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

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Nov 252018

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

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

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

Oh holy Child of Bethlehem

Descend to us, we pray

Cast out our sin, and enter in

Be born in us today

The great glad tidings tell

Oh come to us, abide with us

Our Lord Emmanuel

 Posted by at 12:44 am

“Mastering the Hardest Arithmetic-Counting Our Blessings!”

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Nov 182018

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

By:  Ron Woodrum


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


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


 Posted by at 1:13 pm

“The Mastery of That One Essential Thing”

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Nov 112018

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

By:  Ron Woodrum


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


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


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


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


The dove descending breaks the air

With flame of incandescent terror

Of which the tongues declare

The one discharge from sin and error.

The only hope, or else despair

Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-

To be redeemed from fire by fire.


Who then devised the torment? Love

Love is the unfamiliar Name

Behind the hands that wove

The intolerable shirt of flame

Which human power cannot remove.

We only live, only suspire

Consumed by either fire or fire.


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


 Posted by at 1:11 pm

“Can Christians be Indubitably real ever again?”

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Nov 042018

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

By:  Ron Woodrum


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


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


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


From the prayer that asks that I may be

Sheltered from the winds that beat on thee

From fearing, when I should aspire

From faltering when I should climb higher

From silken self, O Captain free

Thy soldier who would follow thee


From subtle things of softening

From easy choices-weakening’s

(not thus are spirits fortified)

Not went that way the Crucified

From all that dims Thy Calvary

Oh Lamb of God deliver me


Give me a LOVE that leads the way

A FAITH that nothing can dismay

A HOPE no disappointment can tire

A PASSION that will burn like fire

Let me not sink like a clod



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


 Posted by at 1:13 pm