In His Own Words

Kelvin U. Krueger 1976-2021

You and God” has published two previous installments about missionary Kelvin Krueger, missionary to South Africa under the auspices of Baptist World Mission, who recently was called home to be with His Lord and Savior.  The last post was a eulogy about Kelvin and this post is Kelvin’s testimony in his own words.  “He being dead yet speaketh:”

“Good evening, my name is Kelvin Krueger.  I was born into a Christian home where my parents love the Lord.  When I was young, I was interested in being a cowboy.  At the age of four, I received Christ as my Lord and Savior.  As soon as I received Christ, He gave me a burden in my heart for the mission field, so I changed my direction from being a cowboy to being a cowboy missionary.  At the age of six I was diagnosed with brain cancer.  I was operated on, and the doctors had to take out a good portion of my learning cells.  After my surgery I was flown to Boston where a team of doctors were going to  perform radiation therapy.  My parents had to sign a release form saying that if I came through the therapy, which was doubtful, I would have the mental capacity of a six-year-old.  The release was signed but fervent prayer made the difference.  The Lord brought me through the surgery.  The doctors said there was going to be some side effects of the radiation therapy which included:  puberty, at an early age as you can see, I am shorter than my dad, but at least I am taller than my mom; scoliosis, it is hard to walk straight, and memory loss, where am I?  It has been a long road to where I am today but thank the Lord for the paths He has led me by.  I graduated from Marquette Manor Baptist Academy and went to Bob Jones University for part of my schooling.  I received a Certificate of Children’s Ministry from Northland Baptist Bible College.  At graduation Dr. Les Ollila presented me with the JOB award for accomplishments regardless of difficulty.  I have been on mission trips to Mexico, Australia and Saint Kitts.

The Lord then gave me opportunity to go to New Zealand for a few months.  When I returned home, I worked under the maintenance director, who was a also the children’s pastor at Marquette Manor Baptist Church.  Through him I got involved with ventriloquism, and gospel magic, and also in my duration there, I was able to lead ten first graders to the Lord.  Through the Lord I will be all He wants me to be.  Isaiah 6:8 says, “Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, whom shall I send and who will go for us?  Then said I, here am I; send me.”  I believe the Lord has called me in the service of children’s ministry in South Africa.  Proverbs 3:5-6:  “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths.”

I was at Maranatha Baptist Bible College in Watertown, Wisconsin, for the Baptist World Mission annual conference meeting from October 22 through 25 of 2007.  While at the conference I was interviewed two times about where I stood doctrinally, and I was questioned on key issues.  I went into the interviews knowing the Lord was on my side.  The last interview I had was in a room where all the board members were sitting down.  I was asked to sit in a chair and give my testimony.  I was asked why I felt called to the mission field, and why I wanted to join Baptist World Mission.  I thank the Lord for His help and His guidance in leading me to Baptist World Mission and allowing me to join.  I know that if we reach children with the gospel, that will give us an open door into the homes, and that will give us an opportunity to tell the parents the good news of the gospel.

There was a very brilliant Bible teacher, Robert Dick Wilson, born in 1856 and he died in 1930.  By the time he was 25 years old he could read the New Testament in nine languages. (I have trouble reading it in English).  He could repeat from memory a Hebrew translation of the entire New Testament as well as a large portion of the Old Testament.  One day while teaching his students he said, “Young men, there are many mysteries in this life I do not pretend to understand, many things hard to explain.  But I can tell you this morning with the fullest assurance that Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.”


For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:  But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty…that no flesh should glory in His presence.”  (I Cor. 1:26-29)
  


“Here Am I, Send Me”

One day, when he was yet a child, Kelvin Krueger’s heart was touched by the same vision that Isaiah was moved by as he observed the Lord sitting high and lifted up while seraphim’s cried one to the other “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God almighty.” Isaiah observed the King, the Lord of hosts, the sinful people and nation, a people of unclean lips, and hearing the voice of the Lord say, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us,” Isaiah said, “Here am I, send me,” and Kelvin echoed Isaiah’s response, and God said, “Go, tell this people….” (Isa. 6:1- 9 )

And Kelvin from that moment was a missionary at heart.  Never mind he was only a lad; never mind he would live through the most excruciating test that a child could endure, the removal of a cranial tumor with its life-long after effects leaving him handicapped in almost every capacity but his spirit; never mind the world would relegate him—even the Christian world—to a separate class assigned to menial tasks not considering that Kelvin Krueger was in every sense of the word a missionary, a servant of Christ, wholly dedicated to God and separated by the Spirit for the work to which he would be called.  Kelvin, like Jeremiah, was set apart to God from his mother’s womb for service as a first-class missionary.

Oh, others before him had gone through human screening experiences only to be discounted as “not able” for the task at hand.  The little Israeli girl whose Syrian master suffered with leprosy had to overcome an age handicap before she was heard with life-saving information for the captain of Syria.  “She’s only a child—an Israeli one at that—what would she knowing about curing leprosy?”  Yet her heart for God excelled the head of any Syrian and she was the person in touch with the true God and you know the rest of the story!

