On the Keeping of Christmas

My childhood memories of Christmas are treasured pictures of times precious yet contrasting to what we have become accustomed to in this 21st century.  My folks lived in post-depression years and with five small children to feed and clothe, Christmas was family, some good food with what Mom could put a meal together (and she was at the top of her class in that department), and some few gifts including, and maybe most importantly, special Christmas candies that Grandma helped to get on her meager income.  But it was a warm, welcomed day and as I grew a bit older, after Dad landed a job at John Deere with a regular, respectable living wage, the yuletide celebrations became more festive, with a fully decorated tree complete with brightly and beautifully wrapped packages beneath the once live boughs.  We did not have many relatives living in Ottumwa where I grew up from five years of age until I left for college, an aunt and uncle, but we had each other, some friends and two grandmothers, only one of which was able to be with us for most Christmas days, and that only once in a while because of her age and travel limitations due to health.  She would, however, always send a big box that arrived several days before Christmas, with individually wrapped gifts for each of us, along with some homemade candy (divinity was my favorite).  

On Christmas Eve we would gather around the delightfully decorated tree and open gifts; then, while we were still young, we would go to bed waiting for an early morning stirring when we would scurry down the stairs from our unheated second story bedrooms (whatever heat would make it through a small vent in  the kitchen is what heat we had in that southeastern Iowa town known back then for some pretty ice cold winters) with unbounding excitement hoping to receive some bigger, better special gift and we were never disappointed.

One Christmas that is etched forever in my memory is when, coming down the chilly steps from my bedroom, I was greeted in the living room with a bright, red bicycle!  It was a dream bike and I had to wait some while before I could test ride it, but I loved it and eventually rode the wheels off it.

On another Christmas when I was six or seven years of age, I received a doll!  Wait now, please, and withhold judgment until I explain.  I never knew what motivated my parents to buy me a doll, but Joe (that’s the name I gave this half-life sized boy doll) and I became inseparable friends.  I did not have any other neighborhood boys that were friends during those few years, so Joe and I became very close.  In fact, it was Joe that suffered through some of my earliest preaching experiences.  I would put two or three chairs up in a bedroom off the beaten path, and set Joe in one of them, often in the back row, and I would then conduct a “church service” while he always listened attentively.  My text was most often Genesis 1:1 and I waxed as eloquent as a six-year-old could, not having had the benefit of a seminary training at that early age.  My only convert, in those “closed circuit” services, was, you guessed it, Joe.  So, Joe and I were buddies until his stuffing’s began to come out at the seams and not any too soon as I was out growing my need for his constant companionship.

So, we had some memorable Christmas days and wonderful times together until I was about 15 years of age. My dear mother, a serious student of history, began to read about what she perceived to be the origins of modern-day Christmas celebrations, and in time it became her conviction that it would be best to keep Christ out of Christmas, at least the way it had come to be kept.  It became a conviction that she would staunchly stand upon for the last probably 40 years of her life, and without Mom in the Christmas “spirit” most all of the rest of us struggled to make the necessary adjustments to honor her convictions, so Christmas Day became pretty much just another day for the remainder of my years at home.

I had finally become accustomed to a “No Christmas” December 25 and then I met the love of my life Ellen. She grew up in a godly home and her father was a pastor and he and his household always enjoyed what was a Christ-honoring celebration of His birth.  Their Christmas Days were not extravagant, but they were blessed times of singing carols and exchanging gifts and having a few treasured moments around the person of our Lord with family.  So, when our first Christmas as a new family came for Ellen and myself, as we were living in Minneapolis where I attended Central Seminary, I had to somewhat struggle again to learn how to keep Christmas in a way that would accommodate her wishes to have a meaningful Christ-centered day.  It took a few Christmases, but my patient helpmeet indulged my hesitations and reservations and brought me along to the place of once again enjoying an “old-fashioned” Christmas day, with all the trimmings.  We, like many who may be reading this, are conflicted about the raw materialism that has for many years permeated so much of what is done at Christmas time now, but we continue to try to find meaningful ways of celebrating His miracle birth and first advent with joy, anticipation, exhilaration and godly humility and thanksgiving for His Unspeakable gift.  We join together today in wishing you all a very blessed Christmas Day in whatever way you choose to commemorate it.

