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“Be Still…and think the thoughts of God!”

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Dec 092018
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Be Still…and think the thoughts of God!” (By:  Ron Woodrum)

     In Psalm 46:10 we are told…”Be still and know that I am God.” The Psalmist is saying that it is critical for the Christian to slow down long enough to focus our minds, hearts, minds, and souls upon God…upon knowing Him. That is the key to knowing and experiencing God in all His fullness in our lives! J.I. Packer, in his book, Knowing God, points out that first of all we need to know “about” God. He writes: “Knowing about God is crucially important for the living of our lives. As it would be cruel to take an Amazonian tribesman and fly him to London, and put him down without explanation in Trafalgar Square and leave him, as one who knew nothing of English or England, to fend for himself, so we are cruel to ourselves if we try to live in this world without knowing about God, whose world it is and who runs it. The world becomes a strange, mad, and painful place, and life in it a disappointing and unpleasant business, for those who do not know about God. Disregard God and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded…with no sense of direction, and no understanding of what surrounds you. You can waste your life and lose your soul“. But he continues on that “knowing about God is not enough. We need to take the next step. We turn our knowledge about God into to knowledge of God”. How? Through experiencing Him through Christ and the salvation He has provided. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, and knowledge of His Word. “We must turn each truth that we learn of Him into meditation that leads to praise and practice of the presence of God through Christ.” It takes both. Dr. John Mackey, when President of Princeton Seminary, in its more evangelical days, said “Commitment without reflection is fanaticism in action. But reflection without commitment is paralysis of action“. How true. The Christian life is centered on doctrine that fills the mind, and then duty that is lived out of that mindset. James Orr, in his book The Christian View of God and His World, says ” If there is a religion in the world that exists around teaching truth it is the religion of Jesus Christ. Pagan religions kept doctrine at the minimal. It put emphasis on ritual…when the Church did not emphasize doctrine first, followed by devotion and duty it tended to become weak, ineffective, and unwholesome!” Henry Blamares, in his book The Christian Mind, emphasizes this same approach. He says, “The Christian Mind has succumbed to the secular drift of the world in its thinking, with a degree of weakness and nerve lessness unmatched in Christian history! As a thinking being the modern Christian has succumbed to secularization“. That has spelled disaster for the impact of the Church on the world.

T.S. Eliot, in his magnificent poem Choruses from the Rock, (which the entire poem is a commentary on the failure of the Church to impact our world), points out that part of the problem is that we have settled for secular knowledge instead of spiritual, and it has been the ruin of the Christian and the Church. He writes:

“Our endless cycles of ideas and action    

Endless inventions, endless experiment    

Brings knowledge of motion, but not stillness    

Knowledge of speech, but not of silence

Knowledge of words, but IGNORANCE OF THE WORD. 

 

All this knowledge brings us closer to ignorance

All this ignorance closer to death 

Nearer to death, but no nearer to God. 

WHERE IS THE LIFE WE HAVE LOST IN THE LIVING?”

That is the Christian’s address today. So knowledgeable about everything. Enjoying all the inventions and experiences our brave new world offers. But in it all we have lost everything we have deemed important and spiritual! How do we get it back? Where do we go from here? Eliot’s poem gives some great direction. But even truth can come from some unexpected sources. Another modern poet has pointed us in the right direction. Don Henley wrote a poem that later became a popular song. It spoke to both the needs of the world and the Church, if we have ears to listen. He wrote in Learn to Be Still, these words:

“It’s Another Day In Paradise

As you stumble to your bed. 

You’d give anything to silence

The voices ringing in your head.

You thought you could find happiness

 

Just over that green hill 

You thought you would be satisfied…

But you never will…

Til you learn to be still!

 

We are like sheep without a shepherd

We don’t know how to be alone

We wander around this desert

And wind up following the wrong gods home!

But the flock cries out for another 

And they keep answering the bell 

And another starry-eyed messiah

Meets their violent farewell-

We must learn to be still! 

 

There are so many contradictions 

In all the messages we send- 

We keep asking… 

How do I get out of here? 

Where do I fit in? 

While the world is torn and shaking…

And we find our heart is breaking…

It’s waiting for us to awaken…

And someday we will…

LEARN TO BE STILL!”

Until then…we as Christians will keep chasing our tails…going in circles…with the circles getting ever smaller…as we become more shallow and itrelevant to our world. We need to “be still…focus our minds, hearts, spirits, souls upon God, His Son, and His Word, and that knowledge will transform us, and those we encounter in our world”. When asked about his great discoveries in the world of astronomy, German Astronomer Johanness Kepler said, “I was just thinking the thoughts of God after Him!” That may just be the key that will keep us from “losing the life…in the living!”

The Danish theologian Soren Kirkegaard wrote a beautiful prayer that can hit at the heart of our issues today. I hated having to read his works in Christian Doctrine Class, during the section on Contemporary Theology. But reviewing some of his words can give us some convicting perspective. He wrote:

“Father in Heaven! What is a human being without Thee! What is all that one knows, vast accumulation though it may be, but a chipped fragment if one does not know Thee! What is all striving, could it ever encompass a world, but a half-finished work if one does not know Thee! You art the One Thing and Who Art All! So, may Thou give to the intellect wisdom to comprehend that One Thing; to the heart, sincerity to receive this understanding; to the will, purity that wills the Only One Thing. In prosperity may Thou grant perseverance to will One Thing; amid distractions, collectiveness to will One Thing; in suffering, patience to will the One Thing. Oh, Thou that givest both the beginning and completion, may Thou early, at the dawn of day, give the young person the resolution to will the One Thing. As our day wanes, may Thou give to the Older person a renewed remembrance of the first resolution, that the first may be like the last, and the last like the first, in possession of a life that has indeed willed the One Thing! But alas it has not come to pass. Something has come in between. The separation of sin lies in between. Each day, and day after day something is being placed between: delay, blockage, interruption, delusion, corruption. So, in this time of repentance may Thou give the courage once again to will the One Thing”. Be still…think the thoughts of God…really know Him and as you know Him…through His Son Jesus… that is the One Thing!

 Posted by at 1:43 pm

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “CHRISTMAS-GOD HOOKING AN EXTRA ON THE FRONT OF ORDINARY”

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Dec 022018
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “CHRISTMAS-GOD HOOKING AN EXTRA ON THE FRONT OF ORDINARY”  (By:  Ron Woodrum)

Thanksgiving is now past. The major post-Thanksgiving sales are on. Black Friday-Small Business Saturday-Cyber Monday. Then all the ads that remind us exactly how many days to Christmas. The Christmas season is suddenly on us! Every year each Pastor is faced with the challenge of preaching the great Christmas themes and presenting the incredible Christmas story. The preacher finds himself in the role similar of the monument-cleaner. A monument cleaner is someone who comes and removes the debris that has covered up the beauty of the original artwork-to polish up the monument to help us perceive the original beauty. That is the challenge of preaching the Christmas story. The goal is to help us see the Christmas story as we have never seen it before-letting the original message and beauty come shining through. That is a challenge!

