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
		

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)

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)

His Last 24 Hours

Since 20 centuries separate us in time from the events that occurred when Jesus was crucified, it might be helpful for us to retrace His steps, through a compilation of the gospel accounts, the final steps of our Savior that led Him to Calvary. In so doing I believe we will have a greater appreciation for what He did for us the day He died. Let’s walk where Jesus walked the last 24 hours of His earthly life.

It began on Thursday afternoon, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, better known as Passover. As was the custom, the Passover meal would be eaten in the evening with family or close friends, so, on that Thursday afternoon, Jesus’ disciples began to ask Him where they could prepare the Passover so that they could eat together.  Jesus told them to go into the city where they would meet a man bearing a pitcher of water. They were to follow the man to his house and then say to the Goodman (Butler): “The Master saith, my time is at hand: I will keep the Passover at thy house. Where is the Guest chamber that I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” Jesus assured them that they would be shown a large upper room that was already furnished. “There make ready for us,” He told the disciples. They went and did as He commanded, and finding the man and the house and the room, they made ready the Passover meal.

By Thursday evening the meal had been prepared and Jesus was gathered in the Upper Room with the 12 Apostles to eat the Last Supper. Sitting at the table with them, Jesus said, “With desire have I desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” Taking bread, Jesus blessed it and brake it and gave it to the Disciples, saying, “Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you. This do in remembrance of me.” Next, taking the cup, He gave thanks again and then passing it to them said, “This cup is the New Testament in my blood which is shed for you.” In those words, the Lord Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper which New Testament churches everywhere have been commanded to keep until He comes again.

Rising from the table, Jesus took a towel and a basin of water and began to wash the feet of His Disciples. Peter protested, but Jesus overruled his protest declaring, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” Peter then asked His Lord to wash not his feet only but his hands and head also. The spiritual meaning of this very act Jesus then revealed by assuring the Disciples that he who had been washed spiritually—that is cleansed by the washing of water by the Word, or as He told Nicodemus, “Born again,” needed never again to be washed all over, or “saved” again, but he only needed to be cleansed or restored to fellowship through confession of sin, and this restoration or cleansing was represented by the washing of the feet of the Disciples by Jesus.

It was at that moment that the Lord, knowing that His betrayer was still with them, became troubled in spirit and announced to His Disciples that one of them would betray Him, and that it was one whose hand was at that very moment on the table! Consternation swept through the room. In sorrow and amazement, the Disciples began to look at one another wondering which of them would dare do such a dark deed. Peter motioned to John who sat next to Jesus, asking him to enquire of the Master who the betrayer would be. Jesus replied, “He is he to whom I shall give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” Then, dipping the sop, Jesus gave it to Judas Iscariot with the command, “What thou doest, do quickly.” Judas abruptly got up and went out into the night to seek those with whom he would conspire.

The Devil having departed, Jesus was left alone with the 11 in the Upper Room. In the few hours that followed, the Master shut the world out and drew to Himself those 11 men who would form the foundation of the Church that would bear His name and of which He would be the chief cornerstone. He taught them that night many precious truths concerning the Holy Spirit whom He would send to be with them after He departed. “I will not leave you comfortless; I will come unto you,” He promised. And again, “Nevertheless, I tell you, it is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart I will send Him unto you.” Precious moments of learning and loving were spent in the Upper Room that night, and just before Jesus was to conclude His famous discourse (John 17) He turned His eyes toward Heaven and prayed what we now call His great Intercessory Prayer: “Father, the hour is come; glorify Thy Son that Thy Son may glorify Thee. I have manifested Thy name unto the men which Thou gavest me out of the world; Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom Thou has given me that they may be one as we are one…Father, I will that they also… may behold My glory which Thou hast given Me, for Thou lovest me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world hast not known Thee: but I have known Thee, and these have known that Thou hast sent Me.”

Having finished that great prayer, Matthew says,” When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”

Making their way toward the Mt. of Olives, nearing the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus startled the eleven when He announced, “All of you shall be offended because of Me tonight.” He then went on and predicted His death and subsequent resurrection. When He was finished, it was Peter who broke the long silence: “Though all men shall be offended because of Thee, I shall not be offended!” And, lovingly, Jesus said to the well-meaning Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you to sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you that thy faith fail not.” “Lord,” Peter said with fervor, “I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” Just before they reached the Garden, Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Peter, before the cock crows twice this night, thou shalt deny me three times.” “No, Lord, though I should die with Thee, yet I shall never deny Thee.” Ten other disciples, in a chorus of assent, affirmed that they, like Peter, would never deny their Lord.

Coming now to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said to His followers, “Sit here, while I go yonder to pray.” Then, beckoning to Peter, James and John, Jesus went on ahead and, as Matthew tells us, He became very sorrowful and heavy. “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here and watch with me.” Going about a stone’s cast further, Jesus fell upon His face and prayed, “Oh, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me, nevertheless, not My will be done, but Thine.”

