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!

“Behold Thy Gods”

The first sin God forbade His people in the timeless ten commandments— “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”—became the besetting sin of Israel and the sin for which they were ultimately and severely judged with captivity.

If idolatry was the sin that most plagued God’s people before the cross, is there any reason to think that people or times have changed so drastically that a new sin has replaced idolatry as the number one offence that separates man from God?

The last note of warning sounded to believers in the New Testament is found at the end of John’s first epistle: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”

Idolatry is convenient; it appeals to the flesh. It is easy, relatively inexpensive and immensely popular as a form of religious experience.

It may have been all of the above that prompted Jeroboam, newly chosen King of Israel after King Solomon’s passing, to introduce idolatry during his reign to his people.  He sold the sin with the rationalization that “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem to worship; behold thy gods,” he said. Never mind they were mere calves of gold which could not speak, see or hear. “Behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” (I Kings 12:28)

And thus, a standard was set for Israel which would govern the direction and the destiny of the 10 tribes of the northern confederacy which split off after the passing of King Solomon, separating from the southern kingdom of Judah where the capitol was still Jerusalem. This is the nation that witnessed the majestic and mighty power of God whose hand guided the kingdom under King David and King Solomon as it became one of the wealthiest and most powerful nations in history. And, the nation, leaving God for gods, became captive in 722 B.C. when the Assyrians destroyed their capitol in Samaria and took the people captive, followed by the Babylonians doing the same thing to Judah in 605 B.C when Nebuchadnezzar’s armies pillaged and plundered Jerusalem taking captive to Babylon the best and brightest of that southern kingdom.

Fast forward to today. Because of convenience, ease, rationalism and fleshly appeal, we too often have worshipped calves of gold! We’ve embraced idolatry just as surely as did God’s people of old.

God hates the sin and will not overlook the practice of it. He will judge it when and where it rears its ugly head. What are the gods at whose altars we worship in this 21st century? What are our idols?

The god of sex. Thirty years ago, newspaper columnist William Raspberry, writing in the Indianapolis Star, summarized the moral dilemma facing America. It has not changed: “Things that decent people used to shun—or at least feel guilty about—are now described in morally neutral terms as ‘alternative lifestyles.’” Pre-marital sex (1/2 of all girls 18 years of age have engaged in sexual intercourse); pornography, a multi-billion-dollar business yearly; explicit language and physical sexual activity can be viewed on any night on about any media medium in almost any home in America; divorce, alarmingly frequent; unwanted pregnancies terminated legally by abortion (each day the equivalent of a 9/11 occurs in the cumulative number of abortions, infanticide, performed in abortion clinics in America!). Nationally, we have an abnormal and unhealthy fixation on sex so that it might well be called a calf and we, the United States of America, worship at its altar.

  *  The god of sports. I live in Indianapolis, the “Amateur sports capitol of the world.” Nothing wrong with sports, BUT the heroes of our youth are not scientists or soldiers or doctors and educators or missionaries but, in most cases, ball players; the highest paid young adults of our country are not teachers or social workers or police persons or factory workers but ball players; the biggest crowds assemble regularly not to hear symphonies or to listen to preachers but to see a ball game. Sports, in truth, has become a god at whose altars America is worshipping today;

  *  The god of mass media. A professor at Yale said, “The greatest threat to the American family is television, not because of what it promotes but because of what it prevents.” In America today, if you are between the ages of 8 and 28, studies show that you will spend 44.5 hours a week before a digital screen. 23% of kids and teens feel they are addicted to video games The average American teen, pre-pandemic, spent 7 hours daily before a screen, and that is not altogether doing homework! Speaking in his day of the content of most media programing, the late Bible teacher and pastor, J. Vernon McGee said, “Each program tries to outdo the other in presenting the vulgar, uncouth, crude, rude, raw, violent, fierce, coarse, antisocial, insolent and meaningless…wrapped in vulgar dialogue, a manure pile in the barnyard has more appeal than most of the TV offerings.”

*  The god of pleasure.  New highs, more leisure, greater fun, bigger thrills. In California, some youths get thrills out of riding down mountain sides on bikes that will do 150 mph. One boy had been almost killed doing this, but after his recovery he planned to ride again. When asked about the danger, he said he really didn’t care, all he wanted was one more ride. Local churches have not escaped this “pleasure treasure” mentality either. More weeks away, more Sundays at the favorite camp site, more “toys” to occupy our time and attention; more theme parks to visit, so that church on Sunday, well, that too often happens on weekends that are convenient;

*  The god of materialism:  success is often measured by how much we have; or by how big what we have is, i.e., how big is our house, our car, our yard, our pool, our bank account. The lottery mentality has a grip upon America so that people are at a fever pitch to purchase their chance at becoming independently wealthy.

Rudyard Kipling spoke of certain moral principles which will endure when he wrote “The Gods of the Copybook Headings.” He refers to the universal principles which were formerly printed in the copybooks with which children learned to read and write. The last stanza reads:

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of man; there are only four things certain since social progress began: that the dog returns to its vomit and the sow returns to her mire; and the burnt fool’s bandaged finger goes wobbling back to the fire; And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins, when all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins; as surely as water will wet us, as surely as fire will burn, the gods of the copybook headings with terror and slaughter return.”

That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the Lord, and there is none else.” (Isa.45:6)

“Keep it Up, it Matters!”

Former U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence was addressing a group of pastors in the Indiana Statehouse in February of 2016, months before he had any inkling of an idea that he would become by year’s end the next Vice-President of the United States, chosen by the would-be President-elect Donald Trump. To this group of 40 or so pastors gathered in a room of the Indiana Capitol complex, the then Governor Pence exhorted these pastors to “continue instant in prayer.” He shared an illustration that he had remembered from the time he went to serve Indiana in the United States House of Representatives in 2001. He met, in December of that year, for the first time, George W. Bush, known as “Bush 43.” He related how when introduced to the President he shared with him that “I want you to know, Mr. President, that my wife and I pray for you by name every day,” to which the President replied, “Keep it up, it matters.” The attack upon the United States had just occurred in September of that year and George W. Bush had begun serving his first term as president in January of that year. So, to have a U.S. congressman assure him of his daily prayers as President of a nation at war against terrorists who had waged a devastating attack upon our homeland must have meant a great deal to the President. Governor Pence wanted to encourage the Pastors who had met that winter day in the Statehouse to keep on praying for him and for all who are in authority because “It matters!”

Oh, how we must pray always because it matters! John Wesley knew the power of prayer when he thundered, “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell. God does nothing but in answer to prayer.”

E.M. Bounds reminded God’s host that “The preachers who gain mighty results for God are the men who have prevailed in their pleadings with God. The preachers who are the mightiest in their closets with God are the mightiest in their pulpits with men.”

