Lisa’s Story

I’ll just call her Lisa since that is her real name and since she gave me permission to do so. Ellen and I first met this special lady about 7 years ago when, after she and her husband, Dirk, had visited a church service at Thompson Road Baptist Church, having accepted the invitation to attend that one of our deacons had extended to them.

They lived in a modest house on Indy’s near southside, just two or three miles from our church. Lisa had been blind for many years and she and Dirk had been married, before he passed away, twenty-two years. They were not alone as, when one knocked on the door, a beautiful black dog, rather large, but never noisy, would come wagging its tail as if to say, “come on in.” We did, passing through the kitchen on into the living room where Lisa was sitting in her favorite spot on a couch, near her media equipment that enabled her, though blind, to converse on a phone and to send and receive emails.  Dirk would be found comfortably stationed in his favorite chair, and we were cordially invited to be seated on another smaller couch by a coffee table.  We were asked if we’d like a cup of coffee which, as I recall, I declined with a “No thank you,” but would on subsequent visits always answer, “Yes, please.”

Our first visit was interesting if a bit shaky. Lisa was diagnosed with blood cancer in 2015 and had been fighting it with various forms of treatment. We heard from her own perspective the battle that she had been fighting and had early on been given one to three years to live.  That is about the time we met Lisa and Dirk and she, having been saved at an early age in life, knew enough to reach out to God knowing that even the best of doctors and modern medicines would be to no avail if God were not guiding her health care with His unseen hand. We of course prayed for Lisa, beseeching God for His gracious intervention and asking, if it would please Him to, with or without the best of medical treatment, heal her. Our church had been alerted to pray also and special prayers were sent up to the throne of grace.  The doctors planned and proceeded with a bone marrow transplant, acknowledging that even if it did at first appear successful the cancer could return at any time.  That was in August of 2017 and Lisa remains cancer free today.

Lisa is a pleasant person. Her face is graced with a soft smile that connotes caring. Her marriage to Dirk was her first, his third. One would never pick them out of a crowd as a couple. He was all things mechanic, kind of rough around the edges, but he had thrived on hard work, mastering machinery and fighting back by returning deft blows in his battle in life’s school of hard knocks. He did not expect any handouts, was a patient and loving caregiver for his disabled wife who had been herself thrown into the ring do to battle with a deadly blood disease.

As the preacher and his wife sat on the couch that first visit, Lisa listened quietly as Dirk and I began to communicate about “You and God.” He had a lot of questions which merely conveyed an honest skepticism about spiritual matters.  He had never been a person of faith and though well read, especially in matters of religion, he had not embraced Christ nor any belief system. He was not antagonistic, but certainly not eager to receive anything said at face value.  He was polite but firm in his agnosticism. It was a challenging and, for this preacher, exciting exchange between one person who was saved, settled and satisfied and another who would best be described as seeking and sincere.  It would be the first of several such visits before Dirk, the host who would demonstrate more hospitality with every visit so that on one such occasion he pulled out of his freezer a loaf of his homemade fruit cake, soaked in rum, to send home with us to enjoy at Christmas, would acknowledge and accept Jesus Christ as his personal Savior.  Lisa would later tell me that Dirk loved reading the Bible and loved reading it to her.

God answered prayed for our friend, Lisa, and she is still alive. She had never been baptized after having accepted Christ as a child, so it was her desire and my intent that we would have a special baptismal service for this dear lady. Because of the fragility of her health and the tenuous logistics of getting her into a baptismal tank and out again, the plan was abandoned, but there was little doubt that her heart’s desire was to publicly confess Christ as Lord. She had been given 1-3 years to live and seven or eight years later she still has a life in her peaceful place on Indy’s southside, but her beautiful black canine, whose name was Raven, has since died; and her devoted husband who lived to see that Lisa was cared for, passed into eternity, not long after we first met Lisa and Dirk, in the early morning hours not yet daylight, having fought a gallant fight, slipping from life here to life in heaven where the Son light of Jesus’ presence was without doubt a welcoming sight to a man to whom life had served up some daunting challenges.  Dirk, who was thought to be healthy and strong when Lisa received her cancer diagnosis, was gone and Lisa still lives.

It was just a couple of weeks ago that Lisa reached out to us having heard that I now have a cancer similar to the one that she so far has survived. I have been retired since 2019 and even before then because of transportation and health issues Lisa had not been able to attend our church; so Ellen and I had lost touch with her though she has been in our thoughts often. It was so good to hear from this friend and to recall and recount the goodness of God to her through prayer, patient waiting, faith; and skilled doctors who with modern medicines, working as God’s instruments to bring about His will through intercessory prayer, have been able to stretch her life well past the 1-3 years.  I knew at the time and I am sure even now, Lisa would attribute her healing and health successes to God’s answers of prayers

Just another unusual twist on Life’s Pilgrim journey. I am glad that we got to meet this special couple and their dog Raven.  We always felt welcomed. Dirk made his peace with God in time and the love of his life, Lisa, lives on in her quiet world where she is never alone as she communes with God and her circle of family and friends. Just another chapter in the lives of this pastor and his wife, whose lives have been ceaselessly enriched over the past 50 years of ministry, privileged to have known, served and loved the Lisas and Dirks through whom God has mercifully blessed their lives.

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared unto all men.” (Tit.2:11)

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

The Heart of the Matter

We are living in a power point age, so imagine with me that in one 24-hour period you were able to construct a power point that visually displayed everything you did in that time frame.  Were that possible, it would no doubt reveal how you had spent the day, indicating probably where your special interests were, what you spent any leisure time doing, how much TV you watched; time spent in spiritual enrichment (prayer, Bible reading, etc.); how many minutes or hours you spent on social media or on “the screen,” and so much more.  Aren’t you glad that assignment is, as of today, not in the realm of possibility?  Don’t assume that it will never be possible should time last.

