The Wonder of it All

In a few days we will once again come together on Christmas Day, a day to gather with families to celebrate and commemorate the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son and our Savior, to the world! 

Perhaps before the day is over, we shall need to pray the prayer once prayed innocently by a little girl who, along with her family, had been caught up in the pre-Christmas swirl of activity that came to a head in her home on Christmas Eve. Dad, loaded with bundles, seem to have an even greater number of worries. Mom, under the pressure of getting ready for the special occasion, yielded several times to tears that very day; even the little girl, trying to help, found that she was always under foot. Finally, now in tears herself, she was hustled off to bed.  There, kneeling to pray the Lord’s prayer before tumbling in, her mind and tongue betrayed her and she prayed,

“Forgive us our Christmases as we forgive those who Christmas against us.”

We may have to pray that childish prayer ourselves this year before Christmas Day concludes! We need, therefore, to be careful to keep our focus upon the ONE who is to be center stage at Christmas, our Lord and our Savior!  It will always do us well to rethink and rejoice in the Marvel of His Birth, the Miracle of His Birth, and the Mission of His Birth:

  •  The Marvel of it. There are many things that could be said about the marvel of His birth; it was surely marvelous as to the timing: ”when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His own Son.” (Gal. 4:4). It was the absolute right time prophetically. Prophets had foretold His coming hundreds of times. Daniel’s vision in the 9th chapter of that book pretty well pinpointed the time of the Messiah’s arrival; thus, wise men from the east came looking for “he that is born King of the Jews.” (Matt.2:2). Not only was it the right time prophetically, it was the right time practically: the Greco-Roman world was ripe for the appearance of this one who came to be the Savior of the world. The Greek language, like English today, was almost universally spoken, a significant factor in the spreading of the good news; and the Roman roads made it possible to travel the then-known world.  It was surely the “fullness of time,” prophetically and practically.

Then, too, when thinking of the marvel of His birth, mention must be made of the triumph of it. What God promised Satan in the Garden before He clothed the naked pair that had just sinned—that He would by the seed of the woman bruise his head—God sealed with the birth of His Son, Satan’s final defeat. Along with Satan’s defeat, sin’s ultimate eradication was guaranteed.  Jesus came to “put away sin,” and His death on Calvary, 33 years after His birth in Bethlehem, provided the basis for sin’s final death-blow, when Christ shall rule in righteousness.  What a marvelous triumph over Satan, sin, and the wages of sin, death!

  • It was marvelous, and it was miraculous. Miraculous in the conception of the Christ-child. “Before they (Joseph and Mary) came together,” she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.  Truly, “that which is conceived in thee is of the Holy Ghost,” Mary was assured by God’s messenger. His birth was contrary to the laws of nature; He was reared in obscurity, had no formal education, founded no world-famous institution, was not wealthy nor brought up by influential parents.  Yet, His birth changed how calendars were kept. Angels sang to herald His coming to shepherds on lonely hillsides. Wise men trekked thousands of arduous miles to worship the child, bringing precious gifts to this one they called King.  His teaching, miracles, ministry and death would turn history upside down. Everything about His birth breathed “Miracle!”
  • Then, too, think of the Mission of His birth! It was to save sinners: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” (I Tim. 3:15). Jesus said it this way: “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10). Hallelujah! What A Savior!

Jesus was a great teacher, but He did not come merely to teach; He was a great example, but He did not come just to be an example; He was a leader of leaders, but leadership was not His mission; He was a great physician and there was no sick person He could not heal, and He did heal many and brought the dead back to life—but healing the sick and raising the dead were not His mission; He was a prophet, too, but He did not come just to prophesy!  He came to present Himself as the Messiah, the King of Israel; and He came to save sinners from sin and the eternal consequences of sin. “For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17)

So, as we celebrate this Christmas the birth of Jesus Christ, focus once again on the Marvel of it all; the Miracle of it; and surely the Mission of His coming, via the virgin birth, to a sin-cursed world to be our Savior. “Man of sorrows, what a name; for the Son of Man who came. Ruined sinners to reclaim, Hallelujah! What a Savior!” What a Savior indeed!

And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matt.1:21)

Why Christ Came to Earth

George MacDonald, in his poem entitled “That Holy Thing,” speaking about the coming of Jesus Christ and the expectation of the world at the time of His coming, wrote: “They were all looking for a king to slay their foes and lift them high; Thou cam’st—a little baby thing that made a woman cry.”

And, as another Christmas draws nigh, our hearts are drawn again to that scene of long ago when the Creator became a creature, when the Babe was born and God became man.

There’s a question that ought to haunt the human race—especially now, as never before—when thought is given to the birth of Him whose birthday the world is now commemorating.

It’s a question the answer to which will not be found in all the volumes of the world’s great libraries.

The learned professors and philosophers in the most notable universities, apart from divine revelation, will not discover the answer to this question.

But it is a question that warrants the utmost consideration. The question, simply stated, is: “Why would a holy and sovereign God send His only begotten Son to a sin-ladened planet such as ours?” The answer can only be found in God’s book to mankind, the Bible.