Much of Christmas’ beauty is its sameness. Think about it. The same traditions. The same meals. The same songs. The same candlelight services. The same shopping habits. Yet each Christmas is a little different. Sometimes the change is noticeable and unexpected, at other time a mere matter of flexibility. But each year’s celebration somehow speaks its familiar message with freshness that can only be heard by ears a year older. So in the next series of Christmas messages let me invite you to bring your this-Christmas life within the reach of God’s Christmas story, to look at these same pictures of love and grace from a new vantage point, to spend a few weeks letting God’s comforting sameness reveal His new-every-morning side. It’s time to experience Christmas again-in the same old-brand new way.

As we begin our journey toward Christmas 2018 the first consideration, I want you to meditate on is this-There is one word that describes the night that Jesus was born-ORDINARY! The sky was ordinary. An occasional gust stirred the leaves and chilled the air. The stars were sparkling diamonds on a black velvet backdrop. But then they ordinarily do! Fleets of clouds floated in front of the moon. It was a beautiful night-but not really an unusual one. No reason to expect a surprise. Nothing to keep a person awake. An ordinary night with an ordinary sky. The sheep were ordinary. Some fat. Some scrawny. Some with barrel bellies. Some with twig legs. Common animals. No fleece made of gold. No history makers. No blue-ribbon winners. They were simply sheep-lumpy, sleeping silhouettes on a hillside. And the shepherds were ordinary. Ordinary peasants. Probably wearing all the clothes they owned. Smelling like sheep and looking just a wooly. They were conscientious, willing to spend the night with their flocks. But you won’t find their staffs in a museum nor their writings in a library. No one asked their opinions-about social justice-the Torah-or actually about anything! They were nameless and simple. There you go-An ordinary night with ordinary sheep and ordinary shepherds. And were it not for a God who loves to hook an “extra” on the front of ordinary, the night would have gone unnoticed. The sheep would have been forgotten, and the shepherds would have slept the night away. Neither would have been memorialized from generation after generation in bath robes in local Church Christmas pageants!

But God dances amidst the common. That night it was the greatest of Waltzes! The black sky exploded with brightness. Trees that had been shadows jumped into clarity. Sheep that had been silent became a chorus of curiosity. One minute the shepherds were dead asleep, the next they were rubbing their eyes, scared out of their wits, staring into the face of a host of aliens-angelic hosts praising God and saying “Peace on earth, good will toward men!” The night was ordinary no more. The angels came at night because it is at night that lights are best seen and when they are needed most! God comes into the common for the same reason. He delights in making the “ordinary” into the “extra-ordinary”. That is what His Son had come to do for the entire human race! He came to transform ordinary sinners into extraordinary saints-all through the birth, life, death of resurrection of his ordinary, but extra-ordinary Son-The Lord Jesus Christ. Isaiah would say-“His name shall be called “Wonderful”. The Hebrew word “wonderful” is the word “pela”. It refers to something or someone that makes a person marvel. It is something or someone that causes wonder, amazement, astonishment, worship and awe! That is exactly who He is and what He does for everyone that encounters Him. Let the celebration of His birth be that and more for you this year!

One of my favorite authors, as you know, is Frederick Buechner. In his book Secrets in the Dark, he gives a perspective concerning Christmas that spoke volumes to me. He writes, “Those who believe in God can never in a way be sure of Him again. Once they have seen Him in a stable, they can never be sure where He will appear or to what lengths He will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation He will descend in His wild pursuit of human-kind. If Holiness and the awful majesty of the Power of God were present in this least auspicious of all events, this birth of a peasant’s child, then there is no place or time so lowly and earthbound but that this Holiness can be present there too. This means we are never safe, that there is no place we can hide from God, no place where we are safe from His power to break in two and recreate the human heart, because it is just where He seems most helpless that He is most strong, and just where we least expect Him that He comes most fully!”. That is an awesome start to our celebration of Advent! Let Him transform our ordinary to His extra-ordinary. He loves doing that. That is why He came!

 Posted by at 11:22 pm

“The Face in the Sky-or the Face From Heaven”.

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Nov 252018
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “The Face in the Sky-or the Face From Heaven”.  (By:  Ron Woodrum)

     In his book, The Hungering Darkness, Frederick Buechner shares an experience he had while touring Rome, in a sermon in that book entitled “The Face In The Sky”. He was at a theater that was showing the Italian Film La Dolce Vita, (The Sweet Life). The theater was filled with college students. He relates an experience that he felt illustrates the encounter the world faces during the Christmas season. Let me share part of his story. He writes: “As the Italian film La Dolce Vita opens, a helicopter is flying slowly through the sky not very high above the ground. Hanging down from the helicopter, in a kind of a halter, is the life-sized man dressed in robes with his arms outstretched, so that he looks almost as if he is flying by himself, especially when every once in awhile the camera cuts out the helicopter and all you can see is the statue itself and the rope around it. It flies over a field where some men are working in tractors and causes a great deal of excitement. They wave their hats and hop around and yell, and then one of them recognizes who it is a statue of and shouts in Italian-‘Hey it’s Jesus!’ whereupon some of the men start running along under the helicopter waving and calling to it. But the helicopter keeps on moving toward the city of Rome. As it reaches the outskirts of the city it passes over a building with a swimming pool on the roof, filled with girls…basking in the sun in their bikinis. They start waving and of course the helicopter pans in for a close encounter. During all of this the reaction of the audience in the college town began to laugh at the incongruity of the whole thing. There was a sacred statue dangling from the sky, on the one hand…the young Italians…and the young beauties…the one made of stone, so remote, so out of place there in the sky on the end of the rope; the others made of flesh…enjoying the sweet life. Nobody in the audience was in any doubt as to which of the two came out ahead or at whose expense the laughter was. But then the helicopter continues on its way, and the great dome of St. Peter’s looms up from below, and for the first time the camera starts to zoom in on the statue itself, with its arms stretched out, until for a moment the screen is almost filled with just the bearded face of Christ…and at that moment there was no laughter at all in that theater full of students and their dates and their tubs of buttery popcorn and la dolce vita (the sweet life) college style. Nobody laughed during the moment because there was something about that face, for a few seconds there on the screen, that made them be silent-the face hovering there in the sky and the outspread arms. For a moment, not very long to be sure, there was no sound, as if the face were their face somehow, their secret face that they had never seen before but that they knew belonged to them, or the face they had never seen before but they knew, if only for a moment, they belonged to…I think that is what the Christian faith is…especially at Christmas…there can only be silence as something comes to life, some spirit, some hope; as something is born again into the world that is so strange and new and precious that not even a cynic can laugh, at the sight of His face. That face in the sky. The child is born in the night among us…among the beasts. The sweet breath and the steaming dung of the beasts. And nothing is the same again…Once they have seen Him in a stable, they can never be sure where He will appear or to what lengths He will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation He will descend in His love and wild pursuit of humankind. If the power and presence and holiness of God can be present in this least auspicious of all events, the birth of a peasant’s child, then there is no place or time so lowly and earthbound but that He can be present there too. This means we can never be safe from Him. We can never hide from Him…or from His power to break into and recreate the human heart, because when He seems the most helpless that He is the most strong, and just where we least expect Him that He comes most fully. Like the statue in the sky…the face in the sky…that Baby makes it so that nothing is ever the same again either…every Christmas…what they have seen and heard in that moment of stillness is just possibly, possibly the hope of the world. And what they feel in their hearts as they wave-maybe with only one hand, a little wave, a not very certain, but with his name on their lips-is the stirring of new life, new courage, new gladness seeking to be born in them even as He is born…into the whole wide world…will we raise our arms out to His arms, raise our empty faces to that bewildering face…Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Most High God, Prince of Peace, be born again into our world. Be born again in us…as we raise our faces to thy face, not knowing fully who we are or who you are, but only that thy love is beyond our knowing and that no other has the power to make us whole. Come Lord Jesus, this Christmas, to each of us who longs for thee enough to look into thy face.”

