GOD WITH SKIN
In one of her 19th-century poems, Emily Dickinson described the coming of Christ to earth in this manner: The Savior must have been/A docile Gentleman/To come so far so cold a Day/For little Fellowmen.
I am thankful indeed that Jesus came into the world for “little Fellowmen” such as me! And I am reminded that the true meaning of Christmas is the incarnation, the fundamental Christian belief that the second person of the Trinity became man and entered history in the person of Jesus Christ. Think about it: The Son of God became a human being, even a human embryo! In the language of John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
Jesus, who is “Very God of Very God” (in the words of the Nicene Creed), became like us. God clothed himself in humanity. “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,” the apostle Paul so eloquently stated in Colossians 2:9. In other words, Jesus is God with skin; from the Bible’s point of view, Jesus is undeniably God incarnate.
Many of the world’s religions emphasize humanity’s search for a remote and impersonal deity, but Christianity accentuates the God who came searching for us, and who became one of us! Jesus is fully God and fully man—two natures united in one person—who, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is worthy of our unreserved worship and praise.
May yours be a blessed Christmas, especially as you ponder the true meaning of the season: The “docile Gentleman” came from heaven to earth … more specifically, the Lord of glory became man in the Person of Jesus Christ.
November is typically associated with gratitude. As we approach Thanksgiving Day, I have paused to give thanks for my numerous blessings as a husband, father, and pastor.
I thank the Lord for a godly wife who has put up with me for more than twenty years! And I am truly thankful for two wonderful children who are still (even as challenging teenagers) the joy of my heart. And of course, I am so very thankful for the Trinity flock that I am blessed to shepherd.
As I write these words, a corps of volunteers is packing more than 1000 Operation Christmas Child boxes that will brighten the lives of needy children around the world. What a team effort, and what amazing commitment by Paula Wilson, Jacqueline Trammell, and their loyal group of helpers, young and old alike (thank you Wilson Trammell and Ray Scott!), who pack the OCC boxes every year.
Speaking of committed volunteers, I am also very thankful for those who serve each month in packing and distributing food boxes for area veterans. This month, some 140 boxes of food with turkeys will be served. David and Wanda Majors, along with many volunteers from Trinity and other churches, are doing a superb job with this important ministry.
Moreover, I am so grateful for the way Trinity’s members have jumped in to serve in various ways. How about Mr. Larry Coleman! Since he joined Trinity less than a year ago, Larry has been active in Heroes Pantry, choir, Sunday school, making coffee every Sunday, and serving wherever he is needed. Way to go, Larry!
And then there are our committed Sunday school teachers (We thank God for you, Bobbie Wright, Dr. Reep, Voncille Norris, Larry, and Ms. Ruthie), and our wonderful choir. And how thankful I am for a group of elders who are united in our commitment to be servant/leaders of the Trinity flock. What a wonderful spirit of unity characterizes our Session!
There are so many inspiring saints at Trinity, that I hesitate to list any more names, lest I omit someone. But I am truly grateful for each and every person in our congregation.
Yes, this is a season to be thankful.
And most of all, I give thanks with you for God’s inexpressible gift, Our Blessed Lord Jesus. Christ is the reason we exist as Trinity Church, and He is the reason we joyfully serve.
Thank you, Lord, for dying on the cross and rising from the dead for sinners. And thank you, Lord, for the opportunity to serve in Your Name.
“Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness (Colossians 2:7).
Nearly 500 years ago, on October 31, 1517, a young German monk named Martin Luther nailed 95 theses (theological propositions) to the castle door in Wittenberg. That date is usually cited as the starting point of the Reformation era in Western Christendom.
Luther wanted to spark a debate with other theologians about purgatory, the authority of popes, the power of indulgences, and other matters of church policy.
Luther’s boldness did indeed spark a debate. And the spark became a Reformation flame, the effects of which are still felt today.
Some twelve years after Luther nailed his Theses to the church door, the word “Protestant” became a popular term to describe those who supported his protests.
The 500th anniversary of the Reformation is a fitting time for reflection.
For me, the Reformation means many things, reminding me of: the authority of Scripture, the sovereignty of God, the pervasiveness of sin, the efficacy of grace, the priesthood of all Christian believers, and much more.
The “much more” part reminds me that I stand in need of re-formation. It can be easy to focus on other people who need to change. But it seems to me that the children of the Reformation—beginning with me—stand in need of personal reformation and transformation.
As we celebrate an event that Luther helped spark 500 years ago, may the prayer of another man of God from long ago be ours as well: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).
Because of God’s re-forming grace,
TIMELY GOOD NEWS
Amid so much bad news lately comes a story from the Orlando Sentinel about a nun named Sister Margaret Ann. She works at a Catholic school in Miami and has been busy around town cleaning up debris from Hurricane Irma.
Dressed in her nun’s clothing and work gloves, Sister Margaret Ann pitched in with a chainsaw to help cut down trees blocking neighborhood streets. Way to go, sister!
The bad news has been overwhelming of late. How good it is to encounter stories such as the one about the chainsaw-wielding nun from Florida.
Hurricanes, wildfires and all manner of tragedies remind us that we live in a world that is in “bondage to decay” (Romans 8:21). Thankfully, we can still find much beauty and shining examples of caring people on this sin-benighted sphere we call home.
Good news abounds. Sometimes we just have to look for it. Of course, the best news of all is this: God entered our sin-fallen, sin-cursed world in the Person of Jesus Christ to deal with the bad news of our sin problem. In the words of the Apostle Paul, “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
There is no shortage of bad news. But good news can be found. Let us not overlook the chainsaw-wielding nuns and the countless other kind and caring people who bring smiles to our faces and joy to our hearts. Oh, and let’s not forget the best news of all. Come to church this Sunday and learn more about it!
THE COSMIC CHRIST
The universe is amazing! For instance:
*When you gaze at the night sky, you are looking back in time. The light from stars takes a long, long time to get here, thus we are actually seeing stars as they existed eons ago! In fact, by the time you see their light, some stars no longer exist. NASA’s Hubble Telescope can look as far back as 13 billion years ago.
*About 275 million new stars are born every day.
*A human body, or any object on the Earth, is never at rest. Even when you are asleep in bed, you’re moving fast. That is because our Milky Way Galaxy is rotating and racing through the cosmos.
But more amazing than those facts about the universe is the awesome Lord of heaven and earth Himself! Colossians 16 says, “… all things were created by him [Jesus] and for him.” Jesus Christ is God incarnate. He is Lord of earth and Lord of Mars, Lord of seas and Lord of stars.
We are moving into a new school year and a new season in the life of Trinity Church. Let us make it our aim to know the Lord of heaven and earth, the cosmic Christ!
OAKS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
I have long been an admirer of trees in general, and oak trees in particular. One very fine specimen is the magnificent white oak tree between our church parking lot and playground. I have been told that it may be more than 200 years old. Its bulbous base has a circumference of more than twenty feet.
There are many varieties of oak trees, but one fascinates me more than all others. With its gnarled, spreading arms and distinctive character, the Texas live oak (Quercus fusiformis) is my favorite species of tree. It is tough, long-lived, and ranges from southwestern Oklahoma into Texas and Mexico. “Big Tree” is a magnificent specimen near the Texas Gulf Coast (see the picture above). It is well over a thousand years old, has a circumference of more than 35 feet, and is one of the largest live oaks in Texas and in the nation.
I once visited another gargantuan tree called the Rio Frio Landmark Oak. Its limbs branch out more than 100 feet. Firmly rooted in the tiny town of Rio Frio, Texas, the tree—like its Gulf Coast cousin—has been around for more than a thousand years.
