Monday, February 11, 2013

Thoughts on Miscellaneous Topics

[This collection of thoughts on miscellaneous topics first appeared in a series of random thoughts on Facebook. They are collected here and will be edited and expanded throughout 2013.]

1. Children seek a wisdom that avoids pain and provides pleasure. Youth seek a wisdom that provides a map into the future. The mature seek a wisdom that addresses the challenges of the present. The wise seek a wisdom that shines light on the past, present and future so that heritage, struggle and destiny may be seen as a seamless garment. JDJ

2. While Christ is just as present in the palace and the halls of politics as in the shanty and the ghettos of the disenfranchised, you will not likely hear His voice there among the proud and the powerful. He has little to say where there is no inclination to hear him. He has little desire to compete with power and prosperity for the attention and reverence He deserves. You will find him most easily where His name is called upon with sincerity, and that will most often be among those who most know they need Him. JDJ – Posted from Haiti where I have found many who know Him.

3. (Reflection on Haiti) Poverty is a full-scale war on human dignity. The Haitian people are ongoing proof the human spirit can by the grace of God win that war. In the face of natural disaster, political corruption, a crumbling infrastructure, and a degrading social environment, they carry themselves with poise and present themselves with an air of mutual respect.. JDJ

4. I have heard scholars say they write in order to clarify what they think or to better know what they believe. I can identify with those statements; writing forces me to tie up loose ends in my reasoning and to find creative ways to better express my thoughts. However, I also write not just to know what I believe but to believe what I know. Most of my writing is for me a form of prayer in which I rehearse those things I value and believe before God for His inspection and correction. In this discipline I attempt to structure my thoughts into a tabernacle of praise and a sanctuary from confusion, skepticism and unbelief. JDJ

5. Perhaps it is because of the mysterious process of learning to write that our concept of “word” loses its primal meaning. The exercise of converting our inner structure for expressing our reality into symbols and syllables, bits and pieces of shared language, divorces the meaning of words from the person who is communicating his or her truth. But in their most primal meaning words are always a gift of the self, a revelation of who we are that carries the imprint of our being wherever they go. Symbolic language is but the container for our words, our self-expression. Thus, a word is as true as the person who speaks it and a person is as true as the words they speak. JDJ

6. When I began my ministry 40 years ago, I thought that 40 years in ministry would make one a master of the seas of life. I was wrong. I have not yet mastered my life much less the complexities of life. I have discovered the secrets of survival in life and ministry, First, never lose your anchor – the Word of God. Second, never take your life vest off and always keep it in working order – the blood of Christ saves and sanctifies. Finally, never resist the direction the wind in your sails and the rudder in your spirit carry you – the Spirit will never steer you wrong. JDJ

7. In my youth I had a couple of flippant mottos concerning the present and the future. When asked about some responsibility, assignment or expectation of others, I might say “I’ll get to that … in 1982.” That got a lot of laughs but my wit lost its humor around 1979. When asked how I was doing, I would often respond “Just fine. I am going to keep on, keeping on until I can’t and then I am going to die and go to heaven.” Having had one bout with cancer, what began as youthful levity has now taken on new significance in my life. I no longer speak those words to others (OK, occasionally I might). But I do often find myself silently rehearsing them for myself. They are no longer words of denial; they are words of hope and destiny. I will keep on keeping on until I can’t, and then I will die, and by His grace I will go to heaven. And oh how heaven gets sweeter every day. In the words of an old song from my youth “I can almost hear trumpets, see the dead in Christ rising.” JDJ #87

8. I was a young minister and Lee College student when I gathered the nerve to show my mother a more excellent way. With my superior understanding of theology I had become troubled that she had a ceramic crucifix that hung on the wall of our house. I often saw her pray beneath that cross. Wise fool that I was, I asked her if she knew that the crucifix was a Catholic item and I instructed her that as Pentecostals we did not keep Jesus on the cross; We knew He was resurrected. She responded that she knew Jesus was resurrected, ascended, and seated at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, “but when I pray He is on that cross for me.” I confess I left that conversation feeling that I had failed to effectively communicate to her the fallacy of her thought processes. I also confess to you that it was my thought processes that needed correcting. She was right and I was wrong; Jesus is the everlasting sacrifice for our sins, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. He is the God who suffers with us and for us. He remains for all eternity both nailed to the cross in identification with us and victor over the cross on our behalf. Thanks be to God. – That crucifix now hangs on the wall in my home. JDJ #89

9. In one of my first ministerial positions there was a prominent member of the church who had for several years been a pastor. He was a thorn in my flesh. Every idea I had was belittled by him. At one worker’s meeting he said to me in front of the group, “those plans are worthless. They came out of one of your books and you should throw them all away and quit wasting your time going to college.” Although I kept my cool at the meeting, his criticism liberated my internal judgmental reserves. I was more than a little angry.

