Friday, August 31, 2012

A Sobering Reminder

My dear friend Bill Barker is director of Appalachian Regional Ministries. ARM is a ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board. Bill is a West Virginia native who has a heart for God, and for making Him known to the people throughout the mountains and hills of the Appalachian region of our nation, which runs from parts of New York to northern Georgia.
Bill posted the following article on Facebook this morning, and I felt compelled to share it with our readers. The context of the scriptures cited here is, of course, surrounding the dedication of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem. It is written to the people of Israel and regards that special house of worship and prayer that had been constructed to God's specifications. God warns His people, Israel that He stands ready to protect and provide for them, but that He will withdraw His blessings from those who fail to respond to Him in obedience and love.
Even though that unique situation was very different from what we face today, I believe we can draw a correlation to the spiritual situation of God's people today in our region. Our culture has basically forgotten God and His commandments. Houses of worship all around us are closed, locked, mildewed and rotting. Small remnants try to keep other buildings open, and our convention spends money time and other resources on planting new churches. What we need is true revival among God's people. It is a sad commentary on our complacency, our priorities, and our lack of zeal in fulfilling His Great Commission. Here is Bill's article. May God use Bill's post to be a compelling challenge to each of us today!
For the past six days, I have been traveling and working in the coalfields of Appalachia, driving through towns that once brimmed with people and affluence; driving pass churches that once were filled to capacity every Lord’s Day. I paused as I passed a church were over 650 people once gathered to worship and today a dozen or so people struggle to keep the doors open.
I drove by another church that in its heyday was one of the ten largest churches in their denomination and today is just an empty shell of a building.
I drove pass churches with For Sale signs on them, pass others that showed years of neglect, and pass others that were boarded up. Yet, there was one thing in common at each site; men and women, teenagers, boys and girls desperately needing of being reached with the gospel of Christ surrounded the abandoned or nearly empty church buildings.
This reminded me of the store with a “Going out of business” sign on the front window under which someone had scribbled, “we forgot what business we were in.”
While frequently, we quote 2 Chronicles 7:14, we seldom read on to verses 19-22. "But if you turn away and forsake My statutes and My commandments which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods, and worship them, then I will uproot them from My land which I have given them; and this house which I have sanctified for My name I will cast out of My sight, and will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And as for this house, which is exalted, everyone who passes by it will be astonished and say, 'Why has the LORD done thus to this land and this house?' Then they will answer, 'Because they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and embraced other gods, and worshiped them and served them; therefore He has brought all this calamity on them'" (NKJV).
That same truth applies to the church today; accordingly, I pray with the sons of Korah, “Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?”(Psalm 85:6).

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Of Buzzards, Bats, and Bumblebees

I had seen this illustration before, but it has been some time ago. Recently someone sent it to me in an email, and I thought it was something I should share with you. Keep in mind that this is not original with me, and the author is unknown.

The Buzzard-

If you put a buzzard in a pen that is 6 feet by 8 feet and is entirely open at the top, the bird, in spite of its ability to fly, will be an absolute prisoner. The reason is that a buzzard always begins a
flight from the ground with a run of 10 – 12 feet. Without space to run, as is its habit, the buzzard will not even attempt to fly, but will remain a prisoner for life in a small jail with no top.

The Bat –

The ordinary bat that flies
around at night is a remarkably nimble creature in the air. Yet it cannot take off from a level
place. If it is placed on the floor or
flat ground, all it can do is shuffle about helplessly and, no doubt,
painfully, until it reaches some slight elevation from which it can throw
itself into the air. Then at once, it takes off like a flash.
The Bumblebee -

A Bumblebee, if dropped into an open jar, will be there until it dies, or until it is taken out. It never sees the means of escape at the open top of the jar, but persists in trying to find some way out through the side or bottom. It will seek a way out where none exists, until it completely destroys itself.

People -

In many ways, we are like the buzzard, the bat, and the bumblebee. We struggle about with all our problems and frustrations, never realizing that all we have to do is look up! That is the
answer. The escape route and the solution to any problem is to look up.
When the problems of life arise. When there seems to be no way out. Look up to the God who has said, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you”.

The old saying goes, “Sorrow looks back… Worry looks around… but faith looks up!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Preach, Die, and Be Forgotten

Nicolaus Zinzendorf, 1700-1760, theologian and Bishop of the Moravian Church has been quoted as saying, "Preach the Gospel, die, and be forgotten".

Pretty powerful words! Words that go against the main stream of popular thought.

33 years ago in an interview for a secular job, the Human Resources Manager asked my what my goal was if I should be selected for the position. I told him I wanted to "make a good living to support my family, to serve my community well, and to be remembered for having made a difference".

Sounds pretty noble, huh?

