Wednesday, March 6, 2024

FLOODS UPON DRY GROUND, CHAPTER 8: PAIN OF CORRECTIVE JUDGMENT




     I haven’t posted anything in just over one month. We have a lot of things going on lately—house repairs, health issues, etc. My basketball team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, has even stopped winning as much after the All-Star break. What else might go wrong?
     My question is—does my contentment and happiness depend on things going right—upon my favorite team winning? Or does my contentment and happiness depend on something much, much deeper?
     Last time about a month ago in my post based on “Floods Upon Dry Ground, Chapter 7: Fiddling While Rome Burns”, Pastors Bobby Duncan and James Jones wrote about the well-known metaphor of what happened in 64 A.D. when during Emperor Nero’s reign, literally 70% of Rome burned to the ground. They compared it to today’s church, many of whom are asleep at the wheel—while family, friends, and others perish in a burning hell.
     Now Duncan and Jones pose some questions about the fact that sometimes difficulties in life, such as those my family is facing now, literally bring us to our knees in depending more on God than anything else for our contentment and happiness. The title of Chapter 8 in “Floods On Dry Ground” is “Pain of Corrective Judgement”.
     I don’t know about you, but I cringe a little to think that we as a family, as a community, as a state, as a country, and even as a world might experience more hardship than we already are experiencing. I sometimes think of people who have suffered the devastation of a storm ripping apart their homes, perhaps flooding them away, or even being in the center of a war with military tanks going down their streets. And, here I am, almost panicking when we have an electric outage, a small trickle of water in our basement, or a home appliance or car part failure.
     Duncan and Jones wrote that physical afflictions can cause us to call the doctor to diagnose our condition, and offer us medicine to bring about healing. We appreciate it so much when we feel well again. They compared it to the plague of locusts that God brought on the Israelite people in Joel 2. The Israelites were called by God to weep and repent of their sinfulness and failure to seek God—to earnestly call on Him to provide healing. They obeyed His command. He then heard their cries and He provided a spiritual awakening and restored blessings in the land.
     Duncan and Jones said that America is in “deep trouble”: They wrote, “Our government increasingly controls more of our private lives, as liberal policies fan the flames of class warfare, and godless socialism swallows up more of our institutions.” Our growing divide is a consequence of a church that has been asleep and ineffective.
     After 911 America had a concerted, but too brief attempt to seek the true God. Duncan and Jones wrote, “Quite possibly, God, in His mercy, will send a disturbance upon this land that will cause 911 to pale in comparison to it.” 
     They wrote that “the pain of God’s chastisement” might be “the very thing that prompts His people to seek Him for help and healing” and to bring about His promise of restoration, blessings, and spiritual awakening—just like in the time of Joel.

Saturday, February 3, 2024

FLOODS UPON DRY GROUND, CHAPTER 7: FIDDLING WHILE ROME BURNS


 


     Last time in "Floods Upon Dry Ground, Chapter 6, Why No Revival", Pastors Bobby Duncan and James Jones cited reasons why there is no revival in today’s world, and they gave three actions Christians must do for God to work.
     In today's post “Floods Upon Dry Ground, Chapter 7: Fiddling While Rome Burns”, the authors used the well-known metaphor of what happened in 64 A.D. when during Emperor Nero’s reign, literally 70% of Rome burned to the ground.
     Duncan and Jones clarified that there were actually no violins back then, but some creative soul initiated the term anyway to decry Nero’s inaction to save Rome. They compared it to today’s world that is falling apart, and the church for the large part being concerned with what the authors deemed, “petty, unimportant matters.”
     The authors asked the question, “Where Are the Shepherds?” I recognized that question because back in 2019 I asked Bobby Duncan that same question. I was concerned that before I had him as a pastor I had 40-plus years of ineffective shepherds. Ones who seemed to have agendas other than to find and save lost sheep from peril. Pastor Duncan confirmed that he included my question in the book.
     Duncan and Jones quoted Ezekiel 34:1-6. I’ll read only verses 4 through 6:
“The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd; they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and on every high hill; yes, My flock was scattered over the whole face of the earth, and no one was seeking or searching for them.”
     The authors wrote about modern-day shepherds—that “position, acceptance, and money often trump the high calling of God in Jesus Christ and the sacrifices He calls on His ministers to make.”
     Duncan and Jones then talked about “The True Presence of God”. Along with the “self-serving nature of its shepherds.” They wrote, “forgiveness, cleansing, godly living, and sacrificial service have been pushed to the background in favor of seeker-sensitivity, entertainment, feel-good music, and a man-orchestrated worship experience”. They qualified their expressed thoughts by saying, “God’s presence doesn’t necessarily leave because the lights are turned down and a theatre atmosphere is created”—BUT—does it "offer the best environment for corporate worship?”
     James Jones lamented the following found on page 85 of the book:
“For me, growing up in a full-gospel church and seeing true saints of God pray and worship with uplifted hands and, at times, tears coursing down their cheeks, had a powerful impact on me, and still does. Many times worshippers, such as I, have looked over to see a blessed saint of God with a bony, arthritic hand stretched toward God and eyes filled with tears expressing love to the Savior in complete surrender. And to see that deeply spiritual action has always brought its own blessings and encouragement. Yet, in today’s theater-like worship environment in many churches, it’s difficult to observe that. The observations and personal interaction seem to be missing.”
     Duncan and Jones said there's a great need for the “true presence of God to fill our hearts and our worship centers” when we come together. They encouraged pastors to “sincerely seek God for the direction that will best serve that particular body of believers.”
     The authors strongly encouraged that the real truth of the Gospel be “reaffirmed”, and that “a deeply divided nation needs truth more than ever.” They shared the sobering fact, however, that if the church shares the real truth, it will be met with strong opposition.
     But not doing so will lead the church to continue—“fiddling while Rome burns.”

Saturday, January 20, 2024

FLOODS UPON DRY GROUND, CHAPTER 6: WHY NO REVIVAL?


     


 

     Last time in "Floods Upon Dry Ground", Chapter 5, Praying For A Nation", Pastors Bobby Duncan and James Jones reminded us that the church needs to be revived before America can be revived. Only then will “God Bless America” as the song states.
     In today's post “Floods Upon Dry Ground, Chapter 6: Why No Revival?” the authors cited reasons why there is no revival in today’s world. They gave examples of the past, such as Jesus' words to John the Revelator about the Church of Laodicea—and also Leonard Ravenhill’s 60-year-old book, “Why Revival Tarries".
     Jesus said about the Church of Laodicea that they thought they were "rich and in need of nothing". He corrected them, however, and said they were “neither cold nor hot”—that they were instead, “lukewarm”. He said about their lukewarmness—that they were “wretched, miserable, poor, and blind”. Jesus was very descriptive about what would happen if they didn’t change their ways. He said He would “vomit” them from his mouth.
     Ravenhill, in the 1959 book, “Why Revival Tarries”, told his opinion of the reasons for no revival back then. I was five years old at that time. Authors Duncan and Jones hold that the reasons are still true today.
     Ravenhill said that evangelism was at that time “highly commercialized”, and therefore “cheapened”. Also, the church was “careless” and “fearful” to share the truth of the Gospel. They lacked, way back in 1959, “an urgency to pray”, and also they were “stealing the glory that belongs to God”.
     Authors Duncan and Jones concurred with Ravenhill that some of those points are true today. They also said revival can’t come under the following conditions:

  1. If we worry about what people think about us if we share the truth of the gospel. We are sometimes afraid people will think we are “intolerant” if we point to Jesus as being the only way to reach God.
  2. If Jesus isn’t “returned to the absolute center of the body of believers we call the church.” Failure to do so will result in no revival.
  3. If we don’t become broken before God and repent for our sinful condition of “self-centeredness”.
  4. If we don’t “hunger and thirst for the righteousness of Christ".

