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“The only One to Escape the Grip of Death”

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Jul 122020
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE:  “The only One to Escape the Grip of Death”

     Edgar Allen Poe, in 1845, wrote a masterful allegorical story titled The Masque of the Red Death.  In the book he focused on the futile attempt of mankind, in spite of status, wealth, location, or avoidance-to evade the ever-prevailing hand of death.  In the context of the story there is an entire country face the plague of the Red Death, (Bubonic Plague).  The Powerful Prince of the land invites a select group to safety behind the locked gates of his Castle.  After several months he throws a masquerade ball in celebration of heir avoidance of the plague-so far!  For the celebration he decorated the main seven rooms of the castle in single colors.  There are rooms decorated in blue, purple, green, orange, white, violet, and the final one decorated in black, with red stained-glass windows.  The rooms run from east to west, the direction of the rise and setting of the sun.  Poe means for the rooms to show the progression of life from birth, blue room, to death, the black room, the black room also includes an ebony clock that rings hourly.  Most of the rooms are locations of guests partying, dreaming, swirling with revelers, everyone avoids the black ominous room!  At midnight a new guest appears in very ghoulishly styled clothes.  He is pale and has a face like a corpse, with red spots revealing him as a victim of the red death.  The Prince Prospero confronts this guest in the black and red room.  After the confrontation the Prince dies.  The other guests come into the room to attack the cloaked Stanger.  They find no one in the room under the cloaked costume.  Everyone then dies, and the Red Death has invaded the Castle.  Darkness, Decay, and Red Death have at last triumphed!  Poe uses his story to show the unfairness of the feudal system in allowing the aristocracy to abuse the peasantry.  His major point is that all classes will fail in their futile attempt to evade and escape the pursuit of ever-present death, symbolized in the Red Death.  A look at the mortality statistics seem to indicate that the truth is still one of one human die!  It cannot be evaded or escaped.

     One individual earned fame and fortune with his continued escape from the grip of death-Harry Houdini. Throughout his career Harry Houdini cheated death with several close calls.  In 1911, while in Boston, ten prominent business men challenged Houdini to escape from the belly of a whale.  He had to be shackled in handcuffs and leg irons sewn up in a whale’s belly.  After 15 minutes he emerged, smiling, though he nearly suffocated on arsenic fumes that had been used to embalm the whale.  A close escape from the hand of death.  One of his best-known tricks was the milk can.  He would be handcuffed and locked inside an oversized milk can filled with water.  He always escaped.  He later added the milk can being locked inside a padlocked wooden chest to add to the danger.  Another dangerous act was to be shackled in a packing crate, with the lid nailed down, and the crate submerged in the New York’s East River, weighed down with two hundred pounds of lead.  He escaped in 53 seconds, without cuffs, and when the crate was pulled out the lid was still nailed down, and the discarded shackles of Houdini’s were still on the inside!   He often escaped from a straight-jacket while dangling from a building, or a crane.  He made his escapes in full view of his audience crowded on the street below.  Quite a death-defying feat!  One of his most famous escapes was the Chinese Water Torture Cell.  Shackled hand and foot he was lowered upside down into a tank filled with water.  If he could not escape in two minutes he would drown.  His assistants were instructed to break the glass of the tank if two minutes passed.  The time never lapsed…he always emerged.  The Buried Alive stunt nearly killed him.  Houdini was buried under six feet of dirt without a casket.  He struggled to dig to the surface and panicked when he was overcome with exhaustion.  He had to be pulled unconscious from the grave!  He later performed the buried alive trick in a coffin.  One submerged in water, while in a sealed coffin.  He made it out in one and a half hours.  Another time he was straight-jacketed in a sealed coffin and buried in a large tank filled with sand.  He escaped!  With all these daring escapes many thought he would never die.  

     But on the afternoon of October 22, 1926, two McGill University students visited Houdini’s dressing room. According to reports, Houdini was looking through his mail, when one of the students, J. Gordon Whitehead, asked Harry if he could indeed withstand any blow to the abdomen, as the magician had previously proclaimed. Harry responded that he could, if given time to brace himself, at which point Whitehead hit Houdini four times in the abdomen, under the impression that Houdini had indeed braced himself for the blows. Throughout the evening, Houdini performed in great pain. He was unable to sleep and remained in constant pain for the next two days, though he did not seek medical help. When he finally saw a doctor, Harry was found to have a fever of 102 degrees and acute appendicitis. He was advised to go to the hospital for immediate surgery. However, Harry decided to complete his show as planned that night. By the time Harry arrived on stage, his fever had risen to 104 degrees. He was tired and in pain and his assistants often had to step in and offer help. Audience members reported that Harry missed his cues and seemed in a hurry. By the middle of the third act, Houdini asked his assistant to lower the curtain as he could not go on. When the curtain closed, Harry collapsed where he was standing and had to be carried back to his dressing room. He continued to refuse medical care until the next morning when Bess insisted he go to the hospital. Harry relented and had his appendix removed; however, it had already ruptured and doctors did not have much hope for his survival. On October 31, 1926 surrounded by his wife and brother, Harry Houdini died.

     Harry had planned for that day.  He intended to be the first to escape the grip of death and come back from the dead by communicating with his wife Beatrice, (Bess).  He made a pact with her that after he died, she was to hold a seance, on the anniversary of his death for ten years.  He promised to come back from the dead and contact her with some code words they often used in his acts.  That is how she would know it was him.  During the first year after his death she would retire to the privacy of hear room every Sunday between noon and 2 pm.  She would sit there in front of his photograph with a candle she kept burning for ten years.  For the next ten years Bess held an annual seance for this contact from her husband.  None came! On the tenth year, at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Beverly Hills, California she held what would be the final seance.  Nothing happened for the last time.  At the end of the seance, Bess Houdini said that it was her personal and positive belief “that spirit communication is not possible in any form.  …The Houdini Shrine has burned for ten years.  I now, reverently, turn out the light, it is finished.  Good night Harry!”  The world’s most famous escape artist could not evade or escape the grip of death.  The only one to do that, as He promised was Jesus Christ.  After three days, like he promised, he rolled the stone away, and walked back into this world alive for evermore…for everyone to see, and for history to record!  It was affirmed not by scientific proof, but by eyewitness testimony.  It still stands or falls on the individual’s faith in this testimony.  It is still a matter of faith. 

