Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Secret Door

We checked into our house on Saturday. It was a nice house and, like nearly every other house on Edisto Beach, it sat high above the ground, with the front door accessible by a flight of stairs. And when you consider my bedroom was on the second floor, well, that’s a lot of stairs to climb in a week. But that’s a different story . . .

Shortly after we arrived we found another set of stairs. These stairs were narrow and enclosed. They were sort of fun so we often ran up and down them. Sunday I discovered another door, next to the door of this stairway. It was small and inconspicuous so it was easy to overlook.

But I notice everything, so I didn’t miss it. I wondered about this door. It was interesting, mysterious, puzzling, baffling, perplexing, fascinating, even riveting; and I, being a curious fellow, took a deep breath and opened the door

How disappointing. It was just the electric panel. Oh well, we were at the beach and had plenty of things and places to enjoy so the little door was forgotten.

Tuesday morning, as I passed by the door, I felt a pulse of energy, a surge that had a slightly bigger bite than static electricity. That was odd. I thought I detected the slightest fragrance of the beach. I placed my hand gently on the little door and it was warm! My hand was trembling as I slowly opened the little door.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was looking at the beach! Edisto Beach. The beach is two blocks away, but there it was, right in front of me. I stretched out my arm, it went through the door and I could feel the sun on my arm, while the rest of me was standing in the air conditioned house.

I looked around, there was no one else downstairs with me, so I did what anyone would do, I climbed through the door and I was standing on the beach. This is exciting, a secret door to the beach! If there was a downside to this it was that there was no secret door back, I had to walk back to the house. But it is a nice walk, so I didn’t mind.

I didn’t tell anyone else about this, not yet. I probably should have but I didn’t. I went back to the house and when no one was looking, I opened the door. Nothing. Just a panel. This was strange. I know I had passed through it to the beach this morning. Then about four o’clock that afternoon I felt that surge again. I opened the door and there was the beach. Ten in the morning and four in the afternoon. Is this a pattern? Only one way to find out. I tried it at 10 pm and 4 am. Yes, a pattern! I only assume you can climb through the door at 10 and 4 because there were too many people up at 10 and I’m not climbing through a door to the beach at 4 am!

I took the door down to the beach twice on Wednesday. I was having a blast but I still hadn’t told anyone else. I’m not sure why. I wasn’t sure it would work for anyone else. I knew the only way to find out that answer was to test it, but for now this little door was my secret. Tomorrow. I will tell everyone tomorrow.

Thursday morning. Ten o’clock. There was a pulse of energy near the door and it felt warm to the touch. But I was shocked when I opened it this time

This is not Edisto Beach. It is Kahana Bay on Oahu in Hawai’i. How cool is this? I can go to Kahana Bay today! Then I remembered the downside – I can step through the door and immediately be at the beach, but there is no door back. I have to walk back. And there is just no walking back from Kahana Bay. I quickly shut the door. I was scared. I can’t tell them now, these boys might try to go on an adventure and then we couldn’t get them back.

Four o’clock Thursday afternoon and it was Edisto again. Fascinating. I stepped through to the beach. I will tell them tomorrow.

Then we got a phone call informing us we had to leave tomorrow. Hurricane Irma was bearing down on us and they wanted us out. Thursday night we packed and Friday we left. Tomorrow never came. I never told anyone about my secret door. Sometimes I feel guilty about that.

What would you have done?

Monday, September 11, 2017

We sang a hymn but they changed the words

Yesterday we sang a hymn at church. I was excited, because I know it (and I know so few of the songs we sing). O sad discovery – they had changed the words! I determined to look it up when I got home. I did just that and I have to admit, I was surprised. Shocked, really. I got to this site  and discovered eleven versions. Haha! What? Add to that, the author seems to have published three different versions himself. And, his original version has five stanzas instead of the three we sing today.