Coming back He found the three disciples asleep. He wakened them and asked them again to watch and pray, and again Jesus went back to His place of prayer. Luke, the beloved physician, tells us that an angel came from heaven and strengthened Jesus, for He was in great agony of spirit, and as He prayed His sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood falling to the ground.

Three times Jesus returned to His select inner circle of three disciples, only to find them asleep each time in spite of His warning to watch and pray lest they fall into temptation. Upon finding them sleeping the third time, Jesus said, “Rise up, let us go: Lo, he that betrayeth me is at hand.”

A noise and lights appeared in the dark distance and soon the clanging of swords and flames of torches and lanterns was heard and seen. A band of men and officers sent from the chief priest, with lanterns, torches, swords and staves, led by Judas Iscariot, was coming to the place where Jesus was concluding His early morning prayer time. As they approached, Jesus said, “Whom do ye seek?” to which they replied, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said, “I am He,” and when He said those words the soldiers fell to the ground. Again, Jesus said, “Whom do ye seek?” and again they replied, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

(To Be Continued)

Help for the Hurting

I received a call yesterday from a man who, as a homeless teenager grew up in our church, taken in and cared for by different families. Charles had been saved through the bus ministry of a church on Indy’s west side, but he ended up at Thompson Road Baptist Church soon thereafter, riding one of our church busses to Sunday School. His mother had died and his dad was a “no show” leaving Charles to fend for himself as he bounced around from “pillar to post” until he met up with a cadre of compassionate people at our church who pretty much took him in, providing necessities, helping him to eventually get a car and some employment. He would in time marry, have children of his own and move on in life and until the call yesterday we had pretty much lost touch.  He had sent a message through our church secretary that he needed to talk to me or to my son-in-law and that he was at a very low point. I called his number and learned that in his words his body was collapsing. He could not get out of bed, he was blind and though he had seen doctors nothing had helped him, so he wanted to ask me that “if it happens, would you be able…I have heard that you have cancer, but I want you to…if you can.” Well, I have been in ministry long enough to fill in the blanks, knowing that “if it happens,” meant if I die and “would you be able to” meant “to do my funeral.” I told him that “if and when it happens,” depending upon where I am in my treatments and progress, I would do what I could. We prayed and when we had said good-bye and I put the phone down, I reviewed in my mind the really hard times that once homeless teenager has had most all of his life. Then, my thoughts went to so many others that I knew were hurting in various and sundry ways and my heart was heavy with the burden of so many suffering folks.  That’s why, when I received an encouraging text message from a friend this morning, who also has recently suffered the loss of a loved one, the verse that was shared in the text message was so uplifting. I’d like to pass it along to you, too:

For David speaketh concerning Him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for He is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: therefore, did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover, also my flesh shall rest in hope: Because thou will not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with Thy countenance.” (Acts 2:25-28) That will brighten any day for any soul weighed down with life’s cares!

Update:  Most of you are aware that in late January I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood that has no known cause nor cure.  Since then, I have entered into an aggressive treatment regimen, since there has been considerable success in getting people with this disease into “remission.” My treatments are moving along, consisting of some powerful chemo therapies and gradually my outlook is improving. We hear from people every day who assure us of their prayers and the Lord has given to us the best doctors that are specialists in this type of cancer.  With His presence and promises, we are hopeful that God will allow me to preach again and to continue to do some writing. It may be a few months yet that remission is achieved if indeed it is, so I just wanted to thank you for your prayers and give you a brief update.  I saw a cancer specialist at Indiana University hospital this past Tuesday who is recognized as one of the best doctors in this field and who agreed to look at my case and render a “2nd opinion.” Having studied what I had been through to date by way of treatments and progress, he said, “Well, we (doctors) do not have the final say in these matters, but as far as myeloma is concerned, I see no reason why you cannot live as long as your father did.” He had my family history before him and was aware that my dad lived to be 94 before dying of “old age!” That was an encouraging doctor’s visit.  I expressed my gratitude for good doctors, then shared with him and his nurses present that my ultimate trust was in the “Great Physician,” pointing heavenward as I concluded my brief testimony. I have enjoyed near perfect health all of my adult life, taking no meds for anything until this hit me out of the blue, so it is a totally different ball game for me. I will be 80 if I live a few more months and am ready to meet my Lord, but would like, if He wills, to be able to hang around to be of whatever help I can be to my beloved wife of 56 years.  Thank you all for your continued prayers!

