“A Great Like for a Dark Continent”

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Jan 312021
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “A Great Like for a Dark Continent”

     In his book Spiritual Leadership, Oswald Sanders writes, “In the Scriptures, God is frequently represented as searching for a man of a certain type.  Not men, but a man.  Not a group, but an individual.  When God does discover a man, who conforms to His spiritual requirement, who is willing to pay the full price of discipleship, He uses him to the limit, despite his patent shortcomings”. (pg. 18).  Such a man was David Livingstone.  He had heard missionary Robert Moffat talk of the need for medical missionaries for China.  He surrendered and answered the call.  But as he trained and prepared to go to China, the door was closed due to the Opium Wars.  Within six months he heard Moffat talk about the need for missionaries in Southern Africa, who enchanted him with tales of his remote station, glowing in the morning sun with “the smoke of a thousand villages where no missionary had ever gone before”.  Livingstone spent ten years as a conventional missionary opening missionary stations in “regions beyond”.  He married his boss’s daughter, Mary Moffat.  He made some of the most prodigious-and most dangerous-explorations of the nineteenth century.  His object was to open a Missionary Road-God’s Highway into the interior of this Dark Continent to bring the light of Christianity and Civilization to unreached peoples.  The natives loved his common touch, his rough paternalism, and his driven curiosity to explore their continent.  After two years he completely disappeared, without a letter or scrap of information.  (Later he would report that he had been so ill he could not even lift a pen to write.  During that time, he read the Bible through four times.  But his disappearance fascinated the public as much as Amelia Earhart’s a few generations later).  It was during this time that American Journalist Henry Stanley was sent to find Dr. David Livingstone.  When Livingstone had arrived in Africa in 1841, it was as exotic as outer space, and was called the “Dark Continent”.  It was also called the “White Man’s Graveyard”.  It was unmapped territory.  Henry Stanley went into the Dark Continent to find Dr. Livingstone.  After a long and grueling search, beginning in 1869, and ending October 28, 1871, Henry Stanley finally found him, introducing himself with the four famous theatrical words that he had often rehearsed, “Dr. Livingstone I Presume“.  He remained with the missionary until March of 1872.  Stanley wrote later about how Dr. Livingstone had an impact on him.  He wrote, “In 1871 I went to him prejudiced as the biggest atheist in London.  To a reporter and correspondent such as I, who had only to deal with wars, mass meetings, and political gatherings, sentimental matters were entirely out of my province.  But there came for me a long time of reflection. I was out there away from the worldly world.  I saw this solitary old man there, and asked myself, ‘how on earth does he stop here-is he cracked or what?  What is it that inspires him?’ For months, after I met him, I simply found myself listening to him, wondering at the old man living out all that was said in the Bible-‘Leave all things and follow Me’.  But little by little his sympathy and love for others became contagious; my sympathy was aroused, seeing his piety and faith, his gentleness, his zeal, his earnestness, and how he went quietly about his business.  I WAS CONVERTED BY HIM, although he had not tried to do it!”

     Stanley went back to England to write his bestseller, How I Found Livingstone, in the meantime Livingstone got lost again, in a swamp literally up to his neck.  Within a year and a half, he died in a mud hut, kneeling beside his cot in prayer.  But he alone, almost single-handedly fulfilled the imperative of Paul, in Philippians 2:15-16-“shine as lights in a crooked and perverse nation, holding forth the Word of Life”.  He enlightened the Dark Continent with the light of the glorious Gospel.  That light even penetrated the dark heart of a worldly atheist who had come to narrate the missionary’s mission to the world.  He became a part of the mission.  When Livingstone died the whole world wept.  They gave him a 21-gun salute, a hero’s funeral, and a burial in Westminster Abbey.  His tombstone reads, “David Livingstone: missionary, traveler, philanthropist.  For 30 years his life was spent in an unwearied effort to evangelize the native races, to explore undiscovered secrets, and to abolish slave trade”.

     The first word God spoke in creation was, “Let there be light-and light became”.  When He recreates us through the New Birth, one of his first acts of re-creation is to “command light to shine in our hearts!” and to transform us into Lights shining into our own Dark Continents.  Lewis B. Smedes, in his book All Things Made New, says “because of Christ’s reconciling work a New Creation has come into existence, and all who are in Christ are a new creation in themselves.  The familiar text about being new creatures, (II Cor. 5:17), should not be waved too easily as a slogan for what happens in me when I am converted.  The design of Christ’s new creation is far too grand, too inclusive to be restricted to what happens in my soul.  No nook or cranny of history is too small for its purpose, no cultural potential too large for its embrace.  Being in Christ, we are part of a new movement by His grace, a movement rolling on toward the new heaven and earth where all things are made right and where He is all in all” (p. 127-128).  John is telling his little children that they are new creations in Christ, partakers of His Eternal Life, and therefore they can walk in the light as He is in the light, and they can light up their dark continents!  Go be a light!