One man esteemeth one day above another:  another esteemeth every day alike.  Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.  He that regardeth the day regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it….” (Romans 14:5,6a)

Stories Forever Loved

Do you have a favorite Christmas story?  (Other than the best of all as told in Luke 2) Maybe yours is the timeless “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens; or is it “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry, or maybe “The Nutcracker” or perhaps “The Greatest Gift,” the story that was the basis for the all-time favorite Christmas movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

It’s a tough decision, isn’t it?  I know there are many other stories that could be mentioned, and the re-telling of these old-time favorites to this generation and the next assures the perpetuation of them for the years to come.  So, in keeping with my desire that my grandchildren and hopefully theirs will pass these delightful seasonal narratives on, I want to share with you one of my favorites, a story originally written by Leo Tolstoy under the title “Where Love Is,” and adapted by one of America’s great poets, Edwin Markham and told by him under the title “The Shoemaker’s Dream.”  It is about a Shoemaker, Martin, who suffered a devastating series of tragedies, including the loss of his wife and several children.  During this time a missionary visited Martin and encouraged him to devote himself to seeking God, leaving with him a copy of the New Testament.  One ensuing night, Martin fell asleep reading the gospel of Matthew.  Here’s what happened:

“One night the cobbler dreamed that the next day Jesus was coming to visit him.  The dream seemed so real that he got up early the next morning and hurried to the woods, where he gathered green boughs to decorate his shop for the arrival of so great a Guest.

He waited all morning, but to his disappointment, his shop remained quiet, except for an old man who limped up to the door asking to come in for a few minutes of warmth.  While the man was resting, the cobbler noticed that the old fellow’s shoes were worn through.  Touched, the cobbler took a new pair from his shelves and saw to it that the stranger was wearing them as he went on his way.

Throughout the afternoon the cobbler waited, but his only visitor was an elderly woman.  He had seen her struggling under a heavy load of firewood, and he invited her, too, into his shop to rest.  Then he discovered that for two days she had had nothing to eat; he saw to it that she had a nourishing meal before she went on her way.

As the night began to fall, the cobbler heard a child crying outside the door.  The child was lost and afraid.  The cobbler went out, soothed the youngster’s tears, and with the little hand in his, took the child home.

When he returned, the cobbler was sad.  He was convinced that while he had been away, he had missed the visit of his Lord. Now he lived through the moments as he had imagined them:  the knock, the latch lifted, the radiant face, the offered cup.  He would have kissed the hands where the nails had been, washed the feet where the spikes had entered.  Then the Lord would have sat and talked with him.

In his anguish, the cobbler cried out, ‘Why is it Lord, that your feet delay?  Have you forgotten that this was the day?’  Then, soft in the silence a voice was heard:

Lift up your heart for I kept My word.  Three times I came to your friendly door; Three times My shadow was on your floor.  I was the man with the bruised feet; I was the woman you gave to eat; I was the child on the homeless street.’”

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25.40)

They Twain Shall Be One

“Are you saved?”  That three-word query, posed by a fellow warehouse worker, changed the course of Ed’s life and ultimately resulted in his being sent out as a missionary by a local Bible-preaching church that he had visited shortly after his friend asked him that soul-searching question. Hearing the gospel convincingly presented he responded at the invitation to the salvation message, experiencing the New Birth!  It was not that Ed had not attended church; he had, and he had a long string of attendance awards to prove it.  But in the main-line denominational church that he had grown up in and attended, with his family, week after week, he had never heard God’s Simple Plan of Salvation made simple until that life-changing Sunday morning.

How different was Sylvia’s childhood!  Her father, a pastor, preached the Bible every Sunday and at the early age of five, Sylvia acknowledged her sin and need of a Savior and she too experienced the same New Birth! experience that her future husband would years later realize!  Sylvia would surrender, at the age of ten, while attending a week of summer Christian Camp, to serve as a volunteer in the Lord’s vineyard where-ever He would choose to place her, and she set out on a path to prepare for that service.   Having graduated from high school, God directed her to Bob Jones University where she pursued and graduated with a degree in nursing, but not before she would experience mission trips to Haiti and the Philippines as God began to call and confirm to her His will for Sylvia to serve on some mission field at some appointed time and place.