Here’s Jesus preaching and teaching to thousands of men, women and children who had not eaten in days.  How could they be fed?  Well, none of the important disciples had a clue; but a lad with five loaves of bread and two fishes did and he was just child-like enough in faith to bring them to Jesus for His use; and Christ, with the help of a little boy, considered little more than an annoyance by the big men around Jesus with their conventional wisdom, fed thousands of hungry people, proving once again that “little is much when God is in it.”

A discouraged pastor gave his annual service report to the church board one sad Sunday, telling them that there had been a spiritual draught that year and that only one small boy had been baptized.  Well, time would prove that the single soul saved that long barren year just happened to be Robert Morrison, who when he was of age, became one of England’s finest and most fruitful ambassadors for Christ on the foreign mission field.

And Kelvin Krueger presented himself to Christ one day for service, but what could he do?  Was he not limited by handicaps?  Maybe he should stay at home and pray, but to go to a foreign field?  Surely not!

But Kelvin lived out his dream going first to New Zealand as a missionary and then to South Africa serving ably out of a heart of love with hands of service.  Ask the scores of boys and girls in a group home in Johannesburg, South Africa, wheelchair bound boys and girls, who delighted every week when they saw Kelvin come to greet them and to minister to them.  They would testify that Kelvin was a blessing with his touch of tenderness and his look of love; one can only imagine what a special treat that was for those precious boys and girls when a kind man, himself somewhat skewered in life and limb from his earliest days, showed them what in flesh the love of God looks like.

And ask the churches, one here in Indianapolis in which Kelvin served as an intern under my mentorship and alongside a cadre of Christian servants who took Kelvin in and treated him as family for the half a year that he served here in preparation for his going solo to South Africa to live and work.  Ask the team of bus workers about Kelvin’s coming early and staying late to lend a hand in picking up boys and girls on the church bus.  Ask the choir members alongside whom he sang, faithfully practicing and “pitching” in as best he could; ask the primary and church-time children’s ministry workers about his tireless and selfless serving in whatever way he was needed week after week; and ask the pastors and church staff about how inspiring it was to work alongside of this humble, sweet-spirited man of God.  He was always a dedicated Christian and Christian worker out of whose mouth a complaint about anything was never heard.

So, I am still always and ever rejoicing that one day, Kelvin Krueger said “I will go, send me.”  And God did send him and Kelvin did go, and in so doing He lived out his dream; and we can only imagine the joy bells ringing in heaven when on the second day in February of 2021 Kelvin’s body-bound spirit was released to its heaven-ward flight where he found himself “Home, at last,” giving new meaning to those words of the poet John Donne: “Death be not proud though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; For those whom thou thinkest thou dost overthrow die not, poor death, nor yet canst that kill me.  One short sleep past, we wake eternally, and death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.”

As Kelvin’s Pastor, here’s what I saw in him:

  1. A faithful co-worker
  2. A compassionate Christian
  3. A servant’s heart
  4. One who did not complain. Never.
  5. One who loved children
  6. One who was spiritual
  7. One who strived to please
  8. One who was grateful
  9. One who obeyed his Lord
  10. One who honored his parents
  11. One who loved chocolate mocha!!

Kelvin Krueger, missionary to South Africa, passed into his Savior’s presence on the morning of February 2, 2021.

 “And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth:  Yea, saith the Spirit; that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.”  (Rev. 14:13)


The Kelvinator

You and God” features a repeat of a post published last fall about Kelvin Krueger, missionary to South Africa.  Kelvin was released from lifelong disabilities Tuesday, February 2, and was ushered into his Savior’s presence.


When doctors discovered a cranial tumor in Kelvin before he was five years old, they did not give him much hope to live out a normal childhood.  His parents, trusting God and hoping help would come, transported their little boy to Mercy Medical Center where an extensive brain surgery would be undertaken, praying God would spare his life, yet doubtful that he would ever enjoy “normal motor skills.”  Even at this young age, Kelvin harbored hopes in his heart that he would one day be a missionary.  Those dreams seemed to be worlds away at the time the trip was made to Children’s Hospital in Boston, but Mom and Dad and many others were praying.  The surgery not only spared Kelvin’s life, but in time he would be able to walk, talk, eventually drive, attend college and live quite like anyone else.

Kelvin graduated from college, still with a heartbeat for world missions.  He acquired a “dummy” he called Zeke and honed his ventriloquist skills well enough that he could entertain folks with his routine with Zeke.  He served for some time in New Zealand before coming back to America for further medical attention.

I met Kelvin when he appeared before Baptist World Mission for appointment to serve on the field of South Africa.  There was an instant bond between us when I heard his testimony and saw his heart for God’s mission field, and in a short time I had the privilege of becoming his sending pastor after his internship with us for several months at Thompson Road Baptist Church.  I gave him the nickname Kelvinator.  He drove his own car, lived independently, worked diligently, displayed a commitment to ministry with a love especially for children, and his time at TBBC was an encouraging time for all of us.  We learned that people who from birth have labored with serious physical handicaps cannot be sidelined from serving.  Kelvin was faithful in our choir ministry, our bus ministry, our children’s ministries including VBS and was always ready to serve.  I have no doubt we (I) learned more about ministry in those few months that Kelvin served alongside of our staff and members than Kelvin learned.  He was an inspiration every day of the world to all of us.

