Don’s Study

Sermon for Sunday, May 10, 2020

The People of God

Scripture: I Peter 2:4-10

Outcasts.  Gentile ‘dogs.’  Slaves. Nobodies.  Rejected by men.  The world’s doormats.  That was what the makeup of the Christian church to which Peter addresses his epistle looked like — to the world and to themselves.  (Truth be told, in many respects it is little different today; far too often, this is how our congregations are viewed by the world and how we see ourselves.)

But look Who is the foundation of this new faith, look Who is the “cornerstone” of the Church: the stone that men rejected. Do Isaiah’s words come to mind? “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.”  It is the suffering Servant upon Whom our faith is based.

And as if identifying with Jesus weren’t enough encouragement, Peter tells his readers — and us — that we are not outcasts; we belong to God.  We are not doormats to be walked upon; we are living stones that make up the Temple of the living God.  We are not nobodies; we are precious.  We may be rejected by men, but we are chosen of God.  Gentile dogs are now a holy nation.  Slaves they may remain, but they are among the royal priesthood of the Kingdom of God.  What a powerful message to the Church, then and now.

The prophetic life of Hosea is brought to mind as verse 10 says “Once you were not a people [Lo-Ammi]…once you had not received mercy [Lo-Ruhamah].”  But NOW… But NOW… You are the people of God because you have received the mercy of Christ!  It is a glorious message, this Gospel we preach!

I.  Once you were…

A.         Stumbling in disobedience (verse 8).  Without knowing the One who is The Way, we are destined to stumble and fall.

B.        In darkness (verse 9).  The contrast between the old life of sin and the new life of grace is stark — from darkness to light, from death to life.

C.        Not a people.  (verse 10)  

1.  Sin is divisive.  It separates us from God and from one another.  There is no “family of unbelievers” like the Family of God. Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones is the image of arid separateness which characterizes those who are “not a people.”

2.  People who are trapped in sin are not ‘family’ in the way that the people of God are family.  When we were in sin, we were outcast and isolated from others — not just from those in the church.  We were NOT “a people.”

D.        Without mercy (verse 10).  The message of Hosea is that the mercy of God is always offered, but not always “received.”

Consider the picture.  The one who is outside of the family of God, who is wallowing in sin, who hasn’t accepted Christ’s offer of grace and forgiveness of sin, that person is alone, stumbling in darkness and disobedience, and living outside of the abundant mercy of God.  That is what we once were, before grace.

But now…

II.  Now you are…

A.     A chosen people, the people of God, a people belonging to God, chosen by God and precious to Him.  Notice the repetition — chosen…people.  Peter, the one God told not to call unclean what God calls clean, tells these Gentile believers (whom at one time he would not have associated with) that they are the new Israel: God’s chosen people.

ILLUS – the KJV uses the word “peculiar” — a ‘peculiar’ people. Specially set apart for the King.

B.     A holy priesthood (verse 4), a royal priesthood (verse 9).  Those who previously could not find the way are now leading others to The Way.

1.  We need to come to grips with the “special-ness” of being members of the priesthood of God.  In the Old Testament, only men of the tribe of Levi could be priests.  Only the specially chosen tribe of the specially chosen people could serve as priests in the Temple.

2.  But NOW [consider the importance of that word, too] we are part of the priesthood of all believers.  We do not need to come to God through the mediation of another, we come boldly before His throne of grace.  We do not need another to offer sacrifice on our behalf; Jesus Himself was the sacrifice, once for all — for all people and for all time and for all sins. Hallelujah!

C.     Living in the light (verse 9).  That reality carries with it certain responsibilities, such as letting your “light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  Peter calls it ‘declaring His praises.’

D.     A forgiven people — you have received mercy (v. 10). 

III.  So…

A.        Be thankful for the grace of God and live a life of gratitude.

B.        Live like the person you are.  Chosen people, royal priests. God’s precious ones ought not act like spoiled brats, but like those who have been adopted into a privileged life; that is the reality, after all.

C.        And declare God’s praises.  By the life you live, the words you speak, the works you do, the places you go and the attitudes you show.

In the days when class distinctions were more readily apparent and more socially tolerated, there was an expectation laid upon the privileged classes called ‘noblesse oblige.’  The idea was that the elite were obligated to show compassion toward the less privileged and to conduct themselves with grace; their ‘nobility’ placed them under obligation.  We are the people of God!  A royal priesthood!  A holy nation!  A chosen people!  Let’s act like it. 

When the reality of the headaches, problems, worries, challenges, etc. of life set in, just remember who and Whose you are: God’s treasured possession set apart to live holy lives in obedience to Him.  That reality makes us very special indeed!