In the meantime, Ed responded to God’s call to prepare for full-time vocational ministry too, so following his salvation he enrolled in Tennessee Temple University, receiving from TTU a degree in secondary education.  He then enrolled and eventually graduated from San Francisco Baptist Theological Seminary (Arno and Archer Weniger) with an M.Div. degree and from there enrolled in the Ph.D. course at Bob Jones University majoring in Old Testament Studies.

It was at that time in Ed’s life that Ellen and I became better acquainted with Ed Christy.  We were impressed with his single-mindedness to serve His Savior and to respond to the need for the gospel to be shared with the multitudes in France who either had never heard of salvation by grace through faith or at least had never accepted His free offer, as only one per-cent of the population in that great nation were known to be professing, practicing Christians.  Ed was as fully prepared to serve as he could be, and he was unquestionably willing to go; but we sensed there was a major, major component missing is his life:  a helpmeet!  It was not that Ed was unwilling or disinterested.  He had dated several fine young ladies, but to that point none had “clicked.”  He had a list of qualifications that the prospective 1st lady of the Ed Christy household would have to meet, and humanly speaking it seemed he might have put himself into a box (just big enough for one)!

But God!  Somewhere along their life’s journey Ed Christy met Sylvia Carr and it was immediately apparent that the two were a match!  Only God in His grace could have done it, but He did and as is so true with God, Ed got better than he knew how to choose had it been left up to him.  Sylvia had a heart for God, met and exceeded every qualification on Ed’s stringent list and in God’s perfect timing and by His sovereign goodness and grace, “the twain” did become one.

They left for France, settling in the Bordeaux area where they have been planting churches now for 30 years.  Ed uses his knowledge and credentials in Old Testament studies to teach block courses in a Bible Institute that is training people in France to be discipling disciples.  Sylvia is the perfect missionary wife, teaching, playing the piano, giving loving nourishment to the ladies to whom she ministers.  It has proven to be a “Match Made in Heaven.”

What a great testimony is Ed and Sylvia Christy’s!  Ellen and I visited them a few years ago and were so pleased to observe how they serve selflessly in that part of His vineyard that He has placed them.  Their children are grown, and both live not far from the Christys. 

It all became a true story because on a typical day at work, in an Indy warehouse a fellow worker posed to Ed the question, “Are you saved?

Might you ask someone that same question?  You can never anticipate where it may lead someone, such as Ed and Sylvia, career missionaries to France for 30 years now and counting. 

And how shall they preach, except they be sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!”  (Romans 10:15)

Satan’s Masterpiece

When Jesus visited His hometown to proclaim the good news of His Kingdom offer to His own, Mark says in his gospel that Jesus “could there do no mighty work…and He marveled because of their unbelief.”  (Mark 6:5,6) That’s a staggering thought:  that those who had watched Jesus grow from childhood to adulthood, the extraordinary son of Mary and Joseph, would reject His Messianic claims in spite of the fact that in Galilee He had already demonstrated His Godhead through mighty messages and miracles.

Little wonder then, when Mary Magdalene, the formerly demon-possessed woman whose life had been transformed when Jesus freed her casting seven devils out of her demon devastated body, would on the Sunday after His Friday crucifixion tell the eleven apostles that His tomb was empty, they would not believe her; nor would they believe the two men who gave witness that they had seen Jesus, talked and walked with Him as He appeared to them as they walked on their way to Emmaus.  Like those in His hometown in the beginning of His ministry, Jesus had to upbraid the disciples “with their unbelief and hardness of heart….” (Mark 16:14) 

Unbelief has been labeled “Satan’s Masterpiece.”  He plied his perverse skills using the twin fiery darts of unbelief and pride when he deceived our first parents, plunging them and all of the human race into this morass of universal unbelief.  One pulpiteer proclaimed, “Could you roll all sins into one mass:  could you take murder and blasphemy and lust and adultery and fornication and everything that is vile and unite them into one vast glob of black corruption—they would not even then equal the sin of unbelief.  This is the monarch sin, the quintessence of guilt, the mixture of the venom of all crimes—the dregs of the wine of Gomorrah.  It is the A-1 sin, the masterpiece of Satan, the chief work of the Devil.”

