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The Power of Revival

I did my Doctor of Ministry degree at Asbury Seminary. Part of the reason has to do with an experience of a friend of mine who went to college there and an experience he had. On February 3 1970, the students gathered for chapel as they normally did. The service was scheduled to last for one hour. Instead, it lasted for 185 hours, 24 hours a day for a week. It began with a time of testimony in which one student after another came forward to talk about their Christian life. Gradually, students and faculty members found themselves weeping. People formed small groups in the chapel and began to confess their sins to one another, ask for forgiveness, pray and sing. The President of the Seminary, Dr. Kinlaw, was out of town and both fearful and skeptical about what was happening. When he returned, he went to the chapel, which seats 1500 people. Before he left, he was convinced.

My friend remembers people praying all night in dorm rooms, confessing sins, and sharing deep hurts with one another. News of the revival traveled around the nation, and people flocked to little Wilmore, Kentucky. When the service was over, students from Asbury shared their story in other places, and sometimes revival broke out there as well. Many of the students who were present went on to become pastors, missionaries, and church leaders. Those who were present testified that they could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. Dr. Kinlaw put it this way:

“[Y]ou may not understand this, but the only way I know how to account for this [the revival] is that last Tuesday morning, about 20 minutes until Eleven, the Lord Jesus walked into Hughes Auditorium, and He’s been there ever since, and you’ve got the whole community paying tribute to His presence.”

Here I am, Send Me.

This post is a look at the events of Pentecost with an eye to the renewal and revival. If you are not a Christian, you may be wondering, “What is Pentecost?” Pentecost is fifty days after Passover. The Jews celebrate it as the “Festival of Weeks.”  The Festival of Weeks celebrated the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai, which was thought to have occurred fifty days after Passover. The symbolism of the coming of the Spirit at the Festival of Weeks is important. On Sinai, God gave the law to Moses. At Pentecost, God gives the Spirit that enables us to fulfill the Law because we have been given new hearts, as the prophet Jeremiah foretold (Jeremiah 31:33).

Here is the way it is described in Acts 2:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tonguesas the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:1-12).

Promise of the Spirit.

Acts begins with the resurrected Jesus meeting with his disciples. For forty days after the resurrection, Jesus spoke with his disciples (Acts 2:3). One time when they were together, Jesus told them not to leave the city of Jerusalem but to wait for a gift—the Gift of the Spirit God would give them (v. 4). John the Baptist foretold that while he, like your pastors, baptized people with water, the Messiah would baptize with the Holy Spirit (v. 5). The disciples thought that Jesus might be telling them that the Kingdom of David now would be reestablished (v. 6). Jesus told them they were not to know the future (v. 7). Going on, Jesus promised that they would receive the power of the Holy Spirit; and when they did, they would witness to him in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (v. 8). Then, Jesus was taken up into heaven, after which two men appeared and promised them that Jesus would return (vv. 9-10).

There is a temptation to think that God needs help from us to accomplish his will. This is especially true of those of us who are by nature active, busy, and inclined to the view that “God helps those who help themselves.” While it is true that God often helps those who help themselves, this truth can blind us to a greater truth: All real progress comes from God and is based on the promises of God.

In the Old Testament, the prophets often judged the Jewish people because they tended to seek alliances with other nations, and especially with Egypt—a nation that had enslaved them (Isaiah 30:1-3). God does not want us to rely on our programs, our abilities, or ourselves. He wants us to rely on Him. As we pray for our families, our friends, our colleagues at work, and our neighbors, even about our own hopes and dreams, it helps to remember that, in the end, what happens is in the hands of God.

Preparation for the Spirit

After Jesus ascended to heaven, the disciples gathered together in the Upper Room in Jerusalem and for a period of days prayed constantly (Acts 1:12-16). Along the way, they discerned that they needed to replace Judas Iscariot who had betrayed Jesus and committed suicide (Acts 1:26). [2] Of course, the most important thing they did was pray.