Now, about the author.  “Robert Robinson was just a small boy when his dad died. In 18th century England, there was little in the way of a social welfare system and this meant that he had to go to work while still very young. Without a father to guide and steady him, Robert fell in with bad companions.
One day his gang of rowdies harassed a drunken gypsy. Pouring liquor into her, they demanded she tell their fortunes for free. Pointing her finger at Robert she told him he would live to see his children and grandchildren. This struck a tender spot in his heart. "If I'm going to live to see my children and grandchildren," he thought, "I'll have to change my way of living. I can't keep on like I'm going now."
Robert Robinson decided to go hear the Methodist preacher George Whitefield. To cover his "weak" urge, he suggested that the boys go with him and heckle the gathering. Whitefield preached on the text: "O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" (Matthew 3:7). Robert left in dread, under a deep sense of sin that lasted for three years.
Finally, at the age of twenty, Robert made peace with God and immediately set out to become a Methodist preacher himself. Two years later, in 1757, he wrote a hymn which expressed his joy in his new faith” (his story)  [Did you notice Whitefield's text? This is how they used to preach]

Here is the version I am familiar with:

Come Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I'm fixed upon it,
Mount of God's unchanging love.

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I'm come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let that grace now like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

There are two portions that almost everyone alters: Here I raise my Ebenezer and Interposed His precious blood.
Ebenezer comes from 1 Samuel 7:12, Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us. Ebenezer means Stone of Help.
Interpose - place or insert between one thing and another. Robinson has painted a powerful picture with this word!

I’m fully convinced we should sing the original and simply explain the difficult parts. And speaking of the original, here it is:

Come, Thou fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Cloth├Ęd then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send Thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

This is a good song!! I really don’t understand why people feel the need to change someone’s poetry – if you don’t like what he wrote, write your own song! What are the chances I will ever sing the original in a public service? Probably not real good. Meanwhile, here’s my plea to sing the three stanza version above.

Stay focused, Grandaddy

It is at least three and a half hours from here to Edisto Beach. And when you are in a jeep with no windows you can’t listen to music, so you think a lot. The first half of my trip I was by myself and thought a lot of thoughts.

I’m considering a series of blog posts on words you don’t hear anymore in church. One of them is backslider. On my way down to Orangeburg I was thinking about what it means to backslide. The obvious meaning is to slide back, go backwards, lose the progress you’ve made to that point. Then I had the thought, “It’s not always about going backwards as such, sometimes you go sideways, you go off in a different direction.” Since I was unable to write anything down, my mind jumped to the next thread.

I made it to Orangeburg, where I met up with Mary and Anne and her crew for our traditional lunch at Chick-fil-A. Aimee, Drew, and Scarlett rode down with Anne (Dave and the other boys drove separately). Aimee wanted to ride down to Edisto with me in the jeep, so after lunch we were off!

There are two ways to get to Edisto: you can go on down I-95 to Walterboro or you can get off at Canadys and go through the country. I always get off at Canadys! I mean, you get to go through Round O and Jacksonboro. Very pretty drive with little to no traffic. Basically, the only thing we saw was a couple of men standing in the road with rifles. Ha! Hunters!

Anyway, you take Round O Road until it runs into Jacksonboro Road. Well, hard surface Round O ends here, but across Jacksonboro Rd there is a sandy road that continues. When we got to it I commented, “I wonder where that goes.”

Aimee immediately exhorted me, “Stay focused Grandaddy, stay focused!”

Yes, indeed. I turned right and continued on to Edisto. But my mind immediately returned to my thoughts on backsliding. What a good picture this was! I came close to being distracted, losing my focus and direction, and getting sidetracked. The goal today was Edisto. There was nothing down that road equal to Edisto Beach. “Stay focused, Jeff. Stay on the road to Edisto.”

Is that not how backsliding works sometimes? Paul described the attitude that should be ours:
Brethren, this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. And why? If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.
Oftimes we get distracted, we see a little dirt road and wander down that instead of pressing toward the mark - the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Stay focused. Stay on the path. And if you've taken a side road, turn back to the path that leads to glory.

You see? A word rightly timed!

let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us,
and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 
looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Surf’s up!

