“A Brand Plucked From the Fire-with the World His Gospel Parish”

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Jan 302022
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “A Brand Plucked From the Fire-with the World His Gospel Parish”.

     One of the most interesting and impacting Christian influences of the 18th Century was John Wesley.  Historians feel that he, and possibly George Whitefield, are the reason that England escaped the Revolutionary tragedy and turmoil that plagued France during this same time in history.  His spiritual influence brought such a revival to England that created an entirely different culture than the one that nearly destroyed France, John Wesley was born June 28, 1703, to an Anglican minister Samuel Wesley, and his wife Susannah.  John was the 15th, of 19 children!  His mother was the 25th child of 25!  One would think that John was mostly influenced by his minister father, but we are told that all of the Wesley children were impacted most by their godly mother.  Somehow, she had time to spend individual time with each one of them, (a challenge when there is only 24 hours in a day).  She taught them the Word of God, to pray, and to live by very strict Christian behavior toward each other and those in the outside world.  John would be ingrained with these Christian methods so much that he would carry them with him the rest of his life!  Many historians refer to Susannah Wesley as the Mother of Modern-day Methodism!  Even after he left home for his college education, he turned to his mother asking her to define sin for him.  She responded, “whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, takes off your relish for spiritual things, whatever increases the authority of the body over the mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may seem in itself”.  She not only taught them the Scriptures, but taught them to study it in its original language, from the Greek New Testament.  An incident that occurred while John was quite young, shaped him the rest of his life.  The Wesley home caught fire.  All of the family escaped the flames, except John.  He was trapped on the second floor.  There was no way of escape.  Neighbors recognizing the emergency of the situation, formed a human ladder, (standing on each other’s shoulders), to reach up and out to rescue young John.  For the rest of his life he referred to himself as “a brand plucked from the fire”-quoting what God said of Joshua the High Priest in Zechariah 3:2.

     John and his brother Charles went to Oxford.  While there they formed, with two other students, the Holy Club, where they emphasized practical methods and rules for living the practical Christian life.  Again, this was from the influence of his godly mother who tried to make the commandments of Scripture every day exercises in holiness for her children. John had an insatiable appetite to know and please God.  James Oglethorpe had founded a colony in Georgia where many from debtor’s prison in England were sent.  He asked John and Charles to go to this parish and minister to these prisoners, and also to evangelize the Indians.  In October of 1735 they sailed on the Simmonds ship to the Province of Georgia, in the American colonies.  It was on this trip that he met and was greatly influenced by the Moravian missionaries that were on the same trip.  On the way to the New World, the ship encountered a life-threatening storm, and it was clear the ship was going to sink.  The Moravians sang hymns and rejoiced calmly.  John Wesley was terrified of death.  The Moravian pastor asked John why he was so terrified.  He asked him “don’t you know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior?”  John would write of the incident later in his journals, that he immediately responded “Of course I do!”, but admitted that his confession even sounded hollow to his own ears!  He spent two years ministering to prisoners and Indians in Georgia.  He and Charles were not well received!  They decided to return home.  John was returning a broken and disillusioned man.  He wrote in his journals-“I went to Georgia to convert the heathen and the Indians.  Who will convert me?”  Upon returning to England he continued to meet with the Moravians.  At one of their Bible studies, at Aldersgate Street London, May 24, 1738, they were studying the Book of Romans from Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans.  When the leader read the preface to the commentary that described Luther opening his heart to the salvation of the Lord that was received by faith alone-John Wesley would later write in his journal-“I felt my heart strangely warmed, and at that point, instead of trusting my methods of Christian living for my salvation, I do believe I trusted in Jesus Christ alone as my Savior and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death”.  That was a turning point in his life indeed!  He was not received well in the Anglican Church, rejected by the Bishops and clergy, He followed the example of George Whitefield, beginning an itinerant ministry.  He turned to preaching the Gospel of Grace in the open fields.  His motto became-“the world is my parish”.  He became adept at open-air preaching.  He began to draw crowds into the thousands at his services.  He was a small man, 5 foot 6 inches 120 pounds.  When he preached, he had to stand on a chair, or a rock, or a hill, or man-made platform.  He preached on an average 15 sermons a week, He continued to preach to this Gospel parish for the next 50 years!  Over that time, he preached over 40,000 sermons.  He traveled on horseback the length and breadth of England-altogether more than 250,000 miles on horseback.  He would be seen traveling on horseback, reading his Greek New Testament, and preparing messages.  He said, “He destroyed his sermons every seven years, and wrote new ones”.  He felt that he was a failure if he could not write better sermons as he went along!  They say that the miles he traveled, could have circled the world 10 times!  He did so often in the face of hostile crowds, on roads that were often only muddy ruts.  A contemporary described him as “the last word…in neatness and dress” and “his eye was the brightest and most piercing that can be conceived”.  Once a wild bull was turned loose on him and an audience he was addressing.  He was attacked, and sometimes robbed, but none of these things deterred him.  His ministry was greatly anointed by the Holy Spirit and the crowds responded in powerful conversions everywhere he went. His converts quickly numbered into the thousands!