     One of my favorite writers, Frederick Buechner points out this important truth about the resurrection.  “Now the truth is the first Christian sermon was not delivered by a man. The first Christian sermon was delivered by a woman. The sermon was delivered by a former prostitute named Mary Magdalene and it was five words: I have seen the Lord. Let her tell them the truth and the truth is, the dangerous truth is: I have seen the Lord. Ever since that sermon … the one five-word sermon … the world has never been the same. It is perhaps the most historic and dangerous oration ever delivered. But the truth is every Easter is historic … Easter brings with it this preposterous idea that a man of flesh and blood … crucified before a hostile crowd … dead three days in a tomb … this man has been raised. The tomb is empty … and he is roaming around. He is with us until the close of the age. If we were to take the time to unpack this … it would be at the very least unsettling. Many of you remember the movie several years ago, starring Tom Hanks, called Cast Away. It’s about a man, Chuck Noland, who works for FedEx – charged with making sure things run on time. He’s on his way to making plans to be married to his sweetheart Kelly, but on Christmas Eve he is called to fix a problem halfway around the world. He travels by cargo plane across the Pacific, but the pilot gets hopelessly off track and ends up crashing far off course and Chuck is the lone survivor and ends up on a deserted island – without hope of anyone finding him. He survives there for four years. Finally, he makes a homemade raft and sets out onto the ocean and is finally discovered by an ocean liner. Now the most compelling moment in the movie for me … is what happens to his fiancée Kelly when he returns. For four years she had lived with the knowledge her Chuck was dead. For four years she had struggled to “move on”. For four years she tried to rebuild her life without him in it. She had married and had children. She had adjusted. But now the “dead man” had appeared. Now he was in the same room with her. Now he was talking to her. Now he was touching her. And now her whole world had been turned upside down … because a dead man had come to life. The truth can be a dangerous thing. That’s what resurrection will do to you. It is an unsettling – and for some, a dangerous idea”.  On another occasion he wrote on the resurrection these words-

“I have no idea what happened except, as I say, what really matters is not so much what happened there as what happens now — what happens in your life and my life, what happens in the world, what happens the next five days, five years of human history. Is God making himself known in some powerful and saving way among people, even [people] who don’t give a hoot about God? Is this still a reality which is part of the madness and self-destructiveness and darkness of the world? That’s what really matters…

The essential message is that nothing, no horror can happen that can permanently, irrevocably quench the presence of holiness that is always there “underneath the everlasting arms.” No matter what dreadful things take place, that remains the heart of reality. There is that wonderful thing from the British saint, Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all manner of things will be well.” That somehow remains true no matter what. That’s, I think, the message of Easter. Yes, this hideous death of Jesus, a good man abandoned, as it would seem, by God. Yet the best has come out of it, which is this nourishing current of hope and new life that still flows in spite of everything. There must be a God. How else could it happen? Why else would it happen?

Martin Luther said once, “If I were God, I’d kick the world to pieces.” But Martin Luther wasn’t God. God is God, and God has never kicked the world to pieces. He keeps reentering the world, keeps offering himself to the world — by grace, keeps somehow blessing the world, making possible a kind of life which we all, in our deepest being, hunger for.”

     We must focus on the life-changing power of the reality of the resurrection.  The entire Christian faith stands or falls on whether it is historical fact.  On one occasion Auguste Compte, the French Philosopher was talking to the Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle.  Compte declared his intention of starting a new religion, based on reason alone, for this new age of reason.  He said that it would completely supplant the religion of Christ.  He said it would have no mysteries and would be as plain as the multiplication tables, its name would be positivism.  “Very good, Mr. Compte”, Carlyle replied.  “very good.  All you will need to do is to speak as never a man spake, live as never a man lived; be crucified and rise again on the third day, and get the world to believe that you were still alive.  Then your religion will have a chance to get on”.  That is why Christianity is still vital and relevant today 2,000 years later!

 Posted by at 8:06 pm

The Christian’s Greatest Discovery?

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Jul 052020
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: The Christian’s Greatest Discovery?

A University professor challenged his students with this question-“Did God create everything that exists?” A student bravely replied, “yes He did”. “Everything”, the professor asked? “Yes sir!”, the student replied. The professor then said, “If God created everything, then God created evil because evil exists, and by the principle that our works define who we are, then we must deduct that God is evil”. The student became quiet, and had no answer for the professor. Another student raised his hand and said, “can I ask you a question professor?” “Of course,”, replied the professor. The student stood and asked, “Professor does cold exist?” “What kind of question is this? Of course, it exists! Have you never experienced being cold? Of course, it exists!” The rest of the class snickered at the student’s question. The young man replied, “According to the laws of physics, cold does not exist in and of itself, it is in reality the absence of heat. Every body or object is susceptible to study if it transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body, or matter transmit energy. Absolute zero, (-460 degrees F) is the total absence of heat; all matter becomes inert and incapable of reaction at that temperature. Cold does not exist. We have created a word to describe how we feel when there is no heat.” Then he asked, “Professor does darkness exist?” The professor again responded, “Of course it does, we have all experienced darkness at one time or another”. “You are wrong again sir! Darkness is in reality the absence of light. We can study light, but not darkness. In fact, we can use Newton’s prism to break white light into many colors and study the wavelengths of each color. You cannot measure darkness. A simple ray of light can break into a world of darkness and dispel it. How can you know how dark a space is? You can measure the amount of light present. Darkness is word we use to describe the condition when light is not present”. The student went on to point out that evil does not exist in and of itself, but is the absence of God. He pointed out that evil is the equivalent of the other items of darkness, and cold, both existing as the absence of light and heat! The professor sat down. The student was Albert Einstein.

If you Snopes this story you will be told that it is not true! But that means that there is nothing written in the biographies of Einstein that affirm this story. But it does kind of sound like him, and the truth the student shared point out that some things are defined as the absence of their opposite. The absence of heat is cold. The absence of God and holiness is evil. The absence of light is darkness. That is why John, in writing to his believers, points out that God is the perfection of Life; of Light; of Love: of Truth. He is the essence of all those qualities. When He comes to indwell the believer, in the person of His Son, by the presence of the Holy Spirit He brings these qualities as a part of the Eternal Life that comes to indwell us. But if we do not let that indwelling presence shine through us, the opposite becomes apparent, and we are known by the absence of God’s qualities. We walk in darkness, rather than light. We find hate dominating our lives, instead of love; When we turn from His truth, we find ourselves in the grip of error; When we lose these qualities, we are marked by death, instead of overflowing with abundant life. John wanted us to be known as the reality of being a Christian, rather than the absence of those qualities that make up eternal life.

The French Philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said, “Someday, after mastering the winds, and the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire!” Man’s greatest discovery can be debated. Perhaps it was tools to hunt by; or the wheel; or the printing press; or fire to keep warm by and cook by. But clearly the French philosopher was implying that the discovery of love, as defined by God, is a greater discovery than even fire. The Christian’s greatest discovery is that inheriting eternal life, upon putting their faith in Jesus Christ is more than just “living forever!” It is living with the life of God within us, transforming us day by day into his image and likeness. The Apostle John will point out that to have fellowship with Christ is to experience the essence of His light, and reflect it; to experience Christ is to experience the essence of His truth, and live by it; to experience Christ is to experience the unconditional essence of His love, and touch lives by His love; In sum it is Him living His Life, Eternal life, through us, by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. That, according to the aged Apostle, is the Christian’s greatest discovery.

