A TRIBUTE TO A CHILDHOOD FRIEND

I was stunned and saddened yesterday to learn that one of my childhood friends had been killed in a motorcycle accident. Charles Bailey is his name, but he wanted to be called Chuck. I appreciated that he let me get away with calling him Charlie.

We met in grade school and became close friends. I was at his house in the summer almost every day and stayed all night on many occasions. He had an above ground pool that we played in for hours and hours. He also had a ping pong table in the basement that gave us many more hours of fun, including games we invented.

We played together on the same Knothole baseball team for several years; he was our catcher and I played first base. One day after practice our manager kidded me saying he’d see me in church on Sunday. Knowing it was within walking distance from my house, Charlie invited me to his church. I went that Sunday and my life was changed by that little church and the wonderful people who welcomed my older brother and me.

Charlie and I continued our close friendship through junior high and high school. He played basketball in high school and I tried football, gymnastics, baseball, and wrestling. I wasn’t very good in any of them and he never was a starter in basketball.

Three things I especially remember about high school include playing a lot of poker, teaching the 2nd grade boys Sunday school class at church, and double dating. He had a blue 1964 Ford convertible that contributed greatly to our dating experience.

As we came to the second semester of our senior year we both decided to attend Cincinnati Bible College (now Cincinnati Christian University) to train to be ministers. We were roommates the first year. We both made the basketball team; he was a regular starter, but I started very few games.

Charlie’s first position in ministry was his last. While in college we both became youth ministers. The difference was that my senior minister was supportive and helpful, his was not. Following that experience he never considered going into ministry again.

He got married before I did and I was the best man at his wedding. Three years later I got married and he was the best man at our wedding.

After he married, and after college, our friendship waned. We got together a few times, but I eventually took a church in Philadelphia and after 10 years moved to California. We only saw each other a couple of times and eventually lost touch.

Although we had no contact the last 35 years or so, the news of his death has had a great impact on me. Charlie played a huge part in my life from grade school through college. I wish it would have been easier to stay in touch, but we both went in different directions.

I thank God that Charlie was a part of my life and added so much to it during those early days. I don’t think I ever told him how much our friendship meant to me. Of course it is too late now, but I pray that I will see him again some time and get to revel in our memories of our friendship so many years ago. I am sorry that he is gone.

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GOD’S COUNTRY?

With as many at 17 or more genres of music, it isn’t surprising that no one style is liked by everyone. Not everyone likes country music, and it is not necessarily my favorite, but I do like a lot of it. I especially like the songs that honor the Lord.

Country singer Blake Shelton currently has a hit with the title “God’s Country” that intrigues me. In the opening lines the writer says he “got a deed to the land, but it ain’t my ground – it is God’s country.” He then thanks God for the rain that “brings grain and a little bit of money,” and they “put it back in the plate” (referring I’m sure to the offering plate at church). Based on that, he suggests “I guess that’s why they call it God’s country.”

Drawing from an older country song the writer notes “The devil went down to Georgia, but he didn’t stick around – This is God’s country.” Not only that, they “turned the dirt and worked until the week’s done,” only to “take a break and break bread on Sunday” because they’re “proud to be from God’s country.” Towards the end of the song there are references to “getting baptized in holy water,” “saved,” and getting “Heaven bound.”

In the last verse the author tells us “I don’t care what my headstone reads,
or what kind of pine wood box I end up in; when it’s my time, lay me six feet deep
in God’s country.”

I have to admit that in just reading the lyrics, I agree that the song is certainly corny in many respects. Nevertheless, it also expresses an important biblical point. Psalm 24:1 and 2 declares, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.”

When it comes to the earth, all of it is God’s Country. Not only does the earth belong to God, everything in it belongs to him, including all of the people. And it all belongs to God because he is the creator.

My take on what the song is saying is that if an area is acknowledged by people as belonging to God, it is his country. And that is somewhat true in terms of some areas and places. But the ultimate truth is that everything belongs to God whether people acknowledge it or not. And that it includes you and me – we belong to him.

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~ Olympic Jumping Complex – Adirondack Mountains</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>photo credit: Onasill ~ Bill Badzo <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/7156765@N05/45940154205″>Lake Placid  New York

 

MORE OF THIS AND LESS OF THAT

Since this past March and through today I have been reading and thinking a lot about a couple of subjects that are antithetical. In March I got and read a little book that expanded my understanding of one of the subjects. On Monday I read a challenging article online about the same subject (https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/june-web-only/what-psychology-offers-christians-amid-political-polarizati.html); and today I read another one online (https://www.challies.com/reading-classics-together/10-sure-marks-of-humility/). Not only have I been reading about these things, this evening I began working on my assigned subject for preaching in a couple of weeks and the passage includes teaching about the two opposites.

The antithetical qualities I’ve been thinking and reading about are humility and pride. It’s entirely possible that I’m giving attention to these matters because at the age of 68 I am still working on cultivating the one and eliminating the other.