Three decades later, those are similar words that might be spoken by nearly anyone. We live in a time where we would like to feel that we have made a difference in the world. Some speak of leaving a legacy, and that is a very human desire. Presidents save all of their papers, photos, and memorabilia for their presidential libraries. As they serve, we often hear about how they want to be remembered by historians. That is fine and proper, but it's really nothing new. Many today are seeking celebrity status. Some of us are looking for what Andy Warhol called our "15 minutes of fame". Everyone seems to want to be remembered when they are gone. This desire manifests itself in great projects endeavored and monuments left behind.

But again, that is nothing new. Human nature really hasn't changed much in millennia.

The first four verses of Genesis 11 records the following:

"Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” (ESV)

When I was a child, my understanding of this text was more along the lines of the idea that people wanted to build a tower so high that they could get up to Heaven. This is far from the message of this passage! Notice in that fourth verse they said, "... let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth". The idea was that they wanted to "make a name for themselves" and to leave a monument to their achievements.

Aren't we all like that to some extent?

Christians in general, and those of us in the ministry in particular, should be very careful not to allow ourselves to be forced into that mold! Great care should be taken, because we are NOT immune to that temptation. A cursory look around us will reveal that there are numerous "ministries" and monuments around us to mark the work of various pastors and evangelists.

God help those of us in the ministry to take heed to the advice given by Zinzendorf to Moravian Missionaries in the mid 1700's:

“The missionary must seek nothing for himself: no seat of honour, no report of fame. Like the cab-horses in London, the Count said, he must wear blinkers and be blind to every danger and to every snare and conceit. He must be content to suffer, to die and be forgotten.”

Such teachings of Zinzendorf had great influence on John and Charles Wesley, and William Carey. It should also have the same effect on us.

John the Baptist gives us one of the great Biblical examples of such a philosophy as recorded in John 3:30 " He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Oh! That we might remember that our task is to lift up Jesus and not ourselves!

May we be quick like the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 2 to lay aside opinion, philosophy, politics, personalities, partisanship and earthly wisdom to take on this attitude:

"And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God."

Our challenge is today as it has always been - "Preach the Gospel, die, and be forgotten". God has a record of our service. His reward will be much greater than any monument we may leave here.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Buzzy's Mom

This afternoon at 5:30 PM, at the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, IL (near Chicago) it will be my privilege to unite Jim "Buz" Salyer and Debby Thomas in marriage. That's Buzzy and his mother, Anna Lee Salyer pictured here to the left.

I've known Buzzy since about 1957 or so. His family lived on Midvale Drive, up the hill from the house where I grew up on Gallaher Street. He was one year younger than me, and trailed me by one school year all the way through Gallaher Elementary, Beverly Hills Junior High, and Huntington East High School. We were't close friends through school, but mostly just a couple of guys who grew up in the same neighborhood, and had a number of mutual friends. After I graduated in 1968 I lost track of Buz for a decade.

Our paths crossed again in the late 70's as Providence brought us to the same employer at an automobile dealership in Ashland, KY. From that point on, a close friendship developed that has lasted for three and a half decades. After our time together at Steenbergen Oldsmobile, his work in banking and finance eventually led him to the Chicago area, and I opened an insurance agency in Ashland. I continued to work in Bi-vocational ministry as a business man and a pastor until called to the full time pastorate in 2012.

Buz and his late wife, Amy, who also grew up in our old neighborhood, were not only my insurance clients while they lived in Kentucky, but were great friends to Linda and I. They were also great benefactors of our Philippine Mission work and the ministry of Westmoreland Baptist Church. There was a genuine love between our families - even though we were eventually separated by many miles and different career paths.

What a joy it was last night to meet Debby who will now share her life with my old friend, and to be reunited at the rehearsal and dinner with Buz and his family. His twin son and daughter Jamie and Jacqui and their children are a precious family. It was great to see Buzzy's younger sister, Jennifer and meet her husband as well. However, one of the best treats of the evening was to be able to spend some quality time with Buzzy's mother, Anna Lee Salyer.

During the 1967-1968 school year, Mrs. Salyer (that is all I will ever be able to call her) was my Senior English teacher at Huntington East High School. I had not seen Mrs. Salyer since that hot night in early June, 1968 at my graduation ceremony at Veterans Memorial Field House in Huntington. All that was on my mind that evening was celebration, a date with my girl friend, and an upcoming trip out of town with one of my buddies. In hindsight, I wish I had taken time to seek out Mrs. Salyer and one other particular teacher that evening just to tell them "Thanks". However, as teenagers are wont to do, I failed to take that opportunity. Last night, forty four years later, I had the opportunity again, and seized the moment.

By my best count, in my twelve years as a student in Cabell County public schools, I had upwards of 50 teachers. Two of them were bad - really, really bad (that's all I'll say about that). One tried hard, but was outside of his calling. Most of them were excellent professionals, from whom I learned a great deal. Seven of them helped change my life.

