How!  (Pt.1 on the book of Lamentations)

The book of Lamentations consists of five poems that mourn or lament the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. to the Babylonians. It is filled with more emotion, feeling, and heart-cry than any other portion of the Word of God.

The author of the book is universally considered to be none other than the “weeping prophet,” the prophet of the broken heart, Jeremiah. The theme of the book is “the chastening of the Lord,” and the key verse is 1:18: “The Lord is righteous: for I have rebelled against His commandment: Hear, I pray you all people and behold my sorrow: my virgins and my young men are gone into captivity.” The most familiar verse in the book is perhaps 3:22: “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.”

The late Bible teacher J. Vernon McGee characterized the book of Lamentations as “the ‘Wailing Wall’ of the Bible.” The Hebrews call it EKHAH, or the Hebrew form of the first word of the book, our English word “HOW!”  That exclamatory word might best describe the whole story of the book. The prophet surveyed the desolate city, the defeated people, and the desecrated temple, and about all he could say was “How!” “How doth the city sit solitary that was full of people! How is she become a widow! She that was great among the nations and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!” (1:1)

The historical backdrop of of Lamentations is key to understanding the book, and 2 Kings 25:1-10, along with 2 Chr. 36:14-21, provide us with that background. “And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by His messengers, rising up betimes, and sending, because He had compassion on His people, and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God and despised His words, and misused His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy. Therefore He brought upon then the king of the Chaldees, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion upon young man or maiden, old man, or him that stooped for age, He gave them all into his hand.” (2 Chr. 36:15-17)

The fall of Jerusalem, resulting in the deportation of masses of Jews to Babylon, was the result of (1) Idolatry, 2 Chr. 36:14; (2) The rejection of God’s Word, 2 Chr. 36:15; and (3) The violation of God’s Sabbaths, 2 Chr. 36:21.

God is holy and cannot overlook sin in the lives of His children. There is a price tag for every act of disobedience. These were the people of God; they had been called to holiness, but they forsook Him and therefore God brought judgment upon them: “So Judah was carried away out of their land.” (2 Kings 25:21)

The seed of this calamity was sown as recorded in I Sam. 8:5,6. The children of Israel early on begged for a king (man) to reign over them like other nations had. Heretofore, God had been their king in a theocratic rule. He had fought their battles, led them by day and by night, supplied their needs, and turned back their enemies. But in their human flesh, they were not satisfied with the direct rule of God and yearned for the rule of man. They got their wish, but forever after they would struggle and suffer as a nation. The result of asking for a king (man) was predictable, for God always keeps His Word. And His Word on the matter was first uttered as recorded in Deut. 28:1ff., where blessings for obedience—as enumerated to His flock—are followed by curses for disobedience.

Many of the things that befell Israel when Nebuchadnezzar came down and destroyed Jerusalem, taking them captive, were spelled out in Deuteronomy 28:15ff., about 1,000 years before they actually occurred: “The Lord shall bring thee, and thy king which thou shalt set over thee unto a nation which neither thou nor thy fathers have known; and there thou shalt serve other gods, wood and stone, and thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb and a byword, among all nations.” (Deut.28:36)

God continues, “Thou shalt begat sons and daughters, but thou shalt not enjoy them for they shall go into captivity.” (Deut.28:41) And, “The Lord shall bring a nation against them from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth, a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand; a nation of fierce countenance which shall not regard the person of the old nor shew favor to the young.” (Deut.28:49)

Could it be any clearer? “The tender and delicate woman among you, which would not adventure to set the sole of her foot upon the ground for delicateness and tenderness, her eye shall be evil toward the husband of her bosom, and toward her son and toward her daughter: and toward her children which she shall bear:  for she shall eat them for want of all things secretly in the siege and straightness.” (Deut.28:56)

With that historical backdrop, one can better understand the bitter lament of Jeremiah—an eye witness and survivor of the brutal siege of Jerusalem. Little wonder, then, that he began by simply exclaiming, in astonishment: “How!”

America is a nation whose motto has been, “In God we trust.” But surveying the America of the 21st century, one might exclaim, as did Jeremiah, “How!” How have we traversed so far away from God! How have we transgressed His Word! How have we embraced every perversion known to man! How have we come to call good evil and evil good! How have we set aside morality as encoded in God’s 10 commandments! How could we have begun as “One nation under God” and come to where we want, as a nation, to mute God in our marketplace today! How! How! How! If Israel of old could become an “astonishment,  proverb and a byword,” what might America’s future hold?

“The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” (Ps.9:17)

For The Record

In the previous “You and God” post, I reflected on a slice of history through which I lived more than 50 years ago as a seminary student. It triggered thoughts of days well past, and brought to mind many more incidents that seemed very important at the time but, with the passing of half a century, have faded into almost insignificance. I want to share with you one such happening.  I have never addressed this topic with anyone other than a handful (if that) of close family and friends.

This was during my final year in the Master of Divinity program at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. That was a fairly new degree for ministry-bound men at the time, replacing the Bachelor of Divinity degree. Both designations were pretty much misnomers, as the course for each was 96 hours, with an undergraduate degree required for admission; therefore it was, for all practical purposes, a “doctoral” degree, though it was called a “Bachelor” and later a “Masters” degree. At any rate, the courses were excellent, though some were a bit redundant for students with a B.A. in Bible.

With just months to go to before graduation, having taken at least 12 credits each semester while working full-time to support my family, I was in the seminary library and happened to notice, near the librarian’s desk, a copy of the paper that had been awarded a scholarship as the best paper submitted in the Apologetics course.  Since it had caught my eye, I paused and glanced through it and was at once appalled—not because of the content, but because of the grammar. In the 10 or 12 pages, I counted more than 100 misspelled words or grammatically incorrect constructions.