     They gave the example of a prospector in the desert who forsook his pack of precious gold that was too heavy to carry in the desert heat. All he cared about was getting some “cool, refreshing water”. Duncan and Jones said if we want revival we need to be like that prospector—to be so desperate that we forsake everything else to thirst after righteousness.
     Duncan and Jones wrote that most of us as Christians would welcome a revival. But they wrote, “the voracious hunger to experience it is almost non-existent.” They said we need to do the following for revival to come:

  1. "Thirst so much for the righteousness of God that we feel we simply cannot survive without it.”
  2. “Are driven into His (God’s) loving arms through intense prayer and supplications, and through casting aside all obstacles that stand in our way.”
  3. “Genuinely hunger and thirst for His presence and obey His Word.”

     They compared today’s church to “untempered mortar”, or stucco that is so prevalent in making buildings look nice. However, stucco doesn’t increase the structural integrity of the building. They compared our church practices and programs, including what they titled “misguided worship”, to stucco. All these practices and programs might look and feel nice, but they don’t lead people to repent, to sincerely seek God alone above all other things, and to make Him once again “the epicenter of all we are and do.”
     Now, I want to qualify where I'm at in hungering and thirsting for the righteousness of Christ--and revival. I confess that I'm sorely lacking. I turned 70 years old this week, and in my five years of retirement, I have become distracted by many things, as I'm sure most of you do.
     Charles Spurgeon, at the end of his book "The Soul Winner", quoted the following verse in Luke 15:10: “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” He reiterated over and over again that Jesus has "boundless joy" over sinners who repent and turn to Him, Jesus, for eternal life!
     Spurgeon concluded the book with the following statement:

 

“With this in mind, go and seek to bring your children, your neighbors, your friends, and your kinfolk to the Savior’s feet, because nothing will give Him more pleasure than to see them turn to Him and live. By your love to Jesus, I implore you, become fishers of men.”

Monday, January 1, 2024

FLOODS UPON DRY, GROUND CHAPTER 5: PRAYING FOR A NATION

 


     Last time Chapter 4, entitled "Crumbling Foundations", reminded us that amid crumbling foundations around us—“God remains in complete control over His creation.”
     So now, in Chapter 5, "Praying For A Nation"Duncan and Jones wrote that we are right in praying, “God bless America”. But, perhaps “God is saying to His church, ‘I have placed YOU there to bless America’ ” They wrote, “The most pressing prayer need in the church is to pray for revival in its ranks, because the way God blesses a nation is through His people.”
     They indicated liberalism, socialism, and communism are not “the main problem with America.” Even “radical professors” in our colleges are also not the main problem. “It is rather a Christian movement that has lost its Biblical integrity.”
     They cited researcher George Barna, who in a poll reported “41% of Evangelicals and 77% of Catholics do not believe someone has to have a personal relationship with Jesus to go to heaven.” They said that many Evangelical leaders now see Jesus as “an optional way to God but not the only way. By this, we know “a shaking is near.” They wrote, “America needs a bible-believing church and bible-practicing church to show it the way.”
     The authors likened today's churches to what Isaiah said to the Israelites in Isaiah 1:13-14. “The lifeless rituals, vain ceremonies, and empty worship experiences are a stench in His nostrils.” They said church rituals become “hollow expressions of piety” without “(1) A deep devotion to the Creator and (2) a sincere pursuit of true holiness.”
     Duncan and Jones described many churches today as being “institutional”, “consumer-driven”, and “narcissistic”. They said to depend on these churches, “It is like a drowning person throwing a life rope to another drowning person. Ultimately, both will be lost.”
     They said our hope doesn’t rest in “Republicans, Democrats, independents, socialists, capitalists”, or even “religious leaders, however spiritual they might be”, and that “sustained favorability in society is not what leads to a genuine spiritual awakening.”
     As English Baptist minister Edward Mote wrote in 1834, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” The authors wrote that our hope rests only in Jesus Christ.
     What might disappoint many Christians in America is that “the church is aroused when persecution comes”. Many Christians, however, dispute that fact. Bobby Duncan told the story of some ministers slipping into a Middle Eastern country to support former Taliban and al-Qaeda members in their switch to the Christian faith. These men remained steadfast in their faith in Jesus, even though most now face death sentences in a Muslim country.
     Bobby Duncan wrote, “Increased persecution, along with spiritual drought and coldness, are elements that often prompt people to turn to God in fervent prayer and mourning over personal and national sins.”
     The bottom line is that the natural desire of the church is for our nation to be blessed. But, may we understand that more important is the statement, “God, revive Your church!” 
     Only then can, “God Bless America”!

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

THE SLIPPERY SLOPE LEADING TO MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION IN OHIO

 


