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5.21.2019

Spiritual Renewal

Greetings!

     This week's "thought" is about spiritual renewal.  Its about the power and presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit in our lives.  It comes to you from Jim Cymbala's book, "Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire."  Cymbala has been the pastor of the large multi-racial "Brooklyn Tabernacle" since 1971, a church which had only 30 when he arrived that year, but now has over 16,000 members -- which is not, as this thought will show, what he really cares about.
     The Brooklyn Tabernacle is a church which has, by God's grace, broken down many racial and economic barriers, offering in the present a small taste of the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, inclusive body of Christ, where believers of every tribe and tongue, rich and poor alike, will one day gather side by side before the throne of God (Rev. 7:9).  Part instruction, part biographical, his book is well-worth the read if you have the time. Enjoy.
     "Are we not all prone to be a little cocky and think we can handle things just fine?  But let some trouble come, and how quickly we sense our inadequacy. Trouble is one of God's great servants because it reminds us how much we continuously need the Lord. Otherwise, we tend to forget about entreating him. For some reason we want to carry on by ourselves.  The history of past revivals portray this truth in full color. Whether you study the First Great Awakening, the Welsh Revival, the 1906 outpouring on Azuza Street in Los Angeles, or any other period of revival, you always find men and women who first inwardly groan, longing to see the status quo changed -- in themselves and in their churches. They begin to call upon God with insistence. Prayer begets revival and revival begets more prayer.  It's like Psalm 80, where Asaph bemoans the sad state of his time, the broken walls, the rampaging animals, the burnt vineyards. Then in verse 18 he pleads, "Revive us, and we will call upon your name." 
     The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of prayer.  Only when we are full of the Spirit do we feel the need for God everywhere we turn. We can be driving a car, and spontaneously our spirit starts going up to God with needs and petitions and intercessions right there in the middle of traffic. [Eyes open of course!]  If our churches don't pray, and if people don't have an appetite for God, what does it matter how many are attending the services?  How would that impress God? Can you imagine the angels saying, "Oh, your pews! We can't believe how beautiful they are! Up here in heaven, we've been talking about them for years. Your sanctuary lighting -- it's so clever. The way you have the steps going up to the pulpit, it's wonderful..." 
     I don't think so.   If we don't want to experience God's closeness here on earth, why would we want to go to heaven anyway?  He is the center of everything there. If we don't enjoy being in his presence here and now, then heaven would not be heaven for us. Why would he send anyone there who doesn't long for him passionately here on earth?  I am not suggesting that we are justified by works of prayer or any other acts of devotion. I am not a legalist. But let us not dodge the issue of what heaven will be like --  enjoying the presence of God, taking time to adore him, listening to him, giving him praise. I have talked with pastor after pastor, some of them prominent and "successful" who have told me privately, "Jim, the truth is, I couldn't have a real prayer meeting in my church. I'd be embarrassed at the smallness of the crowd. Unless somebody's teaching, or singing, or doing some kind of presentation, people just won't come. I can only get them for a one-hour service, and that only once a week." 
     Is that kind of religion found anywhere in the Bible?  [Gathering to go to] Jesus himself can't draw a crowd even among his own people!  What a tragedy that the quality of ministry is too often measured by numbers and building size rather than by spiritual results. As a preacher myself, let me be blunt here. When I stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ, he is not going to ask me if I was a clever orator. He is not going to ask me how many books I wrote. He is only going to ask whether I continued in the line of men and women, starting way back in the time of Adam's generation, who led others to call upon God." 
     Cymbala is right.  God is not impressed by numbers, attendance figures, technology, marketing skills, architecture, stage presentation, etc.   Rather, what God wants is people who want him.  He wants people who want to spend prayerful time with Him in His presence.  He seeks people who yearn to seek Him (Jeremiah 29:13). He wants us to trust in Him and live a life of dependence on Him (II Corinthians 1:9). He wants us to realize what Jesus said so clearly in John 15:5 in the context of bearing spiritual fruit -- "I am the Vine and you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."   That's what the Christian life is about:  Remaining in Jesus all the time. Abiding in Christ every conscious moment.  Being joined to Him unbroken fellowship.  Dwelling in intimate fellowship in His presence.  Bringing every thought captive to Christ (II Corinthians 10:5).  Communing with Him in ongoing prayer (I Thessalonians 5:16-18). Trusting Him with all our hearts (Proverbs 3:5-6). Living a life of reliance, surrender and dependence (II Corinthians 1:8-10).  If people are not led to call upon God, and seek His face in loving fellowship, earnestly seeking to do His will, all that other stuff matters little.  For "success" in the eyes of the world is much different than success (fruit that God desires) in regard to Christ's Kingdom.