I made a copy and visited the office of the course professor, showing him what I had read and asking how such a paper, written for a seminary-level class, could be awarded “first-place.” His only response was, “Well, we are not training writers here, we are training preachers.” I left his office totally dissatisfied with the answer, knowing that in the school where I had received my undergraduate training such a piece of work would not have passed any teacher’s desk as acceptable, much less been given an award.  I was stunned.

My next course of action was to write a letter to the businessman who had given the ($500 if my memory is correct) scholarship money for whom the apologetics scholarship was named. I sent this gentleman a copy of the paper that received the award he had sponsored, with the 100-plus grammatical and spelling errors circled in red, remonstrating to him that I had addressed this inconsistency with the course instructor with no success. It seemed clear to me that, for whatever reason, a mistake had been made in awarding first-place to a graduate-level paper that would not have received a passing grade in bonehead, undergraduate English. I received no response from the businessman.

In the meantime, I received word that if I did not apologize to the faculty for my letter to the donor and my rebellious attitude, I would not be allowed to graduate in the spring of 1969.  That would mean four years of hard work—and lot of money spent on something that both my wife and I had sacrificed considerably for—“down the drain.”  It was a dilemma for sure. I did not feel an apology was needed.

Ellen and another seminarian’s wife made an appointment with Dr. Clearwaters, our pastor as well as president of the seminary. In tears, these women pleaded my case with that dear old man of God, but to no avail, since he could not overrule the decision of the faculty member. One might recall what had happened a year earlier when Dr. Clearwaters, as chairman of the board of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College, had intervened and overruled a decision of the college president, Dr. Myron Cedarholm, in a disciplinary matter. The result of that intervention was that a new college was founded in the fall of 1968 in Watertown, Wisconsin!

So, as all of these events were transpiring, I applied and was accepted for admission as a transfer student to the San Francisco Baptist Theological Seminary, where Dr. Arno Q. Weniger was president. It was much like Central Seminary in its separatist position.

As the months rolled on, God worked in my heart about my attitude and how I had by-passed channels of authority in appealing to the scholarship’s donor. 1969 was a year of rebellion. The hippie movement was rolling full-steam ahead, especially in California. Race riots were occurring in many major cities, where whole city blocks were being burned to the ground, including some not far from our house in Minneapolis. And the 1968 tumultuous Democratic convention was still very fresh in mind.  Winds of Woodstock were in the air, and anti-war protestors marched in the streets and on college campuses, raising questions as to America’s involvement in Vietnam. It was an age of rebellion as never before, it seemed, and I did not want to be known, in my part of the world, as a rebel.

Consequently, I arranged for a meeting with the faculty, and in brokenness offered an apology for by-passing proper channels of authority in going to the businessman with my grievance. I did not apologize for questioning the legitimacy of the award, but only for going above the faculty and staff in writing to the scholarship’s sponsor. Whatever I said was enough to placate the disturbed leaders, none of whom replied verbally to my apology. I was informed in writing that I would be allowed to receive the diploma that I had worked diligently for four years to obtain.

I left Minnesota shortly after graduation that year, but with no bitterness toward any one person. It was perplexing to me that the faculty could not see the issue at hand, but I fully recognized the error in judgment that I had made in by-passing the administration when I wrote to the man who funded the scholarship. I continued to love Dr. Clearwaters. Some 20 years later, I would invite him to speak at the church I pastored in Indianapolis, and he graciously accepted. He was a 20th-century giant in my world—with feet of clay, to be sure, but no less a hero of the faith to me. Some of the other faculty members at that time, not so much.

Therefore to him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17) 

A Historical Perspective

One advantage of living to be an octogenarian is that one has had the privilege of living through a ton of history. I’ve gone from using the old clunker of a black carriage typewriter that I learned to type on in the 10th grade; to the sleek Smith-Corona typewriter with liquid correctional fluid or white erasure tape; to computers and word processors, with their auto-correcting features—to cite just one technology that I have seen evolve through the years. For a writer, these changes have been huge. But, in life’s big picture, there have been so many developments that have impacted humanity with incalculable consequences.

In today’s post, I want to share with anyone interested just one slice of history that I lived through—and had a unique, behind the scenes peek into—that few people living today could testify to.

I was a student at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minneapolis from 1965 to 1969. Ellen and I moved to Minneapolis after our August wedding in 1965, followed by a two-week honeymoon. I knew virtually no one in Minneapolis as I entered the M.Div. course of study at CBTS. I chose this seminary because I wanted to round out my education with a degree from a strong Baptist institution known for its separatist position.  Dr. R.V. Clearwaters, founder and president of the seminary, had been awarded an honorary doctorate from Bob Jones University, my undergraduate alma mater, a year or two earlier. That solidified my decision to attend Central Seminary.

Over the course of the next four years, I learned much about the battles with “new-evangelicals” that were still in progress at that time. The Minnesota Baptist Convention was a dominant factor, and Dr. Clearwaters, pastor of Fourth Baptist Church in Minneapolis, was a principal player in the Convention. He was also chairman of the board of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College in Owatonna, Minnesota, where Dr. Myron Cederholm had succeeded the first resident president, Dr. Monroe Parker, following Dr. Parker’s resignation in 1964. Dr. Cederholm was a nationally known and respected figure, having been involved as a leader in the Conservative Baptist Association of Churches.  He was a rock-solid fundamentalist who severed his affiliations with the CBA of C because of compromise.

Ellen and I joined Fourth Baptist Church and were thoroughly blessed by the pulpit ministry of “the Doc,” as Dr. Clearwaters was affectionately known. Ellen enrolled in the Fourth Baptist Bible Institute and was one of the first seminary wives to graduate from the institute, taught primarily by seminary professors.  She received an excellent foundation for what she would need to serve as a pastor’s wife for the next 50 years. Mrs. Clearwaters met with and mentored the seminary wives, an invaluable help to Ellen and the other wives there at that time.

So, we were immersed quickly in the Minnesota Baptistic culture.  I attended seminary full-time and worked full-time, and during our four-year tenure in Minnesota, our two daughters were born in the Hennepin County North Memorial Hospital.  We were grateful to God for His guidance and leadership in our lives, for His abundant mercies and faithful provision.

