Building A Christian Home, Part 3

Holding to Solomon’s timeless truth that “through wisdom is an house builded….” (Provs. 24:3) I have set forth in parts 1 and 2 of this study that in the building of a Christian home, one will need wisdom in establishing a right resolve in private and public worship, in family, and in personal disciplines of worship. Then, too, wisdom should be a major factor in the right resolve in our walk with Christ, in our witness for Christ, and in our using the world, rather than abusing the world. (I Cor.7:31)

In this final installment, the wisdom needed for a right resolve for our work—and concerning our wealth—will be discussed.

First, our work: Are we engaged in honest work? Are we known as dependable? Do we do our job with enthusiasm, exhibiting a positive, cheerful spirit? God has ordained work for our good, and it is a necessity. Paul said that if any man would not work, assuming he was able-bodied and could work, he should not eat. (2 Thess. 3:10) In fact, as a testimony and for an example, Paul—an Apostle, who might have been expected to receive support for his labors in ministry—said, “Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you.” (2 Thess. 3:8)

U.S. News and World Report, some time ago, reported that employees spend, on average, 34% of their paid time not working!

If you should feel over-worked, consider the labors of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism: “At the age of 83, he complained that he could not write more than 15 hours a day without hurting his eyes; and at the age of 86, he had to admit he could not preach more than twice a day. For years, he averaged three sermons a day, traveling horseback more than 200,000 miles. During his lifetime he wrote a four-volume commentary on the whole Bible, a dictionary of the English language, a five-volume work on natural philosophy; histories of England and Rome, grammars on the Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French and English languages, three works on medicine; six volumes on church music; seven volumes of sermons and papers, and he also edited a library known as the “Christian Library.” In his 86th year he preached in almost every shire in England and Wales and often rode 30 to 50 miles a day.” (copied)

For the believer, our work should be done to please our Lord the Christ: “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.” (Col.3:17) And, we should take to heart the wise words of Solomon, who concluded that “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave whither thou goest.” (Eccl.9:10)

Finally, in building a Christian home, there is a need for wisdom in forming a right resolve concerning wealth and our attitude toward money. There is little doubt that in the latter part of the 20th century and for most of this current century, Americans especially have been engulfed in a tidal wave of materialism. Our parents, some of whom came through the Great Depression, wanted us to have a better life than they did, and after World War II they set about to ensure that. With a couple of “hiccups” on the screen of history, their children have enjoyed historically unprecedented prosperity.  Only the darkening clouds of a possible, pending recession have slowed this pursuit of phenomenal profit and pleasure that 21st century westerners have by and large enjoyed.  But, it would seem that with it has come personal and public unrest and turmoil in the streets and market places—and even in the halls of Congress—that have also been nearly unequalled.

Rudyard Kipling, speaking of materialism and the vanity of spending life pursuing only those “things,” wrote: “Someday you will meet a man who cares for none of these things. Then you will know how poor you are.”

John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937) founded the Standard Oil Company in 1870. At the age of 33, he had become a millionaire. By the time he was 43, he controlled the biggest company in the world. And when he was 53, he was the world’s first billionaire. It was then, though, that the oil magnate became sick, losing his hair along with considerable weight, with no ability to keep anything on his stomach but crackers and water. His weekly income was a million dollars, but he could not enjoy it, and most of his nights were spent without sleep and in misery. His doctors, having examined him, confided that he would probably not live to see his 54th birthday.  But after one of those sleepless nights, having inventoried his soul, Rockefeller arose and began to divest himself of a good deal of his fortune.  He had concluded that he would not be able to take one dime out of this world, so he began to give away much of his wealth.  He gave to churches and charities, established universities, and eventually created a foundation for the future dispensing of his fortune.  And, as a benefit of this new mindset, he began to revive physically!  He did live to see his 54th birthday; in fact, John D. Rockefeller—Baptist Sunday School teacher and richest man in his world—lived to be 98 years old!  It is so important to have a right view of money and of wealth! How is your resolve concerning material things?  Paul reminded his protégé Timothy that “we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us therewith be content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.” (I Tim.6:7-9)

“The fly lands on the flypaper and says, ‘My flypaper,” while the flypaper says, ‘My fly.’” Beware of “destination sickness.” It is the syndrome of a person who has arrived and discovered he is nowhere…having all the things that money can buy while experiencing little or no satisfaction with any of them. Jesus simply said, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:33)

Seek God’s wisdom in making right resolves concerning your income, money, wealth.

What kind of a home are you building? Did you begin with a solid foundation? For the Christian, that foundation is Jesus Christ, for “other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (I Cor.3:9) If you are building on Christ, then He will give you the wisdom to build a home with righteous resolves concerning your worship, your walk, your witness, the world, your work and your wealth. God help us to build such homes—and to encourage the generation following us to do the same.

Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not for it was founded upon a rock.” (Matt. 7:24)

Building A Christian Home, Part 2

Living happily ever after is becoming rarer in our riddled world.  The ideal marriage too often morphs into an “ordeal,” and couples are too prone to throw in the towel, often neglecting good counsel from family, friends and faith leaders. Tim LaHaye cited a poll years ago that asked 3,009 wives if they would marry their husbands were they able to do a “reset.” Less than 50% said “yes.” Another poll, taken by the Chicago Sun Times, asked 2,301 husbands the same question, and 72% said they would marry the same woman were they given the choice to do it over.

