“How To Get a Solid Grace-Framed Agenda for the New Year”

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Jan 052020
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “How To Get a Solid Grace-Framed Agenda for the New Year”.  By:  Ron Woodrum

  I want to begin this perspective with some advice, as I often do, from one of my favorite authors-Frederick Buechner. He writes, ” it is mainly for some clue to where I am going that I search through where I have been, some hint as to who I am becoming or failing to become that I delve into what used to be”. He continues, “There’s alot to love about a New Year. Good food. Celebrating with family and friends. I love the unmarked calendar, the eager anticipation from 365 days of ‘who knows what may hold’. I value the opportunity to both recollect the past year, doing an inventory of sorts, and to anticipate the New Year!” How true! The first day of 2020 is a great opportunity for us to remember and to anticipate. Remembering is a vital practice for a growing spiritual life. Our sense of who we are is really a collection of memories of sort. Press the erase button and we don’t really know who we are anymore. Life and a healthy identity is unimaginable without a vivid memory. Why not find a quiet place today and ask God to walk with you over the year. Revisit the challenges and trials that have made you stronger. Face honestly your bad choices and failures and falls. Learn from them, asking guide to guide your steps around those incidents next year, and give you His strength for the battles you cannot avoid. How have you grown and become more or less like Christ this past year?

But while you are at it, take time to look forward too. A rear-view glance in the mirror is important but you can’t drive forward without looking ahead! I don’t mean resolutions-I think that New Year’s tradition needs a good burial! I think Christians should replace it with New Year’s Anticipation. Anticipation, with remembrance, is as vitally an important spiritual exercise as the other. In the Biblical mind the future Grace of God is always breaking into the present to let God change our lives for the better, for our good, and His Glory. As you face the New Year, if you must resolve, resolve to do less trying to be what God expects you to be, and start trusting and resting in what God has promised to make of our lives, if we will turn them over to Him. The word “promise” comes from the latin word “promittere”. It comes from two words-“pro”- meaning “forth” and “mittere”- meaning “to send”. Prosmises are God’s packages of Grace sent from the future; they are declarations which annnounce the coming of a reality that does not yet exist today! But on the guarantee of God they will! He promises. How would our lives and world be different If God’s promises took shape in the present moment? Where would you like for God’s promises come alive in your life in a new way this New Year? That is what Buechner calls “a solid grace-framed agenda for the coming New Year!”

Let me share a poem by Mary Fairchild called A New Year’s Plan.

“I tried to think of a clever new phrase-

A slogan to inspire the next 365 days,

A motto to live by this coming New Year,

But the catchy words fell flat to my ear.

  

And then I heard His still small voice

Saying, ‘consider this simple, daily choice:

With each new dawn and close of the day

Make new your resolve to trust and obey.

   

Don’t look back and be caught in regret

Or dwell on the sorrow of dreams unmet;

Don’t stare forward anchored by fear,

No, live in this moment, for I am here.

  

I am all you need. Everything I Am.

You are held secure by my strong hand.

Give me this one thing-your all in all;

Into my grace, let yourself fall’.

  

So, at last I’m ready, I see the way.

It’s to daily follow, trust and obey.

I enter the New Year armed with a plan,

To give Him everything. All That I Am!”

 Posted by at 3:59 pm

Ten Questions for a New Year

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Dec 292019
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE:   Ten Questions for a New Year Article by Don Whitney Professor, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Even those most faithful to God occasionally need to pause and think about the direction of their lives. It’s so easy to bump along from one busy week to another without ever stopping to ponder where we’re going and where we should be going.

Once, when the people of God had become careless in their relationship with him, the Lord rebuked them through the prophet Haggai: “Consider your ways!” (Haggai 1:5). He urged them to reflect on some of the things happening to them, and to evaluate their slipshod spirituality in light of what God had told them.

Ten Questions

The beginning of a new year is an ideal time to stop, look up, and get our bearings. A great time for us to “Consider our ways.” To that end, here are some questions to ask prayerfully in the presence of God.

1. What’s one thing you can do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?

Our enjoyment of God comes primarily through the means of grace he has given us. He has promised to bless us most directly and consistently through means such as his word, prayer, and the church. One specific suggestion I’d offer would be to include some meditation on Scripture along with your daily reading. It’s better to read less — if necessary — and yet as the result of meditation remember something, than to read more and remember nothing.

2. What’s an impossible prayer you can pray?

There are more than a dozen “but God” statements in Scripture, such as in Romans 5:8, which reads, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Situations that were humanly impossible were transformed by “but God” (Ephesians 2:1–7). What’s a “but God” prayer you can pray for the coming year?

3. What’s the most important thing you could do to improve your family life?

If your family doesn’t practice family worship, beginning there is the single best recommendation I could make. Just ten minutes a day, simply reading the Bible, praying, and singing together — an event that requires no preparation — is all it takes. My little book titled Family Worship can tell you more.

4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year?

Would it be a personal spiritual discipline (that is, one you practice alone), or an interpersonal spiritual discipline (one you practice with other believers)? Once you decide, determine the next step to take and when you will take it.

5. What’s the single biggest time-waster in your life, and how can you redeem the time?

Social media? TV? Video games? Sports? Hobbies? It’s easy for any of these (or something else) to take too much of our hearts and time. Is repentance required? Trying to stop, by itself, is probably not the answer. Actively replacing it with something better helps us in “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16).

6. What’s the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?

While we often stress the fact that individual believers are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:15), the New Testament actually says seven times to one that the church is the body of Christ (Ephesians 5:23). We mustn’t let our frequent emphasis on our personal relationship with Christ minimize the importance of our service to Jesus through his body. How can your church be stronger this year because of you? Serving? Giving? Praying?

7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?

Praying frequently and fervently for someone’s salvation makes us more sensitive to opportunities to share the gospel with him or her. Will you commit to praying for at least one person’s salvation every day this new year?

8. What’s the most important way, by God’s grace, you will try to make this year different from last?

Obviously, God’s sovereignty rules over all things, and there is nothing we can do about much that he brings into our lives. On the other hand, under his sovereignty he gives us a measure of responsibility over many areas of life. In which of these would you most like to see a change from last year? You may find that your answer to this question is found in one of your answers above. To which of them do you sense the Holy Spirit calling your attention most urgently?

9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?

For many, it might be as simple as designating a time exclusively for prayer instead of praying only “on the go” types of prayers. For others, it might be learning the simple, biblical practice of praying the Bible.

10. What single thing can you plan to do this year that will matter most in ten years? In eternity?

Short-term deadlines tend to dominate our attention. Busyness and fatigue often limit our vision to just getting through today. But don’t let the tyranny of the urgent distract you from something you’re neglecting that would have enormous long-term impact on your soul, your family, or your church.

Consider Your New Year

The value of many of these questions is not in their profundity, but in the simple fact that they bring an issue or commitment into focus. For example, just by making a goal to encourage one person in particular this year is more likely to help you remember to encourage that person than if you hadn’t set that goal. If you’ve found these questions helpful, you might want to put them someplace — on your phone, computer, calendar, or wherever you put reminders — where you can review them frequently.

I hope this article will help you to “consider your ways,” to make plans and goals, and to live this new year with biblical diligence, remembering the principle that “the plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance” (Proverbs 21:5). But in all things, let’s also remember our dependence on our King, who said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Don Whitney is professor of biblical spirituality and associate dean at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He is the author of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life and Praying the Bible. His website is biblicalspirituality.org. 8.9K

 Posted by at 2:35 pm

“The Monster At the Manger”

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Dec 222019
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “The Monster At the Manger”  By:  Ron Woodrum

  Our January Bible Study for 2020 is the Book of Jeremiah. We have a lot of favorite verses in Jeremiah. One of the first ones is Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in thye womb, I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart, I appointed you as a prophet to the nations!”; Jeremiah 6:16 “This is what the LORD says, ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask for the good way, and walk in it, you will find rest for your souls’ ” ;Jeremiah 17:7-8 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in Him. They shall be like a tree planted by the water, that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear heat when it comes; it leaves are always green, it has no worries in the year of drought, and never fails to bear fruit”. Of course, those two verses are followed by a very piercing one! Jeremiah 17: 9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it? We love Jeremiah 29:11 “I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you, and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future!” That is true because of what the Lord says in 31:3 “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with my unfailing kindness.” An Evangelist friend of mine, Ed F. Vallowe always signed his name with Jeremiah 33:3 “Call unto me and I will answer and show you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” But no one seems to ever quote Jeremiah 31:15 “Thus saith the LORD, ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, a lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are no more!” Fleming Rutledge reminds us that “Advent began with great darkness”, and in her sermon she reminds us that even that first Christmas, “there was a Monster at the manger”. It seems that a Pastor that she knew was putting out the figures of the family nativity on the coffee table in the living room, near the Christmas tree. His 4-year-old, interested in what was going on, was right there watching each figure as it was being put in place. Each time he asked, “who is that Dad?” After they were all in place, Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, The Wise Men, the Shepherds, the animals. All in place. The youngster couldn’t resist adding one more figure- (he was fascinated with dinosaurs, as most his age are), so he placed in the midst of the holy characters, his larger tyrannosaurus rex! As he did, he said, “Dad look, there’s a Monster in the Manger!” Rutledge reminds us that when the wise men arrived in Jerusalem, seeking the Born King of the Jews, there was a Monster, King Herod, who wanted to follow them to Bethlehem, to destroy the Baby Jesus, before He even had his beginning to “save His people from their sins!” He was a monster at the manger! Jeremiah’s prophecy predicted an event that would accompany the Birth of Jesus. Herod, the brutal maniac that he was ordered all the male babies two years old, and younger to be slaughtered. Herod was indeed a monster. He killed his beloved wife Mariamne; he killed three of his own sons, because of his paranoia; Caesar Augustus said, “Better to be Herod’s sow, than his son!” You would stand a better chance of staying alive! Make no mistake about it-there was a greater Monster behind the horrible act of Herod. His name was Satan. As he moved Pharaoh to destroy the male children, to destroy Moses, he stirred the evil heart of Herod, to cause history to repeat itself. In the midst of all the rejoicing of the Christmas season, we need to remember there was remorse as well. Jesus came to “destroy the works of the devil”. The devil knew he must strike first. But as always, he has visions of grandeur, but cannot ever defeat God, or His Christ! So even in the early Christmas narrative we are shown that as Satan strikes out to “steal, kill, and destroy” that God has His counter-moves to defeat and destroy the “monster at the manger!”

As Hal Lindsey wrote in his book, Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth, that is still true in 2019 as it was in 1972. Maybe more so! But Christmas is a reminder that his days are numbered. Jesus was saved when Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt. When Jesus comes again, Satan will have no where to flee! Even so come Lord Jesus.

 Posted by at 3:45 pm

A Christmas essay: What the world needs now

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Dec 152019
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: A Christmas essay: What the world needs now DECEMBER 11, 2019 BY ERIC REED

Tourists packing into the tiny mausoleum at Galla Placidia in Ravenna, Italy must be disappointed at first. Billed as the most spectacular and best-preserved mosaic in Christendom, the ceiling depicts Jesus surrounded by sheep in a green pasture. Travel guides and academics alike hail its artistic beauty. The mosaic was commissioned by a Roman emperor for his sister’s burial place 1,500 years ago, so you can imagine no expense was spared. But tourists packed into the space block the narrow windows, and it’s almost impossible to see the mosaic. Straining into the darkness as their disappointment sinks in, the pilgrims are suddenly blinded by brilliant light and rich colors of the pastoral scene dazzle their senses. Someone has dropped 300 lira into the coin box; the spotlights have popped on. Their eyes dart about seeking where to focus—sky, star, sheep, Jesus—for a few seconds. Then darkness again, deeper than ever.

A coworker of mine at a pastor’s magazine included a version of that story in a preaching article a dozen years ago. I have thought of it on occasion, usually after a midnight toe-stubbing in a pitch-black room. If only someone would drop in another 300 lira and rescue me from this darkness.

I’ve had the same thought about the world in recent years—politically and culturally. The postmodern era is proving to be no great enlightenment. Headlines on the news feeds serve mostly to prompt head shakes and tongue clucks, and the wonder, Can it get any worse?

At times, what Paul called “this present darkness” in the first century seems to be just as present in the twenty-first. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:12).

Some days it seems not a lot has changed since then. And we could go back further.

Long before Jesus’ birth, the Egyptians and the peoples living in Canaan sought to explain the physical world with a troop of gods each responsible for an aspect or two of nature and the weather, but their gods proved to be angry failures unable to control even their own supposed creation, or to alleviate their subjects’ suffering in cycles of flood and drought, plague and destruction.

Rather than seek out the true God who truly is over all, they turned to other gods and more gods. The gods multiplied and specialized under the Greeks and later the Romans, but the panoply did not brighten the heavens and mountain tops where they lived. Theirs was endless revelry celebrating their most wicked natures, blind to their own debauched state. In the time leading up to Jesus, the strict religion of the Jews served to show the complete depravity of humanity and the ultimate inability of man to assuage the due wrath of Deity or to atone for man’s own iniquity. The Law existed to prove we are unable keep the Law.

It was a dark time.

In some way, darkness has characterized every age, beginning with creation when darkness was over the face of the deep. The Dark Ages, so named in retrospect, saw the retreat of religion and the near death of knowledge in the Western world. The Middle Ages were little better, except that their failures were better catalogued. The Renaissance promised advance, but The Enlightenment served mostly to question faith more than bolster it. And the accomplishments of mankind became the impetus for many to celebrate themselves, rather than the God who made it all possible.

Great cathedrals were built with purgatory payments, and empires were borne on the backs of poverty. Louis XIV declared himself Sol, the Sun God. There were few courageous enough to refute it, except from the blackness of their solitary cells. The Huguenots, like the Puritans, were persecuted in their time for bearing the gospel truth and shedding its light on the evils of their society and religious hierarchy. (Sol, indeed.)

Even the modern era, which was supposed to bring truth to light and lasting peace to man’s war with himself and with others, has instead produced civil wars, world wars, cold war, culture war, drug war, genocide, infanticide, and ISIS. The world seems dark—even now.

In fact, scientists have discovered a galactic darkness so dark that it feeds on light. Black holes in remotest space so deep that their depth cannot be fathomed. Black holes without bottoms.

But into this cosmos, Jesus still declares, “I am the light of the world.”

It is a cosmic reality so profound, so deep, so universe altering, that even our brightest minds can hardly grasp it. Many can’t.

What light is capable of breaking through dark matter, dark minds, dark hearts, dark sin, dark failure? What light is there that cannot be overcome by these great and terrible darknesses?

Only the light of Christ.

  

   Here I am

“Light of the world, you stepped down into darkness…” the popular worship song says. And lit it up, we could add. “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:4-5). This is a bold statement coming from John in the first century. The light was victorious, triumphant, undefeated. Some translations say the darkness did not “comprehend” the light, and certainly that is true. C.S. Lewis borrowed an allegory from Plato and used it to explain a Christian truth. He tells of people who lived in a cave. All they knew of reality was shadows on the wall cast by a light source behind them. It was a campfire in Plato’s version, and these people were confined to chairs since childhood, not allowed look around or behind them. What they saw were only hints of what was out there. Confined to this darkened cave, they had no way to measure whether what they imagined might be true. Shadows were all they knew.

That is man in his unregenerate state, seeing only shadows of the truth, unable to determine what is reality. And the same may be said of the whole world before the advent of Christ. To a culture bumbling along with its multiplicity of angry, failing, self-absorbed deities, Yahweh sent a word of hope—many prophecies, in fact—glimpses of a brighter future.

Isaiah’s prognosis sums it up well:

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness” (Isaiah 9:2).

Did the shepherds on a hillside outside Bethlehem know their Scriptures well enough to understand that Isaiah’s prophecy was happening to them when an angel praise band fractured an inky sky and made their holy declaration? “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11 KJV).

We often hear that shepherds were the lowest rank in their society, but many Jewish boys went to Hebrew school (or, as they called it, school). Maybe one among them knew the prophecy from 700 years earlier that connected God’s promised One to light itself. But whether or not they comprehended it at that moment, they witnessed the cosmic miracle. “The true light that gives light to everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9).

The Messianic prophecy was all about light, and the announcement was made in heavenly light. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

With that contemporary songwriter mentioned earlier, we would say, “Open my eyes, let me see.”

  

Brilliant guidance system

British composer Tim Hughes says he was praying over a few verses of Philippians 2 when the stanzas to “Here I Am to Worship” came to him rather quickly. But then the writing stopped. He asked himself what his response should be to this incredible, selfless act on the part of Jesus. He left the glory of heaven, all rightly his own, to bring his light to earth. Surely there must be a chorus for this song.

Six months later Hughes returned to the verses with an answer: “Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down…” And we sing it in many churches on many Sundays. Hughes’s popular song has stayed in the top twenty worship songs for going on twenty years.

The Magi beat Hughes to the answer 2,000 years earlier.

Following the star a great distance, they arrived in a tiny nowhere town and discovered the birthplace of the Savior well marked from above. The Psalmist had promised that the word of God would light the path of the pilgrim like a lamp on a roadway (Psalm 119:105). In their case, these wise seekers found not a proverb in general, but a promise in specific that the Messiah would be coming into the world. Herod’s own wise men unwittingly told the travelers where, and starlight took them there.

Their response? Life-changing worship.

Matthew reports because of their concern for Herod’s intentions, they went home “a different way.” We might say Matthew was giving a GPS summary, that the Magi avoided Jerusalem on the return trip, but anyone who has seen the Light and worshipped him can say they also have left the worship experience personally different.

 Posted by at 3:49 pm

“Mastering the Hardest Arithmetic-Counting Our Blessings!”

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Dec 012019
 

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

  This past week was 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 Sacrifices of Thanksgiving.

 Posted by at 2:01 pm

“THANKSLIVING: It’s better than THANKSGIVING!”

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Nov 242019
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “THANKSLIVING: It’s better than THANKSGIVING!”  By:  Ron Woodrum

  I am not sure when, where, or who first used the term “thanksliving”. Peter Gomes, renowned preacher of Harvard University in the 20th Century, (though not one I am particularly able to embrace the theology he embraced), wrote that he had a friend who kept an old Sunday Bulletin from the 1930’s because of the misprint it contained. It was a bulletin printed for Thanksgiving Day Service-but a typographical error left the title on the bulletin exclaiming “Thanksliving Day”. Gomes said, “What a wonderful mistake! Thanksgiving, as an attitude, should lead to thanksliving as an action!” I was content to credit Rev. Gomes with being the author of such a magnificent metamorphosis: Thanksgiving to Thanksliving. Then, while reading a sermon by the Great Baptist Preacher of the 1800’s, Charles H. Spurgeon, I came across these words: “I think that it is better than Thanksgiving: Thanksliving! How is it to be done? By a general cheerfulness of manner, by an obedience to the command of Him by whose mercy we live, by a perpetual constant delighting ourselves in the Lord and by a submissing of our desires to His will!” That is the earliest reference that have found in reference to Thanksgiving/Thanksliving. John F. Kennedy, though not using the words, certainly expressed the concept. He wrote: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, (Thanksgiving), but to live by them, (Thanksliving)”. Then, in further study, I came across an even more profound definition of the Thanksgiving/Thanksliving connection. G.K. Chesterton wrote: “I would maintain that Thanks is the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted, or with gratitude!” Henry David Thoreau said: “My Thanksgiving is Perpetual”-that pithy affirmation translates thanksgiving into thanksliving. Clement of Alexandria, a Church Father from over 1900 years ago, said: “There is only one offering we can make to God-A Thankful Heart!”-that is the source of Thanksliving!

I love the Thanksgiving holiday! I love the Thanksgiving history! I agree with O’Henry-“Thanksgiving is ours-it is the only truly indigenous American Holiday”. I love Thanksgiving poems. One of my favorite is The Pumpkin, by John Greenleaf Whittier. But I think my favorite Thanksgiving prank was a St. Louis radio show host that told a call-in lady, (he was only joking), to try his special recipe of adding a cup of popcorn to the stuffing placed inside the turkey). She took him serious! She lost her oven and her turkey! He lost his job! My favorite Thanksgiving Story is told by Author/Pastor Chuck Swindoll. In his book Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back, in the chapter on “Misunderstanding”, he tells the story told him by a friend who had a friend who was a young attorney in a sizable law firm in Texas. Swindoll says, “This young lawyer worked for a traditional kind of boss who had a thing for Thanksgiving. Every year the boss would go through a sort of ritual; at this large walnut table he would place a series of turkeys for each member in the law firm. It was not just a pick one up if you need one kind of arrangement. It was a formal setting where your turkey would be placed in front of you, and when the time came for you to receive yours, you would step forward to your turkey, express how grateful you were to work for the firm and acknowledge the gift of this sizable bird for your Thanksgiving. But this junior lawyer was single. He had no use for such a large turkey. He didn’t know how to cook one, and if he did, he certainly couldn’t eat that much meat. But every year, because it was expected, he received his turkey with gratitude, and then had to find a taker for his bird. This year, his friends had pulled a trick on him. They replaced his turkey, with a paper mache’ bird, loaded with lead, and wrapped just like the others!

When his turn came, just like the others, he stepped up and received his bird, (not realizing its bogus nature), and left the office with his Thanksgiving Turkey! He boarded the Transit System and headed home, with his bird on his lap. What would he do with it? As he contemplated his annual dilemma a man boarded the bus, and sat down in the vacant seat beside him. The man had recently been laid off, He had been job-hunting all day-no luck. As he shared his sad story with the young lawyer, the lawyer realized that his problem had been solved. This man, with no job, and a large family to feed for the holidays, would be a great candidate to give the turkey to. But not wanting to embarrass him, he offered the turkey for the bargain price of a couple of dollars, (which was the last bit of money the man had). As the man got off the bus, he thanked the lawyer for being so kind as to sell him the turkey at such a reduced price, to help him and his family have a blessed Thanksgiving. He told him-‘I’ll never forget you!’ Nothing could be more true! The stranger walked into his home and announced to his family that a nice man had made it possible for them to have turkey for Thanksgiving in spite of their recent circumstances! Imagine their surprise as they unwrapped the bogus bird only to find a strange conglomeration of paper mache and lead! The Monday, following the holidays, the rest of the firm was so anxious to hear about what the young lawyer thought of his Thanksgiving Turkey! You can only imagine their reaction when they heard that he had sold it, to the stranger in need, on the bus. Swindoll was told by his friend that the entire firm spent the next week searching the bus lines for the stranger who spent Thanksgiving wondering why a fine young lawyer would take his last two dollars and give him a fake turkey. They never found him!” That is a Thanksgiving experience all of us could be thankful to have never had happen to us! Let me conclude this perspective with one of the most powerful quotes I have ever come across on the Transforming power of a grateful heart. It is a quote by author Melody Beattie: “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity; it can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow”. That Attitude of Gratitude Transforms Thanksgiving into Thanksliving!

 Posted by at 2:09 pm

“Encountering a Living Presence”

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Nov 172019
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE; “Encountering a Living Presence”.  By:  Ron Woodrum

        Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the United States, told a very fascinating story about an encounter he had while getting his hair cut at a Barbershop. Listen to his words: “I was sitting in a barber chair when I was aware that a powerful personality had entered the room. A man had come quietly in upon the same errand as myself to have his hair cut and sat in the chair next to me. Every word that the man uttered, though it was not in the least bit didactic, showed a personal interest in the man who was serving him. And before I got through with what was being done to me I was aware I had attended an evangelistic service, because D.L Moody was in that chair. I purposely lingered in the room after he had left and noted the singular affect that his visit had brought upon the barber shop. They talked in undertones. They did not know his name, but they knew something had elevated their thoughts, and I felt that I left that place as I should have left a place of worship”… (John MacArthur, Matthew, p.236). That is Christian Influence! Do you and I carry a Living Presence of our Loving Lord’s Personality with us? The great Methodist preacher E. Stanley Jones says that “the number one problem of the modern Church today is irrelevancy!” We are not impacting lives as we should! The dynamic presence of our living Lord is notably absent from our lives! People see our lives…but there is nothing out of the ordinary to turn their heads. As Christians we must not settle for that. We need to walk in such a communion with our Lord that our lives turn heads and hearts for Him. Someone has written:

  

 YOU ARE WRITING A GOSPEL

A CHAPTER EACH DAY

BY THE THINGS THAT YOU DO

BY THE WORDS THAT YOU SAY

  

MEN READ WHAT YOU WRITE

WHETHER FAITHLESS OR TRUE

SAY WHAT IS THE GOSPEL

ACCORDING TO YOU?

  

Edgar Guest has another poem entitled “The Living Sermon” He writes:

  

I’d rather see a sermon

than hear one any day

I’d rather you would walk with me

than merely tell the way

   

The eye’s a better pupil

and more willing than the ear.

Fine counsel is confusing

but example is always clear

    

The best of all the preachers

are men who live their creeds

For to see good put into action

is what everybody needs  

    

The lecture you deliver

may be very wise and true

but I’d rather get my lesson

by observing what you do!

   

Eileen Guder chides Christians for not living passionate spiritual lives. She writes: “Live a bland life. Eat bland food. Avoid an ulcer. Drink no coffee, tea, or stimulants in the name of health! Go to bed early. Avoid all night life! Avoid controversy. Never offend anyone! Mind your own business. Never get involved in anybody’s problems. Save all your money for the future, never splurge on anything….and you can still break your neck getting out of the bathtub…and it serves you right! Living a humdrum life never impacts anyone! Fear not your life will come to an end! Fear it never had a beginning!”

Henry Clay Morrison, founder of Asbury Seminary in Kentucky, tells how he was out plowing in the field when a Methodist Circuit Riding preacher came by. The preacher had such a powerful presence about him that he was overwhelmed with conviction for his sin. He dropped to his knees and surrendered to Christ as his Savior. We may not have that kind of presence emanating from us, but we MUST HAVE A PRESENCE THAT IMPACTS LIVES OR WE ARE FAILING OUR LORD! In his book Filled With the Spirit, Richard Ellsworth Day makes this perceptive observation: “It would be no surprise, if a study of secret causes were undertaken, to find that every golden era in human history proceeds from the devotion and righteous passion of some single individual. This does not set aside the sovereignty of God; it simply indicates the instrument through which He uniformly works. There are no bona fide mass movements; it just looks that way! At the center of the column there is always one man who knows His God, and knows where he is going!” Ask God to make you and I those individuals! Those who are living with an encountering Presence!

 Posted by at 3:23 pm

“GOD GIVES JACOB HOLY HEAVEN…AND IT’S ON THE HOUSE!”

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Nov 102019
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “GOD GIVES JACOB HOLY HEAVEN…AND IT’S ON THE HOUSE!”  By:  Ron Woodrum

  The book of Genesis makes no attempt to conceal the fact that Jacob was, among other things, a crook. What’s more, you get the feeling that whoever wrote up his seamy adventures got a real kick out of them.

Twice he cheated his lame-brained brother, Esau, out of what was coming to him. At least once he took advantage of the blindness of his old father, Isaac, and played him for a sucker. He outdid his double-crossing father-in-law, Laban, by conning him out of most of his livestock and, later on, when Laban was looking the other way, by sneaking off with not only both the man’s daughters, but just about everything else that wasn’t nailed down including his household gods. Jacob was never satisfied. He wanted the moon, and if he’d ever managed to bilk heaven out of that, he would have been back the next morning for the stars to go with it. But then one day he learned a marvelous lesson in a marvelous and unexpected way.

It happened just after he’d ripped Esau off for the second time and was making his getaway into the hill country to the north. When sunset came and nobody seemed to be after him, he decided that it was safe to camp out for the night and, having left in too much of a hurry to take his bedroll with him, tucked a stone under his head for a pillow and prepared to go to sleep. You might think that what happened next was that he lay there all night bug-eyed as a result of his guilty conscience or, if he did finally manage to drop off, that he was tormented by conscience-stricken dreams, but neither of these was the case. Instead, he dropped off like a baby in a cradle and dreamed the kind of dreams you would have thought were reserved for the high saints.

He dreamed that there was a ladder reaching up to heaven and that there were angels moving up and down it with golden sandals and rainbow-colored wings and that standing somewhere above it was God himself. And the words God spoke in the dream were not the chewing-out you might have expected, but something altogether different. God told Jacob that the land he was lying on was to belong to him and his descendants and that someday his descendants would become a great nation and a great blessing to all the other nations on earth. And as if that wasn’t enough, God then added a personal P.S. by saying, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.”  

It wasn’t holy hell that God gave him, in other words, but holy heaven, not to mention the marvelous lesson thrown in for good measure. The lesson was, needless to say, that even for a dyed-in-the-wool, double-barreled con artist like Jacob there are a few things in this world you can’t get but can only be given, and one of these things is love in general, and another is the love of God in particular.

Jacob didn’t have to climb his ladder to bilk heaven of the moon and the stars, even if that had been possible, because the moon and the stars looked like peanuts compared to what God and the angels were using the ladder to hand down to him for free.

Another part of the lesson was that, luckily for Jacob, God doesn’t love people because of who they are, but because of who God is. “It’s on the house” is one way of saying it and “It’s by grace” is another, just as it was by grace that it was Jacob of all people who became not only the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, but the many-times great-grandfather of Jesus of Nazareth, and just as it was by grace that Jesus of Nazareth was born into this world at all.

Genesis 25:24-28:17

~originally published in Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words Buechner has also depicted the life of Jacob in his novel Son of Laughter.

 Posted by at 3:38 am

“The greatness of a man is the measure of his surrender!”

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Nov 032019
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “The greatness of a man is the measure of his surrender!”  By:  Ron Woodrum

  Most of us are very familiar with the ministry of the Salvation Army. We have all given donations to the Red Kettle, and probably many of us have even taken a turn or two at “ringing the bell”.  Every major town or city has its Salvation Army Church and ministry center right in the heart of where it is needed most! That was the aim of their founder from the beginning. William Booth started this ministry in 1865, on the East Side of London England with that very intent. He said, “Go for souls…and go for the worst”. He did that very thing. He encountered and won the prostitutes, gamblers, alcoholics, and homeless beggars to Christ. His ministry revolved around the three “s”‘s-Soup-Soap-Salvation! He was converted under the ministry of John Wesley, carried on by Wesley’s followers after his death in 1791. Booth found Christ at a Methodist revival in 1844, at the age of 15. He said, “I worshipped everything that bore the name Methodist. To me there was one God, and John Wesley was his prophet. I had devoured the story of his life. No human compositions seemed to me to be comparable with his writings…the best hope for the salvation of the world was the faithful carrying into the practice the letter of the spirit of his instructions”. He spent his life doing just that! He said. “The greatness of a man is the measure of his surrender!” In that regard William Booth is a great man and a great example of those who would follow Jesus.

Let me share a few of his impactful quotes. He said, “to get a man soundly saved it is not enough to put on him a pair of new breeches, to give him regular work, or even to give him a University education. These things are all outside a man, and if the inside remains unchanged you have wasted your labor…you must graft on the man’s nature a new nature, which has in it the element of the Divine!” Listen to this: “It is against stupidity in every shape and form that we have to wage eternal battle. But how can we wonder at the want of the sense on the part of those who have had no advantages, when we see such plentiful absence of that commodity on the part of those who have had all the advantages!”. Called to ministry? His view: “Not called! Did you say? Not heard the call. I think you should put your ear to the Bible and hear Him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened agonized hear of humanity and listen to their pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father’s house and bid their brothers and sisters not to come to this place of torment. Then look Christ in the face, whose mercy you have professed to obey, and tell him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish his mercy to the world!” “God loves with a great love the man whose heart is bursting with passion for the impossible!” “We must wake ourselves up or somebody else will take our place, and bear our cross, and steal our crown”.

He said the danger for the future is: “A religion without the Holy Ghost; Christianity without Christ; forgiveness without repentance; salvation without regeneration; politics without God; and heaven without hell!” He was a very perceptive prophet. Listen to his determination. “While women weep, as they do now. I’ll fight. While children go hungry, as they do now-I’ll fight. While men go in and out of prison, as they do now-I’ll fight! While there remains one dark soul without the light of God-I’ll fight. I will fight until the very end!” “We are not to minister to a congregation and be content to keep things going. We are sent to make war and to stop short of nothing but the subjugation of the world to the sway of the Lord Jesus”. When he was asked to speak to a graduation class of clergymen he said, “If I would have had my way you men would not have be graduated with just these studies. I would have had you spend twenty-four hours in hell to experience the torments of those who are damned and then turned you loose on a dying world!”. Toward the end of his life he was unable to attend the annual meetings of his denomination. They asked him to telegraph a message for the congregants. He responded with one word-“Others!” When he was told that the work was failing and they did not know what to do next-he responded with a two-world telegraph-“Try tears!” It would not hurt us to take a refresher course in the theology of General William Booth. He sounds very much like our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen?