I did, however, have to make some quick adjustments to the “Minnesota politics.” Coffee breaks at seminary often focused on the “who” of the day rather than the “what.” I learned quickly that it was expedient to know who stood where with the Minnesota convention and Dr. Clearwaters’ leadership, and that it was important to have the right friends. Many of my classmates had graduated from Pillsbury Baptist Bible College, a feeder school for CBTS, and they were already acclimated to the political landscape.  It was an entirely new world for me—and, at times, somewhat discouraging. I never ceased admiring Dr. Clearwaters for his adamant, unflinching  stand on principles that were Biblical, but his disposition—and sometimes apparently ruthless politics—tended to be discouraging. The same was true of some of those who followed his leadership style.

All of this is backdrop for the story that follows.  In 1968, there was talk of a serious rift between Dr. Cederholm and Dr. Clearwaters.  It boiled down to a disciplinary matter that occurred with a Pillsbury student, which eventuated in Dr. Cederholm’s involvement and ruling on the matter. He was, as noted, president of Pillsbury. Evidently, Cederholm’s ruling conflicted with how Dr. Clearwaters interpreted the matter since—because he was Chairman of the Board of Pillsbury—appeal had been made to Dr. Clearwaters for his review.  A conflict ensued, and there seemed to be an irresolvable impasse between the two leaders and their followers.

As an interested yet somewhat outside observer, I wanted to learn more about the situation, so I and another seminarian made an appointment to meet with Dr. Cedarholm and hear first-hand his version of the story. He and Mrs. Cedarholm graciously received us into their home, and the President proceeded to share with us his insights.  I cannot even remember the specifics, but returning to Minneapolis after our meeting with the Cedarholms, I knew that I was not on one side or the other; it just seemed like a matter that ought to be worked out between these two godly men.

Sadly, in the weeks following, the matter was not worked out and, wouldn’t you know, Dr. Cedarholm resigned as president of PBBC. Soon there were rumors that he would be starting a new Bible College in Watertown, Wisconsin, set to open its doors in the fall of 1968! And, it did happen—to the amazement of about everyone. I have since learned that many of my Indiana brethren were ardent encouragers of Dr. Cedarholm  in his efforts to get this new school up and going.  In fact, the late Dr. Don Camp, pastor during those years of Grace Baptist Church in Anderson, Indiana, strongly urged Dr. Cedarholm to make Anderson the site of his new college. But, if one ever heard the “Maranatha Miracle Story,” as Dr. Cedarholm told it many times over, it was clear that God’s hand in the choice of Watertown was undeniable!

So, 55 years ago, because of a leadership struggle, there were in the fall of 1968 two Bible Colleges in these neighboring states—one in Owatonna, MN, which in time would close its doors, and one in Watertown, WI, which still stands strong today in training young people to serve the Lord. As a young man, I saw both the genesis of MBBC and possibly some seeds of the eventual demise of PBBC.  A historical perspective, for what it’s worth.

Takeaways: (1) It would probably be wise for the president of an institution to be given free-reign in mundane administrative matters; (2) If you are the president of an institution, it would be well to remember that you answer ultimately to the board, and telling the chairman of the board to take a walk would be, in most cases, tantamount to a professional death wish; (3) It will always be true: “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Thy Vows Are Upon Me (part 2)

In the previous installment, I said that it is good for us to make some holy vows before God—as did David, the Psalmist, who said: “Thy vows are upon me; I will remember praises unto thee.” (Ps. 56:12). The vows specified in the first post, drawn from A. W. Tozer, were (1) that we deal with sin thoroughly, and (2) that we not “own” anything. Here, then, are three more vows that Tozer recommended we follow for spiritual power:

(3)  Vow never to defend yourself, but turn your defense over to God. Paul said, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifeth, who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea, rather that is risen again who is even at the right hand of God who also maketh intercession for us.” (Romans 8:34) Again, the Apostle Paul affirmed: “For God is my record” (Phil. 1:8) and “For God is my witness.” (Rom. 1:9) It is noteworthy, however, that in the matter of Paul’s testimony before councils, he himself said that if he had done anything worthy of death then he would accept that judgment; and he also demanded his citizenship rights to a hearing at Rome when falsely charged. (Acts 25:10,11)  So he did defend himself before governors and kings when falsely accused. One must assume that in matters less than crucial to one’s testimony, Paul would counsel to let the charge die of itself, but in other matters integral to one’s testimony, there are times to speak the truth in defense of one’s integrity. 

Tozer’s advice still, without qualification, is that one should not try to defend one’s self but let your life, your work, and your witness be your only and best defense. The late evangelist from Gay, West Virginia, B.R. Lakin, wisely said, “If you want to get people down on you, just know more, have more, and do more, and they will be down on you.” Jesus, of course, had lots of critics and those who unjustly mischaracterized Him, but He did not attempt to answer every critic; even at His mock trial, He said nothing in His own defense. Perhaps this is why Tozer advised his hearers to cease from trying to defend themselves.

(4)  Vow never to pass on anything about anybody that will harm that person. Romans 14:10: “Why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” Heed Solomon’s wise words in Proverbs 26:22: “The words of a talebearer are as wounds…when he speaketh fair, believe him not for there are seven abominations in his heart.” And in Proverbs 6:17-19: “These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination to Him: a proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, an heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.”

A villager once visited a monk, confessed that he had spread some vicious gossip about another person, and wondered how he could undo the damage.  The monk said, “Go to every home in the village and place a feather at each doorstep,” and so the man did just that.  Later he reported to the monk that he had finished placing the feathers at every doorstep, and wondered what else he could do to make things right. The monk said, “Now, go and gather up every one of those feathers.” The man exclaimed, “That’s impossible: the wind has blown them everywhere!” “So,” said the monk, “is it impossible for you to undo what you have done in slandering your neighbor.” Gossip can never be justified: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Ex. 25:18). Avoid it like the plague.