First, God sent His Son, His only begotten Son, because of sin. Christ came to put away sin, to be an offering for sin, and to be the propitiation for sin. Hebrews 9:26 affirms that “now once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” The blood of bulls and goats could never avail for the putting away of sin (Hebs. 10:4), thus it was needful for Christ to do what no Old Testament priest or offering could ever do: “And they truly were many priests…But this man, because He continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore He is able to save them to the uttermost that come to God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners and made higher than the heavens.” (Hebs. 7:23ff.)

Christ came as the lamb of God to offer Himself, spotless, an offering for sin. “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” Thus, He became the accepted propitiation (covering) “for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.” (I John 2:2)

Man’s problem therefore is not sins, but sin! When our first parents, Adam and Eve, sinned, sin entered into humanity. All of us were born with “bad blood,” for all have sinned. “The collective soul of the human race is scarred and marred by sin; like an avalanche of the ages, sins rolls century after century gathering weight, speed and force.” (Copied, unknown). Only the spotless blood of the Lamb of God could take away the sin of world, and God sent His only begotten, sinless Son, to once and for all deal with the problem of sin. He at once put it away by offering Himself as the sacrifice well pleasing unto God and propitiation, acceptable as that which would not only “cover” sin from one atonement day to the next, but fully remove it forever!

So, God sent His Son to earth because of sin, and He also sent His Son to earth because of salvation: “That the world through Him might be saved.” (I John 3:17) Jesus came to be the savior of the hopeless, hapless, helpless world—the whole of which was lost in the darkness of sin. “And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.” (I John 4:14) “Man of sorrows, what a name; for the Son of Man who came! Ruined sinners to reclaim, Hallelujah! What a Savior!” He was a great teacher, a prophet, a healer, a counsellor, but He came that first Christmas to “save His people from their sins!” He is God’s Savior, presenting God’s gift to mankind: eternal life!

So, God sent Jesus to this earth because of sin, because of salvation, and also because of sinners: “For I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Matt.9:13); “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10); “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” (I Tim.1:15)

Finally, God sent His only begotten Son from Heaven’s glories to earth’s sinful cesspool because of Satan. Satan, the deceiver and murderer, was the devil that became the vehicle through which sin and death made its ugly entrance into God’s wonderful world. Satan had to be dealt with, and only one person could do that: “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same, that He might destroy him that had the power of death; that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” (Hebrews 2:15) Jesus came to destroy death and triumph over it (the resurrection) and to dispel darkness: “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.” (John 12:46)

Because God sent His Son Jesus to this earth one Christmas morn to deal with sin, salvation, sinners, and Satan, we can live in “hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began.” (Tit. 1:2) Eternal life with Him in a place where there will be no more crime, no disease nor death, no funerals, no “adult” book stores; no war, famine, divorce courts; no cancer clinics, penitentiaries, reform schools, cemeteries, sexual deviants, crooked politicians, church splits, hungry and abused children, beaten wives, drunkards, or hell-holes!

Aren’t you glad that God sent His only begotten Son to this world?  I am, too!  Merry Christmas!

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life!” (John 3:16)

“Agape Love”

I have known William Holder for more than 40 years. At our first meeting, I came away from his home feeling he was pretty gruff. He was younger then, as was I, and I felt that he was combative concerning church, faith, and matters spiritual. His wife was then, as she always has been, quiet and sweet and of a beautiful spirit. She attended our church, but in those early years he did not come much, until his eventual retirement. I was given the honor of preaching his godly mother’s funeral, and Bill and I were drawn a bit closer. Then it just happened, with no momentous event that stands out in either of our minds but gradually, with the passing of the winters and arrivals of the springs, we became friends.

Our respect for each other grew and today, I think I can speak for both of us in saying that there is genuine, Christian love in our hearts, the one for the other. Bill has listened to hundreds of my sermons, and the days when he would as soon argue a point as accept it have long since ceased. I have preached more than one of his loved one’s funerals. He has stood by my family as we have suffered the anguish of loved ones taken from us by the icy, cold grip of death. Our tears have paralleled each other’s as they have trickled down time-worn cheeks.

Now, Bill greets me with a broad smile. His dear wife, shoulders a bit more stooped by the gravity of years, still has her beautiful countenance through all the heartaches that she may have suffered; and, in spite of the physical challenges of toting first grandchildren and then great grandchildren back and forth to church, to school, to eating places and to wherever duty demanded, she still manages a smile that seems to say, “Good to see you.” The Holders have been there through the thick and thin for many, many years. We’ve kind of grown old(er) together. I don’t even think Mr. Holder is technically a member of our church, but his place in our body as well as in all of our hearts is undeniable, and his mark is indelible.

