreverent Observation of the Day

What's the difference between a pickpocket and an insurance company?

A pickpocket doesn't have you sign a contract.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Well Taken Care Of

As the Scooter Libby case sits in the hands of the jurors and a cloud hangs over the office of the vice-president, it is interesting to remember the words of Bush when the Plame story broke. He promised that anyone in the White House involved in leaking "would be taken care of." He has been true to his word. The high officials involved have been well taken care of and escaped any penalty. If Libby is convicted, will he be "taken care of" as well, and pardoned?

Quote for the Day

"Jesus did not die at the hands of muggers, rapists, or thugs. He fell into the well-scrubbed hands of deeply religious people, society's most respected members."
-- Brennan Manning
Abba's Child

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Walk On

Did you ever dream you could fly?

Soar high above the earth?

Float and swoop effortlessly above the hills and the valleys?

I used to dream that I could do a kind of breast stroke that caused me to glide through the air. I read somewhere that the dream of flying is one of the most common kinds of dreams.

Right up there with running from trains.


And being naked in public.

It must be an old and widespread dream. Remember the old greek story of Daedelus and Icarus who made wings of feathers and wax and flew too close to the sun?

I’ve forgotten what the experts said the significance of flying dreams is, but the dream does give a feeling of freedom and power and great joy.

We talk of our spirits “soaring” when we’re elated.

We’re “soaring along” when everything is going right in our lives.

There’s a beauty in the sight of a bird soaring high above with no flapping of wings. Just a smooth gliding across the sky. I’ve seen birds catch the wind just right, so that from the ground, they appeared perfectly motionless. It was beautiful.

The prophet Isaiah uses this imagery to talk of
our relationship with God:

but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:31(NIV)

“They will soar on wings like eagles.” Isn’t that a good description of the feelings of a new Christian? When you first put your hope in the LORD, your strength was renewed and you seemed to soar up above all the problems of life here in the rat race.

Things were right.

God was in charge.

You were safe and confident and tireless.

Most of us would like life to stay that way. Jesus’ closest disciples felt like that. Remember the story of when Jesus went up the mountain with James, John and Peter? Moses and Elijah appeared to them and Jesus was transfigured so that his face shone like the sun. Peter wanted to pitch camp and stay there.

A friend in Zimbabwe was grading Religious Knowledge papers for secondary students’ final exams. One of the questions required the students to tell this story. Our friend came laughing and read one student’s final sentence. After thoroughly describing the event, the student wrote, “This is usually known as the mount of refrigeration.”

Transfiguration, refrigeration, either word is a mouthful. The disciples were soaring on wings like eagles. They hoped in the LORD in the midst of a spectacular spiritual encounter with God. We’re the same way. I’ve had friends who wanted to become
evangelists because they wanted the thrill of Billy Graham style crusades every day. They wanted to keep soaring.

Some people take a short mission trip and have a great experience seeing God at work. They have a time of soaring. They want to keep repeating the experience.

There’s a time to soar.

There’s also a time to run.

Running isn’t quite as dramatic as soaring, but it, too, can be beautiful. I’m not talking about the slow motion close-ups of the faces of world class sprinters at the Olympics where you see their eyes bulging and their lips flapping. But the grace of a long stride and steady rhythmic movement of a good runner is a work of art.

We run more than we soar.

We run to work.

We run to school.

We run to the market.

We run to church.

We run to meetings.

We finally run home.

We wake up running and at the end of the day we go to bed with our legs still churning. We can identify with the words the Red Queen says to Alice in Through the Looking Glass:

Now, HERE, you see, it takes all the running YOU can do, to keep in he same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!

Running tires, but also refreshes. Running can also give a “rush” to the runner, if he makes it past the “wall” of pain in long distance runs. There comes a time when we get our “second wind” and can do things beyond what we thought possible.

We usually talk about soaring when we study this verse. We promise others that if they’ll just “hope in the LORD,” or as some translations say, “wait on the LORD,” they will soar.

Soaring is exciting.

Running is graceful.

Walking is so . . .


Walking is unglamorous.

Did you ever see the walking race in the Olympics? Race walking is ugly. It’s awkward. It looks painful. It’s extremely tiring.