I like the fact that Sacred Scripture refers to oak trees. The Bible says that the patriarch Abraham left Bethel to settle near the oaks of Mamre in Hebron (Genesis 13:18). Many years later, Jacob got rid of his family’s foreign gods by burying them beneath an oak tree at Shechem (Genesis 35:4). Also in Genesis, we read about an oak tree named Allon Bakuth, which is Hebrew for “oak of weeping.”
Rebellious Absalom, one of David’s sons, was riding a mule when his head got caught in the branches of a large oak (2 Samuel 18:9). He then met his end at the hand of Joab, who plunged three javelins into Absalom’s heart while he was still hanging from the tree.
On a happier note, the Bible refers to God’s people as “oaks of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:3). The Lord graciously cares for souls who have been uprooted. He plants them anew, nourishing and strengthening them in the process. Righteous oaks can withstand the constant buffeting by the damaging winds of a sin-fallen world. It is notable that the root word for oak in Hebrew means “strong.”
The strong oak tree is a fitting symbol for God’s people. “So then, just as you received Christ, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Colossians 2:6-7).
THE LORD IS RISEN!
Do you remember hearing about a person supposedly named Nosmo King?
The story goes that many years ago, after giving birth to a son, the mother wrote his name on the birth certificate as Nosmo King.
Somebody asked the mother where she got a name like that. As it turned out, the mother was illiterate, so she just copied down the “No Smoking” sign in the room and gave her son the name Nosmo King.
What an odd story. Can you imagine being named after a “No Smoking” sign?
What does Nosmo King have to do with Easter?
If Christ did not rise from the dead, then we are all just a bunch of Nosmo Kings, insignificant people with the foolish name of “Christian.”
But we know otherwise! Christ did indeed rise from the dead. Two thousand years ago, an earthquake shook the ground, a stone was rolled back from a Middle Eastern tomb, and the Lord Jesus Christ rose victoriously from the dead.
Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose from the grave to bring ultimate meaning into lives that seem insignificant, and to forgive and change us forever.
May God bless you during this Easter season. And may we proclaim the message of resurrection hope to the Nosmo Kings of this world.
The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!
On a recent Wednesday evening, before Bible study, I was standing outside with Dr. Tom Wilson looking at the stars. He knows the stars well and was able to identify the various pulsating lights above. I was impressed by his knowledge.
As I gazed heavenward, it occurred to me that I don’t spend enough time looking up. I am often too busy looking downward, fixating—with an almost religious obsession—on my cell phone, narcissistic social media, and other worldly distractions.
How important it is to be reminded to look up! The Bible, of course, is not silent about the upward look. In Isaiah 40:26 we read:
“Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens. Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.”
We are told about Stephen, the first Christian martyr: “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55).
Jesus spoke of signs that would precede his coming and said: “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). The Old King James version says, “Look up … for your redemption draweth nigh.”
Christians are to be an upward-looking people, fixing our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). That can be a real challenge in a world of so many distractions, high-tech and otherwise.. Determination is the key.
I plan to spend more time looking at the stars … even as I determine to gaze more intently at the Maker of the stars.
My iPhone can wait.
UZ WAS, GOD IS!
As I write these words, the presidential election results are still coming in. Whomever wins (and by the time you read this, some of you will be rejoicing, while others will be lamenting), I take great comfort in knowing that God is the sovereign ruler of all people and things, including politicians!
In Isaiah 6, we find an ancient passage of Scripture that speaks to our situation today.
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
The first thing to note from Isaiah’s account is his reference to King Uzziah. Also known as Azariah, Uzziah became king of Judah at the age of sixteen and ruled for fifty-two years. His reign was characterized by prosperity and power. Consequently, there was anxiety in the land when Uzziah died.
We do not know whether Isaiah saw his heavenly vision before or after the death of Uzziah. But the prophet was clearly intent on putting the spotlight on God, the true king of his people. Observe that Isaiah referred to the death of Uzziah and the greatness of God in the same breath. The reference to Uzziah’s death stands as a marked contrast to the living God. King “Uz” was, and God is!
Earthly leaders rise and fall, come and go. But the Lord is not going anywhere! Times of trouble also come and go, as do the storms of life. But the Lord is on his throne, ruling and reigning. We would do well to embrace that truth. God is alive and is sovereign over his creation, regardless of who the earthly leader is or what the circumstances of life may be. I can’t help but wonder if that is why Isaiah mentioned King Uzziah. The prophet’s focus was clearly on the living and exalted King.
We are also told that Isaiah saw the Lord on his throne. What does it mean that the prophet saw the Lord? After all, the Bible says that no one can look upon God and live. Moses asked of God, “Now show me your glory.” God told Moses that he would cause his goodness to pass in front of Moses, but Moses could not see God’s face, “for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).
If we were to go outside on a sunny day and look at the sun long enough, we would go blind. If we were to look at God right now, in all his divine essence, we would lose more than our eyesight; we would lose our very lives! A glimpse of God’s magnificent glory would be too much for any of us to bear this side of heaven.
But what about Isaiah, did he see God? He did, indeed. Isaiah saw “Jesus’ glory,” as John declares in his gospel (John 12:41). God obviously wanted Isaiah to record what he saw, and so Isaiah was permitted to look upon God, specifically Jesus Christ in his preincarnate state. And Isaiah was never again the same.
What else did Isaiah see? He saw six-winged seraphs. The Hebrew word “seraph” means burning or dazzling. Angels look nothing like the chubby little cherubs often portrayed on greeting cards; rather, they are awesome spiritual beings. Seraphs are bright, dazzling angels who no doubt burn in their zeal for God. Their dazzling nature may also be the result of being in God’s presence.
Whatever the specific meaning of the seraph’s wings, notice what the angels said to one another: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The seraphs spoke of God’s holiness. Their focus was on the Lord.
In this time of immoral and unethical politicians who spout their pious platitudes and empty promises, how good it is to know that the Holy One rules and reigns.
Be encouraged, people of God. While earthly leaders rise and fall and ultimately go the way of all flesh, the living God is enthroned forever. May the living God, the Triune God, be the object of our focus and the source of our joy.
King Uz was; GOD IS!
Praise the Lord!
THE TRINITY FLYER
I have recently been thinking about the Trinity Church in terms of an aircraft. The particular plane I have in mind is the Trinity Flyer. She is an attractive aircraft, but if you look closely you will see a few rusty spots and dings along her fuselage. A good and dependable flyer, she has not yet reached her supersonic potential.
In the cockpit of the Trinity Flyer can be found the pastor and elders. They are responsible for operating the controls of the plane and keeping it on course. They do a good job of flying, but they have a lot of help, for the Trinity Flyer has a crew with specific duties. Passengers are expected to participate, not spectate. Most of the passengers are active, although a few can be found dozing in their seats.
The plane carries a precious cargo of people and their story—actually two stories. One is their own, and is all about their formation in 1961. Since that time, the flyer has had numerous captains. During the course of her flying career the plane has had some of her passengers bail out—most used parachutes—when the flight got rough.
And there have been a few turbulent flights. On one occasion the Trinity Flyer encountered very strong and turbulent headwinds—a denominational storm that cause the flight crew to make a course correction. But for most of her history, the flights have been calm.
The most precious part of the plane’s cargo is the story she has been commissioned to carry. It is the story of God’s love, and passengers and crew regularly speak about and display this wonderful love. In fact, the plane’s in-flight movies over the years have all had one theme in common: they have been centered on what God has done for humanity through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Indeed, a large cross can be seen on the tail of the Trinity Flyer.
The Trinity Flyer’s route takes her over the terrain of Texas and Arkansas. When she lands, as she frequently does, her crew can be found ministering to the needs of others, for this is a mission-minded team.
The flight crew recognizes that many challenges face the Trinity Flyer. They also recognize that she is not yet flying at full potential. One of the exigencies is to fill the cabin seats with more passengers. But the crew is willing to do what they can to help her achieve optimal performance.