C.S. Lewis had this in mind when he said, “I believe in Christianity, like I believe in the Sun. Not just because I see the sun at sunrise, but by it I can see everything else!” That is how John felt about God’s light. By it we can see everything, and by reflecting it we help others see the reality of Christian truth as well. That is our role. Not to manufacture light, but to reflect what He is! I heard W.A. Criswell tell about one of our astronauts who walked on the moon came to visit and speak at FBC Dallas, Texas. During his testimony he described the moon dust and moon rocks that they collected while exploring the lunar surface. This is what they discovered, to their amazement, that the dust they collected from the moon was little more than little tiny glass beads; the rocks they collected were splattered with glass, and made of titanium, a very reflective chemical. They also discovered that the moon had no vegetation or trees, but that the surface of the moon was very rough and channeled with craters. W.A. Criswell said “when you put it all together it becomes very clear. If you have a movie screen at home, there are little beads of glass stuck to it to enhance it reflection of light from the projection of the movies; titanium is a chemical that will reflect light better than a diamond; the surface of the moon with its channeled craters is like the channeled headlights of your automobile to enhance the bulbs reflection and magnifying properties. All these things discovered by the astronauts and scientists just confirm that the moon is one giant reflector of the light of the Sun. Criswell said, “had they asked me I could have quoted that discovery from Genesis chapter one, and saved our government billions of dollars!” As believers, we were created to be moons to reflect the Sun of Righteousness. When we discover that we have discovered fire a second time!

 Posted by at 2:29 pm

“That second look of a Great Savior to Great Sinners!”

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Jun 282020
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: ” That second look of a Great Savior to Great Sinners!”

We are entering a week that will culminate on Saturday with the Celebration of the Birth of our Nation…224 years ago. Our celebration has been curtailed by the pandemic of the Coronavirus 2019. Most celebrations have been cancelled. The few celebrations that are still scheduled are to be done so with social distancing, face masks, and a troubled spirit, because our nation is probably as divided today in such a way, that can only be equaled by the decade of the War between the States. Recent events have caused our nation as a whole to re-examine our hearts and our history to determine who we really are as a nation. Our country is very divided over the answer to that question. There have been several incidents that have occurred recently that most would agree are wrong. Horribly wrong. The question that we must answer is where do we go from here? The purpose of this perspective is not to answer that question definitively. Time and choices will answer that. We can only pray and promote so that good will forever come out of these turbulent times. But it even leaves us with a paradox on how do we celebrate our National Birthday. We all love the Father of our Nation, and hold him in high reverential esteem-George Washington. You remember, the young man who could not “tell a lie” and owned up to chopping down the cherry tree. With out his strong and unrelenting leadership, our Continental Army would never have succeeded in in breaking free from the Tyranny that was Great Britain. Yet we look back at history and understand that he inherited a plantation with slaves from his father, and from his wife’s father, and even with a struggling conscience over it, continued with that abhorrent institution until his death, and will liberated those slaves. The voice of the American Revolution, Patrick Henry is also a paradox. In his biography on Henry, Harlow Giles Unger, in his book The Lion of Liberty, talks about how Henry was seen as an American Demosthenes, who by his oratory, with the fervor of the Great Awakening Preachers, persuade audiences to do the right thing! He was the first of the American revolutionaries to call for independence, for revolution against Britain, for a bill of rights, and for as much freedom possible from government-whether British or American. No one can forget his speech that said, “If this be treason, make the most of it!” and of course “give me liberty or give me death!” But according to his biographer he says, “Henry can be both inspiring and infuriating…he was a study in contradictions. He opposed slavery. He considered it a ‘lamentable evil’, yet he owned slaves. He was conflicted enough to write, ‘I will not, I cannot justify owning slaves’, but was not conflicted enough to actually set them free!” The truth of the matter is that we are all studies in contradiction. We are all sinful saints. We are all capable of being both inspiring and infuriating. We all are…and will remain that way until we are made new in Christ. Bob Dylan has a new Album released this month. It is called Rough and Rowdy Ways. It has already soared to the top of the charts, and is seen as perhaps some of his best work in years, some say forever! One song, 17 minutes long, called Murder Most Foul, is a commentary on the Assassination of JFK. He sees it as the Crime of American History, still not solved at all! The second released song of the album is called I Contain Multitudes. He uses the title of Walt Whitman’s famous poem advocating for being a complicated character, perhaps explaining what history tells us. We are all a study in contradictions. The rest of his album is a cryptic attempt to identify himself and his faith as real, as true, as an attempt to communicate the Gospel through a complicated contradiction at times! Some see it as his last great exclamation point on a career that has be greatly admired, yet misunderstood.

I would like to point to another character that is most beloved for giving us probably the most famous hymn ever, Amazing Grace. Yet if you study the life of John Newton, he too was a study in contradictions. Early in life his mother died. He joined his father, a Captain of the Seas, in a life that led to sin and destruction. He soon joined another Sea Captain and found himself deeply involved in, and profiting from the Slave trade bringing slaves to America. He was a major player in this dark chapter of World history. But one day, while reading The Imitation of Christ, and nearly dying in a violent storm at sea, God answered his godly mother’s prayers, and John was confronted by the Christ and the Cross. After his conversion, he returned to England and Pastored the same Church for many years. He became a strong abolitionist working with William Wilberforce. One Sunday, after recounting his sinful life before Christ, he started singing his testimony. Here are the words:

  

“In evil long I took delight,

Unawed by shame or fear,

Til a new object struck my sight,

And stopped my wild career.

  

I saw one hanging on a tree,

In agonies and blood,

Who fixed his languid eyes on me,

As near his cross I stood.

  

Sure, never til my latest breath,

Can I forget that look;

It seemed to charge me with His death,

Though not a word He spoke.

  

My conscience felt and owned the guilt,

And plunged me in despair,

I saw my sins His blood had spilt,

And helped to nail him there.

  

Alas, I knew not what I did,

But now my tears are vain;

Where should my trembling soul be hid?

For I the LORD have slain!

  

A second look he gave, which said,

” freely all forgive;

This blood is for thy ransom paid;

I die that thou mayest live”

  

Thus, while His death, my sin displays,

In all its blackest hue,

Such is the mystery of grace,

It seals my pardon too.

  

With pleasing grief and mournful joy,

My spirit now is filled;

That I should such a life destroy,

Yet live by him I killed.

  

John Newton lived to be 82. As he approached death, he said, “In 82 years I have learned two things-I am a great sinner, and Jesus is a great Savior!” That there is the answer to our current dilemma. We are all a study in contradictions. We all contain multitudes! Sinners through and through! It is Jesus, who relates to all races, and all sinners, who can end our wild careers, and bring us together as one, in Him. Only in Him!

 Posted by at 2:22 pm

MIMICING AND MODELING HE WHO IS ‘BETTER THAN THE BEST FATHER!’

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Jun 212020
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: MIMICING AND MODELING HE WHO IS ‘BETTER THAN THE BEST FATHER!’

