“Solving the ‘real problem’ of the Christian Life”.

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Nov 262017

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE:  “Solving the ‘real problem’ of the Christian Life”.

By:  Ron Woodrum


     One of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century was Clive Stapes Lewis (1898-1963).  After his conversion he used his brilliance to defend, illustrate, and edify the Christian faith.  In his book Mere Christianity, he talks about solving the real problem of the Christian life.  This is what he says, “That is why the real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it.  It comes the very moment you wake up each morning.  All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals.  And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that point of view, letting the other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.  And so on, all day.  Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind”.  The key to the Christian life is to abide in Christ, by staying connected to our Heavenly Father by way of prayer.  It is the only way to listen to the other voice.  To keep a perspective of His point of view.  It is the only way to stay connected to His power and presence for the demands upon us each day.  As Christians most of us have an insatiable desire to spend time praying to our Heavenly Father.  Yet most of us are willing to admit that we spend far too little time doing this thing we say our heart desires.  We do not pray as we should.  Why?  The usual answer is that when we attempt to do that very thing we are overcome by distractions.  Even the most dedicated and famous believers have admitted to such difficulty.


Thomas a’Kempis (1380-1471), author of The Imitation of Christ, said that when he entered into his prayer closet and tried to focus on heavenly things that a rout of carnal temptations would rush upon him.  John Donne, (1572-1631), English Poet and Clergy, author of For Whom the Bell Tolls, wrote: “I throw myself down in my chamber, and I call in and invite God, and His angels thither to join me, and when they are there, I neglect God and His angels for a noise of a fly, a rattling of a coach, the squeaking of a door, a memory of yesterday’s pleasures, fear of tomorrow’s dangers, a straw under my knee, a noise in my ear, a light in my eye, an anything, a nothing, a fancy, a chimera in my brain.  All these trouble me in prayer.”  Martin Luther was no stranger to these struggles.  He wrote, “When I would speak and pray to God, by myself, a hundred thousand hindrances at once intervene before I get at it.  Then the devil can throw all sorts of reasons for delay in my path, he can block and hinder from all sides;  as a result, I go my way and never think of it again.  Let him who has never experienced this only try it.  Resolve to prayer earnestly, and you will see how large an assortment of your own thoughts will rush in on you and distract you, so that you cannot begin aright!”


When that happens what should we do?  We must resolve to pray in spite of that.  You keep calling yourself back to your Heavenly Father.  You keep at it-as a spiritual discipline.  Henri Nouwen, Dutch author, theologian, and Christian Psychologist (1932-1996), dealt with this issue.  He decided that the only way to overcome it was to go ahead and schedule 30 minutes a morning to pray and to stick with it, at all costs!  At first his thoughts ran wild, like the untamed animals that Lewis talked about.  But he kept telling himself, “Since I am here for this half hour anyhow, I might just as well pray”.  The sense of awkwardness gradually faded and in time he felt his soul settling down to a more calming rhythm.  He concluded, “The paradox of prayer is that it asks for serious effort while it can only be received as a gift.  We cannot plan, organize, or manipulate God; but without careful and consistent discipline we cannot receive Him either!” Irish Theologian, Herbert McCabe, (1926-2001), had a very novel perspective on distractions in prayer.  In a very insightful way he suggests the following:  “People often complain of distractions during prayer.  Their mind goes wandering off to other things.  this is nearly always due to praying for something we do not really want…something respectable and proper…but something you really don’t desire deeply like-peace in Northern Ireland or your aunt to recover from the flu-things that you should want, but really don’t want all that badly!  Your prayer is rapidly invaded by distractions arising from what you do really want-perhaps like that promotion at work, let us say.  Distractions are nearly always your real wants breaking in on your prayer for edifying but bogus wants!  If you are distracted, trace your distractions back to the real desires it comes from, and pray about these.  When you are praying for what you really want-you will not be distracted!  PEOPLE ON SINKING SHIPS DO NOT COMPLAIN ABOUT DISTRACTIONS DURING THEIR PRAYERS!” (We should pray like we would if our ship was sinking).