On September 26, 2010, we had a commissioning service for Kelvin, and he was ready to go to South Africa. His loving and devoted parents accompanied Kelvin to Johannesburg, SA, and helped him to get set up in an apartment and in necessities, then left him there to serve His Savior.  Kelvin made an adjustment or two concerning what church/pastor he would end up serving alongside, then began a faithful ministry of soul-winning, serving and visiting weekly an orphanage where dozens of wheel-chair bound boys and girls looked forward to his visits to cheer them and to tell them about Jesus.

In 2015, as Kelvin was serving and faithfully discharging his duties as a servant of our Lord, he suffered a disabling stroke.  He was flown home to the states and has since been not only fighting for life but learning to do basic movements in a rehab program.  Unless God would miraculously intervene, Kelvin will never be able to function again independently so his time as a “foreign” missionary has ended; but he will always have that missionary heart that beat in his boyhood breast compelling him, as a child with an incredible disability, to desire to serve as a missionary on God’s field, the world.

Some weeks ago, I wrote about a little girl who had the same heart for world missions who now serves in Africa as a missionary with her family.  What she did, as a single gal, crisscrossing America raising support to go, was an incredible story that was summarized in a single question she raised when told the field she originally wanted to serve on was closed.  She simply said, “Where Can I Go Then?”  

Kelvin’s story is not dissimilar.  When faced with herculean obstacles that would discourage most anyone from thinking of going to a foreign field as a missionary, Kelvin said, “What Can I Do Then?”  Well, it would have been easier to answer Kelvin with this question, “What Can You Not Do Then?”  He gave God his all, with impairments and crippled limbs, and he served well as one of God’s choice emissaries.  He is one of my heroes today.  He is on “R & R” now, wounded in the line of duty, as it were.  He’s the Kelvinator.  He enriches every life he touches.

As a tribute to TRBC’s missionary to South Africa, I wrote this poem in his honor for his commissioning service; it is entitled “Farewell, Dear Kelvin.”

“To ripe fields we send you, with our prayers you’ll go;
Telling folks of Jesus so His love they’ll know.
 
We’ve grown so to love you, love you in the Lord;
For your love of children, teaching them His Word.
 
You have served amongst us with a servant’s heart;
We are kindred spirits, have been from the start.
 
You’ve shown us Christ’s spirit by your words and deeds;
We have seen Him in you, meeting others’ needs.
 
You’ve taught us His virtues by your godly talk;
He has loved us through you by your humble walk.
 
So, to the field you go now, Africa the south;
Your words will be mighty—as if from God’s mouth.
 
You will reach His littlest, lovingly bring them in;
Their lives will be salvaged from a life of sin.
 
And when at the Bema we lay our worn tools down,
There’ll be great rejoicing when you get your crown!


Cheer Up Ye Saints of God

“Count it all joy” James, half-brother of Jesus, wrote to Hebrew believers about 30 years after Jesus had been crucified in Jerusalem by the Roman government at the behest of the Jewish nation.  James calls them the “twelve tribes scattered abroad,” because a wave of harsh persecution against Jewish converts to Christianity broke out four or five years after Christ’s ascension back to heaven following His resurrection, and the flourishing Jerusalem church, which saw thousands of souls added to their church on the Day of Pentecost and in the days following, were driven out of their sanctuary in Jerusalem to other cities of the then known world.  Their sudden flight left them in many instances homeless, jobless and without any family support system.  To this first-century suffering church James, pastor of the Jerusalem church, writes, “Count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations.” (James 1:2)  And “divers” is a pretty good description of the various and sundry kinds of trials they almost overnight were faced with.  They lost all social standing, all rights and privileges of citizenship, all opportunity to gather in synagogues for worship and in many cases their losses included spouses, children and extended family which ex-communicated them because of their acceptance of Jesus as Messiah.

James exhorts these brethren to maintain the right attitude toward these severe challenges; to remain joyful.  This would seem impossible considering the enormity of their losses.  The word which James employs in James 1:2 for “count” means “reckon it to be so,” even when you cannot reason it out, understand it, explain it or make any sense of it.  Even though your soul aches and your heart breaks while your whole being trembles with throbbing pain because of the loneliness and losses, “reckon” it; chalk it up as joyful because you can and must accept it as from God. Knowing this, the pastor, James, who was not always a follower of Jesus himself but was finally and fully convinced of His deity when Jesus made a special post-resurrection appearance to him (I Cor. 15:7), assured these suffering, scattered saints that God has a purpose, a plan and a product that will be perfection in and through these trials, leaving them, in the end, complete (mature), lacking in nothing spiritually.