Anyway, what is vitally important for each of us to know is that God doesn’t need a power point presentation to view your day or mine at any moment.  He has all knowledge and not a single moment, not an iota of disgust, not a word of thanksgiving, not a special compartment reserved for “self” where we can engage in lustful, covetous, bitter, angry, dark, deadening thoughts, desires, dreams escape Him. God knows it all; He sees it all and the Bible says that “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.” (2 Chron. 16:9)

That statement, delivered from God through an Old Testament mouthpiece for God to one of Judah’s kings should give us all “cause for pause.” God is looking, looking, looking. He is out to find a person who has a perfect heart. But wait, before you say “that lets me out; I am NOT perfect and knowing myself I will never be perfect so will never qualify as a person to whom God will shew Himself strong.”

The good news is that “perfect” here and elsewhere in Scripture does not mean “flawless!” Our relationship to Adam sealed the fact that no one of us is perfect in the sense of without any imperfection.  We are all sinners; we are “damaged goods,” by virtue of our humanity; and even the new birth, which results in our becoming instantly a “new creation” in Christ does not mean that our old nature, which is totally corrupted by sin, has been eradicated.  Salvation by grace through faith means that we have now a new nature, with the indwelling Holy Spirit and the enlightening Word of God, and the ability to “walk in the Spirit” so that we now are not bound to “walk in the flesh” (Gal.5:16-18) and we can be all that God wants us to be, i.e., a full grown, mature, Christian who is learning what Jesus meant when He said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48).  We ever strive to be like Him, knowing that we will never in our flesh here on earth reach a sinlessness; but we can and will strive to be perfect in the sense that, having desired the sincere milk of the Word (I Pet. 2:1,2) we have grown into spiritual maturity so that we are able to skillfully read and apply God’s Word, discerning between good and evil, right and wrong, and sensing, by His Spirit’s confirmation in our heart, that we have reached some level of spiritual maturing and are pressing on to be even more adept in the use of God’s Word. (Hebrews 5:11-14)

Take heart, dear friend, you can be spiritually mature and a person of whom God would say, “that child of mine has a perfect heart.” Hezekiah, an Old Testament king who had faithfully served God, leading God’s people to spiritual revival, was stunned when Isaiah came to him and told him that he needed to get his house in order for God’s plan was to call him to his eternal home!  Not what this fairly young, spiritually devoted and in every way successful king had expected to hear, causing him to remonstrate, “I have walked before Thee in truth and with a perfect heart.” (2 Kings 20:3).  Could we have said the same yesterday had God made it plain to us that we needed to get our house in order? Read Isaiah 38-39 for the rest of that story. 

David, a man after God’s own heart, vowed, “I will behave myself in a perfect way. O when wilt thou come unto me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.” (Ps.101:2) If I am walking before God with a perfect heart, I will be in private what I am in public.  I will conduct myself in a way that will please God even when there is not another human being (Dad, Mom, Pastor, Spouse) to observe what I am doing and how. David was a flawed, broken person in many ways as we read the Biblical account of his life and labors, but he could also say, at least at one time and surely more than one, that he was behaving himself in a perfect way. God commanded it in Deut. 18:13: “Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God.”  David was given over to obeying God’s commands.

David had no doubt instilled this character trait into young Solomon’s heart who would when he had ascended to Israel’s throne challenge his people, “Let your heart therefore be perfect with the Lord our God, to walk in His statutes, and to keep His commandments as at this day.” (I Kings 8:61) A more careful study of the context of this verse will reveal that those whose hearts are perfect will confess that God had never failed to keep one of His promises (v.56); that He would never leave them nor forsake them (v.57) and that He would maintain the cause of His servant and His people at all times (v.59).

Back to Solomon’s father, David, the king. In I Chr. 29:9, after David had instructed the Israelites that it would be his son’s task to build the temple for God, something that David had longed to do; and after David carefully rehearsed how God had instructed him to have it built and then enabled him to give an almost incalculable sum of gold and silver and other precious things that would be required, we read in verse 9 that “Then the people rejoiced, for…with a perfect heart they offered willingly to the Lord, and David the king also rejoiced with great joy.” Walking with a perfect heart will bring rejoicing not only to you, but to family and friends with whom you associate.  It brings joy!

We need more of that do we not?  Heart felt rejoicing.  The key:  work and worship willingly with a perfect heart.  C.T. Studd, a great missionary servant of Christ in the 19th century, said, “The difficulty is to believe that God can deign to use such scallywags as us, but of course He wants Faith and Fools rather than talents and culture.  All God wants is a heart, any old turnip will do for a head; so long as we are empty, all is well, for then He can fill us with the Holy Ghost.”

A new heart also will I give you and a new spirit will I put within you….” (Ezek.36:26)

To Have and to Hold

There was a wedding a week ago Saturday, at Thompson Road Baptist Church. Pastor Joel Stevens officiated and the bride and groom exchanged their vows in a beautiful double ring ceremony witnessed by maybe 125 people on a late winter/early spring day here in south central Indiana that brought cardinals and robins out of their winter nesting places. But, the wedding…

Because the bride’s father was deceased, and because Ellen and I had the privilege of leading this couple in Bible studies and discipleship sessions for several months, the bride asked me if I would walk her down the aisle and “give her hand” in marriage to the waiting groom. Of course, that was an honor and I was able to do so proudly, responding to the Pastor’s question “Who giveth this woman to this man?” with an “On behalf of her father and mother, I do.” I then took a near to front row seat with Ellen to watch the rest of the ceremony. But this is not the story.

As the couple, having joined hands at the altar, ascended onto the platform, it was difficult not to notice that there was not your typical wedding party with bridesmaids and groomsmen attending the bride and groom.  It was the pastor, the beautiful bride and the dazzling groom, with a pianist.  But that is not the story.