Some thirty years ago, Bill wrote a poem about an elderly couple, in their nineties, that he had observed in a restaurant. As a Christmas gift to you, I’d like to share his poem, which he entitled “Agape Love”:

“I first saw them in the parking lot, both with hair as white as snow. Walking hand in hand, moving rather slow. Shoulders bent and rounded, from toil and many a year; probably in their nineties, gently smiling, full of cheer. There seemed to be a glow, on each wrinkled face. They chatted with each other, walking at a steady pace. Four legs strode in unison, as if their bodies were one; keeping up a steady cadence, having moved together so long.  To the restaurant door they moved; he opened and held the door, and gently held her arm, to evade slipping on the floor. They stopped at a corner table, as if it were their own. He helped her remove her coat, held the chair as she sat down. The waitress came by with the menu, they smiled and said “hello.” She asked “Will you have the usual?” as if she seemed to know. The meal was brought to the table, she gave a little nod. They gently held the other’s hands, bowed their heads, and remembered God. Throughout the meal they chatted, occasionally one would grin. You’d see their gentle hands come together now and then. When they finished eating, the waitress wandered by. They teased her about something, with a twinkle in their eye.  She asked if they’d have desert, they said, “We must control our weight.” They talked about a piece of pie, and they settled on chocolate cake. The waitress came with the desert, with an extra fork and plate. The old lady carefully halved it, and shared it with her mate. When the meal was over, they sat and talked awhile. Gently touching the other’s hands, now and then they’d smile. He moved her chair and held her coat, the door he opened wide; she took his arm and they walked out, slowly side by side. They held hands across the lot, until they reached the car—a like new older Ford, shining like a star. He helped her in, gentle and kind, as if she were a queen. They drove away, her next to him, love like this is seldom seen. This is known as ‘agape love,’ that’s shared by God with man. Seldom do we see it expressed, in this old, evil land. When the New Jerusalem descends from God above, all that dwells within its walls, will share that kind of love.” (William L. Holder, 1989)

(Note: I first shared this poem in the December, 2012, TRBC Times and have reprinted it here, hoping that it will be a blessing to you this Christmas season.)

This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

The Unspeakable Gift

It’s that time of the year again when gift giving is on the minds of most: What to give and to whom, how much to give, and a myriad of other questions. But the least-asked question is maybe the most important one of all: Why to give?

It is a wise saying that “you can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.” Possibly the most-oft quoted verse in the Bible, John 3:16, says that “For God so loved the world that He gave….” God spoke the world into existence; populated it with all kinds of life and beauty; then made man in His own image—with intelligence, volition, and emotion—and charged Adam with keeping the breathtaking Garden of Eden. His only prohibition was that he must not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the midst of the garden. Man disobeyed and sin entered the world, along with death by sin, “right off the bat” so to speak.

What to do? Well, from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8) God drew up a master plan that included the redemption and reconciliation of sinful, sin-plagued mankind. John 3:16 again: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” God so loved that He gave—and what He gave was His life-giving, only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. What matchless love! What an unspeakable gift.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)  Eternal life? Yes, life that is everlasting and in that sense eternal. But it is so much more than everlasting. Jesus, praying to His Father on the way to Calvary, defined eternal life: “And this is life eternal, that they may know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.” (John 17:3). So, the gift of God that is eternal life is a gift that enables all believers to know God, their creator, in a personal way. We can know the true God—that He is our creator. A god made of stones or clay or wood is no god. Our God is personal; we can know Him and we can know His Son, Jesus Christ, personally. That is a gift that is beyond our finite capacity to comprehend!  A personal knowledge of— and relationship with—the God who spoke the world into existence is the gift of God to us! You will be trying to “wrap your head around” that fact until you finally give up the ghost!

God’s gift is not only an eternal gift, it is an irrevocable gift!  He will never take it back. It is given according to His promise, and Paul says that we hold to this gift “in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began.” (Tit.1:2) God cannot lie. What He promises He produces, and to all who believe and receive the gift of God He gives eternal life.

God’s gift is given freely, for salvation is the “gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.” (Eph. 2:8,9) In this Ephesians passage, Paul uses just about every superlative he can to describe the gift and the giver: “rich in mercy…for His great love…exceeding riches of His grace…His kindness toward us.” (Eph. 2:4-7) He also certifies that this gift is “heavenly.” We are made to “sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” That is all part and parcel of this “unspeakable gift” for which we give thanks unto God.” (2 Cor. 9:15)

No wonder, then, that when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, God’s gift to us by grace through faith, we give gifts! It is a spontaneous reaction to the realization of the truth of God’s gift to this fallen race. People give gifts in celebrating. So, this Christmas season, as we plan, purchase and participate in gift-giving, let us keep the right perspective and always remember that it is because of His gift to us that we want to give gifts—in and through and because of His love—to others.  May He be honored in our giving of gifts in commemoration of His unspeakable gift.