Writing to this same group of believers, the writer of Hebrews said that these Hebrew believers had endured a “great fight of afflictions.” (Hebrews 10:32-34)  Paul the Apostle testified that he was “joyful in all tribulation.” (2 Cor. 7:4), and in his epistle to the church at Philippi Paul reminded his beloved followers in Europe that “it is given on the behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Phil. 1:21)

Jesus, instructing His disciples on kingdom matters, warned them that they would face the unmasked hatred of men, and be separated from their company, and reproached and their names would be cast out as evil (Luke 6:22,23) but precisely at that point they should “rejoice in that day, and leap for joy…”  Peter, later, who would be crucified upside down at his request, not feeling worthy to be crucified in the same manner as was Jesus his Lord, would write that “…if any man suffer as a Christian let him not be ashamed , but let him glorify God on this behalf.”  That is the same Apostle who wrote “that the trial of your faith, being more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found to the praise and the honor and the glory at the appearing of Christ.” (I Peter 1:7)

So, there are indeed “divers” kinds of trials, tests, temptations.  But remember, if God chooses to allow you to go through the fiery furnace of affliction, you will, having endured, be “blessed,” and you will be a candidate for the “crown of life.” (James 1:12)  Along with the crown of life there will be a crown of rejoicing, promised to all those who love His appearing (2 Tim. 4:8).  These crowns and others will be meted out to His faithful ones at the Bema seat of Christ and those who receive them with great humility will be able to cast them before the throne of God joining in with a multitude who exclaim that “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power:  for Thou hast created all things and for Thy pleasure they are and were created.” (Rev. 4:10,11)

Some years ago, I walked into Methodist Hospital in downtown Indianapolis to visit an elderly woman, a member of the church I pastored.  She had fallen on hard times physically and had suffered multiple surgeries and was facing at that particular time another one.  I expected to find a dear saint over burdened with afflictions that even the world’s finest physicians could not cure.  To my delight, a wide smile broke out across her wrinkled face as she said upon seeing me, “I was just thinking today He’s chosen me for this closer walk with Him and it’s going to be something to see how it all turns out.”  She ended our conversation a short time later with the words, “You just can’t out do God.  He had it all planned out ahead of time.”

And so He did and does.  And my dear old friend had also planned it out ahead of time that she would choose to “count it all joy.”  And so she did for the brief duration of her remaining sojourn here in this land of shadows just before she stepped into the eternal sunlight of His glory.

And I beheld…and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor and glory and blessing’.  And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne and unto the Lamb forever and ever.”  (Rev. 5:11-14) 

I Can’t Outrun Your Tears!

Each of the synoptic gospels gives us insight into a character trait that the Lord Jesus Christ possessed, one that every follower of His ought to strive personally to cultivate: compassion.  It is a rare find today to see it evidenced in our skeptic-riddled world, which is so distrustful, so doubting and dubious of the motives of our fellow mankind.

Mark says that when Jesus saw a great multitude, He was moved with compassion toward them and He healed their sick. (Mark 14:14)

Matthew reports that upon seeing two blind men sitting by the wayside near Jericho, Jesus had compassion on then and touched  their eyes and immediately their eyes received sight. (Matt. 20:34)

He healed a man’s son that had been possessed by a dumb spirit that caused him to foam and gnash with his teeth and pine away.  In desperation the boy’s father pled with Jesus “…if thou canst do anything, have compassion on us….”  (Mark 9:22)

And, when a funeral procession passed by near the city of Nain where Jesus was walking with His disciples, the Lord noticed the weeping widow distraught over her now deceased son and He said simply, “Weep not,” and then the son sat up in the bier alive again, as Luke noted that Jesus had compassion on the grieving widow. (Luke 7:13)

He also fed a multitude of thousands of people who had not eaten in three days, saying, “I have compassion on the multitude.”  (Matt. 15:32)

Then, too, Jesus came upon a lonely leper who knelt down before Him and begged “If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth His hand and touched him and saith unto him, ‘I will, be thou clean.’”  (Mark 1:41)

So, how does your compassion barometer read these days?  In July of 1988 the U.S. Navy Cruiser USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian Airliner with 290 aboard leaving no survivors.  The ship’s captain mistakenly thought they were under attack, so he ordered the defensive action.  In the weeks following, public opinion polls indicated that most Americans did not favor paying the Iranian victim’s families any compensation for their tragic losses.  The Iranian’s holding of 52 plus American hostages still lingered fresh upon America’s collective mind, but President Ronald Reagan approved the compensation and when asked by reporters why he would do that and whether he did not think it might send a wrong signal, the magnanimous President replied, “I don’t ever find compassion is a bad precedent.”

A crippled evangelist of yesteryear known as Hop Hadley was chasing a backslidden convert who was drunk down a city street into a side alley.  Finally, exhausted by the chase, the handicapped preacher leaned up against a light pole, tears streaming down his cheeks.  Under the dark shadows in a dirty, dank alley the drunken man suddenly reversed his course heading back to where the preacher was, saying “I can outrun your feet, but I can’t outrun your tears.”  

I read some years ago in Pulpit Helps about a man who had fallen into a pit.  One person came along and said, “I feel for you down there!”  Another fellow hollered, “I figured someone would fall down there sooner or later,” while a pious hypocrite said, “Only bad people fall into pits!”  Then a fake news reporter chimed in: “Can I have the exclusive story on your fall?” The IRS man wanted to know if he had paid taxes on that property or did he have an exemption?  A self-absorbed person opined, “You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen the pit I am in!”  And, of course, there were the optimist and pessimist who said respectively, “Cheer up, things will get better,” and “Just wait, it can and will get worse!”  And Jesus came along, noting the man’s predicament and extended His helping hand lifting him out of the pit.