 Posted by at 3:31 am

“If they’re breathing-they need Jesus!”

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Oct 272019
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “If they’re breathing-they need Jesus!”  By:  Ron Woodrum

  One of the most interesting and convicting authors I have ever read is Mark Cahill. He has only written two books. One is the book One Heartbeat Away: Your Journey into Eternity. It is a disturbing account of how we live with death every second of our lives, and must be prepared for eternity. His follow up book is on witnessing, titled One Thing You Can’t Do In Heaven. In the latter book, in a chapter entitled “If They’re Breathing They Need Jesus!” He tells about a couple witnessing encounters he had with two very famous people. Mark Cahill went to college and played basketball with Charles Barkley. He even roomed with Barkley while the team traveled. They became very good friends, and are still friends today. On one occasion, after their college days, he was speaking at a Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, where Barkley lives. Upon arriving in town, he called Charles to see if they could get together, after the conference that night. Charles said, “absolutely, we’re hanging out tonight at”, (and he mentioned a famous club). Mark asked him who the “we” was. He said, “Quin Buckner, Alex Rodriguez, and Michael Jordan”. He of course accepted. How could he miss an opportunity like that! When Charles introduced Mark to Jordan, he told him, “Michael this is my good friend from college I was telling you about!” All night they talked about basketball, baseball, golf, and occasionally religion, due to input from Mark. As they were leaving, they headed out to the limousine that would take they all to their various destinations. As we walked together toward the car, I said, “Michael, I am speaking in town this week, and I would like to ask you a question”. Michael said, “Ok, shoot!” I asked, “Michael, when you die, what do you think is on the other side? What do you think is out there when we leave here?” Cahill said that a very serious look came over him, he started nodding his head, and was silent for about ten seconds. Then he responded, “I think there are those pearly gates, when we die”. I knew I didn’t have much time; the others were catching up with us. So, I got right to the point, and asked, “Michael have you ever committed your life to Jesus Christ?” Quicker than he leaves the floor for one of his famous jump shots, he shot back “yes I have” and quickly asked, “Have to talked to Barkley about this?” Cahill assured him that he had done that several times. Michael shook his head as he walked away to the limo. He later found out that Jordan used to discuss Jesus a lot with Horace Grant when they played together on the Bulls, but after his father was murdered, he just clammed up about his faith, and refused to talk about it any longer! Even NBA stars need Jesus.

On another occasion, Mark was invited to come to Charles mother’s home in Leeds, Alabama for the holidays. While there he had the opportunity to meet Charles’ family. He really hit it off with Charles brother Daryl. Daryl told Mark, “I recently had a heart attack”. He went on to tell Mark that after the heart attack that he had a near death experience. He said that while in the operating room his spirit rose up out of his body, he saw the doctors and nurses working with his body on the operating table. He said he went on a journey where he saw burning trees, burning grounds all around the base of the trees, then a lake of fire with people in it screaming for help. With terror in his eyes he said, “I saw hell! Then I came back!” Mark asked, “Daryl, if you would have remained dead where would you have gone?” Daryl replied, “I would have gone to hell!” Mark asked, “Do you want to go to hell?” Immediately he answered, “No, I want to go to heaven!” “Do you know what you need to do to go to heaven?” Mark asked. “Yes, committing my heart and life to Jesus Christ”, Daryl affirmed. “Have you done that now?”, Mark inquired. “No-I love the things of the world too much to do that right now!” Mark warned him, that with a bad heart, he was playing Russian Roulette with his soul. Daryl acknowledged the risk he was taking. A few years later, Daryl had another heart attack that took his life. It was March 20, 2009. He died young, at the age of 42. What about his destiny? If you look up Daryl Shawn Barkley…you see his grave which says, “Deacon Daryl Shawn Barkley”…Did he embrace the faith that his mother taught him, and serve his Lord in his final days? If so, that near death wake up call changed his eternity. That is a vision that would be good for all of us to wake up to. We will never be the same for time and eternity. What a difference it could make in the lives we touch for Jesus, while there is still time.

On a grave in a cemetery near Jackson, California are the following words:

  

Remember me as you pass by,

As you are now, so once was I

As I am now, you soon will be

Prepare for death, and follow me.

  

Someone wrote below those words in marker:

 

To follow you, I am not content

Until I know-which way you went!

   

Today’s message should encourage us to encourage everyone to know which way you are going while there is still time!

 Posted by at 3:25 am