For most of us walking is a last resort. We walk when we don’t have a car and the bus drivers are on strike.

When our bicycle is broken.

When we’re poor and insignificant.

Walking is slow.

Running gets you somewhere faster.

Soaring gets you there fastest.

But there are times when we don’t soar.

There are times when we can’t run.

There are times when it’s all we can do to walk. When we’re tired and weak, walking is the best we can do.

John Claypool was one of Baptists’ leading preachers in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He knew what it was to soar in the pulpit. Then his ten year-old daughter was stricken by leukemia. He tirelessly ran everywhere seeking whatever prayer or other means of healing might save her. Finally, as he could only sit and hold her hand as her life slipped away, he made these observations regarding this last part of Isaiah 40:31:

Now I am sure that to those looking for the spectacular this may sound insignificant indeed. Who wants to be slowed to a walk, to creep along inch by inch, just barely above the threshold of consciousness and not fainting? That may not sound like much of a religious experience, but believe me, in the kind of darkness where I have been, it is the only form of the promise that fits the situation. When there is no occasion to soar and no place to run, and all you can do is trudge along step by step, to hear of a Help that will enable you to “walk and not faint” is good news indeed.

There are some places we have to walk.

Places where we can’t soar.

Places where we can’t run.

Places where we need this good news.

It’s interesting that Psalm 23 doesn’t say, “Yea, though I soar over the valley of death.”

It doesn’t say, “Yea, though I run through the valley of death.”

It says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of death, thou art with me.”

It is as we walk in the depth of the valley of death that the presence of God and the protection of His rod and staff becomes real to us. When we walk through the valley of death, it is only God’s presence that gets us through.

I think it would be safe to say that most of us seldom soar.

We do some running.

We spend a lot of time walking.

Often, for a lot of us walking is a major accomplishment. We can’t identify with the imagery of soaring on wings of eagles. We feel more like we’re being preyed upon by hungry eagles.

We not only can’t find the energy to run, we no longer even want to run. The things that have had us running no longer seem important.

We’re ready to quit.

Drop out.

Go to bed and not wake up.

If we saw a big truck coming at us as we crossed the street, we wouldn’t even try to dodge.

We’re past tired.

We’re ready to faint.

Isaiah’s message is for us, the walkers.

Those who hope in the LORD will walk and not grow faint. We can make it through the valley.

God does not promise that we’ll always soar or even run.

He does promise to be with us, comfort us and protect us as we walk.

Remember what God said to Jacob as he fled from Esau?

“I will be with you.”

Remember what Joseph discovered in Egypt, even in prison?

God was with him.

What did God promise Moses when he sent him to risk his life challenging pharaoh?

“I will be with you.”

Jesus is known as Emanuel. What does Emanuel mean? "God with us."

I remember when I was in high school. There was a song made popular by Gerry and the Pacemakers, I think. People argued whether it could be sung in church or not. Listen to the song’s words:

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark
At the end of a storm is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark
Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Tho' your dreams Be tossed and blown
Walk on..
Walk on..
With hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone

If the hope in our hearts is hope in the LORD, we can boldly sing this song as a hymn anywhere. We don’t walk through the valley alone. Those who hope in the LORD never walk alone.

They walk with God . . .

and never faint.

Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

The LORD is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,

and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary

and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the LORD

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31 [NIV]

Soar when you can.

Run when you must.

But always . . .

Hope in the LORD and . . .

Walk on!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Parable of the Loerie

Once in Southern Africa there lived an old man with three sons. One day the household was running out of firewood and the man sent his oldest son to the forest to gather wood. After a short time the son returned home without any wood.

"Why are you home so soon, my son? Why don’t you have any firewood?" asked the old man.

"When I got to the forest someone called out to me, ‘Go away!’" replied the son. "So I’ve come back home with no wood."

The father was very upset. He didn’t understand what had happened and was disappointed in the actions of his son.

The next day the father sent his second son to the forest to gather firewood. The father and his other two sons waited the whole day for the return of the second son. Finally, after the sun had set, the second son arrived at home. He had no firewood.

"Why are you so late, my son? Why don’t you have any firewood?" asked the old man.

