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Thomas, the Twin – Our Twin?

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Apr 282019
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: Thomas, the Twin – Our Twin? By:  Ron Woodrum

  There are a lot of famous twins. Most people know the actor Ashton Kutcher. But did you know he has a twin brother named Michael? Most know of President George W. Bush-so it follows that his twin daughters Jenna and Barbara are famous now too. Since their successful sitcom most people know about the Olson twins-Ashley and Mary-Kate. Keifer Sutherland is known for his successful acting career, and his father Donald, but did you know he has a twin sister named Rachael? Everyone knows of the brothers Gibb-i.e. The Bee Gees. But two brothers of that trio-Maurice and Robin were twins. The world knows of the King of Rock and Roll-Elvis Aaron Presley. But did you know that he was the surviving baby of twins. His brother Jesse Garon Presley was still born at the delivery, and is buried in an unmarked grave in Tupelo, Mississippi. Anyone visiting Graceland can see his stone included in the family memorials along with Elvis, Vernon, and Gladys Presley. And then of course who can forget the Biblical twins of Jacob and Esau? But today I want to bring to your memory another twin. His name is Thomas. The Bible speaks of “Thomas, who is called Didymus, meaning twin”. Actually both names-Thomas and Didymus means “twin”. One is Aramaic-Thomas. The other is Greek-Didymus. They both mean twin. Who was the Apostle Thomas a twin to? We are not told. When lists of the disciples are given he is usually linked with Matthew-so some assume that is his twin. Tradition tells us that Thomas took the gospel to India in A.D. 52, and died there as a martyr to the cause of his Lord Jesus Christ. You can visit his tomb in Edessa today. Tradition also tells us that Bartholomew worked alongside Thomas in that commission. Many have caused that fact to link him to be Thomas’ twin. In the Apocryphal book written in the 200’s called the Acts of St. Thomas, he is called “Judas Thomas”-or “Judas the Twin”. Some have linked him with James, the Son of Alphaeus then as a twin. All of that is speculation. We do not know who his twin actually is. Frederick Buechner, in preaching about Thomas, says “I can tell you who his twin is-I am! and I am not far off the mark to say that you are too!” You see when it comes to being disciples that trend toward doubt, and find ourselves being disappointed in Jesus, due to circumstances that suddenly throw us into discouragement and despair; we may just be identical twins to Thomas, called Didymus!

We are told in the Gospel of John that when Jesus appeared to the ten disciples who were gathered in the upper room on the first Easter evening that Thomas was absent. They had the joy of seeing the Lord alive again. They inspected his wounds. They were commissioned to a new mandate. He breathed on them to receive the Holy Spirit. The passage describing the event emphasizes that “they were glad when they saw the Lord!” Thomas missed it all. He was disheartened, discouraged and disengaged from the rest! When they sought him out to tell him he frankly told them that their word and witness would never be enough for him. He would have to see with his own eyes, touch with his own hands, experience Him for himself in a personal, intimate, and vital way or he would never believe! That kind of demand of evidence has earned this twin the reputation and name of “Doubting Thomas”. But what about doubt? Was Thomas wrong for wanting to see before believing?

Some of the greatest minds of history have spoken candidly about doubt. Bertrand Russell said, “It is a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on a thing you have long taken for granted”. He also said, “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always certain of themselves, but wiser people are full of doubts!” The great Christian Scientist, thinker, and Philosopher Francis Bacon said, “In contemplation, if a man begins with certainties he shall end in doubts; but if he is content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties!” Shakespeare said, “Modest doubt is the beacon of the wise”. Alfred Lord Tennyson said, “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the world’s creeds” One of the best quotes I have come across comes from Tryon Edwards, the grandson of the Revivalist Preacher Jonathan Edwards. Tryon Edwards wrote, “Doubt, indulged and cherished is in danger of becoming denial; but if it is honest, and bent on thorough investigation it may soon lead to the full establishment of truth”. That kind of sounds like modern day philosopher-baseball player, Yogi Berra who said, “You can observe a lot by seeing!” I believe that is what Thomas needed. He needed some empirical evidence that he could witness with his own eyes. But when he encountered the Lord, risen in all his glory, he saw not only with the eyes of his head, but with the eyes of his heart, and his doubt was transformed to devotion. He then became the example for the Lord to talk of greater blessing than what Thomas experienced on the 8th day of Easter. We can learn a lot from examining Thomas’ journey from Doubt to Devotion by doing an Autopsy on a Doubting Disciple. I want to share with a poem about what Thomas experienced on the 8th Day of Easter. May we too be so transformed by our Risen Lord?

When Thomas afterward had heard That Jesus had fulfilled His word, He doubted if it were the Lord: Alleluia! “My hands, my feet, my body, see; “And doubt not, but believe in Me”: Alleluia!

No longer Thomas then denied; He saw the feet, the hands, the side; Thou art my Lord and God,” he cried: Alleluia!

 Posted by at 12:34 pm

GUEST PERSPECTIVE: What It Means to Worship a Man Crucified as a Criminal.

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Apr 212019
 

GUEST PERSPECTIVE: What It Means to Worship a Man Crucified as a Criminal. By Peter Wehner

During a Christmas break while I was a student at the University of Washington, I tuned in to a show that influenced the trajectory of my faith, quite by accident. It was a broadcast of an hourlong “Firing Line” interview in 1980 between William F. Buckley Jr. and Malcolm Muggeridge, the British journalist who late in life converted to Christianity.

In the course of the interview, Mr. Muggeridge used a parable. Imagine that the Apostle Paul, after his Damascus Road conversion, starts off on his journey, Mr. Muggeridge said, and consults with an eminent public relations man. “I’ve got this campaign and I want to promote this gospel,” Paul tells this individual, who responds, “Well, you’ve got to have some sort of symbol.” To which Paul would reply: “Well, I have got one. I’ve got this cross.”

“The public relations man would have laughed his head off,” Mr. Muggeridge said, with the P.R. man insisting: “You can’t popularize a thing like that. It’s absolutely mad.”

The reaction of Mr. Muggeridge’s imaginary P.R. person is understandable. The Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge has written that until the accounts of Jesus’ death burst upon the Mediterranean world, “no one in the history of human imagination had conceived of such a thing as the worship of a crucified man.” And yet the crucifixion — an emblem of agony and one of the cruelest methods of execution ever practiced — became a historical pivot point and eventually the most compelling symbol of the most popular faith on earth.

As a non-Christian friend of mine put it to me recently, the idea that people would worship a God who is compassionate toward us is one thing, but to worship a God who suffers and dies — as a condemned criminal, no less — is distinct to Christianity. In my friend’s understated words, “When you think about it, it is a little strange.”

Perhaps the aspect of the crucifixion that is easiest to understand is that according to Christian theology, atonement is the means through which human beings — broken, fallen, sinful — are reconciled to God. The ideal needed to be sacrificed for the non-ideal, the worthy for the unworthy.

But the cross is more than simply a gateway to the City of God. “I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross,” John Stott, one of the most important Christian evangelists of the last century, wrote in “The Cross of Christ.” “The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross.’ In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?” From the perspective of Christianity, one can question why God allows suffering, but one cannot say God doesn’t understand it. He is not remote, indifferent, untouched or unscarred.

Scott Dudley, the senior pastor at Bellevue Presbyterian Church in Bellevue, Wash., and a lifelong friend, pointed out to me that on the cross God was reconciling the world to himself — but God was also, perhaps, reconciling himself to the world. The cross is not only God’s way of saying we are not alone in our suffering, but also that God has entered into our suffering through his own suffering.

