His Last 24 Hours

Since 20 centuries separate us in time from the events that occurred when Jesus was crucified, it might be helpful for us to retrace His steps, through a compilation of the gospel accounts, the final steps of our Savior that led Him to Calvary. In so doing I believe we will have a greater appreciation for what He did for us the day He died. Let’s walk where Jesus walked the last 24 hours of His earthly life.

It began on Thursday afternoon, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, better known as Passover. As was the custom, the Passover meal would be eaten in the evening with family or close friends, so, on that Thursday afternoon, Jesus’ disciples began to ask Him where they could prepare the Passover so that they could eat together.  Jesus told them to go into the city where they would meet a man bearing a pitcher of water. They were to follow the man to his house and then say to the Goodman (Butler): “The Master saith, my time is at hand: I will keep the Passover at thy house. Where is the Guest chamber that I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” Jesus assured them that they would be shown a large upper room that was already furnished. “There make ready for us,” He told the disciples. They went and did as He commanded, and finding the man and the house and the room, they made ready the Passover meal.

By Thursday evening the meal had been prepared and Jesus was gathered in the Upper Room with the 12 Apostles to eat the Last Supper. Sitting at the table with them, Jesus said, “With desire have I desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” Taking bread, Jesus blessed it and brake it and gave it to the Disciples, saying, “Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you. This do in remembrance of me.” Next, taking the cup, He gave thanks again and then passing it to them said, “This cup is the New Testament in my blood which is shed for you.” In those words, the Lord Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper which New Testament churches everywhere have been commanded to keep until He comes again.

Rising from the table, Jesus took a towel and a basin of water and began to wash the feet of His Disciples. Peter protested, but Jesus overruled his protest declaring, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” Peter then asked His Lord to wash not his feet only but his hands and head also. The spiritual meaning of this very act Jesus then revealed by assuring the Disciples that he who had been washed spiritually—that is cleansed by the washing of water by the Word, or as He told Nicodemus, “Born again,” needed never again to be washed all over, or “saved” again, but he only needed to be cleansed or restored to fellowship through confession of sin, and this restoration or cleansing was represented by the washing of the feet of the Disciples by Jesus.

It was at that moment that the Lord, knowing that His betrayer was still with them, became troubled in spirit and announced to His Disciples that one of them would betray Him, and that it was one whose hand was at that very moment on the table! Consternation swept through the room. In sorrow and amazement, the Disciples began to look at one another wondering which of them would dare do such a dark deed. Peter motioned to John who sat next to Jesus, asking him to enquire of the Master who the betrayer would be. Jesus replied, “He is he to whom I shall give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” Then, dipping the sop, Jesus gave it to Judas Iscariot with the command, “What thou doest, do quickly.” Judas abruptly got up and went out into the night to seek those with whom he would conspire.

The Devil having departed, Jesus was left alone with the 11 in the Upper Room. In the few hours that followed, the Master shut the world out and drew to Himself those 11 men who would form the foundation of the Church that would bear His name and of which He would be the chief cornerstone. He taught them that night many precious truths concerning the Holy Spirit whom He would send to be with them after He departed. “I will not leave you comfortless; I will come unto you,” He promised. And again, “Nevertheless, I tell you, it is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart I will send Him unto you.” Precious moments of learning and loving were spent in the Upper Room that night, and just before Jesus was to conclude His famous discourse (John 17) He turned His eyes toward Heaven and prayed what we now call His great Intercessory Prayer: “Father, the hour is come; glorify Thy Son that Thy Son may glorify Thee. I have manifested Thy name unto the men which Thou gavest me out of the world; Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom Thou has given me that they may be one as we are one…Father, I will that they also… may behold My glory which Thou hast given Me, for Thou lovest me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world hast not known Thee: but I have known Thee, and these have known that Thou hast sent Me.”

Having finished that great prayer, Matthew says,” When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”

Making their way toward the Mt. of Olives, nearing the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus startled the eleven when He announced, “All of you shall be offended because of Me tonight.” He then went on and predicted His death and subsequent resurrection. When He was finished, it was Peter who broke the long silence: “Though all men shall be offended because of Thee, I shall not be offended!” And, lovingly, Jesus said to the well-meaning Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you to sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you that thy faith fail not.” “Lord,” Peter said with fervor, “I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” Just before they reached the Garden, Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Peter, before the cock crows twice this night, thou shalt deny me three times.” “No, Lord, though I should die with Thee, yet I shall never deny Thee.” Ten other disciples, in a chorus of assent, affirmed that they, like Peter, would never deny their Lord.

Coming now to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said to His followers, “Sit here, while I go yonder to pray.” Then, beckoning to Peter, James and John, Jesus went on ahead and, as Matthew tells us, He became very sorrowful and heavy. “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here and watch with me.” Going about a stone’s cast further, Jesus fell upon His face and prayed, “Oh, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me, nevertheless, not My will be done, but Thine.”

Coming back He found the three disciples asleep. He wakened them and asked them again to watch and pray, and again Jesus went back to His place of prayer. Luke, the beloved physician, tells us that an angel came from heaven and strengthened Jesus, for He was in great agony of spirit, and as He prayed His sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood falling to the ground.

Three times Jesus returned to His select inner circle of three disciples, only to find them asleep each time in spite of His warning to watch and pray lest they fall into temptation. Upon finding them sleeping the third time, Jesus said, “Rise up, let us go: Lo, he that betrayeth me is at hand.”

A noise and lights appeared in the dark distance and soon the clanging of swords and flames of torches and lanterns was heard and seen. A band of men and officers sent from the chief priest, with lanterns, torches, swords and staves, led by Judas Iscariot, was coming to the place where Jesus was concluding His early morning prayer time. As they approached, Jesus said, “Whom do ye seek?” to which they replied, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said, “I am He,” and when He said those words the soldiers fell to the ground. Again, Jesus said, “Whom do ye seek?” and again they replied, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

(To Be Continued)

“This post and the next three are repeat posts as we prepare to once again commemorate the celebration of Christ’s victory over the grave, hell and death.”

