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“Avoid the reefs of the New Year!”

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Dec 302018
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Avoid the reefs of the New Year!”  (By:  Ron Woodrum)

        Let’s say that your phone rings tomorrow morning, and it’s a call from the manager of your bank. He tells you, “I received a very unusual call the other day. Someone who loves you very much and is quite wealthy, has given you a large sum of money. This anonymous donor will be depositing 86,400 cents into your account every single day”. “How’s that again?” you ask. “Every single day this person will deposit 86,400 cents into your account”. Is that much money you wonder? Your calculator reveals that it amounts to $864 every day. That’s pretty good. “But there’s one condition-you have to spend it every single day. You cannot save it up! What is not spent is taken away. This person will do that every day…but you must spend it daily or it will be wasted!” You go back to your calculator and figure out that that $864 times 7 equals $6,048 per week. That amount, multiplied by 52 comes to $314,496 per year. That’s a pretty good deal. BUT THAT IS FANTASY! But in REALITY…Somebody really does love you. He does give you 86, 400 seconds per day. Each moment is worth more than all the money in the world. Money could not even buy one second of life…if you have a terminal disease. That someone is God. The condition is you must spend that amount every day. You can’t save up time today and use it tomorrow-there is no such thing as a 27-hour day. You have opportunity each day to invest your precious commodity of time-or to waste it. How will you spend your daily gift? The Psalmist wrote “Lord show me…the number of my days…how fleeting is my life”. (Ps. 39:4). Paul said, “Redeem the time, because the days are evil…do not be foolish but understand what the Lord’s will is for you”. (Eph. 5:17).

     As we race into 2019, almost two decades into the new millennium, we should make it our goal to spend our days wisely. How do we do that? The overall understanding of that is too broad for a Pastor’s Perspective…but let me exhort you to consider two important areas of investment. The first one is WORSHIP-Personal and Public-Individual and Corporate. Gordon Dahl describes the modern dilemma that most Americans face, He writes: “Most Americans tend to worship their work; work at their play; and play at their worship”. (He hit the nail right on the head!!!). But he continues…”As a result, their meanings and values are distorted. Their relationships disintegrate faster than they can keep them in repair, and their lifestyles resemble a cast pf characters in search of a plot!” What a diagnosis. Charles Hummel, in his book Tyranny of the Urgent, has his finger on our pulse when he writes: “When we stop long enough to think about it, we realize our dilemma goes deeper than a shortage of time; it is basically a problem of priorities…failure to do what is really important. The winds of…demands…have driven us into the reefs of frustration”. The Apostle Paul talked about those whose “faith was shipwrecked” (I Tim. 1:19). One of the likely causes may be how we fail to prioritize our time to put worship first in our lives! Faith without worship is doomed to failure! C.S. Lewis knew that well. He told us the secret of starting our day from Heaven’s perspective. He wrote: “It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your cares of the day rush at your like wild animals. The first job each morning consists in shoving them back; listening to the Other Voice, taking the Other Point of View…standing back from the fussing’s and fretting’s; coming in out of the wind.” Giving God the first 30 minutes of the day in reading His Word and Prayer takes you out of the winds that would shipwreck you on the reefs of frustration and failure. Time well invested in personal worship.