We arrived in Edisto Beach on Saturday afternoon. As soon as we unloaded the cars we went down to the beach. The beach, as usual, was beautiful and the ocean was extremely calm. But Irma.

Irma is a hurricane in the Atlantic that is heading our way. I knew this would have an impact on the waves by the middle of the week and sure enough, Tuesday’s surf forecast proved it

I was excited (even though I will admit, some of this is downright scary) and went out and bought a new belly board this morning. Then Ryan and I went out to the beach. The surf was probably 1-3 ft with the occasional 4 ft wave thrown in, which is really good for Edisto.  We belly boarded until the waves began to die down. And I gotta give Ryan credit – he’s my 12 year old grandson - he stayed out as long as I did! Then we went in to get something to eat and wait for the afternoon.

We went back to the beach between 3 and 4 and found the waves were still down, so the boys began to fish

Suddenly, the surf picked up. I went back to the house and got my board and Drew and I went out. I’m guessing it was a steady 2-4 ft with maybe an occasional 5 footer. They were coming in bunches! I told Drew at one point, “If you miss one there’s two or three right after it!” And of course, if you caught one there were four or five pounding you as you tried to get back out.

My new board is a lot bigger than the other ones I’ve been using the last few years so I was having to adjust to that. And with the wind blowing so hard it had a tendency to hit me in the head. I told Drew at one point, “I feel like I bought this new board so I could hit myself in the head!” He asked if it was worth it. Yeah!

I enjoyed the afternoon but here is how it went. When I first went out, I tried to go over a wave with the board (normally, I dive under the wave holding on to the leash). I was holding the board with my right hand (the right shoulder has been hurting lately) and the wave caught the board and jerked my shoulder back. My first conscious thought after Ow!!! was, “I won’t do that again!” And as I hoped it wouldn’t continue to hurt (I fully intended to stay out anyway) my next thought was, “I wonder if I can take Meloxicam* three times a day (instead of twice).”

Then after catching a wave I noticed that the leash had cut into the board!! Wow, I have never seen this before. I removed the leash from the board and kept on surfing. Sometime later my leash came completely untied. I have never seen this either. And on the first day! Drew went in and I stayed out a little while longer before heading in to eat supper.

So, with all this, how was my day with the larger surf and my new board? GREAT! And once I get the leash problem fixed I plan to go out tomorrow.

Surf’s up, Dude!

*Meloxicam is a non steroid anti inflammatory that I take when my shoulder hurts

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Only spiritual?

I had the opportunity to preach this past Sunday. In one part of my message I briefly touched on the phrase, obeying the truth through the Spirit, and said that baptism is a vital part of our response to the Gospel (repentance, faith, baptism). At the close of my message we celebrated the Lord’s Supper. I believe the Bible is very clear: both of these physical acts are means of spiritual grace; that is, when I am baptized in water and when I eat the bread and drink the fruit of the vine, I receive a spiritual benefit.

I got to thinking about this. Christianity is a spiritual faith. The Law dealt with meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances. By carnal he means physical, external. The people, the temple, the priesthood, the sacrifices, the worship were all carnal - they all dealt with physical things. The gospel tells us there has been a great change - we are a spiritual people; the temple, the priesthood, the sacrifices, the worship are all spiritual. And yet . . .

And yet what? How in the world can water baptism impart anything spiritual? How can eating bread and drinking the fruit of the vine be a means of receiving Christ and his grace? Because even though the gospel deals with spiritual realities, God has not abandoned the physical part of life.

Think about it. One of the pillars of the New Testament, one of the foundations of the Gospel itself is a physical act, the Incarnation, And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. Further, He was born of a Jewish woman, of the family of David, in the city of Bethlehem. If any one of these fleshly things are not true, He is not the Messiah and we are yet in our sins! The other pillar of the Gospel is also fleshly – this Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of man, was crucified, died and was buried, then God raised that body from the dead! This resurrection was not a spiritual event, it was a carnal event - His flesh was brought back to life and glorified. Again, if it did not happen this way we have no hope, no certainty that death has been defeated and we can have eternal life.