It was the sin that caused two million redeemed Jews to forfeit their passports into the Promised Land where awaited them cities they would not have to build and lush vineyards they would not have to plant after wandering in the Negev wilderness for 40 years.  A land flowing with milk and honey was in their sights but “we see they could not enter in because of unbelief.” (Hebs. 3:19). The “they” in verse 19 refers to “Your fathers (who) tempted me, proved me, saw my works forty years.  Wherefore was I grieved with that generation, and said, they do always err in their heart…take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief.” (Hebs. 3:9-12)

When the 19th century “Great Agnostic,” Robert Ingersoll said, “Life is a dark barren vale between the ice-clad peaks of two cold eternities,” he was not bewailing an atheistic despair that had suddenly overcome him.  Unbelief was gradual, beginning perhaps, as it most often does, as an “innocent” questioning of restraints to one’s baser appetites; a bothersome, spiritual nuisance that serves at first as a check on one’s conscience; then in time unbelief unfolds in the recesses of one’s soul as a pronounced dislike of truth; it then comes to a fixed hatred of the truth and finally a total disdain of it followed soon by a final despair that Ingersoll and others would verbalize in utter hopelessness:  “We wail and cry in the dark.  Faith tries to see a star and hear the rustle of a wind, but the only sound we hear is the echo of our own voice.”

We can only by faith in the substance of things hoped for and in the evidence of things not seen heed the admonition of Hebrews 4:11: “Let us labor therefore, to enter into that rest (of faith) lest any fall after the same example of unbelief.”

But exhort one another daily, while it is called To Day, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebs. 3:13)

Divine Healing

Every one of us has walked up to the valley of the shadow of death with a loved one, hoping, praying, trusting God to deliver our cherished friend or family member from death’s domain, believing assuredly that God can do whatever He chooses; that God answers prayer; that all matters including life and death are in His hands which do His sovereign bidding, and that death can only claim anyone when and if it is in His plan and purpose for that soul.  This we believe if we believe His Holy Word.

We have, through prayer, seen people snatched from the very jaws of death, people whom the doctors had given little if any hope for and had discontinued any medical intervention except to keep the suffering soul as comfortable as possible.  And, contrary to any and every scientific or medical explanation the subject not only revived but lived many years following that dread diagnosis.

We have, on the other hand, been aware of persons who were sick, but responding to prescribed treatments, making progress with every promise of recovery, take a sudden and serious turn for the worse that proved to be tragic and terminal bringing almost unbearable sadness and shock to a hopeful waiting cadre of praying loved ones, friends and family.

God has His purposes.  Not all sickness is unto death, but every human being will ultimately die, save those living at the time Christ’s Church is raptured because death entered into the world as a consequence of sin, and the last enemy of human-kind to be destroyed will be death, and death is often accompanied by sometimes painful and prolonged sickness.

We lost an eleven-year-old grandson to death from a ruptured appendix, a pretty uncommon cause of death in children.  It was in 2007 during the month of February when the flu was rampant, and his siblings were suffering with it.  Doctors and nurses opined that what David was suffering from was the flu also; but discovered too late that it was not the flu and that what he was suffering from was lethal by the time medical personnel were able to determine what the real cause was.  We begged God to spare David’s life.  I asked God to take mine and let David live.  A memory that I will go to the grave with is our daughter, David’s mother, crawling up into what would be David’s death bed to lie beside her suffering boy as he was departing from this world.  We knew God could have saved him from dying; but He had a master plan for David’s life and His ways are perfect so we, with sorrow that was not without hope, trusted our great God in His perfect wisdom, knowing He makes no mistakes.

In the summer of 2019, my wife underwent a surgery that revealed she had a rare cancer, requiring another surgery to see if it had spread and ultimately a third surgery within the span of a year.  Before the second surgery Ellen requested that our deacons meet privately with us for the specific purpose of praying over her sick body.  It was a brief meeting following a regular evening service, with a few deacons, myself and the then Assistant Pastor Joel Stevens present.  We were claiming, with Ellen, James 5 :16 which says the “effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much,” and James 5 :15 which also says the “prayer of faith shall save the sick.”  We either prefaced or closed our prayer time with Jesus’s words, “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done,” ready to accept whatever God would choose to grant us.  The surgery revealed that her original cancer had not spread for which we were deeply grateful to God.  The skilled surgeon said, “This type of cancer usually comes back within a 24-month time frame if it does come back; and if it does reappear in that time period it is almost always terminal.”  Ellen just passed her 15-month check-up and remains cancer free. She attributes it to God’s answers to many prayers; and she also acknowledges that we have prayed the same prayers for many of our dearest family members who were not healed.  We can only conclude that “He is the Rock, His work is perfect:  for all His ways are judgment:  a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He.”  (Deut. 32:4)

