Radical or Ludicrous Twaddle?

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Feb 272022
 

Pastor’s Perspective: Radical or Ludicrous Twaddle?

     John Henry Jowett said, “ministry that costs nothing, accomplishes nothing!”  That statement may be one of the most pertinent comments on the modern evangelical church today.  We have heard our Lord’s commission.  We have committed ourselves to carrying it out, in obedience to His command.  It seems that all we do accomplishes so little.  Why so little impact?  I was recently introduced to a book that made me very uncomfortable, but I must admit it is a God-intended uncomfortableness!  The book is “Radical” by a Southern Baptist Pastor named David Platt.  David graduated from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.  After Katrina, he started a Church in Birmingham, Alabama.  It has grown into a mega-church with over 4,000 attending.  But…it did not do so by being a “user-friendly” Church.  It did not copy what other mega churches were doing as the latest trend.  Actually the focus of their ministry was to accentuate the “radical” nature of Christ’s call to discipleship!  Platt testifies to an experience he had on a mission trip to visit underground Asian Churches.  He said, “They walked or biked for miles, each arriving at a non-descript house, separately, at different times, so as not to draw attention to themselves.  All the blinds on the windows were closed tight.  The room was dimly lit.  Twenty leaders from different churches sat in a circle on the floor with their Bibles open…They had gathered in secret.  News and problems were shared.  One woman church leader told of a confrontation with the government officials who threatened and intimidated her people; another told of a cult kidnapping and torturing of members from his church.  We need to pray.  Immediately they went to their knees, faces on the ground, they began calling out to God.  They praised and thanked God for his love, and prayed for their needs.  They audibly wept before God…when they arose from their prayers to depart, Platt said the only thing remaining, to his astonishment was PUDDLES OF TEARS WHERE THEY HAD PRAYED!”

     Wow!  How convicting is that?  These people live “radical” lives in Asian countries which declare following Jesus to be illegal!  They live with the knowledge that discovery is always a possibility and risk their lives and families for Jesus Christ and their faith.  Their passion is for their faith and love for Jesus Christ, and God.  Platt could not help but contrast what he witnessed on that mission trip with the American Church as we know it.  “We arrive in comfortable vehicles; we gather in air conditioned and heated buildings; we sit on padded or cushioned pews or chairs; we are greeted by choirs and bands; we worship in an orderly pre-planned fashion for ONE hour, and hardly ever stray from our normal routine.  Most church goers never exhibit any passion for being there.  Neither do they open their Bibles or take notes during teaching-sermon; they go home and resume their other lives from Monday through Saturday.  There is no risk, no danger, in attending American Churches-take it or leave it–and many are leaving.  There is nothing RADICAL about American Christianity!”  Platt’s Church tried something different.  He challenged his leaders to have Church services where they “stripped away all the cool, all the cushioned chairs, no power point screens, no decorations, turn off all air conditioning, removing all the comforts”.  They did just that.  They removed all the activities that smacked of entertainment.  They invited people to come and study God’s word for hours!  They kept the seats and the restrooms, but planned to study the Word from 6:00 P.M. to Midnight.  The result?  No one showed?  Actually over 1,000 did the first night!  They now have to take reservations due to “not enough seating capacity!”  I am not suggesting any of this, necessarily!  But he makes a very clear point-we need a wakeup call from our lukewarm American Christianity.  He says, “We have become homogenized and pasteurized, and we have lost the flavor of God, and the FAVOR OF GOD!” 