As you can imagine, many people wondered about what caused the great Asbury revival. At least one skeptic wondered if somehow the administration and faculty had manufactured it. Here are some facts. First of all, there have actually been several revivals at Asbury. In the instance of the 1970 revival, as the President noted in his comments, there are always people praying for revival at Asbury. It is a Christian school and there are many charismatic students present as well as strong Christian children of Methodists and others. In addition, several months’ earlier, groups of students began praying for revival. They were usually groups of six, and each group of six recruited others to pray. They did pray for revival. They also prayed for one another, for forgiveness for sins, and for all those things for which people normally pray. [3]

Some years ago, there was a famous revival in Wales. The Welsh Revival was a part of the greater Methodist revivals of the 19th Century. Once again, there were faithful preachers preaching and faithful people praying for revival. One evening, a young man who had received a mighty calling from God went to his own church. He asked a few people to stay after the meeting and visit with him. He asked them to pray. Here are the specific things he asked them to do:

  • First, he asked them to confess their own sins and ask for forgiveness from God.
  • Second, he asked them to remove from their own lives anything that was not in accordance with God’s will.
  • Third, he asked them to be totally yielded to the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Fourth, he asked them to publically declare their faith in Christ.

There are things that preceded true revival: and prayer, confession, repentance, changed lives, and sharing the Gospel are the most central elements of all.

Proof of the Spirit

Revival and renewal by the power of the Holy Spirit is a tricky thing. Being Americans, we want a kind of visible proof. We think that revival would mean our church would grow; our lives blessed financially, our families healed and the like. These things do happen. However, they are not in themselves proof of God’s presence with a group of Christians. The proof is lives changed. The proof is people changing their lives.

At the end of this chapter of Acts there is a short description of what happened next. First of all, about 3,000 people were saved on Pentecost (Acts 2:41). Second, we are told that something just as wonderful happened. Acts 2:42 and following records:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47).

The proof of revival is a return to simple Christian faith. The proof of revival is deep fellowship, including table fellowship among Christians. The proof of revival is wonderful, unusual, healings occurring—things we cannot explain. The proof of revival is a new generosity. The proof of revival is changed lives.

Where Do We Go from Here?

A lot of Christians are worried about the state of Christianity in America just now.  Here is what I hope we can remember from this post:

  • First, we have a promise from God that he will send his Spirit if we wait and pray.
  • Second, we know that God only sends his Spirit in response to prayer, confession, changed lives, and changed behavior among Christians.
  • Third, we know that we await that moment when God pours out his Spirit upon our congregation.
  • Finally, we know what to look for—Changed Lives and our first of all.
  • Amen.

[1] A Revival Account Asbury 1970 The Forerunner (March 31, 2008). My account is based on this article at www.forerunner.com/forerunner/X0585_Asbury_Revival_1970. Dr. Kinlaw’s story is on U-Tube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qOqitIKUNs.

[2] People often have questions about this vignette as well as about why it was necessary and if it was a mistake. Almost certainly, the disciples felt that their number (twelve) symbolized the renewal of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Therefore, it was necessary that someone be elected to replace Judas to return the number to twelve. Those who believe they acted unwisely generally believe Paul (Saul of Tarsus) was, in fact, God’s choice to complete the twelve.

[3] It is a bit more complicated than I have recounted. I suggest anyone interested hear Dr. Kinlaw’s 37-minute explanation of what happened at the U-Tube site mentioned above.

I Like Ike

“ A Man’s wisdom gives him patience; it his glory to overlook an offense” (Prov 19:11).

Do you see a man skilled in his work?  He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men” (Proverbs 22:29).

I like IkeIn just a few days, we will celebrate the 70th anniversary of D-Day. In this post, I am honoring the soldier who led the invasion of Europe.

Along the journey of life, we all need a few heroes. I was born in 1951, just before Dwight David Eisenhower became President. I remember 1956 and “I Like Ike” buttons. His smiling, confident face was the face of America during my childhood. A few years ago, I decided to read a bit about people who made the 20th Century what it was for better or for worse. Winston Churchill was probably the “Man of the Century,” since he was an important figure in World War I, World War II, and in the postwar period. He was a politician, leader, writer, historian, painter, and general Renaissance Man. His biography is worth reading.