(5) Vow never to accept glory for yourself. God is a jealous God and will not share his glory with another. Saul was sadly reminded that “When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made head over the tribes of Israel and the Lord anointed thee king over Israel?” Contrast Saul the King with Paul the Apostle: “Seeing that many glory after the flesh, I will glory also…if I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.” (2 Cor. 11:18,30) Again, Paul said: “Though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool.” (2 Cor. 12:6); and, “But God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by whom the world is crucified to me and I to the world.” (Gal. 6:17) Abraham is called “Friend of God” three times in the Scriptures, but of him it was said: “He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God.” (Rom. 4:20)

Thy vows are upon me, O God; I will render praises unto Thee.” (Ps. 56:12)

Vows For Spiritual Power

Most of us know something of making vows. If you are married, you exchanged sacred vows with your spouse “to have and to hold, ‘til death doth us part.” If you have borrowed money, you’ve made vows to the bank. It’s hardly possible to live without making vows—to others, to God, to yourself. “Thy vows are upon me, O God, I will render praises unto Thee.” (Ps.56:12)

When people get right with God, they make some kind of vow to the Lord. Jonah prayed, when he repented of his backsliding in the belly of the great fish, “I will pay my vows to Thee.” A foolish man will make vows and then forget them.  Solomon said, “When thou vowest a vow, defer not to pay it. For God has no pleasure in fools. Pay that which thou hast vowed.” (Eccl.5:4)

Peter vowed to Jesus: “Though all men shall be offended because of Thee, yet will I never be offended.” It was a vow that Peter would later break. In fact, all the disciples did the same when they chimed in, as Peter vowed, “Though I should die with Thee, yet will I not deny Thee.” (Matt. 26:35) 

Paul knew what it was to vow something for God’s glory. Listen as he speaks: “Wherefore if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.” (I Cor. 8:13)

It is good, therefore, to make some vows, holy vows, to God—for His glory and for the good of His Church. Pastor and author A.W. Tozer gave us some vows for spiritual power that I would like to share with you as a challenge to a life of service in the advancement of His kingdom through your own personal spiritual growth:

  •  Vow to deal thoroughly with sin!  Call it by its right name. Sin is not an accident; it is an abomination; not a blunder, but blindness; not a defect, but depravity; not a chance, but a choice; not an infirmity, but an iniquity; not a trifle, but a tragedy; not a mistake, but madness; not a weakness, but a willfulness. In 2 Kings 18:4, the good king Hezekiah—whose father, Ahaz, was a bad king of Judah leading his nation into idolatry—began ridding the temple of all signs of wicked images and idols when he ascended to the throne. One of those wicked idols was the brazen serpent that Moses had made; it had become an object of idolatry. Hezekiah broke it into pieces and called it “Nehustan,” meaning a “mere piece of bronze.” (Ryrie’s Study Bible notes). It’s amazing how the world oohs and aahs over “entertainment,” such as big half-time shows that are devilish and foolish. We need to label sin for what it is.

Sin is destructive. It wastes bodies, souls, minds, churches, futures, homes, and communities.  The artist Leonardo da Vinci painted a cherub-like picture of a young, street-urchin’s face, which he hung on a wall of his studio.  Years later, the renowned artist wanted to paint a face to illustrate the devastating scars of sin and a wasted life. While he was painting this dark portrait, the ruined man that he had found on the street to sit for it commented that his was the boyish picture that hung on the studio wall. He had sat for the portrait when he was but a child.  Sin disfigures, damns, and ends in death.

And, it is deceitful. It promises pleasure but produces pain. It opens up as bright as the morning sun—but closes in the depths of darkness. Its velvety paw first appears beautifully inviting, but at last the pretty paw closes into a cruel claw, out of which its victim can only find relief by the grace of God. Do not be deceived by sin! It is a “monster of such hideous mien, as to be hated is but to be seen. But seen too oft, familiar with her face; we first endure, then pity, then embrace.” (Alexander Pope)

Make no mistake: Sin will take you farther than you had planned to go; cost you more than you had intended to spend; and keep you longer than you had wanted to stay.  It is deceitful at its core. Jeremy Taylor nailed it:  “A man is first startled by it; then it becomes pleasing; then easy; then delightful, then frequent, then habitual, then confirmed; then the man is impenitent, obstinate and damned!”

  • Vow to never own anything. Whatever you own will eventually own you. “But what things were gain to me, those things I counted loss for Christ…and do count them as dung, that I may win Christ.” (Phil. 3:7,8)

It is said that monkeys are trapped with a hollowed-out coconut that is chained to the bottom of a tree trunk, a large handful of candy having been placed into the hollowed-out core of the coconut. Invariably, the biggest monkey will venture to where the coconut is, stick his hand into the hole of the coconut and grab a big fist full of candy,  only to discover that, when trying to retreat, he cannot get his hand out while his fist is doubled up with candy. His greed becomes his downfall! And so, too often, does ours! “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us therewith be content.” (I Tim. 6:6-8)

Someone once asked the then-wealthiest man in the world, John D. Rockefeller, how much money it would take to be “enough.” He replied: “Just a little bit more.” “They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.” (I Tim. 6:9) As Rudyard Kipling said: “Someday you will meet a man who cares for none of these things. Then you will know how poor you are.”

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt.6:33)

Miss Walker

God has so very many persons that will touch the lives of His servants to form and fashion His men and their ministries according to His sovereign plan and purpose. One such person in my life, when I was a very young man in training for ministry, was Miss Walker.

It was in my sophomore year in Bible School when the director of the ministerial class called my good friend, Tom Kent, and myself into his office with an opportunity of service. He had received a “Macedonian call” of sorts from an elderly, single missionary who lived on Roan Mountain in western North Carolina.  She had been a Presbyterian missionary all of her adult life, and she was living by herself in what might best be described as a “cabin” that had a mountain creek that ran under the house so that the house she lived in was like a bridge over the creek.  It was quaint and neat, we thought, except at night when you heard all sort so weird and unidentifiable sounds.