“FINGERTIP MEMORIES OF THE GRAVEN IMAGE OF HIS DEAR FACE, AND OF HIS MARVELOUS VOICE”

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Jan 242021
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “FINGERTIP MEMORIES OF THE GRAVEN IMAGE OF HIS DEAR FACE, AND OF HIS MARVELOUS VOICE”

     Helen Keller was 14 years old when she first met the world-famous Mark Twain in 1894.  They became fast friends.  He helped arrange for her to go to college at Radcliffe where she graduated in 1904, the first deaf, and blind person in the world to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.  She learned to read English, French, German, and Latin in braille and went on to become practically as world famous as her dear friend, writing prolifically and lecturing across the country and around the world.  Keller lived into the 1960s and shared some of her fond memories of Twain in an autobiographical book she published in 1929.  In particular, she records recollections from her last visit to her friend in his “Stormfield” home in Redding, Connecticut, which she thought of as a “land of enchantment.”  She preserves for us a vivid image not only of Mark Twain–Mr. Clemens, as she called him–but of her own vivacious mind.  About Twain she writes, “There are writers who belong to the history of their nation’s literature.  Mark Twain is one of them.  When we think of great Americans, we think of him.  He incorporated the age he lived in. To me he symbolizes the pioneer qualities-the large, free, unconventional, humorous point of view of men who sail new seas and blaze new trails through the wilderness.”  As they gathered around the hearth one night after dinner at Stormfield, she records, “Mr. Clemens stood with his back to the fire talking to us.  there he stood-our Mark Twain, our American, our humorist, the embodiment of our country.  He seemed to have absorbed all America into himself.  The great Mississippi River seemed forever flowing, flowing through his speech.”  When Twain took her to her room to say goodnight, he said “that I would find cigars and a thermos bottle with Scotch whiskey, or bourbon if I preferred it, in the bathroom.”  One evening, Twain offered to read to her from his short story, “Eve’s Diary”. She was delighted, and he asked, “How shall we manage it?”  She said, “Oh, you will read aloud, and my teacher will spell your words into my hand”.  He murmured, “I had thought you would read my lips!”  And so that is what she did! Upon request, and as promised, Twain put on his “Oxford robe” the gorgeous scarlet robe he had worn when Oxford University conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Letters.   Here is Keller’s recollection of the evening:  “Mr. Clemens sat in his great armchair, dressed in his white serge suit, the flaming scarlet robe draping his shoulders, and his white hair gleaming and glistening in the light of the lamp which shone down on his head.  In one hand he held ‘Eve’s Diary’, with it’s glorious red cover.  In the other hand he held his pipe… I sat near him in a low chair, my elbow on the arm of his chair, so that my fingers could rest lightly on his lips.  Everything went smoothly for a time”.  But Twain’s gesticulations soon began to confuse things, so a “new setting was arranged.  Mrs. Macy came and sat beside me and spelled words into my right hand, while I looked at Mr. Twain with my left hand, touching his face and hands, and the book, following his gestures and every changing expression.”  Keller reflected further that, “to one hampered and circumscribed as I am it was a wonderful experience to have a friend like Mr. Clemens.  I recall many talks with him about human affairs.  He never made me feel that my opinions were worthless…He knew that we do not think with eyes and ears, and that our capacity for thought is not measured by five senses.  He kept me always in mind while he talked, and he treated me like a competent human being. That is why I loved him…There was an about him an air of one who had suffered greatly.  Whenever I touched his face his expression was real sad, even when he was telling a funny story!  He smiled, not with his mouth but with his mind-a gesture of the soul rather than of the face.  His voice was truly wonderful. To my touch, it was deep and resonant.  He had the power of modulating it so as to suggest the most delicate shades of meaning and he spoke so deliberately that I could get almost every word with my fingers on his lips.  Ah, how sweet and poignant the memory of his soft slow speech playing over my listening fingers.  His words seemed to take strange lovely shapes on my hands.  His own hands were wonderfully mobile and changeable under the influence of emotion.  It has been said that life has treated me harshly; and sometimes I have complained in my heart because many pleasures of the human experience have been withheld from me, but when I recollect the treasure of the friendship that has been bestowed upon me, I withdraw all charges against life.  If much has been denied me, very much has been given me.  So long as the memory of certain beloved friends lives in my heart, I shall say that life is good!”  When Helen Keller left the enchanted land of Stormfield on that visit, she wondered if she would ever see her friend again, and she didn’t!  It was 1909, and Clemens would live just one more year.  But she writes for us, “IN MY FINGERTIPS WAS GRAVEN THE IMAGE OF HIS DEAR FACE WITH ITS HALO OF SHINING WHITE HAIR, AND IN MY MEMORY HIS DRAWLING, MARVELOUS VOICE WILL ALWAYS VIBRATE!”  What a story of the life-changing influence that Mark Twain had over the life of Helen Keller.  Vivid images of his great personality, and memories of her experiences with him continued to fill her life with joy for over 50 years!