Scott readily concedes that there’s no good answer to the question, “Why is there suffering?” Jesus never answers that question, and even if we had the theological answer, it would not ease our burdens in any significant way. What God offers instead is the promise that he is with us in our suffering; that he can bring good out of it (life out of death, forgiveness out of sin); and that one day he will put a stop to it and redeem it. God, Revelation tells us, will make “all things new.” For now, though, we are part of a drama unfolding in a broken world, one in which God chose to become a protagonist.  

One other significant consequence the crucifixion had was to “introduce a new plot to history: The victim became a hero by offering himself as a willing victim,” in the words of the Christian author Philip Yancey. Citing the works of the French philosopher René Girard and Mr. Girard’s student Gil Bailie, Mr. Yancey argues that a radiating effect of the cross was to undermine abusive power and injustice; that care for the disenfranchised and those living in the shadows of society came about as a direct result of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Edward Shillito, a minister in England who watched waves of badly wounded soldiers return from World War I, wrote a poem, “Jesus of the Scars,” in which he said, “The heavens frighten us; they are too calm; In all the universe we have no place. Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm? Lord Jesus, by thy scars we know thy grace.” Mr. Shillito ended his poem with this stanza, which beautifully captures what makes the cross unique:

The other gods were strong; but thou wast weak;

They rode, but thou didst stumble to a throne;

But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,

And not a god has wounds, but thou alone.

Worshiping a God of wounds is a little strange, as my friend said. For some, it is grotesque and contemptible, a bizarre myth, an offense. But for others of us, what happened to Jesus on the cross is profoundly moving and life-altering — not just a historical inflection point, but something that won and keeps winning our hearts. As individuals with wounds, flawed and fallen, we cannot help but return to the foot of the cross.

The most important moment in my faith pilgrimage was when the cross became my interpretive prism. What I mean by this is that I was and remain a person with a skeptical mind and countless questions. There are parts of the Bible I still find puzzling, difficult and troubling. (That is true of many more Christians than you might imagine, and of many more Christians than are willing to admit.)

But I did arrive at a settled belief that whatever the answer to those questions were — answers I’m unlikely to ever discover — I would understand them in the context of the cross, where God showed his enduring love for people in every circumstance and in every season of life. I came to treasure a line from an 18th-century hymn by Isaac Watts that I have replayed in my mind more often than I can count: “Did e’re such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown?”

In response to his fictional P.R. person’s claim that using the cross as a symbol for faith would be mad, Malcolm Muggeridge replied: “But it wasn’t mad. It worked for centuries and centuries, bringing out all the creativity in people, all the love and disinterestedness in people, this symbol of suffering. And I think that’s the heart of the thing.”

It is the heart of the thing. Where some see the cross as superstitious foolery or a stumbling block, others see grace and sublime love. For us, the glory and joy of Easter Sunday is only made possible by the anguish of Good Friday.

 Posted by at 2:58 am

“Transforming bad luck into blessed luck!”

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Apr 142019
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Transforming bad luck into blessed luck!”  By:  Ron Woodrum

  Do you remember the group from Hee Haw that used to sing the song, “Gloom, Despair, and Agony?” It went something like this…”Gloom, despair, and agony on me. Deep dark depression, excessive misery! If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all. Gloom, despair, and agony on me!” It could be that Simon, from Cyrene, who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish Passover, may have found himself singing that song. He quickly found his celebration turn into confusion. He got caught up in a mob’s commotion parading condemned criminals to a crucifixion. Just being confronted with this awful scene was bad enough, but as he stood by he was forced to “become involved” and was “compelled to bear one of the criminal’s cross”. Mark gives us a vivid description to this event. “And they led him out that they may crucify him, (Jesus), And they compelled one passing by, Simon of Cyrene, coming in from a field, to lift and carry his cross” Mark 15:20-21. Mark, retelling Peter’s recollections, tells us that there was a bystander, one just passing by, coming in out from the countryside. But the Roman guards in charge of the execution picked him out of the crowd, and forced him, against his will, at least at first, to lift the heavy cross Jesus was being forced to carry to his execution. By anyone’s first impression-not so good happenstance! Why me? Why this? Why now? What now? Touching the blood, made him unclean. Now he cannot participate in the Passover-the very reason for his trip to Jerusalem. What bad luck! He was clearly “a passer-by”. He was clearly forced to change his plans, and get right into the middle of a public execution. None of these events were on his planned agenda. He did not choose them. They were forced on him, against his will. The word compelled is the Greek word, aggarueo, “means to force against one’s will!” But when we take a closer look at the incident, and the things that followed, we may conclude that what appeared to be bad luck was actually blessed luck!

How do we define “luck”? The word originally came into the English language in Middle English, from Middle Dutch, meaning “to happen fortunately”. Early on it was not seen as the result of “chance”, but an integral part of God’s involvement in one’s life. Originally, in the Anglican Book of Common Prayers, Psalm 45: 2 was translated “Good luck have thou with thine honor”. Good luck was seen as “God’s luck to you”. Robert Farrar Coppola, in his book Health, Money, and Love, …and why we don’t enjoy them- says “all luck good or bad is God’s metier”, (specialty). He quotes Charles Williams as saying, “all luck is Holy luck!” Eugene Peterson, author of the translation The Message, picked up on this and chose that phrase, Holy Luck, as the title of his book of Spiritual Poems describing the Christian’s blessed experience of the Sovereignty of God in his life. After all Romans 8:28 does not say “all things work together for good, to those who love the Lord, and are called according to His purpose”, (as the King James Version says), But instead the Greek reads literally, “For we know…that for those that love God, He works all things together into good, for those called according to His purpose”. That sounds a lot like “Holy Luck”. We are all recipients of that! But as we read the story of Simon of Cyrene we will likely conclude that what appeared as his “bad luck” was actually “blessed luck!”

  Simon’s story is in all three Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. So it is important. Why is this “nobody” so duly noted? Mark tells us that he was the father of “Rufus and Alexander”. (Mark was written to Rome, and it is assumed that the Roman Church knew these two young men). Paul, in his letter to the Romans, in 16:13, mentions Rufus, as “a chosen vessel of the Lord, and his mother, as a mother to Paul as well”! There is an osurary, (a container of bones), found in Jerusalem with the name of Alexander, the son of Simon of Cyrene. Tradition tells us that somewhere along the Via Dolorosa, or at the foot of the cross, or at Pentecost, that Simon of Cyrene became a believer in Jesus Christ. Tradition tells us that he died as an early Christian martyr, and that his two sons Rufus and Alexander, and his wife were dynamic first century Christians in Jerusalem, and perhaps later in Rome. None of this would have become a reality had Simon not encountered his stroke of “Holy Luck”…his “bad luck” being transformed by God into “Blessed Luck”.

I love how the poet Khalil Gibron describes this transformation of Simon with his pen…”I was on my way to the fields when I saw Him carrying His cross; and multitudes were following Him. Then I too walked beside Him. His burden stopped Him many a time, for His body was exhausted. Then a Roman Soldier approached me, saying ‘Come you are strong and of firm build; carry the cross of this man.’ “He goes on to write, “I was filled with wonder. Now, the cross I carried has become MY Cross. Should they say to me again, ‘Carry the cross of this man’. I would carry it till my road ended at the grave…this happened many years ago; and still whenever I follow the furrow in the field, and in that drowsy moment before sleep, I think always of that Beloved Man.” God gives all of us similar “Holy Luck” to carry the Cross of Christ too. As a matter of fact, the writer of the Book of Hebrews challenges us to Run our Race, by Carrying our Cross, focusing on the example our Lord has given us. That is our message today.

 Posted by at 4:41 pm

“Snake oil never works on a Snake bite!”