Writer Tim Challies begins his article “Traits of a Humble Person” with the question, “Is there any trait more odious than pride or more precious than humility?” Challies is looking for a “no” answer, but I would say “yes” to both parts of the question; not, however, to minimize the odor of pride or the value of humility.

As the title of this post suggests, I’m looking and hoping for more humility and less pride not only in myself, but in all of us. Part of the challenge of making progress in cultivating humility and eliminating pride in our lives is coming to a clear understanding of what these words actually mean.

In a lot of what I have been reading about humility, often writers suggest what it is not rather than saying what it is. For example, in his excellent book Humilitas John Dickson says “Humility does not mean humiliation,” and then adds “Nor does it mean being a doormat for others” (p.22).

I agree with Dickson and question statements that say “a humble person thinks little of himself” or “a humble person thinks better of others than of himself.” Still another writer counters “Humility is NOT low self-image; it starts with a healthy view of self.” I think C.S. Lewis gave the best definition when he wrote, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

What are we to say about pride? I’m thinking pride is the opposite of humility and is often accompanied by selfishness. Borrowing from the Apostle Paul’s warning in Romans 12:3 we get a sense of pride, “Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves” (NLT).

I can’t give precise definitions of pride and humility, but I want to borrow from what Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said in 1964 about hard-core pornography. In one of the best-known phrases in the history of the Supreme Court he said, “I know it when I see it.”

I usually know both pride and humility when I see them. Sometimes, however, I’m not sure I see pride in myself. What I do know is that I need more humility and less pride. And maybe you do as well?

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THINKING BACK

Our church’s senior pastor covered the opening verses of Paul’s letter to the Philippians in our summer series this past weekend and prompted me to do some thinking back with one of his suggested applications.

In the greeting to what many call his “favorite church” Paul writes in verse 3, “I thank my God every time I remember you” (NIV). Another rendering “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God” (NLT). Underscoring Paul’s example, our pastor encouraged us to “remember the people who have given you joyful memories.”

Last night and today I have spent some time thinking back with joy about the many people who impacted me in terms of my Christian life and over 45 years of vocational ministry. There’s no way I can remember and list all of them, but I would like to list several whom God used to make a significant impact upon me.

Charles Carter, a young minister of a small church who welcomed my brother and me and baptized us into Christ.

John Russell, our first and only youth minister at that same church until I graduated from high school. No one has had a greater impact on me than John.

Most of the elders at Forest Dale Church of Christ during my junior high and senior high years; and Harvey Bream who was a member at our church and later president of Cincinnati Christian University.

Royce Cheeseman and Paul Lowry, elders at Northeast Christian Church in Columbus, Ohio, where I served as a youth minister intern the summer of 1970.

Jim Irby, minister, and the elders of Bridgetown Church of Christ in Cincinnati, Ohio, where I served for almost five years as youth minister.

Jim Smith and Jack Cottrell, professors at Cincinnati Christian Seminary.

Charly Williams, Jerry Finnie, and Jim Tyler who served as elders during my nine years as minister of Delaware Valley Church of Christ in the Philadelphia area, and Hugh Thomson who was a great friend and father figure to me.

Bruce Metzger, who was Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary and one of the smartest and kindest teachers I ever sat under.

Floyd Strater, Ralph Dornette, LeRoy Lawson, Ben Merold, Larry Winger, and Joe Grana – all area leaders in Southern California who welcomed me and encouraged me during my 30 years there.

Max Whiteman, Don Funkhouser, Greg Miller, Joe Anderson, Joe Bunker, Greg Flannery, Dave Hahn and other Vision Planning Team Members and elders who served in leadership with me during my 30 years at Discovery Christian Church.

As I continue to think back I know others will come to mind, but this list is a good beginning point of those who made a difference in my life and ministry and whom I remember today with great joy and gratitude.

As I review this list I am aware that I have not included any women. It isn’t because I don’t remember any women with joy or that I am a chauvinist. My life and ministry would not have been as joyful, productive, and enriched as it has been without the support of and care from many wonderful Christian women who made a difference in my life. I thank God for them, the men I have listed, and many others God has used to bless my life.

Following Paul’s example, and taking our pastor’s challenge, as I think about these and remember them with joy I thank God. Maybe this will encourage you to do some reflecting as well.

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IT HURTS!

If you’re reading this post I’m confident you have experienced and endured pain many times. I’m in one of those times myself this week and thought it might be therapeutic for me to write about it.

Pain has many faces with multiple levels resulting from a variety of causes. Our first thought when we think about pain is physical pain, but as common as it is, physical pain is not the only kind of pain or always the most hurtful.

In addition to physical pain, there is also emotional pain. And while there are other kinds of emotional pain, today I’m thinking about the emotional pain that accompanies grief. The basic definition of grief is “deep sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death.” I’m confident all of us have grieved the death of someone we loved and cared about.

The pain I am dealing with this week is not due to the passing of someone, but the death of our dog, Macy. In the same way that readers have grieved the loss of someone they love, most readers have also grieved the loss of a beloved pet.