In the midst of a world-wide flu pandemic with more than a quarter of a million U.S. deaths attributed to Covid-19 we have all interceded for loved ones who either have or have had the virus; most survive the deadly disease, but a good many do not.  We know that God’s purposes are pure; that our times are in His hands, (Ps. 31:15) and that none of us has the promise of another day.  We live in the light of His soon coming when “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain:  for the former things are passed away.” (Rev. 21:4).  Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits:  Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who health all thy diseases:  Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies.”  (Ps. 103:3,4)

Thanksgiving 1964

Before I was married August 14, 1965, I penned the following Thanksgiving “card” to my fiancée, Ellen Martisha Beshears, and, having recently come upon it again, I thought it still apropos for Thanksgiving, 2020.  It was a 2-phase poem, a prayer and a promise:

A Prayer:
O thank You, Lord, for every gift
That life affords to me.
With voice to Thee my praise I lift
To show my thanks to Thee.
I thank You for the gift of life,
For health and strength and breath,
For hope in loss and strength in strife,
For victory over death.
I thank You, Lord, for Mom and Dad—
They’ve been so good to me.
For when I was but just a lad
They pointed me to Thee.
And thank You for a Pastor true,
Who preached the Word of God;
Who always said, “What e’re you do,
Only believe!  Trust God!”
And for salvation full and free,
With tongue I cannot say,
The joy it is to blood-bought be,
With sins all washed away.
And, God, as long as I can pray,
I’ll say a prayer each night,
To thank You for that blessed day
My Love came to my sight.
I’ll love her, Lord, I’ll love her true
‘Til Thou shalt call us home!
And from the time I say, “I do,”
She’ll never be alone.
For though the miles may part us some,
We’ll always love in heart,
Until our life on earth is done
Our love will never part.
A Promise:
My Love, on this Thanksgiving Day,
I pause to thank our Lord,
For all the love you’ve shown my way
In smile, in deed and word.
And I shall love you, Ellen Dear,
With body and with soul,
On every day of every year
To love you is my goal.
   Tony Slutz
   Thanksgiving 1964

“Not old, just older!”

She was one of those rare individuals that cross the pages of one’s life, making you and all others who were known by her richer for having been touched by a woman not cut from common cloth as it were but from a fabric both beautiful and resilient and life enriching.

Effie was what we all called her.  She was employed by a factory here in Indianapolis until she retired, Link-Belt, after which she moved to Florida for a few years before returning to her home in the Circle City.  She was before she moved and after she moved back a member of our church and though we never knew her to drive we likewise never knew her to miss any of our regular church services.  She was well past retirement age when I first met her and by then she had become a bit hard of hearing, but we soon found out that her hearing loss was never much of a handicap.  She heard what she wanted to hear, and she heard enough to learn the names of all of our children and grandchildren and could recite to anyone interested their birthdates and something of interest about each one.  And if a regular member happened to miss more than two services, Effie would make a point to find out why they were absent and whether they were sick.  She evidenced a genuine interest in all of our families, but we never knew much of anything about her family; she wanted always to talk about you and not about herself.  

She did have a niece that she communicated with regularly and with whom I became acquainted with via the phone, but that’s about the extent of any family members that were a current part of her life.  Her family assembled twice every Lord’s Day and midweek for prayer, and no one was more interested in our family than was this seasoned saint.

She loved my wife and often told her so, as well as all of our children and grandchildren.  Her residence was a basement one-bedroom apartment across from Manual High School on Indy’s near southside, a very humble dwelling place with a small kitchen and a room that had a couch and chair for any visitor who wanted to sit and talk awhile.  She welcomed that.  And, though she did not drive, she rode a bus anywhere she wanted to go in our city of a million plus souls.  On one occasion one of our church members found her surrounded by a group of teen boys in a part of the city that most people would be a bit concerned to find their aged grandmother navigating solo.  The church member stopped and interrupted the conversation Effie was having with the boys to ask if she did not want a ride home, to which our dear old friend promptly replied thanks but no thanks: “I am having a good conversation with these young men.”  She did make it home safely on the bus and it was just another day for Effie.