May We Be Moved to Pray and Pursue Him More Passionately, 
Pastor Jeff


5.14.2019

What comes to mind when you think about God?

Greetings!

     Let me start with a question: What comes to mind when you think about God?
     One particular man has said that your answer to that question, "is the most important thing about [you]."   So think about it again: "What comes into your mind when you think about God?"   This week's "thought" explains why he makes the above assertion.  It is taken from the book, "The Knowledge of the Holy" by A. W. Tozer, and I pass it along to you because I want to challenge you to think more deeply about what you believe about God.
     As with most of the "thoughts" I pass along, I believe Tozer is right in the things he says.  What we believe about God does have a tremendous effect upon who we are, what we do, and who we will become.  I pray that his words might cause you to earnestly consider, and if necessary make some adjustments, in relation to your view of God. In fact, if you desire a very thoughtful and readable consideration of what Scripture tells us God is like, this book is well-worth the cost and time it takes to read it (or listen to it) The following entry tells you why he wrote the book.  Enjoy.
     "What comes to mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man's spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God.  Worship is either pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at any given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.  We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but the company of Christians that composes the Church.  Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech. She can never escape the self-disclosure of her witness concerning God.
     Were we able to extract from any person a complete answer to the question, "What comes to mind when you think about God?" we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that person.  Were we able to know exactly what our most influential religious leaders think of God today, we might be able with some precision to foretell where the Church will stand tomorrow. Without doubt, the mightiest thought the mind can entertain is the thought of God, and the weightiest word in any language is its word for God.  Thought and speech are God's gifts to creatures made in His image; these are intimately associated with Him and impossible apart from Him...  We may speak because God spoke.  In Him word and idea are indivisible.
That our idea of God correspond as nearly as possible to the true being of God is of immense importance to us.  Compared with our actual thoughts of Him, our creedal statements are of little consequence. Our real idea of God may lie buried under the rubbish of conventional religious notions and may require an intelligent and vigorous search before it is finally unearthed and exposed for what it is. Only after an ordeal of painful self-probing are we likely to discover what we actually believe about God.  A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well.  It is to worship what the foundation is to the Temple. Where it is inadequate or out of plumb, the whole structure must sooner or later collapse.  I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God...
     The church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshiping people. This she has done not deliberately, but little by little and without her knowledge; and her very unawareness only makes her situation all the more tragic.  This low view of God... is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us. A whole new philosophy of the Christian life has resulted from this one basic error in our religious thinking.  With our loss of the sense of [God's] majesty has come the further loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine Presence. We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence. Modern Christianity is simply not producing the kind of Christian who can appreciate or experience the life in the Spirit. The words, "Be still and know that I am God," mean next to nothing to the self-confident bustling worshiper [of our day]...  The decline of the knowledge of the Holy has brought on our troubles...  A rediscovery of the majesty of God will go a long way toward curing those troubles. It is impossible to keep our moral practices sound and our inward attitudes right while our idea of God is erroneous or inadequate.  If we would bring back spiritual power to our lives, we must begin to think of God more nearly as He is." 
     I have seen the truth of what he says play itself out in my own life, as well as in society.  You too (if you are the introspective type) may be able to see traces of that progression (in a positive or negative direction) in your own life.  We inevitably (subconsciously) take on the characteristics of the God that we worship.  In fact, speaking of idols and those who make them the psalmist says: "Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them" (Psalm 115:8).  This is why it makes such a difference what we believe about God.  "We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God," as Tozer put it.
     Do you believe God is permissive? You believe God is a heartless taskmaster?  You believe God is gracious and kind?  You believe God is a heartless rule-enforcer?  You believe God is Santa Claus in the sky?  Do you believe ______________?   The answer to these questions is extremely important, for you will gravitate toward exhibiting the characteristics of the God you envision.  As many have realized (and used for both good and bad purposes -- like the empathetic counselor who wants to free from guilt with the Gospel, or the terrorist who wants to enlist people to do unspeakable acts of cruelty): All you need to do to bring about change in a person is to change their view of God. 
     Which leads me to ask you one last time: "What comes to mind when you think about God?"   And to close, let me ask you to imagine how different you, and this world could be, if the answer to that question was, "Jesus." (Hebrews 1:3).