When I told my mother the situation, her response was not what I expected. Instead of sympathy for me she responded with the observation that he must have left the ministry out of a lot of pain and that I should be patient and gracious to him. With confidence I responded that “past pain is no excuse for his negative attitude.” She issued some abiding counsel, “Son you haven’t been hurt yet, not really hurt. When you have been hurt like he appears to have been, you will be a little more understanding of people like him.” She was a prophet and a sage; in the forty years since, I have experienced some pain with people. I believe it has made me more understanding, but it doesn’t seem to always work that way with others. In the words of Bud Braddock, the pastor of my childhood and youth, “pain will either make you bitter or better.” If you let it make you better you will be in good standing when you have to minister to the ones who let it make them bitter. JDJ #90

10. Someone has said “meekness is not weakness; it is strength clothed with humility.” At my mother’s funeral I reflected on those words as descriptors for her, observing they were missing an essential element. From her example I concluded, meekness is not weakness; it is strength wrapped up in humility tied with a bow of graciousness. She was as strong as steel (not to mention fierce the defense of her loved-ones), humble without an ounce of pretense, and joyful at every opportunity to bless someone. I miss her greatly. Ernestine O’Quinn Johns December 5, 1930 - March 30, 1998: my mother, my mentor, my teacher, friend to all, lover of God, possessed of the Scriptures, filled with the Spirit, the best theologian I have known. JDJ #91

11. I am a Wesleyan-Pentecostal. I am committed to my faith tradition and I believe I am reasonably aware of our strengths and weaknesses, as much as one can be about such things. One of the things I deeply appreciate is our openness to the hurting.  We believe divine healing is a provision of the atonement of Christ and that God heals today. Consequently, we tend to attract the wounded and we make room for them. And it is not just the physically infirmed who come, we have room for the mentally and emotionally troubled, the strange, those sometimes labeled the “crazies” of the world. Their presence among us and the value with which we hold them may contribute to the low esteem with which others hold us. Of late, I have come to suspect we attract more than our share of narcissists, those beautiful people who deep down know they are the center of the universe. We not only make room for them, we have a penchant for exalting them to lofty positions. I would that our critics understood these “stars” of our movement do not represent the heart of who we are any more than do “the crazies” among us. On the spectrum of mental disorders I hope we always have room for the misfits of society, but a little less room on stage for those whose early childhood experiences marred them into an inability to decenter. JDJ #107

12. One cannot secure one's place in history by the frequency with which one publicly recounts one's history. JDJ #119

13. I approach these thoughts like I approach my sermons. There are series and series within series. But I am always prayerful to say something that someone might need for that day, a word of instruction, or encouragement, or correction. Today, I have a strong sense someone needs to be reminded that God loves you and He knows all about your situation. And although He may be silent, He is not absent. He is there in the middle of the storm. And He is working to turn the evil that has overtaken you into something beautiful. The tapestry He is weaving into your life stretches into eternity where He shall forever be making something glorious out of all you have known. Your life is a symphony that shall never end. JDJ #148

14. It has been said that reputation is determined by what one does before others and character is determined by what one does when no one is looking. Let me further suggest that integrity is determined by how one acts without any regard to who is looking. He was not always right, and he freely admitted that, but no one more consistently did what he believed to be right than my father, James Ellis Johns -- June 16, 1924- July 3, 2003 -- and that to the best of his ability. Many proclaim themselves loyal, but who can find one worthy of trust? The righteous walk in integrity -- happy are the children who follow them!” Proverbs 20:6-7 NRSV   JDJ  #168

Over the years, I have written several pieces about my Dad. You will find them at the following links:

15. We live in an age when many are self-described as spiritual but not religious. There is a general openness to spiritual revelations/insights but a rejection of absolute revealed truth. In Christian circles this finds expression in an increasing emphasis on personal prophecy. At the same time there is a decreasing interest in the words of the Apostles and Prophets, the Holy Scriptures breathed of God. The Word of God exhorts us to desire prophecy but it also warns about false prophets who will deceive many. Any emphasis on prophecy that is not accompanied with an equal emphasis on trying the spirits is destined to create an atmosphere of deception. The Spirit of Prophecy is the Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Truth is the Spirit of discernment. We should seek prophecy but prophecy must be judged. And those judgments can only be done by the body of Christ through the Spirit and the Word. The Bible must be the lens through which we examine all other revelation. JDJ #203

16. One of the rare components of modern Christianity is accountability. There is a mindset of independence that permeates the church. We do not want to answer to anyone and so we foster an atmosphere of privacy and secrecy. But the Christian life is by its very nature a shared life. One of the byproducts of the Reformation with its emphasis on forensic justification has been that Protestants are inclined to interpret the entire Christian life through the lens of the courtroom. Accountability is thus primarily understood as being held responsible for our actions. Certainly we are responsible for our actions, but at the heart of accountability should not be judgment, evaluation, or punishment. Accountability should be considered a relational term; it is a core function of shared life. We journey together making it critical that we know one another and that we share the important truths about our lives; we must be open and honest about the state of our souls because the destinies of others are interwoven with our destinies. To hold someone accountable is not essentially an act of judgment; it is the process of reminding ourselves of the commitments we have made and the values/beliefs we hold, the terms and nature of our covenant to be the people of God. Accountability is nothing more than giving an account of the condition of our soul, telling our personal stories so that they can merge with the stories of others and the story of God’s people throughout the ages. JDJ #205

17. For a couple of millennium the ubiquitous question of Christianity was which church is the true church. Some preferring to be less exclusive asked the parallel question, which church is most faithful to what God intended the church to be? Which church best represents the church? Now, those questions seem passé. In our post-modern age the question has shifted to which church is the best church for me and my family, which seems to mean “which church do I enjoy attending the most?” To the extent this is true it indicates that Christianity has lost interest in actually being the church as the Body of Christ in favor of participating in church-like events. It is as if we have concluded that the divisions in the Body of Christ are best healed by the dissolution of the Body. We have lost hope our resurrected Lord has the power or the desire to constitute the church through us. As I read the Scriptures, my salvation is tied to the church. I am not as concerned with which church is best as I am with whether I will be found joined to His Body? I must live my life joined to an expression of the church that is bound together in covenant to be the church, to be faithful to what the Scriptures describe the church to be. By faith I must be joined to His church.  JDJ #207
[For parallel thoughts on this subject see my FB note from January 2009: ]

18. A growing trend of our day is to escape from denominational identity and if escape is not a possibility or practical, then hide the relationship in the small print of the by-laws. I first noticed this rush toward non-denominational identities in my own Church of God and our sister denomination the Church of God of Prophecy and thought it was an expression of our long-standing shame-based identity as the “holy rollers” from the other side of the tracks. But then I began noticing the trend in other denominations, those whose problems were not shame-based, like the Presbyterians. But when I began to see Southern Baptist churches dropping “Baptist” from their names I knew I was witnessing a seismic shift. It is not the shift toward generic names on our signs but what lies beneath this trend that bothers me; I suspect Western Christianity has forsaken any hope of being the church on earth. JDJ #208

19. I know the arguments for more seeker sensitive identities for our churches. We don’t want to run people away with our past before we get them in the door to discover who we really are. We don’t want to battle preconceived ideas before we get a chance to present the gospel, etc. And I hear my colleagues as they assure their congregations that it is just the name on the door that has changed, “We still believe the same truths and we still stand for the same Word of God.” But, do we? The loss of identity on our church signs is but the current step in a protracted journey toward generic Christianity. I suspect that long before the name changes, there has been a loss of doctrinal clarity in the pulpit and in discipleship materials. Prior to that, denominational leaders and the clergy in general emphasized numerical success over spiritual breakthroughs and examinations for ministerial credentials shifted from fidelity to the shared faith to mere awareness of the official creed and polity of the denomination. Let me suggest that the world does not need us to lose our identity before they will listen to us; the world needs for us to change our presence with them not our name. They need us to know better what we believe and to be faithful to what we believe. They need to see our faith in action. JDJ #209