The Indianapolis Star published the results of a poll that sought to determine why marriages too often were hitting the rocks.  Their findings:  40% never worked out anything together as a couple; 50% enjoyed a physical relationship; 60% claimed they were emotionally abused, while 20% said the abuse they suffered was physical; 25% never laughed together; 60% argued about money; 31% said their spouse was unfaithful, and 25% said they were married to an alcoholic. How about this ad: “Single, white female, narrow-minded, unfaithful, complaining, quick-tempered and critical, seeks jealous, emotionally abusive, drug-using single white male.”

Well, it is not difficult to isolate some of the current cultural stresses that wear on marriages, but in this series of posts I want to offer some positive Biblical guidelines that will keep a Christian home intact “till death doth us part.”  Note: the key word is Christian home, a home where Christ is Savior of both husband and wife and where the Bible, God’s Word, is revered as one’s final authority for faith and practice.  It is much more likely that the storms of life will dash any other home—built upon the shifting sands of time—against the rocks of dissolution. 

In part 1 of this series, I posited that a Christian home must be built with Solomon’s admonition as a bedrock principle: “Through wisdom a house is builded; and by understanding it is established.” (Provs. 24:3) In that post I set forth the wisdom needed for a right resolve in our worship, and wisdom for a right resolve our walk.  Continuing in that theme: Third, we need wisdom for a right resolve in our witness. By the way, James reminds us that “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God Who giveth to all men liberally….” (James 1:5) In chapter 3 James identifies God’s wisdom as characterized by that which is “pure, peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.” (James 3:17) So, we will need God’s wisdom for a right resolve as a marriage mate to have a witness in and through our home-life that will be Christ-honoring.

An artist wanted to paint the most beautiful picture in the world, so he sought out his pastor and asked him: “What is the most beautiful thing in the world?” “Faith,” answered the pastor: “You can feel it in every meeting of the body of Christ and find it at every altar.”

The artist then asked a young bride the same question. “Love,” she replied, “for it wipes away tears, turns poverty into riches and makes much of nothing.  Without it there is no beauty.”

He then asked a weary soldier the same question. His answer: “Peace is the most beautiful thing in the world. War is the ugliest. Wherever you find peace, there is beauty.”

“Faith, love, peace,” the artist mused. “How can I paint them?” Entering his door, he saw faith in the eyes of his children and love on the countenance of his wife. In the home, he could sense the peace that faith and love had built. So, he painted the picture of the most beautiful thing in the world, and when he had finished it, he called it “Home.”

Our witness, in our Christian homes, should reflect the living epistles that we are called to be, so that our witness will impact the unsaved people with whom we have to do, the church family with which we worship, and the business world we are engaged with in our daily living. And, would you believe, our witness speaks to a world of unseen—but no less real—angelic beings? Our obedience to Christ is “because of angels,” as Paul says. (I Cor. 11:10) Wisdom from God’s Word that will make our witness count in this age in which we find ourselves cannot be over-estimated. We have unimaginable opportunities to let our light shine in the darkness of our age. For this witness, we will either be rewarded or see our efforts consumed by the flames of judgment as wood, hay and stubble.  Work on your witness and work on the witness that your home echoes.

Next, we need wisdom for a right resolve concerning the world. We can either “use” the world or we can “abuse” the world. (I Cor. 7:31) In our Christian home, it is incumbent upon us to use the world in a wise way for God’s glory, all the while carefully guarding against the worldliness that will swallow us up if we fall in love with it. William Wordsworth wrote, “The world is too much with us: late and soon, getting and spending we lay waste our powers: little we see in nature that is ours.” Henry Jowett asks: “What is worldliness? It is human activity with God left out.  It is life that is horizontal only, and not vertical. It is ambition without aspiration. Its goal is success, not holiness…God is not denied, He is just ignored.”

In the building of a Christian home in the 21st century, there are opportunities in this world through technologies that would be unimaginable to our forefathers. But along with the opportunities come many pitfalls in a world that has 7 billion plus inhabitants—yet has shrunk in size so that we can go anywhere on the earth, in a matter of seconds, with just a few touches on our keyboard. Youth coming of age in this hi-tech world face unprecedented challenges. Consequently, parents are faced with a mountainous home-terrain. Cell phones are ubiquitous. What teen does not have one? And, computers. Without a system of safeguards, young people in today’s Christian home can be quickly devoured and ultimately destroyed by unseen and unknown wicked plotters who, without scruples, can lead an unsuspecting young person into a dark abyss from which there will appear to be no way out.

Ye adulterers, and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

Building A Christian Home, Part 1

One of my sons-in-law has done something I have never attempted to do: He has built a house from the foundation up. In fact, he has built many houses, and his workmanship is recognized as superior. I can’t imagine doing that, as I do not have the skills, though I do appreciate the fine work exhibited by others who do have the required skills. I’m afraid if I were to put myself to building a house, the project might turn out like the good people of Pisa experienced when they set out to build a tower in their Italian city. It took them 178 years to finish the job, and when they were through, the now-famous tower was leaning 52” from perpendicular. Over the centuries, the lean aggravated slowly and eventually reached a drift of 17 feet!  That would be like my building project for sure!

I will not be building any houses, but for 57 years now I have been building a home. Solomon had a home in mind when he wrote, “Through wisdom a house is builded and by understanding it is established.” (Provs.24:3) A young serviceman and his family were living in a hotel near a military base where he was temporarily assigned. One day his little girl was playing house in the lobby when a lady asked, “Isn’t it too bad you don’t have a home?” “Oh, we do,” the child answered, “we just don’t have a house to put it in!”

A Christian home. What is it? One writer defined it aptly: “It is one in which the ideals for living found in life and in the teachings of Jesus Christ are accepted, exalted and exemplified.” (Harold Bosley) That is the kind of home every Christian couple ought to be building, Christ Jesus Himself being the chief cornerstone and foundation. 