What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I’d give Him a lamb; if I were a wise-man, I’d do my part. What can I give Him? I’ll give Him my heart.” (Christina Rosetti)

Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.” (2 Cor. 9:15)

When God’s Hand is Upon a Church

Depending upon which church growth expert you have been reading, there are supposedly thousands of churches closing their doors every year. A number of possible reasons are cited. To hear that a local body of believers, a church, has closed its doors is dismaying in the least. Churches are living organisms, bodies that are appendages of His Body, the Church, and to learn of an assembly that is now ceasing to be is a contradiction of the first order. These things ought not to be!  

But, in the infant stages of the Church that Christ said He would build, a body that the gates of Hell could not prevail against, (Matt.16:18  ) there are keys that will open timeless truths as to what makes a church a life-giving body. One such passage is early in the book of Acts.  The mother church, Jerusalem, had experienced phenomenal growth beginning on the Day of Pentecost, witnessing thousands of conversions and baptisms, mostly in the Jewish community/population.  Persecution eventually reared its ugly head and many of these converts had to “get out of town.” Antioch was one of the destinations as we read in Acts 11:19. The new Jewish believers were not reticent to preach the gospel to the Jews that they met in Antioch and many believed. In a short while, they began preaching to the Gentile audiences also and “a great number believed and turned unto the Lord.” (Acts 11:21) There was in time a church founded, a church which Paul and Barnabas spent a year meeting with, grounding the new converts who “assembled themselves together with the church…” as they “taught much people…and the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.” (Acts 11:21, 26)

That’s the kind of church every God-called, Spirit anointed pastor would love to shepherd, a church upon which the hand of God was resting. Why was it so? What made the church at Antioch, where believers were first called “Christians,” (Acts 11:26) a church of which it was noted that God’s hand was upon it?

First, it was a church known for its preaching; it was born out of and bathed in the preaching of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Preaching to every man, Jew and Gentile, was its primary occupation. And, since the gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God unto salvation, (Romans 1:16) a great number believed and turned to the Lord. Dr. Robert Delnay, a 20th century mentor of many preachers once said, “The vitality of Christianity at any time in church history is directly related to the vitality of preaching.” Charles Spurgeon put it this way: “I do not look for any other means of converting men beyond the simple preaching of the gospel.” And, Robert Murray McCheyne confessed: “I preached as never to preach again; as a dying man to dying men.”

The church upon which the hand of God is resting today is a church where Bible preaching is still the primary objective of all ministries.  Not small groups designed to meet every conceivable need of those who attend; not a lively music program, complete with a band that generates striking sights and sounds; not side-shows that promote personalities or programs, but just Bible preaching that exalts Christ and exhorts sinners. 

A church where the gospel is being regularly preached will also be a church where people are getting saved and baptized. “A great number believed and turned to the Lord.” (v.21) When people trust Christ as Savior, turning to Him in repentance from their sin, there follows baptism, identifying with Christ’s person and message, and then the joining of themselves to a local assembly of those who are of like faith and practice. “Added to the church” is a phrase originating on the day of Pentecost and to this hour when a person hears the gospel, believes unto salvation, then is baptized and added to the church, the New Testament blueprint, recorded in Acts 2, has been followed.  That is what happened in Antioch when people were getting saved, baptized and added to the church. It happened because the hand of the Lord was upon that church, and wherever or whenever a church has God’s hand upon it people are getting saved, baptized and added to the church.

When the church at Jerusalem heard of the work of the Holy Spirit in Antioch, they sent Barnabas to check it out!  He came, he witnessed the grace of God at work and he “exhorted them all that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.” (Acts 11:23) When God’s hand is upon a church, there will be Biblical exhortation. Exhorting one another is a ministry that every believer should take seriously. To exhort is to encourage with urgency. Paul exhorted Timothy that prayers and supplications be made for all men, (I Tim.2:1ff.); and he said that “reading, exhortation and doctrine,” should be continued “till I come.” (I Tim.4:13) Barnabas exhorted these new converts in all matters, and it resulted in a local assembly that was alert and alive. A church upon which God’s hand is resting is a church that embraces Godly, Biblical exhortation.

Then too, it is a church that loves Bible teaching. Along with exhortation comes the systematic teaching of God’s Word. “Preach the Word…reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” (2 Tim.4:2) This new church at Antioch loved Bible preaching and teaching. For a whole year, as the church regularly and willingly assembled themselves together, Paul and Barnabas “taught much people.” There were no gimmicks to draw them day after day, week after week, for a year; they loved the Word and could not get enough of it. That is a characteristic of a new-born babe in Christ; and, it is an earmark of the church upon which the hand of God is resting. We should note also that the testimony of the church at Antioch was sounded abroad. They become known as “Christians.” When the mother church at Jerusalem was suffering because of a “great dearth,” the church at Antioch became at once a giving church, “every man according to his ability” sending relief to the saints at Jerusalem. It was a church with a testimony for God, a church with a heart for God’s people, a giving church, and a church upon which the hand of God was resting.

Maybe churches that are not following this New Testament model should close. God’s hand has, evidently, been removed from many an assembly that once had lights burning brightly for Christ much like the church at Antioch.  May our prayer be that God’s hand will rest upon our churches now like He did then, with souls being saved, saints being grounded and aptly exhorted, and missionaries being sent out to establish another candlestick in another community upon which the hand of God is.

