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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!

Can it Be?

Photo from mbhistory.org

In my last post I told of Russian Pastor Georgi Vins exiled in 1979 from his homeland for the “crime” of preaching the gospel.  He was separated from his family and his beloved home until the early 1990’s when the then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev reversed the decree whereby Vins had been stripped of his Soviet citizenship (President Ronald Reagan was a key figure in this glasnost experiment) eventuating in Georgi getting the green light to return to Russia for a visit to his cherished Russian homeland and churches and family.  He never did move back to Russia, spending his last years in Elkhart, Indiana, representing the persecuted church until his homegoing. But the trip back to his homeland, after spending years in Siberian prisons for his faith, and more years in exile, was a thrilling experience.  While waiting for his visa application to be approved for his trip home, Vins wrote a poem in part and then finished it in November of 1990 when he was in Leningrad.  I had prayed for Vins prior to his release from prison and had held him, a 21st century Hebrews 11 kind of believer of whom this world was not worthy, as a hero and was privileged in about 1984 to have him speak in our church in Indianapolis to share his testimony.  I want to share with you the poem he wrote and to which I have alluded.  He entitled it “Can it Be?”

Can it be that I soon will be seeing
 My dear brothers and sisters again?
Can it be that once more I’ll be hearing
 Russian choirs singing songs about Christ?

In the language familiar since child hood
 I will hear and drink in God’s own Word!
And my heart is preparing for this gladness,
 I had dream of it while far away.

Years have flown. . .as the birds in migration
 Swiftly speed with sad cries to the south.
But how strong were the walls of my prison,
Bound by chains—bitter dread and farewells.

After that, the great waves of the ocean
 Thrust the coast of my homeland away…
And each day, like a craft small and lonely,
Was besprinkled by sorrowful tears.

The afflictions groaned on without number
 As the waves of destruction rose high…
Only faith through the clouds shone more brightly,
And the Lord strengthened me by His love.

(The rest of the poem was written in Leningrad.)

But today, with great joy I am seeing 
My dear brothers and sisters again!
And I hardly dare breathe, as I’m hearing
Russian choirs singing songs about Christ!

I am listening once more to God’s message,
Once again with the brethren I pray.
Oh, how precious to me are Christ’s people
And a Russia that seeks God today!”

Knowing that there was not any religious freedom in Russia before Gorbachev and Reagan achieved the glasnost accords in August of 1990, my wife and I “picketed” the Wichita Convention Center in the summer of 1978 while 10,000 delegates filed into a denominational world conclave featuring some visiting Russian Baptist pastors who were addressing that meeting saying that there was religious freedom in the Soviet Union at that time.  Our picket signs were simple:  “WHAT ABOUT GEORGI VINS?”  Within about a year, Vins was shipped out of Siberia to the United States, exiled from his homeland without any family members but living in freedom!  In time, as stated above, he was able to revisit Russia and his family was able to migrate to America.  In 1989 I was thrilled to visit Russia with Evangelist Ed Nelson and Pastor Vins’ daughter Natasha on a trip to Moscow, Kiev, Leningrad and other cities where we worshipped with and sang with those precious believers, hearing some of those wonderful choirs that Georgi alluded to in his poem.  It was through interpreters that we prayed, praised and preached, but the Holy Spirit of God left little doubt in our hearts that those people in those Soviet Union churches, many of whom had spent time in prison themselves, were the kind of believers one reads about in Hebrews 11.  It was so very humbling and exhilarating that words could never capture the feeling.  Praise God for Georgi Vins, his faith, his fearlessness and his fidelity to Jesus to the end in his pulpit and in his prison cell.  His impact upon this preacher’s life as a young minister of the gospel enjoying freedom and affluence has in part shaped my life and I will be ever grateful to him and to God for allowing me to follow his ministry in the shadows and through the sunshine.

And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment…of whom the world was not worthy, they wandered in deserts, and in mountains and in dens and caves of the earth.  And these all, having obtained a good report through faith….” (Hebrews 11:36-39)

Suffering 21st Century Saints

About 25 years ago, an evangelist was able to organize a trip to Cuba, the window of opportunity opening for a limited time to travel there for humanitarian and educational purposes.  It was a two-way arrangement with our neighboring nation just 90 miles southeast of Florida and the journey was one etched in my memory indelibly.  Another Indiana layman accompanied the evangelist and his team, along with myself and the late Dr. Collins Glenn who then pastored the Grace Baptist Church of Muncie, Indiana.  Having flown to Havana, we immediately got into waiting vehicles and traveled two or three hours to the western side of the island.  The evangelist had done the preparatory work for the trip and had some contacts that arranged for us some motel-like housing which served as a place for us to get some rest before going to some more remote villages and/or homes for services with small church groups that had been alerted to our coming and were waiting on us when we arrived.  We went from one group to another holding brief services including the preaching of a gospel message.  The evangelist leader of the mission was adept at chopping boards or concrete blocks in half with his bare hands, so when we were with him if there were young people present, he would get their attention by demonstrating his brute strength through the karate skills he had mastered.  Then, either he or one of the group would share a testimony or a brief message.  It was a surreal experience for all of us in the ministering group to be holding evangelistic services in a communist nation which had been closed for decades to this type of ministry.  We kept a low profile, and the entire mission was no longer than a week as we traveled sometimes to small villages holding meetings in huts or homes with people sitting in window sills when there was no standing room left inside.  