My personal favorite, however, is Ike. Ike was born in Texas but grew up in Kansas. He embodied those virtues we connect with small town mid-America. He was hard working, straight-forward (unless he was bluffing in poker, politics, or war), and one of the greatest managers who ever lived. Military historians and theorists argue about his generalship. I only note that he was the leader of the greatest successful amphibious invasion in history. He led the greatest army of our history in the successful defeat of one of the most evil regimes in human history—Nazi Germany. The decision to launch D-Day was one of the most difficult decisions of the World War II. Whatever his critics say, Ike’s deeds speak for themselves.

While at West Point, Ike injured his knee. It was disappointing. He could not play football or baseball as a result. During World War I, he never made it to Europe. He was too useful training soldiers for combat. After the war, he spent many years as a staff officer, including difficult years as the Chief of Staff for Douglas MacArthur. He once noted that he spent a lot of time “Studying acting under MacArthur,” who was a difficult boss. By the late 1930’s, he was convinced he world retire as a forgotten Lt. Colonel. He never retired. Generals of the Army are on permanent active duty. (It is little known that, after he retired as President, he gave up his presidential retirement and was reinstated in his military rank. He was buried in a simple military uniform with his insignia of rank. Although he reached the highest office of the land, he thought of himself as a soldier who became President. )

IkeAs interesting as his military career is, this post is about his character. Why was Ike, out of all the generals of World War II elected President? What made him different?

First, there is that button, “I Like Ike.” Eisenhower was likable. People liked him because he liked people. While he was a soldier, his home was often called, “Club Eisenhower.” He was popular, affable, and friendly.

Second, Eisenhower had natural grace. Unlike Patton and MacArthur, who grew up sophisticated and privileged, Ike was from a humble, almost poor background. Nevertheless, he was a gentleman.

Third, he worked hard. His capacity for work was legendary before and after World War II. As President, he often hid behind an image of an almost out of touch grandfather. Those who served under him knew different. He was a master at hiding his true influence. (A habit some contemporary politicians might emulate.)  He was a wonderful manager of people, situations, armies, and institutions.

Fourth, he was a shrewd judge of people and situations. He was a great poker player, so good that he gave it up at times where it would have hurt his career. Many of the people he worked with were difficult and some more powerful than he was. Nevertheless, he prevailed because of his ability read people and situations.

Finally, he never let his ego get in the way of what was best for the group. Patton, Montgomery, and other soldiers were sometimes disrespectful and tried his patience, but he never let his personal irritation interfere with what was best for the nation.

Ike was not perfect. His temper was legendary. As a soldier, he sometimes sought solutions to international problems that today we would regard as flawed. None of that matters as far as his character is concerned. He was a great human being and a great American—a hero worth emulating.

Ike at WarSome years ago, I ran across two magazine covers. On the cover of one was Ike in his military uniform at the end of the war. On the other cover was the picture of one of the then most powerful people in America. Ike’s face was that of a man who worked hard, dared the odds, faced adversity, and succeeded after a life of preparation, work and adversity. His was the face of a man. The other was the face of a common politician whose fundamental character was even then suspect. Both men served as President of the United States. Only one was the face of a person of character.

What do Wisdom and Golf Have in Common?

I am a bad golfer. This is not surprising, since I seldom play golf and never practice. While I was in High School, my brother and I played golf just often enough to learn the basics of the game. I never played in college. Since college, I have only played occasionally in tournaments for various charities or church events. Even my closest friends do not like to play with me because I am terrible. My failures as a golfer are all traceable to a series of defects: I don’t regularly think about golf, learn about golf, practice golf, or play golf.

Golf is a skill, not a science. A person has to play golf to be good at golf. A person has to play with a variety of other people, watching how they play the game and learning from them. A person has to practice driving at a driving range. Most of us need lessons from someone who has played longer and is better than we are. We call these people “Golf Pro’s.” They are really good, so good that they can make a living playing and teaching people to play golf. When you do take a lesson with a Golf Pro, you don’t go into a classroom. You go onto a golf course or a driving range.