And, thank you for following my penned thoughts through “You and God” each Tuesday and Thursday. I will soon have been at this venture for two years. At the conclusion of each post, if you scroll down, you will come to the archives of all the 200 plus posts that I have written to date.  Thank you for sharing these, too, with your friends. Beginning with my next post, Lord willing, I am going to do a three-part series on the events which are recorded in the gospels detailing the last week of our Lord’s life on earth, culminating in Calvary’s cruelty and crucifixion and then three days after Jesus died and was buried, the glorious resurrection. This will be a bit different than a regular post, but I pray it will prepare our hearts for the celebration of another Easter Sunday which is less than two weeks away.

Thanks for reading and thanks to those who from time to time reply to me with a thought about something you were blessed by in one of the “You and God” posts!

Thou Art a Jewel

If you read the title of this post, you just might have thought to yourself, “Consistency, thou art a jewel.” I had a prof in seminary that drilled that thought into his students’ heads and it was of course a lesson in practical theology that would stand us all in good stead throughout the years ahead in ministry. It is, like other spiritual disciplines, easier to talk about than to do consistently, but it bears heavily upon our spiritual state under the leadership of God’s Holy Spirit and our walk with Christ.

An enemy of the famed English pastor C.H. Spurgeon once meant to do harm to the man of God by charging that “Here is a man who has not moved an inch forward in all his ministry, and at the close of the 19th century is teaching the theology of the first century.” Spurgeon responded that it was his “greatest compliment.” At the close of the 19th century, humanism both in the British Isles and on the continent was really heating up through so called “Higher Criticism” as the Bible, under attack by liberal, primarily at first, German, theologians was not considered to be infallible. Church bodies in America were sending their most promising would-be ministerial candidates to Europe for their training, and they were coming back in the early 20th century espousing that heresy. That’s when the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversies dominated the theological landscape; so, for an enemy of the preacher to charge in that context that he was still preaching the theology of the first century would have indeed been a real compliment.

Back to consistency. It has been an age-old problem with reference to one’s belief system verses behavioral practice. Jesus’ most “torrid” message is recorded in Matthew 23 when He excoriated the religious elite of his day for their inconsistencies. For instance, He said “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” (Matt.23:23) He went on to call them blind guides, which “strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.” That charge was one of about eight leveled at His Jewish contemporaries by Jesus in that classic sermon that Matthew records for us and at the heart of it would be the issue of being consistent in what you preach as opposed to how you practice; in “who you are” as opposed to “who men think you are.”

An illustration out of the pages of history might underscore the importance of being genuine and consistent in our beliefs and in our behavior. In Germany a Jewish boy loved and admired his father and followed his Jewish faith, being zealous in keeping Jewish traditions and attending the synagogue. But as time passed his family moved to another German city and his father would one day announce that the family would be joining the Lutheran church since most of the prominent business men of the city were Lutherans. Coming as a shock to the teenage boy, in time the youngster became bitter and would, in his adulthood, author the book Das Kapital, calling religion an “opiate of the people.” That once Jewish lad, confused and angry and eventually bitter, was known to the world as Karl Marx, one of the founders of the modern communist movement.

Paul was concerned about being consistent in his preaching and in his practice: “I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so, fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”

All too often and painfully so we hear in our generation of those who once led ministries who have become what Paul feared becoming, castaways. It would be safe to say that the trip leading to spiritual disaster began with “little” inconsistencies.

I read a story about Ansel Adams who was a well-known landscape photographer. He once told a story on himself, stating that at one time he had studied the piano, showing some talent. At one of his first recitals, he played Chopin’s Nocturne in F Major. Adams says, “In some strange way my right hand started off in F sharp while my left hand behaved well in F major. I could not bring them together. I went through the entire nocturne with the hands separated by a half-step.” The next day someone jokingly said to Adams, “You never missed a wrong note.”

Humorous that story, but not so when the issues are as critical as they were when Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites. So, contemplating all of this, I had to draw up a self-test of sorts to see how I am doing on the important question of consistency.  Maybe you’d like to examine yourself (2 Cor. 13:5) too, so here are some things I have pondered:

  • Am I the same person in the privacy of my home with my family as I appear to be in public with my friends?
  • Do I practice when out of the public eye what I have preached and am preaching to others in public ministry?
  • Do I show partiality to people who may appear to be people of influence, wealth or means as opposed to people who appear to have nothing?
  • Do I hold myself to the same standards that I hold others to; i.e., do I criticize others for doing what I give myself a “pass” on doing? Do I judge their motives?
  • Do I excuse inconsistencies in my life by making a difference between the “secular” and the “sacred?” For instance, do I excuse vulgar speech as just “barnyard” language or “shop talk?”
  • Do I make corporate worship with a body of believers a priority, as much as is possible, when I am out of state, say, on vacation, on the Lord’s Day?
  • Do I find myself judging people on the basis of outward appearance?
  • Am I consistent in demonstrating love to those whom I may consider “unlovely” or “unlovable?”
  • Do I allow my thoughts (inner, secret) to go to dark places or am I bringing every thought to the obedience of Jesus Christ with Phil. 4:8 as my goal?
  • Do I watch on TV or on the internet things that I would be uncomfortable for my whole family to join me in watching?