God made us spirit, soul, and body. And He saves us spirit, soul, and body. Much of Christendom has reduced our blessed hope down to “die and go to heaven”, yet Jesus promises to raise our fleshly bodies from the grave and give us, the whole us, eternal life: because I live, ye shall live also; For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead; For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.  And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. Amen!

Salvation is not only a future resurrection of the flesh, but we live for Christ in this body. With our bodies we pray and worship, with our bodies we fast, with our bodies we suffer for Him. He sanctifies us so that our physical acts, what we do in the body, can become spiritual acts and a means of glorifying Him – eating, sleeping, working, marrying, making love to your spouse, bearing children, all of these physical or fleshly activities can become spiritual. The problem with the flesh (body), is not it’s desires, the problem is when the fulfillment of these desires rule us and are fulfilled outside of his will. Putting it plainly: eating is not unspiritual, gluttony is; sleeping is not unspiritual, laziness is (what the Bible calls being a “sluggard”); sex is not unspiritual, sex outside of marriage is (fornication, adultery, uncleanness), Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.

The salvation of Christ is forgiveness of sins, but it is also deliverance from the tyranny of the flesh. Whereas I once lived according to philosophy (human wisdom, what my soul thought was reasonable), and according to the flesh (living to satisfy the desires of the flesh, “if it feels good, do it”), now my mind and my flesh are ruled by the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit enables me to bring my desires and passions under His control.

Amen! But haven’t I gone far afield from my original question about baptism and the Lord’s Supper? Not at all. Christ sanctifies us spirit, soul, and body, and he uses physical activities to minister His grace to us. What exactly happens when I am baptized and partake of the Lord’s Supper is beyond the scope of this post, my point is simply that something happens; they are not merely symbols of something else, grace is offered and received through these physical acts. And this is not unusual. In my message I also pointed out when a brother or sister is hungry, we should feed them, if they are thirsty we are to give them something to drink, if they are naked, clothe them, if they have nowhere to live, provide housing, if they are sick or in prison we should visit them. Each of these is a physical need, and the spiritual response is to meet that need.

As I said at the beginning, I got to thinking about that. And I say in my email signature, “I think more thoughts than will fit in my head, so I write them down.” And that’s what happened here!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Challenge and Comfort in Psalm 10

The church we are attending has a Scripture reading each Sunday. We are currently reading through the Psalms: the reader will read a verse, the congregation reads the next and so on through the selected portion. The pastor must have decided to limit the readings to ten or eleven verses or else that is what will fit in the bulletin because that is about the length of each reading. The only downside to this is many Psalms have to be divided, even a short psalm like Psalm 10. So we read the first eleven verses and have to wait until next week for the rest of the story.

Psalm 10 opens with a bang, Why standest thou afar off, O Lord? why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble? And the next ten verses present a lament, a complaint even. In the second half of the Psalm David finds comfort in the Lord, but we didn’t see that! I was struck by that and commented on the first verse and then mentioned the resolution in the last few verses as I began my sermon. Let’s take a quick look at the whole Psalm and see the challenge and the comfort.

Challenge to faith 1-11
1 Why standest thou afar off, O Lord? why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?
This is a haunting verse. And if we’re honest, we have uttered this question. Spurgeon commented, “It is not the trouble, but the hiding of our Father's face, which cuts us to the quick."

Then, in verses 2-11, he describes the wicked man and it is enlightening to see what God highlights as wickedness. “There is not, in my judgment, a Psalm which describes the mind, the manners, the works, the words, the feelings, and the fate of the ungodly with so much propriety, fulness, and light, as this Psalm.” (Luther)

2 The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor: let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined.
3 For the wicked boasteth of his heart's desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the Lord abhorreth.
4 The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.
5 His ways are always grievous; thy judgments are far above out of his sight: as for all his enemies, he puffeth at them.
6 He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved: for I shall never be in adversity.
7 His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud: under his tongue is mischief and vanity.
8 He sitteth in the lurking places of the villages: in the secret places doth he murder the innocent: his eyes are privily set against the poor.
9 He lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den: he lieth in wait to catch the poor: he doth catch the poor, when he draweth him into his net.
10 He croucheth, and humbleth himself, that the poor may fall by his strong ones.
11 He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten: he hideth his face; he will never see it.