Life is a lot more complicated than golf. Therefore, it should not surprise us that the primary way Americans train young people to face the challenges of life—sending children to school—does not work well. Going to school gives a person mental skills and head knowledge. It does not teach a person how to play the game of life successfully. In order to learn to live successfully, we need to be mentored by someone who has lived life successfully. Ideally, that person would be a parent, grandparent, or other person who loves us deeply and is willing to put up with our foolishness and failures until we can take care of ourselves.

TwoBoys-golfChildren, especially, need more than teachers. They need “Life Pro’s.” Along the journey of life, we all need to be mentored by “Life Pro’s” from time to time. We need to play the game of life for a time with someone who has played longer than we have played, is a better player, and can show us how to play the fame of life successfully.

We all need mentors: in business, in family, in child-raising, in saving for retirement, and in every other area of life. Trial and error, as important as it can be from time to time, is not a good way to learn how to live. The problem with trial and error is that there are a lot of errors we can make. Some of them ruin our lives for a long time or even forever. A person who repeats every foolish behavior of human history in order to learn how to live will almost certainly never attain a happy life.

Just to give two examples: it takes the average woman five years to recover from a bad marriage and divorce—if they do recover at all. Assuming there were a few unhappy years before the divorce and for a period of time after the divorce life is hard,  the average divorcee will suffer over ten percent of her life just as a result of a bad marriage. Better to have avoided the entire experience.

In our church, we have ministered to more than one young person who ended up psychologically damaged as a result of a bad drug trip. Better to avoid mind-altering drugs altogether. (I try to avoid politics, but this casts grave doubt upon with wisdom shown by those states that are legalizing such drugs.)

Wisdom literature and the historic manner in which  most children were raised until the modern era were based upon this  insight: Children need to be mentored by prior generations so that they do not repeat the foolish life damaging, happiness destroying mistakes past generations learned to avoid.

Copyright 2014, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

Respecting the Ancient Paths

Thus says the Lord: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it’” (Jeremiah 6:16).

Hear, my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many. I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness. When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble (Proverbs 4:10-12).

Recently, the American Secretary of State got into trouble on a trip to Africa with the following comment, “This is a time here in Africa where there are a number of different cross-currents of modernity that are coming together to make things even more challenging. Some people believe that people ought to be able to only do what they say they ought to do, or to believe what they say they ought to believe, or live by their interpretation of something that was written down a thousand plus, two thousand years ago. That’s not the way I think most people want to live.” In these words, Kerry reflects both the strengths and the weakness of modernity and its prejudice against traditional societies and beliefs. I think he did this unconsciously; and as a Catholic Christian, I think he probably did so without any intention to denigrate Christian faith.

The modern world began with the Protestant rejection of Church tradition as a source of religious truth separate from Holy Scripture. It was not ling before the suspicion of modernity was turned upon Scripture itself. By the dawn of our post-modern era, the critical fervor of modernity had been turned towards every source of authority. Among moderns and post-moderns traditional wisdom is used only to support what we choose to believe on other grounds, including personal inclination. The results have been chaos.

On the other hand, a mindless traditionalism can lead to a rejection of reason and of the entire notion of progress. A mindless tradition rejects any attempt to move beyond a current cultural, moral or religious state. Can a life be crafted that finds a moderate spot between these two extreme positions? I think the answer is “Yes.”

