Pastor's Desk

in an hour you think not
Bro. Clifford Hurst 3/17/2019
When teaching a particularly involved or detailed subject in Bible school, I remember times when it seemed the class had just tuned out. Eyes had drooped shut or glazed over. Minds had meandered to milder meadows. Some students were trying to appear interested, but their blank stares betrayed them. I would stop lecturing and announce with a raised voice of alarm: “Jesus is about to come right now!” Some industrious student who had been making a Herculean effort to listen would raise his hand and incredulously inquire, “How can you know that?” I’d answer, “Because Jesus said He was coming in an hour when ‘ye think not,’ and nobody’s doing any thinking.” Of course, I was making a pun with different uses of the word “think.” Jesus used “think” to refer to one’s opinion, judgment, estimation. He was saying, I will come again when in the unprepared’s opinion, judgment, estimation, I wouldn’t. I employed “think” to reference the students’ using their brains to engage the material, using their cognitive abilities to reflect and reason. Arguably, there is a strong case that in our society people simply can’t be thinking. The things they say and do defy reason, logic, and common sense. But, there is another usage of “think.” Think also means to regard or to consider. In this sense, people are no longer thinking. They are not thinking of God. Thoughts of God are congenitally native to humanity. The human psyche must be programmed, suppressed, conditioned not to think of God. To a large degree societal institutional education, media, pop philosophy, etc., has been successful; the innate is overridden; the indoctrination has kicked in. People no longer think of God. Our society’s degradation not only reveals people aren’t thinking, it reveals people aren’t thinking about God. Can’t be. They wouldn’t be doing what they do, believing what they believe, saying what they say. A narcissistic, navel-gazing society has no thought of God. Psalm 10:4 keeps surfacing in my musing: “The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.” Literally translated the last of that verse reads, “all his thoughts, no God.” Probably, this is noting of the wicked that running through all his thoughts is “There is no God” (to judge his wickedness). A contemporary psalmist might say, “In all the wicked’s thoughts there is no thought of God.” God is simply not a factor in his thinking process. God doesn’t enter his mind. To think there is no God is bad. But, to simply not think of God is worse. People can’t be thinking of God. It shows: Folks live their lives with no thought of God; make decisions with no thought of God; produce movies with no thought of God; write books with no thought of God; scheme and carry out political machinations with no thought of God. Have you ever asked someone after he did a rather silly disastrous thing, “Why,” and that one answers, “I wasn’t thinking.” You respond, “That’s for sure.” Our society isn’t thinking. That’s for sure. It’s not thinking of God. One of the shocks to our egos is to have been bothered by assuming folks had been thinking badly of us only to realize, not only were they not thinking badly of us, they weren’t thinking of us at all. We are past folks thinking badly about God. They simply don’t think of God at all. One of the wonders and mercies of God is simply this “You may not think of God, but He thinks of you. When I was a teen there was a popular song: “When He was on the cross, I was on His mind.” He thought of me. The least I could do is to think of Him. Whatever we take “think” to mean, I maintain Jesus is about to come. People think not and are not thinking. What do you think about that? Remember, Jesus is coming in an hour you think not.
why not talk to god like to anyone else?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 3/10/2019
This morning (Thursday), while privately praying in earnest about a matter, I had one of those weird experiences when for a moment I heard myself as if I were someone else standing nearby listening. It brought back a hurtful memory from long ago: After a chapel in Bible school I had a friend who came up to me: “Could I ask you something?’’ he queried. “Sure,” I replied. “I was listening to your praying today. Why does your voice change when you pray? It goes kind of whiney. Why do you sound different when you pray? Why can’t you talk to God just like you would to anyone else--in the same tone of voice as you do to me?” That hurt. For one, I didn’t even realize my voice changed when I prayed. For another, that about being whiney sounded embarrassing, like I was weak, sniveling. I can’t remember if I immediately gave an answer or if one came to me later. But, there was one part of his questioning accusation that kept replaying in my head. Suddenly, it occurred to me that my answer was in his question: “Why can’t you talk to God just like you would to anyone else.” That was it! I don’t talk to God like I would to anyone else because He ISN’T anyone else. There’s only one God--and none are like Him, compared to Him, besides Him. He is God. I understand this thing about talking to God just like anyone else; it is rooted in the wonderful implications of God’s incarnation as Jesus. Jesus became human. He became a brother. He is a friend. We can talk to Him as we would any human, any brother, any friend. I understand. But, for all His being 100% human, Jesus is still 100% God. For all His being my brother, He is my Creator. For all His being my friend, He is my Judge. For all is His becoming one of us, God is still transcendent, above all, beyond us. He, unlike us of this material, temporal, spatial world, is God. For all the bravado of talking to God like anyone else, I would venture my accusing friend’s voice would have a different tone than the one he used when talking to me if he were suddenly to find himself talking to the president of the United States. Why can’t I talk to God like I would anyone else? He isn’t like anyone else. But, there is another reason: I talk to Him about things about which I talk to no one else. I don’t really need to elaborate here. Any that really pray know exactly to what I’m referring. And, there is another reason: My talking to God has far more significance, consequence, and importance than my talking to anyone else. In this matter of talking differently to God, as in many things, we often show our inconsistency: My friend took exception with my talking to God differently than I would to a friend. Yet, a man will talk differently to his spouse than to any friend or anyone else. In fact, a man will talk differently to a baby than to any adult in the room. Again, it’s all a matter of to whom one is speaking. Now, I do not believe in purposively affecting a different tone and manner of speaking when praying. Some folks begin to pray and purposively lower or raise their voice an octave, accentuate inflections on “holy” words, and begin using Elizabethan pronouns just to sound like they are praying. All such is a contrived tone and impresses no one, particularly, not God. However, I do believe in recognizing God is God and crying out to Him like one would to no other. In the end I could have simply replied to my friend, “I wasn’t talking to you. I wasn’t talking to a friend. I was talking to God.”
worship: what causes the goosebumps?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 3/3/2019 1
In the early 70’s when pizza parlors had just begun to proliferate my family joined another family in a rare trip to a new-to-us, favorite pizza place. We were sitting at the table eating, laughing and having a generally good time when our attention was suddenly arrested by the blaring sounds of an impromptu band. There was tambourine shaking, trumpet blowing, drum beating, cymbals clanging, along with a few other instruments, as a parade of servers and staff began to pass between the tables. You have already guessed what was taking place. The cacophonous cavalcade was on its way to celebrate a patron’s birthday. Today, we are all very familiar with such a thing, since many restaurants now have their version of it, but it was totally new to us at the time. Later, as we departed, I heard my dad say, “When I first heard that music start up, I got goosebumps just like when I feel the Spirit moving in Church. I knew it wasn’t the Spirit, but I felt goosebumps just like it was.” Wise dad—recognizing it wasn’t the Spirit and all. Wise conclusion but frightening observation. How many in America’s churches involved in contemporary worship imbibed with adopted practices from eastern religions never realize that it’s not the Spirit in worship that is giving them the goosebumps. Many things can get the same response from our emotions. Just because something solicits an emotional response from us does it mean that thing is a good thing or a God thing. Much of modern worship has veered from vertical attributing of God to horizontal evoking of emotion from worshipers. The danger of seeing worship as evoking an emotional, enthusiastic, favorable response from worshipers is that it soon becomes motivated only by the pragmatic—what works in evoking emotion. The danger of choosing elements of worship based on what pragmatically evokes emotion is that our emotions can be falsely evoked and evoked by the false. Here is a simple illustration: You can know that the book you are reading or the movie you are watching is fiction—it is not true. The favored character tragically dies in his lover’s arms. You feel hot tears pooling in your eyes; you struggle to hold back sobs less someone see your crying. Here’s the point: You know the story is made-up, not true. You know that the person playing the character did not really die. Yet, you feel the same sadness you would if you got the real news that one of your friends passed away. Emotion can be moved by what is not true. Emotions do not distinguish between what is true or fictional. When the motive of worship is pragmatic, simply to get a response, the only thought is what will move the emotions, what is evocative. Little thought is given whether what is moving the emotions is true, right, acceptable to God, reverent of God, inspiring of holy inclinations. True worship is Truth driven. There should be no need to rely on anything but Truth to drive our worship. Is Truth not adequate? Is it better to be moved by a mind-numbing beat of a song with a mantra of a looping repetitive phrase than by a reading from Scripture? Is it better to be moved by laser lights and billowing fog synchronized with the music than by lyrics of a song that extol the attributes of God? I am not suggesting it is wrong to create an ambiance for worship. But, observation of a worship soon discovers with what leaders are trying to drive worship. Much of worship is driven by the volume and style of music, the synchronization of lights, the swirling of fog, etc. It is driven by psychological manipulating drivel like, “How are you all feeling?” When truth driven, worship only seeks the response that comes from the presentation and proclamation, of Truth. When worship is pragmatically driven, the musical presentation of the song is considered above the lyrics; the delivery of a sermon, above its content; humor, above holiness; relativeness, above reverence; ambiance, above attitude; levity, above conviction; demonstration, above doctrine. What is driving worship is all important. Many things in worship may move the emotions. Truth moves emotion too. But, Truth can move something beyond emotion. It can move the very spirit of a person. That’s far better than just giving him goose-bumps.
worship: what it’s supposed to do
Bro. Clifford Hurst 2/24/2019
If anything shows that worship has morphed into something unrecognizable from what is seen in and encouraged by Scripture, it is the recent use of music to attract the unchurched. Special youth “church” events are now begun with a secular band to attract those who might not, without the secular band, have come. Many churches in order to attract the unsaved incorporate crossover genres of music in their worship services. I have had this explained to me this way: “We use crossover, kinda wild, music in our Sunday morning services in order to evangelize the lost.” My challenge in response was, “Where in Scripture is the purpose of music in worship ever presented as a way to attract or appeal to the unbeliever?” Of course, any church should be concerned for and engaged in reaching the unbelieving and unchurched. But should the worship be customized to appeal to the tastes of the unregenerate? What worship IS should determine HOW it is done. The reason so many churches are tweaking their worship to appeal to the unchurched is because they see the purpose of the worship as evocative. When its purpose is deemed evocative, worship is seen as the means of evoking emotional, approving response. Worship in Scripture and for most of Church history has been, not evocative, but attributive. When its purpose is deemed attributive, worship is seen as the means of attributing to God, through ascription, acknowledgement and adoration, the glory, praise, honor, and worth due Him. True worship is not about what is done to the worshipper (evocation) but about what is done to God (attribution). Worship purposed for evocation is done for the benefit of people. Worship purposed for attribution is done for the “benefit” of God. Admittedly, music/singing, which is often used in conjunction with and as a vehicle of worship, is evocative. Its sounds, language, rhythm, all of it, by its very nature is evocative—it evokes emotions, stirs desires, and creates passions. And, that’s fine. The point is, some songs are evocative in both nature and purpose; other songs are evocative in nature but attributive in purpose and message. In true worship a song is not chosen to evoke emotion but to attribute to God. A child ‘s medicine may be candy-flavored. It’s nature evokes pleasant taste. But, that is not the purpose of that medicine. The purpose is to cure an ailment. Worship errs when its components are chosen for and dedicated to the singular purpose of evoking. This is true not just of the music, but of the leading of a service, testimonials, the ambiance, and even the delivery of the message. The purpose for all the elements of a worship service should be attributive and not evocative. Evoking happens when a stimulus comes to a worshiper and brings a response from him. Attributing happens when something leaves a worshiper and is directed to God. Simply put, evocation is the worshiper getting. Attribution is the worshiper giving. The Psalms, which by nature are unmistakably evocative, by purpose are attributive. They urge the worshipers to “give” unto the LORD. Give thanks, give glory, give praise. Give; not, get. Here is a challenge: Observe the “worship” of a church. Observe the leading of the worship. Observe the selection of songs and their nature and message. Observe the response of the congregation. The purpose of that worship service will quickly become evident, whether the purpose is evocation of the people or attribution of God—whether the purpose is to get or to give. When our purpose in worship is attribution, that attribution will evoke. It will evoke emotion, desire, passion, devotion, and adoration, and, it will evoke more attribution. Oh, give unto the LORD the glory due His name.  That’s what worship is supposed to do.
