No, Never alone

Greetings All:  This is my first attempt at sending my friends and anyone else that I may not even know yet a brief message.  I hope you will see fit to respond.  We are all forging ahead through unchartered waters through this Covid crisis, and I thought it might be appropriate to remind ourselves of a foundational truth.  In my next installment I want to send you a poem that I penned for this past Easter; though it will arrive to you after Easter, I hope you can file it away for future use if you ever need an Easter poem.  Easter poems are not as easy to find as are Christmas poems or poems for other special days, but I feel like this is a good one and so wanted to share it with others. But the poem will come later.

No, Never alone

“Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have:  for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Recently, while all of us were “sheltering in place” in individual efforts to keep the COVID 19 virus from spreading, my sister and I were exchanging text messages and in one of them she was reflecting on what the health mandated isolation meant to her.  She lives alone, an octogenarian grandmother, on top of a mountain in Georgia, separated by miles from any family, but supported by them through loving constant communication, and buoyed by neighbors and friends who look in after her.

During the conversation she mentioned our grandmother, who, having lost her husband in death when she was a young mother of three, expecting her fourth, children lived in a small rural community in southeastern Iowa, in our nation’s post-depression.  She eked out a living by doing housework for people in the community, supporting herself and children by a meager income sometimes of a dollar per day.  We never heard her complain.  Hers was a difficult life; she was not given to many lighthearted moments and the few times that I remember being around her she seemed austere and not very “warm” like most grandmothers might appear to be.  It would be years later, when I became a parent, and later a grandparent, and had some perspective on life and on history that I would be able to somewhat appreciate the austerity of the times through which grandmother Moore had lived and had provided, without any governmental assistance, for her four children.  My sister in our texts back and forth made this observation about grandmother: “She explained to me how she felt about living 55 years as a widow:  ‘I am never alone.  The Lord is always with me.’”  My sister followed that up by saying, “I have had the opportunity to prove that fact to be absolutely true, and I never feel alone.”  Nor should any of us who can sincerely affirm “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…I will fear no evil for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” No, we are, with Him, never alone!

A Child’s Prayer Answered

This story has been in the making more than 55 years and I will share with you the exciting continuing saga as up to date as this day, but first a bit of background.

When I was a junior at Bob Jones University, preparing for ministry, a call came to Dr. Stenholm, the director of the “Preacher Boys’ class” from a pastor in Coatesville, Indiana, Malcolm Neier of Coatesville Missionary Baptist Church, for a Bible major who wanted to work through the summer “directing” a youth camp the Pastor Neier had started on part of his farm property with a small lake for swimming,  a shelter for meetings and some modest cabins.  This was, of course, in the mid-60’s before the Cadillac camps begun to spring up around the various regions, so church camps were pretty simple by today’s standards, but Pastor Neier loved children and had a burden to provide a week of camp in the summer for area boys and girls where they could have fun, enjoy some good farm food (cooked by his wife, Ruby Neier) and learn Bible lessons with life applications.  I heard about the opportunity, enquired and pronto was accepted as “Camp Director” of Camp Winmore (win more boys and girls for Christ) though I had never directed anything in my life!  I was excited for the opportunity and could never forget the first time I drove my new ’64 Volkswagen bug, complete with a “GOLDWATER FOR PRESIDENT” bumper sticker on the rear bumper, into the farmhouse driveway to meet Malcom, Ruby and their three teenage children, Noble, Russ and Ann Neier would would become my family for about 10 weeks before going back to BJU for my senior year.

It was a wonderful summer with several weeks of camping, lots of good times, opportunities to preach a time for two in the Coatesville Missionary Baptist Church, special times in the Word with junior-age boys and girls from area churches, delicious home cooking served up by Mrs. Neier who was like a “Mom” to me for the summer, keeping my laundry done and making me feel like I was indeed “family.”  I returned to BJU with a purpose and desire to serve the next summer if needed before my wedding day in mid-August of 1965 to the most beautiful girl on the face of God’s earth, a Blue-Ridge Mountain Beauty named Ellen Beshears.

I did return the next summer and we all had another good 10 weeks or so welcoming campers to the Winmore campground where there was great fun, great food and Indianapolis 500 reruns before bedtime on Friday nights.  Pastor Neier wore many hats.  He was a farmer, sold Royal (electric!) type writers in Indianapolis, gave Supervision of the camp ministry, pastored the Coatesville Church and enjoyed watching reruns of the Indy 500!  I was not a big race fan, but I did listen to it when returning home from school which, back in those days, was usually the last of May, and in the mid-60’s the 500 Indy race was always run-on Memorial Day, and in that era, it was always on Monday.  So, I forged a life-long friendship with Malcom and Ruby Neier and family.  In fact, when Ellen and I were married August 14, 1965, Malcom and Ruby made the trip to North Wilkesboro, NC, and Pastor Neier officiated at our beautiful white chapel summer wedding at the foot of the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains.  That first summer working at Camp Winmore enabled me to earn enough money to purchase, with the generous discount my jeweler brother-in-law, Tom Wilson, was able to arrange for me, a dazzling engagement ring!

Well, after graduation, I spent another half-dozen years studying for ministry in two seminaries before becoming a pastor in Wichita, Kansas, then eventually assuming the senior pastorate of the Thompson Road Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.  I pretty much lost touch with the Neiers, though we did bump into each other at conferences or meetings, but both they and we were intensely involved in our ministries and just were not close because of other demands upon our time.