Hear David’s pleading with the Almighty: “Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto Thee, when I lift up my hands toward Thy holy oracle…Blessed be the Lord, because He hath heard the voice of my supplications.” (Ps.28:2,6)

God has a storehouse of blessings awaiting ready to be meted out to those who will ask (Matt.7:7) Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman related a testimony of a man who stood in one of his meetings and said, “For one year I begged the streets as a tramp and one day I tapped a man on the shoulder and said, ‘Mister, could you please give me a dime?’ As soon as I saw his face, I realized it was my father. He threw his arms around me and said, ‘I have found you. All I have is yours!’ I stood there begging my father for ten cents while he had been looking for me to give me all he had.”

William Law reminds us that “It is not the arithmetic of our prayers, how many they are; nor the rhetoric of our prayers, how eloquent they are; nor geometry of our prayers, how long they be; nor the music of our prayers, how sweet our voice may be; nor the logic of our prayers, how argumentative they may be; nor the method of our prayers, how orderly they may be—which God cares for. Fervency of spirit is that which availeth much.”

Andrew Murray had studied the matter of intercession and devotion to God and rendered this profound conclusion: “Little of the Word with little prayer is death to the spiritual life. Much of the Word with little prayer gives a sickly life.  Much prayer with little of the Word gives an emotional life. But a full measure of both the Word and prayer each day gives a healthy and powerful life.”

Praying always with all prayer. Always. With all prayer. A lady asked G. Campbell Morgan “Do you think we ought to pray about even the little things in life?” Dr. Morgan, in his typical British manner answered, “Madam, can you think of anything in your life that would be big to God?”

Someone wisely noted that “Prayer is the closest you will ever be to God on this earth.”

Samuel Chadwick was quoted as declaring that “the one concern of the Devil is to keep saints from prayer. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.”

That is no doubt why the Apostle Paul exhorted us to “Pray without ceasing.” (I Thess. 5:16)

I lost track of who said the following, but it is spot on: “The church has many organizers, but few agonizers; many who pay, but few who pray: many resters, but few wrestlers; many who are enterprising, but few who are interceding. Two prerequisites of dynamic Christian living are vision and passion and both of these are generated in the prayer closet. The ministry of preaching is open to a few. The ministry of praying is open to every child of God. Do not mistake action for unction, commotion for creation, and rattles for revivals. The secret of praying is praying in secret. A worldly Christian will stop praying and a praying Christian will stop worldliness. Tithes may build a church, but it takes tears to give it life. That is the difference between the modern church and the early church. Our emphasis is on paying, theirs was on praying. When we have paid, the place is taken; when they had prayed the place was shaken. (Acts 4:13) In the matter of effective praying, never have so many left so much to so few.”

When times were agonizing during the days of our founding fathers as they were trying to forge a constitution that would stand the test of times, Benjamin Franklin rose to the floor and spoke: “I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that ‘except the Lord builds the House, they labor in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in the political building no better than the builders of Babel; we shall be divided by our local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and by-word down to future ages.”

“I therefore beg leave to move, that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessings on our deliberations, be haled in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of the city be requested to officiate in that service.”

And, I submit to you, dear friend, that the “reproach and by-word down to the future ages” that Mr. Franklin spoke of in that convention more than 200 years ago has come upon us it would seem. But God changes things through prayer. Brethren, let us pray.

The Cost of Being a Christian

Martin Luther was absolutely correct when he said that “a religion that gives nothing, costs nothing and suffers nothing is worth nothing.”

Perhaps because of what we know the Bible teaches concerning the grace of God and that salvation is a free gift, we’ve been led to believe that being a Christian costs nothing! Going to heaven is a “free ride” and it’s not only free, it’s profitable!

There is abroad today a current popular preaching known as the “prosperity gospel” that would lead one to believe that since God owns everything, His children are heirs to all things and can, therefore, expect to be well-to-do in material things. Good health and great wealth are to be expected prosperity preachers proclaim.

The truth is, that’s simply not the gospel Jesus preached; nor is it taught anywhere in the Word of God. There are, however, some elements of truth in the prosperity gospel. It is true, for instance, that God owns everything; and it is true that God’s children are heirs to all things. But to put those two statements together and come up with the conclusion that all believers can expect to be wealthy and healthy all the time is to embrace a flawed logic and a false gospel.

What Jesus did teach is that being a believer has never been financially profitable, whether this side of Calvary or the other!

While some of God’s people have known what it was to be very wealthy, they have been the exception rather than the rule. In fact, Jesus said that a wealthy person would enter heaven with great difficulty! He urged men to lay up treasures in heaven as opposed to on earth. James exclaimed that rich men should weep and howl for the miseries that would come upon them. Paul asserted that not many wise, not many mighty, not many noble were called…but God hath chosen the weak, the base, the despised…that no flesh should glory in His presence. (I Cor 1:26-29) Jesus said at His first public preaching opportunity that He had come to preach the gospel to the poor! (Luke 4:18)

So, the myth that all believers are and will be well to do in this world should be dispelled.

Also, the myth that says that since salvation is by the free, unmerited grace of God it costs nothing ought also to be dislodged from the minds of those who have believed that false teaching.

The fact of the matter is, salvation, though a free gift of God to all who will believe and receive Christ, did cost God His only begotten Son! It did also cost the only begotten Son of God the humiliation the Holy One suffered when He was made in the likeness of men, took upon Himself the form of a servant and temporarily laid aside the independent exercise of His Godhead attributes. Finally; He suffered infinitely while the sin of the world was put upon Him as He tasted “death” (eternal damnation) for every human being who ever had lived or would thereafter live. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) Yes, salvation was unspeakably costly to the Godhead, but, thankfully, “He… spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all….” (Romans 8:32) 

Not only did salvation cost God, it cost others also. It cost Abraham his only son as well: “By faith, Abraham offered up Isaac and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, accounting that God was able to raise him up from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.” (Hebs. 11:17) To be sure, God provided Abraham the lamb that was in the thicket so that Abraham’s knife was not plunged into the body of his precious son of promise, but in Abraham’s mind when he raised the knife, in faith believing and obeying God, Isaac was as good as dead. Abraham’s faith cost him his only begotten son.

And then Moses is cited in Hebrews 11 who “by faith, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharoah’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt….” (Hebs. 11:24-26)

So, from an earthly perspective, it “cost” Moses a fortune to stand for God and with God’s people. What has it cost you here today?