Resources for Ministry

Eight years ago, I sent a message to the officers of my Division that began with these words: “I don’t recall a time in my forty years of officership as perilous as this.” 

It was an election year. I wrote, “The broader economic outlook for our country is itself the subject of fierce debate in this presidential election year.  And the Army faces enormous challenges to raise the funds required for us to continue to serve those we are called to serve.”

The peril and the challenges are exponentially greater as The Army faces the same ravages as society in general: employee lay-offs, closed Family Stores, severe drops in income, yet increased demand for service provision. As a retired officer, I am led to pray for Army leadership at every level. What are we to do?

China Inland Mission founder Hudson Taylor said, “God’s work, done God’s way, will never lack God’s supply.”  I believe that to be true.  For me, this truism has included the fact that doing God’s work in God’s way means vigorously providing opportunities to others to partner with us in providing God’s supply (otherwise known as “fundraising”).  But the current challenge seems to have foreclosed some of those avenues of funding supply.

If we are doing the most good (the most we possibly can), what does that require of us right now? Admittedly, this is an arena where experience provides little practical advice. Nonetheless, here are my suggestions for those on the front lines of ministry:

  1.  Pray earnestly for His guidance in the sobering decisions that must be made to ensure that we continue to do His work. Pray especially for Territorial and Divisional leaders who are confronted with the immensity of the problem across their area of responsibility.
  2. Don’t stint in providing assistance to those in need. This is no time for hoarding resources. Believe that God will refill your food pantry as He did the widow’s oil through Elisha (II Kings 4:1-7).
  3. Invite reliable supporters to assist in the actual work of service provision. You may find an “Elisha” who will be instrumental in refilling the pantry shelves.
  4. Look for innovative ways to “stretch” the resources. Miracles like the loaves and fishes may not be replicated, but perhaps God is directing us to some “lad with five loaves and two fish” that we overlooked before.
  5. Don’t despair. I love the Charles Wesley verse that says, “Faith, mighty faith, the Promise sees and looks to that alone, laughs at impossibilities, and cries, ‘It shall be done!'” The situation may seem hopeless, but God will provide a way.

And don’t forget to pray for those who, on top of the uncertainties of CV19 operations, are under Farewell Orders. The challenge of leaving everything ship-shape is heightened by the changes taking place in the public square over the next two months.

I know that I am not the only retired officer praying for you. Your arms are being upheld by prayer warriors, some whose names you’ll never know.

Blessings!

Sermon for Sunday, May 3, 2020

                                     Healed by His Wounds

I Peter 2:19-25

Being persecuted for their faith was an inescapable fact of life for those to whom Peter addresses his epistle. Yet strange and wonderful things were happening. Slaves were being converted AND slave owners.  They were fellow Christians. Much the same as we might find a corporate executive sitting next to his company’s janitor at a church meeting or Christian concert today, slave and owner could be found worshiping together in this baby church.

The New Testament, for many reasons, does not encourage abolition, but rather instructs slaves to remain obedient to their masters as a testimony to them and to the world of the transforming power of Christ. The Gospel message is itself revolutionary, the message that “every man is precious in the sight of God…God loves every man.” From I Peter and from Paul’s letter to Philemon, we hear a new and radical message — slave and master are brothers in Christ; both of them are bound by their new faith to follow the same life-style of righteousness.

But to the converted slave whose master is an unbeliever, Peter talks about receiving unfair treatment at the hands of the master. As to unjust suffering in general, we are unlikely to suffer because of our faith, unlike the Christians to whom Peter was writing. Yet, contrary to the “health and wealth gospel” heresy being preached in some quarters today, Christians DO endure suffering in spite of their faith. Suffering is “no respecter of persons”; it “falls on the just and the unjust” alike, just as rain and sunshine do. The question is not, “Do Christians suffer?” The question is, “What is the Christian’s response when suffering?” As Peter points out, there is virtue only when one suffers unjustly for one’s faith (verses 19-20).

In the final analysis, however, whatever we may be called to endure pales in comparison to the suffering Jesus endured on our behalf. And the injustice of the only perfect Man suffering the shame of the cross on behalf of sinful mankind should cause us to follow gladly in His steps out of gratitude for His selfless sacrifice.

It would do us well to come to an understanding of the efficacy of our ‘suffering’ in the light of Jesus’ peerless example.

I.  Our Suffering…

A. Is inevitable – pain is part of human experience. To one degree or another, all of us experience it.  We live in a fallen world. One result of Adam’s fall is that pain is a universal human experience. None of us are exempt from suffering pain, heartache, disappointment, discouragement.