Serving God Acceptably, 1

Simply stated, grace means “unmerited favor.” We are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8)—that is, apart from all human effort or merit—because of divine favor freely bestowed through faith upon all who believe.  This is the essence of saving grace.

But, when we speak or think of grace, there is much more to consider than just the grace that saves. W.H. Thomas, in a little book that bears his name, titled Grace and Power, said well that “grace means not merely favor, but help; not only benevolence, but benefaction; not simply feeling, but force; not solely good will, but good work. It is the divine favor expressed in and proved by His gift: attitude shown by action.”

The focus of this and some ensuing posts on grace will be “serving” grace. First, a couple of preliminary considerations: (1) Every saved person has received a portion or measure of grace with which to serve our God: “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” (Heb. 12:28) And, “But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” (Eph. 2:7) (2) Our service to and for God following salvation is determined by two things: the measure of faith, Romans 12:3; and the measure of grace, Romans 12:6.

Are we therefore locked in by a measure that is not as great as another? Paul says in
Romans 15:17 that we all have received “abundance of grace,” and Peter exhorts us to “grow in grace.” (2 Peter 3:18) Furthermore, we learn in Hebrews 4:16 that we can ask for grace, and in James 4:6 that grace is given when we humble ourselves before God.

Having noted these preliminary truths about serving grace, the remainder of this post will focus on the serving grace of speech. Col. 4:6 says: “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.”

  •  Our speech should be always with grace! Derivatives of grace—like “gift, give freely, forgive, bestow graciously, joy, rejoice, thanksgiving, thankful, gratis, gratitude, grateful, gracious”—ought to characterize our speech, as opposed to “ungrateful, ungracious, unthankful, disgraceful, unforgiving, vindictive, bitter, malicious.” Certain phrases will find their way into our everyday speech when it is marked by grace: “Thank you,” “Please,” “That’s all right,” “You go first,” “I’m sorry,” “I know how you feel,” “Please forgive me.”
  • Our speech ought to be “seasoned with salt.” Salt is a spoilage retardant, and so ought our words be free of that which is corrupt (Mark 9:50—“Have salt among yourselves”). Salt is for seasoning, and the presence of it makes food palatable; so ought our speech be tasteful, desirable and delightful, free of that which is rude or crude.
  • Our speech with grace, seasoned with salt, is for the purpose of answering every man: honest enquirers, hateful critics, and fellow-saints. Our answers should come from God (Provs. 14:1—“the preparations of the heart and the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.”). Our answers should be the source of joy (Provs. 15:23—“A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth, and a word spoken in due season, how good it is”). Our answers should not be given in haste (Provs. 29:20—“Seeth thou a man hasty with his words…there is more hope of a fool than of him”). Our answers should be given with forethought (Provs. 15:28—“The heart of the righteous studieth to answer, but the heart of the wicked poureth out evil things”). Our answers should be in a soft tone when responding to anger (Provs. 15:1— “A soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger”).

A Korean Christian who had a problem with his temper heard a missionary say that every burst of anger pierced the heart of Jesus; so, he hung a picture of Jesus on a wall, and every time he had an outburst of anger, he stuck a thorn into the picture. Soon it was covered with thorns.

God’s grace is the sine qua non of salvation, but also of Christian service. And there is no area in which His grace is more crucial than in serving Him through godly speech. May our “speech be always with grace.”

Theologian John W. Stott wrote: “Grace is love that cares, and stoops, and rescues.” We might well say, too, that it causes us to guard our tongue and speak with wisdom, love, and caring forethought.

“Only a word of anger, but it wounded a sensitive heart. Only a word of sharp reproach, but it made the teardrops start. Only a hasty, thoughtless word, sarcastic and unkind. But it darkened the day before so bright, and left a sting behind.” (anon.)

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” (Provs. 25:11)

More on Music

I make no pretense of being knowledgeable about music, but I happily confess that I love the great hymns of the faith, and also classical music as well as some traditional popular music that does not fall into the category of “rock.” I pastored half a century and always loved a good choir to prepare hearts before I would preach, as well as dedicated men and women and young people who were willing to contribute musically to a worship service. Most pastors would be in my corner regarding the importance of good music as part of a worship service.

Martin Luther wrote, “Besides theology, music is the only art capable of affording peace and joy of the heart…my heart which is full to overflowing has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.”

Gordon Greer recognized the importance of music in worship when, in the “Calvary Contender,” he wrote: “The only way this music thing is going to get cleared up in fundamental churches and fellowships is when we stop talking merely about melody, harmony, and rhythm and begin focusing on the primary matter of obedience to the Word of God and how this relates to His holiness and which music is acceptable to Him. We have forgotten that our music is to be directed to Him and not to men.”

From what Greer wrote, one might conclude that there has been some disagreement amongst Christians and Christian ministries and ministers about what music is good for worship and what is neither good nor acceptable. Most readers are aware of these tensions.

I read a portion of an interview that a Christian leader had with the late Robert Shaw, the legendary conductor of choral music. When asked whether he believed that music was either moral or amoral, Shaw was not hesitant to affirm: “I believe all the arts are moral. I can’t see how any of the arts are neutral.” When further pressed on the matter of rock music and its impact upon the music of our day, the artist continued, “I am aware of the controversy in Christian music…The church of Bach’s day understood the music in their congregation. I don’t know if the church today understands the music brought into the church. The people don’t understand the music.” The interviewer then said that Shaw gave a brief description of rock music and offered a rather graphic analogy of what the music portrays. “So, you think the music is sensual,” he was asked. He responded without hesitation, “It’s perverse.”