20. Saving faith is simple but not simplistic.  Since the Age of Reason, Christians have worked to remove from the presentation of the gospel any unnecessary obstacles to salvation. The results have been a plethora of evangelism formulas, i.e., the Roman Road, Evangelism Explosion, Four Spiritual Laws, etc..  The objectives have been reasonable, summarize God’s plan for the salvation of people in terms that can easily be understood so as to elicit a positive response. Evangelism was reduced to a sales pitch. Why didn’t the Apostle Peter or Paul or John think of that? Perhaps it is because the Gospel is not a formula for salvation; it is the Person of Jesus Christ. And perhaps it is because conversion is not simply a change in thought processes, but rather a radical change in affections, orientations and relationships. Evangelism must not be modeled on simplistic apologetics for truth, as important as those might be. It cannot be reduced to mere mental assent to key doctrines in the revelation of Christ. The gospel is in fact a call to total surrender of the whole person to the Lordship of Christ. That call was never intended to be delivered in a dispassionate set of formulas. By its very nature it demands a presentation by living epistles operating in the power and the demonstration of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is not a response to a set of ideas, it is surrender to the convicting presence of the Holy Spirit accompanying the story of redemption.  JDJ #210

21. Just a Thought: One sign that Evangelical evangelism has gone awry is the disparity between our evangelism message and our discipleship message. Discipleship has become the “fine print” of the contract. We get people converted with the promise of a savior and then we try to convince them Jesus wants to be their Lord as well. But since the contract is all about grace, Lordship is obviously an option, one they can grow into. But in the Gospels the call to be a disciple of Christ takes precedence over the call to accept Him as Savior. In fact, there is no call to accept Him as Savior. There are announcements that He is the Savior of the world and He does promise that He will save those who follow Him. But His call is not for us to accept Him as Savior; His call is for us to be His disciples, to take up our cross and follow Him. If we do that, and endure until the end, we will be saved (Matt 10:22; 24:13; Mark 13:13). Evangelism should include an invitation to follow Jesus Christ the Savior and Lord of all creation that we might know Him, be one with Him and share in His eternal life. JDJ #211
22. Another evangelism problem in much of Evangelicalism is the privatization of conversion. Simplistic formulas reduce conversion to a private contract between the individual and God. In many churches there is no longer an expectation of public repentance and confession, not even a symbolic walk down the aisle. But by their very nature repentance and confession are public acts; they cannot be actualized in private. There are several Hebrew and Greek terms translated as “repent.” Each of them indicates a radical transformation (turning, sighing, etc.) that is grounded in the innermost being (mind, attitude, disposition) and made manifest in conduct. The words translated as “confession” carry a parallel meaning. The core meaning is to speak in harmony with others. In the Scriptures confession is either about sin or faith. In the case of faith, confession is always of the shared faith. In the case of sins, confession is speaking the same about our sins as does the person/persons against whom we have sinned.  JDJ #212

23. The confession of faith is a verbal act of identifying with the faith once delivered to the church. It must be a public and truthful ownership of the faith. In other words becoming a Christian requires that we change our way of thinking and that we openly express that change. We must come to believe the revelation of God and we must declare that revelation. The early church struggled to identify the essential components of the faith and thus the creeds were born. The creeds identified those things that a person must believe in order to enter the Kingdom of God. A problem arose, not with the creeds themselves, but with their application. Confession (“to speak the same”) became confused with profession (“to speak forth”). The mere speaking of the words came to be considered sufficient evidence of faith. Cognition was confused with conversion. In essence confession became separated from repentance and transformation. The faith can be spoken without being owned, but it cannot be truly confessed unless it is first possessed. JDJ #213

24. Since all sin is against God, confession of our sins must be made to Him. We must speak the truth to God about who we are and who we have been in order that we might hear Him speak the truth about who we are becoming. But He also requires that we reconcile with those against whom we have sinned and such reconciliation also requires confession, the truthful admission of transgressions. This confession should be truthful while not causing further injury; care should be taken to not wound the innocent. I highly recommend that these confessions be given in the presence of a witness and accountability partner who is acceptable to both parties. Confession need not be exhaustive in details but it must be comprehensive in nature, i.e., the character and enormity of the sin must be expressed. Thus, the confession of sins must be at least as exhaustive and as public as is the knowledge of those sins. JDJ #214