And then the prophets of old paid a price for their unashamed stand for God, giving in many instances their lives, their blood along with “mockings, scourgings, bonds and imprisonments; they were stoned, sawn asunder, tempted, slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented.” (Hebs. 11:36,37) These were not only prophets but “others also,” i.e., men and women of old who “quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of aliens. Women received their dead to life again:  and others were tortured not accepting deliverance that they might obtain a better resurrection.” (Hebs. 11:33-35) There was no hint of any prosperity gospel here in these “Hall of Faith” testimonies in Hebrews 11, stories of men and women of faith in yesteryears who paid the ultimate price for their faith standing forever as a witness to the fact that following God will cost you something!

According to the best traditions, it cost many key New Testament church planters and pioneers of the faith, including all of the Apostles, except the aged John who suffered banishment and exile, martyrdom after having been cruelly tortured. Matthew was slain with a sword in a distant Ethiopian city; Mark died in Alexandria after having been mercilessly dragged through the streets; Luke was hanged upon an olive tree in Greece; Peter was crucified in Jerusalem with his head downward; James the less was thrown from a pinnacle of the Temple and then beaten to death; Bartholomew was flayed alive; Andrew was bound to a cross from whence he preached to his persecutors until he died; Thomas was run through the body with a sword, Jude was shot to death with arrows, Matthias was stoned before he was beheaded; Barnabas was also stoned to death and Paul, after unspeakable tortures and persecutions, was said to have been beheaded at Rome by the Emperor Nero.

So much for the “prosperity” gospel!

What might being a follower of Christ cost you? “For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and a daughter against her mother and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s foes shall be they of his own household…he that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me…he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matt.10:35-37) Songster C.F. Weigle having paid a dear price for his faith, losing a loved one to the world, wrote of it when he penned the song No One Ever Cared for Me Like Jesus writing “I would love to tell you what I think Jesus, how I found in Him a friend so kind and true….” It may cost you a fortune; or “friends,” or a future or fame or “freedom,” or “fashion,” or some other thing you had treasured, but know that following, loving, serving Christ, will cost you something, probably something dear.

“I had walked life’s path with an easy tread,

Had followed where comfort and pleasure led;

And then, by ‘chance’ in a quiet place,

I met my Master face to face.

With station and rank and wealth for my goal,

Much thought for the body but none for the soul,

I had entered to win this life’s mad race,

When I met my Master face to face.

I had built my castles, reared them high,

Till their towers had pierced the blue of the sky;

I had sworn to rule with an iron mace—

When I met my Master face to face.

I met Him and knew Him, and blushed to see

That His eyes full of sorrow were fixed on me;

And I faltered, and fell at His feet that day

While my castles vanished and melted away.

My thought is now for the souls of men;

I have lost my life to find it again.

Ever since alone in that holy place

My Master and I stood face to face.”

            By Lorrie Cline

Lest We Forget…9.11.01

On Saturday we will, as a nation, commemorate what might well be labeled the “2nd Day of Infamy,” September 11, 2001, when four hi-jacked jet passenger planes flying over eastern seaboard states, guided by Wahhabi Islamist terrorists who, as part of Al-Qaeda, commandeered the speeding guided missiles toward the New York City Twin Towers, each landmark building comprised of 110 floors, the first collision occurring at 8:46 a.m. and the second attack at 9:03, followed by a 9:37 attack on the western face of the Pentagon, killing 184 Americans and a failed 4thattack, which was aimed at the Capitol building, crashing into a field in Pennsylvania after an heroic effort by passengers on board thwarted the mission leaving 40 Americans dead in that failed attempt. 2,750 died in the Twin Towers attack, leaving the towers a collapsed heap of rubble and the city of New York wreathed in awful smoke from the burning skyscrapers. The Pearl Harbor Day of Infamy left 2300 Americans dead so this “2nd Day of Infamy” eclipsed that December 7, 1941 attack in the number of casualties. The day following the attack on the U.S. Naval base in Hawaii, President Franklin Roosevelt asked Congress for and received a Declaration of War against Japan. The 9/11 attack set in motion unprecedented events that would take U.S. military personnel to the middle east, eventually to Afghanistan, to deal with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban and others who were occupying that terrorist haven from which attacks were launched at the United States and its allies.

On August 30, 2021, under the direction of President Joe Biden, the last of the U.S. military aborted its mission in Afghanistan, leaving behind hundreds, maybe thousands, of American citizens and Afghani citizens who had served as interpreters and enablers for our U.S. forces in their 20-year stint in this mid-eastern cauldron of wars. It is said to have been the first time ever that American Armed forces left a warzone with Americans still in the country in harms way, as well as allies and friends who had assisted us in our effort to set a nation free from terrorism. In the minds of many, it was a day that might well qualify as the “3rd Day of Infamy” for America. The last chapter in this sad saga has not yet been completed, and it is hoped that the last American and Afghani who had befriended us in our war efforts there will be provided a way out of this terror-riddled nation; however, conventional wisdom dictates that with the Taliban in total control of the country, including the strategic airports, and with their celebrations in the streets and reported door to door searches for friends of America who were left behind, the outcome will not be good and will be in fact, for America, tragic.

My forte is surely not politics or wartime strategies, so I will spare you any judgments in those areas, but I have been involved in a greater conflict, a battle of the ages, between truth and error, light and darkness, God and Satan and it is the underlying cause of all wars here and the outcome was sealed at Calvary 2,000+ years ago, but the final battle will not take place until the end of Christ’s 1,000 year reign from Jerusalem (the millennial rule/reign of Christ) when Satan shall wage one last battle against the Son of God before he will meet his eternal damnation when Christ consigns him to the Lake of Fire, his final, eternal destination. All the skirmishes between right and wrong, justice and injustice, man against man, nation against nation are only preludes to these final conflagrations sometimes called Armageddon (which will be fought on Israel’s plains called Megiddo during the last days as unfolded in the book of the Revelation).

What are we, as a nation, learning from these battles such as the 20-year war just “concluded” in Afghanistan? Well, I would suggest what we have not learned speaks louder than what we have learned. For instance, with thousands of troops and maybe hundreds of thousands of civilians, some U.S. and some Afghani citizens whose lives have been on the line and 13 heroic soldiers whose lives were sacrificed, there has been on the part of both political and religious leaders a conspicuous absence of any mention of prayer. One nationally known evangelist did appeal to believers to pray on a certain day and for that I esteem him highly, but I listened in vain for our President, Governors, the Generals and leaders of our military and political arenas in America today to plead with our people to pray to God in heaven for His hand upon us so that we might realize in this effort to extract ourselves from this seemingly impossible place of terroristic horror a genuine victory, not one that in the face of contrary facts would be proclaimed an “extraordinary successful” mission when anyone with any discernment would more aptly judge it to be an unspeakably tragic outcome. We have forgotten God when we have forgotten to pray and “the wicked shall be turned into hell and all the nations that forget God.” (Ps. 9:7).

