BLOG BY BOB HENDERSON

BLOG 4/7/20. “I WAS A STRANGER” (EVEN A MUSLIM?) “AND YOU WELCOMED     ME”

For generations, the Christian church has sent missionaries into the hostile culture of Islamic nations. It was always difficult, exacerbated by the memory of the atavistic and bloody episode of the crusades in the middle ages in which Islam and Christianity saw each other as enemies. Yet, there persisted the vision and passion of Christ’s ‘Great Commission’ at the heart of many in the Christian community, even with the antagonism between them culturally.

In more recent decades there has been more communication between the cultures, more economic inter-dependence, more conversation as the 20th century rolled into the 21st. More Islamic students began to come to the west for college and graduate school, creating sensitive Christian ministries for international students. But now, with the political, military, and economic turmoil in those Islamic nations there has been a growing tide of refugees and immigrants seeking a new life in our country, which produces a new challenge for the Christian church in these United States.

Put that on ‘hold’ for a moment. Let’s remind ourselves that God’s redemptive love in Christ is for the whole world. It is about a new creation, and a new humanity brought about by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is interesting, that even in Islam’s holy book, the Quran, the prophet Isa (Jesus) is given amazingly strong approval, at times stronger than the Prophet Muhammed.

All that said, we now have a flood of homeless Islamic refugees seeking citizenship in the United States. The Islamic mission field has come to us, to our shores. Ah! but with this flood has also come into being, from the conservative right-wing of our populace very vigorous anti-Islamic movement of frightening proportions (neo-Nazis, etc.). So, the question comes: What is to be the responsibility of the Christian church, whose mandate from its Lord is to make his gospel of the kingdom known to every kindred and tribe and people on earth? What re-examination of our own prejudices and misunderstanding of our church’s responsibility to the strangers and homeless that comes with our calling to be Christ’s disciples?

It certainly does not help to get into theoretical arguments. Rather, it is going to be by our good (humanitarian?) works, patterns of love and unselfish behavior that people can see. It needs to be the incarnation of Jesus teaching in Matthew 25:31 ff.: “Come you who are blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the earth. I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. … I say to you, as you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it unto me.”

And, to those who don’t? “Depart from me.”… it doesn’t help to equivocate that we have no contact with such strangers. There are remarkable agencies that give practical assistance, physical, legal, and heroic to these (Islamic and others) at great cost, that deserve our support. Don’t blow this off! These are the real people of the world that “God so loved that he gave us his only beloved Son …”

Pass the word along. Peace.

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BLOG BY BOB HENDERSON

BLOG. 4/3/20. ARE YOU READY FOR A MEGA-BLOG?

Blogs are supposed to be brief, pithy communications (which brief-ness many of us bloggers never accomplish). But given the fact that many of us are now in lockdown due to the coronavirus, and looking for something useful to occupy our time, … I thought that I would do something outrageous and post a mega-blog, … like recommending a book, that I wrote a couple of decades back, and which I have been re-reading this past week, and saying to myself: “Wow! Did I really write that? That’s really good stuff.” That sounds crazy, bit I am finding it a very positive and refreshing read. So, if you are looking for a fruitful way to pass some time, and can spare $25.00, here goes

It is a book entitled: Enchanted Community: Journey Into the Mystery of the Church. It is published by Wipf and Stock Publishers of Eugene, Oregon, or also available through Amazon. Like many of my books, it was provoked by my young adult friends who were struggling with their encounter with the church. In this one it is with a young graduate student who is altogether confident in his Christian faith, but stumbled by his encounter with the church. He is witty, insistent, sassy, mentally very sharp, and a delight to engage in conversation.

In the course of many times together, the whole issue of why the church exists? What is its message and mission? Its Biblical and theological roots? And its necessary role in God’s new creation in Christ? This guy challenges me, argues with me, … but is essentially on the same quest that I have been on during most of my adult life.

