“We Are the Reason-He Is Our Reason”

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Dec 122021
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “We Are the Reason-He Is Our Reason”

     One of my favorite Christian artists of the 1980’s was David Meece.  I heard one of his songs on Christian radio the other day and I realized what a gifted musician he was then, and it made me wonder what he is doing today.  Is he still singing for the Lord?  Still ministering in the name of Jesus?  Still impacting crowds with the gospel as he did in the 1980’s and the 1990’s?  Has he retired from ministry much like Dallas Holm and Andre Crouch did after years of ministry? 

     David Meece was born May 26, 1952, (actually a year older than your Pastor!), can you believe that?  He grew up Humble, Texas with an alcoholic father, and a very strict mother, who insisted he learn classical piano only!  By his mid-teens he was touring in Europe and the U.S. doing classical piano concerts.  He went on to study at Peabody Conservatory of Music.  After dedicating his life to Christ, he sought to use his gifts to honor the Lord Jesus Christ.  He ventured into songwriting and recording Contemporary Christian music in the late 70’s.  His first album was David, released in 1976.  His first album had moderate success in the Christian world.  He followed it up with three more albums that had wider circulation and greater success.  His magnum opus, (greatest work), came on his 1980 album Are You Ready?  It was the song-We are the Reason.  It went straight to the top of the charts, and has now been recorded by over 200 Christian artists.  Meece explained how the song happened to Contemporary Christian Music Magazine-“We are the Reason was written to remind us that Jesus died for each one of us individually.  The individual nature of Christ’s sacrifice is something we need to really focus on.”  He explained that he did not really know what he was doing, when the Holy Spirit led him to write the lyrics.  He said, “It’s not my intellect that did it; it wasn’t my profound theological thought.  I was a piano teacher.  I never went to Bible College, never attended a Seminary.  I was probably the last person you would expect to write a song like that which would have such a profound spiritual message.  I mean, it just kind of wrote itself.  When I took it and played it for Brown Bannister, my producer, he was the one that recognized it for what it was.  I really did not know; it was one of those things that God plopped in my lap!”  What a great song!  Listen to the words:

     “As little children we would dream of Christmas morn

     And all the gifts and toys we knew we’d find

     But we never realized a baby born one blessed night

     Gave us the greatest gift of our lives

     We are the reason that He gave His life

     We are the reason that He suffered and died!

     To a world that was lost He gave all He could give

     To show us the reason to live…

     I’ve finally found the reason for living

     It’s in giving every part of my life to Him

     In all that I do, every word that I say.

     I’ll be giving my all just for Him, for Him

     …. for He is our reason to live!”

Those are just a few excerpts of his lyrics.  But what a message. 

     He is still performing concerts.  He is still ministering for the Lord.  He and his wife Debbie are very active in a Baptist Church in Franklin, Tennessee.  He still travels the world.  Still sings to large crowds, but also will come to smaller venues, to share the Gospel for those who request his ministry, on an individual basis.  He is still lifting up Jesus, and His Gospel message in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus is still his reason to live!  My favorite song of his was from his first album.  It is a song titled Dave’s Prayer-Got to Know You’re There!  I was renewed and refreshed by the memory of his ministry in my life and I wanted to share that with you.  Check him out on u-tube.  Great music.  Great piano.  Great lyrics.  Be blessed!

“CHRISTMAS-GOD HOOKING AN EXTRA ON THE FRONT OF ORDINARY”

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Dec 052021
 

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

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

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

     As we begin our journey toward Christmas 2021 the first consideration, I want you to meditate on is this-There is one word that describes the night that Jesus was born-ORDINARY!  The sky was ordinary.  An occasional gust stirred the leaves and chilled the air.  The stars were sparkling diamonds on a black velvet backdrop.  But then they ordinarily do!  Fleets of clouds floated in front of the moon.  It was a beautiful night-but not really an unusual one.  No reason to expect a surprise.  Nothing to keep a person awake.  An ordinary night with an ordinary sky.  The sheep were ordinary.  Some fat.  Some scrawny.  Some with barrel bellies.  Some with twig legs.  Common animals.  No fleece made of gold.  No history makers.  No blue-ribbon winners.  They were simply sheep-lumpy, sleeping silhouettes on a hillside.  And the shepherds were ordinary.  Ordinary peasants.  Probably wearing all the clothes they owned.  Smelling like sheep and looking just a wooly.  They were conscientious, willing to spend the night with their flocks.  But you won’t find their staffs in a museum nor their writings in a library.  No one asked their opinions-about social justice-the Torah-or actually about anything! They were nameless and simple.  There you go-An ordinary night with ordinary sheep and ordinary shepherds.  And were it not for a God who loves to hook an “extra” on the front of ordinary, the night would have gone unnoticed.  The sheep would have been forgotten, and the shepherds would have slept the night away.  Neither would have been memorialized from generation after generation in bath robes in local Church Christmas pageants! 