We preached to encourage the believers and to evangelize the lost and the reception that was extended to us was overwhelmingly warm.  A couple of the meetings were held in bigger towns at an outdoor park or in a small auditorium that would hold maybe 80 to 100 people.  It was an amazing few days!  I shall never forget a Sunday dinner held in a rural home with the family serving us some fried chicken and a vegetable and piece of bread.  You did not have to be a farmer to realize the chicken was pretty skinny and the meat on the bones pretty scarce, but you knew as you were eating it that it was their choicest meal, and they were giving it sacrificially to people they had never met.  It was a totally humbling experience yet one that I suppose most missionaries have had maybe often on their journey into the homes and hearts of those they were trying to reach for Christ.

Before boarding the plane back to our homeland, we met with a church in Havana.  Martin and Marita (not their real names) were eighteen years old when Castro took power following Cuba’s revolution.  They had spent all of their adult lives under communism, he a pastor of a Baptist church and his wife a wonderful, godly helpmeet, rearing their children up in the faith, grounded in the Word.  We got to visit one of their services and were so blessed by the spirited singing of the same songs we sing on Sundays in our USA services only in Spanish.  The love was transparent, love for Jesus and love for each other and love for a group of visiting believers whom they had never met before.   Pastor Martin was giving oversight to several satellite churches that his church had “mothered.”  The experience of worshipping there that night was one of the highlights of my ministry.  A bond was quickly forged between the pastor and his wife and us and God orchestrated a trip for the two of them to our church a year or two later so that we could reciprocate the blessing, scheduling them to visit and testify in several of our churches in Indiana, Illinois and Michigan.   They were our guests for about six weeks.  And their experience here must have given new meaning to the word “surreal.”  On one occasion we took Pastor Martin and Marita to a large store  that had groceries, clothes, hardware, etc. all under one roof—you know the kind like some Kroger or Meijer stores that we regularly shop in here.  After a brief time in this massive store, Marita began to tremble, begging us to take her home.  We did so of course with concern that she might have gotten sick; but, no, she was not sick, but was simply overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the choices and goods available to us living as we do awash in abundance.  She had never dreamed of anything like what she saw, and she just could not take it in without becoming faint.  She had been accustomed all of her adult life to having a few eggs rationed out to her for her family each month and living only a bare material existence.  She and her family and church enjoyed an abundance of fellowship, of love and of the Spirit’s grace, but the material extravagance she was exposed to on their visit to America was more than she could deal with on that particular day and it literally made her weak.

We kept in touch with these wonderful people for several years through emails and even a few phone calls until the door once again closed.  But the memories of that week we spent in their homeland, much like stepping back into the 50’s, and the six weeks or so that we were able to share with them here, are memories etched upon the pages of our minds forever.  It made us so appreciative of those faithful believers who in the harshest of circumstances cherish their freedom and standing in Christ and relish His grace and goodness; yet it humbled us deeply to think of what freedoms and fulness, both spiritually and materially, we have enjoyed here in America past and present, yet have so often taken for granted with an almost thankless spirit.  But with each passing day now, we feel these freedoms are more fleeting and we understand that what our friends living so near the States but such worlds away have only known since they were married in their late teens, totalitarianism, may soon be what we are daily experiencing too.  It behooves us ever to trust God, not the government and to be prepared to stand, and having done all to stand.

Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth:  for I am God and there is none else.” (Isa.45:22)

On the Misty Flats

To every man there openeth a way, and ways, and a way; And the high soul climbs the high way, and the low souls gropes the low.  And in between, on the misty flats, the rest drift to and fro.  But to every man there openeth a high way, and a low; And every man decideth the way his soul shall go.” (John Oxenham)

The author of those lines was, of course, addressing the subject of mediocrity.  Webster defines mediocrity as “a commonplace ability or condition.”  Mediocrity is of “middle quality, ordinary, common.”

It is, of course, not a fault to be common or ordinary if one is doing the best he can; but to do a job of ordinary quality when you could, with extra effort, do it so that it would be “better than average,” is a fault.  A case could be made that the curse of Christendom, currently, is mediocrity.  Too often in our everyday lives we settle for less than our best. My grandmother said “Good, better, best; never let it rest, ‘til your good is better and your better’s best.”  

Sadly, even in the Lord’s work, in spite of Paul’s admonition that “whether we eat or drink or whatsoever we do, do all to the glory of God,” (I Cor.10:31) we settle too often for less than our best.  Even though we sing “Hear ye the Master’s call, give me thy best, for be it great or small that is His test, do thou the best you can, not for reward, not for the praise of men but for the Lord,” our actions betray the fact that we sing those words without having our heart in them.