Just some food for thought, Pastor Jeff


5.07.2019

The Practice of the Presence of God

Greetings!

This past weekend the men at my church got away on a "Men's Recon"  to a couple cabins in the Pocono Mountains to spend time in quiet contemplation with God.  In doing so we read Brother Lawrence's classic work, "The Practice of the Presence of God."  It was revitalizing time.   I had my own copy of the book which I bought many years ago, so I brought it with me - fragile as it is from being loaned out and read so many times. Over the years I have copied quotes into the many blank pages and spaces in it.  So today I wanted to share some of those quotes with you.  And if you have just a moment, let me know which one(s) hit home the most. Enjoy.

"Whatever we are doing, even if we are reading the Word or praying, we should stop for a few minutes -- as often as possible -- to praise God from the depths of our hearts, to enjoy Him there in secret. Since you believe that God is always with you no matter what you may be doing, why shouldn't you stop for a while to adore Him, to praise Him, to petition Him, to offer Him your heart, and to thank Him?"
Brother Lawrence

"There is nothing but God's grace. We walk upon it. We breathe it. We live by it and we die in it."
Robert Louis Stevenson
"You have no strength but what God gives you, and you can have all the strength that God can give." 
Andrew Murray

"Wonder is the basis of worship."
Thomas Carlyle

"Faith is not an effort, a striving, a ceaseless seeking, as so many earnest souls suppose, but rather, a letting go, an abandonment, an abiding rest in God that nothing, not even the soul's shortcomings can disturb." 
Unknown

"God never asks us to give up anything unless He intends to replace it with something better."
George Mueller
"He who would not die for Jesus will never truly live for Jesus; for to earnestly live for Him requires dying daily to the self-will that we may do His will."

"God insists that we ask, not because He needs to know our situation, but because we need the spiritual discipline of asking."
Catherine Marshall

"When God wants to do His great works, He trains somebody to be quiet enough and little enough, then uses that person."
Hudson Taylor
"Enter into the inner chamber of your mind, shut out all things except God and whatever might aid you in seeking God, and having barred the door of your inner chamber, seek Him." 
St. Anselm of Canterbury

"God creates out of nothing. Therefore, until a man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him." 
Martin Luther

"Joy is not happiness as much as it is gladness; it is the ecstasy of eternity in a soul that has made peace with God and is ready to do His will."
Unknown
"Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation."
Elton Trueblood

"Be patient with each other, there are no shortcuts to spirituality. The growing of fruit takes time."
Unknown

"The greatness of a man is not measured by his power or ability, but by the measure of his surrender to God."
Unknown
"The person who insists on seeing with perfect clarity before he follows Christ in the way, will never obey God's call to walk by faith. To Abraham God said, 'Leave your country and your people and your father's household, and go to the place I will (that is, in the future, far down the road) show you." 

"When, as a husband or wife, you are confronted with a very difficult choice, do what is best for your spouse and your children and God will honor it." 

"If you'd ever really gotten inside the mind of Jesus, ever had a single taste of His burning love, considerations of your own loss or gain would mean nothing."
Thomas A'Kempis
"It is possible to give without loving, but it is impossible to love without giving."
Richard Braumstein

"Though we do not have our Lord Jesus with us in bodily presence, we have our neighbor, who, for the ends of love and loving service, is as good as our Lord Himself."
Teresa of Avila

"To do so no more is the best repentance."
Martin Luther

"No one gives himself freely and willingly to God's service unless, having tasted His Fatherly love, he is drawn to love and worship Him in return." 
John Calvin

In His Service, Pastor Jeff

4.30.2019

Pioneer Missionary Ann Hasseltine Judson

Greetings All,

     In my last "thought" I shared about Adoniram Judson.  A couple days later I was asked to send one out highlighting the brave and heroic commitment of his wife -- Ann Hasseltine Judson.  This is her story (or at least part of it). Her profound influence in regard to the place of women in missions has few rivals.  As the first woman missionary sent out from the U.S., she set the standard for future generations.  This is by far the longest thought I've ever sent out (and it has been heavily redacted to shorten it to what it is)!  Yet, with Mothers Day fast approaching, I thought honoring her contribution as a wife, mother and missionary was warranted. Enjoy.