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

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

“The unedited Christmas and the Perfect Tree”

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Nov 282021
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “The unedited Christmas and the Perfect Tree”

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

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

The ornaments are ready

The place has been prepared

Strings of lights and holly

Are draped across the chair

The family’s all together

I know where they must be

Everyone is searching

For the perfect tree

Mother wants a straight one

The children want it tall

Dad just hopes that somehow

He can get it down the hall

Soon they’ll gather round it

As proud as they can be

But when they look at it

I wonder if they see

The Perfect tree

Grew very long ago

And it was not decked with silver

Or ornaments of gold

But hanging from it’s branches

Was a gift for you and me

Jesus laid His life down

On that Perfect Tree

With all the celebrations

Sometimes the truth is lost

That every step this baby took

Brought Him closer to the cross!

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

“THANKSLIVING: It’s better than THANKSGIVING!”

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Nov 212021
 

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

     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 truer!  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!

“Words of the Prophet…Echoed in the Wells of Silence”.

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Nov 142021
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Words of the Prophet…Echoed in the Wells of Silence”.

     Recently, while listening to a local radio station, I heard some lyrics that I had not heard for many years.  My mind recognized the message of the song immediately, but also recognized that the eery voice I was hearing was not the original authors.  The song had be recorded by a new artist, in a very powerful new style.  The words went like this:

“And in the naked light I saw

Ten Thousand People maybe more

People talking without speaking

People hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never share

And no one dared

Disturb the sounds of Silence

‘Fools’ said I ‘you do not know

Silence like a cancer grows

Hear my words that I might teach you

Take my arms that I might reach you’

But my words, like silent raindrops fell,

And echoed-in the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed

To the neon gods they made

And the signs flashed out its warning,

in the words that it was forming

And the signs said,

‘the words of the prophet are written on the subway walls,

and tenement halls

And whispered in the sounds of silence'”

     Those were the words of Simon and Garfunkel, written back in the sixties, being reintroduced to a new generation by the haunting voice of Disturbed.  I immediately thought of Malachi.  When it comes to the words of the prophet…There words go forth with the goal of disturbing the sounds of silence.  They too are often received with people hearing without listening, while they bow and pray to gods of their own making.  Those words echo in the wells of silence…and before long only become a whisper, that no one seems to have “ears to hear!”.

     It made me think of another modern day prophet, at least for a time-Bob Dylan.  Back in the late 70’s Bob Dylan i.e. Robert Zimmerman, after studying prophecy about the end times, was convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, and embraced him as Lord and Saviour.  His first album, following his conversion was Slow Train Coming, that had a charted hit-Gotta Serve Somebody.  Bob also demonstrated his genuineness, I am told, by assisting Campus Crusade for Christ, for a time, in reaching youth at our Colleges.  But the controversy by secular fans wanting to hear old Dylan favorites, and Christian fans wanting to hear only the new Christian stuff caused riots that caused the new convert to withdraw his enthusiastic embrace of Christianity, at least publically.  But before he did, he released several new Christian albums with titles, Saved, Shot of Love, and Oh Mercy.  On the latter Dylan, in true prophetic style, spoke to his generation about a great evil that only God, through Jesus Christ could make right.  His song was Everything Is Broken.  The lyrics went something like this:

Broken lines, broken strings, broken threads, broken springs

Broken idols, broken heads, people sleeping in broken beds

Ain’t no use jiving, ain’t no use joking

Everything is broken!

Broken bottles, broken plates, broken switches, broken gates

Broken dishes, broken parts, streets are filled with broken hearts

Broken words, never meant to be spoken,

Everything is broken!