Despite challenges and weather conditions that are changing more rapidly than ever, the crew and passengers of the Trinity Flyer are optimistic. The aircraft has many more years of service in her future. In fact, the turbofan engines are revving up at this moment, as the Trinity Flyer prepares to embark on yet another flight.
From the flight deck,
TWO WEEPING WOMEN
Two of the most unusually named Texas locales must surely be “Woman Hollering Creek” and a small community called “Weeping Mary.” The origins of the names are open to speculation; both may have to do with weeping women.
One version of the hollering woman name is that it is a loose translation of the Spanish La Llorona, meaning “the weeping woman,” which in turn is based on a Mexican legend of a woman who drowned her children. There are several versions of the legend, but most have to do with the restless spirit of a dead woman who weeps at night for her children who were drowned or killed and thrown into a river.
Other versions of the creek’s unusual name connect it to a pioneer woman who went to fetch water or to wash clothes and was attacked by Indians—she then “hollered” for help. Whatever version one prefers, it all seems quite eerie.
The other site named for a lamenting woman is the community of Weeping Mary. It has a population of about forty residents and is located in Cherokee County in East Texas, a stone’s throw from another unique setting: The Caddo Mounds State Historic Site.
Weeping Mary was probably settled after the Civil War by freed slaves from neighboring plantations. It is supposedly named for Mary Magdalene’s weeping at the tomb of Jesus.
I once visited Weeping Mary on a whim. Rain was falling as I pulled off the main highway and followed the road behind the mounds of the ancient Caddoan people. Driving through a boggy lowland I was soon greeted by a large trash fire burning in someone’s back yard. I traveled through the backwoods community of hovels and was startled to come upon trees full of dozens of roosting vultures. It was like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Whether it was an ominous sign, I do not know. But I turned my vehicle around and headed back into “town” to take some pictures of the Weeping Mary Baptist Church.
The whole experience of fire, rain, boggy woods, and vultures was quite surreal. I would like to revisit Weeping Mary again, preferably on a sunny day, to get a different perspective.
Whether a woman lamenting her drowned children, or Mary pouring her heart out in tears at the tomb of Jesus, the totality of weeping women throughout history must surely rival the number of stars above.
The Bible refers to many weeping women. They include women weeping for an ancient Babylonian deity named Tammuz, and Mary weeping over the death of her brother, Lazarus. A passage in the writings of the prophet Jeremiah speaks of Rachel weeping for her children. The gospel writer Matthew associates that passage with King Herod of Judea who, in his jealous obsession to kill Jesus, killed all boys two years old and under in the vicinity of Bethlehem.
In the coming Kingdom, there will be no more weeping women. In fact, there will be no more weeping by anyone, for we are told in Revelation 21:3-4:
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
What a contrast to this present vale of tears, with place names such as “Woman Hollering Creek” and “Weeping Mary.” It is a great comfort knowing that sorrow will not have the last word for God’s people. April showers will give way to May flowers … and “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy” (Psalm 126:5).
OF DOGWOODS AND CHRIST
The dogwood is a beautiful spring-blooming tree, and the flowering variety is in full glory here in the Texarkana area. But did you know that the dogwood tree is viewed by many Christians as a symbol for the crucifixion of Christ? One legend says that a dogwood was used to make the cross of our Lord’s crucifixion, and as a result the tree now grows as a living memory of that event.
The crucifixion is said to be symbolized as follows:
*The cross—represented by the four petals of the dogwood which form a cross. *The nails—the petals often have marks on the outer edge said to be nail marks. *The crown of thorns—the center of the flower can sometimes resemble a crown. *The blood—the red dogwood berries are said to represent the blood of Christ.
There is nothing in the Bible about Christ being crucified on a dogwood tree; the tree does not even grow in Israel.
But God has placed so many reminders on earth that can inspire us to glorify God for His creative power and redeeming grace. And dogwoods can do just that!
It has been rightfully said that all of creation is an outstretched finger pointing to the glory of God.
I love the beautiful flowering dogwood trees that are so abundant in this part of the world. They do indeed serve as a fitting reminder of the crucifixion of our Lord.
As Spring bursts forth in all of its colorful beauty, I am also reminded that the crucified Christ is risen from the dead!
I join with you in thanking God for His amazing creation, to include the beautiful dogwoods. And I lift my heart and voice with you in giving God thanks and praise for the death and resurrection of His glorious Son, our Savior.
Thanks be to God for beautiful dogwoods. And thanks be to God for His redeeming love in Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Lord.
The month of January is named after Janus, the Roman “god” of beginnings. Janus was portrayed as a man with two faces, one looking backward and the other looking forward.
As we look back over the past year at Trinity, we have much for which to be thankful, including: A wonderful cantata; Christmas caroling; new members; 1003 children’s boxes prepared for Operation Christmas child; a thriving and growing ministry to veterans; a new Sunday school class for people with special needs; circle meetings; outreach to the needy in our area; spiritual growth; and much more.
But 2015 is gone and it is now time to look ahead! I am convinced that the apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 3 are instructive for the new year. Paul said he wanted to “know Christ.” The apostle already knew Christ for some thirty years when he said that, but even as a mature Christian he wanted to know the Lord better.
We can learn from Paul and press on, seeking to know Christ in the year ahead. He can be known better and better!
How about this for a truly meaningful New Year’s resolution at Trinity: May we live as a forward-looking people, seeking to know Christ and to make Him known in 2016.
I am committed to making that aim for my own life, and for the flock that I shepherd.
May 2016 be a happy and holy year for Trinity Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
Blessings to you in Jesus!
THE GREATEST EVENT IN HISTORY
I was recently looking at some lists of the greatest events in history. Most of them included: the invention of the printing press; the industrial revolution; the discovery of penicillin; the Renaissance and Reformation; World Wars I and II; and Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. None of the lists, however, included the 1969 “Game of the Century” between Texas and Arkansas!
There are many great events in history. But the greatest by far is Almighty God becoming incarnate in the Person of Jesus Christ.
John 1:14 proclaims that “The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
Wrap your mind around that for a moment. The very heart of Christmas is the incarnation. Before Jesus died, rose from the grave and ascended to heaven, He first had to enter into our humanity. He clothed Himself in flesh and blood.
God tabernacled among us, in the words of John’s Gospel, which is another way of saying that God camped out among us.
I can think of no greater event than that. To the skeptical and unbelieving mind such thinking is utter foolishness. But to those who have embraced the truth, the incarnation is a life-changing reality. The birth in Bethlehem all those centuries ago was about God becoming man in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Why did God do such an astounding thing? Scripture says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). Out of His great love for us, the incarnate God tabernacled among us, living the only perfect life ever lived, fulfilling the Old Testament Law and taking it to the cross where He died for our sins. Then He rose gloriously from the dead, so that all who believe in Him would be forgiven of their sins and have eternal life.
Moreover, the Lord dwelt among us that He might dwell inside of us. When a person becomes a Christian, Jesus Christ–through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit–comes to dwell within His people. He made His home in the Middle East 2000 years ago that He might come and make His home in us!
I pray that yours is a very merry Christmas. And as Christmas Day arrives, may we look beyond the tree, gifts and holiday glitter to reflect on the greatest event in history: God became man.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail, the incarnate deity,
Pleased as Man with Man to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel!
Hark! the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King.
Yours in the Incarnate Word,
COME, YE THANKFUL PEOPLE
Although every month is Thanksgiving season for Christians, November is the time of year we especially associate with the attitude of gratitude.