Traditional wisdom does not necessarily mean “traditional prejudice.” It can and most of the time does mean, “Respect for the accumulated experience of the human race.” This kind of respect is not a dead respect, never questioning, never asking questions of context or proper adaptation. It is a respectful listening for those who have gone before. It means seeing ourselves as having inherited a tradition, a culture, and a moral tradition that we both live within and adapt to our environment. It means understanding that those who went before us faced many of the same problems we face, and we do not have to repeat their mistakes.

imagesThere is a line in the movie Groundhog Day that sticks in my memory as an illustration of the importance of traditional wisdom. Having discovered that he relives Ground Hog Day over and over again, Phil decides to take a drunken drive on railroad tracks, saying “It’s the same thing every day, Clean up your room, stand up straight, pick up your feet, take it like a man, be nice to your sister, don’t mix beer and wine ever, Oh yeah, don’t drive on the railroad tracks.” As he swerves onto the tracks, one of his drunken companions says, “Phil, that’s one I happen to agree with.” Modern people want to follow only the rules that they happen to agree with at the moment. Unfortunately, the moral universe does not work that way with the result that the modern and post-modern people are often trapped in perpetual adolescence.

Our only escape is to recover a respect for the old paths. Interestingly, when we do recover this respect, we find  a new, richer, creativity and life than we could every have discovered if we had remained trapped in perpetually relearning lessons a thousand generations of human experience have already validated.

The Moral Power of the Resurrection

By the end of the Second World War, Germany was in chaos. For a time, the parents and family of Dietrich Bonhoeffer did not know whether he had lived or died. There were conflicting reports. Eventually, however, it became known that he had been killed. So tragic was his death, and so many were his friends, that on July 27, 1945,  three months after the end of the War in Europe, a memorial service was held in London. His friend and leader in the British church, Bishop Bell, preached at the service. Here is just a piece of what he said:

He was quite clear about his convictions, and for all that he was so young and unassuming, he saw the truth and spoke it out with absolute freedom and without fear. When he came to me all unexpectedly in 1943 at Stockholm as the emissary of the Resistance to Hitler, he was, as always, absolutely open and quite untroubled about his own person, his own safety. Wherever he went and whoever he spoke with—whether young our old—he was fearless, regardless of himself, and with all, devoted his heart and soul to his parents, his friends, his country as God called it to be, to his church and to his master.

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Bell ended his sermon with the words, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.”

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer was about to be executed, the prison doctor happened to see him. Years later, he penned this description:

I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer … kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.

Bonhoeffer fearless hope extended to the gallows and the grave. Bonhoeffer had a resurrection faith, faith that whatever might happen in this world, God is in control and can be trusted to vindicate his people in this world or the next.

When the disciples experienced the resurrection, they were changed. Before Jesus died and was resurrected, the disciples often misunderstood his message and mission. After the crucifixion, they fled and went into hiding. Then, the women returned with the news of the empty tomb, and Jesus appeared to Peter, then John, then to those on the road to Emmaus, then to the Twelve as a group over a period of forty days, and finally to as many as 500 followers (See, I Corinthians 15:3-8). After this experience, the disciples were filled with courage and with hope for the future.

Scholars compare this behavior to that of other followers of charismatic leaders once they die or removed from leadership. Ordinarily, people fairly quickly return to their prior pattern of life. In many cases, the process is almost immediate. The members of the Sanhedrin thought that Jesus death would result in a scattering they had experienced before where there were Messianic claims. Our soldiers and others in Germany after World War II experience the rapidity with which Hitler and the Nazi’s had very few followers. The same dramatic decline in support was experienced after the death of Stalin. In the case of Jesus, his influence over his disciples seemed to grow, not diminish, not just immediately but for the rest of their lives, and even during periods of heavy persecution.

The resurrection makes a difference. The resurrection is both a symbol and an assurance of hope. It means that this life is not all there is. It means that our defeats and discouragements are not the end. It means that we can know that God is for us, even if the world and circumstances seem against us. It means we can have courage and hope. We can stand up for what we believe to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Remembering Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“If anyone would come after me, he or she must deny themselves, take up a cross and follow me” (Mark 8: 34, author’s paraphrase).

“When God calls a man, he bids him come and die”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship). (In what follows have been primarily guided by Eric Metaxes, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet Spy (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 504-534).

Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-R0211-316,_Dietrich_Bonhoeffer_mit_SchülernThis past Wednesday was the sixty-ninth anniversary of the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Easter Sunday 1945 came on April 1st. By April 1945, World War II was nearing its end. East of Berlin, the Russian Army was beginning its final thrust. To the West, Allied armies had crossed the Rhine River and were barreling towards the Elbe River, which was their final strategic objective. At Buchenwald Prison, the thunder of American artillery could be heard in the distance. The war could not last much longer. If only the prisoners could hold out a little longer, they would live. Some time that day, it was announced that certain prisoners, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer, would be leaving. Two days later, sixteen people left in a wood-fed van. Smoke filled the back of the van, nearly suffocating those on the journey. In Berlin, the diaries of Admiral Carnaris were discovered on April 4th. The diaries contained information implicating Bonhoeffer in the conspiracy of high-ranking German intelligence personnel to kill Hitler and make peace. Hitler was incensed, and set in motion the events that resulted in Bonhoeffer’s death.

On April 8th, the Sunday after Easter, Bonhoeffer led the little band of prisoners in a worship service from the Isaiah 53, As Bonhoeffer finished the service a Gestapo officer entered with the words, “Prisoner Bonhoeffer, get ready to come with us.” These words always meant an execution. He said goodbye to his fellow travelers with a final word, “This is the end. For me, the beginning.” He was executed the next day at Flossenburg Prison. He was thirty-nine years old at the time of his death.

Years earlier, Bonhoeffer wrote a book entitled, The Cost of Discipleship. In it, he coined the phrase, “When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.” In April 1945 that phrase came true for the young man who had returned to Germany years earlier to share the suffering of the German people and work for the overthrow of the evil regime of Adolph Hitler.

Bonhoeffer’s life and death are a testimony to the unfortunate truth that the blood of martyrs nurtures the church’s life. At the time he died Bonhoeffer was a promising young theologian with a brilliant future ahead of him. World War II interrupted that brilliant future. His friends knew that he was more than a brilliant theologian. They saw a man of exceptional faith and character who had returned to Germany to share in the suffering of the German people, despite the fact that he had been taken from Germany because he was in danger as a perceived enemy of the Nazi Party. Had Bonhoeffer not returned to Germany, fought the Nazi’s party, been imprisoned, and died, he would today be remembered as a brilliant, little read, German theologian. His courage and willingness to suffer made him a martyr to the Christian faith and a person of international, intergenerational influence among Christians and others.

In The Cost of Discipleship when Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die,” he means that the cross is the place where we die to ourselves, our agendas, our plans, our hopes, our dreams, our needs, our wants, in order that the world in which we live and work may be given new life. We die to ourselves when we begin to live for others. We are crucified when we begin to sacrifice our own plans, programs, ideas, needs, etc. for the plans, programs, ideas, and needs of others.

When Bonhoeffer speaks of cross bearing, he makes an important point: God never forces us to carry a cross. Cross carrying is different from the consequences we suffer for mistakes or because of the evil others do to us. These things are not cross bearing. They are the results of the fact that we live in a fallen world. Cross bearing comes when we voluntarily put to death our personal desires and agendas in order to do the will of God. Here is how Bonhoeffer describes this moment of decision: “When the disciples are half-way along the road of discipleship, they come to another cross-roads. Once more they are left free to choose for themselves. Nothing is expected of them, nothing forced upon them. So crucial is the demand of the present hour that the disciples must be left free to make their own choice…..” (Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer had a choice whether he would return to Germany where he was already seen as an enemy of the Nazi government. He had a choice as to whether he would continue to speak out against Hitler. He had a choice whether he would work for German intelligence carrying messages to the West from the German resistance. Each of those choices entailed an increasing risk of the death he eventually suffered. He chose to bear the Cross of Christ in Nazi Germany. God did not force him to do it. Nor will he force us.

Copyright 2014, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

The Importance of Parents

“My child, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare they will give you” (Proverbs 3:1-2, NRSV).

In the movie, “Star Wars,”  Obi Wan Kenobi, tells Luke to “trust his feelings” as he attacks a death star. Most young people didn’t question this at all. Those who, for example, flew bombers in World War II or jets during Viet Nam have no memory of trainers telling them to trust their feelings. What you were supposed to do is learn to use the targeting mechanism and do it well according to instructions. In fact, one of the most important things that pilots learn is to trust their instruments not their feelings.