worship: not a fan
Bro. Clifford Hurst 2/17/2019
Often, at least in my Pentecostal circle, worshipers’ lack of fervor and involvement is rebuked with a comparison from the world of sports. Reference is made to fans in a stadium watching a game, fans who shout, clap, leap, stand, stomp feet, wave arms, high-five. They are active. They are loud. They are enthusiastic. Then, the contrast is made to inattentive, unenthusiastic, lifeless worshipers: “Football fans are far more into football than we are into God! Where is the worship? Where are the shouts of praise? Where is the show of enthusiasm?” Although I appreciate the poignant point of the convicting contrast, I think the analogy makes a cardinal mistake--a mistake that faddish, contemporary worship makes: Worshipers of God are not fans. Worshipers of God are not spectators. Fans and spectators are consumers. The contemporary, misguided idea that worship’s purpose is to draw people to services and wow them once there has resulted in the worship service becoming a performance-driven event designed for an audience’s consumption and approval. Worship is like a show at Branson or Pigeon Forge—something to get people to come and to enjoy the performance once there. The worship service is planned, practiced, and later performed guided by this concept. Sanctuaries are designed to accommodate worship as an event performance. Instead of ceilings being vaulted to draw upward, they are flattened and blackened. Houselights are lowered, obscuring the worshipers, and the spotlights are trained on the stage, focusing attention on the activity there. This creates an ambiance that does not encourage vertical worship but horizontal spectating. Worshipers should be participators and not spectators, producers not consumers. To use the football game analogy above, the contemporary common conception of worship is this: The worshipers are the fans in the stands; those of the worship team on the platform are the players on the field. The performance of the players on the field drives the response of the spectating fans in the stands. Worshipers should NOT be the fans in the stands responding to the performance of the players on the platform. Worshipers should be the players on the field—the participators in the game. The “fan” is God—a fan in the sense He is an observer and assessor. The leaders of worship are the coaches, or the quarterbacks, encouraging folks to give their all. Though not possible in football, in worship none of the players should be sitting on the bench. All should be in the game. All can be in the game. A fan sits in approval or disapproval of what he sees and experiences. Today’s worshiper does the same. He responds with approval or disapproval to the event-performance he spectates. This is opposite a true worshiper. A true worshiper in a worship service is not asking, “Do I approve of what I’m experiencing. Do I like it? Do I get anything out of it?” A true worshiper has another concern: “Is God approving of my worship, what He is seeing out of me?” This changes everything about the worshiper and his worship. This makes him, not a fan, but a player; not a consumer, but a producer; not a spectator, but a participator; It makes his worship not about himself, but about God. The true worshiper has not come to get. He has come to give to God. He comes with an offering of worship. He has come to give himself. If one is honest, he can always tell the difference in the sound of a congregation of those responding like spectators and the sound of a congregation of those participating in vertical worship of God. It is the difference between applause and adoration. The analogy is not meant to sound frivolous, but, on this Sunday morning, did you come to watch or play ball? Did you come as a fan or a participant? Or, are you just sitting on the bench?
let’s play tetherball!
Bro.Clifford Hurst 2/10/2019
Tetherball. I thought of tetherball as I listened to the latest back and forth political party salvos following the State of the Union Address. Current hostilities have erupted into unprecedented, reciprocal personal attacks. Thinking of the hostilities and partisan onslaughts in terms of tetherball reminded me that I have seen the same thing during marriage counseling, in conflicts within a family, and during disagreements between folks in church. Playing tetherball during recess at Horace Mann Elementary is one of the funniest things I remember of childhood school days. Facing each other on opposite sides of the pole, a child and his opponent would battle over the ball, each trying to move it around the pole in his direction. Arms would flail, fists would fly, hands would slap in each other’s direction. But, opponents were not hitting each other. They were hitting the ball. Each had his direction, each battled over the ball, each was diametrically opposed to the ball going his opponent’s direction, but the players weren’t laying their hands on each other. Now, imagine, if these two tetherball opponents are going at it with arms flailing, fists flying, and hands slapping, and the ball with its pole were suddenly moved to one side, or better for the illustration, the two opponents in sync took sidewise steps away from ball and pole. Suppose they never altered their movements with the ball removed to the side. Now, instead of battering the ball, they are battering each other. Fists aren’t falling on the ball. Fists are falling on each’s head. Open hands aren’t slapping the ball, they’re slapping the opponent’s face. Political opponents used to battle over the ball. They battled over an issue. Now the issue is moved to the side, and the opponents just battle each other. Instead of their remarks to their opponents being points to be made on their view of the issue, their remarks are attacks on the person of their opponent, ad hominin. The issue is supposed to be border security. Yet, border security is not really being debated. The ball has been put to one side as those on opposite sides of the issue punch each other. One side cries to the other, “You’re a bunch of racists.” The other side responds, “You’re all anarchists.” Only it’s not all so polite as that. Many adjectives, superlatives, and expletives are added. The same thing in marriage conflict. The couple sits on the couch in counseling. Their relationship has grown volatile. Ostensibly, the point of contention is finances. At least that is the most recent. Suddenly there is an eruption. One spouse accuses the other, “You are nothing but a prodigious, wasteful, careless spendthrift;”--only, with not so nice of words. The attacked spouse, reacts, “And you’re nothing but a stingy, money-obsessed miser.” The ball, the issue of finances, has been set aside while the spouses exchange blows, only hurting one another and not touching the issue at hand that separates them. Folks in the church debate an issue of lifestyle. Those on one side openhandedly flail those on the other side with the epithet, “Liberals.” The others side slaps back with, “Legalists.” Again, the ball is untouched, over to the side. In the political arena the media must be held complicit to the constant brouhaha, this sham and shame. It’s the personal blows that get the attention and not the points of view on the actual issue. If the two playing tetherball stay at the pole and engage the ball, eventually, however fierce, numerus, and contentious the blows, the game will be finished, the outcome decided, and the ball at rest. The two can leave the game still friends. They are opponents, they each delivered fierce blows, but they had kept the conflict with the ball and not each other. As all things, the Bible addresses this about keeping the issue the issue and not, forgetting the issue and attacking one’s opponent. It states that the one that is pro-the-issue should not despise the one that is con-the-issue; and the one that is con-the-issue should not condemn the one that is pro-the-issue. My analogy and its application above may be all bungled; yet, I think we can concede what I’ve described is what we are seeing. Folks on opposite sides are beating one another to a pulp with their constant tit for tat blows, and the ball hangs untouched, the issues unresolved. When there is an issue between us and God, thankfully, He does not attack us; He deals with the issue. (A bit of advice here. If the issue is between you and God, don’t try to hit the ball back. And, for sure, don’t attack Him.) It may sound awfully naively nostalgic, but why can’t we all just play tetherball?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 2/3/2019 1
Before I could even finish my blog, my comment was outdated. Here it is—tongue-in-cheek: “The only moral edge today’s abortion advocates have over child-sacrifice practitioners of unchristian, indigenous cultures of times past, is that they espouse killing the baby before it breathes air.” Of course, I was being sarcastic at abortionists’ claim that killing a baby in the womb is different from killing one outside the womb; killing a child at any time, in womb or out of womb, before it breathes or after it breathes, at 6 weeks, 6 months, or 6 years, is completely morally reprehensible. The child’s age is nonconsequential in the wrongness of taking his life. Killing a child is simply indefensibly wrong. Yet, I suppose, because a fetus is hidden in the womb, unknown by sight, and is yet developing and because abortion takes place out of the public’s eye, many people often fail to feel the same repugnance as they would for ritualistic child sacrifice. They never equate abortion with the child sacrifice of ancient cultures and religions. I think most—I know I do—when they read or hear about child-sacrifice, experience revolting horror at the macabre act. Surely, our society has become too civilized to practice child-sacrifice. Only it hasn’t. Abortion is child-sacrifice. However, as I pointed out, in abortion the child is not yet breathing. Thus, many don’t see that abortion mirrors the act of worshippers placing a child on an altar where that child was stabbed or burned to appease a god. Abortionists kill in the womb. They do not kill a breathing child. Only, now they want to. The news this week is that some are advocating killing breathing children too. First, abortionists advocated for the right to abort a baby in the first trimester. Then the second. Then, recently, the governor of New York with smiling abortion advocates crowded around him celebrated the signing of a law that would allow a baby to be aborted up to the day of its birth. Not to be out done, this week the governor of Virginia opined that a woman should be able to kill her baby after birthing it—ostensibly to give the mother more time to decide whether she wanted to keep the child or not. In other words, after the baby is birthed and breathing, a woman can still choose to kill it. Think of what we have seen in the last few weeks: Not only have we seen abortion advocates bragging about killing babies but bragging about how old of a baby they would kill. To be sure, they say what they are bragging about and celebrating is the triumphant of women’s equality. Really? At the expense of babies’ inequality? However it’s argued, in the end, a baby is killed. Disliking and rejecting the moral code of Scripture, post modernists have often praised non-Christian cultures which practiced child-sacrifice as equally viable or even superiorly preferable to western/Christian culture. To these, western/Judeo/Christian culture is by no means more advanced, developed, or moral than the indigenous cultures built and based on religions of child/human sacrifice. The same post modernist mindset advocates our returning to child sacrifice. “Wait,” someone protests, “Abortion isn’t child sacrifice. There’s no religion. There’s no altar.” Yes, on both counts, there is: The religion is secular humanism, a religion of many branches--hedonism, naturalism, evolutionism, relativism, etc. The altar is the altar of personal-convenience, sexual gratification, prosperity, self-autonomy. I recently read accounts of religious child-sacrifice. One thing that struck me, was how the child to be sacrificed was well-fed and richly clothed while waiting its death. Kindness? Hardly. I could not help seeing the parallel when the governor of Virginia this week was describing the process of a woman giving birth and afterwards deciding whether to kill her child. He said, “The infant would be delivered…the infant would be kept comfortable….” “Kept comfortable.” Feed, comfort, clothe and pamper the child to be sacrificed. Again, I think most, like me, after learning about the child sacrifice of “pagan” indigenous cultures, have shuddered at the ghoulish practice—a practice God in the record of Scripture has vehemently condemned. Yet, we cannot say child sacrifice is a thing of a past, uncivilized, unchristian, ignorant culture. It’s happening in our culture. Our culture too must be uncivilized, unchristian, and ignorant. Our culture practices child-sacrifice. It’s not a time to smile and celebrate. It’s a time to grieve and repent.
god is pro-choice! god is pro-choice.