I am prone to think, as I am now reading it again, that it may be the most significant of the dozen, or so, books that I have written. It is also the first in what would become a trilogy. It would be a great study book for any group of thoughtful young adults seriously engaged in understanding the church of which they are participants.

So, there is my mega-blog. Take care. Stay safe. These are perilous and trying days.

Peace!

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BLOG BY BOB HENDERSON

BLOG 3.30.20. THE CHURCH’S WEEKLY CONFRONTATION WITH REALITY

A few years ago, I was fulfilling a summons by an organization within my denomination to put together a ministry of encouragement for our students and faculty in our theological schools. So, for about ten years I scouted-out these students and faculty in about fifteen different seminaries across the country, and visited them. I engaged in many fruitful conversations with the students, with faculty, and administrations. We even conducted several national seminarians’ conferences.

That opened my eyes to some realities that were quite disturbing, and significant unrealities in the whole theological education process. There were almost no courses in disciple-making, or ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church), or missiology (the study of the church’s missionary mandate). It also revealed that most of the faculty had never had any successful pastoral experience, but were selected on the basis of their creditable academic degrees. It also turned up the fact that many of the students also had never demonstrated any significant or fruitful leadership in a Christian community, but were basically looking for themselves, i.e., trying to put their lives together. … I don’t want to appear too negative since there were any wonderfully gifted students and faculty present who were a blessing to each other.

But something was missing. The question comes: How do you discern and train those who are to equip God’s people for their own work of ministry in the realities of everyday life? How is the Christian community to be formed to be dynamically engaged in the mission of God?

Now, shift scenes. One of those denominational seminaries was about to initiate a curriculum revision, and had appointed a faculty committee to expedite this process. They were mad aware of my engagement with those fifteen seminaries, and invited me to meet with them over a continental breakfast on my next visit. It was a very congenial conversation, so that in the process one of them asked the big question: “What have you observed and learned that will help us in our assignment?” Now, hold that question for just a moment.

It just so happened that several weeks prior to this conversation, the official Presbyterian Poll had released its finding that the Presbyterian Church (USA) was: “a denomination of Biblically and theologically illiterate laity.” That’s a stunning indictment. I responded to their inquiry of me by passing along this finding from the poll, with the comment: “I don’t have the ability to evaluate what, or how you are presenting your present curriculum, but whatever it is … it simply isn’t coming through to the men and women who occupy our pews, and are the objects of our ministry.”

If the church is to be “the missionary arm of the Holy Trinity” (as some of our Latin American friends term it) then there must to be a dynamic and transformational engagement with the apostolic message. The ministry of the laity in the Monday morning world, and the realities of each person’s incarnation, simply has to be our consuming motivation. Stand by …

______________

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BLOG BY BOB HENDERSON

BLOG 3.24.20. THE PANDEMIC IS A WHOLESOME ‘REALITY CHECK’ FOR US

Humankind has an unrealistic tendency to avoid the troublesome and irresistible reality of root-issues such as: suffering, sickness, man’s inhumanity to man, war, violence. Our North American culture focuses on a wholesome economy, entertainment, sports, … and all of those more pleasant dimensions of our contemporary life.

That is so unreal!

Here we are in a world with over seventy million homeless refugees, whose lives were disrupted, not by any fault of their own, but by forces over which they had no control. It is a world where life is fragile, where there come periodic epidemics, where starvation is a daily reality, where ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ takes on nightmarish dimensions—and we seem surprised as though this were something abnormal.

And then comes the corona virus, and we freak-out, freak-out because we have never come to grips with the metaphysical issue of the origins of evil and suffering. Such difficult realities have no place in our understanding of reality. Oh, to be sure, we can routinely confess our sins in church gatherings (or in the Lord’s Prayer), but without much thought of the cultural and societal implications of such. But now, … it stares us in the face with the total disruption of our world.