B. But let’s look at reality. Some pain is deserved – (verse 20). Much of human pain is self-inflicted; we bring it upon ourselves. Part of the reason our society is facing the problems that we face today is that people are unwilling to accept the consequences of the choices that they make. We want to be inoculated against the results of the decisions we make.

1. We inoculate our children against disease like measles, mumps, chicken pox, polio, etc. By getting a shot or taking certain medicine, we can practically guarantee that we don’t contract certain diseases.

2. But that has led us to believe that we can shield our children–and ourselves–from anything undesirable or uncomfortable. We want to have sex outside of marriage, but we don’t want to face the consequences–practice “safe sex”; when that doesn’t work and you get pregnant, get an abortion; or if you get AIDS, demand that the government produce a cure. We see some evidence of this attitude in the way some have handled the precautions recommended to deal with COVID-19. We are unaccustomed to being exposed to this kind of risk.

3. We want to spend money without regard for proper stewardship like tithing or saving, but when we dig ourselves into a hole we want the lottery, or government, or Publishers’ Clearing House to save us.  And we even dare to pray for God’s help when we have dishonored Him by our failure to tithe.

4. We want the freedom to watch anything and everything on television, the movies, videos and Premium Channels. But when we discover that our values and morals have been formed by the Simpsons rather than the Sermon on the Mount, when we speak the language of violence and vulgarity more easily than we can voice a prayer aloud, and we find ourselves knowing the TV Guide better than the ten commandments, we have brought upon ourselves the pain that the world’s values always produce.

God’s word makes it plain that when we suffer for our own wrongdoing, it is commendable to “face the music” with a consciousness that God’s creation includes laws which we violate at our peril. God will not suspend the law of gravity to protect me if I choose foolishly to walk off a cliff. Neither will He suspend the moral laws of His creation to protect me from a willful violation of His commands. Rather, the painful consequences of our willful disobedience should bring us humbly and penitently back to God.

C. But some of the pain that we suffer is unjust – (verse 19).  

1.We may suffer because of the deeds of others; parents know well the heartache that our children can bring. There are times when the actions of bosses or co-workers go beyond inconveniencing us and cause us emotional distress. Many of the diseases we suffer are not self-inflicted–it is not punishment. The suffering is not “deserved.”

2. Or we may suffer because of our stand for righteousness. While we do not have to face the prospect of death or imprisonment because of our testimony, as Peter’s first readers did, there are situations where a stand for truth places us in the seat of ridicule. There are circumstances where we lose a promotion at work because we refuse to lie, or drink, or cover up the theft of a co-worker. And, sadly, there areplaces in the world today where Christians endure imprisonment and torture because of their faith.

3. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” And Peter says, “It is commendable before God if you suffer for doing good.”

D. Since some pain and suffering comes our way simply because we are fallen creatures, and since we recognize that a courageous stand for Christian truth may add to that suffering, it is an encouragement to know that some goodmay come out of our suffering:

1. Personal growth and deepening of understanding; developing perseverance. Nobody chooses to suffer–at least nobody who is in their right mind. But I have been amazed at the quality of saintliness that I have encountered in those who have suffered much pain.  

– -Hazel in Findlay Ohio who was the sweetest saint I have met, in spite of a bitter invalid husband in physical pain and a mentally retarded adult son who required constant attention

–Jeanne in Old Orchard Beach Maine whose crippling arthritis caused her severe pain, but who faithfully witnessed to her fellow residents in the nursing home.

2. These saints, and others like them, give witness to others of the power and strength that is available in Christ. And they are ordinary saints like you and me. It is their pain that is extraordinary, not their faith and certainly not God’s power. We, too, can see the pain of life’s experiences as an opportunity to testify to those who do not know Jesus, to show how God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.

3. The gospel may be advanced, as with Stephen’s martyrdom. When we endure suffering as true soldiers of Jesus Christ, others will notice and want to experience the same power that we experience to face and conquer “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

Yet, no matter how much benefit we can extract from our own circumstances of pain, the matchless work of grace accomplished by the suffering of Christ remains not only a wonder to consider, but a reminder to spur us on to endurance.

II.  Christ’s suffering…

A. …was endured without retaliation, without threats, without vengeance. (verse 23)

B. …was not for His own sin, but for ours. (verses 22, 24) His suffering was the ultimate injustice. He who knew no sin became sin for our sakes.

C. …was for the purpose of bringing us to righteousness. (verse 24b) He became sin so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.

D. …accomplishes our healing. (verse 24c) Notice that Peter uses the past tense: “have been healed.”  His atoning sacrifice was an act of healing; our healing has already been accomplished. All we need do is appropriate it.