Bro. Clifford Hurst 1/27/2019
Yes, you read right. Pro-choice. More accurately, God is pro-the-choice-of-life. “…I have set before you life and death…: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:” (Deu 30:19). God said, “You have a choice between death and life.” But, He follows that with, “Choose life.” Not just for you. For your children too.” The pro-choice drumbeat that a woman has the right of choice of what she does with her body omits something: She does NOT have the right of choice of what she does with ANOTHER’S body. Nor does she have the right of choice of doing things with her body that adversely affects another’s body. It seems so simple that none could miss it: When a woman chooses to have an abortion, she is not only choosing what happens to her body, she is choosing what is happening to her baby’s body. Abortion advocates are adamant that others have no right to coerce a woman to do something with her body that she does not want done (make her keep her baby in her womb). Yet, they are supporting the woman’s doing something with her baby’s body, which, if the baby could choose, would not want done. Are we to believe society has no choice of what a woman does with her body, but a woman has a choice of what she does with the baby’s body? Does a woman have the right to make a choice about her body that imperils another’s body? In crude, but clear simplicity, pregnancy is one body inside another’s body. This is a complexity. Any ought to admit that a woman as a person should have the right to make her own choice concerning her body. But, in the case of pregnancy, a woman cannot make a choice concerning her body without it also being a choice for the body inside her body—the fetus. She is not just choosing for herself. She is choosing for another—her baby. The moral question of suicide aside, it is one thing for me without a passenger to choose to drive my car off a cliff but quite another thing to choose to drive my car off a cliff with a passenger. Whether I live or die, if my passenger does not survive, I killed him. I am a murderer. I cannot insist that it was my car, and I had a right to decide what I did with my car. I made a decision that killed my passenger; my decision of what I did with my car took his life. I have a choice of what I do with my car, but not if that choice entails death for another. Abortionists would concede that I cannot choose to kill a pedestrian by driving over him and that I cannot choose to kill a passenger by driving him over the cliff. But, they become inconsistent when it comes to a woman’s choice. Abortionists argue that a woman cannot kill a pedestrian, but she can kill her passenger. She cannot kill someone outside her womb but can kill someone inside her womb. The abortionist would insist the body inside the womb is not a person because the fetus has no sense of identity or stream of consciousness. Neither does a newborn or several month-old infant. Neither does a comatose adult. Since the newborn and comatose adult are “pedestrians” it is wrong for a woman to kill them. But, since the fetus is a “passenger,” it is ok for her to kill him. Huh? In the end, abortionists are advocating the choice of death. They are saying to a pregnant woman: “You have the right to choose. Go ahead and choose death” (for the baby). God says “You can choose. Choose life.” The measure of the morality of a society is not only whether it allows individuals to choose for themselves, but also what society chooses for those who cannot choose for themselves. Beyond babies, this includes the handicapped, the incapacitated, the very old and ill, etc. If society will choose death for a baby, it will soon choose death for the old, handicapped and comatose. Our society advocates choosing death because it is a culture of death. God produces a culture of life. Those that truly know God will advocate choosing life. Yes, God is prochoice: He is pro-the-choice-of-life. “…I have set before you life and death…: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:” (Deu 30:19). God says, Choose life; not just for yourself but for your children as well. Okay, God is Pro-life!
what is it this time?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 1/20/2019
O n a hot southern night many years ago, we were visiting with a pastor in the parsonage’s living room while his wife finished preparing food for our after-service meal. That week, my wife and I were “holding a revival” at the church next door. Interrupting our conversation, the phone began to ring. He reached over and lifted the handset from the phone on the end table next to his chair. The handset now held to his ear, he an-swered, “Hello?” I could tell as soon as he had identified the caller’s voice: His whole countenance changed to a cloudy mixture of dread and disgust. He immediately responded, his voice dripping with disdain, to her greet-ing, “Sis. Smith (name changed), What is it this time?” What is it this time? It was evident that this church member was a serial caller and complainer. Each time she approached the pastor it was with some complaint, grievance or gripe followed with a demand or request that something be done. The pastor’s consternation was totally understandable. I am sure we are just as annoyingly flawed in some way when we approach God. Yet, He never with condescension and contempt replies, “What is it this time?” Recently, having been invited to teach on the General Epistles with little time to prepare, I was speaking mainly extemporaneously. I came to one word and found myself stuck on it, intriguing word that it is—Upbraid, which even looks and sounds anti-quated. Yet, it carries a wonderful message. The Apostle James said, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” (1:5). Ask of God, and He gives! How? Liberally—and, without upbraiding! When we approach God with a request, He does not upbraid us. Huh? Upbraid? Word even looks weird. Braid? Immediately makes one think of hair and rugs. How does adding “up” change that? Simply put, James said, When we approach God with a request, He gives to us without reproaching us. Upbraid is, perhaps, easier illustrated than etymologically defined. Say you ask to borrow my vehicle—again; you have done so before. I could refuse, but I don’t. I take out of my pocket the key and begin the motion of handing it to you—begrudgingly. Just before I drop the key into your hand, I pull it back and begin to berate: “I’m going to loan you my vehicle again, but I shouldn’t. Last time I loaned it to you, you brought it back empty. You left your trash in it. You must have hit something; you brought it back with a scratch on the door. Not only that, you drove it through mud and left it caked with it. You are a terrible, irre-sponsible driver. And ungrateful at that. You take advantage of people who are kind to you. You don’t de-serve anyone loaning you his vehicle.” Then, I hand you the key. I gave, but I UPBRAIDED as I gave. Let’s suppose that everything I said about you and your actions were true. None would fault me for saying what I said to you. This God does not do: There is not a time that we come to request something from God that we come with a perfect past. We come flawed. We come having done wrong, messed up—even in things related to our request. He forgave us last time. We messed up again. We are asking forgiveness again. For the same thing. Yet, if we ask in faith, God gives (if it is a good thing), without upbraiding us. He doesn’t say, “Ok. I’m going to give this to you, but last time you blew even what I gave you. You were unfaithful to me. You developed a bad attitude. You’ve acted hateful to folks. You sinned against me. You don’t deserve my giving this to you. You are a terrible Christian.” None of that. (I’m not saying that God never chastens us nor that He never refuses us what we have asked for amiss.) “You need help with trials?” James says, “Ask God. He will give you what you need without upbraiding you.” Thus, to upbraid while giving is to reproach one for his faults and failures while giving. Not God. Though He has every reason too, when we again approach God in prayer, He doesn’t respond, “What is it this time?”
the color’s in the light
Bro. Clifford Hurst 1/6/2019 1
Blank on what to write for this week’s blog, I was staring out my study’s window at the bird feeder hung just outside, when a male cardinal landed on its perch. Involuntarily, I found my mind remarking on the brilliance of his color, “There is no red like that red.” The compulsion of that thought caused me to reflect how I often hear people exclaim about the brilliant red of a male cardinal. With wonder and excitement adults who have seen multiplied hundreds of male cardinals in their lives will find themselves pointing and saying, “Oh, look at that cardinal. It’s so beautiful.” Poor female. It’s the male they are pointing at each time. The male’s the one with all the color—red. The cardinal’s red is God’s red. God put that pigment in his feathers. There are other God colors besides red that are marvelous: The effulgent, pure white of newly fallen snow. There is no white like that. The deep blue of a sky freshly washed of humidity. And, have you ever seen all three together? A red cardinal perched on the white of a newly fallen snow met at the horizon with a deep blue sky? Yes, humans also color things they make—everything from houses to vehicles to clothes to shoes, etc. And, yes, people comment on the color of the things human-made. But, comments about the colors of human-created and pigmented things, even when favorable, are much more muted: “Look, that’s a nice color.” “I like that color.” “That’s a pretty color.” It’s the God-painted things that get the “WOW!!!” Though it happens, it is rare to hear of man-made things, “What a wonderful red,” “What a beautiful white,” “What an unbelievable blue,” as is heard of cardinals, new snow, and a cloudless sky. Many times, the comments are less than complimentary: “That color doesn’t match.” “That’s an ugly color.” “That color is too bright.” “That color is gaudy.” “Yuck!” People have often opined, “That’s an ugly car.” “That’s an ugly house.” That’s an ugly shirt.” All based on color. I don’t think I have ever heard, “What an ugly cardinal,” What an ugly new snow,” “What an ugly cloudless, sky.” Construction vests are orange. I have never seen a photo of a construction vest posted on FB with the caption, “What an unbelievably, beautiful orange.” I have seen many photos of sunrises and sunsets with captions lauding their beautiful orange. The simple conclusion is that the colors we marvel at with overwhelmed wonder are colors of things that God “painted.” The sometimes nice but often so-so colors and the non-appealing colors are of things man “painted.” However, we know it’s a bit more complicated than that. Color isn’t an essence of an object. The color isn’t in the substance of a thing. The color is in the light. Different substances reflect different wavelengths of light and absorb others. The wavelengths of light that are reflected by an object are thus separated from the others allowing us to see a particular color. Thus, color is all in the light. We see a color when a particular substance reflects a particular wavelength. As Creator, God created the substances that reflect the most beautiful wavelengths, the most beautiful colors. I know that explanation is over simplistic. Yet, God creates the real beauty in this world. There is no beauty of mind, heart, and life like the beauty of a heart God has changed, a heart reflecting His light, the light of love, forgiveness, joy, peace, and holiness. The Apostle Peter gets personal: He tells women that there is a beauty that far surpasses any accentuation or ornamentation of the outward body. He says the greatest beauty is the beauty of God reflecting off the inner person that He has changed and transformed. What color! What beauty! The redeemed soul. The washed heart. The transformed life. The pure mind. After all, the color is in the Light.
“is anyone driving this thing?”
Bro. Clifford Hurst 12/30/2018
On the plane in the seat directly in front of me sat a little boy of around five years old. He had been chatting incessantly with his mother while the passengers finished boarding. He grew momentarily silent at the sound of the door being shut and the feeling of movement at the plane’s being pushed away from the gate. As the plane then headed out across the tarmac towards the runway, he spoke again with a concerned and questioning voice, “Mom, is anybody driving this thing?” I looked up from my Kindle when he spoke this. Glancing towards the front of the plane, I tried seeing it as he was. With the cockpit door shut, one could not peer inside and see the pilots. At the front of the plane, the cabin just appeared to end at a wall. Not seeing a pilot, the boy thought that perhaps there simply wasn’t one. Thus, concerned that our plane was moving and about to take off and travel through the air thousands of feet high, he reacted, “Is anyone driving this thing?” So often the motions of life take us in one direction and then another. Forces are at work that move us along this road and then that road. It is a question that begs to be asked: Is any one driving this thing? Is any one driving my life? Is any one driving the events of human affairs? Is any one driving where this world is headed? Is anyone driving the earth in its orbit, the solar system on its journey through the Milky Way, the stars on their wanderings, the universe in its expansions and contractions? Is there a pilot? For the atheist, the naturalist, the nihilist, and a huge chunk of the populace infected by an anti-God culture, the plane has no pilot. Life, history, humanity travels this way and that by chance and fate. There is no right direction, safe path, or set destination. We are all along for a ride with no reason for believing that there is an experienced, intelligent, being navigating and piloting at the yoke. What an awful thought to live with--My plane has no pilot! We don’t have to live that way. I am glad to believe in a sovereign and providential God. Reality is not driverless. God pilots the universe, human existence, and me. Oh, to be sure. I believe in free will. I chose to make the trip. I chose when to make it. I had a choice of which airline’s plane I boarded. I even chose where I sat (The airline I flew allows that.). I chose to obey the instructions of buckling up. I chose to accept an offered soft drink—and not a hard one. I chose to read and what I read. But, I didn’t pilot the plane. Someone did. I’m glad of that. I’m glad also that my life is not pilotless. I have a pilot that knows the route and how to get me there. A pilot to keep me safe. A pilot to fly me through the storms. On that flight, as we neared the destination, I looked out the window and saw a huge, dark bank of storm clouds we were headed directly into. Fierce winds began to blow. The plane descended into turbulence. Yet, we landed safely. We landed at the destination. Often, when traveling by plane, once I’m at the destination, I see the pilot. He has opened the door to the cockpit and stands and greets passengers as they disembark. The little boy was concerned about the plane being pilotless because he could not see the pilot. Often, in life we have the same concern. But, the pilot is there. Always. All a long the way. We may not see Him empirically until we get to our destination, but see Him we will. He will be there to greet us. I did not answer that little boy. But, I would like to shout it out, “Yes, Someone is driving this thing.”