     "Two hundred and nine years ago in 1810, a young man named Adoniram Judson composed an extraordinary letter to the father of the young woman he wanted to marry. He wrote as follows: “I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure for a heathen land, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left his heavenly home and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God?” 
     At 21 years of age, her parents left the choice to Ann.  She decided to marry Adoniram and to leave everything behind for the unknown. She knew she would probably never see her family again. The voyage was far too long, perilous and expensive for the possibility of any visit from relatives or friends. Letters took months, and might well never arrive. There was no established mission network to give support or counsel. There was no American Embassy in Asia to give protection. There was no certainty that these pioneer missionaries would even find a place in which they could safely minister. Nothing was guaranteed – neither safety, health, toleration, and least of all success. But Adoniram, Ann, and the other young people with them understood that Christ did not issue the Great Commission on the condition that health, comfort and safety could be guaranteed. Christ had said simply, “GO.”  Therefore they married on February 5, 1812 and the very next day the newlyweds sailed from Salem, Massachusetts...
     The religion of Burma was Buddhism: a system of belief that arose in the sixth century BC with the enlightenment of Gautama, the Buddha The Buddha taught that all appearance is characterized by transience, that there is not really a soul, and no eternal God… Ann wrote bluntly in her journal of the emptiness of Buddhism: “The religion of Burmah, then, is, in effect, atheism; and the highest reward of piety, the object of earnest desire and unwearied pursuit, is annihilation. How wretched a system is this; how devoid of adequate motives to virtue; and how vacant of consolation!”  Consequently, the Burmese had no concept of an eternal God, and no means in their language to express such an idea. Ann and Adoniram worked hard studying up to 12 hours a day for two years learning the difficult language. Eventually Adoniram produced a gospel tract in Burmese and commenced working on a Burmese translation of the New Testament. Ann authored a Burmese language catechism, translated the books of Daniel and Jonah into Burmese, and began to teach women’s Bible classes. She was also the first person to translate Bible passages into Siamese. Ann also formed a society of native women who met together on Sundays to pray and read the Scriptures.
     By 1820, six years after their arrival in Burma, Ann was so seriously ill that she had to seek medical help in Calcutta. Two years later she was told that unless she returned either to Europe or America for treatment, she would die. She had previously consented to her husband accompanying her to Calcutta, but the longer voyage to England (and a possible further trip to America) would take at the least two years, and she refused to consider Adoniram abandoning the infant church and the crucial Bible translation for that long. As a result, in 1822, she made the long and difficult journey alone. She sailed first for England, and Christians there raised funds for her passage to America.  Back at home, she received skilled medical care and was reunited with her family and that of Adoniram. The whole trip took two years, and of this separation Adoniram said that it felt like cutting off his right arm and gouging out his right eye.
     Ann returned in 1824, but her reunion with her husband, though joyful, was pitifully brief.  War between Burma and England began, and all male foreigners fell under suspicion of being English spies. So Adoniram and his associate Mr. Price, were thrown into the notorious death prison from which few ever emerged alive. While in prison they awaited execution in the most filthy and sordid of conditions, weighed down with fetters so that they could not walk. Daily they observed the torture and execution of their fellow prisoners, not knowing when their time would come. Nightly they were placed in the stocks, and their legs and bodies raised so that only their head and shoulders remained on the ground. They remained incarcerated for one and a half years, during which time they were never able to wash, were often ill with no access to medical help, and had little contact with the outside world...
     During her husband’s imprisonment, Ann petitioned tirelessly on the prisoners’ behalf with no regard for personal risk. Daily she walked the two miles from their small home to the prison in hopes of supplying them with food and drink. Sometimes she was allowed to see them, but often they were forbidden to speak. She also visited every person of influence to whom she could gain access, trying to explain that as missionaries they had nothing to do with the English war effort. She was quite alone through this ordeal, and she was pregnant. Eight months after Adoniram had been arrested, in February 1825, she gave birth to little Maria, and was able to visit the prison with the infant, whom the father could only observe from afar. Their first baby had been stillborn, their second had died at eight months, and this child’s chances of survival seemed even more slender.  Of this terrible time she wrote:  “Sometimes for days and days together, I could not go into the prison till after dark, when I had two miles to walk, in returning to the house. O how many, many times, have I returned from that dreary prison at nine o’clock at night, solitary and worn out with fatigue and anxiety… My prevailing opinion was, that my husband would suffer violent death; and that I should, of course become a slave, and languish out a miserable though short existence in the tyrannical hands of some unfeeling monster. But the consolations of religion, in these trying circumstances, were neither `few nor small.’  It taught me to look beyond this world, to that rest, that peaceful happy rest, where Jesus reigns, and oppression never enter.”