Notice that the title of this message is “Healed by His Wounds.” Yet all this time I have been talking about suffering. Where does the ‘healing part’ come in? I have just now mentioned that Jesus’ suffering accomplishes our healing, but what does that mean?

III.  Our healing…  

A. Is too often viewed too narrowly. Jesus’ healing is not just physical healing. Nor ought we think only in terms of spiritual healing. Part of the holiness message is that we need to see ourselves more “wholistically.” When human beings suffer, it is often tragic. We wish that the suffering could be avoided, the tragedy averted. But healing often is a matter of seeing things from God’s perspective. If the cause of our suffering is not removed, like Paul’s thorn in the flesh, then we need to “own it” and “use it” for the glory of God. And in doing so, healing occurs–whether or not the “thorn” remains!

B. One of the reasons we consider suffering tragic is that so little good comes of it. Even in stating above that “some good comes” from our own suffering, it is important that we search for “the good” amidst the pain to make the suffering seem worthwhile. And, truth be told, we would rather discover this good by means other than suffering. But healing comes when we discern what God wants us to understand about ourselves, about Him and about the suffering that we must endure.

Peter boldly asserts to his suffering readers that Jesus’ unjustsuffering was designed for a glorious outcome. Recalling the words of Isaiah, he says that Jesus’ wounds bring healing: death to our sins, birth to our righteousness, and a life of health and wholeness. We are healed by His wounds.

Turn to John 21 – verse 15. During Peter’s three-fold restoration by Jesus’ giving him three opportunities to affirm his love for Christ, Jesus says, “Feed my lambs,” “Take care of my sheep,” “Feed my sheep.” Jesus is telling the fisherman to become a shepherd. And Peter took it seriously – he says in 1:25 “you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Peter had suffered the pain of Jesus’ accusing look in Pilate’s courtyard and the biting reminder of his three-fold denial on the sea-shore. But Peter knew the healing balm of the Shepherd who had lovingly restored him to the fold.

Let Jesus do that for you here today. Trapped in sin? Jesus is the cure! Tossed by doubt, struggles, temptations and the like? Return to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. It is by Jesus’ wounds that you have already been healed–claim it as your own healing today!

Choruses:        Touch me again; He was wounded for our transgressions

Is “virtual ministry” an oxymoron?

We are living in a world of “virtual reality.” I never liked that term; it seems self-contradictory – if it is ‘virtual,’ it’s somehow not ‘real.’ It strikes me as an oxymoron like “jumbo shrimp,” “open secret” or “liquid gas.”

Google’s definitions of “virtual” are: almost or nearly as described, but not completely or according to strict definition; not physically existing as such but made by software to appear to do so; carried out, accessed, or stored by means of a computer, especially over a network. It is this third definition that applies to virtual worship, virtual classrooms, virtual meetings, etc.

Virtual worship has been a tonic for Believers during these days of isolation at home. But folk like me miss what cannot be replicated in our living rooms: congregational singing, gathering, sharing the receiving of music and the spoken word with fellow believers (only my wife hears my “Amens” now), etc.

So the question: is “virtual ministry” an oxymoron? First, let me say that there are forms of personal ministry regaining frequency of use during these days that are not “virtual.” Phone calls, cards and notes weren’t used much when we saw each other every week. Now they are being used by Corps Officers to minister to the faithful. This is real ministry; such personal contact should never be viewed as merely perfunctory.

Second, let me acknowledge that there are occasions for which there is no substitute for “the ministry of presence.” Hospital visitation and funeral vigils are the most notable examples. I mourn for the loved ones of those in nursing homes and hospitals who are not permitted to be present when the beloved one passes into eternity … and for the Corps Officers who are also denied that precious privilege!

But I applaud those on the front lines of ministry who use technology creatively to minister to their flock by live-streaming worship and Bible Study; by setting up virtual interactions among members of the flock; by utilizing video calls to visit those who cannot otherwise be contacted; etc.

Personal contact is, of course, preferable when circumstance permit. And there are Corps Officers like ours who have made a special effort to visit their soldiers while following all the precautions to ensure safety. (Of course, climate and housing have permitted, which is not true for all!) Even those, like ARC officers, who are blessed to have ongoing personal contact with their flock operate under the constraints of social distancing and mask-wearing. The tactile dimension of touch has been removed from the communication toolbox.

Effective ministry requires frequent, personal, intentional interaction. Can that be done adequately through the medium of technology? Not as a substitute for the intimacy of person-to-person contact. Unless, of course, person-to-person contact is not possible. And then, the compassionate minister uses the means available to minister. So we praise God for the technology that makes it possible, and for those who use it effectively.