The pastor, having greeted the guests on behalf of the couple, in his opening remarks mentioned that in his counseling and communication with the bride and groom, he had asked them if there were any verses special to them that they would like him to incorporate into the ceremony. They replied no special verses but not less than 70 verses, total.  I heard that and figured it was an exaggeration, but as the pastor proceeded with passage after passage, verse after verse, I lost count and concluded that there must have been considerably more than 70, all appropriate and part of the pastor’s challenge to the bride and groom. But that is not the story.

Moving on through the ceremony, the couple having exchanged rings, at the direction of Pastor Stevens, each read a statement to the other, expressing their dreams, desires and decisions that were in their hearts as they looked to the future with hope, trusting the never-failing grace and guidance of their Heavenly Father who had brought them this far. The “vows” were heart-rending, profound, Christ exalting and tenderly touching, spoken often through tears and or a quivering voice.  But that, though, is still not the story.

The story that I want to share about this wedding and this couple is the backstory, briefly, that preceded the events of February 26, 2022:

His:  The groom was reared in a home where there was little thought given to “religion,” “church” or spiritual matters. He became pretty self-sufficient and independent, giving little or no thought to God, attending and graduating from college with a full-ride scholarship having majored in mechanical engineering and living by the motto “If it’s so to be, it’s up to me.” He met Truth at a Christian retreat in the fall of 2018 when his life was transformed by the Lord Jesus Christ. A friend was instrumental in inviting him and sponsoring his attendance.

Hers:  The Bride grew up in an Indiana home where there was seldom any mention of God and no encouragement on the part of either parent to seek after God, not wanting to “influence” their children in one direction or another. Her father died when she was thirteen and it drove her away from wanting to know God if indeed there was one. She had some tough teen years, then attended college for two years in northern Indiana majoring in chemical engineering before transferring and finishing at IU majoring in Dietetics. Her college years were at best “turbulent” and typically filled with hedonistic living even though in 2011 at the age of 19 she had married (1st time) the groom who then was 21. Neither of them had any spiritual foundation upon which to build a life, much less a home. Her personal assessment of her life at that point (she had a believing sister who had been praying for her and had witnessed to her for over ten years) in her own words: “My time at Indiana University was tumultuous and damaging to my spiritual well-being. It brought devastation to my relationship with my husband…I was consumed with feminism and defying God’s natural order of the world. I denied submission to authority (God) and to my husband.”

In 2019, her husband who had gotten saved on an intense weekend spiritual retreat in the fall of 2018, though pretty much a confirmed atheist at the beginning of that life-changing weekend, convinced his wife to attend a similar retreat for ladies, paying her way.  Guess what?  Away from all of the sights and sounds of society, the young lady now in her mid-twenties, (who once wrote “I was already convinced…that God was not real…I found the Bible confusing and unclear…there seemed to be contradictions and verses I found down right offensive. In my bitterness and hard-heartedness…I was convinced…I didn’t need a savior anyway”) was about to have the experience her own life-transforming weekend when, she, like her husband, found that peace with God made all the difference and that He would and could save her; she left the retreat a new creation too, with grace and forgiveness flooding her soul. Again, in her own words, “God worked in my heart that weekend and blessed me with the Holy Spirit. He offered me the gift of salvation and repentance. I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart as my Lord and Savior. I decided to publicly profess my faith by being baptized through water immersion…It was the turning point for me in my life. It was the beginning of life and a revelation of truth…there is still so much I need to learn.” The wheels for divorce had already been set in motion before the two had come to Christ and they were not yet strong enough to reverse that forward motion so the divorce was finalized. She goes on to relate that over the next couple of years the two divorcees began to search for a church. God eventually led them to Thompson Road Baptist Church where, having been reconciled to God through faith and to each other through forgiveness and grace, they were united as a married couple complete in Christ a week ago Saturday in a beautiful ceremony, leaving to begin anew their journey hand in hand, heart to heart, promising that for the rest of their days upon earth they will be committed to Christ and also to each other, to “have and to hold.”

And that, my friends, is the story.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge….” Provs. 1:7 (A verse that the new bride is immersing herself in through meditation)

“And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward: not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.” (2 Cor. 3:4.5)

To Ukraine with Love

Like yours, my heart is breaking over the travesty and tragic turn of events that the wonderful people of Ukraine are now suffering through. It is unspeakable and, as millions of God’s people worldwide, we are praying that God, who holds the hearts of kings in His hands, in ways known and knowable only to Him, will turn the table upon the mass murderer’s own head and deliver these precious people from what appears to be certain death or bondage.

Pastors who had been in prison for their faith along with Natasha Vins

I have in my mind memories that are flooding my soul of a trip, led by Natasha Vins, daughter of Georgi Vins, a Russian pastor who spent many years in a Siberian prison for his faith. Before being exiled to the United States in 1979 when then President Jimmy Carter swapped some Russian spies who were being held here for five “dissidents” that the Russians were holding captive, one of which was Georgi Vins. He was flown from his prison cell in Siberia and given a chance to remain in Russia if he would renounce Christ; Vins could never do that of course.  Read the rest of his compelling story for blessings that will stir your soul. The year that Evangelist Ed Nelson and I and a few laymen made our trip to Russia (Ukraine was then considered Russia) was just as the “Iron Curtain” was falling, thanks to the strength of President Ronald Reagan’s leadership and his influence on the then Premier of Russia, Mikhail Gorbachev. The year was 1989. We were among the first of a future host of westerners who made the trip to the soon to be former Soviet Union states.  Among the cities we worshipped with Russian believers in were Moscow, Kyiv, Kharkiv, Rostov on Don and Leningrad (St. Petersburg). It was, for this 47-year-old pastor who had grown up in Ottumwa, Iowa, a dream come true as I had prayed for the release of Georgi Vins for some time and was now on a trip to Russia with his daughter as our interpreter/guide.

Church service in Leningrad

 I am going to just quote from notes that I have saved which I jotted down in a journal day by day when on this trip. It was in early June of 1989 and the weather was beautiful and what I remember of Ukraine especially was that the people were friendly (more than in Moscow) and we enjoyed very much giving them gospel literature on the streets and interacting with them.  They were much more receptive to receiving our tracts than the people in most any major U.S. city would have been at that time.