She loved church and I know she loved the preaching of the Word even though her hearing was not the best. She always sat second row from the front.  In Wednesday business meetings after a motion had been made and ballots were being passed out, Effie, first to receive a ballot from her almost front row vantage point, could not infrequently be heard from the back of the church asking the usher “WHAT ARE WE VOTING ON?”  Knowing Effie as I did, she wanted to make sure she voted on the side of the church leadership whatever the issue might be at hand.  As I said, she loved preaching and she loved her preacher.  On one occasion, after an evening message I had preached in a service that my parents were attending as they stopped over on their way back to Iowa from wintering in Florida, Effie make a beeline to my mother right after the prayer of dismissal and enthusiastically said, “Don’t you think he’s just about the best preacher you’ve ever heard?”  I am sure she was wanting to make a mother feel proud; but my Mom, never too quick to pass out any compliments, very stoically replied, “Well, I don’t know; I’ve heard a lot of good preachers.”  The humor of that whole exchange did not escape Effie as she told it to Ellen and to others, just having a good chuckle about how reticent a mother was to brag on her son.

I broke the rules that I always believed were excellent rules for preachers to keep, and often went to pick up Effie for Sunday School or for the evening service, thinking since she was well into her 90’s and I was past middle age myself that if we were seen in the same car together, I might draw a pass.  As far as I know it never was a problem, but one Sunday morning cruising down U.S. 31 toward Effie’s apartment on an almost deserted early Sunday morning street, a police car pulled me over and did not ticket me for speeding but for not having my seat belt buckled.  One of the few traffic violations I ever received but I never regretted it figuring the Lord’s forgiveness would be quickly forthcoming since it had been a good faith effort on my part to get Effie to Sunday School.  I never shared with her the excitement I had on the way to her apartment that Sunday morning.

Effie passed into her long-awaited eternal home at the age of 102.  She never would admit to being old, just “older.”  She was indeed old in body, but she never ceased being young at heart with a youthful spirit.  Her life ended when her body became so weak that doctors determined she needed a pacemaker and with her permission proceeded with the surgery knowing that there would be considerable risk at her age.  They lost her on the operating table, but I later heard that she awoke sometime before she passed, while doctors were still struggling to save her and, somehow sensing their dilemma, assured them verbally and emphatically that they should not fret because she would be with Jesus and there was no fear on her part.  How privileged were all of us, her family, to have known and to have been loved by such a saint!

In For the Long Haul!

Warning:  This post is of a personal nature; and, while I do not like to write about myself, I do want to glorify God by sharing with you and any interested readers something of His goodness to me and my family in allowing me to pastor fifty years.

A friend recently asked, “How could you pastor in one place for forty years?”  My immediate answer was, “I really don’t know, but I do know it was wholly of God and not me.”  I could take no credit if any credit were due.   l went on to explain to my friend that if I were ever tempted to move to another field of service, after having gotten moved I would surely discover that the same people with the same people problems were in the new place as were in the previous—just with different faces!  So, those thoughts which very seldom crossed my mind, soon faded; I have always felt honored and privileged to be a God-called under shepherd to flesh and blood folk who were subject to the same fears and frailties that I am and the more I have “hung” around them, the more I have learned to genuinely love them.

Years ago, during a particularly “dry” season of blessings in our church ministries, a leader of the church came to visit me in my office and said, “Pastor, don’t you think it’s time to move on,” then added a couple other hurtful remarks before waiting my response.  I replied, “Well, I haven’t gotten any indication from the Lord that He wants me to move on, but if He makes it plain to me that it’s time to move, then I will not hesitate to do so.  Thanks.”  That ended our conversation and we both, the “coach” and myself, stayed on for many years after that and in the course of time became the best of friends and served together until the Lord called my dear friend into His presence.  I learned from that, and from many similar incidents, to just “ride out” the storm until it passes, waiting for the sun to shine again as it most surely will.  Oh, yes, in 40 years you’ll have a book full of disappointing and discouraging experiences, but love covers a multitude of sins (both mine and theirs!) and love that survives tests, trials and tribulations becomes a shield of love that is impregnable to Satan’s darts of defeat.

Now, as a retired senior pastor, and currently serving as an interim pastor while living where we have lived for most of 40 years, I drive from place to place while on local errands, passing neighborhoods and houses where former flock members have lived but who are now ahead of me in glory.  It is such a blessing to see, in my memory bank, their godly, smiling faces, remembering conversations we had in their living room, sharing their burdens and blessings, praying and sometimes weeping together.  Those kinds of relationships are not built in a few years, so I am deeply grateful to God for allowing me to be a member of the family of so many families.

