Monthly Archives: February 2017

Rendezvous in a Snowstorm

 

A snowflake is a mighty thing.

Especially when it teams up.

It left Napoleon’s army frozen in Russia and, more than a century later, did the same to Hitler’s.

Each winter, I think I miss the snow of my native New England – until I see a news report on the most recent “major storm”. I watch the blinding winds, stranded travelers, and steep snow banks.

Then I re-think my position. Texas isn’t so bad. Until July, when contentment once again eludes me.

Storms, for all their inconvenience, are providential of course.

“He gives snow like wool,” writes the Psalmist. “He scatters the frost like ashes. He casts forth His ice as fragments; who can stand before His cold?” (Psalm 147:16-17, NASB).

Such was the case for a teenager walking to church one Sunday morning. Deeply troubled in his young soul and unable to truly find God in any way that made sense or gave relief to his perplexities, he ventured out into a howling snowstorm to find his answer.

The boy, 15, struggled against the bitter gale that blew off the coast this Lord’s Day. Unable to go on to the church he had planned to attend, he remembered his mother telling him of a Methodist church closer by. And so, seeking shelter, he turned down the side street and entered the small chapel.

Warming himself by the pot bellied stove, the lad looked around. There were perhaps a dozen or more people sitting in the wooden pews. Brave souls who had braved the storm.

The youngster took a seat toward the back, underneath the balcony.

The preacher emerged and ascended the platform. This was not the regular pastor – he had been snowed in.

The lad eyed the tall, guant and somewhat dishevled older man with suspicion befitting a teen. He figured this was “a shoemaker, or tailor or something of that sort”.

After the singing of a few hymns, the old man rose to preach.

Taking as his text Isaiah 45:22, he began to read:

“Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.”

As would be the case for many teenagers, the young man was barely able to subdue his cynical contempt. Being a very bright and intellectually-inclined lad he concluded “this man was really stupid”.

He listened just the same, through the awkward pauses and stammering mispronunciations.

Still, the older gent warmed to his subject.

“My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says, ‘Look’. Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pains. It ain’t liftin’ your foot or your finger; it is just, ‘Look’.”

The man told the congregation that it didn’t need a college education to look and that “even a child can look. But the text says, ‘Look unto Me’”

“Ay!” the old man smiled. “Many on ye are lookin’ to yourselves, but it’s no use lookin’ there. You’ll never find any comfort in yourselves.”

The preacher sadly shook his head and then peered out on the small huddled group of worshipers. Raising his reedy voice, he proclaimed:

“Jesus Christ says, ‘Look unto Me’”

He became more emphatic, speaking of Jesus’ suffering, death, burial and resurrection – each time punctuating his message with the refrain “‘Look unto Me!’”

Finally he concluded his sermon:

“O poor sinner, look unto Me! Look unto Me!”

As he surveyed his small gathering, he noticed the teenager sitting partially hidden under the balcony. He knew he was a stranger.

“Young man, you look very miserable, and you always will be miserable – miserable in life and miserable in death – if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.”

It was a very personal invitation!

Raising his arms in the air, the old man shouted at the youth:

“Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but look and live.”

The lad, startled though he was, did just that. In this moment, he had discovered his answer. God had found him and saved him.

Of this he was certain.

Years later, he recalled that gray, snow-swept Sunday morning:

“I was so joyous that I could scarcely refrain from dancing. I thought on my road home from the house where I had been set at liberty, that I must tell the stones in the street the story of my deliverance. So full was my soul of joy, that I wanted to tell every snowflake that was falling from heaven of the wondrous love of Jesus.”

It was January 6, 1850 in Colchester, England.

Young Charles Haddon Spurgeon went out from that small Methodist church that day to become the greatest preacher of 19th century England and one of the greatest the world has ever known.

In just four years, at 19, he would be pastoring a large church in London.

God filled Spurgeon’s churches with thousands. In 34 years of ministry it is estimated that he preached to ten million people. His published works, mostly his sermons, have sold more than 300 million copies worldwide and remain readily in print to this day.

Spurgeon is the most widely-published author in history.

He was known as “The Prince of Preachers”.

He never saw the old man again.