25. When believers sin against others, they sin against that person or persons, and God. They also sin against the church. Thus, public sin requires confession before the church, or a representative body of the church. However, it must be remembered that this type of spiritual discipline is always toward reconciliation and must be directed toward the full restoration of fellowship. A church that allows besetting sins to go uncorrected, that is, a church that does not practice church discipline, cannot hope to disciple followers of Christ. Furthermore, a church that is unwilling to restore the fallen is not worthy of the name of Christ, for to reject those whom Christ has accepted is to reject Christ Himself. JDJ #215

26. Polity is the set of recognized and accepted rules by which a society governs itself. Politics is the utilization, or manipulation, of polity for the perceived good of society or for one of its subsets. Therefore, the fundamental question of politics is who gets to define “the good.” Within a democracy, the first principle of polity (as expressed in parliamentary law) must be that everyone has a right to speak and be heard when the good is being defined; the rights of the minority to speak must not be abridged. The second principle is that the majority rules. The majority defines the good. But democracy assumes that everyone will listen to all sides and weigh the strengths of the various arguments before a vote is taken. As Thomas Jefferson noted, a democracy is dependent upon an informed populace. Thus we have the primary reason why modern democracies are in trouble; the right of all to speak has no meaning without the responsibility of all to listen. Democracies cannot long survive when people cease to listen well to opposing views. JDJ #220

27. I will miss my Aunt Dot (Dorothy O’Quinn Daniels). She and her youngest son, John, both died on Tuesday of this week. I did not spend a lot of time with her, but I never spent time with her that wasn’t enchanting. She had a lot of trouble in her life and she faced it all with grace. She loved God with all her heart and carried His presence wherever she went. She also had the most phenomenal sense of humor. She could tell a captivating story and her comedic timing was impeccable. As a child, I loved it when my mother and her sisters got together. They would get into a rhythm of recollections laced with laughter reverberating into cackles. When it came to their anecdotal humor, Aunt Dot was the leader of the pack. Those were times of pure delight. With her departure, creation cries a little louder, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.” –JDJ   

28. Feedback is an important component of life. But I have been questioned about not responding to persons who disagree with my posts. In short, I find Facebook a poor medium for debate. In my estimation, debates on FB produce more heat than light. Consequently, I typically do not respond to opposing comments made on my posts. I truly appreciate all the comments, even the ones that are intended to be correctives. Those who agree with me are an encouragement. Those who share related thoughts provoke me to expand my horizons. Those who disagree with me give me more to think and write about. I am sometimes instructed, and occasionally driven to research. I almost always have a counter-point that may appear in a later “thought.” However, I have no interest in swinging imaginary swords of discontent against friend or foe. Please continue to respond to my posts as you wish. I’m still thinking and learning. JDJ #252
29. Following a recent chapel service at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary, I was standing in the aisle talking with Dr. Bob Crick when a young visitor approached us, introduced himself and asked who we were. After he left Dr. Crick laughed a stated, “It wasn’t that long ago that everyone knew who we were. Now, we are just a couple of “has-beens.” To which I responded, “That’s why I’m standing with you Bob. You are a real “has-been;” I’m just a “has-been-who-never-was.” Anonymity has its benefits. For one, it allows me to post my thoughts on FB without concern people will get too out of shape by what I say. JDJ # 290

30. Thelma Merritt Bridges, my mother-in-law, breathed her last breath yesterday at about 4:20 P.M. Two of her grandchildren, Alethea and Joshua, were at her side holding her hands as she stepped out of this veiled existence. Only our memories hold her to this world. She was a private person who did not like to speak of her past and so my memories are limited to forty years of personal contact. I know the following about her. She was born on September 1, 1916 on a farm near Powdersville, South Carolina. She was a third generation Pentecostal, a life-long member of the McNeely Memorial Pentecostal Holiness Church. She grew up in a time when being Pentecostal wasn’t cool. Her first husband, Harry, died suddenly after ten years of marriage. Her second husband, Sam, was a disabled WWII veteran and the father of her four children. Her oldest child is my wife, Cheryl, who was believed by Thelma to have been the result of a divine healing. She has been widowed for twenty three years. Her only son died before his 40th birthday. I could supply more details, but these capture some of her life struggles. What I know of Thelma is that she was a woman with a determined spirit that helped her counter deep pains and disappointments. Things had happened in her life that she refused to let govern her and so she was quick to take control of any situation that seemed to get out of her control. I always wanted to know the story or stories behind her temperament, but that was not to be. A few years ago, after her senility had set in, she looked deeply into my eyes and said, “there are things about me you don’t know. Things that happened a long time ago.” I asked her to tell me about those things but she would only respond, “not now, maybe later.” To my regret, “later” never came. One day we will know as we are known and none of our stories will bind us; they will instead sing of the beauty of God’s grace in every moment of our existence. JDJ # 311