Most Bible-oriented, conservative churches would not incorporate rock music into their worship services. But, it is not hard to comprehend that the music of today has been, by and large, “dumbed down” to appeal to a generation that has pretty much rejected the great hymns of the faith. Hymnals have been replaced by PowerPoint media projections, with choruses that are repetitive and shallow compared with the historic hymns that Christianity has embraced heretofore. Preacher and author Vance Havner once summed up Ernest Hemingway’s description of the “millennium of the untalented” this way: “We are deluged with writers who can’t write, actors who can’t act and singers who can’t sing—and they are all making a million dollars a year! Auditoriums are packed to hear performers who know as much about music as a Billy goat knows about Beethoven.” OUCH!

Well, Hemingway was no authority on worship or Christian music, but he might have been onto something there if one visits a typical church of the day. The evangelist David Wilkerson worked with drug addicts, alcoholics and juvenile delinquents of all kinds. He was at one time accepted by the “Jesus People” of a past generation. In a book that Wilkerson wrote about this unorthodox movement, Set the Trumpet to Thy Mouth, Wilkerson wrote: “One of the reasons that God’s Spirit was lifted from the Jesus People was their refusal to forsake their old music. They gave up pot, heroin, alcohol, promiscuous sex, and they even gave up perverted lifestyles. But they refused to give up their beloved rock music. Amazing! I say its hold is stronger than drugs, alcohol or tobacco. It is the biggest mass addiction in the world’s history. Rock music as used and performed in Christian circles is of the same satanic seed as that which is called ‘punk’ and ‘heavy metal’ and is performed in devilish concerts worldwide.”

I understand that most churches, pastors, and people involved in the music ministries impacted by people who will read this are not in any conscious way embracing rock music, but I think that being reminded of how clever the devil has been in infecting much of what is used today in church music—by that which was rejected by worshippers a generation ago—is not unwise.

Now, I’d like to close with something a bit lighter. There was in a certain church an ongoing feud between the choir director and the pastor. The first hint of trouble was when the pastor preached on “dedicating yourself to service,” and the choir director chose to sing, “I Shall Not be Moved.” Trying to believe it was coincidence, the pastor put the incident behind him. The next Sunday he preached on giving, and the choir director led in the hymn, “Jesus Paid it All.” By this time, the pastor was beginning to lose his cool, but the Sunday morning attendance had begun to swell, as had the tension between the two leaders. A large crowd showed up the next week to hear the pastor preach on the sin of gossiping—and, would you believe, the choir sang “I Love to Tell the Story.”  That was the last straw, and the next Sunday the pastor told the congregation that he was considering submitting his resignation unless something changed. The church gasped when the choir director led in “Why Not Now?” Truthfully, no one was surprised when, a week later, the pastor explained that Jesus had led him there and Jesus was leading him away. The choir director could not resist: “What A Friend We Have in Jesus.”

Thank God for good music, for churches that still major on music that glorifies God, and for pastors and church musicians who are committed to music that ministers to the spirit and soul. May we never cease to sing, and may our songs be after the fashion of the Music of Moses: “The Lord is my strength and my song: and He is become my salvation; He is my God, and I will prepare Him an habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt Him.” (Exodus 15:2)

Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.” (2 Cor.2:11)

“There Has To Be A Song!”

The renowned composer John Philip Sousa said, “I care not who writes my country’s laws if I may write its music.”

Music is doubtless powerful. Before time as we know it began, the heaven of heavens rang out: “When the morning stars sang together, all the sons of God shouted for joy.” (Job 38:7). When revival in the Old Testament came, we are told “all the congregation worshipped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded….” (2 Chr.29:28) Ezra notes, too, that “they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord; because He is good, for His mercy endureth forever toward Israel.” (Ezra 3:11) Paul admonishes, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Col. 3:16)

Charles Spurgeon spared no words in exhorting his congregation: “Let no Christian be silent, or slack in praise, for this God is our God. It is to be regretted that the niceties of modern singing frighten our congregations from joining lustily in the hymns. Sing in tune and measure, so that the public may be in harmony; sing with joyful notes, and sound melodious. For the heartiest praise is due to our good Lord. No dullness should ever stupefy our psalmody, or half-heartedness cause it to limp along. Sing aloud, ye debtors to sovereign grace…let your voices express your thankfulness; let no Christian be silent in praise, for this God is our God. The gods of Greece and Rome may be worshipped well enough with classical music but Jehovah can only be adored with the heart, and that music is the best for His service which gives the heart most play. Select a sacred song and then raise it with your hearty voices…beat your tambourines, ye damsels; let the sound be loud and inspiriting. Sound the trumpets; beat the drums. God is not to be served with misery, but with mirthful music; sound ye then the loud timbrel as of old ye smote it by Egypt’s dark sea.”

Pliny, the Roman governor of Bithynia, sent a report of the activities of the Christians to the Roman Emperor, Trajan: “They meet at dawn to sing a hymn to Christ as God.” The Church alive has always been a church that has gone up to God in Christian praise and song.

Isaac Watts (1684-1748) was 20 years old when, one Sunday, walking home from church with his father, he commented that the metrical psalms sung that day lacked the dignity and beauty that he felt should characterize hymns of worship. His father challenged the young son to write some music that he believed would be worthy. Isaac took up the challenge and began writing hymns, eventually putting the books of Psalms into rhythmic meter for worship. Coming to Psalm 91, he rendered: “Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Let earth receive her King; Let every heart, prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing. Joy to the earth! The Savior reigns! Let men their songs employ; While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains repeat the sounding joy.” Watts would write 750 more great hymns, including “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past,” eventually becoming known as “the Godfather of English Hymnody.” (Wikipedia)

Years ago, a man and wife attended our Indianapolis church and became faithful members until they were called home to glory. He was known by the name “Sparky,” and it was apparent that he had an “holy” spark about him. He had grown up in a southern state, and never had the benefit of a formal education, but you did not have to know Sparky for long before you realized he received an education that money could never buy. He had the love of Christ in his heart and majored in the Word of God. Occasionally, by request, he would sing a solo in a church service, always without accompaniment and most usually a song that none of us had ever heard. But the rafters were moved a bit, we thought, as Sparky, from the deep recesses of his soul and from the bottom of his heart, belted out a musical tribute to God—to His work of grace and to the salvation He provided with the hope of heaven. No one applauded when Sparky left the platform, for they knew that his was not a performance but an offering of praise to God. 