     Today I’m asking some simple questions about what led to the slippery slope of marijuana being recently legalized in Ohio. And did Christians unwittingly take part in the slippery slope?
     When I first became a Christian I was pretty vocal in my assertions about things. For example, in the late 1970s, I went to a local Berlin, Ohio gas station owned and run by an outspoken Christian man. I asked him, “Why do you as an outspoken Christian man sell cigarettes at your gas station? His response was, “Because if I don’t sell them, someone else will.”
     In recent years the same thing happened. I became friends with a devout Christian man who has an uncanny knowledge of the Bible. He’s been retired for many years but is very financially secure. I learned that in his younger years, he owned and ran a convenience store. He also admitted that as a Christian he sold cigarettes in his store. His response was very much the same as the gas station owner many years prior. “Well Arlen, if I didn’t sell them, someone else would.”
     In my early Christian years, several fellow Berlin area Mennonite church members within a year called me. Being a lonely single man, I thought that perhaps they wanted to be my friend. The conversation went something like this:
  • “Arlen, how are you doing?”
  • I said, “I’m doing well.”
  • “They said, “That’s good. I want to let you know that I recently came upon a great business opportunity, and I thought you might be interested in getting in on the ground floor.”
  • I asked, “What’s the opportunity?”
  • The standard vague reply followed, “Well, I don’t want to get into the details right now, but could I meet with you to discuss it further?”
  • I didn’t understand their hesitation to spill the beans about the details of a “great business opportunity”.
  • I said, “I need to know upfront what the opportunity is before I commit to a meeting.”
  • They became a bit defensive and started dropping names of other involved church members. One even went so far as to implicate the pastor and his wife. He said that they were the main leaders in the opportunity.
  • I asked again, “What is the opportunity?”
  • They finally revealed that it was “Amway”.
     This was my first encounter with the “Amway Way”. I researched it further and found out that it was a fairly new “multi-level marketing” venture that promised financial security and wealth springing up across America. Churches became a prime target for Amway's success because of the close interconnectedness of the members.
     Amway held major conferences in which they proclaimed their distinct Christian beliefs that led to their success, and they gave great motivational speeches to the attendees to encourage them they could achieve the same success. The problem was that to achieve this success, people had to engage other people to sell under them to get a cut of their sales.
     Think of a big family and the grandfather getting a cut of every sale of their son, grandson, great-grandson, and so on. The grandfather would eventually get rich on the backs of his descendants. The pastor and his wife were in essence the “grandparents” of our little Berlin area Amway opportunity. And I’m sure they also had “grandparents”.
     Here’s the problem. I alluded to the fact that I was a lonely single man who wanted friends. From then on in that Mennonite church, I never knew if anyone wanted to get close to me because they liked me—or if they wanted me to work under them in Amway. It was very confusing.
     You might ask me, “Arlen, what in the world does Amway and selling cigarettes have to do with the legalization of marijuana?” I’m going around the barn to set up how I think Christians were, and are sucked into the web of deceit leading to the legalization of marijuana. Below are a few circumstances that I have personally encountered, but I think there are many more:
  1. Multi-Level Marketing Schemes of Various Types, including Amway: Many Christians were and are involved in multi-level marketing schemes requiring recruitment of people under them to make money, with most recruits making very little money. On the other hand, the higher-ups, “grandparents” if you will, make great amounts of money.
  2. Selling of Homeopathic Waters of Various Types: I saw online that there are over 60 water multi-level marketing schemes in America in the recent past that tout healing. I had a Christian man several years ago start the same “Amway-type” approach with me after a Christian conference. He only gave vague references to a type of water that had healing powers. I think his ultimate goal was to get me to buy in under him. The problem was that this man had significant health problems himself that one would have thought the water would have healed him by now.
  3. Selling of Homeopathic Essential Oils: Several years ago my wife with some fairly impactful health issues got advice from various people to take specific essential oils. If she did so, she would see vast improvements. Of course, they would be willing to sell them to her. Later, I talked to one man who sheepishly said that he invested a couple thousand dollars in essential oils, and sold only a few. Now they sit at his house unsold, and he and his family only use them from time to time. The person who sold the essential oils and the promise of financial security to this man made out handsomely.
  4. Selling of Homeopathic CBD Oils: Yesterday I went to a local bulk food store run by a Christian family to ask about CBD oils that are being sold in many stores, including stores run by Christian people. It’s been on my mind for a couple of months, and I wanted to see what they had to say. I had a couple of bad marijuana trips (I think one was laced) before I was a Christian. Now I’m very leery of the “homeopathic” label garnered by CBD oils that are derived from marijuana. The co-owner of the store assured me that there wasn’t any THC in the oils that cause the high feeling of marijuana usage. She even said that dogs and their aching joints can benefit from CBD dog chews and drops of oil. I found out that a two-ounce bottle of CBD oil costs up to $60. Think of a small two-ounce bottle of vanilla extract in your cupboard, and consider that people are paying up to $60 for the same amount of CBD oil. Somebody is making big money here. She said proudly that her son researched the products and that they are of the highest quality. She said they get the oils from “Yoder Naturals” in South Carolina. I joked with her that they had to be good if they were from a family of Yoders.
  5. Homeopathic Benefits of Medical Marijuana: Everyone knows that marijuana, including medical marijuana, is derived from a plant. Plant-based remedies are touted by many, including Christians, as “natural”. So, therefore they are better than remedies made in a laboratory. Medical marijuana became legal in Ohio in 2016 if prescribed by a doctor to treat various specific conditions.
  6. Benefits and Less Harmful Side-effects of Marijuana Than Alcohol Usage: A young Christian man I know works for a marketing firm that promotes many things, and one of them is cannabis or recreational marijuana. Another is psychedelics (think of LSD). I heard him on talk shows in the cannabis world promoting these products. His premise is that they are very “natural”, and less impactful than alcohol usage, and that research is proving that they have, or may have, great healing properties.
  7. The Final Step of the slippery slope was the Legalization of Marijuana in Ohio in November.
     Okay, here’s what I think led to the slippery slope toward the legalization of marijuana in Ohio. Plain and simple—greed. Greed was evident in the selling of cigarettes in Christian-owned businesses. Greed was and is evident in the many years of various multi-level marketing schemes and the selling of untested homeopathic products. Now, so-called marijuana “experts” are salivating at the prospects of making great amounts of money by growing, harvesting, processing, and selling marijuana in many states, now including Ohio.
     So, here’s what I think is the bottom line. We as Christians have let our guard down for many years. And, I honestly believe that the legalization of marijuana is God’s reckoning as a result.
     Let me know what you think.

Monday, December 11, 2023

FLOODS UPON DRY GROUND, CHAPTER 4: CRUMBLING FOUNDATIONS



     Chapter 4 of the book “Floods Upon Dry Ground", written by Pastors Bobby Duncan and James Jones, is titled “Crumbling Foundations”.
     To recap, Chapter 1, entitled "Spiritual Awakenings", reminded us of great revivals in centuries past in Scotland. Pastor Duncan asked the question of whether God could, and would, pour floods upon dry ground again in today's world.
     Chapter 2 was entitled, "Dynamics of Spiritual Decline", where authors Duncan and Jones wrote about the slow but steady steps that can lead to apathy and doubt, leading toward the point of even denial of Jesus.
     Chapter 3 was entitled, "Change or Die". It took the story of the four lepers in 2 Kings 7, who had to make a change toward action, or surely they were going to all die, including all of Israel. We also have the choice of "changing or dying". The outcome of our actions may lead to consequences. But no action will surely lead to our spiritual death and the spiritual death of those around us.
     So now, in Chapter 4: "Crumbling Foundations", Pastors Bobby Duncan and James Jones quoted David in Psalm 11:3: 
“If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
     In our culture today, according to Duncan and Jones, “there has been a seismic shift from embracing Christian values and free-market economy to an application of socialist ideas America once rejected.” They cited COVID-19 as “a launching pad for the most openly aggressive move toward socialism we have seen.”
     The authors said that Jesus declared in His Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 that “natural earthquakes” would accompany the last days. But Duncan and Jones cited another kind of earthquake—“the earthquake of deception” that poses the biggest threat to the Christian community and to the spreading of the gospel.
     They wrote that for many years American Christians thought themselves insulated from the religious persecution that Christians in communist and socialist countries endure. They lamented the fact that “somewhere along the line the institutional church forsook its primary task of fulfilling the Great Commission, and instead redirected its energies to addressing social, cultural, and political concerns.” They said, “True revival has been replaced with artificial spirituality built on shallow emotionalism that does not lead to real change, and does not produce genuine hunger and thirst for the righteousness of Christ.”
     So the question is, in the face of our crumbling foundations in America, “What can the church—or the righteous, do?” Below are four imperatives according to Duncan and Jones:
  1. Keep meeting together, in whatever form that may take in the last days.
  2. Use the example of the apostles, who kept proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, no matter what persecution they faced. The Bible gives no evidence of the apostles organizing marches and protests against the wickedness of the leaders of the day. 
  3. Listen and obey the words God spoke through King Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
  4. Remember that God never changes, no matter what may be happening around us.
     So we don’t know whether taking these steps will lead to “a sweeping revival”—or whether it will lead to “increased persecution”, as it did with the apostles.
     But according to authors Duncan and Jones—we do know that amid crumbling foundations around us—“God remains in complete control over His creation.”

