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I cannot keep silent, nor would it be proper…

With all of the hype and misguided nonsense taking place today, might I offer the words of Patrick, missionary to Ireland. Recalling the captivity of his youth, he proclaimed in his Confession:

“And there the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance. And he watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son.
Therefore, indeed, I cannot keep silent, nor would it be proper, so many favours and graces has the Lord deigned to bestow on me in the land of my captivity.”

May each of us who have received salvation through Jesus Christ feel that same burden to share with others what God has done for us. May we never be silent about His wonderful grace and transforming power.

To God be the glory, great things He has done.

His Life for Mine

NPP_Chernobyl_incl_memorial_lTwenty-nine years ago, a massive power surge led to explosions in the core of a nuclear reactor in Chernobyl, Ukraine. The resulting fire released an enormous plume of highly radioactive material into the atmosphere which then spread across a vast area of that region. The effects were devastating to the environment and human life. Perhaps you haven’t heard the stories of great courage and sacrifice that occurred in the days that followed. None were more moving than that of 3 Chernobyl divers.

After the initial explosion, the risks continued to grow with each passing day until workers became aware of an even greater disaster looming just around the corner. Initially the firefighters had attempted to quench the fire by smothering it with sand, clay, and boron and spraying it with water. As this combination of ingredients pooled beneath the reactor core, it morphed into something like lava, which then began to burn through the floor of the reactor. If it had reached the water below, it would have surely created a massive thermal explosion that would have impacted most of Europe.

Three workers (two engineers and a common laborer) volunteered to put on SCUBA gear and dive into this pool to release the safety valves and drain the water. Even though they lost their lamp during their descent, they successfully opened the valves and returned to the surface to see their fellow workers celebrating their victory.

However, the damage had been done. When they volunteered, they understood that the radiation levels under the main reactor would be lethal. Within a few weeks they had all succumbed to the terrible effects of radiation poisoning and died. It is estimated that their heroic efforts saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Europeans. These three heard the warnings of scientists and engineers and understood the consequences. Yet, they volunteered their lives to save others.

In history there are many noble acts performed by incredible people who, despite the inevitable outcomes, do what is required of them. However, there has never been a sacrifice like the divine one which provided our redemption. God sent His own Son to die for our sins. The righteous in place of the wicked. The Creator in place of His creation. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

1 Timothy 2:5–6 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

Offer that good news to someone this week by sharing the Word of God and your personal testimony. Introduce them to the One who died in their place and allow the Holy Spirit to do His work in their life.

Remembering a Man of the Word

Last week, one of God’s choice servants entered the presence of His Savior. Today many paid respect Dr_Steele_Dr_Spottsto Norman Spotts, a true man of the Word. Being able to say that about someone these days is no light matter.

He served many years as Bible professor, chaplain, and dean of students at Clearwater Christian College. That is why I have always referred to him as “Dean” Spotts (which many thought was his first name). Most of us remember him as dignified and reserved. Friendly and even-tempered. Drolly humorous with a signature smirk. His mind a vast resource of biblical knowledge.

Pursuing my bachelor’s degree in Bible, I had the opportunity to sit under his instruction in Old Testament Survey, Doctrines, and other courses in that department. Perhaps even more importantly, I sat at times on the other side of his desk in his office in Dambach as he offered godly counsel. One time in particular stands out. While still a student I felt that I had been slighted and unappreciated in a ministry opportunity. My pride had been stepped on, and I saw nothing but greener pastures serving elsewhere. With patience and perspective, he explained the right thing to do and the right way to do it. How to approach the situation biblically. How to respond to adversity appropriately. How to deal with people in general. Of course, his counsel was always drawn from and liberally seasoned with Scripture.