We would do well, on this 20th anniversary of America’s worst attack by a foreign enemy on our own soil, to learn that our greatest need today is not:

  • More financial power
  • More military prowess
  • Different politicians to lead us
  • An overhaul of our educational system
  • Or even an obliteration of Covid-19

But our greatest need is a revival of repentance through prayer like we had on the evening of that beautiful Tuesday morning, the second Tuesday of September, in 2001 when we were attacked by terrorists, the day that more than 3,000 people died horrific deaths. That Tuesday evening churches opened their doors for prayer and people did come, kneeling at altars in places of prayer, seeking God’s intervening deliverance and help. Partisan politics were laid aside for a brief day or so while representatives and senators from both sides of the aisle sang together from the steps of the Capitol the hymn “God Bless America.”

We did seek His help and we were guided by His unseen hand through the years ahead and by His grace we were able to put to chase those ruthless killers whose mission was to bring death to America. God did help us and our greatest need today is for His help again and for people all across our land, in hamlets and homes, in chapels and cathedrals, to fall upon our knees and seek God, repenting of our sins, thanking Him for His grace, acknowledging His sovereign purposes and power, and crying out to Him for His never-failing mercies.

Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34)

“…I Will Not Deny Thee!”

Or, the subtitle of this devotional is “How to Deny Jesus.” Peter, as recorded in every gospel, affirms that though every other apostle should be offended because of Jesus he would never be offended, even though it should cost him his life. Jesus, however, gave Peter a reality check when he announced that on that very night even before the cock would crow broadcasting the news of a new day, Peter would deny his Lord three times. And, he did. As did every one of the other 10 remaining apostles who had supped with Jesus at the Upper Room Passover meal when Jesus announced to them that He was going to institute a new covenant, by His body and His blood. It came as a shock to Peter that Jesus could even think that the fisherman follower of the Christ who days earlier had confessed that Jesus was Messiah would/could deny His Lord! But deny he did, and it is possible if not probable that each of us has done the same or surely that had we been in that select group with the Savior as they walked toward the Garden of Gethsemane we would have done likewise. So, it is instructive to remind ourselves here in this 21st century how we too might deny the Lord who bought us.

Hot and bitter tears tore down the weather-beaten fisherman’s face and bathed the beard of the follower who had only hours before exclaimed, “I am ready to go with thee both to prison and to death!” A chorus of Amens had echoed from the mouths of the other 10 apostles, Judas having already departed from their midst on his mission of betrayal. All of these men who had heard and held Him for more than three years pledged unswerving loyalty to their Lord and Savior, even to the death.

But to Peter, in the face of his vow, Jesus simply said, “Peter, the cock will not crow today before you deny me three times.”

And, the incredulous story is related for us in Luke’s account of the words and works of Jesus. As you follow Peter to the High Priest’s house and watch him through the eyes of Luke as he warms by the fire and in the space of one hour denies three times that he knew Jesus, you’ll probably respond in one of two ways: (1) “How could he ever have done such a thing?” Or, (2) “I can understand how he could have done that; I might have done the same thing myself!”

Regardless of how you did respond, I can say with certainty: “Every one of us quite possibly might have done the same as Peter; and, what’s more, “Every one of us quite possibly—if not quite probably—either has done, is doing or will do at some time, what Peter did!” No, we did not intend to do it; we did not mean to do it, but we did! How did it happen? Let me give you six simple steps to follow that will put you in a dangerous place where denying Jesus might be your lot:

  • Get into a quarrel with another believer. See Luke 22:24 where, just after those tender moments in the Upper Room where Jesus led them in the Passover Supper and instituted what we now call “The Lord’s Table,” the disciples began to debate amongst themselves which of them should be accounted as the greatest in Christ’s kingdom. Luke says “And there was strife among them….”  It was just after that incident that, the Lord, having rebuked them, announced to Peter that on that very night he would deny three times that he even knew the Lord. Peter remonstrated that such a thing would never happen, but of course it did and in fact every disciple before morning had fled from following the One that they had followed through thick and thin for three years;
  • Underestimate the power of the flesh. Peter did as he unequivocally declared that “…I am ready to go with thee, both to prison and to death.” Peter no doubt was sincere in his affirmation, but he was naïve in his underestimation of the flesh. Jesus had warned of this in the Garden when He taught his followers that their spirit might be willing, but “the flesh is weak.” The flesh: just when we think we are on top of it, puts a choke-hold on us. Paul warned that when any person thinks he has it all together that he should “take heed lest he fall.” (I Cor.10:12) Solomon the wise said, “A man’s pride shall bring him low.” (Provs. 29:23)
  • Going to sleep at prayer is another way to set yourself up to deny Him, or at least to put yourself in a precarious place that may well lead to a denial. The inner circle of our Savior, at a prayer meeting with Jesus, in the shadows of Calvary, while He was in agony, praying earnestly and sweating great drops of blood, were sleeping a few yards away. It was in that frame of spiritual stupor that they left the Garden and went out, all of them, and denied their Lord and Savior.  We “go to sleep” at prayer to our spiritual peril. The antidote to denying our best Friend is to remain active at prayer. Going to meetings to pray and praying in going to meetings. “Above all…praying with all prayer and supplication….” (Eph. 6:16-18)
  • Another way to put yourself on the path of denying Jesus is to take God’s business into your own hands. Just after the garden prayer meeting that Peter, James and John slept through, soldiers came to arrest Christ and take Him to the High Priest’s house for examination. Luke tells us that one of His disciples smote the servant of the High Priest and cut off his ear. (Luke 22:49); whereas John is more specific and reveals that it was, you guessed it, Peter who took out his sword and began whacking away to defend the One whom he would shortly deny. This incident revealed that Peter did not yet understand the nature of the kingdom, that it was not of this world; and it revealed that Peter did not yet understand the purpose of the crucifixion. His kingdom is spiritual and His death was sacrificial. If we, like Peter, fail, to understand that distinction, we will put ourselves in the precarious place of being ready to deny Jesus, who He is and what He is all about. Yes, there was coming a crown, but first the cross, and it that order.
  • Next, deny Jesus if you would by following Him from afar, Luke 22:54. After the sleepy prayer meeting and the ill-timed attempt to fight off with a sword Jesus’ arrest, Peter found himself lurking back into the shadows. On a practical note, when we’ve suffered a few setbacks in our walk with Him, we too can find a lurking corner to crouch in. It’s missing a prayer meeting occasionally, then more and more; then a Sunday service here and there, then more and more; spiritually, we are in the shadows, alone, spiritually stunned and stunted and ripe for denying that you are a Christian at all!
  • Finally, we can put ourselves in that dread denial dilemma when we choose, as did Peter, to sit down among the enemies of Jesus Christ, v. 55. Peter warmed his hands at their fire. He was not where he should have been and thus, he did what he should not have done, he denied his Lord. We do the same today when we worship in their churches (i.e., churches where God’s Word is not preeminent); when we attend their banquets, or their seminars or join their associations. In other words, we deny Jesus when we take our position alongside of those who reject His Word and rebel against His will.