Friday, November 24, 2023

IS MEDIOCRITY OUR LOT IN LIFE?


     I always perceived myself as a relatively intelligent and popular student at Hiland High School in Berlin, Ohio. But the evidence proves otherwise.
     My grade cards show that I was just an above-average student at best. And, pictures from my junior year 1971 yearbook confirmed my mediocrity in high school. 
  • I was never on the Scholarship Team
  • I was never on the National Honor Society
  • I was never on the Student Council
  • I never even tried to be one of the staff members to publish the popular Hilander school newspaper.
     You will see in all the pictures that I was conspicuously absent. (Note: I was glad to see my brother Merv in a couple of the pictures, like on the Student Council. Sadly, several people in the pictures have passed away for various reasons. James Miller as some of you know, was murdered.)
     I got some notoriety from playing sports. You can see from my Hiland High School letter jacket, which is now way too small for me that I lettered 5 times in three varsity sports.
  • One year in Baseball
  • Two years in Cross Country.
  • Two years in Basketball.
  • I received the Most Improved Basketball Player trophy my senior year.
     But, despite some modicum of success, all my teams followed the same path toward mediocrity. So, sports wasn’t something I could hang my hat on as a great accomplishment.
     There are many of us for which mediocrity has been our lot. We may be good at some things—but aren’t elite at any one thing. We may have a degree of popularity, but people don’t flock around us as they do others.
     So, what can we do with our mediocrity? I think there is only one answer. It happened to me 46 years ago in 1977, five years after high school. It happened to Jesus’ disciples, most of whom were unlearned tradesmen, like fishermen or tax collectors.
     Jesus didn’t choose an elite group of achievers to be part of His Inner Circle. What happened is that God by His Holy Spirit called His disciples. In the same way, He calls us, to follow Him.
     Our main goal, as was the goal of the disciples, is not to gain glory or status for ourselves.
     Our main goal is to gain glory for God and His Son Jesus, who died on the cross to free us from our sins. God then by His great power can, if we let Him, fade our insecurities and feelings of mediocrity.

Monday, November 6, 2023

FLOODS UPON DRY GROUND, CHAPTER 3: CHANGE OR DIE

 


     Chapter 3 of the book Floods Upon Dry Ground, is titled “Change or Die”. Pastors Bobby Duncan and James Jones based the chapter on what happened to the four lepers in 2 Kings 7, and how it relates to the church today. The four lepers either had to change their plan of staying where they were, or they were going to die of starvation.
     The authors wrote that we often think that other people are the ones that need to change, and we often blame them for failures. Or we might blame the church of which we are a part. They wrote, however, “The hard road is always the one less traveled”, as poet Robert Frost wrote in the poem, The Road Not Taken.
     Pastors Duncan and Jones said, “Not all change is good”, especially if it leads to “change without growing”. “The message is not to change for the sake of changing but rather to change for Christ’s sake—for growth in Christ."
     “Change is typically challenging, and at times it can be agonizing,” And we are often resistant to change. The authors told the funny story of Barney Fife in the Andy Griffith TV Show, and Barney’s resistance to disposing of Mayberry’s cannon. Barney reminisced to Andy another time he resisted change when the post office went to “slot machine” stamp dispensing, equating these machines to gambling.
     Pastors Duncan and Jones wrote that change can bring about “defining moments”. “How we handle these defining moments determines our success or failure, as well as our eternal future.” They gave the example of Faithful Abraham and numerous other Bible heroes who obeyed God—even though the changes sometimes caused them to experience great pain or loss. But, inevitably it brought about new opportunities. The authors wrote, “God always has a purpose for what He allows.”
     Back to the story of the four lepers. They acted out of desperation. Their desperation caused them to “do something” different, or else they were going to die the painful death of starvation.
     We often don’t feel the urgency to reach others for Christ. I sometimes don’t feel the urgency. The authors said we should, however, consider the urgency of the four lepers to change or die, and apply it to our own lives in the area of evangelism.
     In other words, we need to consider who will die, including lost people, even ourselves, and the church as a result of not making changes.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

FLOODS UPON DRY GROUND CHAPTER 2: DYNAMICS OF SPIRITUAL DECLINE



     Chapter 2 of the book “Floods Upon Dry Ground", is titled “Dynamics of Spiritual Decline”. Pastors Bobby Duncan and James Jones state that history shows that spiritual decline is usually a gradual happening and not just a sudden event. They used what happened to Peter and the disciples when they turned their backs on Jesus just before His crucifixion, as what can also happen to us.
     The authors cited six examples of Peter and the disciples heading toward spiritual decline, that could have led them to departing the faith if they hadn't repented. Here they are:
  1. Satan Seeks to Deceive: Peter declared repeatedly to Jesus how firm he was in following Him, and that he would never turn his back on Jesus. Jesus said, however, in Luke 22:31-32 that Satan “asked” for Peter, to “sift” him “as wheat”. Satan also repeatedly wants to sift us.
  2. Called to Watch: Jesus asked Peter, James, and John to go with Him up to the Mount of Olives to "watch" with Him before his crucifixion. They, however, fell asleep. We also sometimes fall asleep literally and figuratively when Jesus asks us to watch with Him.
  3. Weariness of Spirit: Like the disciples who became weary and fell asleep, we too can easily become weary and slip into “religious formality” as the authors stated, instead of having “an intense focus on our relationship with Jesus Christ.”
  4. Reliance on the Arm of the Flesh: In other words, we can have a growing dependence on our own “individual ability” to make it through the tough times in life.
  5. Following Jesus Afar Off: We can be like the disciples, who when the going got tough followed Jesus from a distance instead of close up and personal.
  6. Denying Jesus: Peter ended up three times denying that he even knew Jesus. We also can end up denying Jesus after a time of weariness, carelessness, and fear.
     The authors of the book asked the following question: “How will we respond” in the face of spiritual decline? I think we can respond in one of two ways:
  1. We can grow apathetic, full of doubt, and eventually deny the importance of having a relationship with Jesus.
  2. We can repent quickly, and encourage others also to do so.
     Then together we can continue to have an intense and vital relationship with our wonderful Savior and Lord!

Saturday, October 14, 2023

GATHERING OR SCATTERING?