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The Columnist

He didn’t land on the cover of Time until he posed as the devil.

He later conceded it was the hardest book he’d written.

C. S. Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters to imagine what it would be like to see this world – and Christians – from the standpoint of Satan and his demons. It became a bestseller and made Lewis a literary legend.

Part of this success comes from our longstanding insatiable curiosity with anything satanic. It is an irresistible preoccupation, sometimes even in the church. Today, an increasing number of sophisticated Americans don’t believe in a personal devil any more than they accept a personal Christ.

Assuming he exists and has an interest – the Bible says he does – what might the devil’s design look like?

One columnist wrote, “If I were the Prince of Darkness I would engulf the whole earth in darkness”.

“We know we are children of God,” the apostle John wrote in his first letter, “and that the world around us is under the control of the evil one” (I John 5:19, NLT).

He’s the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2, KJV). He and his diabolical subjects are “the rulers of this present darkness” (Ephesians 6:12, KJV).

Our fallen world has been the devil’s dark domain ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. The columnist noted this and wrote:

“I would begin with a campaign of whispers. With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve, ‘Do as you please’”.

As they walked fearfully through the forest, the Scarecrow told Dorothy and the Tin Man, “Of course I don’t know, but I think it’ll get darker before it gets lighter.”

It has – and it will.

The entire trajectory of every declining civilization is marked, guided and finally corrupted by moral nihilism. “Do as you please”. The West is no exception. America has been “slouching toward Gomorrah’, as the late judge Robert Bork once put it, for some time.

This doesn’t mean you and I shouldn’t pray for another Great Awakening – anything is possible with God – it’s just that a turnaround doesn’t appear in the cards anytime soon.

“To the young,” the columnist wrote, “I would whisper ‘The Bible is a myth’. I would convince them that ‘man created God’ instead of the other way around. I would confide that ‘what is bad is good and what is good is square’”.

“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20, KJV).

Nothing is more contemporary than “relevance” or more scoffed at than moral certainty. “Tolerance,” observed G.K. Chesterton, “is the virtue of the man without convictions”.

Young Americans have been captured by popular culture – one of Satan’s most potent weapons in moving the masses. Even young evangelicals and their cool mega pastors, far from defending “the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3), have begun to question it.

“‘For the Bible tells me so’” declared one popular preacher last year, “that’s where our problem began”.

“If I were the devil, I would encourage schools to refine young intellects, but neglect to discipline emotions; let those run wild … With flattery and promises of power I would get the courts to vote against God and in favor of pornography”.

Continued the columnist:

“Then in his own churches I’d substitute psychology for religion and deify science. If I were Satan, I’d make the symbol of Easter an egg and the symbol of Christmas a bottle”.

Nothing has been more pitiful and tragic than the gradual secularization of the church in America; the church’s anxious aping of the world in hope of gaining the world’s approval. It is a fool’s errand that has weakened beyond recognition the last best hope of rescuing the nation and pulling it back from the moral abyss.

We’ll know spiritual revival is possible when it begins in the churches of this land.

Lewis didn’t write The Screwtape Letters simply to entertain his readers, though it did. He wrote so Christians would be more aware of the subtle strategies of Satan and better prepared to resist them.

“This world with devils filled” may threaten to undo us. We are not on a playground but a battlefield and called to battle we are. The Bible teaches us nothing if not that we are locked in a titanic mortal struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil – every day and in every way.

We need not let Satan “outsmart us. For we are familiar with his evil schemes” (II Corinthians 2:11, NLT).

“We are not ignorant of his devices” (KJV).

You and I may draw strength and confidence, even when the hot breath of the roaring lion is upon us.

Though Satan seems triumphant, his doom is sure. Jesus Christ came to “destroy the works of the devil” (I John 3:8) and that final victory is already won – and shared by every saint who has placed his or her faith in Christ.

Though Satan is strong, Christ in us is stronger (I John 4:4).

Though Satan is menacing, we can resist him – and are commanded to do so (James 4:7; I Peter 5:9). Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

Fear not! Victory is yours!

The columnist who had Satan’s plan in place?

Paul Harvey.

He wrote If I Were the Devil in 1964.

And now you know the rest of the story.