Seems like every time you stop and turn around

Something else just hit the ground

Broken cutters, broken saws, broken buckles, broken laws

Broken bodies, broken bones, broken voices on broken phones

Take a deep breath, feel like you’re chokin’

Everything is broken!

Everytime you go out someplace

Things fall to pieces in my face

Broken hands on broken ploughs, broken treaties, broken vows

Broken pipes, broken tools, People breaking broken rules

Hound dog howling, bull frog croaking

Everything is broken!

     Dylan would have fit well in Malachi’s generation.  As a Messenger of the Lord, that was his message to his generation.  They had returned from exile.  The Temple and City was rebuilt.  They had experienced a short-lived revival.  But now it seemed as if “Everything was Broken”.  They were weary of the Lord, and now Malachi tells the priests and the people, that God is tired of their “broken-faith” that has resulted in everything being broken!  It was time for them to return to Him so that he could do for them, what all the kings horses and all the kings men could never do for Humpty Dumpty, He could put them all back together again.

     Several years ago, papers in England were writing about the condition of their nation.  They were speculating on what is wrong?  Whose to blame for the condition that had changed the landscape of their beloved country.  They continued to ask the question-“what is wrong?”  G.K. Chesterton wrote the editors a letter.  It simply read, “I am”-signed G.K. Chesterton!  As we listen to the message of Malachi, those that have ears to hear will respond with that same message.  Others will only hear “the echo, in the wells of silence”.

“The Christian’s Splendid Torch”

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Nov 072021
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “The Christian’s Splendid Torch”

     One of my favorite authors is Eugene Peterson.  Most know him for his Magnus Opus, (his greatest achievement), which is in my estimate his authorship of his Bible paraphrase-The Message.  But he has authored many books that are very insightful and relevant to the needs of our generation.  One such book is his book on discipleship-A Long Obedience In the Same Direction.  In that book he touches a nerve when he diagnoses the genuine problem with our world, including the Christian world.  He writes, “Our attention spans have been conditioned by thirty-second commercials.  Our sense of reality has been flattened by the thirty-page abridgement.  It is not difficult in such a world to get a person interested in the message of the gospel; it is terrifically difficult to sustain the interest.  Millions of people in our culture make decisions for Christ, but there is a dreadful attrition rate…in our kind of culture anything, even news about God, can be sold, if it is packaged freshly; but when it loses its novelty, it goes on the garbage heap.  There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.”  In his book Peterson relates to his readers that the answer is found in a Long Obedience.  That phrase came from a very unusual source.  It came from a quote from Friederick Nietzche, a German Philosopher, who was responsible for the “Death of God Philosophy”.  Someone has written that-“in 1833 Nietzche said God is Dead-and in 1900, (the year Nietzche died), – God said-Nietzche is dead!”  How true! Nietzche was dead…God only appeared to be in demise to a world who thought themselves too smart to acknowledge Him.  But Nietzche later stated a fact that is true for all who would find meaning and fulfillment in life.  He wrote, “The essential thing in heaven and earth is that there should be long obedience in the same direction; thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living!”  Peterson, feeling that if God can speak through a donkey, he can use the words of His enemies and even atheistic philosophers to share His truth!  Christians who find that “long obedience in the same direction…will find the kind of discipleship that makes life worth living!” 