Buechner reminds us that every year the world has opportunity to encounter Jesus-The virgin born Savior of the World. His birth, in all the strangeness of a barn, surrounded by animals, laid in a manger, ignored by the inn keeper, ignored by the Political world, ignored by the religious world, and His own people, was welcomed by some, and brought the Presence of God into lives that had never known it before on that level. He brought salvation to all who would humbly bow before Him in recognition of Who He was, and He would be born in their hearts. In a strange way-Christmas is like that statue confronting the college students in the theater remind us, in the midst of what we think is the “sweet life”…that this face from heaven reminds us that He brings life that goes beyond the sweet life of earth and offers the abundant life that can only be found in Him. His incarnation…though a one-time fact of history that happened “at the fullness of time”…comes around again every year when that heavenly face invites us to come to God and Salvation through Him,,,and through Him only. Say yes to the face in that manger and experience what Phillip Brooks meant in his song-O Little Town of Bethlehem:

Oh holy Child of Bethlehem

Descend to us, we pray

Cast out our sin, and enter in

Be born in us today

The great glad tidings tell

Oh come to us, abide with us

Our Lord Emmanuel

 Posted by at 12:44 am

“Mastering the Hardest Arithmetic-Counting Our Blessings!”

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Nov 182018
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Mastering the Hardest Arithmetic-Counting Our Blessings!”

By:  Ron Woodrum

 

This week is Thanksgiving week.  Eric Hoffer says it is the time to “master the hardest arithmetic-counting our blessings!” G.K. Chesterton said, “I would maintain that thanks is the highest form of thought, and gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder”. He also said, “Everything should be received with gratitude, and passed on with Grace.”  JFK made sure we understand that thanksgiving is more than words.  He said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them”.  He thought thanksgiving should be translated into thanksliving! John Wannamaker says that thanksgiving is a process.  “It begins with a feeling in the heart; expressed in words; results in giving in return”.  Cicero said, “Gratitude is the greatest of all virtues-and the parent of all others”.  Robert Louis Stevenson warned-“The person who has stopped being thankful has fallen asleep in life”. Shakespeare was even more convicting-“Blow, blow, blow winter wind, thou are not so unkind as man’s ingratitude!” William Ward reminded us that “God gave 86,400 seconds today.  Have you used ONE to say thank you?”  He also said, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it”.  Gratitude is not to just concern what we get but what we don’t get!  Storm Jameson, in Journey from the North, I have received may the Lord make me thankful.  And more truly…thankful for what I have NOT received!”  There is an old proverb that says, “He who will not thank for the little things will not thank for much either.”  “When we have forgotten the language of thankfulness, we are no longer on speaking terms with happiness.” One of the best thanksgiving messages I ever heard was a sermon by a Seventh Day Evangelist named George Vandeman.  It was called “I wonder how to thank Him”.  He said, “Nothing can have a more profound effect on your mental health than a spirit of thankfulness”.  We can always find things to be grateful for and to give thanks for even in difficult times.  H.U. Westermeyer reminds us-“The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts that first Thanksgiving-no Americans have been more impoverished, yet set aside a Day of Thanksgiving”.  Thomas Aquinas gets to the heart of the matter when he instructs us that “God has no need of our worship. (He loves our devotion and worship-but has no inherent need of anything!) It is us who need to show gratitude for what we have received”.

 

     Probably the most insightful thing I have ever read about Thanksgiving and Praise is something C.S. Lewis said in his book Reflections on the Psalms. He wrote: “I struggled with the idea that God demands our praise and commands us to give Him glory.  For years this was a stumbling block to me!  Then I seemed to see its purpose.  The most obvious fact about praise-whether of God or anything-strangely escaped me.  I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or giving honor.  I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless-shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought into check it.  the world rings with praise-lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite games-praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians, or even scholars.  I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised the least…Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it. ‘Isn’t it lovely? Wasn’t is glorious? Don’t you think that is magnificent?’ The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about.  My whole, more general difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable One, what we delight to do, what we indeed can’t help doing, about everything else of value.  We delight to praise…because praise not only expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.  It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed…If it were possible for a created soul fully to appreciate, that is to love and delight in, the worthiest object of all, and simultaneously at every moment to give this delight perfect expression, then that soul would be in supreme beatitude…the Confession says, ‘man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever”.  But we shall then know that these are the same thing.  Fully to enjoy is to glorify.  In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.  Living in Praise is something we need more than God needs.  It completes us…and glorifies Him.  Praise Him! Praise Him! Happy Thanksgiving.

 

 Posted by at 1:13 pm

“The Mastery of That One Essential Thing”

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Nov 112018
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE; “The Mastery of That One Essential Thing”.

By:  Ron Woodrum

 

     Maybe you have seen the movie City Slickers starring Billy Crystal and Jack Palance.  Billy Crystal plays a white-collar guy named Mitch.  He is married with children and is questioning whether anything in his life really matters!  He and his two friends take a vacation out West in order to take part in a cattle drive.  Jack Palance plays a mysterious and intimidating cowboy named Curly, who wears a black hat and a red bandana.  He leads this bunch of city slickers with gruff reluctance.  In one scene Mitch and Curly are riding together.  Mitch, having occasionally stood up to Curly, has caused Curly to warm up to him.  Curly says, ‘A cowboy leads a different kind of life…when there were cowboys.  We are a dying breed.  A couple of days we will lead this herd across the river, through the valley…there’s nothing like bringing in the herd!”  Mitch responds, “That’s great-your life makes sense to you!” Curly laughs. Mitch asks, “What’s so funny?”  Curly looks right into Mitch’s eyes and says, ‘You city folk…worry about a lot of stuff!  How old are you? Thirty-eight?”  (Mitch answers “thirty-nine!”).  “Yeah, you all come out here the same age with the same problems” Curly tells him.  “You spend a whole year getting knots in your rope, and you think two weeks out here will untie them for you! None of you get it!  Do you know what the secret of life is?”  Mitch shakes his head “no”.  “This” Curly says, raising up his index finger.  Mitch jokes, ‘Your finger?”  Curly clearly states, “One thing-just one thing! You stick to it, and everything else don’t mean squat!”  Mitch says, “That’s great!  What is the one thing?”  Curly smiles, riding away, says “that’s what you’ve got to figure out!”  Most Christians need to head Curly’s advice.  They need to figure out the one thing that is the secret of life!