But to build a Christian home one must first build a Christian life, and it is imperative to remember that the oldest of all institutions, the home—ordained of God in the first week of the world—was and is intended to last a lifetime.

A nationwide survey of 3,118 single teenagers revealed that 90% of the girls and 85% of the boys expected their marriages to last a lifetime.  Sadly, the teens’ ideal of “living happily ever after” does not materialize in many cases. Some couples try cohabitation—living together before marriage—as a “trial run” of the possible marriage.  One national survey of families showed that 40% of the couples who cohabit break up before they marry. Of the 60% of couples who marry having experienced the “trial run” first, 45% ended up getting a divorce.

What went wrong? Why those staggering statistics?  Many factors have been cited: “We just grew apart;” “My sexual needs have not been met;” “I can’t respect him anymore;” “She was moody all the time;” “I got married way too young and missed out on a lot of experiences;” “We argued all the time;” “He comes home and sits before the TV all night and we never talk,” etc., ad nauseam.

But wait, there is hope for any and every marriage!  Solomon, in his wisdom, says in Prov. 24:3 that there are three key ingredients for building a lasting home:  wisdom, understanding and knowledge.

There is a need for wisdom in laying the foundation of a happy, thriving home.  Wisdom that is from above which is first pure, then peaceable… (James 3:17). Wisdom will assure us of the right resolve in life’s day in and day out experiences.

First, the right resolve concerning our worship. Worship is private, and it is also at times public. Families that worship together as a family, regularly—both at home through family devotions and in concert with other believers as in a church gathering—tend to produce children who embrace the faith of their fathers. A study disclosed that if both mom and dad attended church regularly, 72% of their offspring would remain faithful in their faith-walk and practice. If only mom attends church regularly, 15% of the children will grow up to perpetuate her faith. In a home where neither mother nor father consistently practice worship in a body of believers, a church, just 6% of the children of that union will live out a personal faith-walk when they become adults. At the top of the list of most Christian women, when asked what they desired and needed most to make their marriage a fulfilling one, a praying husband is mentioned as number one. A Christian home needs Christian parents who regularly, both at home and in public, gather the family for times of worship. Wisdom will produce this in a home where Christ is revered and God’s Word is more than a book on the shelf.

By way of personal testimony, Ellen and I are both thankful to have been reared in such a godly home. Family devotions were part of our daily routine. When God blessed us with children, we continued that daily routine of Bible reading and prayer.  We, Ellen and I, still do, and it is the best few minutes of any day. I can attest that as a teenager, if I would come to family devotions with a bad spirit, it was impossible to pray together as a family and get up to go about one’s daily activities with that same bad spirit.  Praying together really does work supernaturally in the hearts of each family member.

So, we who are building a Christian Home need wisdom for our resolve in worship. Then, second, we need wisdom for our walk with Christ in a world that is not a friend of His.  Our walk should be with all lowliness, meekness, long-suffering and forbearing, Eph. 4:1,2; it is a walk that distinguishes the believer from the vanity of this world, Eph.4:17; a walk in love, Eph.5:1; in light, Eph.5:8; and a circumspect walk, Eph. 5:15, redeeming the time in the light of days that are evil.  Wisdom for a right resolve to walk rightly in this world is a must for each who names the name of Christ.

Have you heard of Bobby Richardson, the famed 2nd baseman who played for the great New York Yankees franchise back in their glory days of the early 1960’s?  It was the 7th game of the 1962 World Series, and the San Francisco Giants had a man on 2nd base. When the Yanks decided to change pitchers, Richardson, a born-again believer, walked over to 2nd base and asked the runner on base if he were a Christian.  While the new pitcher warmed up, Richardson saw an opportunity to speak to a man about his soul.  When the runner got back to the dugout, he asked Felipe Alou, who was also a believer, what was going on. “Even in the seventh game of the World Series,” he said to Felipe, “you people are still talking about Jesus.”  That runner could not understand why Christians were so eager to talk to others about Jesus.  But Richardson had a walk in love and in light that could not be hidden. He had a right resolve to always “walk worthy,” (Eph.4:1) and his life then and thereafter was a testimony to that walk.

And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor.” (Eph. 5:2)

A Good 4-Letter Word

Work has been ordained of God for the good of mankind. Solomon asked the question, “Seest thou a man diligent in his work?” Then the wise king said, “He shall stand before kings.” (Provs. 22:29)

One wag said of work: “There is nothing that concerns man so much as work. It is something that when we have it, we wish we didn’t; when we don’t have it, we wish we did; and the object of most of it is to be able to one day afford to do none of it.”

But, as long as we live, God has a job for us to do! The fact that you are still alive is proof that your work here is not yet done. Charles Spurgeon said, “Remember, you are immortal ‘til your work is done. If the Lord has more witness for you to bear, then you will have to bear it. Who is he that can break the vessel which the Lord intends again to use?”

In Ecclesiastes 9:10, Solomon exhorts: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, or device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” Three things should be noted:

  1. That work is profitable—physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Sir Walter Scott’s biographer wrote of him: “He could toil terribly.” It was reported that Scott had on the face of his watch the verse, “I must work the works of Him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh when no man can work.”

Not only is work profitable, it is honorable.  All honest work is honorable!  Digging ditches, sweeping chimneys, cleaning house, sitting on a court bench, making or selling cars, farming, hauling garbage, banking, waiting on tables, serving in health-care, and more! “There is no difference between the secular and the sacred. Every bush is a burning bush, and all ground is holy ground.” Plowing corn is as honorable as preaching Christ if it is the job God has given you to do!

