Death Be Not Proud

Death is every man’s enemy from the time of our birth until we draw our last breath as it stalks us, hunts and hounds us doggedly and at last raises its white flag of “victory” over our fallen frame with lips and limbs that have taken up residency in the city of the silent.

American writer William Saroyan, before his death in 1981 telephoned the Associated Press, it was reported, with a final observation: “Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case.  Now What?”

Another Oxford University professor, Sir Isaiah Berlin, eulogized in Newsweek upon his death in 1997, known for his extraordinary academic achievements, was quoted in the Newsweek issue as saying, “I am afraid of dying, for it is painful.  But I find death a nuisance.  I object to it…I am terribly curious.  I’d like to live forever.”

Michael Faraday, brilliant scientist whose mind never allowed him to present suppositions as facts, when he was dying was asked how he viewed death and what he supposed would happen to him after dying.  He is said to have affirmed: “At the hour of death, no suppositions are admissible.  No experiences are permitted.  Only certainties give the peace one needs at the hour of death, and the certainty is that having found Jesus Christ as my Savior, I am going to be with Him when I die.”

John Bacon, eminent 18th century English sculptor, was quoted as saying on his deathbed, “What I was as an artist seemed to be of some importance while I lived, but what I really am as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ is the only thing of importance to me now.”

Samuel Rutherford, 17th century theologian, said when he was about to step into eternity, “Mine eye shall see my Redeemer.  He has pardoned, loved and washed me, and given me joy unspeakable and full of glory.  Glory shines in Immanuel’s land!”

Poet John Donne wrote beautifully, “Death be not proud though some have called thee Mighty and Dreadful… for those whom thou thinkest thou dost overthrow die not, poor Death.  Nor yet canst thou kill me.”

We have agonized with many these past months; some family, some friends, some fellow sojourners on the journey called Life, have bid farewell to their dearest earthly loved ones.  Because of the dire Covid 19 restrictions, some saw and said a final farewell to their beloved as they were checked into a hospital.  Services and memorials were private or postposed.  Death has been heavy on the minds of all in an uncommon sort of way these past six months or so.

How do you view your final embarkment?  When your “crossing over” comes will you be at peace?  In his book “The Best is Yet to Be” Henry Durbanville recalled how, when he was a child, his mother would call “Henry, it’s bed time.”  Like most small boys, he said he resisted the idea of leaving his toys and going to his room for the night; yet, deep within he knew it was necessary to get the needed sleep.  Durbanville drew the analogy for believers: “Death is both affectionate and stern.  When the right moment comes, she says to us, ‘It’s your bedtime.’  Oh, we may protest a little, but we know very well that the hour for rest has come, and in our hearts, we are actually longing for it.”

On the other hand, if you are not a believer and have not accepted God’s saving grace and gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ, you might do well to heed the Chinese proverb: “If we do not change our direction, we will end up where we’re going.”  A good question then to ask yourself is “Where will I be when I get to where I am going?”

For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  (Romans 10:13)

“O death, where is thy sting?  O grave, where is thy victory?  The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Cor. 15:57,58)

How to Handle Hurt

So, you are an ardent believer in Christ Jesus as Lord and an earnest follower of His, reading and heeding His words.  You are, therefore, immune from being hurt; that is mental, emotional or spiritual suffering because of how some other person, even another believer, wronged you either intentionally or unintentionally, through ignorance or through ingenuity.  Right?  Wrong!

Some supposed friend lied about you, spreading an untruth that was given off as a fact.

Some friend betrayed a confidence that you had entrusted to them.

Someone for whom you have done things for, things for which you had to make personal sacrifices to do—someone fails to acknowledge with even the slightest sign of gratitude your labors of love for them.

A friend borrows something from you and forgets to ever bring it back.

Someone fails to keep a promise and deeply disappoints those who were counting on his or her help.

A highly esteemed person loses his/her temper and gives a strong tongue lashing to another and all in the presence of some younger Christians.  It both hurts and disappoints.