Crowd at train station in Kharkiv

Wednesday, May 31:  Arrived in Moscow and took taxi from Airport to the hotel and saw a huge billboard that read “In God We Trust.” Visited one of Moscow’s finest super markets and viewed our surroundings and concluded that a NYU professor that we met there and visited briefly with was spot on when he said, “Things here are 20-30 years behind what we have in America.”

Wednesday, May 31: our 1st church service in an apartment where 40-50 people were packed into a small living room; service began at 7:00 p.m. and concluded at 10:00 p.m.

Thursday afternoon, June 1, had another meeting with 30-40 believers and enjoyed a meal of sausage, cheese, salad and some Russian candy.

Friday, June 2, to Kyiv where we found the folk on the street more friendly to what some have called “Ugly Americans.” We met about 20 minutes out of Kyiv in a pole barn with 2×6 benches; 100 were present, began at 7 p.m. and done at 10:00 p.m. Children, quiet and well mannered, sat in the front; we sang, with the Kyiv Christians, “What a Friend,” “How Great Thou Art,” and “The Old Rugged Cross.” There was lots of music, but notably, most was sung in a “minor” key. We had a Saturday morning meeting with 8-10 preacher boys and Dr. Ed Nelson spoke on “Interpreting Scripture,” and “Sermon Preparation.” We were asked questions on the Charismatic Movement and on what kind of music we have.  In a Saturday p.m. service, we met with 150 in attendance and Sunday, June 4, our service began at 11:00 a.m. and concluded at 3:30 p.m. Some of the town authorities were in attendance at this meeting. One woman, a cousin of Pastor Vins, publicly confessed Christ as Savior. We participated in a communion service with these Ukrainian believers; there was one common cup and I am not sure what the fruit of the vine was that went down my throat as I drank “in remembrance of Him,” but I can attest that it “burned” all the way down!

Sunday p.m., June 4:  We met at the edge of a forest with believers and had a question-and-answer session with them; they asked about the “New Age” movement and also about how our churches practice “church discipline.” We all sang, “God Be with You till We Meet Again,” the pastor read I Thess. 3:7-10 and asked us to take this back to our churches. It was a meeting where logs served as benches and where people walked to get to the meeting place; one of those moments melded into the memory of one’s mind; unforgettable.

Monday p.m., June 5 we were taken to the train station to depart for Kharkiv; about 100 people had gathered there to see us off, giving to each of us a beautiful bouquet of flowers and singing “What A Friend We Have in Jesus.” It was a tearful farewell and I later would journal “As I lay in a bunk thinking of Kyiv, I know I want to return. We gave out hundreds of tracts on the streets where people were more receptive to receiving Gospel literature than we had experienced anywhere in our own beloved country.”

Tuesday, June 6, Kharkiv: We met with 350 people in a pole barn outside of the city; a choir of about 30 people sang beautifully; three women professed Christ publicly as their Savior; here I experienced for the first time that in their services men do literally greet men with a holy kiss, and that not on the cheeks, but lips to lips. I prayed for special grace!

Wednesday, June 7 we met with 7 or 8 pastors, most of whom had served time in prison for their faith, including one dear man of God who had been imprisoned for 34 years; deep furrows of hardship and suffering had been plowed onto the faces of these 20th century heroes of the faith and never has a pastor felt more unworthy to stand alongside of these stalwarts than this preacher did that beautiful day in Kharkiv. We had an afternoon meeting with 200 people gathered in a back yard under a shade tree; a brass ensemble played 2 or 3 hymns and a choir sang and Pastor Nelson spoke; then that evening we departed by train for Rostov, but not before saying goodbye to about 200-300 people who had gathered there to bid us farewell again with beautiful bouquets of flowers. Never has one felt so humbled; so undeserving as we were treated like celebrities by people who had suffered in prison for their love of Christ.

The remainder of the 10- or 11-day trip was pretty much the same.  Most every pastor we met on this tour said that they believed the freedoms that they were then enjoying would be short lived. Of course, they have been proven to be correct in that assessment. Evangelist Neil Cadwell made a similar trip to Ukraine about a year after we were there and he simply fell in love with the people, came home and founded the Slavic Baptist Institute making hundreds of trips to Ukraine, training pastors and Christian workers, both men and women, for ministry. Block courses were taught by pastors from the states who would teach subjects designed to fill a deep vacuum of specialized ministry training that these believers had been denied. Hundreds of pastors and teachers were sent out to start churches all over Ukraine, Belarus and other surrounding nations.  Bro. Rick Arrowood is the President of Slavic Baptist Mission now (rickarrowood@slavicbaptistmission.org). The bunk bed prayer that I had prayed 15 years earlier wishing to one day return to the beautiful country of Ukraine was answered when it was my privilege to assist Bro. Cadwell in two trips back to contribute in the teaching of his Bible Institute sessions; again, a life changing experience for which I will ever be grateful.

Pastor, Priest and Providence

Recently, I had an experience during an hour-long flight from Indianapolis to Charlotte that I could have only dreamed of that I’d like to share with you. It was another of the myriad of moments in one’s life of the providential working of God in arranging divine appointments for His own:

Ellen and I had just gotten settled into our assigned seats when a young, tall and slender gentleman, dressed in the attire of a Catholic priest, sat down in the aisle seat that was vacant beside me. He had barely gotten into his seat before I said, “Hi, are you a Friar or a priest?”  I guess I thought he was a Friar (though I really did not know for sure what a Friar was) because of his white outer garment, and he replied that he was a priest. From that first exchange for one hour until we landed in Charlotte, the priest and the pastor communicated continuously with each other, tackling the whole gamut of theological issues, both practical and Biblical.  We talked about translations, inspiration, the Reformation and Martin Luther, about the great commission, about mass, preaching, the confessional booth, Catholic history and the beginning of the church. He was very transparent, did not have a “know it all” attitude, was polite, engaging and interested in what I believed and why.  It was a totally two-way exchange and when it was all over, I paused to pray, thanking God for His providentially placing the two of us together.

