Pastor’s Pen

Friday, January 11, 2019

Are You Prepared?

     In the early morning hours of December 22, 2018, my heart suddenly decided it didn’t wish to continue its normal routine of the past 76 years.  A dear friend broke most of the speeding laws getting me to the Athens hospital. A group of caring professionals (some who call me pastor) did their thing then sent me by ambulance to Park West Hospital in Knoxville.  I was told later that the accompanying paramedics had to convince my heart the second time that its work wasn’t complete.  I spent five days in Park West constantly surrounded by individuals who were focused on my recovery.  How do you say thank you to so many nameless, faceless people who interrupted their lives to care for an old pastor most had never met?  How do you say thank you to the Christian community from coast to coast that interceded before the throne on my behalf?  
     After two weeks plus have passed, I have determined two responses from the happenings of the morning of December 22.  First, I have determined not to make this the topic of every conversation and second, I want to drink in the eternal and temporal lessons rarely given to a mortal man this side of eternity. What was it that brought such a calmness of soul and peace of heart while this old body was being treated in a fashion certainly not calmly or peacefully.
     The word that keeps coming back to my mind over and over again is “preparation.”  For you see, my entire life has been a preparation for those moments of the morning of December 22, 2018.  Hundreds of thousands of hours of trusting and serving my Savior resulted in just such an opportunity to be still and know that He was God.
     All of life is preparatory.  It is a stark truth that each person has before him a journey of eternal duration. No one has the option to excuse oneself or choose the day of departure.  We do have this brief and fleeting segment of our eternity called “life” and within this brief time we can prepare for the inevitable.  Do we use this time wisely or ignore its purpose or even spend it wastefully on things that in the grand scheme of things really don’t matter?
     Some years ago a grand trunk line railroad offered a prize of $2,500.00 to the person who would suggest the three best words to be used on the warning signs at their railroad crossings.  The person fortunate enough to win the $2,500.00 offered these three words which we see almost daily as we are brought to the intersections of public roads and the iron rails of the train tracks:  Stop, Look, Listen.  But these words avail nothing for the safety of anyone unless they are heeded.  What avail the word “stop” if people will not stop?  What protection does the word “look” afford if people will not look?  What warning does the word “listen” give if people will not listen?
     My intention is not to sermonize, although tempted, but to be reminded and remind others to be prepared.  All the pharmacies of Athens do not contain enough medicine to kill a simple germ or ease a single pain unless the medicine is taken.  A man can die of thirst in the middle of crystal clear fountains unless he drinks.  No lifeboat will be the avenue to prevent a drowning if one refuses to get into the lifeboat.
     The word prepare is soaked in simplicity.  It is the lack of it that creates anxiety.  There is great wisdom in the word.  The lowly ant is elevated to the wise quartet of Proverbs 30 because it engaged in preparation for its pending survival.
     Abraham Lincoln said of preparation,  “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I would spend eight six hours sharpening my axe.  Mark Twain expressed its importance when he humorously stated, “It takes me two or three days to prepare an impromptu speech.”  The student unprepared for the test will fail.  The team unprepared for the game will lose.  The army unprepared for the war will be defeated.
     Scriptures are replete with admonition to be prepared.  Amos the prophet was God’s thunder over Israel.  In the midst of a nation that had turned its attention from God to embark on idolatry and riotous living, Amos’ message was simple, “Prepare to meet thy God” (Amos 4:12).
The clarion call reverberates through man’s history.  The power show of nature, the fury of a storm, the belching’s of the volcano, the gale force winds, the unbearable cold, and the baking desert cry out to feeble man, “get ready” for you will meet the One Who holds your soul in His hand.  You must meet God.  All must; rich, poor, wise, illiterate.  All.  You can avoid worship services. You can ignore the preacher.  You can deceive men and yourself.  You can laugh at the Bible and deny there is eternity and judgment, but God will have the last word. You will meet God.  Man cannot escape this meeting by pleading ignorance.  The heavens declare it.  The truth is so plain and seen so clearly as a path of tar across a field of snow.
     People prepare for everything and are ready for everything except death and to meet God.  The world of people strives daily to amass their fortunes.  The Hollywood establishment parades in its finest.  The world of academia works to make profundity from simplicity, and religion with all its trappings applauds its own self-righteousness.  What a terrible solemn thing for the unsaved to meet God unprepared.  To stand on nothing before the One Who created everything.  To have no refuge when judgment thunders and judgment verdicts are rendered.
     The fact that God asks us to prepare shows that preparation is possible.  Over five decades ago on January 2, 1966, I received God’s payment for my sin debt in the vicarious substitutionary death of Christ.  That night on my knees I prepared for eternity and secured my soul in Christ.  Every moment of every day since then including the early morning hours of December 22, I have been ready to meet the God Who created me, loved me, and redeemed me, and Who I continue to serve today.  Are you prepared?