So, what to do?  Here are five guidelines:  (1) Forgive the offender for God commands is:  “…forgiving one another even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you “ (Eph. 4:32); (2) Forgive those who offend as often as they ask, even 70×7 (Luke 17:1-6; Matt. 18:21ff.); (3) Look past the offence to the spiritual need of the offender(Acts16:16-18); (4) Commit the offence and the offender to God so that His purposes in both of your lives can be worked out (Romans 12:17-21) and (5) Look upon the offender as an instrument in the hands of God (2 Sam. 16:11)  As David fled Jerusalem because of Absalom’s rebellion Shimei cursed King David and threw clods of dirt at him to which David responded, “Let him alone and let him curse, for the Lord hath bidden him….”

Leonardo da Vinci, as he was working on his masterpiece “The Last Supper,” lost his temper and was so upset he could not paint.  Leaving his work, he sought out the person that he had become angry with and apologized; then, he was able to return to his work and finish painting the face of Christ.  

What to do?  In a word, “Forgive!” 

To whom ye forgive anything, I forgive also:  for if I forgave anything, to who I forgave it, for your sakes I forgave it in the person of Christ:  Lest Satan should get an advantage of us:  for we are not ignorant of his devices.”  (2 Cor. 2:10,11)

America, Idolatry and Covid-19

Written in Latin and signed in 1215, the English Magna Carta was a document specifying the relationship between the governed and the governing in mid-evil English history and became a crucial document in the history of that nation and in time our own.  In a similar fashion, three months after the nation of Israel left Egypt with its bondage God drew up a document that would govern the relationship between Himself and His people whom He desired to be “unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.”  These are commonly called the 10 Commandments and form the basis of the Old Testament Law and were a preamble to the 615 ceremonial commands which dictated every aspect of the daily lives of this “holy nation.”  The 10 Commandments have a universal dimension and consist of decrees based upon principles true for all peoples in all nations for all times.  The first of these bedrock beliefs is that God alone is to be worshipped and that people who in His sight are “holy” are to have no other gods before God. (Exodus 20:2,3)

When our nation became a nation with its founding documents the Declaration of Independence and our U.S. Constitution, a cursory reading of these would reveal that as a nation we were from the beginning “One nation under God,” as the Pledge of Allegiance to our Flag states.  That God is the Lord who says in His Word that “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”  (Psalm 33:12)  He did not say “perfect” is the nation whose God is the Lord, but He did promise a special blessing to that nation and, doubtless, America has been blessed beyond measure because of the faith of founding fathers who acknowledged the universal truth that God alone is worthy of worship and we should have no other gods before Him.

21st century America, much like the ancient Israelite nation, seems to have forgotten that spiritual axiom warning us against idolatry.  It was just months into the Israelites’ march to their “promised land” that they made a molten image, a golden calf, worshipping it and attributing their deliverance from 400 plus years of bondage in Egypt to the inanimate calf.  A nation that, until God scattered all their twelve tribes eventually into captivity and bondage again, never could get past its proclivity to idolatry. They violated time and time again the first pillar of Israel’s “magna carta” concerning idol worship.  America has not learned apparently from those history lessons inscripturated into the Word of God for “our learning and admonition.  (I Cor. 10:11)  We have so many gods, not golden calves and not always inanimate objects, but no less “gods” that we worship:  Pleasure, Money, Sports, Man’s Wisdom, Fame, Success, and on and on; things that we have allowed to come between a holy God and ourselves, personally, individually and nationally.  The “In God We Trust” has become words that we speak with our lips rather than with our lives, too, too often.

God did not allow idolatry to go on without His intervening chastisement upon those people whom He desired to be His “holy nation.”  (Ex. 19:6)   He allowed them to be ruled over by oppressive and wicked kings; He allowed them to suffer famine at times and other incredible hardships, and, finally, captivity by the Syrians and later the Babylonians.  

He allows us to be chastened also.  Believers who name His name and call themselves His followers are not immune to this pervasive sin; thus, John warns, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (I John 5:21).  A fair case, too, could be made for the thesis that God is chastening America, whose God was once the Lord, by taking from us, almost overnight, so many of our “idols,” nationally.  Our economy, a few months ago the envy of the world, suddenly was turned literally upside down.  Sports, drawing hundreds of thousands to its weekend altars, has been pretty much shut down.  Pleasure, entertainment (anyone thought of going to a Broadway musical lately?) all of these and just about every “god” that America has spent itself on in this 21st century, have been smitten to smithereens at least for the time being, much like Moses crushed the golden calf Israel made for itself when Moses was on the mount with God. 