2. That work should be done with enthusiasm.

“And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily as to the Lord, and not unto men.” (Col.3:23) Paul admonishes that we should be “not slothful in business; fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” (Romans 12:11)

Can you imagine Jonah preaching to Nineveh without passion, “Yet 40 days and Nineveh shall be overthrown?”

Or, John the Baptist without enthusiasm preaching “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand?

Or, the Israelites, nonchalantly in chorus singing, just having come through the Red Sea, “The Lord is my strength and song: and He is become my salvation….” (Ex.15:2 ff.)

Or, Jesus coming to the Temple and—finding that it had become a den of thieves—saying without fervor, “Take these things hence; make not my Father’s House a House of merchandise!

I think of Peter, in John 21, seeing Jesus on the sea shore, jumping into the water to go to meet again His risen Lord.  Talk about being excited; he barely got his fisher’s coat around him before he jumped to Jesus! And, in the Old Testament, on a mission for God, Jehu calling out to King Jehonadab, “Come with me and see my zeal for the Lord!” (2 Ki.10:16) So, whatever we put our hands do, if it is honorable work, done in the will of and for the glory of God, we should do with enthusiasm with all our might.

3. Finally, in the spirit of Solomon’s wise exhortation, we should do our work understanding that there will not always be the time nor the opportunity to do what needs to be done.

“And that knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.” (Romans 13:11) The great educational reformer and abolitionist Horace Mann said, “I have never heard anything about the resolutions of the Apostles, but I have heard a great deal about the Acts of the Apostles.”

A godly deacon in a church I pastored came home tired one evening from climbing utility poles and repairing and replacing lines. He told me, “The moment I got stretched out comfortably on the couch, the Lord brought to my mind a person who was in a downtown hospital that I knew needed to accept Christ. I left my resting place, made my way downtown, visited the patient who, upon hearing the gospel again, got saved.” I have never forgotten Henry’s personal testimony to me about how important it was to serve “knowing the time….” Henry was a very humble layman and would have never shared that story for any commendation on his part, but he evidently was prompted to share it with his pastor; and, I have been encouraged by it many times to leave what I wanted to do and to do what I needed to do.

“And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish Thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish Thou it.” (Ps. 90:17)

A Tribute to Fathers

Father’s Day is this coming Sunday, so I will dedicate this post to dads of all ages. And, simply, what I would like to do is pass along to you, fathers, and anyone else whose eyes have fallen upon these lines, a poem that I wrote to my godly father on the occasion of his 86th birthday in 1998. It is a bit different than the usual poem to a dad, but I think you might find it thoughtful.  I hope you will enjoy it, and if in any way you could use it, feel free to do so.  Dad would live to celebrate eight more birthdays, getting his Iowa driver’s license renewed on his last, at the age of 94. His wife of 72 years had passed on to glory just a few months before Dad would.  He came through the depression and cut wood in freezing weather, eating frozen jelly sandwiches if he could get them, and I respect him and loved him dearly. As I might have written earlier, Dad was the “hand-shaking” kind and never offered a hug, except for receiving one from my sisters who would not be denied. But his eyes spoke volumes and I never doubted his love, and will always be grateful to God for his memory. Oh, by the way, very late in his journey, I finally screwed up enough of whatever it took to give Dad a hug.  He did not of course resist.  I think it was a first and last for us, but I am glad I have the memory. I have tried to remember to give our son a hug whenever we part.

Time and Beyond
Time, the treasure given to each
With worlds of successes just out of reach;
Time past, ‘twas so fleet,
Time future, not certain:
We race to the finish 
To beat life’s last curtain.
Too often the fury with
Which life speeds by,
Keeps us from seeking 
Or asking just why.
Why are we here,
And where came we from?
Where will we be 
When all of life’s done?
Who are we, anyhow?
What is our goal?
Is there inside of
This body a soul?
Sages through ages
Have sought these I know:
God in His wisdom through 
Grace did bestow.
In His good Book
The answers we read;
By His bright light
Our souls He doth lead.
Leads through the maze
Of this trip to each given;
Leads by His grace and
Through faith on to Heaven.
Time will one day be
Forever no more; 
Heaven’s ahead on
Eternity’s shore.
No death there above,
No sorrow or pain:
Only His comfort and
Just what is gain.

Happy Father’s Day to all!  
ALS
June 19, 2022

Ever Slide Back?

In the grand hymn penned by John Wyeth “Come Thou Fount” the third stanza reads “O to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be; May Thy goodness like a fetter bind my wandering heart to Thee. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart, O take and seal it; seal it for Thy courts above.”’

Most everyone will readily admit that “prone to wander” is not a foreign concept. It is something that, because of the “world, the flesh and the Devil,” believers will struggle with until they leave their body and this world for heaven. In the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, the weeping prophet took a whole nation to task because of their wanton wandering spiritually.  He called them backsliders:

“Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done?” (3:6) “Backsliding Israel committed adultery.” (3:8) “Backsliding Israel hath justified herself more than treacherous Judah.” (3:11) “Return backsliding Israel saith the Lord.” (3:12) “Turn O backsliding children saith the Lord for I am married to you.” (3:14) “Return ye backsliding children and I will heal your backslidings.” (3:22)

An old preacher said of the backslider: “It is miserable to be a backslider. Of all the unhappy things that can befall a man, I suppose it is the worst. A stranded ship, an eagle with a broken wing, a garden covered with weeds, a harp without strings, a church in ruins—all these are sad sights, but a backslider is a sadder sight still.”