Friday, January 4, 2019

There are some of life’s ingredients that remind me of my Mother’s home cooking.  Growing up in an old country home with little access to processed foods, Momma, like most country ladies, cooked things from “scratch.”  Best I can remember, that process involved a pinch of this and a pinch of that, all from memory without consulting any written recipe.  Life itself is such a mixture, a pinch of this and a pinch of that.  The mixing bowl contains bitter and sweet, all working together for our good and God’s glory.

Due to some recent health problems, I have been reminded of some double-sided words.  One that keeps popping up in my mind is contentment.  From my earliest days on the farm, then in college, graduate school, and as pastor, I labored incessantly seeming never to be satisfied with the days’ accomplishments.  Enough was never enough!  My lifelong friend, Dr. Dolphus Price, exclaimed to me that he had never gone to bed a day in his life that he had done everything he wanted to do that day.  Was he wrong?  Is industry and tenacity bad?  I think not.  After all, the scripture is clear:  “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10a).   Personally, I have a bit of distain for a shiftless, lazy mentality.  Low bar living has never appealed to me.  But there is another side to the coin.  The Bible also states, “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content” (I Timothy 6:8).  Clearly the industry of the equation is in the procurement of that food and raiment.  We are raising a generation satisfied, yes, even contented, in the food and raiment of life being provided for them by someone else.  Contentment in an entitlement mentality is miles away from the real meaning of contentment.  “The height by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night”  (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow).  I recall hearing my spiritual grandfather, Dr. R.G. Lee, state, “No man has the right to a night’s rest who has not had a hard day’s work.”

On Sunday afternoons in late spring in our farming community in west Tennessee, it was not uncommon to see farmers in pick-up trucks riding the roads viewing the fields covered with row upon row of new corn or soybeans or cotton.  There was a certain contentment that accompanied those excursions.  Contentment born from toil that produced . . . contentment in knowing proper preparations and patient labor that was needed to bear its designated fruits.

I have seen malcontents for fifty plus years; people who hopped from one job to another job, marriage-to-marriage, and church-to-church.  Without exception, each one expected a result that was improbable most often, impossible, without the prelude of required due diligence.  

God does give certain commands that if followed properly will reap specific benefits.  One of those benefits is contentment.  Russell Conwell, in his all time classic, Acres of Diamonds, explores the great lesson: how to find your own wealth.  He tells of an ancient Persian, Ali Hafed, who owed a very large farm that, boasted orchards, grain fields, and gardens.  Ali was not only wealthy but also contented.  One day a visitor from the East told Ali about diamonds and diamond mines of his own country.  Ali Hafed went to bed that night a poor man, poor because he was discontented.  He sold his beautiful farm and travelled the world over searching for the rare stones.  He became poor, broken and defeated and in despondence took his own life.  Conwell recorded the account of the man who had purchased Hafed’s farm watering his camels in the brook that ran through the farm.  The man saw a flash of light from the sands of the stream.  He pulled from the water a stone that reflected all the hues of the rainbow.  The man had discovered the diamond mine of Golconda; the most magnificent diamond mine in all history.  If Ali Hafed had remained at home contended to dig in his own garden, he would have had acres of diamonds.

Benjamin Franklin put it best when he said, “Contentment makes poor men rich; discontentment makes rich men poor.”  Fanny Crosby caught the truth of contentment even though she lives her life sightless.  She worked the garden God gave her and tens of thousands of believers have been lifted to the heights by the words of her inspired hymns.  At a very early age she wrote, “Oh, what a happy soul I am, although I cannot see.  I am resolved that in this world contented I will be.  How many blessings I enjoy that other people don’t.  To weep and sigh because I’m blind, I cannot and I won’t.”

These paradoxes are baffling to the world, but are perfectly normal to the believer.  To the student of the Word, God has a way of taking complex truth and making it simple.  Truths such as:

  • The believer can see that which is invisible

  • The believer can be a conqueror only by yielding

  • For the believer the way up is down.

  • For the believer the cross is before the crown.

  • The believer is made free by becoming a bond slave to his Master

  • The believer saves his life by losing it and loses his life by seeking to save it

Life’s true contentment never comes from pleasure, power, or possessions but from being fitted in His yoke of service.  We live in a weary world made up of exhausted players seeking contentment in all the wrong things.  The answer is so simple we stumble across it in pursuit of the world’s bobbles and trinkets.  Paul revealed it to his young son in the faith in I Timothy 6:6 where he states that godliness with contentment is great gain.  As an old preacher, Paul had served well during times of abundance and abasement, everywhere and in all things.  His conclusion was he wanted nothing because he had learned to be content.  What a grand life lesson.  Few of us ever learn it.  Those that do can do all things through Christ!