No. Virtual ministry is NOT an oxymoron.

A Word to the Wise

A word to the wise is sufficient.

When I was the Assistant Training Principal of the USA East Training College, it was my task to make announcements during the weekly Assembly. Far too frequently for my taste it required words of warning or instruction regarding the requirements of community living (and often their violation). It was my custom to conclude such harsh words with the adage, “A word to the wise is sufficient.”

My use of this phrase was intended to convey my respect for these Christian brothers and sisters and their capacity to respond positively to my hard words.

I would like to believe that “a word to the wise” is STILL sufficient, that most of us value our health and the well-being of others enough to heed the cautions delivered in these trying times.

I said, “most of us. “ The truth is that not all are wise. In fact, the Biblical use of “wisdom” includes a moral/spiritual dimension. The word “wise” does not just mean perceptive in a worldly sense, but includes perception of spiritual values that are important to human interaction.

These times have taxed our wisdom. Our Corps are faced with unprecedented challenges that require more than intellect and experience to address. Wisdom is required.

Chapter 2 of Proverbs is an ode to wisdom. Verse 5 says, “For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” In I Corinthians 1:18-2:16, Paul presents a treatise on wisdom and foolishness, concluding with this powerful statement: “we have the mind of Christ.”

I suggest that the enforced immobility of the COVID crisis permits us to dive deeper into the mind of Christ through Scripture, prayer, and devotional literature.

Few of us have any practical counsel for the extraordinary challenges faced by Corps Officers today, other than this – seek the mind of Christ.

A word to the wise is sufficient.

Surprised by Joy!

Thursday morning I enjoyed a two hour plus conversation with an old friend that I had not spoken with for years. Ginnie and I became best friends when we were about 13 years old–give or take a year or two. She lived just down the street from me and next door to The Salvation Army van driver who invited us to attend the youth services at the Army; and the rest they say is history. But oh…the memories…the memories that have been popping up since our conversation this morning. How awesome it was to discover, and be reminded, how much we still had in common and how easy it was to engage in conversation. We had so much to say to each other as we tried to catch up a bit. Our lives have been so full and filled with love, pain, and above all else, blessing as we each recognized God’s providential care. We both feel especially blessed that we are still happily married to those amazing guys that swept us off our feet lo those many years ago!

In fact, one of the memories that came to mind today was how we used to talk about our wedding days and the plans for them. As I recall we used to fill reams of paper (steno pads?) with all those plans! I particularly remember when Ginnie met and fell in love with George. O my goodness! When I say, “fell in love” I mean that she fell head over heels and then some. From that moment on it was George this and George that! I also met and fell in love with my fella at about the same time. But unlike Ginnie’s beau who lived in town, my beau lived 150 miles away. As often happens, life circumstances began to separate us, sigh. Then in 1969, in the course of a few months, we both married the love of our lives and went very separate ways. George entered the military and she went with him to Germany and Don and I went off to the Bronx to enter SFOT. From that time we have only seen each other a very few times over the years so it was such a blessing this morning to hear about her life with George these days as I shared mine with Don.

As memories of my youth have been tumbling through my mind I have been reminded again and again just how blessed I was and still am because of the dear friends that I have made, particularly when I was young. Remember that I mentioned The Salvation Army van driver that invited us to attend the Army youth programs? Well, we took him up on the invitation. It was in the Army that I met the love of my life as well as two very dear friends who have remained close, well, relatively close as one can do as Salvation Army officers, over the years. (Sorry about that last sentence!) Anyway, Debbi came to be friends with Ginnie and me. It is interesting how our paths came together and then began to separate as circumstances shifted a bit. Debbi and I became very close friends I think when my mother had to be away for a couple of weeks and I stayed with Debbi so that I could attend Star Lake Music Camp. We grew so close that we were almost reading each others minds. It was also Debbi who helped me learn to read and sing the alto part in choral music. We used to sing and play duets at every opportunity. I won’t even mentioned how she used to school me in my grammar….well not my grammar per se but my bad pronunciations caused by my southern accent.

My second dear friend, Karen, I knew as one of the youth of our division but never really met until Don and I went to our first appointment out of Training. Karen and I became fast friends. Karen and John were also in their first appointment but had been officers about two years longer so Don and I looked to them for answers to questions that would come up as we were learning about Corps Officership. We discovered a mutual love of camping and would try to take some vacation time together. In fact our kids consider their kids cousins.

Friendship. What would life be without friends? Not just friends but those individuals that become so close that, as someone has said, “true friendship is when two friends can walk in opposite directions, yet remain side by side.” I can testify to the truth of that statement for over the years when my friends and I have not seen or spoken to each other for awhile we just pick up where we left off and move forward together for a piece.