Reading history, we come across the atavistic cruelty that was (and is) so common in human relations. We read, with some detachment, about the black plague in the middle ages, and about the many evidences if social injustice what with the coming of the industrial revolution. We are outraged now by the holocaust that murdered so many million Jews in Germany—but we were, ourselves, a bit more indifferent when it was happening. More recently there was the ebola epidemic in Africa … and on and on.

And now we can’t escape the metaphysical question: Where does suffering come from? What are its roots? … And what is our role in the realities of this moment when our lives are disrupted? We’re reminded of the question from the suffering saints under the altar, in the Book of Revelation: “How long, O Lord?” (Rev. 6:9).

One thing we know is that God’s new humanity, his truly human sons and daughters, are to be ‘salt and light’, agents of his love in the midst of this moment that is ours.

Stand by …

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BLOG BY BOB HENDERSON

BLOG 3.20.20. THE ETHICAL LIFE AND TEACHINGS OF JESUS MAKE POLITICAL ‘SOCIALISM’ SEEM RATHER TAME!

It would be hilarious, if not downright ridiculous, were it not such a tragic distortion. What I’m leading up to is the misappropriation of the designation of the description ‘evangelical’ by a segment of political conservatives to give some legitimacy to their cause. The word ‘evangel’ is the same as its English translation ‘gospel’. It refers to the the thrilling news of life and teachings of Jesus Christ, and his inauguration of God’s new creation. And, … boy! Is it ever radical stuff? It is obvious that these folks who use the desination of ‘evangelical, have never read the ‘evangel’ or they would not take the positions politically that they do.

I’m referring especially to their total rejection of the platform of one candidate because he is a ‘democratic socialist’. Back to my initial point: the teachings of Jesus make socialism seem mild. Jesus inaugurated his ministry with the announcement that he was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah who would proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to the unjustly imprisoned, recovery to the blind, and freedom to all who are oppressed. Ah! then skip over to the end of his earthly ministry and he projects us to the end of the age when all humankind will be summoned before him and separated into those blessed and invited to inherit his kingdom/new creation and those rejected. The criteria for this judgement? Their hospitality to strangers, their feeding of the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty, their care for the sick, and their ministry to the unjustly imprisoned.

That’s radical humanitarian stuff, the implementation of justice, the making his message into flesh and blood behavior, the incarnation of the love of God to the victims of this broken world. In the course of Jesus’ ministry, he would say that the poor are blessed and conversely: “woe to you rich.” (Luke 6). He taught that if you have two cloaks, you should give one away. He taught that it is very difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God: his new creation. He told one aspiring very rich young inquirer who sought discipleship that he should give away all his possessions and them come, explaining that it is very difficult to a rich person to enter the kingdom of God (their wealth being an idol to them). “Unless a person forsakes all that he has, he cannot be my disciple.”

That makes socialism sound tame. Add to that the affirmation of the church over the centuries that the purpose of civil government is: “the welfare of all of its citizens.” Or maybe to insert here a line from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Christian discipleship is not tame stuff—just read the New Testament, Concern for minimum wages, for food for the hungry, and care for the sick … is the role of civil government. It makes the agenda of some form of socialism to be an “of course.”

One has to be radically realistic politically. Granted. But the wealthy have a political power that the hungry and the stranger and the unjustly imprisoned, etc. … do not have. And it is obscene to high-jack the term “evangelical” to oppose costly programs to meet those human needs. We who are Christ’s disciples become the salt of the earth and the light of the world by incarnating, here and now, in our personal and political lives, the life and radical teachings of Jesus. To be continued …

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BLOG BY BOB HENDERSON 3/13/20

BLOG 3.11.20. WHAT’S WITH THE CHURCH-I-FIED LAITY?

In the passing era of substantial institutional churches, being a ‘church member’ was considered a commendable commitment, and churches recruited members by producing multiple church activities for their membership. Many churches hardly mentioned discipleship at all. Churches were places of social contact, and clergy were often evaluated on how fruitfully they were able to attract and recruit participants to engage in their congregational activities.