So, we need to get back to God and learn to live without these 21st century golden calves in our lives.  Could it be that’s what the prolonged “shut down” due to Covid 19 is really all about? 

Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts, cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.” (Ps.80:3,7,19).

The Unpardonable Sin and the Sin unto Death

No one in their right mind should want to commit the “Unpardonable Sin.”  Jesus identified that sin in Matthew 12 when the Pharisees, the leaders of Israel, accused Him of casting out devils by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of devils. (Matt. 12:24)   Jesus reasoned in response to their unbelief that Satan would be divided against himself if “Satan cast out Satan.” In this context, Jesus declared that attributing to Satan the works of the Holy Ghost was the sin for which there would be no forgiveness “neither in this world nor in the world to come.” (Matt. 12:32)   When the Pharisees, acting on behalf of the nation, officially rejected Jesus as Messiah, that was, for Israel, crossing the point of no return, nationally, and it was for the nation at that time the “Unpardonable Sin.”

In Matthew 13, therefore, in order to graciously shield the unbelieving nation from more severe judgment in the day when all whose names are not written in the Book of Life will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15), Jesus began to employ parables because “seeing they see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.” (Matt. 13:13)   This statement answered the disciples’ question, “Why speakest thou in parables?” (v.10)   Jesus had already taught them that it would be more tolerable for cities such as Sodom and Gomorrah, Tyre and Sidon, than it would be for the cities to which He had come preaching the gospel of the kingdom only to be rejected. (Matt. 10:15; 11:20-24)   These cities, Chorazin, Bethsaida and others in Jesus’ day had received and rejected more light, therefore, in the judgment day (Rev.20:11-15) there would be more severe punishment meted out; so, in the light of that, Jesus graciously withheld more light from the people that had officially said “No!” to His offer of the kingdom. They, as a nation, had already committed the “Unpardonable Sin.”

The sin unto death is a different matter, and it is mentioned specifically by the Apostle John in his first epistle, chapter five.  It is sin that can be committed by believers, and the “death” that is mentioned by John is not the second death, or eternal damnation, but a physical, pre-mature death divinely meted out to wayward believers who, having lapsed into sin and having been admonished and rebuked spiritually (Gal.6:1,2; Matt. 18:15-20) continue to go on sinning so that God administers the ultimate chastening upon them, physical death, so as not to allow them to cause others to stumble over their harmful testimony.  Paul, in his first letter to the church in Corinth, says that many had ignored God’s convicting Spirit and were still partaking of the Lord’s Table with known, unconfessed sin in their lives, drinking damnation (judgment) to “himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” (I Cor. 11:29)   Paul concluded that “for this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.”  (I Cor. 11:30)   The sleep here mentioned is the sleep of (physical) death, and it was a warning to believers that each should “examine himself and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.”  (I Cor. 11:29)

It should be noted that in the passage in I John where John speaks of a brother who is observed sinning “a sin which is not unto death,” (v.16) the definite article does not appear in the Greek text so that the brother is not sinning one certain sin, he is, however, sinning sin which has not yet resulted in sinning unto death.  This brother should be, as the Spirit of God leads, the object of our prayers.  In fact, James in his epistle, tells us that if a brother errs from the truth and one of us gets him turned around (converted, but not in the sense of soul salvation), then “he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death….” (James 5:19,20) We can, then, as concerned, loving brothers in Christ, be used of God to rescue an erring brother or sister in Christ from sinning sin that eventuates in death, sin unto death.