One August afternoon in 2004, Kelvin Krueger, our missionary intern at the time, and I visited Sparky and his wife in their home on Indy’s eastside. We had not been there too long before I noticed what looked like an old hymnal. Sparky told me it was his favorite songbook, so I thumbed through it and was delighted to find, written in his hand in the foreword section of the songbook, these words:

“There has to be a song; there are too many dark nights, too many troublesome days and too many wearisome miles. There has to be a song, to make our burdens bearable, to make our hopes believable, to transform our successes to praise, to release the chains of past defeats. Somewhere down deep in the corners of one’s heart, there has to be, like a cool drink of water, like the gentle touch of a mother’s hand, like the tender love of a child, there has to be a song.”

I knew enough of Sparky’s life to know that for him there had to be a song. Since that day when Kelvin and I sat on a couch, and each of us individually read the beautiful words handwritten in the foreword of Sparky’s favorite hymnal, Ellen and I lost a precious grandson (2007) to the ice-cold clutches of death; we both bid a final farewell to our parents, until we meet again at Jesus’ feet; and our dear friend, Kelvin, serving on the mission field in South Africa, was called home to heaven following an incapacitating stroke. And so many, many others of our church family, and our families and friends, have suffered losses and are battling physical infirmities.  I thought, when reading those lines there in Sparky’s living room, that I knew something of the meaning of “too many troublesome days…too many wearisome miles.” But I had so much more to learn, and am still learning. And that refrain, “There has to be a song,” has taken on a depth of meaning in my heart that is profound.  

Yes, there has to be a song! “Praise ye the Lord. Praise the Lord O my soul. While I live will I praise the Lord: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being.” (Ps. 146:1,2)

Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” (Eph.5:19)

Good, Better, Best

It is not a sin to be average if that is what you are, but it is a sin to be mediocre, for mediocrity is being average when you have the ability to do better. It suggests indifference and complacency.

Mediocrity is one of the curses of current Christendom. Mediocre Christians attend mediocre churches shepherded by mediocre pastors, ministered to by mediocre deacons, inspired occasionally by mediocre choirs, blessed by mediocre facilities, kept busy by mediocre programs, staffed by mediocre teachers, directed by a mediocre staff, all doing a mediocre job! This is not to say there are not many ministries that exhibit a standard of excellence in ministry, but too many are settling for less than their best. It’s an encroaching affliction on the 21st-century church.

“It’s a sin to do less than your best,” a great evangelist preached, and with scriptural authority. With unparalleled opportunities available to today’s Christian community, we have succumbed to a comfortable state of mediocrity. We, like the first-century church, are “rich and have need of nothing.” Never before has a church had so much—of opportunities, of freedom, of  knowledge, of resources (including money), of manpower, of material advantage, of anything and everything—as the late-20th and early 21st-century church.

Yet, we’re not gaining ground on the task of world evangelization. We’re not even gaining ground on the task of winning our own cities!

Why? For many reasons, no doubt, but we’d have to put “mediocrity” at or near the top of the list. We’ve settled for the convenient. We’re content to “get by.” We’ve grown accustomed to being satisfied with past achievements. We need to shake off this stranglehold that mediocrity has on us, and we need to settle for absolutely nothing short of our very best for Jesus Christ.

Here are some basic principles that, if made a part of our mindset and melded into our core-belief system, will help us to avoid the trap of mediocrity as believers living in the last days:

  • Each of us has been endowed with certain “unalienable” God-given talents, capabilities, and responsibilities. What is “best” for one person will differ from what is “best” for others. God has equipped each of us uniquely to serve Him, and there is probably something that you can do with great skill. Find out what it is and how you can use it to serve God—and do it! You may be multi-talented by the grace of God, and you can use those abilities to bring glory to your Lord and Savior.  You can and you should!
  • The greatest ability is dependability. Jesus taught using illustrations and stories from nature and from life. Remember the parable of the talents that He shared? (Matt. 25:14-30)

A man took a long journey to a far country, but before doing so he gave to his servants his goods, “to every man according to his ability.” To one he gave five talents, to another two talents, and to a third he gave one talent. After a prolonged period of time, the lord returned and demanded an account of how his servants had employed the talents entrusted to their stewardship. The man who had been given five had put them to work and gained five more; the man who had been given two had also put them to work and had gained two more. The man who had been given one talent hid it and had no gain to report. The first two stewards were commended and blessed for their wise use of what they had been given; the third was cursed and damned for his unwise, indolent misuse of what he had been given to work with. The sober lesson must not be lost: “Thou oughtest, therefore, to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.” The test was dependability according to ability. We are not measured against other servants, but according to what we have done with what we have been given to work with, considering our ability to do so.

  • There is no difference between the “secular” and the “sacred.” To the believer “every bush is a burning bush, and all ground is holy ground.” Plowing is just as important as  preaching, if God has called you to plow. Being a mechanic is just as sacred as being a missionary, if you are doing what God wants you to do with all of your heart and doing it “as unto Him.” There are no “big shots” in His kingdom, just servants. One task is no more crucial than another, one servant no more important than any other servant.  The ground is level at the foot of the cross.
  • To avoid mediocrity in one’s life, the believer—surrendered, serving, and to the best of his ability using his God-given talents and opportunities, and exercising the spiritual gifts he has been equipped with by the Holy Spirit to build up Christ’s body—must be able to affirm that “for me, whether eating or drinking, or whatsoever I do, I will do it, by His grace and in His power, to the glory of God.” (cf. I Cor. 10:31) Above all, rely absolutely upon the power of the Holy Spirit in every endeavor. Jesus did everything that He did in His earthly ministry by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38); so must we!