I resigned the Thompson Road Baptist Church pastorate in the fall of 2019 completing a 40-year tenure there and enlisted with Gospel Fellowship Association of Greenville, SC in their Interim Pastor Ministry while remaining at Thompson Road Baptist Church as Pastor Emeritus with an office there in an out of the way place where I could still study and write.  It was about that time that Ellen was diagnosed with gall-bladder cancer and within an 18-month span underwent three surgeries, requiring quite a lot of time to recoup her strength necessitating that I stay fairly close to Indianapolis should an interim pastorate opportunity open up.  And it did open up!  The Coatesville Missionary Baptist Church, located about 45 minutes due west of our home in Indianapolis, was seeking God’s will about a man to serve as an interim pastor following the 26-year ministry of Pastor Kevin Gaughler who, with his wife, needed to move to northern Indiana to be closed to aging parents who needed some assistance.  I heard of the need, enquired and was extended a call from the CMBC to serve as interim pastor while they continued their search for a full-time pastor.  They had several inquiries but had not yet found a match so, since I could make the drive to and from the church without wearing out my surgery-weakened wife unduly, I accepted.  That was in May of 2020.  We had to “lock down” everything because of Covid-19 but as soon as possible we opened back up for services, and our faithful God has kept the doors open, the lights shining brightly, and heated and cooled air as needed in the 150-year-old church in the middle of this small farming community town.

A week or so before Christmas in 2020 a pastor and his wife visited our Sunday morning service at Coatesville.  I recognized the pastor immediately because he had been a teenager in a church, I pastored in Kansas 45 years ago.  Brian Harr married a girl from the Coatesville area, and it so happened that this girl, saved as a child in our CMBC church, baptized, joined in marriage in this little historic church to Brian Harr with Pastor Malcolm Neier officiating, had come home to visit her family with her pastor-husband over the Christmas holidays.  Brian and I had a happy reunion reminiscing briefly about our days in Newton, Kansas where, in the Liberty Baptist Church, a new church plant that I was pastoring, his father was an elder and his mother the pianist.  Before we parted that day I said, casually, “Brian, this church needs a full-time pastor.  Pray about it,” thinking I would probably never hear back from him about that!  But, about six weeks later, unexpectedly, Brian Harr called and said, “Julie and I have been praying about the church in Coatesville and its need of a pastor, and we feel the Lord may be leading us there.”  Well, after more prayed and counsel, Brian made it known that he and his wife were convinced that God was in it and he was prepared to “candidate” for the pulpit, which he did and whereupon the church extended to him a call to come as pastor by a unanimous vote.  It was about that time that I heard that Mrs. Harr, Julie, had prayed as a child in the Coatesville Church that God would allow her to marry a pastor and that if possible he would one day pastor the Coatesville Missionary Baptist Church!  God answers prayer!  God answers the simple, sweet prayers of children who love Him and want to serve him.

Two weeks ago, Ruby Neier, a mom to me for two summers when I was “Camp Director” at Winmore on the Neier’s farm on the edge of Coatesville, at the age of 96, was in our morning service, looking much like she did 55 years ago with a broad smile and beautiful Godly countenance and God graciously permitted me the opportunity to minister to her that day, and to Ann and her husband.  Pastor Harr will assume his responsibilities at the Coatesville Missionary Baptist Church Sunday, May 16.  Only God could have engineered all of this and I share the story with you for your encouragement and rejoicing with us!

“If We Did Not Go, Who Would Go?”

A  young man who had lived on the southside of Indianapolis, ending up for help at Lester Roloff’s Lighthouse for men from whence he would migrate to Tennessee Temple College in the early 1970’s, and a quiet, shy young lady from Prosperity, West Virginia, also a student at TTC at that same time, met, fell in love and married in 1973 with the purpose and plan to serve God somewhere on this circle called Earth as missionaries.  Their first choice was to go to Trinidad and Tobago, so having raised necessary support, they applied for visas to those gospel-thirsty islands, only to discover that their visas were not readily forthcoming; so, they went instead to work with missionaries in St. Thomas while waiting for the visa green light to be granted.  They served faithfully there, helping in a Christian camp and in the Blue Water Bible College, and welcomed while there their youngest (of three) son into the world.  With visas finally in hand, they shipped a 55-gallon drum, containing their “earthly belongings” to Trinidad where they immediately were thrust into the leadership of a local church but, having been there only a year, were forced to leave because of unrest generated there following the Jim Jones incident.

“Where to go?”  Well, upon the counsel of their mission board, Steve and Treasa Fox accepted the challenge of moving to the Philippines to assist in the ministry of five mission churches their first two years there, and then for the next two years planting a church themselves.  During those years of serving in missions in the Far East, God began to stir Steve and Treasa’s hearts about the need to take the gospel to Native American Indians in the southwest United States.

Having announced their desire to follow God’s leading to work with Native Americans, Steve and Treasa met with some well-meaning warnings about the slow, trying and tedious work they would find in working on this mission field, and they were warned about the discouragement and difficulties.  Treasa said, “When God called us to work among the Native Americans, we knew little about the ministry other than it was slow and discouraging work.  Many…thought the Lord could use us much more effectively somewhere else.  However, if we did not go, who would?” This couple who from their earliest days of marriage had abandoned themselves to doing God’s will whatever or where ever that would entail assuredly believed that their previous training in God’s prep school on the islands and in the Philippines had been on purpose to prepare them for this ministry which would indeed in the beginning seem almost “useless” and fruitless.

But God reminded the Fox duo that He had called them, had directed them and was fully able to sustain them.  Many of the people on the Salt Indian Reservation where they began their Native American evangelization were alcoholics or drug addicts.  It was a work that would demand patient perseverance, purposeful plodding and plowing while friendships with the tribal residents were being forged through Steve and Treasa’s serving their neighbors and helping them with basic life skills.  Steve donned his work belt and repaired roofs and broken-down autos and anything mechanical, over the course of time winning the confidence and trust of those amongst whom he and his faithful helpmeet lived.  It was as “slow as molasses” but in time would yield dividends not measured in substance but in souls.  Steve often said what he was doing was “love in work clothes.”  