The very idea of worship services and congregational activities having as their purpose to equip to Christian maturity (discipleship) for their ministry outside the church gatherings, i.e., in the 24/7 world: home, neighborhood, school, workplace, civic life, recreation and sports, etc. was hardly on the chart.

So, then, what developed was a church-i-fied laity, whose Christian expression was almost totally in the ‘church gathered’ and who were always somewhat ill-at-ease outside of that safe enclave. There were refreshing exceptions. Some congregations sought pastors and equippers to see their 24/7 world as the primary mission to which God had called them, and worship services at that weekly time of equipping, re-evangelizing, learning to diagnose the culture in which they operated and how to be true salt and light where-ever they were, how to have ‘coffee-cup conversations with those outside the church.

Such churches understood that God had called them to be the communal dimension of God’s new humanity, God’s new creation. The members of these communities who were advocates of the ministry of the laity in the workplace renounced the church-i-fied laity concept as a perversion of the mission of God for his church. Resources began to emerge. Dynamic equipping churches saw themselves as ‘the missionary arm of the Holy Trinity. The equipping ministry of the church became formative from youth groups all the way up. Community groups and house churches became dynamic factors in giving support, encouragement, mutual teaching and sharing to one another.

The mission of God for the church also determined the church’s self-understanding and its very real role in the missionary calling to God to be a transforming, salt and light community in very real neighborhoods and communities. For a few years, Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship conducted a very fruitful resource in its Marketplace Ministry. One of the significant contributors to that was William Diehl (executive with Bethlehem Steel), whose book Thank God, It’s Monday is quite helpful and still available, along with other writings (Amazon).

Formal church institutions of the old sort are a dying breed. Equipping churches are pragmatic and contagious and motivated. Stay tuned. We are in a cultural whitewater where change is inevitable, and where every Christian community needs to be equipping all its members for their 24/7 role in the mission of God, and every meeting of the church gathered needs to have this goal in view. No more church-i-fied laity.

Hang on! It’s a great calling.

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BLOG BY BOB HENDERSON

BLOG 3.5.20 WHEREVER I AM … THE GLORY OF GOD

We celebrated Black History month in February and it reminded me of one of my dear friends, and true civil rights heroes, who has significantly influenced my life: Dr. John M. Perkins. John is an episode and a remarkable change agent. He was born a share-cropper’s son in Mississippi, what with all of the racial tensions and displays of injustice so common in that region. His older brother, a World War II veteran, was shot and killed, for no reason, by a deputy sheriff. John himself would later be imprisoned and beaten by the law enforcement officers for his role in voter registration. And barely escaped with his life.

John now laughingly calls himself a “third grade drop-out” though he is the recipient, all these years later, of multiple honorary doctorates. To escape the violent injustice of Mississippi, John moved to California, where he did well in management in a grocery chain. It was there that his life took a crucial turn—he was led to a transforming faith in Jesus Christ, and carefully discipled into that newfound faith. He then came under the profound persuasion that he should move back to Mississippi in a ministry of evangelism, and community economic development, … which he did, moving to the town of Mendenhall, and developing a fruitful community among the black population.

It didn’t take long for this remarkable ministry to catch the attention, not only state-wide but nationwide. It was in this period that my wife and I met John when he was speaking to a collegiate conference at a state park in southern Mississippi. We bonded instantly, and that friendship has been strong between John and his wife Vera Mae, and my (late) wife Betty.

So, significant was the transformation in the Mendenhall community that the state created a John M.  Perkins day in his honor. John trained younger leaders to take over the Mendenhall ministry, and he moved back to a troubled neighborhood in Pasadena, California, to do community development. … Now to the point of this blog: I was in Pasadena on a ministry to a nearby theological school, and was staying with John. On the wall of his study were all kinds of honors, honorary doctorates, and picture of John in the Oval Office of the White House. Wow!