Karl Barth, Swiss Theologian, (1886-1968), wrote concerning prayer, “He is not deaf, He listens; more than that He acts.  He does not act in the same way whether we pray or not.  Prayer exerts an influence upon God’s action, even upon His existence.  That is what the word ‘answer’ means.  The fact that God yields to man’s petitions, changing His intentions, in response to man’s prayers is not a weakness.  He Himself in the glory and majesty of His power has willed it to be so!”  John Milton, of Paradise Lost fame, (1608-1674), encourages us to incessant prayer when he said, “And if by incessant prayer I could hope to change the will of Him who can all things do, I would not cease to weary Him with my assiduous cries!” George MacDonald, (1824-1905), points out the real reason for all prayer.  He writes, “He that prays and does not faint will come to recognize that to talk with God is more than to have all prayers granted-talking to God is the end of all prayers!” Even as we wait for God to intervene and answer we are experiencing fulfillment of our greatest spiritual needs and desires.  Listen to the great British preacher and theologian  Leslie Weatherhead, (1896-1976), explain this:  “I have always found prayer difficult.  So often it seems like a fruitless game of hide and seek in which God hides and we seek.  I know God is very patient with me.  Without that patience I should be lost.  But frankly I have to be patient with Him.  With no other friend would I go on seeking such scant, conscious response.  Yet I cannot leave prayer alone for too long.  My need drive me to Him.  And I have a feeling that He has His own reasons for hiding Himself, and that finally my seeking will prove worthwhile…I long for more satisfaction, but I cannot cease from questing.  Jesus sometimes found prayer difficult.  Some of His most agonizing prayers were not answered.  But He did not give up praying.  I have frankly little to show for all my prayers, but I cannot give up, for ‘my soul longeth for God’ and I know that outside of God there is nothing at all”


Spending time with God in prayer is not the only way to see God do for us what no one else can do…but it also allows us to learn the joy of His presence…and the fulfillment of all of our greatest yearning.  Go ahead…talk to God…like your ship is sinking.  He is better than the Best Father.  He cares.  He listens.  He answers.  Distractions and all…do it…you won’t be disappointed.  You might just solve the real problem of the Christian life.  You might be surprised what it results in.  Let me finish what C.S. Lewis said in his earlier thought…he continues “We can only do it for moments at first.  But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system: because now we are letting Him work His work in the right part of us.  It is the difference between paint and stain.  Paint is merely laid on the surface, and stain soaks right through!”  Constant practice of prayer is indeed permeating to the inner man!


 Posted by at 12:16 am


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Nov 192017


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 2:37 pm

Jesus-A Poached Egg? Or Perfect Essence?

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Nov 122017

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: Jesus-A Poached Egg? Or Perfect Essence?

By:  Ron Woodrum


     C.S. Lewis found himself confronted with the claims of Jesus Christ.  After weighing the evidence about Christ he found himself giving in to those claims and with reluctance at first, turning from atheism to faith.  As he tried to share his journey with other scholars at Oxford he was often confronted with rejections that were followed with patronizing.  Many were telling him that they thought Jesus was a great moral teacher.  They loved his teachings and stories, but simply could not accept His claims to be God Incarnate!  Finally Lewis could no longer bear such patronage of His Savior!  This is what he said to such a reply-


     “I am trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him.  They say, ‘I am ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but not His claim to be God’.  That is the one thing we must not say!  A man who is merely a man and said the sort of things that Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be A LUNATIC-ON THE LEVEL OF A MAN WHO SAYS HE IS A POACHED EGG-OR ELSE HE WOULD BE THE DEVIL OF HELL.  You must make your choice either the man was, and is the SON OF GOD, or else a madman, or something worse.  You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill Him, as a demon, or you can fall at His feet and call Him LORD and GOD, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about Him being a great teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to…it is obvious to me that He was neither a LUNATIC nor a FIEND…however terrifying or strange or unlikely it may seem…HE WAS AND IS GOD!”  (Mere Christianity)


     One of the options that Lewis mentioned was “a lunatic…on the level of a man who says he is a poached egg!”  As we look at the Gospels we see that there were those who thought just that!  Jesus had been performing miracle after miracle.  He had forgiven sins!  The inference was that only God has that right.  Jesus was claiming His Divinity!  When he cast out demons His popularity sky-rocketed!  Then He began to say unusual things.  “If you save your life you will lose it!”  “The first will be last and the last first!”  “When asked to go one mile-go two!”  “When slapped on one cheek-give them your other cheek”.  “If you are asked for your cloak-give them your coat too!”  He said things like, “Before Abraham was, I Am!”  The Scribes and the Pharisees began to say things like-“You are a demon-you have a demon!”  “You are mad!”  “Insane!”  “You are not yet 50 years old and you have seen Abraham?  Sure you have!” They had had it with his claims of being the Son of God who had come down from heaven.  In Mark 6:3; and John 6:42 they reasoned with one another “Is not this the Carpenter’s Son?  Is not this the Carpenter?  Is He not the son of Joseph?  Of Mary?  Is he not the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon??  Are not His sisters here with us?”  As anger began to rise over Jesus’ claims, Mark 3:21 tells us that his family, (those belonging to him in the Greek, came to “take Him home because He was beside Himself” i.e. “out of His mind!”  Even his own family, which John 7 says, “did not believe in him”-began to perceive Him as the rest of the Jewish leaders did, and see him as insane and in need of rest and removal from the public!