 

In his book Mr. Bridge, novelist Evan Cornell describes a moment in the life of a Kansas City lawyer in the 1930’s.  Outwardly he is seen as the epitome of success.  He is wealthy; his family seems strong; he is highly respected.  That’s life, we say, above the waterline.  At soul level-below the waterline-Mr. Bridge is a bundle of fears.  Awake at night staring out the window of his bedroom, he watches a storm, as he ponders the direction of his life.  Cornell writes: “A leaf flattens against the window beside his head.  Then it suddenly vanishes away into the darkness!  Suddenly a feeling of profound despair overwhelms him because everything he has done in his life seems useless.  All that he attempted seemed meager, and his life seemed wasted!”   There are a lot of Mr. Bridges struggling with those feeling of futility in their Christian lives…perhaps for good reason.  They are missing that “one thing that is the secret to life!” How do we lose that direction?  In his landmark book The Fifth Discipline, Peter Serge quotes Bill O’Brien, CEO of Hanoever Insurance:  “People enter business as bright well-educated, high energy people and desire to make a difference.  By the time they reach 30, a few are on the fast track, and the rest put in their time and do what matters to them in the weekend.  They lose the commitment, their sense of mission, and the excitement with which they started their careers.  We get…little of their energy, and almost none of their spirit.”  You would think he was describing the loss of mission many Christians have today…and their loss of energy to the Church.  Serge goes on to say:  “Surprisingly few adults work rigorously to develop their own personal mastery.  When you ask them what they want from life-they talk about what they would get rid of…not the disciplines of personal mastery.  The things that really matter have been lost. They are not living lives of highest aspirations any longer!”  He is talking about us Church!  E. Stanley Jones speaks relevantly about that same issue...”Man needs nothing so much as he needs something to bring life together in total meaning and total good…instead of his fragmented life. He is confused-the most confused yet intelligent person that has ever existed.  He knows everything about life-except HOW TO LIVE!”  Even the agnostic philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche recognized this.  He wrote in Beyond Good and Evil: “The essential thing in heaven and earth is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living”.  That is what we are missing!

 

That one thing…that secret of life…that discipline of personal mastery…that life of highest aspirations…that long obedience in the same direction that makes life worth living…is having a passionate grateful love for our Living Lord, and continued commitment to put Him first in our lives come what may.  Seeking first the Kingdom and God, and singing the old song “I shall not be moved!” That kind of link of love to our Lord opens us up to His presence and power to Incarnate Him into our lives through the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Helmut Thielicke illustrates that beautifully in his book I Believe, I Believe.  He writes: “Many churches have stained glass windows.  Those windows recount the mighty acts of God by means of pictures.  The venerable figures of the prophets and apostles look down on us, and perhaps there are scenes from the life of Jesus or symbols of the Holy Trinity.  These windows are not intended-or at least not primarily-to provide an ornamental border for the place of worship, nor to generate a meditative atmosphere.  They are meant to deliver a message.  They are the Word illustrated, and they preach through pictures the way the organ preaches through music.  Now if I see the Church from the outside, If I just walk around it, these windows appear as lifeless gray-on-gray.  They are mute and have nothing to say.  However, as soon as I go on the inside, (with the sun shining brightly through them) all the colors blaze out, and the pictures come to life, and begin to speak the message!”  So it is with our lives.  The presence and power of the Light of the World illuminating our lives with His glory will show and share the message with those that most of time only see us as gray on gray!  Seeking His Presence, Power, and Glory should be the all-consuming Passion of our lives.  Everything else should pale in light of that one thing!  Then we will live the secret of the Christian life.

 

T.S. Eliot, one of the great figures of English literature, expressed that truth in his poetry, after he became a Christian.  In the fourth poem, of his Christian writing Four Quartets, entitled Little Gidding, he addresses the need for that very Passionate Fire.  He writes:

 

The dove descending breaks the air

With flame of incandescent terror

Of which the tongues declare

The one discharge from sin and error.

The only hope, or else despair

Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-

To be redeemed from fire by fire.

 

Who then devised the torment? Love

Love is the unfamiliar Name

Behind the hands that wove

The intolerable shirt of flame

Which human power cannot remove.

We only live, only suspire

Consumed by either fire or fire.

 

What fire is going to consume you?  How about a passionate fire that burns deep inside to light up your life with the glory of the Lord as you give your all to glorify Him with all you say or do.  That is the one thing…that one essential thing…the secret to life that reaches the highest of aspirations.  That kind of life crowns Him with many Crowns.

 

 Posted by at 1:11 pm

“Can Christians be Indubitably real ever again?”

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Nov 042018
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Can Christians be Indubitably real ever again?”

By:  Ron Woodrum

 

     The Wesleyan revival of the eighteenth century was one of the great outpourings of the Spirit, and the secret to retaining the fruits of revival was the class meetings that were held by the Wesley’s.  They emphasized Bible reading, prayer, holiness and dedication to be practiced by the converts.  The classes provided fellowship and accountability.  After many years Wesley decided to write a guide-a manual for the class in an effort to carry on with the movement.  But the power and vitality of the movement seemed to diminish from that point on.  This troubled Wesley so much, he wrote: “It was a common saying among Christians that ‘the soul and the body make the man’ but ‘the spirit and discipline make the Christian’: implying that none could be a real Christian without the help of Christian discipline.  But if this be so, is it any wonder that we now find so few Christians, for where is the Christian Discipline?” (Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity-a sermon by John Wesley).  Wesley put his finger on an ongoing problem confronting Christians of all eras-how do you sustain real Christian living on an everyday level? Thomas A Kempis, author of the Imitation of Christ, warned “Know well that the enemy labors to hinder the desire, (of the Church), for holiness and make you fail to attain all good spiritual exercise.” Thomas Aquinas, seeing this loss of power, did his best to communicate it.  On one occasion he was confronted by Pope Innocent II, who showed him all the property of the Church, all her magnificent buildings, and large sums of money.  Innocent said, “You see the Church is no longer in the age which she has to say, ‘silver and gold have I none’-she can no longer say that!”  Aquinas acknowledged that is true, then said, “Neither can she say, In the name of Jesus Christ-rise up and walk!”  For entirely different reasons, the Church today finds herself with the same inability to impact our world for Christ.  We profess to know Christ.  We have committed to be His followers.  But there is a veritable “Grand Canyon” of difference between Who He is, and who we are!  It seems the Church has “fallen and we cannot get up!”  Henry David Thoreau used to say, “men, (Christians), lie on their backs talking about the fall of man, but never make an effort to get up!”  It sure seems like it!  Leo Tolstoy, in his book The Kingdom of God is Within You, “All men, (Christians included), of the modern world exist in a continual and flagrant antagonism between their consciences and their way of life”.  How have we drifted so far from the real Christianity we witness in the New Testament?  Richard Halverson, Presbyterian pastor, and past Chaplain of U.S. Congress, wrote years ago, “In the beginning the Church was a Fellowship of men and women centering on the Living Christ; The Church moved to Greece and became a Philosophy; The Church moved to Rome and became an Institution; The Church moved to Europe a Culture; The Church moved to America and became an Enterprise!”  That history is very revealing about how we got to where we are at today.  Donald Miller says “the inner reserves of Christianity have been largely depleted!”  Richard Foster says “most conservatives by the early seventies generally accepted that being a Christian had nothing essentially to do with actually following Jesus.  Most Christians are NOT like Him.  The main popular bumper sticker became ‘Christians are not perfect, just forgiven’.  The only absolute requirement for being a Christian is to believe proper things about Jesus”. (Discipleship: For Super Christians Only). That explains the modern impotent Church.  The salt has lost its savor!

