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9.19.2017

Gift of Forgiveness

Greetings Everyone!

     Today's "thought" has to do with the gift the Bible calls forgiveness. It comes from Dr. Grant Ethridge, and is found in the book, "The Gift of Jesus."   I found it to be a good reminder and trust you will as well. Enjoy.























Faithful to Forgive
"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
I John 1:9

     "Do you remember "if-then" statements from school?  Let's review.  The first part of the statement is conditional -- it may or may not happen. But if that condition does happen, then whatever is described in the second half of the statement will also happen.  These "if-then" statements, like mathematical formulas, are black and white. There is no gray.  Two plus two does not equal fourish.  It equals four.  Three minus one does not equal somewhere close to two or something other than two.  It equals two.
     Look again at today's passage -- it's a most profound if-then statement: "If we confess our sins He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."   Notice that the verse does not say "God might be faithful," or "there's a possibility that He may be faithful."  It says God IS faithful and He WILL forgive. There is no gray area. Also, he doesn't qualify whether the sins are big or little -- which, after all, is a human construction.  The promise simply says "sins,"  meaning all sins.  If we confess, God is faithful and just to forgive all sins. Whether or not we feel forgiven, or whether or not we've forgiven ourselves, is not the issue. If we truly confess our sins as sins before the Lord, He forgives them.  We are not to cover our sins but confess them.
     What guilt or regret are you dwelling on or reliving today?  Remember: If you have confessed it, then God has forgiven it. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1)."

     When I was a child my grandfather (a farmer in his 80's) used to gauge the next day's weather in two ways. 1.) He would look at the sky and take note of the cloud formations, and 2.) he would seek to discern which direction the slightest of winds were blowing in from by licking his finger and sticking it in the air.  The saliva intensified his ability to feel the wind's direction and thus predict the next day's weather. And I must say he usually got right!  He was usually more accurate than the weatherman we watched on the news channel.
     Yet, what may work in terms of predicting the weather is a poor method for discerning forgiveness.  Too many people I know (and I must confess this was true myself in the past) try to discern whether or not we've been forgiven by looking into our soul and testing how we feel.  If we feel forgiven we assume we must be, and if we don't feel we're forgiven, we assume we must not be.  Or as usually happens, one day they will feel they are, and another day they will feel they aren't -- due to using a faulty system of measure.  In fact, if we measure forgiveness by how we feel on any given day, we condemn ourselves to a roller-coaster-ride of seemingly guilt-free days (when our minds are preoccupied with the day's activities) and guilt-ridden nights (when the busyness subsides and we are left with nothing to distract our thoughts or painful memories).
     The Gospel (thankfully) gives us a better remedy for our sin and guilt than how we might happen to feel on any given day. For it bases our forgiveness, and the assurance of it, in the punishment Jesus received in our place on the cross, and the promise of God's forgiveness because of it.  A punishment He paid not just the small sins, as Dr. Ethridge points out, or the sins that no one found out about and really did not harm to others. But every sin -- even the ones that did hurt someone else immensely and have left lasting scars on people and relationships. When Christ went to the cross He died an unimaginably painful death. And I would say He did that (at least in part) not simply because that's the punishment sin deserves, but to convince us beyond any shadow of a doubt that He had paid the sin-debt of even the most unimaginably heinous sins.
     Therefore we don't have to wonder.  Nor do we have to hope, wish, or guess.  Nor does it have to do with how we may happen to feel at any given time (since feelings are fickle).  It has to do with what Christ did on the cross and the promise of God -- something which really is black and white.  "IF I confess our sins, THEN God -- who IS faithful and just -- WILL forgive our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness."
     I know the postmodern mind has an aversion to anything being 'black and white" rather than some shade of gray.  But this is one case (along with others) where healing is thwarted until we see the issue of forgiveness really is black and white.  God purposely made it that way so that the fullness of His redemptive gift in Christ might be internalized in hearts and minds that can be so easily misled by fickle feelings. Feelings are NOT the ultimate gauge of what is true.

     Living in the joy of Christ's finished work and God's precious promise, Pastor Jeff 

9.13.2017

Holy Sonnet XIV - John Donne (1572-1631)

Greetings All!

Today's "thought" comes from a rather thick book (I'm estimating it has over 1000 pages since it's almost 3 inches thick and the only recent book I have where the pages are not numbered)!  It's called "A Poem a Day -- 365 Devotional Readings Based on Classic Christian Verse" by Philip Comfort and Daniel Partner.  Though I'm no poet, I have found it quite intriguing.


