Her communication with Dr. Stenholm was that there were young people that she had a burden for living on the mountain that needed Christ and she wondered if there might be some “preacher boys” in the university, Bob Jones University, that might be able to come up and lend a hand in helping her to reach these young people. She recognized that her years of active service were now behind her, but she still had a burden for the young people that would follow her.  Tom and I were open to the possibility of going to see what and how we could assist.

We made a trip to Bakersfield and from there on to the top of the mountain where a typical brick church house with a white steeple was perched. We found, on our way up the hill, where Miss Walker lived and eventually made our way to her “cabin,” where she invited us in to get acquainted. We knew immediately that she was a godly, elderly woman whose body was worn out but whose heart burned with a desire to reach the young people who were her neighbors. We knew that if God could use us to build upon what she had done, we were able and willing.  Tom and I had been involved, prior to our attending BJU, in ministries directed to young people, especially in summer VBS programs. We had, for a brief time, served, in a revitalization effort, as “co-pastors” of a dying, if not dead, Baptist Church in my hometown of Ottumwa, Iowa.  So, we accepted the invitation and were ready to take up the challenge as God would lead.

We attended the church on top of the mountain, and for some reason, the welcome that we received from the pastor and many of the regulars was pretty tepid. Frankly, we summed it up as a nice little congregation of folks who were comfortable with who they were and what they were doing and really were not too concerned about having any help in reaching the youth who were not attending their services.  They did not ask us not to come back, so we proceeded in trying to establish relationships with the young people, inviting them to attend the services.  We were afforded in time a room in the basement of the church where we could teach a Sunday School class to the young people who did attend.

One family was kind to invite us to stay all night in their home any time we chose to come up on a Saturday. The drive was about three hours, so we did at times drive up on Saturday evening, stopping in Burnsville where we had made acquaintance with a sweet elderly couple who had fried chicken on the table for us to enjoy even when we got there after they had gone to bed, and comfortable beds to sleep in. We did, of course, thankfully accept their hospitality and, after a delicious North Carolina breakfast early Sunday morning, would trek on up to Roan Mountain to minister to the young people that we were establishing relationships with.

To be transparent, we loved the weekend “extension” ministry, but we also loved an alternative to attending the campus, formal worship service. The Sunday services at BJU, required then, were very special, with the best of music and good preaching, but they were a bit more formal that the little mountain church would have and the latter was frankly a breath of fresh air that we were thankful for!

One family on the mountain was particularly poor and the children were especially hard to reach with what seemed to be a barrier that they had put up between us. They were rough and tough by appearance, but week after week, by simply trying to befriend them, we saw that barrier evaporate. They seemed to look forward to our coming. They began to show up for church. One Sunday morning, rounding the bend that wound by their house, a chicken ran across the road in front of us and it was impossible to miss hitting it.  We stopped, apologized and made sure that the dead hen was taken away, then proceeded on to Sunday School.  Later, at church, the oldest and once toughest son, said that we were invited to dinner at their house that day if we’d like to come.  Of course we took that as an “open door” and accepted the invitation.  The dinner was chicken and dumplings. The house was totally open, doors and windows, to any critter that happened to drop in, like another chicken, pig or whatever.   We were thankful for the invitation to strengthen our ties with these precious people, but we were thereafter always careful when passing their house on the bend to give way to any errant chickens—so as not to get another invitation to Sunday dinner of chickens and dumplings.  We were not quite ready at that point in our training for missionary service!

Many other interesting things occurred during the months we labored on Roan Mountain, including a proposal written to me by a mother offering her daughter’s hand to me in marriage if I wanted to elope with her.  I of course was not interested and have often remembered that an as attempt by a loving mother, again in a very poor situation, wanting a better life for her daughter. 

We thank God for Miss Walker.  We did make inroads with the youth there, but unhappily the church never did embrace us or them.  We learned early on in our ministry preparation that some churches have lost their vision for evangelism and for our youth.  Thankfully, the aged Miss Walker never did.

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” (Provs. 29:18)

Serving God Acceptably, 2

“Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” (Hebrews 12:28) Paul posits in Eph.4:7 that every believer has been given a measure of grace, and James indicates that when we humble ourselves before Him He gives us more grace. (James 4:7) Consider, then, with me the grace of singing.

Music has always been an integral part of worship both individually and corporately. “I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have any being.” (Ps.104:33) Having been born into God’s family we echo in our hearts what the Psalmist said: “He hath put a new song in my mouth; even praise unto our God….” (Ps.40:3)

The individual who is saved and filled with God’s Spirit will demonstrate it by singing. In Eph.5:18,19 Paul commands his readers to be filled with the Spirit: “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord.”

Good music has always accompanied good preaching. The last thing that the disciples did at the Last Supper was to sing a hymn. Paul and Silas when jailed for Christ’s sake in Philippi prayed and sang. The Church of our Lord Jesus Christ has always been and will always be a singing church until one day the choir of the redeemed of all ages will sing the song of the redeemed. And they sung a new song, saying “Thou art worthy to take the book and to open the seals, for thou wast slain and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation. And hast made us unto our God kings and priests and we shall reign on earth.” (Rev.5:9,10)

Many good and Godly Christian leaders today are alarmed, however, that the present-day sound of music which is coming out of many churches is not that sound.

We’re living today in the age of rock, and the age of rock is not in tune with the Rock of Ages. The contemporary sound in music, which is not only the dominant sound heard on most so-called Christian outlets, and even in many churches which call themselves evangelical, smacks more of Hollywood than holiness. Sadly, in many fundamental churches the music that is sung is not fundamental. Paul exhorts us to teach and admonish one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord.