Spurgeon reminded his audience on one occasion that the New Testament writers employed a word for compassion that called to mind in its root form one’s entrails or inward parts, meaning “sympathy, pity, affection, compassion,” denoting that Jesus was moved to the core of His being when He considered the plight of a sin-laden, suffering, sick humanity.  Spurgeon said, “It is expressive of the deepest emotion, a striving of the bowels, a yearning of the inner most nature with pity.”

How long has it been since you have been so moved for or about anyone or anything?  

But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted and were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd.” (Matt. 9:36)

Can it Be?

Photo from mbhistory.org

In my last post I told of Russian Pastor Georgi Vins exiled in 1979 from his homeland for the “crime” of preaching the gospel.  He was separated from his family and his beloved home until the early 1990’s when the then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev reversed the decree whereby Vins had been stripped of his Soviet citizenship (President Ronald Reagan was a key figure in this glasnost experiment) eventuating in Georgi getting the green light to return to Russia for a visit to his cherished Russian homeland and churches and family.  He never did move back to Russia, spending his last years in Elkhart, Indiana, representing the persecuted church until his homegoing. But the trip back to his homeland, after spending years in Siberian prisons for his faith, and more years in exile, was a thrilling experience.  While waiting for his visa application to be approved for his trip home, Vins wrote a poem in part and then finished it in November of 1990 when he was in Leningrad.  I had prayed for Vins prior to his release from prison and had held him, a 21st century Hebrews 11 kind of believer of whom this world was not worthy, as a hero and was privileged in about 1984 to have him speak in our church in Indianapolis to share his testimony.  I want to share with you the poem he wrote and to which I have alluded.  He entitled it “Can it Be?”

Can it be that I soon will be seeing
 My dear brothers and sisters again?
Can it be that once more I’ll be hearing
 Russian choirs singing songs about Christ?

In the language familiar since child hood
 I will hear and drink in God’s own Word!
And my heart is preparing for this gladness,
 I had dream of it while far away.

Years have flown. . .as the birds in migration
 Swiftly speed with sad cries to the south.
But how strong were the walls of my prison,
Bound by chains—bitter dread and farewells.

After that, the great waves of the ocean
 Thrust the coast of my homeland away…
And each day, like a craft small and lonely,
Was besprinkled by sorrowful tears.

The afflictions groaned on without number
 As the waves of destruction rose high…
Only faith through the clouds shone more brightly,
And the Lord strengthened me by His love.

(The rest of the poem was written in Leningrad.)

But today, with great joy I am seeing 
My dear brothers and sisters again!
And I hardly dare breathe, as I’m hearing
Russian choirs singing songs about Christ!

I am listening once more to God’s message,
Once again with the brethren I pray.
Oh, how precious to me are Christ’s people
And a Russia that seeks God today!”

Knowing that there was not any religious freedom in Russia before Gorbachev and Reagan achieved the glasnost accords in August of 1990, my wife and I “picketed” the Wichita Convention Center in the summer of 1978 while 10,000 delegates filed into a denominational world conclave featuring some visiting Russian Baptist pastors who were addressing that meeting saying that there was religious freedom in the Soviet Union at that time.  Our picket signs were simple:  “WHAT ABOUT GEORGI VINS?”  Within about a year, Vins was shipped out of Siberia to the United States, exiled from his homeland without any family members but living in freedom!  In time, as stated above, he was able to revisit Russia and his family was able to migrate to America.  In 1989 I was thrilled to visit Russia with Evangelist Ed Nelson and Pastor Vins’ daughter Natasha on a trip to Moscow, Kiev, Leningrad and other cities where we worshipped with and sang with those precious believers, hearing some of those wonderful choirs that Georgi alluded to in his poem.  It was through interpreters that we prayed, praised and preached, but the Holy Spirit of God left little doubt in our hearts that those people in those Soviet Union churches, many of whom had spent time in prison themselves, were the kind of believers one reads about in Hebrews 11.  It was so very humbling and exhilarating that words could never capture the feeling.  Praise God for Georgi Vins, his faith, his fearlessness and his fidelity to Jesus to the end in his pulpit and in his prison cell.  His impact upon this preacher’s life as a young minister of the gospel enjoying freedom and affluence has in part shaped my life and I will be ever grateful to him and to God for allowing me to follow his ministry in the shadows and through the sunshine.

And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment…of whom the world was not worthy, they wandered in deserts, and in mountains and in dens and caves of the earth.  And these all, having obtained a good report through faith….” (Hebrews 11:36-39)