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Coming in From the Wind

Turn that down!

What?

The noise!

What’d you say?

TURN DOWN THE NOISE!

There, that’s better.

Have you noticed how much noise is out there? As a human race, we can’t seem to stand silence. It’s as if we fear that by being still we would risk an introspection too hard to bear.

This is cultural white noise.

An incessant drumbeat of shallow, angry, narcissistic banalities. We’re more divided as a nation than at any time since the Civil War and technology has made it easier and faster to simply talk past each other.

Nobody listens. Eager for a platform and their 15 minutes of fame, everybody talks.

We’re drowning in a foaming sea of cacophony; “a discordant and meaningless mixture of sounds”.

It’s his temperament – and his temper – that leads our new president to angrily tweet all hours of the day and night. He craves the limelight, which one would expect of a reality celebrity. There are dozens of others, just none as good.

In this, President Trump most resembles Theodore Roosevelt, of whom daughter Alice once remarked:

“Father would be the bride at every wedding – and the corpse at every funeral”.

The president has aroused an opposite – though hardly equal – reaction, adding to this deafening dissonance. It’s sheer idiocy that leads people with nothing else to do into the streets to chant, shout and throw rocks.

It’s been daily since the election.

In his prophetic poem, The Second Coming, WB Yeats wrote that “the falcon cannot hear the falconer” …
“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world …”

For the Christian, this world is too much with us. We can’t escape it, we can’t leave it; we’re left to cope with it. We too are creatures of our times.

You and I must embrace the silence. We must find a sacred solitude in the midst of carnal contentions. That’s not easy but nothing great ever is.

When Elijah the prophet fled the wicked queen Jezebel in fear for his life, he came to Mount Sinai – the mountain of God. There he hid in a cave, despaired of living and telling God to take him. The triumph of another mountain, Carmel, seemed a distant memory.

Elijah was discouraged.

“I have had enough, Lord” (I Kings 19: 4, NLT).

God invited Elijah to go outside the cave and stand. When God passed by, a mighty windstorm tore loose the rocks and howled in violent terror.

“But the Lord was not in the wind” (I Kings 19: 11, KJV).

Then a fearsome rumbling earthquake shook the mountain, reverberating through the valley below.

“But the Lord was not in the earthquake” (verse 11).

Then a blazing fire ignited the rugged mountainside threatening to consume all before it and Elijah hid his face from the scorching heat.

“But the Lord was not in the fire” (verse 12).

Then, after these violent noisy cataclysms of the natural order passed, order returned. Tranquility descended. Stillness gripped the mountain of God.

And then God spoke. He did not howl in his vengeance. He did not thunder in his holiness. He did not burn in his righteous indignation.

God spoke in “a still small voice” (verse 12, KJV).

It “was the sound of a gentle whisper” (NLT).

In that stillness, that quietness, that solitude upon the mountain of God, without any more distraction or disturbance, Elijah then heard the voice of his Lord speak to him.

It wasn’t the voice of contention. Or eruption. It wasn’t the voice of angry recriminations, nor was it the voice of anxiety or fear or dismay or uncertainty.

It was a still voice.

It was a gentle voice.

It was a small voice.

Elijah had to concentrate or he might have missed it. He had to listen with his ear. More than this he had to listen with his mind. Most of all, Elijah had to listen with his heart – pure, undiluted, sincere listening.

You and I must do this or we will miss God’s voice.

We’ll hear the mega-church celebrities seeking the cameras, the talking heads, bobbing, weaving and speculating; we’ll hear the politicians debating and angling.

We’ll even hear the devil accusing, pestering and nagging.

We’ll hear the wind, the quakes and the fire.

But we won’t hear God’s still, small voice. We won’t hear his gentle whisper to our heart.

Not until we are still.

“Be still,” he commands us, “and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

“We run hurriedly into the presence of God,” wrote nineteenth century pastor FB Meyer, “leave our card as on a morning call, then plunge into the eager rush of life”.

In prayer, we talk to God. We seldom give him a chance to reply.

Then we’re gone.

CS Lewis identified the dilemma of our human frailty – and the challenge in meeting it:

“All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in … Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.”

How hard for me to do. How important that I do it.