I am using the first-person pronoun, but I hope you know that any pastor who does anything that will count for eternity has done so because of a loving, loyal helpmeet that God brought into his life usually before he began his ministry.  Ellen has been by my side, sharing the weight of every spiritual load and basking in the blessings with me of every spiritual victory, these past 50 years in pastoral ministry.  We have prayed, pulled, plodded and persevered by His grace due to His goodness this past half-century and though we have never experienced a ministry that was glamorous, we have ever enjoyed a ministry that has been glorious.  When my final Lord’s day arrived at Thompson Road Baptist Church, 40 years to the day that I preached my first sermon there as their pastor (just months before Ronald Reagan took the oath of office as he was sworn into his first term as President—for some historical perspective) I shared this poem that God had given me for the occasion:

“Farewell, dear friends, it’s hard to say, ‘Good-bye.’

At times we want to laugh, at times to cry.

We’ve walked, we’ve talked, we’ve worked along life’s way.

Our love has grown, His grace He’s shown, From our first meeting 40 years ago today.

You’ve been a flock supreme,

A shepherd’s fondest dream;

You’ve heard and heeded truths and grown in grace;

You’ve made your goal in life to seek His face.

We part now, yet our sorrow it is sweet,

We’ll soon all cast our crowns at Jesus’ feet.

We know by then the victory will be won,

Our soul’s desire:  to hear Him say, ‘Well done.’

‘Come, enter child, enjoy eternal rest;

You are at home now, with His children blessed.

Your work on earth is done forever more,

Come, child, come boldly through the door.’

Oh!  Happy thought when time no more shall rush,

When sirens, guns and wailing will be hushed;

And with for eons in His precious love,

We’ll talk and laugh and share with all above.

The world that now is drear will then be past.

No more will weakness wear us down at last.

We shall be there, with Christ in Heav’n so fair,

Oh, blessed thought, His joy for e’er to share!”

Steady Does It!

An Italian envoy floated into a Stockholm port on an official visit and, observing a stately, ornate building at water’s edge, assumed they had found the palace whereupon they announced their arrival with a 21-gun salute.  One can only imagine the embarrassment when the visitors were informed that they were docked in front of what was actually an old folks’ home whose occupants were scared half out of their wits by this over the top greeting the Italians had incorrectly issued!

Well, nothing like pulling all the stops out!  We have a tendency at times to do that; whether it’s a hobby, a habit or a tenaciously held pet conviction that we’ve taken a stand on and declared to all, “Here I stand, I can do no less!”

New Testament Christianity is a life characterized by balance, at least, it ought to be.  Paul, writing his epistle to Titus, in chapter two gives specific instructions to older men, older women and younger men and women as to how they could live a “sober” life which was at any stage in life, balanced.  Too often, though, adherents of the “faith once delivered to the saints” grab hold of a truth, and blowing it all out of proportion by isolating it, elevating it and emphasizing it to the neglect of all other truth, become heretical in  their disproportionate application of a tenaciously held conviction.

For instance, God has promised to provide our needs “according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:19).  The health and wealth prosperity gospel adherents have blown that verse and many others out of proportion and out of context to preach that God intends all believers to be perpetually healthy and wealthy.  That is heresy.

Or, in another vein, most of my readers will identify as “dispensationalists,” that is, as students of Scripture who have concluded that God has dealt with people of faith through the ages past, present and (He will yet) future on the basis of differing responsibilities and varying levels of accountability depending on the truth revealed to people living at different times under different levels of unfolded revelation given.  Case in point, “the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17) New Testament believers do not live under the law (Mosaic) but under grace and therefore, we are free to eat differently, dress differently and we are not obligated to bring the animal sacrifices, etc. that those who were living in the old dispensation were commanded to bring.  So, in our day, there are those who take the teachings of dispensationalism and expand them to what has become known as “ultra-dispensationalism.”  These folks hold that the Great Commission given in Matt. 28:18-20 and baptism by immersion and other views commonly taught by sound Bible teachers do not apply to the church today.  They hold tenaciously to these aberrations of doctrine to the point that they are heretics; not heretics in the sense of denying the Bible but heretics in that they have misapplied truth or disproportionately held to a truth to the extent that their views are heretical.