After earnestly and faithfully plowing and planting with good gospel seed for 22 years, Steve was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2007, but his work was not finished; in fact, as he battled cancer and endured life draining treatments for the next eight years, Steve intensified his efforts resulting in many people trusting Christ as Savior and enrolling as disciples in Bible courses Steve would teach so they would be grounded in truth. In a handwritten note he sent to his sending church in October of 2012 Steve wrote, “God has used this cancer to minister in so many ways.  I don’t even pray that God would heal us anymore.  I just pray for His will in the whole situation.  Some people don’t understand that, but if God can be glorified, I’m cool with it.”   On June 12, 2015, Steve Fox, the once troubled teen who grew up in his Dad’s roller-skating rink on the near southside of Indianapolis, was graduated to glory.  He and his steady helpmeet of 42 years had faithfully labored through the ups and downs, dreams and disappointments, victories and defeats, thick and thin, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health, never forgetting that initial question that they answered positively before God:  “If we don’t go, who will?” They did go and the value of their steadfast perseverance on a challenging mission field, loving and laboring with and for our Native Americans, can be aptly and succinctly summarized in the words of a teenager whose life, one of many, Steve and Treasa touched indelibly:  “Pastor and Mrs. Fox have played an enormous role in my spiritual growth…,” and in the words of another who said, “I am honored to have learned and served under the Christian teachings of Pastor and Mrs. Fox.  They modeled faithfulness, commitment, service and love for the Lord.”

We can only thank God, as Steve, now with His Savior, and Treasa would want us to do, that the Holy Spirit hunted, hounded and hauled into the Good Ship Grace a troubled youth who was guided and guarded by His skillful hand to the Lighthouse in Corpus Christi and then on to Tennessee Temple College, and that the same Holy Spirit took a young lady from Prosperity, West Virginia, who marveled at the thought that God would do anything through her, to a place where their paths would merge one day, eventuating in the two becoming one with each other and one in the single-hearted desire to take the Good News to peoples who had never before heard it.  We can all rejoice that God preserved forever on the hearts of this young couple those words, “If we don’t go, who will go?”

Go ye therefore, and teach all  nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.  Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”  (Matt. 28:18-20)  

P.S.  Treasa has recently accepted a proposal of marriage and by God’s grace and in His will, she  will soon open a new chapter in the journal of her walk with God.

Two Kinds of Wisdom, Pt. 2

Our focus today is that wisdom from above, and our text book is the New Testament epistle of James, chapter three, verses 13-18.  James has identified two kinds of wisdom:  (1)  One that is earthly, sensual, devilish and, therefore, destructive, divisive and demonic; and (2) One that is from above which can be identified in a person by their good conversation, with accompanying works all which are labeled by James as “meekness of wisdom.” (3:13)  Having spoken about the “wisdom” that produces bitter envying and strife, I want to list what James enumerates as characteristics of the “wisdom that is from above.” (3:17)  So, each of us can inventory our own hearts (James did pin point this as a heart issue, 3:14) to see which of the two kinds of wisdom we possess.  Would you join me in this critically important spiritual exercise, with a view to answering the question, “Which of the two kinds of wisdom is in my heart?”  Here are the earmarks of that wisdom which is from above: (James 3:17)

  •  It is “first” pure, i.e., clean; that is, it is the core being of those who have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ, for the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:7).  A cleansed person enjoys the positional cleansing when, at conversion, the Holy Spirit of God immerses him into the Body of Christ and from that instant, positionally, he will be forever as clean as Jesus is clean; and practically he will enjoy daily cleansing from sin, renewing the fellowship between God and himself that sin in daily practice inhibits until we “confess our sin” and experience when we do that the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, keeps on cleansing us from all sin.  John says in I John 3:3 that the hope that being the sons of God and knowing that one day He is coming back for us causes us to want to live pure lives in our daily walk, “for we shall see Him as He is”. (I John 3:3)  God’s wisdom, working in and through us, is first pure.
  • Then, it is peaceable.  Sons of God have peace with God, having been justified by faith through our Lord Jesus Christ, and this peace with God (Romans 5:1), assuring us that we are not under God’s condemnation and that His wrath will never be meted out to us because of our sin, gives us the peace of God which “passeth all understanding”.  (Phil. 4:7)  We live pure and peaceable lives, even in the midst of the swirling cultural wars around us because wisdom produces a peace ableness in our lives.
  • It is also gentle, that is, it behaves itself properly to those under our authority.  Parents have authority, teachers have authority, supervisors have authority.  A saved parent, teacher or supervisor or anyone else who exercises some measure of authority over others, in God’s wisdom, is gentle toward those who answer to him/her. That is, he is not an unreasonable boss and does not use the position of authority as an excuse to take advantage of those he is over.  Paul says, “Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal,” (Col.4:1) and “Masters…forbear threatening….” (Eph. 6:9)
  •  Wisdom from above is also easy to be entreated.  This is the other side of the authority coin.  If you are the student, the child, the employee, as a believer God’s wisdom will enable you to not begrudge those who are over you.  You will endeavor to be the best employee, the best student “with fear and trembling in singleness of heart as unto Christ;” (Eph.6:5) and “not with eyeservice as men pleasers, but in singleness of heart fearing God;” (Col.3:22) “pleasing them well in all things not answering again.” (Tit. 2:9)  So, when your superior comes to you with a distasteful assignment at the close of the day asking that you have it done pronto, you are “easy to be entreated.”
  • It is also “full of mercy.”  One who is governed by God’s wisdom responds to those around him who are in misery with mercy.  Paul calls our response one driven by “bowels of mercy.” (Col.3:12) We cannot see misery and shut up or turn off our feelings to those suffering summarily dismissing it as the result of someone’s “making their own bed so they will have to lie in it.”  We look past the possible causes and see a precious soul made in God’s image that will live somewhere forever and we must be “full of mercy.”
  • Full of good works, realizing that this is why God made us as His “workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10)   Young men should be, wisely, “zealous of good works,” (Tit. 2:7) and every believer is commanded to be “zealous of good works,” (Tit. 2:14) and “ready to every good work,” (Tit.3:1) and careful to maintain good works (Tit.3:8) not in order to earn points with God, but to fulfill God’s purpose and plan for our being left in this world so that the unbelieving world around us might behold our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 5:16)
  • Finally, without partiality and hypocrisy.  James warned against these sins in chapter two when he faulted churches that favored visitors in their midst who were dressed as those who apparently were wealthy, giving them the best seats and obvious deference.  Wisdom that is from above is governed by equal treatment and respect to all people, regardless of their social, economic, racial or cultural orientation.