We must, therefore, sing as we are filled with the Spirit. (Eph.5:18b) Then, too, we should be careful to sing the Word of Christ: “…I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” (I Cor.14:5) Mary did this when she lifted her voice of praise in what is called the “Magnificat of Mary” recorded in Luke 1:46-56. She drew upon many Old Testament passages in her pean of praise to her God and Savior, singing with grace in her heart to the Lord. (Col.3:16)

The content of our singing is spelled out in Col.3:16: psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Psalms are words of scripture, especially the psalms of David, set to music and sung with instruments. Psalm 45 is a “song of loves,” (a royal wedding song); Psalms 46 “to or of maidens” sung by soprano voices; Psalms 54, 55 psalms with stringed instruments; and Psalm 13 plus 54 other psalms “to the chief musician,” the choir leader of the Temple as he would lead in public worship, as well as Psalms 120-134 “songs of ascent” sung by Israelis as they journeyed “up to Jerusalem” for their prescribed feast days. It is not so common to hear the psalms sung in today’s worship gatherings, but some churches do it and it can be a great blessing. Psalm 19 and Psalm 48 (in part) have been in the limited repertoire of psalms that our family has enjoyed through the past many decades.

Then, hymns, sacred expressions of devotion and faith. “Our God Our Help in Ages Past,” “O Worship the King,” “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” and so many other hymns of the ages still bless worshipful bodies to this present day.

Finally, spiritual songs, gospel songs, often poems set to music, that testify to a believer’s personal experience with Christ. Whereas hymns are more God-centered and objective, spiritual songs tend to be more man-centered and subjective. “Beulah Land,” “We’re Marching to Zion,” “Living for Jesus,” “Just When I Need Him Most,” “He Leadeth Me,” and, yes, the old favorite of some, “I’ll Fly Away,” are just a few.

As we sing we praise and worship, but we also teach:

  • Of His power: “Be Thou exalted, Lord, in Thine own strength: so will we sing and praise Thy power.” (Ps.55:16)
  • Of His mercies: “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever….” (Ps. 89:1)
  • Of His wondrous works: “Sing unto Him, sing psalms unto Him: talk ye of all His wondrous works.” (Ps.105:2)
  • Of His righteousness: “They shall abundantly utter the memory of Thy great goodness, and shall sing of Thy righteousness.” (Psalm 145:7)
  • Of His honor: “Sing forth the honor of His name: make His praise glorious.” (Ps. 66:2)
  • Of His majesty: “They shall lift up their voice, they shall sing for the majesty of the Lord….” (Isa. 24:14)

So, let us ever “have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably,” and always “singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Hebs.12:28; Col.3:16)

“Come Thou Almighty King, help us Thy name to sing; help us to praise; Father all glorious, o’er all victorious, come and reign over us, Ancient of Days.”

Thomas Fuller, a man known for his wisdom and quaintness, prayed, “Lord, my voice by nature is harsh and untonable, and it is vain to lavish any art to better it. Can my singing of psalms be pleasing to Thine ears, which is unpleasant to my own; yet, though I cannot chant with the nightingale, or chirp with the blackbird, I had rather chatter with the swallow than be altogether silent; now what my music lacks in sweetness, let it have sense; yea, Lord, create in me a new heart therein to mark melody, and I will be contented with my old voice, until in due time, being admitted to the choir of heaven, I shall have another voice more harmonious.”

“Praise ye the Lord. Sing unto the Lord a new song, and His praise in the congregation of the saints.” (Ps.149:1)

Waiting the Call

(This is the triumphant conclusion to the three previous “You and God” posts “His Last 24 Hours.”

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary could not, in the pre-dawn darkness, see the bodies of the soldiers, and by the time they arrived at the tomb the angels had momentarily disappeared; they saw only the huge rock that had been rolled away and they saw an empty tomb. Immediately they ran back to tell John and Peter, and these two disciples had a footrace to the grave. John was the first to reach the empty tomb, and Peter confirmed his findings. The assumption was, at that point, that someone had come during the night and had stolen the body of Jesus.

As John and Peter left to go home, Mary Magdalene made her way back to the sepulcher and, standing at its entrance, she began to weep. Through her tears she got the nerve to again peek into the cave and she could hardly believe what she saw: two angels sitting where Jesus’ body had lain—one at the head and one where His feet had been. They asked Mary why she was weeping, and she told them that someone had taken away the body of her Master. “I know not where they have laid Him,” she lamented.

Turning away from the tomb’s entrance, Mary began to leave when her attention was caught by a man who at first appeared to her to be the gardener. The man also asked her why she was weeping, and Mary replied, “Sir, if thou hast borne Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away.”

At those words, the supposed gardener looked at the weeping woman and said, “Mary.”

“Rabboni,” Mary exclaimed, and she fell at the feet of the resurrected body of the Lord Jesus Christ and began to worship Him.

Thus, the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life upon the earth and His subsequent resurrection from the tomb. All of these events, to be sure, are historical; but they are more than historical, they have a spiritual significance that puts them into a category all by themselves.

They were, indeed, the most significant events in all of history.

Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, Israel’s King, Savior of all men, came into this world for one reason. His testimony to Pilate, in His own words, says it best:

To this end I was born, and for this cause came I into the world; that I should bear witness unto the truth. Everyone that is of the truth heareth my voice.” John 18:37

Are you of the truth today? Are you listening to His voice? “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” Jesus said it. John 14:6 If you have not yet done so, will you come to God through Jesus today?

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

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

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

But from the sabbath day to Sunday’s fate,
	Jesus went to Hell to gather up His own;
Captives in the bosom of Abraham did wait,
	To follow Christ through space to their new Home.

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

Even so “Come quickly” is our daily prayer,
	Nothing here could make us miss His call;
Surely Heaven’s glories we will gladly share,
	Jesus, risen Savior, before Him all will fall. 

Anthony Slutz

This post is a repeat post as we prepare to once again commemorate the celebration of Christ’s victory over the grave, hell and death.