We sometimes aim our guns and come out with a “big 21-gun” salute at the wrong place and wrong time, even in a doctrinal sense!

Here is a test you can give yourself: (1) Do you emphasize one doctrine disproportionately to the neglect of the whole counsel of God?  (2)  Do you have a “pet doctrine” that you constantly contend with others about, making it a test of fellowship?  (3)  Is your spirit right with others with whom you disagree on matters over which good men differ as to interpretation and application;  (4)  Do you conclude that God cannot bless or use others who have taken a stance that differs with your position on certain doctrinal issues?

Stephen Olford observed that a truth pushed can become an emphasis; pushed further it can become an extreme and pushed to the max it can become an error.  Heresy is not a belief that would necessarily involve denying the Word of God; it can be a Biblical teaching/truth blown out of proportion to the extent that it is a divisive test of faith or fellowship that it never should have become.

“Believe as I believe, no more, no less.

That I am right, and no one else confess; 

Feel as I feel, think as I think;

Eat what I eat and drink what I drink;

Look as I look, do always as I do;

And, then, and only then, I’ll fellowship with you.”


Study to shew thyself approved unto God…rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15)

“Let not your good be evil spoken of:  For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.” (Romans 14:16,17)

Watch Yourself!

If there is one thing in the world that might destroy you, it is the pandemic germ common to mankind that took Adam and Eve out of the garden after it had forfeited Lucifer from his exalted angelic position over angels.  It is the sin of pride and it got Haman hanged and Pharaoh drowned, and Saul slain, and it will take you down too if you do not guard diligently against it.

The history of humanity has attested well to Solomon’s proverb: “A man’s pride shall bring him low….” (Prov. 29:23) He was the wise man who also said that “Before destruction the heart of man is haughty….” (Prov. 18:12), and “Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Prov. 16:18) C.S. Lewis said that it is the sin that we all loathe when observed in others but that we seldom imagine we are guilty of ourselves.  He called it the essential vice and posited that unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness and all are mere “fleabites” in comparison.  The Devil became the devil through pride, and it is “the complete anti-God state of mind.”

Chesterton said, “If I had only one sermon to preach, it would be a sermon against pride.”  A teacher of preachers said to his class: “I can think of no more deadly foe than self-esteem; I would hazard the guess that professional pride is the sin par excellence of the clergy.”

Napoleon could have boasted in his military prowess, but he knew the folly of such a thing.  He said of his own accomplishments: “I am doing now what will fill thousands of volumes in this generation; in the next, one volume will contain it all; in the third, a paragraph; in the fourth, a single line.”

J.P. Struthers spent his life ministering to a small Presbyterian church when, it was said, he could have occupied any pulpit in the Britain of his day for he was dearly loved by all who knew him and the more they knew him the more they loved him.   A friend said that because of all that Struthers had done he would surely have a front seat in heaven.  But another close friend of the great pastor offered the following: “Struthers would be miserable in a front seat anywhere.” 

We’re living in an age that promotes self-esteem.  Talk shows and books have been promoting self for decades.  It is easy to get caught up in this psychology that makes one feel good about one’s self.  Certainly, the redeemed child of God, heir of God and joint heir with His Son, can rejoice in his standing in Christ.  But let us never forget that the old man, with us to the end of our earthly journey, is just as corrupt as ever and in the flesh there dwelleth no good thing. (Romans 7:18) Next time the flesh begs to be stroked and puffed, watch out!  It’s that which more than anything else in the world will more likely bring to you personal, spiritual ruin.

“A rabbi, a cantor and a humble synagogue cleaner were preparing for the day of atonement,” shared Alan Paton in Instrument of Thy Peace, “when, beating his breast the rabbi said: ‘I am nothing; I am nothing.’  The cantor did likewise.  However, when the cleaner beat his breast and said, ‘I am nothing,’ the rabbi was overheard to say to the cantor: ‘Look who thinks he’s nothing.’”

During Sunday school a teacher taught the lesson from Luke 18 about the Pharisee who, praying to God, gave thanks that he was not like other people, while a tax collector said, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”  The teacher explained that the self-righteous Pharisee looked down, because of pride, on the tax collector.  At the end of the class, the teacher asked one of the students to close the class in prayer who, when he prayed, said “God, I thank you that I am not like that Pharisee.”

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly….” (Romans 12:3)