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Mar 312019
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Snake oil never works on a Snake bite!”  By:  Ron Woodrum

  Jay Rathman was hunting deer in the Tehema Wildlife Area near Red Bluff in northern California. He climbed to a ledge on the slope of a rocky gorge. As he raised his head to look over the ledge above, he sensed movement to the right of his face. A coiled rattlesnake struck with lightning speed, just missing Rathman’s right ear! The four-foot snake’s fangs got snagged in the neck of Rathman’s wool turtleneck sweater, and the force of the strike caused it to land on his left shoulder. It then coiled around his neck. He grabbed it behind the head with his left hand and could feel the warm venom running down the skin of his neck, the rattles making a furious racket. He fell backward and slid headfirst down the steep slope through brush and lava rocks, his rifle and binoculars bouncing beside him. “As luck would have it”, he would later report, “I ended up wedged between some rocks with my feet caught uphill from my head. I could barely move!” He got his right hand on his rifle and used it to dislodge the fangs from his sweater, but the snake had enough leverage to strike again! “He made about eight attempts to hit me with his nose hitting me just below my eye four times. I kept my head turned so he could not get a good angle with his fangs. But oh, it was so very close. This snake and I were eyeball to eyeball and I found out that snakes do not blink! He had fangs that looked like darning needles! I had to choke him to death. It was the only way out. I was afraid that with all the blood rushing to my head that I would become light headed and pass out. After I strangled the snake, I tried to toss the dead snake aside, but my hands could not let go! I had to pry my fingers from its neck!” Rathman, who was 45, and worked for the Department of Defense in San Jose, said the entire encounter lasted 20-30 minutes! Warden David Smith of the Wildlife Area says of meeting Rathman: “He walked toward me holding this string of rattles and said with a grin on his face, ‘I’d like to register a complaint about your wildlife here!’ “

Not all encounters with such poisonous vipers turn out so well! In Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh India, in May of 2018, a 35 year old woman, named Devendri, a mother of five, was out gathering fire wood, when she was bitten by a Cobra. She ran home to tell her husband Mukesh. Instead of rushing to a hospital to get treatment with some anti-venom, the husband called the local snake charmer. He suggested a bizarre treament,(his version of snake oil treatment), which he assurred them that it would suck out the poison. His treatment was to bury her in cow dung. Husband and wife complied. Devendri was buried in cow dung. 75 minutes later she was dead…not as a result of the poison, (though that was inevitable), but she died of suffocation. Mukesh was left to raise his five children alone. The police were called to investigate and the Station house officer said, “no charges were to be filed!” Wrong remedy to a toxic venom!

One month later, in June of 2018, in Corpus Christi, Texas-(town named after the Body of Christ), Jennifer and Milo Sutcliffe were working in their yard. Jennifer spotted a four foot long rattlesnake. She pointed it out to her husband. Milo grabbed a shovel and quickly severed the head of the predator. All was well! Milo, confident they had avoided a disastrous encounter, went to pick up the decapatated snake. He picked up the body, went to pick up the severed head, when he was suddenly bitten on the hand…BY THE SEVERED HEAD! He immediately experienced seizures, loss of vision, internal bleeding. His hand swelled up and was covered with dark purple bruises. By the time he got to the hospital, doctors told Jennifer that her husband may not make it. He was given large amounts of anti-venom, but continued to deteriorate. Usually a victim responds and improves after one or two doses. Milo was given a whopping 26 doses of a very expensive anti-venom before he finally stabilized! His encounter became a matter of life and death, and he almost did not escape.

  Reading of those encounters reminded me of how the Bible warns us of that Old Serpent the Devil, who is constantly looking for that opportunity to strike at us and inject his deadly poison. We first hear of him in Genesis 3:1 and see his constant attacks until he is destroyed in Revelation 20:2. No wonder the Bible tells us to be on the alert…to live our lives vigilant and watchful ,lest we be struck with his viscious attacks. He makes our Christian life a struggle. We sometimes lose battles to him. But, we are promised that when we rely on the strength and presence of our Living Lord, we can walk in victory over him. He causes us to “always triumph over the evil one”. But there is a passage in Scripture in Numbers 21 gives us an answer to the inward poison of sin that is destroying man. God provided a miracle deliverance lifted up in the hand of His deliverer Moses. All that the bitten people had to do was to “look and live”. Jesus in John 3:14-18…and John 12:27-34. Jesus pointed back to incident to show that that incident was a Divine deliverance to an earthly problem. But that He was the Divine deliverance to an eternal problem! The first remedy pointed to the final remedy. That is the message today. The Bronze Serpent on the pole that brought deliverance and healing to the bitten children of Israel was a precursor to the Cross of Christ…that He would be lifted up on to be judged for the sin and poison from that Old Serpent. Faith in His finished work on that tree would become the only eternal anti-venom to the Serpent’s bite. The world, like the snake charmer in India, offering snake oil, for a snake bite, will find out that it provides no healing whatsover, only death. Eternal death. The only hope for a bitten world is to Look and Live. That Cross is Better than any snake oil on a deadly snake bite!

Snake Oil, Snake Bite by Dilruba Ahmed

They staunched the wound with a stone.

They drew blue venom from his blood til there was none.

When the veins ran true his face remained lifeless

Until the mothers of the village wept and prayed til heaven had little choice

But to grant their supplications and God made the Boy breathe again.


God breathes life into us, it is said, only once. But this case was an exception.

God drew back a giant gust and blew life into the boy

And like a stranded fish, he shuddered, oceanless.

 

It was true: the boy lived.

He lived for a very long time.

The toxins were an oil slick: contaminated and cleaned. But just as soon as the women

Kissed redness back into his cheeks

The boy began to die again.

He continued to die for the rest of his life.

The dying took place slowly, sweetly. The dying took a very long time.

 Posted by at 4:23 pm

“ABIDING HARD BY THE CROSS-SO SPARKS OF CALVARY CAN KINDLE OUR FIRE”.

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Mar 172019
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “ABIDING HARD BY THE CROSS-SO SPARKS OF CALVARY CAN KINDLE OUR FIRE”.  BY:  Ron Woodrum

        Matthew 27:36 says “And sitting down they were watching Him there”. Mark 15:40 says, “The women were there looking from afar off and were looking on” . He lists them, “Mary Magdalene, Mary of James the least, and Joseph’s mother,( John calls her of Clopas), and Salome”. Luke says, in 23: 35 and 48-49 “And stood there the people beholding. “”And all the people that came together to that sight , beholding those things which were done, smote their breasts, and all his acquaintance, and the women that followed Him, stood afar off beholding these things”. John, some sixty years later, writes under inspiration and memory of the Holy Spirit’s guiding, “Now there stood by the Cross of Jesus, his Mother Mary, her sister Mary Cleopas, (his Aunt Mary), and Mary Magdalene” (Three Marys at the cross). The Gospel narratives seems to emphasize the impact this execution had on the spectators that day. Matthew puts the emphasis on the gurads who were “watching” the crucifixion-pointing to the fact that it was their duty to guide and guard each action that occurred. They were in a recling position. ( The word watch is “tereo” meaning to “watch over and guard”. But of course such guarding involved actively observing every movement, word, and reaction of the other bystanders. Mark points out, as the crucifixion neared the end, that the women there could take it no longer, and had moved away quite a distance, not able to bear it any longer. (“makrothen”-meaning a substantial distance yet still in sight of all occurring). Mark says, “They kept on watching from afar…and they were looking on”. The word looking is “thereo” from “theomai” meaning “to gaze, to partake of, to contemplate with analyzing” It is the root from which we get the word “theater”. It means “to take in with comprehension and understanding”-“a theater is where people concentrate on the meaning of an action or a performance” . Luke, likely writing the crucifixion from Mary’s eyewitness perspective, uses the same word-“thereo” but says that the crowds that had come together beheld, (thereo) the spectacle (Theorian). The emphasis indicates a “happening that is hard to view and understand with comprehension of meaning”. Viewing the spectacle of Calvary caused almost all of the spectators to beat their own breasts to dull the deep pain viewing this spectacle first hand, with their own eyes, had caused them to feel. Eyewitness viewing was that impactful. We all must wonder what it would have been like to have been, as John writes of the women, sixty years later in his memory, that they were “standing by the cross of Jesus”. Mel Gibson, in his Passion of the Christ, has done a theatrical spectacle quite realistic in order to transport us to their side. That is why we find it so hard to watch-so overwhelming. So crushing! In our own way we leave the presentation “beating our breasts” like they did, though maybe not literally. That kind of experience is critical for Christians-we must never forget that spectacle!