The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.” (Rev.1:20)

Grudge Not!

There’s a sin that believers can commit that may be more deadly than adultery. It infects victims with a plague more dreadful than Covid. It is, in practice, often more damaging than alcoholism.

It is not only possible for believers to commit this sin; it is commonly practiced and can be found in almost any church in America.

Some who practice it would not think of robbing a bank, but committing this sin ranks right up there with the worst of offences to a holy God.

Most who commit this sin would never murder another human being, but its consequences are as ugly as transgressing the fifth commandment.

It is probably one of the sins most commonly practiced by all saints. God hates it as much as divorce and will judge it as surely as He will judge homosexuality! 

Preachers and deacons and Sunday school teachers are too often guilty of it; you can find it in the pulpit as well as in the pew.

Old Christians and young-in-the-faith believers alike are too often trapped in this spiritually deadening sin-hole. It has probably caused more grief, more heartache, more discouragement, more trouble and even more expense than any sin known to mankind!

None of us can afford to continue on in it for one moment!

God’s warning is clear: “Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.” (James 5:9)

Causes for committing this sin are almost limitless: Someone lied about you; insulted you as weighing too much; received more recognition than you; forgot your birthday or intimated that your housekeeping could be a bit better. Or, the pastor looked straight at you while preaching on tithing; or, your mother-in-law came to visit and stayed three years; or, your wife spoke a bit too highly of the attractiveness of another man; or your husband gave you $100 and expected you to buy groceries for a family of five for the week. And on and on: things people have said or done to you that offended you and for which you hold a grudge.

We could mention things that people did not do to you that were the source of an unhealthy itch that has in time become an irritation: You were slighted in not receiving an invitation to breakfast with friends; the Pastor visited a fellow church member who had been in the hospital for two days, but failed to visit you when you were in for some major surgery; you were overlooked for nomination to church officer again this year, though you are as qualified and have actually been a member of your church longer than some who were nominated; you were passed over for a raise at work though you know for a fact some fellow employees did receive a raise who are, in your humble estimation, less deserving than you.  And the reasons go on, ad nauseum!

The consequences for harboring a grudge are inestimable. Starting with broken friendships, one could cite many victims, including families, neighbors, churches, cities, and nations. Divorce is another familiar consequence of grudges over money, success, friendships, physical intimacy (or lack thereof), and past grievances. Then, disease: mental, physical and ultimately death can sometimes be attributed to holding long-term grudges, according medical and mental health experts. Holding a grudge for whatever reason can be a very expensive practice.

King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia decided to boycott the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana to continue a protest dating to 1704. As one account noted: “The Spanish government announced Tuesday the king and queen declined the invitation to next week’s wedding because the royal couple plan to go to Gibraltar to board the royal yacht Britannia for a honeymoon cruise. Gibraltar has been a British colony since 1704.” A very long time to nurse a grudge! (Copied)

The costs of holding grudges: some are tangible, such as medical bills, divorce with all of its unending ripples, funerals, wars. We could add some intangible costs:  lost friends, lost unity, lost souls, and destroyed ministries and churches.

There is, praise God, a cure for this debilitating digression! Recognize it as sin; acknowledge it for what it is; confess it; and then forsake it. Refuse to revisit it ever: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9)

“The longer you stay in the ministry, you will know the important thing is not what you’ve remembered. The important thing is what you’ve decided to forget.” (Jim Schettler)

So, embrace the correction for this terrible spiritual malady:  Be honest in sharing with the offender how you have harbored your resentment; then be humble, admitting that you are a broken vessel and that you are often less tolerant of sins in others than you are of your own. “But He giveth more grace. Wherefore He saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” (James 4:8)

A church bulletin had a clever poem about criticism that began: “A little seed lay in the ground, and soon began to sprout; ‘Now which of all the flowers around shall I,’ it mused, ‘come out?’ The seed could then be heard to say, ‘I don’t care to be a rose. It has thorns. I have no desire to be a lily. It is too colorless. And I certainly wouldn’t want to be a violet. It’s too small, and it grows too close to the ground.’”

The poem concludes with this verse about that fault-finding seed: “And so it criticized each flower, that supercilious seed. Until it woke one summer hour and found itself a weed!”

Be careful how and why you criticize. And, do not harbor a grudge toward those who have criticized you. Commit it to God. Your critics will have enough grief to deal with; you do not need to, nor should you, add any grief to theirs.  The Judge standeth before the door. (James 5:9)

“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.” (Romans 12:10)

It’s Thanksgiving Day!

It’s Thanksgiving Day!
A blanket of snow spread lightly in traces,
A world moving fast to all the old places;
Cherished smiles on children’s sweet faces,
Can it be, Thanksgiving again?

Food in baskets, good things galore—
Food enough for twenty and more!
Cakes and pies, and who knew we were poor?
Say, can it be Thanksgiving again?