In closing, an illustration that I love.  It is said that the Duke of Wellington, after a worship service, lingered at the church altar to pray and as he was praying an old man, dressed as though he might be destitute, made his way to the altar and knelt close to the General in prayer.  One of the dignitary’s bodyguards eased his way up to the stranger and, putting a hand on his shoulder, motioned for him to move away from the honorable Duke.  With his eagle eye and keen awareness of his surroundings, the Duke placed his hand firmly on the hand of the old, apparently poor man, and whispered, “Don’t move.  We are all equal here.”

’God give us all a thirst for that wisdom which is from above!  Amen.”

Two Kinds of Wisdom

Job asked, “Where shall wisdom be found?”  James queries, “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge?”  The quest for life’s age-old answers concerning wisdom, its source and substance, takes one ultimately to the Book of Wisdom, Solomon’s Proverbs:  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” and on a similar theme, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (Provs. 9:10; 1:7)  Therefore, no one has begun to attain unto wisdom or knowledge, in the absolute sense, until he has learned to fear God; that is, to have a reverential respect for Him.

Knowledge and wisdom do differ.  Knowledge has to do with the accumulation, assimilation and organization of facts.  It deals with science, scholarship, education, comprehension, perception, intelligence, laws and axioms.  Wisdom on the other hand is the proper application of knowledge in everyday life situations.  It has to do with judgment, prudence, common sense and discernment.

Knowledge will enable one to obtain a driver’s license, wisdom will ensure that you drive sensibly, sanely and safely.

Knowledge will enable you to get a license to marry, and wisdom will enable you to live so that  your marriage will be happy and lasting.

Knowledge will reward you with a diploma or a degree; wisdom will help you in applying what you have learned as you “spend your years as a tale that is told” so that you may achieve success.

“Wisdom is the principal thing,” Solomon admonishes, “therefore get wisdom and in all thy getting get understanding.” (Provs. 4:7)

Of course, Solomon is referring to the wisdom that comes from fearing the Lord.  James calls this the “wisdom that is from above.” (James 3:17)

There is another kind of “wisdom” and James refers to it as wisdom that “descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.” (James 3:15)  It is, therefore, in contrast to wisdom from above (heavenly) and is a wisdom that is worldly, earthly.  This wisdom is a counterfeit wisdom, and you can identify it by its fruit which is destructive (bitter envying), divisive (strife) and demonic (devilish).  It is the wisdom that most often rules the day in the cultural marketplaces, the great educational, political, social, economic and even religious arenas of not only the 21st century but of past ages also.  It is often alluring, appealing, attractive but always and ultimately anti-God and is at its very core humanistic and antithetical to true wisdom.

That wisdom, which is not from above, James warns, is characterized by bitter envying, which is a heart issue, (3:14)  confusion, and every evil work as by-products.  It often produces a zeal but one that is selfish, and Paul illustrates this kind of destructive wisdom citing the religious zealots of his day: “I bear them record that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” (Romans 10:2)  History affords us multiple examples of this kind of destructive zeal, as in the person, for instance, of King Olaf of Norway who spread his particular brand of religion by a violent sword and justified it by saying “I had to defend the honor of God.”  This wisdom, James would attest, is not from above.

Worldly wisdom delights in that which is rational; Godly wisdom in that which is Biblical.

Worldly wisdom focuses wholly on the temporal; Godly wisdom is grounded in that which is eternal.

Worldly wisdom makes much of the physical, Godly wisdom the spiritual.

Worldly wisdom is at its core humanistic; Godly wisdom is first and foremost theistic.

Cain, in earth’s earliest days, illustrates for us a life that was designed and driven on the principles of worldly wisdom.  Cain disobeyed God’s instructions and then brought to God in what he considered worship the very best that his hands were able to produce through his own efforts; and he came to God doing worship his way.  Paul, indicting this whole class of humanity who “have gone the way of Cain” (Jude 11) said that the world by its wisdom knew not God, and that “professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” (Rom. 1:22)

Possessing this worldly wisdom may catapult one to heights of extraordinary achievements and with it the applause and acclaim of the world, but James reminds us that no matter how much we gain on the world’s ladder of success we are lying against the truth (3:14).  Check your heart, for as the half-brother of Jesus indicates, it is all a heart matter and unless our wisdom has the earmarks of being from above, then what we have in our hearts is eventually going to be manifested as bitter envying and strife which will only lead to confusion. (3:16)

How do we know, one might ask, whether we have wisdom that is from above?  The answer to that question I will address in the second installment of “Two Kinds of Wisdom,” which will appear in the next post of “You And God,” Lord willing.  But, interestingly, you might, in preparation, read James 3:1-13, a torrid discussion of James about the powerful tongue, its uses and abuses.  It is that discussion on the tongue with which one can either “bless God the Father,” or “curse men, made after the similitude of God” (James 3:9)  with which James introduces this discourse about “who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? Let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.” (3:13)

For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.  Where is the wise?  Where is the scribe?  Where is the disputer of this world?  Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?”  (I Cor. 1:19,20)

The Taming of the Tongue

Solomon said, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Provs. 18:21)  Nobody has ever yet been able to measure the power of this small mouth member.  Man has harnessed energy and with a button can detonate bombs, yet he has not learned to control the tongue.  The courses of great ships on the seas and equally great air ships are controlled by tiny computer chips, but this tiny member of the mouth is still by and large untamable.

A Japanese proverb says it well:  “A tongue three inches long can kill a man six feet tall.”  Another sage said, “The most ferocious monster in the world  has his den just behind my teeth.”  Another journalist spoke wisely when advising:  “If your lips would keep from slips, four things you must observe with care:  to whom you speak, of whom you speak and how and when and where.”

King David weighed in:  “I will take heed to my ways that I sin not with my tongue.  I will keep my mouth with a bridle.” (Ps. 39:1)  Job spoke of being hid from the scourge of the tongue.  The Psalmist said of the unrighteous that their throats were an open sepulcher and that with their tongue they flatter.