     He was a powerful preacher and author.  He wrote, “Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils.  But if God be for you, who can be against you?  Are all of them together stronger than God?  Oh be not weary in well-doing!” Wesley was strongly Arminian in his theology.  He opposed strong Calvinism.  But in spite of that he did so with a sweet spirit.  He coined the phrase, “we can agree to disagree, agreeably!”  He wrote, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?  May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?  Without all doubt, we may.  here in all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences”.  Everywhere he went he reminded other Christians “You have one business on earth-to save souls!”  He gave himself to that ministry tirelessly!  His prayer was “may I never be useless for the work of God!”  He felt strongly about living the Christian life as well.  He wrote, “By salvation I mean not barely according to the vulgar notion deliverance from hell or going to heaven only, but a deliverance from sin, a restoration of the soul to its primitive health, its original purity, a recovery of the divine nature…after the image of God in righteousness and true holiness“.  He believed in giving generously to the Lord’s work.  He said, “When I earn any money, after taking care of my needs, I give it all away in His work lest it find a way into my heart, as an idol!”  “When a man becomes a Christian, he becomes industrious, trustworthy, and prosperous.  Now if that man when he gets all he can, and does not five all he can, I have no more hope for Judas Iscariot than for that man!”  He also said, “Cleanliness is next to godliness”, and wrote a Medical journal that became famous, and catalogued many popular and home remedies of his day.  He was known for saying, “Untold millions are still untold, until we tell them!”  “though I am always in haste, I am never in a hurry!”  He also said, “I set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn!”  (Charles Spurgeon followed his example!).  He was a humble servant of the Lord.  He and George Whitefield often disagreed on theology.  Wesley did not fully embrace eternal security.  George Whitefield did.  People asked Wesley if he thought he would see Whitefield in heaven?  He quickly responded, “No!”  They thought his response was unfair, until he explained-“George will be so close to the throne of God, and I so far away that it will be quite unlikely I will even be able to see him!”  Let me share two of my favorite quotes from Wesley.  One is about the Bible.  He wrote, “it could not be the invention of good men or angels; they neither would nor could make a book, and tell lies all the time they were writing it, saying ‘Thus says the Lord’ when it was their own invention.  It could not be the invention of bad men or devils; for they could not make a book which commands all duty, forbids all sin, and condemns their souls to hell to all eternity, without Christ!  Therefore, I draw this conclusion that the Bible must be of Divine Inspiration.  I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air.  I am a spirit come from God and returning to God.  Just hovering over the great gulf; til a few moments hence, I am no longer seen.  I drop into an unchangeable eternity!  I want to know one thing-the way to heaven.  How to land safe on that happy shore.  God has condescended to teach the way.  For this very end he came from heaven.  he hath written it down in a book.  Oh, give me that book!  At any price give me that book! Give me the Book of God!  I have it.  Here is knowledge enough for me!  Let me be Homo Unius Libri-a man of one book!”  The other quote I admire is the one he said, “Give me 100 men, who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, I care not a whit whether they be clergy or layperson, and I shall shake the very gates of hell!”.  That was his life’s goal.  He led the way for far more than 100 men and women!  He did so for nearly fifty years of incessant itinerary witnessing and ministry! 