But also, we need to remember that the Scripture teaches us that there are no lone-wolf Christians. The writer of the Book of Hebrews, writing to help Christians avoid relapse and apostasy from the faith, tells them to “stop forsaking the assembling of themselves together, as the habit of some have become”. (Hebrews 10:25). Ravi Zacharias tells us the best definition of worship that I have ever heard. It was a definition that originated with Archbishop William Temple. He wrote: ” Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. The quickening of our conscience by His Holiness; The nourishment of our minds with His Truth, (His Word); The purifying of our imagination with His Beauty; The opening of our hearts to His Love; The surrender of our will to His Purpose-all this gathered up in adoration, that is the most selfless emotion our nature is capable of”. A weekly investment in that kind of Worship, at least 2-3 hours per week minimum, in corporate worship with other believers is the only way to guarantee the development of genuine Christians. But worship without service is incomplete. Jesus told Satan, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve!” (Matthew 4: 10). Submission must lead to service. Worship must lead to wonder and witness. T.S. Eliot, in his poetry made this very plain…he wrote: “You are not here to verify-instruct yourself, or inform curiosity, or carry reports. You are here to kneel!” We must never forget that! One of the most important books I have ever read is the book The One Thing You Can’t Do In Heaven by Mark Cahill. It is a book of practical theology on Witnessing and Winning the Lost. The book is filled with convicting quotes that Cahill shares from his favorite preacher- (one of mine too), Charles Haddon Spurgeon. These quotes are prods used by the Holy Spirit to remind us of our most important response to worship and that is to witness. In closing let me share a couple of them. “Every Christian is a Witness or an Imposter!” “If there is any one point in which the Christian Church ought to keep its fervent white heat it is winning the lost. If there is anything about which we cannot tolerate Luke warmness it is the matter of sending the gospel to a dying world”. “If sinners will be damned at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. If they perish, let it be with our arms about their knees…in the teeth of our exertions, let no one go there unwarned and unprayed for!” “Spit on me, but repent! Laugh at me, but believe in my Master. Trample me under your feet like dirt in the street, but damn not your souls!”

Time invested in worship that leads to witness will be greatly rewarded in eternity. Learn those lessons now-you won’t be able to reclaim lost time in Heaven. Any faith that fails to spend time wisely in those two disciplines, by God’s measure is a “shipwrecked faith-blown onto the reefs of spiritual frustration!”.

 Posted by at 2:11 pm

“The unedited Christmas and the Perfect Tree”

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Dec 232018
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “The unedited Christmas and the Perfect Tree”  (By:  Ron Woodrum)

It’s the king of all classic TV Christmas specials: “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. It first aired in 1965. We know the familiar scenes of Charlie Brown looking for the real meaning of Christmas; receiving no cards from anyone; Snoopy decorates his doghouse; Lucy has her Christmas pageant; Charlie picks out a tree that is pitiful and is laughed at for such a choice! Of course, Charlie cries out in frustration-“doesn’t anyone know what the true meaning of Christmas is?” At that moment Linus Van Pelt takes center stage telling Charlie-“I can tell you what Christmas is all about”. He then proceeds to quote the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke. He not only describes the angelic visit, but then quotes how the angels said, “Be not afraid…for unto you is born this day, in Bethlehem, a Savior which is Christ the Lord. This shall be a sign you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘glory to God in the highest and on earth peace good will toward men'”. “That is what Christmas is all about!” Linus affirms. Recently I heard an interview of one of the creators of that show. When Charles Shultz, the creator of Peanuts, Charlie Brown, and that particular Christmas special suggested that particular drama he was met with strong opposition, and objection to airing that because of the inclusion of the message centering around Jesus…the Savior. The network wanted to edit out the part about Jesus being the central meaning of Christmas. The network wanted to tube the show. They feared there would be strong opposition to it, and it would result in loss of advertising. You know what Charles Schultz did? He stood his ground. He said, “If we don’t do it who will? We’re going to do it”…and the rest is history! With his groundbreaking project on the line, Charles Schultz refused to “edit out Jesus!” during that Christmas season in 1965. It took courage! God blessed him and us for that stand. How about us this Christmas. Are we willing to stand our ground and refuse to edit Jesus out of our Christmas pageants? That is exactly what the devil wants us to do. It is ok to celebrate the holidays! Enjoy the festivities. Just don’t get carried away with too much focus on Jesus. His virgin birth. His reason for coming. Stay away from themes like Incarnation-God with us-Salvation as an unspeakable gift due to Calvary!

Charles Schultz was a master to have Charlie Brown find all the commercialization of Christmas leave him empty and confused. He was a genius to make the center part of the pageant center around a little unattractive tree that everyone laughs at. Then of course to answer Charlie’s question about the meaning of Christmas with God’s answer from Luke’s gospel, through the person of Linus! Then Linus saying-“I never thought it was such a bad little tree at all really…maybe all it just needs is a little love!” And Charlie Brown saying, “This little tree needs a home. I think it needs me!” The unattractive tree becomes a beautiful part of the Christmas story. There are some subtle but significant messages in this pageant. When Linus hears the angel say, “Be not afraid”…he lays his security blanket down! Then that ugly tree seems to draw everyone to it to see it in a different light. When they do…they give it a home and love…and find a home and love of their own! -Through that tree! Subtle but significant message. Makes me think of a song by Ray Boltz-called the Perfect Christmas Tree. Listen to the words:

 

The ornaments are ready

The place has been prepared

Strings of lights and holly

Are draped across the chair

The family’s all together

I know where they must be

Everyone is searching

For the perfect tree

 

Mother wants a straight one

The children want it tall

Dad just hopes that somehow

He can get it down the hall

Soon they’ll gather round it

As proud as they can be

But when they’re look at it

I wonder if they see

 

The Perfect tree

Grew very long ago

And it was not decked with silver

Or ornaments of gold

But hanging from it branches

Was a gift for you and me

Jesus laid His life down

On that Perfect Tree

 

With all the celebrations

Sometimes the truth is lost

That every step this baby took

Brought Him closer to the cross!

 

That Perfect Tree needs some love and home. If you embrace the one who died upon it, it will bring the real meaning of love and Christmas to your home this Christmas. Don’t let anyone cause you to edit that message and that Savior out of your Christmas pageant. Embrace Him and you too can turn loose of any and all of those security blankets that are fulfilling your deepest needs anyway. That is the what Christmas means!

 Posted by at 6:30 pm

“Saved by the faithful effort of the One who Loves Us!”

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Dec 162018
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Saved by the faithful effort of the One who Loves Us!”   (By:  Ron Woodrum)

The USS Astoria was a heavy cruiser that saw duty during World War II’s Battle of the Coral Sea and at Midway, then was sunk in August of 1942 at the Battle of Savo Island. On board in the fight for Savo was Signalman 3rd class Elgin Staples. Sometime around 2 a.m. on the ship’s final day, Staples was blown overboard when one of the Astoria’s gun turrets exploded. In the water, wounded in both legs by shrapnel and in a state of near-shock, Staples was kept afloat by a narrow lifebelt which he had activated by a trigger. In his book, The Grand Weaver, Ravi Zacharias tells the fascinating story of what happened next. Four hours after being blown into the Pacific, Staples was picked up by a passing destroyer and returned to the Astoria. Even though the cruiser had been severely damaged, her captain was trying to beach the ship in order to save her.   When his attempts failed, Staples found himself back in the water. By now, it was noon. This time it was the USS President Jackson that plucked him out of the water. On board, Staples studied that little lifebelt which had saved his life twice that day. He noticed the belt was manufactured by the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company of Akron, Ohio, and carried a registration number. Allowed to go home for a visit, Staples related his story to the family and asked his mother, who worked for Firestone, the purpose of the registration number on the belt. She pointed out that the company was holding employees responsible for their work in the war effort, and that each worker had his/her own number. Staples recalled everything about that lifebelt, including the registration number. As he called it out, his mother’s eyes grew large. She said, “That was my personal code that I put on every item I was responsible for approving!” His mother had made the belt which had saved his life twice. Ravi Zacharias concludes, “The one who gave him birth and whose DNA he bore gave him rescue in the swirling waters that threatened to take his life. If an earthly parent playing the role of procreation can provide a means of rescue without knowing when and for whom that belt would come into play, how much more can the God of all creation accomplish?” I like to think of such accounts as a miniature photo of the Heavenly Father caring for His own. God said, “But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you… I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake; and I will not remember your sins.’” (Isaiah 43:1-2,25) Our Lord Jesus said, “When (the shepherd) puts forth his own sheep, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice… I am the good shepherd, and I know my sheep and am known by my own. As the Father knows me, even so I know the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:3-4,14-15)

I didn’t want to end this article with that story, as excellent as it is. This lesson needs a little more to “set” it. So, after combing through the books on various shelves of my office, I turned to Mark Buchanan’s Things Unseen, where he tells this story:

William M. Dyke became blind when he was ten. In his early 20s, attending grad school in England, he fell in love with the daughter of a British admiral and they planned to marry. Her father, however, agreed to the marriage only if Dyke would submit to surgery that could possibly restore his sight. He agreed, on one condition. He did not want the gauze removed from his eyes until the moment he met his bride at the altar. He wanted her face to be the first thing he looked upon with his new sight. There was the risk, of course, that the surgery would fail and he would see nothing. He was willing to take the chance. After the surgery, the day of the wedding came. As the parents led the bride and groom together at the altar of the church, William’s father removed the gauze from his eyes. Until that moment, no one knew if the surgery had worked. When the last strand of the gauze was taken away, William Dyke was face-to-face with his bride. The wedding party was speechless and breathless. Then William spoke: “You are more beautiful than I ever imagined.”