Consistency, thou ART a jewel!  None of us would score 100% on the above test but that does not mean we should not strive to be “true blue” in all these areas and others, lest we ourselves should become a castaway.

A fountain pen salesman persuaded a merchant to order a large number of the pens he was promoting. The salesman was writing the order in his book when the merchant suddenly ordered, “Stop! I am cancelling that order.” The salesman left the store angry and confused. Later the store’s bookkeeper asked the manager why he had cancelled the fountain pen order. “Why?” exclaimed the man. “Because he talked fountain pens to me for a half-hour, using a number of forcible arguments, and then booked my order with a lead pencil. His practice did not agree with his profession.”

How about ours?

Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed; But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God….” (2 Cor. 6:3,4a)

Remembering Roy

When my wife and I were living in Dallas, Texas, for a couple of years in the late 60’s and early 70’s we were seeking to find a good church that we could attend. Just for the experience, we first visited the historic First Baptist Church of Dallas, pastored then by W.A. Criswell, a mega church before churches were called by that name. We visited on Sunday morning and on Monday evening there were people visiting from the church wanting to get to know us and wanting to tell us more about their church!  We were pretty impressed.  The small church we finally joined, just blocks from where we lived in east Dallas, an independent, fundamental Baptist Church, was pastored by an older man who, with J. Frank Norris and T.T. Shields, had been one of the founders of a seminary in the Ft. Worth area.  He was an old-fashioned Bible expositor, the kind of preacher one could listen to for hours and want more. I had indicated to him on several occasions that we were interested in joining the church and that we’d appreciate a visit from him to get to know more about the ministry. That visit never happened. It was a church of no more than a hundred on any given Sunday, and the only person that made any attempt to be friendly to this young couple with two small girls was the usher/greeter who would give us a big smile, a hearty handshake and a bulletin every time we entered.  I think his name was “Bucky” but though I may have forgotten his name I have never, 50 years later, forgotten his warm welcome and welcomed greeting. As a student preparing for ministry, I thought to myself that to have an usher like that would be a pastor’s dream come true.

Fast forward twenty-three years and I would find myself thirteen years into my pastorate in Indianapolis, Indiana when one Sunday in early January a couple joined our church. His name was Roy and his wife’s Thetta. It would not be long before Roy would volunteer to help in any way he could; and it just so happened that we needed help in our ushering department at that time, and he went right to work, assisting in any place needed. He never stopped until a few months ago when cancer sidelined him and a few weeks ago God relieved Roy of his post as head-usher here and called him to his eternal rest. His works truly do follow him.

Roy grew up on a farm just east of Indianapolis and his life, before he joined the United States Marine Corps, was not an easy one. His father was a tough disciplinarian and life consisted mainly of chores. It probably did not get any easier when Roy volunteered to become a Marine, but it was different and he ended up serving as a military policeman. He went strictly by the book and was all business and, his term having been completed, moved back to Indy. He and his wife came to our church from another church of like faith and I suppose Roy was in his mid-50’s when I became his pastor. He was, in fact, the usher that was in the back of my mind that day in Dallas when I breathed a sigh in my soul with the thought that “happy would be the pastor who had an usher like Bucky.” Well, in 1992, I became that happy pastor.

Roy was a right-hand man. He was meticulous in attention to detail. He dressed every service as though he were possibly going to meet the President. He arrived at church an hour early to begin to execute his duties, opening up all doors, turning lights on in every meeting room, setting thermostats to an appropriate degree, moving clocks forward an hour in the spring and backwards an hour in the fall on the specified Sunday, putting Sunday School reports in each teacher’s room so that they could fill them out and have them ready for him to pick up and tally; making sure the large flag that flew out front was not frazzled and if appropriate setting it at half-mast when there was occasion to do so; putting a glass of water on the pulpit for the preacher, organizing an ushering crew for each service, ringing bells indicating the conclusion of the Sunday School hour and a hundred other tasks.  On the rare occasions that Roy had to miss (he never traveled out of town on Sundays) we would divide his jobs up and assign two or three men to do what Roy would normally do. All that he did was with a cheerful spirit, a warm smile and hearty hand shake and his presence was ubiquitous throughout the congregation though in the most positive way. He loved to talk and would not hesitate to show you a picture of a fish that he had hauled in from some lake the past week.

To this pastor Roy was more than a co-laborer, he was a brother indeed. His service was selfless and always above and beyond. He was not deeply schooled in theological matters but his faith was genuine and his works were extraordinary. For twenty-seven years I was privileged to serve alongside of a man that exemplified the servant’s heart and a totally committed life of faithful service to His Master. Roy took his job as seriously as one could, believing that for Christ and His Church only his best would do. One Sunday it was discovered that someone, as a practical joke, had slipped a gold fish into the glass of water that Roy had placed for me on the pulpit. When he became aware of that, it shook him to the core. In fact, he, for the first and only time, was not in the next service. I quickly paid a visit to Roy and realized that he was devastated by the thought that he had failed in his work and was not worthy to continue on as lead usher. I assured him that he had not failed and that the incident was not meant in a mean-spirited way and that he should report for duty next service. We prayed and he was back on the job the next time the church met and that was the only time I ever had to exhort Roy to “keep on keeping on.”

So, Saturday last, friends, family and church members packed out our fellowship hall to celebrate the life of a servant of Christ who in flesh for thirty years, Sunday after Sunday, year after year, embodied the Biblical pattern of servanthood. All who knew him loved him. His kind come along only once in a while and I will ever be grateful that for the bulk of my ministry as a pastor God gave me the privilege of rubbing elbows with and learning from a man who never attended Bible School one day of his life, but lived out in real time what the Bible teaches about faithfulness, dedication, dependability. I will ever be grateful to God for sending to our church our very own version of “Bucky.” We have long since forgotten the messages of that powerful Bible expositor in Dallas, but I have never forgotten the smile, the welcome, the handshake of a Godly layman who was at his station, on time and in place, helping to prepare the hearts of those who would be sitting under the sound of the preacher, having received a welcome that made them feel as though they had come to the right place on that day.

Moreover, it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.” (I Cor. 4:2)

The Christian and His Convictions

On May 17, 2014 Admiral William McRaven addressed the graduating class of the University of Texas with a speech the thesis of which was “If you plan to succeed in life, you need to learn the importance now of prioritizing the practice of daily making your own bed.” He wrote a best-selling book on the subject stressing the importance of good habits and consistently giving attention to the little, yet important, tasks of basic blessed living.

That speech, by the way, received 10 million views on YOU TUBE. It evidently resonated with a wide-ranging audience.  It reminded me of the basic life principles that followers of Christ need to adhere to in order to live a life well pleasing to their Master.  I further thought of the basic Bible convictions that should govern our lives. These could be called convictions as opposed to preferences.  How would you define a Biblical conviction? Here is what I came up with: “A firmly established belief or persuasion to which you tenaciously hold, based upon God’s Word, and for which you would die, if needs be, rather than surrender.” Obviously, Making Your Bed is a good life principle but it would not meet the standard of a Biblical conviction if one accepts the definition I have set forth. Martin Luther, when nailing his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, expressed Biblical conviction when he said, “Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.” It was for him a Biblical conviction that he would be willing to “to go to the stake” for.

So, what are some of the convictions Christians have held to and at this present hour are holding to so that, if called upon to do so, they would die for rather than surrender? What are your convictions?  I have listed some that, God helping, I could not give up even to save my life.  You may have others, more or less. Christians world-wide are dying for these Biblical convictions as I write this post and on every day of the year. It is worth having our “pure minds” stirred up to give the subject some consideration knowing that it is not unthinkable, in this present spiritual darkness, that any of us who name His name might be called upon to lay down our life rather than surrender what are our Bible-based convictions. Here are some of mine;

  • Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the God-man, is the Way, the Truth and the Life and “no man cometh to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6). There is none other name under heaven whereby man can be eternally saved than His.  Salvation, eternal life, is only through Jesus Christ and through Him alone. Paul says that God “also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name. That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil.2:9-11) Salvation is in and through Christ alone.
  • Whatever the Bible says is so. It is my final authority for faith (belief) and practice (behavior). All scripture, Old and New Testaments, is given by inspiration of God and is profitable. “To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no truth in them.” “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” (2 Tim.3:16,17; Isa.8:20; Ps.119:105) We may disagree with good men on matters of interpretation, but never on matters of inspiration. God’s Word is forever settled in heaven.  Here we must stand; we can do no other, so God help us. Amen.
  • The main purpose for my living upon this earth is to glorify God. Not to “find myself;” or to milk every moment for maximum pleasure or to look out for “number one.” But to so live that my life will bring honor, praise and glory to my creator God. “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created.” Rev.4:11 Humanism says that we owe it to ourselves to find happiness-wrong!  We owe it to God to live for Him and to glorify His name.
  • As a believer, my body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, God’s Spirit, and, therefore, I should glorify God in my body, not defiling it by what I put into it, or by how I use or abuse it. I Cor. 6:20: “For ye are bought with a price; therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit which is God’s.” We should glorify God by being good stewards of this marvelous body so intricately designed for our good here and for His glory. That conviction will govern both our dress and our diet and all other things appertaining to the body. Humanism says “It’s your body; you own it and no one can tell you what you can or cannot do with it; after all, you are only hurting yourself if you abuse it somehow.” Wrong again. As a believer, my body is God’s temple.  When I abuse it, I hurt God, hurt myself, hurt other believers including teachers/pastors; and hurt society where I live and where my light is dimmed or hidden by a selfish example.
  • The local, New Testament church is the living organism through which God is fulfilling His divine purposes today, and therefore, it is incumbent upon me, a Christian, to be actively involved in the ministry of a local, New Testament assembly of believers, one where the whole counsel of God (the Bible) is taught; one that is engaged in worldwide evangelism in obedience to the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20); one that is burdened for lost souls and is endeavoring to bring souls to salvation through the gospel; and one to which I will be loyal in supporting by my presence, my prayers and my pocketbook. This present hour is crying for local churches that believe the Book, preach the blood and proclaim the Blessed Hope (of His soon coming again).
  • That Children are an heritage of the Lord and that, as a parent, it is my awesome responsibility to train up the child that God entrusts to the care of my spouse and me in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. It is not the school’s responsibility; it is not the church’s responsibility; it is not the State’s responsibility, but it is my responsibility. Period. Ps. 127:3; Prov.22:6; Deut.6:6,7.
  • I believe that I am a steward before God of my time, my talents and my “tithes,” and that I will one day personally give an account to Christ of my stewardship of these things. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” (2 Cor. 5:10)
  • I believe that my citizenship is in heaven and that I am only a pilgrim passing through this land of shadows and that, therefore, my affections should be set on things above and not on things of this earth, Col.3:1. “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” I Pet.2:11

We have witnessed in our lifetime a morphing in many instances of what were once held “convictions” into now just preferences.  Using certain Bible verses there have been “convictions” about women wearing pants; about eating in restaurants where alcohol is served; about certain hair-dos on “godly” women; about what translation of the Bible is God’s preserved Word for English speaking people, about music and a myriad of other issues. One would not minimize the differences, but it must be acknowledged that often what were once firmly held “convictions” of yesteryear in the Christian community have now become at best preferences and more generally “non-issues” for today.  So, take another look at your convictions.  Are they Biblical?  Would you die for them rather than surrender them? It would do us well, in the light of this present evil age, to reexamine the issues.

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” (I Thess. 5:18)

Giving and Receiving Extravagantly

What I am going to say now could change your life; it could totally revitalize your life and the lives of those around you. I am not trying to sell you anything, nor would I ask you to sign on the line! But I am here as God’s spokesman with a message from His Word that could not only revolutionize your life but the life of the ministries through which you are serving your Lord.

There is a principle in Luke 6 that is so unconcealed that many people stumble over it and do not even notice it is there!  I am not alluding to or promoting a prosperity gospel, God forbid; but I believe if the people of God would get ahold of this basic Biblical concept, it could and would make a transforming course-correction in their lives.

God has written some fixed laws into the warp and woof of His universe. These laws, relating to cause and effect, cannot be changed but by God Himself. Some of the laws are natural, some are spiritual. Both are equally fixed.

One of God’s spiritual laws which is fixed is recorded in Numbers 32:23: “Be sure your sins will find you out.” Nothing any person could ever do can alter that spiritual law.

Another one: “The wages of sin is death.” Since Adam and Eve sinned and began to die, mankind has been keeping its unalterable appointment with death, for “the wages of sin is death.” It’s fixed.

Still another spiritual law: “Whatever a man sows, he reaps.” That is a natural law and it is a spiritual law. You cannot get around it; you’ll never circumvent it. Whatever you sow you will reap and if you sow nothing you will reap nothing.

So, I want to challenge you (and, I am aware that I am probably “preaching to the choir,”) to take another look at what Jesus said in Luke 6:38: “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.”

Now, note the PROMISE. You, individually, personally are the one who is to give. In verse thirty Jesus specified that His Kingdom followers should “Give to every man that asketh of you…and as ye would that men should do to you; do ye also to them likewise.” (Luke 6:30,31) Solomon, long before Christ, writing under the Holy Spirit’s superintendence, said that “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and that which he hath given will He repay again.” Yes, I could write several follow up columns to this about how, in good faith, through the years, I have given to many people who turned out to be dishonest or at least disappointing in what they represented themselves as, but I have never regretted one time giving, lending if you will, to the Lord, knowing that He keeps the books and He will right all wrongs.  I just need to keep a sympathetic, compassionate, generous spirit and leave to results to God. Give, therefore, with no thought of getting back. My wife and I have given people in need thousands of dollars in 50 years of ministry, but I have never made any gift a loan; it was always given no strings attached and with no expectation of getting any part of it back again. By the way, when I say “I” or “My wife and I” I am keenly aware that we are simply two of millions of blood-bought, born-again believers who are so grateful to God for His abundant grace that giving with abandon is a joy, not a duty.  God’s people are, always have been and always will be, generous, liberal. “Cast thy bread upon the waters and after many days thou shalt find it.”  A widow in our church, years ago, sacrificially gave a missionary $50 to help meet a need and later testified that she received unexpectedly a check in the mail for $1,000. It is a story the likes of which is repeated time and time again; it is a fixed principle, established by God.

Second, note the PROPORTION. “Good measure; pressed down, shaken together, running over.” A wealthy merchant was responding to a missions need and, as he was writing his check, an associate handed him a memo conveying to the businessman that he had just sustained considerable losses, whereupon the merchant tore up the check and wrote another one, this time for a much larger amount, musing that “God is teaching me to lay up treasures in heaven.” You simply cannot outgive God. Lonial Wire, our song leader for decades at Thompson Road Baptist Church, was known for saying, “I shovel it (gifts) out and God shovels it back to me again, but His shovel is a lot bigger than mine.” My friend, Pastor Ron Allen, who pastored the Calvary Baptist Church in San Francisco, was known for going “over the top” in leading his church to give generously to missions and to missionaries.  It almost became legendary.  After Pastor Allen moved to Georgia so that he and his wife, Barb, could be near their daughter in law following the death of her husband, I invited Ron to lead in one of our missions’ conferences. It was pretty obvious by a casual glance that he needed a new set of tires on his car and it was a joyful privilege to be a part of meeting that need and of casting some bread upon the waters. That bread has, indeed, come back in a proportion to us and to our church, that it is incalculable!

Then, note the PROVIDENCES.  “Shall men give….” God in ways that only He could orchestrate, will work through men to bring back to you that you have given and more!  You could never anticipate the how or the when of it and that is exactly what makes it so very special.  It is a “God thing,” and it happens when you least expect it and in a way that you would never have thought of. Jacob, fleeing his homeland, vowed to give God a tenth all that God would entrust to his stewardship, and God used Laban over the twenty years following that promise, to make Jacob a wealthy man. God used the church at Philippi to take care of the Apostle Paul’s needs with the promise that “My God shall supply all of your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Phii.4:19) I could not count the times God put it upon the heart of some generous person or couple to give us a week in a condo on a beach or a spacious home to enjoy in a place we could never have dreamed of visiting much less staying a week or more at no charge! When God does the repaying through people, it is without doubt “pressed down, shaken together and running over.”

It is said that a crippled girl responded to an appeal that her pastor had given to the church body when a definite need had arisen.  The girl hobbled to the front of the church and gave a ring that she had worn; the pastor, noting what the child had done, sought her out afterwards and said, “We don’t feel right, dear, about keeping your treasured ring, so we’ve decided to give it back to you.”  The girl replied, “You don’t understand, I didn’t give my ring to you, I gave it to God.”

Next, note the PRINCIPLE: “For with the same measure….” If you are stingy, you will live in meagerness; if you are generous, you will receive generously. It’s a fixed law and the scriptures are replete with examples of how it works in real time.  Abraham was generous with his nephew Lot. Abraham became wealthy beyond belief. “It’s not what you’d do with the millions if fortune should be your lot; but what are you doing at present with the dollar and quarter you’ve got?”

Finally, the PLACE. Every believer, member of the Body of Christ, should be attached to and affiliated with a local, New Testament Bible-preaching church.  That is where our first responsibility belongs, our local church, supporting prayerfully and generously its local and worldwide ministry outreaches.  There are other worthy causes and ministries deserving our support, but our local church should be at the top of our list. We can give to missions, to ministries ministering to the homeless and many other outreaches, through the local church where there is not only responsibility but accountability. 

So, keep on giving. If you have been a bit hesitant to exercise the faith needed to give with no thought of receiving in return, ask God to give you His heart and mind in the matter so that you will have a new understanding and deeper appreciation for what Paul said in his challenge to the Corinthians: “But thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift.”

Therefore, as ye abound in everything, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also.” (2 Cor.8:7)

Killing Fields

A photograph of torture and murder victim Sylvia Likens as she appeared prior to her stay with Gertrude Baniszewski.

The year was 1965 and the place was on New York Street in Indianapolis, Indiana. A 16-year-old girl, on October 26, was found by a policeman dead in the house of Gertrude Baniszewski. Sylvia Marie Likens and her sister Jenny were teenagers who had been left with Gertrude “Gertie” Baniszewski for the summer so that their parents could work in and follow a carnival.  They knew little about Gertrude before leaving Sylvia and her sister in the care of a lady who would later be described as the embodiment of evil.