Friends and family, some from afar;
Horses and buggies and, look! There’s a car!
Over the miles with jam in a jar-
Now it must be Thanksgiving again!

Time to say grace—with bowed heads we pray;
Time to thank God for mercies each day;
Time with our voices, His praises to say—
Yes, it’s surely Thanksgiving Day

Let us then circle our table of fare;
Let us give thanks for the bounty we share;
Let us sing praises to God with great care—
Sure, once again, it’s Thanksgiving Day!
Sanctify God, therefore, in your heart,
He’s blessed our nation right from the start.
Evil has tried to pull us apart,
But here we are now, on Thanksgiving Day!

Day that is special, one of a kind:
Day when in love, our hearts gladly bind!
One with another, and all whom we find,
Oh, bless His name, it’s Thanksgiving again!
Anthony Slutz
Ellen and I wish you all a very special Thanksgiving Day!

"Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving." Colossians 4:2

He Would Not Be Silent

The Psalmist was so full of thankfulness for God’s mercies that he exclaimed in Psalm 30:12: “To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent, O Lord, my God, I will give thanks unto Thee forever.” He has so much for which to offer praise. He is thankful that death had not yet caught up with him, for “what profit is there in my blood when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise Thee?” (v.9) He acknowledges that the mercy of God has kept him alive and affirms that he will not be silent about God’s goodness and mercies—and that forever he will sing His praises!  That is what every child of God should believe and practice every day.  David’s testimony as recorded in part in Psalm 30—which begins with “I will extol Thee, O Lord…”—ought to be ours this Thanksgiving Day. And every day.

It is an old reading by an author that is unknown to me, and you have probably been blessed by it many times, as have I. But it never ceases to move the chords of thankfulness, love, and praise in my heart whenever I read it, so please let me share it with you again:

Today, upon a bus I saw a girl with golden hair. She seemed so bright; I envied her, and wished that I were half so fair. I watched her as she rose to leave, and saw her hobble down the aisle. She had one leg and wore a crutch, but as she passed—a smile! Oh, God, forgive me when I whine, I have two legs, the world is mine.

Later on I bought some sweets. The boy who sold them had such charm, I thought I’d stop and talk awhile. If I were late, ‘twould do no harm. And as we talked, he said, ‘Thank you, sir, you’ve really been so kind. It’s nice to talk to folks like you because you see I’m blind.’ Oh, God, forgive me when I whine; I have two eyes, the world is mine.

Later, walking down the street, I met a boy with eyes so blue; he stood and watched the others play; it seemed he knew not what to do. I paused, and then, I said, ‘Why don’t you join the others, dear?’ But he looked straight ahead without a word, and then I knew, he couldn’t hear. Oh, God, forgive me when I whine; I have two ears, the world is mine.

Two legs to take me where I go. Two eyes to see the sunset’s glow. Two ears to hear all I should know. Oh, God, forgive me when I whine. I’m blessed indeed, the world is mine.”

In Psalm 119:62, David said that he would rise at midnight to give thanks to God.  It is a good thing to give thanks to God—morning, noon, and night. It is one thing that every one of us can and should do.  Is your present plight difficult? Giving thanks in everything—for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you—will change your perspective on any problem or even in any crisis. (I Thess. 5:17)

Missionaries, like every other serving saint, have difficulties and mountainous challenges to deal with daily, serving often in foreign countries and attempting to reach the nationals where they serve, while learning a language that is not familiar to them—in a culture that, in many ways, is the opposite of the way of life where they grew up.

Bernard and Bernice Dodeler have served the Lord faithfully in France for 50 years. Their advantage has been that the language and culture are native to them, but the barriers of unbelief have been no less monumental. In November of 2011, when Bernard and Bernice had been laboring faithfully for 40 years, loving their own countrymen and women to Christ, they sent their supporters and friends a prayer letter in which they said, “When in the early 70’s, we accepted the call of God to go church planting in France, little did we realize how much we would have to squarely rest upon God’s daily providence. Day after day, month after month, year after year, we have marveled at the way God has extended His providence over us:

  • God was there to provide all of our support to go to the mission field only five months after graduation from Central Seminary.
  • God was there to give us strength and courage to establish a local church in a city of northeastern France, totally overwhelmed by Marxists.
  • God was there to comfort us and take care of us when the French Post Office blocked our monthly support checks for nearly four months because postal workers went on strike.
  • God was there to encourage us when the going was slow in getting churches under way.
  • God was there to give us wisdom and patience every time a church failed financially to meet its obligations.
  • God was there protecting us when we were driving unreliable cars from one ministry to another.
  • God was there to enhance our compassion for the lost when they were obnoxious to us.
  • God was there providing our very basic needs through the economically disastrous Carter era.
  • God was there guiding us when pivotal decisions needed to be made to preserve the integrity of I.B.B.I., the training place for faithful nationals.
  • Recently, God provided graciously a nice pre-owned station wagon with low mileage from people with whom we now have excellent rapport.”

