Trouble indeed

Troublesome times are here…

The opening line to a song I remember hearing as a child, singing with a quartet several years ago, and currently playing on my car’s stereo. R. E. Winsett wrote that song in 1942. I can only imagine what current events might have been in his mind as he penned those lyrics.

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Troublesome times are here…

Yes, indeed. If you are not convinced of this, you are probably not paying attention. As the words to that song run through my head at this moment, I am reminded of a few key truths.

First, this is a disturbing reality. Sometimes, just looking at the newsfeed is all I can take. Maybe you feel the same way.

But then, hasn’t our world always seen distress since sin entered in the Garden? A wedge driven between God and His creation, Cain & Abel, physical suffering, societal conflict, slavery, abuse of power. The list goes on, and at every period of our history there have been troubled times. Certainly, we see it around the world today and in our own backyards.

Where do we turn for assurance or relief? Government or political movements? Is anyone really convinced that is the answer? The goodness of mankind? Even the optimist probably would not recommend that as a source of hope. In the midst of troublesome times we should join the psalmist in declaring that our hope is in the Lord alone (Psalm 39:7; 62:5).

Second, we have an opportunity. I have often said that as the days grow darker spiritually it becomes increasingly easier for true believers in Christ to shine as lights for Him. Simply fulfilling the basics of our Christian walk should set us apart in stark contrast to the world. Love like Christ loves us. Make decisions with wisdom and integrity. Keep your promises. Lead with humility and a servant’s heart. Demonstrate genuine forgiveness. Show compassion to those who are hurting. Share the Gospel with the lost.

I met a man recently who shared many of the disappointments he had experienced in his dealings with those that claimed to know Christ. Sinful conduct, calloused responses, both willful and unintentional harm. It sure sounded like the people who claimed to represent Christ had done a poor job of it. His perception and reception of Christ was tainted by people. Our opportunity as ambassadors of Christ is to present a clear testimony of His goodness in the middle of troublesome times.

The final thought relates to the theme and message of that song itself. The chorus joyfully proclaims, “Jesus is Coming Soon!” Rather than simply viewing that as our ultimate escape clause to leave this troubled world, we ought to consider the urgency and challenge of that truth. He is coming again, but has put us here to serve Him until then. Another song asks, “What if it were today?” We must obey and serve with all of our being in each of our remaining moments.

Long before Winsett penned the song’s lyrics, God’s Word gave us His divine promise:

And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. Revelation 22:12

As we echo the words of John may we also seize the opportunities of each new day. Even so, come, Lord Jesus (Rev. 22:20).

‘Til the Storm Passes

radar-image-94161Some may have slept through parts of it, but many probably heard every crack of thunder in Pinellas County on Thursday morning. The rain poured down, the wind howled and the lightning flashed across the sky for a few hours. In Clearwater, a tornado touched down and caused damage to a few homes and power lines.

While all of that was happening outside, I pulled up an app that showed a radar image of the storm and its movement relative to my precise location. With just a little estimation, I could determine where the storm was headed and how long it would last for me. I had more information on my phone than Roy Leep had back in the day!

In contrast, can you imagine the uncertainty of a fierce storm in ancient days? The clouds and pouring rain darkened the sky and decreased visibility. People would scramble for cover not knowing how long it would last or even what was in store for them. Farmers would fear for the loss of their crops. Sailors knew that the wind could drive them off course quickly. If bad enough, any storm could quickly grow from mere confusion to destruction and death.

Jesus and His disciples faced that type of storm while on the Sea of Galilee.

Mark 4:37–41  And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

The great Creator stood in their midst and controlled the winds and waves with His mere words. What confidence and comfort.

Years ago, when I was in a quartet of preachers we would sing an old Mosie Lister song in concerts. I seemed to hear it drifting through my mind again this morning as the rain fell. The words are a powerful reminder that God not only cares about the storms that we face in this life, but He also is powerful enough to carry us safely through them.

In the dark of the midnight have I oft hid my face,
While the storm howls above me, and there’s no hiding place.
‘Mid the crash of the thunder, Precious Lord, hear my cry,
Keep me safe till the storm passes by.

