Seventeen Inches, Now and Always!

John Scolinos, baseball coach at Pepperdine University and for three decades at Cal State Polytech U., became well known for a speech he once delivered at the Opryland Hotel in 1996 to 4,000 baseball coaches who were meeting in Nashville for the annual American Baseball Coaches Association. Wearing a home plate around his neck, he queried of the Little League coaches present “How many inches is home plate.” Several in the audience responded “Seventeen inches.” He then asked all the Babe Ruth League coaches present “How many inches is home plate?” The same answer was echoed, “Seventeen inches.” He continued asking high school coaches, college coaches, minor league and major league coaches the same question, “How many inches is home plate?” The same response came back from every group present, “Seventeen inches.” He then made his point that it never changes and that some things should never change, things having to do with time-tested character standards, whether in sports, in the home, in the church, in the nation. His conclusion: “Coaches, keep your players, no matter how good they are-your own children and most of all yourself at seventeen inches!” Scolinos applied his principle to the nation, to the schools and the dumbing down of educational norms that were at one time designed to build character, and, finally to the Church. One coach who heard Scolinos speak that day said, “I was amazed. At a baseball convention where I expected to learn something about curveballs and bunting…I learned something far more valuable. From an old man with home plate strung around his neck, I had learned something about life, about myself, about my own weaknesses and about my responsibilities as a leader. I had to hold myself accountable to that which I knew to be right, lest our families, our faith, and our society continue down an undesirable path.”

It’s a matter of character, which is the subject of what I want to share with you today. You will not find the word character in the Bible, but you will note that it bleeds through every person on every page of the Bible.  It is not defined but it is depicted, from the fall of Lucifer to the fall of mankind, from the beginning in the garden to the ending in the New Jerusalem.  Men and women whose lives wrote a story, depicting a character for good or for bad, for time and for eternity. Every person possesses character, some bent, some beautiful, some honest, some crooked; it cannot be camouflaged indefinitely, for at some time or other, in life or in death, it will be on center stage and one’s true character will be on display for a watching world.

Oscar Wilde, Irish poet and playwright, arrived for a visit in the United States in 1882. Asked by officials what he had to declare, he replied “Only my genius.” Fifteen years later, alone and broken in prison, Wilde reflected on his life (character): “I have been a spendthrift of my genius; I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character.” (Hillsdale College, Imprimus)

Character’s core:  the inner person that men do not see but that God looks upon: “But the Lord said unto Samuel, look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature, because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” (I Sam.16:7)

Character’s crux: 19th century evangelist D.L. Moody said that character was “what a man is in the dark.” When no one can see you and no one can know what you are doing or thinking, then the crux of your character, known only to God and to you, will be revealed, Moody opined. What a man is in the dark will depend upon what there is inside of him to command and compel him to do right or to fail to answer to the commands of his conscience and of his creator.

Character’s consistency: A scorpion, being a very poor swimmer, asked a turtle to carry him on his back across the river. “Are you mad?” exclaimed the turtle. “You’ll sting me while I’m swimming and I’ll drown.” “My dear turtle,” laughed the scorpion, “if I were to sting you, you would drown and I would go down with you. Now, where is the logic in that?”

“You’re right,” said the turtle. “Hop on!” The scorpion climbed aboard and halfway across the river gave the turtle a mighty sting. As they both sank to the bottom, the turtle resignedly said, “Do you mind if I ask you something? You said there’d be no logic in stinging me. Why did you do it?”

“It has nothing to do with logic,” the drowning scorpion sadly replied. It’s just my character.” (Copied, Horizon)

Character’s course: When James Garfield was president of Hiram College a father brought his son to the school requesting that he be given a shortened course of studies, affirming that his boy could never take in all the required assignments. Garfield, a minister/educator said, “Oh, yes. He can take a shorter course: it all depends upon what you want to make of him. When God wants to make an oak, He takes a hundred years, but when He makes a squash, it only takes a matter of a couple of months.”

Character’s constancy: Charles Lindbergh spoke to the enduring aspect of character when he said that “short-term survival may depend upon the knowledge of nuclear physicists and the performance of supersonic aircraft, but long-term survival depends alone upon the character of man. We must remember that it was not the outer grandeur of the Roman but the inner simplicity of the Christian that lived on through the ages.”

Character’s crumbling: David Brooks in “Road to Character” wrote that our culture, technological and meritocratic, had not made a race of depraved barbarians of us but it “has made us less morally articulate. Many of us have no clear idea how to build character, no rigorous way to think about such things. We are clear about external, professional things, but unclear about internal, moral ones.”

Character’s components: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest…just…pure…lovely…of good report…virtue…praise….” (Phil.4:8)

Character’s conversion: “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are past away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17)

“Nothing Could Be Finer”

The church in the “holler”.

That’s the way I remember an old song out of the past which goes on to say “than to be in Carolina in the morning.” Well, Ellen and I experienced that for a couple of weeks recently, and I’d like, on a personal note in this post, to share with you a few of our experiences.

First, we attended a Gospel Fellowship Association Conference in Greenville, South Carolina, that was planned and designed for the Interim Pastors branch of GFA.  Marshall Fant heads this program up and I have been a part of it since I stepped back from the senior pastorate in 2019.  There were a handful of men active then as interim pastors, and it has grown to 20 pastors that are now serving or ready to serve local churches who are in need of an experienced, qualified pastor to assist them, to shepherd them in the interim period as the church seeks God’s direction about the man of God they will eventually call as their pastor.  The men and their wives that we met are “top drawer,” Godly men with seasoned experience, most of them decades as under shepherds of local churches, and any church needing assistance in an interim period would be well served by the GFA Interim Pastor ministry.  Marsh Fant has timely podcasts that are also highly instructive and inspirational.  In a recent “You and God” I quoted some stunning statistics about the number of pastors leaving the ministry every month, hundreds and some estimate thousands!  That was a credible source that shared this information, and that was before Covid-19 made its ugly appearance in 2020, so one might guess the number to be even higher now. Many, many churches are now without pastors to lead and feed them.  If you are a member of one of these congregations or know of such a local church that would want a sound, Biblicist pastor, fully-vetted as to his theology and practical experience, I would encourage you to give to that church the following contact information:  The conference we attended was a spiritual shot in the arm for both the pastors and their wives. This GFA interim pastor ministry that God, through this sound mission board, has raised up for such time as this as a service of helps to local churches, is extraordinary.

