free counters


Few Bearers of His Cross

Greetings Friends,

     Today's "thought" comes to you from the Christian devotional classic, "The Imitation of Christ" by Thomas a' Kempis (1380-1471).  His name means "Thomas of (or from) Kempen" - a small town in eastern Germany, just a few miles from the border of Holland. His God-given gifts which come through to us in his writing consist in his wisdom, keen insight into human nature, and ability to say a lot in very few words (a gift I missed out on)!

     In terms of personal transformation he taught: "The acknowledgment of our weakness is the first step in repairing our loss."   In terms of spiritual leadership he stressed: The loftier the building, the deeper the foundation must be laid."  In terms of the self he said as we all can: Who has a harder fight than he who is striving to overcome himself."  And in terms of Jesus words in John 14:7 he assured us: "Without the Way, there is no going, Without the Truth, there is no knowing, Without the Life, there is no living."   This selection is entitled"Few Bearers of His Cross."  Enjoy.
     "Jesus now has many lovers of the heavenly kingdom, but few bearers of His Cross. He has many who desire consolation, but few who desire tribulation. He finds many companions at His table, but few of His abstinence. All desire to rejoice with Him, but few are willing to endure anything for Him, or with Him.
     Many follow Jesus unto the breaking of bread, but few unto the drinking of the cup of His sufferings. Many reverence His miracles, but few follow the shame or disgrace of His Cross. Many love Jesus so long as no adversities befall them.  Many praise and bless Him so long as they receive consolations from Him.  But if Jesus hide (the sense of His presence) and leave them but a little while, they turn to complaining or into much dejection of mind.
     But they who love Jesus for the sake of Jesus, and not for some special comfort they can receive from Him, bless Him in all tribulations and anguish of heart as well as in the state of highest comfort.  Even if He was never willing to give them comfort, they would, even then, praise Him and wish to be always giving thanks. 
     O how powerful is the pure love of Jesus, which is mixed with no self-interest or self-love!  Are not all those to be called mercenary who are ever seeking consolations? Do they not show themselves to be rather lovers of themselves than of Christ, who are always and only thinking of their own profit and advantage?  Where shall one be found who is willing to serve God for nothing?" 
     Now, here, I do need to confess I am one who enjoys and cherishes the comforts and consolations of Jesus when they come.  I believe we all do.  Even Mr. A'Kempis did, as he confessed elsewhere.  That's not really his point. His point is that if that's all we seek; if we only seek, love, praise, and thank Jesus when we are receiving those things, and we cease doing so, or walk away in bitter anger and disillusionment when the opposite comes (whether it be for a short or extended time) we must question what we are seeking, who we are loving, why we are praising, and why difficulties would make us stop giving Him thanks.
     If we love Jesus only when the blessings are flowing, and not when the struggles come; if we cherish and adore Him only for what He gives, and not for the sake of who He is (the Lamb worthy of all glory and honor and power - Revelation 4:6-5:14) we must truly question if it's Jesus that we love.  If a child only "loves" his father when his father was giving him gifts, and is indifferent or does nothing but complain when he withholds those gifts, what would it say about the object of that child's "love"? 
     You see, a pure love for Jesus mixed with "NO self-interest or self-love"  may be an ideal that we can never fully achieve so long as the principle of sin still clings to us in this life. Yet, that ideal can be placed before us, and should be placed before us (as a'Kempis does here), to serve as a means of grace which helps us move away from the all too common tendency to love so conditionally the Lord who loves His children so unconditionally. Only you can know the reaction a'Kempis' words caused inside you, but I must confess they lead me to say, "Sorry Lord, please change my heart." 

Thankful for His Grace, Pastor Jeff


Ulster Revival

Greetings All,

     This week's "thought" has to do with an amazing move of God in Ireland between 1857 and 1860.  It's a true account of what led to the "Ulster Revival" in 1859.  I have taken the majority from a devotional book I use, entitled: "The One Year Book of Christian History," by E. Michael Rusten and Sharon Rusten, but I have also woven in facts from two other sources and I send it along to encourage you to speak the truth and persist in praying for the church. Enjoy!