When I had finished my undergraduate training with a degree in Bible, and had received a graduate degree called M.Div. and another Master’s degree from a conservative school, I contemplated rounding out my education by attending a liberal school in pursuit of a Ph.D. In so doing, I needed a reference, so I wrote to one of the professors at the Central Baptist Theological Seminary, a teacher whom I deeply respected and dearly loved, asking him to write a letter of reference for me. I received from the dear doctor a kindly framed letter in which he politely said that he could not grant my petition. He said, in tender tone, that he was close to finishing his course and he would not want to meet his Lord and Savior having commended me to a liberal institution of “higher” education that was not known for its staunch stand upon God’s Word even though it had been started as a school for training young men and women for God’s service. That was more than half a century ago and the faithful prof was graduated to glory soon after he had written me that letter. I have always appreciated his watch care for his former student and hope I get to thank him “when we all get to heaven.” That wise mentor did not want to be a part of putting me into a place where I might be tempted to deny my Lord and Savior. I shall ever be indebted to him. I had no intention of denying Christ but neither did Peter, James and John; and neither do you, but remember, “…. the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” so be vigilant.

Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation:  the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) 

If you would like to see this sermon online, you can  at https://youtu.be/BZnQMEOvy4c .  It was preached at Pleasant View Baptist in Noblesville, September 5, 2021.

“And He gave some…evangelists….”

I have written before of my love for the office of evangelists and the gift they bring to a local church by way of admonishing, exhorting and stirring up sleepy saints. When I surrendered to preach as a 19-year-old college freshman, I thought that if God would use me in evangelism, I would love that life. With a buddy of mine, in summers we would “practice” our gifts by finding churches in northeast Missouri that were closed down, sweeping out the cobwebs and dusting off the pews and pulpit, announcing a service in the evening and a VBS in the morning. We were pretty wet behind the ears, so to speak, but it was an attempt to wake up some churches in small communities that had already closed their doors. People were generally kind and receptive to our youthful efforts. But when my training was complete, it was evident that God had prepared me to be a pastor and for more times than I could ever tell I have thanked God for His gifts and calling and have never once thought that I would have liked to have tried evangelism at least for a while. I have loved every moment, though some were heart-wrenching and difficult, of the pastorates that God gave me spanning 50 years.

But I have always loved evangelists and their most helpful ministries. Many of them have become life-long friends: Bill Hall, Jerry Sivnksty, the late Monroe Parker, Gary Gillmore, ___________ (the blank is for you to fill in with your name if I inadvertently left you out), Fred Moritz, Joe Mark, the late Phil Shuler, the under-shepherd’s sheep dog as he would characterize himself, and many more that I have been privileged to have known and to have co-labored with in the work of the ministry. I always scheduled at least one “revival” meeting a year and sometimes two, and if I had it to do over again there is only one meeting that I would not do over again. We have had some blessed times, enjoyed some enriching fellowship and in almost every meeting could point to at least one person or one family that made life-changing decisions that were lasting. Sadly, though, not many churches are availing themselves today of the gifted ministries of these God-called servants. Three-week meetings became in time two-week meetings, then one-week, then Sunday through Wednesday, then, if at all, a Sunday only meeting.

Maybe it’s because evangelists are men with “untouched idiosyncrasies.” Now, that was part of the fun of it for me, but I can see that for some it might have been foreboding.

When I pastored in the first assignment that God gave to me in Wichita, Kansas back in the early 1970’s I scheduled a meeting with an evangelist I had never met. He had held a meeting while I was a student at BJU in my home church in Ottumwa, Iowa and I had heard of him through that and had listened to a “record” (that is 60’s terminology for a recording on a plastic disc, in this case a “78 rpm”) that he had made, and I was captivated by the way he sang “I Dreamed of a Great Judgment Morning….” He was from Michigan and had the physic of a college football player. As a young pastor, I wrote him and scheduled a (one of my first) week of special meetings. (Anyone out there want to guess who this evangelist was?) With excitement I looked forward to and promoted to our people the meeting, and to kick the week off we planned a carry-in fellowship dinner after the first Sunday morning service. Brother Bob arrived on the Saturday before the Sunday start, and we got him settled into a motel for the week, praying about a great start the next day.

We did have a wonderful Sunday morning service, then gathered for dinner in the fellowship hall. Everyone had gotten their food and was enjoying a fine feast when I noticed that Bob the evangelist was not eating. Of course, I was alarmed and at once asked him if he were not feeling well, to which he replied, “I’m fasting for the week.” I quickly determined that if our guest evangelist were fasting for the week, I as host pastor should follow suit, so I did not eat a bite of that delicious looking Kansas cooking that day, nor Monday, nor Tuesday nor any day that week. By Tuesday morning the pains (hunger) had subsided and we met each day for prayer, but nary a bite to eat nor even a cup of coffee.

The Sunday evening service was good as were all the services as I recall. It was not a “gully-washer” as I often in those years prayed for, but it was a wonderful week. After the Sunday PM service we invited the brother preacher over for, well, fellowship, not food. I had barely gotten the key out of the front door lock when the big shouldered evangelist barged into the house and headed straight for the kitchen. We were a bit taken back by that since he had never been in our home before nor had we ever met him personally before that weekend! What was even more surprising, when he got to the kitchen, he took a left and went directly to the refrigerator (trust me, you can’t make this stuff up). He opened the door wide, checked out the inventory, asked for nothing, did an about face and headed to the living room where he laid down on the couch and said, “Put my record on.” Well, I was excited to put his record on as I could not get enough of “I Dreamed of a Great Judgment Morning.” He laid there until the record was finished resting his big framed body and visiting some before he excused himself returning to the motel for more rest.