So, the Unpardonable Sin was committed in about 29 or 30 A.D. by the nation of Israel.  People can reject God’s simple plan of salvation and be cast into the lake of fire from whence there is no return and for which there is no “2nd chance,” and in that sense a lost person can commit a sin for which there will never be forgiveness in eternity; but that, technically and scripturally speaking, is not the Unpardonable Sin:  it was committed by the nation of Israel in its rejection of their Messiah.  Sin unto death can be and is being committed by brethren who have been overcome by sin and who refuse to repent and be restored to fellowship with their Lord and with His church.  It is a grave sin for which there are serious consequences; but it is not a sin that will send a person to hell.

Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men:  but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.” (Matt.12:31)

Fifty-five Years Later

That’s how long it has been since Ellen and I sealed our love with sacred vows and at a humble altar promised ourselves each to the other.  The memory of that night in North Carolina in that white steepled church where we joined hands and hearts in a lifetime journey is etched into the deepest recesses of mind, head and heart and will be with me as long as I am able to think conscious thoughts.  So I cherish every opportunity to reflect upon that day and all the days that have ensued since, with births, marriages, birthdays, Christmases and, yes, sadly so, even some funerals:  all part and parcel of a life adventure that started with youthful love and longings, matured into a full-bloomed, nurturing love one for the other, and is now, fifty-five years later, a love that is still with pleasure yet not without pain, drawing our souls, minds and hearts ever more tightly together into that perfect bond of “oneness.”  As we stood hand in hand at that white chapel altar in August of 1965, I shared with those witnesses present some verses that I had penned and whispered to Ellen while we were falling in love.  I share those verses today with you hoping that you too can rejoice in God’s graciousness to us in giving us the life-mate of His choice though we are so undeserving of such grace:

Following the recitation of those verses, we both knelt at the altar while the pastor prayed over us asking God to bless this holy union of twain into one.  When the prayer was over, and the “Amen” said, we stood to our feet and were startled to find that a black cat had wandered into the church, the doors being opened because there was no air-conditioning and the building was packed with family and friends for this special occasion.  The uninvited guest had made its way, unbeknown to most everyone whose heads were bowed and eyes closed for prayer, down the red-carpeted aisle to the front of the church to join the “wedding party!”  Well, we are not given to superstition so we all had a good chuckle out of this and the pastor went on to pronounce us “husband and wife,” and we have lived happily for the fifty-five years following that beautiful August evening in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge mountains.

We are here today to give God hearty praise and heartfelt glory!

When Faith Falters

Read Matthew 14:22-33

Jesus had “constrained” His disciples to cross the sea in a boat assuring them that He would catch up with them.  He had, with the disciples, fed thousands of hungry folks, having taught them and having healed many of their sick.  He was exhausted and needed to retreat into a mountain place to rest and pray.

The disciples, before reaching the other side of the sea, were suddenly overwhelmed by a tempestuous storm of the variety that often comes upon seamen in bodies of water in that part of the world.  These sailors, because of the boisterous storm, felt their lives were in jeopardy.  Then something happened they could not have believed had they not experienced it personally.  They saw someone walking on the sea!  And that someone looked like, yes, was, Jesus!  The Lord called out to them, “Be of good cheer, it is I, be not afraid.”  Peter said that if it was indeed Jesus, he wanted to walk with Him, and to that Jesus simply said, “Come.”  All went well for a brief time until Peter “saw the wind,” and taking his eyes off Jesus began to sink, hollering as he went down, “Lord, save me!”  Jesus did save him and getting into the boat calmed the storm, asking the disciples, “O thou of little faith, wherefore did you doubt?”

Why do you doubt?  When do we “look at the wind” and begin to faint?  In the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 that swept every continent but Antarctica, people all over the world, including followers of the risen Lord, began to focus on the “wind,” i.e. the dire circumstances, the daily rising number of deaths, the bleak economic downturn of once robust economies.  The question that Jesus raised when He said, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” still rings through the halls of time.  When we abandon our faith, all that is left is fear.  The result was that the disciples worshipped Jesus confessing anew “Thou art the Son of God.”  May we do likewise.