Peter, in the New Testament, admonishes that he who would love life and see good days should refrain his tongue from evil.  Paul, the Apostle, indicts the human race in Romans saying that the tongue is an instrument of deceit:  “The poison of asps is under their lips whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”

And, in Proverbs there are multiple warnings:  “A fool’s lips enter into contention and his mouth calleth for strokes…a fool’s mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul.  The words of a talebearer are as wounds and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.” (18:6-8)  And “In the multitude of words there wanteth no sin; but he that refraineth his lips is wise.  The tongue of the just is as choice silver,” (10:19,20); and “Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop, but a good word maketh is glad,” (12:25) and “He that hath knowledge spareth his words,” (17:27); and “seeth thou a man hasty in his words, there is more hope of a fool.” (29:20)

Of course, the classic scriptural dissertation on the believer’s speech is found in James, chapter three.  In this treatise, the half-brother of Jesus, speaking to the “twelve tribes which are scattered abroad,” (1:1) teaches about the “perfect” man as being one who has mastered the discipline of not offending with the tongue. (v. 2)  To be sure, “perfect” here as in most all other New Testament occurrences of this word means “mature,” or “in full bloom.”  Not only is the mature believer one who has learned how to skillfully use God’s Word (Hebs. 5:11-14), he is able also to not offend by ill-spoken words and therefore able to “bridle the whole body.”  These admirable traits are the ultimate levels of spiritual maturity to which every sincere follower of the Lord Jesus Christ strives.

Then, beginning in James 3:5, the writer turns his attention to specific problems that our tongues can be blamed for. First, an untamed tongue is a boaster of great things. (v.5)  The boaster talks of what he has done, what he could do, what he will do and what he might do.

A lion met a tiger, as they drew beside a pool. Said the tiger, ‘Tell me why you’re roaring like a fool.’  ‘That’s not foolish,’ said the lion, with a twinkle in his eyes, ‘They call me King of Beasts because I advertise.’  A rabbit heard them talking and ran home like a streak.  He thot he’d try the lion’s plan, but his roar was just a squeak.  A fox came to investigate, had luncheon in the woods.  So, when you advertise, my friend, be sure you’ve got the goods!”  (copied)

Next, James likens the tongue to a fire. (v.6)  It is raging, destructive, unpredictable, uncontrollable and fueled perpetually.  A lady justified the quick outbursts of her tongue by saying “It passes quickly,” to which Billy Sunday, the sawdust evangelist, replied, “So does a shot gun blast.”

James continues: It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison, i.e., the poison of gossip, slander, cursing, filthy speech and deceit.  Sadly, this little member can both praise God and curse men, to which James affirms “these things ought not to be.”

A.T. Peirson was in George Mueller’s study and he glanced through the Bible that the renowned orphanage director had open on his desk, stopping at Ps. 37:23: “The steps of a good man are ordered by Jehovah.”  He noticed that in the margin Mueller had written, “And the stops.” So, if your tongue knows when to go and when to stop, the whole body will know when and what to do!

One final quip:  “Says Gossip 1 to Gossip 2, while shopping in the town, ‘One Mr. Pry remarked to me, Smith bought his goods of Brown.’  Said Gossip 2 to Gossip 3, who cast his eyelids down, ‘I’ve heard it said today, my friend, Smith got his goods from Brown.’  Said Gossip 3 to Gossip 4 with something of a frown, ‘I’ve heard strange news, what do you think, Smith took his goods from Brown.’  Says Gossip 4 to Gossip 5, who blazed it round the town: ‘I’ve heard today such shocking news: ‘Smith stole his goods from Brown!’”

My brethren, be not many masters (teachers), knowing that we shall received the greater condemnation, for in many things we (all) offend.” (James 3:1,2a)

About Anxiety

“Be anxious for nothing” Paul the Apostle exhorts his Philippian brothers and sisters in Christ (Phil. 4:4) even as he awaited in prison what was certain to be for him a trip to the beheading block.  He was intensely involved in church planting, and the 1st century climate in which he was evangelizing was anything but friendly to his kind.  Yet, Paul commands: “Be careful (anxious) for nothing,” or “Don’t worry about anything!”

Through the ages others, in poetry and prose, have echoed Paul’s sentiments.  Victor Hugo opined, “Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones.  And when you have finished your daily tasks, go to sleep in peace.  God is awake!”  Another author, George McDonald, wrote that no man ever sank under the burdens of a day, but only when the burdens of tomorrow were added onto the burdens of today does the weight of the load become unbearable.  Beecher affirmed that work never killed anyone, but that worry is the killer.  “It is not the revolution that destroys the machinery but the friction.  Fear secretes acids but love and trust are sweet juices.”

We’ve not lacked for reasons during these past twelve pandemic months to worry.  Can we keep our house?  Will our job last?  Should I leave the house for fear of contracting the deadly Covid-19 virus?  Is the vaccine safe?  Will we ever get back to normal?  And worries ad infinitum!

At a time like this it is imperative that people of faith draw deeply on that faith, and it’s from God’s Word that we receive hope and help for the crisis.  Jesus reminded his followers that the very hairs of their head were numbered.  Consider: every one of the hairs of your head has a number and when one hair falls to the ground, that number is removed from the whole!  Again, our Lord said that two sparrows are sold for a farthing (how insignificant a creature!), yet not one of them shall fall to the ground without our heavenly Father taking note of it (Matt. 10: 29,30).  The implication:  if God is that minutely concerned about every small creature, does not his concern for you far exceed His concern for lesser creatures so that you need be anxious for nothing!