     The Apostle John, some 60 plus years after he had walked in the shoes of his Master, Lord, and Savior Jesus, his memory is still filled with vivid memories of what he had heard Him teach and speak, what he had seen Him do, and even the times that they to touched Him, and been touched by Him.  All these memories were thoughts to be relived and meditated on, to allow them to have their maximum impact on them.  According to the Ancient historian Eusebius, John was asked by the Ephesian elders to write those memories, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, into what would later be called the Gospel of John.  What a simple but profound narrative, with simple but deep theological truths that has delighted all of Jesus’ disciples who never had the chance to see His Dear face, hear his resounding voice, felt His loving embrace, or follow literally in His footsteps.  John followed that Gospel up with three epistles, the last literature of the Inspired New Testament, to tell his little children that it was not only memories that are available to them of the Incarnate Lord Jesus Christ, but His very person and power, through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit can still be incarnated into our flesh, and we will find, like Peter walking on water by His command, following in His steps, Walking in Life, Walking in Light, Walking in Liberty, Walking in Love, and Walking in Loyalty “We will walk as He walked” and “As He is, so are we in the world”.  The world has not seen the last of Jesus!  If we experience Him as John tells us that we can, sightings of Jesus won’t be on “grilled cheese sandwiches” or “on shadows on the side of barns”, or in the strangest places!  Our transformed lives, will testify to the true Word of Life, who was tangible and true to His first followers, and He still lives on through us 2100 years later! LET HIS GRAVEN IMAGE, HIS DEAR FACE, HIS FINGERTIP MEMORIES, AND HIS MARVELOUS VOICE KEEP ON VIBRATING IN OUR MINDS, BUT MOSTLY IN OUR LIVES!  HE IS THE WORD OF LIFE.  LET HIM COMMUNICATE HIS LIFE TO YOU IN WORDS ALL THE WORLD THAT SEEKS HIM WILL UNDERSTAND.  IT’S IN HOW YOU WALK! SO, THE WALK OF LIFE!

“WHAT SHALL THIS MAN DO?”

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Jan 172021
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE:  “WHAT SHALL THIS MAN DO?”