That praise and prayer letter was written almost 11 years ago, and the Dodelers are still praising God for His faithfulness. They were just presented a special award for meritorious missionary service of 50 years by the mission agency under whose auspices they have steadfastly served a half-century.

Do you have a list of things for which to specifically thank God for this Thanksgiving Day? Giving thanks reveals a grateful heart. It can also be contagious.  Anyone can grumble or even gripe, but it is a serious thing to do.  The late Noel Smith, writing in the November, 1972, issue of the Baptist Bible Tribune, said, “Ingratitude is the basic sin of youth. It is the basic sin of middle age; such gratitude as most middle- aged people have drains to their belly. A girdle will improve the figure but it won’t improve the heart.”

My prayer is that Thanksgiving Day Thursday will find you lifting your heart in praise to the God of all grace.

Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the heathen, to give thanks unto Thy holy name, and to triumph in Thy praise.” (Ps. 106:47)

Mary Ann

She is my oldest sister, born about eight years before I became the fourth of five children of Theodore and Margaret in Van Buren County, southeastern Iowa. Mary Ann was the first born, and she has always demonstrated an individualistic spirit. She is an avid reader, a loyal friend, a lover of fine china, a people-person, a devoted follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, a loving mother and grandmother, a leader by nature, and a consummate learner.

I could never begin to tell Mary Ann’s story; it so jam-packed full of life’s ventures and adventures. But I want to share a slice of it that might encourage someone reading this to “do right.”

When she graduated from high school in 1952, Mary Ann enrolled in Baptist Bible College of Springfield, MO. Arriving in Springfield, she had nothing and knew no one; but with her resourcefulness, she was able to quickly find a job, make a good friend, and meet teachers in this start-up Bible college who were willing to help her. That was the era when the likes of Jerry Falwell, Greg Dixon, and other notables from around the country were students in this Baptist Bible Fellowship college, and W.E. Dowell, David Cavin, G.B. Vick, Noel Smith, the Donnelsons, and other men and women of stature were leaders.

Mary Ann met and in 1954 would marry Tom Wilson, who attended BBC for a year before moving to Denver.  He was from Seymour, Iowa, and from his childhood dreamed of flying planes in the United States Air Force; but having enlisted, he was later discharged honorably for medical reasons. In his life after the Air Force, Tom worked for Continental Air Lines, Douglas Aircraft, and other employers, learning also to become a skilled craftsman as a watchmaker.  The Wilsons lived in Los Angeles, Denver, Charlotte, and finally in the greater Atlanta area. They enjoyed 56 years of married life until the Lord called Tom home, having battled Multiple Myeloma for about six years before being graduated to glory.

Four or five years into their marriage, Mary Ann was working at a Lincoln Mercury dealership, Kumpf Motor Car Company, in downtown Denver. An elderly gentleman came to her counter one day to pay his bill and pick up his car.  She asked him for his ID not having met him before and not knowing that he was one of the wealthiest men in the United States at that time, having made a fortune as a cattleman with a ranch in Kansas. He was a bit put out at first that she would ask him for identification, but soon realized that this friendly young lady was pretty naïve and just doing her job. He pulled out a stuffed wallet and showed Mary Ann about every form of ID she could have imagined. She saw at the end of that string of Diner’s Club cards a picture of his grandchildren which she commented on. That was the beginning of an acquaintance and friendship that would continue while Tom and Mary Ann were in Denver. 

In the course of time, the cattleman wanted to give Mary Ann a token of his appreciation for her friendship. He was going to be going on a trip, but before he left he thrust out a checkbook and asked her to write herself a check for any amount. He would never know how much it was. She was, of course, stunned. In no way had she ever thought of anything like that happening. She and Tom had been his guests at Denver’s most exclusive restaurant, and they had entertained him in their home.  They desired opportunities to witness to him about Christ, and their motive was ever and only to be genuine friends to an old man who did not have close family as a part of his life. They did not realize, at that time, that he was indeed one of America’s wealthiest people.  Mary Ann would not—could not—accept his generous offer, and as long as they were friends she never accepted any cash gifts from the Kansas cattleman.

I heard about that story and watched Mary Ann and Tom through the years. Mary Ann testified to her friend that she would always and only trust in the Lord to take care of her needs. Tom was a skilled craftsman and always had work. They lived in His presence, and their needs were always met. One could only guess what twists and turns life might have taken for the Wilsons, had they accepted this offer from a well-meaning friend. But Mary Ann has testified that it was never a temptation and that she was determined to trust God and depend on her husband to take care of her needs. And He has, to this day, never failed.  From the time when, penniless, she enrolled in Baptist Bible College until this present hour, she has lived a comfortable life—not luxurious but surrounded by some of her very best friends, BOOKS, and living in a beautiful home on top of a Georgia mountain. She and Tom have always been active in a local Baptist Church wherever they have lived, and they have always been generous to others when there has been a need that they could help meet. When one of our sisters who lived in Waterloo, Iowa, struggled with serious health problems that eventually claimed her life, Mary Ann, in her mid-80s, drove to Waterloo alone from her home in Georgia to care for her multiple times over the course of Nancy’s last years. Nothing has ever seemed out of the realm of possibility for Mary Ann to tackle. Her spirit is indomitable.