That first in-house visit of Bro. Bob was a bit awkward but not too big a deal as we were looking forward to a great week and I was serious about fasting for God’s blessings. The week went by quickly as they always do when these special weeks of spiritual renewal finally roll around. I got through the fasting thing all week and I have never tried to duplicate that again (week long, that is). One more big surprise came before my new dear evangelist friend packed up to trek back home to Michigan was that he revealed to me the reason for his week-long fast:  he had eaten some bad pork over the Christmas holidays and had gotten deathly sick and had in fact been in bed until this week of spring meetings. And all the time I was thinking it was for spiritual reasons! Well, for whatever reason, I was still thankful for the week and even wrote him later to schedule another week. As I said, every evangelist seems to have some quirk (as if we pastors do not!!) and I can share many more tales with you, but at some future date. I still love them and count them amongst my very best friends for their giftedness and for their burden for souls. It was under the preaching of Evangelist Glen Schunk that as college freshman, home on Thanksgiving break, I heard the powerful preaching and compassionate call to serve that this seasoned soldier of the cross uttered one night in my home church revival meeting, and I responded to his invitation, presenting myself for full-time service if God would have me for such. Until that night, I was pursuing a degree in law. That was 60 years ago this fall. As I said, I love evangelists and still highly recommend them to any church thirsty for seasons of spiritual refreshment and renewal.

And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ….” (Eph. 4:11,12)

“In Modest Apparel”

The phrase “in modest apparel” appears in I Tim.2:9 in a discussion Paul had about the adorning of Christian women. Likewise, Peter in I Pet.3 speaks of the adorning of chaste women, saying that which adorns such women is not what is worn on the outside, but rather the meek and quiet spirit that a woman wears “is in the sight of God of great price.” (I Pet.3:4)

Fashions come and go. Both mens’ and womens’ dress tastes have radically changed over the years. If “sobriety” is one of the standards (I Tim.2:9) in dress mentioned by Paul (i.e., soundness of mind, thought) then one wonders what message the “dress of the day” is signaling.

Interestingly, I clipped a newspaper article from the Wichita Eagle and Beacon when I pastored there in the early to mid-70’s. The headline read, “Miniskirts Out in Moscow.” The first sentence of the article read, “The teenager in her miniskirt is out as a trend setter in Soviet fashions.” The article quoted a leading Soviet fashion designer in that atheistic, communist regime as bemoaning “French designers (who) now offer the image on woman with somewhat vulgarizing decadence.” Evidently, fashion designers in America missed that evaluation in their 70’s, 80’s and onwards creations. I do not know how long miniskirts remained on the “banned” list in Russia, but I remember in 1989, just after the iron curtain was beginning to crack open, when I was in Moscow on a missions trip with Ed Nelson and Natasha Vins, seeing women dressed in fashionable business suits with skirts well below the knee-line standing on busy streets hitch-hiking a ride home from work as an alternative to riding the Moscow subway!

Both Paul and Timothy wrote about modesty in the 1st century Roman world that believers were coping with, a world the fashions of which one writer characterized this way: “There were many ways of dressing the hair. The hair was waved and dyed, sometimes black but more often auburn. Wigs were worn, especially blond wigs, which were found even in the Christian catacombs; and hair to manufacture was imported from Germany, and even as far away as India…purple was the favorite color for clothes; one pound weight of the best Tyrian purple wool stained through twice, cost 1,000 denarii which was more than three year’s wages. In one year, huge quantities of silks, pearls, scents and jewelry were imported from Arabia and India. Diamonds, emeralds, topazes, opals and sardonyx were favorite stones. Earrings were made of pearls and Seneca spoke of women with two or three fortunes in their ears. Slippers were encrusted with them. Nero had a room whose walls were encrusted with them. Christianity came into a world of luxury and decadence. Peter pleads for the graces which adorn the heart….” **

As to fashions before the time of Christ, Kiel and Delitzsch, writing on the Minor Prophets, said, “The prophets did not care for the externals of this kind, but it was evident to them that ‘as the dress, so is the heart.’ That is to say, the clothes were witnesses, in their esteem, of the foreign inclinations of the heart.” This was a commentary on Zeph.1:8 where God through the prophet is explaining the severity of His judgment on “the day of the Lord” because of the “strange apparel,” apparently worn in the worship of idols and false gods. Isaiah prophesied in Isa.3:19ff. that when God judged Israel He would take away from the daughters of Jerusalem “The chains, and bracelets, and mufflers, the bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and…earrings, the rings, and nose jewels, the changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles and the wimples, and the crisping pins, the glasses, and fine linen and the hoods and the vails.” Evidently their lavishness in dress had become a substitute for their love of God and the inward beauty that only He could give.

So, what does the New Testament say about “modest apparel?” Well, in I Peter and I Timothy the apostles direct their remarks to, much like the prophets of old, the lavish 1st century fashions that were accentuating the externals as that which made a woman attractive. Paul argues that modesty must dictate what is beautiful about a woman. Braided hair, gold, jewels or costly array should not be the first thing that speaks out of a godly woman’s presence, but rather, as Peter writes, “the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit….” (I Pet.3:4). And, in I Timothy 2:9 when Paul speaks of a woman’s clothing, he uses the word kosmio(cosmos) which hearkens to that which has order, purpose, arrangement, precision and decorum as in the cosmos (universe) which God created with all of the above and more. Whether male or female then, in our dress, our apparel, our comportment, we should evoke order, appropriateness, modesty (shame facedness) and decorum. Dress should be proper and for the occasion. For instance, it would, except in rare instances, be inappropriate to dress up like a clown to attend a funeral; or come to church wearing a baseball uniform, etc. Good sense and common sense should prevail and always, sobriety, accentuating one’s inward character rather than his/her outward costume. Peter and Paul both raise concerns about abusing outward adornment, such as hair-do’s, gold jewelry and certain kinds of apparel; not that wearing jewelry or having one’s hair done up neatly or wearing clothing that is attractive is wrong, but that these outward adornments should not be what makes a woman beautiful but rather the heart and spirit of a person whose first characteristic is godliness.

In summary, modest apparel is always approved of God; nakedness is a sign of shame, outward trappings such as jewelry and make-up and hair-do’s are not bad in and of themselves but in everything a follower of Jesus wants to glorify Him and attract others to him through a right spirit that exudes from our heart rather than through outward adorning that may be worn to wow people with what we wear and how we wear it.

Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies…she maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple…strength and honor are her clothing.” (Provs 31:10,22,25)

**I failed to document this lengthy direct quote as to its source; if any reader can identify its author please let me know.

Rest, Now! (Part 2)

In part 1 of this lesson on entering into our faith-rest now, we saw from Hebrews chapter 3 that the reason why a whole generation of redeemed Israelites missed the rest that God had waiting for them in the promised land of Canaan was because of “an evil heart of unbelief.” (Hebs.3:12) It manifested itself in the promised land bound saints by a discounting of God’s might and miraculous works. (Ps.78:12-32) Further, they disregarded His Word. (Hebs. 4:2) That was evidenced in their hearts that were hardened (Hebs. 3:8), their hearts then erred from the truth, (Hebs. 3:10) and finally their hearts had become just plain unbelieving. (Hebs. 3:12) So, when one discounts the works of God and disregards the Words of God, that person has all the characteristics of an evil heart of unbelief.