Unfortunately, this line from Star Wars exemplifies a huge problem in our culture – the idea that major lifetime decisions are to be made on the basis of feelings not reason. This flies in the face of all human experience throughout most of human history, where wise people have urged humans not to follow their feelings but to develop good judgment and become wise.

Throughout most of human history people did not think that children naturally became competent adults or ladies and gentlemen without discipline, knowledge and training. In the Judeo Christian tradition, from ancient times, it was taken for granted that children would not naturally develop life skills, they would not naturally learn wisdom, and they had to be trained. To become an adult, and especially a virtuous adult, required training in the skill of the virtuous life. Today, too many people believe that children can naturally just by following their instincts, become competent to meet the challenges of life. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Just this week, as a pastor, I confronted the tragedy of children growing up without a father and a mother to help them learn what it means to be an adult. Such young people are often angry and at a loss concerning what to do in difficult situations. In contemporary America, some of them end up poor, homeless, alone, struggling to achieve the happiness and fulfillment every human being desires without the help every human being needs.

Obi Wan did not give Luke the best advice. A better piece of advice would be, “Don’t trust your feelings until you have learned to discipline your feelings with experience, logic, and the advice of others who have gone before you. After a long apprenticeship in the school of life, you will be able to trust your feelings because your feelings will have been trained to instinctively lead you wisely.” Sometimes, good advice is a bit more complex than a catchy phrase.

Copyright, 2014, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

Why Am I Writing This Blog?

There is a proverb that goes: “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death” or as I memorized it a lot of years ago, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov 14:12, NIV & KJV). The proverb is a warning that we can only trust our human judgment so far. Human judgements, especially where human pride, desire, or brokenness are at work, are often poor. We need to maintain a healthy humility and skepticism concerning radical ideas, thoughts, and proposals. We need only look at some of the tragic failures of 20th Century political regimes to know that this is true. To a lot of people the rantings of Hitler and the strong-arm tactics of Stalin seemed entirely reasonable. It took a few million deaths before everyone could see the truth.

imagesOur culture is based upon an unreasonable trust in human reason. The leaders of the so-called Enlightenment distrusted tradition, religion, faith, and institutions like the Church. Coming from the Middle Ages, this may not have been an entirely bad idea. Unfortunately, human pride being what it is, it was not long before the Age of Reason became the Age of Arrogance. Today, we are in the Age of Arrogance Taken to Extreme Foolishness.

Kant’s dicta, “Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own reason!” was the motto of the Enlightenment. Unfortunately it  is now often used by those who seek an unreasoning rebellion against the wisdom of the past, against legitimate authority, against the entire experience of the human race, and even against reason itself. People everywhere conform to the latest intellectual and other fads on the notion that they are thinking for themselves, when in actuality they are simply following everyone else into the age of unreason.

We do not need to retreat to the Middle Ages, but we do need to recover a respect for tradition, for traditional wisdom, for faith, and for organs of society, like the Church, which preserve a tradition through centuries. It does not take more than a glance at the daily news or a bit of thought about much of what the media proclaims to see that this is the case.

This blog is dedicated to those who are journeying through life and desire to find the Path of Life along the way.  I hope that it is helpful.

Blessings to all,

Chris

Avoid a Meaningless Life

Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, NIV).

Ecclesiastes begins as if David’s son, Solomon, was giving us his final conclusions after a long, successful life. What did he learn? He begins with the conclusion: “Everything is meaningless, nothing matters” (Eccl 12:8). As the book goes along, we learn a bit more about what is meant by the phrase “everything is meaningless”. In the end, everything this world can offer in the way of physical success is meaningless, because this world and all of our achievements in it are doomed to pass away. What matters is love. Human relationships are what matters.

Near the middle of the book, the writer tells us that all of our efforts and achievements are to satisfy our natural desires. Unfortunately, our desires are never satisfied (Ecc 6:8). Here we have the ultimate commentary on our culture. All our work, all our scheming, all our attempts to get rich, comfortable, or satisfied by pleasure—they all fail to bring the true happiness our hearts desire, because they are all doomed to pass away.