What are the sins of the wicked? Pride. Persecuting and oppressing the poor. Boasting. Blessing the covetous. (And notice, the Lord abhors the covetous.)  He does not seek God or think about Him. Cursing, deceit, fraud, mischief, and vanity. God is not in his thoughts, but when he does think of God he says, God hath forgotten; he will never see it.

There are times when men like this prevail and oppress the poor and innocent. The righteous cry and nothing happens. No wonder David asks, Why standest thou afar off, O Lord? why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?

The comfort of faith 12-18
12 Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up thine hand: forget not the humble.
13 Wherefore doth the wicked contemn God? he hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require it.
14 Thou hast seen it; for thou beholdest mischief and spite, to requite it with thy hand: the poor committeth himself unto thee; thou art the helper of the fatherless.
15 Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man: seek out his wickedness till thou find none.
Here is the prayer of the righteous, "Arise and forget not."

Wherefore doth the wicked contemn God? Contemn is an old word, it means to scorn or despise. The wicked do not think about God often, yet when they do it is to despise and scorn him, he hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require it. "I can do what I want, He won’t do a thing about it."

Thou hast seen it; for thou beholdest mischief and spite, to requite it with thy hand: the poor committeth himself unto thee; thou art the helper of the fatherless.
Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man: seek out his wickedness till thou find none.
But the righteous knows in his heart, God has seen it and will take up the cause of the poor and defenseless. Break the arm of the wicked. Break his strength and power; bring an end to his oppression.

16 The Lord is King for ever and ever: the heathen are perished out of his land.
17 Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear:
18 To judge the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress.
Amen! The Lord is King for ever. I may not see his outstretched arm right now, the wicked may say, God has forgotten, but it is not true. He is King. He is Lord. He is God. He sits on the throne. The end of the wicked is sure. The King has heard the desire of the humble, he will judge the fatherless and the oppressed.

David began with the heavy notes of despair and ends with joyful confidence in the Lord who is King for ever. My King hath not forgotten! He will hear our prayer! He will rescue us! Justice and righteousness will be seen on the earth.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The importance of warming up

We picked up my grandson Ryan so he could spend a week with us. That was last Friday and we’ve been busy.

Monday morning we went to a local park with baseball fields so we could play catch. To our dismay we found all four fields padlocked and inaccessible, but then we discovered the batting cages. And they were unlocked! We availed ourselves of this boon – I pitched while he practiced batting left handed. Lot of fun. Then in the afternoon we tossed the ball for a while. Good day.

Tuesday morning we headed back to the batting cages. We went straight to work. I threw the first pitch. And it hurt! My shoulder that is. I tossed another one. Man! (I should take a moment to explain – my left shoulder hurt last year and I came oh so close to having surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. Insurance denied the surgery and I took steroid pills which seemed to work wonders, the pain in my left shoulder is almost non-existent. Now my right shoulder is giving me trouble and this was the shoulder that was hurting.) Ryan noticed my pain and said, “We can go back home.” Very thoughtful, but I replied, “No way!” Then he suggested we warm up first.

What a novel idea and great suggestion! (You see, in my head I’m still 25-30 years old and undamaged.) We got closer together and began to toss the ball back a forth. At first it hurt, but as we continued to toss the ball the pain went away. I backed up a few steps and continued to toss the ball. A couple more steps back and so on until I was at the spot where I would be pitching. Arm limbered up, no pain, ready to go. Which we did.

This shows the importance of warming up. Of course, I’m having to take a non-steroid anti-inflammatory to alleviate the pain in my shoulder, but I can still pitch if I warm up properly!!