Now how blessed am I that in retirement I am once again living close to two of my dear friends. Hey, Ginnie, how would you and George feel about moving to Myrtle Beach?

Lenten Musings

This has been the most unusual Lenten season that I have ever experienced because of everything that is happening all around me. Yet it somehow seems appropriate. Lent is often described as a time of preparation and an opportunity to go deeper with God. Indeed this season many of us are driven to the feet of the Master. And we are not disappointed as this year with the pandemic that moving throughout the country Lent has become the bright spot of hope and assurance that is shining out into a very dark world of fear and loneliness. I cannot help but think how miserable life would be at this time without this bright hope and anticipation of Good Friday and Easter.

With Covid-19 surrounding us with death and fear of death I am reminded of Bonhoeffer’s words:

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26). Dealing with dying doesn’t mean dealing with death. The overcoming of dying is within the realm of human possibilities; the overcoming of death means resurrection. Based not on the art of dying, but on the resurrection of Christ, a new, cleansing wind can blow into the present world. . . . If a few people really believed this and let it affect the way they move in their earthly activity, a lot of things would change. To live on the basis of resurrection—that is what Easter means.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. God is on the Cross: Reflections on Lent and Easter (p. 74).

A new, cleansing wind….just what we need. Just what will come at just the right time. Just the right time according to the calendar but also for those who wait in expectation and anticipation. Eyes fixed on our Light of hope and salvation and living life on the basis of resurrection.

Since we have been confined and separated, unable to gather together as a congregation for worship, I have been reading and worshipping privately and share with you a couple of items from the archives of past Lenten observances that have touched me especially today.

John (a dialogue)

I am John, a fisherman, the son of a fisher­man, the brother of a fisherman. Years ago I saw before me the life of my father and brother, stretching as wide and clear as the Sea of Galilee. There were nets to mend and boats to repair, fish to be sorted and sold. Life had a texture as comforting and reliable as the passing of seasons. 

Then he came. He called, “Follow me” and we could hear no other voices–not the sea, not our friends, not even our father and mother. And so my brother James and I left the nets and followed him, unsure of our motivation, knowing only that we could not resist his call. We would become fishers of men, he said. We didn’t know what he meant, but we followed just the same. 

He called others, too, until there were twelve of us. Not all were fishermen.  Some were learned, some were not–we were philoso­phers, businessmen, trades­men, rebels. But we were all seekers and we followed him, looking for answers even before we had fully formed the questions. 

For three years we walked and talked and lived with him as he taught us things unfamiliar to our Galilean minds. It was not always easy to understand him; but he was patient like a father working with an eager, but less-than-brilliant child. And we tried to learn and understand because we loved him more than our own lives. 

Then he left us. It happened almost before we knew it, although we should have known. The signs were there all along. Always under the surface lurked the hatred, the anger, the scent of murder waiting for its hour. But love never wants to believe in evil, and we refused to see the signs. We talked of faithfulness and greatness in a kingdom yet to come; and he spoke of suffering and crucifixion; and we ignored him. But he knew. He always knew. 

When they came, led by the traitor, Judas, to take him away, we scattered like frightened children. Long forgotten were our vows of loyalty. We left our promises in the dark of Gethsemane. 

Kenedy, Pam (2003).  Beneath the Cross.  The Stories of Those Who Stood at the Cross of Jesus. Nashville, TN:  Ideals Publications

Must Jesus bear the cross alone,
And all the world go free?
No, there’s a cross for everyone,
And there’s a cross for me.

How happy are the saints above,
Who once went sorrowing here!
But now they taste unmingled love,
And joy without a tear.

The consecrated cross I’ll bear
Till death shall set me free;
And then go home my crown to wear,
For there’s a crown for me.

Upon the crystal pavement down
At Jesus’ piercèd feet,
Joyful I’ll cast my golden crown
And His dear Name repeat.

O precious cross! O glorious crown!
O resurrection day!
When Christ the Lord from Heav’n comes down
And bears my soul away.

Thomas Shepherd,
George N. Allen

Unseen Altars

 Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. 21 He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. 24 He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.” (Joshua 4)

Much of Scripture is about remembering. And much of worship, in both Jewish and Christian contexts, is also about remembering.

Passover is about remembering the miraculous hand of God in freeing Jewish slaves from Egyptian oppression. The Jewish Feast of Pentecost is about remembering God’s faithfulness in bringing the harvest year after year. The Feasts of Purim and Succoth look back upon events in the history of the Jewish people and how God intervened for their protection in the times of Esther and during the wilderness wanderings. Even the celebration of the Sabbath is remembrance of God’s creation and His rest on the seventh day.