One little boy’s definition of Father’s Day went something like this…”it’s just like Mother’s Day, only we don’t spend as much!” One little boy’s definition of Father’s Day went something like this…”it’s just like Mother’s Day, only we don’t spend as much!” Well we father’s can concede that, usually due to our own frugality and insistence! Someone else has said, “A father is someone who carries pictures where his money used to be!” The phone company tells us that calls on Father’s Day are not nearly as high volume. And before the day of unlimited cell phones, most of the calls to “dear ole dad” were usually collect! And so it is!

Being a father is a sobering assignment. God has chosen the father to be a “role model” to teach his children how to relate to Him. Jesus told us when we pray we are to say, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hollowed be Thy Name” (Mt. 6:9). Paul said that the “Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are Children of God…whereby we cry Abba Father”. (Rom. 8:15). Paul himself saw his role to the Corinthians as being their spiritual father. He said, “you may have many teachers, but not many fathers!” (I Cor. 4:15), identifying himself as the human agent responsible for their new birth into the Family of God. In I Thessalonians Paul refers to his role in their lives being parallel to that of both a mother and a father! In I Thes. 2:7 he says, “we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother caring for her little child” As a mother his role was to NOURISH them, not just with milk by nursing them, but love and affection caring and relating to them. Then in I Thes. 2:11-12 he says, “we dealt with you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God”. The role of the father is not so much to NOURISH, but to NURTURE! That involves at least three things in Paul’s mind. One is to PROVIDE for them. All they needed to grow up as mature children of God, were provided by the Lord, through the ministry of their Spiritual Father. He too saw this role as one of a PATTERN to them. He could exhort them to “follow him, as he followed the Lord Jesus Christ”. The word follow is the Greek word “mimeteo”. We get our word “mimic” from that. He told them to mimic him and he mimicked God the Father! Harry Chapin quotes the son saying, “I’m gonna be like him!” i.e. dad. The song, (Cat’s in the Cradle), concludes with the father disillusioned, as he hangs up the phone, after being told by his son that he did not have time for ol’ dad, “He’d grown up just like me, my son was just like me!” Good or bad…that is usually reality! Paul rejoiced when that was true of his spiritual children. How about us dads? If our sons and daughters turn out to be just like us would we be rejoicing? Paul also saw his role as one of PROTECTING. He wrote letter to reclaim them when they strayed. He prayed for their well being daily. He loved them; He entered into spiritual combat for them. He was willing to die for them. He trained them, by his life, how to “fight the good fight of faith”. He told them, as he did Timothy, to “continue in the Scriptures which is profitable for them” (II Tim. 3:15-16). When being asked if we can compare to that kind of man-that kind of father-the response would probably be “silence!’

Robin Hardy, in her book The Chataine’s Guardian, writes “The talk at the table turned to what women found interesting in men…One girl said she liked a man with dark eyes…Another said she like a man with dark eyes…Another girl said she preferred strong, muscular men…Another said she was attracted to men with beards. Then someone asked, ‘Deirdre, what do you like in a man?’ They fell silent waiting. She paused and replied…’it is good for a man to be strong…a strong man can do so many things. But the man who is both strong and gentle is wonderful. A man must be intelligent, of course, but if he is also humble that makes him all the more appealing…a man who is strong enough to live a disciplined life, but who is tender enough to overlook the faults of others…a man who is honest above all, but kind…a man who has the courage to stay at the same task year in and year out, even if it is boring, tiring or painful, simply because it is his duty…a man with courage of faithfulness. I love all these things about a man.’ THERE WAS…SILENCE!” That is why C.S. Lewis wrote, in God in The Dock, “It is painful, being a man, to have to assert the privilege or the burden which Christianity lays upon my own sex, (that is men). I am crushingly aware of how inadequate most of us are, on our actual and historical individualities, to fill the place prepared for us”. IT IS OK TO RECOGNIZE WE HAVEN’T ARRIVED YET…WITH OUR SILENCE. Today is not a good day to be a man. High profile men…President Trump…Bill Cosby…Hollywood and Business moguls have been highlighted as those who have been degrading to women. Society puts a lot of pressure on us. That great theologian… (ha ha) …Garrison Keillor reminds us of that. In an op-ed piece in the Sunday New York Times he writes, “This is not a great year for guys…Guys are in trouble. Manhood, once the opportunity for achievement, now seems like a problem to overcome. Plato, St. Francis, Leonardo da Vinci, Vince Lombardi-you don’t find guys of that caliber today. What you find is terrible gender anxiety, guys trying to be Mr. Right, the man who can bake a cherry pie, go shoot skeet, come back, toss a salad, converse easily about intimate matters, cry if need be, laugh, hug, be vulnerable, be passionate…go off the next day and life them bales onto that barge and tote it. Being perfect is a terrible way to spend your life, and guys are not equipped for it anyway. It is like a bear riding a bicycle: He can be trained to do it for short periods, but he would rather be in the woods doing what bears do there!” Joseph Stowell, President of Moody Bible Institute a few years ago, summed it up better for us. He said, modeling God, as a spiritual father, is difficult but rewarding. “Many of us fear that…if we fully yield the reins of our life to Christ, He will take away our manhood. Victims of a demasculinized portrait of Christ, we have forgotten that He was a perfect blend of divinity and humanity. He was the perfect expression of manhood. While that meant that he was compassionate, He also displayed strength and power…enough to attract manly men as followers. They even gave up their careers to follow Him. Jesus does not diminish our manhood…He energizes it making our maleness a fuller and richer express of what a man can be!”

That is the kind of man that our boys need to model for their generation. Preston Gillham, in his book Lifetime Guarantee, writes “boys become men by watching men, by standing close to men. Manhood is a ritual passed down from one generation to another with precious few spoken instructions. Passing the torch of manhood is a fragile, tedious task. If the rite of passage is successfully completed, the boy-become-man is like an oak of hardwood character. His shade and influence will bless those who are fortunate enough to lean on him and rest under his canopy.” Being a man is more caught than taught. It is modeled and mentored in a lifetime of good example, Happy Father’s Day. Be the best model you can be! God will make you the best Mentor! Give it your best shot…with His model and His power!

 Posted by at 2:20 pm

“Lost Passion-Lost Persuasion”.

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Jun 142020
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Lost Passion-Lost Persuasion”.

One of the great agnostics of all time was Bertrand Russell. He was a very outspoken enemy of Christ and the Church. He wrote many books refuting the arguments for Christianity. Yet, in one of his books he spoke very pointedly to the key to our ministry and mission. His wife, Patricia Spence Russell was dying of a terminal illness. In his book, Why I Am Not A Christian, he wrote about his experience. Concerning watching his wife die, he wrote: “She seemed cut off from everything with walls of agony, and the sense of solitude of each human soul overwhelmed me! Every since my marriage my emotional life had been calm and superficial. I had forgotten all the deeper issues and had been content with flippant cleverness. Suddenly the ground seemed to give in beneath me, and I found myself in quite another region. Within five minutes I went through some reflections as the following: the loneliness of the human soul is undurable-nothing can penetrate it except the highest intensity of that sort of love religious teachers have preached! Whatever does not spring from this motive is harmless or at best useless; It is love that penetrates this loneliness in each person-we must speak to that!”