He was off the plane quite a while before Ellen and I could gather up our things and make it to the concourse, and I was surprised to see him waiting there until we made it to where he was.  We both had connecting flights to get to so I figured that he was gone as we had pretty much said farewell to each other upon landing.  But there he was, waiting patiently for us to ask us our name, thank me for the conversation and to in turn give us his name. He was kind and considerate of a couple of old folks and we were glad to be able to get his name with the hope of continuing our dialogue via the internet. I had, of course, shared with him that I had pastored in Indy a Baptist Church for 40 years. During the conversation I was able to share how the Baptists became known as Baptists and that our spiritual heritage predated the Reformation though we were not always called Baptists but were part of the “anabaptists” during the time of the Reformation, a label put upon those who rejected infant baptism and tenaciously held to baptism of believers by immersion and that “anabaptists” was what we were called in derision by the Reformers.

At one point in our hour-long conversation, I had mentioned that I had just been diagnosed with myeloma. It was an incidental piece of information and he expressed his empathy for my health situation and our conversing was off on another path.  But later as we talked, I said to the young priest, “So, I am a member of your parish and I have just learned that I have cancer that will, sooner or later, claim my life. I come to you and ask, ‘I am dying of cancer and I want to make sure that I am ready to meet God.’ What would your answer be?”

He paused for a brief while then, as best that I can recall, said something to the effect that he would assure me that God is love and that God loves me.  He referred to I John 4 and alluded to John 3:16, but did not expand on either of those passages and gave no clear answer to the question. I was able to share with him the testimony of a member of our church who was reared in a strict Catholic home, believing in God from his youth and as best that he knew trusting in Jesus, yet never growing in his faith or grace just because of lack of teaching. One day this devoutly reared Catholic visited his priest with some basic questions and was rebuffed and summarily dismissed by the priest.  Undaunted in his quest for a personal relationship with God, he continued to read the Bible, searching the scriptures, desiring to know more of God and coming to know Christ personally in his own home with his own open Bible that he was earnestly reading and rereading. One day, someone told him he should visit Thompson Road Baptist Church.  He did and he has attended faithfully for years with his wife, also a Catholic by birth, but a believer by the New Birth.

Back to my new found friend. I just today listened to an interview that another priest conducted with this young Dominican priest just before he was going to be ordained a “deacon” in May of 2020. It was an extensive interview in which he was asked a variety of questions and he did most of the talking, sharing how and when he made the decision to enter the priesthood and unfolding the journey of seven years that he was finishing up. It was interesting and compelling and I also listened to a brief homily that he had given from a passage in Amos. I don’t think any honest, fair-minded person who had listened to this young man share his heart would think he was anything but genuine. Often, after such an experience, one asks “Do you think he/she is really saved?” Well, only God knows that of course. I do think many Catholics have responded to the light that they have been exposed to and no doubt many who have simply put their trust in Jesus will be saved. The danger, of course, is that they are trusting their being a member of the Catholic Church or trusting in their participation weekly, or even daily, in the mass which is in their thinking the pinnacle of the practicing of their Catholic faith. Some, though, in spite of the system, will be, in my thinking, in heaven because they have trusted in Jesus as Savior.

I have lots more to share, but I must wrap this up. Please pray with me for this young man. I really believe he is open to truth. He asked me some serious questions and was attentive and engaging with his responses to what I was explaining.  I hope I can share more of our future dialogue in another installment of “You and God,” and, in the meantime, let us all be alert for an opportunity to respond to a providential meeting, arranged for us by God as He did when the pastor and the priest opened their hearts one to another, over an open Bible, high above the earth one beautiful winter morning.

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” (I Pet.3:15)

Shaken Saint Syndrome, Part 2

In my first full-time pastorate in Wichita, Kansas, a thirteen-year-old boy, with life’s dreams looming large on his youthful horizon, died after a brief bout with cancer. His faithful father and mother had to have been shaken to the core of their being; but as this young fresh out of seminary and not yet 30 years of age pastor tried in the best way, he knew how to minister hope and help to them through God’s eternal Word, if they were shaken, they remained steadfast in their faith and in fact it was the mother and father who ministered, mostly, I now know, to the pastor, not vice versa.  In that same assembly, a dear mother was stricken with cancer and she implored the Lord to let her live until her children were out of high school.  Her prayer was answered and when what she had requested had been fulfilled, God called her home. Those are two incidents, of scores and scores, that flood the memory folds of this pastor’s mind as I recall how God has worked in so many ways in so many lives of dear ones whose lives, along with their family and friends, have been shaken in the storms of life. None probably like Job’s life was shaken, or the Apostle Paul as he catalogues his upheavals in 2 Cor.11, but no less shaken in the individual and unique ways orchestrated by a loving heavenly Father, the God of all comfort, enabling His children to be stronger in faith and mightier in spirit as we move ever onward toward our “graduation” day, and an abundant entrance into His presence. This post will outline briefly Job’s observations of what he went through on the day and on the days after he had been shaken to the core. Of necessity I will give you this in outline form and encourage you to read the full story in Job 16 and grow in grace through it.