Christians gather for worship on the first day of the week in remembrance of Christ’s resurrection. And the ritual of Eucharist is a celebration of remembrance of Jesus’ Last Supper with His disciples.

So let us consider Joshua 4 (I would encourage you to read the whole short chapter.) and the above text and do so immersed in the notion of remembering–remembering what God has done. One of the ways that the Hebrew people enabled this remembering was by building altars:

  • Noah
  • Abraham, at Shechem and at Bethel
  • Jacob at Bethel
  • Moses
  • Joshua
  • Samuel at Mizpeh
  • all told, 356 times in the O.T.

“What do these stones mean?” What is interesting here in Joshua is that these stones–although not called an altar–were to represent. First of all they were to remember the word of the Lord. “What the Lord said” is used often in this chapter for what the Lord says is important and we should pay attention to it.

We are in the midst of a political campaign for the presidency. We all know the power of words and the effects that they can have to wound or heal, instruct or disinform. These days words are being printed and spoken in such volume and in such a way that people are beginning to wonder if words have any value at all. Not so God, when, Jehovah speaks, it is never just words. For it is by the power of God’s word that life and creation comes forth. And remember, Jesus Himself is called “the Word” by John in his gospel.

So be reminded of the importance of the Word of God and recall what it is that God has instructed us to do in “His Word.”

“What do these stones mean?” They mean to remember the word of God and remember the results of obedience.

Obedience always merits the blessings of God. Obedience allows us to navigate the turbulent waters of difficult circumstances and “cross over on dry ground.” Obedience allows us to possess the Promised Land: ‘possessing the Promised Land’ is an Old Testament “type” of holiness, experiencing spiritual milk and honey even though surrounded by the forces of evil. And obedience to God prepares us to wage battle against the forces of darkness in this world.

Remember, “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22) God delights in the faithful obedience of His children.

“What do these words mean?” They mean to remember the faithfulness of God.

The salvation of the people of Israel–and indeed our salvation–owes entirely to the mercy of God in providing for our escape from bondage. Israel crossed the Jordan and the Red sea on dry ground because “the Lord your God” did something miraculous for your salvation.

How could we not recall, during these days of Lent, the extent of the miraculous endurance of Christ for our salvation!

Remember that we could no more secure our own salvation from sin than Israel could have crossed the Jordan without God’s intervention.

Remember that God, who is faithful in our salvation, is as faithful in caring for us as He was faithful in providing for Israel.

Once, on a day, was Christ led forth to die,
And with the crowd that pressed on him joined I.
Slowly they led him, led him to the tree,
And I beheld his hands no more were free.
Bound fast with cords, and this was his distress,
That men denied those hands outstretched to bless.
Sacred hands of Jesus, they were bound for me;
Wounded hands of Jesus, stretched upon a tree,
Ever interceding, mercy is their plea.
Their effectual pleading brings grace to me,
Redeeming grace to me.

(Song 129, Salvation Army Song Book)

“What do these stones mean?” They mean to remember–remember the Word of the Lord; remember the results of obedience; and remember the faithfulness of our Heavenly Father.

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Gather in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9-10)

My read prayer written by Lloyd John Ogilvie for today:

God, give me the desire to do what I already know of Your will, so that I may know more of it and make it my will. I want to be a positive, open, receptive person who willingly receives Your guidance for each new challenge. You have shown me that discovery of Your will comes from consistent communion with You. And I also know that such communion is vital for helping me to prepare for all the big decisions ahead of me in the future.

I recognize that today’s obedience results in tomorrow’s guidance. Action is the nerve center of my spiritual life. Motivate me to do what You have called me to do in the mundane details of life so that I will be ready to do Your will when momentous opportunities arise. Keep my soul fit with the consistent practice of Your presence. And may prayer throughout the day be as natural as breathing.

I am filled with awe and wonder…gratitude and praise…that You who are Creator of the universe and Sovereign Lord of all nations would use me to carry out Your will in my small realm of influence.

Through Christ, through whom I am reconciled with You forever and recommissioned to serve You daily.

Amen.

Humility

One of the blessings of retirement is being able to go through programs, sermons and devotionals that one has written over a career spanning 43 years. Recently I came across a previously missed cache of sermons and devotionals. I thought that I would share some here.  And, truth be told, some of them will never see the light of day again without a good bit of editing!    