     On June 28, 1790, one year before his death he wrote, “This day I enter into my eighty-eighth year.  For above eighty-six years, I found none of the infirmities of old age: my eyes did not wax dim, neither was my natural strength abated.  But last August, I found almost a sudden change.  My eyes were so dim that no glasses would help me.  My strength likewise now quite forsook me and probably will not return in this world!”  He died on March 2, 1791, at an age of 87.  As he lay dying, his friends and family gathered around him.  Wesley grasped their hands and said repeatedly, “Farewell, Farewell!  The best of all is, God is with us” he lifted his arms and raised his feeble voice again, repeating the words “The best of all is God is with us!”  His biographer writes, “He witnessed in the hearts and lives of many thousands and saw God’s provision for his work to last for future generations!”  If you visit his tomb, in London, England, you will be touched by his epitaph-“To the memory of the venerable John Wesley, late fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford-This great light arose to enlighten…and revive, enforce, and defend the pure apostolic doctrines and practices of the primitive Church, which he continued to do both with his writings and labors for more than half a century…Reader if thou art constrained to bless the instrument-give God the glory.  After languishing a few days, he finished his course and life together, gloriously triumphing over death, March 2nd, 1791 in his eighty-eighth year of his life.”  He was a brand plucked from the fire, who spent all the days of his life, in the world that was his Gospel parish, plucking others from the fire with all of his strength-and good method to follow! No pun intended!

“The Road To…Going…Going…Gone!”

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Jan 232022
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE“The Road To…Going…Going…Gone!”

     A wife came home from Church.  The husband, in his easy chair reading the paper, asked what the preacher preached about today.  She begins setting lunch on the table, and replies “Sin”.  The husband inquired further, “what did he say about it?”  His wife replied quite matter-of-factly-“he’s agin’ it!”  Quite a brief answer for such a voluminous subject!  Today it would be a rare discussion of what did the preacher have to say about sin.  The subject rarely receives a mention in a sermon, let alone a full-blown discussion.  Back in the seventies Karl Meninger noticed the disappearance of sin from our society and wrote his famous book-Whatever Became of Sin?  I think that all of us would agree from our own personal experience that sin is alive and well and an ever-present reality, both in our world and even, to some degree in our own lives!  Matthew 24:7 warns us that in the last days “iniquity shall abound to overflowing…causing the love of many to grow cold”. Though he died in 2003, the greatest theologian that America has ever produced, Carl F.H. Henry, warned us off this very onslaught, way back in 1988.  He said, “We may now live in the half-generation, before all hell breaks loose, and if its fury is contained, we will be remembered, if we are remembered at all, as though who used our hands and hearts, and minds and bodies to plug the dikes against the impending doom!”  I think that since that time we have witnessed the dikes’ dissolution and the flooding of our world with unbridled sin and lawlessness.  We have grown so accustomed to the change that we can’t even remember when things were distinctly Christian and different!  Though we live in the midst of a world that Isaiah warned would call “evil good and good evil, put darkness for light and light for darkness, and exchange bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20), we cannot avoid the devastating consequences of sin. 

     William Barclay, in his commentary on Romans, wrote, “Sin begets sin.  The first time we do a wrong thing, we may do it with hesitation, and a tremor and a shudder.  The second time we do it is easier.  If we go on doing it, it becomes effortless; sin loses its terror.  To start on the path of sin is to go one to more and more” (Romans p.92).  John Henry Jowett wrote words many years ago that still sting with relevance today:  “Sin is a blasting presence, and every fine power shrinks and withers in its destructive heat.  Every spiritual delicacy succumbs to its malignant touch…Sin impairs sight, and works toward blindness.  Sin numbs the hearing and tends to make men deaf.  Sin perverts the taste, causing men to confound the sweet with the bitter, and the bitter with the sweet.  Sin hardens the touch, and eventually renders a man past feeling.  All of these are Scriptural analogies, and their common significance appears to be this-sin blocks and chokes the fine senses of the spirit: by sin we are desensitized, rendered imperceptive, and the range of our correspondence is diminished.  Sin creates callosity.  It hoofs the spirit, and so reduces the area of our exposure to its pain” Jay Adams, Christian Counselor, agrees.  In his book Competent to Counsel, he writes: “One lie has to be covered by a dozen more…The downward cycle of sin moves from a problem to a faulty sinful response, thereby causing an additional complicating problem which is met by…additional sinful responses…making sinful habits hard to break, but if not broken, they will bind you in an ever more tightly binding hold.  You will be held by these ropes…in a downward cycle…and at length you will become sin’s slave”.  He sounds a lot like Jesus in John 8, who said, “He who keeps on committing sin will become a slave to sin”.  To illustrate this truth, let me quote a story told by Charles Swindoll, in his book The Finishing Touch“A bazaar was held in a village in northern India.  Everyone brought his wares to sell or trade.  One old farmer brought in a whole covey of quail.  He had tied a string around each leg of each bird.  The other end of each string was tied to a large ring which loosely fit over a central stick.  He had taught the quail to walk dolefully in a circle around and around, like mules in a sugarcane mill.  Nobody seemed interested in buying the quail.  A devout Brahma came along.  He believed in the Hindu idea of respect for all life.  His heart of compassion went out to those poor little creatures walking in a monotonous circle, when they were created to fly.  I want to buy them all, he said.  The merchant was elated.  After giving him the money, the Brahma told him-now set them free.  The farmer said-what?  Set them all free at once!  The farmer snipped the strings off the legs of each bird.  The birds still continued to walk in a circle.  Even after they were shooed away, they landed a few feet away and resumed their predictable march!  Free…unfettered…released…they kept going in circles as if they were still tied to each other!”  So are the destructive and paralyzing consequences of sin on every one of us.  That is why the Scripture records over nine Hebrew words for sin in the Old Testament and over 13 Greek words for sin in the New Testament.  God, in his Word, paints an accurate picture of what sin is, and clearly shows us what sin will do if we do not avail ourselves to the one they call the Savior.  He is the only one who can “set us free” from sin.  He is the only true and faithful deliverer.  He is the only true answer to the sin question!  If we fail to trust Him, and the power of His cross, to transform us and set us free indeed the results will be eternally devastating!