Suffering 21st Century Saints

About 25 years ago, an evangelist was able to organize a trip to Cuba, the window of opportunity opening for a limited time to travel there for humanitarian and educational purposes.  It was a two-way arrangement with our neighboring nation just 90 miles southeast of Florida and the journey was one etched in my memory indelibly.  Another Indiana layman accompanied the evangelist and his team, along with myself and the late Dr. Collins Glenn who then pastored the Grace Baptist Church of Muncie, Indiana.  Having flown to Havana, we immediately got into waiting vehicles and traveled two or three hours to the western side of the island.  The evangelist had done the preparatory work for the trip and had some contacts that arranged for us some motel-like housing which served as a place for us to get some rest before going to some more remote villages and/or homes for services with small church groups that had been alerted to our coming and were waiting on us when we arrived.  We went from one group to another holding brief services including the preaching of a gospel message.  The evangelist leader of the mission was adept at chopping boards or concrete blocks in half with his bare hands, so when we were with him if there were young people present, he would get their attention by demonstrating his brute strength through the karate skills he had mastered.  Then, either he or one of the group would share a testimony or a brief message.  It was a surreal experience for all of us in the ministering group to be holding evangelistic services in a communist nation which had been closed for decades to this type of ministry.  We kept a low profile, and the entire mission was no longer than a week as we traveled sometimes to small villages holding meetings in huts or homes with people sitting in window sills when there was no standing room left inside.  

We preached to encourage the believers and to evangelize the lost and the reception that was extended to us was overwhelmingly warm.  A couple of the meetings were held in bigger towns at an outdoor park or in a small auditorium that would hold maybe 80 to 100 people.  It was an amazing few days!  I shall never forget a Sunday dinner held in a rural home with the family serving us some fried chicken and a vegetable and piece of bread.  You did not have to be a farmer to realize the chicken was pretty skinny and the meat on the bones pretty scarce, but you knew as you were eating it that it was their choicest meal, and they were giving it sacrificially to people they had never met.  It was a totally humbling experience yet one that I suppose most missionaries have had maybe often on their journey into the homes and hearts of those they were trying to reach for Christ.

Before boarding the plane back to our homeland, we met with a church in Havana.  Martin and Marita (not their real names) were eighteen years old when Castro took power following Cuba’s revolution.  They had spent all of their adult lives under communism, he a pastor of a Baptist church and his wife a wonderful, godly helpmeet, rearing their children up in the faith, grounded in the Word.  We got to visit one of their services and were so blessed by the spirited singing of the same songs we sing on Sundays in our USA services only in Spanish.  The love was transparent, love for Jesus and love for each other and love for a group of visiting believers whom they had never met before.   Pastor Martin was giving oversight to several satellite churches that his church had “mothered.”  The experience of worshipping there that night was one of the highlights of my ministry.  A bond was quickly forged between the pastor and his wife and us and God orchestrated a trip for the two of them to our church a year or two later so that we could reciprocate the blessing, scheduling them to visit and testify in several of our churches in Indiana, Illinois and Michigan.   They were our guests for about six weeks.  And their experience here must have given new meaning to the word “surreal.”  On one occasion we took Pastor Martin and Marita to a large store  that had groceries, clothes, hardware, etc. all under one roof—you know the kind like some Kroger or Meijer stores that we regularly shop in here.  After a brief time in this massive store, Marita began to tremble, begging us to take her home.  We did so of course with concern that she might have gotten sick; but, no, she was not sick, but was simply overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the choices and goods available to us living as we do awash in abundance.  She had never dreamed of anything like what she saw, and she just could not take it in without becoming faint.  She had been accustomed all of her adult life to having a few eggs rationed out to her for her family each month and living only a bare material existence.  She and her family and church enjoyed an abundance of fellowship, of love and of the Spirit’s grace, but the material extravagance she was exposed to on their visit to America was more than she could deal with on that particular day and it literally made her weak.

We kept in touch with these wonderful people for several years through emails and even a few phone calls until the door once again closed.  But the memories of that week we spent in their homeland, much like stepping back into the 50’s, and the six weeks or so that we were able to share with them here, are memories etched upon the pages of our minds forever.  It made us so appreciative of those faithful believers who in the harshest of circumstances cherish their freedom and standing in Christ and relish His grace and goodness; yet it humbled us deeply to think of what freedoms and fulness, both spiritually and materially, we have enjoyed here in America past and present, yet have so often taken for granted with an almost thankless spirit.  But with each passing day now, we feel these freedoms are more fleeting and we understand that what our friends living so near the States but such worlds away have only known since they were married in their late teens, totalitarianism, may soon be what we are daily experiencing too.  It behooves us ever to trust God, not the government and to be prepared to stand, and having done all to stand.

Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth:  for I am God and there is none else.” (Isa.45:22)

On the Misty Flats

To every man there openeth a way, and ways, and a way; And the high soul climbs the high way, and the low souls gropes the low.  And in between, on the misty flats, the rest drift to and fro.  But to every man there openeth a high way, and a low; And every man decideth the way his soul shall go.” (John Oxenham)

The author of those lines was, of course, addressing the subject of mediocrity.  Webster defines mediocrity as “a commonplace ability or condition.”  Mediocrity is of “middle quality, ordinary, common.”

It is, of course, not a fault to be common or ordinary if one is doing the best he can; but to do a job of ordinary quality when you could, with extra effort, do it so that it would be “better than average,” is a fault.  A case could be made that the curse of Christendom, currently, is mediocrity.  Too often in our everyday lives we settle for less than our best. My grandmother said “Good, better, best; never let it rest, ‘til your good is better and your better’s best.”  