     Today's selection includes a poem by John Donne (1572-1631) followed by a meditation on who he was and why he wrote it. The poem (which is autobiographical) deals with Donne's yearning yet rebellious heart which he knew well enough to know that God must either possess him completely, or he could never be chaste or satisfied -- something which may sound odd to some.
     Even if you're not a poet either, I encourage you to read on.  Consider not just the poem, but the devotional thought that follows -- a thought which reveals the heart of a man who could not settle for complacency or meager handouts in his relationship with God. Enjoy.

Holy Sonnet XIV

"Batter my heart, three-personed God; for you as yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend; that I may rise and stand.
  Overthrow me, and bend your force to break, blow, burn and make me new.
  I, like a usurped town, to another due, labor to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend, but is captived, and proves weak or untrue. 
 Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain, but am betrothed unto your enemy.

Divorce me!  Untie or break that knot again.
 Take me to you and imprison me, for I, except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
 Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me."
     John Donne was one of the greatest English poets and preachers of the 1600's. His deep intellect and fiery emotions are evident in both his poetry and sermons. A descendant of Saint Thomas More, Donne was raised a Roman Catholic, but in the 1590's became a member of the Church of England. In 1597 he became secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton and fell in love with Egerton's niece, Ann More. They eloped in 1601. Ann's father disapproved of the marriage and caused Egerton to dismiss Donne from his job.  Thereafter, Donne accepted the king's invitation to become an Anglican priest.
     These experiences of poverty and failure caused Donne to rely on God and cherish His love. This poem expresses the poet's desire for God -- the entire Triune God -- to take over his being. Donne compares himself to a captive town that can never be free unless God captures the capturer (the enemy) and sets Donne free. And with pungent, dramatic irony, Donne declares that he can never be "chaste" -- or a spiritual virgin -- unless God ravishes him. Wooing had not worked.  Donne needed God to take violent action and batter down his heart and take it over completely.
     Sometimes we need to ask God to take over our heart and mind in a radical way. In doing so, He will not enslave us or seize us without right, but rather, He will free us. Until God completely occupies us, we will be occupied with everything but God.
     As the prophet says: "I will make you my wife forever, says the Lord. I will show you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion. I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as Lord." (Hosea 2:19-20)."

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     I would have loved to sit under the preaching of a man so passionate to know and experience the love, presence, and grace of God. It reminds me of another person who also spoke of God in such terms. It brings to mind another person, Annie Dillard, who was also discontent with the common and somewhat apathetic views of God held in the church. For after surveying the contemporary church scene in the 1980's she wrote in her book, "Teaching a Stone to Talk":
     "On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions.  Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of Power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are like children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return."
     Isaiah would have preferred her understanding of God to that which is sometimes put forth in the church.  For very much like her, Isaiah conceived that if God were to, "rend the heavens and come down," then the mountains would tremble before Him, the waters would boil as when a fire is lit beneath them, and the nations would quake in fear before His presence (Isaiah 64:1-5). 
     What a difference it would make to us as individuals, and Christ's Church as a whole, if we captured even the smallest glimpse of God's true greatness and grandeur and majesty.  Even the smallest glimpse of the God we worship would make us, like Donne, passionate to know and be possessed completely by Him.

In His Service, Pastor Jeff

9.05.2017

Something About That Name

Greetings All!

     This week's "thought" comes to you from a devotional book entitled, "The Gift of Jesus."  It contains devotional contributions from numerous pastors across the U.S., including Pastor Jeff Crook, who penned this entry, entitled, "Something About That Name."  Since there is much truth in what he says, I thought I would like to share it with you. Enjoy.
















     
"God also highly exalted Him and gave Him a name that is above every other name..." Philippians 2:9

     "Every year a celebrity becomes wildly popular in the media, but before we know it, that name fades into obscurity. [Remember Spencer Tracy, Rita Hayworth, Gary Cooper, Gene Kelly, Farrah Fawcett, David Cassidy, Lynda Carter, Robert Redford, Brittany Spears,...]
     Often we see the caption, "Where Are They Now?" Apparently, all names have a shelf life.  All but one. There is a name that will never fade -- the name Jesus is timeless and without rival.  God has exalted Jesus and lifted His name above every other name.
     Does it seem as though the name of Jesus is being downplayed today? Are the name and fame of Jesus Christ fading? Absolutely not!  We shouldn't think we need to "hashtag" or "favorite" the name of Jesus to keep His name relevant. The matter has been settled by God Himself.  It is impossible to ignore the exalted name of Jesus.  One day all people will bow at the name of Jesus Christ, confessing Him as Lord (Philippians 2:11). 
     Celebrities are forgotten. [We often strain to remember who some of them were, what they looked like, or why they were so outrageously popular!]  World leaders fade away. Once-famous names inscribed on graveyard headstones become unfamiliar to the living. Yet the eternal Lord Jesus has an eternal name. When all others have been long forgotten, His name will still be spoken, honored and adored."