Not so long ago a friend retired from a job after years of success. She spoke to me about the many visitors who came by her office to talk and give best wishes for the future. She ended our talk by saying, “Everything they mentioned was small and personal. Not one of them was a business achievement. People remember you for the small, personal things.” Wisdom remembers to take time for ultimately important things.

Copyright 2014, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

The Lesson of Solomon’s Life

These are the proverbs of Solomon, the Son of David, the King of Israel (Proverbs 1:1).

Three wisdom books, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon, bear some mark of having been written by or inspired by Solomon. The Bible describes Solomon as the wisest person who ever lived. Certainly, he was the wisest of Israel’s kings. The reason Proverbs begins as it does is to alert the reader to the fact that this is no ordinary book. It is a book of wisdom inspired, written, or collected by the wisest human being who ever lived.

Solomon’s life is both and inspiration and a warning. Solomon was a patron of the wise men of Israel while alive and remembered as a supporter of wisdom literature after his death. His personal wisdom in ruling Israel and in judging disputes was legendary. Every school boy and girl knows the story of the two women who disputed over who was the real mother of a baby and of Solomon’s order to cut the baby in half so that he could see the reaction of the true mother (I Kings 3:16-28).

On the other hand, Solomon was unwise in his choice of wives, in his selfish desire to satisfy every craving of this heart, and in excessively taxing Israel. He was not a great father–or at least he raised a foolish son. Ultimately, he was unfaithful to God who gave him his wisdom, his wealth, and his power.

His life is, therefore, both an inspiration and a warning: wisdom is important, but it is not everything. The deepest wisdom is not a wisdom of the mind, but of the heart. Only when our heart is fully centered on God can we become wise. Respect for God is not just the beginning of wisdom. It is the condition of its development, continuation, and growth.

 

Copyright 2014, Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

Pass It On

There is an older praise song entitled “Pass it On.” The one thing Jesus asked us to do was to pass the faith along (Matthew 28:19-20). The most important people to which we pass our faith is our children. In our society, this is becoming more and more difficult every day.

“It only takes a spark to get a fire going,
And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing;
That’s how it is with God’s Love,
Once you’ve experienced it,
Your spread the love to everyone
You want to pass it on.”

Reflection on Psalm 133

God intended the world for shalom (peace). The LORD intended us to experience peace with God, peace with each other, peace with creation, and peace within our own hearts. When we find that peace, “How good and pleasant it is” and “There the blessings of the Lord are” (Psalm 133). When we find that peace, we have found the Kingdom of Heaven.

Beginning the Journey on the Path of Life

“A deep respect and awe for God is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs 9:10, GCS).

In every discipline there is a kind of “first principle,” something we have to get right at the very beginning or everything else will go wrong. In golf, for example, if you don’t hold the clubs the right way, no matter how hard you try you will not ever get your swing absolutely right. In the case of wisdom, our attitude towards God comes first. If we don’t get that right, we will never be wise.

In most translations, Proverbs 1:6 and 9:10 begin, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom….” The Hebrew word translated fear has multiple connotations, and “fear” is its most natural translation. Unfortunately, most people in our society do not think of “fear” as a positive emotion. We especially don’t think fear should motivate our obedience to God.

In my translation I have used the term “deep respect and awe” to describe the attitude towards God that ends in wisdom. God is infinitely more powerful that we are. God is infinitely wiser than we are. God is infinitely more loving, kind, and caring than we are. Such wisdom should cause us to respect God, obey God, love God, and put God first in our thoughts and actions. It is at this point that we are ready to receive the wisdom of God.

This Blog is designed to explore wisdom and leadership–how it is we move from one state of being in the world to a better state. The posts will deal with some aspect of wise living and wise leading. I normally do not comment on current events unless they lead to a clearer understanding of the necessity for wisdom in life, in community, and in leadership.

Copyright 2014, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved