A Special New Year’s Diet

In a couple of days, we will turn over a new page on the calendar of life, beginning a new year with new hopes, dreams, goals—and, yet, with some old fears. I hope it will prove to be a good year for all who read these lines.

I want to write this column from the unique vantage point of a pastor’s perspective. Most of my adult life has been spent doing the work of the ministry—specifically, for this servant, that of a pastor (50 years). So, I write with the perspective of a pastor, an under-shepherd who invested a lifetime looking for and tending to the needs of a flock.  Part of those duties included the feeding of God’s flock, a high and holy task with awesome responsibilities and singular privileges.

Approaching a New Year, I would always consider the year ahead and the need for the flock of God, over which the Holy Spirit had made me overseer, as to their spiritual diet. What special food for their souls would they need for the next year, in order to weather the onslaught of energy-draining challenges ahead?  Of course, there will always be a need for spiritual vim and vigor that only a balanced spiritual diet can afford.

So, the pastor/under-shepherd will try to serve up messages on his spiritual menu which will be full of soul-nourishing vitamins, replete with vegetables and fruits. It will be wise to go easy on the sugar this next year, spiritually speaking (of course), and major on the basic spiritual food groups: doctrines pertaining to salvation, sanctification, submission and service, and, for good measure, some generous portions of Second Coming servings.

Granted, there are those who may react like some children: you’d rather not have any vegetables at all.  Books like the Minor Prophets and even some of the Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel) just do not appeal to your spiritual appetite that much.  And, those history books (Chronicles, Kings)—well, you may not turn your nose up at them, but you don’t seem to want to “dig in” when they are set before you.
But, like a mother carefully plans and prepares a menu of tasty yet enriching foods for her family, so the pastor/under-shepherd feeds the flock of God. He will try to serve up a balanced spiritual diet. Some food from all the groups will have to be included: the milk of the gospels and the meat of the epistles, along with some sweet things from Colossians and Ephesians, and let us not forget Philippians, plus some really chewy stuff from the Revelation.

So, on any given Sunday morning (evening, too, and Wednesday-night Bible study) when the pastor says “please open your Bible to _______,” I trust you will determine that if this man of God is following the direction of his Chief Shepherd, then he has prayed about what spiritual food you (as a body and members in particular) most need for your souls at any given time. His message has been prayed over, prepared carefully, organized, and served up in a somewhat (hopefully) appetizing way so that you will both enjoy the experience (of feeding) and be benefited by the ingestion of that which will enable you to keep maturing as a believer. There will be at the “table,” at any given service, some folk who will need milk, and those who will need meat; some will need meat but not the “heavy” stuff that will be hard to digest. Everyone will need a balanced diet in order to mature spiritually and methodically.

I hope you will enjoy every offering from the under-shepherd’s “kitchen” this year. Try something of everything put before you. And, whatever you do, do not just “skip” a sitting, shrugging it off by saying “I’m not hungry,” or please do not fail to show up at meal time because you forgot to come, or you were too busy doing some other good thing. You know your mother spent lots of time preparing those meals, and she put lots of herself (love) into each one; and for you not to show up at meal time is awfully disappointing to your mom (and, likewise, to your pastor who has put lots of himself into the preparation of each spiritual feast, which he looks forward to setting before you knowing full well that it is good food for you).

So, may the year ahead be a year of growth for all of us. Your pastor shall endeavor to feed you well. He will have a treasure-trove of recipes, tried and proven, to choose from, and, by God’s grace, he will continue to serve spiritual food that will be both satisfying and nourishing. Enjoy every one of them, chew them carefully, digest them wholly, and assimilate them spiritually so that this coming year you will “grow in grace and in the knowledge” of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” (I Peter 2:2, 3)

Don’t Quit Before You’re Finished

A couple of idioms come to mind when contemplating the Indianapolis Colts’ loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday, December 17: “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” Yogi Berra is known for having said about baseball’s full, nine-inning games with 27 outs; and, “It’s not over ‘til the fat lady sings,” meaning that nothing is irreversible until the final act plays out. The Colts (4-8-1) went into their locker room at halftime with a 33-0 lead over the Vikings (10-3). Interim coach and former Colts’ center, Jeff Saturday, had made it known earlier in that week that he would be happy to be considered for the job of permanent replacement for Frank Reich, the Colts’ fired former head coach.

So, how did the game end that fateful Saturday in Minnesota?  When I returned home after running some errands with Ellen, the score was 36-28!  I heard an announcer say, as Minnesota scored a TD, “They certainly have the momentum,” and that was pretty obvious! But the Colts had possession of the ball with a little over two minutes left in the game. They had a 4th-and-1 situation near mid-field. For non-football fans, that means they needed to gain one yard on the next play or lose possession to the Vikings.  Normally, a one-yard gain is a “piece of cake.” Quite often, the quarterback will get the ball from the snap of the center and, with an all-out effort by the offensive line, lunge or jump forward enough to make the one-yard gain. That’s what the Colts’ quarterback, Matt Ryan, attempted to do on this critical play. If the Colts made the one yard, it would be 1st and 10, meaning they might well run out the clock and leave the Twin Cities with a huge win! 

It was not to happen. They failed, by just a few inches, to get the one yard on the quarterback sneak; Minnesota took possession and scored easily, making the score 36-34. They needed two points to tie the game, so the Vikings went for a run rather than the one-point kick after their TD. They scored on the two-point play, rather handily, tying the game at 36-36 and sending it into overtime. Then they won the game, 39-36, on a 40 -yard field goal. It was an historic win for the Vikings, breaking the NFL record for greatest comeback ever in a game!

For the Colts, it was humiliating. For their fans, it was almost unbelievable and certainly disgusting. For the sports writers, it was an opportunity to reach down deep into their reservoir of superlatives: “catastrophic,” “collapse,” “quit,” were a few of the many. It was a stunning loss for the Colts and a stunning comeback for the Vikings.

Well, I enjoy some sports but decided early in life that there were more important avenues that I could take, knowing of course that I would never be of college-draft caliber; so I did not participate in basketball or football after my sophomore year of high school. But I have never lost my interest in those sports and have learned that one can absorb a lot of life-lessons through the challenges that competition involves.

It was not difficult to pinpoint some lessons to be learned from the Indianapolis Colts’ debacle in Minnesota on December 17. First, of course, “it’s not over ’til its over.”  Can you imagine how difficult it would have been for any of the Colts’ players, or even the coaches, to go into the locker room at halftime with a 33-0 lead and not have a deep-down feeling that “this one’s in the bag!” There seemed to be no way the Vikings could dig themselves out of that hole! Yet, the impossible happened, and the Vikings made history. (So did the Colts, but not the kind of history you want to be remembered for.)  So with my ministry: It’s not over until it’s over, and though my duties as pastor emeritus are different than when I was senior pastor, I still am “in the ministry,” and my Captain, the Lord Jesus Christ, has not relieved me of my commission. I have a job yet to do, and it would be a huge error were I to breathe a big sigh of relief and think or say to myself, “This one’s in the bag, no way I can lose the victory from here on out.” Too, too many have made that strategic, unforced error and have tragically tripped up just short of the finish line, bringing disrepute to their Savior and to their ministry. God forbid.

When I watch pros play, it really irks me to see, as I did in the Colts game, these multi-millionaires doing “victory” dances in the end zone after they score a touchdown, or on the field after they make a good defensive play. Is that not what they’re paid the “big bucks” for?  Ok, it’s good to play with a lot of spirit, zest, and drive (as did the Vikings in the 2nd half), but to celebrate before the game is over can be ill-advised. If I were a coach, I would ban those “dance” celebrations; they must aggravate and maybe are indeed intended to aggravate the opposing team, and we all know now what can happen if the opponent gets too riled up! Paul rejoiced in that he had finished his course and run the race, but he did so practically on his way to the guillotine. It was not in a boastful, braggadocios manner but as he was praising God and anticipating the crown that he—and all of Christ’s followers who love His appearing—will receive.

So, there are a couple of lessons that we can register or underscore in our “frontal lobe.” (1) It ain’t over ‘til it’s over and (2) Don’t celebrate until there are no seconds left on the clock!

What lessons have you learned through competing or watching your favorite teams playing? I’d be happy to hear of them if you’d drop me a note by replying to this post.

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” (Hebs. 12:1)

Mary, Blessed Among Women

She had held Him in her womb,
	She had sought Him in the tomb;
She made Him a cradle bed,
	Kissed her Savior’s infant head.

Mary was her maiden name,
	She would bear for Him her shame;
Yet the angels bore the news,
	‘Twas this woman God did choose.

Blessed of women she would be,
	Though He’d hang upon a tree.
He had come, God’s gift to men,
	Righteous payment for their sin.

Godly, young, His mother, pure,
	Yet, a sinner to be sure.
Mary loudly praised her Lord,
	Trusted in His precious Word.

Faithful men down through the ages,
	Read of her on holy pages.
Joy—His birth—brought to her heart,
	Pain—His death—tore her apart.

From the rugged cross He spake,
	“To your home the woman take.”
Spoken to the man called John,
	Loved by Jesus as His own.

Story:  one of love and grace,
	In our hearts a sacred place;
On and on the years unfold,
	Sweetest story ever told.

Jesus came from heav’n above,
	Sent by God on wings of love;
Through a virgin young and fair,
	None to Mary would compare.

Yet, a vessel, holy such,
	Through her words has taught us much;
“God, my Savior,” she confessed,
	She, a sinner, specially blessed!

		Anthony Slutz

And the angel came in unto her, and said, ‘Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with the:  blessed art thou among women.’” (Luke 1:28)

Ellen and I wish you all a truly merry Christmas!

A Special Christmas Eve

(“You and God’ features today a column written by Ellen that first appeared in the TRBC Times, December, 2009)

If there is one Christmas Eve that stands out in my memory, it is the one in 1970. Tony was in seminary, so we had to wait until then to travel. We left Dallas, Texas, in the afternoon with our little Volkswagen headed toward North Carolina. It was a picturesque winter night, with a diamond studded canopy overhead and a soft blanket of snow on the ground. After the children went to sleep, we found a radio station that was playing the Messiah, and for more than three hours we worshipped the Lord as that great oratorio covered the life of our Savior.

The music is by George Handel, written in 1741 and premiered in Dublin, Ireland, in 1742. Charles Jennens compiled the lyrics from the King James Bible, conceiving the work as an oratorio in three parts. Part One was the prophecy and realization of God’s plan to redeem mankind by the coming of the Messiah. Part Two: the accomplishment of redemption by the sacrifice of Jesus, mankind’s rejection of God’s offer, and mankind’s utter defeat when trying to oppose the power of the Almighty.  Part Three: A hymn of Thanksgiving for the final overthrow of Death.*

Much of the libretto comes from the Old Testament. Part one draws heavily from the book of Isaiah, which prophesies the coming of the Messiah. There are a few quotations from the Gospels at the end of the first part and the beginning of the first and second parts. Part one recounts the story (in Luke) of the Angel appearing to the shepherds, and the “His Yoke is Easy” section draws from Matthew. In part two, “Behold the Lamb of God” draws from John. The rest of part two is composed of psalms and prophecies from Isaiah and quotations from Hebrews and Romans. The third part includes one quotation from Job (“I know that my redeemer liveth”); the rest is primarily from First Corinthians. The “Hallelujah” chorus at the end of part two and the final chorus, “Worthy is the Lamb that was Slain,” are both from Revelation.*

My first recollection of hearing a live performance of this great oratorio was at a small Bible College in Fort Worth, TX. The music director there was also the music director at the church we attended in Dallas, and he invited us to hear the choir he directed at the college. I’ve heard it many times since then, and usually plan to attend the program whenever the Indianapolis Symphony performs it. When you realize all the prophecies that the birth of Christ fulfilled, and all the promises yet to be fulfilled, you feel like shouting “Hallelujah!”

Probably the most bittersweet recollection I have of the “Hallelujah Chorus” was in 1996.  My mother was in the hospital with a heart attack, and I intended to go to North Carolina as soon as our Christmas programs were finished at church. On Friday night, about a week before Christmas, we attended a living Christmas Tree in another city and they ended the program with the “Hallelujah Chorus.”  On the way home, we received word that my Mom had graduated to glory.  I was glad she was out of her suffering, but so sorry I was not with her in those final hours. The song, however, was a sweet assurance that Christ had conquered death, and that we too shall rise again. 

If you can get a copy of the Messiah, I urge you to listen to it during the Christmas season. It is just scripture put to music. You can worship the Lord through the music. It is said that Handel’s assistant walked into the composer’s room after shouting to him for several minutes, to no avail. The assistant found Handel in tears, whereupon he asked the artist what was wrong. Handel held up the score of the movement and said, “I thought I saw the face of God.”

*Information from Wikipedia

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.   And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.” (Col.3:16,17)

The Wonder of it All

In a few days we will once again come together on Christmas Day, a day to gather with families to celebrate and commemorate the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son and our Savior, to the world! 

Perhaps before the day is over, we shall need to pray the prayer once prayed innocently by a little girl who, along with her family, had been caught up in the pre-Christmas swirl of activity that came to a head in her home on Christmas Eve. Dad, loaded with bundles, seem to have an even greater number of worries. Mom, under the pressure of getting ready for the special occasion, yielded several times to tears that very day; even the little girl, trying to help, found that she was always under foot. Finally, now in tears herself, she was hustled off to bed.  There, kneeling to pray the Lord’s prayer before tumbling in, her mind and tongue betrayed her and she prayed,

“Forgive us our Christmases as we forgive those who Christmas against us.”

We may have to pray that childish prayer ourselves this year before Christmas Day concludes! We need, therefore, to be careful to keep our focus upon the ONE who is to be center stage at Christmas, our Lord and our Savior!  It will always do us well to rethink and rejoice in the Marvel of His Birth, the Miracle of His Birth, and the Mission of His Birth:

  •  The Marvel of it. There are many things that could be said about the marvel of His birth; it was surely marvelous as to the timing: ”when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His own Son.” (Gal. 4:4). It was the absolute right time prophetically. Prophets had foretold His coming hundreds of times. Daniel’s vision in the 9th chapter of that book pretty well pinpointed the time of the Messiah’s arrival; thus, wise men from the east came looking for “he that is born King of the Jews.” (Matt.2:2). Not only was it the right time prophetically, it was the right time practically: the Greco-Roman world was ripe for the appearance of this one who came to be the Savior of the world. The Greek language, like English today, was almost universally spoken, a significant factor in the spreading of the good news; and the Roman roads made it possible to travel the then-known world.  It was surely the “fullness of time,” prophetically and practically.

Then, too, when thinking of the marvel of His birth, mention must be made of the triumph of it. What God promised Satan in the Garden before He clothed the naked pair that had just sinned—that He would by the seed of the woman bruise his head—God sealed with the birth of His Son, Satan’s final defeat. Along with Satan’s defeat, sin’s ultimate eradication was guaranteed.  Jesus came to “put away sin,” and His death on Calvary, 33 years after His birth in Bethlehem, provided the basis for sin’s final death-blow, when Christ shall rule in righteousness.  What a marvelous triumph over Satan, sin, and the wages of sin, death!

  • It was marvelous, and it was miraculous. Miraculous in the conception of the Christ-child. “Before they (Joseph and Mary) came together,” she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.  Truly, “that which is conceived in thee is of the Holy Ghost,” Mary was assured by God’s messenger. His birth was contrary to the laws of nature; He was reared in obscurity, had no formal education, founded no world-famous institution, was not wealthy nor brought up by influential parents.  Yet, His birth changed how calendars were kept. Angels sang to herald His coming to shepherds on lonely hillsides. Wise men trekked thousands of arduous miles to worship the child, bringing precious gifts to this one they called King.  His teaching, miracles, ministry and death would turn history upside down. Everything about His birth breathed “Miracle!”
  • Then, too, think of the Mission of His birth! It was to save sinners: “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. 3:15). Jesus said it this way: “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10). Hallelujah! What A Savior!

Jesus was a great teacher, but He did not come merely to teach; He was a great example, but He did not come just to be an example; He was a leader of leaders, but leadership was not His mission; He was a great physician and there was no sick person He could not heal, and He did heal many and brought the dead back to life—but healing the sick and raising the dead were not His mission; He was a prophet, too, but He did not come just to prophesy!  He came to present Himself as the Messiah, the King of Israel; and He came to save sinners from sin and the eternal consequences of sin. “For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17)

So, as we celebrate this Christmas the birth of Jesus Christ, focus once again on the Marvel of it all; the Miracle of it; and surely the Mission of His coming, via the virgin birth, to a sin-cursed world to be our Savior. “Man of sorrows, what a name; for the Son of Man who came. Ruined sinners to reclaim, Hallelujah! What a Savior!” What a Savior indeed!

And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matt.1:21)

Why Christ Came to Earth

George MacDonald, in his poem entitled “That Holy Thing,” speaking about the coming of Jesus Christ and the expectation of the world at the time of His coming, wrote: “They were all looking for a king to slay their foes and lift them high; Thou cam’st—a little baby thing that made a woman cry.”

And, as another Christmas draws nigh, our hearts are drawn again to that scene of long ago when the Creator became a creature, when the Babe was born and God became man.

There’s a question that ought to haunt the human race—especially now, as never before—when thought is given to the birth of Him whose birthday the world is now commemorating.

It’s a question the answer to which will not be found in all the volumes of the world’s great libraries.

The learned professors and philosophers in the most notable universities, apart from divine revelation, will not discover the answer to this question.

But it is a question that warrants the utmost consideration. The question, simply stated, is: “Why would a holy and sovereign God send His only begotten Son to a sin-ladened planet such as ours?” The answer can only be found in God’s book to mankind, the Bible.

First, God sent His Son, His only begotten Son, because of sin. Christ came to put away sin, to be an offering for sin, and to be the propitiation for sin. Hebrews 9:26 affirms that “now once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” The blood of bulls and goats could never avail for the putting away of sin (Hebs. 10:4), thus it was needful for Christ to do what no Old Testament priest or offering could ever do: “And they truly were many priests…But this man, because He continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore He is able to save them to the uttermost that come to God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners and made higher than the heavens.” (Hebs. 7:23ff.)

Christ came as the lamb of God to offer Himself, spotless, an offering for sin. “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” Thus, He became the accepted propitiation (covering) “for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.” (I John 2:2)

Man’s problem therefore is not sins, but sin! When our first parents, Adam and Eve, sinned, sin entered into humanity. All of us were born with “bad blood,” for all have sinned. “The collective soul of the human race is scarred and marred by sin; like an avalanche of the ages, sins rolls century after century gathering weight, speed and force.” (Copied, unknown). Only the spotless blood of the Lamb of God could take away the sin of world, and God sent His only begotten, sinless Son, to once and for all deal with the problem of sin. He at once put it away by offering Himself as the sacrifice well pleasing unto God and propitiation, acceptable as that which would not only “cover” sin from one atonement day to the next, but fully remove it forever!

So, God sent His Son to earth because of sin, and He also sent His Son to earth because of salvation: “That the world through Him might be saved.” (I John 3:17) Jesus came to be the savior of the hopeless, hapless, helpless world—the whole of which was lost in the darkness of sin. “And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.” (I John 4:14) “Man of sorrows, what a name; for the Son of Man who came! Ruined sinners to reclaim, Hallelujah! What a Savior!” He was a great teacher, a prophet, a healer, a counsellor, but He came that first Christmas to “save His people from their sins!” He is God’s Savior, presenting God’s gift to mankind: eternal life!

So, God sent Jesus to this earth because of sin, because of salvation, and also because of sinners: “For I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Matt.9:13); “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10); “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)

Finally, God sent His only begotten Son from Heaven’s glories to earth’s sinful cesspool because of Satan. Satan, the deceiver and murderer, was the devil that became the vehicle through which sin and death made its ugly entrance into God’s wonderful world. Satan had to be dealt with, and only one person could do that: “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same, that He might destroy him that had the power of death; that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” (Hebrews 2:15) Jesus came to destroy death and triumph over it (the resurrection) and to dispel darkness: “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.” (John 12:46)

Because God sent His Son Jesus to this earth one Christmas morn to deal with sin, salvation, sinners, and Satan, we can live in “hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began.” (Tit. 1:2) Eternal life with Him in a place where there will be no more crime, no disease nor death, no funerals, no “adult” book stores; no war, famine, divorce courts; no cancer clinics, penitentiaries, reform schools, cemeteries, sexual deviants, crooked politicians, church splits, hungry and abused children, beaten wives, drunkards, or hell-holes!

Aren’t you glad that God sent His only begotten Son to this world?  I am, too!  Merry Christmas!

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life!” (John 3:16)

“Agape Love”

I have known William Holder for more than 40 years. At our first meeting, I came away from his home feeling he was pretty gruff. He was younger then, as was I, and I felt that he was combative concerning church, faith, and matters spiritual. His wife was then, as she always has been, quiet and sweet and of a beautiful spirit. She attended our church, but in those early years he did not come much, until his eventual retirement. I was given the honor of preaching his godly mother’s funeral, and Bill and I were drawn a bit closer. Then it just happened, with no momentous event that stands out in either of our minds but gradually, with the passing of the winters and arrivals of the springs, we became friends.

Our respect for each other grew and today, I think I can speak for both of us in saying that there is genuine, Christian love in our hearts, the one for the other. Bill has listened to hundreds of my sermons, and the days when he would as soon argue a point as accept it have long since ceased. I have preached more than one of his loved one’s funerals. He has stood by my family as we have suffered the anguish of loved ones taken from us by the icy, cold grip of death. Our tears have paralleled each other’s as they have trickled down time-worn cheeks.

Now, Bill greets me with a broad smile. His dear wife, shoulders a bit more stooped by the gravity of years, still has her beautiful countenance through all the heartaches that she may have suffered; and, in spite of the physical challenges of toting first grandchildren and then great grandchildren back and forth to church, to school, to eating places and to wherever duty demanded, she still manages a smile that seems to say, “Good to see you.” The Holders have been there through the thick and thin for many, many years. We’ve kind of grown old(er) together. I don’t even think Mr. Holder is technically a member of our church, but his place in our body as well as in all of our hearts is undeniable, and his mark is indelible.