     Another great Christian thinker of yesteryear diagnosed another problem that still describes the need of our world today, both Christian and non-Christian.  Blaise Paschal wrote, in his book Pensées wrote, “I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay alone quietly in his room…what people want is not the easy peaceful life that allows us to think of our unhappy condition, nor the dangers of war, nor the burdens of life, but the agitation that takes our minds off it and diverts our attention.  That is why we prefer the hunt to the capture.  That is why men are so fond of the hustle and bustle…that is why pleasures of solitude are so incomprehensible”.  We have never lived in a generation that prefers to have our attention diverted from our spiritual condition as our present generation does; to be diverted from any thoughts of what eternity holds.  We keep our minds diverted from our unhappiness, and with our smart phones we never allow ourselves to ever be alone…in our room.  We have e-mails; Facebook; twitter; and social media.  Alone but never alone!  Paschal’s comments are ever more relevant to our world and our generation.  What’s the answer?  How about another answer from another Philosopher, also known for being an atheist?  His name is George Bernard Shaw.  He was wise in some of his observances.  He wrote, “There are two sources of unhappiness in life; One is not getting what you want; the other is getting it!”  Very perceptive.  We can all testify to that truth!  George Bernard Shaw also said, “This is the true joy in life- being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one, being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.  I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.  I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live.  I rejoice in life for its own sake.  Life is no brief candle to me.  IT IS SORT OF A SPLENDID TORCH WHICH I HAVE GOT HOLD OF FOR THE MOMENT, AND I WANT TO MAKE IT BURN AS BRIGHTLY AS POSSIBLE BEFORE HANDING IT ON TO FUTURE GENERATIONS!”  We Christians could learn a lot about such choices.  There is no doubt that we have been invited to “use our lives for a mighty purpose!”  We too could have the attitude that we do not want to be a “brief candle”.  We too should lay hold of our “Splendid Torch and make it burn as brightly as possible”. 

     Henry David Thoreau said, “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.  He will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal…laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings!”  If taken in a Christian perspective, Thoreau was right.  If we advance in the direction of our Christian dreams and visions, we too can pass an invisible boundary…and live according to our Lord’s higher order of beings… (those Amy Carmichael called “burning out for God!”).  Vaclav Havel said, “The real test of a man is not when he plays the role that he wants for himself, but when he plays the role destiny has for him!”  Replace “destiny” in that quote, with “God”, and he was right on point!  As we continue this series of messages on the questions of Jesus, we find the key to living in victory over the anxiety that robs us of a vital faith. 

“Jacob’s Ladder at Charing Cross?”

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Oct 312021
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Jacob’s Ladder at Charing Cross?”

     Author Philip Yancey tells of an experience playing chess with a master player.  He explains his rapid realization that no matter what move he made, no matter what strategy he chose, the master seemed to turn his play around to serve his own purposes.  If the truth be realized, all of us would identify with Francis Thompson, who felt the same way.  He made a lot of moves in his life that were disastrous.  He spent his life running away from God and seeking to find pleasure and fulfillment in all the wrong things.  But even during his days of drug abuse, living on the streets near England’s Charing Cross, and sleeping nights down by the river Thames, he was not alone.  He wrote a famous poem describing how he was pursued and lovingly sought by the Hound of Heaven-God, through His Son the Lord Jesus Christ!  Readers of English poetry know all about this famous poem.  You may even recall Richard Burton’s famous reading of this 189-line poem.  Francis Thompson was a child of opportunity.  His father wanted him to go to medical school and become a doctor, or to study at Oxford University.  But instead Francis was lured into the world of opiates, in the late 1800’s in England.  It was this addiction that interrupted his education and left him homeless and hopeless for several years of his life.  But even during his days of addiction he was being pursued by Christ, whom he would later, after becoming a Christian, call the Hound of Heaven.  Here are a few lines from his Immortal poem:

I fled Him down the nights and down the days

I fled Him down the arches of the years.

I fled Him down the labyrinthine way of my own mind:

And in the midst of tears.

I hid from Him, and under running laughter

Up vistaed hopes I sped

Down titantic glooms of chasmed fears

From those strong feet that followed, I fled

For though I knew His love that followed

Yet I was sore adread

That having Him I would have naught else beside.

(BUT HE ENDS IT, AFTER SEVERAL MORE VERSES THAT I HAVE OMITTED)

Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,

I am He whom thou seekest!

     After his conversion, and change of life, Thompson wrote another poem expressing the same kind of pursuit that he found Jesus Christ to have for him all the days of his running.  This poem is called In No Strange Land. 

Oh world invisible, we view thee,

Oh world intangible, we touch thee,

Oh world unknowable, we know thee,

In apprehensible, we clutch thee!

Does the fish soar to find the ocean?

The eagle plunge to find the air-

That we ask the stars in motion

If they have rumor of thee there?

Not where wheeling systems darken,

And our benumbed conceiving soars! –

The drift of pinions, would we harken,

Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.

The angels keep their ancient places-

Turn but a stone and start a wing!

Tis ye, tis your estranged faces,

That miss the many splendored thing.

But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)

Cry-and upon thy so sore loss

Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder

Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.