     Let me illustrate the reality of this with a true story.  Though this story happened many years ago, it is repeated daily in our modern era as well.  “A man was admitted to the Bellevue Hospital in New York City.  He was a charity case-one among hundreds.  A drunken bum from the Bowery, with his throat slashed.  The Bowery…the last stop before the Morgue.  Synonym of filth, loneliness, cheap booze, drugs, and disease!  The derelict’s name was misspelled on the hospital’s form, but then what good is a name when the guy’s a bum!  The age was also incorrect.  It was listed at 39-thought he looked twice that age.  Someone might have said how sad for someone so young to be in such a condition.  No one did because no one cared!  The details of what happened in the predawn of that chilly winter morning in New York were fuzzy.  The nurses shrugged it off. They had seen thousands like him, and would likely see thousands more.  His health was gone.  He was starving.  He had been found in a heap, bleeding from a deep gash in his throat.  His forehead badly bruised and he was semi-conscious.  A doctor used black sewing thread to suture his wound.  He was taken back outside and dumped near the Bowery again.  There he languished and died.  Nobody really cared.  He was just another bum!  A friend came seeking for him at a later time.  He was directed to the morgue.  There among dozens of other nameless corpses, this man was identified.  They scraped together his belongings.  A ragged dirty coat.  38 cents from his pocket.  A scrap of paper from his other pocket.  All his earthly goods!  Enough money perhaps for one more night in the Bowery, at that time, and a paper with five words-‘Dear friends and gentle hearts’.  Almost like the words to a song, someone may have thought-and they would have been right!  Once upon a time this man, this victim from the Bowery, had written songs that literally made the whole world sing!  Songs like-Camptown Races; Oh Susanna; Beautiful Dreamer; Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair; Old Folks at Home; My Old Kentucky Home; and over two hundred more that have become deeply rooted in our rich American Heritage.  The victim of his own sin was Stephen Collins Foster!  An American Treasure thrown away to sin’s destruction”.  Makes me think of an old poem that preachers have quoted for years: 

     “And many a man with life out of tune,

     And battered and scarred with sin,

     Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd,

     Much like the old violin.

     A mess of pottage, a glass of wine;

     A game and he travels on.

     He’s going once, and going twice

    He’s going and he’s almost gone!”

     The sad truth of human experience is that the story is repeated ad infinitum ad naseum.  Only the names and faces have changed.  Tragedies of sin!  That is why they call Jesus Savior.  He alone has the power to rescue and save.  He alone is the Answer to the Sin Question.  Today’s message shows how He is the Answer for anyone who is willing to invite Him in to rescue from sin’s destruction. 