That state did not occur overnight. There is an observable progression (or should I say regression) that leads to a backslidden state. In fact, Jeremiah details the steps of spiritual regression that took Israel, God’s chosen nation, to the backslidden state that he addresses. Follow with me that prophet’s points in chapter 2:

  •  Forgetfulness, vss. 31,32 Forgetfulness contains the seeds of spiritual rebellion. “Can a maid forget her ornaments or a bride her attire? Yet my people have forgotten me days without number.” Jer. 2:32 In verse 31 Jeremiah had quoted them as saying “We are lords; we will come no more unto thee.” i.e., lords, as beasts that had broken their yoke; unharnessed people, rambling about unbridled.

Forgetfulness breeds forgetfulness “days without number.” What had they forgotten?

  • They had forgotten God. Ps.78:11: “And (they) forgot His works and His wonders….”
  • They had forgotten the name of God: Jer.23:27: “Which think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbor, as their fathers have forgotten my name for Baal.”
  • They had forgotten God’s Word. Hosea 4:6: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God….”
  • They had forgotten their resting place. Jer.50:6: “My people hath been lost sheep…they have gone from mountain to hill; they have forgotten their resting place.”
  • They forgot God their Savior. Ps.106:21: “They forgot God their Savior which had done great things in Egypt.”

When believers forget the works of God, the Word of God, the name of God, their resting place in God and God their Savior, then they have taken step 1 in the backsliding downward spiral:

“He that lacketh these things is blind and cannot see afar off and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.” (2 Pet.1:9)

  •  Step two is compromise, v. 33.  When we slide back spiritually, we trim our ways and often justify it by claiming to do it in love. “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

In the pre-World War I days of America, Teddy Roosevelt blasted the German-American population for what he considered at that time “divided loyalties.”  He said, “America is not a polyglot boarding house.” He called them “hyphenated Americans?” And said “If a man is an American and something else, he is not an American.” The application for believers is that we are either for Him or against Him, and a “worldly Christian” is a contradiction of truth. Billy Sunday said, “Worldly Christian? You might as well speak of a heavenly devil.”

The backslider will not only go down and away from where he once stood with Christ, but he will take others with him. Jeremiah said: “Why trimmest thou thy way to seek love? Therefore hast thou also taught the wicked ones thy ways.” (2:33)

Compromise is dangerous. During the Civil War the man who lived by the North/South border not wanting to be identified with either side decided to wear blue pants and a grey coat. The result was not a pretty one:  The Yanks shot him in the coat and the rebs shot him in the pants!

In the later half of the 19th century in England, truth was taken to the stake and Charles Haddon Spurgeon would have nothing of the compromise of his day. Of the prince of preachers, Joseph Parker, a contemporary, said, “The only colors Mr. Spurgeon knew were black and white. With him you were either up or down; in or out; alive or dead. As for middle zones…he only looked upon them as heterodox and as implacable enemies of the Metropolitan Tabernacle.”

  • Step three:  Living in known sin, Jer.2:34: “In thy skirts is found the blood of the souls of the poor innocents: I have not found it by secret search, but upon all these.”
  • Fourth: Insensitivity to sin, Jer.2:35–, trying to justify sin and attempting to avoid judgment for it. (Read Jeremiah 42:14-16 where God reminds His people that they can run from Him–to Egypt– but they cannot hide from Him and the “sword which ye feared shall overtake you there….”)

Hard words?  Yes.  Tough lessons?  To be sure. But backsliding was not unique to Israel. It would eventually bring upon them the judgment of captivity in 722 B.C. when Assyria swept down and took captive 10 of the 12 tribes, the northern kingdom, the “10 lost tribes” which will not be returned again to their Israeli homeland until the King of Kings accomplishes His promised restoration at His 2nd Coming.

So, learn with me of the severity of the sin of backsliding.  We who have been born again are each capable of doing what the backslidden nation of Israel did. There is a remedy and it is stated plainly in 2 Pet. 1:10 right after Peter warns us about having forgotten that we have been purged from our old sins: “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.”

Selah.

The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways: and a good man shall be satisfied from himself.” (Provs.14:14)

A Sinner Meets His Savior

Jesus, walking along the shores of Galilee followed by six to eight disciples, had just returned to His home in Capernaum from a preaching tour that had taken Him throughout all of Galilee.  He had healed broken and burdened bodies, cast out demons, and instructed His disciples concerning the coming Kingdom of God.  He had preached repentance and righteousness to the multitudes.  He might well have been physically exhausted, but there was a meeting that He would not miss. So He made His way to the Gate of Receipts where the Tax Collector, Matthew or Levi by name, was stopping people so that their goods could be inventoried, with special attention given to what might be an import or export subject to taxation.

Matthew was hated by the people of Capernaum for two glaring reasons: (1) He was a religious misfit, for according to Jewish tradition taxation was more than a nuisance—it was illegal and immoral. Tithes were paid to God, but to be required to pay taxes to the state, especially to a foreign entity, was contradictory to their customs, laws and traditions; (2) He was also a political renegade, aligning himself in his employment as a representative of the Roman empire, a traitor to his own nation. He was, therefore, hated and despised.

Yet it was to this man at that place that Jesus made His way, and with the bustling city of Capernaum on one side and the beautiful blue waters of the Sea of Galilee on the other side, Jesus and Matthew met.  The Tax Collector that day had no business with Jesus, for Jesus owned nothing, not even a place to lay His weary head. But Jesus had business to do with the Tax Collector. He was to lay claim on his very life, his soul’s destiny.