Buzzy's mom was one of the "Magnificent Seven".

Mrs. Donaldson, a dear Christian lady, started it off right in first grade. Beside teaching us "Jolly Numbers" and reading with the adventures of Dick, Jane, and Sally ("See Spot. See Spot run. Run Spot. Run!") Mrs. Donaldson actually interspersed our secular lessons with Christian values. The first song I ever learned in school was "Tell Me The Story of Jesus". Imagine that!

Gertrude Stone, my fifth grade teacher, challenged me to work hard and never settle for mediocrity. That challenge lay dormant for two years in High School, but the seeds Mrs. Stone planted eventually bore fruit. Susie Jimison taught us music and life lessons. She dared us to be different and inspired us to think for ourselves and not to just follow the crowd.

In Junior High Miss Harold stoked my interests in learning about the world around me. Her passion for Geography and World History fanned the flame that Mrs. Stone had ignited in me during the fifth grade. Linda Giles' 9th grade English class deepened my love for literature and poetry, and infected me with the joy and satisfaction that comes from creative writing.

My first two years of High School were unremarkable to say the least. I coasted. I declined. My school work was average, at best, and poor on occasion. I had feelings of inferiority and began to doubt my self worth. Then came my senior year with Catherine Cummings' Speech class and Anna Salyer's English. These two ladies were a godsend to me.

Mrs. Cummings brought me out of my funk and out of my shell. She inspired me to think creatively and to communicate. Over the years, I had "locked up" when forced to get up in front of the class and and speak. Whether it was "Show and Tell" in grade school, or oral book reports in Jr. High, the fear of public speaking was debilitating. Mrs. Cummings forced me to abandon my fear of speaking before a crowd. She helped us understand that we each did have something of value to say, and coached us as to how to say it.

That all kind of comes in handy for what I do today!

Mrs. Salyer embodied all of the above qualities. She was a consummate teacher. She loved her students and it showed. She wasn't "easy" quite thee contrary, but she made learning fun. She was passionate about literature and it was infectious. She even made grammar lessons interesting. I may not have completely mastered its finest points (as evidenced my writings even today) but I understood it much better due to her efforts. She not only taught us English, but she taught us lessons in life. Her class was the best hour of the day, and I looked forward to it each school day.

Most of all, I think Mrs. Salyer saw potential in each of her students. She was tough when necessary, and compassionate at all times. She told me last night about a boy (whom I remember well) who was thrown out of his original English class. The former teacher said she would not allow him back in her class, and Mrs. Salyer was asked to take on this "problem student". She agreed, and it didn't take long for her to see that this guy was gifted in writing. His spelling was atrocious, and all the other teacher had done was mark up his papers for spelling until it looked like a chicken had bled to death on the page. Mrs. Salyer told me, "I read his work, and it was outstanding. He just couldn't spell." The previous teacher had no patience with him, and had constantly berated him over his poor spelling. "Apparently she had never taken time to read what he had written" Mrs. Salyer said. "I began to work with him on his spelling. Soon he was carrying a dictionary with him on a regular basis. His spelling improved and his work was excellent." She further said that she had lost touch with the young man after high school, but happened across his mother many years later. When asked about where her son was and what he was doing, the mother related that he was now a college English professor!

That is the kind of story that makes it all worthwhile for a teacher.

The common traits of my "top seven" - and other great teachers - are a genuine love for their profession and for the many and varied lives they touch. They often answer questions with another question. They challenge the student to think! They challenge the student to look inside themselves, and to work hard to reach their potential. They help mold and change lives.

Buzzy's mom was one of the best.

I'm sorry it took so long to be able to tell her face to face, but I am so glad I had that opportunity last night.

Thanks Mrs. Salyer! You are loved and appreciated.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Riding The Rails

As I write this, Linda and I are on the Amtrak “Cardinal” somewhere in Indiana. The land is as flat as a skillet, and we are passing rows and rows of seemingly endless cornfields. The sky is milky blue above the scattered white farmhouses, barns, other outbuildings and silos.

I am quite accustomed to loud train whistles near my home, but from our seats aboard the coach, the horn sounds strangely distant as it blows at each crossing.

It’s our first train ride together and her first, ever – if you don’t count the Cass Senic Rail Road that climbs Bald Knob back in Pocahontas County, West Virginia.

We are headed to Chicago, where tomorrow I will officiate at the wedding ceremony of a lifelong friend, and former co-worker.

The familiar swaying of the train brings back pleasant memories from my childhood days, but the rails are bumpier than I remembered – or had expected. The Conductor has just announced that from our next stop in Crawfordville through Lafayette, that the train will be full. I have been a bit surprised by the number of folks who are taking this means of transportation. The Cardinal even added two cars to the train at our early morning stop in Indianapolis.