We noted also the causes of the evil heart of unbelief. (Hebs.3:13) In a word, the cause of one’s heart being disaffected toward God is “the deceitfulness of sin.” (v.13) When one believes the lies of a Devil’s demon or of one’s own depraved nature, then that deceived person will suffer from an evil heart of unbelief.

Now, the consequences of such an error, and among the worst of the consequences is that such an one will fail to enter into the rest that God has provided for them. (Hebs.3:19) This should not be confused with the “rest from” our labors of life awaiting those who will eventually be received into heaven to spend eternity with the triune Godhead and all who have believed in Jesus Christ (Rev. 14:13); but the “rest” that Hebrews chapters 3 and 4 speaks of is the rest that all adults 20 years of age and over when they left Egyptian bondage missed because of the evil heart of unbelief that they were smitten by in their desert wanderings causing them to miss the victories that awaited them in the promised land. As Paul carefully noted in I Cor.10, these were redeemed people:  all were “under the cloud”—led by God’s presence; all passed through the sea—delivered by God’s power; all were “baptized unto Moses” in the cloud and in the sea—having identified with His message and mission; all did eat the same spiritual manna—i.e., the Word of God; and all did drink of the Rock—Christ Jesus. So, many were saved, Paul reasons, but many did not enter into rest, i.e., the promised land of conquest and victory. They in mass committed what we know as the sin unto death. (I John 5:16; I Cor. 11:29,30) Paul further depicts their sin as lust, idolatry, fornication, tempting Christ and murmuring. (I Cor. 10:6-10)

We are encouraged, though, to learn that there is a cure for an evil heart of unbelief. That cure starts with appropriating the victory (Roman 7:24) that God has already provided and promised us through faith. (Hebs. 4:2) We can realize this victory as we appropriate the Word of God. (Hebs. 4:12) and the intercessory work of Jesus on our behalf before the very throne of God. (Hebs. 4:14,15) Finally, we can enter into rest NOW by appropriating the power that is available to us through prayer. (Hebs. 4:16)

It’s a matter of the heart. “You need not seek rest in the mountains or by the sea if you do not have it in your heart,” someone has said. We can enjoy rest now. “Today,” was the emphasis of the warning raised in Hebrews. “Today, if you will hear His voice, Harden not your hearts as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness.” (v. 7) “But exhort one another daily while it is called Today,” and “While it is said, To day, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts….” (vss. 13,15)

A few concluding thoughts. We should fear lest any of us should seem to come short of entering into this rest. (Hebs. 4:1) We should know that God does want us to “rest,” (v.9) and that the key to entering into this faith-rest is “believing,” and “ceasing from our own works.” (4:3,10)

So, right here and now, if you are a believer and have not allowed an evil heart of unbelief to grip you, you can and should be enjoying the rest God wants you to enjoy. It is a rest of faith. It has abandoned trying to please God by self-efforts. It is a rest of victory, victory that overcomes the world. (I John 5:4) It is the rest of walking by faith and not by sight, free of worry and full of trust. It is not the eternal rest after time that God wants you to have now but it is the rest of a victorious Christian life. 

The alternative is a life of works that are fruitless because they are flesh driven not faith-based. Entering into this rest will change the course of your life. The requirements: salvation by grace through faith; surrender by faith through grace, appropriating His Word, His Work and His Wonders through prayer.

“There is a place of quiet rest,
Near to the heart of God.
A place where sin cannot molest,
Near to the heart of God.
O Jesus, blest Redeemer,
Sent from the heart of God.
Hold us who wait before Thee,
Near to the heart of God.”

	Cleveland McAfee, 1908
(Written after two of his nieces
died of diphtheria.) 

Rest, Now!

Drop out, cop out Christianity might be an accurate way to characterize the mainstream of professing Christendom in the early decades of this 21st century. From the pulpit to the pew there is evidence of a widespread defection from the ranks of those who were once counted as Soldiers of the Cross.

Men and women who for years have been on the front lines for the Lord have left their posts and have gone AWOL from the Lord’s army.

With the passing of every year, we can understand more clearly what Jesus said when he spoke those words: “When the Son of Man cometh, will he find faith on the earth?”

Though this widespread defection from the faith (which has been going on for forty years or more) is alarming to all of us, we ought not be caught unawares. God’s Word is full of warnings that such would be the case.

Men shall depart from the faith in the latter times, Paul told us in I Tim. 4:1.

The severest warnings in all of the Word of God are found in the book of Hebrews, especially chapters 3,4, and 10. The Hebrew believers to whom this epistle was originally penned, having suffered many afflictions for following Christ with the people of “the way,” were tempted, looking back over their shoulders, to return to their bondage under the law that they had been delivered from when trusting Christ as Lord. The author of the book of Hebrews pleaded with them to “go on to perfection (maturity)” warning that to turn back, as the Children of Israel wanted to when looking back to Egypt from their wilderness hardships, would only bring severe chastening from God. 

God does not want us to drop out! He wants us to hold fast our profession. He wants us to keep on keeping on. He wants us to enter into REST.

No, not the rest that we look forward to when we get to heaven, but the rest realized NOW that comes when we are living victoriously by faith.

“There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.” (Hebs. 4:9)

That rest can come NOW, but with the greatest urgency the writer of Hebrews warns 1st century saints that if they are not careful, they will miss that rest. That which would rob them then and us today of this rest is an evil heart of unbelief. It robbed the saints in the wilderness—many of them; it has robbed many saints since; it is robbing many today, and if we are careless, it will rob us of our faith-rest. 

One tell-tale sign that a person is in danger of not entering into faith-rest is that he or she has embraced “an evil heart of unbelief.” (Hebs. 3:12) Forefathers in faith, as they wandered 40 years in the wilderness leaving Egypt and traversing to Canaan, a journey that might have been completed in 11 days, discounted God’s works. (v.9) Their swift and almost unanimous departure is catalogued in Ps. 78:12ff.  “Marvelous things did He in the sight of their fathers….” He divided the sea while they passed through, making the waters to stand as an heap; He led them by His presence by a cloud in the daytime and a pillar of fire at night; He brought water out of rocks to give them to drink in the wilderness; He rained down manna from heaven so that they ate “angels’ food”; He rained flesh of fowl upon them as the sand of the sea so they had meat to eat; He led them 40 years in the wilderness and neither their clothes nor their shoes waxed old upon them. “For all this they sinned still and believed not His wondrous works.” (Ps. 78:32)

They discounted His works and disregarded His Word (Hebs.4:2) They had a bad case of heart trouble. Their hearts were hardened (3:8); their hearts erred from the truth (3:10) and their hearts were unbelieving. (3:12)

These were not infidels or heathen people who had never been exposed to God’s person and power. They had witnessed the mighty hand of God as He did miracle upon miracle in demonstrating to a brazen Pharoah the answer to his question, “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go?” (Ex.5:2) 10 awesome plagues culminating in the death of every Egyptian first-born was God’s unmistakable answer. 2 million Israelites witnessed these mighty miracles first-hand yet 40 years later, because of unbelief, all of those who left Egypt on the night of redemption who were 20 years of age and older had died in the desert. No wonder in Hebrews 10:31 the writer exclaims “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” They discounted His works and they disregarded His Words. But why?  