a cigarette lighter and christmas
Bro. Clifford Hurst 12/23/2018
I lied, lit a man’s cigarette, and this story has nothing directly to do with Christmas—except the lighter. There. My confession is over with, and I’ll get on with my tale: Soon after one Christmas season long ago, when our children were small, I took my elder son to our downtown library. The library is adjacent to a city park where the homeless congregated during the day. Patrons would park and then walk alongside or through the park to the library entrance and likewise return to their vehicle. As we walked out of the library that day there was a homeless man in a wheelchair with useless legs and only nubs where his hands should be. I felt compelled to try to share with him the good news about Jesus and with my son following walked up to and greeted him. As I began to witness to him, he began fiddling with his belly/fanny pack. I couldn’t help watching, amazed at how he was finally able to unzip it with only nubs. Then, reaching inside the bag, he, squeezing it between his stubs, pulled out a pack of cigarettes, lifted it to his mouth, and with his lips pulled one out. Speaking around the cigarette, as he dropped the pack back into his bag, he broke in, “Do you have a light?” Interrupted, I shook my head and answered simply, “No.” I tried to resume my line of thought when it occurred to me that I had unintentionally lied. I was wearing the same coat that I wore to church, and at some point during our Christmas program that year, I had pocketed one of the lighters we used to ignite the candles. I had just remembered that lighter. Still talking, I reached inside my pocket to check, and there it was. I had lied; I did have a light! Already flustered trying to witness to him as I watched his efforts of unzipping his bag, maneuvering the pack of cigarettes, extracting one out of it with his lips and being interrupted midsentence, I was completely knocked off kilter with the thought that I had lied to the man. I reflexively pulled the lighter out of my coat and spoke my thoughts out loud: “Wait, I do have a lighter.” He, seemingly not noticing my red face and consternation, leaned his head forward towards me, pointed the cigarette clinched in his mouth in my direction, and said, “Great. Here, give me a light.” Stunned with no thought to what I was doing and unable to think of how to refuse him, I found myself robotically, obediently, flicking the lighter into flame and holding it under his cigarette as he took deep drags until its end was glowing orange-red. “Thank-you,” he said while exhaling a cloud of smoke. All I could think of was, “What if one of my parishioners is driving by and saw me light a man’s cigarette?” See, in our particular religious tradition, cigarettes are seen as a “filthiness of the flesh.” Beyond, that cigarettes cause cancer. I could well have been contributing to a cancer that would kill the man. It wasn’t just my parishioners I needed to be concerned about. There stood my young son taking it all in, watching his Dad/Pastor light a man’s cigarette. I don’t know how I ended that witnessing encounter with that man. Just can’t remember. I do remember desperately hoping that my son got the message of the need to share the Gospel with folks and being kind to someone in need rather than that cigarette smoking is a good thing. I could only hope. I know the end doesn’t justify the means, yet, what I did that day could be considered as an intended act of kindness in response to the man’s needy condition. See, he may have had a lighter in his bag, but the point was, even if he had a lighter, he without hands could not have operated it. His was a bad condition and a bad habit. Yet, I trust, my act was one of kindness (you be the judge). God would never be complicit in our wrong doing. Of that I’m sure. Yet, truth is, God discovered us in a really horrible condition involved in really bad habits and sins. But, He responded with kindness. The only explanation I have for lighting the man’s cigarette was that he had a need (as he saw it), and I had the lighter. Jesus has responded likewise. We had the need, and He was the Light. He lit our darkness. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8). And, that’s no lie! It’s also what Christmas is all about.
hands-on experiences are lasting
Bro. Clifford Hurst 12/16/2018
Some of my most poignant memories of my childhood Christmases are those of closet door nativities. The closet in my and my brother’s bedroom had two sliding doors around 4 feet wide each. Together they created a large expanse. At some point in my elementary years, I saw those doors as a canvas upon which I could create a Nativity. Taking black and brown construction paper, I taped on a background of black sky and brown earth. Then, with Christmas music playing on the stereo I would sit at the snack bar and first cut out of the construction-paper the beams and boards to build the stable and manger. These I’d assemble on the background. Then, back at the snack bar on paper of various colors I would draw and cut out the characters—human, angelic, and animal—of the Nativity. These I glued in and around the stable. There were other necessary accoutrements to make; things like the guiding star, a window, something to look like hay. The crowning, finishing act was to put baby Jesus in His construction paper manger. Forty-five plus years later that Christmas activity is still so memorable because it was meaningful; and, it was meaningful for the simple reason it was hands-on. That’s why I believe inexpensive Nativity scenes should be displayed in homes with young children so that they can pick up the characters, look them over from a close distance, arrange, and rearrange them in the scene. There are also magnetic Nativities to place on the refrigerator where children can remove, replace, and reposition the characters. Even adults can have a hands-on experience with Christmas each year—even if it is simply taking time to re-read the Nativity narratives from a physical Bible that can be held in hands and its pages turned. Hands-on at Christmas isn’t just to make Christmas memorable and meaningful. Hands-on is the very essence of what Christmas is all about. This thing about the Incarnation, this about the Word being made flesh, this about God becoming human is about this: In the incarnation God put Himself in our hands. The Apostle John, after having said in his Gospel that “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14), in his epistle says an extremely wonderous thing: “That which was from the beginning, .. OUR HANDS HAVE HANDLED, of the Word of life;” (1Jn 1:1). John says their experience of the Word was hands-on. He and the other disciples close to Jesus had handled this Word-in-the-Flesh, this God/Man. Joseph and Mary were the first to have this hands-on experience. As the Baby entered this world in that stable, Joseph, no doubt, was the one who received the Child in his hands and placed Him in Mary’s hands who laid Him at her breast. Later, she handled Him as she wrapped Him up warmly and tightly and handed Him back to Joseph who laid Him in a feeding trough. Later in life, the disciples embraced the Man Jesus in moments of greeting or affection, lifted Him to the back of a donkey, took His hand as He helped them out of a boat. John had even laid His head on Jesus’ chest at dinner. But, the first to experience “hands-on” Jesus were Mary and Joseph who handled Jesus so lovingly and kindly. In earthly life He was not only handled in kindness but also in cruelty. One example is the Temple security guard who slapped Jesus at His mockery of a trial. He too had a hands-on experience with Jesus. Personally, I believe that officer, however long afterwards he lived, could never shake the feeling of Jesus’ face under the palm of his hand. Hands-on proved the Word had really become humanity. But, it also provided opportunity for people to treat Jesus kindly or cruelly. In some folks’ hands He was handled kindly. In others, cruelly. Watch a small child who has taken the Baby Jesus out of the Nativity scene. How will he handle Him? Cradle Him? Rock Him? Throw Him as a baseball? Put Him on the stable’s roof? Hide Him? The Baby in the Manger is all about God putting Himself in humanity’s hands. At some point by hearing the Gospel, by the moving of His Spirit, you will find Him in yours. What will you do with Him? Where will you place Him in your life? Whatever you do, it will be a hands-on experience you’ll never forget. Not in time. Not in eternity. Hands-on experiences are lasting.
jesus’ family tree
Bro. Clifford Hurst 12/9/2018
There is a huge part of the narrative of Jesus’ birth that is almost always ignored every Christmas. There are 25 verses in Matthew devoted to the story of Jesus’ nativity. (There are 37, if one includes the story of the Wiseman which occurred sometime after Jesus’ birth). Seventeen of the twenty-five verses are rarely noted or shared. Those 17 verses are the genealogy of Jesus. I must be careful not to share too much in this blog because I am going to be preaching about Jesus’ genealogy today. Yet, it must be noted that Matthew began his gospel, the story of Jesus, and the story of Jesus’ birth with a genealogy. He began with Jesus’ family tree. Matthew immediately reveals his purpose—to establish Jesus’ right to the throne of David. Scrutiny reveals that Matthew is not trying to establish Jesus’ BIOLOGICAL claim to the throne. The genealogy is that of Joseph, the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Matthew states that fact clearly. Why then share the genealogy of the man who adopted Jesus? Because, although Jesus was not a biological son of Joseph, legally the genealogy established that, as Joseph’s adopted son, Jesus had claim to David’s throne. Thus, Jesus is called the SON of David. Matthew is showing that Jesus is the rightful King, the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah. Today, there ought to be a renewed interest in Jesus’ genealogy. Because of online ancestry programs helpful in discovering one’s family tree and because of the growing inexpensiveness of DNA testing there is a bourgeoning interest in genealogy. So, why so little attention to Jesus’ genealogy? Well, in my estimation genealogies are like dreams. Each is extremely interested in his own dreams but has little patience or desire for listening to others recount their dreams. One thing that stokes people’s interest in their genealogies are the surprises they discover. I discovered that I share an ancestor with King Louis XI of France. I also discovered that I was not mostly English as my surname would suggest and I had supposed. I am mostly Swedish Germanic and Irish and Northwest European. (But, there I go boring you.) However, many of the surprises are disappointments. Each usually begins trying to prove a passed down belief of the family’s ancestry only to be surprised that someone they had been told was in their family tree wasn’t. A common occurrence of this is a belief that one has a famous Native American Chief as an ancestor. That’s been the family story for generations. Yet, research, DNA testing, or a combination of both reveal that the one who believed he was a descendant of the chief could not possibly be such a descendent. In fact, often that one will discover that he doesn’t even have Native American genes. None. I had been told that I was a descendent of President Andrew Jackson. When I read his biography, I discovered Andrew Jackson was childless. He did adopt his namesake, his wife’s nephew—which is a possibility. But, probably the family claim is apocryphal. Sometimes the surprise is that someone is in their family tree whom they had no idea was. My wife discovered that she had in hers someone of an ethnic ancestry that no one in her family had even dreamed of. A person begins research of his family tree to prove one thing but instead discovers another. There are surprises in Jesus’ family tree as well. Matthew traced Jesus’ family tree to document Jesus’ claim to David’s throne. In doing so, he included some remarkable folks he could have left out and still have established Jesus’ genealogy. Since who those folks are is a crucial part of my message this morning, and to share them would be a spoiler for my parishioners, I will leave you to read Matthew’s genealogy of Christ (Matt. 1:1-17) and to discover who they are. More interesting than who they are is the significance of Matthew’s including them. Matthew began listing Jesus’ genealogy to show His right to the throne, that He was, in fact, THE King. In doing so with those surprise entries in Jesus’ genealogy Matthew also shows that Jesus is the Savior of all people. Whatever their ethnicity. Whatever their background. Whatever their sin. Jesus’ genealogy shows He is the Savior of whosover will. He is the King/Savior and the Savior/King. I am glad Jesus’ genealogy shows He is King. I am also thrilled it shows anybody can be saved, made a member of the family of God. It is thrilling, not just to note who ended up in Jesus’ family tree, but spiritually whose family tree Jesus ends up in. Is He in yours?