Charles Spurgeon, in his daily devotional, called Morning and Evening, writes, “Abide hard by the cross and search out the mystery of His wounds”. John R.W. Stott tells us why that is a valuable exercise for the believer. He says, “The cross is the blazing fire at which the flame of our love is kindled, but we have to get near enough for its sparks to fall on us!” That is why Jennie Evelyn Hussey wrote, in her hymn Lead Me To Calvary, sings “King of my life, I crown thee now;Thine shall the glory be; Lest I forget Thy Thorn-crowned brow; Lead me to Calvary.” Refrain reminds us-“Lest I forget Gethsemane; Lest I forget Thine agony; lest I forget Thy love for me; Lead me to Calvary”

Every year during this season it is a privilege, It is a mandate. It is an imperative given by God for your Pastor to stand in this pulpit and summon you to come to Calvary. To encourage you to “abide hard by the cross to search out that mystery!” To encourage you to come close enough to “let the sparks from the fire fall on your cold heart, to kindle a new passion in your heart” as you relive His ultimate sacrifice for you and I. Many famous painters have taken the time and their talents to preserve and portray for us the spectacle with such vividness that it enables us to answer the question of the old Spiritual-Where you there when they crucified my Lord? with a clear affirmative-yes! And as we revisit Golgotha annually it is my assignment to portray it in a worthy enough manner that your love for Him leads you to respond in kind. Rembrandt van Rijm, the great Dutch Rennaisance painter painted several scenes of the Crucifixion during the mid 1600’s. They tell us that he usually included himself in each, sometimes in a subtle way, and sometimes, as in the Raising of the Cross, in an explicit way, with him being the man with the Dutch painter’s beret, helping to raise the Cross of Christ! His way of saying, we were all there, we were all involved, we all played a part in His necessity to dying that death! As we visit there again, whether we come, like we did last Sunday, through the words of Israel King-Sweet Singer, and view the cross from the perspective of the Forgotten I AM, and view the cross from the perspective of the Son of God being Abandoned by the Father, Abhorred by the Fools, and Attacked by the Fiend, (Satan), written 1000 years before it occurred, or whether, like today we return to stand beside the cross of Jesus, seeing it portrayed by the Prophet of the Gospel of Love, Isaiah, as he paints the portrait of the Suffering Servant as He endures the Stripe of Sin to Redeem us. We must come to this Holy Ground, focus all of our heart, mind, soul, and person on what we see. Let me again share the words of Spurgeon, which he wrote of Psalm 22, but find application for Isaiah 53 as well. “For plaintive expressions uprising from unutterable depths of woe we may say of this Psalm, that there is none like it. It is a photograph of our Lord’s saddest hours. The record of his dying thoughts and words, the lachrymatory of his last tears…the memorial of his expiring joys. David and his afflictions may be here in a modified sense, but as the star is concealed by the light of the rising of the Sun, he who sees Jesus will probably neither see, nor care to see David. We should read reverently, pulling off our shoes from off our feet, as Moses did at the burning bush, for IF THERE BE HOLY GROUND ANYWHERE IN SCRIPTURE…IT IS THIS PSALM!” That is certainly true of Isaiah report of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh, the Suffering Messiah of Calvary, as he voluntarily yielded His soul as a Sacrifice to Satisfy the Stripe of Sin for a world of sinners! You and I so included that if we were the only ones he would have still paid the price in full!

In this perspective I want to give you three real life examples of what “abiding hard at the Cross can do for your heart today. The first comes from a famous Christian named Nicholas Ludwig Zinsendorf. On May 20, 1719 he, his brother Frederick, and a dear friend and tutor Herr Riederer entered the art gallery at Dusseldorf, Germany. They had been on a tour of Europe’s galleries to take in all the masterpieces. As he toured the gallery he was drawn to a particular painting-by Dominico Feti titled Ecce Homo (Behold the Man). It showed Jesus being presented by Pilate for Crucifixion, with a crown of thorns on his head. Underneath the artist had written the words “This I have done for you. What have you done for me?” He immediately thought of how he loved to read the Bible. How he loved to sing hymns. How much he did love the Lord. But somehow these things seemed so insignificant now. But his mind went back to Paedagogium in Halle. He thought about the time he had sat at the table listening to all that Bartholomaus Ziegenbaig, the missionary from India, had to say. Now there was a man who was doing something for Christ. “I will do more” he vowed as he stood in front of the painting. “My life will not be spent for myself”. He finished the rest of the gallery but could not get that painting out of his mind. It transformed his life. He founded a denomination called the Moravians that emphasized a passion heart-felt love for Christians that yielded their resources to sacrificial missionary work all over the world. Even the great John Wesley, upon spending a trip to America with them, credited them for showing him the way to true faith and salvation…”When feeling his heart strangely warmed”. “Sparks from the fire of the cross will do that for believers who are close enough to to have a new passion ignited in their heart for the Saviour.”

Another famous person found that same visit to that Gallery, that painting, impact her life as well. Francis Havergal while advancing her education in Dussseldorf, Germany saw the same painting. She saw Christ standing between Pilate and a crowd demanding death. Pilate says, “ecce homo” “behold the man” . That scene-Jesus whipped mercilessly, wearing a crown of thorns, purple robe of mockery. She copied the caption-“this I did for thee. What hast thou done for me?’ Back home when she relived that emotional moment at the gallery she wrote a poem of five stanzas each ending with a pointed challenge-“what have you done for me?” Reading it again, she thought it a poor poem and threw it in the fireplace. It did not burn. She retrieved them. Showed them to her father. He encouraged her to save them. Years later they became her most famous hymn. I Gave My Life For Thee. “I gave, I gave my life for thee; My precious blood I shed; That thou might ransomed be; and raised up from the dead; I gave my life for thee; what hast thou given for me?’

The third famous person who was impacted by “abiding hard at the cross” was Ernest Borgnine. He recounts the story in the March 1989 Guidepost testimony. While filming the movie Jesus of Nazareth, by Franco Zeffirelli, playing the role of the Centurion, back in 1976 with Anne Bancroft, and Olvia Hussey. The film was shot in January and February in Tunisia on the Mediterranean. He tells his story like this: ” It was cold, windy, and miserable. I was uncomfortable wearing the Roman soldier’s gear, especially the ponderous metal helmut. It made me pity those ancient soldiers. When it came to film my part at the cross, Robert Powell, who was playing Jesus, was given the day off. Zefferelli put a chalk mark on the cross and told me to ‘stare at it as if you were looking at Jesus’. I said, ‘okay’. I tried. I could not do it, I requested, ‘somebody read me the words of Jesus as He hung on the cross’. The director agreed to do that. I knew the words from my youth, and from reading for the part. I stared at the chalk mark and began to think like the centurion. That poor man up there, I thought. I met him. He healed my servant. He is the son of God. An unfortunate claim during these perilous times. But I know he is innocent of any crimes”. As Zefferelli read Jesus saying ‘father forgive them’ I felt so ashamed! I thought if you forgive me too, I will retire from soldiering and live out my life on that farm land outside of Rome. Then it happened! I no longer saw the chalk mark. I saw Jesus, on the cross! Not Robert Powell, the actor. Jesus! Pain-seared. sweat-stained. blood flowing from the crown. His face filled with compassion. He looked down at me, through tragic sorrowful eyes, with an expression of love beyond description. He cried out ‘it is finished’. ‘Into thy hands I commend my spirit’. His head slumped to one side! I knew he was dead. A terrible grief welled up inside of me. I became oblivious to the camera. I started sobbing uncontrollably, Zefferilli yelled, ‘Cut’. Olivia was crying. Anne Bancroft was crying, I wiped my eyes and looked again. Jesus was gone! That encounter changed my life. Made my faith real… Was a profound conversion experience. I have not been the same person since! As the centurion learned 2,000 years ago, you cannot encounter Jesus like that without being changed forever!” May that be your encounter today as we visit Mt. Calvary located in this text of Isaiah 52/53.