His Last 24 Hours, Part 3

Pilate tried again to persuade the crowd that he should release to them Jesus, but again they cried for His blood. Finally, at about 6 a.m. he delivered Jesus over to the mob and they took Him and led Him away to be crucified.

Immediately, upon His release from Pilate, soldiers seized our Savior, stripped Him, put upon Him a scarlet robe and pressed into His forehead again the crown of thorns, and they put into His right hand a reed or mock scepter; then they began to say, “Hail, King of the Jews.” Spitting upon Him, they took the reed from His hand and smote Him on the head. They mocked Him more, took off the scarlet robe and replaced it with Jesus’ own garment, then led Him to Calvary.

To the place of the skull He was then led, followed by a great company of people. Already weakened by the brutal scourging, Jesus soon fell under the heavy load of the cross that He bore, and one Simon, a Cyrenian, was conscripted by the soldiers to carry the cross on up the hill to Calvary.

Golgotha was the site of the crucifixion, and shortly before 9 a.m. on Friday, the sinless Son of God was stretched out upon a rough-hewn cross; nails were driven through the palms of each hand while one long spike secured both of His feet to the upright stake. The Roman cross of crucifixion was raised by wicked hands high above the earth, then dropped with a sickening thud into a hole upon the hill while every bone in Jesus’ body was torn and twisted in their sockets. Malefactors were put on crosses on either side of the Savior, and from nine ‘til noon the hill was crowned with three cross-bearing bodies, two thieves and the man on the middle cross, the God man.

Earlier all the Disciples had fled and forsook their Master, but by now word was out that He was on the cross, and one by one many had made their way back to Calvary to watch and weep. Mary, His mother, stood by His cross, as did Mary the wife of Cleophas and Mary Magdalene.  John the Beloved Disciple stood beside Mary the mother of Jesus.

From nine ‘til noon, Jesus spoke three times from His place above the earth. First, His prayer of forgiveness was uttered: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Next, to the thief who in a dying breath asked for mercy, Jesus said, “This day shalt thou be with me in paradise” and finally, gazing upon the sorrowing heart of a sad mother He said to John, “Son, behold thy mother.”

While the hot sun beat upon Jesus for three hours, He spoke only three times and each time not for Himself but on behalf of someone else!

At noon, the sun became dark, and for three hours the heavens hid their faces as it were from the shameful scenes on Calvary.

At about 3 p.m. Jesus’ words pierced through and broke the silence as He cried, “Eli, Eli Lama Sabachthani,” “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

Shortly following that, Jesus said again, “I thirst.”

A vinegar-soaked sponge was held to His mouth on a stick, and when He had received it, He cried with a loud voice, “It is finished!” And then, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit.”

With those words Jesus gave up the ghost and died. It was Matthew who recorded that at that precise moment, the veil of the temple was rent from the top to the bottom, the earth quaked, the rocks were rent in two, and the graves of many of the bodies of Old Testament saints that had died were opened and they were seen walking through the streets of Jerusalem.

The darkest deed of history was done! Jesus had died; had died a criminal’s death, and the heavens blushed while the earth convulsed.

One of the Roman soldiers who had cast lots for His garments got on his knees and confessed Jesus as the Son of God, while His faithful followers, including Mary Magdalene, came to minister to His body. Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus, had received permission from Pilate to bury the body of his Lord, and the body was taken from the cross by Pilate’s orders and wrapped in a clean, spice-laden linen burial cloth and placed in Joseph’s tomb, a tomb which had been hewn out of a rock. Nicodemus, the ruler of the Pharisees who had come to Jesus by night, anointed Jesus’ body with spices and perfumes. A great stone was rolled to the door of the sepulcher, and Mary Magdalene and the other women sat by the door to keep watch.

Saturday, the day after His burial, the vile chief priests went back to Pilate and begged of him a detachment of Roman soldiers to guard the tomb, for, as they remembered and reminded Pilate, He had said, “After three days I will rise again.” Afraid that Jesus’ disciples would secretly steal His body away, they sought the Roman watch and secured it from Pilate.

It was early—about dawn but still dark—on Sunday morning, the first day of the week, that Mary Magdalene and another Mary stole secretly to the tomb with sweet spices with which to anoint their Master’s body. Wondering who would roll away the stone for them, their question was soon forgotten as they came and saw the stone had been rolled away already.

What the women did not know at that time was that in the wee hours of the morning, a good while before daylight, God had shaken the tomb with an earthquake, and the angel of the Lord had descended from Heaven to roll back that great seal. The Roman soldiers fell to the ground and were as dead men, and the angel of the Lord sat down upon the stone. Jesus arose from His burial place triumphant over death and Hell, and two angels from Heaven came and folded neatly the linen cloth that had been wrapped around His body and the napkin that had been wrapped around His head.

(Read the “You and God” special Easter Sunday installment for the conclusion.)

“This post and the next one are repeat posts as we prepare to once again commemorate the celebration of Christ’s victory over the grave, hell and death.”

His Last 24 Hours, part 2

As was pre-planned, Judas, seeing Jesus, ran up and greeted Him with “Master, Master,” and kissed Him on the cheek. Jesus looked at Judas and said, “Judas, betrayeth thou the Son of Man with a kiss?”

The soldiers who had fallen to the ground were still stunned and as they regained their composure, Peter pulled his sword from its sheath and cut off the ear of one of the soldiers. He was immediately rebuked by Jesus and told to put his sword up. The Lord then restored the ear of Malchus, a servant of the high priest, and, turning to the band who had come to take Him to the high priest, He said, “Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and with staves to take Me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple and ye laid no hold on Me.” With those words, the soldiers took Jesus and bound Him and led Him away to Annas, father-in-law of Caiaphas the then high priest.

All the Disciples, Mark notes in Mark 14:50, forsook Jesus at this point and fled. Peter also fled but soon turned back, with John, to follow afar off to see what would become of their Lord.