Charles Rolls, a co-founder of the Rolls-Royce car company, once walked through his factory and overheard a lathe operator say, “Oh, it’ll do,” as he threw a part into a bin. Rolls stopped and reprimanded the employee with these words: “That may do for anyone else, but it will not do for Rolls-Royce.” Rolls expected his workers to use a micrometer and to be satisfied with nothing less than their very best. That should be our standard for the King of Glory. He has given us His best. How can we settle for giving to Him only what will do? Let us shake off the numbing grip of mediocrity and determine to give to Him our very best!

“Good, better, best; never let it rest, ‘till your good is better, and your better’s best.” (anon.)

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)

P.S. If you are a bit taken aback by my bluntness in assessing the church as cursed by mediocrity, let me assure you that this was a judgment that first of all began at the house of God. I preached this message to the church I pastored on the last Sunday of July, 1988, and again on the fourth Sunday of September, 2010. If you took this personally, that is good, for that is exactly how I intended it to be taken. Selah.

Parenting’s 21st Century Challenge

No Christian parent would disagree with the Psalmist’s declaration that “children are an heritage of the Lord,” or that our children are “like olive plants round about thy table.” (Ps.127:3; 128:3). We treasure these gifts from God and do not take lightly the burden of the Psalmist who said that in teaching his children “I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength, and His wonderful works that He hath done.” He wants to be a faithful parent-teacher of his children so “That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born: who should arise and declare them to their children.” (Ps.78:3-6).  His heart’s desire was that his children and grandchildren “might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments.” (Ps.78:7)

Those words echo the inner most thoughts of every God-fearing parent. We long for and have no greater desire than to see our children embracing our faith and teaching by example and exhortation the faith that we have tried to impart to them, the “faith of our fathers.”

But this generation faces a formidable foe, not a new one but an old one that comes in a delivery system never before available to satanic forces which never cease trying to undermine the words and works of loving parents who strive to guide and guard their little ones to a safe landing in adulthood with a faith that is intact, personal and genuine.

That foe is social media via the internet delivering daily mind-defiling, soul-destroying pictures, words, and philosophies, dangerous and damaging, to the minds of young people (and older folk, too!) beyond measure. One of the deadliest packages delivered non-stop to America’s youth is pornography.

The Christian Post, in a February 23, 2023, article, reported on a recent survey conducted by Common Sense Media in which 1358 teens, ages 13-17, participated. The findings are startling. 44% of the teens surveyed said that they had experienced porn intentionally. 73% of the teens reported that they had experienced porn, almost two out of three do so every week, 38% of them through social media.

Half of these young people admitted feeling guilty about viewing pornography and were ashamed of what they were doing.  A majority of them said that they learned about sex through these weekly experiences and most had viewed aggressive or violent pornography.

Most of the surveyed youth related that they had discussed sexual matters with a trusted adult, but less than half of them had included the subject of pornography in those discussions.

A third of these young people said that they were exposed to pornography during the school day. These 1358 teens represented public school students, private and Christian school students, and home-schooled young people. The average age of the teen when first exposed to porn was 12 and 15% of them were 10 years of age or younger when they were first introduced to it.

Now, those are the staggering statistics that this 2022 survey of teens, teens like yours or your grandchildren, teens who attend our church youth groups, have been honest enough to have reported.

The parents of my generation were not faced with this kind of a dark, deranging demon when I was a teen-ager. Yes, there was plenty of evil and wickedness, even pornography, in the 50’s and 60’s, but it was not so readily, easily and widely delivered to the youth of those days.

As a parent of teens coming of age in the 80’s and 90’s I was not faced with this social media nightmare either. Evil was present then, too, and ugly by any face, but again the delivery system was not at the finger-tips of my children and the challenge facing parents today is a world different from any previous generation.

What to do? (1) Pray every day for your children, grandchildren and the youth of your church, neighborhood, community. (2) Make much of God’s Word; read it, have family devotions, attend a Bible-preaching church, supporting the ministry of the pastor, youth pastor, teachers and leaders who are striving to lead by living, loving and listening to the young people entrusted to their spiritual watch care. (3) Attempt to put into place safeguards on the use of the internet in your home and establish an accountability arrangement with your children. Know what they are doing on their phone. Let them know that they can expect unannounced checks at random times of the day. Ask other parents, youth leaders and pastors what they have done or are doing to cope with this unprecedented parental 21st century challenge.

My heart goes out to every parent and to our youth also. Paul warned that in the last days perilous times would come. Several descriptive words or phrases follow that verse in I Tim.3:1, the last one being “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.” Those perilous times are not yet future, they are here today. It behooves all of us to be, in the light of these times, “wise as serpents, harmless as doves.”

The stakes are too high! Eternal destinies are in the balance. We cannot allow Satan and his underworld to win our youth by default. Be wise. Be alert. Be informed. Be involved. Above all, be vigilant in watching and in prayer. It will be a battle. At times, it may get messy. Do not despair. Truth may appear to be on the scaffold today, but truth will triumph over error. Always. Ever. God help us. Amen.

Be sober. Be vigilant. Because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist stedfast in the faith….” (I Peter 5:8,9a)

Are We Too Judgmental?

“Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Jesus spoke those words in His major Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew 5-7.  He expanded that initial dictum with: “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged, and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

The lesson that Christ taught the assembled multitudes has been cited by many to criticize anyone who renders a judgment about moral issues. But for Bible-believing people, it is imperative to judge what is wrong and plainly forbidden in Scripture as sin, i.e., drunkenness, hatred, lying, stealing, adultery, wrath, and many other spiritual transgressions in word, thought, and deed that are plainly forbidden.