We are engaged in the highest calling and have been given the heaviest commission having been enlisted into a heavenly cause,  the serving of our Lord Christ, the building of His body, His Church, and the duty that is ours demands an effort of uncommon caliber.  The Old Testament sage put it this way, “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)

Many reasons could be cited for this common ailment.  Perhaps we suffer from the curse of complacency, or convenience, or the spirit of casualness so prevalent in our age.  It may be a character issue.  Did you ever make a wad of paper out of a gum wrapper, then toss it as a ball to a waste basket only to find that your aim was off; and the paper “ball” ended up behind, yet out of sight, the intended goal forcing you to make a split-second decision to pick up and put the errant “ball” into the waste basket where it belongs or to ignore it since it was out of sight and leave it for the janitor to sweep up since that was, after all, what he gets paid for?  It is not convenient to stop to pick up the mis-guided missile; we are casual in our house so what’s a miniscule piece of paper matter in the big picture, and, after all, who really cares?  It seems like a such a non-issue that it doesn’t warrant a second thought; that is, until we hear the words of James echoing somewhere in the chambers of our mind: “Therefore, to him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17)

There are safeguards and solutions to the problem of mediocrity:

  •  Whatever you are called upon to do, pray God will bless your efforts.  We can accomplish much for God after we have prayed; we can accomplish nothing for God until and unless we have prayed.  The late evangelist, Glen Schunk, under whose ministry I surrendered to preach in 1960 said, “I built my evangelistic ministry on my knees.”
  • Yield your members as instruments of righteousness (Rom. 6:13).  Nothing, absolutely nothing done in the energy of the flesh (old man) will please God, while nothing, absolutely nothing, done in the power of the Spirit will displease Him.
  • Prepare yourself before you attempt to do whatever you have been called upon to do, spiritually through prayer, Bible reading, meditation (90% of inspiration is perspiration), and physically with proper rest and diet.  Frances Ridley Havergal said she was given good advice:  “Fanny, pray God will prepare you for all that He has prepared you for.”
  • Practice: work out the rough spots; even the world knows that practice is vital, i.e., ball teams, marching bands, orchestras and symphonies.  Michael Angelo:  “Trifles make perfection and perfection is no trifle.”
  • Plan.  Plan your work and work your plan, giving attention to details, knowing what, when and where and how you will be serving, keeping always a measure of flexibility in your mental and spiritual reservoir.
  • Produce with all your body, soul, mind and strength, give it 100%
  • Please the Lord, for it is Him that we are striving to honor, and it is Him that will be our Judge and whose nod of approval we solely desire.

Let us, therefore, confess our mediocrity and by His grace and with His enablement forsake it.  Ask your Heavenly Father to make you a Christian of an uncommon caliber and your church a church that is not known for its mediocrity.

“Every work for Jesus will be blest; but He asks of everyone his best.
Our talents may be few—these may be small,
But unto Him is due our best, our all.”

And whatsoever ye do in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.” (Col.3:17)

The Too Much With Us World

The world in which we live is under a divine curse and its days are numbered.  By world, I do not mean the earth, though it too will one day be destroyed by fire as it once was by water, but by world I mean the cosmos of which every living being is a part:  the political, religious, educational, cultural, socio-economic multi-faceted existence as we know it on planet earth.  It is simply called “the world,” and the aged Apostle declared that it is passing away, with all of its lust (desires); and in the light of the brevity of life and the fleeting nature of the cursed cosmos, John the beloved says we should not, as believers, be in love with this waning world.

Yet, it’s a challenge, daily, moment by moment, not to be!  Its sometimes-dazzling sights and sounds, its intoxicating allurements, its heady heights of pleasure, popularity and power are a constant pull upon the “flesh” that is common to all the offspring of Adam.

None of us can live aloof from the power of the pull of the cosmos. Eve, deceived by the Serpent, first opened the door to it when she saw and ate of a tree “desired to make one wise.”  Jesus was subject to severe satanic solicitations appealing to the lust of the flesh, the pride of life and the lust of the eyes having been led of the Holy Spirit into the wilderness where our Lord fasted 40 days and 40 nights before quoting three Old Testament passages to ward off the Devil and his deviant deceptions designed to do to Jesus what he succeeded in doing to our first parents in the garden.  He failed of course, for Jesus is God and though the temptation through these three avenues, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life in which He was tempted in all points like as we are yet remaining without sin, was valid and the test was real, Jesus could not have yielded to lust for His blood was sinless and His nature was divine for He was God in flesh.

Ours is neither (sinless, divine) thus the warning “Flee youthful lusts.” (2 Tim. 2:22).  So, D.L. Moody, great evangelist of yesteryear who shook two continents for Christ with his thunderous preaching of God’s Word said, “The churches are full of men and women who have no power at all.  Where did they lose it?  It was when they formed an alliance with the world.  I would rather be alone with God than be with the whole world.”

Wm Wordsworth, American poet: “The world is too much with us:  late and soon; getting and spending, we lay waste our power.”

And, speaking of our relationship with the world system in which we live and move, the late Bible teacher J. Vernon McGee wrote: “We do not become pilgrims until we become strangers.” (Hebrews 11:13-16)

C.H. Spurgeon: “Most of us are vastly inferior to the early Christians, who, as I take it, were persecuted because they were thoroughly Christians.  We are not persecuted because we are hardly Christians (in practice) at all.”  In other words, Spurgeon, speaking 150 years ago, was saying that professing Christians of his day were enjoying far too much a love affair with the world, against which John the Apostle warned in I John 2:15-17.  If that were true in the latter part of the 19th century, how much more so today!