it matters that it doesn’t matter
Bro. Clifford Hurst 12/3/2018
Whenever I see someone walking into Walmart in his faded flannel pajama bottoms, I feel a wave sweeping towards me that is a mixture of nihilism and narcissism. The nihilism and narcissism originate in the floodwaters of postmodernism that have inundated our society. The seemingly innocuous act of wearing flannel pajama bottoms to Walmart is but a stone thrown into the prevailing pop culture producing the waves which I an observer feel. The only reasons one would indecorously wear his sleepwear in public is because he feels it doesn’t matter or that it doesn’t matter that it matters to others. That it doesn’t matter is nihilism—the feeling of everything being useless, pointless, and senseless, a feeling that comes from rejecting absolute truths. That it doesn’t matter that it matters to others is narcissism—the egotistic fixation on oneself, a belief that one’s own opinion, judgment, perception, etc., are all that matters. This feeling comes from one deeming himself autonomous. (And therein is the paradox: to the narcissist it doesn’t matter because he is all that matters.) Either way, the it-doesn’t-matter perception of society comes from divorcing God from its worldview. If there is no God who observes, evaluates and calls into account, morality doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how people treat or are treated. Not really. If there is no God, nothing matters. It doesn’t matter that one is hurting, is distressed, is lonely, etc. A man tries to share his heart to his wife. She, distracted, isn’t listening. He notices and quits talking. She, realizing the background noise of his monologue has grown silent, reveilles herself enough to ask, “What were you saying?” He responds, “Nothing. It doesn’t matter.” The employee is perfunctorily asked by the overbearing boss, “What do you think?” The employee answers, “It doesn’t matter what I think.” Jaded from eating out, one, asked where he would like to have dinner, responds, “It doesn’t matter.” One apologizes for breaking a dinner date. The ditched says, “It doesn’t matter.” These are simple analogies that reveal wide-range usage of the phrase. Yet, the sentiment is deeply rooted in an increasingly godless world. Truth is, without God in the worldview, “It doesn’t matter.” Not morally. Not existentially. Not pragmatically. Not only does “it” not matter, “nothing” matters. If nothing matters, nothing matters. There is no reason, purpose for anything. Oh, there is yet the narcissistic outlook: Nothing matters but I—what I want, decide, prefer, choose. “I” isn’t a very fulfilling purpose for living. “I,” however inflated, is too small to fill the need for meaning. People today seek for something beyond the paltry “I” to matter. For example, they posture themselves as fanatically caring for nature. They don’t really care that much for the environment or dolphins. Not really. The concern for the environment, dolphins, and the rest is a desperate attempt to make something matter. See, we humans must have something that matters. Since God doesn’t matter, nature must. Humanity can try to make environment matter. But, without God there is no real reason why it should matter. In the end, if God doesn’t matter, nothing will matter. All the rave about drinking, marijuana, vaping, partying, etc., is but a hedonistic whistling-in-the-dark way of saying, “It doesn’t matter that nothing matters.” But, oh, to put God in the picture changes everything. It makes everything matter. The way I act. The way I think. The way I treat others. The way I feel. It matters because it matters to Him. It matters because I matter to Him. Also, because I matter to Him, others matter to me. I write this blog after just having awaken last night with two phrases roiling around in my semi-consciousness: First, was “It doesn’t matter.” Following that came, “It matters to the Master.” (I don’t know when I’ve last heard that song.) These two phrases were like two wrestlers constantly changing positions. One moment one wrestler was on top, the next the other. Many times, consciously, unconsciously, or semi-consciously, that wrestling match goes on in one’s mind, heart, and life. One thing is for sure. Get rid of God and there is no wrestling match. “It doesn’t matter” wins uncontested. Every time. Without God it doesn’t matter is all there is. Fact is, there is a Master, and it matters to Him. Perhaps, someone’s wearing faded flannel pjs to Walmart doesn’t matter. But, one with a heart of faded faith, faded joy, faded hope, does. I think what gets me about the faded flannel pjs is that it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t matter. With God it matters that it doesn’t matter. And, that matters!
christian christians
Bro. Clifford Hurst 11/25/2018
Many at our church tout our Annual Thanksgiving Service on the Tuesday prior to Thanksgiving as their “favorite service of the year.” We have some traditions in that service that we carry forward year after year. One of them is our I-Thank-The-Lord testimony service. It is a testimony service with some simple ground rules: When you testify, you begin your testimony with “I thank the Lord for…” or “I thank the Lord because…” and then you complete the sentence. “Sentence” is the second ground rule; your testimony can be only one sentence long. No run-on sentences. In order that all can hear each’s testimony—and so those listening via live stream can hear as well, we have aisle runners: We have two men with cordless mics that roam the aisles in their assigned section of the sanctuary to get a microphone to any who raises his/her hand desiring to testify. People give thanks to God for a variety of things. Although only one sentence long, some of these testimonies have become rooted in our collective church family memory for their remarkableness. One sure to be mentioned every year comes from a testimony over twenty years ago. Our Christian school choir was singing that night and was seated in the choir loft during our I-Thank-The-Lord testimonies. One of our young lady students stood, took the mic, and said, “I thank God for a Christian pastor.” Her gratitude was visible and sincere. I was warmed by the comment since I was the one to whom she was referencing. Yet, folks laughed that night. They still laugh when it is retold. Not at her. At the remark. How it sounded. The laughter was at what seemed an oxymoron—I would not be the pastor of our church if I were not a Christian. “Pastor” didn’t need the qualifier “Christian.” To say “Christian pastor” is like saying round circle or red Santa suit or cold snow. It is a redundancy. What was then humorous redundancy is now necessarily sad reality. “Pastor” does need the qualifier “Christian.” There is the phenomenon in our day of pastors of atheists—atheist pastors. There are also accounts today of pastors of churches who are secret, closet atheists. There are also charlatans and wolves in sheep’s clothing. There is another related reality: There are those who call themselves Christians who really are not Christians. Not in a Biblical sense. Not in a practical sense. Not in a real sense. There is nothing in their attitude, values, conversations, demeanor, pursuits, or lifestyle that would distinguish them from the world around them. Permeated with, stewed in, pickled by the culture in which they immerse themselves, Christians have become something other than Christian. As petrified wood still retains “wood” in its name but in nature is no longer wood, many Christians still retain the name “Christian” but in nature are anything but. We could endlessly parse and debate what makes one truly a Christian, but let’s just answer with a conglomerate of Jesus, Paul, and John. A Christian is one who, trusting in Jesus for salvation of his soul, is a born-again, not-of-this-world, not-loving-this world new creation. Thus, a Christian is one with a different nature than the unredeemed. Of course, I could have just opted for a literal definition. A Christian is a follower of Christ; a Christian is one who adheres to the teaching and ways of Christ. Thus, he thinks and does as Christ would. Interestingly, NT Christians never called themselves Christians. Neither did the Jews from which they branched. It was the heathen and the pagan that called these followers of Jesus Christian. The world recognized the distinguishing difference. Sadly, many Christians no longer live up to their name. Truth is, they are non-Christian Christians. So, our young testifier was more prescient than she knew. ‘Pastor” does need a qualifier. And so does Christian. In such a world I thank the Lord for Christian Christians. Religion wise, I am a Christian pastor. Reality wise, I truly want to be a Christian Christian.
saying “thanks”
Bro. Clifford Hurst 11/18/2018
Before there were drive-throughs, there were drive-ins. I remember a day at a drive-in, although it’s been over four decades ago. It’s not the food I remember. It’s the carhop. At least what she said. She said, “Thanks.” Midway home from family vacation somewhere in desert-y Utah, Dad pulled our boat-size Buick into a bay of a drive-in hamburger joint (as we would have called it). Dad, Mom, and we three kids in the back seat, perused the pictures and prices on our bay’s marquee and then ordered with the attached, cb-looking and sounding intercom. Soon, the carhop brought—on one of those drive-in trays—our burgers and fries. After passing them through the windows, making sure the driver’s window was sufficiently raised to accommodate its hooks, she attached the plastic tray to it. It contained the napkins and other condiments and would be the repository of our trash when we were finished eating. Then, holding the ticket she announced the total. Dad handed her the cash. She returned the change, and then she said it. She said, “Thanks.” That’s it. But, it wasn’t what she said, it was how she said it. It would be hard to emulate audibly how she said it; and, it is even more difficult to put it into print, but let me try. First, she said it with a local accent far more twange-ish than even our own provincial, Okie dialect. Then, there was her volume. When inside, she definitely didn’t need to use the intercom to answer any call from any bay on the premises. There was also the way she made the one syllable of “thanks” sound like two. Put all that together with how she accented the second syllable of the one syllable word with a crescendo and imagine it: “ThaaaAYNKSSS.” The “s” kind of just lingered long afterwards in the air, slowly fading until it mingled with the background music. As she walked away, we just sat in a stunned silence, not chewing or anything. Then in unison we began to laugh explosively. It wasn’t long until one after the other we each attempted to parrot the carhop’s “ThaaaaANKS.” We weren’t cruelly making fun of her. It was just so unique. It was just so comical. All the way home and for long after that, periodically one of the family would say “Thanks” in that mimicked manner, and all would crackup. The impression the carhop made on us was not in her saying “thanks” but in how she said it. Her accent and annunciation made the difference. “Thanks” is something we are accustomed to saying, especially if we were raised with any manners, especially, if raised in the South. Yet, if honest, we realize that “thanks” can quickly degrade into just a conventionally expected response, an obligatory reply. When anything is done or said in our behalf, decency and community makes it incumbent to say “thanks” in return. Approaching this Thanksgiving, I kept thinking of that carhop from long ago and how the way she said “thanks” made such an impression on us. Her thanks carried impact when she spoke it. Trained to do so, most of us can and do say “thanks” reflexively; it is but a “muscle-memory” reaction. Often, we realize this, and seek to add more meaning to our thanks by adding adverbials: “Thanks so much.” “Thanks a lot.” “Thanks a million.” “Thanks a bunch.” Those work. Sometimes. Somewhat. But, soon even “thanks” with modifiers becomes cliché, trite. So, this Thanksgiving how can we say thanks in such a way that it actually conveys and carries something with it to whom we address it? My answer reeks with oversimplification, but here it is: Say thanks with conscious gratitude. How can we do that? Review the good done us. Remember that the one who did the good to us could have chosen not to. Realize that whatever good has been done us it was not an entitlement; we were underserving of it. Reflect on how the good done to us many others have never known. This kind of assessment renders us humbly grateful. Then, when we say thanks, we cannot help but say it with gratitude. When our thanks with gratitude is then heard, it will be as affecting as our carhop’s was—only it will be no laughing matter. Try the above with people. Try it with God. Say “Thanks” with conscious gratitude. It’s not saying thanks that is poignant; it’s how we say it.
