Wednesday, August 19, 2009

CHRIST ONLY HAS ONE BRIDE

Christ only has one bride, but how do we recognize her? Are all the ecumenical efforts being made the way to go or are too many compromises being made in the name of unity?
These are serious questions in my mind.
For example, when I look back at major Reformation leaders Luther, Calvin, and Wesley I don’t see enough common ground to form a union.
The same holds true for what is called the Restoration movement here in America first started by a break from the Methodist Church by James O’Kelly in 1794. Others involved in this movement were Barton Stone, Alexander & Thomas Campbell, and others. Like the Reformation, the Restoration movement is now split into different denominations and independent churches.
Do we stand firm on what we believe the Bible says or do we try to work towards a more unified front?
One argument goes something like the more unified we are the easier it is to get the world to listen to our message. The problem with this is it is not our message. The Gospel is a timeless message. It does not need to be changed or rewritten. It is good enough for all ages now and into the future.
My point is yes we should always be reaching out to all people in the same way our Lord did. With open arms and a compassionate heart, but we should not and can not compromise on the Gospel message.
Sitting in Wednesday night Bible study not long ago, the definition of the word Gospel came up. The answers were many and varied. So I guess I had better define what I mean by “Gospel message” when I say I don’t think it should be compromised on.
It is the message the women preached to the disciples when they returned from the empty tomb and told them they had seen the risen Savior. They preached the first Gospel message. The Gospel message to me is about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and the grace God is freely offering us if we have the faith to believe. On this message, I see no way to compromise for the sake of unity.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

THEN WHO IS?

How would you like to wait for six days in the emergency room for a bed in the hospital to open up for you? What if another sixteen people were on the waiting list and you had no idea when you would get a bed? To make matters worse, what if you had not agreed to be hospitalized, but were being involuntarily committed because of a psychiatric condition? Would you like to be told we are holding you and treatment is coming someday? This is a real situation happening to a real person in the county in which I live in North Carolina.
Sheriff John McDevitt of Burke County, NC is quoted as saying, “The real issue to me and the real issue that I think is being missed here is, six days ago this patient needed some mental health care and she certainly hasn’t received any mental health care looking at a deputy.” That quote was in the August 12, 2009 issue of The News Herald along with a picture of a deputy sitting in the hallway of the emergency room of Grace Hospital in Morganton, NC.
Sheriff McDevitt said Broughton Hospital (the state psychiatric hospital that happens to be located in this county) had “bent over backwards” so it was clear he was not blaming them. He said there were no beds at Grace, which is a community hospital, and none across the state in other state psychiatric hospitals.
This is not just a North Carolina issue. It is an issue across the country. It was an issue before the economy went south and now it is a real crisis.
My biggest fears are the cuts in children’s services. I am not saying adults, the elderly, and veterans are not important, but children’s mental health, substance abuse, and developmental disabilities programs are especially vital. They cannot fend for themselves at all. You say they have their parents. Not all of them do and even if they do that does not mean that early treatment is not still vital to their recovery journey. The long-term results of failing to respond to their needs now cannot be measured in dollars, but it will cost more then than now.
Eunice Kennedy Shiver who died this week was from a famous family that included her brothers President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy, and Senator Edward Kennedy. She founded the Special Olympics and the first games were held in Chicago in 1968 just weeks after the assassination of her brother Sen. Robert Kennedy. Her brother Sen. Edward Kennedy has spent many hours on legislation to help the disabled.
Faith communities must step up in this time of national crisis and stand with those with disabilities. Most being the poorest of the poor and the least able to take care of themselves. If this is not who Jesus ask us to reach out to then who is?

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

RECLAMATION

Usually to use a quote one would not do such a long introduction of the person they are quoting, but I want you to know something about the person who penned these words I am about to use. Henri Nouwen was an internationally renowned priest and author, respected professor and beloved pastor who wrote over 40 books on the spiritual life. Since his death in 1996, ever-increasing numbers of readers, writers, teachers and seekers have been guided by his literary legacy. Nouwen’s books have sold over 2 million copies and been published in over 22 languages. Born in Nijkerk, Holland, on January 24, 1932, Nouwen felt called to the priesthood at a very young age. He was ordained in 1957 as a diocesan priest and studied psychology at the Catholic University of Nijmegen. In 1964 he moved to the United States to study at the Menninger Clinic. He went on to teach at the University of Notre Dame, and the Divinity Schools of Yale and Harvard. For several months during the 1970s, Nouwen lived and worked with the Trappist monks in the Abbey of the Genesee, and in the early 1980s he lived with the poor in Peru. In 1985 he was called to join L’Arche in Trosly, France, the first of over 100 communities founded by Jean Vanier where people with developmental disabilities live with assistants. A year later Nouwen came to make his home at L’Arche Daybreak near Toronto, Canada. He died suddenly on September 21, 1996, in Holland and is buried in King City, Ontario. He wrote, “Receiving forgiveness requires a total willingness to let god be God and do all the healing, restoring, and renewing.”
Can we give the process over to God or do we need to control it by committee and hierarchy? We may be able to answer this question by looking at reclamation efforts down through the years. I call them reclamation because all of them do not fall under the Reformation.
Reclamation means the process of reclaiming or the restoration as to productivity, usefulness or morality. To explore this word even further some of its synonyms are renewal, rehabilitation, restoration, reformation, and recovery. Renewal, rehabilitation, and restoration give us the idea of returning someone or something to a satisfactory state of being. Reformation means redirecting the course from error to a proper focus and direction. Recovery calls to mind the concept of restoring something lost to its rightful place or making something or someone whole again by being on the right journey or path.
If you have ever seen a mountain being stripped mined, then you know what man can do to God’s creation with machines. The Appalachians, which may be the oldest mountain range in the world, are wounded in many places by mountain top removal to get at coal so we can have cheap energy. The coal companies are supposed to do reclamation projects, but you can’t redo the handiwork of God.
The Reformation was an attempt to reform or redo the church. In 2007, there was a 500-year celebration of when Martin Luther became a monk and when he conducted his first mass. This year is the quincentenary of the birth of John Calvin and again there is a celebration of the Reformation.
Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) was appointed pastor in Amsterdam upon returning from studies in Italy. Since it was a reformed pastor's custom to preach through a book of the bible, Arminius began with Romans. Three years later, he was up to chapter 7. The big theological point that got him in trouble was his belief that free will is found only in the regenerate, in those whom God has freed to know and obey him. Unbelievers remain in bondage to sin.
John Wesley and Charles Wesley both certainly made huge contributions to the idea of the church having the proper focus and direction. However, John Wesley’s support of Britain during the Revolutionary War did not help the growth of the Methodist church here in America during that period.
James O’Kelly an Anglican by birth and a Methodist by choice after a disagreement with Francis Asbury started what he named Republican Methodists. The group was primary in eastern North Carolina. The James O’Kelly chapel founded in 1794 still stands and lies a few miles south of Durham, North Carolina. It became know simply as a Christian Church in 1802. James O’Kelly is known as one of the fathers of what is called the Restoration Movement that has already broken into at least three groups.
What is my point? The church is so divided into denominations and independent churches saying they have “the truth” where is a sinner in need of the saving grace of God supposed to go? Where does one go for reclamation? Does the church need reclamation? Does Jesus even claim His bride? These questions need answers if we are truly going to do the work the Lord left us to do. We, the church, can either help folks on their journey towards the One we know or act in a way that they look at us in disgust and want no part of us. To be a haven for reclamation our lives must be a proclamation of God’s grace in us to a wounded world.