Yea, in the night, my Soul; My daughter,

Cry-clinging to Heaven by the hems;

And lo, Christ is walking on the water,

Not of Genesareth, but Thames!

Thompson found that the Hound of Heaven, lowered Jacob’s Ladder right into the drug infested homeless situation he had chosen for himself there in the area surrounding England’s Charing Cross.  And late night’s spent sleeping homeless and defeated, overwhelmed with guilt, shame, and failure. He was awakened only to find Christ walking toward him on the water, not of the Sea of Galilee-but Thames!  Today’s message is words from the Hound of Heaven.  He is asking us the Soul Winning Question.  Do you not pursue at any cost the lost one that is of great value to you?  Of course, we do!  Let a child we love be lost.  We gather the entire neighborhood; all the police force; the media to spare no cost in recovering the lost child.  Even when a dog or a cat that we love is lost we print posters, offer rewards, go from house to house, neighborhood to neighborhoods searching diligently.  And we should!  Today’s message from Jesus calls us to the ultimate search of those that are lost!  Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, “If there be any one point in which the Christian Church ought to keep its fervor at a white heat, it is concerning soul-winning.  If there be anything about which we cannot tolerate Luke warmness, it is the matter of sending the gospel to a dying world!”

“NO RETREAT-NO DEFEAT”

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Oct 242021
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “NO RETREAT-NO DEFEAT

     Stonewall Jackson, the famous Confederate general. Though our culture is trying to re-write history, he should still be seen as an American hero, and also as a dynamic Christian personality.  He is an example to us as Christians today on how to fight in our spiritual battles and warfare.  His mommy didn’t name him “Stonewall Jackson” by the way. He was actually Thomas Jackson. He earned the name we know him by in the first major land battle of the Civil War, the Battle of Bull Run. The Confederate forces were overwhelmed. They were retreating that day – except for a group of Virginia soldiers commanded by General Jackson. They refused to give ground, with their general, mounted on his horse in the thick of the battle, inspiring them to take a stand. Well, another Confederate officer yelled, “Look! There’s Jackson standing like a stone wall!” Well, Confederate forces rallied that day behind Jackson and his Virginians, and they ended up routing the Union forces that day. And from that day on, Tom Jackson was “Stonewall Jackson”.      One person, standing firm when the battle is intense, can literally turn the tide. On the battlefield where God has assigned you, He’s counting on you to be that person. And today He’s giving you a great picture of how you can be a warrior that your General can count on – one through whom He can win some great victories. The picture is in 2 Samuel 23, beginning with verse 8. It’s our word for today from the Word of God.      It’s a description of David’s most trusted warriors – three soldiers called “David’s mighty men” – Josheb-Basshebeth, Eleazar, and Shammah. (You don’t have to memorize those. Right? Or pronounce them right?) The Bible describes how Josheb-Basshebeth “raised his spear against eight hundred men, whom he killed in one encounter.” Then it says, “Next to him was Eleazar…As one of the three mighty men, he was with David when they taunted the Philistines gathered at Pas Dammin for battle. Then the men of Israel retreated (Sounds like Stonewall’s big day, right?), but he stood his ground and struck down the Philistines “till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword”. The Lord brought a great victory that day.”      Mighty warriors emerge at times when everyone’s tired and suffering from combat fatigue – times when most people would feel like quitting. They emerge at times when the odds are overwhelming – like that one, eight hundred against one guy, and at times when most are retreating from the battle. For you, the battle might be your family, or it might be for your church, or for the right thing, for a stand that God has ordered you to take. So, what is it that makes you one of God’s mighty warriors and a soldier He can count on?      First, you defy the enemy as David’s men “taunted the Philistines.” Knowing that the devil is our real enemy, you dare to say, “I’m not going to let you win this one. Jesus, take authority over this loser and make him retreat.” Secondly, you cling to your sword. For us, the “sword of the Spirit” is “the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).  Your attack is by quoting the Word of God, with Authority, in the name of Jesus against the enemy.  Such strategy, used by Jesus for 40 days of temptation, resulted in the “Devil leaving him alone for a season” (Luke 4:13).  You keep fighting, holding onto what God says as tightly as Eleazar held onto the sword that became bonded to his hand.      The third step that makes you God’s conqueror is you stand shoulder to shoulder with your brothers and sisters. You know, each time God introduces the next mighty man here, He starts with “next to him.” Don’t fight alone. Don’t let anything come between you and your praying fellow-soldiers. The Roman Army never fought as isolated soldiers.  Always as a unit.  So must we.  Loyalty to Christ is loyalty to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Never forget that.     And, finally, you remember who determines the outcome of the battle. It says of the weary, outnumbered mighty men, “The Lord brought them a great victory.” They sure couldn’t have brought a great victory against those odds. But mighty spiritual warriors know that the outcome of the battle will not be decided by them. It will not be decided by their enemy. It will be decided by the King of kings, the Lord of lords.      So, no matter how intense the battle, no matter how weary the warrior, no matter how overwhelming the odds – do not retreat! With the Word of God in your hand, with your brothers and sisters by your side, with the Lord your God fighting for you, it won’t be you who retreats, because your enemy is going down!  One of the last speeches that Sir Winston Churchill made was at Fulton, Missouri.  He agreed to come if all the students would have notebooks and take down every word he spoke.  The University agreed.  After being introduced, Churchill stepped to the podium, thumbs in his coat, with all eyes and ears fastened upon him.  He began to speak…” NEVER SURRENDER.  NEVER! NEVER! NEVER!”  He then went and sat down.  But what a message!  His words remind us of Stonewall Jackson, and more than that the words of our Savior, to those fighting His battle.  We could certainly use a few “Stonewall Believers today!”