leaving the voting place
Bro. Clifford Hurst 11/11/2018
As many of you did, exiting where I had voted last Tuesday, I positioned on and patted to my chest my “I Voted” sticker. Stepping out into the cool, darkening evening onto the parking lot covered with wind-blown, rain-plastered red and yellow maple leaves, I headed to my vehicle with a deep sense of satisfaction over having voted. Even those times I was not thrilled with the choice of candidates and had to hold my nose to vote for them, I still left with that feeling of gratification. Getting into my vehicle, I began contemplating why voting gave such a contented fulfillment. The answer was simple: I had contributed something, something to the self-governing of our country. How similar are my movements yet different my attitude in my coming and going at the polling place to my coming and going at a restaurant. Sometimes I leave the restaurant overly-stuffed but moderately to quite content. Sometimes I leave the restaurant complaining about the service, criticizing the food, or remarking on the uncleanness of the building. Now, it is the same me that exits the voting place and the restaurant. Why do I never complain leaving where I voted but often do so when leaving where I ate? Here’s the reason: I go to the voting place as a contributor; I go to the restaurant as a consumer. Consumers have expectations. A consumer’s expectation is to receive something and to receive it how, when, where, and as much as he prefers and desires. A consumer by nature critiques his experience of consuming. If his experience does not meet his expectation, he criticizes. He complains. I go to the polling place expecting nothing except to vote. I expect nothing done for me or to me. I expected nothing given to me. I expected no personal attention. I do not expect to be recognized, catered to, nor fawned over. I do not expect the music to be my music, the temperature to be at my setting, the walls decorated with art of my tastes, nor the booths arranged as I would have them. The only expectation I have is the facilitation of my vote, the opportunity to contribute. I know millions of others voted and my vote made up an almost infinitesimal percentage of the tally of any triumphant candidate, but I still contributed, did something, fulfilled a duty. Since I voted at a church, I also began to muse about church. People exiting a church following a service either leave as if they were leaving a voting place or leaving a restaurant. Simply put, each leaves church having been a contributor or merely a consumer. Those who come with the desire to contribute leave satisfied and fulfilled. Those who come as a consumer often leave, dissatisfied, criticizing, and complaining. The bane of today’s American Christianity, I believe, is that it has treated worshippers as consumers until they have become just that—consumers. They come to church as they would go to a restaurant. They come for their special, preferred entree, cooked, and served just as and when they like it. Churches find out what worshippers like—from genre of music to length of service to venue--and design worship to accommodate those appetites. Preachers find out what people like to hear and how they like it packaged and then preach and package it in just that manner. Treated like consumers, worshippers become consumers who often leave disgruntle and unfulfilled. They complain of the choice of song, the length of the sermon, and the order of the service. A consumer finds it easy to criticize the worship trio. A contributor is so engaged in singing with the trio he thinks only of the meaning of the lyrics and of the presence of God into which the singing has ushered him. To be a contributor is to give God deserved glory, join the singing, pray for others, give attention to the message, and seek to be a blessing. As we left our voting place on Tuesday, we will leave our worship place this Sunday morning. The question is, will we leave as satisfied contributors or disgruntled consumers?
whom does anger hurt?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 11/4/2018
Americans are angry. With next week’s mid-term elections looming before us the atmosphere is charged with anger. Almost everyone to whom you talk is seething with it. America is ½ a degree from boiling over. Oh, I know, many would deny that what they are feeling is anger; and, those that admit it would be quick to offer a perfectly logical justification for their anger. I admit that I feel anger, and the most anger I feel is for those who instigate and create anger with contrived grievances and fabricated issues. Recently, I have felt a shift in how I feel about anger. Previously, I had viewed anger as an evil because of the hurt done to the ones on the receiving end of another’s anger. I continue to feel grieved about, sympathetic of, and indignant because of the pain and damage done to the victim of another’s anger. I still see that as evil. What has changed is that I also see the pain, damage, and hurt done by anger to the one who is angry. I’m not trying to make the victimizer a victim. Definitely not! I counseled a man this week who was angry. In the very contortions of his face, to the growl in his voice, to the fire in his eyes, I could see rage. But, I saw something else: Hurt. Pain. Suffering. Anger was destroying him. Physiologically, anger can damage one’s heart and increase his cholesterol, among other things. Spiritually and psychologically, anger damages the man himself, his person, his soul. On the most rudimentary level, anger is a legitimate, necessary emotion. It is the person’s neurons, hormones, and systems going into action to enable that person to protect and preserve himself. It is survivalist instinct. Anger, then, is what is experienced when something is coming against a person. We not only have an impulse to live. We have our own opinions, plans, preferences, personal space, and volition. We do not take kindly to anything that would impede us and what we desire, think, or will to happen. When something comes against us, goes against us, hampers us, we get angry. Much of our anger is merely experiencing the frustration of not getting our own way. I don’t mean that just in the petulant sense but in the most basic sense. Life does not cooperate with our dreams, desires, pursuits, and plans. Something is resisting our way, will, thoughts, opinion, intent, perception, etc. Sometimes a person has been resisted, abused, trampled, demeaned, ridiculed, bullied, etc., to the point that his anger sparks, flares, and consumes him. Whether he then hurts someone else or not, the anger is hurting him. Not all angry people are reprobate narcissists. Some are good people. Not all are psychopaths. They’re just people. Not all are unconverted. Now, again, I do not absolve any angry person of the hurt he does to another. That is not the point. The point is anger hurts those on both ends of it. This explains my anger at those who instigate anger. There are enough “natural” causes (some of them just) of anger in our lives--real issues, genuine conflicts--without causes being intentionally fabricated. Media, politicians, pundits, commentaries, bloggers, trollers, and water-cooler authorities are purposefully generating anger. They stoke and stir, fuel, and fan the fire of anger with false offenses, perceived slights, manufactured prejudices, and feigned righteous outrage. They delight in the angry wrecking-mayhem mob, the screaming arguments, the name-calling slug fests, and the ad hominin vitriol. Each is responsible for controlling his anger and is culpable if he does not. True. But, that does not change the fact that one’s anger can be needlessly inflamed and hurts not only his victims but him too. It is no platitude for me to suggest that the only answer is the peace of Christ. As much as there is the peace of Christ that will keep our hearts and minds, there is the anger of Satan to destroy us, body, soul, and spirit. So, forgive me for noting what an awful thing anger is to the one that is experiencing it. Anger is hurting him. Likewise, America’s anger is hurting America. Anger is not just hurting America. It is hurting Americans. It is hurting Americans who are the victims of anger. It is hurting Americans who are the angry. It is not just the body of America that is being destroyed. It is the very soul of America. Only the peace of Christ can heal those who have been hurt—and those who have done the hurting who hurt too.
whatever happened to temptation?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 10/28/2018
Whatever happened to temptation? Not the reality of its occurrence, but the preaching and teaching about it? For our Wednesday night Bible study on the life of the patriarchs I was preparing the lesson about Joseph’s being tempted by Potiphar’s wife. As I prepared, it struck me that, though the subject of temptation used to be a frequent topic of sermons, books, lessons, and devotions, it is rarely addressed today. Admittedly, my conclusion is anecdotal, but, as I began to ask folks and to do some searches, I became surer it is confirmable: Temptation as a matter of concern, discussion, and preaching is disappearing from the Church. Why? Is it because temptation is less a reality today? No, temptation today is more fierce and frequent than ever, because enticement is more ubiquitous, aggressive, and available than ever. Why then is there less preaching and teaching on temptation? Could it not be because of a shift in the emphases of the modern church? Before I explain, indulge me to revisit a brief description/definition of temptation: Temptation = the enticement of one’s lusts to do wrong by a promise of pleasure or gain. Apostle James succinctly describes it as follows: “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” (Jas 1:14). It is ludicrous to believe that what James described is no longer happening and, thus, the need to preach and to teach about it has diminished. What then happened to temptation? Could its disappearance be attributed to the Church’s no longer preaching anything as sin? Could it be attributed to the teaching of a warped concept of justification that all sin of a believer is automatically taken care of and that no sin can jeopardize a believer’s relationship with God, thus, he need not avoid sin? Could it be the belief that no desire is forbidden anymore because all desire is only an impulse of one’s uniqueness and an expression of one’s heart that should be followed? Could it be the constant denials that there is anything wrong with the things of the world—denials cloaked in the insistence nothing is worldly? If within us there are no lurking and lurching lusts to be encouraged and drawn, no world of wrong to woo, feed, and attract those lusts, no things done seeking to fulfill those lusts that can be labeled as sin, there is no such thing as temptation; and, there is no need to preach and teach about something that isn’t happening. More concretely put, if fornication, something constantly promoted by the world, is not sin, there is no incentive or need to resist the impulses to commit it. To preach and teach about temptation is to concede things that the modern church simply does not care to acknowledge: To preach about temptation is to assume that somethings are sin to commit, that the attraction of this world is harmful and to be resisted, and that lusts are to be controlled, harnessed, denied, and assassinated. If there are no sins to commit, no world to overcome, no lusts to which to say no, then there is no temptation of which to be concerned. It is important to anticipate the liberal, modern, rejection of the Bible’s description of temptation—of lusts, worldly enticement, and sin: The Bible description of temptation is not a contrived construct forced upon the world and human nature. It is an accurate description that any honest observation of the world and human nature would confirm. Humans have unholy, unhealthy impulses and desires. Much of the world targets and encourages those desires. Fulfilling those desires results in wrong done—the hurting of others, etc. As all truth does, what the Bible says about temptation corresponds to reality. There is so much more to be said, but, in my opinion, the Church must resist the temptation not to preach and teach about temptation, and believers must resist the temptation to ignore the temptation at work in their lives. The Bible not only reveals the reality and nature of temptation but also the way to victory over it—if it really exists, that is.
gotcha! gotcha!”