In Matthew’s later account of that life-changing encounter, recorded in Matthew 9:1-13, the conversion of this rebel Jew is recounted. One would have to conclude that it was sovereignly wrought. There was nothing religious about the man Matthew. He was not moral, and his friends were “publicans and sinners.” Yet, he was instantaneously converted when he heard the invitation of Christ to follow Him. Jesus saw in Matthew not only what he was, but what he would be. Matthew did not have to be told that he was a sinner; he lived with that reality daily. And, meeting the Savior, God’s Spirit had prepared his heart to believe and to receive the invitation of this itinerant preacher who had come to seek and to save that which was lost. Matthew, Levi, was on the spot saved by grace through faith, repenting of his sin and accepting the Messiah as his Savior. The same way every person, great or small, has ever—or ever will be—saved.

We see Matthew’s conversion and also his call to be a disciple. It is said that, immediately, Matthew left his tax table and followed Jesus. He surrendered for service and his first act in service was to testify to his fellow publicans what had happened to him when he met his Master. He prepared a dinner and invited all who would come to enjoy company with his newly found Lord and Savior.

I thought of what Matthew could have said in response to Jesus’ invitation: “Follow Me.”

  • “Hey, Man, been thinking about what all I have heard about You since You moved to Capernaum; I might be interested, but just let me finish what I am doing here and I’ll be right along. OK?”
  • “Me?  Follow You? Well, You’ve got too many hypocrites aboard Your ship. I know Peter, James and John; they can cuss right along with the rest of us reprobates and sinners.  No, I’ll stay here with my own crowd. Thanks!”
  • “Hey, I think I’d like to, but come around next year. I’ve got to get caught up on some bills, and get better established, but one of these days I’ll really give myself to following You. Serious.”
  • “Do You know who my father was? He was the late Alphaeus, one of the most religious men in these parts. Why do You think I have a name like Levi anyway? I come from a very religious background.  No, I’m alright, Sir. You’d better spend Your time trying to get the bad boys straightened out.”
  • “So, You want me just to get up and follow You? What do You think my family would say? They’d call me a religious fanatic for sure.  I can’t just traipse around the country following Someone I’ve never met before. Besides, I have a certain income requirement I doubt You could meet. No, I had better pass on this one.”
  • “I’ll follow You, but there are some things I don’t understand that You’ll have to answer for me first.”
  • “Follow You? Not on Your life! Why, I’m rich; I’m well liked by other publicans, and we’re just having a ball. Your religion is for old ladies.”
  • “Well, I might, but You see I once knew this prophet who claimed to be a man of God, and he ran off with the Temple secretary and I decided right there this religion stuff was not for me.”
  • “So, You want me to follow You? I know what You are after…You want to rake your fingers through some of these coins; you’re just after me for my money. Nothing doing!”
  • “Well, I’d like to, but it just seems too simple; there has to be more to it than to just ‘Follow You.’”

But the text says that when Jesus told Matthew to “Follow Me,” Matthew “arose, and followed Him.” No questions. No hesitation. No protestations. He arose and followed Jesus. He would be numbered among the Apostles of our Lord. And the Tax Collector, faithful as a follower in a few things, would be responsible for great things in the Kingdom of God. He became a leader in the early church, and through him God would give the world the Gospel of Matthew, proving to the Jewish world that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Son of David, Son of Abraham, Son of God, the long -awaited Messiah.

And He said to them all, If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall save it.” (Luke 9:23,24)

con.ver.sion

“The process of changing or causing something to change from one form to another” is a dictionary definition of the word conversion generally.  It would fit a New Testament scriptural description of someone who had been “changed” by the Holy Spirit upon the person’s “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:2) The person who has undergone this personal experience is a “new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Cor.5:17).  Other biblical terms to describe this are “salvation, new birth, born again, regeneration, saved.” It is personal, through faith, by the Holy Spirit, and it results in an instantaneous, permanent “reset” with eternal, irreversible consequences.

In this post, for the encouragement of all who read, I want to share a few testimonies of those who have experienced spiritual rebirth, conversion.  How God works in each individual who trusts Him to bring about this radical life-changer is amazing and undeniable.

I read of world-renowned opera singer Jerome Hines, whose career at the Metropolitan Opera spanned 41 years. In 1949, the basso began to compose “I Am the Way,” and in doing so he searched the scriptures diligently, putting music to words. He would write in his 1969 memoir, This is My Story, This is My Song, that he would learn the impossibility of writing about Him of whom he knew nothing.  Hines testified that in the work of composing this opera on the life of Jesus, God showed him that He was not interested in his beautiful voice but in his message.  Hines put his faith in Christ, affirming that he would rather sing bit parts in a second-rate theatre and belong to Christ than be the most highly acclaimed singer in the world without Him.  During his 55-year musical career, he reportedly sang the lead role of Christ in “I Am the Way” in over 90 performances.  Hines had experienced, through faith in Christ, what is meant by biblical conversion. (Chris Pasles, Los Angeles Times, cited in Hines obituary South Coast Today via Wayback Machine/Wikipedia)

On a more personal note, back in the early 1980s, a gentleman in the church I pastored here in Indianapolis shared with me that before he was converted, he thought nothing of conning Christians and later laughing and boasting of it. He said that he used to wear a ‘booster coat’—a coat lined all the way around inside, with pockets to carry goods out of stores, such as bottles he had stolen. My friend, an upstanding member of our church with a clear testimony of genuine conversion, said, “I got saved at a mission in Ft. Wayne, and the man who led me to Christ said, ‘You won’t be needing that booster coat anymore.’” Having become a new creature, he received a new robe of righteousness.  He was a new creation—old things having passed away, and all things having become new!