Hebrews 3:13 gives us the answer: “But exhort one another daily, while it is called Today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” The deceitfulness of sin says “Just this one time won’t matter;” “Everybody else is doing it;” and “God is a loving God therefore He will understand;” or “You owe it to yourself, if you don’t look out for # 1 who will?” It may whisper to you “I’m only hurting myself by doing this;” or quite possibly “This is just a little sin, it’s not any big deal.” The deceiver may try to get you by convincing you that “It’s not right, but look at the good that could come of this;” or “OK, just promise to do it this one time only and never again.” Then he may have lied by saying “It’s all right, nobody will ever know;” or “All you want to do is make yourself happy, so what’s wrong with that?” The one whom Jesus said was a liar from the beginning and the father of the lie has a bag full of tricks to pull on anyone who will give him the time of day. To those who yield to any of his deceitful lies the Word says “Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.” (Gal.6:7)

(To be continued)

“It Ain’t Over ‘til It’s Over!”

The title of this post just might bring to memory Yogi Berra, famed catcher of the New York Yankees back in the years when I was a pre-teen devouring everything baseball. Yogi became known for what I would call linguistic conundrums such as “baseball is 90% physical and the other half mental,” or “No one goes there anymore, it’s too crowded,” or “A nickel isn’t worth a dime anymore,” or “It’s like de ja vu all over again,” or “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” and scores of others that have been attributed to the baseball hall of famer. 

I thought of Yogi and his famous “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over” quip last Thursday night, August 12, when Major League Baseball recreated at the expense of $5,000,000 a regulation size baseball field in the middle of a corn field in northern Iowa, my home state, reminiscent of the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams,” with the now famous mantra “If you build it, they will come.”

 Well MLB did rebuild it for Thursday’s game that pitted the Chicago White Sox against the New York Yankees, bussing the teams in I believe from Chicago and Minneapolis to the small town of Dyersville, Iowa, where every one of the 8,000 bleacher seats were filled, each ticket costing about $1800. I did not watch much of the game except the 8thand 9th innings tuning in at the 8th inning. After a see/saw scoring game played well by both teams dressed in their retro uniforms, it looked as though the Yankees had it in the bag going into the bottom of the 9th inning with an 8-7 lead, but in the back of my mind was the Yogi Berra ism “It ain’t over till it’s over.” I thought I would brush my teeth, then turn off the TV and retire to bed for the night, but as I came out of the bathroom, I noticed a lot of players out of the dug-out and it looked as though the last three outs must have come quickly as I had only taken about a five-minute break; so, I put the tube to sleep and went to my bedroom thinking the Yanks had won 8-7. Was I surprised Friday morning to learn that a walk-on hitter, with a man on base, knocked one out of the park for the White Sox sending the Yankees home with another L in their column, the Sox winning 9-8! Again, I pinched myself and drew a line under the Berra ism that was then going through my mind again, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

If I have not lost you by now (realizing some of my readers could not care less about the recreated Field of Dreams or a ball-game played on it by the Sox and Yankees) I want to share with you an obvious spiritual application to this real time illustration. I have recently tried to enter into the Apostle Paul’s final moments as he recorded his farewell words in 2 Timothy 4. The great missionary mentor and evangelist said plainly “the time of my departure is at hand.” For Paul, at that time, in a prison in Rome, he was no doubt expecting death by decapitation or by being impaled on a pole that would be placed in Nero’s palace garden where Christians, whom Nero blamed for the fire that destroyed more than half of the city, were routinely set on fire lighting the gardens for Nero’s night parties. Paul was reconciled and ready for his departure, affirming that he had “fought a good fight… finished my course… kept the faith.” For Paul now, it was over.

There was a time when Paul was not ready to concede that fact. When he met a few years earlier with the elders of Ephesus at Miletus Paul said that he was not moved by any of the afflictions that he had suffered, “neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy….” He had quite a way to go yet and he was looking forward to finishing in due time “with joy.”

I thought about my course. The idea of life as a “course” is used sparingly in the Bible. Paul used it in a sermon he preached in Antioch of Pisidia when on his first missionary journey he preached in the synagogue there, reaching back into Jewish history harkening to Israel’s bondage in Egypt, their wandering in the wilderness, their occupying Canaan, the period of the judges and then the kings, coming down to the advent of the Messiah and the preparation for that by the ministry of John the Baptist. Paul says “And as John fulfilled his course….” (Acts 13:25). The word course is used in extra Biblical literature at the time of the writing of the New Testament to refer to the heavenly bodies, the galaxies, that have been set in their courses. It suggests plan, purpose and providence. John and Paul and every servant of Christ by extension had/has a fixed course in the big picture of God’s world and work. As we, like Paul, fight the fight while keeping the faith, we can with Paul one day say by the grace of God, “I have finished my course.” When Paul and the 276 men on the ship heading toward Rome felt that they might well lose their lives after weeks in a fierce storm at sea, an angel of God appeared to Paul in the night assuring him that his course was not yet finished and that he would still be brought before Caesar. (Acts 27:23,24)

We may not have Christ appear personally to us affirming that we yet have work to do before we finish our course, but we can be certain that “…He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6) Our job was summarized by the words of Christ to that 1st century church at Smyrna when He said through John to the church there, “…be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” (Rev. 2:10)

So, in finishing his course, Paul was not expecting, as Nero no doubt was, an execution to happen but rather an offering to occur. He had alluded to it in Philippians 2 when he encouraged that model church by declaring that “…if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all.” (Phil.2:17) Paul borrowed the Old Testament language of a sacrificial offering to God, much as he did in Romans 12:1 when he exhorted the Roman believers to “present your bodies a living sacrifice….” Tomorrow, or the next day or whatever day they should lead me to the place of my departure, it will not be an execution, Paul reasoned, but rather an offering that will cause joy and rejoicing. This was the attitude of a man who said, “I am in a straight betwixt two, having a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better….” (Phil. 1:23

How is it with you, my beloved brethren? Are you striving by grace to be able to affirm with Paul “I have finished my course (with joy); I have fought a good fight; I have kept the faith?” If you are reading this today, there is still something for you to do. Remember, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over!”

Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day:  and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:8)