T.S. Eliot, world renowned poet who professed orthodox Christianity in the latter part of his life, wrote in “Men Who Turn From God:”

“O weariness of men who turn from God to the grandeur of your mind and the glory of your actions, to arts and inventions and daring enterprises, to schemes and human greatness thoroughly discredited, binding the earth and water to your service, exploiting the seas and developing the mountains, dividing the stars to common and preferred, engaged in devising the perfect refrigerator, engaged in working out a rational morality, engaged in printing as many books as possible, plotting the happiness and flinging empty bottles, turning from your vacancy to fevered enthusiasm for nation or race or what you call humanity; though you forget the way to the Temple, there is One who remembers the way to your door: life you may evade, but Death you shall not.  You shall not deny the Stranger.”

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.  And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.”  (I John 2:16,17)

An Example You Should Do

He quietly said to me, “Pastor, I saw something that would make a good message for our Church sign:  ‘Jesus knows me, this I love.’”  And with that, a broad smile and pleasant chuckle,   I gave John a thumbs up and we both agreed it was a winner.  He went his way and I mine as I recalled the chorus we sang as children and then taught to our children and theirs, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”  Yes, that would make a good sign message for the thousands who drive by our church, located on a busy thorough fare, each week.

But then, as John went on this way, on and off that day and the next couple of days, I thought about John himself, a father of five and married to Joyce, a family that joined the church I had taken the pastoral reins of back in 1979 just about the same time that my family and I had moved to Indianapolis in September of that year.  In fact, if my memory does not fail me, Joyce was in the hospital giving birth to their fifth child while I was preaching my inaugural message in the pulpit of TRBC.  They were there 40 years later, just the two of them as their children all had married and moved away, on my last Sunday as senior pastor of this great church, bidding me farewell, and more than a year later they are still here where I am now serving as Pastor Emeritus, working out of an office that is very commodious yet off the beaten path.  It was there that John caught up with me the other day to share the sign message with me.  He did not put that message up then, but probably will do so, just like he has done with hundreds of messages in the 20 years that he has faithfully been doing the same.

Along with that, John has taught an adult Sunday school class and, before suffering severe hearing loss, he sang, accompanying himself on his guitar.  His wife has served in many different areas of our church ministry over the years, and they are precisely the couple any pastor would cherish to  have as co-laborers in ministry.  They have always been prayerfully supportive of the church and of my ministry; and, as many pastors who read this will identify with, they are “family.”  I could only wish that every pastor would be so blessed as to have a John and Joyce as members and I am convinced that if you are a pastor and have been shepherd of the same church for more than five years, you have been so blessed with at least one or more such couples. Humbly, and to God be the glory, God has led and joined with us scores of such couples over the course of the forty years I pastored this church, people who served so faithfully, so humbly and sacrificially, unseen often and unsung, but “salt of the earth” people without which no church could function well.  I am singling out John and Joyce and I would like to tell the story of each of those other servants of Christ and hope to do so in time as I have opportunity.  Every Christmas Joyce baked some homemade cookies that were her signature gifts to the pastors and other people of the church.  They were always delicious and a mental picture of that plate of cookies baked in the warmth of a kind Christian household with a heart and hands of love, will always trigger a precious memory of a couple who embodied the spirit of Christ who, Paul said, taught that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

And, speaking of John and Joyce, I am grateful to our Lord who taught us to serve and led by example.  After the Last Supper with His disciples in the Upper Room, Jesus laid aside His garments, took a towel and knelt down to wash His disciples’ feet, overriding the protest of Peter, saying that what He was doing is what they needed to learn to do: “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:15).  Paul would later exhort Corinthian Christians that they should “Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (I Cor. 4:1)  That was a nice way of saying, we are servants of Christ, or plainly, “slaves.”  D.L. Moody once said that “the measure of a man’s greatness is not how many servants he has, but how many men he serves.”  Albert Sweitzer:  “I don’t know your destiny, but I know one thing:  the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”

Moses, servant of God, spent 40 years in the palace of Pharaoh learning how to be a somebody; then 40 years in a desert learning how to be a nobody and, finally, in the third 40 years he learned what God could do with a somebody who had learned how to be a nobody.  (Moody)

May we all aspire to be His servants, knowing that when we have done all that we have been commanded to do, we are “unprofitable servants.” (Luke 17:10)

“That man is great and he alone, who serves a greatness not his own for neither praise nor pelf, content to know and be unknown, whole in himself.” (anon)

On The Rearing of Children

An insightful woman once said, “There is no calling more elevated in our society than that of being a parent, and no career for which there is less preparation.”  I am not sure when that statement was first uttered, but in today’s world it might need amended to read “there is no calling more elevated in today’s world than that of being a pet owner!”

Parenting skills seem to have been in this 21st century, delegated in large part to the internet via the computer or iPhone.  Yet parenting remains a full-time task that can be rewarding, heart-rending, exhilarating and exhausting all at the same time.  It demands love, wisdom, patience, long-suffering, gentleness, consistency, common sense, character-molding, humility and grace in equal and abundant measures.  There is never a break, vacation from, sabbatical afforded, yet there are always physical, mental, emotional and spiritual demands that at once seem impossible to fulfill.  Nothing can be more rewarding; nothing can be more heart-breaking.  No books (except the Book of Wisdom) can ever assure the parent practitioner of success.  No model followed to the ultimate will ever produce a product that is guaranteed to bring pleasure or pride.

Many highly successful and prominent people have walked halls of Congress, dined with presidents, negotiated multi-million-dollar business deals and have won the plaudits of their world, all the while failing miserably in teaching and training, loving and leading, nesting and nurturing of the precious soul of a child who bears his or her image and carries in time to eternity their name. “What shall it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and lose his own (child)?”  Jesus of course said, “and lose his own soul,” but the loss of one’s child through neglect or dereliction of duty is of equal tragic consequence.