A couple of quotes from an article I read Monday evening after Jan took her to the vet to be put to sleep helped me accept the deep pain I felt and the tears I shed. This observation was certainly true of Macy: “For many of us, a pet is not ‘just a dog’ or ‘just a cat,’ but rather a beloved member of our family, bringing companionship, fun, and joy to our lives.” And then the author described my response to our loss, “Most of us share an intense love and bond with our animal companions, so it’s natural to feel devastated by feelings of grief and sadness when a cherished pet dies.”

I didn’t need the advice of another writer, but appreciated the thought, “you should never feel guilty or ashamed about grieving for an animal friend.” A third writer’s insight is not especially encouraging, but may prove to be helpful: “The grieving process happens only gradually. It can’t be forced or hurried—and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving.”

This post may seem odd as the description of my blog is “Considering the Christian Life, the Bible, and the Church.” The death of a loved pet is not necessarily about the Bible or the Church; but it is part of the Christian life. I needed to write this and I hope you got something from it. Macy was a cherished part of our family the last 11 years and it hurts that she is gone.

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THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS: A BOOK REPORT

I’m not exactly sure what grade I was in when I wrote my first book report, but I know it was in grade school. After that we wrote book reports in junior high as well as in high school. Although we did a lot of reading in college and graduate school, and sometimes we wrote about what we read, they were not called book reports.

Until a couple of weeks ago I had never read John Bunyan’s classic The Pilgrim’s Progress. Leading up to Easter this past year I received emails almost daily about Revelation Media’s movie of the story. I wanted to see it, but it was only shown on two days – Thursday and Saturday before Easter and I couldn’t go either day.

Interested because of all the promotions about the movie, I thought about getting the book and reading it. My interest was confirmed when I visited a bookstore in town that was going out of business and I found The Pilgrim’s Progress marked down 60%. I couldn’t pass up such a deal so I bought it (at such a discount I knew it had to be God’s will!); and I’m glad I did.

Here’s a short book review of The Pilgrim’s Progress.

The flap on the cover on my copy reports that “John Bunyan was a seventeenth-century Baptist preacher and writer. He became imprisoned for his Christian beliefs, and it was at that time he began work on The Pilgrim’s Progress.” He wrote the book in 1688 and it “is an allegory on the Christian life.”

The framework of the book is the account of a storyteller’s dream he had of a Christian’s journey to the Celestial City. Reflecting the time in which it was written, there are sentences that seem awkward that I needed to read a couple of times to get the meaning.

The storyteller’s report of his dream is filled with designations and titles that enhance the “allegory on the Christian life.” In addition to Christian, other characters include Evangelist, Obstinate, Pliable, Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Patience, Apollyon, Faithful, Talkative, Hopeful, Ignorance, and Little-faith. In addition to the Celestial City, other places are the Slough of Dispond [sic], Vanity Fair, Graceless, Honesty, Giant Despair, and Doubting Castle.

Readers familiar with the Bible will note lots of references and allusions to verses and passages in the Bible. But readers do not have to know the Bible to engage the story. The flap on my copy notes the book “is regarded by many as one of the most significant religious works ever written.”

If this report sparks your interest I hope you will get and read the book. I think you will not only enjoy it, but also be challenged and encouraged. I think Revelation Media’s film will be available in the future. Having read the book, I look forward to seeing the movie.

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TROUBLED?

Christians sometimes are surprised when they face and deal with difficulties, setbacks, and roadblocks. And part of the reason they are surprised is because they think being a follower of Jesus should protect and insulate them from such things.

The Bible, however, does not promise that committing to live the Christian life guarantees constant smooth sailing. Not only does the Bible not make such a claim, it clearly teaches otherwise.

The clearest teaching, and perhaps best known, about this comes from Jesus himself. In what is called Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, in John 16:33 Jesus tells his followers “In this world you will have trouble” (NIV). Another translation (NLB) expands the idea of trouble with “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.”

Having made my initial decision to be a Christian at the age 12 in 1963, I certainly have not lived a trouble-free life with no trials and sorrows. And I’m confident that neither has any other believer who is reading this reflection.

What got me to thinking about this was the encouragement of Psalm 62:8 that a couple of authors cited in a book I recently finished (Untangling Emotions by J. Alasdair Groves and Winston T. Smith, p. 102). Here’s Psalm 62:8, “Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge” (NIV).

Note and consider the three points of the verse. First, it calls us to trust God. And then because we trust him, we are to pour out our hearts to him. Finally, the Psalmist tells us why we should trust God and pour out our hearts to him – because he is our refuge.

Taken by this verse, I checked some other renderings and thought The Contemporary English Version expanded on parts 2 and 3: “always tell him each one of your concerns. God is our place of safety.”

I’m drawn to and encouraged by the instruction of Psalm 62:8. I want to trust the Lord and pour out my heart to him telling him all of my concerns; and I want to do that because he is my refuge and a place of safety.

There is much more to prayer than just what Psalm 62:8 teaches us; but because we all will be troubled at times, I don’t think we should ignore or fail to put into practice what this verse teaches us. Do you?

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