Accordingly, here are some inspiring quotations that remind us of the importance of being a Thanksliving people:
“In all things give thanks.”—1 Thessalonians 5:18
“Pride slays thanksgiving, but a humble mind is the soil out of which thanks naturally grow. “—Henry Ward Beecher, American preacher and reformer
“Oh give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples.”—1 Chronicles 16:8
“Keep both eyes open to your mercies.”—Robert Louis Stevenson, author
“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.”—Colossians 3:15
“Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience, Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the daytime, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”—William Bradford, Plymouth Colony Governor
“Enter His gates with thanksgiving, And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him; bless His name.”—Psalm 100:4
EARLY IN THE MORNING
Not long ago I watched a fascinating documentary about Cistercian monks who pray seven times daily together, beginning at 3:00 in the morning. Like many monastic orders, the Cistercians follow the rule of St. Benedict, a sixth-century Christian who is considered the founder of Western monasticism.
I have been thinking a lot about those monks–and many other Christians like them–who rise early every morning to pray while most people are still asleep. Their model for early morning prayer is Jesus Himself.
About Jesus we are told: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35).
We find numerous biblical references to early morning. For example:
*Moses chiseled out the second tablets of the Lord and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning to meet with the Lord;
*Joshua got up early in the morning and marched around Jericho seven times with trumpets blaring, and the walls came down;
*The psalmist David spoke of seeking God early in the morning;
*Jesus rose from the grave early on Sunday morning;
*Jesus frequently spent time in prayer with His Father early in the morning.
Could it be that what happens in morning prayer sets the tone for the day ahead? And could it be that victories later in the day are often won early in the morning?
Mark tells us that after His time of early morning prayer, Jesus went forth to preach and drive out demons. The order is very important: His being with the Father led to doing the works of the Father.
Let us never forget that Jesus was a man of prayer. In fact, Luke 5:16 tells us that Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and He prayed.
We know that Jesus accomplished so much in life and ministry because He is the Son of God and had the life and power of God flowing in and through Him. But an essential part of His life and ministry was His prayer time.
Christians are, of course, to pray without ceasing, as Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5. But there is no substitute for concentrated alone time with the Lord, in the manner of Jesus.
I suspect that if we can be kept from personal prayer and devotional times as Christians, we will not be effective as we could be.
John Bunyan, a very wise Christian from an earlier time, wrote: “Prayer will make a man cease from sin, or sin will entice a man to cease from prayer.”
Mark tells us that Jesus got up very early in the morning, even after a full day of ministry. The day before, He taught in the synagogue at Capernaum. He also healed many sick people. There were numerous demands on his time, yet Jesus still got up early and went out to a solitary place. The word Mark uses in his gospel for “solitary” is the Greek word eremon, meaning “uninhabited,” “remote.” It is the word from which we get “hermit.”
The early Christians took this idea very seriously. In the third century there was a major monastic movement called the desert fathers. These Egyptian Christians took their cue from St. Anthony, who left the world and spent forty years of his life in a cave in Egypt. He lived to be 105!
By the time of his death, thousands of Christians had been drawn to the desert to follow his example of solitude with the Lord. The desert fathers had a major influence on Christianity, and many of the early monasteries still exist.
The desert fathers profoundly influenced Christians such as St. Benedict of Nursia, a sixth-century monk whose important book on monastic life still instructs Christians today.
I wonder if we might learn from the early Christians in our busy social media world of iPhone, iPad, cable TV and various other distractions. Might the Lord be calling us to come away and spend time with Him? It may not be a literal desert, but our solitary place can be early morning prayer time with Him before the busyness of the day crowds in.
It is often in the desert experiences of life where we grow the most and hear from the Lord. In those times of trial, and in those alone times with God early in the morning in our desert prayer closet, something life changing happens.
Jesus determined to spend alone time with His Father in a solitary place.
What surprises and revelation from the Lord … what renewed closeness with Him … and what more effective service await us, if we—following the example of Jesus—get up early in the morning and find our solitary place to meet with God?
There are many metaphors for the church in the Bible. For example, the church is variously described as bride, body, flock, family, house, and so forth.
I often think of the church in terms of a schoolhouse, especially as students and staff begin a new school year.
The Bible is not silent when it comes to the “schooling” of God’s people. The Book of Proverbs says much about the importance of acquiring wisdom and understanding. The early Christians “devoted themselves” to apostolic teaching” (Acts 2:42). Peter instructed Christians to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18), and Paul instructed Timothy to “study” (2 Timothy 2:15, KJV).
Trinity offers numerous opportunities to study and grow in the Word. In addition to Lord’s Day worship services, Sunday School classes are great places for in-depth Bible learning. There are plenty of seats in Trinity’s Sunday School classes; why not commit to be a diligent disciple in one of our adult classes, taught by Bobbie Wright and Pastor Scott.
There are also monthly ladies’ circles and a Thursday morning veterans’ Bible study. On Wednesday nights at 6:30, Trinity offers a study of the Westminster Shorter Catechism with Scripture proofs, taught by your pastor.
I am hopeful that the new school year will find more hungry sheep availing themselves of the opportunities for Christian growth at Trinity.
Your pastor was sent to you by Jesus to feed and nurture the flock. Stay hungry, beloved lambs, and know that there is good food being set before you in the Trinity pasture.
Come and partake, and let’s make it a great year of growing in grace and knowledge in God’s schoolhouse!
Your teacher and fellow student of the Word,
BEAT THE HEAT
With temperatures in the 100s lately, it definitely feels like summer. But things could always be hotter. Much hotter.
Two weeks ago, in the Iranian city of Bandar Mahshahr (on the Persian Gulf), the air was a searing 165 degrees, factoring in the humidity. To achieve the astronomical heat index level of 165, Bandar Mahshahr’s actual air temperature registered 115 degrees, with an astonishing dew point temperature of 90.
Can you imagine a heat index of 165 degrees?! Compared to such extreme hot weather, our summer temps must seem like a cool front.
The Bible is not silent about summer heat. We are told in Genesis 8:22: “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” For the Israelites, the scorching desert was a place of special revelation. “I will lead her into the desert,” the Lord said about His people, “and speak tenderly to her” (Hosea 2:14).
Jesus referenced summer heat in his parable of the workers in the vineyard. And of course He also spoke of the worst kind of heat—the fire of hell (Matthew 5:22).
As summer continues to sizzle, let us remember the One who endured the heat of God’s wrath against sin. Upon the cross, Christ Jesus took the punishment that we deserve. He is able to save us from hellish fire, the worst heat of all.
Beat the heat by repenting from all sin and turning to Christ in faith. Determine to live for the Lord and obey His Word. For in Christ we will find times of true refreshing and relief from the heat, both here and in the hereafter.
While travelling throughout the southern United States, I have noticed a plant that has overtaken vast swaths of landscape. The plant is called kudzu, from the Japanese name kuzu.
Introduced to the United States in the 19th century, kudzu was widely marketed in the Southeast as an ornamental vine to shade homes, and later as ground cover to prevent soil erosion. It does both things well. Unfortunately, kudzu also smothers plants and deprives them of light. The kudzu invasion has caused tremendous ecological harm to native plant life in this country, and is estimated to be spreading at the rate of 150,000 acres annually. Under ideal conditions, it can grow sixty feet a year!
The spreading vine of kudzu suggests a comparison to entangling false doctrine. Unbiblical teachings—whether radical liberalism on one end of the theological spectrum, or legalistic conservatism on the other end—have a kudzu-like effect on unsuspecting people of faith, smothering and depriving them of light. Spiritual kudzu’s unimpeded growth is, to be sure, rooted in the rejection of biblical authority.
Historic Christianity affirms the Bible to be the Word of God; it is God’s Word about man given to man. Conversely, liberalism maintains that the Bible is man’s word about God. Whereas conservatism views God as the divine Author behind the human authors of Scripture, voices less congenial to orthodoxy maintain the Bible to be culturally-bound and fallible. Theological liberalism may on occasion offer nebulous theories of inspiration, but it stops far short of affirming Scripture as “God-breathed” (theopneustos) per Paul’s declaration in 2 Timothy 3:16.