We live in a world that has no answers. They are looking for answers anywhere and everywhere and I finding none! The Church has the answer in Christ. But just trying to convince them of answers intellectually, without love and passion, the kind that Jesus shared with all He encountered, we will never get close enough to hear what we have to say. T.S. Eliot, in his Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, spoke about all men’s fear of eternity, and desire for answers. He wrote: “I have seen my moment of greatness flicker! And I have seen the eternal footman hold my coat and snicker! And I was afraid!” Mankind facing mortality and facing an uncertain future, behind the facade and false courage, is desperately open to loving passionate answers! This is a great opportunity for the Church to speak up and not stutter. What is the state of the Church? A.W. Tozer tried to warn the Church to stay ready. He wrote, in his book Rot, Rut, or Revival, in the chapter entitled “Causes of a Dozing Church?”- ‘What is the present condition of the Church? The bulk of Christians are asleep! Not unconverted! But asleep. God’s alarm is going off…yet we are sleeping through the alarm!” Another prophet to the Church, Southern Baptist Preacher, Vance Havner said, “If ever God’s people needed to be aroused and shocked, alarmed and awakened to their privilege and solemn duty-it is today! The Holy Spirit was given not to be a sedative, but a stimulant! We live in a time where people get excited about the trivial and shrug their shoulders at things affecting eternity!” C.H. Spurgeon says, “I am sure I do not have to unroll a page of history and ask you to glance down it except for a second; you will see the Church has fallen asleep, and has become…destitute of zeal having no ardent Passion! Every Christian is either a witness or an imposter. If you have never had sleepless hours; If you have never had weeping eyes. If you have never swelled as if your heart would burst-You need not anticipate that you will ever be called zealous. You do not know that the beginning of true zeal, for the foundation of zeal lies in the heart. The heart must be heavy with grief, and ever beat with holy heavy ardor! The heart must be vehement with desire-panting continually for God’s glory in saving the lost!” Tozer again speaks to our contentment with no passion. He writes “Too many Christians want to enjoy the thrill of feeling right, but without being willing to endure the inconvenience of being right!” This contentment with our current status, without a passionate burden for winning the lost, we can convince ourselves that we are pleasing to our Lord. But George MacDonald reminds us-“In whatever we do without God we must fail miserably, or succeed more miserably!”

We have lost our burden for the lost. We no longer pray for their salvation. No longer look for opportunity to share Christ with them. We no longer spend restless nights without sleep burdened over the fact that they are facing eternity without salvation and Christ! They are not outwardly bothered about it-and the tragic thing is neither are we! Look at the people that changed history for Christ! Men like John Knox who prayed “give me souls or give me death!” “Scotland or I die!” By Charles Wesley who said, “The world is my parish”-and walked and rode horseback well into his eighties sharing the gospel the length and breadth of England, over 250,000 miles! Millions of converts! A visitor was taken into the Church pastored by Robert Murray McCheyene. He was shown the Pastor’s study-his Bible on the desk; the pages stained with tears for those he would preach to. C.H. Spurgeon who said, “If the lost go to hell do not let them go without being warned and prayed for. Let them climb over our bodies with our arms around their knees begging them to turn to Christ!”

Mary Booth, wrote a poem that expressed her heart.

  

“Oh for a heart that is burdened!

Infused with a passion to pray;

Oh for a stirring within me

Oh for this power every day

  

Or for a heart like my Savior;

Who being in agony prayed

Such caring for others, Lord give me,

On my heart let burdens be laid!

  

My Father I long for this passion

To pour myself out for the lost;

To lay down my life to save others,

To pray whatever the cost.

  

Lord teach me your secret I

‘m hungry this lesson to learn!

Thy passionate passion for others,

For this blessed Jesus I yearn!”

  

Herbert Lockyer tells us that passion which brings tears of burden for the lost will touch lives, like Bertrand Russell told us! He wrote: “Tears win victories. A cold unfeeling dry-eyed Church has no influence on the souls of men!” William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army was asked after his retirement, why they were not winning the lost any longer! He wrote back two words! “Try tears!” Leon Kilbreath, Mr. Sunday School for Southern Baptists used to chastise us for not being involved and passionate about winning the lost. He used to say, “If we shared our Lord’s passion, why are our eyes so dry, our feet so frozen, our lips so silent!” In 1904 William Booth was invited to Buckingham Palace to be honored by King Edward VII. The King said, “You have done a great work General Booth. England recognizes you!” He was asked to sign the Kings book. William Booth wrote, “Your Majesty some men’s ambition is art; some men’s ambition is fame; some men’s ambition is gold; some men’s ambition is power. My ambition is the souls of men!” That used to be the passion and ambition of the Church. Passion for the Lost? Or Lost Passion? You know the tragic answer. That might explain our impotency!

 Posted by at 2:02 pm

“Can Christians be Indubitably real ever again?”

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Jun 072020
 

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

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 1:49 pm

WE ARE ALL TURTLES ON A FENCEPOST!

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May 312020
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: WE ARE ALL TURTLES ON A FENCEPOST!

His name was Alexander Murray Palmer Haley. He was an American writer. He was born in 1921 and died in 1992. He became a household name when his book Roots: The Saga of an American Family was adapted by ABC into a TV mini-series and was seen by over 130 million viewers in 1977. It was a great influence on awareness in the United States of African-American history and inspired a broad interest in genealogy and family history, not just of African Americans, but of all races! What you may not know is that Alex Haley had a favorite painting. It was on the wall of his office. It caught your attention as soon as you entered the door. It was a picture of “a turtle on a fence-post”. Haley always remarked about the picture-“If you ever see a turtle on a fence-post you can be certain he didn’t climb to that height by himself!” Haley said that picture was a reminder to him to remember that anything he might pat himself on the back for accomplishing in life should also include the recognition of all the others who had helped him reach those heights. Somehow, I think there is a spiritual message in there for you and I. We are, spiritually speaking, “turtles on a fence-post”. Any heights that we have scaled in our Christian lives is due to “the supernatural power of God, by the workings of the Holy Spirit in us” and the “mentoring of other Christians who told us to follow them as they followed Jesus Christ”! The Christian life is not lived by “picking one’s self up by your own boot-straps!” As we conclude the Winter Bible Study of 2016-The Book of 2 Corinthians, Paul encourages believers at Corinth to Embrace The Faith, and by the Power of the Holy Spirit in their lives, go on to maturity. Those words and truths are still very relevant for us today. Dorothy Sayers, in her book The Mind of the Maker, talks about how God is creative and powerful. That is His nature. Since He created us in His image we share in this creativity and power. She says, “we are most like our God when we exhibit His love and our work in a finite yet glorious way while we create something–whether it is a story, a song, a painting, a sculpture, a photo, or dance”. She sees the power of the writer expressed in a three-fold manner. First, as though in the mind of the author. Then written and produced in the written product of the book. Thirdly, the power is demonstrated and incarnated as the book is read. There the power of the author is unleashed and the transforming power soon becomes manifest for good or evil, depending on the motive of the author. This illustrates the way the Christian is transformed. As Paul said in II Corinthians 3:18, “But we all, with unveiled faces, beholding in the mirror the glory of the LORD, are being transformed into the same image, from glory to glory, just as from the LORD, by the Spirit”. When we as Christians, behold the glory of Jesus, as revealed in His word, by reading it, it has power, and the Holy Spirit uses that image to focus our minds upon, and then by His presence and power, thought by thought, action by action, by His power, moment by moment, in an unseen way, transforms us to be more like Jesus. Then Sayers says this power is not easily seen, nor analysed.