     In Luke 11:23 Jesus made two very direct black-and-white statements that I’m sure I read before, but I never fully absorbed the implication of the statements. Following are the statements Jesus made. I'm using the Christian Standard Bible translation. Here they are:
  1. “Anyone who is not with me is against me.” And if that isn't radical enough, Jesus then says the following:
  2. “Anyone who does not gather with me scatters.”
     Jesus was addressing the crowd after he cast out a demon from a mute person, and some in the crowd questioned whether he cast out the demon using Satan’s power, instead of God’s power.
     Jesus then went on to contrast Satan’s power, who would not have cast out his own demon, and God’s very much superior power in bringing about good for the demon-possessed person.
     So what was Jesus trying to get across to his listeners with his very direct black-and-white, sobering statements?
     First of all, about the fact that anyone who isn’t “with” Him is “against” Him? And then comes the clincher for me, with my interest in evangelism, but who feels very inadequate at best to gather souls toward Jesus. It’s the statement Jesus makes that anyone who isn’t “gathering” followers to Him, is indeed “scattering” them.
     So let me reiterate by paraphrasing. Here it is: "If I'm not actively spreading the gospel in an attempt at gathering people toward Jesus, then Jesus said that I am actively scattering people away from Him."

FLOODS UPON DRY GROUND CHAPTER 1: SPIRITUAL AWAKENINGS



     
     In the book "Floods Upon Dry Ground", Chapter 1 entitled "Spiritual Awakenings", Bobby Duncan talks about visiting Scotland and learning of some of the rich history of revivals, or "spiritual awakenings" there.
     Two noteworthy characteristics” of spiritual awakenings in Scotland were the following:
  1. A renewed consciousness of the Person and presence of Jesus Christ.
  2. A recognition of the authority of God’s Word.
     Pastor Duncan indicated other features of spiritual awakenings were times of intense praying, long hours spent in worship gatherings and Bible studies, increased sharing of the Gospel with unbelievers, and a sharp drop in local customers attending bars and houses of entertainment.
     Pastor Duncan wrote that people often were seen spontaneously praying together alongside roadways and in open fields. They were crying out to God for His mercy and forgiveness.
     Lastly, Pastor Duncan lamented the fact that beginning in the 1950s started many years of spiritual decline lasting until today. He said that the spiritual decline must be reversed. He wrote, “God is still a merciful God who desires to pour water upon thirsty soil.” In other words, God strongly desires for us to have another great spiritual awakening in today’s world.

Saturday, September 30, 2023

FLOODS UPON DRY GROUND: REVIVAL REFLECTIONS


     

     My former pastor Bobby Duncan knows about my interest in evangelism, and he gave me his latest book entitled “Floods Upon Dry Ground”, co-written by Pastor James Jones.
     The gist of the book is based on Isaiah 44:3 which says, “For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, And floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, And My blessing on your offspring.”
     I want to share two important points, one from Pastor Duncan, and one from Pastor Jones’ “Revival Reflections” at the beginning of the book.
     First of all, Pastor Duncan wrote the following: “Revival or spiritual renewal are things that we may have difficulty intellectually grasping, but, “I firmly believe it is something we can once again experience . . . and must experience.”
     Pastor Jones reflected the following, “Revival is a heightened sense of God’s presence, and usually has brokenness as its companion.” Meaning that without brokenness and a passion for God’s presence, there will be no revival.
     Are you and I broken today? Do we have a passion for God’s presence? And do we believe with all our hearts that we must experience revival as Pastor Duncan stated?








Monday, September 25, 2023

AN INEXTRICABLE CONNECTION


     Last week I participated in a Mission Increase webinar through my role as a grant writer for Mission to Amish People. The webinar was entitled “Disciple Making With Church Partners”. The gist of the webinar was how nonprofits, like Mission to Amish People, can partner with churches to become effective together to make disciples.
     One of the leaders of the webinar. was Caleb Crider, the Director of Program Innovation. He said something that struck me. He said that The Great Commandments, which are two, and The Great Commission are tied together, and one cannot exist without the other.
     In my forty-six years of being a Christian, one thing has always bothered me. The churches I attended never, or rarely included a regular plea to or reasoning for reaching unsaved people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. They preached and taught many, many scriptures about the love, blessing, and power of God in each life if the listeners closely followed God and His Son Jesus Christ. People in the congregation often lifted their hands in praise to God. But I think, however, in almost all cases they forgot the punchline.
     I think that what Mr. Crider asserted in the webinar is the key to what churches are missing. I call it, “An Inextricable Connection” between The Great Commandments, which are two, and The Great Commission. (Note: Inextricable simply means “impossible to separate.”)
     Below are the two Great Commandments told by Jesus found in Matthew 22:35-40:
“And one of them, an expert in the law, asked a question to test him: ‘Teacher, which command of the law is the greatest?’ He (Jesus) said to him, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.’ "
     In simple words, we are first to love God with all the power within us. And secondly, we are to love others. These are the two Great Commandments.
     Secondly, is The Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20:
“Then Jesus came to them (the disciples) and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’ "
     I want to ask you a question. Do you think The Great Commission ended with the disciples, or does it continue with us? A natural extension of loving God and loving others is to tell others about the great love He has for them, right? Jesus told the disciples to make other disciples “of all nations”.

     Later in Acts 1:8 Jesus told the disciples, 
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 
     The disciples, as we all know, weren’t going to live long enough to be witnesses to “the end of the earth”, and to "make disciples of all nations".
     The implication is clear in the following four points:
  1. We greatly love God with everything within us, as Jesus commanded us in the First Great Commandment.
  2. The great love of God then flows through us with His powerful Holy Spirit. We become an extension of Jesus.
  3. Because of this great love we also greatly love others, the Second Greatest Commandment.
  4. And because of our great love for others, we are compelled to lovingly fulfill The Great Commission by becoming extensions of the disciples, telling others about God’s great love for them.
     The conclusion is that there is an “inextricable connection” between the two Great Commandments and The Great Commission. It’s impossible to separate them.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

POWER OF GOD PREACHING


     I grew up in a large Amish/Mennonite area just outside of Berlin, Ohio. One of the things that had a major impact on me was the revival preachers who came to the area from time to time. I especially remember the George Brunk tent revival meetings that were held annually in the Joe T. Miller farm field in the valley before Route 62 went up the hill into Berlin. In the attached picture you’ll see the Sturges Miller barn located to the left of the tent. Our house, unseen in the picture, was on Charm Road to the right. I remember being outside with Mom and brother Merv, perhaps playing ball, or just sitting peacefully on the front porch.

     The warm air was still, while people, most of them Conservative Mennonites, parked their dark-colored cars, and then marched their families to grab seats in the large tent. Vibrant acappella singing followed, filling the valley with sound. After that was a brief interlude of silence.
     