There are times, to be sure, that we are instructed in God’s Word to not only render a judgment about spiritual matters but to act by administering church discipline. Paul deals with this in I Corinthians 5, where he excoriates a carnal church for tolerating, without rendering any judgment, one of the members of the church who was living in immorality—that is, committing fornication with his father’s wife. Paul attributes the toleration of the church to their being “puffed up” rather than mournful. The apostle went on to say that he, though he was absent from them, had already rendered a judgment, and he spelled it out that they should deal with the erring member in loving discipline by delivering him “unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (I Cor. 5:4,5)

So, there is a Biblical principle and precedent for rendering spiritual judgment. Again, in I Corinthians 6:1-8, Paul addressed the matter of members of the church taking other members to court in civil matters. Paul said that the church was “utterly at fault” because they were going to law one against another, “and that before unbelievers.” He minced no words when he said, “I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? No, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?” He queried, “Know ye not that we shall judge angels? How much more things that pertain to this life?”

But then, Paul was compelled when writing to the church at Rome to set things straight about rendering judgment about matters where there is no clear scripture principle, or where “weaker” brethren have not grown enough to grasp matters of grace in things about which there are genuine doubts or differences between believers. About keeping certain special days or eating certain foods, for example, Paul said: “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth?” (Rom.14:4) He concluded with: “But why dost thou judge thy brother? Or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” (Rom.14:10)

It should be noted that the case dealt with in I Cor. 5 was clear-cut immorality, fornication. Then, when Paul spoke to Christians going before law against Christians, he used logic (we will judge angels, so should we not be able to render judgment in civil matters, one Christian in disputation against another?). His logic was buttressed by scripture: “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?” (I Cor.6:2) Finally, in the Romans 14 passage, Paul was answering questions not about clear-cut moral issues but about things concerning which there were no scriptural injunctions nor black-and-white differences. This was in large part because, at that time, a newly converted Jewish population in the infant church, coming with their Jewish ceremonialism, was being melded with a Gentile population that was not used to certain dietary, dress, or day restrictions, thus giving place to differences and varying convictions resulting in confusion and contention. Paul’s solution was simple: Let every person be persuaded in his own mind concerning these issues where there is no definite pattern yet established in this new-born church of which we are all members.

Back to my original question: Are we too judgmental? The “we” would be Bible-believers who are convicted that some things need to be labeled as sin. We could mention, as does scripture in several passages, some of the sins that an unbelieving world thinks we should not be judgmental about. (Romans 1:29-31; I Cor.6:9,10) Any honest person, sincerely wanting to understand why Christians appear judgmental about such things as abortion, transgender, sexual promiscuity, etc., need only read Paul’s epistles to learn that there are quite a few behavioral lifestyles that are non-negotiable for the devoted followers of Jesus Christ.  We are not attempting to “run people’s lives.” It is not because we do not love the homosexual that we judge that lifestyle to be abhorrent. We love the sinner while at the same time we reject the sin.

In any case, Jesus—who said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged,”—also said: “Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” (John 7:24). There is a time when righteous judgment must be rendered.  Juries are called upon to do so, as are other elected and appointed civil servants.  So are Christians who strive to please Jesus Christ in daily living. We are faced almost daily with the questions: “Is it right or wrong?” and “What does God say about this?” In truth, almost daily, we fail to make the right call.  We run through lights that are more red than yellow. We lose our cool in discussion with a family member or friend who cannot or will not agree with us, as we raise our voice while our face reddens, and we admit that we “lost it.” There are too many such incidents along life’s way; it is not difficult to remember a recent violation. We do not always render righteous judgment. But that does not alter the fact that, at times, we must. The key is to do so in the spirit of Christ; not complacent about sin or “puffed up” in tolerance of it, but also remembering to be gracious and patient with believers whose conscience is not identical to ours about things that can be labeled “doubtful” in the minds of other sincere believers.

Above all, ask God—in every matter requiring a decision concerning right or wrong—for wisdom that is from above, which is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.” (James 4:17)

David’s Band

Sixteen years ago today, the 2nd of March 2007, the Lord saw fit to call to Himself our 11-year-old grandson, David Alexander Nye. He was a “spittin image” of his dad, Dale Nye. David loved being on the work site as his father was building a house. He mimicked many of Dale’s movements, even in how and what he ate. His personality was pleasant, and he loved little children. We treasure a picture of him sitting in a rocking chair with his baby sister, Audrey, with the most pleasant expression of delight on his boyish face. His death was a shock to all of us, and his “loss” to our family was and continues to be, from our vantage point here on earth, incalculable. We would not wish him back, and we acknowledge God’s ways are always righteous and above our ability to comprehend. So we have not questioned God’s goodness in the snatching away from our family circle our precious David. But the vacuum he left can never be filled, and the pain, though bearable with the passing of time, will never completely go away.

My thoughts of late have been toward David since his birthday was the 1st of February, and his passing the 2nd of March.  So many memories.  Once, when he was about seven, we were driving home from church following a Sunday-morning message I had preached on heaven.

David, out of the blue, said he did not want to go to heaven.  When I asked him why, he said because he did not want to be separated from his dad, or something to that effect.  Well, I of course assured him that his dad was headed for heaven eventually, and that we would not be separated from him and other loved ones who were trusting Jesus and would also spend eternity in heaven. 

David’s older brother, Tim, started a mowing business when Tim was about 11. He employed David, and the two of them mowed and trimmed several yards each week, mostly in their neighborhood on Indy’s southside. It was not unusual for David to quit because his brother was a taskmaster and often pretty impatient with his sole employee. But, week after week, they would get their differences ironed out, and David would “rehire.” That business is still going, by the way, headed up by the little baby that David was rocking in the picture, Audrey, and assisted by the little baby sister that David never met, Amy, who was born just a couple of weeks after David died.