Two last quotes- J.I. Packer wrote, “The traveler through the Bible landscape misses his way as soon as he loses sight of hill called Mt. Calvary”. J. Knox Chambliss wrote, ” The Spirit does not take his pupils beyond the cross, BUT EVER MORE DEEPLY INTO IT!” May that be your worship experience today. “EVER MORE DEEPLY INTO HIS CROSS!”

 Posted by at 1:11 pm

“FOLLOWING THE LORD IN BAPTISM-KISSING THE SON”.

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Mar 102019
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “FOLLOWING THE LORD IN BAPTISM-KISSING THE SON”. By:  Ron Woodrum

    One of the most controversial rock groups since the 1990’s is the rock group Korn. The Chicago Tribune described the group as “perverts, psychopaths, and paranoiacs”. Their heavy metal music and explicit lyrics had earned them quite a reputation-a bad one! But they made news March 3, 2005 when a close friend gave Korn’s lead guitarist Brian “Head” Welch a Bible. He was addicted to Xanax, and crystal meth, as well as alcohol. He was miserable. After reading portions of the Bible he announced that he had accepted The Lord Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. He told MTV and an audience of 10,000 attendees at Valley Bible Fellowship of Bakersfield, California that this is “not about religion, it is not about this Church, it is not about me. It is about Jesus Christ and the Book Of Life. Everyone needs to be taught this. God went to a rock concert and found a hurting soul on stage. I am the happiest man in the world”. Exactly one week later, Welch left skeptics without any doubt, when he and 20 others flew to Israel to follow the Lord Jesus Christ in baptism in the Jordan River. On March 10, 2005 he and 20 white-robed pilgrims were baptized by the Pastor Ron Vetti, of the Valley Bible Fellowship in the Jordan River, confessing Jesus publically as Savior to the entire world. Welch said, “I am going home a totally different and new man”. He followed up his baptism with a new album and a new autobiography both entitled Save Me from Myself. Welch’s actions raise a lot of questions. Why go to Israel to be baptized in the Jordan River? Why be baptized at all? What does it mean to follow the Lord in baptism? Most people both in and outside the Church today see baptism as much an enigma as John the Baptist did of Jesus’ baptism over 2,000 years ago. As we preach this series on “following Jesus” we need to follow him to the Jordan River. We need to ask and answer why He was baptized by John the Baptist. What did that act that he initiated His public ministry with mean? For Him? For us? What does it mean for us to “follow the Lord in baptism?”

According to two N.T. passages Jesus’ baptism was to be an inauguration of the public ministry He was embarking on. According to Matthew 3:13-17, while John the Baptist was baptizing a steady stream of Jewish converts who were showing repentance and readiness for the coming Messiah, Jesus Himself showed up and requested that John baptize Him. John kept on refusing to do so, declaring his own unworthiness, and need to be baptized by Jesus the Messiah. Jesus convinced him to allow it at this time “to fulfill all righteousness”. John agreed. As he immersed Jesus in the Jordan River, he heard a voice from heaven declaring, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased”, and he saw “the Spirit of God descending upon Him in the form of a dove” anointing Him for His mission and ministry as Messiah. Then as you turn to John 1:31-34 we hear John the Baptist saying, “I knew Him not; but so that He might be made manifest to all Israel I came baptizing with water…and I saw the Spirit descending from heaven, in the form of a dove, and abode on Him. I knew Him not…but He who sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, ‘upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining on Him, is the same that will baptize with the Holy Spirit’. I saw and bore witness this one is the Son of God”. Those two narratives describe an event that was a fulfillment of two prophecies about the Messiah. One is Psalm 2. In that Psalm we read about the Son of God who will come to rule and judge the rebellious and mutinous nations. God says, “This is my beloved Son, this day I have begotten thee…and I will give you the nations for your inheritance”. (Psalm 2:1). But Jesus’ baptism was fully explained in Isaiah 42:1 “Behold my Servant, whom I uphold, in whom my soul delighteth, (equivalent in Hebrew to the Greek ‘in whom I am well pleased’.), and will give thee to the covenant people, and for a light to the nations, to open blind eyes, to set free prisoners from prison and the darkness of the prison house.” As Jesus began His ministry He submitted Himself to a ceremony that symbolized and pictured what His mission would be as the Suffering Servant Messiah. He would not just be the King, Son of the Most High, come to rule the nations. He would be Suffering Servant come to give His life as predicted of Him in Isaiah 53. All of that was pictured in His baptism. The Spirit would come on Him and empower Him to live a righteous life, and sacrifice Himself as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. Those who would trust Him to be the one to take away their sins, by His sacrifice, would publically declare it by following His example, and submit to water baptism, as He did. By that they would foreshadow what His sacrifice would do for them. His Spirit baptism would put them in union with Him, and His Spirit would enable them to die to sin, self, and the world, and be raised spiritually to walk in newness of life. His baptism prophesied His mission. Their baptism prophesied their deliverance from sin. Psalm 2 ends by giving all the command to “kiss the Son and give evidence to their faith and trust in Him” to be the Savior and King He came to be. Baptism is the public demonstration where we can “kiss the Son” and declare our faith in Him. Through our union with Him we have died to sin and self and risen to walk in Him.  

Having John baptize Him was Jesus’ “Crossing the Rubicon”. On January 10, 49 B.C. Julius Caesar, with all of his troops, was sitting on the banks of the Rubicon River that separated Italy from Gaul. For him to cross into Italy with his troops was to break the law of Imperium, which forbid any unauthorized generals and troops from entering the country as a military unit. To do so was to be penalized by death for the general and the troops. That night Caesar and his troops slept on the banks of the Rubicon. The next morning, stating he had been given a word from god, he uttered these words “alea iacta est” -“the die is cast” and he and his troops “crossed the Rubicon”. That phrase has become an idiom for going to the “point of no return”. It has come to mean “make a choice and face whatever consequences it brings“-no turning back. That is what Jesus did in submitting to John’s baptism. He was committing Himself to all it would be to “fulfill at righteousness” as the Suffering Servant Messiah and as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. All of that mission and ministry would be pictured in His baptism. Entering the water, lying down in the water, being buried totally in the water, and rising up out of the water. There is the vivid panorama of what it would take to “fulfill all righteousness” in obedience to the will of His Father. He would be empowered by the Spirit to live under the law, to redeem those who had broken the law. He would, as Hebrews says, “offer Himself as a sacrifice through the power of the Eternal Spirit, to be the perfect one-time sacrifice, to redeem all those who put their trust in Him. (Heb.9:14).