Many times Satan whispered, “There is no need to try,
For there’s no end of sorrow, there’s no hope by and by”
But I know Thou art with me, and tomorrow I’ll rise
Where the storms never darken the skies.

Chorus
Till the storm passes over, till the thunder sounds no more,
Till the clouds roll forever from the sky;
Hold me fast, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand,
Keep me safe till the storm passes by.

Perhaps you are facing a storm…or anticipating one around the corner. Whether you can see how strong it is or how long it will last, be very sure that God is still stronger than the wind and rain. He loves His children and delights in walking us safely through the storm.

Of Separation and Sacrifice

Thanksgiving was a bit different for our family this year. We traveled north to meet Justin “halfway” in North Carolina – partly to save him some travel mileage and partly to find a bit cooler November weather. As we enjoyed our time together in the Smoky Mountain region for a few days, we still felt a sense of absence. Our daughter Sarah is teaching music at International Christian School in Lima, Peru. We are extremely proud of her and glad for the wealth of experiences she is afforded there. But I still felt a bit melancholy saying “Table for 4.” thanksgiving-table1

All of this turned my mind to our missionaries that have committed their lives and families to a foreign field. For many, this Thanksgiving was like so many before – marked by a great distance between them and loved ones. Many of them mingled their American holiday traditions with local customs the best they could, but still noticed far-away family missing from their table. Christmas will follow close behind with perhaps an even keener sense of separation. Sure, technology allows for “face-to-face” time on a computer monitor, but we all know that it can never replace a hug, a long walk around the block, or even quiet time spent side by side on the sofa.

The Lord addressed a similar situation for His disciples. Peter acknowledged that when they followed the Savior’s call to become fishers of men, they left it all behind. Family, friends, careers, homes…

Jesus did not scold him for any selfishness, instead giving a promise:

…Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. Mark 10:29–30

Honestly, the missionaries that I know are not hoarding up real estate, with vacation homes on multiple continents. Those who must maintain residences both stateside and abroad, do so of necessity and at great financial expense. Clearly, we understand the blessing of eternal life and rewards, but what about the here-and-now. Where are the multiplied properties, homes, and families?

Christ’s disciples would meet, fellowship, and serve alongside innumerable brothers and sisters in Christ throughout their ministry. They would discover a spiritual family larger than they first imagined. While many individuals and communities would reject their ministry and presence, they would also discover open doors to hospitable homes wherever the Lord sent them. As God sent and led them, He would also be faithful to provide communities of support. I imagine the same is true for missionaries in our age as well.

It may not count for much, but I would like to personally thank those choice servants of our Savior who have left all to follow His call to a foreign field. Those who faithfully present the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, often in less-than-ideal circumstances. Those who overlook or overcome the innate hindrances of language and culture for the sake of lost souls. Those who view empty seats at holiday tables and count them worth the cost. I consider it a providential blessing to call you my family and friends. May God richly reward you in this life and eternity.

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.”

And the Beat Goes On

It’s happened again. Another believer in the public eye has been hauled over the coals for something they said. This time one of the Duggar girls made a statement about our national shame surrounding the atrocity of abortion ending her thoughts with, “EVERY LIFE IS PRECIOUS.” Instantly, the opposition revealed itself.

In a fairly regular cycle, some Christian celebrity comes under fire for their perspective, words, or actions. As soon as the reports hit the media, the columnists from Slate, Salon, and the rest are offering their condemnations.

For a while, it seemed like Tim Tebow couldn’t smile at the camera without taking heat for his public faith. In fact, one of the most benign commercials ever produced featuring him and his mother was routinely bashed because of its anti-abortion stance. (I offered my thoughts about his situation back in 2011.)

While being interviewed in 2012, Dan Cathy (Chick-fil-A) clearly stated his personal and corporate support of the traditional family – marriage between one man and one woman. Suddenly, the boycotts and lawsuits from various groups hit the scene. Some colleges booted their stores off campus, and a California high school principal forbade the football booster club from selling their chicken sandwiches and waffle fries. (See here and here.)