Biblical orthodoxy has been supplanted in many quarters by a revisionism that rejects the inspiration and authority of Scripture. How easy it then becomes to disavow the historicity of Adam and Eve, the incarnation, the virgin birth of Christ, His substitutionary atonement on the cross, and His bodily resurrection, as many revisionists do. In this regard, H. Richard Niebuhr’s definition of liberal theology was not far off the mark: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”
It is common to find more liberal-minded churchgoers evaluating Sacred Scripture and historic Christianity in light of current views on environmentalism, racism, sexism and other culturally faddish “isms” of the day. Biblical authority has been abandoned in many Protestant circles, replaced by subjective feelings and cultural trends. The resulting kudzu effect has been devastating.
In the 1960s, mainline churches (i.e., denominational bodies made up of Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Congregationalists, and others) accounted for about 40 percent of all American Protestants. Today the number is closer to 12 percent, and shrinking fast. That this dying on the vine is due largely to the proliferation of unsound teaching and cultural accommodation cannot be gainsaid.
The crowning folly of theological liberalism occurred in 1993 at the “Re-imagining” conference in Minneapolis. Supported by the Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodist Church, and several other mainline denominations, the conference promoted a radical feminist agenda that included prayers to the goddess Sophia and an apparent substitution of a milk and honey ritual for the Lord’s Supper. One conference speaker declared that Mary and Martha in the Bible were not actual sisters but lesbian lovers, while another speaker led participants in a prayer to “earth maker Mauna, our creator.” A “womanist” theology professor said, “I don’t think we need a theory of the atonement at all…. I don’t think we need folks hanging on crosses and blood dripping and weird stuff.”
To many observers, mainline Protestantism is a cultural dinosaur on the verge of extinction, largely the result of the unchecked spread of cancer-like kudzu.
Prior to his conversion to Roman Catholicism, G.K. Chesterton, the prolific English writer, grew exasperated by the “kudzu” of his day: theological liberalism in the Church of England. Chesterton lived at a time when spiritual kudzu was encroaching into church life, even as the kudzu plant was introduced, and eventually began to spread, in the United States. The preface to his The Everlasting Man (Hendrickson publishers), contains this perceptive description of Chesterton’s England:
“Anything perceived as traditional or classical was set aside in favor of progress, that is, whatever was new and modern. Traditional beliefs and institutions—religious, social, artistic, scientific, philosophical—were rejected in favor of personal experience, perceptions, thought, and belief. Good was no longer measured through external absolutes, but rather in what was new and modern and progressive. Whatever was new was deemed good and beautiful simply because it was new.”
That must surely sound familiar, for it is descriptive of our time, as church and culture—indeed, Western civilization—have been invaded by the entangling, spreading vine. Traditional views of marriage and gender are out; new, more “progressive” ideas are in. The culture of death flourishes with the widespread practice of abortion. The Protestant teaching of sola scriptura has given way to sola cultura as much of American church life has accommodated itself to the spirit of the age.
The prevailing worldview in much of church and culture is an ethos of no objective truth; everyone should be free to do what is right in their own eyes. All truth is relative, so that two plus two no longer equals four; it equals five or six or seventeen or even nothing at all. Everything has been turned on its head. Good is called evil and evil is called good, while the Sacred Book of Christianity is largely dismissed as a mere collection of fairy tales. Adherence to traditional Christian beliefs can subject one to scorn and cries of “intolerance” by poor souls who have been overtaken and entwined by spiritual kudzu.
Unsound teaching is not the express domain of liberalism, of course. The so-called prosperity “gospel” has captured the hearts and minds of many conservative Christians. This belief teaches that God wants to prosper His people; comparatively little attention is paid to biblical texts that emphasize sacrificial living, self-denial, and the like. Consequently many Christians view God primarily as the dispenser of blessings; they live and pray accordingly, seeking God for financial and material increase. Spiritual kudzu is no respecter of persons, especially when the sovereignty of self attempts to usurp the sovereignty of God and the authority of His Word.
“For the time will come,” the apostle Paul said, “when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3). In the midst of such spiritual entanglement, people of the Book must stand firm, holding fast to truth and abiding in the True Vine, Jesus Christ.
Spiritual kudzu will someday be eliminated, never again to return. But until that day, followers of Christ must take up the sword of the Spirit and cut away the kudzu in our own hearts, eliminating false doctrine and unbecoming behavior that would smother us and deprive us of Light. And we must be ever vigilant against the threat of kudzu’s constant encroachment, keeping in mind the scriptural exhortation to “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).
Yours in the True Vine of Jesus Christ,
A CHEERFUL HEART
Each day seems to bring more discouraging news about our unravelling American culture. In the midst of it all, I am reminded that “A cheerful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22). The following actual bulletin bloopers (not from Trinity!) may indeed be good medicine. Enjoy!
- Bertha Belch, a missionary from Africa, will be speaking tonight at Calvary Methodist. Come hear Bertha Belch all the way from Africa.
- Next Sunday Mrs. Vinson will be soloist for the morning service. The pastor will then speak on “It’s a Terrible Experience.”
- Mildred remains in the hospital and needs blood donors for more transfusions. She is also having trouble sleeping and requests tapes of Pastor Nelson’s sermons.
- During the absence of our pastor, we enjoyed the rare privilege of hearing a good sermon when J.F. Stubbs supplied our pulpit.
- Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.
- The ushers will come forward and take our ties and offerings.
- The rosebud on the altar this morning is to announce the birth of David Alan Belzer, the sin of Reverend and Mrs. Julius Belzer.
- The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the church basement on Friday at 7 p.m. The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.
- Don’t let worry kill you off – let the church help.
- Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person(s) you want remembered.
- Let us join David and Linda in the celebration of their wedding and bring their happiness to a conclusion.
- Helpers are needed! Please sign up on the information sheep.
- The outreach committee has enlisted 25 visitors to make calls on people who are not afflicted with any church.
- Low Self-Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 to 8:30p.m. Please use the back door.
- The audience is asked to remain seated until the end of the recession.
- Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community.
- The choir invites any member of the congregation who enjoys sinning to join the choir.
- The third verse of Blessed Assurance will be sung without musical accomplishment.
- Hymn: “I Love Thee My Ford.”
- Miss Charlene Mason sang “I will not pass this way again” giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.
- Women’s Luncheon: Each member bring a sandwich. Polly Phillips will give the medication.
- Announcement in the church bulletin for a National PRAYER & FASTING conference: “The cost for attending the Fasting and Prayer conference includes meals.”
- The church will host an evening of fine dining, superb entertainment, and gracious hostility.
- Ushers will eat latecomers.
- Weight Watchers will meet at 7 p.m. Please use large double door at the side entrance.
Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). May the joy of the Lord be our strength in these troubled times.
Yours in the good cheer of Christ,
As Pentecost Sunday draws near, I am reminded of a humorous story I once heard about a young Christian.
The man had been spiritually renewed during a Christian conference and soon after visited a rather staid and somber church. The reinvigorated young man could hardly contain his exuberance. At one point during the church service he joyfully exclaimed, “Hallelujah!”
Almost immediately, a sour-faced usher approached the man and said, “Sir, we don’t act that way in this church.” The young Christian replied, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend anyone. It’s just that I’ve got the Holy Spirit.” The usher glared at the man and growled, “Well, you didn’t get it here.”
That humorous story illustrates a misunderstanding that many people have about the Holy Spirit. We often associate the Spirit of God with certain kinds of Christians, especially our Pentecostal friends. But the truth is, Presbyterians could also benefit from more spiritual exuberance, empowerment and renewal!
During this season of the Christian year, it is good to be reminded that the Holy Spirit dwells within all Christians. He sanctifies us, producing spiritual fruit (Galatians 5). But there is something more. The Spirit also comes upon God’s people to empower us to proclaim Christ and carry out the Lord’s work (Acts 1:8).