     "In the spring of 1856 an English lady by the name of Mrs. Colville came to Ulster, Ireland from Gateshead, England.  She began a program of house to house visitation with a view to winning souls for Christ. In November she returned to England in low spirits thinking that God had not acknowledged her labors and feeling that her work had been unfruitful. She was wrong." 
     The following account tells us why....

     "In 1856 in Ulster, Ireland, a young man named James McQuilkin was invited to tea with three ladies (a Miss Brown and two others). They were there to hear a visiting woman named Mrs. Colville who skirted the civilities of discussing the weather and spoke openly on a subject McQuilkin found uncomfortable: the condition of the soul (ie: did each have a personal interest in the Lord Jesus and had they received the new birth).  After one guest at the tea party described the nature of her Christian experience, Mrs. Colville said: "My dear, I don't believe you have ever known the Lord Jesus."  Though not addressed directly to McQuilkin, he would later write: "I knew that she spoke what was true of me.  I felt as if the ground were about to open beneath me and let me sink into hell. As soon as I could, I left their company. For two weeks I had no peace day or night. At the end of that time I found peace by trusting the Lord Jesus." 
     The following year McQuilkin felt burdened to pray for his neighbors. He asked three friends to join him. Once a week the four men gathered at the village schoolhouse to pray for each person in their community by name. The town was Ahogill, County Antrim, Ulster, Ireland. The date: September 1857.  They studied the Word and prayed for three months before there were any visible results. Two more men joined their group, and then on New Year's Day, 1858, the first conversion took place as a result of the prayer meeting. By the end of 1858, about 50 young men were taking part in the weekly prayer meeting.  Many people ridiculed these young men praying for Revival. Others criticized their determination not to allow women in their prayer meeting. The young men responded that they did not believe it advisable to allow women in their prayer meeting, as the world would have said that the meetings were being held only for the purposes of flirtation. As it happened, young women started their own prayers meeting, which were also greatly blessed.
     Meanwhile, unbeknownst to them, God was laying the same burden on many hearts, and similar prayer groups started throughout northern Ireland. Pastors began to preach about revival. In December of 1857 McQuilkin's group rejoiced to see the first conversion in Ahogill. But widespread revival did not come. Still, God's people prayed -- for nineteen more months they prayed. Then in March of 1859,  in the city of Ballymena, just six miles from Ahogill, a thirty-year-old man fell prostrate one morning in the crowded marketplace and called out, "Unclean! Unclean! God be merciful to me a sinner!"  There was an overpowering conviction that a great Revival had come at last. The night of March 14, 1859, the McQuilkin group responded by inviting Christians to a prayer meeting at Ahogill Presbyterian Church. The church was so crowded that they moved the meeting out into the street. There hundreds of people knelt in the mud and rain, confessing their sins and praising God. They were the first of 100,000 people God called to himself in 1859 in what became known as the Ulster Revival. Men who had been previously unaffected bowed in earnestness and sobbed like children. Churches were crowded. Family worship became almost universal. There was joy unutterable.
     In Coleraine, in Antrim County, at the local school, a school teacher seeing one young boy clearly under the conviction of sin, advised him to go home and call upon the Lord in private. He sent with him an older boy who had found peace the day before. After these two boys had travailed in prayer for some time, the young boy was blessed with sacred peace and rejoicing he returned to the school, and with beaming face, reported to his teacher; "Oh Sir, I am so happy, I have the Lord Jesus in my heart!"  The attention of the whole class was arrested.  One boy after another silently slipped out of the classroom and after a while the schoolteacher looked out to see boys on their knees throughout the playground, each one in earnest prayer. He turned to the two boys and asked them; "Do you think you can go and pray with these boys?" They did so and kneeling down with one after another, they began to implore the Lord to forgive their sins for the sake of Him who had borne them all upon the Cross.  There was a great spiritual movement among young people. It was not uncommon for teenage boys to hold street meetings to reach their peers for Christ. At one such meeting an Irish clergyman counted forty children and eighty adults listening to the preaching of twelve-year-old boys.
     The results were remarkable. In 1860 in County Antrim the police had an empty jail and no crimes to investigate. Judges often had no cases to hear. With their owners converted, pubs closed and alcohol consumption fell so drastically that whiskey distilleries were sold. Gambling at horse races fell of by 95%. A visitor to Ulster reported: Thronged church services, abundant prayer meetings, increased family prayers, unmatched Scripture reading, increased giving, converts remaining steadfast."  The Ulster movement touched off similar revivals in England, Scotland and Wales. Edwin Orr wrote of the 1859 Revival: "This Revival which originated in a prayer meeting of four young men in the village school house of Kells made a greater impact spiritually on Ireland, than anything else known since the days of St. Patrick."  Or to take it back a step further, God drew hundreds of thousands of people to himself through a movement which all began with a woman unafraid to speak spiritual truth over tea." 
     Don't ever give up praying or speaking Gospel truth.
     God's richest blessings on you and your churches, Pastor Jeff