     Eventually she had to set up a little shelter near the prison, as the daily four-mile-round-trip proved too much to walk in the blazing heat. As the weather brought unbearable heat, the conditions in the prison only worsened. Of this time her memoirs record: “The situation of the prisoners was now distressing beyond description. It was at the commencement of the hot season. There were above a hundred prisoners shut up in one room, without a breath of air excepting from the cracks in the boards. I sometimes obtained permission to go to the door for five minutes, when my heart sickened at the wretchedness exhibited. The white prisoners, from incessant perspiration and loss of appetite, looked more like the dead than the living…”
     It would seem that things could not get worse. But with the British troops advancing to the capital, the foreign prisoners were removed on a death march to a remote spot in the country some miles north of the capital, where rumor had it they were to be buried alive as an offering to the gods in the path of the advancing troops. Their sufferings on the march were indescribable, their survival remarkable. Even more remarkable was the determination of Ann to follow them. With her three-month-old infant, plus two little girls she was looking after, and a faithful Burmese helper, she immediately set out by boat, and then by rough cart, in pursuit of the prisoners. For the duration of their imprisonment outside of the capital she persuaded their jailer to let her and the children share his two-room hut. From there she continued to try to minister such help as she could to her husband and Price. During this appalling period she became so ill that she had no milk for the baby, and the only way Maria survived was by bribing the jailer to allow Adoniram out of prison to carry the baby round the local village, begging nursing mothers to let Maria have a little of their milk.
     When the Burmese realized how hopeless the struggle against England was, they decided they needed all the help they could get in negotiating the least humiliating peace settlement. Adoniram and Price were released to help with the peace negotiations, as they could speak both Burmese and English. Again Ann and Adoniram had a wonderfully happy but tragically brief reunion. They enjoyed two blissful weeks of freedom and comfort at the British base before Adoniram was summoned elsewhere for further negotiations. This was to be their final separation. Ann’s health had been broken by the sufferings of the previous two years, and her body, past the point of exhaustion, finally broke and succumbed to cerebral meningitis. Her final sufferings were to be endured without her husband. She was thirty-seven.
     Adoniram was shattered not only by her death, but by the knowledge he had not been able to support her at that time. Shortly thereafter, Maria also died.  Adoniram was left quite alone, and later wrote with the sad news to Ann’s mother telling her of the burial of his daughter: “The next morning we made her last bed in the small enclosure that surrounds her mother’s lonely grave. Together they rest in hope, under the hope tree, which stands at the head of the graves, and together, I trust, their spirits are rejoicing after a short separation of precisely six months. And I am left alone in the wide world. My own dear family I have buried; one in Rangoon, and two in Amhurst. What remains for me but to hold myself in readiness to follow the dear departed to that blessed world, “Where my best friends, my kindred dwell, Where God my Saviour reigns.” Adoniram was so grief-stricken at his loss that he suffered complete emotional breakdown.
     Ann Hasseltine Judson was converted at 17 during what has come to be called, "The Second Great Awakening."  She was a deeply dedicated Christ-follower, as well as a gifted teacher, linguist, preacher and author. She was instrumental in establishing a Christian church in Burma which, though heavily persecuted, still thrives to this day.  She championed the cause of female education, starting a Burmese girl’s school and tirelessly petitioning Christian sponsorship for her girls during her medical furlough in the United States.  It is generally agreed had it not been for Ann’s sacrificial efforts and representations to the governing authorities, Adoniram would not have survived his time in the death prison. It has been said of her: “She was a woman who loved intensely, loved her husband, loved her children, loved the people of Burma, but above all, she loved her God.”

     When I think of Ann one verse comes to mind: "Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all... let her works bring her praise at the city gates" (Prov. 31:29 & 31).

     

     If you would like to read a more full account (this was my primary though not sole source for this post) you can click here:  


In His Service, Pastor Jeff