The daily devotional Our Daily Bread printed a testimony some years ago that describes what conversion can and will do: “I’m a 72- year-old cattle rancher in eastern Tennessee,” it read. “A friend has been gifting me Our Daily Bread for years and I never read them—right into the waste basket. In April of this year, probably holding a new issue ready to toss it—Jesus Christ tapped me on the shoulder out of nowhere and completely changed my life in being born again. After 72 years of spiteful hate, rage, selfishness, and hurting everyone, I left the darkness of despair and misery for the incredible joy of goodness! Now I read Our Daily Bread from cover to cover!!” (Ray, TN)

Cyrus grew up in a Christian home, but he never had much time for the Bible. He loved Shakespeare and history, and as an adult he established a successful law practice. One day, a friend confronted Cyrus and asked him he had not become a Christian.  That simple query set off a chain reaction of thoughts in the legal mind of Cyrus, who determined to learn God’s Word. The result was that he not only became a believer—having been converted to Christ through the search of scriptures that he would call “sweeter than honey”—but, thirty years later, in 1909, he published the Scofield Reference Bible. Cyrus Ingerson Scofield was gloriously converted because a friend had simply asked him one day why he had never yet become a Christian.

Dr. Fred Moritz—one time pastor, evangelist, and former Director of Baptist World Mission—told the story of preaching a revival meeting in 1982 in the 4th Baptist Church of Minneapolis, MN, where the late Dr. R.V. Clearwaters, mentor to many, pastored. In that meeting, at the conclusion of one of Dr. Moritz’s messages, two old ladies came forward (it took them three stanzas of “Just As I Am” to make it to the front) to publicly confess Christ. The rest of the story goes like this:  One of the ladies had been baptized into the membership of the church in 1921; the other of the two, her daughter, was baptized in 1933. Dr. Clearwaters had pastored there for 43 years but did not know either of them, as their names were on the church rolls but they had never experienced the new birth, or conversion, until that day. It is a sobering reminder that conversion, salvation, is not by works but by the “washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Tit.3:5) It does not come by joining a church, being baptized, or turning over a new leaf—but, rather, by receiving a new life in Christ Jesus.

I have many more similar conversion testimonies to share, which I hope to do in future installments of “You and God.” But let me leave you with a startling statement from the pen of William Biederwolf, made in one of his evangelistic sermons: “In an audience one time of 4,000, I found that 3,200 had come to Christ before they were 20 years old, and about 400 came between the years of 20 and 30; of those who came between 50 and 60 there were but 17 and between 60 and 70 just one and past 70 there was not one in all of the 4,000.” If you are reading this post and you are still not “born again,” the “chances” of your being converted are overwhelmingly slim.  Come to Christ today. Do not delay.

“…behold, now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 6:2)

The Most Beautiful Girl

There was a time in my youth when I thought the woman known as Betty Crocker must have been the most beautiful female alive; then I found out that she was really a composite drawing of fine features from many women.  Now, all of this is “tongue in cheek,” of course, because I really never gave Betty Crocker that much thought.  Recently, though, going through a lifetime collection of my late mother’s treasured books, I found a Betty Crocker cookbook dated 1968 and was reminded of the beautiful composite non-person.

So, by now you might suspect that this post is a bit different than my regular ones. If that is what you thought, you are correct. I will get back to the most beautiful woman in a moment.

Today is my wife’s birthday, so I am going to try to surprise her with this “Happy Birthday Ellen” post.  I had planned to write about “The Pastor’s Wife,” but realized that I had devoted a post to that subject in 2021.  You can read it by scrolling down the archives or by pulling it up on your computer under that that title.  I recommend it! 

When I was a teenager, my family attended Calvary Baptist Church in Ottumwa, Iowa, where Keith Knauss was the pastor.  Keith was all that you’d ever hope for in a pastor; his wife, Nellie, was the quintessential pastor’s wife. It was agreed upon by just about everyone that Pastor and Mrs. Knauss were the epitome of a pastor/wife team.  They stayed in that church for 10 years, and I thought at that time that 10 years as pastor of one church was like a lifetime.  How could anyone do that?  Never in my wildest imaginations would I have believed that one day I would retire having pastored the same church for 40 years!  Keith and Nellie set the bar, and in this college student’s mind they were the gold standard; they remained so as long as they lived.  You can imagine my chagrin when, upon Keith’s passing, Nellie asked me to conduct her husband’s funeral and extenuating circumstances did not allow me the opportunity of doing so.

But, back to the most beautiful girl.  I met her, in person, early in my junior year at Bob Jones University. In those days, every student was given a seating assignment in the huge dinning common where we would eat, family style, three meals a day, required.  It was at one of those table assignments in the fall of 1963 that I met a freshman business major from North Carolina whose name was Ellen Beshears.  She was quiet, beautiful, maybe a bit aloof (to this young man at least), but she intrigued me, and it was not long before I asked her if I could walk her to her next class after lunch.  She agreed, and the rest is history.  Every fall at BJU in those days they had a “Turkey Bowl,” where the top soccer teams would play for the championship.  Then, there was a nice, classy “artist” series to attend in the evening, and hall monitors and dorm supervisors (Bob and Joan Taylor were supervisors in Reveal, where my dorm was) would encourage the guys to get a date for this special occasion. I tried, but Ellen already had accepted an invitation from another suitor, so I had to “get in line.”  I did, and in time, I got a “yes” to my note sent through the 10 p.m. dorms-to-dorms mail system.

In 1964 we were engaged, after many walks to classes, dates to artists series, and hours spent in the “dating parlor.” On a hot August evening in 1965, in a quaint little white chapel where there was a pulpit that Ellen’s Dad preached from every Sunday (and would until he had to step back due to health issues after 55 years as pastor), we exchanged sacred vows in holy matrimony.  Pastor Malcolm Neier, pastor then of Coatesville (Indiana) Missionary Baptist Church, where I would serve as interim pastor following my retirement as senior pastor 55 years later, led us in the ceremony.