A soldier (WW I) decided it was futile to worry about his future.  He thusly reasoned:  “Of two things one is certain: either you are on the front lines, or you are behind the front lines.  If you are at the front, one of two things is certain, either you are exposed to danger or you are in a safe place; if you are exposed to danger, one of two things is certain, either you are wounded or you are not wounded; if you are wounded, one of two things is certain, either you will recover or you will die; if you recover there is no need to worry and if you die you cannot worry, so WHY WORRY?“ (copied)

There are some practical things one can do to lessen the probability of unprofitable fretting:  (1)  Cultivate relationships with friends with whom you may share your burdens and from whom you can solicit prayer support; (2)  Eat, sleep and exercise sensibly; (3)  Saturate your mind with Bible promises or principles such as Psalm 56:3: “What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee.”  (4) Allow good Christian music to flood your soul with its soothing and comforting assurances; (5)  Practice what Jesus taught when he urged us to “take no thought for tomorrow,” and (6)  attend to details avoiding procrastination so that your “things to worry about” list does not grow longer and longer.

Paul, in the Philippian passage that we started with in the greater context of that verse wherein he said that we should “Be careful (anxious) for nothing,” enumerates some key concepts that go with the “Be careful for nothing” admonition:

  •  He urges that we should not forget to rejoice (in the Lord and “always).”
  • He tells us that we should maintain a “non-combative” spirit.  The word translated “moderation” in verse 5 where it says immediately following the “Be anxious for nothing” command that we should let our moderation be known to all men is a word that means gentleness or kindness.  We are not out looking for trouble or living with a chip on our shoulder.
  • Paul, as he always does, exhorts us to pray often and about everything:  “…but in everything by prayer and supplication….” (Phil. 4:6)
  • And he declares that we should never abandon a grateful attitude:  “…with thanksgiving…” and, finally,
  • Paul assures us that the “peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

So again, why worry when you can pray?  A medical doctor, having examined studies, said that patients who would meditate and pray could expect to experience a significant drop in their blood pressure.

Said the robin to the sparrow, I should really like to know why these anxious human beings fret about and worry so.  Said the sparrow to the robin, I suppose that it must be that they have no Heavenly Father such as cares for you and me.”

Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him and He shall bring it to pass.” (Ps. 37:5)

Waiting the Call (An Easter Poem)

Nature blushed in reverence of God’s Son upon the tree,
	While the thirsty mob for death did yell.
Jesus died that day to set his killers free,
	But God refused to leave the Holy One in hell.

That is why He died though Satan’s worst at Him was hurled;
	That is why from heav’n to earth He came;
There His blood was shed, the Savior of the world,
	Even as in death He suffered shame.

He would die indeed, then in the grave would lie,
	Fragrances of death would fill the tomb;
Followers outside the cave would in mourning cry,
	Some had traced His life from Mary’s womb.

But from Friday Good to Sunday’s fate,
	Jesus went to hell to gather up his own;
Captives in the bosom of Abraham did wait,
	To follow Christ through space to their new home.

We who trust Him now by faith do also wait,
	Listening for the trumpet and the shout;
Waiting for our entrance through His open gate,
	This our blessed hope, without a doubt!

Even so “Come Quickly” is our daily prayer,
	Nothing here could make us miss His call;
Surely Heaven’s glories we will gladly share
	Falling on our knees before Him all.

Anthony Slutz
Easter 2021

And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold two men stood by them in white apparel which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from  you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:10,11)

The Crucifixion Week

It is often referred to as the “Holy Week,” the last week upon earth of Jesus’ life amongst men as the God-man, culminating in the cruel cross crucifixion.  It serves us well to be reminded often of the unspeakable Calvary event, unspeakable because of the rejection of Jesus by His own whom He came to redeem; yet, precious because of the atonement that His dying secured for all men, specially for those who believe. (I Tim.4:10)  The following is an outline of the events of His last week:

On the Sunday before He was nailed to the cross, Jesus entered Jerusalem on a colt, fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy that Messiah would come as King “riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass.” (Zech. 9:9).  On that day multitudes cried “Hosanna to the son of David,” (Matt. 21:9) yet just a few days hence the crowds would be crying “crucify Him, crucify Him!”
Luke notes that “when he was come near, he beheld the city and wept over it.” (Luke 19:41)

On Monday, approaching the city, Jesus curses a fig tree that appeared to be at the stage of fruit bearing but was instead barren.  Arriving in Jerusalem at the Temple site, Jesus surveys the merchandizing taking place in His “Father’s House,” and responds by turning upside down the moneychangers’ tables, driving them out as He proclaimed that “…it is written,  my house shall be called a House of Prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” (Matt. 21:13)  He had similarly done this temple cleansing at the beginning of His ministry as John records in his gospel, chapter 2.  

Tuesday was an extended teaching day for Jesus, beginning in the Temple teaching His disciples in parables and continuing just outside the Temple where the disciples asked Jesus about the end of the age issues.  Those questions (Matt. 24:3) initiated a lengthy discourse of Jesus, recorded in Matthew 24,25 called the Olivet Discourse in which Jesus gave signs that would precede His 2nd coming and the great tribulation that would take place just prior to that coming and the judgment of the nations that would immediately follow His return in power and great glory. (Matt. 25)

On Wednesday of “Holy Week” Jesus, at dinner in the home of Simon the leper, had his head anointed by a woman who poured over him a box of very precious ointment.  The disciples rebuked the woman, but Jesus rebuked the disciples and commended the woman while Judas Iscariot slipped out of the room to seek out Pharisees with whom he could conspire to betray His Master.

On Thursday afternoon, the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread, Jesus instructed  Peter and John to secure an Upper room where He and the disciples could share in the Passover Supper together. It was after this meal that Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, then revealed that Judas would betray Him while He also warned His followers of their pending denial of Him.  Our Lord instituted the Memorial of the Last Supper (Luke 22:17-20) and then launched into a farewell discourse (John 14-16) climaxing with His great Intercessory Prayer (John 17) followed by a short walk to the garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives where Jesus uttered the agonizing petition, “Let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done.”  It was under the cover of an early morning blanket of darkness that Judas then led his cohorts in crime to the garden where he knew Jesus was wont to pray, betraying Him to Roman soldiers with a kiss feigning love and loyalty, resulting in the arrest of Jesus and his hearing before Annas, former High Priest and father of Caiaphas, the then current High Priest before whom Jesus would next stand to be interrogated along with being accused, mocked, charged with blasphemy, beaten, blindfolded and reviled.  