The rest of our two weeks in the Carolinas was spent visiting family that we had intended to see in the spring of 2020, but the day we planned to drive from Maranatha Village, an exceptional retirement community for believers of like precious faith located in Sebring, FL., everything shut down over-night due to Covid-19, and it was impossible to find even a McDonald’s open for a cup of coffee or a rest room break. So, our delayed trip to visit family in the Carolinas was put on hold for a couple of years. We enjoyed a brief visit with a grandson who lives and works in Greenville, SC, Parker Nye. He graduated from Bob Jones University and is working in the business field.  He is single, smart and handsome and loves the Lord and works actively in a local church there. He loves Greenville and has chosen, for the present time at least, to make that his home.

Then, we traveled to King’s Mountain, NC, where Eddie and June Bridges have lived all of their married life (50 years plus). June is one of Ellen’s sisters.  We were only able to spend a couple of nights there, but thoroughly enjoyed that time.  King’s Mountain is an historic place where the local mountaineers, during the Revolutionary War, soundly defeated a well-equipped British brigade in a battle that played a significant role in turning the tide of the war against Great Britain.

Our next stop was in North Wilkesboro, NC, where Ellen was born and where she lived until she enrolled in Bob Jones University as a freshman in 1963.  That is where we met when I was a junior in the ministerial class. In those days we were assigned tables in the McKenzie dinning common, and attendance was required three meals a day, beginning at 6:45 a.m. and men had to have their ties on and women their appropriate dress attire for the day.  As I remember, the table assignments were changed every six weeks.  It was at table T-1 that I met the girl I fell in love with and would marry in 1965, 57 years ago, and counting by God’s grace. Ellen has a sister, Brenda (Terry), and a brother, Greg (Deborah), who live outside of North Wilkesboro, each of them having built houses on mountain tops adjacent to the Blue Ridge Mountains Parkway.  We stayed a week and a couple of days with Brenda and Terry, and our bedroom was on the 2nd floor and we could look out each morning at a beautiful sunrise with pink and blue streaks above the tree tops over which we were looking.  It was a totally different world with no sirens or busy traffic to hear, nothing but peaceful quiet. We were able to see and to visit with some of Ellen’s relatives in the area, and also to attend a couple of different churches. It was amazing that almost every church you would drive by, either in the town or in the rural, mountain areas, was a Baptist Church. Many of them were probably Southern Baptists but in recent years there have been more independent Baptist Churches established.  We first visited the church that Brenda and Terry attend, and to get to it one has to leave the paved road, driving on gravel and eventually dirt, thinking that there is no way a church would be located at the end of the road. But there was and it was full of people and the preacher delivered a Bible message that any sound Baptist Church member would have been blessed by–we certainly were.  It was a great experience. The following Sunday we attended a church where Terry and Brenda’s son and grandson attend.  It was even further into a “holler” than the first church and it was hard to believe that a church of any size would be at the end of that road which wound three or more miles up and down a mountain path before, wouldn’t you know, in a beautiful clearing the nicest white church building with a steeple, and a cemetery located behind the church building, appeared.  A cousin of Ellen’s preached a stirring Biblical message and we left rejoicing for having had the opportunity of worshipping there with those folk, who, by the way, were families, mostly younger, with children. It was a truly amazing experience and we were reminded that God has a faithful remnant and they are located everywhere.  These communities are not far from Boone, NC, and it is beautiful Blue Ridge Mountain terrain and we love it!

Our trip home August 1 was eventful also.  The airline flight that we were on from Charlotte to Indy had to navigate through some turbulence and we discovered that, amidst screams, one could hit the ceiling of an airplane cabin and at the same time have his seat belt securely fastened!  We arrived safely and were glad to be home again.

You and Your Pastor

Russell Blowers offered up the following description of what most of us would recognize as a pastor: “Somewhere between the call of God and the heart ward of the local hospital there exists a specialist in everything, variously called a ‘minister,’ a ‘pastor’ a ‘clergyman.’ He is a hero to his wife, a stranger to his children, a fine boy to his mother, an easy touch to some down and outers, a name on the mailing list of hundreds of agencies and organizations, an example to his flock.  To some he’s a fuddy-duddy, to some a stuffed shirt, to some he’s a character that never lived it up, to some he’s ‘Reverend.’ To others he’s ‘Johnny on the spot’ when death’s angel hovers over a loved one; he’s the one who is called when medics have done all that they can do; he’s the man who can mend marriages, but can’t fix his wife’s toaster. He’s the one who marries young lovers, prays with the sick, and buries the dead. He’s a financial expert, a public orator, janitor, errand boy, typist, file clerk, writer, public relations expert, poor golfer, professional tea-sipper, journalist, reformer, evangelist, pastor, business executive, counselor, prophet, book-worm, diplomat, human being, sinner, very poor golfer, bass, tenor, planner and terrible golfer!”

In his concluding chapter of the very exhortative book of Hebrews, the New Testament writer begins his concluding remarks with: “Let brotherly love continue.” In the remaining 21 verses, he mentions our relationship to those whose ministry we sit under, spiritually, with three admonitions: “Remember them which have the rule over you”; “Obey them that have the rule over you”; and, “Salute all them that have the rule over you.” (Hebs. 13:7,17,24)

In a podcast, Pastor Darrin Patrick reported these sobering findings from a Focus on the Family study: “1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, contention in churches or spiritual burnout; 50% of pastors will be divorced before the time they leave the ministry; 80% of pastors feel discouraged or unqualified in their roles as pastor; 50% of pastors are so discouraged they would leave the ministry if they had another way to make a living; four out of five of Bible School and/or seminary graduates will leave ministry in the first five years after graduation; 80% of spouses feel over-worked and 80% of them wish their husbands were not in ministry; 70% of ministers fight depression; 40% have had an extramarital affair, and 70% of pastors say that the only time studying the Word of God is when they are preparing a message.”