31. I have read that in some ancient cultures it was said that one lives as long as one’s name is remembered. Names were etched inside of caves to extend that memory. Today they are etched in stone placed above the earthly remains of the departed. In my childhood-culture one’s name was a synonym for one’s character, “don’t bring shame on the family name.” We were often exhorted to have “a good name.” “You want a good name, don’t you?” I have come to think of our “name” as the symbol of the entirety our lives; our name is the summation of our story and our story is the structure and content of our life. Our character is both shaped by and wedded to our story. Our very existence flows through our story. The promise of God is that we shall know as we are known. Our life’s story will be told in its entirety. But with that telling, all who are alive in Christ will be given a new name, one already written down in Glory. That new name will proclaim our story as seen through the grace of God. It will be a name worthy of a child of God. JDJ # 312

32. I cannot fully express the comfort I received from my family last week as we faced the death of Cheryl’s mother. Alethea Justin, Camdyn and Charlie drove from northern Virginia to South Carolina to be with Cheryl and Thelma as she made her final journey. Karisa, Johnmark, Tegan and Harper made the even longer journey from the western suburbs of Chicago. I was very proud of all of them as they ministered to Cheryl and Thelma. I shall forever remember the tenderness with which Alethea and Joshua (Cheryl’s nephew) ministered to Thelma as she was breathing her last breaths. My heart is warmed with the memory of Camdyn sitting in my lap and leaning her head against mine at dinner. She was comforting a weary Papa. Charlie and Camdyn made a bracelet for Thelma that matched the one they had given Cheryl. Camdyn also went shopping with Cheryl to pick out a dress for Thelma. Charlie was on his very best behavior seemingly sensing the significance of the gathering. He has a tender heart. Tegan and Harper were just a joy to watch as they scurried around and interacted with all. Karisa and Johnmark had a round trip of about thirty hours; traveling with two under three years old has to be a blast. I always marvel at Karisa’s calm, insightful counsel in difficult settings. She was a gift in a very difficult time. We are blessed with a wonderful and amazing family. JDJ # 314

33. There was a time when people took pride in the quality of their work. Today, there seems to be more concern with the quantity of our leisure time and price of our recreational toys. Work has become a dirty word. As God intended human existence, work is a beautiful thing. We were created for work, i.e., to tend to the garden. Thus understood, work is purposeful participation in God’s creative activity. The focus of our labors should be on the care of creation before it is on the care of self. We created to be stewards who were to be nourished by the overflow of our efforts; we were not formed from the dust of the earth to be lords who ravage what we do not own. Our work should be to provide and nurture rather than to possess. As designed by God, work renews the soul and makes merry the human spirit. Even under the curse of sin and bathed in pain and sweat, work offers for us the memory and hope of the garden. To be fully human is to glorify God in our existence, our relationships, and in the work we do. JDJ # 333

34. There is a debate taking place on Cheryl’s FB page (surprise, surprise) about Rosa Parks. Cheryl chose to honor Mrs. Parks for her valor in resisting unjust Jim Crow laws. Some took exception to her worthiness. Was she a heroine, a stooge, a willing participant in deception? (Note: I will delete any comments on Rosa Parks or any of the persons named herein.) It amazes me that we are so inclined to pigeon hole people. We want our heroes and we want our villains, and famous people need to be one or the other. Why is it so hard to accept that people are a complex mixture of good and evil? Long after her entry into national prominence, Rosa Parks was on the Board of Directors of the Planned Parenthood organization. Does that diminish her courage to resist the racism in which she had lived? Charles Lindberg was a vocal fan of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany prior to WWII; does that diminish his courage in flying solo across the Atlantic Ocean? Helen Keller was a member of the Communist Party; does that diminish her significance in world history as an author, lecturer, advocate and overcomer? Thomas Jefferson owned slaves and fathered children by at least one of them; does that erase the fact that he was arguably the most significant defender of personal liberty in human history? All of us choose our heroes and we choose to turn a blind eye to their flaws. All of the great men and women of history save One had feet of clay. None of them were as noble as their followers insisted. This ever present internal conflict of character is a testament to the freedom of choice, the power of sin and the omnipresence of grace. Only in Christ shall any of us attain unto perfection. JDJ # 334