He was the instructor for the PMT class (Pastoral Ministry Training). He told us how to make the Bible the focal point of our preaching…how to safeguard our personal lives and ministries against temptation…how to perform a wedding…how to do a funeral (“Be careful that you don’t fall in the hole at a graveside service”). There were only a few of us in the class that semester; John Jackson, JC Nixon, Mike Mrkall. Occasionally, we would preach to each other in class and critique each other afterward. Each of us would stand behind a lectern and present our sermon as the others, including Dean Spotts, would take notes. In that small classroom on the side of the Easter Library, there was nowhere to hide if you made a mistake. During one of my attempts, I vividly remember my eyes, brain, and mouth refusing to cooperate with each other. I repeatedly mentioned the Apostle Paul throughout the sermon, when I clearly meant to say Peter instead. When I finished and it was their turn to weigh in, each of my classmates pointed out the obvious mistake – even counting how many times I had made it in just one short sermon. Truthfully, I would have done the same in their shoes. However, Dean Spotts, while acknowledging my gaffes, chose to focus on the biblical text and the content of my message. What gracious encouragement for a 21-year-old with extremely limited preaching experience.

Soon after I entered into ministry at New Testament Baptist Church, Pastor Ramsey invited a group from the college to sing in one of our services. He also invited Dean Spotts to preach. I remember being proud to say that I had been his student as he delivered a message about “The Man Who Picked Up Sticks” from Numbers 15. Although I have no notes from that morning, I have never forgotten the message. Within a year or two, we hosted another musical group from Clearwater Christian, and Dean Spotts would again be there to represent the college. However, this time Pastor Ramsey asked me to preach that morning. Equal parts of anxiety and anticipation filled my mind as I stood behind the pulpit that day. As much as I wanted to minister the Word to the congregation, I also wanted to see a look of approval on Dean Spotts’ face as he nodded his head in agreement. I wanted to make sure he knew I had listened and learned in his classes and was doing my best to rightly divide the Word of truth.

That was because I knew he was a man most familiar with the Word of God. Someone who understood its value. Who treasured it rightly. Who studied it diligently. Who preached it with sincerity and conviction, knowing that it was the power of God in the lives of those who would hear it. As his pastor shared several verses today from Psalm 119 about a love for Scripture, he noted the similarities between the psalmist and Dean Spotts. Pastor Haney summarized, “He was a man devoted to the Word of God and was blessed throughout his life because of it.”

The older I get, the more I have come to appreciate men who are more concerned with genuine substance than temporary style. More devoted to the Word of God than the trends of society. More concerned with the Lord’s approval than man’s applause. Men like Dean Spotts.

I can almost hear him closing a public prayer with these words from Ephesian 3:20-21, “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”

A Song for Today

Music possesses the mighty power to leave a lasting impact on our spiritual lives. Recently, I read about the background of the well-loved hymn, How Great Thou Art. Like many, this song is a special favorite because of its message and majesty.daldorch valley a

Whenever I see this picture, I feel an emotional stirring in my soul and sometimes tears come to my eyes. Certainly, it is not because of the dramatic visual impact of this photograph! After all, this is a digital scan of a Kodak slide taken almost 35 years ago by a young boy with a 25 year-old Ansco camera. The color and quality is poor, at best, even after being retouched. (Slides don’t hold up as well as you might think). Yet, the strong feelings have more to do with the occasion associated with  this slide.

I remember as a 13 year-old boy spending my summer in Scotland working on a construction project with Teen Missions International. After several weeks of separation from home and family, long hours of laying bricks and digging trenches, and cold, drizzly weather, I was feeling low physical and emotionally. I took a walk late one afternoon to explore and was talking out loud to God about what I was feeling.

About that time I discovered this wonderful vista of the River Ayr winding between the rolling hills. Having been raised in Florida (elevation 15 ft.), hills and mountains of any size seem especially majestic. Combined with the emotion of the moment and the spiritual impact of sincere prayer, I felt an overwhelming impulse to sing. The only song that seemed right was How Great Thou Art. It has always captured for me the goodness and greatness of our God and still reminds me of the wonder of those moments alone with Him.