No doubt the situation has not improved. If those findings—reported and recorded before Covid-19 hit the world in 2020!—are anywhere close to reality, we should all give careful and prayerful consideration to those admonitions concerning “those who have the rule over us,” as inspired by the Holy Spirit and inscripturated in Hebrews 13.  Look at them again, briefly, with me:

  1. Remember them which have the rule over you (v. 7): This means that we must “keep in mind, think of, retain in memory.” The word translated “rule” has the connotation of “leading with authority.” Those men in the early church who were leaders—such as the half-brother of Jesus, James, who led the mother church in Jerusalem (Acts 15)—were sometimes called “elders ” (I Peter 5:1, 2) and “bishops” (I Tim. 3:1) and “pastors” (Eph. 4:11). These were men who would feed the flock and yet were responsible for “taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly, not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind.” (I Pet. 5:1, 2) His readers were to “remember them” by following their faith and by considering the end of their way of life (v. 7). In so doing, they would not be carried away with strange doctrines. They would find themselves “outside the camp” and would be able to keep the right focus between the temporal and eternal. They would exude a right attitude of praise, and they would communicate spiritually (vss. 9-16). A lady who wanted to remember her pastor sent this note of appreciation: “I never really sat down and thanked you for everything you have done. L is in heaven because of you. You got out in the cold to hold my dying mother’s hand. Sat with my husband during my surgeries. Preached my dad’s funeral and my mom’s. I will work on being a better sheep, and thank you for looking out for our souls.”
  2.  Obey them that have the rule over you (v. 17): This means we are to be persuaded and convinced; we are to depend upon and trust their spiritual leadership. It means to submit to one’s authority. The result will be that those who lead will have joy in leading, not grief. And, consequently, it will go better for the ones who obey. It should be noted that pastors do have differing leadership styles—from the extreme of being an “autocratic” leader to the opposite of “passive” leadership. Biblical models portray both of those leadership methods as dangerous and damaging.  Pastors are not called to be spiritual dictators, nor will they find a “laisse-faire” model in the New Testament. Instead, they are to take the “oversight.” James, the pastor of the Jerusalem church, provides a good example of Scriptural, pastoral leadership in his handling a major problem (as recorded in Acts 15). When a pastor executes the office of a bishop, led of the Spirit and filled with wisdom from above (James 3), the church will be a healthy flock and the leadership will function with joy, not grief. Horror stories of churches led by autocrats or by pastors in abstentia are far too numerous.  Nothing in the New Testament gives any credence for “Deacon Boards” assuming the role and responsibilities for what should be pastoral oversight.
  3. Salute all them that have the rule over you (v. 24): This means that we are to “greet, welcome and respect” these men for their office and for their sacrificial service.  We do this by praying for them (II Thess. 3:1; 5:25) and encouraging them in their faithfulness. Obedience to the Word of God, and faithfulness in serving the God of the Word, is the best way to encourage your pastor. Deut.3:28 is insightful here. Moses, soon to pass the leadership baton to Joshua, exhorted the Israelites to “charge Joshua and encourage him and strengthen him: for he shall go over before this people.” Every pastor needs a good word of encouragement, as did Joshua. So do not hesitate to be forthcoming with a kind note or word of appreciation shared at the right time.

When I was a young pastor in the first church God placed me in to lead, I hit a pretty low spot on one particular occasion; in fact, it would eventually result in my resignation from that six-year stint. At my most difficult day, I found a note under a windshield wiper, left there by young Air-Force couple (young being 20 and 19 years of age, stationed at McConnell Air Force base and members of our church, the husband having been reared in a staunch Catholic home). The note was written as a poem, and it read: “We are thankful for a pastor like you, who will always stand for what is true; who is a man of convictions, and not contradictions; we hope that you keep preaching real strong, so that we may know the right from the wrong; feel free to preach and step on our toes, because when you do our spirit grows. So please don’t teach the ‘gospel’ of another, just keep on keeping on and ‘preach it, brother!’” I did not feel worthy of that admiration then, nor do I now. But at that moment, it did surely encourage a young pastor and his wife. Every pastor has received many such notes through the course of his ministry, as God moves the flock to remember, obey, and salute the ones who are leading them.

Disciplined or Disqualified?

Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman, a late 19th century evangelist and associate of evangelist D.L. Moody, once spoke about what he called “my rule for Christian living.” It was: “Anything that dims my vision of Christ, or takes away my taste for Bible study, or cramps my prayer life, or makes Christian work difficult, is wrong for me, and I must, as a Christian, turn away from it.”

The Apostle Paul was concerned, too, about anything that would detract him from finishing the course set before him.  He wanted to finish well, and so he testified that “I keep under my body and bring it into subjection.” (I Cor. 9:27)

The Christian life, if lived as modeled for us by Christ and mandated through His Word, is ideally a life of discipline. Christ is our coach. The goal of winning is an incorruptible crown that is set before us. (I Cor. 9:25) The fact that victory is possible has been established in the exhortation, “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebs. 12: 1,2) Paul used the language of an Olympian when he urged the Corinthian Christians to “run that ye may obtain” the prize. (I Cor. 9:24). He himself was running: “I therefore so run, not as uncertainty; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body.” (Cor. 9:27)

Are you running to win? If the Apostle Paul wanted to obtain an incorruptible crown of righteousness by fighting a good fight, finishing the course and keeping the faith to win, ought not we? (2 Tim. 4:7, 8) It will, however, require some measure of personal discipline, as it did for Paul—who said that he had disciplined his body in the running of the race, lest he himself would become a castaway.

We should accept Paul’s challenge for many reasons, the first being that to do so evidences that we are trusting God, His wisdom, His Word, and His way.  He is the One who has set before us our course, just as He did in the life of Paul, who referred to “my course.” We each have a God-planned course set before us to the finish line. We are trusting God when we run that course with patience.  We cannot see the twists and turns, nor do we need to. But we can know that God does see well ahead of where we are each moment, and we can trust Him to provide and to guide.  Knute Rockne, the famous Notre Dame football coach, said to his players that if they would not keep the rules that he had set before them, they could not play on his team.  “I will put you on the bench…Remember this, I can see further ahead than you, and there is good reason for my insistence.” (From “Riches in Romans” by Earl Edwards) So it is with each believer: God sees the future and has promised to guide us to glory. We must commit ourselves to keeping His rules and running the course with discipline until we cross the finish line. Disqualification will bring disgrace to His cause and kingdom. 

Paul spoke of a crown “laid up for me.” (2 Tim.4:8) It was a crown of righteousness. He spoke of this just having said that he had fought a good fight, finished his course and kept the faith. We ought also to strive to finish our course so that we will look forward to receiving that crown, which “the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give…unto all them also that love His appearing.” (2 Tim.4:8) If we choose to be undisciplined in our Christian walk and work, we will not “love His appearing.” We will be ashamed at the thought of standing before “the righteous judge.”