With eight years separating us, I have not always known her closely; but I have admired her and loved her for her love of life, people, Christ and His Word, and for her steadfast testimony. When she was a high-school student, she wrote a paper for one of her classes on “Protestantism Versus Catholicism.” She received a failing grade from the teacher, and I almost got a heart attack out of it as I was in the Catholic hospital recovering from an appendectomy when she—armed with bound copies of her thesis—visited me in the hospital. As she was leaving, she left a copy of the little red booklet on Protestantism v. Catholicism between the fingers of all the statues of Mary. I had visions of being rolled down into the basement of that hospital, where something very grisly would happen to me. But, that was Mary Ann. And still pretty much is. An individualist. But on the right side and for the cause of truth.  I am proud to call her my sister!

I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.” (Phil.1:3)

Don’t Look Back!

Jesus was once approached by a would-be disciple who said, “Lord, I will follow Thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house.” Jesus’ reply was a warning for all those who are following the Lord Jesus or who are contemplating signing up for service: “And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:61, 62)

All of us have known some, maybe more than a few, who would fit the description of “looking back.” Maybe some who are reading this are saying, “Yes, there was a time when ‘looking back’ would have described my status as a follower of Jesus Christ.” Startling, is it not, that Jesus said of such a person that he is not fit for the kingdom of heaven. Lest one should be hasty in judgment and consign such a one-time follower that died in a state of “looking back” to Hell, it should be noted that the words “not fit” could be rendered “not ready.” No believer who is “looking back” (as Hebrew Christians addressed in the book of Hebrews were tempted to do) is ready for the kingdom of God. He has more maturing to do; God has some refining to put him through, and it is certain that the work that He has begun and will perform in that follower (Phil.1:6) is not yet complete.

The day that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah—sending angels to escort Lot, his wife, and two daughters out of the doomed city—the people were warned by their rescuers: “Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain.” (Gen.19:17) Sadly, we read in Gen. 19:26: “But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.” It was devastating to Lot and deadly to his wife to “look back.” Jesus used that Old Testament incident to instruct his followers. In Luke 17:32, He simply says, “Remember Lot’s wife.” He was encouraging the disciples (Luke 17:22ff.) to be faithful and ready for the coming of the future kingdom of God.

Following that instruction from the Gospel of Luke, we should look to and for these things, having put our hands to the plough:

Look to His Person Hebrews 12:2 gives us good counsel in our walk and work for our Savior in this Church age: “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.” We are members of His body, the Church, and He has, by His Spirit, gifted us and equipped us for the work of edifying His Church. There is a work for each child of God to do. Set out to do it with your whole-heart; but whatever you do, don’t look back. Don’t look back to old ways of the world that you once embraced. Look to Jesus. Keep your eyes fixed upon Him and in so doing “run with patience the race that is set before us.” (Hebs.12:1)

Look to the prize. Paul declared that “forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil.3:13, 14) A prize for Paul was the “crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only but unto all them also that love His appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:8) So, too, every believer can look forward to the same prize that kept Paul looking straight ahead and not back at those things which were behind.

Look for the promise. Paul put it this way in writing to Titus: “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” (Tit. 2:13) The promise was, “I will come again to receive you unto myself that where I am ye may be also.” (John 14:3) His coming for the Church, the Rapture, is imminent.  We are to live expectantly, faithfully, ready to hear the trumpet’s signal and the Saviour’s shout to “Come up hither.” Oh, what a blessed daily hope that is! Let us live while looking for that promise as Paul encouraged his son in the faith, Titus, to do.

Look at our progress. (2 John 8): “Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.” Paul plainly said to the Corinthian Christians, a carnal lot, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.” (2 Cor.13:5) It is well to look at our own heart: Am I right with God? Am I keeping the faith? Am I in love with Him and His word?

Finally, look to people.  (Phil.2:4): “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” We live in community as believers.  We are a body. When one member of the body suffers, all members of the body suffer. God has given us plenty of instruction as to how to treat and care for people who are family and family of faith: “Love one another.” “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (I John 3:17) We take care of our own. Our own household and then, when and where needed, the household of faith. We minister to spiritual needs (Gal.6:1, 2), and we are sensitive to the physical needs.  Looking also “on the things of others,” in the sense that Paul had in mind when he wrote to the Philippian church, will keep us from living a selfish, self-centered life.

So, while ploughing in the field where God has placed you, remember: Do not look back; look to the Person (Jesus); look to the prize; look for the promise; look at your progress, and do not fail to look to people. In doing so, He will be able to finish that work that He has begun in you (Phil.1:6). And in time, in His time, you will be ready for the kingdom of God, where He will have more ploughing  for you to do, ploughing that will take a millennium to complete, all to the praise of His glory!

“Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.” (Hebrews 10:35,36)