It was before dawn on Friday, the day of Jesus’ death (by Jewish reckoning, any part of a day would be considered a day and a night, thus the crucifixion was on Friday, rather than Wednesday, cf. Mark 15:42.) The soldiers led the peaceful prisoner first to Annas. Jesus was led into the presence of the former high priest while most of the soldiers who had taken Him captive waited in the hall outside where a fire had been kindled so that the pre-dawn chill could be broken. It was at that fire that Peter stood warming his hands when a young maiden saw him and recognized him as a follower of Jesus, and when she asked him if he were not with them in the Garden, Peter flatly denied it. Going out to the adjoining porch, Peter heard, almost unconsciously, the cock crew. A short while later, another maiden said, “This is one of them,” as she pointed out Peter, and again he denied it vehemently. About an hour later, others of the soldiers said to Peter, “Surely you are a Galilean and a follower of this Jesus—your speech gives you away.” At that Peter said, “I swear unto you, I do not know this man!” The words had barely fallen from his lips before the cock crew the second time, and instantly the fisherman follower remembered the earlier prediction of His Master: “Peter, before the cock crew twice, thou shalt deny Me thrice.” Peter, when he had thought upon that, went out and wept bitterly.

While Peter was denying Jesus outside Annas’ house, the former high priest and father-in-law of the then ruling high priest, Caiaphas, was inside questioning Jesus concerning His disciples and His doctrines. Jesus’ reply was straightforward: “I spake openly in the world; I taught in the synagogue and in the temple-in secret have I said nothing. Why do you ask me? Ask them which heard me what I have said to them, they know what I said.”

An officer of the high priest, thinking Jesus’ reply to be disrespectful, struck the Savior with the palm of his hand and said, “Dare you talk so to the high priest?” Jesus said, “If I have spoken evil, then bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you smite me?”

Jesus was then taken from before Annas to Caiaphas the high priest where He was further interrogated. False witnesses were sought and two were finally found who came and accused Jesus by saying that He had said, “I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.” Jesus made no reply, and Caiaphas, pressing Him to answer said, “I adjure Thee by the living God that Thou tell us whether Thou be the Christ, the Son of God.” “Thou hast said,” was Jesus’ reply. Caiaphas, upon hearing those words, rent his clothes and exclaimed, “He hath spoken blasphemy! What further need have we of witnesses? What do you think?” he asked his hastily convened council. They said, “He is guilty of death.” Those standing by began to spit on His blindfolded face and slap Him, saying, “Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, who is he that smote Thee?”

It was early Friday morning, just after dawn, when Caiaphas ordered Jesus to be taken bound to Pontius Pilate.

Officers of the High Priest led Jesus to Pilate’s Judgment Hall. Judas Iscariot, having had second thoughts about what he had done in betraying Jesus, hastened in the meantime to the council with the thirty pieces of silver that they had given him: “I have sinned,” he said, “in that I have betrayed innocent blood.” The priests were not interested in either Judas’ confession or his money, and they bade him leave. Matthew tells us that Judas went out and hanged himself.

It was in Pilate’s judgment hall that Jesus was first asked by the Roman governor, “Art Thou the King of the Jews?” The Savior did not deny it, but said simply, “Thou sayest.” Pilate’s initial response was that he could find no fault with Jesus, so he ordered Him to be taken to Herod, for Jesus was from Galilee and Herod had jurisdiction of Galilee.

Herod was glad for the opportunity to interrogate Jesus Christ, for he had heard much about Him and had hoped to see one of His famous miracles. This was not to be though, and silence was the only response that Herod received from each of his questions to Jesus. Distraught, he and his soldiers began to mock Jesus, putting a gorgeous robe upon Him, and calling Him, in jest, a King. Their sport ended, they sent Him back to Pontius Pilate.

Bringing Jesus back to the Roman governor, Pilate was ready with his first question of those who led the prisoner: “What accusation bring ye against this man?” They who would settle for nothing less than Jesus’ death assured Pilate that this man was indeed a malefactor, and that since the Jews could not lawfully put any man to death, he would have to give the order. Pilate went back to his judgment hall and calling for Jesus, asked Him, “Art Thou the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “Thou sayest I am a King. To this end was I born and for this cause came I into the world: that I should bear witness of the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.”

Pilate said, “What is truth?” Pontius Pilate again went out and addressed the crowd: “I find in Him no fault. You have a custom that I shall release unto you one at the Passover. Will ye therefore that I should release unto you the King of the Jews?”

“No, not this man, but Barabbas. Release Barabbas the robber” the crowd clamored!

A hand written note, hurriedly scrawled by Pilate’s wife, was delivered to the governor at about this time on which she had written these words: “Have nothing to do with this just man. I have this day suffered many things in a dream because of Him.”

The crowd, spurred on by the chief priests, continued to cry for the release of Barabbas. Seeing that they would settle for no less, Pilate had Jesus scourged with a cat of nine tails. Soldiers made a crown of thorns and pressed it upon His brow, and a purple robe was wrapped around His body as they jeered Him with “Hail, King of the Jews!” Some slapped Him with their hands. Thinking the crowd’s thirst for blood would by then be appeased, Pilate brought Jesus, in His purple robe and crown of thorns, His face bloody and His back both bloody and bruised from the brutal beating, before the mob and said, “Behold the man!” “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” was their response.

Disgusted and desperate, Pontius Pilate sent for a basin of water to be brought, and he dipped his hands into the water before the chief priests, declaring that he would not be responsible further for what would happen to this innocent man. “I find no fault in Him.” “His blood be upon us and upon our people,” the Jews shouted.

Once more, Pilate questioned Jesus: “Whence art Thou?” No answer came forth.

Pilate: “Why aren’t you answering me—don’t you know that I have power to crucify you or to release you?”

Jesus: “You could have no power except it were given thee from above.”

(To be continued)

“This post and the next three are repeat posts as we prepare to once again commemorate the celebration of Christ’s victory over the grave, hell and death.”