Benjamin West was an 18th century painter who was chosen as England’s King George III’s historian painter.  When he was a child, his mother assigned him the task of tending to his sister Sally while she ran a short errand.  The lad discovered some ink filled bottles of differing colors with which, in his mother’s absence, he painted a portrait of his little sister.  Upon returning home the  mother was greeted first with an inky mess on chairs, tables and the floor and was aghast until she saw the picture Benjamin had painted, causing her to exclaim in delight, “It’s a picture of Sally,” whereupon she bent over and kissed her son’s forehead.  Years later, recounting the incident, West said, “My mother’s kiss made me a painter.”

Many a little boy or girl, in today’s world, are starving for a kiss or kind word from mother. 

The late Lester Roloff, an old-time preacher of another era who loved youth and founded homes for homeless or troubled boys, girls, men and women, once said there were some things he would not change, given the chance:  “(1)  Mother and Dad—not educated but good people who stayed together; never did go to the divorce court; (2)  Where I was born and raised—out on the farm with chickens and cows, and a nine-yard cotton sack and a gooseneck hoe and work and sweat and a daddy that saw to it that I was hyper-active; (3)  A little one room church where an old-fashioned preacher came and hollered loud and preached the gospel and I got saved.”

Parenting, the highest calling and heaviest commission known to men and women under the sun.  An impossible task apart from the grace of God and the wisdom of His Word.  A job that may leave your heart blessed or broken or both at the same time.  A work never finished at the end of a day, and in the mind of Mother and Father, never completed, in actuality, until one draws his last breath. A great privilege, at times a grueling pain this parenting job. I have ministered for a lifetime as a pastor to parents and have wept and prayed, laughed and loved with families overjoyed with success or overwhelmed with failure; sometimes reaching heights of happiness, sometimes depths of despair.

Take heart, dear parent.  No parent has all the answers.  No parent with any good sense would claim all the credit; neither does any parent deserve all the blame.  Adam and Eve gave birth to the world’s first brothers: one known as a man of faith and one as a murderer.  Two boys, same parents, same environment yet as different as heaven and hell.

Ellen and I wish you all the best in your parenting pursuit. We hope you will experience great joy. As well as joys there will be also some disappointments.  But the joys far outweigh the sorrows.  Recently, rifling through a box of mementos that had been in storage for decades, we came across the following lines penned by one of our daughters.  We share with you in hopes that you are clipping (parenting) coupons even to old age.  It began:  Mom and Dad:

There’s a bond between us.  I’m not sure when it started but now it’s my lifeline of spiritual and mental support.  A shaky bond—weak because of its newness but will grow stronger with use.  A bond born in tears—shared tears over ruined plans and shattered dreams.  A bond nurtured by your smiles—smiles of encouragement when the shared tears dim the future.  
A bond strengthened by faith in God—faith to direct our paths and give us wisdom.  A bond woven with cords of love—sacrificial love that reaches beyond the miles and wraps its’ inflexible grip around my heart holding me to thoughts of you forever.  All my love
.”

Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord:  and the fruit of the womb is his reward.” (Ps.127:3)

New!

In that cataclysmic, eschatological vision that the aged Apostle John received and later recorded, the Revelation, detailing what he saw when he was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day,” John says, “And He that sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’” (Rev. 21:5).  This just after John had seen “a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and first earth were passed away.” (Rev. 21:1)

Think of that!  Yet future, after what is depicted as the 1,000-year future millennium, (Rev. 20:4) the earth as we know it today will have passed away (consumed by fire according to 2 Peter 3:10), and there will be, coming down from God out of heaven, a new heaven and a new earth!  That can only thrill the hearts of those who take seriously the Word of God as the culmination and climax of history is unfolded in the apocalyptic Revelation given to us in the final 22 chapters in the Bible.

But a new heaven and new earth as we begin a New Year, are not the only things depicted in the New Testament that believers either now possess or yet will inherit:

  1.  We have a New Life (2 Cor. 5:17): “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature (creation): old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”  God, at the moment of our conversion, gave us a new life in Christ.  It is made possible by the new birth (John 3:3) and happens because we have received a new bath (the washing of regeneration, Titus 3:5) according to the new book, the incorruptible seed of the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever (I Pet. 1:23).  All things are become new!  Gone the old longings, the old love, the old life!
  2. We now have a new Lord.  We once were the servants of sin (Romans 6:20), but now being made free from sin we have come “servants to God.” (Romans 6:22).  The first thing Paul said on meeting Jesus against whom Paul had been “kicking” was “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”  He from that instant had a new Lord!  
  3. We have a new liberty.  Once we were entangled in the yoke of bondage of the law (Gal. 5:1), but now we can stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.  “Free from the law, oh, happy condition,” the song that we joyfully sing says.  Yes, not free of the law, for the law is “holy, and the commandment is holy, just, and good” (Rom.7:12), but free from its bondage.  The law did its work as a schoolmaster in bringing us to Christ (teaching us that we could not be saved by keeping the law try as we might!).  Now, as sons, we are free from its bondage!  Glory!
  4. We have now a new love.  We love Him because He first loved us (I John 4:19), and we now love not only Him but His because His Holy Spirit indwells us, and He has given us a love for the brethren, and our Savior said that this is the badge whereby all men would know that we are His and this identifies us as one of His (John 13:35).
  5. We have, therefore, a new law, called by James, the Royal Law (James 2:8), so that we now love our neighbor as we love our self.  Without prejudice or partiality, we accept that the “ground is level at the foot of the cross,” and, therefore, we love all men through Christ as equal in human dignity and as objects of His amazing grace.
  6. We also have a new loyalty. Once we were loyal to those who were special to us, family, friends and a few in our close-knit circle; now, laying aside those selfish ties we hear and heed His words that “If any man come to me and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26) Our loyalty to Him, as Lord and Master, transcends any earthly tie; and in comparison, makes those former relationships dwarf to an utter selflessness that appears to be “hatred.”
  7. We have a new longing.  “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ,” (Titus 2:13) so that we echo unreservedly the Apostle’s last words uttered at the conclusion of his breath-taking Patmos vision, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20), and we realize now what Paul meant when he wrote “For our conversation is in Heaven from whence we also look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Phil.3:20)
  8. We have, would you believe, new lyrics!  “He hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it and fear and shall trust in the Lord.” (Ps. 40:3) We literally sing a new song, like Moses, who, having come through the Red Sea, said, “I will sing gloriously….” (Exodus 15:1).  Those grand themes of grace put to music by men like Wesley and Watts still thrill the souls of saints world-wide, world without end as we echo heavenly and angelic choirs singing “Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever,” and “Worthy is the lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor and glory and blessing.” (Rev. 5:12)
  9. We have now new loved ones as we enjoy being “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God.” (Eph 2:19) and, finally, 
  10. We enjoy a new liberality. (2 Cor.8:2; 9:13 and I Cor. 16:3) Believers are known to give out of deep poverty gifts that “abounded unto the riches of their liberality,” in ways that have motivated others in a ministry that could only be described as “liberal distribution.”  And it is all because we want to give thanks to God for His unspeakable gift. (2 Cor. 9:15)

Another year is dawning!  Dear Master, let it be, in working or in waiting, another year for Thee.” (Francis Ridley Havergal) 

A Clean Slate

Tomorrow we turn the page to a new chapter in the chronicles of our pilgrimage from time to eternity. We are still on the stage of life, playing our parts, saying our pieces.  We breathe a collective, world-wide, sigh of relief as with little to no regret we bid farewell to the year 2020 that opened up with almost undimmed promise and is being folded up with almost universal pathos.  We long for a clean slate, a new start with guarded and guided hopes for the year ahead.  An unknown bard expressed our qualms and quivers in his metaphor: “He came to my desk with a quivering lip, the lesson was done— ‘Dear Teacher, I want a new leaf,’ he said, ‘I have spoiled this one.’  In place of the leaf so stained and blotted, I gave him a new one all unspotted, and into his sad eyes smiled— ‘Do better now, my child.’  I went to the throne with a quivering soul, the old year was gone, –‘Dear Father, hast thou a new leaf for me?  I have spoiled this one.’  He took the old leaf, stained and blotted, and gave me a new one all unspotted.  And into my sad heart smiled—‘Do better now my child.’”

We hope to do better as we step into 2021—each and all.  We will strive to meet old, reframed fears with a highly honed hope.  We hope to navigate re-swollen streams with renewed and longed for dreams.  We hope to turn perennial and personal defeats into permanent and powerful victories.  We can affirm through lessons learned in the School of Life Paul’s testimony that “…tribulation worketh patience; and patience experience; and experience hope:  and hope maketh not ashamed….” (Romans 5:3-5) Yes, we face the year ahead with a holy hope, grounded and founded upon the “Rock that is higher than I.” (Psalm 61:2)

We face the year ahead with a strengthened faith.  Faith tested.  Faith tempted.  Faith tempered.  Faith tried and found true and triumphant in spite of moment by moment battles against natural and spiritual, mental and emotional proving  grounds that took us to the ropes where, by the grace of God alone, because of His abundant and abiding mercies, we came back round after round, protected by the shield of faith, covered by the helmet of salvation, enveloped in the breastplate of righteousness, brandishing the sword of the Spirit and in and through and above all, praying with all prayer and supplication, realizing in battle after battle that His strength is ever made perfect in our weakness, so that, yes! we survived what for many was, in 2020, the toughest times of our lives–for our families, our churches and schools and businesses and for our national and international body politic.  The world still stands, and we have been reminded, by the promise of the rainbow and through the passages of the Revelation that the world will stand until that angel that John the Apostle saw in his Patmos vision will stand upon the earth with his hand lifted toward heaven, to sware by Him who created the earth…who created the heavens and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that time should be no longer. (Rev. 10:5,6) We face 2021 with the confidence that, as of this moment, God is not yet ready to roll up the heavens as a scroll to begin his final judgement upon His universally rebellious creation.  Yes, we do have faith!

We face the New Year, too, with love. “And the greatest of these is love.” (I Cor. 13:13).  Love which is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.  Love which covers a multitude of sins.  Love which is without prejudice or partiality but from the heart of God flows freely to the whole world and may be appropriated by anyone anywhere at anytime by simply receiving the gift of God: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

So, faith, hope, love, an unparalleled formula for a day, a month, a year ahead.