Chuck Swindoll, Chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary, told of a time when he was serving the Dallas Cowboys as Chaplain and the legendary Tom Landry was coach. During a break in practice, the pastor/educator asked the coach how he was able to forge a group of individuals into a winning team year after year.  The coach replied that he made it his job to get the men to do what they did not want to do in order to achieve what they’d always wanted to achieve: a Super Bowl ring. Swindoll made the apparent application: the players did not want to engage in grueling work but were willing to submit to the discipline required to achieve what they had always wanted. So it is with followers of our Lord and Savior. Denying self; making one’s self a “servant unto all” (I Cor.9:19); being made “all things to all men” (I Cor. 9:22)—these things do not appeal to the flesh. But submitting as Paul did—“that ye may obtain”—is worth the sacrifice, the denial, the discipline required so that, as with Paul, we might say “that I might by all means, save some.”

Discipline: it does not sound appealing, but seen in the light of eternity, it attracts earnest followers of the Lord Jesus who desire to not only cross the finish line for our heavenly Coach; and to not only receive a victor’s wreath for having finished well without being disqualified or becoming another “castaway,” but to hear those welcomed words, “well done, good and faithful.”

It will require discipline of body, mind, and spirit. Discipline, physically and spiritually. Discipline as a way of life, not merely as a spiritual fad. Discipline to the end of the race, or until life’s final flight.

A plane, some years ago, crashed on its approach near Charlotte, North Carolina, killing scores people.  The recovered flight recorder revealed that the pilot was chatting about various mundane matters and likely was distracted at a crucial moment, resulting in the crash. In the language of the profession there had been, that day, a “cockpit breakdown.” May there not be, in our home-bound journey, a breakdown between us and our “Air Traffic Controller.” Let us be faithful. Dutiful. Disciplined. All the way to and across the finish line.

I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil.3:14)

The Devil’s Highest Reward

The late “Sword of the Lord” editor Curtis Hutson once used the following illustration: “A Sunday School teacher was teaching about the Devil. Looking at a small boy who had come to Sunday School on a church bus, he asked, ‘You’re not afraid of the Devil, are you?’ The little fellow paused a moment and answered, ‘Well, I  wouldn’t be afraid of a little devil like me, but I’d be afraid of a big devil like you!’”

The Christian’s final authority on matters of “faith and practice” is the Bible, the Word of God. Without question, the Bible presents the Devil—originally created as an angel of light—as a personal, powerful being that, at present, wears the title “god of this world.” (2 Cor.4:4) So, in other words, there is a real Devil and he is a created being, active in the affairs of this present world. He rules over a kingdom of darkness, and myriad “principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this world” answer to his diabolical demands. 

Lewis Sperry Chafer, in his classic volumes on Systematic Theology, enumerated 33 things attributable to the Devil.  I will remind us of a few of those devilish activities—primarily those directed to believers, aka the sons of God or the children of God through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.

  1. Satan is a deceiver, and he has practiced his lies from the time in the Garden when he said to Eve, “Ye shall not surely die.” (Gen.3:7) He has lied to mankind about the way of salvation, about the person and work of Jesus Christ, about what will happen after death, about how man came to be, and about the future rule and reign of Jesus Christ.  He entered into Judas (John 13:27), and Judas left the Upper Room and went out to betray Jesus. He lied to the nation of Israel, to whom Jesus came as Messiah, convincing its leaders that what Jesus did, He did by the power of Beelzebub (Matt.12).  He is “a liar and the father of it,” as Jesus said in John 8:44.
  2. He preys upon the weak, filling them with fear. False religions are steeped in rituals and human activities done to appease their (false) gods.  Man will go to any lengths to make peace with a god they have created in their minds or with their hands—even to the extreme of offering up their own flesh and blood, children, to Molech, the Canaanite god of fire.  Paul exhorted all believers that we have not been given the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Tim.1:7)
  3. He hurls “fiery darts” at his victims. (Eph.5:16) Those darts are pride, discouragement, hurt, doubts, losses, suffering, opposition, confusion, and any number of other afflictions that rattle the faith of the child of God. When the subject of Satan is brought into focus, such words as lies, kills, blasphemy, buffets, resists, persecutes, sifts, accuses, destroys, steals, beguiles, seduces and tempts come to mind. His arsenal is endless. Paul admonishes us to be equipped with the “shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked (one).” (Eph. 6:16)
  4. He solicits believers to practice evil. Via the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life,” (I John 2:16) the Devil mounts continual attacks upon those who name Christ as their Lord. In I Cor. 7:5, Paul instructed couples in the Corinthian Church who had been “defrauding” one another by abstaining from any physical relationship for a period of time that they should “come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.” Satan will attack believers at what he perceives to be their point of greatest vulnerability. He thought he could bring Jesus down, knowing that Jesus had fasted for 40 days and nights in the wilderness. Satan tempted the Son of God through each avenue: the lust of the flesh (turn a stone to bread and eat if you are really the Son of God); the lust of the eyes (look at all those glorious kingdoms of the world…they are mine now but can be yours now if you will but worship me); and the pride of life (jump from this pinnacle and watch your Heavenly Father send angels down to rescue you from hurt if you are really God’s Son). Jesus answered every devilish dart with a biblical citation, the Old Testament Word of God, in answer to these Satanic temptations. And so must we today!
  5. Our adversary stalks us!  Peter warns that, “as a roaring lion,” the evil one continually seeks whom he may devour. (I Pet. 5:8) Our defense strategy must be to “be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith.” (I Pet. 5:8,9)
  6. He throws up roadblocks in an attempt to discourage, distract or defeat us. Paul, an apostle who was a missionary sent out by his local (Antioch) church to carry the gospel to the world of his day, met continually with Satanic hindrances: “Wherefore, we would have come to you, even I Paul, once and again, but Satan hindered us.” (I Th.2:18) Those who are engaged in taking the gospel to the world today find the same age-old hindrances with which to deal.  Satan has what appears to be unlimited resources, incalculable power, and devoted emissaries through whom he works in his never-ending hindrances to those who are obeying Christ’s last command to His followers: “Go ye, therefore, and teach (disciple) all nations.” (Matt. 28:20)

To the above list of diabolical methods that this real, on the loose, active Devil employs to counter the advances of God’s kingdom today, we could add many more: He exploits our handicaps as he did with Paul, who alluded to “the messenger of Satan to buffet me” (2 Cor.12:7); he sifts believers, as Jesus told Peter in the garden: “Satan hath desired to sift thee “(Luke 22:32); he transforms himself into an “angel of light” (2 Cor.11:14) in his deceptive attempts to negate God’s truth. Many, many avenues of approach are employed by this Devil, all in his attempt to draw people away from Christ. (I Tim.5:15) Believer, beware! And, unbeliever, be warned! The stakes are eternal. As with Jesus, Satan will promise you the world in return for your allegiance. He cannot produce that, but he will still promise it. Billy Sunday, the early20th century American evangelist, sounded this pertinent alarm: “Hell is the highest reward the Devil can offer you for serving him.” Don’t be deceived. Measure every message that purports to be from God by the Word of God.

