GOD’S PLODDER-PERFORMING THE DISCHARGE OF SMALL DUTIES…RESULTING IN GREAT THINGS FOR GOD.

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Sep 052021
 

By: Ron Woodrum

     The father of modern missions is William Carey, a Baptist missionary in the late 1700’s who gave his life to reaching the Hindu world of India.  William Carey was born in England on August 17, 1761.  His early life was spent as an apprentice to a shoe cobbler (repairing shoes). He gave his life to Christ on February 10, 1779…not quite 18 years old.  He joined the Baptist Church in 1783, being baptized by Dr. John Rylands.  While repairing shoes this uneducated man taught himself Greek and Hebrew in order to study the Scriptures in their original languages.  His aggressive study of the Bible soon led to a call to the ministry and in 1789 he became Pastor of the Harvey Lane Baptist Church.  He read a book, by a fellow Baptist Pastor Andrew Fuller titled The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, and was moved by one line in the book…”If it is the duty of all men to believe whenever the gospel is presented to them, it must be the duty of all who have received the Gospel to endeavor to make it universally known!” That line convinced Carey that the Gospel needed to be shared with the heathen all across the world who had never heard.  He built a leather globe of the world, and while repairing shoes, sought God’s direction about how to relieve this heart burden for the world.  Once a month Baptist ministers met for prayer, Bible study, and fellowship.  Carey was asked to share at one of those meetings.  He shared his view of how Genesis 12:1-3 demanded that we bless the world with the Gospel.  He felt that Matthew 28:19-20 was a binding commission for the Church to obey.  While preaching on this subject to his fellow Baptist ministers, Dr. Ryland, the very one that had baptized him, interrupted him and said, “Sit down young man and be still!  When God wants to convert the heathen, He will do it without consulting either you or me!”  That caused Carey to study the Scriptures even more over the next eight years, and resulted in him printing a pamphlet entitled “An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to use means for the conversion of the Heathen”.  His theme verse became Isaiah 54:5 “Thy Redeemer…The God of All The Earth shall He be Called”. Carey came in contact with a surgeon John Thomas who had returned from India, and was so moved with their lostness he was baptized, ordained and intended to return to the country to share the gospel.  Carey’s friend Andrew Fuller heard John Thomas say “India was a veritable Gold mine, but was as deep as the center of the earth”. Thomas asked “who will go down?”  Andrew shared that with Carey.  Carey responded, “I will if you will hold the ropes!”  Just before Carey left to go to his missionary work in India he preached a farewell sermon in which he declared that we should “Expect Great Things From God, and Attempt Great Things For God!”  Those were his intentions.

     He left for India in 1793.  It took them five months to sail to India.  During this time Carey was learning Bengali.  He took his wife, and sons William, Felix, and Peter with him.  His wife only went reluctantly.  The first event was his five year old son Peter died to disease.  Dorothy, his wife, suffered a mental breakdown and would spend the next 14 years on the mission field battling fits of insanity.  The work was hard.  In order to support their work Carey worked as a manager of an Indigo plant for six years.  He worked during the day, and learned the languages and dialects during the nights.  He translated the Bible into Bengali, and forty other languages.  Just before he completed the Bengali translation, a fire destroyed all his laborious work.  He had no choice but to begin it all again.  It took seven years to see his first Hindu convert in 1800.  His wife Dorothy finally passed in 1807.  His son Felix forsook the mission work to become an Ambassador for the government.  Carey wrote home to supporters, “Felix has shrunk from a missionary to an ambassador!”  Carey was known for his patience and perseverance.  He founded the Christian Church of India, the school system, including females in his education process, the postal system.  This self-educated missionary translated the Scriptures into over 40 languages known to India, and printed 213,000 Bibles.  Carey called himself “God’s Plodder!”   He wrote, “If He give me credit for being a plodder He will describe me justly.  Anything beyond that will be too much.  I can plod.  I can persevere in any definite pursuit.  To this I owe everything”.  He reminds me of what Alexander MacLaren wrote-“We have all of a few moments in life of hard, glorious running; but we have days and years of walking-the uneventful discharge of small duties”.  The steady plodding and discharging of those small duties enabled William Carey to “Accomplish Great Things for God!”  The same is true for us.  Just before he died in 1834 he wrote home to supporters and said, “Say nothing about Dr. Carey-speak about Dr. Carey’s God”. On one occasion a British ambassador tried to embarrass Carey by asking “haven’t you been a shoemaker for most of your life?”  Carey responded, “Not a shoemaker-a shoe cobbler.  I repair shoes”.  He was a humble servant of God.  His tombstone had only these words:  William Carey.  Born August 17, 1761.  Died June 9, 1834.  “A poor wretched worm-on Thy kind arms I fall”. 

     I came across a quote the other day by Joseph Parker.  I believe it fits William Carey, and all who endeavor missionary work which can take so long to lay the foundation and see fruit.  Joseph Parker wrote: “Is God all wise?  Then the darkest providences have meaning.  We will set ourselves as God’s interpreters, and because we cannot make straight lines out of our crooked lot, we think that God has turned our life into inextricable confusion.  The darkest hours in our life have some intent, and it is really not needful that we should know all at once what that intent is.  Let us keep within our own little sphere, and live a day at a time, and breathe a breath at a time, and be content with one pulsation at a time, and interpretation will come when God pleases, and as He pleases.”

“More Star-like Than a Star”

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Aug 292021
 

By: Ron Woodrum

     This past week Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature, citing the reason being his masterful talent of writing lyrical poetry like no one else in history.  Most who are familiar with Dylan’s music, would admit that his vocal abilities are sometimes hard to endure, but his lyrics indeed are masterful.  One of the songs/lyrics that have been chosen to illustrate his lyrical-poetic talent is his song It’s Not Dark Yet.  Here are some of the words:

Shadows Are Falling

I’ve Been Here All Day

It’s too hot to sleep,

Time is Running Away

Feel Like My Soul is Turning to Steel

I’ve Got Scars that the Sun Didn’t Heal

There’s Not Even Room Enough

To Be Anywhere

It’s Not Dark Yet,

But It’s Getting There!

Well My Sense of Humanity

Has Gone Down the Drain

Behind Every Beautiful Thing,

There’s Some Kind of Pain…

Sometimes my burden,

Seems more than I can bear

It’s Not Dark Yet,

But It’s Getting There!

I was born here, and I’ll die here

Against My Will

I Know It Looks Like I’m Moving,

But I’m Standing Still

Every Nerve In My Body

Is Vacant and Numb

I can’t even Remember,

What I came here to Get Away From

Don’t even hear a Murmur of A Prayer

It’s Not Dark Yet, But It’s Getting There!