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee…For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Savior….” (Isaiah 43:2,3)

How to Become a Preacher

Ever wonder why or how a preacher became a preacher?  Some might think it one day dawned upon a particular person that he was a “natural” at public speaking; or that he had a winsome personality and was good-natured and a “people person.”  Some would guess that a certain man had a father or grandfather that was a minister and so, not disappointing his family, he followed in their steps in becoming a pastor/preacher.  I had a grandmother, and later a pastor, that laid a hand on me when I was but a child and said I was a “preacher boy” or something to that effect.  Why would a person choose to enter the ministry as a life’s vocation?  Good benefits?  Job security?  Cush job in which you can set your own hours and be your own boss?  

Well, of course, none of the above!  You might have heard it said, as have I, that, “if you can do anything else and be happy, do it!”  That is usually advice that a would-be pastor or minister is given by a well-meaning member of his ordination council just before hands are laid on the candidate and a commendation to the church from the council is read, following a prayer of dedication. But of course, by that time the one coming for ordination has (hopefully!) already been convinced in his own spirit and by the approval and encouragement of others that God has called him to ministry and that he could not be happy or fulfilled doing anything else.

Preachers are preachers and pastors are pastors and missionaries are missionaries and evangelists are evangelists because they are called and compelled of God to be such; at least that is the biblical pattern and precedent. 

Jeremiah was sanctified and ordained a prophet to the nations before he came out of his mother’s womb. (Jer.1:5)

Paul was separated from his mother’s womb and called by God’s grace to preach Christ among the heathen.  (Gal. 1:16).

Paul said he was called of God to be an apostle (Rom.1:1) and ordained a preacher and an apostle and a teacher of Gentiles (2 Tim. 1:11).

 It is both interesting and amazing that Paul was called by God in his mother’s womb to preach before he became a persecutor and tormentor unto death of believers in the Christ he would later preach.

I did receive a call to preach when I was in my first semester of college, away from home, family, my home church and just about everything familiar to me.  It was as I read those glorious, majestic passages of Isaiah that God seemed to say, “Tony, there are probably enough lawyers to handle things down there; what I need and want you to do is to preach these glorious passages from Isaiah that are stirring your soul like nothing you are learning in your pre-law courses.”  I made a public declaration of my surrender to that call of God during the Thanksgiving break under the ministry of evangelist Glen Schunk who was conducting a revival meeting in my home church that I attended while home for the break from college.

Believing that a call to serve is a call to prepare, I transferred to a Christian college for my second semester and entered a ten-year journey of preparation during which time God brought into my life the charming southern belle who would become in August of 1965 my beautiful bride.

I had thought my call to preach was a call to be an evangelist, but under the four-year pastoral tutelage of Dr. R.V. Clearwaters at Fourth Baptist Church in Minneapolis I became convinced of his conviction that God calls to serve and He will equip you, gift you and place you in His vineyard when and where He chooses after you are surrendered and prepared.  Consequently forty-nine years ago, following my last year of seminary, God placed me in a church in Wichita, Kansas where I pastored six years; then in a church in Newton, Kansas where it was my privilege to pastor for two and one-half years as their first pastor, then on to Indianapolis, Indiana to the Thompson Road Baptist Church where I finished last September my 40th year as pastor before resigning and then becoming interim pastor of the Coatesville Missionary Baptist Church in Coatesville, Indiana.  I am so glad that He called and equipped and placed this preacher/pastor into the ministry and has sustained me, led me, guided me and kept me in His service for this half-century.  I praise Him for His holy call! 

This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.” (I Tim. 3:1)

“Welcome Stranger!”

Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.” (Romans 12:13)

In one of the New Testament’s “general epistles,” the book of Hebrews (13:2), first-century believers are exhorted to remember to entertain strangers because in so doing they just might be entertaining “angels unawares.”  Many believers, due to intense persecution of the early church, were through no choice of their own “strangers,” dependent upon the goodness of God’s people to help them and to even at times house them.  Gaius, the recipient of John’s third epistle, was commended for faithfully and charitably succoring brethren who were displaced and in so doing he was labeled by “the elder” a “fellow helper” of the truth.

In this 21st century, with both modest and marvelous accommodations available to travelers at reasonable prices, hospitality is almost a lost art.  The word Paul employed in Romans 12:13 when he exhorted his readers to be “given” to hospitality means literally to “pursue” hospitality.  Who has known in recent times a person or family that ardently engages others in hospitable ways?