There is another hint as to why Jesus was seen this way.  It is seen in John 6.  Jesus began to talk about “eating his flesh and drinking his blood!”  When he did that his popularity began to flag immediately.  Followers began to leave him in droves!  Paul Brandt, in his book In His Image, gives a new slant to this defection.  He writes “deep in every Jewish person’s consciousness laid a fundamental association of blood with life.  God himself had given it that meaning…God had commanded, ‘you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it’ Gen. 9:4; The Mosaic Law would prohibit ingesting blood too. (Lev. 3:17; Dt. 12:23)…Every good Jewish housewife checked her meat to see that no blood remained.  The rule was absolute:  do not eat the blood, for it contains life.  Kosher cuisine developed, using elaborate techniques to assure that no blood contaminated the meat.  Blood was not to ever be ingested!  Against that backdrop consider the shocking, almost revolting message Jesus brought to that culture:  ‘I tell you the truth that unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you!…For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him…so the one who feeds on me will live because of me!” (John 6:53-57).  That was the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back!”  Even his family began to see Him as insane!  But He was speaking spiritual things which they were taking too literally.  It was true that he was the Bread, (the Divine Sustenance from Heaven).  It was true that His broken body and shed blood would affect a New Covenant.  It was true that it could only transform and sustain those who partook of it.  Those who ate the manna in the wilderness perished.  Those who would eat and drink of the New Covenant would be cleansed and cured!  But the flesh could not see the things spiritually discerned!  They seemed crazy!  He seemed crazy.


Another thing that He said would seem crazy as well.  In Mt. 10:36 Jesus said, “A man’s foes shall be those of his own household”.  He talked about a family tie that exceeds “flesh and blood ties”.  Real family is the family that teaches you to “practice the will of God, and practice the Word of God”.  All other family ties are inferior that that.  That is the message today.  It may sound crazy…but not with spiritual discernment!


John Fawcett discerned the meaning of spiritual family ties when he wrote that great hymn-Blest Be the Tie That Binds.


Blest be the tie that binds

Our hearts in Christian love;

The fellowship of kindred minds

Is like to that above.


Before our Father’s throne

We pour our ardent prayers;

Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one

Our comforts and our cares.


We share each other’s woes,

Our mutual burdens bear;

And often for each other flows

The sympathizing tear.


When we asunder part,

It gives us inward pain;

But we shall still be joined in heart,

And hope to meet again!”


“These are my mother, my brothers, and

 Posted by at 1:34 pm

The Church-A blood-washed hippopotamus?

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Nov 052017

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE:  The Church-A blood-washed hippopotamus?

By:  Ron Woodrum


     One of my favorite professors was Earl Radmacher.  Dr. Radmacher was the President of Western Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary in Portland, Oregon.  I was introduced to him through my Greek professor/ Mentor Dr. John A. Burns.  Dr. Radmacher, as his doctoral dissertation, wrote the best book ever written, in my opinion, on the Biblical doctrine of the Church.  It is called The Nature of the Church.  One of my most prized books in my library is my personally signed copy given to me by Dr. Radmacher.  In his book Dr. Radmacher lists several metaphors used in the New Testament for the Church.  He listed how the New Testament calls the Church a Body; a Building; Branches; and a Bride.  In his book he elaborates those images in a very dynamic and comprehensive manner.  One of my favorite symbols of the Church, outside the New Testament is by Dr. Howard Hendricks. He said that the Church is like a group of porcupines.  On a cold winter night they have to huddle together to keep warm.  But because they are covered with quills they prick and injure each other.  He said, “How like the Church-We need each other, but when we get close we needle each other!”  (I believe that the Swedish Theologian/ Philosopher Soren Kirkegaard was the first to use this metaphor). Very enlightening image!  But I think I discovered the most unusual image used of the Church, outside the New Testament imagery.  It comes from one of my favorite poets-British essayist, publisher, playwright, literary and social critic, and one of the twentieth century’s major poets-Thomas Stearns Eliot-i.e. T.S. Eliot (1888-1965).  In a poem written in 1920, Eliot likened the Church to, of all things, The Hippopotamus!  Yet his poem has some real points to make about the weaknesses and ugliness of the Church, yet shows how, through the redemption and power of God, she can and will rise to heavenly heights!  Here is the poem:


THE BROAD-BACKED hippopotamus

Rests on his belly in the mud;

Although he seems firm to us

He is merely flesh and blood.