Bro. Clifford Hurst 10/21/2018
I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop but, as I was seated, waiting for a church service to start, I heard two ladies behind me chatting, and one responded to the other, “Gotcha.” The conversation was mundane, but, because of my fascination with the dynamics of language, my attention riveted on that one word—Gotcha. One lady shared the place where she had eaten lunch. The other asked, “The one at Neosho?” “No,” the other responded, “The one at Joplin.” The first then said, “Gotcha.” I was struck by the usage because that phrase has contemporarily become so ubiquitous. It is now frequently used to say, as she meant it, “I understand.” “I see.” Yet, Gotcha has so many other usages: Someone has tripped or stumbled. Another catches him and prevents his fall and exclaims, “Gotcha.” A reporter tries to trip up an interviewee with a trick question that will solicit an incriminating or compromising response. It is said the reporter is playing Gotcha. Someone revenge pranks. When the prank has successfully been executed, the prankster declares victory over his victim with a “Gotcha.” Probably, the most basic meaning of the exclamation is, "I have got you," and is used to surprise or frighten someone you have caught, or to show that you have an advantage over him. Thus, Gotcha means to capture. I mean no disrespect by putting slang in the mouth of Holy God, but I began to imagine God saying, Gotcha. When God lunged out of the darkness and grabbed and grappled with the lonely Jacob on the bank of Jabbok, changed his name, and threw his hip permanently out of socket with a touch so that he never walked the same, I can hear Him exclaiming, “Gotcha.” When Zacchaeus, unnoticed by the crowd milling below, was a hidden spectator high in the foliage of the sycamore tree, and Jesus looked up, called him down, invited Himself for dinner, and changed his life, Jesus was saying, “Gotcha.” Saul with letters of authorization was headed towards Damascus to persecute believers when a divine light shone from heaven, and Jesus spoke to him saving him and calling him, changing him from a persecutor to a preacher of the Gospel, it was as if Jesus declared, “Gotcha.” Matthew’s career as tax collector was set and secure. He was making a killing skimming and extorting. But, Jesus walked by and said, “Gotcha.” Oh, how many others. The lady of questionable reputation came to the well at a time when she would not be confronted by tongue-waggers and accusers. But, Jesus was sitting there. Gotcha. Oh, and the fleeing Jonah. As the whale swallows, you can almost hear God say, Gotcha! On and on we could go. Not just Biblical characters. History is replete with testimonies. Here’s just one: Billy Sunday was a professional baseball player. On a day off, taking a walk through Chicago, he encountered a team from Pacific Garden Mission sharing the Gospel. God, said, Gotcha. Billy Sunday no longer played ball. He preached. Oh, the grace of God. We pursue God only to discover that He has been pursuing us. We reach out to God only to discover He has reached for us. Paul put it this way: “…I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.” (Php 3:12). Simply put, he said, “I want to get ahold of what got a hold of me.” God has encircled me in His arms and cried, “Gotcha!” Oh, that I might be able to get ahold of God so I might also declare, “Gotcha.” If you haven’t, the most wonderful thing you could hear God say to you is, “Gotcha.” Then you can say, “Gotcha.”
her truth, his truth, the truth
Bro. Clifford Hurst 10/14/2018
Nothing has spotlighted how postmodernistic our nation has become like the recent confirmation hearings of Judge Kavanaugh. Briefly defined, postmodernism is the rejection of objective truth. Postmodernism is the product of university indoctrination of the last two generations with a solipsistic relativism worldview. Two words recently have revealed the blatant postmodernism—“her truth” Over and over in trying to destroy Judge Kavanaugh with Dr. Ford’s allegation of sexual assault, protests were made that Dr. Ford needed to tell “her truth.” Dr. Ford must be believed when she tells “her truth.” “Her truth.” Whatever happened to “THE truth.” Today, there is no “THE truth” only “my truth” and “your truth,” “his truth” and “her truth.” (I am not addressing the veracity of Dr. Ford’s claim, only using what was done with it as an illustration.) We cannot blame the universities only. Hollywood’s also guilty. And, Oprah. She famously urged each one, Speak “your truth.” Even fairly recently, it was enough for enemies of absolutes (especially moral absolutes) to believe each has his own truth. Now, one has a right not only to manufacture his own truth but also to speak his own truth and be heard. The confirmation hearings took this absurdity one step further. Each has his own truth, should speak his own truth and be heard, and now, thanks to the Kavanaugh-Confirmation saga, he must be believed when he speaks his truth. All of this is based on the idea that truth is subjective and not objective. Each person gets to decide how he wants to perceive, interpret, define, his world, and that determines his truth. His truth is not based on correspondence to reality. His truth is simply his choice on how he wants to view and value things. If he feels adultery is acceptable, it is acceptable, and no one can say it’s not. There are no absolutes to determine whether his view is accurate. There is no accurate. To suggest that there is an absolute truth that says his truth is wrong, is to judge, and the one absolute postmodernists allow is “Thou shalt not judge.” Life simply doesn’t work this way: It’s football season. What if for any given game, each coach, each ref, each player got to choose what he wanted the rules to be? The NFL Rule Book would have to go. So would the refs. Soon there would be chaos. There would be no sense to make of the game. There could be no game. There are three huge problems with having “my truth.” First, whatever I believe, there is still an objective world in which I live. I may believe I can fly. But, if I jump off a cliff, my subjective is going to crash on a rocky objective. “My truth” is going be smashed on “the truth.” Second, if each gets his own truth, what happens when two people’s truths opposingly clash? Who’s right? Whatever the protestations that each one’s truth is equally valid, they cannot be. Unless, an absolute is accepted to judge between the “my truth” of one and the opposing “my truth” of the other, the mob decides. The mob cannot appeal to an absolute to say this one is right, so they vilify the my truth of the one that they do not like. Herein is the blatant hypocrisy we witnessed. If Dr. Ford has the right to tell “her truth,” be heard and believed, why does not Judge Kavanaugh have the right to tell “his truth,” be heard and believed? That inconsistency is hypocrisy in and of itself. But, it reveals another hypocrisy. The leftists made a judgment. They labeled “his truth” a lie and “her truth” true. To be consistent, without objective truth no “my truth” is a lie. Each’s truth is true. How ludicrous. Third, although this whole scheme of postmodernism is an attempt to rid our universe of behavior-condemning, absolute moral truth, it has been unsuccessful. Moral truth is inculcated in the heart of humanity, written on the pages of God’s Word, and founded in the immutable nature of the eternal God. There is such a thing as “The Truth.” That truth is not opened to interpretation, negotiation, or abrogation. There is no “my truth” and “your truth,” “his truth” and “her truth.” There is only God’s Truth. God’s Truth is not subjective. It is the same for me, you, and the other 7 billion inhabitants of planet earth. It is the same yesterday, today, forever. God’s Word tells the truth about the world, humanity and me. The my truth and the truth about me are two different things. So are her truth and the truth about her. His truth and the truth about him. And, that’s the Truth.
“this is what democracy looks like!”???
Bro. Clifford Hurst 10/7/2018
This is what democracy looks like,” is a mantra we have heard over and over from those attempting to justify the crossing-all-boundaries antics of an incensed left during the brouhaha over the recent Supreme Court nominee’s confirmation. Senators shamelessly attack the nominee with twisted, foundationless, knowingly false accusations attempting to assail and incriminate him, and, when confronted with the baselessness and vileness of what they have done, they respond, “This is what democracy looks like.” The media refuse to report any forthcoming thing that would exculpate the nominee but report every vague manufactured rumor they think will impugn him and, when challenged, denying any wrong in publishing what is totally unfounded, demur, “This is what democracy looks like.” Hecklers interrupt the proceedings, yell unsubstantiated, hurtful, vile things, accost someone trying to have supper in a restaurant, shout down a speaker giving an address, stop, as an organized, paid mob, hysterically screaming, a legislator trying to use an elevator, and their defenders nod approvingly and pontificate, “This is what democracy looks like.” I am thinking, “No, this is NOT what democracy looks like. This is what anarchy looks like. You must have no idea what democracy really is.” I am also thinking, “If this is what democracy looks like, I’m not sure I want democracy.” As upsetting as this is to me and to millions of Americans, I’m not writing to explore and expound on what democracy truly looks like and how wrong these leftists are. No, I’m writing because this hypocritically-uttered, democracy-perverting protestation reminds me of a question that I in the last decade have been asking myself over and over: “What does genuine Christianity look like?” Those I mentioned above point at their uncivil despicable behavior and label it with “This is what democracy looks like.” A preacher shouts about hating gays. Members of a church scheme and campaign to oust a pastor because he resisted the church boss. Evangelical youth in great majority profess they see nothing wrong with pre-martial relations—and practice what they profess. Preachers spout curse words while preaching. The most popular pulpit message is the encouraging of each to aggrandize and inflate one’s ego with self-pep talk while he is on his way to fulfilling his dreams of wealth, power, and pleasure. Christians in political arguments on social media post the same ad hominin vitriol as that posted by avowed, atheist anarchists. (All of that is just a random extemporaneous sampling.) Whether we proclaim it or not, the message to society is “This is what Christianity looks like.” Ten years ago, sitting in a church while on vacation, mulling over the state of American Christianity, I kept hearing that question, “What does true Christianity, true faith, true belief, look like?” I began to search the NT. My intent here is not to share any conclusions I came to, but, I must confess, I still find myself looking on at the self- professed Christianity of our contemporary church world and asking, “Is this what Christianity looks like?” Of the hecklers mentioned above I find myself wondering: If that is truly what democracy looks like, why do you have to say so to lovers of democracy? Wouldn’t they recognize it? Likewise, I believe that genuine Christianity is as such that people recognize it when they see it—and when they don’t. I see or experience that which, I believe, is in direct opposition to the teaching of the NT, the Spirit of Christ, love, etc., and ask, “Can those folks in honesty point at their lives, beliefs, and practices and say, ‘This is what Christianity looks like’?” Then I find myself in a greater quandary; can I look at my own life and honestly declare, “This is what Christianity looks like”? I must admit I am much less confident than the recent nominee protesters. I would hate for those who do not know Christ to observe my life and say, “If that is what Christianity looks like, I’m not sure I want Christianity.”
remember not the sins of my youth
Bro. Clifford Hurst 9/30/2018
As I listened to the Kavanaugh hearing addressing the allegation that thirty-six years ago he had drunkenly sexually assaulted a then 15-year old when he was 17, I kept hearing a scripture, a plea of a psalmist, playing over and over in my head: “Remember not the sins of my youth” (Psalm 25:7). I am not saying a person should not be held accountable for his crime. I am not saying that crime and sin do not have lasting consequences and inflict enduring injuries. I am not saying one should escape just retribution for the wrong he has done. I am not saying things should be swept beneath the rug. I am not saying the Judge did it or didn’t do it. I am saying that I believe that many have watched the debacle of the senate supreme-court-nominee confirmation hearing and, listening as Judge Kavanaugh was grilled about his alleged sordid past as a teenager, have, as I, thought, “I would not want the foolish, sinful, and crazy things I did as a teenager broadcasted for all the world to see.” The psalmist must have shuddered thinking of his youthful years when he first prayed and then wrote, “Remember not the sins of my youth.” Unless one is singularly unique, suffers amnesia, is an angelic alien living among us, or is in sharp denial, he has things he has done or thought in his youthful past of which he is not proud. He would not want these brought up. He would not want them made known. He is embarrassed by them. What if the things of your past had been exposed to the public and discussed by all for the past two weeks? How would you be feeling right now? It is painful enough for you just when thoughts of your youthful past unbiddenly surface from your mental archives into your consciousness. No, we would not want the sins of our youth aired. We want any that know of them to forget them. We want to forget them. And, especially, we want God to forget them. God could bring up each of our pasts. He could leak our youthful sins to the world. He doesn’t. He doesn’t bring them up. Not even to us. Not if we have confessed them, repented of them. It is Satan, the Accuser, that never forgets and constantly seeks to bring them. Of course, God being God, has perfect memory of all we have done. “Remember” then, isn’t so much about recall as it is about something being brought up and held against a person. Thus, when we say God doesn’t “remember” our sins but “forgets” them, “remember” and “forget” are best understood not in terms of mental recall but of debt. If it is brought up that you owe me $100, and I say, “Just ‘forget’ it,” I am not saying neither of us will from henceforth be unable to recall that debt. I am saying that I will not bring it up and hold it against you. Your not paying the debt will not be a determiner of how I treat you, respond to you. I release you from your responsibility to me for the wrong you have done me. That God does not remember, that God forgets, means that God will not be bringing my past up and holding it against me. Admittedly, the best way not to bring something up is to forget it, not remember it. If allegations are provable, there are those whose responsibility it is to bring up the crimes of one’s past and hold that one accountable. That said, did it ever occur to those who righteously dragged things up from the Judge’s past, which they hoped would corroborate the alleged crime, that they would not want someone to bring up their indiscretions and foolishness of their youthful years? It is always easier to bring up someone else’s past while hiding one’s own. I am thankful I was not sitting in the Judge’s chair, having my past remembered. I am thankful I was not the one doing the bringing up of his past. I am more thankful that God doesn’t bring up my repented of and forgiven past. If asked of youthful sins, I would have to admit, “I remember”; yet, I could quickly follow with, “But, God doesn’t!”
alexa’s listening!