“POWER IN THE SON AND POWER IN THE SACRIFICE”

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Jan 162022
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “POWER IN THE SON AND POWER IN THE SACRIFICE”

     Last Sunday was a blessed Sunday…more than what was anticipated or expected.  The weather was projected to be dangerously cold, and hazardous with ice.  On top of that Bill had covid. His family was exposed and unable to come.  Regeneration had to be cancelled for both reasons.  I had my second covid shot and was extremely sick…again.  Craig was sick.  A cloud hung over the services with the gloomy expectation we would likely have to cancel it too.  Early Sunday morning, after seeing that it was a go with the weather, we began to plan to move forward with the service, all the while very pessimistic about the crowd, and about our own inability to perform up to our potential.  But upon arrival and commencement of the service there was a different feel to the worship service.  As it progressed it seemed as God was supplying our lack.  The songs were exceptionally enthusiastic.  Each one seemed geared to the message, although Craig and I had not communicated about the subject for the message.  The testimonies were exceptional.  When I got up to speak, I told the people I felt extremely weak, and it might be an abbreviated service.  WHAT DID I KNOW?  GOD SHOWED UP IN AN UNUSUAL WAY.  I ended up preaching for an hour.  There was not one complaint!  Several people as they shook my hand at the end of the service said, “Pastor…that was the BEST sermon you have ever preached!”  Go figure.  What made the difference?  I have spent the week meditating on that, and looking for the answer.

     Then I remembered something I heard a long time ago about what Charles Spurgeon attributed his blessed services at the Metropolitan Tabernacle to…He had a sign on the pulpit, in large print, to remind himself, and any other speaker the key to be blessed in the service.  It read…” SIRS WE MUST SEE JESUS” It was a reminder that God does not need our abilities…though He does often choose to use them.  Spurgeon often told anyone that asked about the reason for God blessing the services at his Church…” I ANNOUNCE MY TEXT, (WHEREVER IT COMES FROM SCRIPTURE), AND MAKE A BEE LINE FOR THE CROSS!”  That is precisely why last Sunday was so blessed.  JESUS WAS LIFTED UP.  He said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto myself!” (John 12:32).  Also, the message on Psalm 22, “THE FORGOTTEN I AM” was about the cross.  Paul said, “The preaching of the Cross if foolishness to those who are perishing, but is the POWER of God, to those being saved” (I Corinthians 1:18).  Those two things are the explanation for a Blessed Worship Service, when everything else was stacked against it!  God always shows up to honor His Son and His Sacrifice!  WE MUST NEVER FORGET THAT!  WHAT A BLESSED REMINDER FOR ALL OF US!  AMEN?  AMEN! (And as my Pastor Russell Pittman used to say, “And AWOMAN TOO!).  After a glorious service at Salem Baptist Church, I remember as a young preacher boy, he would say…” I am so excited and uplifted I could kick a tire off a car!”)  I felt that way too…but was able to restrain myself! LOL).

     THE CHRIST AND THE CROSS.  THE SON AND THE SACRIFICE.  God has promised to honor Him and His Cross.  He always has and He always will!  We can count on that.  We must never forget that!

That is why Spurgeon also said “Abide hard by the cross and search out the mystery of His wounds” in his devotional Morning and Evening.  John Stott reminds us “the cross is the blazing fire at which the flame of our love is kindled, but we have to stay near enough for the sparks to fall on us”. Hymn writer Jennie Hussey reminds us “lest I forget thy thorn-crowned brow…lead me to Calvary. Psalm 22 is an inspired Psalm, written 1000 years before Jesus’ death, that reads like an eye witness account.  Spurgeon was so taken by it. He called it “a photograph of our Lord’s saddest hours…if there be any Holy ground of Scripture it is this Psalm. We must pull off our shoes and worship there.” 

     The title of the message is THE FORGOTTEN I AM.   In 22:6 He cries “But I am a worm”.  The normal word for worm in Hebrew is Ramah…like those that devour in the grave. This word is TOLA. It means “scarlet thing”. This worm was crushed and used as base liquid for the most expensive purple dye in making royal garments. We think of Isaiah’s invitation from God…“Come let us reason together…though your sins be as crimson they shall be white as snow or white as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).  Jesus became sin for us that we might be dressed in “His Royal Righteousness”.  God will never take us beyond the cross…only deeper into it. Amen? A-woman too!  That is why the Cross is the only way to God. There is no other way!  Jesie Pounds Brown, the Hymn writer wrote those beautiful words….

THE WAY OF THE CROSS LEADS HOME

I must needs go home by the way of the cross

There’s no other way but this

I shall never get sight of the gates of light

If the way of the cross I miss

I must needs go on in the blood sprinkled way

The path that the Savior trod

If I ever climb to the height subline

Where the soul is at home with God.

“ABIDING HARD BY THE CROSS-SO SPARKS OF CALVARY CAN KINDLE OUR FIRE”.