BELONGING IS VERY NECESSARY

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Oct 172021
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: BELONGING IS VERY NECESSARY

     There are many voices today decrying the Church of Jesus Christ.  They tell us that she is outdated.  Irrelevant.  Impotent.  Unneccesary.  The focus basically is-you can be a Christian.  You can love the Lord.  You can live for Him in the world today-but you don’t need, nor will you likely get any help from the Church-i.e., the organized historical Church as we have known it. You can even go on line and find a Church to meet your needs at virtualchurch.com. This is not a new trend.  I came across an article written by Robert W. Patterson, associate to the Executive Director of the National Association of Evangelicals, written for Christianity Today back in March of 1991.  He wrote:

     “When President Eisenhower became a Christian, he made a public profession of his faith in Christ, he was baptized, and was extended the right hand of fellowship at the National Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C., the second Sunday after his inauguration in 1953.  Had the former President expressed interest in becoming a Christian a generation later under more consciously evangelical auspices, he might have never been challenged to identify with the Body of Christ through baptism and church membership.  A personal relationship with Jesus Christ, he would have been told, is all that really matters”. (Robert Patterson, “In Search of the Visible Church” Christianity Today, March 11, 1991, Vol. 34, No. 3, p.36). 

     Of course, I wholeheartedly agree that without a saving relationship with Jesus Christ that all is lost.  Joining a Church is not the same as accepting Christ as Savior.  But we must never mistakenly reason that one’s relationship with Christ minimizes the importance of the Church.  Yet that is the spirit of our age.  Someone has said that this is the age of the “McChristian”.  We choose what level of product he wants from the Church, like one does at McDonalds, or a buffet.  Pollster George Barna says, “The average adult thinks belonging to a particular Church is fine for other people, but is an unnecessary bondage and baggage for himself” (George Barna, The Frog in the Kettle Regal Books. 1991 p.133).  So, a decade into the new millennium’s 21st century we have a phenomenon unthinkable in any other generation-“Churchless Christians”.  Why has this trend developed?  Some feel that it has happened because of too much emphasis on the “invisible Church”.  While it is true that Christ is building a Church, and the totality of that Church is overall invisible to our eye, i.e., we cannot see the entire Church in its entirety at any one time, and any one place, (the first meeting will be in the air at the rapture), Christ’s invisible Church manifests itself in visible congregations, at visible locations, all over the world, as the New Testament teaches us.  Both teachings are true, but too much emphasis on one over the other leads to error.  Another likely reason this trend has happened in America is our historic American individualism.  Nancy Pearcey has written a 478-page book on how we have developed a Church in America that our culture has molded to make it quite different from the New Testament Church.  It is called Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity. (Crossway books. 2004).  She has an entire chapter titled, “When Christianity met America Guess Who Won!”  She quotes Thomas Paine saying, “We have a chance to start history all over again”.  She proposes that we did that with Christianity too!  When Christians from other countries come to America, they don’t even recognize our “version of the Church”.  R. Kent Hughes, in his book Disciplines of a Godly Man, says “another reason for the de-churching of many Christians is the historical individualism of evangelical Christianity and the grass-roots American impulse against authority.  The natural inclination is to think that one needs only an individual relationship with Jesus Christ and needs no other authority.  Such thinking produces Lone Ranger Christians who demonstrate their authority by riding not to Church, but out to the badlands, reference Bible in hand, to do battle single-handedly with the outlaw world”.  (p.152). If we “say” we don’t need the Church that settles the matter-we are the final authority on everything.  Because “we say so!” That’s the American way!