     As I read this post I thought back to people I had so admired growing up.  People I would have done anything to meet in person, speak with, or get their autograph.  Yet as time marches on, it has a way of burying their importance in the dust. Their names may ring a bell, or sound faintly familiar, or written on a wall or book, but often times we cannot say why.  And even if we can, we must sometimes confess, "I think they may have been an actor, singer, or writer, but I'm not really sure."
     Yes, the names of people come and go.  For instance, I loved my grandfather Clarence Evans a lot.  As a young boy, he was one of the most important people in my world!  Now he's been gone for 36 years, and though he was equally admired by other grandchildren, two of them have already passed away, and within decades most of the others whose lives he touched will also be gone -- myself included. Then, his name will be an unknown name to all the people who might possibly pass by his headstone as they walk through the cemetery in Norfolk, Massachusetts, looking at old gravestones. And the same will eventually be true of me, and all of you who are reading this post today.
     So I ask: Who is all-important to you right now?  Whose name do you praise, if any?  What name is constantly on your lips, or in your regular conversations?  Who or what are you investing your life, and precious time, and energy in?  What legacy are you building to leave behind after you're gone?  And even if you do happen to be admired by someone now, what will be said of you 25, 50, or 100 years from now?
     You see, no matter who you are, or how important you may be to others now, in time your name will be forgotten (Ecclesiastes 1:11) -- unless it was recorded as part of the unfolding, timeless, and eternal plan of the eternal God. Only if your name is "inscribed in the palm of His hand" (Isaiah 49:16), and has been penned in the book of life written before time began (Psalm 139:16 / Revelation 13:8, 17:8, 20:12), will it ever be remembered years from now, or throughout the ages to come.
     In fact, it will not only be remembered, you will be alive and kneeling in adoring worship before the One whose name is above every name!  Because as God has promised, "Every knee shall bow, of those in heaven, and those on earth, and those under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:10-11). Throughout endless eternity those who lived for Jesus on this earth, shall live before Him in heaven, joining the uncountable multitude in praising Him whose name is above all other names.
     May His name (and not any other) be exalted and adored by you now, Pastor Jeff

8.29.2017

A Short Summary of the Life of John Newton, Author of the Well-known Hymn Amazing Grace

Greetings All!

     I hope you are not tired of seeing entries from L. B. Cowman's devotional book, "Streams in the Desert." Because I have one more for you today -- the last in a while -- before moving on in the next few weeks to other authors!  I wanted to pass it on to you because I found it encouraging. Many measure the influence or effect they've had on the world by the things they do directly.  Things they've said, events they've planned, things they've written, or deeds they've done.  And because they do, they can often minimize the effect their influence or ministry to others has had. I say that because there is often fruit we will know nothing about until eternity reveals it to us.
     That was the case with the mother of John Newton, and John Newton himself, author of the well-known hymn "Amazing Grace."  Few will ever know her name, but she has had a profound impact even to this day -- as this entry seeks to show. The devotion by Cowman is at the end, and rather short, but I wanted to share a little about Elizabeth Newton and her son John's life, to help you understand it. I know it's a wee bit long, but please take the time to go through it.  It will be worth your time.  Enjoy.

A Short Summary of the Life of John Newton, Author of the Well-known Hymn Amazing Grace.