There is at work in the world today a personal Devil. His sole mission is to take as many souls as possible to an eternal Hell that, according to Jesus, was prepared for this once angel of light who was lifted up in pride and attempted to dethrone God. His coup failed, he was “demoted,” and he has spent the rest of his time deceiving anyone who would believe God and obey His Word. Satan’s eternal abode, the Lake of Fire, originally prepared for Satan and those angels who followed him in his unsuccessful coup against God, will be populated by people who bought into his lie and rejected God and God’s Son, the Savior of the world.

Then shall He say unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the Devil and his angels.” (Matt.25:41)

At the Feet of Jesus

Jesus, at the onset of His public ministry, chose twelve men “that they should be with Him.” From Him, they “caught” and were taught lessons on discipleship, future world end-time events, doctrinal matters concerning the Church-age, and the future phases of His kingdom on earth and beyond.  We marvel—as we walk with them from page to page, place to place, through scriptures—at the rare opportunities these chosen disciples experienced up close, first-hand. But then we listen in on that Upper Room discourse of Jesus, when He explained to these men that it was expedient for them that He should soon be departing (i.e., the cross, entombment, resurrection, and ascension back to Heaven) because, after He departed, He would send the Holy Spirit to be “with them and in them.” We read in Acts 2 how that promise was fulfilled and learn through the book of Acts—and then the epistles—that every believer in this age is in dwelt by the Holy Spirit of God.

What an incredible privilege—even greater than the Twelve had known as they followed Jesus during His public ministry on earth! To be ever indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit, the second member of the triune Godhead!  There is never a moment that He is not with you as a Comforter, Teacher, Guide. It is through and by the Holy Spirit that we have access to God the Father and His Son, our Intercessor, Jesus Christ. We can and should, therefore, experience daily fellowship with our Lord and Savior.

Andrew Murray, in “God’s Best Secrets,” wrote: “There is one lesson that all young Christians should learn, namely this—the absolute necessity of fellowship with Jesus each day…Many Christians backslide because this truth is not clearly taught.”

Mary Helen Anderson put it this way: “We mutter and sputter; we fume and we spurt; We mumble and grumble, our feelings get hurt; We can’t understand things, our vision grows dim—when all that we need is a moment with Him!”

Some who read this may remember, from decades ago, the “Haven of Rest” hour that originated from California. Remember First Mate Bob? Well, here is his admonition concerning the believer’s need for fellowship daily with the Lord Jesus: “If we could learn this lesson, that it isn’t what we do, but Jesus longs for fellowship with even me and you. Oh, let us not be turned away, from this communion sweet, and never get too busy just to sit at Jesus’ feet.” Good counsel, First Mate Bob!

Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., once shared this: “I remember one time, when my son was just a little fellow and I had been away from home, Mrs. Jones said to me, ‘I can’t control him. He is just unmanageable. When bedtime comes, you must not kiss him good night.’ ‘All right,’ I said. So, I played with him all I could during the day. That night he put on his nighties and stuck his little cherub face through a crack in the door. He said, ‘Good night, Mother; good night, Daddy.’ We said, ‘Good night.’ Then I heard him crying in there as he said his prayers. I never shall forget it. He said, ‘I’m sorry I was a bad boy, Jesus. I don’t know what makes me bad. I am sorry I didn’t mind Mother.  Daddy is just home, and I was a bad boy the first day he was here. I am sorry!’ I sat there and cried. I couldn’t go to sleep to save my life.

“About two o’clock in the morning I eased out of our room (Mrs. Jones was sound asleep) and eased into his room. His little bed was near the window and the moonlight was shining on his face. I got down by his bed and watched him. Every once in a while he would sob. After a while I reached over and kissed him all I wanted to. As I knelt there that night, I looked through my blinding tears to the sky toward God. I said, ‘God, you are my Father. Does it hurt You like this when I am out of fellowship? Do You feel bad like I do? My son can sleep, but I cannot sleep.’”

David declared, “My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord, in the morning I will direct it to You.” (Ps.5:3) That is a holy habit that it would be well to cultivate—if not in the morning, then at some regularly appointed time during the day. In the 19th century, a young Christian man determined to do just that, writing, “I do promise God that I will rise early every morning to have a few minutes—not less than five—in private prayer. I will endeavor to conduct myself as a humble, meek and zealous follower of Jesus, and by serious witness and warning I will try to lead others to think of the needs of their immortal souls. I hereby vow to read no less than four chapters in God’s Word every day. I will cultivate a spirit of self-denial, and will yield myself a prisoner of love to the Redeemer of the world.” (William Booth, Founder of the Salvation Army)

Mark, in his Gospel, notes that Jesus “ordained twelve, that they should be with Him.” (Mark 3:14) It was as Mark would explain, “that He might send them forth to preach.” He has a job for each of us to do, and, as a member of His Body we are to exercise the spiritual gift that each of us has received from the Holy Spirit. (I Pet.4:10) Also, like the Twelve, we have been commissioned to “Go…teach all nations.” (Matt.28:20) What an assignment!  We can only succeed if we prioritize our daily devotion with our Lord. We must have His guidance, His wisdom, His power (Acts 1:8), His enabling and sustaining grace. We are engaged in spiritual warfare. We are men and women who, though our inner man is “renewed from day to day,” (2 Cor.4:16) are not yet fully conformed to His image, nor will we be until we “shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (I John 3:1,2) So, beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, let us retreat daily into His blessed presence, one on One, with Him, being changed as we do “into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor. 3:18)

“I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:1,2)

The Well Advised

None of us is so smart or seasoned that we do not need to heed wise Biblical counsel: “Every purpose shall be established by counsel; and with good advice make war.” (Provs. 20:18)

On a humorous note, I once read “Reason #4 Why Guys Do Not Write Advice Columns: ‘Dear Abe, the other day I set off for work, leaving my husband in the house watching TV. I hadn’t gone more than a mile when my engine conked out and the car shuddered to a halt. I walked home, only to find my husband making love to our neighbor. He was let go from his job six months ago, and says he has been feeling worthless. I love him very much, but I don’t know if I can trust him anymore.  What shall l do? Sincerely, Frustrated.’ ‘Dear Frustrated: A car stalling can be caused by a variety of faults with the engine. Check that there is no debris in the fuel line. If it’s clear, check the jubilee clips holding the vacuum pipes onto the inlet manifold. Or, it could be that the fuel pump itself is faulty, causing low delivery pressure to the carburetor float chamber. I hope this helps.’”