     Then finally we heard his distinct voice over the loudspeakers across the way. Reverend Brunk followed the pattern of many revival preachers, like Billy Graham. He started by speaking calmly with a measured pace to lay the groundwork for his message. His voice got a little louder and he ramped up the intensity as the sermon progressed. Finally, his voice was booming with Bible verses and pronouncements of the impending judgment upon those who didn’t give their hearts to Christ, accompanied by an urgent plea for them to do so.     
     Reverend Brunk’s loud voice didn’t seem threatening and mean—but it definitely was convicting. He was very firm in his commitment to the task God gave him of bringing people to Christ. I would describe his message as “power of God preaching”.
     I came to Christ several years after those annual revival meetings, and since that time, about forty-six years ago, I have seldom heard the “power of God preaching” as I heard from Reverend Brunk—perhaps only from Billy Graham. Preachers and evangelists like that seem very few and far between.
     One rare exception in my life is Pastor Bobby Duncan, former pastor of the Mansfield Church of God. I attended there under his pastorship for approximately six months before he retired for good in March 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic became very prominent. Dee and I became good friends with him and his wife Sandra. I especially appreciate his pastor’s heart and love for his people. And I missed, and still miss his “power of God preaching”.

     Pastor Duncan fills in preaching for pastors in Ohio who need some time off. He recently filled in five Sundays at the Ashland Worship Center, and I went all five times. He and Sandra were a real blessing. I told my wife and some others that I think every new pastor should sit under Pastor Duncan’s leadership and preaching for some time before they go out on their own.
     I’m going to insert three short snippets of his recent preaching on his last Sunday at Ashland Worship Center to show what I mean by “power of God preaching”. He preached on Revelation 21. Sorry about the muffled sound. Here they are:
Snippet 1: You’ll see that Pastor Duncan is very measured in the beginning to lay the groundwork for his message. (See video)

Snippet 2: Pastor Duncan’s intensity is ramping up. He’s not ramping up for the sake of ramping up, but to further get across how important is the message of the gospel. (See video)

Snippet 3: Pastor Duncan ends the sermon with a crescendo to bring people to the point of change. He powerfully exhorts his listeners to take action. (See video)
     Well, what do you think?. You can see the entire sermon and four other ones on the Ashland Worship Center Facebook page.
     I think you could strongly sense Pastor Duncan’s love for his listeners, and his desire for them to fully realize and understand how much God loves them, wants them to follow Him, and wants them to spend eternity with Him in heaven. Pastor Duncan did so by what I describe as “power of God preaching”.

Monday, August 28, 2023

WHAT IS "THE LAST DAY"?



     In John 6 Jesus talked about something I had never focused on before. He used a phrase repeatedly, four times to be exact. Here it is: “I will raise him up on the last day”. Many people have repeatedly heard the term “the last days”, but what does Jesus mean by repeating, four times, the singular “last day” phrase? To get some clues I’ll read the four verses where He used the phrase. Here they are:
  1. John 6:39: "This is the will of him who sent me: that I should lose none of those he has given me but should raise them up on the last day." 
  2. John 6:40: "For this is the will of my Father: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him will have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
  3. John 6:44: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day."
  4. John 6:54: "The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."
     The Bible mentions the “last day”, or “the last days” 16 times. All Christians have an opinion of what “the last days” means. They would likely say “It’s toward the end of the earth”, or “It means the seven-year tribulation. It’s a generalization about a period of time characterized by an increase of signs and wonders, and troubles on the earth leading up to the antichrist coming into power. But it’s not specific. Even Daniel in the Old Testament talked about “the last days.”
     But what do we know from the four verses where Jesus used the phrase—"the last day”?
     First of all, it’s a very singular defined event. And secondly, each verse implies that it includes a specific type of person or specific types of people:
  1. In Verse 39 Jesus said, and I’m paraphrasing, “Jesus isn’t going to lose any person that God has given to Him, and He will raise each of them up on the last day.”
  2. In verse 40, Jesus went on to say, and again I’m paraphrasing, “Every person that sees and believes in Jesus will have eternal life, and again, He will raise him or her up on the last day.”
  3. In verse 44 Jesus said that no one—get that—“no one” can come to Jesus unless God directly draws him or her. And for the third time, He said, “I will raise him up on the last day.”
  4. Lastly, in verse 54 Jesus said something that made some people cringe to the point where many stopped following Him, not realizing that what He said was symbolic. Jesus said that everyone who eats His flesh and drinks His blood will be raised up on the last day.
     So who are the people that Jesus was referring to that would be raised up on the last day? It seems clear that it is every born-again believer whom Jesus defines very clearly four times. It doesn’t refer to anyone else!
     And when is the last day? It makes sense to me that “the last day” Jesus was referring to is the day of the Great White Throne Judgement explained in Revelation 20 where the dead are brought to life—and where those whose names are found in the Book of Life enter the new heaven, the new earth, and the New Jerusalem—and those whose names are not found in the Book of Life are thrown into the lake of fire.
     The last day is what every Christian is waiting for with great expectancy. It’s where there will be no more wars or fighting, no more greed, and no more pain and suffering. It will begin the time when every Christian will experience the love, majesty, and splendor of Jesus!
     In conclusion, after “the last day”—will come the start of “the first day”—where Christians will spend an eternity in the new heaven, the new earth, and the New Jerusalem!


Sunday, August 20, 2023

WHY?


     I like movies and television shows, including Westerns like The Virginian and The Tales of Wells Fargo.
     I also enjoy sometimes watching British crime dramas like Endeavour or Midsommer Murders. 
     And occasionally Dee and I have been known to stay up all night watching an entire British crime series or the Jesse Stone series with Tom Selleck as a brooding small-town police chief.
     I’m also almost addicted to the shows Monk and Columbo, two very quirky, but genius murder detectives. 
     And speaking of quirky, but also genius, Doc Martin has graced British and American airwaves for 10 seasons as the general practitioner doctor in the fictional town of Portwenn in Cornwall, England. The people of Portwenn have a love-hate relationship with Doc Martin. They love his ability to solve medical mysteries and use spur-of-the-moment techniques to address emergency medical situations. But his direct and outspoken opinions leave many patients, townspeople, and even his wife Louisa offended and angry.
     So what do the Westerns, crime dramas, and Doc Martin all have in common? They are all able to solve major problems facing the people, towns, and communities by using their genius minds and abilities such as physical abilities to fight or use guns.
     What, however, are they missing? I sometimes drive Dee crazy when I ask her the following types of questions about what they are all missing. For example:
  • “Why doesn’t The Virginian or Jim Hardy of Wells Fargo ever ask God for help to solve a stage holdup or thwart a ranch takeover.”
  • “Why doesn’t Monk, Columbo, Inspector Morse, Chief Inspector Barnaby, or Police Chief Jesse Stone ever seek guidance from the Holy Spirit to solve a seemingly impossible murder mystery?"
  • And lastly, "Why doesn’t Doc Martin pray to Jesus to help him with one of his many out-of-control medical emergencies?"
     Jeremiah said in 32:17 the following: 
“Oh, Lord God! You made the heavens and earth by your great power and with your outstretched arm. Nothing is too difficult for you!"
     Think about it. God is the most powerful force in the universe, and writers, producers, directors, and actors rarely if ever include God in the equation of their weekly problems.
     My question is, “Why?”

     I plan, Lord willing, to ask a few more “Why?” questions in the coming weeks.

Friday, August 4, 2023

THE LOGICAL NEXT STEP AFTER "TAP" CREDIT CARDS!