"Well father, when I arrived at the forest I, too, heard someone call out ‘Go away!’" said the son in a hoarse voice. "So I replied, ‘No! I won’t!’ Then the voice again said, ‘Go away!’ and I said, ‘No! You can’t make me!’ And we argued until it was almost dark and I decided to come home."

The father was more upset and puzzled about what was happening. The need for firewood was now desperate. The next day, early in the morning, he sent his youngest son to the forest to gather firewood. Just after noon the youngest son returned home with a huge load of firewood upon his head.

The father and his two older sons gathered around the youngest son as he lowered the firewood to the ground in front of their house. They began to question him excitedly.

"How did you gather so much firewood so quickly?"

"Didn’t you hear the voice?"

"How did you get permission to enter the forest?"

The younger son replied, "Yes, I heard a voice call out ‘Go away!’ when I reached the forest. I looked to see where the voice came from and saw a "go ‘way bird"* in a tree. I told myself, ‘I’m not going to be ordered around by some dumb bird. I’m going to obey my father.’ And so I just went into the forest and found plenty of firewood and here it is."


*The Grey Loerie of Southern Africa is known as the "Go away bird" because of its call that sounds like "go-WAY." Hunters hate this bird because it alerts other game when a hunter approaches."

(photo from Ian Sinclair's Field Guide To The Birds Of Southern Africa)

Monday, February 19, 2007

Plan? What Plan?

Republicans continually demand that Democrats produce a plan for winning the war in Iraq whenever they challenge Bush's increase in the number of troops serving there. "Where's your plan?" they ask.

Bush led the nation into war and has directed the war for almost four years. He has yet to produce a plan for victory. He cannot even settle on one consistent reason for invading Iraq. He will not define "victory" nor will he provide any benchmarks for measuring progress toward "victory." His "plan" is to recklessly continue on a course of action which has already costs thousands of innocent lives, brought increased instability to the Middle East and enhanced recruitment by radicals and terrorists for violence against US citizens at home and abroad. Republicans (and Democrats, also) should heed the words of Jesus:
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
(Luke 6:41, 42 NIV)

Plan? What plan?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Clean Politician?

I've been interested in response to Joe Biden's description of Barak Obama as "clean" and "articulate." I guess during my years in Africa I lost touch with the lingering racial stereotypes and sensitivities clouding minds in the USA.

When I heard Obama described as "clean" I thought, "Praise God, at last a clean politician!" (My own stereotypes are being revealed.) In a city full of "dirty politicians," one "clean" one would be an answer to prayer.

Then I heard complaints about Obama being described as "articulate" when Clinton and Kennedy are described as "eloquent." Again, the connotations of the words seem to be different for me than for the critics. I understand "articulate" as indicating an ability to clearly and concisely communicate ideas so that their content can be well understood. "Eloquent" indicates to me, speech that is verbose, entertaining but often without meaningful content. "Articulate" indicates substantive communication whereas "eloquent" can be a way of covering up lack of substance or even border on obfuscation. One becomes eloquent when he has nothing to say or wishes to respond to a question without really answering it. (My own sensitivities are again revealed.)

So, for me, "clean" and "articulate" are high words of praise for Barak Obama. May he live up to that standard. We need that.

[Heard about two guys walking by a cemetery where they saw a tombstone with the words: "Here lies ---- an honest man and a great politician" One fellow turned to the other and said, "I didn't know you could bury two men in one grave."]

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Habakkuk: A Word For Today?

During sixteen years as a missionary in Zimbabwe, I became a Zimbabwean at heart. After leaving Zimbabwe and moving to Moçambique, I continued to follow events in my adopted heartland and mourn the devastation being wrought upon the land and people by unscrupulous leaders who set no limits upon the means they use to maintain and increase their power. Since returning to the U.S.A., I have discovered that I can listen on the internet to a radio station, SW Radio Africa, which broadcasts daily news to and about Zimbabwe. It is run by exiles seeking to inform their people the truth of what is going on in their country. The government has been very successful in controlling the news accessible by the majority of the people. Those who try to speak out from inside the country are silenced by being prosecuted under draconian laws, tortured or killed. These exiles also seek to provide messages of hope for an oppressed people.