Sadly, even in the Lord’s work, in spite of Paul’s admonition that “whether we eat or drink or whatsoever we do, do all to the glory of God,” (I Cor.10:31) we settle too often for less than our best.  Even though we sing “Hear ye the Master’s call, give me thy best, for be it great or small that is His test, do thou the best you can, not for reward, not for the praise of men but for the Lord,” our actions betray the fact that we sing those words without having our heart in them.

We are engaged in the highest calling and have been given the heaviest commission having been enlisted into a heavenly cause,  the serving of our Lord Christ, the building of His body, His Church, and the duty that is ours demands an effort of uncommon caliber.  The Old Testament sage put it this way, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, whither thou goest.” (Eccl. 9:10)

Many reasons could be cited for this common ailment.  Perhaps we suffer from the curse of complacency, or convenience, or the spirit of casualness so prevalent in our age.  It may be a character issue.  Did you ever make a wad of paper out of a gum wrapper, then toss it as a ball to a waste basket only to find that your aim was off; and the paper “ball” ended up behind, yet out of sight, the intended goal forcing you to make a split-second decision to pick up and put the errant “ball” into the waste basket where it belongs or to ignore it since it was out of sight and leave it for the janitor to sweep up since that was, after all, what he gets paid for?  It is not convenient to stop to pick up the mis-guided missile; we are casual in our house so what’s a miniscule piece of paper matter in the big picture, and, after all, who really cares?  It seems like a such a non-issue that it doesn’t warrant a second thought; that is, until we hear the words of James echoing somewhere in the chambers of our mind: “Therefore, to him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17)

There are safeguards and solutions to the problem of mediocrity:

  •  Whatever you are called upon to do, pray God will bless your efforts.  We can accomplish much for God after we have prayed; we can accomplish nothing for God until and unless we have prayed.  The late evangelist, Glen Schunk, under whose ministry I surrendered to preach in 1960 said, “I built my evangelistic ministry on my knees.”
  • Yield your members as instruments of righteousness (Rom. 6:13).  Nothing, absolutely nothing done in the energy of the flesh (old man) will please God, while nothing, absolutely nothing, done in the power of the Spirit will displease Him.
  • Prepare yourself before you attempt to do whatever you have been called upon to do, spiritually through prayer, Bible reading, meditation (90% of inspiration is perspiration), and physically with proper rest and diet.  Frances Ridley Havergal said she was given good advice:  “Fanny, pray God will prepare you for all that He has prepared you for.”
  • Practice: work out the rough spots; even the world knows that practice is vital, i.e., ball teams, marching bands, orchestras and symphonies.  Michael Angelo:  “Trifles make perfection and perfection is no trifle.”
  • Plan.  Plan your work and work your plan, giving attention to details, knowing what, when and where and how you will be serving, keeping always a measure of flexibility in your mental and spiritual reservoir.
  • Produce with all your body, soul, mind and strength, give it 100%
  • Please the Lord, for it is Him that we are striving to honor, and it is Him that will be our Judge and whose nod of approval we solely desire.

Let us, therefore, confess our mediocrity and by His grace and with His enablement forsake it.  Ask your Heavenly Father to make you a Christian of an uncommon caliber and your church a church that is not known for its mediocrity.

“Every work for Jesus will be blest; but He asks of everyone his best.
Our talents may be few—these may be small,
But unto Him is due our best, our all.”

And whatsoever ye do in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.” (Col.3:17)

The Too Much With Us World

The world in which we live is under a divine curse and its days are numbered.  By world, I do not mean the earth, though it too will one day be destroyed by fire as it once was by water, but by world I mean the cosmos of which every living being is a part:  the political, religious, educational, cultural, socio-economic multi-faceted existence as we know it on planet earth.  It is simply called “the world,” and the aged Apostle declared that it is passing away, with all of its lust (desires); and in the light of the brevity of life and the fleeting nature of the cursed cosmos, John the beloved says we should not, as believers, be in love with this waning world.

Yet, it’s a challenge, daily, moment by moment, not to be!  Its sometimes-dazzling sights and sounds, its intoxicating allurements, its heady heights of pleasure, popularity and power are a constant pull upon the “flesh” that is common to all the offspring of Adam.

None of us can live aloof from the power of the pull of the cosmos. Eve, deceived by the Serpent, first opened the door to it when she saw and ate of a tree “desired to make one wise.”  Jesus was subject to severe satanic solicitations appealing to the lust of the flesh, the pride of life and the lust of the eyes having been led of the Holy Spirit into the wilderness where our Lord fasted 40 days and 40 nights before quoting three Old Testament passages to ward off the Devil and his deviant deceptions designed to do to Jesus what he succeeded in doing to our first parents in the garden.  He failed of course, for Jesus is God and though the temptation through these three avenues, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life in which He was tempted in all points like as we are yet remaining without sin, was valid and the test was real, Jesus could not have yielded to lust for His blood was sinless and His nature was divine for He was God in flesh.

Ours is neither (sinless, divine) thus the warning “Flee youthful lusts.” (2 Tim. 2:22).  So, D.L. Moody, great evangelist of yesteryear who shook two continents for Christ with his thunderous preaching of God’s Word said, “The churches are full of men and women who have no power at all.  Where did they lose it?  It was when they formed an alliance with the world.  I would rather be alone with God than be with the whole world.”