But, humor aside, there are times when we do need good counsel, because of the complexities of life and the constitution of our frail humanity: “Verily man at his best state is altogether vanity,” as the Psalmist says. (Ps. 39:5) And, “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors, there is safety.” (Provs. 11:14) And, “Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: I am understanding; I have strength.” (Provs. 8:14)

Then, too, counsel is advised because of the confusion of sin. So many voices—often contradictory and often claiming authority—can and will at times leave one confused. “Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end.” (Provs. 19:20) Educators, philosophers, scientists and politicians will attempt to convince others of their viewpoints—but seeking Biblical counsel enables one to avoid the pitfalls of reason, pop psychology, and other “isms” of our day.

Counsel will guide one, too, away from fatal mistakes due to flawed judgment. Remember how Israel was fooled by the Gibeonites, when the Gibeonites lied to Israel’s leaders about who they were and where they were from? (Josh. 9:24) The deception was costly to Israel for years to come, and it could well have been avoided. But the men of Israel “asked not counsel of the Lord.” It was neither the first time nor the last that Israel suffered catastrophe because the people did not seek advice from God: “For they are a nation void of counsel, neither is there understanding in them.” That indictment by God is devastating—to a nation or an individual. (Deut. 32:28) Solomon instructs that “without counsel purposes are disappointed, but in the multitude of counsel they are established.” (Provs. 15:22)

So, yes, at times every person needs and ought to seek and heed good, Biblical counsel. Take heart, because such help is readily available. “I will bless the Lord who hath given me counsel,” the Psalmist declared. (Ps. 16:7) And, “The counsel of the Lord standeth forever….” (Ps. 33:11) Solomon again noted that “there are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless, the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.” (Provs. 19:21) Wise believers are often a good source of guidance: “We took sweet counsel together and walked unto the house of God in company.” (Ps. 55:14) And, “Thou shewest lovingkindness unto thousands, and recompensest the iniquity of the fathers unto the bosom of their children after them: the Great, the Mighty God, the Lord of hosts, is His name. Great in counsel, and mighty in work.” (Jer. 32:18, 19)

God uses friends, teachers, pastors, parents, and mentors to give advice, which like “ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man’s friend by hearty counsel.” (Provs. 27:9) “Counsel in the heart of a man is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” (Provs. 2:5).

So, the worth of good guidance from a loving friend, family member, or fellow faith pilgrim cannot be overestimated.  Every word of God is pure (Prov. 30:5) and “The Law of the Lord is perfect, converting soul.” (Ps. 19:7). Seek God’s wisdom through His Word, and walk always in His way. “The counsel of the Lord standeth forever; the thoughts of His heart to all generations.” (Ps. 33:11)

Pray over His wise counsel. Receive it with gladness and with a commitment to follow it. “Because they rebelled against the Words of God and contemned the counsel of the most High God; therefore He brought down their heart with labor; they fell down.” (Ps. 107:11) “Hearken now unto my voice,” Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, exhorted Moses, “I will give thee counsel and God shall be with thee.” (Ex. 18:19).

But, in a fallen world, we always need to weigh all “counsel” in the light of God’s Word. The first verse of David’s voluminous Book of Psalms starts with: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly.” (Ps. 1:1) King Rehoboam, Solomon’s son and successor to his father’s throne, made a critical error when he “forsook the old men’s counsel that they gave him, and spake to them after the counsel of the young men.” (I Kings 12:13,14)

Counsel that cannot be acted upon in good faith; counsel contrary to God’s Word; counsel from any stranger to truth—all of these must by all means be avoided.  Learn from King Saul, who “died for his transgression which he committed against the Lord, even against the Word of God, which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit to enquire of it.” (I Chr.10:13)

May our testimony now and ever be what David’s was: “Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel and afterward receive me to glory.” (Ps.73:24)

The Power of the Gospel

Billy Sunday preaches – Unknown author – published about 1910

Lew Wallace, a Union general in the Civil War, happened to be seated near Col. Robert Ingersoll while on a train. In the course of their trip, the conversation turned to the subject of Christ’s divinity.  Ingersoll was an infidel, but Wallace had an open mind regarding the person and divinity of Christ. After the encounter with Ingersoll, he decided to do his own research, examining all sides of the question, and the six-year-long search led General Wallace to write the classic novel Ben-Hur.  Wallace concluded, at the end of his search, that Jesus of Nazareth was not only the Christ—He was his Christ, Redeemer and Savior. (Recounted in The House of Harper, a history of the Harper and Brothers publishers.) That story demonstrates what Paul affirmed in Romans 1:16: The gospel is “the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth….”

When Ellen and I visited Japan with veteran missionary Ron White in 2009, we had the privilege of joining in worship with several Japanese churches that Ron and his wife, Odessa, had been instrumental in helping plant during his 40 years of labor in Japan. He and co-workers also founded a Bible Institute for the training of young men and women for ministry.  It was truly an incredible experience to visit these local assemblies with their own national leadership and pastors, thriving churches all. Ron and a team of two or three other young first-term missionaries were able, by the grace of God, to plant four national churches in Japan during their first four-year term there, all the while learning the language and the culture—a daunting task to be sure. 

One of those churches, Japan’s largest Baptist church, is located in Osaka. I had the privilege of speaking to their mid-week prayer meeting assembly.  The pastor had become a believer years earlier, after passing by one of the missionary churches Ron was ministering in. As he walked by, the believers inside were singing “What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought, since Jesus came into my heart.” The words captivated the young businessman, who had initially paused only because of the English language he heard wafting from inside the building. Interested in learning English to enhance his business dealings, he paused and listened. The Holy Spirit did the rest, as in his heart he thought: “There has never been that kind of a change in my life.” He was drawn by God’s Spirit to learn more about this change. Eventually he accepted Christ as Savior, was trained to pastor, and in time became pastor of this great New Testament Baptist Church in Osaka, Japan. Truly a marvelous testimony to the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, of which Paul the Apostle spoke in Romans 1:16, writing “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ for it is the power of God to salvation to every one that believeth….”