 

William Iverson identified that very thing.  He wrote “one quarter of the population of the United States professes an evangelical conversion experience.  Jesus said that those who claim that are to be the salt of the earth.  He deduces-a pound of meat would surely be affected by a quarter pound of salt-wouldn’t you think?  Where is the effect of which Jesus spoke?” (William Iverson-Christianity Today– 1980 p.33).  Henry Churchill King, long time President of Oberlin College, and well-known theologian raises a very pertinent question for our generation-“What happened to Christians being indubitably real?”  (Indubitably is a word hardly used anymore that means “something so real it cannot be doubted”).  What has happened to “that kind” of Christianity?  When Christianity, in the past, slipped away from being the real deal kind of Christianity there usually came a revival to bring them back to their real identity.  Revival was the means of restoring a life of spirit, genuineness, and power to the fallen Church.  But how about today?  Richard Foster, in his book The Spirit of Disciplines, says “that doesn’t work any longer.  The mainstay-revival is no longer what it used to be.  Revival in the classic sense is the overwhelming infusion of spiritual life coming into the Church, and into the whole community.  But that kind of revival has been replaced with meetings, still called by the old name.  But people who make decisions remain substantially unchanged from what they were before.  Revivals are no longer an influx of Word and Spirit.  Now one can have an ‘unsuccessful revival’ and still have revival-which if you think about it that makes as much sense of having a raising from the dead without having a raising at all!”  Paul Scherer says the number one problem of the Church today is that it has become “too trivial to be true…empty and powerless…and this is accepted as the norm these days!”

 

     What do we do?  We need to take the attitude of Darrell Royal.  He was a very successful coach of the University of Texas for many years.  When he first started his career at Texas he got a call from the President of the Alumni, after the first game.  The president said to the coach-“Darrell when can I come over to give you some constructive criticism?”  Coach Royal replied, “Never!”  The President of the Alumni insisted-“We have a group that meets to do just that after every game!”  Coach said, “Not anymore!  I work best when people affirm me, and tell me what I am doing right, not what I am doing wrong!  I need supporters to cheer me on!”  His supporters became just that and for years the University of Texas had a very successful football program.  We need that kind of support for the Church.  Not that we are to stick our head in the sand concerning diagnosing where we are at.  But we need to be cheered on to return to the Church that walks with the Lord…in the Light of His word…filled and empowered by His Spirit again.  John Mackay, past president of Princeton University, and Scottish missionary for many years, used to speak to Churches all across America.  He always started his messages with “Let the Church Be the Church!”  Theologian Helmut Thielicke always said, “The Church cannot permit its authority to be defined by people who have no idea of its mission!”  We need to stop trying to Follow in His Steps-in the power of the flesh.  That is why we are failing.  We do not need an Imitation of Christ…but an Incarnation of Christ.  Paul was right. “Christ In You-The Hope of Glory”.  That is our only hope! That is possible only by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God.  We must be yielded to Him again.  We need to pray the poem of Amy Carmichael-Oh Flame of God.

 

From the prayer that asks that I may be

Sheltered from the winds that beat on thee

From fearing, when I should aspire

From faltering when I should climb higher

From silken self, O Captain free

Thy soldier who would follow thee

 

From subtle things of softening

From easy choices-weakening’s

(not thus are spirits fortified)

Not went that way the Crucified

From all that dims Thy Calvary

Oh Lamb of God deliver me

 

Give me a LOVE that leads the way

A FAITH that nothing can dismay

A HOPE no disappointment can tire

A PASSION that will burn like fire

Let me not sink like a clod

MAKE ME THY FUEL OH FLAME OF GOD!

 

     The entire population of a small town gathered to watch the Baptist Church burn to the ground.  In the crowd, with their parents, watching the disaster were two young children.  The little girl said to her brother, “I’ve never seen so many people at Church”.  There was silence for a minute.  Then the brother replied, “The Church has never been on fire before!”  THAT JUST MAY BE THE ANSWER TO OUR PROBLEM!  Indubitably real Christians must catch fire again to be Indubitable!

 

 Posted by at 1:13 pm

“We have not seen the last of the best!”

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Oct 282018
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “We have not seen the last of the best!”

By:  Ron Woodrum

 

Revivals have been a big part of my life for over six decades.  I was saved in September of 1968.  My parents were saved the next fall, November 1969, during a revival with Gerald Thompson as the Evangelist at the Salem Baptist Church of Decatur.  Later, after God had called me into the ministry, my very first ministry was being a bus Pastor.  But that was soon followed in 1969 with opportunities to preach youth revivals in Central Illinois.  I preached 25 youth revivals during the years of 1969-1971 averaging nearly 10 per year.  The focus of most of those revivals was for Christian youth to surrender their lives to Jesus, and witness and bring friends to the youth meetings.  Many young people came to faith in those days as the sixties welcomed the seventies! I began pastoring my first Church in May of 1971 at the age of 17.  Every Church that I have pastored over the years has had one to two revivals per year.  Over nearly 50 years of ministry I have participated in over 250 revivals, counting the ones I hosted as a Pastor of a Baptist Church, and the one I personally preached as an Evangelist.  In the eighties I averaged preaching about 8-10 revivals per year-all over Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and South Carolina, and Tennessee.  I have had the joy of witnessing revivals transform Churches collectively, and Christians individually.  I can honestly say my life was touched by every one of them.  As a young person I made it a habit to attend revivals at sister Baptist Churches, and also several other denominations-Methodist, Church of God, Assembly of God, Nazarene, Pentecostal, Bible Churches, etc.  Even though there are many that feel that revivals are a thing of the past that no longer impacts American Culture today…I strongly disagree.  Even though most revivals today reach fewer non-Christians than they used to; they still impact the people of God.  When the Church is revived…the community that surrounds it is impacted for Christ.