I heard an exiled pastor offering a biblical word to the people of Zimbabwe on SW Radio Africa. He read this passage from Habakkuk:

How long, O LORD, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, "Violence!"
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.

(Habakkuk 1:2-4 NIV)

These words echo the cries of the people of Zimbabwe. Where is God in the midst of violence, injustice, destruction, strife, conflict and lawlessness?

Daily youths trained by the ruling party in Zimbabwe beat, rape and kill those accused of supporting the opposition. AIDS is not just a disease, it is a political weapon. Workers are evicted from their homes and jobs as politicians send thugs to invade commercial farms. Violence abounds.

Millions of people in Zimbabwe are starving. Starving because farms are no longer producing food. Farms are no longer producing food because the farmers and workers have been driven off the land and political leaders have taken the farms and allowed them to fall into neglect. "Landless blacks" have been given land of white farmers, but they have returned to the city because they have neither the desire to farm nor the skills and resources needed for intensive farming. Real black farmers remain landless unless they have the right political connections. A land that once fed its neighbors can no longer feed itself. Yet the leaders get fatter and fatter. "Destruction and violence are before me."

Injustice abounds. The government and ruling party ignore laws they don’t like. High Court judges have fled from the country in order to save their lives after ruling against government violations of the constitution. The police refuse to aid victims of political violence. When victims report crimes to the police, they are arrested for creating a public disturbance while their attackers dance in the streets. "Justice is perverted."

Those who oppose the current rulers are helpless because they strive to remain law abiding and refuse to return violent act for violent act. The just man suffers for being just while the unjust is rewarded as a result of his unjust acts.

And so the people of Zimbabwe pray the words of Habakkuk:

How long, O LORD, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, "Violence!"
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?

Throughout 2002 and 2003 I felt that I was living in stereo. On one channel I was bombarded with the acts of Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe Africa Nationalist Union - Popular Front) destroying my adopted home. On the other channel I was buffeted by the actions of the leaders of the International Mission Board and the Southern Baptist Convention, my spiritual home. Daily I reflected upon the parallels between the actions of Mugabe and the leaders of the IMB and SBC.

It is now 2007 and I’ve been re-adjusting to life in the USA for about three and one-half years. Now I feel as if I’m living in surround sound. The current Bush administration displays this same hunger for power and disdain for those who question his actions. George Orwell’s 1984 is coming to life. And I’m left with the words of Habakkuk:

Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.

All I can do now is pray Habakkuk's prayer, also:

LORD, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD.
Renew them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

(Habakkuk 3:2 NIV)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Fundamentalism or Peripheralism? -- Conclusion

Fundamentalism or Peripheralism?

So, are those commonly labeled as “fundamentalists” really defining themselves according to the three fundamentals from which spring the rest of our Christian doctrines, or are they rather founding their faith and practice upon peripheral issues even when they may be contrary to one or more of these fundamentals?

It does not take long to realize that these so-called “fundamentalists” are really more concerned with codifying their way of living out the implications of the biblical fundamentals described above. They forsake the absolute command to love and seek to substitute as an absolute their selective and subjective interpretation of Scripture. They refuse to obey the direct command of Jesus, thereby rejecting his Lordship. They refuse to live as he did, thereby denying that God raised him from the dead.

Many of the issues raised by the “fundamentalists” are valid. Many of their responses are widely accepted and, in fact, may appear self-evident to most of us. However, they are interpretations of the way Christian fundamentals should be lived out, and are not the fundamentals themselves. When these interpretations become the identity defining issues, those who find their identity in them can not be correctly regarded as “fundamentalists.” They are “peripheralists.”

I would suggest that true fundamentalism does not exist. We are all “peripheralists” to some degree. As we seek to understand and live out our confession and creed and to bear the mark of the Christian, we all drift into preoccupation with peripheral issues.

Unless –

Unless we have each other.

It is only as we tug and pull against those opposite us on the concentric circles of “peripherality” that we are held and drawn back to the centering fundamentals of our common faith. Old railway engines had a counterbalance on the wheel to which power was applied from the engine. Without such a counterbalance uneven application of power would destroy the wheel and axle. With a counterbalance opposite the point where power was applied, the force was centered on the axis preventing damage and loss of power.