I want to share Sylvia’s story though it happened over 55 years ago because of her connection with our church which at that time was called Grace Memorial Baptist Church, located on north Alabama Street near the downtown of Indianapolis.  Roy Julian was the pastor of what would become Thompson Road Baptist Church as a result of a church merger in the late 60’s.  Pastor Julian, as many pastors of that era, sent church busses out on Sunday morning to pick up boys and girls that otherwise would not be able to attend Sunday School.  Sylvia was one of those who rode our church bus and therefore Pastor Julian and our teachers and workers had an interest in both Sylvia and her family.

On at least one occasion during the summer months, Pastor Julian, informed by some of Sylvia’s teachers and bus workers that Sylvia and her sister had not been in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School that summer, made a front door visit to the last known address that the Likens sisters had been staying at, the Baniszewski residence on the 3800 Block of East New York Street.  Pastor Julian was unable to get into the house to assess the situation, and no one at the front door was willing to answer his questions as to the well-being of the Likens sisters.

Had Pastor Julian been able to have gained an entrance into the home, he would have seen a place that was “repulsive, not fit for a dog.” In fact, had the Likens mother or father bothered to meet “Gertie” and look over the accommodations their daughters would be subject to that ill-fated summer, they would have seen a place of squalor with little food, not enough beds, no stove and very few cooking utensils. (Indianapolis Star, October 2015). But sight unseen and without ever having met the lady to whom they would hand their daughters over to with the instructions that she should be firm with the girls, they left an advance of $20 with Mrs. Baniszewski and headed off to chase the carnival for the summer and into the fall months.

What happened the next three or four months to a strawberry blond teen defies a writer’s ability to portray.  Mrs. B, assisted by two neighborhood boys as well as two of her own children, all of whom would later be charged with murder, set out to torture Sylvia Likens, and their mission ended in the teen’s horrific death. Policemen who were first on the scene when her lifeless body was discovered described Sylvia’s crudely slashed abdomen: one of the neighborhood boys had carved the letters into her skin: “I am a prostitute and proud of it.” Cigarette burns framed the message. Her once pretty, youthful face was swollen, beaten and bruised; her scalded, mutilated body was lying on a stained mattress. An October 26, 2015 Indianapolis Star article recounting what would be at that time called “the worst crime in Indiana history” said that Sylvia had been “starved, clubbed, punched, smacked, kicked, scalded, cut, burned, branded, tattooed, and repeatedly thrown down or dragged up the stairs by Gertie, her children and the neighborhood children over a period of three months.” The East New York Street house governed by the devilish Mrs. Baniszewski had become a house of horrors where from July to October in 1965 there existed a torture chamber for one young girl who had her life brutally beaten out of her, in what was an unspeakable, unthinkable spiral of sadism, orchestrated by a woman who had to have been driven by the Evil One.

I became pastor of Thompson Road Baptist Church, fourteen years after the death of Sylvia Likens. It is a story that was at that time still alive in the memory of many of the church folk because of the contact TRBC had had with Sylvia as she attended our church. When all of this took place in the mid-sixties our church was then sending out 10 or 12 busses every week picking up boys and girls; we continued in an active, though scaled down, bus ministry until Covid-19 restrictions caused us to terminate that outreach ministry. We still do use a bus to pick up children from Perry Township public schools to take them to off-site locations for one-hour release time Bible lessons using the Abeka Book curriculum!  With all the sweat, toil and tears the typical bus ministry entails, and that is over a 50-year span, we have often been tempted to question whether the returns justify the investment. But if one Sylvia Likens came to Sunday School on a bus or to VBS and heard about the love of Jesus through a dedicated teacher as the Bible was taught, then case closed. Thousands of boys and girls heard and were saved.  We meet them all the time as we move about: “Oh, I attended Thompson Road Baptist Church when I was a child….”

As I reviewed this story in my heart and mind in order to share it with you, I have been reminded once again that the heart is desperately wicked, totally depraved apart from the transforming grace of God. It started in the Garden when our first parents disobeyed God at which time sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. The blackened blight of it was flushed out in earth’s earliest days when Cain slew his brother Abel, and the bloody trail of death is not hard to follow from there, through history to the present hour and as so graphically portrayed in the book of the Revelation, to the end of time as we know it. The world has become a literal killing field; witness what a few men, absent of any conscience or apparent fear of God, are now making of the beautiful country of Ukraine.

Thank God, the cure for killing and demented devilment has already been provided when the worst of the underworld threw its heaviest artillery at the sinless Son of God who died at Calvary as a sacrifice and substitute for mankind, paying for all who would believe and receive the penalty for the wages of sin, with the gift of God, eternal life. (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Paul the Apostle, once a supervisor in the arrest, prosecution, and execution of Christians, accepted Christ as Lord and Savior and would later write that “this is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” (I Tim.1:15) Yes, he could save the most savage sinner or the most sophisticated one. He can save you, my friend.  Will you trust Him today?

And he brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” (Acts 16:30,31)