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Jan 092022
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “ABIDING HARD BY THE CROSS-SO SPARKS OF CALVARY CAN KINDLE OUR FIRE”.

     Matthew 27:36 says “And sitting down they were watching Him there”. Mark 15:40 says, “The women were there looking from afar off and were looking on”.  He lists them, “Mary Magdalene, Mary of James the least, and Joseph’s mother, (John calls her of Clopas), and Salome”.  Luke says, in 23: 35 and 48-49 “And stood there the people beholding. “”And all the people that came together to that sight, beholding those things which were done, smote their breasts, and all his acquaintance, and the women that followed Him, stood afar off beholding these things”.  John, some sixty years later, writes under inspiration and memory of the Holy Spirit’s guiding, “Now there stood by the Cross of Jesus, his Mother Mary, her sister Mary Cleopas, (his Aunt Mary), and Mary Magdalene” (Three Mary’s at the cross). The Gospel narratives seems to emphasize the impact this execution had on the spectators that day.  Matthew puts the emphasis on the guards’ who were “watching” the crucifixion-pointing to the fact that it was their duty to guide and guard each action that occurred. They were in a reclining position. (The word watch is “tereo” meaning to “watch over and guard”.  But of course, such guarding involved actively observing every movement, word, and reaction of the other bystanders.  Mark points out, as the crucifixion neared the end, that the women there could take it no longer, and had moved away quite a distance, not able to bear it any longer. (“makrothen”-meaning a substantial distance yet still in sight of all occurring). Mark says, “They kept on watching from afar…and they were looking on”. The word looking is “thereo” from “theomai” meaning “to gaze, to partake of, to contemplate with analyzing” It is the root from which we get the word “theater”.  It means “to take in with comprehension and understanding”-“a theater is where people concentrate on the meaning of an action or a performance”.  Luke, likely writing the crucifixion from Mary’s eyewitness perspective, uses the same word-“thereo” but says that the crowds that had come together beheld, (thereo) the spectacle (Theorian).  The emphasis indicates a “happening that is hard to view and understand with comprehension of meaning”.  Viewing the spectacle of Calvary caused almost all of the spectators to beat their own breasts to dull the deep pain viewing this spectacle first hand, with their own eyes, had caused them to feel. Eyewitness viewing was that impactful.  We all must wonder what it would have been like to have been, as John writes of the women, sixty years later in his memory, that they were “standing by the cross of Jesus”.  Mel Gibson, in his Passion of the Christ, has done a theatrical spectacle quite realistic in order to transport us to their side.  That is why we find it so hard to watch-so overwhelming.  So crushing!  In our own way we leave the presentation “beating our breasts” like they did, though maybe not literally.  That kind of experience is critical for Christians-we must never forget that spectacle!

     Charles Spurgeon, in his daily devotional, called Morning and Evening, writes, “Abide hard by the cross and search out the mystery of His wounds”.  John R.W. Stott tells us why that is a valuable exercise for the believer.  He says, “The cross is the blazing fire at which the flame of our love is kindled, but we have to get near enough for its sparks to fall on us!”  That is why Jennie Evelyn Hussey wrote, in her hymn Lead Me To Calvary, sings “King of my life, I crown thee now; Thine shall the glory be; Lest I forget Thy Thorn-crowned brow; Lead me to Calvary.”  Refrain reminds us-“Lest I forget Gethsemane; Lest I forget Thine agony; lest I forget Thy love for me; Lead me to Calvary”