     The only thing radical about Christianity is the radical change from New Testament times, and I don’t mean radical change for the better!  Soren Kierkegaard, the great Theologian from Denmark, wrote about how weak and enemic Christianity was becoming, even in his day.  He wrote in his book Attack on Christendom,”The most dreadful sort of blasphemy is that of which Christendom is guilty: transforming the God of the Spirit…into lucicrous twaddle”.  He was a Lutheran Pastor writing four centuries after Luther.  Luther nailed 95 Theses on the Wittenberg door protesting the condition of the Church in his day.  Kierkegaard had only a single thesis in protest-He wrote, “Oh Luther, thou hadst 95 theses-terrible!  And yet in a deeper sense, the more theses, the less terrible.  This case if far more terrible: there is only one thesis.  The Christianity of the New Testament simply does not exist.  Here there is nothing to reform; what has to be done now is to throw light upon a criminal offense against Christianity, prolonged through the centuries, perpetrated by millions, whereby they have cunningly, under the guise of perfecting Christianity, sought to cheat God out of Christianity, and have succeeded in making Christianity the exact opposite of what it was in the New Testament.”  In more recent days, another prophetic voice has pointed out our great departure from the true Christianity intended by our Lord when He established His Church.  A. W. Tozer, in his book Of God and Men wrote, “Evangelicalism as we know it today…does produce some real Christians…But the spiritual climate which many modern Christians are born does not make for vigorous spiritual growth.  Indeed, the whole evangelical world is to a large extent unfavorable to healthy Christianity.  And I am not thinking of modernism either.  I mean rather the Bible-believing crowd that bears the name of orthodoxy.  We are making converts to an effete type of Christianity that bears little resemblance to the New Testament.  The average so called Bible Christian in our times is but a wretched parody of true sainthood!”

     One of the great Scottish preachers of yester-year was Thomas Chalmers.  In the early days of his ministry, Thomas Chalmers had entered the ministry as an occupation.  He had not even experienced genuine conversion to Jesus Christ.  He spent only a day or two in ministry preparation, and found himself loving and teaching mathematics during the rest of the week.  He even wrote a pamphlet justifying a life of divided interest and devotion.  But one day he had an encounter with the living Christ.  His whole perspective of Christ, his mission field, and the ministry changed.  He later explained to someone who asked him why he changed by saying, “I love mathematics.  It is all about calculations and numbers.  I still do.  But two calculations changed my life and ministry forever-how short our time is, and how long eternity will be!”  When you and I come to grips with that reality we too will change our perspective of witnessing and ministry. 

     Several years ago one of the wealthiest men in the world was a man named Cecil Rhodes.  He had gone to Africa to develop a cotton business for the British government.  He found that to be a dead end street.  But he did discover the diamond industry, and began to develop the De Beers Mining Company.  In a few years he became the wealthiest man in the world at the time! He is the one who started the Rhodes scholarships at Oxford University in England. He was good friends with William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army in England.  One day they were traveling on a train together. William Booth turned to his friend and said, “Tell me Rhodes, are you a happy man?”  Cecil Rhodes responded to his friend, “Me happy?  No! No!  I am not a happy man!”  Incredible.  As Jesus said, “A man can gain the whole world, yet lose his own soul!”  That is not only a “vanity of vanities” it is a “tragedy of tragedies”.  People all around us are searching for that “eternity” God has placed in their hearts.  God is counting on us to be “Radical” enough; concerned enough; prayed-up enough; endued with his power enough to impact them for Him.  That may never happen until when we get up from our prayer circle we leave behind “puddles of tears!”  Jesus did.  When we share His compassion…we might share in his commission!

“The little difference that makes a big difference”.

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Feb 202022
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE:  “The little difference that makes a big difference”. 