“Another year, I enter, it’s history unknown.  Oh, how my feet would tremble, to tread its paths alone!  But I have heard a whisper, I know I shall be blest: ‘My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.’ What will the New Year bring me?  I may not, must not know.  Will it be love and rapture, or lowliness and woe? Hush!  Hush!  I hear His whisper; I surely shall be blest: ‘My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.’”  (Unknown)

We can all start afresh!  However far we have ascended, there is something higher; and however far we have fallen, it is always possible to make a fresh start. We need to take our place in the School of Christ and be taught by Him.” Eph. 4:20,21 (F.B. Meyer)

Crown of Glory Candidate

A faithful pastor who gave his life serving others was graduated to glory a couple of days before Christmas.  He pastored two church plant churches early in his ministry, then pastored Grace Baptist Church of Muncie, Indiana, for 45 years, and if that were not enough, he rounded out his ministry by pastoring Temple Baptist Church in Dunkirk, Indiana, for the past eight years.  You may not have known pastor Collins Glenn whom this post features, but as a tribute to him and to an unnumbered, unsung and unseen host of pastors like him, I share this tribute with you today:

Just a little over two years ago, we met here to bid farewell to a wonderful pastor’s wife, Duriene Glenn, who had labored in ministry by her husband’s side for 64 years; now we meet in God’s good providences to bid farewell to the pastor-husband whose faithful helpmeet and companion in ministry she was, who has been joined with that heavenly band of believers gone on before us to Home in Heaven.  Dr. Collins Glenn, a pastor’s pastor, an under shepherd whose decades long ministry has been characterized by a passion for souls and for the shepherding of sheep, the planting of New Testament churches and the propagation of world-wide missionary endeavors.  His retirement in 2012 as senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church concluding a 45-year pastorate there, established for decades to come an unwritten 21st century criterion for those desiring the office of a bishop, for those striving to preach God’s word with clarity and compassion and for those who would embrace pastor Glenn’s stated life’s goal: “Be faithfully consistent and consistently faithful.”  

Writing to friends and followers as recently as December 4 from his hospital bed pastor Glenn shared that his conviction was that God’s will for all of us is to (a)  Stay close to God in faith; (b) Stay obedient to God in lifestyle and service; (c) Remember that He will never leave nor forsake you; (d) Remember that you have a home in Heaven; (e) Present the gospel to every person possible and (f) Be faithful in all areas of duty remembering that circumstances must not be allowed to cause us to forsake His Church or our responsibilities in such things as prayer, giving, study, missions.

Pastor Glenn had a heart for missions and missionaries.  He served 45 years on the Baptist World Mission board, a mission agency that services 300 missionaries undergirding the ministries of their respective local, sending churches.  At the time of his homegoing, no other active BWM board member had served as long as pastor Glenn.  Under his leadership many New Testament churches were planted.  His first pastorate in Arkansas was a church-plant ministry.  He loved the church and devoted himself to fulfilling in his own unique way the Great Commission.  He shared with me and with others that He built Grace Baptist Church in Muncie on his Dispensational Home Bible classes.

Under Pastor Glenn’s leadership, scores of Christian young people caught his vision and shared his passion, heeding God’s call and following the Holy Spirit’s direction as He separated them to the ministry to which they were called.  Upon his retirement long-time co-laborer and colleague of Pastor Glenn, Denis Ice said so aptly, “Hundreds, even thousands of Christian servants are still serving today because of your faithfulness.  You have put your hand to the plow and not looked back.”

Pastor Glenn was a state and national leader in the cause of Christian Education serving under the auspices of the Indiana Association of Christian Schools and with its national counterpart.  He led in the Christian Education movement founding and guiding Heritage Hall Christian School of GBC, setting the standard for Church-schools in our state and surrounding states for excellence in quality in the training and in the education of Christian young people.

He was also a leader in the Indiana Fundamental Baptist Fellowship of churches, hosting many of our meetings and serving in various capacities through the years as President and as one of the IFBF directors.  His leadership was impeccable and characterized by fidelity to God’s Word and Work.  He was humble, godly and authentic in both his personal and public life and labors.

The Lord called Collins Glenn to service when he was successfully engaged in business as a young man, and, answering that call he prepared himself through disciplined training and then in time was uniquely used of God until the time of his homegoing, pastoring following his 45-year pastorate at Grace Baptist, another eight years at Temple Baptist Church in Dunkirk.  I submit to you that most men, upon stepping down from that many years in full-time pastoring would have considered, being in their mid-seventies, looking for a less rigorous schedule to keep than weekly commitments that the demands of a pastor entail.  Not Collins Glenn: but then most men, even men in ministry, are not cut of the same kind of cloth as he:

Few men could pastor the same church for 45 years; few men could lead a large church staff year after year without experiencing some form of burn-out at some time; few men could persuade a Georgia born beauty to leave the warmth of Dixie land to spend scores of winters in Indiana; few men could listen to the multiple roastings and toasting of his dear friend Dr. Larry Hufhand and still call him “friend,” few men would have the expertise and wisdom to build a vibrant New Testament church on dispensational home Bible studies; few men pastor a lifetime and finish their work with the unqualified praise of peer pastors and the admiration statewide and nationally of Christian leaders for integrity, fidelity and excellence in the discharging of their ministry before God and men.  