Buchanan writes, “One day that will happen to us, only the roles will be reversed. ‘Now we see but a poor reflection in a mirror,’ Paul says, ‘then we shall see face to face. Now I know (Him) in part; then I shall know (Him) fully, even as I am fully known’ (I Corinthians 13:12). One day, the Bride of Christ, near blind now, will stand before her Bridegroom at the Wedding Feast, and the veil will be removed, the scales will fall away, and we will see Him face-to-face and know Him even as we are fully known.” “And He will be more beautiful than we ever imagined.” AMEN AND AMEN!

 Posted by at 6:17 pm

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

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Dec 092018
 

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

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

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

“Our endless cycles of ideas and action    

Endless inventions, endless experiment    

Brings knowledge of motion, but not stillness    

Knowledge of speech, but not of silence

Knowledge of words, but IGNORANCE OF THE WORD. 

 

All this knowledge brings us closer to ignorance

All this ignorance closer to death 

Nearer to death, but no nearer to God. 

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

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

“It’s Another Day In Paradise

As you stumble to your bed. 

You’d give anything to silence

The voices ringing in your head.

You thought you could find happiness

 

Just over that green hill 

You thought you would be satisfied…

But you never will…

Til you learn to be still!

 

We are like sheep without a shepherd

We don’t know how to be alone

We wander around this desert

And wind up following the wrong gods home!

But the flock cries out for another 

And they keep answering the bell 

And another starry-eyed messiah

Meets their violent farewell-

We must learn to be still! 

 

There are so many contradictions 

In all the messages we send- 

We keep asking… 

How do I get out of here? 

Where do I fit in? 

While the world is torn and shaking…

And we find our heart is breaking…

It’s waiting for us to awaken…

And someday we will…

LEARN TO BE STILL!”

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

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

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

 Posted by at 1:43 pm

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

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Dec 022018
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Posted by at 11:22 pm

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

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Nov 252018
 

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

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

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

Oh holy Child of Bethlehem

Descend to us, we pray

Cast out our sin, and enter in

Be born in us today

The great glad tidings tell

Oh come to us, abide with us

Our Lord Emmanuel

 Posted by at 12:44 am

“Mastering the Hardest Arithmetic-Counting Our Blessings!”

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Nov 182018
 

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

By:  Ron Woodrum

 

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

 

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

 

 Posted by at 1:13 pm

“The Mastery of That One Essential Thing”

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Nov 112018
 

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

By:  Ron Woodrum

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The dove descending breaks the air

With flame of incandescent terror

Of which the tongues declare

The one discharge from sin and error.

The only hope, or else despair

Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-

To be redeemed from fire by fire.

 

Who then devised the torment? Love

Love is the unfamiliar Name

Behind the hands that wove

The intolerable shirt of flame

Which human power cannot remove.

We only live, only suspire

Consumed by either fire or fire.

 

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

 

 Posted by at 1:11 pm

“Can Christians be Indubitably real ever again?”

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Nov 042018
 

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

By:  Ron Woodrum

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

From the prayer that asks that I may be

Sheltered from the winds that beat on thee

From fearing, when I should aspire

From faltering when I should climb higher

From silken self, O Captain free

Thy soldier who would follow thee

 

From subtle things of softening

From easy choices-weakening’s

(not thus are spirits fortified)

Not went that way the Crucified

From all that dims Thy Calvary

Oh Lamb of God deliver me

 

Give me a LOVE that leads the way

A FAITH that nothing can dismay

A HOPE no disappointment can tire

A PASSION that will burn like fire

Let me not sink like a clod

MAKE ME THY FUEL OH FLAME OF GOD!

 

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

 

 Posted by at 1:13 pm

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

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Oct 282018
 

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

By:  Ron Woodrum

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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