Jesus then gave His Church the commission to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever He commanded. (Matt. 28:19-20). That gave all who would hear the good news of the Gospel, illustrated by Jesus Death, Burial, and Resurrection, pictured in His baptism, the opportunity to follow Him in baptism, and thereby trust His redemptive work, which would unite them with Him, in His Death and Resurrection, and Spirit’s filling and anointing, enabling them to die to the old life, and be raised to walk in newness of life. (See Rom. 6:14). Our baptism, picturing the baptism of the Spirit, is our “Crossing the Rubicon“. It is us choosing to “cast the die”. It is the linking of our faith and trust with His redemptive work, resulting in a transforming salvation. C.S. Lewis talked about the miracle of this work of Christ in our lives. He wrote, “The Christian way is different: harder and easier. Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don’t so much want your time and so much your money and so much your work: I want you! I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down…Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked-the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: My own shall become yours’ “That is what happens when we follow the Lord in baptism, and begin living out the actuality of the Sprit’s baptism. That is what God wanted when He commanded in Psalm 2-“kiss the Son, lest He be angry with you!” Paint a picture of Him, by your submission to Him, and display His beauty for all the world to see.

Charles Spurgeon tells the story about an artist who was a contemporary with him, though he had never met him. His name was Gustave Dore. One day when Gustave Dore was working on a painting of Christ, a lady friend came to visit his studio and began gazing intently at the face, almost completed. As she was gazing, the artist retired from the picture to a corner of the room, and looked at the face of his friend, as she looked intently on the face on the canvas. Turning around she asked, “Why do you look at me so anxiously?” “I wanted to watch your face as you looked at His face-I think you like it”, He insisted. “Yes, I do”, she told him. “Do you want to know what I was thinking? -I was thinking that you could never paint the face of Christ like you have unless you loved Him!” “Do I love Him?’ Dore asked in agitation. “I trust I do-and that sincerely; but as I love Him more, I shall paint Him better!” Baptism, and the new life that follows, is the opportunity to show our love for Him by painting His portrait on the canvass of our lives for the world to see how our faith, in His redemptive work, is the only hope we have of fulfilling all righteousness, and restoring the glory God intended for us in the beginning. “Kiss the Son”

 Posted by at 1:04 pm

“Look to that precious standard of life…never to be wrested from our hands”.

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Mar 032019
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Look to that precious standard of life…never to be wrested from our hands”.       By:  Ron Woodrum

One of the greatest preachers of all human history was Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Each Sunday his sermons were telegraphed and printed to most of the major cities of the world. They were printed and passed out like gospel tracts, which indeed they were. Unnumbered millions came to faith through his preaching and through the printing of those sermons. His sermons always seemed to center on the Cross of Jesus Christ. No matter from what passage of Scripture he took as his text he always managed to travel from it to the place of the cross. When someone asked him why God honored his preaching he said, “I simply announce my text and make a bee-line for the cross!” He clearly understood the words of Jesus who had said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all the world to myself” (John 12:32). Why did he understand that message so much? Because he had indeed experienced the truth of it. His conversion experience happened one Sunday morning when he was only 14 years old. He was walking to his father’s Church for services when a snowstorm hindered him from getting there. He turned in to a little Primitive Methodist Church for worship. The pastor was snowed in and could not make it. A layman led the service that was attended by only 14 people. Young Spurgeon made it 15! Listen to his testimony of that morning in his own words:

“I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm, one Sunday morning, while I was going to a certain place of worship. When I could go no further, I turned down a side street, and I came to a little Primitive Methodist Chapel. In that chapel there may have been a dozen or fifteen people. I had heard of Primitive Methodists, how they sang so loudly they made people’s heads ache; But that did not matter to me. I wanted to know how I might be saved, and if they could tell me that, I did not care how much they made my head ache. The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up, I suppose. At last, a very thin looking man-a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up to the pulpit to preach. Now it is well that preachers should be instructed, but this man was really stupid. He was obliged to stick to the text, for the simple reason that he had little else that he had to say. The text was-LOOK UNTO ME, AND BE YE SAVED, ALL THE ENDS OF THE EARTH. He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimpse of hope for me in that text. The preacher began thus-‘My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says-LOOK. Now looking don’t take a great deal of pains. It ain’t liftin your foot or your finger; it is just LOOK! Well a man needn’t go to college to LOOK. You may be the biggest fool, yet you can LOOK. A man needn’t be worth a thousand a year to LOOK. Anyone can LOOK. Even a child can LOOK. The text says LOOK UNTO ME.- (he said in broad ESSEX accent) many of ye are looking to yourselves, but it’s no use looking there! You will never find comfort for your souls there! Some look to God the Father. No, look to Him by and by. Jesus says, LOOK UNTO ME! Some say we must wait for the Spirit’s workin’. You have no business with that just now. LOOK TO CHRIST! The text says LOOK UNTO ME.’ Then the good man followed up his text in this way-‘Look unto me I am sweatin’ great drops of blood. Look unto me I am hanging on the Cross. Look unto me I am dead and buried. Look unto me I rise again. Look unto me I ascend into heaven. Look unto me I am sittin’ at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner look unto me. Look unto me.’

When he had gone to about that length, and had managed to spin out ten minutes or so, he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I dare say, with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger. Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, ‘young man you look miserable’. Well I did. But I had not been accustomed to have remarks made about it from the pulpit on my personal appearance ever before. However, it was a good blow that struck right home. He continued, ‘and you will always be miserable-miserable in life-miserable in death-if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved!’ Then, lifting his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, ‘Young man, look to Jesus Christ! LOOK…LOOK…LOOK! YOU HAVE NOTHING TO DO BUT TO LOOK AND LIVE!’ I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said-I did not take much notice of it. I was so possessed with that one thought. Like the brazen serpent that was lifted up in the wilderness, the people only looked and they were healed. So, it was with me. I had been waiting to do fifty things. But when I heard that word LOOK—what a charming word it seemed to me! Oh, I looked until I could have almost looked my eyes away. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness rolled away, at that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen in an instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, (enough to make a man’s head ache!) of the precious blood of Christ and the simple faith which looks alone to Him. Oh, that somebody had told me this before…Trust Christ and you shall be saved! Yet it was, no doubt, all wisely ordered and now I can say–

Ever since by faith I saw the stream

       Thy flowing wounds supply

    Redeeming love has been my theme

        And shall be til I die”

A little over one hundred years later, another famous British journalist saw the same Cross. Famed journalist Malcom Muggeridge told how he had resisted the message of the cross all his life, until one day it drew him to surrender to the Christ of the Cross and it became a treasure to wear over his heart, and a standard of salvation never to be wrested out of his hands. He wrote: “From time to time I would catch a glimpse of a cross. Not necessarily a crucifix. Maybe two pieces of wood accidently nailed together…or a telegraph pole for instance—and suddenly my heart would stand still. In an instinctive and intuitive way, I understood that it represented something more important, more tumultuous, more passionate, than all other good causes, however admirable they might be. It was, I know, an obsessive interest…I might fasten bits of wood together myself, or doodle it when I was writing. This symbol, which was considered derisory in my home, yet also the focus of inconceivable hopes and desires…as I remember this, a sense of my own failure lies leadenly upon me. Long before I did…I should have worn it over my heart; carried it, a precious standard never to be wrested from my hands…it should have been my cult, my uniform, my language, my life. I shall have no excuse. I cannot say I didn’t know earlier. I knew from the beginning and turned away all those years”

But like Spurgeon, after embracing the Christ of that Cross. After looking only to Him and that finished work on the cross for salvation. It did, as it should all of us, become our cult, our uniform, our language, our life, never to be wrest from our hands or hearts. Calvary calls…..LOOK AND BE SAVED TO THE UTTERMOST!

 Posted by at 1:27 pm

“Rough Winds of Persecution Transformed into Winds of Propagation!”