When we isolate ourselves based upon conformity of belief and practice as defined by peripheral issues, we cut ourselves loose from the God-given, God-mandated fundamentals of our faith and cease to worship the Creator. We substitute ourselves and our understanding for God and His Wisdom.

In the interest of accuracy let us cease to use the terms “fundamentalism” and “fundamentalists.” Instead let us more correctly refer to ourselves and those opposite us as “peripheralists.”

And for God’s sake, as well as our own, let us hold firm to the confession that Jesus is Lord and the belief that God raised him from the dead even as we cling to one another in love.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Fundamentalism or Peripheralism? -- Part 4

The Fundamental Mark of the Christian - Love For One Another

By this all men will know that you are my disciples,
if you love one another.
John 13:35 (NIV)

Love for one another is the only biblical mark of the Christian. Orthodoxy does not identify the true disciple of Jesus. Orthopraxis does not identify the true disciple of Jesus. Love for one another is the only way the Christian is distinguishable from those who are not Jesus’ disciples.

Love is the dominant theme in the New Testament. It is the most explicitly enunciated commandment of Jesus for his disciples. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12 NIV) “This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:17)

The epistle of 1 John is accurately described as a “love letter:”

“This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.”
(I John 3:11 NIV)

“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” (I John 3:14 NIV)

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (I John 4:8 NIV)

“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (I John 4:11 NIV)

“And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (I John 4:21NIV)

Dorothy Day echoes I John 4:20 when she says, “I really only love God as much as I love this person I love least.”

The Apostle Paul makes it quite clear in I Corinthians 13 that apart from love, nothing in the Christian life really matters. If we fail to love, all of our right belief and right action amount to nothing.

In the messages to the churches in Revelation, the angel praises the church at Ephesus for their orthodoxy and orthopraxis. However, they are reprimanded for having “forsaken your first love.” (Rev. 2:1-6) They had lost the defining mark that distinguished them from those who were not true disciples of Jesus.

Madeline L’Engle recounts the story of a child in Sunday School who was asked, “Who are the pagans?” The child replied, “The pagans are the people who don’t quarrel about God.” L’Engle raises the question, “Why are Christians no longer known by how they love one another, but rather by how they vilify and sometimes hate each other?”

Unfortunately, lack of love largely characterizes the so-called “fundamentalist” wing of the Southern Baptist Convention. Public pronouncements regarding those who differ with them on convention governance often evidence more venom than love. Statements regarding those outside their fold are more often than not vicious and hateful. This also holds true for the “Religious Right.”

Philip Yancey has observed that “Grace dies when it becomes us versus them.” We may substitute “love” for “grace.” We cannot love one another while segregating ourselves on the basis of peripherals.

Loss of love for one another is a result of preoccupation with the “peripherals” rather than the “fundamentals” of the faith. Lack of love for one another is a denial of the lordship of Jesus, for it is a refusal to obey his direct command. Lack of love for one another is a denial of the resurrection of Jesus because it rejects his life as the standard by which his disciples live. Regardless of the words that come from our mouths, where there is no love, there is no Christian profession of faith or affirmation of the unical Christian creed of the Bible.

Love for one another is a non-negotiable fundamental of the Christian faith.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Fundamentalism or Peripheralism? -- Part 3

The Fundamental Creed of the Christian - God raised Jesus from the dead

Historically, Baptists have held firmly to a non-creedal position. (This position is being challenged and redefined today.) We reject the enforcement of required statements of belief formulated by men. In fact, though, we do affirm the one biblical creed which Paul identifies as definitive for the Christian. Once again we turn to Romans 10:9-10 for a concise formulation of our “creed.”

That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
Romans 10:9-10 (NIV)

Our word “creed” comes from the Latin word for “I believe,” credo. In a sense, whenever we say “I believe something,” we are pronouncing our creed. This belief is a commitment from the depths of our hearts, our innermost being, the giving of our very lives. It is not simply intellectual assent.

The essential belief, or creed, for the Christian is the belief that God raised Jesus from the dead. Once again this formulation is more filled with meaning than we often are aware. The most obvious intent of this statement is to affirm the resurrection of Jesus. He was dead and is now alive. This then leads to an affirmation of the hope of resurrection for the Christian.