     I love convenience. I also love technology. Dee says I’m like a kid in a toy store when I find a new bit of technology to make my life easier. My newest gadget is a TAP or Contactless credit card.
     The chip in my old credit card stopped working. The store card readers repeated a “chip malfunction” message over and over again. Without fail the cashiers all asked me the following question, “Is your credit card a TAP one?” I had absolutely no clue what they were talking about.
     In most stores, I had to insert my card three times into the card reading machines. Then after the repeated “chip malfunction” message, the machines finally permitted me to swipe my credit card strip, instead of insisting that I insert the card with the chip again.
     I went to my bank and stated my dilemma. The bank teller cheerfully said that it was no problem, and she would authorize me to get a new credit card which would come in the mail within seven days.
     With high anticipation, I finally got the card in the mail. Lo and behold, my new card had a radio wave symbol on it. I was about to learn what a TAP credit card was all about. I watched several YouTube videos—because as I said, I was clueless about how they worked because I never had one before.
     Dee, however, warned me about the logical next step after TAP credit cards. I was na├»ve—but what she said made sense. First of all, I want you to look at both the following attached images. 
Image 1
Image 2: 
     
     Now, I want you to look at what’s holding the TAP card, and the TAP bracelet. The TAP card and bracelet are being held by a person’s right hand—very close to the TAP card reader. I think you’ll immediately understand where I’m going with this post.
     The newfangled card is touted to be more secure, but I asked a cashier just today in our local grocery store, “What would prevent a thief from stealing my card, and for him or her to begin “tapping” away to get all kinds of goods?”
     Dee had the answer. “Develop the technology to have everyone have the chip inserted into their right hand instead of onto a vulnerable and stealable card.” She said that few thieves would go so far as to chop off someone’s right hand to get free goods.
     So then the next question was, "What if someone had no right hand, as sometimes occurs through a birth defect, or as a result of an accident?"
     Dee also had an answer for that. “Have everyone with no right hand have the chip inserted into their forehead." Only very crazy people would cut off someone’s head to get at a chip to get free goods. Right? Again, most of you understand where I’m going. All you have to do is to read Revelation 13:16-18:
“And it (the false prophet) makes everyone—small and great, rich and poor, free and slave—to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark: the beast’s (the Antichrist’s) name or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: Let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, because it is the number of a person. Its number is 666.”
     Okay, do you think I’m an alarmist? Or do you think, like me, that we’re hurtling toward the “end times” at an exponential pace? I’d be foolish, and it would be unbiblical to try to estimate the exact timing of the return of Christ. The Bible warns us against doing that.
     But, Jesus does warn us and encourages us to get ready when the pieces start to fit into place for the end times. What are the steps to get ready?
  1. Step 1: If we haven't done so previously, we need to confess our sins, cry out to God for help, and accept the free gift of salvation offered to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  2. Step 2. Tell everyone we meet about the wonderful love of God and His Son, Jesus. We need to be urgent in this task—to pray as we have never prayed before—and trust His powerful Holy Spirit as we have never trusted it before. 
  3. Step 3: We just read in Revelation to use wisdom in understanding the end times, like the number 666. I think the third step is to use wisdom to understand such things as "The Logical Next Step After TAP Credit Cards!




Friday, July 28, 2023

YOUR MISSION, SHOULD YOU DECIDE TO ACCEPT IT--



     Most of us who had TVs back in the late 60s and early 70s remember the repeated scenes where “Impossible Mission Force” agent Mr. Phelps went to varying secret locations to listen to audio tape instructions for his next “Mission Impossible”.
  • “Good morning Mr. Phelps”: Then came the detailed info about the problem and the dangerous people to be encountered to solve the problem.
  • Mr. Phelps was then told, “Your mission, should you decide to accept it—”. Then this was followed by the exact desired outcome.
  • The mission was considered so perilous that he was told at the end, “As always, should you or any member of your IM Force be caught or killed, the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions."  
  • Finally, Mr. Phelps was told, “This tape will self-destruct in five seconds.” This was followed by the hissing and smoke of the burning audio tape.  
  • Then Mr. Phelps, in the privacy of his apartment picked from an IMF folder the specialists needed to carry out “Mission Impossible”.
     When I retired 4½ years ago, I didn’t know exactly what God had in store—and what was His mission for me. I wondered to myself, and to my wife—what are my next steps?
     I was fairly open to what God’s plan was for me. I retired from working after about 29 years in the mental health field—but I hadn’t retired from life.
     God showed me in a vision many years ago that He had a plan for me. I’m not special because I had a vision. Joel prophesied in Joel 2:28, and it was reiterated in Acts 2:17, “Your young men will see visions.”
     Yes, I was young at one time! I’m assuming that I am just one of many young men over the years that have had visions because of what the Bible declared.
     I won’t get into the details of the vision. That's not important. What is important is that it made me know with certainty that I was called by God to fulfill His mission in my life. And the mission God has for each of us is never retired—right? The mission continues until we finally meet Him in heaven.
     So, what is God’s mission for me—and you? Is it to be happy? Is it to be prosperous? Is it to have position and prestige? Is it to have a big family, including many grandchildren, and even perhaps great-grandchildren?
     God’s mission for us may include each of these things. Psalm 1:3 says of God’s people, who follow His instruction, “Whatever he does he prospers.” Does that mean only financial prosperity? Or does it encompass a lot more than that?
     Over a year ago I took an online Dallas Theological Seminary course entitled “Evangelism 101”. Dr. Barry Jones, the instructor, talked several times in the lessons about the Latin term “Missio Dei”. Dr. Jones said about it, “The Missio Dei is God’s purpose on the earth to create and sanctify a people for His own glory”. And also, “Mission should be the essence of the church—not just one of its many facets.”
     Dr. Jones strongly emphasized that the mission on earth for each born-again believer is to participate in “God’s Great Rescue Mission”. The Mission Impossible team, which was fictional, and non-fictional military or safety forces rescue missions are formed to save countries and the physical lives of people. God’s rescue mission, on the other hand—is to save the lives of people spiritually—and for all eternity.
     Physical rescue missions are very important in our lives. But the “Missio Dei” of God is of far greater importance than earthly rescue missions. Eternal life is in the balance.
     Satan wants to make it difficult, impossible if you will, for us to fulfill God’s Great Rescue Mission. He will go to any lengths, even to kill us, to stop the mission from happening.
     In the face of that, God is asking us to put all else aside. He is saying to each of us, “Your mission, should you decide to accept it” --is to rescue men and women everywhere you go.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

BUILDING PILLARS DIFFICULT TO TEAR DOWN


     This morning in my devotions I was reading Amos 9:1 where God said, “Strike the capitals of the pillars so that the thresholds shake.” It got me thinking about pillars mentioned in the Bible 96 times. I wonder, “Do we have pillars in our own lives—and in the church—that need to be shaken and perhaps struck down?”
     The Oxford Dictionary defines a pillar as “a tall vertical structure of stone, wood, or metal, used as a support for a building, or as an ornament or monument.” Or, it can be “a person or thing regarded as reliably providing essential support for something.”
     The Bible makes it clear there are good pillars—and there are bad pillars.