It’s been a multi ethnic and multi cultural experience as well. In our car there are several folks speaking Spanish. The young Hispanic mother sitting across the aisle from us has two beautiful children, and a lady sitting two rows back, who appears to possibly be her sister also has three little ones. The kids are having a great time playing with each other as the miles roll by.

There are two couples and a family who (from the native dress of the ladies) appear to be from India. There are Caucasians and African Americans of all ages, and at least five Amish people have walked by us on their way to the dining car. The Conductors and other staff members are friendly and helpful, and it has made for a pleasant experience.

As someone who flies several times a year, I have been impressed with the wide comfortable seats on this train, and tremendous leg room between them. The seats are markedly larger than the coach seats of most planes, and they recline much further. The seats also have a small leg rest that can be extended, and there are foot rests and electrical outlets for each passenger’s use. The aisles are wide, and the two restrooms in each coach are a good bit larger and somewhat more comfortable than the tiny lavatories in the airliners.

The Amtrak fares are also very reasonable. Linda and I are both traveling round trip for roughly half of what one plane ticket would have cost for me, alone.

The drawbacks of rail travel, of course, do exist as well. For example, this particular route does not have daily service. The three times per week regimen makes travel scheduling more of a challenge. Obviously the trip by rail takes much longer than a flight to the same destination. There are several stops along the way, and (much the same as with the airlines) there can be unexpected delays. Our train was scheduled to leave Ashland, KY at 10:08 PM on Wednesday evening, but it did not arrive until much later. We actually got underway at 12:45 AM on Thursday morning!

When delays happen, being stuck in an airport situation can be much more comfortable than in many Amtrak venues. No one really likes spending long hours waiting in an airport terminal, but in contrast to the Amtrak “station” in Ashland, KY (which consists of two benches under a small shelter that look like a school bus stop) it makes an airport waiting area feel like a creature comfort center!

All in all, it has been a pleasant experience thus far. If your town has access to rail travel I would encourage you to try it some time. With the clattering of the wheels, the sound of the whistle, the swaying of the cars, and the passing scenery, there is just something traditionally “American” about the train experience.

I’ve been humming “train songs” to myself all morning!

“And the sons of pullman porters

And the sons of engineers

Ride their father's magic carpets made of steel.

Mothers with their babes asleep,

Are rockin' to the gentle beat

And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel.”

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Persecution and Suffering

Follower's of Jesus Christ in America had better be prepared.

Persecution is coming.

It's nothing new for the follower of Christ.

Just read the Book of Acts in the New Testament, and you will begin to get an appreciation for what early Christ Followers endured.

Believers in this country should spend some time in Foxes Book of Martyrs and let the sobering reality of persecution begin to sink in to their "spoiled by our religious freedoms in the USA" minds.

Educate yourself as to the dire straits that Christians are in TODAY around the world in places like Indonesia, China, Iran, and Nigeria.

For far too long we have been the spiritual equivalent of an ostrich, sticking our heads in the sand of OUR Bill of Rights. Blessed to have been born in this wonderful country, most of us are oblivious to the plight of Christ Followers around the world, but the inconvenient truth of the matter is that persecution exists, and it is coming here, faster than most people realize.

I am thankful to be an American. I cherish our Constitution and our Bill of Rights. As a citizen, I expect to have those rights protected. Yet I would be a fool to believe that this will last forever. Look at one of the heroes (and human authors) of the New Testament - a fellow named Saul of Tarsus. You might know him better as Paul the Apostle. Paul was a Roman Citizen. He did not earn that citizenship nor purchase it at a price. Like many of us American Christians, he was simply born a citizen of Rome, and expected to enjoy the privileges and perks that came with it. Yet listen to his testimony regarding the persecution and suffering that he endured for his faithfulness to Christ:

"Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure." (2 Corinthians 11:22-27)

He even counseled his young Greek protege, Timothy, that he (and all other Christians) could and should expect more of the same:

"You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived." (2 Timothy 3:12)

That's not exactly what we would put on a recruiting poster, is it? ("Hey! Come to Jesus and get persecuted!") Yet the warning is there for every believer to see, "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus WILL be persecuted..."

Why can't we just go along our merry way, and live a life in Christ that will cause everybody to love and adore us? Why is the entertainment industry so brutal to Christians? Why are those who preach "tolerance" so loudly, so intolerant of those who follow Christ? Why is it becoming more and more unpopular to be a real Christian in 21st Century America?


Here is what Jesus, Himself, said about the subject:

"If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. " (John 15:18-21)

So, there you go, my friend. Better get use to it.

This is one pastor who is tired of hearing American Christians whine about being mocked and treated with intolerance. It's time to put your big boy britches on and be prepared, because it is only going to get worse. We ain't seen nothing yet!

But here is the good news from Jesus, regarding the suffering and persecution that we will one day surely face:

"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)