  1. The source of our “shaking,” is God, v. 11,12: “God hath delivered me to the ungodly, and turned me over into the hands of the wicked; I was at ease, but He hath broken me asunder….” God allowed the Adversary, Satan, to execute the shaking, but God alone was the engineer, allowing it but for His divine purposes for “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purposes.” Romans 8:28 John the Baptist was beheaded; Paul was in chains and a whole lot more (2 Cor.11); Peter according to tradition was crucified upside down; Stephen was stoned to death; Elijah despaired of his very life and so on and on. But the God who allowed all of this to come upon His choice servants is the God of whom Paul wrote when in 2 Cor. 4:7,8 we read: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed but not in despair.”
  • Note the suddenness of the shaking: “I was at ease….” v. 12 Life can be going very well and after a routine trip to a doctor and a visit next door to the lab it can take a cruel turn. You may find yourself totally if temporarily in shock; you have recited verses to your friends and prayed with them when they had similar “worse days of their lives,” but now it has come to your house.  A wife leaves with only a note that she is “through with this marriage.” A wayward child disappears from off the face of the map only to break your heart when you hear of the relationship that son/daughter is cultivating with a “partner.” A teenage daughter through her public school arranges for an abortion when she learns of her pregnancy and it all happens before you are even aware of what is going on; etc., etc. Life.  The suddenness of those pesky potholes or in more cases those deadly detours.
  • The severity of it, v. 12: “…He hath also taken me by my neck, and shaken me to pieces, and set me up for His mark.” Those were the words of a man who had walked in intimacy with God, Job 1:1. He was not sinless but he eschewed evil. Job acknowledged on his worse day as he fell down upon the ground and worshipped God that “the Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:20,21 Yet, there came a day when he would cry out that God had taken him by the neck and shaken him to pieces. It had touched every fiber of his being, body, soul and spirit.
  • The Saint: Job responded to this bleak assessment by donning sackcloth and ashes and crying out to God. He had searched his soul and concluded that what had happened was “not for any injustice in mine hands…my prayer is pure.” Job 16:17  Yet, he had been taken to the very precipice of death: “…on my eyelids is the shadow of death.” Job 16:16. Through it all, this Old Testament saint of God, without a complete Bible to cling to; without commentaries or devotionals to be buoyed by, affirmed that “Also now, my witness is in heaven, and my record is on high.” Job 16:19 Job was and remained one of God’s saints before, during and after the dark cloud was moved from off his being.
  • Note the saints.  I have commented on the saint in the story, Job; but there were also some saints that were on the scene as there well should have been, but sometimes the saints give counsel that is not saintly, as in Job’s case: “My friends scorn me: but mine eye poureth out tears unto God.” Job 16:21 They had judged Job wrongly with their super pious yet merciless assessment of his suffering. What light the Holy Spirit sheds on this when through the Apostle Paul He said: “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” 2 Cor. 1:3,4  James reminds us wisely that we ought to be “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” James 1:19  I mentioned in part 1 of this 2-part post that we lost to death an eleven-year-old grandson who died at Riley hospital of a ruptured appendix. A dear pastor friend and his wife having heard of our loss, showed up on the day of David’s death and sat with us for an hour. We basically all sat in silence…there were no words. But Ellen and I will never forget that precious hour of comfort that a seasoned pastor with his beloved wife sat at our sides comforting us by their presence. They were saints in deed.  Not Job’s three friends who totally missed it.
  • The solution, v. 21: “O that one might plead for a man with God, as a man pleadeth for his neighbor! When a few years are come, then I shall go away whence I shall not return.” Job 16:21,22  Well, Job got his answer about having someone to plead for him with God and the solution ends on a triumphant note: “For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.” Job 19:25-27 And Job’s confidence has been the confidence of those who are His followers through the ages. Stephen, recognized as the first martyr of the New Testament church that Jesus promised to build, got a standing welcome from the Lord Jesus as he transitioned from this world of shadows into the eternal light of his home in heaven.  “It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus. Life trials will seem so small….”

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38,39

Shaken Saint Syndrome

My life has been without much physical suffering; mental and emotional, plenty; but personally very little as I have visited the sick and suffering for half a century as any pastor who loves his flock would do, offering prayers and support and encouraging words as long as was possible, then comforting their loved ones when death too often would raise its ugly “white” victory flag over another of its victims, then ultimately trudging out to another hole in the ground in a local cemetery where in biblical terminology would bid farewell to our friend, “earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes.” It never got any easier after hundreds of exercises; and the hope of seeing our loved one and friend again, never erased the pain of temporary separation even though it did make it bearable.  My last farewell and funeral was for my sweet sister, Nancy, as she was laid to rest beside her husband’s grave in a beautiful yet silent city of the dead a few blocks from where they spent most all of their adult lives. So, so many others before her, family, friends and flock that 50 years of pastoring bring to my memory that it is like a long, steady march of faces whose personalities live on in my psyche having been painted and put there with an indelible brush of life.

Sometime before and shortly after that trip to Waterloo, Iowa, to memorialize Nancy’s life, I had been dealing with some pain that would not go away.  In fact, at her son’s home, following the service, having gathered for a time of food and fellowship, I fell when leaving the house and hit a thigh very hard on a cement walk. Nothing seemed broken, but after several days of what I thought was a bad bruise was still as sore as the day that I fell. That was in early December (2021). I finally made an appointment with my family doctor who referred me to an orthopedic surgeon who ordered an MRI and then made an appointment for me with a hematologist on the basis of the MRI findings.  All of this eventuated in a diagnosis of multiple myeloma, a cancer in the blood cells that negatively impacts the bones. There is no known cause and no known cure, but aggressive treatment often will control the progression of the cancer and it may for a time go into remission.  My brother-in-law died of this disease after a courageous battle with it for half a dozen years or so, with my sister, Mary Ann, at his side.

I had resigned the full-time pastorate that had occupied me happily for 40 years in September of 2019; then, following a six week visit with Ellen to the Maranatha Village in Sebring, Florida, I assumed the job of interim pastor at the Coatesville Missionary Baptist Church, ministering there for a year until God brought them a fine pastor who is now full-time there and doing a splendid job. It then became my privilege to fill pulpits for pastors who were sick, on vacation or otherwise temporarily away from their pulpit. At the same time, I began writing a biweekly blog called “You and God.” My life was rewarding, the new ministry assignments fulfilling; children and grandchildren were close by and I was not yet 80 and enjoying what I thought was excellent health, taking no meds and losing some weight even through the Covid pandemic.  All was exceeding well, I thought.  Ellen was receiving good check-ups from her cancer doctor and life was all we might have asked for as we rounded the corner for life’s last laps.