     Howard W. Ferrin, President of Providence Bible College, used to exhort his students often with the following words:  “There is little difference between men, but that little difference makes a big difference!”  He told them that to encourage them to pay the price; to put forth the effort; to sacrifice whatever is necessary to stand out; to make an unusual impact; to go the extra mile.  He knew that most want to be viewed that way, but most are willing, in the end to settle for mediocrity rather than magnificence!  William Law spoke to this issue as well in his classic A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life.  He told the story about a businessman, who was a Christian, but gave far more of his dedication to worldly ambition and his business, than to living the Devoted life to His Lord.  When he was diagnosed with a terminal disease and told that he only had a few months to live the businessman spoke with regret and candor about his wrong choice.  Law relates the story about how the businessman was faced with the hard fact that life was drawing to a close in this thirty-fifth year.  Shortly before his death, when the doctors had given him over, some of his neighbors came to visit him and expressed their sorrow that one so young was being cut off in the prime of life.  The businessman acknowledged their concern over his condition but spoke of his approaching demise with candor.  He observed that the new experience before him made everything else in life completely trivial.  It was just here that he made a startling confession.  He said, “What a strange thing it is that a little health, or the poor business of the shop, should keep us so unaware of the great things that are coming upon us so fast!  If I now had a thousand worlds, I would give them all for one year of such devotion and good works as I never so much intended…The thing that surprises me the most is this:  That I never intended to live up to the Gospel.  This never so much as entered my head or heart.  I never once considered whether I was living as the laws of religion direct or whether my way of life was such as would procure me the mercy of God at this hour.  What is the reason that I-who have so often talked of the necessity of rules, methods, diligence, and dedication in worldly business-have all this while never thought of any rules, methods, or managements to carry me on in a life of devotion?  Had I only my frailties and imperfections to lament at this time I should lie here humbly trusting in the mercies of God.  But alas!  How can I call a general disregard and thorough neglect of all religious improvement a frailty or imperfection when it was in my power to have been as exact and careful and diligent in a course of devotion as in the business or my trade?  I could have called in as many helps, have practiced the same kind of devotion, and been taught as many methods of holy living as of thriving in my shop, HAD I BUT SO INTENDED AND DESIRED IT.  BUT ALAS I DID NOT.  ACTUALLY, I NEVER INTENDED TO DO THAT!”

     Jesus did not want any of his disciples to experience that failure and face such regret.  He exhorted His disciples to be willing to do the difference that would make a big difference-make all the difference!  In Matthew 5:44-47 we hear Him say, “:Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you;  THAT YOU MAY BE CHILDREN OF YOUR FATHER WHICH IS IN HEAVEN: for He maketh the sun to rise on the good and the evil.  For if you love them that love you back, what reward have ye?  do not even the publicans do the same?  And if you salute your brethren only, WHAT DO YE MORE THAN OTHERS?  Do not even the publicans do the same?”   What do you more than others?  Where do you excel?  What evidence do you give of any supernatural presence and power in your life that comes from your Heavenly Father?  Where have you gone the extra mile?

     Several years ago, I came across a poem that spoke quite expressively to this very truth.  It is called “THE SECOND MILE” by Joseph E. Harvey

THE SECOND MILE

“Come here you dog, and bear my pack a mile”

So spoke a Roman to a Jew;

“The day is hot and I would rest awhile-

Such a heavy load was made for the likes of you”

The Jew obeyed, and, stopping in the path,

He took the burden, though his back was tired:

For who would dare arouse a Roman’s wrath,

Or scorn to do what the Roman law required?

They walked a mile in silence; at its end

They paused but there was not a soul in sight;

“I’ll walk another mile with you, my friend”,

Spoke up the Jew, “This burden now seems light”.

“Have you gone mad?” The angry Roman cried,

“To mock me, when you know that but one mile

Can I compel such service?  By his side

The Jew stood silent, but with kindly smile

“I used to hate to bear a Roman’s load,

Before I met the lowly Nazarene,

And walked with Him along the dusty road,

And saw Him make the leper clean.

I heard Him preach a sermon on the mount;

He taught that we should love our enemies;

He glorified the little things that count

So much in lessening life’s miseries.

The soldier tried to speak; as he began

His head was bowed, his eyes with tears were dim;

“For many years I’ve sought for such a man,

Pray tell me more, I, too, would follow Him”. 