Just a Thought: This “Thought” series was preceded by a brief series titled “Half Truths.” Today I have been thinking about another half-truth: “experience is the best teacher.” I have no idea where this adage originated. It certainly is consistent with the Enlightenment’s commitment to empiricism, which led to the idea that experience is the only teacher. Experience does teach and it is a critical component of all learning. But it is not the only teacher and is seldom the best teacher. It may be best at teaching us what pain and pleasure are, but it has little power to communicate the value of those sensations. The best teacher is the one who helps us make sense of our experiences, the one who coaches us through experience so that we neither see ourselves as victims of experience or masters of experience. They teach us how to monitor and navigate our experiences for good. The best teachers are those who help us understand that experience does not just happen to us like an uncontrolled force. Experience is the point at which we engage life, i.e., all that is within and beyond us. It is the portal of engagement. Thus, experience is fundamentally a relational concept. Experience is then the opportunity to learn, to know, to be connected with that which is outside of us. The best teachers are those persons who help us discern the meaning and significance of our experiences by helping us see beyond the experience to the source of the experience, the Person behind it all. JDJ # 473

Just a Thought: I am at the Church of God General Council meeting in Orlando. As I listened to our deliberations this morning I kept thinking of the old adage “a large ship cannot turn on a dime” and adding my on thought that this is especially true when the ship is locked into a circular motion by circular reasoning. Today, we debated a motion to amend the qualifications for ministers by adding a statement that we must “agree with and adhere to” the teachings and doctrines of the church. Someone rightly pointed out that if we adopted this wording we could no longer discuss the doctrines of the church even in a General Council meeting without fear of loosing our credentials. The “agree with” portion was dropped and the motion to “adhere to” passed with near if not total agreement. Immediately afterwards I leaned to my neighbor and whispered “I hope we all understand that we just voted to go home and start practicing footwashing in our churches.” Everyone get ready for am emphasis on “Social Obligation,” including a commitment to correct social injustices and care for the environment – the first of our Practical Commitments. I can hope, even if it is in vain. JDJ # 476

Just a Thought: Yesterday the General Council approved an agenda item that prohibited our ministers from performing weddings and civil unions under any circumstances other than the marriage of one man to one woman. It was a somewhat lengthy but well worded item that also instructed our ministers that when discussing this subject they were to do so in a manner that reflects the love of Christ. I believe it passed unanimously. There were however a couple of attempts to make minor amendments, but they failed. One motion to amend was made by my dear friend Dr. Dale Coulter who attempted to revise a clause requiring that ministers who perform such ceremonies have their credentials revoked. Dale’s substitution was to use the exact language already used in situations of adultery, which specifies that the credentials be suspended for a period not less than two years. I could feel the rejection of the amendment before he every spoke. The body liked the original motion just the way it was and resented any attempt to change it. The speeches against the change reflected more emotion than reason. By that I mean they were off topic having nothing to do with the discipline of an errant minister; instead they all focused on how we must take a firm stand against the tide of cultural acceptance of homosexual marriage. It was clear to me they had fixated on the words “revoked” and “suspended” believing the former to convey a stronger message. I sat there, literally with a headache, amused at the irony that Dale’s motion would actually make the revocation of the credentials more definitive, i.e., for a period not less than two years. In its current form, within our current polity, I believe any minister who has his or her credentials revoked for this offence could in fact have them reinstated within a matter of months if they jump through the right hoops in front of the right people. Sitting in the General Council sessions is highly frustrating for those of us with highly analytical personality types. JDJ # 477