Then, the dreaded diagnosis. Which brings me to the subject of this post.  Job could not have had a brighter outlook than what we read of him in Job 1. You recall the details. Wealth, family, great relationship with God, respected in his community, successful. Life was good.  Then, in one hour, on one day, Job’s world literally became unraveled right before his eyes. In Job 14:1, having been visited by three harshly judgmental friends who assessed his losses as divine punishment because of secret sins, Job blurts out, “Man that is born of a woman, is of few days, and full of trouble.” He would further affirm that his three friends were “miserable comforters.” (16:1) And, in Job 16 Job addresses what is happening to him and gives us insight into what happens to many of God’s servants, some to lesser, some to greater degree than what Job endured.

Most any believer can and will identify with something of which Job spake when, in a powerfully painted few paragraphs, Job gives his own version of what was happening. He does not draw a conclusion as to the “why” of it, but he nails the “wherefore,” and comes out on a triumphant note.

Whether your deep affliction is past or present; whether it touched you physically, emotionally or spiritually, or all of the above, you will find, I believe, some help and hope in hearing what Job said about what I am calling the “Shaken Saint Syndrome.” It has or will happen to most every saint of God. It should not overwhelm us and will not blow us away when put into Biblical perspective. There may be a sudden loss of breath, a breath-taking gut punch so to speak when it first confronts you; but you can and will stand through it all. You need not, you must not succumb to drawing unbiblical assessments of what is happening or what has happened to you or to your family member, friend or household of faith fellow pilgrim. So, I will develop this post in my next installment, Lord willing, of “You and God.”

By the way, I have not formulated this post just because of what I have earlier detailed has recently happened to me with an unwelcomed diagnosis. This is a message I preached to myself and to our church the first two Sundays of June in 1998—nine years before our sweet grandson, David, suddenly died of a ruptured appendix, followed by the deaths of Ellen’s father, my mother and father and others, including many of our church family whose ties with us were like those of blood. Stay tuned for the next post of “Shaken Saint Syndrome.”

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Rom.8:18)

“Will You Also Go Away?”

“Burn out, zone out, cop out, drop out” are expressions not unfamiliar to us as they describe a psychological, sociological or spiritual phenomenon not new to the 21st century.

We are living in a stress-ridden world and the toll that stress takes upon today’s citizenry seems to increase, multiply or magnify with each passing current breaking news event.

The business world has long dealt with burn out, when executives become unable to concentrate on their jobs, no longer caring about goals that have been set, ceasing to be bothered by mistakes, missing deadlines and generally unproductive.  It’s known as burn out.

Marriages are also plagued with the spiritual and sociological problems of marital relationships becoming “hum-drum,” the glamor and luster of the union becoming dull and weighed down with financial, family and other cares, resulting eventually in a home that is on the rocks.

Even those in ministry have not escaped. Pastors and once committed ministry personnel have begun to leave the ministry in droves. The early 21 century C-19 pandemic exacerbated a problem that had been latently brewing so that one source reported that nearly 50% of those in ministry early on during the C-19 Virus pandemic would not be in ministry by the time it had peaked and generally dissipated. That is an alarming projection.

Saddest of all, I think, is that the Church, His Body of blood-bought believers, has also experienced drop out, cop out or zone out on the part of many members or former participants.

The Pew Research organization recently reported that 65% of the U.S. Population self-identified in 2021 as Christians. In 2007 people identifying themselves as Christians outnumbered those who were “non-Christians” by a 5 to 1 margin. Today, Christians are still in the majority but now the margin is just 2 to 1. We are losing ground, therefore, due to “drop out and zone out” it would seem.  Why?

We can glean some insight into this age-old problem from John’s gospel, chapter 6, verses 61 and following. Jesus, in John chapters 5 and 6 had been teaching a crowd of interested would-be converts some truths that were not easy to “chew.” After sometime of this, we read that some of them began to leave, then more and more left until there were only His apostles still standing to hear Him teach.  It was at that point that Jesus asked the 12, “Will you also go away?”

Some in that initial considerably large crowd had followed Jesus because as they listened to Him, they were hearing a teacher the likes of which they had never before heard. He taught as one who had authority. They not only had heard His mighty teachings; they had witnessed His marvelous miracles. Some, Jesus would reveal, followed Him “not because you saw the miracles, but because you did eat of the loaves (feeding of 5,000), and were filled.” (John 6:26) Plainly, a good many “disciples” that day were in the crowd at first just because their curiosity about Jesus, His messages and miracles, had been piqued.  Eventually, these would drift away and follow Him no more.

Then there were others, also called disciples in the most general sense of the word, who were not merely curious, but also convicted; convicted to the point that they would say, “What sign shewest thou then that we may see, and believe thee?” (John 6:30).  They were more than curious and quite probably under conviction but not where the third possible group was which was composed of those who were convinced. They had heard enough and seen enough that Jesus said that “ye have also seen me, and believe not.” (John 6:36). At some point the crowd that day began to murmur amongst themselves; some of them, Jesus said, considered that His sayings were hard sayings; some of them were offended by what they were hearing and Jesus said, “…there are some of you that believe not.” (John 6:64). “From that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him.” (John 6:66). It was at that point that Jesus queried, “Will ye also go away?” (John 6:67).  Some were curious; some were convinced; some were convicted but most were not converted and all but the 12 (Judas not having betrayed Him as of yet) left Him.  Peter, answering the piercing question of the Master, replied, “To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.” (John 6:68,69)

Unbelief has sent more souls out into eternity unprepared to meet God than any other transgression. Don’t let it damn your soul, dear reader friend:

“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 equal even then 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….” (Unknown)

Think of it: people heard the very words of the Master Teacher, Jesus; they saw his miracles with their own eyes; yet, they left following Him and went away unbelieving, rejecting the only person who could save them from eventual, perpetual damnation.