The Gospel of Self-Esteem

Greetings All!

     This week's "thought" comes to you from Prof. Archibald Hart, PhD.  He is professor of psychology at the Graduate School of Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary.  Hart is the the author 24 books, including: "Thrilled to Death: How the Endless Pursuit of Pleasure is Leaving Us Numb."

     This particular thought deals with the American obsession with self-esteem and offers us some balanced and helpful insights. Many of the things he points out will not come as a surprise to you, since both experience and common sense would affirm the statements and findings he cites. As with many widely embraced cultural trends, they can tend to go to unwise and even counter-intuitive excesses and extremes before people realize the claims of their wonder-working power were grossly exaggerated.

     This article comes from "Faith and Culture," a book that offers a collection of articles on hundreds of topics relating faith to culture.  It is by Kelly Monroe Kullberg and Lael Arrington. If you are looking for a book with short and interesting articles across a span of topics, this is a book you may consider purchasing. This particular article is entitled: "The Gospel of Self-Esteem."

The Gospel of Self-Esteem

     "Is high self-esteem all its cracked up to be?  If you suffer from low self-esteem are you doomed to failure?  What new picture of self-esteem is emerging from the science of psychology, and how does it agree with God's Word on the subject?  In the upheaval of the late 60's and early 70's, the concept of self-esteem took off. "If only we can help people to feel better about themselves, we will solve many social problems and mental illnesses" became the driving force that sent teachers, parents, and even the states of California and New York in the 1980's scurrying to set up commissions and task forces on self-esteem. It became a national preoccupation that has now ended as a hopeless quest.  Research now conclusively shows that such efforts do little to improve social problems, academic performance, success in the workplace, or even to enhance our happiness.
     The bottom line is that while everyone intuitively recognizes the reality of "self-esteem," there is no evidence that by boosting these self-feelings one can accomplish more in life.  Research psychologists have now clearly demonstrated that self-esteem is the CONSEQUENCE of accomplishing something significant in life, not the CAUSE of accomplishments or failures.  In his 1994 presidential address to the American Psychological Association, Martin Seligman, a significant leader in the new "positive psychology" movement, denounced several "sacred cows" of psychotherapy, one being that in order to reduce mental illness we should try to increase the self-esteem of our children.  He stated: "undeniably, depressed people have low self-esteem. But bolstering self-esteem without changing hopelessness... accomplishes nothing."  He received a standing ovation!  His research shows that teens from the ghettos have the highest self-esteem ratings of any group, not the lowest!  The problem is that their self-esteem is "unwarranted."  As we teach and counsel others, we must caution one another to identify and address the myths that have penetrated the whole concept of self-esteem. Sermons abound on how one is to "love oneself," but we need to carefully interpret Matthew 19:19. We must be mindful that our participation in newly emerging worship styles is radically God-centered and not unduly influenced by the self-esteem movements emphasis on my needs and my feelings.
     Perhaps we need to pay more attention to the wisdom that Paul expresses in Romans 12:3 which tells us all we need to know about the self-esteem problem even though its focus is not on low self-esteem, but rather on an inflated and distorted sense of self.