I want to share a few famous Christian quotes that help us understand the role that revival plays in the life of a local Church, and in the lives of the individual Christians who are identified with the Church.  J.I. Packer defines a revival as “a visitation of God which brings to life Christians who have fallen asleep spiritually, and restores a deep sense of God’s near presence and holiness.  All this ushers in a vivid sense of sin and profound exercise of heart in repentance, praise, and with an evangelistic overflow”.  Stephan Olford writes, “Revival is that strange, sovereign work of God in which He visits the people-restoring, reanimating, and releasing them into the fullness of His blessing.  Such a divine intervention will issue in evangelism, though, in the first instance, it is a work of God in the Church and among individual believers”.  Charles Finney, the revivalist of the early nineteenth century, defined revival concisely as “a new beginning of obedience”.  Simply put a new closeness to God; a new passion for Christ; A new love for God; A new holiness in life; A new filling and refreshing of the Holy Spirit.  One of my favorite descriptions of revival is from John Wesley.  He wrote, “We need to storm the throne of Grace and persevere therein, and mercy will come down.  I continue to dream and to pray about revival…in our day, that moves forth in mission and creates authentic community, in which each person can be unleashed through the empowerment of the Spirit, to fulfill God’s intentions!”  Probably the best quote I have been influenced by on revivals is by Andrew Bonar.  He wrote, “Revivals begin with God’s own people, The Holy Spirit touches their hearts anew, and gives them a new fervor, and compassion, and zeal, new light and life, and after He has come to the Church, He next goes to the Valley of Dry Bones…Oh what responsibility this lays upon the Church of God.  If you grieve Him away or hinder His visit-the poor perishing world suffers sorely!”  The responsibility for the condition of America and the World may just be related to the fact that we have neglected the continual need of revival in the life of the Church to keep God’s people passionate and productive in our ministries to that very world!

 

 

One of the complaints I often heard about revivals was that the same people came forward revival after revival to re-dedicate their lives anew and afresh to the Lord Jesus Christ!  My response has always been– “WHAT IN THE WORLD IS WRONG WITH THAT!  PERHAPS THAT IS WHAT HAD KEPT THE CHURCH ON THE CUTTING EDGE”.  Like the Hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing says, “Prone to Wander, Lord I feel it.  Prone to leave the God I love!”  If rededication, at a minimum of once per year, kept us vitally functioning as Christians individually, and Churches collectively…then Praise The Lord.  We could use a few rededications right now!  I came across an interesting story the other day.  It was the story of a man of God that felt the call to be a missionary to Formosa.  Formosa was the Portuguese name for Taiwan.  The Chinese country in the Far East, recently given back to mainland China.  Thomas Barclay answered the call to go as a missionary to Formosa, and ministered there for over 60 years.  He translated the entire Bible into their language.  Behind that life of service lay a covenant with God that he wrote when he was sixteen, and which he renewed every year for the rest of his life!  (I would call that a re-dedication).  It read, in part, “This day do I, with the utmost solemnity, surrender myself to Thee.  I renounce all former lords that have had dominion over me, and I consecrate to Thee all that I have:  the faculties of my mind, the members of my body, my worldly possessions, my time, and my influence over others; to be all used entirely for Thy glory, and resolutely employed in obedience to Thy commands, as long as Thou continuest me in this life; with ardent desire and humble resolution to continue Thine through all the ages of eternity; ever holding myself in an attentive position to observe, with zeal and joy, to the immediate execution of it.  To Thy direction also I resign myself, and all that I am and have, to be disposed of by Thee in such a manner as Thou in Thine infinite wisdom shall judge most subservient to the purposes of Thy glory.  To Thee I leave the management of all events, and say without reserve, ‘Not my will, but Thine, be done!’ “Renewing that annually brought about 60 plus years of faithful service.  I would, without hesitation, define that as an on-going REVIVAL!

 

When we usually talk about revivals we refer to Great Awakenings of the Past.  It has been so long that they are now viewed as “Ancient History!”  No one expects to see them ever come again.  Shame on us.  God has not changed!  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever!  One of my favorite quotes speaks to this very subject.  It is a quote from the great Scottish Preacher and Theologian-James Stewart.  He wrote, “It is God’s way to go beyond the best that He has done before; therefore a living faith will always have in it a certain element of surprise and tension and discovery; that what we have seen and learned of God up to the present is not to be the end of our seeing, nor the sum total of our learning; that whatever we have found in Christ is only a fraction of what we can still find; that the spiritual force which in the great days of the past vitalized the Church and shaped the course of history has not exhausted its energies or fallen into abeyance but is liable to burst out anew and take control.  God is promising wonders that He has never done before so that there will be more jubilant doxologies, more exultant hallelujahs.  For there is no limit to the love of God, no end to the redeeming Grace of Christ, and NO EXHAUSTION OF THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT”. (“Expect Great Things From God”-The River of Life: Sermons of James S. Stewart-1972). My prayer is– “God Do It Again!”  “Do it as you have never done it before!”  “Lord send a revival-let it begin in me-in us-and spread like wild-fire”.  WE HAVE NOT SEEN THE LAST OF HIS BEST!  BELIEVE IT!

 

 Posted by at 1:11 pm

“Resigning or Re-Signing?”

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Oct 212018
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Resigning or Re-Signing?”

By:  Ron Woodrum

 

      In 1937 Picasso was in Paris working on a major art project.  Back in his home country there was a civil war raging in Spain.  The Axis powers of Germany and Italy attacked the little town of Guernica, in the Basque country of Spain.  The horror was devastating.  Picasso, upon hearing it, traveled to witness the destruction.  The result was he then painted what is considered by many, his most famous and important work of art-Guernica-his anti-war mural.  The portrait painted a woman trying to escape from the bombs with her dead baby in her arms; A woman holding a torch as she flees, and the torch just illuminates the destruction.  Exploding chickens and animals from the market shows that war even affects innocent animals.   Most interpret the charging horse and bull, (normally a beloved symbol of Spain), being captured and used against them by Fascism!  Picasso remarked that “a work of art must make a man react; agitate the observer to action”.  That was his goal with this anti-war mural.  After returning to Paris, his masterpiece was displayed in a Museum there.  When the Nazis occupied France, Picasso was asked by a German soldier- “are you responsible for creating this?”  Picasso is reported to have responded, “No you are!”  When we look around us and see the battle that is raging in our culture, and the devil seems to be wreaking havoc on all that we hold precious…we wonder who is to blame.  T.S. Eliot, the famous British poet, who became a Christian later in his life, wrote “I do not believe, (I am a Christian myself), that culture could survive the complete disappearance of the Christian faith…if Christianity goes the whole of our culture goes!”  He was so prophetic in his words…that is exactly what has happened.  We want to blame the devil!  We want to blame the world and society.  We even question- “Where was God when all of this came over us?”  The truth be told we as the Church might just share the blame!  Edmund Burke wrote: “When bad men combine, the good must associate (in opposition) else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle”.  John Stuart Mill wrote: “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing”.  In other words…” for evil to triumph, all they need is for good to do nothing!”  That may describe the Church of Jesus Christ in the last few decades!  Even though we know who “wins in the end”. The current state of affairs related to the Church is that we are “losing a lot of battles!”  Truth be known we have waved the white flag-retreated to behind the four walls of the Church…and T.S. Eliot’s prophecy has become a reality.  We don’t like hearing that message.   It reminds me of Charlie Brown, in a cartoon strip I read several years ago.  The scenario was something like this…” You know what the trouble with you is, Charlie Brown?”  asks Lucy.  “No, I don’t want to know! Leave me alone!”  Charlie Brown walks away with his hands in his pockets.  Lucy calls after him: “the whole trouble with you is you won’t listen to what the whole trouble with you is!” Theologian Charles H. Heimsath said, “The chief trouble with the Church is that you and I are in it!”  Another imminent theologian Helmut Thielicke, when responding to the retreat and failure of the Church in Europe, (a forerunner to the failure of the Church in America), defended his hope in the Church this way…”If I were not convinced that Christ is risen, and that He lives…I probably could not have drawn any other conclusion except to leave the Church…Only the friends I have in it, those who bravely endure to persevere in a life of devotion and sacrifice, would make it hard for me to leave.  And what binds me to them most of all is precisely this, that the suffer because of the Church just as I do!”