     Every year during this season it is a privilege, it is a mandate.  It is an imperative given by God for your Pastor to stand in this pulpit and summon you to come to Calvary.  To encourage you to “abide hard by the cross to search out that mystery!”  To encourage you to come close enough to “let the sparks from the fire fall on your cold heart, to kindle a new passion in your heart” as you relive His ultimate sacrifice for you and I. Many famous painters have taken the time and their talents to preserve and portray for us the spectacle with such vividness that it enables us to answer the question of the old Spiritual-Where you there when they crucified my Lord? with a clear affirmative-yes!  And as we revisit Golgotha annually it is my assignment to portray it in a worthy enough manner that your love for Him leads you to respond in kind.  Rembrandt van Rijm, the great Dutch Rennaisance painter painted several scenes of the Crucifixion during the mid 1600’s.  They tell us that he usually included himself in each, sometimes in a subtle way, and sometimes, as in the Raising of the Cross, in an explicit way, with him being the man with the Dutch painter’s beret, helping to raise the Cross of Christ!  His way of saying, we were all there, we were all involved, we all played a part in His necessity to dying that death!  As we visit there again, whether we come, like we did last Sunday, through the words of Israel King-Sweet Singer, and view the cross from the perspective of  the Forgotten I AM, and view the cross from the perspective of the Son of God being Abandoned by the Father,  Abhorred by the Fools, and Attacked by the Fiend, (Satan), written 1000 years before it occurred, or whether, like today we return to stand beside the cross of Jesus, seeing it portrayed by the Prophet of the Gospel of Love, Isaiah, as he paints the portrait of the Suffering Servant as He endures the Stripe of Sin to Redeem us. We must come to this Holy Ground, focus all of our heart, mind, soul, and person on what we see.  Let me again share the words of Spurgeon, which he wrote of Psalm 22, but find application for Isaiah 53 as well.  “For plaintive expressions uprising from unutterable depths of woe we may say of this Psalm, that there is none like it.  It is a photograph of our Lord’s saddest hours. The record of his dying thoughts and words, the lachrymatory of his last tears…the memorial of his expiring joys.  David and his afflictions may be here in a modified sense, but as the star is concealed by the light of the rising of the Sun, he who sees Jesus will probably neither see, nor care to see David.  We should read reverently, pulling off our shoes from off our feet, as Moses did at the burning bush, for IF THERE BE HOLY GROUND ANYWHERE IN SCRIPTURE…IT IS THIS PSALM!”  That is certainly true of Isaiah report of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh, the Suffering Messiah of Calvary, as he voluntarily yielded His soul as a Sacrifice to Satisfy the Stripe of Sin for a world of sinners!  You and I so included that if we were the only ones, he would have still paid the price in full!

     In this perspective I want to give you three real life examples of what “abiding hard at the Cross can do for your heart today.  The first comes from a famous Christian named  Nicholas Ludwig Zinsendorf.  On May 20, 1719 he, his brother Frederick, and a dear friend and tutor Herr Riederer entered the art gallery at Dusseldorf, Germany.  They had been on a tour of Europe’s galleries to take in all the masterpieces.  As he toured the gallery he was drawn to a particular painting-by Dominico Feti titled Ecce Homo (Behold the Man).  It showed Jesus being presented by Pilate for Crucifixion, with a crown of thorns on his head.  Underneath the artist had written the words “This I have done for you.  What have you done for me?” He immediately thought of how he loved to read the Bible.  How he loved to sing hymns.  How much he did love the Lord. But somehow these things seemed so insignificant now.  But his mind went back to Paedagogium in Halle.  He thought about the time he had sat at the table listening to all that Bartholomaus Ziegenbaig, the missionary from India, had to say.  Now there was a man who was doing something for Christ.  “I will do more” he vowed as he stood in front of the painting.  “My life will not be spent for myself”.  He finished the rest of the gallery but could not get that painting out of his mind.  It transformed his life.  He founded a denomination called the Moravians that emphasized a passion heart-felt love for Christians that yielded their resources to sacrificial missionary work all over the world.  Even the great John Wesley, upon spending a trip to America with them, credited them for showing him the way to true faith and salvation…“When feeling his heart strangely warmed”.  “Sparks from the fire of the cross will do that for believers who are close enough to Ziegenbalg have a new passion ignited in their heart for the Savior.” 

     Another famous person found that same visit to that Gallery, that painting, impact her life as well.  Francis Havergal while advancing her education in Dussseldorf, Germany saw the same painting.  She saw Christ standing between Pilate and a crowd demanding death.  Pilate says, “ecce homo” “behold the man”.  That scene-Jesus whipped mercilessly, wearing a crown of thorns, purple robe of mockery.  She copied the caption-“this I did for thee.  What hast thou done for me?’  Back home when she relived that emotional moment at the gallery, she wrote a poem of five stanzas each ending with a pointed challenge-“what have you done for me?”  Reading it again, she thought it a poor poem and threw it in the fireplace.  It did not burn. She retrieved them.  Showed them to her father.  He encouraged her to save them.  Years later they became her most famous hymn I Gave My Life For Thee.  “I gave, I gave my life for thee; My precious blood I shed; That thou might ransomed be; and raised up from the dead; I gave my life for thee; what hast thou given for me?’