    Darkness.  Darkness seems to be falling all around us.  Even the most optimistic seem to agree with Dylan.  “It’s Not Dark Yet…But It’s Getting There”. Darkness has always been something I have avoided.  Thanks to my older brother, who loved to frighten me during early childhood, I was afraid of the dark early on.  I used to fall asleep in bright light, having protested so vehemently that my parents left my bedroom lights on at night!  I lived in Hannibal, Mo., during college years.  Visitors often requested that we take them to Mark Twain Cave.  Every trip included the tour guide taking us deep into the cave, recounting the story of Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher being in there, when their candle went out!  Then as he turned the lights out-he illustrated that fact by introducing us to darkness so dark you could not see your hand in front of your face, though you were touching your nose with it!  That is darkness.  There would be no way out of that cave without light in the darkness.  Years later, with a youth group spelunking in a cave in the Ozarks, it dawned on me that even though we had two or three flashlights among us, all it would take is for the batteries to burn out; another get dropped; and get separated from the leader with the last light, then it could end in disaster.  It was time to head back to the entrance of the cave…back into the safety of the light!

     As Christians we are watching with worried eyes as our world’s days become darker.  The question we must ask and answer is what role do we play in these dimming days?  Jesus said, “I am the light of the world”( John 8:12).  He also said, “You all are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14).  Paul, in writing to the Philippians, told them to “shine as lights in a crooked and perverse world…hold forth the Word of Life”(Phil. 2:15).  The Bible makes it clear that we who know the Lord, who are a part of His Church, have a role to play in the darkening of our days.  We are the ones who have a role to play in the “not dark yet!”.  Adlai Stevenson, in paying tribute to Eleanor Roosevelt, in a speech before the United Nations, in November of 1962, spoke these words, “She would rather light a candle, than to curse the darkness!  Her glow has warmed the world!”.  Proper example for Christians to emulate in these last darkening days.  I recently came across a poem, in my mind also fitting for a Nobel Peace Prize for Literature for its author, though he never got one-It is called Love’s Lantern, by Alfred Joyce Kilmer.  Here is his masterpiece.

Love’s Lantern

Because the road was steep and long

And through a dark and lonely land,

God set upon my lips a song,

And put a Lantern in my hand.

Through miles on weary miles of night

That stretch relentless in my way

My lantern burns serene and white,

An exhausted cup of day.

O golden lights and lights like wine,

How dim your boasted splendors are

Behold this little lamp of mine,

Is more star-like than a star!

     In Matthew 13:43 Jesus prophesies, by quoting Daniel 12:3, of those who are Wise believers who “will shine as stars, (though Jesus says, ‘as the Sun'”.    But then remember, our sun is a star!  One of the smaller ones in the universe.  But what a powerful one.  One that daily overcomes the darkness of the night with its sunrise. So is our daily assignment in these darkening days.  We are the reason it is “Not Dark Yet!”.  Don’t spend your time “cursing the darkness”  but “light and lift your lantern!”  Voltaire, the famous French Atheist and Philosopher, told his generation that he was seeing the “twilight of Christianity”.  Charles Spurgeon responded that Voltaire did not know the difference between a sunset and sunrise.  He said, “It might be twilight…but it is the twilight just before the dawn!”  Christians-“let’s hear the song on your lips, and the Lantern in your hands”.  You are the reason “it’s not dark yet!”  Christian-“get your shine on!”

“SLOWLY GROWING WISE ABOUT THE FUTURE”

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Aug 222021
 

By: Ron Woodrum

     Tri Valley Baptist Church has completed its first twenty five years of ministry.  Over the years we have had many men of God lead us in the ministry of winning our community to Christ.  I believe it has been the measure of every Pastor to lead this congregation in MAKING DISCIPLES (Winning the Lost); MARKING DISCIPLES (Getting them to join the Church and giving public testimony to being a new creation, dying to the old man, rising to walk in newness of life, and by the baptism of the Spirit being placed in the body of Christ the Church);MATURING DISCIPLES (the goal of all the preaching and teaching ministries of the Church) and probably the number one sign of maturity in Christ is following in the next step of MULTIPLYING DISCIPLES (every mature believer should be involved in sharing his faith and winning others to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and teaching their converts to do the same).  It all seems so simple when summarized that way…but somewhere-somehow-the process has broken down.  We are losing ground-FAST!  There must be some changes made in our methods.  They tell us that to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of INSANITY!  Somehow we need to grow wiser about ministry to our ever-changing world.

     Having said that I feel like Parsifal, a young lad in Richard Wagner’s play of the same name.  It seems that Parsifal’s father had been an honorable knight who joined other knights in the mission of finding the Holy Grail.  He had been killed in the pursuit.  His mother kept the fate of Parsifal’s father from him, and forbid him to even own or use a sword.  The drama is the story about how Parsifal discovers who he is; who his father was; what his father’s mission was; and he finally, and successfully follows in his father’s dream.  Wagner’s characterization of Parsifal is “a good man growing slowly wise”.  That was his key to success.  Perhaps it is our key too.  We need wisdom from on high to understand and love our community.  Our world has changed.  Old techniques.  Old cliches.  Old methods that used to work are quickly rejected by today’s post-Christian culture.  What are we to do?  One of my favorite authors, even still today, is Francis Schaeffer.  His book True Spirituality is one of the most important books ever written on the Christian life.  Another of his books, The Church At the End of the Twentieth Century, is extremely pertinent today as well.  Two conclusions of his book that we need to understand are: (1) We live in a post-Christian world that neither understands nor wants what we have to offer in the Gospel of Christ.  (2)  Most of the world is desperately seeking love, as Johnny Lee said, “in all the wrong places”.  Schaeffer stated that even though the world will change, (and he hit the nail on the head speaking very prophetically) the key to reaching them will not change.  It is still the “love of Christ” fleshed out in his disciples that will be the magnet that will continue to draw the lost to the Christ and His Cross. Jesus words, “If I be lifted up I will draw all men unto myself” (John 121:32) is still true today.  How long will it take us to learn that truth?

     Leaving the winning of the world in the hands of an imperfect Church was a risk.  C.S. Lewis wrote, “God seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures.  He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly (is that a word?) what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye”.  There is no greater illustration of that principle than fact that Jesus has delegated to His Church the task of winning the world before He comes back.  How do we do it?  Jesus is our PATTERN.  We are to emulate Him.  Helmut Thielicke describes the ministry of Jesus in these words, “What tremendous pressures there must have been within Him to drive Him to hectic, nervous, explosive activity!  He sees…as no one else sees, with an infinite and awful nearness, the agony of dying man, the anguish of the wounded conscience, injustice, dread, terror and beastliness.  He sees and hears all of this with the heart of a Savior…must not this fill his every waking hour and rob Him of sleep at night?  Must He not begin to set the fire burning, to win people, to work out strategic plans to evangelize the world, to work, work, furiously work, unceasingly, unrestingly, before the night comes when no man can work?  That’s what we would imagine the earthly life of the Son of God to be like, if we were to think of Him in human terms.  But how utterly different was the actual life of Jesus!  Though the burden of the whole world lay heavy on His shoulders-though Corinth, Ephesus, Athens, and whole continents, with all their desperate need, were desperately near to His heart, though suffering and sinning were going on in chamber, street corner, castle, and slums, seen only by the Son of God-though this immeasurable misery and wretchedness cried out aloud for a physician, he has time to stop and talk to the individual…By being obedient in His little corner of the highly provincial precincts of Nazareth and Bethlehem he allows Himself to be fitted into the great mosaic whose master is God.  And that is why He has time for persons; (to love them individually) for all time is in the hands of the Father.  That is why peace and not unrest go out from Him.  For God’s faithfulness already spans the world like a rainbow: He does not need to build it; He only needs to walk beneath it” (The Waiting Father).  So, do we.  Jesus encountered people individually.  He loved them.  Sometimes they responded to that love and choose to invite Him into their life, and ended up following Him.   Other times they walked away-though the Bible says grieved, for rejecting Him who the depths of our souls desire, creates a greater vacuum inside than before we encounter Him.  We must follow His pattern. 

     But Jesus is also our PRESENCE AND POWER.  Trying to do our mandate and mission in our own power will only end in frustration and failure.  Frederick Buechner describes how he learned this lesson in Telling Secrets“Love you neighbor as yourself is part of the great commandment.  The other way to say it is, Love yourself as your neighbor.  Love yourself not in some ego-centric, self-serving sense but love yourself the way you would love your neighbor, nourishing yourself, trying to understand yourself, comfort and strengthen yourself.  Ministers in particular, people in the caring professions in general, are famous for neglecting themselves with the result that they are apt to become in their own way as helpless and crippled as the people they are trying to care for and thus are no longer selves who can be of much use to anybody.  If your daughter is struggling for life in a raging torrent, you do not save her by jumping into the torrent with her, which only leads to the both of you drowning together.  Instead you keep your feet on the dry bank-you maintain as best you can your own inner peace, the best and strongest of who you are-and from that solid ground reach out your rescuing hand…Take care of yourself so you can take care of them.  A bleeding heart is of no help to anybody if it bleeds to death!”  Beuchner was speaking autobiographically here.  His own daughter was drowning in the torrent of anorexia.  He tried to help her but was losing the battle because her battle consumed him.  She finally got help in a clinic three thousand miles away from him.  He was not present at all to protect her by manipulating events on her behalf.  The people who were there-the Doctors, nurses, social workers, and even a judge who hospitalized her against her will.  They all loved her with a love that held her accountable for choosing her own healing-something her father could not do.  Buechner concluded, “Those men and women were not haggard, dithering, lovesick as I was.  They were realistic, tough, conscientious, and in those ways, though they would never have put it in such terms themselves, loved her in a sense that I believe was closer to what Jesus meant by love than what I had been doing”. 

     Philip Yancey says, “Jesus healed everyone who asked Him too, but not everyone He met.  He had the amazing rare capacity to let people choose their own pain.  He exposed Judas to love, but did not try to prevent his evil deed; He denounced the Pharisees without trying to coerce them to His point of view.  He answered a wealthy man’s question with uncompromising words and let him walk away.  Mark adds the words about that incident “Jesus looked on him and loved Him” (Mk. 10:21).  But he still walked away!  And Jesus let him!  In short, Jesus showed incredible respect for human freedom.  He had no compulsion to convert the entire world in His lifetime or cure people unready to be cured.  He encountered them and called them to Himself in love.  If they did not have the desire to respond love to love, He let them turn away”.  That will still work today.  Jesus is still the epitome of relevance.  So is His cross.  Charles Swindoll, in Come Before Winter, quotes George Mcloud with words still very relevant to us-“It is we who have hauled the cross out of sight.  It is we who have left the impression it belongs in the cloistered halls of a seminary, or beneath the soft shadows of stained glass between marble statues.  I am simply arguing that the cross be raised again in the center of the marketplace, as well as on top of the Church steeple.  Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on a town garbage heap; at a cross road so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek…and at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble, BECAUSE THAT IS WHERE HE DIED, AND THAT IS WHAT HE DIED ABOUT.  THAT IS WHERE THE CHURCH OUGHT TO BE, AND WHAT THE CHURCH PEOPLE OUGHT TO BE ABOUT!”   His way still works…even twenty years later.  But it has to be fleshed-out by real-life Christians.  Any takers?

“That Incredible Christian or That Incredible Shrinking Christian”

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Aug 152021
 

By: Ron Woodrum

     Back in 1964 A.W. Tozer wrote a book called That Incredible Christian.  In his book he enumerated the characteristics of a true Christian that often made him an enigma to the rest of the world, and yet that enigma was an unexplainable difference that often had a magnetic draw of curiosity that caused non-Christians to investigate the genuineness of our faith, and often would lead them to choose that fascinating relationship with God, through Christ for themselves.  Listen to a brief description that Tozer shares-“The Christian believes that in Christ he has died, (to his old self), yet he is more alive than ever…and he fully expects to live forever!  He walks on earth, but is seated in heaven!  He is like the Nighthawk, which is so graceful in flight in the air, but is so awkward and ugly on the ground…to be a victorious son of heaven he must not follow the pattern of earth.  To be safe-he must put himself in jeopardy! He loses his life-to save it.  When he tries to preserve it, he is in danger of losing it! He goes down-to go up! If he refuses to go down, he is already down!  He is strong when he is weakest…and weakest when he sees himself strong.  He has the most when he has given the most away!  He is most sinless when he is most conscious of his sin!  Most sinful when he feels he has little or no sin! He is wisest when he knows that he knows little!  Knows least when he thinks he knows much! Sometimes he does the most, by doing nothing! -Goes furthest when he is standing still!  He fears God-yet is not afraid of Him.  When he is in God’s presence, he feels overwhelmed and undone! Yet there is no other place he desires to be more! He loves supremely One he has never seen! He fully expects to go and see Him one day soon, but is in no hurry to get there!  In this world he is a confirmed pessimist, but expecting Christ soon, he is a restful optimist! THAT INCREDIBLE CHRISTIAN!”  That kind of incredible Christian lived with a conviction that God had brought something into their lives through Christ that was an enigma to the world, but something they desperately needed to share.  That led them to pray for their non-Christian friends; be there for them in the difficult days of their lives; and always ready to share the Gospel with them and encourage them to give their lives to Christ.  Always it seemed that the Incredible Christian had a burden to see their friends and loved ones share in this Incredible Christian life!

     But those days seem like a mirage in the cold hard reality of this New Millennium!  I am not sure why but most Christians do not even seem to be familiar with all the Incredibility they have in Christ Jesus.  Losing the wonder of it all has evaporated the ever-present desire to share that incredible faith with those who have never met or known our Lord.  It seems that many Christians are not even sure how incredible the Christian life is-why would it be something you would want to convince others to embrace it!  IT SEEMS THAT INCREDIBLE CHRISTIAN HAS BECOME THAT INCREDIBLE SHRINKING CHRISTIAN!   Eight years before Tozer wrote his book, That Incredible Christian, another author, a science fiction author, Richard Matheson, wrote a novel called The Incredible Shrinking Man.  It was made into a movie in 1957.  In the book/movie Scott Carey is exposed to a cloud of radioactive spray.  This radioactivity causes him to shrink 1/7 of an inch per day.  As he shrinks, he is detrimentally affected in his success on his job; with his family; and in all of his relationships!  As he shrinks to 7 inches he engages in battles with sparrows and spiders who would normally run away from him. This fiction was fantastically entertaining for an earlier generation.  Truth be known-it speaks to our generation-to the Christians in our generation.  For the last several decades Christians have been shrinking in stature.  It used to be that we had a strong influence on our culture and in our community.  But as we have grown less and less in being Incredible Christians-we have become as Martin Lloyd Jones has said-“irrelevant”.  Instead of the world looking to the Church and the Christian for direction, they have chosen to ignore us.  The tragedy of it all is we have become comfortable with that!  We seldom take a stand on the issues of our day.  We seldom hold up the Cross and the Christ as the only answer to the problems that confront our society today.  We have embraced the philosophy “I’m Ok-Your Ok!” and from a Biblical point of view-“That is Not Ok!”  Instead of being “That Incredible Christian” we have become “That Incredible Shrinking Christian!”  That is the tragedy for the Gospel in this new millennium!

     There was another Carey.  His name was William Carey.  He and some fellow Baptist pastors in England began to pray for the lost, in their country, and in the world as a whole.  They began to discuss the destiny of those who had not received Christ.  They prayed that God would bring the good news of the gospel to them.  They became the answer to their own prayers.  Carey came to the conviction “Expect Great Things from God-Attempt Great Things for God!”  That lead to the birth of modern missions.  William Carey gave his life to taking the good news of the Gospel to Burma.  He embraced all the challenges of learning the languages and customs-of loving the unlovable…Of patiently giving all his possessions, energy and life in winning them to Christ.  He even engaged his 8-year-old son Felix in the work.  Felix excelled in learning the language and translating the Bible into the language of the Burmese people.  Felix was a co-laborer with his father William in a “Great work for God”.  When he was 21 Felix married.  He and his wife had a son.  The hardships of the missionary life took the life of his wife and son.  In his weariness he grew discouraged.  Felix not only was gifted in language translation but had medical abilities as well.  The King of Burma offered Felix a position as Ambassador to the governor-general in Calcutta.  The weary Felix accepted, resigning his mission activities in 1814, Felix lived in affluence as a Burmese Government official now.  His father William was crushed.  He wrote to fellow Christians back in England-“pray for Felix-he is shriveled from a missionary to an ambassador!”  Felix’s wealth and position in the world led him to overspending and alcoholism.  He had to resign in disgrace.  He disappeared into the province of Assam, wandering and homeless for three years!  The good news is he recovered.  He returned to being a missionary. He finished well and had an impact for the gospel.  Perhaps we need to write a letter to ourselves.  “Pray for the 21st century Christian.  He has shriveled from being a witness to a wanderer!  From that Incredible Christian to that Incredible Shrinking Christian!”  Unless we draw near unto our Lord; Unless we get our credible stature back in the eyes of the world-our Gospel will fall on deaf ears in these last days! Today’s message is about Understanding the Gospel in a Nutshell and striving together in applying the essentials needed for Impacting the World with the Gospel of Christ…and stop the shrinking!

The Bible: Relic or Relevant?

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Aug 082021
 

By: Ron Woodrum

     The Bible continues to be the perennial best seller of all books!  That being said, there is a legitimate question about the impact that it is currently having on lives in this 21st century.  Just before he gave up hosting the Tonight Show, Jay Leno did an on the street interview of people, and asked them Bible questions, and aired it on his show.  What was the results?  It was hilarious and horrific at the same time!  The questions were not tricky or hard.  They were intended to be easy.  That’s what made it so funny…and frightening!  Leno asked one person, “Did Adam and Eve have any children?”  After a few seconds of deep thought, a woman responded, “No, no, they never had kids!’  He then asked, “Can you name the two brothers…Cain…and———” Absolute blank stare.  Had no idea.  They were probably thinking Cain and Hurricane!  No… she had no answer.  Okay—“What happened to Lot’s wife?”  Zero response!  Someone blurted out, “Who is Lot?’  A little hint-“She turned into________” The person blurted out her guess—“An Angel?”  Leno then asked someone-“can you name one of the Apostles?”  No reply.  “How about one of the Beatles” Immediate response-“John, Paul, George, and Ringo!”  The crowd cheered!  “How many commandments are there?” One guy replied boldly-“Three! There are three commandments!”  Another corrected him-“No, everybody knows there are twenty…twenty commandments!”  Another in the crowd heard that and answered “no, it’s like the Apostles…there are twelve!”    Leno, assuming someone in the know asked, “can you name four of them?”  No one could name four.  “How about one?”  The man replied, “Something about not coveting your neighbor’s wife!”  (Leno said, “Interesting that is the only one he can remember!”).  Leno said, “You mean if she’s pretty?”  He said, “yea, I think that’s it!”  “Is your neighbor’s wife pretty?”  The man replied, “No!”  Leno told him, “I hope she is not watching tonight!” “Who was swallowed by a whale?” Leno asked.  The man responded, “A whale?  Is this a trick question?”  Let me give you a hint, Leno replied—“Jo….”  “Joan of Arc” was the quick response!  “No… Jo……..?”  “Joe DiMaggio?” “No” Jay told them.  Someone in the crowd asked…”Pinocchio?”  “Which two cities were destroyed in the Book of Genesis?”  “Let me give you a hint—Sodom________?”  “Saddam Hussein?”  This brief episode revealed that we live in a whole new world, and nothing has been more adversely affected by postmodernism than the Church and its relationship to God’s Word-The Holy Scriptures!  The sad thing may be that the Church may not have fared much better!  Bible Illiteracy is rampant.  But it hasn’t always been that way.  The Bible has impacted civilization all through out man’s history.  Some of the greatest thinkers of all time have been those who were literate of the Bible, and let it have an impact on their thinking and therefore their lives! 

     Novelist, Philosopher, Author, and Literary critic George Steiner wrote, in the New Yorker, some very affirming words on the influence that the Bible has had on civilization…until recent years.  He wrote, “One is indeed tempted to define modernism in Western Culture in terms of a recession of common currency recognition of both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.  That recognition was once the sinew of literacy, the shared matter of intellect and sentiment from the sixteenth century onward…not only in the spheres of personal and public piety, but also in those of politics, social institutions, and the life of literary and aesthetic imagination”.  Virginia Stem Owens, agreeing with Steiner, went on to say, “All Western literature… is a Midrash, (a commentary) on the Bible”. But she went on-“It has become like an unplayed Stradivarius, this once-Holy Text now inhabits the air-conditioned glass case of DISPASSIONATE DISREGARD!”  In other words, this Bible that used to be so revered and relevant…has become a revered but relegated relic!  George Herbert, in his book The Temple—1633 wrote, “Bibles laid open…millions of surprises!”  We have forgotten that!  Not only is it full of surprises…but full of power that we are desperately in need of.  John Calvin wrote, “No human writings, however sacredly composed, are at all capable of affecting us in a similar way.  Read Demosthenes or Cicero, read Plato or Aristotle, or any other of that class.  You will, I admit, feel wonderfully allured, pleased, moved, enchanted; but turn from them to reading the Sacred Volume, and it will so pierce your heart, so work its way into your very marrow that the comparison to that of orators and Philosophers will disappear, making it manifest that in the Sacred Volume there is a Truth Divine, something that makes it superior to all the gifts and graces attainable by man!”  C.I. Schofield, (author of the Schofield reference Bible), wrote “I gave much of my earlier life to the study of Homer and Shakespeare, and while my understanding undoubtedly profited from that study, I found keen intellectual delight in it, these books held no rebuke for my sins, nor any power to lift me above them, but, when I came to the Bible and received Him, concerning whom, after all, the whole Book is written, I entered into peace, joy, and power.  The Bible led me to Jesus and Jesus transformed my life!”

     That truth is expressed so well in a poem by the great Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier: 

“We searched the world for Truth; 

We cull the good, the pure, the beautiful;

From graven tombs and written scroll. 

From all old flower fields of the soul;

And weary seekers of the best,

We come laden back from our quest,

And find that all the sages said,

Is in the Book our mothers read!”

We could save ourselves a lot of fruitless search if we understand that the “beginning of wisdom is in God’s Word”.  Luther sought for salvation, God, and truth desperately.  To no avail.  But as he studied Scripture he not only found the Jesus Christ as Savior, but truth for his generation, and just sharing it brought about the Great Protestant Reformation, that is still evidenced today in Evangelical Christianity.  Luther spoke about how that happened.  He wrote: “Take me for example.  I opposed indulgences and all papists; but never by force.  I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word.  Otherwise I did nothing.  And then, while I slept…the Word so greatly weakened the Papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it.  I did nothing.  The Word did it all!  Had I wanted to start trouble…I could have started a little game at Worms that even the emperor wouldn’t have been safe.  But what would it have been?  A mug’s game.  I did nothing.  I left it to the Word!  The Word did it all!”  It still does!  If we will embrace the Word and unleash the Word.  The greatest quote concerning the Bible comes from The Prince of All Preachers-Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  Someone had asked him about whether we should defend the Bible.  He gave his answer in an Address to the Annual Meeting of the British and Foreign Bible Society, May 5th, 1875.  He spoke-“There seems to me to have been twice as much done in some ages in defending the Bible as in expounding it, but if the whole of our strength shall henceforth go to the exposition and spreading of it, we may leave it pretty much to defend itself.  I do not know whether you see that lion-it is very distinctly before my eyes; a number of persons advance to attack him, while a host of us would defend the Lion, with all our strength…pardon me if I might offer a suggestion.  Open the door and let the lion out; he will take care of himself.  Why, they are gone!  He no sooner goes froth in his strength than his assailants flee.  The way to meet infidelity is to spread the Bible.  The answer to every objection against the Bible is the Bible.  Defend the Bible?  I would just a well defend a lion!”  Good advice!  Open the Bible and turn God’s ferocious Word loose.  Isaiah said, “Unleash God’s Word…It will not return void!” (Isaiah 55).

“FOLLOWING THE LORD IN BAPTISM-KISSING THE SON”

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Aug 012021
 

By: Ron Woodrum

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

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

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

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

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

“JESUS SAVES: GET THE MESSAGE OUT ANYWAY YOU CAN…IT STILL HAS POWER TO MEET OUR DEEPEST NEED”

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Jul 252021
 

By: Ron Woodrum

     One of my favorite hymns is the hymn-“JESUS SAVES”.  I’m sure you recall the lyrics.

We have heard the joyful sound

Jesus Saves! Jesus Saves!

Spread the tidings all around

Jesus Saves! Jesus Saves!

Bear the news to every land,

Climb the steeps and cross the waves;

Onward tis our Lord’s command

Jesus Saves!  Jesus Saves!

     What a great song to sing in a worship service!  It gives us opportunity to lift our voices and testify to the reality of the truth that Jesus Christ really does save sinners like you and I.  But the sad thing is those who really need to hear that testimony are not sitting there listening.  We all benefit from being reminded of the trustworthiness of our Savior, but those who really need to know that reality rarely come to worship services to be reminded by or confronted with that truth.  Singing that lyric in public would probably not be well received from those listening, and not likely be received as life changing truth.  One zealous Christian took the phrase “Climb the steeps” to share the joyful news “Jesus Saves!” quite literally.  He climbed up a highway overpass, and for all to see, white paint, on black background, he wrote his public message, in courageous graffiti-“JESUS SAVES!”  Now everyone who drives by that underpass/overpass is confronted with that reality of that news!  THE GOOD NEWS OF THE GOSPEL!  You might respond-well that certainly will not be effective!  How embarrassing that any Christian would resort to that kind of tactic to get the Good new of the Gospel out.  Frederick Buechner, in two of his books, The Hungering Darkness, and Secrets in the Dark, referred to such an incident, and what impact it just might have on the public collectively, and all of us individually.  Let me share what he wrote: 

     “Maybe Jesus Saves written up there on the cliff or the abutment of the bridge is embarrassing because in one way or another religion in general has become embarrassing: embarrassing to the unreligious man because, although he does not have it anymore, he has never really rooted it out of his soul either, and it still festers there as a kind of reproach; embarrassing to the religious man because, although in one form or another he still does have it, it seldom looks more threadbare or beside the point than when you set it against very much the same kind of seventy-five-mile-per-hour, neon-lit, cluttered, and clamorous world that is represented by the highway that the sign itself looks down upon there. 

     And maybe, at a deeper level still, Jesus Saves is embarrassing because if you can hear it at all through your wincing, if any part at all of what it is trying to mean gets through, what it says to everybody who passes by, and most importantly and unforgivably of all of course what it says to you, is that you need to be saved. Rich man, poor man; young man, old man; educated and uneducated; religious and unreligious—the word is in its way an offense to all of them, all of us, because what it says in effect to all of us is, “You have no peace… You are not happy… not whole…not saved” That is an unpardonable thing to say to a man whether it is true or false, but especially if it is true, because there he is, trying so hard to be happy, all of us are, to find some kind of inner peace and all in all maybe not making too bad a job of it considering the odds, so that what could be worse psychologically, humanly, than to say to him what amounts to “You will never make it. You have not and you will not, at least not without help”? You need to be saved, and Jesus specializes in that!

     And what could be more presumptuous, more absurd, more pathetic, than for some poor fool with a cut-rate brush and a bucket of white paint to claim that the one to give that help is Jesus? If he said God, at least that would be an idea, and if you reject it, it is only an idea that you are rejecting on some kind of intellectual grounds. But by saying “Jesus” he puts it on a level where what you accept or reject is not an idea at all but a person; where what you accept or reject, however dim and far away and disfigured by time is still just barely recognizable as a human face. Because behind the poor fool with his bucket there always stands of course the Prince of Fools himself, blessed be he, in his own way more presumptuous, more absurd. (Being saved by the Cross is still foolishness to the world!)

Jesus Saves…. And the bad thief, the one who according to tradition was strung up on his left, managed to choke out the words that in one form or another men have been choking out ever since whenever they have found themselves crossed up by the world: “Are you the Christ? Then save yourself and us.” With the accent on the “us.” If you are the Savior, whatever that means, then why don’t you save us, whatever that involves, save us from whatever it is that crosses us all up before we’re done, from the world without and the world within that crosses us all out. Save us from and for and in the midst of the seventy-five-mile-per-hour, neon-lit crisscross of roads that we all travel in this world. And then the good thief, the one on his right, rebuked the bad one for what he had said angrily, and then in effect said it again himself, only not angrily, God knows not angrily—said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power.” And finally the words of Jesus’s answer, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise,” which are words no less crude than the ones trickling down the cliff side, in their way no less presumptuous, absurd, pathetic; words that express no theological idea as an idea, but words that it took a mouth of flesh to say and an ear of flesh to hear. I can imagine that the guards who had been posted there to see that the execution was carried out properly might themselves have felt something like embarrassment and turned away from the sheer lunacy of the scene. (How can someone dying such a death on a cross save anyone?)

Such a one as that save me? That one—the spindle-shanked leader who thinks he is God’s son, bloodshot and drunk with his own torture, no less crossed up, crossed out than any other mother’s son. Such a one as that—Jesus, scrawled up there on the concrete among the four-letter words and the names of lovers? Only somehow then, little by little, a deeper secret of the embarrassment begins to show through: not can such a one as that save me, but can such a one as that save me? Because I suspect that at its heart the painful wincing is directed less to the preposterousness of the claim that Jesus saves than it is directed to the preposterousness of the claim that people like ourselves are savable—not that we are such sinners that we do not deserve saving, but that we are so much ourselves, so hopelessly who we are—no better, no worse—that we wonder if it is possible for us to be saved. I suspect the reason why the name “Jesus” embarrasses us when it stands naked is that it inevitably, if only half consciously, recalls to us our own names, our own nakedness. Jesus saves … whom? Saves Joe, saves Charlie, Ellen, saves me, saves you—just the names without any Mr. or Mrs., without any degrees or titles or Social Security numbers; just who we are, no more, no less. I suspect that it is at our own nakedness that we finally wince.”  Get your brush, and bucket of paint…get to sharing the good news…JESUS SAVES! EVEN ME! EVEN YOU!

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

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Jul 182021
 

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

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!

“A Brand Plucked From the Fire-with the World His Gospel Parish”

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Jul 112021
 

   PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “A Brand Plucked From the Fire-with the World His Gospel Parish”.

  One of the most interesting and impacting Christian influences of the 18th Century was John Wesley.  Historians feel that he, and possibly George Whitefield, are the reason that England escaped the Revolutionary tragedy and turmoil that plagued France during this same time in history.  His spiritual influence brought such a revival to England that created an entirely different culture than the one that nearly destroyed France, John Wesley was born June 28, 1703, to an Anglican minister Samuel Wesley, and his wife Susannah.  John was the 15th, of 19 children!  His mother was the 25th child of 25!  One would think that John was mostly influenced by his minister father, but we are told that all of the Wesley children were impacted most by their godly mother.  Somehow, she had time to spend individual time with each one of them, (a challenge when there is only 24 hours in a day).  She taught them the Word of God, to pray, and to live by very strict Christian behavior toward each other and those in the outside world.  John would be ingrained with these Christian methods so much that he would carry them with him the rest of his life!  Many historians refer to Susannah Wesley as the Mother of Modern-day Methodism!  Even after he left home for his college education, he turned to his mother asking her to define sin for him.  She responded, “whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, takes off your relish for spiritual things, whatever increases the authority of the body over the mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may seem in itself”.  She not only taught them the Scriptures, but taught them to study it in its original language, from the Greek New Testament.  An incident that occurred while John was quite young, shaped him the rest of his life.  The Wesley home caught fire.  All of the family escaped the flames, except John.  He was trapped on the second floor.  There was no way of escape.  Neighbors recognizing the emergency of the situation, formed a human ladder, (standing on each other’s shoulders), to reach up and out to rescue young John.  For the rest of his life he referred to himself as “a brand plucked from the fire”-quoting what God said of Joshua the High Priest in Zechariah 3:2.

     John and his brother Charles went to Oxford.  While there they formed, with two other students, the Holy Club, where they emphasized practical methods and rules for living the practical Christian life.  Again, this was from the influence of his godly mother who tried to make the commandments of Scripture every day exercises in holiness for her children. John had an insatiable appetite to know and please God.  James Oglethorpe had founded a colony in Georgia where many from debtor’s prison in England were sent.  He asked John and Charles to go to this parish and minister to these prisoners, and also to evangelize the Indians.  In October of 1735 they sailed on the Simmonds ship to the Province of Georgia, in the American colonies.  It was on this trip that he met and was greatly influenced by the Moravian missionaries that were on the same trip.  On the way to the New World, the ship encountered a life-threatening storm, and it was clear the ship was going to sink.  The Moravians sang hymns and rejoiced calmly.  John Wesley was terrified of death.  The Moravian pastor asked John why he was so terrified.  He asked him “don’t you know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior?”  John would write of the incident later in his journals, that he immediately responded “Of course I do!”, but admitted that his confession even sounded hollow to his own ears!  He spent two years ministering to prisoners and Indians in Georgia.  He and Charles were not well received!  They decided to return home.  John was returning a broken and disillusioned man.  He wrote in his journals-“I went to Georgia to convert the heathen and the Indians.  Who will convert me?”  Upon returning to England he continued to meet with the Moravians.  At one of their Bible studies, at Aldersgate Street London, May 24, 1738, they were studying the Book of Romans from Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans.  When the leader read the preface to the commentary that described Luther opening his heart to the salvation of the Lord that was received by faith alone-John Wesley would later write in his journal-“I felt my heart strangely warmed, and at that point, instead of trusting my methods of Christian living for my salvation, I do believe I trusted in Jesus Christ alone as my Savior and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death”.  That was a turning point in his life indeed!  He was not received well in the Anglican Church, rejected by the Bishops and clergy, He followed the example of George Whitefield, beginning an itinerant ministry.  He turned to preaching the Gospel of Grace in the open fields.  His motto became-“the world is my parish”.  He became adept at open-air preaching.  He began to draw crowds into the thousands at his services.  He was a small man, 5 foot 6 inches 120 pounds.  When he preached, he had to stand on a chair, or a rock, or a hill, or man-made platform.  He preached on an average 15 sermons a week, He continued to preach to this Gospel parish for the next 50 years!  Over that time, he preached over 40,000 sermons.  He traveled on horseback the length and breadth of England-altogether more than 250,000 miles on horseback.  He would be seen traveling on horseback, reading his Greek New Testament, and preparing messages.  He said, “He destroyed his sermons every seven years, and wrote new ones”.  He felt that he was a failure if he could not write better sermons as he went along!  They say that the miles he traveled, could have circled the world 10 times!  He did so often in the face of hostile crowds, on roads that were often only muddy ruts.  A contemporary described him as “the last word…in neatness and dress” and “his eye was the brightest and most piercing that can be conceived”.  Once a wild bull was turned loose on him and an audience he was addressing.  He was attacked, and sometimes robbed, but none of these things deterred him.  His ministry was greatly anointed by the Holy Spirit and the crowds responded in powerful conversions everywhere he went. His converts quickly numbered into the thousands!

     He was a powerful preacher and author.  He wrote, “Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils.  But if God be for you, who can be against you?  Are all of them together stronger than God?  Oh be not weary in well-doing!” Wesley was strongly Arminian in his theology.  He opposed strong Calvinism.  But in spite of that he did so with a sweet spirit.  He coined the phrase, “we can agree to disagree, agreeably!”  He wrote, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?  May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?  Without all doubt, we may.  here in all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences”.  Everywhere he went he reminded other Christians “You have one business on earth-to save souls!”  He gave himself to that ministry tirelessly!  His prayer was “may I never be useless for the work of God!”  He felt strongly about living the Christian life as well.  He wrote, “By salvation I mean not barely according to the vulgar notion deliverance from hell or going to heaven only, but a deliverance from sin, a restoration of the soul to its primitive health, its original purity, a recovery of the divine nature…after the image of God in righteousness and true holiness“.  He believed in giving generously to the Lord’s work.  He said, “When I earn any money, after taking care of my needs, I give it all away in His work lest it find a way into my heart, as an idol!”  “When a man becomes a Christian, he becomes industrious, trustworthy, and prosperous.  Now if that man when he gets all he can, and does not five all he can, I have no more hope for Judas Iscariot than for that man!”  He also said, “Cleanliness is next to godliness”, and wrote a Medical journal that became famous, and catalogued many popular and home remedies of his day.  He was known for saying, “Untold millions are still untold, until we tell them!”  “though I am always in haste, I am never in a hurry!”  He also said, “I set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn!”  (Charles Spurgeon followed his example!).  He was a humble servant of the Lord.  He and George Whitefield often disagreed on theology.  Wesley did not fully embrace eternal security.  George Whitefield did.  People asked Wesley if he thought he would see Whitefield in heaven?  He quickly responded, “No!”  They thought his response was unfair, until he explained-“George will be so close to the throne of God, and I so far away that it will be quite unlikely I will even be able to see him!”  Let me share two of my favorite quotes from Wesley.  One is about the Bible.  He wrote, “it could not be the invention of good men or angels; they neither would nor could make a book, and tell lies all the time they were writing it, saying ‘Thus says the Lord’ when it was their own invention.  It could not be the invention of bad men or devils; for they could not make a book which commands all duty, forbids all sin, and condemns their souls to hell to all eternity, without Christ!  Therefore, I draw this conclusion that the Bible must be of Divine Inspiration.  I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air.  I am a spirit come from God and returning to God.  Just hovering over the great gulf; til a few moments hence, I am no longer seen.  I drop into an unchangeable eternity!  I want to know one thing-the way to heaven.  How to land safe on that happy shore.  God has condescended to teach the way.  For this very end he came from heaven.  he hath written it down in a book.  Oh, give me that book!  At any price give me that book! Give me the Book of God!  I have it.  Here is knowledge enough for me!  Let me be Homo Unius Libri-a man of one book!”  The other quote I admire is the one he said, “Give me 100 men, who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, I care not a whit whether they be clergy or layperson, and I shall shake the very gates of hell!”.  That was his life’s goal.  He led the way for far more than 100 men and women!  He did so for nearly fifty years of incessant itinerary witnessing and ministry! 

     On June 28, 1790, one year before his death he wrote, “This day I enter into my eighty-eighth year.  For above eighty-six years, I found none of the infirmities of old age: my eyes did not wax dim, neither was my natural strength abated.  But last August, I found almost a sudden change.  My eyes were so dim that no glasses would help me.  My strength likewise now quite forsook me and probably will not return in this world!”  He died on March 2, 1791, at an age of 87.  As he lay dying, his friends and family gathered around him.  Wesley grasped their hands and said repeatedly, “Farewell, Farewell!  The best of all is, God is with us” he lifted his arms and raised his feeble voice again, repeating the words “The best of all is God is with us!”  His biographer writes, “He witnessed in the hearts and lives of many thousands and saw God’s provision for his work to last for future generations!”  If you visit his tomb, in London, England, you will be touched by his epitaph-“To the memory of the venerable John Wesley, late fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford-This great light arose to enlighten…and revive, enforce, and defend the pure apostolic doctrines and practices of the primitive Church, which he continued to do both with his writings and labors for more than half a century…Reader if thou art constrained to bless the instrument-give God the glory.  After languishing a few days, he finished his course and life together, gloriously triumphing over death, March 2nd, 1791 in his eighty-eighth year of his life.”  He was a brand plucked from the fire, who spent all the days of his life, in the world that was his Gospel parish, plucking others from the fire with all of his strength-and good method to follow! No pun intended!