In her book Open Heart, Open Home Karen Mains says that “Entertaining says ‘I want to impress you with my home, my clever decorating, my cooking.’  Hospitality, seeking to minister, says ‘This home is a gift from my Master.  I use it as He desires.’  Hospitality aims to serve.  Entertaining puts things before people.  ‘As soon as I get the house finished, the living room decorated, my house cleaning done—then I will start inviting people.’  Hospitality puts people first.  ‘No furniture—we’ll eat on the floor!’  ‘The decorating may never get done—you come anyway.’  ‘The house is a mess—but you are friends—come home with us.’  Entertaining subtly declares ‘This house is mine, an expression of my personality.  Look, please, admire.’  Hospitality whispers, ‘What is mine is yours.’”

As a young, ministerial student, I was the recipient of both generous and humorous expressions of hospitality.  On many occasions as a traveler on our way to minister to youth on Roan Mountain in western North Carolina, an old couple, Ed and Vina Hipkins, took a buddy of mine and myself into their home and treated us as their own sons with delicious food and overnight lodging on our weary way from Greenville, SC, to Bakersville, NC. Many years (almost 60!) have come and gone since those sweet mountain folks took a couple of “Yankees” in to smother us with old-fashioned, southern hospitality, but I could never forget it!

When in seminary in Dallas, Texas, in the early 70’s, I would leave Ellen at home with three small children and head out early Sunday mornings to drive the 175 miles to minister to a church that was temporarily without a pastor, preaching both morning and evening services and getting back home late Sunday night for a few hours sleep before Monday morning classes followed by my regular 3-11 p.m. shift  job at the Dallas County Detention Center.  On one Sunday, the wife of one of the deacons, a man who filled a prominent position in the small town, invited us over for a “bologna” sandwich.  We were delighted, secretly imagining some delicious Sunday dinner was in store for us and not really a bologna sandwich.  After fifteen minutes or so visiting with the husband in their living room, the hostess invited us into the dining room, showing each of us where to sit.  Wouldn’t you know it:  She and her husband had juicy steaks on their plates while my friend and I had bologna sandwiches on ours!  I tried my best not to show any surprise or emotion so as not to give the hostess any pleasure in witnessing my disappointment, but inside I am sure I was “grinding!”  Now, looking back, that was one of the humorous incidents, but at the time I can’t remember my friend and I laughing too much as we talked about that on our three-hour trip back to Dallas.

At any rate, I have been privileged through these years to have enjoyed so much generous hospitality and have also been blessed to have been married to a wonderful woman who has only known how to be hospitable all her life.  It has proven to be so joyous.  I do believe, though, in our present day, it would be a fair assessment of “the Church” at large to say that we have lost the art of genuine hospitality and we have missed the opportunity of entertaining “angels unawares.”

Use hospitality one to another without grudging.” (I Peter 4:10)

What’s Your One Wish?

On September 29, 1978, less than two months into his papacy, Pope John Paul I was found dead in his bed with the book Imitation of Christ, by Thomas A. Kempis, opened and his reading light still on, probably having died of a heart attack.

Paul the Apostle wrote to some first century saints in Philippi that he desired to know his Lord and specifically the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings (Phil.3:10).  He not only wanted to imitate his Savior, Paul wanted to commune with Him in such a way that his life would be a shared life, even in the manner of suffering.

Most of us want to know Him and we surely want to live a life of resurrection power, but that suffering issue is another matter.  We have read what Paul said to young Timothy when he reminded him that all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. (2 Tim. 3:12).  And, Peter has caused us to give serious consideration to the matter of adversity when he wrote to suffering, scattered saints that they were “called” to suffer because Christ had left us an example that “ye should follow in His steps.” (I Pet. 2:21).  It is easier to relegate those instructions to believers living in the early church age; but to the 21st century western world of Christ-followers, well, we’re not so quick to embrace that postulate.  Sure, we would love to know Him in a way that we’ve never known Him before; but to say “Amen” to Paul’s confession that “for whom I have suffered the loss of all things,” well, that would surely give us cause for pause.