Wm Wordsworth, American poet: “The world is too much with us:  late and soon; getting and spending, we lay waste our power.”

And, speaking of our relationship with the world system in which we live and move, the late Bible teacher J. Vernon McGee wrote: “We do not become pilgrims until we become strangers.” (Hebrews 11:13-16)

C.H. Spurgeon: “Most of us are vastly inferior to the early Christians, who, as I take it, were persecuted because they were thoroughly Christians.  We are not persecuted because we are hardly Christians (in practice) at all.”  In other words, Spurgeon, speaking 150 years ago, was saying that professing Christians of his day were enjoying far too much a love affair with the world, against which John the Apostle warned in I John 2:15-17.  If that were true in the latter part of the 19th century, how much more so today!

T.S. Eliot, world renowned poet who professed orthodox Christianity in the latter part of his life, wrote in “Men Who Turn From God:”

“O weariness of men who turn from God to the grandeur of your mind and the glory of your actions, to arts and inventions and daring enterprises, to schemes and human greatness thoroughly discredited, binding the earth and water to your service, exploiting the seas and developing the mountains, dividing the stars to common and preferred, engaged in devising the perfect refrigerator, engaged in working out a rational morality, engaged in printing as many books as possible, plotting the happiness and flinging empty bottles, turning from your vacancy to fevered enthusiasm for nation or race or what you call humanity; though you forget the way to the Temple, there is One who remembers the way to your door: life you may evade, but Death you shall not.  You shall not deny the Stranger.”

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.  And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.”  (I John 2:16,17)

An Example You Should Do

He quietly said to me, “Pastor, I saw something that would make a good message for our Church sign:  ‘Jesus knows me, this I love.’”  And with that, a broad smile and pleasant chuckle,   I gave John a thumbs up and we both agreed it was a winner.  He went his way and I mine as I recalled the chorus we sang as children and then taught to our children and theirs, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”  Yes, that would make a good sign message for the thousands who drive by our church, located on a busy thorough fare, each week.

But then, as John went on this way, on and off that day and the next couple of days, I thought about John himself, a father of five and married to Joyce, a family that joined the church I had taken the pastoral reins of back in 1979 just about the same time that my family and I had moved to Indianapolis in September of that year.  In fact, if my memory does not fail me, Joyce was in the hospital giving birth to their fifth child while I was preaching my inaugural message in the pulpit of TRBC.  They were there 40 years later, just the two of them as their children all had married and moved away, on my last Sunday as senior pastor of this great church, bidding me farewell, and more than a year later they are still here where I am now serving as Pastor Emeritus, working out of an office that is very commodious yet off the beaten path.  It was there that John caught up with me the other day to share the sign message with me.  He did not put that message up then, but probably will do so, just like he has done with hundreds of messages in the 20 years that he has faithfully been doing the same.

Along with that, John has taught an adult Sunday school class and, before suffering severe hearing loss, he sang, accompanying himself on his guitar.  His wife has served in many different areas of our church ministry over the years, and they are precisely the couple any pastor would cherish to  have as co-laborers in ministry.  They have always been prayerfully supportive of the church and of my ministry; and, as many pastors who read this will identify with, they are “family.”  I could only wish that every pastor would be so blessed as to have a John and Joyce as members and I am convinced that if you are a pastor and have been shepherd of the same church for more than five years, you have been so blessed with at least one or more such couples. Humbly, and to God be the glory, God has led and joined with us scores of such couples over the course of the forty years I pastored this church, people who served so faithfully, so humbly and sacrificially, unseen often and unsung, but “salt of the earth” people without which no church could function well.  I am singling out John and Joyce and I would like to tell the story of each of those other servants of Christ and hope to do so in time as I have opportunity.  Every Christmas Joyce baked some homemade cookies that were her signature gifts to the pastors and other people of the church.  They were always delicious and a mental picture of that plate of cookies baked in the warmth of a kind Christian household with a heart and hands of love, will always trigger a precious memory of a couple who embodied the spirit of Christ who, Paul said, taught that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

And, speaking of John and Joyce, I am grateful to our Lord who taught us to serve and led by example.  After the Last Supper with His disciples in the Upper Room, Jesus laid aside His garments, took a towel and knelt down to wash His disciples’ feet, overriding the protest of Peter, saying that what He was doing is what they needed to learn to do: “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:15).  Paul would later exhort Corinthian Christians that they should “Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (I Cor. 4:1)  That was a nice way of saying, we are servants of Christ, or plainly, “slaves.”  D.L. Moody once said that “the measure of a man’s greatness is not how many servants he has, but how many men he serves.”  Albert Sweitzer:  “I don’t know your destiny, but I know one thing:  the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”

Moses, servant of God, spent 40 years in the palace of Pharaoh learning how to be a somebody; then 40 years in a desert learning how to be a nobody and, finally, in the third 40 years he learned what God could do with a somebody who had learned how to be a nobody.  (Moody)

May we all aspire to be His servants, knowing that when we have done all that we have been commanded to do, we are “unprofitable servants.” (Luke 17:10)

“That man is great and he alone, who serves a greatness not his own for neither praise nor pelf, content to know and be unknown, whole in himself.” (anon)