God help us to find the time and the place for silence.

Then – and only then – will we hear our Master’s voice.

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Access

Who is Steve Bannon?

We don’t really know much about him.

He’s the mysterious figure behind all the scenes; a conservative media guru.

He helped elect Donald Trump the 45th president.

Now, in a move that perplexed many and angered others, President Trump has made Mr. Bannon an official member of the National Security Council.

It’s an unprecedented action – and controversial.

Mr. Bannon – a political operative – will now have direct participatory access to the highest levels of national security decision – making. The NSC is a very powerful and exclusive group. Members advise the president on complex matters of critical concern and worldwide impact.

This is all about access to power and authority.

Because of what the president did, Bannon has the right to walk right in and take a seat at the table where life and death decisions are often made.

It’s official from the very top – he’s in. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? He’s out.

Access is important. It’s not always easy.

To gain entrance into our own bank accounts, we often have to answer security questions. In setting up an account recently I had to provide answers to four different questions.

Unlike Mr. Bannon, you and I are not likely to be made members of the National Security Council. Our influence and access are more limited. The President of the United States is not going to appoint most of us to any important post.

When God was dealing with the people of Israel in the Old Testament, access to the Almighty Creator was not only severely limited – it was a terrifying thing.

Even Moses, the courageous leader of the nation, trembled in the fearful presence of the holy and omnipotent God. “I exceedingly fear and quake”, he said (Deuteronomy 9:19, Hebrews 12:21, KJV).

The Israelites would timidly follow Moses to the foot of Mount Sinai – “a place of flaming fire, darkness, gloom, and whirlwind” (Hebrews 12:18, NLT). Moses alone could ascend. Moses alone could make intercession for a sinful people and plead their case before a displeased Deity.

Engulfed in “blackness, and darkness, and tempest” (KJV), the holy mountain symbolized the awful gulf that stood between God and the human race. There was no real access to this God, only wrath and judgement; no bridge from mortal flesh to divine purity.

“For they heard an awesome trumpet blast and a voice so terrible that they begged God to stop speaking” (Hebrews 12: 19, NLT).

The story of Israel’s travail – the record of its sinful cycle of repentance and rebellion – is a revelation of man’s hopelessly fallen condition – then and now.

God kept his distance. People made sacrifices according to exact requirements. The priests made the people’s confession. It was not easy – their world was filled with the consuming awesomeness of an untouchable Maker.

“If even an animal touches the mountain,” God commanded, “it must be stoned to death” (verse 20, NLT).

The writer of Hebrews – a letter to Jewish Christians – pivots at this point and offers a beautiful contrast to all the gloom and doom he’s just described.

But this contrast doesn’t begin here.

It was magnificently symbolized the day Jesus Christ died on the cross.

As the earth rocked and the heavens wept, the mighty and impenetrable veil in the temple which separated the people from their God was torn asunder from top to bottom.

The way to a holy God was now made possible by what Jesus did when he took our sins upon himself. When he paid the price.

Access denied was now suddenly granted.

Paul said it directly to the Ephesians:

“For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (Ephesians 2:18, KJV, emphasis added). Through Christ, God opened up a new life and a new way – simple in its beauty, profound in its meaning.

Equal access under God’s new law – his new covenant – had forever changed our relationship to him. Here was a new and brighter day.

Paul wrote in Romans:

“Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege …” (Romans 5:2, NLT).

You and I now have “access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (KJV, emphasis added).

A dreadful mountain reminding us of our sin and God’s unapproachability?

Gone.

Not Mount Sinai anymore with all its fire and thunder.

“No, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering” (Hebrews 12:22, NLT). There are the innumerable saints – “the general assembly and church of the firstborn” whose names are “written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect” (Hebrews 12:22-23, KJV).

I cannot envision that glorious scene without a lump in my throat.

What a difference Calvary made!

The mountain of foreboding replaced by the city of rejoicing.

And there, in the midst of it all, is Jesus our Lord, “the mediator of the new Covenant” (verse 24).

You and I have access to God.

That’s better than the NSC.

“So, let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Hebrews 4:15, NLT).

That’s real access.

Steve Bannon can have the White House.

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