However, if we stop with this we have not fully believed with our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead. There is a life-transforming “more” to this statement of belief.

To the God-fearing Jew of Jesus’ day, his death on the cross was a judgment by God upon his whole ministry and life. It was a negation of his teachings and conduct. It was a demonstration of the superiority of Roman power and the theology of the Sadducees and Pharisees (the “peripheralists” of the day?). The resurrection of Jesus by God was an overturning of that interpretation of Jesus’ death. It was an affirmation not only of a future life, but it was an affirmation by God of the totality of Jesus’ life, ministry and teaching.

When we believe in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead, we are committing ourselves totally to obedience to his commands. We are committing ourselves unreservedly to following him wherever he may lead, living a lifestyle indistinguishable from his. It is in the living of these days that we move to the peripherals, “working out our salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil. 2:12)

(to be continued)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Fundamentalism or Peripheralism? -- Part 2

The Fundamental Confession of the Christian - “Jesus Is Lord”

That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
Romans 10:9-10 (NIV)

In Romans 10:9-10 the Apostle Paul is very clear. The fundamental confession of faith of the Christian is “Jesus is Lord.” There are not multiple headings and sub-headings. The simple confession “Jesus is Lord” is sufficient. Everything is included in those three words.

This confession is more profound and full of meaning that it first appears. In fact, it is so significant that in I Corinthians 12:3 Paul tells us that, “. . . no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”

When the devout Jew encounters the Holy Name of God while reading the Scriptures, he does not attempt to pronounce it even to this day. Instead he says, “LORD.” God is LORD. The confession “Jesus is Lord” is an acknowledgment of the divinity of Jesus. It signifies acceptance of Jesus’ statement, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9 NIV)

This confession also acknowledges the Christian’s relationship to God as encountered in Jesus. Jesus is Lord. We are but servants. In this confession we accept our role and pledge our obedience to God as revealed in Jesus. We pledge not to try to manipulate God to our own ends, but, rather, commit ourselves to serve Him in whatever way He chooses to use us. We cannot pick and choose among the commandments Jesus gives.

When we make this confession, we enter upon a lifetime of struggle to understand God’s will for us as revealed in Jesus and to live it out fully in our world today. All our peripheral concerns are but attempts to apply this confession to our lives as we “see through a glass darkly.” (I Cor. 13:12)

(to be continued)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Fundamentalism or Peripheralism? -- Part 1

We hear much today about fundamentalism. We watch TV news accounts about Muslim fundamentalists who are responsible for suicide bomb attacks in Israel and anti-western (especially anti-American) terrorists attacks world-wide. We read of Hindu fundamentalists who destroy mosques and burn Christian missionaries alive in cars. We are aware of so-called Christian fundamentalists who espouse racial warfare and violent anti-government resistance in the U.S.A. These groups all have in common a willingness to use violence to destroy their enemies and to inflict their views upon the world.

There are others, also identified as fundamentalists, who are less eager to engage in physical violence to impose their will upon the world. They do share the same hunger for power and a conviction that their chosen ends justify whatever means are necessary for their achievement. This hunger for power and willingness to suspend adherence to commonly accepted standards of moral behavior (e.g., truthfullness, respect for differences, liberty of conscience, etc.) are common denominators among those commonly referred to as “fundamentalists.”

The question at hand is whether this term, “fundamentalist,” accurately describes these groups. They tend to share another common characteristic. All of them seem to define their identity around beliefs and practices that are NOT truly fundamental to their religions. They appear to select certain peripheral tenets of their tradition which they proclaim as the absolutes by which they define orthodoxy. If this is true, wouldn’t they more accurately be described as “peripheralists” than as “fundamentalists”?

As a Christian, I am unqualified to test this hypothesis regarding Muslim or Hindu beliefs. Therefore, I will limit myself to testing by Christian beliefs.