George Muller, known for his monumental labors of love in England for orphans, told of how he became a believer.  As a young, wild “swearing and beer drinking” university student—a ring-leader of the rowdies—his life was impacted by a handful of young Christians who were “brave, manly fellows” and met weekly for a prayer meeting. Muller related how, toward the end of his university studies, he became restless and dissatisfied with the direction his life had taken.  He traveled to Switzerland, where he thought a change of scenery would put his soul at ease, but that did not happen. He returned to his studies at Halle, but his burden grew heavier. Muller testifies that he then remembered the eight Christians on campus and their weekly prayer meeting, so he sought them out. Finding them, he related that “One and another told me of Christ. They prayed with me, and I prayed for myself.” The seeking sinner found Christ, believed on Him, and gave his life to the Savior as “a great love for Christ filled my soul.” Muller concludes his testimony by affirming: “That was more than fifty years ago. I loved Jesus then, but I loved Him more the year after that, and more the year after that, and more every year since.” Once again, it was the gospel of Jesus Christ that was the power of God unto salvation for a young man who had drunk deep of the cup of pleasure and come up unsatisfied. He found the water of life in Christ. Year after year, he experienced a deepening love for—and devotion to—the Person who gave him a drink of everlasting life from the cup of Salvation, which fully and forever satisfied Muller’s once thirsty soul. 

One Sunday afternoon a group of Chicago ballplayers, leaving a saloon, heard a gospel-singing group on a street corner, playing on their instruments some of the great, old hymns. One of those ballplayers, having been born in a log cabin in Iowa, remembered his godly mother’s singing those very songs as she did her daily chores.  Tears came to his eyes as the young gospel group sang sweetly, and the player announced to his drinking buddies, “Boys, I’m through!  I’m going to turn to Jesus Christ. We’ve come to a parting of the ways!”

Of course, some of his companions mocked him, and some responded with silence while one of the ballplaying buddies encouraged him. Billy turned into the Pacific Garden Mission. Then and there, he accepted the claims of Christ and turned from his sin to his Savior. His own words: “I called upon God’s mercy. I staggered out of my sins into the outstretched arms of the Savior. I became instantly a new creature in Him! The next morning at practice, my manager, Mike Kelly, greeted me and said, ‘Billy, I read in the paper what occurred yesterday. Religion isn’t my long suit, but I won’t knock you and I’ll knock the daylights out of anyone who does.’”  Billy Sunday left baseball to hit homeruns for Jesus Christ all across America as one of our nation’s great evangelists in the late 19th century and early 20th century.  It has been said that, after he held a meeting in a city, the saloons had to close for lack of business.  Thousands attended his great, protracted city campaigns. Multiplied thousands were saved and added to churches.  All because “the gospel of Christ…is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

I have collected the above testimonies of the gospel’s power from various sources over the course of my 50 years pastoring. Most are commonly found either in books or publications.  I did not note the specific source of each testimony, but each could be verified without much difficulty. I share them in hopes that all who read them will be encouraged to spread the good news that Jesus Christ came into the world to seek and to save that which was lost. (Luke 19:10).  Share the gospel.  It is and always will be the “power of God unto salvation.” (Romans 1:16)

This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I (Paul, the Apostle) am chief.” (I Tim. 1:15)

Sunday, the Lord’s Day

That’s how most Christians identify the first day of the week. Early churches, which we read of in the book of Acts, met on that day to worship the Lord together. Paul wrote to first-century churches that when they met on the first day of the week, they should set aside an offering. (I Cor. 16:1,2)

Before Calvary, the weekly day of rest and worship was called the Sabbath because it was the seventh day, and God ordained that man should rest one day in seven. God gave us the prototype of this day in the first week of the world when, having created the heavens and earth and all that is therein, including man, God rested from His labors on the seventh day.

When God called a people who were to be peculiar and holy for His glory, He gave them ten commandments. (Exodus 20) One of those commandments was that they were to sanctify one day in seven, the Sabbath, as a day of rest. This was part of the Old Testament revelatory and regulatory law. No work was to be done on this day: it was a day hallowed unto God.

 “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17) Jesus Christ, the only man (the God-man) who ever fully kept the law, fulfilled the law and the regulatory aspect of it was abolished. In Christ, we are free from the law, which served as a “school master” to bring us to Christ. It served its purpose well but no longer regulates (with its 613 commands following the 10 commandments) every aspect of the believer’s walk and work, dress and diet. However, the universal principle ordained of God before the law was given on Mt. Sinai and codified in the law of God—i.e., the “one day in seven as a day of rest”—still obtains as part of the order of the universe. He who follows God’s example, and sets aside one day in seven as a day of rest, is wise.

For those who are members of His Body, the Church, we recognize that there is more to keeping the one day than merely resting. We come together to praise the Lord of creation and to worship Him with prayer, preaching and praise. It is a day of worship. We celebrate what He has done for us, what He is doing through us, and what He will one day do for us when He comes to call us to Himself.

Are you benefitting from practicing this one day in seven principle? Is it truly a day that you cherish? Is it your favorite day of the week? Do you treasure the time when, on the first day of the week, you once again assemble with your family of faith and sing praises, lift up prayers and receive food from the Word of God? We pretty much took these gifts for granted until about the end of March 2020 when, due to the worldwide Covid 19 pandemic, public gatherings, including most worshipping assemblies, were shut down for some time.  We then realized how precious those privileges were and how very much we missed them every Lord’s Day.  Watching the streamed messages delivered by faithful shepherds of the flock, though it was an immeasurable blessing, just did not take the place of face-to-face fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ.

Blessed are the children whose parents have prioritized the one day in seven principle! They will grow up having spiritual foundations and moral moorings that will stand them in good stead all the days of their lives.

Blessed is the nation whose people shut down the work week for a day of physical and spiritual refreshment. Our nation was once a land where church bells called congregations apart for a day of edification and spiritual nourishment. In 1979, when we moved to Indianapolis, there were a number of stores and businesses that still respected so-called “blue laws,” and their retail establishments were closed for business on Sundays. But it was not long before that changed and one could hardly find a store that was closed on Sunday, as is the case today.