When you and I, being transformed by our Lord’s presence and power in our lives, we go beyond what the natural man can do.  We go beyond what we can do in the flesh.  We give evidence of doing more than most.  That little difference becomes a big difference that invites others to join us in being transformed.  The Apostle John, known originally as a Son of Thunder, was transformed into the Apostle of Love.  He exhorts us to live in this world as Jesus lived.  Loving our enemies like Jesus did.  Loving one another as He loved us. 

HOW TO AVOID THE PATH THAT LEADS TO “DEADNESS INSIDE”.

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Feb 132022
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: HOW TO AVOID THE PATH THAT LEADS TO “DEADNESS INSIDE”.

         Chuck Colson, in his book Born Again, tells how he came to the conclusion that you can succeed, by all the standards of the world, even in pursuing all the right goals, and still end up empty and “totally dead inside”.  Months of struggling, of strategizing, of sacrifice had paid off in a landslide victory for Richard Nixon in 1972.  He won 49 states, and carried 61% of the vote-a record victory at that time.  President Nixon, H.R. Haldeman, and Chuck Colson were together in the Oval Office celebrating.  Haldeman was arrogant and sullen; Nixon was gulping scotch; and Colson was feeling let down and defeated for some reason.  In his own words he writes, “there was an unexplainable deadness inside of me!”  Three men at the power pinnacle of the world and not a single note of joy discernable in the room.  He explained, “If someone had peered in through some imaginary peephole in the ceiling of the President’s office, what a curious site it would have been: a victorious president grumbling over the words he needed to say to his fallen foe; his chief of staff angry, surly, and snarling; and the architect of his political strategy sitting in a numbed stupor”.  Colson explained his emptiness as best he could-“We worked hard for something, got it, and realized we didn’t really want it!  Being part of electing this president was the fondest ambition of my life; For three long years I committed everything, every ounce of energy to Richard Nixon-all I had now in return was a total emptiness and deadness inside of me!”

     How can you explain that?  C.S. Lewis said it best.  He said, “If you aim at heaven, you will get earth thrown in.  If you aim at earth-you will get neither!”  That is exactly what Colson had done.  He found it in the end to be hollow-empty-a chasing after the wind!  Peggy Noonan, a speech-writer for Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush explains how we have lost our perspective on living in our generation.  In an article in Forbes magazine she wrote, “I think we have lost the old knowledge that happiness is overrated.  We have lost somehow a sense of mystery about us-our purpose-our meaning-our role.  Our ancestors believed in two worlds and saw this one as the solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short one.  We are the first generation of man that actually expected to find happiness here on earth, and our search for it has caused us such unhappiness!  The reason?  If you do not believe in another higher world-if you believe in only this flat, material world around you-if you believe this is your one and only chance for happiness-if this is what you believe, you are not disappointed when the world does not give you good measure-YOU ARE DESPAIRING!”  That is what Colson had discovered!  You and I will too if we do not find something “bigger than ourselves to give our life’s energies to.”  That is why Dostevesky wrote, in his book The Grand Inquisitor, these haunting but true words-“without clear perceptions of his reason for living, man will never consent to live, and will rather destroy himself, than tarry on earth”.  How often have we seen that? 

     Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick, wrote about how important it was to take advantage of opportunities that come our way to make our lives count for more than just the temporary passing things of this world.  He wrote, “Not seldom in life, whenever on the right side, fortune’s favorites sail close by us, We though all adroop before, catch somewhat of the rushing breeze, and joyfully our bagging sails fill out!”.  That is what happened when Jesus Christ crossed paths with lives that were looking for fulfillment and meaning.  The power of His presence and Spirit filled their sagging sails and took them in a direction they never dreamed of going.  But they had to agree to raise their sails by making that first step to follow Him.  If we miss that by not following his call-we will find ourselves identifying with Chuck Colson-“overwhelmed by the total deadness inside”.  Eternity will then be a regret for us.  The great English poet of the 1900’s-William H. Auden wrote of this regret.  He wrote:

     “God my reduce you

      on judgment day

      to tears of shame

      by reciting by heart

      the poems you would have written

      had your life been good”

Hearing His call to follow him, putting your hand to the plow and never looking back is the only way to make your life good, and make it count for the most in eternity. That is the road less traveled, but most worthy of traveling.  Years ago, Barry McGuire, who wrote and made famous the song Eve of Destruction, came to embrace Christ as his Savior.  He surrendered his all and to this day is a faithful follower of Christ, and a relentless witness.  A reporter quizzed him about his conversion.  He asked, “is it true that you too have jumped on the Jesus bandwagon?”   McGuire replied, “Absolutely!  And it is the only bandwagon going anywhere!  Come on along!”  Great idea!  Come on along!

“Social Distancing-The End of the World As We Know It?”

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Feb 062022
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Social Distancing-The End of the World As We Know It?”

     Lorie Hill wrote a poem titled In Like A Lion, Out Like A Lamb.  It goes like this:

“March roars in like a lion

So fierce,

The wind so cold

It seems to pierce

The month rolls on

And Spring draws near

And March goes out

Like a Lamb so dear”.

     That was on our mind as we entered the month of March 2020.  How would the weather be? In like a Lamb? Out like a Lion?  We were also thinking about “bracketology” and March Madness.  The Cubs and Cardinals were on our mind…who would win the rivalry this year? Most of us did not see the storm brewing on the horizon, one that had been coming our way since the last month of 2019.  Hubei province, in Central China, the city of Wuhan, the Detroit City of China, was being invaded by the COVID-19 novel coronavirus.  We watch reluctantly with worried eyes as over 80,000 came down with this new virus, and over 3,000 died.  We watched as it spread to Iran, Italy, Spain, Europe, and now to nearly every State in our United States.  But like other world pandemics-SARS, MERS, Ebola, N1H1, never in the United States of America.  But we have watched this virus come in like a Lion, and it certainly doesn’t appear to go out like a Lamb.  Unbelievably it has in a couple of weeks, silenced all the March Madness; Major League Baseball; Basketball; Hockey; concerts; schools; libraries; It has brought back echoes of the old REM song from 1987-“It’s The End of the World As We Know It!”  America is wondering, in spite of all the voices assuring us all is well, is this a harbinger of the Apocalypse?  After all is not one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse the Pale Rider of Pestilence?  It brings to my mind the poem by T.S. Eliot, the Christian poet of last century, the poem Hollow Men.  He writes about living in the valley of the dying stars; the hollow valley…of our lost kingdoms; the last of the meeting places; the hope of only empty men; over whom the shadow falls.  Then he writes: 

This is the way the world ends…

This is the way the world ends…

This is the way the world ends…

Not with a bang-but a whimper”

     Are these words prophetically coming true as a last day affirmation of Biblical truth?  The crisis of recent days has certainly gotten the world’s attention.  The question we have to ask and answer is “does the Church of our generation have anything relevant to say to this terrified world?”  Two things are important for the Church.  First, we must consider our mindset.  How do we face these days we are experiencing?  What kind of demeanor do we reflect to a watching world?  Paul told young Timothy, that when we face the last days, he needed to remember that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and of a sound mind”. (II Timothy 1:7).  The word for fear, is not the normal word “phobias”-but the word “deilias”.  That word always has a negative meaning in Scripture.  It means “cowardice, timidity, fear of loss”. That kind of fear causes us to withdraw from the circumstances that frighten us.  Paul said we should have a mind-set of a “sound-mind”- The word is “sophron”- “a mind that is in control, and fits the situation”.  When the world panics in the face of a crisis, this Christian mind-set demonstrates a calmness that does not run away from the situation.  Someone has defined FEAR as “FALSE -EVIDENCE -APPEARING -REAL”; FAITH as “FRIGHTENED-ALARMED- I- TRUST- HIM”.  Jerry Shirley in his recent sermon entitled-AFTER SHOCK: GOING VIRAL says “Now is the time to have faith, not fear; to pray, not panic; to believe God, not blame Him; to be assured, not Angry”.  That is a good mind set for our day.  C.S. Lewis spoke to this mind set.  He was asked how Christians should face the shadow of the atomic age after WWII.  In 1948 he wrote “In one way we think too much about the atomic bomb.  How are we to live in an atomic age?  I am tempted to reply-as you would have lived in the 16th century when the plague visited London almost every year…or as you live in an age of cancer…in other words do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation.  Believe me Sir or Madam, you and all you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented…we live with the high probability that a percentage of us are going to die in unpleasant ways.  It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering with long faces because scientists have added one more chance of painful death to a world that already bristled with such chances.  The first action was to pull ourselves together.  If the bomb comes it will find us doing sensible things like praying, working, teaching, reading, playing, or chatting with our friends, not huddled together like frightened sheep thinking about bombs!  They may break our bodies, (a virus can do that too) but they need not dominate our minds”.  We need to have a spirit of courage not cowardice; faith not fear; prayer not panic; trust not terror.  That kind of mind set will bring calm to a crisis.