Years ago, William Allen White, a Kansas newspaper editor, attended a funeral procession of a pastor in his hometown of Emporia, Kansas. The widely read and award-winning editor described that funeral in words that I think are especially applicable and appropriate in our celebration today of the Life of our beloved friend, mentor, co-laborer and fellow Soldier of the Cross.  I quote: 

“Now a funeral procession of a pastor may mean little or much.  When a rich and powerful man dies, the people may play politics and attend his funeral for various reasons.  But here was the body of a meek, gentle old man—a man without purse or scrip.  It won’t take twenty minutes to settle his estate in probate court.  He was a preacher of the Gospel, but preachers have been buried before in Emporia without much show of sorrow.  The reason so many people lined up behind the hearse that held the kind old man’s mortality was simple:  They loved him. He devoted his life to helping people.  In a very simple way, without money or worldly power, he gave of the gentleness of his heart to all around him. We are apt to say that money talks, but it speaks a broken, poverty-stricken language.  Hearts talk better, clearer and with a wider intelligence.  The old man, with the soft voice and kindly manners, knew the language of the heart and spoke it.  He was infinitely patient and brave.  He held a simple, old-fashioned faith in God and in His lovingkindness.  When others gave money out of their store, he gave prayers and hard work and an inspiring courage.  He helped.  In his sphere he was a power.  And so, when he lay down to sleep, hundreds of friends trudged out to bid him good-bye with moist eyes and with cramped throats to wish him an abundant entrance into heaven.

And, so, we too have come here today to bid farewell and to say “thank you, dear Brother.  You have impacted our lives for good; your mark upon us is indelible. Your standard of excellence a benchmark for generations to come.  You have fought a good fight, you have finished the course, you have kept the faith. Yours surely will be the reward of which Peter spake when he said that when the chief Shepherd would appear faithful pastors would receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.”   “And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth:  Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.” (Rev. 14:13)

O Holy Night

There is, after all the hustle and bustle of preparing for another Christmas day, an amazing aura about Christmas Eve.  Stores begin to close mid to late afternoon, traffic slows considerably, darkness sets in highlighting all the brightly beaming lights on lawns and houses, and a stillness grips the air that seems to be uncommon.  It is, finally, Christmas Eve.

Wood for the special fire has been gathered for the fireplace.  Packages mostly have been wrapped and either placed with care under the evergreen Christmas tree or stowed away secretly for a surprise Christmas morning.  Soup, a special velvety blend, simmers on the stove; all sorts of goodies are everywhere, and the kitchen keepers are busy with last minute recipes, mixes and mouth-watering dishes soon to be enjoyed both on this special eve and then again, the day called Christmas.  It is excitement in its purest form.  Loved ones may still be traveling to arrive in time for that Christmas Eve service that has become a treasured tradition when, in the warmth of a well-lighted and gayly decorated building, a family of faith gathers to commemorate, sometimes with the glorious glow of only candles lit, to sing, recite scripture, worship and adore in sacred, hallowed moments God’s Christ, our Lord, who came as prophesied and who will come again as promised.

I always, as a teen, envied those churches that featured special choir presentations of music such as Handel’s Messiah.  Years later, when living in Dallas, Ellen and I heard of a small Bible College in Ft. Worth that was featuring a Sunday afternoon rendition of this Christmas classic, so with three small children in tow, we made our way there, arriving in time for an almost back row seat, but enjoying for a couple hours, the Christ exalting, heavenly strains, Scripture set to music by the maestro George Frideric Handel, a composition originally intended for Easter that was completed from its inception in a matter of a very few weeks, a rendering of the Biblical accounts of His birth, His death and His resurrection that has thrilled hearts worldwide for almost three hundred years.  It was the first time we had heard the heart-rending oratorio live and it is an experience that we never could forget. A small Bible college with limited facilities and probably few in number musicians honored Christ that Christmas in a way that choirs and churches and schools have been doing for centuries as the glorious story is perpetuated with sounds that universally stir the heart strings of believers year after year.

So, after all the gathering peoples have bedded down awaiting another glad Christmas morning, it has been my pleasure to tune in to some television feed of a “high church” usually locally and listen in as they sing the grand themes of the Christian Church, filling nooks and crannies of often high ceiled cathedrals with musical tributes celebrating the first Advent of God the Son.  It is becoming increasingly difficult in our secular society to find sacred streamings of soul-stirring seasonal sounds that exalt Christ, the Savior of the world.  But, thus far, the effort has paid off and it is worth it, even if one wonders whether those dedicated musicians, talented to the core, know Him of Whom they so beautifully sing.

Finally, with the stockings all hung in care, and the tree hunkered down for a quiet night before a busy, bustling early Christmas morning soon arrives, with sounds all silenced and doors safely secured, I quietly slip into bed thinking of the dreams on Christmas Eves past when as a child if you would hold your breath you could hear, at least you were sure you could hear, something on the roof astir.  You drifted off, finally, with sugar plums dancing in your head, muffled sounds coming from downstairs where Mom and Dad’s bedroom was not realizing that they were sneaking around doing some last-minute preparations for another very merry Christmas Day, following a most wondrous Christmas Eve.  May it never cease to send hallowed shivers through your soul as your reflect with joy upon Christmas Eves past; and may Christmas Eve 2020 be sanctified by His presence in your home and in your heart. 

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’” (Luke 2:13,14)