The Holy Spirit is God, and not merely an impersonal cosmic force or celestial vapor. He is the third Person of the Trinity. In the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Spirit of God is “of the same substance” as the Father and the Son. And together with the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is “to be believed in, loved, obeyed and worshiped throughout all ages.”
As Pentecost Sunday approaches, let us sincerely ask God to touch us anew. In the words of Jesus in Luke 11:13: “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
There is something more for God’s people, regardless of our denomination. So let us determine to seek God for fresh fire … a personal and corporate Pentecost. May our heartfelt prayer be, “Come, Holy Spirit!”
No one likes to wait, right? Whether waiting in a grocery store line, waiting for a light to change while stuck in traffic, waiting in a doctor’s office, or whatever it may be—waiting is often frustrating.
The Bible has quite a bit to say about waiting. After His resurrection, Jesus told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4). The psalmist spoke of waiting for the Lord while hoping in God’s Word (Ps. 130:5). That is something an impatient person like me needs to hear.
It seems to me that what God does in us while we wait can be as important as what we are waiting for! In this season between Resurrection Sunday and Pentecost, many of you may find yourself in an in-between time of your life. Remember the last time you called a business and were put on hold for a long time? Perhaps it feels as if God has put you “on hold.”
Here is something to ponder while we wait for the Lord: Waiting reminds us that God is in control. His ways and timing are always perfect (Ps. 18:30). Waiting can also make us stronger Christians. The King James Version says in Isaiah 40:31: “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.”
I have long been fascinated by bamboo, and by one tree in particular: the Chinese bamboo tree. Once a seed is planted, a single shoot will emerge, but it grows less than an inch for five years. But at the end of five years the Chinese bamboo will grow as much as ninety feet in only ninety days!
During the first five years, the fibrous roots are spreading deep and wide in the earth, preparing to support the incredible heights the tree will eventually reach.
In our times of waiting, God is at work in ways that we cannot always see. That is where faith and patient trust come in.
Long ago, the early Christians obeyed the Lord and waited in Jerusalem. They were watchful and prayerful, and they were stronger for it. In God’s perfect timing, after the wait, the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost.
I don’t know what will happen while we wait, watch and pray. But I do know this: if it’s from God, it will be very good. It will be well worth the wait!
Yours in Christ,
THE CROSS OF CHRIST: HEAVEN’S PERSPECTIVE
In his famous 1951 painting of the crucifixion (titled Christ of Saint John of the Cross), Salvador Dali presents a unique portrayal of the death of Our Lord. Most paintings of the crucifixion are frontal views. But Dali’s is from above–almost as if we are viewing the crucifixion from heaven’s perspective.
While journeying through Lent toward Resurrection Sunday, it is good to remind ourselves of “heaven’s perspective” regarding the cross of Christ.
It was God’s great, great love for undeserving sinners that sent Christ from heaven to earth to die a sacrificial death for us. “For God so loved the world,” Scripture declares, “that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Love came down from heaven in the Person of Jesus Christ!
As we continue to ponder the cross on which Our Savior suffered, bled and died for us, we do well to consider God’s point of view. In the words of the apostle Paul: “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4-5).
May each of us determine to draw closer to the cross during our Lenten journey, especially as we consider heaven’s loving perspective on our wondrous redemption!
Yours in Christ,
THE WARMTH OF THE SON
I woke up the other day to a thermometer that displayed 14 degrees. Brrr! Is it just me, or has this winter been colder than those of the recent past?
To remind myself that the sun and heat have not disappeared, I recently added the city of Honolulu to my phone’s weather app. As I write these words, it is 77 degrees and sunny in Honolulu. Sigh!
The Bible is not silent when it comes to warmth. For instance, Ecclesiastes 4:11 asks the rhetorical question, “But how can one keep warm alone?” Isaiah 44:16 says of man, “He also warms himself and says, ‘Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.’”
The older I get, the more I appreciate the warmth of a fire and a warm coat. And I very much like the warmth of the sun. I read in one of my son’s books that the core of the sun can reach 27 million degrees Fahrenheit—a bit too warm for me.
I am reminded of a famous Christian who has been associated with warmth. He was the great Methodist Christian, John Wesley. When he was converted to Christ, he spoke of his heart as feeling strangely warmed. What a wonderful metaphor for the grace of God!
The weather outside may be frightful, but the weather inside our hearts can be delightful as we allow them to be warmed by God’s grace. The grace of God has been known to thaw the iciest of hearts!
Cold weather may be with us for a while longer, but there is warmth to be found. There is nothing quite like the fire of the Spirit and the warmth of the Son. Has your spiritual life turned a bit cold? Why not allow the Son to warm you, from the inside out!
Your fellow heat seeker,
THE HEART OF CHRISTMAS
For many of us, Christmas is one of the highlights—perhaps the highlight—of the year. It is a time to spend with loved ones in warm homes, enjoying good food and exchanging gifts. Most of us will spend Christmas this way.
But if this is all Christmas means to us, then we have missed the true meaning of the season.
What is Christmas all about? The true meaning of the season is this: God became man. What an astounding truth! Two thousand years ago the Lord entered human history, becoming incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ.
Why did God do such a thing? First Timothy 1:15 provides the answer: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
A few years ago I found a Christmas card that put it well: “If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator. If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist. If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist. But since our greatest need was forgiveness, God sent us a Savior.”
Let us see the season for what it is really all about: God became man in the person of Jesus Christ. He lived a sinless life and then died upon a cross and rose from the dead … so that all who trust in Him could be forgiven and experience abundant and eternal life.
The Christmas tree, lights, tinsel, and holiday trappings all have their place, of course. But God becoming man is the true meaning of the season. The heart of Christmas is the incarnation.
May God bless you, each and every one. And may you have a very merry CHRISTmas!
HOW SHOULD WE THEN LIVE?
From time to time I proclaim from the pulpit that we are living in “dangerously exciting times.” The troubling realities that confront us are numerous, here at home and abroad. They include:
*The breakdown of the traditional family
*The decline of Western Civilization
*The threat of militant Islam
*Strife in the Middle East
*Famine and drought
*The subversion of Biblical truth
*The Ebola virus outbreak
As troubling as these signs of the times are, they should not surprise Christians who are in tune with the Word of God. After all, Bible passages such as Matthew 24, 2 Timothy 2-3, and the book of Revelation are very clear that this fallen world will go from bad to worse before the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the midst of these dangerously exciting times, how should we then live? As Bobbie Wright reminded us in her recent sermon, we should “Be ready.” That is absolutely right, for Jesus says, “Be on guard! Be alert!” (Mark 13:33).
As we live in a state of readiness, let us live as salt and light Christians, reaching out with love and compassion as Jesus has shown us.
In this world there will be trouble; the Lord told us so. “But take heart!” He says, “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). And in Christ, we can live as overcomers … even in dangerously exciting times such as these.
Nearly twenty five years ago, on June 18, 1989, I was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in Albany, Texas. As that anniversary date draws near, I have been reflecting on some life and ministry lessons I have learned. Here is a list of ten things learned during my 25 years as a pastor.
- A renewed sense of the sovereignty of God. The older I get, the more I am convinced that God is in control of a world that so often seems to be spinning out of control. Jesus’ assertion that not even a sparrow falls from the sky apart from the will of God (Matt. 10:29) still causes me to say, “Wow!” So do verses such as Psalm 115:3, Acts 17:26, and Ephesians 1:11. I have come to see more clearly that the Triune God is at work in the smallest details of life. The song I learned as a youngster is true: “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” I am finding great comfort in the One who is sovereign over every aspect of my life, including sickness and health. He really is working all things for His glory and our good. We have His promise on that in Romans 8, right?!