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Feb 242019
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Rough Winds of Persecution Transformed into Winds of Propagation!” By:  Ron Woodrum

  Thomas Carlyle used to say that the easy, chatty optimism of Ralph Waldo Emerson maddened him. In his opinion “no really dark shadow had ever fallen across Emerson’s sheltered life”. He said that Emerson “seemed like a man who, standing well back from the least touch of spray from the storm, throws chatty observations about the beauty of the weather to a poor man battling for his life in huge waves that are beating upon him and threatening to sweep him away!” Perhaps Carlyle was right about Emerson, we cannot say. But personal experience in the marketplace of human existence tells us all that somewhere between sunrise and sunset, everyone will feel the harsh winds of opposition upon our faces. What is true of individuals is also true of the Church, at any given time in history. The Church had seen some opposition during the days of its infancy. If the world hated their Lord, they too would feel that animosity at some time or another, in some way or another. Jesus had promised them that. But during the early days, recorded in Luke’s narrative in the Book of Acts, those winds did not blow harshly at first. We read of the Church, under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, penetrating the Graeco-Roman world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, turning it upside down, taking the Church from Jerusalem to Rome in only two decades! But as the Children of Israel found out-things can change in a New York minute. When a Pharaoh that knew not Joseph came to power, their position went from privileged to persecuted immediately. So with the Church. Beginning with Emperor Claudius and running through Diocletian, the Church faced the ever-increasing winds of persecution blowing their way all throughout the Roman Empire. This persecution would become so intense that it threatened the very existence of the Church. Many then, and now, question why the Sovereign God would allow such a thing to happen to His faithful people.

Frank W. Boreham, in his book Cliffs of Opal, explains the necessity of such suffering in order to impact the Roman world of that day with an even greater impact! He writes, “If Jesus, the Son of God, had died His bitter death on Calvary’s tree, and left it at that, would that have saved the world? Of course not! The world at large would have never heard of it. The tragic incident would have passed into oblivion within a year or two. Just another political execution off in a distant Roman Province. In order for that redeeming sacrifice might be made effective, and the world be saved by means of it, it was necessary for the Apostles to suffer and die proclaiming it, for the martyrs to lay down their lives defending it, for missionaries like Xavier, and Livingstone, and Patterson, and Williams, and Chalmers to seal it with their blood. That would be their testimony to its virtue. Every death on a foreign shore, every tear shed for the Gospel’s sake, every jibe or sneer patiently endured out of love for Christ, is an augmentation of the awful tragedy of Golgotha. It is the wonder of wonders that He who died upon that bitter tree to redeem mankind associates each of us with Himself in that Divine and sacrificial work!” A.T. Pierson, in his book The Bible and The Spiritual Life, explains how that God used such sacrifice and suffering on the part of His saints to impact them, and the world that witnessed their suffering, to reflect the glory and grace of their Crucified Savior to the World. He wrote, “God allows it in order to perfect His saints. He puts His precious metal into His crucible. But He watches it. His love is His thermometer, and He marks the exact degree of heat, not one instant’s unnecessary pang will He permit; as soon as the dross is released and He sees Himself reflected in them, the trial immediately ceases!” His martyrs all testified to His sustaining grace being sufficient for the moment. What an impact their witness had.

Soon the road of persecution led to the newly built Colosseum. It became the center of attention for the public display of The Sacrifice of Christ being magnified through the testimonies and deaths of His martyrs. Vance Havner, in his book Hearts Aflame, pays a fitting tribute to these courageous Christians. He writes, “If we had sat in the grandstands amidst the grandeur that was Rome we might have been deceived. For it was not the howling mob in the Colosseum that determined the course of history. Underground in the catacombs another force was at work. A handful of men and women who worshipped another King called Jesus, who had died and risen, and was coming back someday-here was the beginning of the Empire within the Empire, the Christians beneath the Caesars! They crept along the subterranean passageways and tunnels, among the tombs and caverns, hunted and persecuted as the scum of the earth. If we would have prowled the gloomy depths we might have come upon little companies singing, listening to the Gospel message, observing the Lord’s Supper. The verdict might have been this little group doesn’t stand a chance! But the Christian Underground upset the Caesars above ground. The Catacombs overcame the Colosseum…and put it out of business! That fellowship who loved Jesus more than they loved their own lives, who were in the world, but not of it, whose blood was the seed of the Church…were on fire with the passion that Roman swords could not kill, nor waters of the Mediterranean Sea could drown, nor the fierce flames of fire could destroy nor silence. Their blood was spilled so freely and often in that arena that when a traveler asked if he might take a relic with him, was told take a handful of sand from the Colosseum. It is all martyrs!”

Need we say more? That kind of devotion withstands the howling winds of persecution and shifts the direction back toward its source, transforming them into winds of propagation! Let those winds blow…world wide!

 Posted by at 1:57 pm

“THE DISMAL COMPANY…ONLY TO SELF TRUE!”

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Feb 172019
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “THE DISMAL COMPANY…ONLY TO SELF TRUE!”  By:  Ron Woodrum

      There is an unusual quote, from a very unusual source, that God recently brought to my attention that describes our world today, both those inside and outside the Church, quite accurately. It describes our most destructive attitude that perpetrates and perpetuates our dilemma. It comes from Dante Alighieri. Who in the world is that Pastor? That is the full name of the famous Dante of Dante’s Inferno: The Divine Comedy. Few of us read his work anymore that describes the medieval view of Hell. While being given a tour of Hell Dante hears sighing, crying weeping, wailing and railing. He writes, “At first I wept at such wailing and lamentations…shrieks, yells, and groans. Whereupon I asked, ‘Master what is this I hear?’ ‘Who can these people be, so distraught with grief?’ He answered, ‘THE DISMAL COMPANY, OH WRETCHED SPIRITS THAT FIND THEIR RECOMPENSE DUE, WHOSE LIVES KNEW NEITHER PRAISE NOR INFAMY…WHO AGAINST GOD REBELLED NOT, NOR TO HIM WERE FAITHFUL, BUT ONLY TO SELF WERE TRUE!’ “They tell us the road to hell is paved with “good intentions”. The residence of hell is filled with “great regret”. The residents of hell will be eternally quoting the words of John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem-“For of all sad words of tongue or pen-the saddest are it might have been”. But hell is not the only place of regret. When we all get to heaven, and look back over the opportunities of our lives, that poem will also express the feelings of many of God’s saints too.

The great tragedy of our time is that we have chosen who and what will come first in our lives, and it is not God! It is ourselves. We come first. We live for ourselves. We are true to ourselves. We want to include God in our lives, on our terms. We have not rebelled against Him that much, but we have not been sold-out faithful to Him either. Our lives do not deserve praise neither infamy. What a tragedy! If we do not take specific action to put God first in our lives -the kind of action that Rick Warren made clear and popular in his book The Purpose Driven Life-we may find our lives lived only for ourselves, and making no impact for eternity. I am fond of a description from a nineteenth-century writer Van Wyck Brooks, who described his futile life, in his autobiography by saying that as he surveyed his life he concluded that his efforts had been sown in an environment where they could not grow and not even a furrow remained from where he had ploughed. His words are so descriptive of futility-it is as if he had been “ploughing the sea!” The great Irish Poet W. B. Yeats wrote in a similar vein in his memoir Reveries: “All life, weighed in the scale of my own life seems a preparation for something that never happens!” That is the tragedy of most of our Christian lives. We intend to put God first; to live a surrendered life; to witness and win others to Christ; to make an impact for Him; to do things that will be worthy of Him saying to us in that day-“Well done thou good and faithful servant“. But we have been “ploughing the sea” and can’t even retrace where we’ve been. Our lives…always preparing for impact for Jesus…but “nothing ever happens!”