At the most central and basic core of Christian faith are three issues:
1. What must one confess in order to be a Christian?
2. What must one believe in order to be a Christian?
3. What is the identifying sign that indicates that one is a Christian”

We can respond to these questions under the following headings:

1. The Fundamental Confession of the Christian
2. The Fundamental Creed of the Christian
3. The Fundamental Mark of the Christian

(to be continued)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Clifford Hoff Memorial

Today a memorial service is being held at Olivet Baptist Church in Honolulu for Clifford Hoff who passed away on 16 January 2007. Pastor Hoff played an important role in the lives of many in Hawaii, California and beyond. He baptized my wife, Kathy, and married us. He encouraged and guided us in our 20+ years of mission service in Africa and continued to support us after our return to the U.S.A. in 2003. The following is my tribute to Pastor Hoff.

Clifford Hoff will be widely remembered for the great number of church leaders he inspired and discipled and for whom he provided a primary role model. His influence reaches around the world as they teach others as he taught them. I join in honoring him for that aspect of his ministry.

However, for me, the defining memory of Pastor Hoff's ministry occurred one Wednesday night at UABC [University Avenue Baptist Church, Honolulu] when he stood before a small group of exhausted church members struggling to arouse attentiveness for the message of challenge and encouragement they expected. Pastor Hoff looked us over and said, "I see a lot of you are really tired tonight. Don't feel bad if you fall asleep. That will be God's gift to you."

A pastor giving his blessing to those who fall asleep during his message? Unheard of! But Pastor Hoff was more concerned with the needs of his people than with impressing them with the great message he had worked so hard to prepare. That moment defined the ministry of Clifford Hoff for me. He always sought to minister to those in need. I am convinced that his most glorious crown in heaven comes as a reward for the numerous "failures" he never gave up on or rejected. The alcoholic who kept falling off the waggon. The emotionally disturbed person who always came to him with the same problems. Those who wanted to grow as disciples, but somehow seemed never to make progress. The ones so many of us reject as hopeless or as embarrassments to our ministries. Pastor Hoff always continued to encourage and console.

To me, Clifford Hoff is the incarnation of Jesus' words, "Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these, you have done it unto me."

To God be the glory!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Let George Pay

Congress is faced with the dilemma of how to limit Bush's escalation of the war in Iraq without harming U.S. troops by cutting off funds. Bush has now asked for several billion dollars additional funding for the war outside the regular budget over the next two years. What should congress do?

Let George pay!

Congress must provide all funds necessary to provide U.S. troops with the resources needed to maximize their safety. They should do this by redistribution of funds budgeted, not by giving additional funds. Let those who choose to pursue the course of war pay the cost.

I suggest the following as starting points for finding funds for the troops. Reduce the budgets of:

  • White House Operations -- Cut staffing and entertainment expenses as a beginning. There are many luxuries that can be eliminated.
  • Camp David -- Close Camp David for the duration of the war.
  • Air Force One -- Keep the president at home on the job. Fund only travel absolutely necessary for the national (not political or personal) welfare.
  • White House Security -- Bush has sent hundreds of thousands into harm's way. Let him contribute to their protection by accepting a higher degree of personal danger himself.
  • Post-Presidential Perks -- Bush has indebted the nation for years to come. Let him help repay that debt by giving up the extensive office expense account former presidents receive. Let him give up the medical and retirement income ex-presidents receive and pay his own way like the tax paying public does.
  • Remove tax breaks for those profiting from the war -- This bears investigation whether related to war funding or not.

These cuts would not provide for the total budget needed to adequately provide for those serving in Iraq. But they provide a path to finding other cuts.

If Bush truly believes that his chosen path is right, he will be willing to sacrifice personally to follow it. If he is unwilling to personally pay the price . . .

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Say "NO!" Now

Nixon invaded Cambodia illegally without congressional approval and expanded the Viet Nam war to the detriment of all involved. Don't let Iran be Bush's Cambodia. Congress must act immediately to prevent a repeat of history. Increased Middle East conflict will bring even worse results than what was experienced in Southeast Asia. Bush is laying the groundwork for another invasion. What can congress do?

Congress should state clearly that Bush cannot start a new war without congressional approval. Only congress has the power to declare war. The authorization to invade Iraq cannot be used to justify attacking Iran. They must make it clear that should Bush illegally start a third war, impeachment proceedings will follow immediately.

Bush likes to bully the leaders of other nations, dictating what they should or should not do and promising dire consequences should they not behave as he wishes. Let congress speak to him in the language he is accustomed to using. Maybe then he'll listen. (Though I'm doubtful.)