     The third famous person who was impacted by “abiding hard at the cross” was Ernest Borgnine.  He recounts the story in the March 1989 Guidepost testimony.  While filming the movie Jesus of Nazareth, by Franco Zeffirelli, playing the role of the Centurion, back in 1976 with Anne Bancroft, and Olvia Hussey.  The film was shot in January and February in Tunisia on the Mediterranean. He tells his story like this: ” It was cold, windy, and miserable.  I was uncomfortable wearing the Roman soldier’s gear, especially the ponderous metal helmet.  It made me pity those ancient soldiers.  When it came to film my part at the cross, Robert Powell, who was playing Jesus, was given the day off.  Zefferelli put a chalk mark on the cross and told me to ‘stare at it as if you were looking at Jesus’. I said, ‘okay’.  I tried.  I could not do it, I requested, ‘somebody read me the words of Jesus as He hung on the cross’.  The director agreed to do that.  I knew the words from my youth, and from reading for the part.  I stared at the chalk mark and began to think like the centurion.  That poor man up there, I thought.  I met him.  He healed my servant.  He is the son of God.  An unfortunate claim during these perilous times.  But I know he is innocent of any crimes”. As Zefferelli read Jesus saying ‘father forgive them’ I felt so ashamed!  I thought if you forgive me too, I will retire from soldiering and live out my life on that farm land outside of Rome.  Then it happened!  I no longer saw the chalk mark.  I saw Jesus, on the cross! Not Robert Powell, the actor.  Jesus! Pain-seared. sweat-stained. blood flowing from the crown.  His face filled with compassion.  He looked down at me, through tragic sorrowful eyes, with an expression of love beyond description. He cried out ‘it is finished’.  ‘Into thy hands I commend my spirit’.  His head slumped to one side!  I knew he was dead.  A terrible grief welled up inside of me.  I became oblivious to the camera.  I started sobbing uncontrollably, Zefferilli yelled, ‘Cut’.  Olivia was crying.  Anne Bancroft was crying, I wiped my eyes and looked again.  Jesus was gone!  That encounter changed my life.  Made my faith real…  Was a profound conversion experience. I have not been the same person since!  As the centurion learned 2,000 years ago, you cannot encounter Jesus like that without being changed forever!”  May that be your encounter today as we visit Mt. Calvary located in this text of Isaiah 52/53.

     Two last quotes-  J.I. Packer wrote, “The traveler through the Bible landscape misses his way as soon as he loses sight of hill called Mt. Calvary”.  J. Knox Chambliss wrote, ” The Spirit does not take his pupils beyond the cross, BUT EVER MORE DEEPLY INTO IT!”  May that be your worship experience today.  “EVER MORE DEEPLY INTO HIS CROSS!” 

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

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Jan 022022
 

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

     I want to begin this perspective with some advice, as I often do, from one of my favorite authors-Frederick Buechner.  He writes, ” it is mainly for some clue to where I am going that I search through where I have been, some hint as to who I am becoming or failing to become that I delve into what used to be”.  He continues, “There’s a lot to love about a New Year.  Good food.  Celebrating with family and friends.  I love the unmarked calendar, the eager anticipation from 365 days of ‘who knows what may hold’.  I value the opportunity to both recollect the past year, doing an inventory of sorts, and to anticipate the New Year!”  How true!  The first day of 2022 is a great opportunity for us to remember and to anticipate. Remembering is a vital practice for a growing spiritual life.  Our sense of who we are is really a collection of memories of sort.  Press the erase button and we don’t really know who we are anymore.  Life and a healthy identity is unimaginable without a vivid memory.  Why not find a quiet place today and ask God to walk with you over the year?  Revisit the challenges and trials that have made you stronger.  Face honestly your bad choices and failures and falls.  Learn from them, asking guide to guide your steps around those incidents next year, and give you His strength for the battles you cannot avoid.  How have you grown and become more or less like Christ this past year?

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

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

“I tried to think of a clever new phrase-

A slogan to inspire the next 365 days,

A motto to live by this coming New Year,

But the catchy words fell flat to my ear.

And then I heard His still small voice

Saying, ‘consider this simple, daily choice:

With each new dawn and close of the day

Make new your resolve to trust and obey.

Don’t look back and be caught in regret

Or dwell on the sorrow of dreams unmet;

Don’t stare forward anchored by fear,

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

I am all you need. Everything I Am.

You are held secure by my strong hand.

Give me this one thing-your all in all;

Into my grace, let yourself fall’.

So, at last I’m ready, I see the way.

It’s to daily follow, trust and obey.

I enter the New Year armed with a plan,

To give Him everything.  All That I Am!”