     We need to make a commitment to join and to belong to a local visible Church for many reasons.  It is a place we come to worship with other believers in a committed relationship, not to be forsaken (Heb. 10:25).  It is a place to be fed preaching and teaching (something the Bible commends a Pastor who does it well of being worthy of double-honor-(I Timothy 5:17 “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the Word and doctrine”).  It is a place to be held accountable.  Hebrews 13:17 “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls, as they must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief; for that is unprofitable for you”.  How do you do that if you do not belong where a Pastor can watch over your growth and service?  It is a place for giving and service.  You are committed to share in needs of the Church, and to work alongside your co-laborers.  It is a place to pool your resources and support a mission cause bigger than what you are locally.  Southern Baptist Mission endeavors are second-to-none worldwide in reaching the world for Jesus Christ.  It gives you a Church family that you can rejoice with or weep with. (Romans 15:12).  John Bunyan, (of Pilgrim’s Progress fame), expressed this need well on one occasion.  While imprisoned he had been quite depressed, falling into despondency which lasted for several days.  God intervened and let him experience His presence in a special way.  Bunyan wrote, “But that was a good night to me; I have had but few better; I longed for the company of some of God’s people, that I might have imparted unto them what God had showed me.  Christ was a precious Christ to my soul that night; I could scarce lie in my bed for joy, and peace, and triumph though Christ”.  You and I take for granted the very thing that had been taken from him-the community spirit of the Church. 

     The Church, though seen as defeated and irrelevant in today’s world, will outlast the world!  Jesus said, “I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).  Harry Blamires emphasizes this truth when he wrote, “The world is like a great express train hurtling towards disaster-total destruction.  And in this truly desperate situation certain passengers are running up and down the corridors announcing to each other that the Church is in great danger!  The irony of it would be laughable if it were not so searing.  Why most of the Church’s members have already gotten out at stations en route.  And we ourselves shall be getting out soon anyway. (The rapture). And if the crash comes and the world is burnt to ashes, then the only thing that will survive the disaster will of course be the Church” (Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind, c. 1963 p. 153).  In this world we need the Church!  The visible local Church! 

     Timothy Dwight, President of Yale University, when it was a bastion for God’s truth in Puritan fashion, wrote one of the most beautiful poems about the Church.  He wrote:

I love Thy Church O God

     Her walls before thee stand

Dear as the apple of Thine eye

     And graven on Thy hand

For her my tears shall fall

     For her my prayers ascend

To her my cares and toils be given

     Til toils and cares shall end! 

Jesus Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her and to her.  We can do no less!

“Hollow Saints-Hollow Church”

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Oct 102021
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Hollow Saints-Hollow Church”

     Things are not always as they appear.  No one has hammered that message home with more impact than the poet Edwin Arlington Robinson, in his poem Richard Cory.  He tells the story of a model citizen who was the envy of his entire town.  Then he pulls the rug out from under us with his conclusion!  He wrote:

Whenever Richard Cory went downtown,

We people on the pavement looked at him:

He was a gentleman from sole to crown,

Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,

And he was always human when he talked;

But still he fluttered pulses when he said,

‘Good-morning’ and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich-yes, richer than a king-

And admirably schooled in every grace:

In fine, we thought that he was everything!

To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,

And went without meat, and cursed the bread;

And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,

Went home and put a bullet through his head!