“Be Pedestaled in Triumph”-Robert Browning

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Jul 042021
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Be Pedestaled in Triumph”-Robert Browning.

     Paschal, in his masterpiece Penses, tried to explain why the world in his day, like ours, seems lost in their insatiable pursuit of pleasure at any cost.  He said, “What else does this craving, and this helplessness proclaim but that there was once in man true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?  This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, thou none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words (can only be filled) by God Himself”.  In other words, Pascal was saying that man, created in the image of God, can only be fulfilled when, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever!”.  Part of the wages of sin is to “fall short of the glory of God” but have this insatiable desire to know, love and experience Him.  If we do not come back to Him, and experience Him fully, through the salvation provided in His Son Jesus Christ, we will spend our lives seeking Him in an infinite insatiable experience, only to be left empty, disappointed, disillusioned, frustrated.  Even living lives of reckless abandon to all kinds of so-called pleasures and vices are affirmations that we are hungering for a God we were made to know, love and experience to His satisfying fullness.  That is why Augustine said, “We are restless until we find our rest in you oh God!”.  C.S. Lewis, in his book The Abolition of Man, made this very amazing point when he said, “Pleasures are shafts of glory as it strikes our sensibility…but aren’t there bad, unlawful pleasures? (you ask).  Certainly, there are.  But in calling them ‘bad pleasures’ I take it we are using a kind of shorthand.  We mean ‘pleasures snatched by unlawful acts’.  It is the stealing of the apples that is bad, not the sweetness of the apples.  The sweetness is still a beam from glory.”  Lewis was saying enjoying pleasure and ecstasy, even in immoral ways, are in themselves an act of seeking to enjoy and experience God.  We may experience the pleasure through immoral and illicit means, but it is not the sweetness that is bad, but the means.  It still reflects the original desire of God to give us His “every good and perfect gift”.  But the reason we fail to retain the enjoyment of these illicit experiences is because we were never intended to enjoy them outside of Him.  They come, through proper means, from His Hand, with His blessing, and cause us then to react to the pleasure by enjoying Him.  That is what Lewis went on to say-“The sweetness is still a beam from glory…I have tried since …to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration.  I don’t mean simply by giving thanks, but I meant something different…Gratitude exclaims very properly, ‘How god of God to give me this’.  Adoration says, ‘what must be the quality of that Being (God) whose far-off and momentary blessings to me are like this! One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun…’ “

     Therefore, the only real answer to overcoming addictions and destructive lifestyles is to see them for what they are.  They are insatiable pursuits of trying to enjoy the pleasures God intends for us to find only in Him, and His Son Jesus.  To try to experience those sweet pleasures from His hand, in illicit ways, will eventually prove to be “pleasure in sin for a season”-and lead to unhappiness.  You and I cannot fill the infinite abyss with finite pleasures, even if they come from the hand of God, if they are experienced apart from putting Him first in our lives.  That is why Emerson said, “Most men, (and women) lead lives of quiet desperation!”  So, it is the enemy’s goal to lead us to seek to fulfill our God-given drives and desires independent of God.  That is where most men and women in the world today are living.  We have believed the lie-“you only go around once so you have to grab all the gusto you can”. But when we realize that we can overcome these destructive lifestyles, with the strength of God, we are freed to experience Him, and in doing so can experience pleasures just as sweet, but in a way that is a gift from Him, and is therefore fulfilling and satisfying.  That is why Jesus said, in John 10:10 “I am come that you might have life…and have it more abundantly”.  That is why Augustine said, “God permits temptation to sin, to transform it into greater good.”  C.S. Lewis also hit the nail on the head, when he said, “Bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness.  They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.  We never find out the strength of evil impulse until we try to fight it!”  It is a lie of the devil that God says no to us, because He wants to deprive us of pleasure and joy.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Truth is pleasure and joy cannot be found, even in God’s gifts if they are sought to be enjoyed apart from Him.  The Gifts are inseparably linked to the Giver!  You can experience them without Him.  He created us for them.  But you can’t enjoy them without Him.  That is the message of the Book of Ecclesiastes.  Solomon tried and did everything.  No limits!  No restraints!  His conclusion?  Live your life for pleasure, apart from putting God first, and you will be “chasing the wind” and concluding “vanity of vanities all is vanity!”. 

   Robert Browning has written a great poem about Temptation- He wrote:

     Why comes temptation, but for man to meet

     And master and make, crouch beneath his feet,

     And so be pedestaled in triumph.

     God wants us to resist the temptation to seek out all the pleasures this world offers if we are not walking intimately with Him.  He wants us to come back to Him.  Embrace Him.  Love Him.  We will find that at His right hand are “pleasures evermore” (Psalm 16:11).  He says, “Take delight in Me and I will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4).  That is why the Jesus people, of the seventies, found Jesus even more satisfying than a life of illicit sex and drugs.  He proved to be the one who satisfied most, when all those things, pursued without Jesus, were only destructive dead-end streets!  That why they talked about getting the genuine high with Jesus.  He never lets you down.  A genuine and intimate relationship with God, through salvation in His son Jesus is the only answer to the destructive call and pull of this world.  This is illustrated for us in Homer’s Odyssey.  Odysseus was trying to get home to his family and was having a hard time doing it.  Along the way he encountered the enchanting and dangerous Circe who, it was said, turned men into pigs.  When Odysseus successfully avoided her attractions, she confided in him that a sterner test lay ahead-the Sirenes, lusty, luscious maidens whose island lay along the straits and whose songs lured travelers away from hearth and home.  Circe advised Odysseus to have his men plug their ears with wax, and tie himself to the mast.  Odysseus did have his men do just that!  But he had an additional idea-his friend Orpheus, who was also an accomplished musician, was asked to sit on the deck and make a sweet melody that would turn Odysseus’ ears and heart away from the lure of the Sirens, as they passed by.  In that way he stayed the course and passed the test.  The best way to avoid being disappointed by the lure of the lesser is to fill our hearts with the lure of the greater-God, in His Son Jesus Christ.  He will not only give us the pleasures we sought outside of Him, he will give us greater pleasures, that will satisfy our hearts.  That is why Scripture implores us to “taste and see that the Lord is Good!”  (Ps. 34:8). 

     The Christian band Skillet has a unique way of expressing this truth.  In their song, Better Than Drugs they sing:

     Your love is like wine

      Feel you comin’ on so fast

      Feel you comin’ to get me high

      You’re better than drugs

      Addicted for life

      Feel you when I’m restless

      Feel you when I cannot cope

      You’re my addiction, my prescription, my antidote.

Those might not be our first choice of words for lyrics…but they express a true experience we all need.  Let Jesus be…. our antidote…we definitely need one!  He is the answer!