She writes, ” the Power of its effect upon the responsive mind… is a very difficult thing to examine and analyze, because our own perception of the thing is precisely what we are trying to perceive. We can, as it were, note various detached aspects of it: what we cannot pin down and look at is the movement of our own mind. In the same way, we cannot follow the movement of our own eyes in a mirror. We can, by turning our head, observe them in this position and in that position with respect to our body, but never in the act of moving themselves from one position to the other, and never in the act of gazing at anything but the mirror. Thus, our idea of our self is bound to be falsified, since what to others appears the most lively and mobile part of our self, appears to us unnaturally fixed. The eye is the instrument by which we see everything, and for that reason it is the one thing we cannot see with truth. The same thing is true of our Power of response to a book, or to anything else; incidentally, this is why books about the Holy Ghost are apt to be curiously difficult and unsatisfactory-we cannot really look at the movement of the Spirit, just because It is the Power by which we do the looking.” When I read what she wrote about not being able to see our own eye movements I had to check that out. Sure enough that is true.

Read the following: “First, grab a mirror. Second, grab a family member, friend or colleague. Now you are ready to begin. Stand in front of the mirror about 6 inches away. Look from eye to eye. Observe that as you do this, you will not be able to see your eyes move nor will you feel your eyes moving. Now have someone watch your eyes as you do this experiment again. They will however, see your eyes moving back and forth. The truth is that we cannot see our eyes in motion. We can see other’s eyes in motion and other people can see ours, but we cannot see our own eyes move. This phenomenon is called Saccadic Masking. A saccade is a movement of the eye when it makes a sudden change of fixation, i.e. looking from one eye to the other. As our eyes move, there is a blurring of the image on the retina. To counteract this so that the image stays clear and sharp, a part of the brain, believed to be the cortex, cuts off the processing of images. What happens is that we go momentarily blind as the visual information is no longer going to the brain, therefore stopping the blur. We can’t see this happening as it is done automatically and quickly thousands of times a day”. Sayers’ words,” The same thing is true of our Power of response to a book, or to anything else; incidentally, this is why books about the Holy Ghost are apt to be curiously difficult and unsatisfactory-we cannot really look at the movement of the Spirit, just because It is the Power by which we do the looking.”-She reminded me of C.S. Lewis’ quote-“I believe in the Sun, not just because I see it, but also because by it I see everything else!”

The transformation by the Spirit, in our lives, is something really happening, though we may not be able to see it while it is occurring. Another of my favorite writers, as you know, is the Presbyterian minister Frederick Buechner. I do not always agree with his theology, and everything he says, but I do love the way he says things. They illustrate some truths in a magnificent way. In his book Telling the Truth, Buechner writes, “In the Happy Hypocrite Max Beerbohm tells about a regency rake name Lord George Hell, debauched and profligate, who falls in love with a saintly girl, and, in order to win her love, covers his bloated features with the mask of a saint. The girl is deceived and becomes his bride, and they live together happily until a wicked lady from Lord George Hell’s wicked past turns up to expose him for the scoundrel she knows him to be and challenges him to take off the mask. So sadly, having no choice, he takes it off, and lo beneath the saint’s mask is the face of the saint he has become by wearing it in love!” What a parable of the Christian life! We happy hypocrites experience His transforming touch, without being aware of it, until the time comes, we are completely transformed into the image we have been unsuccessfully beholding continuously in a mirror darkly! In that way we are all turtles…see you at the top of the fence-post!

 Posted by at 1:42 pm

“IDENTITY-YOU CAN’T GO BACK HOME TO FIND IT!”

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May 242020
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “IDENTITY-YOU CAN’T GO BACK HOME TO FIND IT!”

In 1975, two years before his death, Charlie Chaplin was visiting France. He visited nearby Monaco, and while there he entered “Charlie-Chaplin Look-Alike Contest”. He thought he was a shoe-in to win the prize money, and everyone would have a good laugh. Charlie came in third! Most thought it was due to the fact that most of his movies were in black and white, and in real life his genuine baby blues may have made him look less like Chaplin than at least two others in the contest. Coming in third in your own contest might just cause you to suffer an “identity crisis”! Identity crisis-i.e. “knowing who we really are”, can be devastating. Arthur Miller, in his book Death of A Salesman, brings that out in relation to his main character Willy Loman. In one excerpt Miller describes the precarious position of his character by saying, “He’s a man out there in the blue, riding a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back-that’s an earthquake. And then you get yourself a couple of spots on your hat, and you’re finished!” The identity crisis was too much for Willy to handle, and he ended up “taking his own life”. At the funeral, with just a hand-full of people there, Bif, his oldest son remarks, “Willy had all the wrong dreams…he never knew who he was!”

Miller was quite adept at describing not only Willy Loman’s predicament, but the one that the entire human race faces every day. Who are we? Why are we here? Where are we going? Is there any meaning to all of this? What is my mission for being here? Do I even have one? G.K. Chesterton, in his book Orthodoxy, points out that this is the condition of all human-kind apart from their relationship with God, through Jesus Christ. He writes, “We have all read in scientific books, and indeed in all romances, the story of the man who has forgotten his name. This man walks about the streets and can see and appreciate everything: only he cannot remember who he is. Well, every man is that man in the story. Every man has forgotten who he is…We are all under the same mental calamity; we have forgotten our names. We have all forgotten who we really are…we all feel the riddle of the earth without anyone to point it out. The mystery of life is the plainest part of it…Every stone or flower is a hieroglyphic of which we have lost the key; with every step of our lives we enter into the middle of some story we are certain to misunderstand”. Frederick Buechner points out that we lose our true identity, our “true shimmering self” that God intended for us to be by letting this world force us to become who they think we should be. In his book Telling Secrets he illustrates this: “Starting with the rather too pretty young woman and the charming but rather unstable young man, who together know no more about being parents than they do the far side of the moon, the world sets in to making us what the world would like us to be, and because we have to survive after all we try to make ourselves into something that we hope the world will like better than it apparently did the selves that we originally were. That is the story of all our lives, needless to say, and in the process of living out that story, the original shimmering self, (that God intended us to be through Him), gets buried so deep that most of us hardly end up living out of it at all. Instead, we live out all the other selves which we are constantly putting on and taking off like coats and hats against the world’s weather!’ Buechner, in a later book Now and Then, went on to explain that we can recover the buried shimmering self though listening to God’s Word, listening to fellow Christian’s that God puts in our lives through His Church, but also by seeking His face in the experiences of life. He writes, “God speaks to us…through official channels as the Bible and the Church,…but I think He speaks to us largely through what happens to us…if we keep our hearts and minds open as well as our ears, if we listen with patience and hope, if we remember deeply and honestly, then I think we come to recognize, beyond all doubt, that, however faintly we may hear Him, He is indeed speaking to us, and that however little we may understand of it, at the time, His Word to each of us…is precious beyond telling”.  