Friday morning, early, Jesus was formally condemned by the Sanhedrin, about the time, interestingly, that Judas, beginning to feel the awful consequences of his betrayal of the Son of God, went out and hanged himself.  Jesus was led to Pilate where the Roman governor asked Him point blank “Art thou the king of the Jews?”  In keeping with the custom of releasing a prisoner on such festive feast days, the blood-thirsty crowd demanded that the seditionist-murderer Barabbas be released and that Jesus, King of the Jews, be crucified.  Pilate, learning that Jesus was from Galilee, sent Him to Herod Antipas to be judged and it was before Herod that Christ was mocked, dressed for a few moments in a gorgeous robe and then sent back to Pilate where he was chastised and crowned in mockery with a crown of thorns.

Friday morning, between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. Jesus continues to be mocked by soldiers and then, with reservations, released by Pilate to the frenzied crowd.  He is led to Golgotha just a little before 9:00 a.m. and nailed to the cross where He would hang between two thieves from 9 until noon during which time Jesus would utter “Father, forgive them,” and to the repentant thief “This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise” and to His mother, “Woman, behold thy son,” and to the beloved John, “Son, behold thy mother.” His garments were parted, and soldiers cast lots to see who would get what; and a superscription was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek, “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  Jesus would suffer hanging upon the hill called Golgotha for another three hours from noon until 3:00 p.m. crying out four more times:  “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” and “I thirst,” “It is finished,” and finally, under a darkened sky where neither sun nor moon shone and where the earth was about to quake, Jesus cried “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.” Immediately Matthew tells us that the veil of the Temple was rent from the top to the bottom, the earth did quake, some tombs of Old Testament believers were opened, and Old Testament saints were observed walking the streets of Jerusalem (Matt. 27:52) and the Centurion Soldier at the cross was overheard saying, “Truly this was the Son of God.”  Jesus had died for the sins of the world then He was carefully anointed for burial before being placed into the never before used tomb of a wealthy man from Arimathaea, Joseph, who was  also a follower of Jesus.

After three days and three nights (by Jewish reckoning any part of a day is a day, night is a night) Jesus rose victorious over death, hell and the grave whereupon He appeared to many of his followers before ascending back into the heavens in a visible display of His power and great glory, the full display of which is being reserved for His 2nd coming at the conclusion of the Great Tribulation. (Matthew 24,25)

Behold He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him:  and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him.  Even so, Amen.” (Revelation 1:7)

Transforming Touch

How powerful a touch can be!  It costs the giver virtually nothing but can be of inestimable value to the recipient.  It can melt hearts hardened by bitter woes, can obliterate man made fences that have obstructed relationships and can soothe cares better than man’s best pharmaceuticals.

Three of Jesus’ disciples, his inner circle including Peter, James and John had just seen the face of Jesus transfigured so that it shone as the sun as they were with him high on a mountain; then they heard the voice of the Father thundering from heaven saying, “this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him.”  Having seen his unveiled face and having heard God’s voice from heaven the disciples were “sore afraid.” (Matt. 17:6)  It was at that point that Jesus “came and touched them,” and comforted them through their fear.  It was the personal skin on skin touch of their Lord’s hand that more than anything calmed the fearful followers of the Lord.

So many times, it was His touch that made all the difference.  On one occasion He put forth His hand and touched a man full of leprosy saying, “Be thou clean,” and his leprosy was healed. (Matt. 8:3)

He touched the fevered brow of Peter’s wife’s mother and “her fever left her.” (Matt. 8:15)

In the city of Nain, observing a weeping widow who was burying her only son, Jesus merely touched the bier and then commanded the young man to arise and “he that was dead sat up and began to speak.” (Luke 7:14)

When Peter, under the cover of early morning darkness, missed the servant of the High Priest’s neck and instead cut off his ear with his sword, it was the betrayed Son of Man who touched the wounded man’s ear and healed him. (Luke 22:51)

Then there was the time that two blind men followed Jesus crying out for mercy, and Jesus, having ascertained that they believed that He was able to heal them, touched their eyes saying, “According to your faith, be it unto you.”  (Matt. 9:26)  And Matthew records that their eyes were opened.  When in the country of Gennesaret, it was said that “all that were diseased came to Jesus and besought that they might only touch the hem of His garment,” and “as many as touched were made perfectly whole.” (Matt. 14:31)

The touch of the hand is powerful.  It is soothing to those in despair or overcome with fear; it is comforting to those who are grieving and strengthening to those paralyzed by danger. The touch of a father gives hope to the wayward son while the tender touch of a loving mother’s hand can make the weakest or wildest calm, comforted and courageous.  A friend’s kind hand on the stooped shoulder of a fellow pilgrim can do as much or more than a page full of words.  Just a touch at the right time from the right person for the right purpose can cheer, comfort or correct when done in love and when directed by the Holy Spirit.

This is why the prolonged isolation this current pandemic has necessitated with it burdensome and bothersome mandates, though for legitimate health reasons, has been so very devastating.  God made us in His image:  to know, to love, to will and as such it is unnatural not to hold, touch, share, shake a hand, commune, laugh, love, cry and talk relating person to person in community with our family, our friends, our church family, our neighbors and our extended circle of friends.  Rubbing elbows just does not take the place of a hearty ungloved handshake!   Smiles hidden behind masks are better than nothing because we can “read the eyes” but they are no long-term substitutes for genuine unmasked interaction with those we love and with those who are part of our lives.  Jesus by His own example taught us the power of not only a well-spoken word but also the power of a well-timed touch—a touch of love, gently placed from one’s heart through his hand on our hand to our heart.  May we never grow accustomed to a world where our sense of touch has been so sanitized that it only comes through the medium of artificiality.