The psalmist sang that the Lord had “put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: Many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.” (Psalm 40:3)

No one was around to see or hear me out on that hillside in 1980. But our day-to-day purpose as God’s children should be that others are seeing the evidence of His presence in our lives. They should be hearing our mouths filled with praise and thanksgiving for what He has done. It is not always accomplished by singing a hymn, although that is a wonderful privilege of our personal relationship and a vital component of our corporate worship. Rather, every word that comes out of our mouth should reflect our Savior. Even the countenance of our face can reflect Him.

What will your song be today?

A Legacy

I admired and appreciated him more than I expressed.  Unfortunately, that is often the case with relationships in this life.  And now Clair Smith has gone on to his long home and the reward of his Savior’s presence.

Today, I contemplated his life and legacy.  For full disclosure, I must state that I am not a Smith by blood.  However, he became Papaw to me when I married my wife.  My memories include golf during one of his stays in Clearwater…Thanksgiving dinner and some of the most competitive croquet I have ever played…driving with him to Morgantown to watch the Backyard Brawl at Mountaineer Field.

As a veteran of World War II, he served valiantly as a ball turret gunner on a B-17.  He crafted images with his words, writing poems of nature and history rich with emotion and experience.  The brush was also his tool, whether portrait or church baptistery scene.  When he casually broke into song, it was often a whimsical declaration of his love for a family member – perhaps an infant in his arms or Myrtle, his beloved wife of more than six decades.

He was a patriarch in every sense of the word.

And in that role he gave me his greatest gift.  It began with his genuine faith in Christ.  It continued as he lived out that faith before his family.  It bore fruit as they came to love the Lord and trust the Savior.

And 26 years ago, I met a godly, loving young woman who is a result of his legacy.

Even now I can hear my own children’s voices singing of the love of God and am reminded of those who have walked in faith so many years ago.

I have been blessed because of his life

and am grateful.

 

 

Consider Yourself Warned

By now you have heard that Harold Camping and his followers are declaring that the Day of Judgment will begin this Saturday, May 21, 2011, at precisely 6:00 p.m.  Of course, all of this talk has drawn the attention of the secular media to Camping, the 89 year-old founder of Family Radio Worldwide.  At least until next Monday.  They’ll laugh and mock and then move on to another topic.

What about those who believe in a literal rapture?  What can we say about such a declaration?

It is prideful.

While his proclamation is cloaked in a garment of concern and evangelism, its substance is nothing more than presumption.  The apostle Peter called the Scriptures a “more sure word of prophecy” than our personal experiences.  In that same passage, he warned that “no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.”

Camping’s declaration smacks of a private interpretation that equates to exclusive knowledge.  He sets himself up as the sole repository of divine knowledge and revelation.  At the very least, he is the only one in Christendom who is smart enough or spiritual enough to have interpreted the Scripture accurately.  In fact, he posits that only those who embrace his teaching are “true believers,” while all others are apostate.  He is so proud as to “guarantee” his prediction on the group’s website.  (I imagine Family Radio’s technical support team will have a busy weekend.)

It is unbiblical.

Christ Himself cautioned His disciples not to claim such knowledge of His return.  In fact, He declared that only the Father knows the day and hour of His return (Matthew 24:36).  When He stated “it is not for you to know the times or seasons,” He was not only speaking to the eleven, but to all true disciples who would follow.  I have read Camping’s defense against this statement, and it doesn’t hold up.

Camping presumes to know the precise date of the Genesis flood, the symbolic meaning of biblical numbers, and the proprietary equation to arrive at his conclusion.  Rather than requiring complex mathematical computations or hidden codes embedded in the Hebrew and Greek alphabets, the Word of God is clear and convicting for all who will rightly handle it.  Christ will surely return, and we will certainly not be able to pinpoint the date ahead of time.