David’s salary was pretty meager, of course, but he proved to be a good steward of what God had given him. In the fall of 2006, following our annual Faith Promise World Missions conference at church, David asked his grandmother how he could give to missions through faith promise.  Well, Ellen was glad to get David a set of giving envelopes which, though it was late in the fall and there was not much mowing yet to be done, he used faithfully, giving $2 each week to world missions through our faith promise giving program.  He was looking forward to continuing that giving program when the 2007 spring mowing season got underway.  Before that would happen, though, David’s faith would become sight and he would be with Jesus.

Following David’s homegoing, I challenged anyone who wanted to join us to give, in memory of David’s commitment and surrender to Christ, $2 each week to world missions. We would be called “David’s Band.” Many took up that challenge. To this day, there are still a good number of folks who give $2 a week or a multiple thereof—over and above any other gift—to world missions as members of David’s Band. They perpetuate his desire to honor Christ by giving some of his income to advance world missions.

David’s life and testimony are embodied in a song that he sang as a solo one evening service at Thompson Road Baptist Church, just days before he was called to glory.  The words of the song, “As the Deer,” are: “As the Deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after You. You alone are my heart’s desire, and I long to worship You. You alone are my strength, my shield; to You alone may my spirit yield. You alone are my heart’s desire, and I long to worship You.”

In David’s memory, and etched upon a tombstone over a little plot of sod in a cemetery a few miles from where he grew up, are these words that I wrote in tribute to his life, his love of Christ, and his loyalty to friends, faith and family: “David: you were ours these precious years; we give you back to God with tears. You made our life bright with your smile, you were God’s gift for just a while. You’ll ever be within our heart, and those in Christ are not apart. You’re only “there,” and we are “here,” but in our Savior, you’re so near. Thanks for your love, your kindness true. And, ever, David, we’ll love you.”

David’s Band.  May his tribe increase. May each of us pant after God as the deer. And, may the cause for world missions to which David was committed—with what little he had to give—be our heart, too, for reaching and winning a waiting world with the good news that Jesus saves!

“As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.” (Ps.42:1)

To Drink or Not to Drink

Most conservative, Bible-believing churches induct new members into their fellowship by asking them to agree with a Church Covenant that binds the member to an agreement “to abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating drinks as a beverage, and to be zealous in our efforts to advance the kingdom of our Savior.” Sunday School teachers, deacons, and other leaders are asked to “abstain from alcohol, tobacco and other illicit drugs.”

America has one of the lowest rates of alcohol use among “first-world” countries—but one of the highest rates of alcohol abuse. About 15 million Americans currently struggle with that addiction. Consuming wine, beer, and other alcoholic drinks has become common to our culture. This has bled into our church communities, so that what would have been pretty much unthinkable in the 1950s—respected church members drinking at least occasionally, or socially as it is called—is not uncommon.

The Bible does contain formidable warnings and admonitions about and against drinking alcoholic beverages. Proverbs 20:1 warns of being mocked and deceived by strong drink. Proverbs 23:29-32 instructs that it will bite like a serpent and sting like an adder. Proverbs 31:4, 5 says that liquor is not for kings nor princes because it will make them forget the law and pervert their judgment. Isaiah 5:11-14 pronounces a woe on those who are drunkards. The writer suggests that drinking alcohol was the reason for the captivity of God’s people, and paints alcoholism as a curse and a blight. So, why would any believer, desiring to have a clear testimony as faithful to God’s Word and will, even contemplate the possibility of taking up drinking in any fashion—moderately or otherwise?

There are, of course, a very few passages that those who advocate a Biblical grounds for social drinking point to: Paul’s instruction to Timothy to “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine infirmities.” ( I Tim.5:23). Also, the turning of water into wine by Jesus at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, His first public miracle, recorded in John 2; and the occasion of the “cup” at the Last Supper, supposed to be the common cup of wine. Here are some points to consider:

  • Some words in scripture are used in a generic sense, such as “meat,” which in Gen. 1:29 refers to herbs and trees. Or, the word corn often occurs in scripture in reference to that which is “threshed,” or wheat. “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die,” for example. (John 12:24). Wine is one such word. It can mean simply “fruit of the vine,” or juice, and not necessarily that which is alcoholic.
  • Alcoholic wine is made by combining the right mixture of sugar, water, and temperature. It is not the product of a natural process.
  • It is not thinkable that Jesus, at the wedding feast in Cana, would have made alcoholic wine to serve guests of whom it was said, “men have well drunk.” The men at the feast had drunk so much that the host had run out; for Jesus to have made more, much more, alcohol for them to drink would have without question resulted in drunkenness. And we know that He would never contradict his own Word in doing such.
  • For Jesus, our High Priest, to have served alcoholic wine at the last Supper would have violated the Law that forbade high priests to drink when officiating before the Lord. (Heb. 4:14-16; 5:1-10; Lev. 10:8-10)
  • A believer who drinks, even socially, is at risk of causing other brethren to stumble: “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.” (Romans 14:21)

A friend of mine, Earl Stutsman, an adult Sunday School teacher in a Bible-believing church for many years, did a series of lessons on the subject of alcohol entitled “What the Bible Teaches about Drinking Wine.” I do not know if this series of lessons, which dates back to 1998, is available, but I saved a copy, knowing that Earl was a careful student of God’s Word and a skillful teacher of it. Much of what I have written in this post comes from the material my friend shared.  I think Earl’s conclusion, following his research on the subject, says it all:

“The vineyard was prominent in Israel’s culture, a gift from God, to provide a delicious, heathful, natural drink, to be enjoyed by the nation as an example of His goodness to them. Nowhere in Scripture did I find that all God intended was for man to take one five-ounce portion, else he would become intoxicated. The problem of intoxication came when man perverted the gift of God. It is now clear to me that there were two kinds of grape juice in ancient use. One was sweet, pleasant, refreshing, unfermented, the gift of God; the other was intoxicating, for which the Bible has no good word.”