Most people live their life with that Willey Loman identity crisis. David Letterman, in an interview not long before he retired, basically said that his sense of himself was only grounded in the twenty-four-hour period between shows. If the last show was good, he felt good about himself. If the audience didn’t respond, he felt horrible instead. Women often share the same identity crisis when society tells them their only value is in their external beauty. Marilyn Monroe, after becoming famously the most beautiful woman in the world, went to nightclubs disguised in a black wig to see if she could still attract a man as Norma Jean. When she got so much less response the emptiness of her Hollywood identity turned into a crisis that left her with the same fate as Willy Loman! That is why God comes to us, desires us to know Him, and find our true identity in who He intended us to be. Simon Tugwell writes, “So long as we imagine that it is we who have to look for God, we must often lose heart. But it is the other way about; He is looking for us. And so we can afford to recognize that very often we are not looking for God; far from it, we are in full flight from him, in high rebellion against Him. And He knows that and has taken it into account. He has followed us into our own darkness; there where we thought we finally escaped Him, we run straight into His arms. So we do not have to erect false piety for ourselves, to give us hope for salvation. Our hope is in His determination to save us, (see the Cross), and He will not give up!” Finding our identity in Christ, through the salvation that God provides through His grace, is the only way to be completely at peace with who we are and what God is making us to be. Gerald May, a dynamic Christian counselor who deals with battles that Christians struggle with all the time says: “There is a desire within each of us, in the deep center of ourselves which we call heart. We are born with it, it is never completely satisfied and it never dies. We are often unaware of it, but it is always awake…Our true identity, our reason for being, is found in this desire”.

Peter had found this identity in Christ. Jesus had called him to follow Him, and to become a fisher of men. After Calvary, and even after the resurrection, Peter was still languishing with an “identity crisis”. He decided that he would go back home, take up the fishing for fish business, and walk away from what he had been called to do. He found out what Thomas Wolfe found out, and expressed in his great novel-You Can’t Go Home Again. After Jesus…Peter’s identity was never to be on the old shores of the Sea of Galilee. It was going to take him on a mission…with His Master still by his side. He would become even more than he ever dreamed on that first day he forsook the boats and the nets to follow Jesus! But before he can set off to discover his true destiny he must ask and answer the question Jesus asked him about MISSION-OR MISSING? Which would it be? So must we! It’s our identity!

 Posted by at 1:34 pm

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Our Supreme Hunger Can Only Be Filled by A Different Kind of Bread”- Ravi Zacharias

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May 172020
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Our Supreme Hunger Can Only Be Filled by A Different Kind of Bread”- Ravi Zacharias

In our sermon series on Mark, we have come to Mark 6. John The Baptist was just murdered by Herod. Jesus is devastated by the murder of John and tells his disciples that there was no one greater in influence for the Kingdom Of God than John. There is a spirit of animosity toward Rome and this movement is eyeing Jesus as maybe the one to bring deliverance from the Yoke of Rome. Mark’s Gospel was written to show that Jesus was not the source of that kind of a revolutionary movement. Jesus’ miracles as the Suffering Servant of Yahweh was for deeper purposes than for political movements. He came, not to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom to save and redeem those who would believe in Him. (Mark 10:45). In Mark 6 we also encounter a miracle that is so important it is recorded in all four of the Gospel narratives. It is in Matthew 14; Mark 6; Luke 8; and John 6. The first narrative written was Mark, giving Peter’s eyewitness account of it. That was then followed a few year’s by Matthew’s narrative; then Luke, doing careful research from all living eyewitnesses, and sources followed with his account. Finally, nearly forty years after the narrative of Mark, the aged Apostle John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, adds supplemental and clarifying details that only he could give. All of those narratives are in agreement, with John’s gospel giving theological interpretation on the historical narratives that preceded his story. Mark also describes a second feeding of a multitude, in a Gentile area, to Gentile recipients, showing that Jew and Gentile alike have a hunger for God, that can only be filled by partaking of the Bread of Life, The True Bread from Heaven, The Bread of God, the only possible life-giving source for this kind of hunger. Mark lets us know that after the first group ate to their fill, that the disciples took up twelve baskets of leftovers (Mark 6:43). The word for basket here is the word-“kophinos”- referring to a small Jewish wicker basket used for carrying food. But when we read the narrative of feeding the 4,000, in Mark 8, we are told that the fragments remaining that were gathered were seven baskets full. The word basket here is the word “sphuris”-A gentile basket, large enough for carrying a man-(Acts 9:25). These two narratives of Mark show that Jesus came as the Bread from Heaven, to satisfy the hunger of the Jews, and of the Gentiles alike. Any who are willing to partake of His sacrifice as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53- “By the stripes” of His broken body, they are healed, and become those who are partakers of eternal life, and shall never hunger again. According to Isaiah 55 all are urged to “come and partake and buy with no money”. That is the fulfillment of that prophetic invitation here in Mark 6 + 8.

When it comes to Jesus’ miracles, C.S. Lewis writes “Miracles are a retelling in small letters the same story written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see!” Augustine said, “Miracles aren’t contrary to nature, only contrary to what we know about nature!” G.K. Chesterton wrote, “We are perishing for the want of wonder, not for the want of wonders!” My favorite is Frederick Buechner who writes, “A miracle is when the whole is greater than the sum of all the parts. A miracle is one plus one equals-a thousand!” Can we say-“5,000? How about 4,000?” This miracle speaks to the hunger of the entire human race, Jew and Gentile, who have a hunger that goes far beyond that which is satisfied by physical bread! Ravi Zacharias, in his book Jesus Among Other gods, wrote, “With all our ingesting and consumption our hungers are many and our fulfillments few!” He also said, “Jesus fed the multitudes with bread to lift them from the barrenness of a food dominated existence to the recognition that our supreme hunger can only be filled by a different kind of bread”. Jesus in John 6 makes this all very clear when He says that with “eating His flesh” no one will live eternally. That is today’s message. Let me share a poem that summarizes this truth very concisely.

Jesus is the Bread of Life

He’s the only one to satisfy

our every spiritual need

He assures us He will supply.

 

  that gnawing in our souls,

the hunger and the thirst

He will fulfill them all

when we seek Him first.

  

  JESUS THE BREAD OF LIFE

  

  Jesus is the Bread of Life,

He promises to deliver

all our spiritual desires

when we to Him surrender.

  

  His life and His death

brought all our worldly strife

now by faith, through grace

into everlasting life!