Flesh and blood is weak and frail,

Susceptible to nervous shock;

While the true Church will never fail

For it’s based upon a rock.


The hippo’s feeble steps may err

In compassing material’s ends,

While the True Church need never stir

To gather in its dividends.


The ‘potamus can never reach

The mango on the mango-tree

But fruits of pomegranate and peach

Refresh the Church from over sea.


At mating time the hippo’s voice

Betrays inflexions hoarse and odd,

But every week we hear rejoice

The Church, at being one with God.


The hippopotamus’s day

Is passed in sleep; at night he hunts;

God works in a mysterious way-

The Church can seep and feed at once.


I saw the ‘potamus take wing

Ascending from the damp savannas,

And quiring Angels round him sing

The praise of God, in loud hosannas.


Blood of the Lamb shall wash him clean

And him shall heavenly arms enfold,

Among the saints he shall be seen

Performing on a harp of Gold.


He shall be washed as white as snow,

By all the martyr’d virgins kist,

While the True Church remains below

Wrapped in the old missmal mist.


There is much debate about what Eliot was trying to say in this sarcastic poem.  Only he knows for sure.  But the contrast appears to be between the Professed Church that gives a powerful and infallible image, and the genuine Church that is often flesh and blood; weak and failing; sometimes lazy and ugly; but in the end, due to the blood-bought price paid for her this hippopotamus, rises to great heights due to God’s mysterious salvation and power.


C.S. Lewis, after his conversion had a low view of the Church too.  He soon saw how much he needed the Church, and how much God has chosen to use the Church, with all her imperfections to accomplish His work.  He wrote in his book God in the Dock:


“When I first became a Christian fourteen years ago, I thought I could do it on my own, retiring to my room…and reading theology and I would not go to Church…I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate music.  But as I went on I saw the great merit of it.  I came up against different people, with guite different outlooks, different education, and gradually my conceit began peeling off.  I realized that the hyms, (which really were sixth-rate music!), were nevertheless being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots, in the opposite pew, and then you realize you aren’t fit to clean those boots!  It gets you out of your solitary conceit!”  Lewis went on to become a great apologist and defender of the Church, and how God could use her with all her imperfections!


Philip Yancey, in his book, The Church; Why Bother?, came to the same conclusion.  He wrote, “As I look around on Sunday morning at the people populating the pews, I see the risk that God has assumed.  For whatever reason, God now reveals Himself in the world, not in a pillar of smoke and fire, not even through the physical body of His Son in Galilee, but through the mongruel collection that comprises my local Church and every other such gathering in God’s name”.  (pg. 68).  But that is who He chose to use to reach the world.  Yancey, in his book, emphasizes that we will never succeed in the power of the flesh.  The arm of flesh will fail us.  But God, in His grace and power, and the fullness of His Spirit, can reveal his Glory through the Church.  That is the message of the Book of Ephesians.  The Church, through the Riches of His Grace, is seated in the Heavenlies with Him, while living out His life-giving power on earth, in the enemy’s territory.  Paul takes the Greek lexicon and empties out all the Greek words for power as He describes how He transforms His Church into the Church victorious.  Yancey goes on to say how we can succeed in our ministry.  He writes, “Our best efforts at changing society will fall short unless the Church can teach the world how to love…the Church is. above all, a place to receive grace; it brings forgiven people together with the aim of equipping us to disperse grace to others…The Church is…a counter-cultural community-in the world, but not of it-that shows others how to live in the most fulfilled way and meaningful life on earth…rejecting the false gods of independence, success, and pleasure, and replacing them with the Love of God and Neighbor.  Faith is not a private matter or something we practice once a week at Church.  Rather, it should have a contagious effect on the broader world.  Jesus, in describing His Church, and their work in the Kingdom, used images of yeast permeating the whole loaf; a pinch of salt preserving a slab of meat; the smallest seed in the garden growing into a great tree, which in the end can welcome all the birds of the air to come and rest and nest in its branches!”  So what Lewis and Yancey, and the New Testament is telling us is-even if the Church is a flesh and blood ugly and awkward hippopotamus-by the power of God she can still bring God great glory and rise to heights that in the flesh is impossible.  Hippopotamus or nots go be the Church!  You can make a heavy and heavenly impact on this big bad world!


 Posted by at 1:30 pm