Wine is a mocker; strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” (Provs.20:1)

Health Update:  Many of you know that a little more than a year ago, I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a cancer of the blood cells that attacks the bones. I have been on a treatment plan for a year, consisting of chemotherapy in pill form that I take at home.  Regular doctor check-ups each month have charted good progress.  There is no known cure, but MM does often go into remission. I am not yet, according to my primary doctor, in full remission, but maybe in partial remission. I know many of you are praying for Ellen and myself through this trial. I have been healthy all of my life and was on no medications until this occurred, so it has totally changed our world.  I am still preaching (assisting an elderly pastor friend of mine) a couple of times a month and serving in my local church when possible, as well as writing my “You and God” bi-weekly blog (almost three years now, with about 300 installments). Thanks for praying!  Ellen is a great care-giver, and I know she covets your prayers, too. Caring can be very demanding, as some of you well know. “My times are in Thy hand….” (Ps. 31:15)

For Preachers Only, Part 2

In the previous “For Preachers Only” post (1/25/23), I shared some wisdom that the late Pastor Bob Kelley set forth in an article entitled “The Greatest Lessons I Have Learned as a Preacher of the Gospel.” (Sword of the Lord, 2/9/07) I would like to share the rest of his lessons in this second installment:

(8) God called us to build people, not ministries or buildings;

(9) Make good friends;

(10) Have fun!  Stay excited!  Laugh!  People ought to want your job!

(11) Die to self, and don’t be all day in doing it!  Rise early and get going!

(12) The best protection against falling into sin is to practice hating it;

(13) Count your blessings—then record them. Don’t rely on your memory to recall all God’s goodness to you;

(14) Say “Thank You” every time and every way you can.  A thankful attitude covers a multitude of sins;

(15) Exercise your faith. A faith that cannot be tested is a faith that cannot be trusted;

(16) Keep your shoes shined; stay neat—first impressions matter;

(17) Never forget the judgment seat of Christ;

(18) Always remember—God can get along just fine without you.

Another word of wisdom to preachers:  A sermon must always be preached with passion. Of John the Baptist it was said, “He was a burning and shining light.” A preacher once asked a famous English actor, “What is the reason for the difference between you and me? You are appearing before crowds night after night with fiction, and the crowds come wherever you go. I am preaching the essential and unchangeable truth, and I am not getting any crowd at all.”  The actor said, “The answer is simple. I can tell you the difference between us. I present fiction as though it were fact; you present fact as though it were fiction.” May we never, as preachers, lose our passion for truth and for the presentation of truth as though it were a life and death matter.

Dr. Monroe Parker shared a story out of his experiences as a preacher of truth when he told of a time that he was preaching in a campaign in Zanesville, Ohio. In his words: “I had planned to preach one night a very profound sermon on ‘The Eschatological Implications of the Theophanies in the Pentateuch.’ The choir sang that old song, Christ Receiveth Sinful Men. The chorus says, ‘Make the message clear and plain.’ When they sang the second stanza and the chorus, ‘Make the message clear and plain,’ I thought, If I do, I’ll have to change my subject. After they had sung the third stanza, I said, Alright, Lord, I shall make it clear and plain. I changed my subject and preached from John 3:16. The Spirit of God moved on the hearts of the people. When I gave the invitation, down the aisle came a large number to accept Christ.”

Finally, I want to share with you what Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., said about preaching with courage, as quoted in Fellowship News (3/17/62):   

“America needs about six months of old-time Hell-fire and damnation preaching: but the trouble is that we do not have rugged preachers to do that kind of preaching. There are very few prophetic voices in the pulpits of America. Preachers have become pretty good executives, and they know how to oil the machinery of their churches; but they have lost the old, rugged, prophetic, knockdown and drag-out preaching that this nation had in its country districts, when the writer was a little boy. The writer does not know in this nation today any preacher who can preach as the old country preachers used to preach when he was a boy. Some of the old country preachers said ‘I seen,’ instead of ‘I have seen,’ or ‘I have saw’ instead of ‘I saw,’ but they had seen, and they meant what they said. They had a vision. They had courage.”

Maybe that Billy Sunday-style, “knockdown and drag-out” preaching would not go over well today in most Bible-loving churches, but at least it would be well if, whenever a preacher stepped into the pulpit to deliver God’s messages, he would have asked God to give to him the courage needed to preach “the whole counsel of God,” without fear and without favor.

The voices that I have quoted in these two posts on preaching are from the past. I know that many preachers receive these “You and God” posts, so if there are some “contemporaries” out there with sound advice you’d care to pass along to your fellow preachers, please feel free to share your thoughts. If I get enough of them, I will do a third post for preachers.  I am sure most of you who labor in the Word from week to week have learned by experience, and from good counsel that older men have shared with you—gems that have given you treasured guidance in your pulpit ministry.

So, while I wait to hear from you, here is a word that I think would be helpful to any preacher today: be sensitive to giving your 21st-century audience too much in one sitting. Dr. Bob Jones, Jr., told me years ago that a preacher should be able to develop his thesis and get the message across in 35 minutes.  Recently, my wife surprised me by pulling up on YouTube a message that I had preached not long ago. My first impulse was to ask her to “change the channel.” Probably, like you, I never have enjoyed listening to or looking at myself speak (preach). But I resisted the impulse and listened and looked.  Listened to my speech patterns, diction, enunciation, gestures, and the whole 10 yards.  It was not pleasant, but it was probably helpful, so I would recommend it to you, preacher friend. Somewhere, about two-thirds through the sermon, I thought to myself, “This must have been a 45-minute ordeal. I surely gave them the whole load that Sunday.”  Well, since you can check a video’s length, down to the second, at the bottom of the screen, I asked Ellen, when the message had concluded, how long I had preached. I was relieved to learn it was a little over 37 minutes!  Sometimes, a message requires a bit more time to deliver; and some older preachers are of the caliber that you wish they’d just preach longer. But those are the exceptions. My advice? K.I.S.S. need not stand for “Keep it Simple Stupid.”  Maybe it should be: “Keep it Shorter, Sir!”

These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thy youth.” (Titus 2:15)