  

  Jesus is the Bread of Life,

He is all that our soul’s need

when we follow Him…

our heart’s He will surely feed! -Deborah Ann

 Posted by at 1:24 pm

“Social Distancing-The End of the World As We Know It?”

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Mar 152020
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Social Distancing-The End of the World As We Know It?”  By:  Ron Woodrum

  Lorie Hill wrote a poem titled In Like A Lion, Out Like A Lamb. It goes like this:

“March roars in like a lion

So fierce,

The wind so cold

It seems to pierce

  

The month rolls on

And Spring draws near

And March goes out

Like a Lamb so dear”.

  

  That was on our mind as we entered the month of March 2020. How would the weather be? In like a Lamb? Out like a Lion? We were also thinking about “bracketology” and March Madness. The Cubs and Cardinals were on our mind…who would win the rivalry this year? Most of us did not see the storm brewing on the horizon, one that had been coming our way since the last month of 2019. Hubei province, in Central China, the city of Wuhan, the Detroit City of China, was being invaded by the COVID-19 novel coronavirus. We watch reluctantly with worried eyes as over 80,000 came down with this new virus, and over 3,000 died. We watched as it spread to Iran, Italy, Spain, Europe, and now to nearly every State in our United States. But like other world pandemics-SARS, MERS, Ebola, N1H1, never in the United States of America. But we have watched this virus come in like a Lion, and it certainly doesn’t appear to go out like a Lamb. Unbelievably it has in a couple of weeks, silenced all the March Madness; Major League Baseball; Basketball; Hockey; concerts; schools; libraries; It has brought back echoes of the old REM song from 1987-“It’s The End of the World As We Know It!” America is wondering, in spite of all the voices assuring us all is well, is this a harbinger of the Apocalypse? After all is not one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse the Pale Rider of Pestilence? It brings to my mind the poem by T.S. Eliot, the Christian poet of last century, the poem Hollow Men. He writes about living in the valley of the dying stars; the hollow valley…of our lost kingdoms; the last of the meeting places; the hope of only empty men; over whom the shadow falls. Then he writes:

“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”

   

  Are these words prophetically coming true as a last day affirmation of Biblical truth? The crisis of recent days has certainly gotten the world’s attention. The question we have to ask and answer is “does the Church of our generation have anything relevant to say to this terrified world?” Two things are important for the Church. First, we must consider our mindset. How do we face these days we are experiencing? What kind of demeanor do we reflect to a watching world? Paul told young Timothy, that when we face the last days, he needed to remember that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and of a sound mind”. (II Timothy 1:7). The word for fear, is not the normal word “phobias”-but the word “deilias”. That word always has a negative meaning in Scripture. It means “cowardice, timidity, fear of loss”. That kind of fear causes us to withdraw from the circumstances that frighten us. Paul said we should have a mind-set of a “sound-mind”- The word is “sophron”“a mind that is in control, and fits the situation”. When the world panics in the face of a crisis, this Christian mind-set demonstrates a calmness that does not run away from the situation. Someone has defined FEAR as “FALSE -EVIDENCE -APPEARING -REAL”; FAITH as “FRIGHTENED-ALARMED- I- TRUST- HIM”. Jerry Shirley in his recent sermon entitled-AFTER SHOCK: GOING VIRAL says “Now is the time to have faith, not fear; to pray, not panic; to believe God, not blame Him; to be assured, not Angry”. That is a good mind set for our day. C.S. Lewis spoke to this mind set. He was asked how Christians should face the shadow of the atomic age after WWII. In 1948 he wrote “In one way we think too much about the atomic bomb. How are we to live in an atomic age? I am tempted to reply-as you would have lived in the 16th century when the plague visited London almost every year…or as you live in an age of cancer…in other words do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me Sir or Madam, you and all you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented…we live with the high probability that a percentage of us are going to die in unpleasant ways. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering with long faces because scientists have added one more chance of painful death to a world that already bristled with such chances. The first action was to pull ourselves together. If the bomb comes it will find us doing sensible things like praying, working, teaching, reading, playing, or chatting with our friends, not huddled together like frightened sheep thinking about bombs! They may break our bodies, (a virus can do that too) but they need not dominate our minds”. We need to have a spirit of courage not cowardice; faith not fear; prayer not panic; trust not terror. That kind of mind set will bring calm to a crisis.

A second kind of approach the Church needs, in addition to a Mind set, is one of Ministry. The prevalent watch word for the hour is “SOCIAL DISTANCING”. We are being told-cancel sports; cancel concerts; cancel school; cancel work; Avoid contact at all costs. Isolate yourselves. Flee to your castle. Pull up the drawbridge; batten down all the hatches! All the voices are encouraging the Church to close it doors for the time being! What are we to do? Christian history speaks to this issue. We need to have ears to hear! Between 250-280 A.D. a terrible plague devastated the Roman Empire. At the height of the plague, named the Cyprian plague, because he chronicled it, 5,000 people died daily in the City of Rome. Decius, the Emperor, blamed the Christians for the plague. That claim was undermined by the facts that Christians died of the plague too just like everybody else. But unlike everybody else, the Christians did not run from the plague, they stayed and cared for the victims, including their pagan neighbors. Christians had also done that a century earlier in the Antoinine plagues as well. Historian Rodney Stark, in his book The Rise of Christianity, says “Christians stayed in afflicted cities, when pagan leaders and physicians fled. They cared for the victims and buried the dead”. Candida Moss, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity adds, “an epidemic that seemed like the end of the world actually promoted the spread of Christianity”. By their loving action they showed the pagan world that Christianity is worth dying for. Dionisius, a first hand witness from that era, wrote “Heedless of danger they took charge of the sick, attending to every need and ministering to them in the Name of Christ, and even departed life with them, serenely happy in spite of being infected with the disease, and accepting their pains”. Ancient Church historian Eusebius wrote: “During the plague, all day long some of the Christians tended to the dying and to their burial. Countless numbers had no one to care for them. Christians ministered to them, even bringing bread to those withered from famine. The deeds of these Christians were on everyone’s lips, and they glorified the God of the Christians”. Julian the Apostate, the last pagan Emperor recognized the ministry of Christians to the victims of the plague. He wrote to one of the pagan priests that served under his supervision-“When it came about that the poor were neglected and overlooked by our priests, the followers of the impious Galilean devoted themselves to this kind of philanthropy. They supported not only their own poor and sick, but ours as well. All people see that we have neglected our people. It is their benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead, that have done the most to increase their atheism”, (a pagan term for the Christian faith).

These are difficult days. We must not be reckless in our approach. But we must not run from the situation either. We must have a mind set of faith not fear! Then the world will see that we have a God who can be trusted. A Savior who is worth believing in. We have a faith that sustains us even in the face of illness, epidemic, and death. We must find careful ways to bridge the “social distancing” with “loving ministry” to the frightened, sick, and dying, in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. When others run away in fear, we can run to the need in faith!

 Posted by at 6:25 pm