What will you do with Jesus, who is called the Christ?

When Jesus came…He asked His disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am…and Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:13,16)

A Major Baptist Doctrine

A preacher once attended a big convention and heard a message in which the speaker used the word “procrastination” several times.  So fascinated by the word, a new word to the novice, he determined then and there to use it in one of his upcoming sermons. He did just that, incorporating the word “procrastination” three times in one of his messages. A lady approached him after the service and asked him just what that word meant. Trying to conceal the fact that he really did not know, the preacher finally said, “Why, don’t you know? That’s one of the major Baptist doctrines!”

Yes, sometimes one might conclude that “procrastination” is one of the major Baptist doctrines; at least, the way some of us practice it!

We may often preach “never put off until tomorrow what you can do today,” but then, do we practice it?

He was going to be all that a mortal could be; no one should be kinder or braver than he…. tomorrow; A friend who was troubled and weary he knew, who’d be glad of a lift and who needed it, too; On him he would call and see what he could do…tomorrow. Each morning he stacked up the letters he’d write and thought of the folks he would fill with delight…tomorrow. It was too bad; indeed, he was busy today, and hadn’t a minute to stop on his way: ‘More time I’ll have to give others,’ he’d say…tomorrow. The greatest of workers this man would have been; the world would have known him had he ever seen…tomorrow. But the fact is he died, and he faded from view, and all that he left here when living was through was a mountain of things he intended to do…tomorrow.” (anon.)

Therefore, we should prize the time that we have: “And that knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand.” (Romans 13:11,12)

“Go to now, ye that say, today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” (James 4:13, 14)

The Psalmist adds his insights into the brevity of life and the elusiveness of opportunities: “Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is, that I may know how frail I am; behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth, and mine age is as nothing before Thee….” (Ps. 39:4,5)

“Forenoon and afternoon and night, and day is gone; so short a span of time there is twixt dawn and evening song.  Youth, middle-life and old age, and life is past; so live each day that God shall say, ‘Well done,’ at last.”

“Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” (Prov. 27:1)

D.L. Moody, the evangelist, told a story about a minister who was working on a message about the urgency of accepting Christ without delay. As he was preparing the sermon the pastor fell asleep and dreamed he overheard a conversation of a bunch of demons in huddle as they were trying to come up with the best way to keep people on earth from accepting God’s plan of salvation. One of the evil spirits said, “Let’s tell people the Bible isn’t so and that it is not God’s Word and cannot be trusted,” but this idea was discarded as insufficient. Another one said, “Let’s tell then that God does not exist and that Jesus was just another good man, a prophet of God but not Messiah,” but this idea got nowhere with the devils. Finally, a third demon said, “Let’s tell them there is a God, a Savior and a heaven and a hell, but let’s assure them that they’ve got all the time in the world to be saved; we only need to convince them to put off making the decision now.” “That’s it,” the other demons shouted gleefully. (copied)

We may not have the opportunity tomorrow. Peter was wisely asked to “come to Joppa without delay” when Dorcas lay dead. When on a mission for a wife for Isaac, Abraham’s servant, having found the perfect match of God’s making, was implored to wait with Rebekah’s family for a few days before beginning his homeward journey with the bride to be. He refused to be hindered for he had been “in the way” and God had led him. (Gen.24:55,56). He dare not put off another day what God had definitely led him in doing. That day was the day of opportunity for Abraham’s servant and he dare not waste it!

So, press on. Do today what you can do, refraining to put off until tomorrow what could be done today. Reject the “Major Baptist doctrine of procrastination” and get it done today.

I read a testimony of a well-known Christian leader of yesteryear who was impressed to go talk with the then head coach of a winning west coast football team.  But, the campus leader reasoned, “His views are contrary to everything we stand for,” and thus, he was intimidated about talking to the famous coach. Four years passed and the Christian leader hosted a party at his home for the football team, players and coaches. He would later testify, “Do you know who the last to leave was? The coach. He was hungry for the Word of God, so I asked him if he would like to come to church with me to which he replied, ‘I’d love to go to church with you.’ I told him as soon as I got back from a pending out of town trip, I would call him and make the arrangements. ‘He is going to become a Christian,’ I thought. But, the next day, having taken off on my trip, when I got off the plane there was the headline on all the papers, ‘Coach ___ _______Died of a Heart Attack Last Night.’ “I was devastated and to this moment God has used that to help me when I’m tempted to procrastinate.” (WorldChangers)

Selah.

To My VELLENTINE

My dearest Ellen, on this day,
	I want to come to you to say;
My love for you will falter never,
	I’ll love you always, dearest, ever!

It was a day so long ago,
	To my delight I got to know
A girl named Ellen from Wilkes County,
	A girl that brought to my life bounty.

You’ve proven sweet, true, kind and dear,
	I’ll always want you ever-near;
Your beauty takes away my breath,
	I’ll love you always unto death.

Our hearts were knit and we are one,
	‘Til our life’s journeys here are done.
It’s been a joyous trip in life,
	With you beside me as my wife.

God blessed us with our children three.
	They made our hearts beat fast with glee.
We’ve seen them grow before our eyes,
	To give us grandkids as a prize.

We have a home, a place of love,
	Blessed with God’s favor from above.
We’re blessed in riches that abide,
 	In God’s great grace we take our pride.

We’ve loved and laughed and even lost,
	At times we’ve had to pay great cost.
It’s part of life to face stark death,
	But God in love gave baby’s breath.

So, Ellen, darling, this I write,
	To praise you for your life and light.
You’ve been a beacon true and dear,
	To all who’ve known you far and near.

I pray your days left here below,
	Will gladness, pleasure, blessings know;
I’ll love you ‘til I cannot breathe,
	And only then from you will leave.

                      Your Devoted Husband

“Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.” (Song of Solomon 8:7)