That evening we were out for supper, the two of us, and I asked him how he maintained his humility with all those accolades? He finished his mouthful of fish, and responded: “Bob, whether I am chopping cotton in Mississippi, or a guest in the White House, I am the glory of God.” What an awesome response from this unique person transformed into one of God’s new humanity.

Now, decades have passed. John and Vera Mae are getting fragile, as am I, but he remains such a model to me: wherever, however, I am to be a radiant display of the grace of God. This “third-grade drop-out” has also continued to write. (His latest is: One Blood) He has had a profound influence on my life, so I am happy to celebrate it with you on this blog.

Stay tuned.

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THESE ARE NOT ORDINARY TIMES

BLOG. 2/24/20. THESE ARE NOT ORDINARY TIMES … NOR IS THIS NEUTRAL TERRITORY

As a pastor who sought to faithfully shepherd congregations through some difficult, even traumatic, times, … I find these day in this nation downright frightening. This should not be altogether surprising to anyone who has read the Biblical documents. In the opening chapters, there appears a sinister figure in the form of a serpent who casts doubt on God’s character and good design: the satan (Satan, or the devil). We see this negative lurking in the background through all the centuries, … it erupts more unmistakably in the birth of Jesus, an attempt to kill him, … but most unmistakably after Jesus’ baptism, when Jesus spends forty days in the wilderness, during which time Satan putting a deceptive spin on the facts seeks to lure Jesus away from his calling to be the Lamb of God who take away the sins of the world. What Jesus knows is his calling is to take upon himself the sins of the world, bear them on the cross, and so usher in God’s new creation, forgiveness of sin, and new life in the Spirit.

But Satan doesn’t disappear. The apostles remind us that the whole world lies in the wicked one. After Paul’s eloquent teaching on the awesome role of the church, in his letter to the Ephesians, … almost as if the closing passage is the whole reason for the letter, he will say: “Finally, brothers and sisters, put on the whole armor of God so that you may stand against the wiles of the devil…” The first piece of that armor is the girdle of truth (i.e., Jesus is the truth and his word is truth).

To my point of these being frightening times. I am old enough to remember, that in the very unique and culturally advanced nation of Germany, there emerged out of the beer halls of Munich a blowhard named Adolph Hitler, who within a very few years had persuaded that whole nation to follow him in creating an “Aryan pure” Germany to dominate the world. His agent for disseminating this effort was his propaganda chief, Josef Goebbels. Goebbels essentially brainwashed Germany with a whole alternative view of who they were, and so legitimized the holocaust and the extermination of millions of Jews. He brainwashed the most of the German church into remaining silent and allowing this to happen.

With this in my mind I find frightening our president’s unbelievable agency of disinformation under the genius one Brad Parscale who within minutes can post millions of text messages, tweets, and Facebook messages supporting the president’s actions, and discrediting those who challenge them. The scriptures teach that Satan is a liar and the father of lies. The vast scope of this disinformation agency of the president’s is truly frightening, and no follower of the life and teachings of Jesus can afford to be neutral in the face of such an assault of the darkness.

(My source is the account of the influence of Brad Parscale in the March issue of Atlantic monthly.)

Stay tuned, … and pray for deliverance from such darkness.

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RESISTING MEDIOCRITY IN CHRIST’S CHURCH

BLOG 2/18/20. RESISTING MEDIOCRITY IN CHRIST’S CHURCH

To say that something/anything is mediocre is hardly a compliment. It indicates that it is beneath standard expectations. When it comes to Christ’s church, it is tragic. The church is to be the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit. It is to be the body of Christ. It is to be the communal demonstration of God’s new creation, of God’s new humanity. It is to be the glory of God, the radiant display of God’s nature in a human community in I lifestyle, its relationships, and in its passion to communicate the love of God for this broken world. It has been called the missionary arm of the Holy Trinity.