Duck Dynasty’s patriarch Phil Robertson openly identified homosexuality as a sin according to Scripture and the howling dogs in the media were on full alert. The pervasive calls for tolerance were suddenly replaced with cries for censorship. (How ironic!) Never mind that Phil also identified adultery, idolatry, drunkenness, and extortion as sin when he referenced 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Never mind that he also said, “…the Robertson family really believes strongly that if the human race loved each other and they loved God, we would just be better off. We ought to just be repentant, turn to God, and let’s get on with it, and everything will turn around.”

What is being overlooked in all of this is that these views and statements are really nothing new. For centuries everyday Americans – Christian and unbelievers alike – have understood that the Bible recognizes marriage as only between a man and a woman, homosexuality as sin, and abortion as murder. In fact, the great majority supported those views and lived accordingly. God’s Word has not changed. Our society has.

The truth is that this goes much further than even the founding of our nation. For millennia civilizations have for supported these truths. Even pagan societies recognized the internal witness of conscience that God placed within us and acknowledged some sense of right and wrong. Wise King Solomon told us that “there is no new thing under the sun.” Declaring biblical truth in words and actions is only radical today because of its rarity.

Perhaps instead of being shocked every time someone is attacked for their biblical perspective we should remember the words of Jesus Christ.

If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. John 15:19

Maybe we should also embrace the fact that there are spiritual benefits attached to this type of treatment.

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Matthew 5:11  

Perhaps we should be asking why it doesn’t happen more often. Why doesn’t it happen in our own lives more regularly? Why aren’t we personally feeling the heat from the world around us? If we are living out our faith as Scripture calls us to do the results should be evident. If our Christian walk is genuine others should notice, and some will oppose.

Finally, if you are discouraged because your personal faith or witness has been rejected recently, remember this promise:

Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. 1 John 4:4 

Ever heard of Amos Alonzo Stagg?

 

As of today, Amos Alonzo Stagg holds the record for most losses in the history of major college football. Over his coaching career he lost 199 times! Interestingly, he also used to hold the record for most wins, until Bear Bryant passed him in 1981.

BrownWatson1Sometime Stagg’s long held record will fall. In fact, it could be as early as Saturday when Watson Brown’s Tennessee Golden Eagles face the University of Northern Iowa. After last week’s defeat, Coach Brown has struggled through 199 losses – with the next one likely to come at some point this season. Even though his teams have won 128 games, and he has led them to seven winning seasons, he will likely be better remembered for something far more negative – being the first coach to record 200 losses in his career. (Just to add insult to injury, his brother Mack Brown won a national championship at Texas in 2005.)

Watson Brown has been the head coach at several different schools including Austin Peay, Cincinnati, Rice, Vanderbilt, and UAB. Every time he came in with the goal of taking a struggling team or a fledgling program and making improvements. Sometimes he was able to do that, but never able to win more than seven games in a season. That adds up to a whole lot of “L”s on your résumé.

I read Watson Brown’s story this week and was encouraged. Sometimes when you are trying to serve well, things are just a bit trying. This has been one of “those weeks” personally. A struggle or setback here and there add up quickly. When you experience an unexpected loss you need a pick-me-up.

“Wait…encouraged by a guy who will be remembered as a loser?”

In fact, his win-loss record is not the full story. What must be said about Coach Brown is that his players – present and former – speak highly of his character and influence. They appreciate his investment in their lives and careers. His brother’s assessment was that Watson has always worked within the rules and guidelines. He’s never been reported to or investigated by the NCAA for infractions. Never had a violation during all those years. For 29 seasons as a head coach, he has worked hard and done his job to the best of his ability.

The Apostle Paul would summarize his life of ministry this way: I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: 2 Timothy 4:7

Recognizing the high value God places on faithfulness, Paul ignored the miles traveled, numbers of souls saved, churches founded, etc. Surely, these could be considered accurate measures of his ministry.  Yet, perhaps he understood that even if his ministry had taken a different course through the years – or had different results – he still would be considered successful if he remained faithful to God and His calling.

Maybe your week hasn’t turned out like you expected. Maybe even this year or longer. Maybe your best attempts to serve the Lord or others didn’t produce the results for which you had hoped. Perhaps you faced unexpected obstacles. Your attempt to witness was rebuffed by someone. Your efforts of service were unappreciated or ignored. The greater question is “Were you faithful to do what God asked?” If so, then consider your work a success.