     Back in 1971 I was a student at Missouri Baptist College of Hannibal, Missouri.  We had a group of students that were seeking for the deeper Christian life.  They began to have weekly fellowship groups that were reading and discussing the teachings of a Chinese Pastor by the name of Watchman Nee.  They studied his books The Normal Christian Life, Sit, Stand, and Walk, and the book What Shall This Man Do?  Having been led to Christ by a Fundamentalist Pastor, and having focused my early ministry on books by John R. Rice; Jack Hyles; and Simple Sermons by Herschel Ford, as my Pastor taught me, I looked upon anything new like a cow looks at a new gate! (Later in life while putting up a new gate for our barnyard I found out that horses share that same suspicious look at anything new added to their environment!).  Being given copies of the Nee books, and invited to the fellowship, caused me to read the books.  Now I have since learned that you do not grow much but only reading those authors who reinforce your own prejudices and beliefs!  All TRUTH is God’s truth, and though we must be discerning in what we embrace theologically, we need to be familiar with what teachings are circulating in our environment and culture.  Paul was very aware of the Greek Mystery religions, and the practices of idolatry that permeated the Greek and Roman religions.  He was very familiar with the Jewish Legalistic religion that offered only an outward conformity to a religion, that was bankrupt of any inward spiritual reality.  He found that truth out personally, later calling his progress in Judaism as “refuse”.  The Greek word he chose to describe it, “skuballa”, was a very “graphic” word!  The Apostle John, fighting off the wolves of false teachers that Paul warned would come in Acts 20, was very familiar with the Gnosticism that was gradually drawing members of his Churches into the web or their errors!  As a matter of fact, that is one of the reasons why he wrote I John.  So, I read the books by Watchman Nee.  I must admit that they left me scratching my head, and with mixed emotions theologically.  So much of what he wrote really spoke to the desire to walk with the Lord in a deeper way!  To surrender yourself more fully to love the Lord, and to give all of yourself, to all of him.  To Nee that was to be the norm, not the exception in the Church of Jesus Christ…i.e., the message of his book The Normal Christian Life. Our Greek professor, Dr. John A. Burns, did his best to give us guidance, without restricting freedom, or dissuading us from pursuing a deeper commitment to Christ.  He warned of a “false spirituality”, and preferred we read books like True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer.  He warned us that Nee was influenced by British missionary Margaret E. Barber with her Keswick Theology, and the mystic theology of Catholic mystic Madam Guyon.  He warned us that Nee had a very vague theology, that embraced Salvation by Grace through Faith, but was very unclear about how the second level of the Christian walk was embraced, and leaned heavily toward “perfectionism” and even “baptismal regeneration”.  He encouraged serving our Lord in “deeper walk” and certainly “surrendered commitment” but was concerned where this “new wind of doctrine” might lead.  Indeed, it did cause a bit of a division among the Christians on campus.  Some walked about with an air of superiority for having embraced and discovered the secret of a closer walk, that so many others somehow did not have spiritual eyes to see.  Fortunately, the new Nee-fad was short-lived.  But Watchman Nee books are still as popular as ever.  He was martyred for his faith by the Communist regime in 1971.  His books, properly understood, have some value if they are read with discernment.  One of his books, What Shall This Man Do?  is based upon the question that Peter asked Jesus, after being told that he would eventually be martyred for his commitment to Jesus, he asked Jesus about John’s future with these words, “what shall this man do?”  (John 21:21). Of course, Jesus answered Peter with the words, “what is that to you?  If I will that he lives until I come again, that doesn’t involve you…YOU KEEP ON FOLLOWING ME YOURSELF!” (John 21:22).    Watchman Nee took that question “What Shall This Man Do?” and wrote an entire book about how God calls people to various types of ministry to fulfill the commission and edification that Christ gave to the Church.  He points out that when Jesus called Saul of Tarsus to join the ministry of the Church, that he was a “tent-maker”.  Likely that was a trade that he had learned from his father from a young age, and F.F. Bruce, in his book Paul: Apostle of Freedom, sees this profession as more than building temporary dwellings for recreational purposes, like we might think of today.  He feels that Paul’s father may have been key in providing military dwellings for regimens in the Roman Army, and might have been honored with Roman Citizenship for such service to his country.  Of course, the Hebrews were known for their Bedouin tendencies too, and often used tents as their dwelling places.  Paul, and Priscilla and Aquila were gifted in this profession.  Nee went on to conclude that since this was Paul’s giftedness at the time of his calling, that he became a “master-builder” (I Cor. 3:10- Greek word is “archetekton” “archetect”-) which Paul became in the work of the Lord, building strong Churches, all over the Roman world.  Nee then draws on the example of Peter.  Peter was casting his fishing nets for fish, when Jesus, walking the shores of the Sea of Galilee, called him to forsake those nets, and come follow Him, and he would “become a fisher of men!” (Matt. 4:19).  Nee points out that the ministry of Peter, in the Book of Acts, is casting a net out in evangelism, and gathering converts into Christ’s Church.  The third example chosen by Nee concerns the Apostle John. At the time that Jesus called him to follow Him, John was in the ship “mending his nets” (Matt. 4:21).  He then shows how that the Apostle John seems to fulfill Jesus’ prediction of living until he comes, by seeing the coming outlined in the Book of Revelation vision, and then spending the rest of his elderly days mending the theological tears that had entered the Church, and helped mend the Church back to truth and usefulness in its ministry for the Lord.  While I think that Nee, as he often did, takes a thought and goes well beyond the limit in developing it with his own imagination, there is definitely truth in the fact that our Lord did call the Apostle John to do a lot of theologically mending of the tears of error that left holes in the Churches evangelism nets, as they ministered in the last days of the first century.  I John is one of those mending epistles that was desperately needed by the Churches of Asia minor, as they faced the onslaught of this insidious Gnosticism that was wreaking havoc with the Doctrine of the Person of Jesus Christ, and with His Incarnate Life in the Lives of His followers.  We will study how John, mending the nets, writes to distinguish truth from error, light from darkness, righteousness from sin, reality from pretense, and encourage his little children to keep on walking in Life, in Light, in Liberty, in Love, and in Loyalty, not by trying harder, but by taking each step in the power of the incarnated and indwelling Christ Jesus, as they partner with Him, in showing the “real Jesus Christ” to the world around them, by manifesting the eternal life that knowing Him makes a reality in them, for all the world to see.  A key verse of I John is I John 4:17 “As He is, so are we in the world”.  I John 2:6 is another key verse, “He that saith he abides in Him, ought himself so to walk as He walked”.  The Church of the 21st century has some major “holes in our nets” of theology and practice.  An in-depth study of John’s first epistle will go a long way in “mending our nets” and returning us to useful ministry in these last days.  I hope you will join me in this exciting study that begins this morning, will go on Wednesday nights, and the next several Sundays. The question isn’t “What shall this man do?” but “What shall we, this Church do?”  I John will give us some “real” answers, if we will heed the “Apostle of Love”, and his edifying words to “his little Children”.