Sunday School and Sunday worship were part and parcel of the strongest days of America’s history. Preaching and music and revival meetings and Bible Schools and camp meetings—all have been part of the great religious heritage of this nation, which God has allowed to become one of the superpowers of the universe. Our faith in God, our honoring of His Word, preaching the gospel and sending it through great missionary endeavors to the uttermost parts of the world, and our hallowing of the first day of the week—all have been vital components in the mix that made America the giant that it became.

But giants fall. In proportion to our desecrating of His holy day, we can almost trace the spiritual slippage of America. Church attendance shot up dramatically after 9-11 for about two weeks. People trekked back to church to hear a word from God. But soon things got back to “normal.” Weekends in the woods or on the beaches or at the flea-markets or visiting relatives or just shuffling around the house lazily replaced reverent seeking after God by setting aside the first day of the week—the day upon which His Son rose from the grave triumphant over death and hell—as a day of worship.

A Gallup poll in the early 1990s found that 32% of American adults at that time claimed to be “reborn.” When asked if they attended church regularly, the figure dropped to 8%. When asked if they were “regenerate” and had the Christian character and desire to make a difference in the world, the figures plummeted to 1 or 2%. It is safe to assume that the figures today are not an improvement on that late-20th century polling data.

For far too many, even those who name Christ as Lord, Sunday has become Funday. Instead of a day of worship, it has become a day of “workship” or a day to do whatever one wants. Christ’s church suffers today because we bought into the spirit of the age and have compromised our reverence for the Lord’s Day. We have enjoyed our pursuits. We have cultivated our personal interests. Sports, of course, is huge. We have seen the world. But we have too often sacrificed our weekly appointment with the One who loved us so much that He gave His Son, His only begotten Son, to die for the remission of our sins.

It would be well, then, for each of us to evaluate our view of Sunday. Is it high on your list of special days? Do you honor the Lord with rest and worship on the Lord’s Day?

A Testimony to God’s Grace and Power

(When I was senior pastor of Thompson Road Baptist Church, we published a monthly “TRBC Times” newsletter.  This is a reprint of an article I wrote for it in July 2004.)

For several hours the Friday before Father’s Day, I sat transfixed before the television watching the funeral service for the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Wilson Reagan. Not since the laying to rest of the slain John F. Kennedy has America paid such homage upon the death of one of its leaders.

Ellen and I cleared our schedules so that we could watch together the service, held in a church in Washington, D.C. From the very first word of Sen. John Danforth—who quoted the words of Jesus when He said “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25)—to the benediction, the service was emotionally compelling, spiritually uplifting, and nationally unifying.  The eulogies by President George W. Bush, his father, Margaret Thatcher, and the former Prime Minister of Canada were beautiful and appropriate. Especially moving was Mrs. Thatcher’s taped tribute to the man with whom she had forged such a close friendship.

But what was most memorable about the funeral was the graveside service in California, at the site of the Reagan library.  Of course, the television cameras were fixed upon every detail. Invited guests began arriving more than two hours before the service was scheduled to begin. Many of them were dignitaries, including the governor of California and his wife, many movie stars, and other prominent figures. For at least 90 minutes before the service officially began, an Armed Forces choir sang many great hymns of the faith. Most of them were old-fashioned gospel hymns and, specifically, invitation songs. Did you get that?  “Just As I Am,” “Softly and Tenderly,” “Till the Storm Passes By,” and many, many more.  Not one contemporary hymn was played. The music would have been appropriate in any church in America where the Word of God is proclaimed.

And the message was eloquent. The former pastor of the Bel Air Presbyterian Church in California spoke to Mrs. Reagan and the family while the nation watched. Who will ever forget the moment he opened his Bible to 2 Chronicles 7:14? Someone said it was as if God was giving America another chance to hear and to heed His call to repentance.

None of us could have anticipated this glorious demonstration and testimony to God’s grace and power. As a nation, for a week, we were reminded of our foundation of faith; we were told of our fallen leader’s God and his commitment to Him. We heard strains of the old songs of Zion wafting through our homes and into our hearts. What a glorious week it was. We can only thank God for His providential timing and for His powerful triumph, even in death.

(Ellen wrote her own regular column, “Ellen’s Corner,” for the TRBC Times, and I would like to share her contribution for July 2017):

“Against the backdrop of history, I gazed at the giant columns remaining from the Roman Forum and the Coliseum. One is struck with the grandeur and enormity of the structures. Then, as you go a short distance away to a dark, damp church basement where Paul was imprisoned, you have the contrast of the two worlds during the first century. Rulers had no newspapers, televisions, or electronic media to communicate with their constituents, so they built grand, beautiful buildings and statues to themselves to let everyone know how important they were. They provided entertainment by the gladiators in the Coliseum to keep the people happy. The games were cruel and the bloodier they were, the more the crowd cheered. A short distance away, Christians were thrown to lions for the enjoyment of the onlookers.

Paul, in his prison cell with a guard, could receive people.  So, for two years, he witnessed and preached about Jesus Christ to all who would listen. With visible images of massive statues to gods, kings, and emperors all around, how could one man in prison make an impact with a message of an invisible God? And yet, with his testimony and the Holy Spirit, he saw a great church established in Rome.

I visited the Louvre in Paris, which houses one of the greatest art collections in the world. I don’t know the percentage, but a majority of the paintings were about Biblical characters or Biblical themes. I also visited Rembrandt’s home in Amsterdam, and almost all the paintings there were about Biblical characters. I wondered why this was so until I realized that people didn’t have the Bible in their language and this was the way they learned Bible stories and passed them along to others. (The King James Bible was translated five years after Rembrandt was born). The stained-glass windows in the churches also told the Bible stories. St. Chapelle in Paris was built in the 13th century, and every wall is a stained-glass panel. The panels tell the Biblical stories from creation to crucifixion and redemption through Christ. The Pentateuch, the Kings, history books, the prophets and the New Testament to John the Baptist follow one after the other. Each window, divided into arches, reads from left to right and from top to bottom.

The history of Christianity has been that of difficulties. The persecution of Christians from the first century through the Dark Ages was an attempt to mute the story of how Christ works, but it was told in numerous ways, and in the 17th century the Bible was printed for the common man. Today we have the privilege of reading His Word and knowing Him in a way previous generations could never have fathomed. Some of those beautiful buildings in Rome are crumbling, but God has promised that His Word would never pass away. It has been kept alive from creation until the present hour through various means and ways—and it will prevail until the final chapter in Revelation is fulfilled.