 

 

 

It would be easy for us to give up in a spirit of defeat and blame it all on the trend of the last days, while crying out with the Apostle John- “even so come Lord Jesus!”  The great Scottish preacher John Robertson of Glasgow had been a Pastor for forty years.  But he lost his glow, he felt himself a failure, he decided to quit and resign.  He prayed, “Oh God, forty years ago you did commission me, but I have blundered and failed, and I want to resign this morning”.  He broke down in tears, and humbled himself before God.  He said this is the answer that God gave him.  “John Robertson, it is true that I commissioned you forty years ago. It is true that you have blundered and failed, BUT YOU ARE NOT TO RESIGN FROM YOUR COMMISSION.  YOU ARE TO RE-SIGN YOUR COMMISSION!”  That is the message that God has for us today as His Church.  RE-SIGN YOUR COMMISSION!  REVIVAL OFFERS US THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO JUST THAT!  That does not mean that we re-dedicate ourselves to God in revival, and just separate ourselves more from our decaying society.  Salt was used in the first century to slow decay…but it required contact with the decay!  Light can only overcome darkness by shining!  Revival allows us to regain our “saltiness’ and get back in contact with our world.  Light restores the glory of God so that we can be a beacon of brightness to the darkness around us!

 

F.W. Robertson contrasted Christianity with Judaism.  He said that the spirit of Judaism was to separate themselves from the evil around them.  Even isolate themselves!  They abstained from other foods, other days, other activities, etc.  But on the other hand, Christianity permeates evil with good, and aims at overcoming evil with good.  We must take seriously the words of Jesus that the “kingdom of heaven is like yeast, taken by the woman and put into three measures of flour until the whole lot had risen” (Luke 13:20-21).  Revived Christians, joined together as a renewed Church, can and always has historically, gone back out into their world and permeated it for the cause of Christ!  We are commissioned, as Esther, “for a time like this!”   The great Lutheran Pastor, Martin Niemoller of Germany was imprisoned by the Nazis.  One night he had a dream that he saw Hitler pleading his case before God, excusing himself because he had never heard the Gospel.  The Niemoller heard a voice directed toward him: “were you with him a whole hour without telling him of the gospel?”  He awoke and remembered that he had indeed been with Hitler for an hour.  He had not said a word about Jesus Christ.  That realization changed Niemoller.  From that moment on every prisoner, every guard, every person he came in contact with for the rest of his life heard the gospel from his re-signed lips!  I am “dreaming” that we have such a revival that causes a Church, in danger of “resigning” in these last days, to determination of “re-signing’ for a new commission to do all we can to impact our world while we yet have time!  It is not too late!  We might realize that we have been part of what is “wrong” with the Church.  But after revival we can definitely be what is “right” with the Church.  Anybody want to “re-sign?”

 

 Posted by at 1:07 pm

The Glory of the Son is Shared with those who take Him”.

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Oct 142018
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE:  ”    The Glory of the Son is Shared with those who take Him”.

By:  Ron Woodrum

 

     A wealthy art collector shared his passion with his only son.  Together they collected rare works of art.  They had everything in their collection from original Picasso’s to original Raphael’s!  They would often sit together and admire the great works of art together.  When the Viet Nam war broke out the son was drafted and sent into conflict.  He was killed in battle rescuing another soldier from his battalion, the father was notified and grieved deeply for his only son.  His paintings soon lost all interest to him.  They were only a painful reminder of a life and love shared with his only son.  About a month later, just before Christmas, there was a know at the door.  A young man stood there with a large package in his hands.  He said, “Sir, you don’t know me but I am the soldier for whom your son gave his life.  He saved many other lives that day too.  He was carrying me to safety when he was struck by a bullet, right in his heart, and he died instantly.  When you are in battle you have a lot of time waiting and watching.  During times of lull in the battle we often talked about our families back home.  He spoke so often about you.  And how much you loved art.”  The young man held out his package.  “I know that this isn’t much.  I’m not really a good artist, but I think your son would have wanted you to have this!”   The father opened the package.  It was a portrait of his son drawn by his fellow soldier!  The father was so drawn to the eyes that his own eyes welled up with tears.  He thanked the young man and offered to pay him for the portrait.  “Oh no sir, I could never repay your son for what he did for me!  My gift to you…because of your son!” 

The father loved the portrait.  He framed it and put it over the mantle, in the center of the room, displacing other famous paintings!  Every time visitors came to see his rare collections of art, the father spent most of his time directing their attention to the portrait of his beloved son!  A few months later the man died.  Since he had no immediate family left his art collection was to be auctioned off and proceeds be given to a charity.  His collection was so well-known art collectors came from far and wide to bid on each item.  The room was filled with famous originals of many great artists.  But up by the podium, on an easel, was the portrait of his beloved son.  The auctioneer pounded the gavel to get the attention of the crowd and said, “I am instructed to begin the bidding on this picture of the son.  Who will bid for this portrait?”  There was total silence.  No one bid at all.  “Who will bid-$100 dollars?”  Nothing but silence!  Then a voice spoke out-“we want to bid on the famous originals!”  “Yea-skip this one!”  “Nobody is interested in the portrait of the old man’s son!”  “Move on to the others!  That is why we came!”  The auctioneer persisted. “Who will start the bidding?  $100?  $75?  $50?”  Silence.  Then…”We want the Van Gogh’s…The Rembrandt’s…The Raphael’s”” Get on with the real bids!”  The auctioneer continued on…”The son…. who will take the son…start the bidding on the son!”  Finally, a voice came from the back of the room.  It was the voice of the longtime gardener of the Old man.  He had come to watch the auction, knowing he had no money to bid, but said “I’ll give $10 for the portrait of the son!”    “We have $10…who will go $20?”  The crowd was getting angry.  They didn’t want the son…they wanted the special works of art… those worthy of investment for collections.  The auctioneer pounded the gavel.  “Going once, going twice, sold to the man in the back for $10”.   A man on the second road groaned, “Finally, now let’s get on with the collection!”  The auctioneer laid down the gavel and said, “I’m sorry…the auction is over!  The owner instructed me to auction the portrait of his son first.  Whoever took the son inherits all the rest of the collection along with the son!  The man who took the son gets everything!”

