Pastor’s Pen

Friday, September 21, 2018

I grew up on a hill farm in west Tennessee.  We raised cotton and corn as row crops.  In the early fifties we did not have a tractor so all of the soil preparation and planting was done with horses and mules.  I can, to this day, remember my dad plowing those crops row after row with those mule teams.  The fields were large, or at least they seemed that way to a small boy and the task to finish the work seemed impossible.  Yet, Dad would move down a row then turn and come back in the next row until the job was finished.  That lesson of perseverance and persistence has stayed with me in every task.

This great truth has been the backbone of every individual of accomplishment regardless of the field.  The father of modern Protestant missions, William Carey, said it best, “If he gives me credit for being a plodder, he will have described me justly.  I can persevere in any definite pursuit.  To this I owe everything.”  Carey endured extreme suffering and personal loss; yet he spent 41 years in India without a furlough.  Though his mission could only count some 700 converts in a nation of millions, he is attributed as paving the way for missionaries like Adoniram Judson, Hudson Taylor, David Livingston, and thousands of others.  He could plod.

I have watched ministers and laymen alike jump from place to place at the slightest inconvenience only to repeat the process in a different place.  True satisfaction is the prize of longevity and stability holds influence close to its heart.  

History is filled with those who made a difference and a lasting contribution because they persevered.  Noah Webster labored 36 years writing his dictionary, crossing the Atlantic twice to gather material.  Gibbon spent 26 years on his, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.  Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment”, one of the twelve masterpieces of the ages, was the product of unremitting toil for eight years.  Over 2,000 studies of it were found among his papers.  Leonardo Da Vinci worked on, “The Last Supper” for ten years, often so absorbed he forgot to eat for whole days.  George Stephenson spent 15 years to perfect the locomotive.  Watts worked for 30 years on the condensing engine.  It took Charles Goodyear ten years to perfect hard rubber amid public ridicule and poverty.  George Bancroft used 26 years of his life on the History of the United States.  The list goes on and on.

Today we are living in a microwave society with instant gratification on everyone’s mind.  Note worthy accomplishments require extensive planning, purposeful labor, and perseverance.  A.C. Lawson, in his book, The Touch of God, sums up the situation.  “Great men and women are not made overnight, but through the years, they have been making the most of their opportunities and possibilities.  They burned the midnight oil.  Then, at last, the world discovers them and their talents and gives them the well-earned applause and credit that is due them.”

Success has been described as ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration.  Those with short accomplishments have refused the long hours.  John Milton produced Paradise Lost through a 40-year investment.  The book that beside the Bible has influenced the most people was written from a Bedford jail over a twelve-year span.  It is called, Pilgrim’s Progress.  Longfellow put it this way:  “The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.”  Webster describes persistence as, “the state of occurring or existing beyond the usual, expected or normal time.”  The Oxford Dictionary called persistence, “the fact of continuing in an opinion or course of action in spite of difficulty.”

This last week, a dear friend and member of the Fairview Baptist Church went to heaven.  I was Jim Bright’s pastor for 28 years.  Jim and his sweet wife, Barsha, had been married for 62 years.  Several years ago our church gave Jim Bright a plaque marking 50 years in the bus ministry.  For a half century this humble man had visited, invited, and provided transportation for boys and girls to church.  He loved his Lord and shared the gospel with everyone he met.  I watched in amazement as people walked by his open casket for three and one-half hours to honor his life of persistence.

My greatest sadness is the unrealized potential of those I shepherd.  There is rarely a lack of talent or ability but a dearth of tenacity of soul that stops most from persevering.  My heart breaks to know a life lived half speed without direction.  The prophet spoke of God seeking a man . . . not just any man but a man to ‘make up the hedge and stand in the gap” (Ezekiel 22:30).

A postage stamp is successful because it sticks to its job.  Truly, the greatest ability is dependability.  The best takes time to produce.  Each mighty river is an accumulation of many raindrops.  Snowflakes make up the snowstorm and endless miles of beach is just small grains of sand.  Life is not made of years but of hours; the hours are just moments and the moments tick by as seconds.  It takes seventeen days to grow a squash plant but it takes 100 years to grow an oak tree.  

Life is a mixed bag.  My sainted mother was fond of saying, “You must take the bitter with the sweet.”  There are mountaintop and valley experiences.  Laughter and tears take their turns.  You can always tell the depth of a man’s character by what it takes to stop him.  We should teach our children at a young age not to quit but finish each task.  Granted, it is easier to start a journey than to continue when the road gets rough.  My plea to those along the way is to persevere.  The stakes are high.  The blessing is just over the next rise.  As a pastor, I have met many who were living lives of regret.  Broken homes, abandoned church membership, unattained careers, and unrealized influence all make up the list of what might have been.  The powerful truth is that it is always darkest before dawn.  Keep on keeping on.  Never give up on God, yourself, or others.  Others are watching as we go through the hard times.