It was while we were still engaged, though, that I penned Ellen the following poem, which I would later recite as part of our wedding ceremony:

“The most beautiful girl on the face of God’s earth,
Is a girl named Ellen Beshears;
For her beauty’s not merely a beauty of youth,
But one that will outlive the years;
She’s a woman who knows, a woman who cares-
And one who can understand;
She can cheer with a smile, sympathize with a tear,
Reassure with the touch of her hand.
You, sweet Ellen, are the girl I love,
The first and the only one;
You’ve colored my dreams, 
You’ve captured my heart—
My entire being you’ve won!
I’ll love you in life, I’ll love you in death,
I’ll love you ‘till God doth us part;
I’ll love you with body and soul and mind,
I’ll love you with all of my heart.”
And, after 57 years of oneness, it’s more true with the passing of every day.
Happy birthday, Ellen. You really are “the most beautiful girl….”

Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it….” (Song of Solomon 8:7)

Musings on Melvin

I have Melvin on my mind and have had for several days, so let me share with you some of his story. He and his family attended the church I pastored in Indianapolis and they always sat on the second row from the front.  Melvin, his wife, his mother, and their daughters–a special needs adult, and another daughter who was caregiver to her sister. 

I’ll give them a name, for the sake of this post, and call them the Talbots.  They lived in a modest home on Indy’s east side.  By the time I became acquainted with them, Melvin was retired from a job with the city and was probably in his 70’s. His daughters lived in a small framed house right beside where Melvin and his wife, along with Melvin’s aged mother lived. They were closely knit together, depending upon each other for care and loving nurture. Their means were meager. They were the simplest of people and almost seemed “out of place” trying to keep pace with a fast-moving world around them, but they were positive in their outlook, always welcoming to this pastor when a visit was made, and as regular as they could be in attendance to church. Their abode was humble, minus most of the modern gadgets that adorned typical living rooms of that day, and their furniture was more than well worn, what there was of it. I do not know if they had a television as I never saw nor heard one.

The mentally challenged adult daughter could not speak intelligibly, but she could make sounds when she got excited about something, and either at church or at the Talbot home, when she saw this pastor she would somehow manage to exclaim loudly “SLUTZ!”  She had mastered that sound. Always with a wide, if contorted, smile and happy face.  We were friends though our connection was non-verbal and communication was through the eyes and countenance.  Her family always saw to it that she was cared for and there was never a lack of love in the Talbot household.

So, why has Melvin been on my mind of late?  Well, as pastors who may be reading this post will attest, some memories you have of those to whom you have been privileged to minister through the years are etched indelibly upon your mind. Memories of Melvin in my mind are such. He had a face that exuded kindness, but that had demonstrably worn life’s cares deeply. His frame was average and topped with a full head of hair that had never had too much attention in grooming. Melvin was clean but would appear fairly disheveled in dress. His brow boasted deep furrows and his hands were rough and spoke of physical labor that had molded his fingers and hands into instruments of toil through the years.  His speech was broken and were one to estimate what level of education Melvin might have had it would probably not exceed the eighth grade if that. His eyes were kind and his mannerisms methodical and somewhat mechanical.

Melvin has been on my mind of late because of the picture that I have treasured, call it a memory, of him on a weeknight years ago, sitting across from me in my office at church, sharing in his broken English a testimony that he wanted me to hear.  Melvin had been in the Army and had served in World War II and had fought in battles in the cause of freedom for not only America but for Europe and the world. On that particular office visit, he took me back in his military memory to an exceeding fierce fight somewhere in Europe when, taking enemy fire into his fox-hole, Melvin said that he thought his life was about to be over.  In his own words, with difficulty framing each syllable, he said, “I bowed my head and said to God ‘If you get me out of this alive, I promise you I will say the Lord’s prayer every day and will be in church with my family.’” Those were probably not his exact words but the essence of what I remember of them.  He was very moved in his spirit when he related that fox-hole experience to me and it was apparent that it had been a life-changer for Melvin and he wanted his pastor to share that with him and to know of his commitment and sincerity.  I have never forgotten it, nor have I forgotten Melvin and his humble, sweet family.  They were what one might consider the “weak” of this world, but in their simplicity, they were unique and testaments to the truth that God will take care of His own.

Melvin’s mother was aged, probably in her 90’s. She never spoke much, but her searching eyes and countenance, through deep, time plowed wrinkles, communicated volumes.  She was always in her place with the family at church for worship.

On Mother’s Day, the last few years that Talbots were able to attend together, Lonial Wire, long-time song leader of our church, and I would do a special tribute featuring Mrs. Talbot.  We would have her come to the platform where a rocking chair had been placed for her to sit in.  Lonial would then sing, “Tell Mother I’ll be there, in answer to her prayer….” It was an old song, and sung by Lonial with his empathetic tender, tenor voice, with the aged mother sitting in her rocking chair.  A good many mothers in the congregation were seen wiping tears that streamed down their cheeks. Between the song’s stanzas, I would quote a reading that epitomized the old, godly woman, a reading which began “There she is, the dear old mother….” It was a Mother’s Day tribute to not only Melvin’s mother but to all of the dear mothers who had invested the labors and love of their lives in the service of their families.

So, Melvin, his life, his simple faith, his sweet family, his commitment to his vow, will, I hope, always be on my mind from time to time as I remember the privilege, the honor, the joy of being pastor to this special family.  I was blessed to attend the finest of schools in my ministerial studies and ministry preparation, but in the school of everyday ministering, God used the Melvins along the journey to teach me truths and applications of truths that could never have been learned in the classroom or clinic.  I will be ever grateful.