Some thirty years ago, Bill wrote a poem about an elderly couple, in their nineties, that he had observed in a restaurant. As a Christmas gift to you, I’d like to share his poem, which he entitled “Agape Love”:

“I first saw them in the parking lot, both with hair as white as snow. Walking hand in hand, moving rather slow. Shoulders bent and rounded, from toil and many a year; probably in their nineties, gently smiling, full of cheer. There seemed to be a glow, on each wrinkled face. They chatted with each other, walking at a steady pace. Four legs strode in unison, as if their bodies were one; keeping up a steady cadence, having moved together so long.  To the restaurant door they moved; he opened and held the door, and gently held her arm, to evade slipping on the floor. They stopped at a corner table, as if it were their own. He helped her remove her coat, held the chair as she sat down. The waitress came by with the menu, they smiled and said “hello.” She asked “Will you have the usual?” as if she seemed to know. The meal was brought to the table, she gave a little nod. They gently held the other’s hands, bowed their heads, and remembered God. Throughout the meal they chatted, occasionally one would grin. You’d see their gentle hands come together now and then. When they finished eating, the waitress wandered by. They teased her about something, with a twinkle in their eye.  She asked if they’d have desert, they said, “We must control our weight.” They talked about a piece of pie, and they settled on chocolate cake. The waitress came with the desert, with an extra fork and plate. The old lady carefully halved it, and shared it with her mate. When the meal was over, they sat and talked awhile. Gently touching the other’s hands, now and then they’d smile. He moved her chair and held her coat, the door he opened wide; she took his arm and they walked out, slowly side by side. They held hands across the lot, until they reached the car—a like new older Ford, shining like a star. He helped her in, gentle and kind, as if she were a queen. They drove away, her next to him, love like this is seldom seen. This is known as ‘agape love,’ that’s shared by God with man. Seldom do we see it expressed, in this old, evil land. When the New Jerusalem descends from God above, all that dwells within its walls, will share that kind of love.” (William L. Holder, 1989)

(Note: I first shared this poem in the December, 2012, TRBC Times and have reprinted it here, hoping that it will be a blessing to you this Christmas season.)

This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

The Unspeakable Gift

It’s that time of the year again when gift giving is on the minds of most: What to give and to whom, how much to give, and a myriad of other questions. But the least-asked question is maybe the most important one of all: Why to give?

It is a wise saying that “you can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.” Possibly the most-oft quoted verse in the Bible, John 3:16, says that “For God so loved the world that He gave….” God spoke the world into existence; populated it with all kinds of life and beauty; then made man in His own image—with intelligence, volition, and emotion—and charged Adam with keeping the breathtaking Garden of Eden. His only prohibition was that he must not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the midst of the garden. Man disobeyed and sin entered the world, along with death by sin, “right off the bat” so to speak.

What to do? Well, from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8) God drew up a master plan that included the redemption and reconciliation of sinful, sin-plagued mankind. John 3:16 again: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” God so loved that He gave—and what He gave was His life-giving, only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. What matchless love! What an unspeakable gift.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)  Eternal life? Yes, life that is everlasting and in that sense eternal. But it is so much more than everlasting. Jesus, praying to His Father on the way to Calvary, defined eternal life: “And this is life eternal, that they may know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.” (John 17:3). So, the gift of God that is eternal life is a gift that enables all believers to know God, their creator, in a personal way. We can know the true God—that He is our creator. A god made of stones or clay or wood is no god. Our God is personal; we can know Him and we can know His Son, Jesus Christ, personally. That is a gift that is beyond our finite capacity to comprehend!  A personal knowledge of— and relationship with—the God who spoke the world into existence is the gift of God to us! You will be trying to “wrap your head around” that fact until you finally give up the ghost!

God’s gift is not only an eternal gift, it is an irrevocable gift!  He will never take it back. It is given according to His promise, and Paul says that we hold to this gift “in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began.” (Tit.1:2) God cannot lie. What He promises He produces, and to all who believe and receive the gift of God He gives eternal life.

God’s gift is given freely, for salvation is the “gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.” (Eph. 2:8,9) In this Ephesians passage, Paul uses just about every superlative he can to describe the gift and the giver: “rich in mercy…for His great love…exceeding riches of His grace…His kindness toward us.” (Eph. 2:4-7) He also certifies that this gift is “heavenly.” We are made to “sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” That is all part and parcel of this “unspeakable gift” for which we give thanks unto God.” (2 Cor. 9:15)

No wonder, then, that when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, God’s gift to us by grace through faith, we give gifts! It is a spontaneous reaction to the realization of the truth of God’s gift to this fallen race. People give gifts in celebrating. So, this Christmas season, as we plan, purchase and participate in gift-giving, let us keep the right perspective and always remember that it is because of His gift to us that we want to give gifts—in and through and because of His love—to others.  May He be honored in our giving of gifts in commemoration of His unspeakable gift.

What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I’d give Him a lamb; if I were a wise-man, I’d do my part. What can I give Him? I’ll give Him my heart.” (Christina Rosetti)

Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.” (2 Cor. 9:15)

When God’s Hand is Upon a Church

Depending upon which church growth expert you have been reading, there are supposedly thousands of churches closing their doors every year. A number of possible reasons are cited. To hear that a local body of believers, a church, has closed its doors is dismaying in the least. Churches are living organisms, bodies that are appendages of His Body, the Church, and to learn of an assembly that is now ceasing to be is a contradiction of the first order. These things ought not to be!  

But, in the infant stages of the Church that Christ said He would build, a body that the gates of Hell could not prevail against, (Matt.16:18  ) there are keys that will open timeless truths as to what makes a church a life-giving body. One such passage is early in the book of Acts.  The mother church, Jerusalem, had experienced phenomenal growth beginning on the Day of Pentecost, witnessing thousands of conversions and baptisms, mostly in the Jewish community/population.  Persecution eventually reared its ugly head and many of these converts had to “get out of town.” Antioch was one of the destinations as we read in Acts 11:19. The new Jewish believers were not reticent to preach the gospel to the Jews that they met in Antioch and many believed. In a short while, they began preaching to the Gentile audiences also and “a great number believed and turned unto the Lord.” (Acts 11:21) There was in time a church founded, a church which Paul and Barnabas spent a year meeting with, grounding the new converts who “assembled themselves together with the church…” as they “taught much people…and the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.” (Acts 11:21, 26)

That’s the kind of church every God-called, Spirit anointed pastor would love to shepherd, a church upon which the hand of God was resting. Why was it so? What made the church at Antioch, where believers were first called “Christians,” (Acts 11:26) a church of which it was noted that God’s hand was upon it?

First, it was a church known for its preaching; it was born out of and bathed in the preaching of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Preaching to every man, Jew and Gentile, was its primary occupation. And, since the gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God unto salvation, (Romans 1:16) a great number believed and turned to the Lord. Dr. Robert Delnay, a 20th century mentor of many preachers once said, “The vitality of Christianity at any time in church history is directly related to the vitality of preaching.” Charles Spurgeon put it this way: “I do not look for any other means of converting men beyond the simple preaching of the gospel.” And, Robert Murray McCheyne confessed: “I preached as never to preach again; as a dying man to dying men.”

The church upon which the hand of God is resting today is a church where Bible preaching is still the primary objective of all ministries.  Not small groups designed to meet every conceivable need of those who attend; not a lively music program, complete with a band that generates striking sights and sounds; not side-shows that promote personalities or programs, but just Bible preaching that exalts Christ and exhorts sinners. 

A church where the gospel is being regularly preached will also be a church where people are getting saved and baptized. “A great number believed and turned to the Lord.” (v.21) When people trust Christ as Savior, turning to Him in repentance from their sin, there follows baptism, identifying with Christ’s person and message, and then the joining of themselves to a local assembly of those who are of like faith and practice. “Added to the church” is a phrase originating on the day of Pentecost and to this hour when a person hears the gospel, believes unto salvation, then is baptized and added to the church, the New Testament blueprint, recorded in Acts 2, has been followed.  That is what happened in Antioch when people were getting saved, baptized and added to the church. It happened because the hand of the Lord was upon that church, and wherever or whenever a church has God’s hand upon it people are getting saved, baptized and added to the church.

When the church at Jerusalem heard of the work of the Holy Spirit in Antioch, they sent Barnabas to check it out!  He came, he witnessed the grace of God at work and he “exhorted them all that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.” (Acts 11:23) When God’s hand is upon a church, there will be Biblical exhortation. Exhorting one another is a ministry that every believer should take seriously. To exhort is to encourage with urgency. Paul exhorted Timothy that prayers and supplications be made for all men, (I Tim.2:1ff.); and he said that “reading, exhortation and doctrine,” should be continued “till I come.” (I Tim.4:13) Barnabas exhorted these new converts in all matters, and it resulted in a local assembly that was alert and alive. A church upon which God’s hand is resting is a church that embraces Godly, Biblical exhortation.

Then too, it is a church that loves Bible teaching. Along with exhortation comes the systematic teaching of God’s Word. “Preach the Word…reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” (2 Tim.4:2) This new church at Antioch loved Bible preaching and teaching. For a whole year, as the church regularly and willingly assembled themselves together, Paul and Barnabas “taught much people.” There were no gimmicks to draw them day after day, week after week, for a year; they loved the Word and could not get enough of it. That is a characteristic of a new-born babe in Christ; and, it is an earmark of the church upon which the hand of God is resting. We should note also that the testimony of the church at Antioch was sounded abroad. They become known as “Christians.” When the mother church at Jerusalem was suffering because of a “great dearth,” the church at Antioch became at once a giving church, “every man according to his ability” sending relief to the saints at Jerusalem. It was a church with a testimony for God, a church with a heart for God’s people, a giving church, and a church upon which the hand of God was resting.

Maybe churches that are not following this New Testament model should close. God’s hand has, evidently, been removed from many an assembly that once had lights burning brightly for Christ much like the church at Antioch.  May our prayer be that God’s hand will rest upon our churches now like He did then, with souls being saved, saints being grounded and aptly exhorted, and missionaries being sent out to establish another candlestick in another community upon which the hand of God is.

The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.” (Rev.1:20)

Grudge Not!

There’s a sin that believers can commit that may be more deadly than adultery. It infects victims with a plague more dreadful than Covid. It is, in practice, often more damaging than alcoholism.

It is not only possible for believers to commit this sin; it is commonly practiced and can be found in almost any church in America.

Some who practice it would not think of robbing a bank, but committing this sin ranks right up there with the worst of offences to a holy God.

Most who commit this sin would never murder another human being, but its consequences are as ugly as transgressing the fifth commandment.

It is probably one of the sins most commonly practiced by all saints. God hates it as much as divorce and will judge it as surely as He will judge homosexuality! 

Preachers and deacons and Sunday school teachers are too often guilty of it; you can find it in the pulpit as well as in the pew.

Old Christians and young-in-the-faith believers alike are too often trapped in this spiritually deadening sin-hole. It has probably caused more grief, more heartache, more discouragement, more trouble and even more expense than any sin known to mankind!

None of us can afford to continue on in it for one moment!

God’s warning is clear: “Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.” (James 5:9)

Causes for committing this sin are almost limitless: Someone lied about you; insulted you as weighing too much; received more recognition than you; forgot your birthday or intimated that your housekeeping could be a bit better. Or, the pastor looked straight at you while preaching on tithing; or, your mother-in-law came to visit and stayed three years; or, your wife spoke a bit too highly of the attractiveness of another man; or your husband gave you $100 and expected you to buy groceries for a family of five for the week. And on and on: things people have said or done to you that offended you and for which you hold a grudge.

We could mention things that people did not do to you that were the source of an unhealthy itch that has in time become an irritation: You were slighted in not receiving an invitation to breakfast with friends; the Pastor visited a fellow church member who had been in the hospital for two days, but failed to visit you when you were in for some major surgery; you were overlooked for nomination to church officer again this year, though you are as qualified and have actually been a member of your church longer than some who were nominated; you were passed over for a raise at work though you know for a fact some fellow employees did receive a raise who are, in your humble estimation, less deserving than you.  And the reasons go on, ad nauseum!

The consequences for harboring a grudge are inestimable. Starting with broken friendships, one could cite many victims, including families, neighbors, churches, cities, and nations. Divorce is another familiar consequence of grudges over money, success, friendships, physical intimacy (or lack thereof), and past grievances. Then, disease: mental, physical and ultimately death can sometimes be attributed to holding long-term grudges, according medical and mental health experts. Holding a grudge for whatever reason can be a very expensive practice.

King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia decided to boycott the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana to continue a protest dating to 1704. As one account noted: “The Spanish government announced Tuesday the king and queen declined the invitation to next week’s wedding because the royal couple plan to go to Gibraltar to board the royal yacht Britannia for a honeymoon cruise. Gibraltar has been a British colony since 1704.” A very long time to nurse a grudge! (Copied)

The costs of holding grudges: some are tangible, such as medical bills, divorce with all of its unending ripples, funerals, wars. We could add some intangible costs:  lost friends, lost unity, lost souls, and destroyed ministries and churches.

There is, praise God, a cure for this debilitating digression! Recognize it as sin; acknowledge it for what it is; confess it; and then forsake it. Refuse to revisit it ever: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9)

“The longer you stay in the ministry, you will know the important thing is not what you’ve remembered. The important thing is what you’ve decided to forget.” (Jim Schettler)

So, embrace the correction for this terrible spiritual malady:  Be honest in sharing with the offender how you have harbored your resentment; then be humble, admitting that you are a broken vessel and that you are often less tolerant of sins in others than you are of your own. “But He giveth more grace. Wherefore He saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” (James 4:8)

A church bulletin had a clever poem about criticism that began: “A little seed lay in the ground, and soon began to sprout; ‘Now which of all the flowers around shall I,’ it mused, ‘come out?’ The seed could then be heard to say, ‘I don’t care to be a rose. It has thorns. I have no desire to be a lily. It is too colorless. And I certainly wouldn’t want to be a violet. It’s too small, and it grows too close to the ground.’”

The poem concludes with this verse about that fault-finding seed: “And so it criticized each flower, that supercilious seed. Until it woke one summer hour and found itself a weed!”

Be careful how and why you criticize. And, do not harbor a grudge toward those who have criticized you. Commit it to God. Your critics will have enough grief to deal with; you do not need to, nor should you, add any grief to theirs.  The Judge standeth before the door. (James 5:9)

“But 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.” (Romans 12:10)