Greg Levoy calls this the “common cold of the soul”. He says our lives are filled with “Sinful patterns of behavior that never get confronted and changed. Abilities and gifts that never get cultivated and deployed–until weeks become months, and months turn into years, and one day you’re looking back on a life of deep intimate, gut-wrenching honest conversations you never had; great bold prayers you never prayed; exhilarating risks you never took; sacrificial gifts you never gave; lives you never touched; and you’re sitting in a recliner with a shriveled soul and forgotten dreams, and you realize there was a world of desperate need, and a great God calling you to be part of something bigger than yourself-you see the person you could have become but did not; You never followed your calling; you never got out of the boat; if you want to walk on water you have to get out of the boat. Most of us have never gotten out of the boat!”

Garrison Keillor, in a story called “A Day in the Life of Clarence Bunsen” tells of an older man who realizes that life has slipped away and his life has missed something. He goes to see Father Emil for advice and comes away empty. He goes back to a hill that overlooks his childhood hang-out at Lake Woebegone and watches kids playing and reflects on his life. He thinks to himself, “I wish I could be like that. I just seem to go through life with my eyes closed and my ears shut. People talk to me, and I don’t seem to hear them. Whole days go by, and I can’t remember what happened. The woman I’ve lived with for thirty-six years, if you asked me to describe her, I’d have to stop and think about it. It’s like I’ve lived half my life waiting for my life to begin, thinking it’s off somewhere in the future, and now I am thinking about death all the time. It’s time to live, time to wake up and do something!” Henry David Thoreau summarized what Clarence Bunsen might have been trying to say, when he said, “I did not wish to live what was not life…I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life!” We could take a tip from Pablo Picasso. He wrote, “When a man knows how to do something-he ceases to be a man when he stops doing it!” James put it this way, “He that knoweth to do good and doeth it not…to him it is sin!” (James 4:17). We need to take purpose-driven steps to avoid the “Dismal company-being only true to ourselves”. We need to quit “ploughing the sea” quit living life with good intentions “preparing for something that never happens!” Get over our “common colds of the soul” and “wake up and live that life of impact for Christ now!” “Do not live life that is not life-suck all the marrow out” and once we begin, “never stop doing it!” That is the path to an eternity with “No Regrets!”

 Posted by at 1:49 pm

“LAST DAY BATTLEFIELD-THE HEART OF MAN”

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Feb 102019
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “LAST DAY BATTLEFIELD-THE HEART OF MAN”  —  By Ron Woodrum

In his book, The Brother’s Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky poignantly states, “The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man“. That battle involves recognizing truth-God’s truth. The devil is, and always has been, in the business of perverting God’s truth into a lie, and getting man to believe it, and thus choose the path of error and destruction. He is a master of deception and his lies are passing for truth quite successfully in our Post-Christian world. Paul warned us that in the last days we would be inundated with “doctrines of demons“( I Tim. 4:1), and that God would let the world “believe a lie, because they believed not the truth” (II Thes. 2:11). Man’s problem today is not knowing the truth, but “suppressing” and “rejecting” the truth in exchange for a lie. Dostoevsky warned about that too. He wrote, “Above all don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lies comes to the point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others, and having no respect he ceases to know love“. That I believe is a very accurate description of the very condition modern man finds himself in. David Roper, in his book A Beacon in the Darkness, hits the nail on the head, when he writes, “We live in a world of cosmic deceit, hidden agendas, treacherous motivations, illusions, and lies. And Satan is behind it all. His strategy is to deceive. His objective is to destroy. His shrewd cruel mind is behind the lies that buffet us all day long, the media messages that encourage us to ‘find ourselves’ in something other than the living God, to go for the gusto, but to leave the Savior out. The lie comes into the world in the guise of beauty and good, (our minds are repelled by ugliness and obvious evil), but the deceit inevitably sickens the soul and it begins to die. For when Satan has accomplished his purpose and separated men and women from God, what can they do but wither and die eternally?” That is why Isaiah warned, “Woe to them that call evil good, and good evil; that call darkness light, and light darkness” ( Isaiah 5:20). Denis deRougement, in a book entitled The Devil’s Share, clarifies the plight of our modern world with more clarity than anyone I have ever read. He says the problem today is compounded by the difference between a lie and a pure lie. This is what he says, “There are two ways of lying, as there are two ways of deceiving a customer. If a scale registers 15 ounces, you can say, ‘it is a pound’. Your lie will remain relative to an invariable measure of the true. If the customer checks it he can see that he is being robbed, and he knows by how much you are robbing him; a truth remains as a judge between you. But if you tamper with the scale itself, it is the criterion of the truth which is denatured; there is no longer any possible control. And little by little you will forget that you are cheating. You may even bet that you will exercise all your scruples in giving exact weight, perhaps by adding a few pinches for ‘good measure’, for the smile of the buyer and the satisfaction of your virtue. That is ‘pure lying’, the moment you falsify the scale of truth itself, all your virtues are at the service of evil and are accomplices in its contagion“. The devil has tampered with the scale. He has caused us to throw out the accurate scale of God’s inspired Word, and receive his counterfeit scale. When the standard is corrupted, even honorable people become agents of evil. They believe they are doing right when in fact what they are doing is dead wrong, and they unwittingly foist their wrong-doing on others. That is what has happened today. Satan has moved the parameters so that even ‘principled people’ have been brought into the service of evil. Their lack of a fixed reference point has led them into profound moral confusion and deep sense of insecurity. I saw a cartoon once depicting two people talking. One said to the other, “I still believe in evil-I just don’t know what qualifies!” People still believe in good and evil, it’s just that no one knows where the parameters are anymore-and that makes for a very dangerous and uncertain world! Black is white; white is black; up is down, and down is up; we are turned loose, without an anchor, of a raging sea helplessly tossed about by whichever way the cultural wind blows. We will end up destroyed on the rocks unless we turn back to the Word that transcends culture and circumstance, and is older than time!

It seems to me that Norman Maclean raises that question in his book A River Runs Through It. His book and Robert Redford’s movie about how A Presbyterian minister tries to teach his sons about life through fly fishing and spiritual wisdom. One son seems to find the truth, while the other refuses the guidance and help and remains a free-spirited son who drinks too much, lives too fast, and eventually loses his life in a back-alley brawl. The father tries, through the medium of fly fishing, to pass on to his sons the underlying, unchanging values of his life. Maclean recalls one streamside exchange with his father: “‘What have you been reading?’I asked. ‘A book’, my father replied. It was on the ground on the other side of him. So I would not have to bother to look over his knees to see it, he said, ‘A good Book’. Then he told me, ‘in the part I was reading it says the Word was in the beginning, and that’s right. I used to think that water was first, but if you listen carefully you will hear the words underneath the water’. ‘That’s because you’re a preacher first and then a fisherman’, I told him. ‘No’, my father said, ‘You are not listening carefully. The water runs over the words. Paul will tell you the same thing.’ I looked to see where the book was left open and knew just enough Greek to recognize ‘logos’ as the Word. I guessed from it and from the argument that I was looking at the first verse of John’ “. Mclean emphasizes that we can take the truth and try to help but it has to be received, not rejected. Mclean writes, “Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know are the ones who elude us. But we can still love them-we can love completely without complete understanding”.

In today’s message we are considering how in the last days, Christ’s Church will find itself living in the location where Satan’s throne is. The Church will be challenged by the world to accept the deception that the devil has pawned off as truth. Some will hold fast to the truth, while others will defect and forsake the Lord and Savior who saved them. Jesus comes, as the one speaking a sharp two-edged sword from his mouth, cutting through all the deception with His truth. Only those willing to welcome the word will be enabled to stand fast in a world where the devil is tampering with the scale of truth!

 Posted by at 2:44 pm