     Model citizens are not always models.  Christians are not always the saints that we portray.  We often fool ourselves and fool others about our walk with God.  We live for years on decisions of yesteryear.  We are often like sinkholes that form when underground rivers dry up, and the weight above ground becomes too much for the vacancy below can bear up, and there is a major sinkhole collapse.  That is why the Christian life must be “so daily”.  We must fill each day with worship of God-that includes talking with Him, (prayer) and hearing from Him, (Bible Study).  We must fill each day with witness for God-where we share our faith-which keeps it real to ourselves; and relevant to our world, that is in truth hungering for Him; We must exercise our faith daily as we engage in spiritual warfare so that we can walk in victory instead of waving the white flag of surrender to the world, the flesh, and the devil.  A Christian that fails to keep his faith alive in those ways may convince himself that all is well, by going through the motions, but in reality is becoming hollow inside spiritually.  T. S. Eliot epitomized this condition in his poem The Hollow Men.   He wrote: 

“We are hollow men

We are stuffed men

Leaning together

Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!

Our voices…quiet and meaningless

shape without form, shade without color

paralyzed force, gesture without motion. 

…a fading star…

such deliberate disguises

Behaving as the wind behaves

In the twilight kingdom

valley of dying stars

this is the hollow valley…

His context was England after WWI-the emptiness after the War to End All Wars.  But he also was talking about the loss of real character and underpinning faith that sustains us for the difficulties in life.  Life becomes empty and hollow activity without, as he says, “Thine is the Kingdom”…we need to keep alive in our “kingdom”. 

     If you take a tour on the Hudson River you will pass Pollepel Island, a 6.5 acre island in the middle of the river, fifty miles north of New York City.  It is a famous island that was prominent in the Revolutionary War.  George Washington wanted to use it for a prison during the war, but that never materialized.  But it you look closely this island is home to an intriguing Robin-hood type Castle.  It is the Bannerman Castle.  In the late 1800’s Francis Bannerman VI, an immigrant from Northern Ireland, living in Brooklyn, started a military surplus business.  He purchased military equipment from the Civil War; from the Spanish-American War.  In November of 1900 he purchased Pollepel Island, and moved his military arsenal to the safety of the Island, after building this Castle to house it.  It became named “Bannerman’s Island Arsenal” and from there catalog orders provided guns, weapons, military clothing world-wide for many years.  In 1920 an explosion destroyed part of the castle.  A severe storm and Bannerman’s death left the Arsenal and island essentially vacant.  The state of New York bought the Castle and Island, and removed the military merchandise.  Tours of the Island were given in 1968.  But a fire in 1969 damaged the Arsenal even more.  The roofs and floors were destroyed.  The castle and island became off-limits to the public.  If you pass by it today…you see the hollow shell of a once mighty business empire and arsenal.  It is empty and hollow, and on the verge of collapse.  Yet commuters on the Metro-North Hudson Line and the Amtrak Empire Service can see clearly the title “Bannerman’s Island Arsenal” on the side of the Castle, it is nothing but an empty, hollow, ruin of what it once was!  The Church of Jesus Christ has been for years an Arsenal of Spiritual power in a world that is in desperate need of such power.  But due to many Christians stumbling in spiritual maintenance, and becoming shadows of the vibrant Christians that our Lord intends us to be, the Church is in danger of becoming a hollow shell of a has-been spiritual arsenal.  Revival is the only thing that can change that!  Most leading Christian leaders will tell us that we are at a cross roads in these last days.  The cross road is REVIVAL OR RUIN.  CONQUEST OR COLLAPSE.  STRONGHOLD OR SURRENDER. 

     As T.S. Eliot concludes his Hollow Men poem… he says, “This is the way the world ends…this is the way the world ends…this is the way the world ends…Not with a bang…but a whimper!”  Only you and I can see to it that the Church’s impact in these last days end with more than a whimper and a collapse of a hollow shell of hollow men…making the Church an empty Arsenal of Spiritual Power…still bearing the name…but far from the reality of the bang the Lord intends us to have as we end this Church age!   Revival or Ruin!  Let’s choose revival.  We need it.  The world needs us to experience it even more than we do!  Jesus said, “They that worship God must worship Him in Spirit and Truth”.  (John 4:4). He was talking about a spirituality that is possessed more than professed!  Francis Schaeffer wrote of this in his book True Spirituality!  A book written well ahead of its time. The time has come.