     A second kind of approach the Church needs, in addition to a Mind set, is one of Ministry.  The prevalent watch word for the hour is “SOCIAL DISTANCING”.  We are being told-cancel sports; cancel concerts; cancel school; cancel work; Avoid contact at all costs.  Isolate yourselves.  Flee to your castle.  Pull up the drawbridge; batten down all the hatches! All the voices are encouraging the Church to close it doors for the time being!  What are we to do?  Christian history speaks to this issue.  We need to have ears to hear!  Between 250-280 A.D. a terrible plague devastated the Roman Empire.  At the height of the plague, named the Cyprian plague, because he chronicled it, 5,000 people died daily in the City of Rome.  Decius, the Emperor, blamed the Christians for the plague.  That claim was undermined by the facts that Christians died of the plague too just like everybody else.  But unlike everybody else, the Christians did not run from the plague, they stayed and cared for the victims, including their pagan neighbors.  Christians had also done that a century earlier in the Antoinine plagues as well.  Historian Rodney Stark, in his book The Rise of Christianity, says “Christians stayed in afflicted cities, when pagan leaders and physicians fled.  They cared for the victims and buried the dead”.  Candida Moss, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity adds, “an epidemic that seemed like the end of the world actually promoted the spread of Christianity”.  By their loving action they showed the pagan world that Christianity is worth dying for.  Dionisius, a first hand witness from that era, wrote “Heedless of danger they took charge of the sick, attending to every need and ministering to them in the Name of Christ, and even departed life with them, serenely happy in spite of being infected with the disease, and accepting their pains”. Ancient Church historian Eusebius wrote: “During the plague, all day long some of the Christians tended to the dying and to their burial. Countless numbers had no one to care for them.  Christians ministered to them, even bringing bread to those withered from famine.  The deeds of these Christians were on everyone’s lips, and they glorified the God of the Christians”.  Julian the Apostate, the last pagan Emperor recognized the ministry of Christians to the victims of the plague.  He wrote to one of the pagan priests that served under his supervision-“When it came about that the poor were neglected and overlooked by our priests, the followers of the impious Galilean devoted themselves to this kind of philanthropy.  They supported not only their own poor and sick, but ours as well.  All people see that we have neglected our people.  It is their benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead, that have done the most to increase their atheism”, (a pagan term for the Christian faith).

     These are difficult days.  We must not be reckless in our approach.  But we must not run from the situation either.  We must have a mind set of faith not fear!  Then the world will see that we have a God who can be trusted.  A Savior who is worth believing in.  We have a faith that sustains us even in the face of illness, epidemic, and death.  We must find careful ways to bridge the “social distancing” with “loving ministry” to the frightened, sick, and dying, in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  When others run away in fear, we can run to the need in faith!