     John Newton was born on July 24, 1725, to Elisabeth and John Newton Sr.  His father was a moral man, but not a believer, while his mother Elizabeth was a gentle, caring, and faithful mother whose life was tragically short-lived – dying when John was but 7 years old.  Though Elizabeth was unable to function as she might have wished, due to contracting tuberculosis, she did not waste her days. Knowing that time with her son might be short, she determined to make the most of what remained and took on the role of a teacher, spending hours with John each day.  She was a good teacher and he was an eager and intelligent student.  In fact he progressed so quickly he would later write: When I was four years old, I could read, (hard names excepted) as well as I can now: and could likewise repeat the answers to the questions in the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism, with the proofs; and all Dr. Watt’s smaller Catechisms, and his Children’s Hymns.”
     From this list of material, we know that Elizabeth consistently trained her son in the theology of the Protestant Reformers. Elizabeth prayed and hoped God would call him to ministry. “My mother observed my early progress with peculiar pleasure, and intended from the first to bring me up with a view to the ministry if the Lord should so incline my heart.”  John later wrote, “As I was her only child, she made it the chief business and pleasure of her life to instruct me, and bring me up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”  Even though she was gravely ill for all of her son’s early life, she did not allow her condition to keep her from fulfilling her God-given duty. She used what strength she had to teach him to know of God’s existence, holiness, and demands on his life and songs that would remain in his mind and heart until his dying day. She taught him to honor the Bible and to turn to it for spiritual knowledge and strength. And she taught him the Good News - that salvation was not by works, but by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.
     In 1733 John Sr. returned from his voyage and learning of his wife’s death, wasted no time in remarrying. John’s step-mother was at first attentive, but she soon bore children of her own and lost interest in John, excluding him from family life. He became distant and rebellious. So, when John Jr. was merely eleven years old, his father took him to sea and he made six voyages with him before his father retired.
     In 1743, at the age of 18, while going to visit friends, Newton was captured (essentially kidnapped) and pressed into the naval service by the Royal Navy, where he became a midshipman. But at one point tried to desert, was captured, and punished in front of the crew of 350 by being stripped to the waist, tied to the grating, and flogged with eight dozen lashes. Following that disgrace and humiliation, Newton initially contemplated murdering the captain and committing suicide by throwing himself overboard, but He recovered, both physically and mentally and eventually convinced his superiors to discharge him to a slave ship.  Espousing freethinking principles, he remained arrogant and insubordinate, and he lived with immoral abandon: "I sinned with a high hand," he later wrote, "and I made it my study to tempt and seduce others [to join with me]."   He gave up all religious convictions, rejected his mother's teachings, and even lead other sailors into a life of unbelief. Sailors were not noted for the refinement of their manners, but Newton had an especially notable reputation for profanity, coarseness, and debauchery, which even shocked many sailors. He became known as, "The Great Blasphemer."  When he writes in his famous hymn that God's amazing grace, "saved a wretch like me," he was not using hyperbole. He had indeed lived a wretched life.
     Finally, at his own request, he was exchanged into service on a slave ship which took him to the coast of Sierra Leone, Africa. Newton did not get along with the crew of that ship and in 1745 they left him in West Africa with Amos Clowe, a slave dealer.  Clowe took Newton to the coast and gave him to his wife, Princess Peye of the Sherbro people, who brutally abused and mistreated him as much as she did her other slaves.  Newton's clothes turned to rags and he was forced to beg for food. He would later say of this period of his life that he was, "once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in West Africa." 
     Early in 1748, he was rescued by a sea captain who had been asked by Newton's father to search for him, returning to England on the merchant ship Greyhound.  The ship encountered a severe storm off the coast of Ireland and almost sank. Newton awoke in the middle of the night and, as the ship filled with water, called out to God. He recorded in his journal that when all seemed lost and the ship would surely sink, he exclaimed, “Lord, have mercy upon us.”  The cargo shifted and plugged up the hole, and the ship drifted to safety.  Newton marked this experience as the beginning of his conversion to Christ. He would later refer to this as his “great deliverance.”  The date was 10 March 1748, an anniversary he marked for the rest of his life as the point of his initial turning to Christ. From that point on, he avoided profanity, gambling, and drinking.
     Although he continued to work in the slave trade, he had gained sympathy for the slaves during his time as a slave in Africa. He later said that his true conversion did not happen until sometime later: "I cannot consider myself to have been a believer in the full sense of the word, until a considerable time afterward."  He would also write in his diary years later: “My dear mother, besides the rains she took with me, often commended me with many prayers and tears to God; and I doubt not but I reap the fruits of these prayers to this hour.”

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     This brings us to the entry by L. B. Cowman:

     "John Newton the drunken sailor became John Newton the sailor-preacher. Among the thousands of men and women he brought to Christ was Thomas Scott, cultured, selfish and self-satisfied. Because of the prayers of Newton's mother, another miracle was worked, and Thomas Scott used both his pen and voice to lead thousands of unbelieving hearts to Christ -- among them a dyspeptic, melancholic young man named William Cowper. He too was washed by the cleansing blood and in a moment of inspiration wrote:
     "There is a fountain filled with blood, 
     Drawn from Immanuel's veins, 
     And sinners plunged beneath that flood, 
     Lose all their guilty stains."
     And this song has brought countless thousands to the man who died on Calvary. Among the thousands was William Wilberforce, who became a great Christian statesman and unfastened the shackles from the feet of thousands of British slaves. Among those whom he led to the Lord was Leigh Richmond, a clergyman of the Established Church in one of the Channel Islands. He wrote a book, "The Dairyman's Daughter," which was translated into forty languages and with the intensity of leaping flame burned the love of Christ into the hearts of thousands."

     All this resulted, notes Cowman, because of a mother's earnest prayers for her son. Her instruction and prayers for a son she never lived to see grow up, bore fruit beyond anything she ever imagined and continues to do so to this day.
In His Service, Pastor Jeff