In fact, his teaching is wrong on a number of doctrinal matters.  Frankly, this prediction of the Day of Judgment may be the least of his troubles.  In multiple sermons and interviews Camping has encouraged individuals to cry out to God before it is too late.  The hope that he offers?  “Maybe, just maybe, God will save you.”  In fact, that is exactly how he encourages people to pray: “Oh Lord, have mercy! Maybe you could still save me.  Keep begging Him.”  That’s a far cry from a prayer of faith and the promise of Romans 10:13.

It is unoriginal.

“Been there, done that.”  Only in eternity should we be able to say this regarding the Lord’s return.  However, this is not the first time someone has set a date.  Notably, William Miller proclaimed that Christ would return on March 21, 1844.  In an attempt to reconcile this “Great Disappointment”, many affirmed that the Lord had returned in a spiritual way that one could not see with human eyes.

As I cleaned off my bookshelves recently, I discovered Edgar Whisenant’s work 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988.  I figured that it was safe to dispose of it by now.  Perhaps I should do the same with Camping’s previous book, 1994? At least he included a question mark the last time.

According the Old Testament law, it was a treacherous position to claim a divine proclamation and see it fail.  It is likely that the only consequences this time around will be that Harold Camping fades into obscurity and his followers are again disappointed.

Yet, there are other repercussions.

It is damaging.

First, it harms individuals.  His errant predictions do nothing more than fuel the scoffers who continue to taunt, “Where is the promise of his coming?” (2 Peter 3:4).  It misleads earnest seekers and new believers who are more easily swayed by false winds of doctrine (Eph. 4:14).  No doubt, it turns away some who might seriously consider the Gospel of Christ, but were first exposed to Camping’s nonsense.

Second, it afflicts God’s church.  Those who are earnestly contending for the faith do not need the distraction and disdainful attention that Camping has brought.   The Lord has graciously offered salvation and promised to return for His own – on His own schedule.  That will continue to be our message.

Finally, it damages God’s name.  From sarcastic late night talk show hosts to serious journalists, the consensus is that Camping is a kook.  Although an accurate assessment, the whole situation damages the name of Christ and those who earnestly seek to follow His Word.

Our response?

Believers are instructed throughout the New Testament to mark and avoid those who teach false doctrine and cause divisions within the body of Christ and offenses before the world (Romans 16:17).  With appropriate humility and biblical authority we identify Harold Camping as a false teacher.

Ultimately, believers still have a job to do.  We are to demonstrate exemplary Christian lives, share the Gospel with all who will listen, and do the work to which we are called.  Look for Christ’s return with a sincere desire to be found faithful in that day.  May we echo in word and action the sentiment of the exiled apostle, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

From each who sleeps secure

A wife sleeps alone tonight.

In truth, she did that most nights as her husband patrolled the streets of St. Petersburg on the midnight shift.  Yet, tonight is different.  There is no hope that he will return home tomorrow morning, as he always did before.

This afternoon a dispatcher repeatedly called out over the radio to 143-Bravo, expecting only silence in return.  Just as at last month’s funeral, every officer who stood at attention outside the church knew there would be no response.  Officer Crawford’s earthly life ended a week ago when he was shot and killed on what seemed to be a routine call.

The brutal irony of that term.  Every police officer and sheriff’s deputy understands that no call can truly be called routine.  The unexpected is part of the job.  The unseen lurks down every darkened street and behind every closed door.  The unknown can only be discovered by confronting the situation face to face.

Tonight, officers  from Squad 22 will once again patrol the streets, responding to the concerns of each citizen.  The same situation will play out in communities all across this nation.  Children will prepare for bed while their daddy puts on his uniform.  Wives will pillow their head praying that in the morning their officer will return home.  Thousands of others will sleep peacefully, never thinking about those that keep evil in check.  Those that nightly pay for their security with personal diligence.

Thank you to those who have given their life in service to our communities or our nation.  Thank you also to others who continue their service tonight – and every night.  Thank you from each us who sleeps secure.