My husband and I have worked closely over the many years of our service and at times collaborated often on sermons, articles, workshop and retreat presentations.  In addition, we have often used each other’s sermons (if it was a topic that we needed). Thus I arrive at this point with a bit of a dilemma as some of the presentations I plan to use I cannot say who was the first author; which is not really important to either of us but I felt that before sharing I should make this point because I may or may not indicate which of us is the author of a particular writing and I did not want to give myself sole credit when it is not warranted.

If you are still reading, thank you.  I can definitively tell you that what I share now was written and presented in chapel at SFOT.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interest, but also to the interest of others.  (Philippians 2:3-4)

Hudson Taylor was scheduled to speak at a Large Presbyterian church in Melbourne, Australia.  The moderator of the service introduced the missionary in eloquent and glowing terms.  He told the large congregation all that Taylor had accomplished in China, and then presented him as “our illustrious guest.” Taylor stood quietly for a moment, and then opened his message by saying, “Dear friends, I am the little servant of an illustrious Master.”  

Taylor illustrated the perfect definition of humility. Humility is not denying the power or gifting you have but rather knowing and admitting that this gift is from God and that the power simply passes through you and not from you.  The noted preacher, Charles Spurgeon, defined humility as,” (making) a right estimate of one’s self.” 

Let me illustrate this through the happenstance experiences of others.

It had been a long day on Capitol Hill in 1973 for Senator John Stennis.  He was looking forward to a bit of relaxation when he got home.  After parking the car, he began to walk toward his front door.  Then it happened.  Two people came out of the darkness, robbed him, and shot him twice.  News of the shooting of Senator Stennis, the chairman of the powerful Armed Forces Committee, shocked Washington and the nation.  For nearly seven hours, Senator Stennis was on the operating table at Walter Reed Hospital.  Less than two hours later, another politician was driving home when he heard about the shooting.  He turned his car around and drove directly to the hospital.

In the hospital, he noticed that the staff was swamped and could not keep up with the incoming calls about the Senator’s condition.  (Remember this is 1973 only dial phones no cell phones and no 24 hour cable news channels.) He spotted an unattended switchboard, sat down, and voluntarily went to work.  He continued taking calls until daylight.  Sometime during that next day, he stood up, stretched, put on his overcoat, and just before leaving, he introduced himself quietly to the other operator, “I’m Mark Hatfield. Happy to help out.”  Then Senator Mark Hatfield unobtrusively walked out.  The press could hardly handle that story. There seemed to be no way for a conservative Republican to give a liberal Democrat a tip of the hat, let alone spend hours doing a menial task and be “happy to help out.”  (Knofel Stanton, Heaven Bound Living)

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)

On a visit to the Beethoven museum in Bonn, a young American student became fascinated by the piano on which Beethoven had composed some of his greatest works.  She asked the museum guard if she could play a few bars on it; she accompanied the request with a lavish tip, and the guard agreed.  The girl went to the piano and played out the opening of the Moonlight Sonata.  As she was leaving, she said to the guard, “I suppose all the great pianist who come here want to play on that piano.”

The guard shook his head, “Paderewski (the famed Polish pianist) was here a few years ago and he said he wasn’t worthy to touch it.” (unknown source)

Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the Lord, and humility comes before honor. (Proverbs 15:33)

It is an interesting aspect of the kingdom of Heaven that when we try to appear greater than we are, we only succeed in making ourselves smaller. On the other hand, humility pleases God wherever it is found.

“Jesus knew on the evening of Passover Day that it would be his last night on earth before returning to his Father. During supper the devil had already suggested to Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, that this was the night to carry out his plan to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. And how he loved his disciples! So, he got up from the supper table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his loins, poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he had around him.” (John 13:1-5)

…And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8) 

Jesus never insisted on His rights and privileges to be honored, understood or viewed rightly, rather he emptied Himself even of His reputation. He was content to be seen as ordinary and did not seek to be esteemed.  

Let me finish these thoughts with a prayer penned by AW Tozer: “Now, O Lord of heaven and earth, I consecrate my remaining days to Thee; let them be many or few, as Thou wilt. I accept hard work and small rewards in this life. I ask for no easy place. I shall try to be blind to the little ways that could make life easier. If others seek the smoother path I will try to take the hard way without judging them too harshly. I shall expect opposition and try to take it quietly when it comes. Or if, as sometimes it falleth out to Thy servants, I should have grateful gifts pressed upon me by Thy kindly people, stand by me then and save me from the blight that often follows. Teach me to use whatever l receive in such manner that will not injure my soul nor diminish my spiritual power. Let me never forget that I am a man with all the natural faults and passions that plague the race of men. And if in Thy permissive providence honor should come to me from Thy Church, let me not forget that I am unworthy of the least of Thy mercies.” 

Amen.