2,000 years ago, God gave His only begotten Son to die on the cross because He loved you and I.  He gave His life to rescue us from eternal destruction of sin.  The instruction of His Will…the New Testament states “whoever takes the Son inherits everything!”  That is why Paul told the Corinthians “I am determined to know nothing among you but Jesus and Him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2).  We are to glory only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ! (Gal. 6:14).  One of the great Christian scholars of the twentieth century was Frank Gaebelein.  He was the major professor at the Stony Brook School on Long Island New York.  One of his chief students was the great scholar who battled the Kingdom of the Cults world wide-Walter Martin.  But the school was founded by Frank’s father Arno Gaebelein.  A.C. Gaebelein was known for his deep commitment and devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ.  He lived and taught to glorify and magnify the Lord Jesus Christ.  He said, “We shall one day see His face, and His name shall be on our foreheads.  We are sons with Him, heirs of God, and fellow heirs with Him.  The acquired glory of our Lord is and will forever be the inherited glory of every sinner saved by grace, and we will share that glory with Him!”  That is why Paul said, “Whatever you do…do all to the glory of God!”  (I Cor. 10:31).  That is why J.H. Thornwell said, “If the church could be aroused to a deeper sense of the glory that awaits her, she would enter with a warmer spirit in the struggles that are daily before her!”  The great musician Johann Sebastian Bach headed his compositions with J.J.  meaning “Jesus Juva-Jesus help me!”  He ended them with S.D.G.  “Sola Dei Gratia-To God be the Glory alone!” Those of us who know the God of Glory- through the gift of Grace by the Glorious cross of His dear Son…should so magnify the Lord of Grace and Glory.

Dr. J.H. Jowett wrote in his book The Transfigured Church wrote:  “We leave our places of worship, and no deep and inexpressible wonder sits upon our faces.  We can sing these lilting melodies; and when we get out into the streets, our faces are one with the faces of those who have left the theaters and music halls.  Thee is nothing to suggest that we have been looking at anything stupendous and overwhelming.  Far back in my boyhood I remember an old saint telling me that after some services he liked to make his way home alone, by quiet by-paths, so that the hush of the Almighty might remain on his awed and prostrate soul.  That is the element we are losing!”  I might add “that is the element…not that we are losing…but have already lost!”  To show His glory…we have first to SEE it and SHARE it!

 

 Posted by at 10:41 pm

“Hollow Saints-Hollow Church”

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Oct 072018
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Hollow Saints-Hollow Church”

By:  Ron Woodrum

 

     Things are not always as they appear.  No one has hammered that message home with more impact than the poet Edwin Arlington Robinson, in his poem Richard Cory.  He tells the story of a model citizen who was the envy of his entire town.  Then he pulls the rug out from under us with his conclusion!  He wrote:

 

Whenever Richard Cory went downtown,

We people on the pavement looked at him:

He was a gentleman from sole to crown,

Clean favored, and imperially slim.

 

And he was always quietly arrayed,

And he was always human when he talked;

But still he fluttered pulses when he said,

‘Good-morning’ and he glittered when he walked.

 

And he was rich-yes, richer than a king-

And admirably schooled in every grace:

In fine, we thought that he was everything!

To make us wish that we were in his place.

 

So on we worked, and waited for the light,

And went without meat, and cursed the bread;

And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,

Went home and put a bullet through his head!

 

Model citizens are not always models.  Christians are not always the saints that we portray.  We often fool ourselves and fool others about our walk with God.  We live for years on decisions of yesteryear.  We are often like sinkholes that form when underground rivers dry up, and the weight above ground becomes too much for the vacancy below can bear up, and there is a major sinkhole collapse.  That is why the Christian life must be “so daily”.  We must fill each day with worship of God-that includes talking with Him, (prayer) and hearing from Him, (Bible Study).  We must fill each day with witness for God-where we share our faith-which keeps it real to ourselves; and relevant to our world, that is in truth hungering for Him; We must exercise our faith daily as we engage in spiritual warfare so that we can walk in victory instead of waving the white flag of surrender to the world, the flesh, and the devil.  A Christian that fails to keep his faith alive in those ways may convince himself that all is well, by going through the motions, but in reality is becoming hollow inside spiritually.  T. S. Eliot epitomized this condition in his poem The Hollow Men.   He wrote:

 

“We are hollow men

We are stuffed men

Leaning together

Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!

 

 

 

Our voices…quiet and meaningless

shape without form, shade without color

paralyzed force, gesture without motion. 

…a fading star…

such deliberate disguises

Behaving as the wind behaves

In the twilight kingdom

valley of dying stars

this is the hollow valley…

 

His context was England after WWI-the emptiness after the War to End All Wars.  But he also was talking about the loss of real character and underpinning faith that sustains us for the difficulties in life.  Life becomes empty and hollow activity without, as he says, “Thine is the Kingdom”…we need to keep alive in our “kingdom”. 

 

If you take a tour on the Hudson River you will pass Pollepel Island, a 6.5 acre island in the middle of the river, fifty miles north of New York City.  It is a famous island that was prominent in the Revolutionary War.  George Washington wanted to use it for a prison during the war, but that never materialized.  But it you look closely this island is home to an intriguing Robin-hood type Castle.  It is the Bannerman Castle.  In the late 1800’s Francis Bannerman VI, an immigrant from Northern Ireland, living in Brooklyn, started a military surplus business.  He purchased military equipment from the Civil War; from the Spanish-American War.  In November of 1900 he purchased Pollepel Island, and moved his military arsenal to the safety of the Island, after building this Castle to house it.  It became named “Bannerman’s Island Arsenal” and from there catalog orders provided guns, weapons, military clothing world-wide for many years.  In 1920 an explosion destroyed part of the castle.  A severe storm and Bannerman’s death left the Arsenal and island essentially vacant.  The state of New York bought the Castle and Island, and removed the military merchandise.  Tours of the Island were given in 1968.  But a fire in 1969 damaged the Arsenal even more.  The roofs and floors were destroyed.  The castle and island became off-limits to the public.  If you pass by it today…you see the hollow shell of a once mighty business empire and arsenal.  It is empty and hollow, and on the verge of collapse.  Yet commuters on the Metro-North Hudson Line and the Amtrak Empire Service can see clearly the title “Bannerman’s Island Arsenal” on the side of the Castle, it is nothing but an empty, hollow, ruin of what it once was!  The Church of Jesus Christ has been for years an Arsenal of Spiritual power in a world that is in desperate need of such power.  But due to many Christians stumbling in spiritual maintenance, and becoming shadows of the vibrant Christians that our Lord intends us to be, the Church is in danger of becoming a hollow shell of a has-been spiritual arsenal.  Revival is the only thing that can change that!  Most leading Christian leaders will tell us that we are at a cross roads in these last days.  The cross road is REVIVAL OR RUIN.  CONQUEST OR COLLAPSE.  STRONGHOLD OR SURRENDER.

As T.S. Eliot concludes his Hollow Men poem… he says, “This is the way the world ends…this is the way the world ends…this is the way the world ends…Not with a bang…but a whimper!”  Only you and I can see to it that the Church’s impact in these last days end with more than a whimper and a collapse of a hollow shell of hollow men…making the Church an empty Arsenal of Spiritual Power…still bearing the name…but far from the reality of the bang the Lord intends us to have as we end this Church age!   Revival or Ruin!  Let’s choose revival.  We need it.  The world needs us to experience it even more than we do!  Jesus said, “They that worship God must worship Him in Spirit and Truth”.  (John 4:4). He was talking about a spirituality that is possessed more than professed!  Francis Schaeffer wrote of this in his book True Spirituality!  A book written well ahead of its time. The time has come.

 

 Posted by at 10:40 pm