But the “fellowship of His sufferings” entails such a work of grace in a believer’s heart that he/she will have a different mind-set about things past (reputation, comforts, respect, retirement, privileges, and possessions).  Paul affirms that he “suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in Him….” (Phil. 3:8,9).  That statement sums it all up for Paul, and becomes our mantra yet today.  To be found in Him, His will, His service, His fellowship, His blessing, so that He is the center and circumference of our being, our existence, means that Christ the Lord is our “All in all!”

What is your one wish today?  Riches, friends, success, security, fame, health?  Or, to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings?  There is no short-cut. We cannot pick and choose.  To have the resurrection power will not be realized apart from the fellowship of sufferings.  

That just may be the key to the timeless, perplexing puzzle: “Why do good people suffer?”  All of us know some “salt of the earth” folk who have been in and through the furnace of suffering to an unimaginable extent.  We can only wonder, sometimes, why.  Then Paul’s words echo in our heart’s chamber: “…and the fellowship of His suffering.”  We do not need to know more.  It is part of the knowing, showing and growing as we “reach forth unto those things which are before.” (Phil. 3:13).

Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect:  but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ.” (Phil. 3:12).

Cancel What?

Cancel Culture.  It’s become an obsession of the mob mentality that has captured the headlines in America’s media this “summer of love” 2020.

Historic statutes have been toppled.  Formal grammar has been revised to favor rap writ.  Halls of Congress are being purged of memorials to brave generals who, right or wrong, were a part of the historic fabric of our republic and fought with valor to death for a cause they believed to be just.  Military bases will be renamed, their former names being shuttered because the historic American figures for whom they were honored have been found to be flawed.  The national anthem, sung with pride before ball games and other important gatherings and special occasions will have to be altered to be inclusive to particular races of people rather than to the “one nation under God” peoples that we have always been proud to be identified by. 

Cancel culture?  You may as well set out to change the leopard’s spots.  Culture is who we are, what we have been, the pleasing and the putrid, the bad and the beautiful, the just and the unjust, all gathered up into one package around which has been wrapped a red, white and blue ribbon called Old Glory to which we unashamedly pledge allegiance because it represents America, the Beautiful, upon which God has without doubt shed His grace.  Culture, the marvelous mix of every nationality under the sun with distinct preferences and, yes, prejudices.  The nice and the nasty.  The beauty, the beast, and the best.  America, refuge for the disabled, displaced and disparaging.  Home to the lost, the last and the least.  Haven of hope, help, heritage and home for the masses yearning to be free.

That is culture.  It is our story with the greatest generation the object of our deepest gratitude for their selfless saving of the world.  It is the story of our fighting for freedom for lands to the farthest corner of the world where oppression ruled and men and women could not breathe free air for the ruthless totalitarians who ruled over them mercilessly and militarily with no form of justice or fear of judgment.  Never have we asked an acre of foreign soil for our freedom fighters except a six-foot deep plot to lay their war wearied fragment riddled frames to rest.  America, land of the free, home of the brave.

And you want to cancel us?  Delete our history, our heritage?  And replace it with hate, hollow phases, violence and destruction where lawlessness rules and where those who have the most wretched tongues and reckless ways dictate the boundaries.

God help us.  Blessed is that nation whose God is the Lord.  There is no biblical endorsement of any particular culture apart from that nation that seeks the favor of the Almighty, Creator God.  Cancel Culture is a devilish way of saying “cancel any semblance of absolutes, of truth, of history, of order, respect and decency.”

America, it’s time to take a good long look at ourselves in the mirror of history, in the mirror of truth, in the mirror of tomorrow.  Is this what you want to hand down to your grandchildren?  

It is well past the hour of late.  Prayer is the answer.  Revival with its attending repentance is the key.  People of every race, of every rank must “humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways….”  Nothing there about canceling culture.  God will though, “hear from heaven, and will forgive (our) sin and will heal (our) land.” (2 Chron. 7:14)

Blessed (happy) is the nation whose God is the Lord; and the people whom He hath chosen for His own inheritance.” (Ps. 33:12)