"For by the grace given to me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you."  Romans 12:3
     Paul outlines the essential ingredients for building a Christian understanding of what I call "authentic self-esteem," an understanding and acceptance of yourself for who you really are. There is nothing wrong with being imperfect. Sometimes feeling bad acts as a stimulus to do better or try something different.  It can prompt confession, change, and courage.  One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a parent is to always protect your children from pain or failure. By cushioning them from feeling bad, the self-esteem movement has made it harder for us to feel good. It has encouraged cheap success. From the words of Paul I deduce that the essence of a healthy self-attitude must be based, first, on an honest and truthful self-understanding and image ("Think... with sober [honest] judgment); then, second, on a willingness to accept that you are who you are, created in God's image ("in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you"). All other self-feelings lead to self-hate. Your attitude to yourself (which is what self-esteem is really all about) must be based plainly and simply on thinking about yourself with complete honesty. You must own your flaws and your strengths.  It must never be dishonest (Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought"), not exaggerated or distorted.
     Many psychologists have pointed out that the struggle often is with an "internal filter system" we develop early in life that tends to deny our successes and hoards the memories of failures. Self-honesty requires one to be diligent in challenging these denials. After all, in God's kingdom there is always forgiveness and restoration.  No matter how inadequate you may feel about yourself, or how insignificant your life may appear to be on the outside, you should always remember that the grace of God covers every shortcoming.  You will always be precious to him, however you feel about yourself.  One can never go beyond the reach of his grace and forgiveness. Here lies the key to how you should feel about yourself: Your self needs to become more and more transparent to itself as you become less and less self-conscious. This is authentic self-esteem. You need to know who you are, how you have been redeemed, and how precious you are to God -- NOT because you are wonderful, but because he has made you his child."
     As I mentioned, experience and common sense would lead us to many of the same conclusions.  I once had a foster daughter who did not do well in school.  All of a sudden, in one marking period, she went from failing to straight A's. She came home ecstatic!  But we wondered how it had happened, since she hadn't studied any harder nor done any more work then she ever had?  It did boost her feelings about herself for a short three or four weeks, but she soon began to realize she got an "A" pretty much no matter what she did, and was allowed to re-take tests as many times as she needed to get it. She even came to feel somewhat betrayed and foolish and resent their manipulative attempt to play with her mind and "boost her self-esteem" by giving her grades she did nothing to deserve. In essence, it back-fired, since like most kids she knew it was all a game.  She knew, and we knew, that despite what studies at that time were saying, there is no evidence that by boosting these self-feelings one can accomplish more in life...  self-esteem is the CONSEQUENCE of accomplishing something significant in life, not the CAUSE of accomplishments or failures."
     Just some wise, insightful, and much needed food for thought, Pastor Jeff


Praying with The Puritans

Greetings All,

     This past weekend I attended a conference in Pittsburgh, PA, for the CCO (Coalition For Christian Outreach) where there just happened to be a bookseller.  My curiosity got the best of me, and I walked over to see what books were on the shelves.  I practiced great restraint (for me) and ended up walking out with only four new books to add to my library!  One, which was entitled: "Kneeling With Giants - Learning To Pray With History's Best Teachers," by Gary Neal Hansen, caught my attention.

     I've only gotten through two of it's chapters so far, but I found one section both interesting and helpful.  It's called, "Praying with The Puritans" and encourages us to use their common form of praying by meditation and writing.  Enjoy.