That said, such an awesome and transformational community is far too rare in most people’s experience. It is far too convenient to attend worship services and appreciate them, to be somewhat anonymous in the community, to support the institution financially, but hardly to sense our responsibility to the mission of God in the realistic vicissitudes of the “Monday morning world.” There’s a little limerick that says it well: They do it every Sunday, they’ll be over it on Monday. It’s only a habit they’ve acquired.

We desperately (that word deliberately chosen) need to regain a wholesome and transformational ecclesiology (study and understanding of the church). We need to find a few others, a thoughtful group in our church to pursue this calling, and to help and challenge to cast off mediocrity (lukewarm-ness?) and to pursue excellence in our mutual lives of obedience to the mission of Christ for his church, and not be drawn away by difficulties, false teachings, and pathological personalities.

Whenever a Christian community forgets, displaces, or dilutes Christ’s own purpose for the church, the church becomes mediocre, returns to just another human community, to acceptable ‘chaos’.

It is not surprising that this takes place so commonly in our church scene when even theological seminaries frequently have no required courses in ecclesiology or missiology, so that church leadership becomes complicit in the ecclesiastical chaos. I’ve struggled with this for a long time, especially in the ten years of my career when I sought to be an encourager to faculty and students in fifteen seminaries. Out of that I wrote a couple of books which could be a resource to those provoked by this blog: Enchanted Community: Journey Into the Mystery of the Church, and Refounding the Church from the Underside (both over my name: Robert Thornton Henderson). A third in this series deals with the spiritual conflict involved in the battle to maintain the church’s integrity: The Church and the Relentless Darkness.

To be continued … If these occasional blogs are helpful to you, then pass the word along to your friends.

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FACING THR FORTHCOMING ELECTION

BLOG 2/11/20. FACING THE FORTHCOMING ELECTION AS GOD’S NEW CREATION PEOPLE.

It’s almost impossible to avoid the forthcoming presidential election, what with it dominating the news incessantly, with the episodes of political cowardice it the debates in Washington (along with a few heartening episodes of political courage). For me, I’ve just applied for an absentee ballot due to age and infirmity, and the reality of it all came home. Right away the application required that I identify myself as either a Republican or a Democrat (or whatever). But that doesn’t determine who I think is the most qualified to lead this nation in these turbulent times.

There’s always the escape option, like the guy who humorously declared that there were three things they never discussed in his church: sex, politics, and religion. The truth is that the Bible engages these three areas of our human sojourn from beginning to end. The church of Jesus Christ is the community/polis of God’s new humanity. The sermon on the mount (and especially the beatitudes) is political to the core, and it is by one’s faithfulness to this mandate that people will know we are Jesus’ disciples. Look at it! Woe to the rich, but blessed are the poor. Blessed are the merciful, the peacemakers, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who are willing to suffer for righteousness sake, those who mourn, the meek, …

In the eighth and seventh centuries before the coming of Jesus, the Christ, the prophets were always chastising God’s people for ignoring the humanitarian requirements of God’s law: What does the Lord require of thee, O Israel, but to love justice and to do mercy. … Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. The love of neighbor. Economic provision for the helpless poor, sanctuary for the stranger and the homeless, … Now, if these requirements of God’s design are not taught and discussed in the church community, and if they are not held up as some kind of guideline for evaluating national leaders, … then somehow we’ve missed our calling to be salt and light in this present context of darkness, greed, human suffering, immorality, and deception.

So, that, in these coming weeks and months, it’s not whether we are Democrats or Republicans (Socialists or Independents) … but rather, which of the candidates is potentially must likely to exhibit and implement policies that are just and humane, peaceable and sensitive to the ethics of God’s new creation in Christ? “To him who knows to do good, and does it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:11). We cannot be the light of the world if we succumb passively to the political darkness that has been the context of this present scene. Stay tuned.

I always appreciate your responses.

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