Five good pillars:
  1. When wandering in the wilderness Moses and the Israelites were led by “a pillar of cloud by day”, and a “pillar of fire by night”. These pillars weren’t made of solid materials like most pillars. But they were pillars the Israelites in flight could always depend on.
  2. The pillars of acacia wood that held up the curtains of the Tabernacle.
  3. The pillars of stone that held up the Temple.
  4. The church of God in I Timothy 3:15 is referred to as a pillar.
  5. A person can be a pillar. Jesus, in Revelation 3:12, told John to write to the people of Philadelphia the following: “The one who conquers I will make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will never go out again.”
Two bad pillars:
  1. Lot’s wife turned into “a pillar of salt” when she disobeyed God’s instructions and looked back toward Sodom.
  2. Solid structures were built by foreigners to worship foreign gods. Occasionally, however, even the Israelites built pillars to foreign gods. God, in every instance, instructed that these pillars be torn down and destroyed.
     So what about recent times and even today? Do Christians build pillars? I recently talked to Dee about fabulous structures like cathedrals. Also, in every town, there are usually very large churches made of large-cut stones. They’re majestic, and as Dee said, they lift our eyes upward toward heaven.
     I sometimes think of the planning stages of such structures. In my mind, I can imagine the excitement of teams doing the planning, sort of like the Israelites building the Tabernacle, and later the Temple. Then finally comes the moving-in day. People's senses, I'm sure, were overwhelmed when they walked through the gate, door, or curtain.
     But, sadly, very many of these structures are still majestic—but most are devoid of people. Because of their majesty and history, no one wants to tear these structures down. So many are being turned into museums, or repurposed to earn money for their expensive upkeep.
     What happened? Are these structures like the manmade pillars of the Bible that represented false gods?
     What about the structures of today? And I’m not talking just about physical structures. We have a trend today toward organizations like megachurches. Might they be considered pillars—some even bad ones?
     Do we in our denominations, and even independent churches set up pillars difficult to tear down? All of us, including myself like the comfort of doing things the same way. Ask my wife. We like procedures, bylaws if you will, spelled out to a T so that we don’t have to think too hard to follow them. But is this the best plan of action?
     Has everything gotten too big for us to even think about changing things up—to think about rocking the proverbial boat—to think about the fact that God by the power of His Holy Spirit might be directing us—to tear down some of the large pillars we have set up?

Friday, July 7, 2023

MEN AND WOMEN OF HONOR



     The movie “Men Of Honor” is set in about 1950. It’s a true story about the rigors of men trying to become members of an elite Navy diving team. Their goal was to develop stamina and skill to perform deep-sea rescues in perilous sea conditions. Carl Brashear came from a poor farm family in Kentucky and was the only black cadet in the group. But he had the dream to become one of this elite team and would not be deterred from his dream. He overcame many odds, including racial discrimination rampant at the time, and became the first black Navy diver ever to make the team.
     Can you and I become men and women of honor? Can we learn the skills, develop the stamina, and overcome all odds to become part of an elite team to perform rescue missions to pull people from the deep swirling, and deadly waters of sin?

Monday, June 26, 2023

“THEN THEY CRIED OUT TO THE LORD IN THEIR TROUBLE”

     


     In some Bible passages, the writer used certain phrases repeatedly. Psalm 119, for example, is the longest chapter in the Bible. The writer referred to God’s Word, or its 9 synonyms in each of the 176 verses.
     My wife is an author, and she says that a good writer usually limits the usage of the same word in each paragraph or literary section. But in Psalm 119 the writer repeatedly used the same nine synonyms for God’s Word, and I think he likely did so to get his point across about how important God’s Word is in our lives, and in the struggles we face.
     Psalm 107 is another Bible passage with repetition. It has four instances of the following phrase, which is the focus of this post. Here it is: “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble.” I think again God uses repetition to get His point across. In this case to get His point across to us the importance of crying out to Him when we are in trouble.
     Four times the writer indicated that the Israelites experienced trouble, mostly as a result of straying away from serving Him.
  1. Verses 4-5: “Some wandered in the desolate wilderness”, where “they were hungry and thirsty”, and “their spirits failed them.”
  2. Verses 10-11: “Others sat in darkness and gloom—prisoners in cruel chains—because they rebelled against God’s commands,” and “despised” His counsel.
  3. Verses 17-18: “Fools suffered affliction because of their rebellious ways”—and they almost died as a result.
  4. Verses 23-27: “Others went to sea in ships”. The writer wrote that these sailors saw firsthand God’s “wondrous works”, but as is the case of many sailors on an ocean, they will at some point encounter severe storms. He wrote that they “reeled and staggered”, and that “all their skill was useless” to counter the trouble and the sure death they faced.
     In each of these four cases, God didn’t ignore them when they cried out to Him in their trouble. He could have easily done so because of their wickedness and straying away from Him.
     But in each case, because of His great mercy, God heard their cry to Him in trouble and acted to meet the need they had or to ease the pain they felt.
     Following are the four outcomes of the four instances:
  1. Do you remember the ones living in the wilderness who were hungry, thirsty, and their spirits failed them? “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble”—and “He rescued them from their distress. He led them by the right path to go to a city where they could live.” The writer ended by saying the following: "Let them give thanks to the Lord for his faithful love and his wondrous works for all humanity."
  2. What about the ones who sat in darkness and gloom, who had cruel chains of bondage? “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble”—and “He saved them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness and gloom, and broke their chains apart.” The writer ended again by saying the following: "Let them give thanks to the Lord for his faithful love and his wondrous works for all humanity."
  3. Then there were the fools that suffered affliction because of their rebellion and almost died as a result. “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble”—and “He saved them from their distress. He sent His word and healed them, he rescued them from the pit.” The writer ended the third time by saying the following: "Let them give thanks to the Lord for his faithful love and his wondrous works for all humanity."
  4. Lastly, were the sailors on the troubled seas that even their great sailing skills couldn’t save them from sure death. “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble”—and “he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper, and the waves of the sea were hushed.” Last, but not least, the writer ended by saying the following: "Let them give thanks to the Lord for his faithful love and his wondrous works for all humanity."
     It didn't matter how bad the people were--God cared and still cares about all people, or humanity, who cry out to him in their trouble. In each of the four cases, the people ended up praising God mightily for His faithful love and wonderful acts of rescuing them.
     You might ask what Psalm 107 has to do with winning souls for Jesus. I would say it has a lot to do with it. Most people, myself included, won’t even consider “crying out to the Lord” for help until we’re in dire need—until we realize our very serious trouble without God’s help.
     Many, many people today don't even realize the serious trouble they're going to face at some point in their lives. Things may be going along smoothly now. But as I tell my son, at some point in all our lives—every one of us—will experience extreme adversity.
     It’s difficult to pray for lost people to experience extremely adverse circumstances, sometimes even ones that lead them to the door of death. We don’t want to see anyone suffer.
     But sometimes these extremely trying circumstances are what’s needed for a person to—then cry out to the Lord in their trouble—and for God to wonderfully rescue them.