Praying With The Puritans

     "Back in student days, after a bad breakup, my journal saved my sanity. I bought a little black book to hold my dark, grieving thoughts, and in it I poured out lamentation, confusion and anger. I wrote, and wrote, and wrote, until I didn't need to anymore.  A couple years later, I looked back and found that pretty much every page was the same. You could say writing was a kind of therapy, but for me it was prayer. God was listening. Healing came.
     I often pray best with a pen.... Writing in my journal draws me quickly and surely into God's company. God is there, listening, and I find myself understood and accepted. That changes me. It may seem an odd and indirect form of prayer -- I do not start each journal entry with "Dear God" -- but if prayer is conversation, the act of writing allows me to take my part of the dialogue seriously.  It slows me down, and hidden things come to light.  Burdens are lifted. Insights and possibilities emerge....
     To all who resist writing as a way of prayer, I plead for an imaginative openness. A great many people find that writing sparks spiritual growth.... The first time I tried to write in a journal, I found myself so anxious I destroyed every page. I was not afraid that someone would see it. The struggle was with myself. Here were my feelings, the insides of me, spread out on a page. I felt almost naked. Later, and to my own surprise, I tried again. Soon writing in my journal was the way to come honestly to God and find grace. All I can say is that it is worth it to keep coming back to the experiment of prayerful writing...  If this is a new way to pray, it can be a challenge. The good news is that many Christians have prayed this way throughout history.  And there is no better example than the Puritans.
     Now, before you start rolling your eyes, let me say that these sixteenth and seventeenth-century Calvinists from England and then America have gotten a bad rap. We assume the joke is true that a Puritan is defined as someone terribly afraid that someone, somewhere, is having fun.  In literature class we read The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) or The Crucible by Arthur Miller (1915-2005) [neither one of which ever met or had any interaction with a Puritan] and forever after when we hear "Puritan" we picture poor Hester Prynne being judged and shamed, or the horror of the Salem witch trials.  However, if you read what the Puritans wrote about the Christian life, the picture changes. They brought single-minded passion to their pursuit of God. They lived with a focused, prayerful longing to be made new in Christ. They may have been more conscious of sin than most Christians are today, but they were also more aware of God's blessings and grace. These were inner experiences, but I can describe them confidently because when they prayed about them they often did so with pen in hand. Written approaches to prayer were so important to the Puritans that they wrote manuals to teach each other how to do it. 
     The Puritans, as Calvinists, had a very heavy doctrine of providence, believing that God was actively involved in virtually everything in their lives and the world. Today the idea has fallen on hard times. Many assume God is not actively involved, or they look at things that happen in the world and wonder what God could possibly have been thinking. Providence filled John Beadle (an English Puritan who lived from 1595-1667 and wrote "Diary of a Thankful Christian") with a sense of wonder. He claimed that if we only looked, we would see God's name, wisdom, power and faithfulness in every blade of grass and every drop of rain. Nurturing awareness of providence can bring us to awe as well. Believing, as Elizabeth Barrett Browning put it, "earth's crammed with heaven, and every common bush alive with God" makes it more likely that we will notice God at work, take off our shoes, and kneel.
     Beadle lists a number of topics to write about in our journals. Some are more clearly powerful than others, but they all help us move forward in seeing God at work, and giving thanks, knowing God better and loving God more. 

            1.) "Let every man keep a strict account of his effectual calling." "Effectual calling" is the Puritan term for the way God got through and made you a Christian... 
       2.) "Take special notice of all divine assistance.. either in the performance of the duties that are required of us, or in bearing those evils that are inflicted upon us." 
       3.) "Remember, and for that end put into your journal all deliverance's from dangers, either to you or yours."
       4.) "All the instruments, all the people and means that God has in providence at any time used for your good, must not be forgotten." 
       5.) "And finally, mark what returns, what answers God gives to your prayers, and write them down... as most remarkable pledges of His love." 
     When I first became a believer (38 yeas ago) I did this very thing more often (having no idea the Puritans had done it before me). I even have those journals in my possession still, and the answers to many prayers recorded there. But in our fast paced society that habit fell by the wayside. Thankfully, this chapter convinced me I need to pick up my pen and journal again.  You may want to give it a try as well. After all, how could one not benefit from prayerfully writing about God's grace and involvement in their lives, or recording for future days a written record to remind them of His power, providence, intervention, rescue, provision, and daily expressions of kindness?  I dare say it could do everyone nothing but good! 

In His Service, Pastor Jeff