- It is impossible to please everyone. For some people a minister can do little wrong, and for others a minister can do little right. It has taken me a long time to become comfortable in my own skin and to learn that I can’t please everyone. Trying to please all the people all the time can lead to spiritual schizophrenia! Jesus was both loved and despised. He comforted the troubled and troubled the comfortable. There will always be someone who is upset with their pastor; sometimes it is deserved, but often it is not. Such is the nature of leadership, and such is the nature of ministry.
- The importance of an ecumenical spirit. Christians from diverse backgrounds have all contributed to my spiritual formation. I am Presbyterian by choice, and believe that our Reformed understanding of the sovereignty of God in salvation is spot on. But I also affirm the Pentecostal emphasis on life in the Spirit; I say “Amen” to Baptist evangelistic zeal; and I find edifying the profound sense of the holiness of God in some Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic settings. Labels are no longer as important to me as they once were.
- We are all products of our past. Each of us has baggage, both good and bad, that we carry into adulthood. We are who we are today largely because of how we were raised and as a result of what impacted us as children. I am thankful for a stable family upbringing where boundaries were clearly defined. But even after 25 years of ministry, there is still some baggage in my life that needs to be unpacked and discarded. I believe in the triumph of God’s grace, and like you I continue to be a work in progress!
- There are at least two sides to every story. In the words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that!”
- There is something of the Pharisee spirit in all of us, no matter where we fall on the liberal/conservative scale. I remember a minister once saying how important it was to read 1 Corinthians 13 every day. Love is a powerful antidote to”Phariseeitis!” The saying I learned years ago still holds true: “People don’t care how much you know; they want to know how much you care.” I am still learning, in the words of Corrie Ten Boom, that the measure of a person’s life is not its duration, but its donation. Love and forgiveness are of mega importance in the Kingdom of God.
- The importance of gratitude. There will always be something (or someone!) to complain about and criticize. The challenge for me is to be decidedly grateful. On that note, how grateful I am for my family: my wife, Sarah, who has put up with me for 20 years; and my precious children, Matthew and Gracie, who have taught me more than they will ever know!
- We are living in dangerously exciting times. I am deeply concerned about the direction our American culture is headed. We are throwing off moral restraints and are calling evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20-21). Not only our country, but much of the church in America is in danger. We have been seduced by culture to the point that there is not much difference between the lifestyles of Christians and non-Christians anymore. What was once considered sinful is now openly blessed, while God’s moral laws are ignored and even ridiculed by an increasingly hostile and militant secularism. But even as I say that, I remember that God is still on His throne and that all things are being used to somehow fulfill His overarching sovereign plan. There is a better world coming. Evil will be conquered by the King of kings and Lord of lords who will set all things right!
- The centrality of Christ. Christ is most assuredly my Lord and Savior, and there are so many facets of His person and work that I want to know more deeply. I have ebbed and flowed in my Christian journey, and have had my share of highs and lows. But through it all, the Lord has remained my faithful Center. He is the very Heart of the Bible and the center of God’s revelation in history and in redemption. May He always be at the very center of my life and our life together as CHRISTians.
- The Christian life is a journey. The challenge is to keep on growing! To keep on pressing on!
I don’t know if I have 25 more years of ministry left in me. Indeed, I have no idea what the future holds for me personally and pastorally, but I know who holds my future! I thank God for those things He has taught me during the last 25 years, and I look forward, with you my brothers and sisters in the faith, to the journey of grace ahead.
Your fellow sojourner in Christ,
HE LIVES, WE LIVE!
A wise Christian from an earlier age said, “We are more sure to arise out of our graves than out of our beds.” That is quite a statement. And it’s true!
None of us has any assurance that we will get out of bed tomorrow. But the Bible does assure God’s people of resurrection life! Because Christ rose from the dead, His sons and daughters shall also rise with Him to live forever. Jesus is the firstfruits of His resurrection progeny.
The benefits of the resurrection are numerous for every believer in Christ. I like the words of The Heidelberg Catechism. Question 45 asks: ”What benefits do we receive from the resurrection of Christ?” The answer:
“First, by his resurrection he has overcome death that he might make us share in the righteousness which he has obtained for us through his death. Second, we too are now raised by his power to a new life. Third, the resurrection of Christ is a sure pledge to us of our blessed resurrection.”
Absolutely, right on, and amen! Our Lord’s death and resurrection have accomplished so very much for us.
Aches and pains are part of life. So too are hurt and discouragement, suffering and death. But be encouraged: Jesus is risen! And we are His resurrection people!
“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20).
He lives, we live!
Yours in the crucified and risen Lord,
SUPER BOWL? NOT! SUPER SAVIOR? YES!
This year’s Super Bowl was anything but super. Instead, it was a one-sided fiasco that was painful to watch. If you happened to be cheering for the Broncos, that is! Super “Dud” seems a more appropriate description of the game which was eclipsed by the halftime show and some pretty darn good commercials.
Reflecting on the game, I was reminded that many things in life do not live up to their billing. Life is full of people and circumstances that disappoint. But I can think of one Person who always lives up to His billing. And that is Jesus!
As the children led us in reciting the Nicene Creed during Sunday’s worship service, I realized once again how great our Savior is. The Creed affirms what Scripture teaches: That Jesus is two natures in one Person. He really is “God from God, Light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one Being with the Father.”
But more than words of a creed, Jesus is a real Person—the God Man—who can be known and not merely known about. In Him there is life abundant and life eternal.
Football games and football players will let us down. Life will not always go our way. But we have a Super Savior who never lets His people down and never disappoints. And those who are on His winning “team,” the Church, have a playbook called the Bible that instructs and strengthens us.
We can only hope for a better Super Bowl next year. But in the meantime, why not get to know our Super Savior better!
Yours in Jesus,
THE WOW FACTOR
Did you know that the body of an average adult contains enough iron to make a small nail, enough sugar to fill a sugar bowl, enough phosphorus to make a dozen matches, and enough fat to fill a twelve-pound pail? Wow!
Moreover, the number of atoms in your body is approximately ten to the fourteenth power. That’s an incredibly huge number! And what’s more, there about the same number of cells (ten to the fourteenth power) in your body. Each human being is an incredibly complex mini-universe made up of a mind-boggling number of parts. Wow!
Psalm 139 says that God knits together the inner parts of a person. David the psalmist was surely right when he spoke of being “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
And consider the heavens above. Scientists tell us that the Milky Way galaxy in which we live is but a small part of the universe/multiverse that may contain more than a hundred billion other galaxies besides ours, with each galaxy containing billions of stars. Again, Wow!
Look down. Did you know that in one square meter of dirt there are more living organisms than the total number of people living on our planet? Once again, Wow!
When we consider the creative and redemptive power of God, we can surely say with the disciple of old: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being” (Revelation 4:11).
God created us. But there is more! In His great love for us, God sent His Son to redeem us from our sinful nature. Double Wow!
May our God-given days find us growing in knowledge of our magnificent Lord and His ways, even as our love for God increases.
Yours in wide-eyed, slack-jawed wonder,
OF CELL PHONES AND SUCH
I confess that when it comes to cell phones, I am conflicted. On the one hand, they are incredible pieces of technology. They are convenient and fun and great to have in an emergency. Smart phones have lots of great apps and can do some amazing things.
On the other hand I have noticed that cell phones are killing face-to-face interaction. Wherever you go, people have their cell phones out and appear more preoccupied with them than with people. It seems to be an obsession. The unspoken subtext of checking messages in front of other people is: “Somewhere else there is someone who I care about more than you, and I want to know what they have to say more than what you have to say to me at this moment.”
A recent study in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions found that female college students spend an average of 10 hours a day on their cell phones, while male students spend nearly eight. About 60 percent of study participants think they may be addicted to their cell phone.