“And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.” (Isaiah 6:7)

God’s Go to Man

One wintry night in 1985 I knocked on the door of a west side Indianapolis house where a couple lived who had recently visited our Sunday services, paying a follow up visit in hopes of getting to know this gentleman and his wife better.  It took a while for anyone to answer my knock, but at length a tall, kind looking, middle-aged man came to the door and after I introduced myself, he invited me to come in out of the cold.  It was not until later that I learned that Jerry and Fran retired fairly early in the evenings since he usually was up around 4:00 a.m. to get ready to go to his workplace at Allison Turbine.  They were gracious and we had a pleasant visit and I rose to my feet to leave but waited at the door for Jerry to retrieve my coat which he had hung in the closet when I had entered their living room.  We must have visited another 10 minutes at the door before he remembered to get my overcoat after which I departed following a parting prayer.  Later, in recalling that first visit, Jerry conveyed to me his frustration with my not leaving promptly, keeping him from precious, fast fleeting sleep time in lieu of his early rising.  That would be the first of countless visits I would make to the Farley home over the next 30 years, a place where I was always welcomed and where fellowship and prayer was always in order, and never bothersome to this godly duo who had begun their married life attending Dr. Ford Porter’s Lifegate Baptist Church in downtown Indianapolis where Jerry trusted Christ and followed his Lord in believer’s baptism, Fran having already made those faith decisions.

Jerry just dropped by my office last week to visit as he has been prone to do beaucoup times through the past three plus decades.  He and his wife became members of the church I pastored shortly after that first mid-winter visit to their home, and they were always a “preacher’s friend,” faithful in attendance, generous in giving, selfless in serving and always sensitive to the needs of the local church body of believers.  There was nothing they would not do for you.  Until Jerry retired from his day job, he was not able to get too involved in our on-going day to day ministry at TRBC, but after he retired, he was like an unpaid staff member.  His mechanical skills were extraordinary.  He could fix just about anything and if occasionally he ran into a brick wall in trying to solve a problem, he would “sleep on it,” and invariably before morning he would have figured out the solution and by breakfast it was probably fixed.   I have thought so often that every church needs a Jerry Farley (and God has given such men to most every church I am sure), and I could never thank our heavenly Father enough for this right-hand man!

In time, Fran became incapacitated to the point that Jerry could no longer care for her at home so he entrusted her care to a nursing home facility where she would spend the last two or three years of her life, with Jerry visiting her every day making sure she was being well taken care of and assuring her of his continued presence with her.  He was with her when she drew her last breath.

Sometime after Fran had passed, Jerry watched as one of my teen-age grandsons rode his bike, sitting backwards on the bicycle seat, in our church parking lot.  Jerry was in his early 80’s at the time and what he saw Tim do reminded him that he had done the same thing as a youngster.  He thought he could do it again, so he tried, and he did!  Shortly thereafter, Jerry bought the first of several Harley Bikes that he would own and upon which he would ride from coast to coast, north to south, east to west, thousands of miles seeing the USA from a unique vantage point and living out a childhood dream that, because growing up on a farm in post-depression years as a lad with only chores and work from dawn to dusk he could only dream of motor cycles and trips to faraway places.  The last “toy” that he bought was a “slingshot,” a three-wheeled, low to the ground bike that can barely seat two and that from a distance looks like a miniature Indy race car.  

In all of this Mr. Farley never lost his desire or commitment to serve his Savior and to labor faithfully serving in the church, and in other churches.  A church he once visited when in Florida needed a heater for its baptismal tank replaced and Jerry was the one who could and would do it.  When he found out that it was not working, he would not rest until he made another trip to the sunny south to replace a part that was needed to get the heater working properly.  If a family needed a ride to Virginia to attend a loved one’s funeral, Jerry was the go-to person.  If something needed worked on at church or at the parsonage, call Jerry first.  I can attest that, though few people were ever probably aware of it, Jerry saved our church multiplied thousands of dollars just by applying his skills for the church in jobs that otherwise would have necessitated calling a professional for help.

Now, Jerry is still living at the age of 91.  In fact, before I post this, I will probably ask him to read it just for accuracy and he will probably protest my posting it, but I will probably kindly overrule him this time.  All things being equal at 91 unless the rapture occurs in the not-too-distant future, not too, too long from now we’ll get the call that Jerry has joined his beloved wife and is with His Savior on the other side.  His eye doctor says he is “one click” away from being legally blind.  He had a fever for two weeks at the peak of the Covid-crisis but never went to the hospital and God spared his life.  I am writing these few lines in tribute to Jerry realizing that he will not get any enjoyment out of any flowers we send, but though he will protest the publication of this, he may just have some realization of how very much he has meant to so many and to this grateful pastor and his wife whom he always treated as he would family.  And, I want to pay tribute not only to Jerry Farley and but to all the “Jerrys” out there who keep a ministry moving, that unseen and unsung cadre of men and women who work behind the scenes doing whatever has to be done so that when the pastor mounted the pulpit on Sundays to preach, the furnace was working, the flowers were stunning, the leaky faucet in the bathroom was fixed, the front door had been put back on its hinges, the water that had leaked into the main auditorium when AT&T had been digging just outside the church wall causing a Valentine’s weekend small flood in our building was all vacuumed dry by service time, and the fire extinguisher chemicals that had been sprayed all over every square inch of the sanctuary by a 2:00 a.m. break-in on Sunday morning leaving a mess that was unimaginable, was all cleaned up by Sunday School time Sunday morning and on and on and on….

So, thank you Jerry!  Thank you all who, like Jerry Farley, worked to please your Savior, to serve your church and to make sure your pastor always looked a lot better than he ever could have had he not had your unselfish, loving support.  Thank You!

Author’s note:  Last Friday, I had the pleasure of reading the script of this post to Mr. Farley knowing that he would not be able to read it himself and not wanting to assume that anyone else would do so.  It was difficult reading (trying to keep from chocking up) but I managed to get through it with a tear drop falling into my coffee cup as I read the last line.  I told him that if I were still alive when he passed and had any opportunity to have a part in his memorial service that what he had just heard was his eulogy (with any appropriate modifications necessary at that time).  He did not protest, and we spent the next hour reminiscing about times past.

His lord said unto him, Well done good and faithful servant….” (Matt. 25:23)