Just a Thought: Another motion was offered to amend the General Council item forbidding our ministers from performing weddings or civil unions for gays and bigamists by adding the words “or baby dedications” to the list. Form some unknown reason the maker of the motion wanted it inserted between “weddings” and “civil unions.” As I listened to the debate my head throbbed with pain and simultaneously tingled with amusement. Most of the argument centered on “our” beliefs about baby dedications. [I will not take time to describe the debate surrounding an amendment to the amendment, which attempted to substitute the word “child” for the word “baby.” I will note that my good friend Dr. Ken Archer gave a passionate plea from Scripture that we must bless children and not punish them for the sins of their guardians.] The speakers seemed certain in what we believe; they just kept contradicting each other about what we believe. In truth, the Church of God has not defined the purpose and nature of baby/child dedications. This failed attempt to use them as a form of spiritual discipline for the unredeemed suggests we seriously need to have that discussion, but I truly fear the outcome if it is decided by our deliberative process. JDJ # 478
Just a Thought: In my doctoral program Dr. Findley B. Edge gave us an assignment to create an original educational philosophy that reflected our core beliefs in dialogue with the leading educational philosophies of the twentieth century. I titled my philosophy “Re-creationism.” The heart of my educational philosophy was/is that every generation must discover, interpret, and re-state truth for itself. Contra Traditonalism/Perennialism, truth can not just be handed down from generation to generation. Contra Pragmatism and Empiricism truth has its origin in God and not experience. Contra Essentialism truth is more than the selection of truths appropriate for our life situations. Truth lays claim to us; we cannot master it; we can be mastered by it and be partners with it. But, every generation must join in God’s creativity by discovering/interpreting/re-creating eternal truth as that which governs creation. [I did not state in the paper that for me truth is but a metaphor for the engagement of the Holy Spirit with creation, i.e., the Spirit of truth.] The critical issue behind my philosophy is the question of where one finds truth: the ancient texts of Traditionalism, the experiences of life as in Pragmatism/Empiricism, or the balanced appropriation of ancient texts and science for life experiences as in Essentialism. In my system truth can only be found in God, the God who continually speaks through the Scriptures, the ancients, science and creation itself. He invites us to join Him in His activity within and toward His creation, to join in His creative activity to shape the future. [To be continued…] JDJ #483 

Just a Thought: Modernity was hamstrung by a worldview that limited knowable truth to that which can be attained through sensory experience and reason. The Reformation had already rejected the Magisterium of the Catholic Church as being the primary interpreter of Scripture and with the aid of the modern printing press placed the Bible literally back in the hands of the people. Modernity gave the people a tool by which to “properly” interpret the Bible, i.e., scientific reasoning. Modernity also gave us progressivism and liberalism, an unbridled faith in social progress. Modernity then provided a counter balance in the rise of fundamentalism, making fundamentalism perhaps the last vomit of modernity, one which limits knowable “spiritual” truth to ancient texts interpreted through reason. It restricts truth to the application of science to the interpretation of the Bible. When confidence in modernity began to wane it was supplanted by post-modernity. In the place of a single road to truth, post modernity became lost in a maze of infinite paths leading to infinite sets of truths, making personal perception/intuition the ultimate filter for truth. While holding on to modernity as one layer of truth, post modernity opened a window to higher orders of truth. If the conservative Christians of modernity erred in limiting the voice of God to reason applied to ancient texts, the post moderns err in the dissolution of the voice of God within a cacophony of competing ideas. There is now a movement within Christianity that is seeking to hear the voice of God in venues other than Scripture: Church tradition, meditation, creative expression, and charismatic gifts, etc.. Many are relegating the Bible to a back seat in this paradigm. I regret the inevitable fundamentalist type reaction against them (such as the “New Reformed” movement) but I am also greatly concerned about any paradigm that does not revere the Bible as Word of God inscripturated. JDJ # 484

Just a Thought: Perhaps the most significant challenge for postmodern Christians is to hold firmly to the Bible as Word of God while letting go of the death-grip of the modernists’ hold on the Scriptures-as-test-tube. As I listen to those who are letting go of the Bible as Word of God, replacing it with liturgy, tradition, or charismatic experience, etc., I am struck with the thought they are throwing the baby out with the bath. They are rejecting the Bible as relevant and authoritative because they have only known the Scriptures through the lens of the scientific hermeneutic of fundamentalism cloaked in conservative Evangelicalism. They are rejecting the Bible because they pigeonholed it as a modernist document. If I am correct, how ironic is it that the most ancient of reliable texts is being rejected because of its association with modernity. Postmodern Christians must learn to read the Bible on its own terms; they must learn to let the Bible read them. This is only possible by the Holy Spirit as one falls more and more in love with the voice of God. They must read the Bible as…
Mysteries hidden from the angels
Written in the lyrics of mere mortals
In the whole and in each part
Intoning Your very heart
Every syllable a revelation
Alpha and Omega within creation

JDJ # 485


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