As a Christian, I wonder how much of the time I spend on my cell phone squares with the apostle Paul’s exhortation to “make the most of every opportunity” (Ephesians 5:16).
On a related note, I heard an interesting statement the other day from a comedian. Commenting on the popularity of Facebook, Instagram, tweeting, texting and such, the man deftly pointed out: “Never have lives less lived been more chronicled.” Ouch!
It has been said that Rome burned while Nero fiddled. American culture and civility are dying before our eyes while we tweet, text, and fritter much of our lives away on our electronic devices and social media. I am just as guilty as anyone.
Maybe I am just getting old and cynical. But I remember a time when people actually looked at you while they were talking. Now the cell phone and other electronic gadgetry have trumped face-to-face interaction. I feel like a parental curmudgeon when I tell my kids they cannot have their own cell phones yet, even though most of their young friends do. I have seen what a whole generation of young people (and not-so-young people) has become, and I don’t like what I see. Ask me again when you’re thirty, kids!
I am curious whether anyone resonates with these pastoral ponderings. If so, let me know. In the meantime, I have some apps to download and some texts to send. Better yet, I have some time that needs to be redeemed.
Last week, Matthew and I rode the train with my parents to Chicago. What a trip it was! It reminded me that living the Christian life has some real similarities to train travel.
For instance, Matthew and I did not pay for our tickets; someone else did (loving parents). In the realm of salvation, Christians did not pay for–or work for–our salvation; someone else paid the price. The Lord purchased our tickets!
Even though train tickets were already provided for Matthew and me, we had to physically get on the train. In the same way, God loved us in eternity past, but at some point in real time Christians trust in Jesus and journey with Him to the end of line.
The train on which Matthew and I rode was filled with passengers: Young folks and old folks. Black folks and white folks. Loud folks and quiet folks. Nice folks and cantankerous folks. A real picture of life in the Kingdom of God. And of course life in the Church is not to be lived in isolation. Christians have been brought into the realm of grace and our fellowship is with the Lord and His people. We are travelling the journey of grace together!
The trip to Chicago was not always smooth. There were stops and starts, bumps and delays. I am reminded that life in the Kingdom is not always smooth. There are unforeseen events and life issues that try our patience and challenge us regularly.
But despite delays, the passenger train pressed on toward our destination of the earthly city of Chicago, just as Christians are journeying to the Heavenly City, our true home. Christians press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).
As I think about all this, an old Gospel song is going through my mind: “This train is bound for glory.”
There are, of course, many other comparisons that can be made between travelling by train and sojourning the Christian life. I wonder if you can think of any. I would love to hear your thoughts!
In the meantime, I remain,
Your fellow “glory train traveler,”
Over the years I have often encountered fine churchgoing people whose spiritual identity seems rooted in a denomination or local church.
Such things have their place, of course, but the center of the Christian faith is not a building or denomination or program. None of these things died for our sins. But Jesus did!
As Christians, our spiritual rootedness is in Christ; everything else in which we find spiritual identity should be secondary. I think of the apostle Paul: He was a Hebrew of Hebrews (in our parlance, “A Presbyterian of Presbyterians!”) and an exceedingly religious man. But he considered all of his religious credentials as nothing “compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things” (Phil. 3:8). Paul’s primary identity was not in his religion but in Jesus Christ.
I tell people that I am a Christian first … and somewhere after that I am a Presbyterian in the Reformed tradition. My identity is wrapped up in the Person who came into the world for me, and who died on a cross and rose from the grave for me.
Denominations will come and go. Buildings, programs, and fads will come and go. But Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
May we find our identity in Him!
Yours in Christ,
FERVOR AND FIRE
Two of church history’s most effective evangelists were George Whitefield and John Wesley. Whitefield was a Calvinist and Wesley was an Arminian; both proclaimed Christ with passion and power in the 18th century.
It is said about Whitefield that Benjamin Franklin often went to hear him preach because he could watch Whitefield burn before his very eyes. Whitefield was ablaze for God, preaching to thousands of people at a time. God used him mightily to lead many people to faith in Jesus Christ
Wesley was also on fire for God. He wrote more than two hundred books and preached more than 40,000 sermons (sometimes seven or more in a day!), often riding on horseback forty miles daily. Wesley led many thousands of people to faith in Jesus Christ.
We may not have the same ministry as Whitefield and Wesley, but we can their fervor and fire for the Lord. In 2 Timothy 1:6-7, the apostle Paul exhorted young pastor Timothy to fan into flame the gift of God that was in him, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”
Is the fire on the altar of our Christian hearts burning low? Might we need to fan into flame the gift of God that is in us?
What was true of Whitefield and Wesley can be true of us. Christians can have spiritual fire and fervor as we fan into flame the gift of God resident within us.
The world and the church could do with more flame-fanning, heart-burning, fire-baptized Christians. Let us seek some fresh fire today!
THE FROG IN THE KETTLE
I have heard that if you place a frog in a kettle of boiling water it will jump out immediately. But if you put the frog in lukewarm water and slowly heat the water, the frog will stay in the kettle and eventually cook to death.
Why do I mention this? Because in a very real sense, the American Church is that frog in the kettle! In light of the alarming cultural indicators, we would do well to consider the frog-in-the-kettle analogy.
If the American church can be likened to a frog, the little fella is in trouble indeed. Studies show that the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as “Christians” is falling, while the percentage of people who identify themselves as atheist or agnostic has increased fourfold over the past twenty years
The researcher George Barna has pointed out that the lifestyles of American Christians differ little from those of people of no faith.
And what about the kettle of water? It can be compared to the world. The waters of secularism, relativism, liberalism, etc., are damaging the health of the frog. Many Christians are being unwittingly seduced by secular culture. One has only to look at the sorry state of mainline Protestantism to see what happens when entire religious bodies give in to the spirit of the age.
I am alarmed at how many people I know who were once opposed to sinful and unnatural lifestyles, but now affirm such practices because of the constant in-your-face barrage of Hollywood and the American media.
We are living in a time that has been called “Post Christian.” Not a few Christians have all but given up on prayer, Bible reading, mission, and sharing the gospel with others. A growing number of folks who consider themselves Christians are turning away from the Lord and His Church. Accordingly, I am hearing the word “dechurched” used more regularly by denominational leaders.
I read an article recently that said within the next few years there will be an accelerated collapse of evangelical influence in America along with an open hostility toward Christians by our secularly and religiously antagonistic culture. It seems we are already there.
The frog in the kettle is in trouble. The water is heating up and we had better wake up before it is too late. Our secular American culture, which is clearly under the influence of the evil one, is carrying much of the church along with it.
As we turn our attention to the seven churches of Revelation in the coming weeks, we might well ask ourselves, “What is the Spirit saying to the churches in our time?” Indeed, what might He be saying to each of us individually?
We are in the kettle, folks. Do you feel the water heating up?
THE GLORY OF CHRIST
Few Christian books have impacted me as much as John Owen’s great work, The Glory of Christ. The version with which I am most familiar is published by The Banner of Truth Trust, abridged by R.J.K. Law
This little volume is packed full of profound truth. In fact, if I were to counsel someone to read only one book this year (beside the Word of God, of course), that book would surely be The Glory of Christ. Here are some transforming truths from Owen’s sharp mind and sensitive spirit:
“A fish would not thank you for taking it out of the sea and putting it on dry land under the blazing sun! Neither would an unregenerate sinner welcome the thought of living in the blazing glory of Christ.”
“If we regularly beheld the glory of Christ our Christian walk with God would become more sweet and pleasant….”
“…men who are complete strangers to seeing the person and glory of Christ by faith have turned to images, pictures, and music to help them in their worship.”
“The splendor of Christ’s glory is too much for our physical eyes just as is the sun shining in all its strength. So while we are here on earth we can behold his glory only by faith.”
May we make it our aim this year to behold by faith the glory of Christ!