I am plowing the short rows now.  For sure there are many things I cannot do, but I can stand in the gap.  I can plod.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Very few people identify a personal life philosophy that governs them.  The broad band of humanity travels happily along a road of convenience choosing diverse plans that offer the most for the moment.  In our day commitment levels are low and personal gratification is the main course on the menu.

If you boil down all tangent issues, life is usually governed by two competing philosophies.  Secular humanism or a biblical worldview account for the two major approaches to life.  I will readily admit that they are not as clearly defined today as they were 100 years ago.   Many aspects of humanism have been mixed into portions of the thought lives of people who claim to be Bible-believers.  The mixture is unexplainable, and indefensible when considering the two basic belief systems are total opposites.

The philosophy of humanism has been interwoven in mankind since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.  It was clearly defined in three manifestos that lay out the humanist worldview.  They are the original of 1933 called, “Humanist Manifesto I, the second in 1973, and Humanism and Aspirations or the third in 2003.  The central theme of all three manifestos is the elaboration of a philosophy and value system, which does not include belief in a personal deity or higher power.

The five recurring tenants present in all humanistic thought are atheism, evolution, amorality, self-autonomy of man, and a one world government or internationalism.  The casual observer can see the conflict between this belief system or worldview and a biblical worldview.  The original authors, including John Dewey, actually talked of this being a new religion to replace existing religion.  Each of the three were signed at launch by prominent members of academia and from the beginning, penetrated all forms of public education.  The tenants of humanism gave credence to relativism as opposed to absolutes, the temporal as opposed to eternal, naturalism as opposed to supernaturalism, pragmatism as opposed to being principle-driven, and human-centered as opposed to God-centered.  The flow of this ideology worked to produce outcome-based thinking rather than truth-based decision-making.  It captured a tone of situational ethics which was flexible to the bearer while admitting a biblical worldview is inflexible and rigid.  I have watched this paralysis creep across society over these past 60 years.  From childhood, the man without God will migrate through the maze of secular humanism his entire life.

Man in his natural state cannot understand life through a biblical worldview.  After redemption through acceptance of the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ, the true believer has the ability to place each circumstance in the crucible of God’s Word.  Only then does life and eternity become understandable.  The three foundational proposals of a Biblical worldview bring clarity into the dark, unconverted caverns of human life.

God created all that is.  Evolution is the attempt of the unregenerate mind to be unaccountable to the God Who created him.  If God created all that is for His glory, man cannot usurp that position.  Man’s ultimate end is to glorify God instead of deifying himself.

For the believer who rejects relative secularism and embraces the Christ and a biblical worldview, discernment between right and wrong is apparent.  I often stand in amazement as I hear intellectually sound individuals make foolish statements.  The biblical worldview straightens out the questions about the sanctity of life, sexual orientation, marriage, character, morality, direct creationism, and scores of priority decisions.  

A Biblical worldview understands that we are simply managers of the things God places in our hands, and will give account one day as to how we honored Him with these circumstances and things.  Humanism confuses personal success, equating it with bank balances and prosperity.  A biblical worldview defines success as obedience to God’s express commands.  Interaction with others, relationships, time management, and appropriation of life’s moments all play a role in the life governed by a biblical worldview.

We come into this world with empty hands.  We leave it the same way.  During that intervening time we call “life” something governs our thoughts and actions.  Either self or scripture calls the plays.  A simple observation of this world’s system indicates that it lies in the lap of the Evil One.  The concoction of the orderly arrangement of this world is not of God.  The world of sports, the world of finance, the world of fashion, and all other elements were devised by Satan to drown people in the indulgence of them.

The secular worldview seeks to replace the anchor of biblical mandates with the quicksand of personal indulgence.  The bait is out and the trap is set.  The outcome is predictable.  To vie from a biblical worldview establishes an entangling, temporal reward system . . . a set of silver handcuffs that hold men fast in an ideology that leaves God out.  Individuality is lost and the herd mentality drives men farther from God and deeper into the abyss of the secular system.

During my 50 years of ministry, I have watched good families eliminate their future heritage by failing to provide their children with a clear biblical worldview.  It is easier to join the ranks of the accepted than to diligently follow biblical principles.

Two competing philosophies are at play.  A secular relativism that follows the guidelines of a world that will pass away with all of its lusts and attractions or a biblical worldview ordered by an eternal God outlined in scripture with present and eternal rewards.  We all have the opportunity to choose.