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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.

Copa Mundial

The following is a repost of the original which was posted on June 11, 2010 and temporarily lost after my site was hacked.

Today begins the greatest month in the world of sports.  People across the globe gather around their radios and televisions for World Cup matches.  While most Americans only care about soccer as long as the US team is still involved in this event, the rest of the world is consumed by football (or fútbol).  There’s nothing wrong with baseball, but should it really be called the “World Series” when the only international flavor is the Toronto Blue Jays?  Meanwhile 32 national teams from six continents compete for a golden trophy and global bragging rights.

While I have never attended a match, I have some very fond memories of previous tournaments.  In 1994 we spent a few weeks in Mexico as the competition was going on back in the USA.  Huge screens were set up in public parks throughout Mexico City so that anyone could watch as they passed.  We were amazed as life basically shut down while matches were being played.  Maribeth and I marveled as the entire city of Acapulco spilled out into the streets after the Mexican team tied Italy.

In 2002 we were with missionary friends at a camp outside Guadalajara, Spain.  Regular breaks from the work were included as we huddled around a radio to listen to matches.  Again that year, we heard the universal language of honking car horns that celebrated a Spanish goal or victory.  When we returned home to the states, I would wake up at 2:00 a.m. to watch the US team play in South Korea.

At this point, I should admit that I remain a fan of La Furia Roja (the Spanish national team).  If the USA does not advance into July, I hope to wear my red jersey all the way to the final.

It is fascinating to watch nations that are plagued by corrupt politics and poor economies find their identity and hope in a football team.  The zeal of fans is unparalleled, moving them to extremes unheard of in other settings.  I think of the Colombian defender who was shot to death two weeks after scoring an own goal in the 1994 tournament.  On a milder note, people will awaken early, call in sick to work, and forget their families for four weeks just to watch football.  What dedication!

I will likely make some minor adjustments to my life for this year’s tourney.  However, I wonder what would be the result of our service for Christ if believers demonstrated a fraction of the devotion known to true football fans.

Grace on Display

The anchor on Good Morning America used a word that is seldom heard on secular programming; “grace.” This was not a reference to George Burns’ wife or the late Princess of Monaco (look them up, young people), but concerned baseball. Grace showed up on the front page of today’s St. Petersburg Times as the editor referred to the “remarkable grace” demonstrated by two men.

Over and over reporters and commentators have made reference to the gracious response of Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga who was denied a perfect game by a bad call. They also have marveled at the prompt and sincere apology of umpire Jim Joyce. Grace seemed to be the only thing that could overrule an ugly situation.

The Greek root word (charis) translated grace is used in a variety of applications throughout Scripture. However, at the core of our understanding is the grace that an eternal God has shown to sinful men. We deserved punishment, but God in his infinite love offered His own Son as our sacrifice. The apostle Paul reminds us that “God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved).” Ephes. 2:4-5

Based on this foundation of God’s forgiving mercy, believers are called to demonstrate grace to a world that needs it, but rarely experiences it. This story from Major League Baseball emphasizes that point. Everyone is celebrating the response of two men. Basically, one apologized and the other accepted and offered forgiveness. These are fairly simple acts that, in reality, are rarely practiced. We have come to expect caustic outbursts and the threat of lawsuits. It is not hard to imagine that if Christians genuinely lived as we are instructed, then the world would sit up and take notice. If this much attention is paid to a simple display of forgiveness, what would happen if believers regularly acted in kindness and forgiveness toward others? What would be said about us if we always seasoned our speech with grace? When we reflect the grace that has been poured out on us, it will provide innumerable opportunities to introduce people to our Savior.

And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. Ephes. 4:32

Unpacking

At a men’s Bible study that I attend, the leader often speaks of “unpacking” a particular passage of Scripture. He is talking about doing more than just reading it. Even more than just commenting on it. He understands that in order to truly use Scripture we must deal with it thoroughly. And so our group digs in to study the truth we read and find ways to apply it to our lives.

Perhaps you have shared the following experience after a trip out of town. You return home tired from travel, walk into your home, and set down your bags. For many of us, the first thing we want to do is clean up and sleep in our own beds. The last thing we want to do is deal with our luggage. That’s a task for a new day…or the next. If that next day turns into a few more, it could spell trouble. Soon you look into the closet for a particular suit, only to find that it has “disappeared.” It’s still yours, but it’s not available to be used until it is unpacked.

Perhaps that’s similar to our Bible. We own one (or more) and know that it is the most valuable tool for our lives. Yet it often sits unused on the shelf. When we need it the most, it seems inaccessible to us. Surely, God has something to say about our particular situation. However, because of neglect, we’re not quite sure what it is. How should we “unpack” the Scriptures?

– Consider it (Psa. 119:95)
– Delight in it (Psa. 1:2)
– Heed it (Psa. 119:9)
– Meditate on it (Psa. 119:97)
– Keep it (Psa. 119:167)
– Memorize it (Psa. 119:11)
– Love it (Psa. 119:97)
– Speak it (Psa. 119:172)

The psalmist’s list goes on and on. The apostle Paul reminds Timothy that the study of God’s Word would prepare him for the demands of this life.

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 2 Tim. 2:15

When we thoroughly study the Word of God, we know what He says about our circumstances. When we commit it to memory, we make Scripture accessible in our daily lives. With His Word we are prepared to face both opportunity and temptation…blessing and difficulty…peaceful days and storms. All of our decisions and actions will be affected by our interaction – or lack of it – with the Scriptures.

If your Bible has rested on a shelf too long (with only an occasional Sunday trip to church), “unpack” a verse today.