Bro. Clifford Hurst 9/23/2018
Don’t talk to her,” my three-year-old grandson with fear on his face emphatically instructed me . Having gotten Alexa for Christmas, I was testing her by giving her different commands. Alexa is a virtual, voice assistant that will follow one’s commands to do things that can be done via the internet and with linked devices. It can play requested music, tell you the weather, read the daily news, or turn your lights off or on. My grandson had listened as I began commands with, “Alexa,” and then whatever I wanted her to do. “Alexa, play ‘Jesus Loves Me’.” “Alexa, turn the thermostat down two degrees.” She does not obey in silence; she talks back. “I can’t find that song.” “Ok. I turned down the temperature on your thermostat two degrees.” It wasn’t that I talked to Alexa that got to my grandson; it was her talking back that he found unsettling. She, that little black cylinder sitting on the floor was listening! He could not have articulated why Alexa bothered him. It was an instinctive, innate alarm and aversion he experienced. However, what he felt, I find, is a general concern. Even many adults are bothered about that—about Alexa’s always being there, always listening, hearing every word. Now, Alexa claims only to begin listening when she hears her name. I know, I just asked her, “Alexa, are you listening?” She replied, “I start listening when I hear the wake word (her name).” Okay, that may be, but, if she only begins listening after she hears her name, how did she hear her name? Some have begun using Alexa only to become fearful of her, unplug her, and exile her to some dark corner of a distant cabinet. These have equated Alexa to an eavesdropper with his ear to the door, an FBI planted bug, and a fulfillment of Orwell’s 1984 prophecy. Bolstering such fears is the famous example given of the married couple at home talking about their hardwood floors. In minutes they received a call from one of the husband’s employees miles away who said that he had just received a voice email of everything they had been talking about. (This was possible because Alexa mistakenly heard her name, asked questions unheard by the couple, and then mistook words in the ongoing conversation as answers to her questions.). I continue to use my Alexa, although I am fastidious in believing privacy in the home should be valued and protected—but why I am unconcerned about Alexa’s listening is another matter. What I find interesting are two things. First, many who are concerned about Alexa, the “Alexa-may-be-listening-to-my-private-conversations” folks, are often the same ones who consistently and continually post their private lives on social media. Second, and more importantly, many who are concerned about Alexa’s listening are unbelieving of and/or unconcerned by the fact that God is always listening. And, likewise, God is always seeing. That He does so is true: “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” (Heb 4:13). Worried about Alexa’s surveillance? God hears every word uttered in private (and every thought). Concerned your TV may be watching you? God is—24/7. Now, all that may cause some great distress—and perhaps, should. By the way, Alexa keeps a record of everything she has heard you say--I just accessed the record, some of which is in text, some in audio, of what our Alexa has heard. God also keeps a record of all you’ve said, done. Disturbing? Think: If you had an at-home emergency and could not find your cellphone, you would be glad Alexa was listening when you cried, “Alexa, call ________!” (Alexa will not directly dial 911, but can dial a friend who will). No. I am not distressed that God is listening. He hears my every sigh, cry, petition, and plea. My suggestion about God’s listening is opposite my grandson’s about Alexa’s listening: “Talk to Him!”
Bro. Clifford Hurst 9/16/2018
Upon reflection I am convinced that more people are praying to God than at any time in history—and not just because the population is larger than it’s ever been. I am convinced by surfing social media, reading the newspaper, and hearing the newscasts. To the many tragedies, dangers, calamities of our world, both public and private, there is a continual response of “I’m praying, “We’re praying,” or, simply “Praying” To save time typing “praying” there is even an emoji of praying hands. A person posts of a crisis in his life, and friends and even unknown, social-media surfers comment, “Praying.” If each of those who posts “praying” is truly praying, there must be an amazing volume and mass of prayer going to the Throne. There must be more prayer happening than ever! Please, I am not trying to be sarcastic or cynical—though I am certainly capable of being so. I’m not. I’m just very skeptical of the reality of each, most, or even a double-digit percentage of the comments “praying” representing a prayer actually prayed. I am not questioning people’s motives and intentions--well maybe. I understand why they say “praying”; there is no better way to show compassion, empathy, love, and solidarity than to say to the sufferer, “I’m praying for you.” People do care. People do want to show it. But, does “praying” mean the person who typed it has been praying? Does it mean that he concurrently prays as he types? Does it mean he intends to pray when he gets off the web and finds a time and place (which I believe is most often the intention, one that is rarely fulfilled)? Or, does “praying” only mean “I care” with no intention of actually praying? In our culture, “Praying” is an acceptable cultural convention of saying, “I feel empathy; I care for you; I am sorry for what you are going through.” Those in crisis are encouraged hearing it. Cynically, I wonder, do some type “praying” because they care, or do they do so to get credit and kudos for caring? Our nature being so insidiously deceptive, without even processing our motive, we each could type “praying” simply to appear to the sufferer and all who see the post that we are a caring, sympathetic or even spiritual person. Now, please, I am speaking generally. I am sure that there are many who never type “praying” unless they have been or will as soon as they can. I am sure that there are those who type “praying” who fully intended to pray even if, ultimately, they do not. Then, there are some who are harangued by an inner voicing crying, “Liar!” if they do not pray. All of this I have mused out loud because I truly believe “praying” has become a convention, whatever the motive for employing it, for saying “I care” rather than a description of the actual act of petitioning God in behalf of another. This is disconcerting because, although people may be comforted by taking “praying” as someone saying he cares, people really could stand the intervention of God that actual praying, petitioning Him, brings. Beyond the kudos one receives from his friend for saying he will pray, is the knowing one actually helped his friend, rather, God did, through his praying. The one that types “praying,” if he prays, can know the tremendous impact that praying can have on those needs he commented “praying” on—and on his own life. In other words, praying will not only benefit the sufferer, it will help the praying one. Making “praying” more than a conventional response but an actual thing changes its meaning when you type it. It still says, “I care.” But, it also says, “I am really praying. You could use the help, and I could use the practice.” After reading this, if in the comments you to me type in response, “Brother, you have a real problem. Praying for you,” I trust you really are.
emotions and pancakes (and lots of other analogies)
Bro. Clifford Hurst 9/9/2018 1
Have you ever noticed how much trouble your emotions cause you? How many regrettable things you’ve done following the impulse of your emotions? How many wrong decisions you’ve made? How many unretractable things you’ve blurted out? (Okay, you haven’t let your emotions do those things to you; but, I have.) Emotions are one of the main differentiators between us and a robot. Or a cabbage. Despite the self-harm our emotions cause, if there were a surgery that could totally extract them, we wouldn’t want it. Are emotions good or bad? Well, emotions are like pancakes. Each one has another side. Our capacity to feel sorrow is on the same pancake of emotion as our capacity to feel joy—just on the opposite side. On the opposite side of anger is contentment. On the opposite of hate is love. I am not sure any can experience true joy without also experiencing true sorrow. (I know I am mixing a lot of metaphors and analogies. Not sure how you’ll feel about that.) Trouble is, even good emotions can be like sugar. Eat a bunch of it, and sugar will take you on a high high only later to plunge you to a corresponding low. Again, I am not for a moment suggesting that emotions are bad; quite the contrary. Emotions are God created. They are wonderful things. Life without emotion would be like flowers without color, fruit without sweetness, birds without song. Life would be all gray with only white noise. But, our emotions took the fall of sin with the rest of us. Therefore, emotions are fickle things, horrible indicators of reality, inaccurate voices for giving directions, and such pesky insisters we act hastily and unwisely. We even expect more than we should from our good emotions. We should not expect our bad emotions to render us good advice on our decisions. We also should not expect good emotion to transform our character, our hearts and minds. Only God’s Spirit can do that. Euphoria, even if we experience it in church, will not make us a better person. What to do with the troublesome blessing/curse of emotion? Let me introduce yet another analogy. Emotions make a wonderful passenger but a terrible driver. If analogously, your life, your heart, your mind, is the vehicle, then something other than emotion needs to be behind the wheel doing the steering. Let emotion be the cheerful, engaging, pleasant, and even talkative passenger. Just refuse to let it take the wheel. (There is no need to advise the obvious of keeping the ugly, hateful, bitter passenger from getting behind the wheel.) The one we should let behind the wheel is that conglomerate of our values, Biblical principles, and our obedient, surrendered will. I suppose I should give several suggestions on what to do about those bad emotions, about how to keep them out from behind the steering wheel, but I have only one: I don’t want to oversimplify, but here it is; before acting on your emotions, express them to God. Air them out in prayer. Place them on the table, or rather, the altar before God. We take what is wrong with our bodies and tell the doctor about it. We should take our emotions to God and tell Him of them. There is so much to be said about what happens when we express the emotions with which we struggle to God, but, I’ve only space to say this: Often, God turns the pancake over, good emotion side up, joy side up.
something wrong with the picture
Bro. Clifford Hurst 9/2/2018 1
Barreling ahead briskly, I was taking one of my daily walks. The trail I perambulated, bordered by trees on one side and mown grass on the other, goes through a beautiful, secluded, picturesque part of the park. I thought I had the trail to myself; then, I could smell their presence before I saw or heard them. Medical caretakers from the nursing home on the other side of the trees had made an opening in the foliage through which they daily carried metal, folding chairs which they positioned to face the beauty of the park. There, smoking, they spent their breaks. Cigarette smoke climbed the sides of the trees towards the beautiful blue above, wafted across the green meadow, and meandered its way along the trail. Immediately and instinctively my mind registered the impression of incongruency, an impression much like hearing someone playing the trumpet hitting an off-key, high-pitched note. Something was wrong with the picture. Now, those ladies may each have been a wonderful person. I do not question their dedication to their patients or their skill and attention in caring for them. That would required prejudiced, unmerited assumptions. Nevertheless, my mind could not fail to register the incongruency—health care workers engaged in a practice that was unhealthy. If any should know of the harm of cigarette smoking, it should be they; yet, they were smoking. If any should warn folks about smoking, it should be they. Yet, they were smoking. No doubt, some or all of them had had or did have patients who died or were dying from lung cancer brought on by smoking. Yet, they were smoking. Yes, however one looks at it, something was wrong with the picture. Something incongruent. Something out of tune. Something inharmonious. Something contradictory. I write this not to take a self-righteous jab at habitual smokers. No. I write because I immediately thought of how so often so many Christians do so many things that are incongruous with the name they bear, the experience they are supposed to have, and the beliefs they are supposed to hold. As incongruous as smoking is to a health care worker, such is an angry, hate-saturated, ad hominin political harangue to a Christian. Hearing curse words coming out of a Christians’ mouth is no different than seeing cigarette smoke coming from a pulmonary surgeon’s lips. Cigarette smoking leaves a pungent scent in the air. So, does self-righteousness. A sour, pompous Christian who looks over his glasses of self-righteousness perched on his snobbishly raised nose with harsh disdain that says to the sinner, “ You are trash,” fills the air with a stench that causes the unsaved to find a detour round him. If the waitress knows one is a Christian, and he leaves a tract instead of tip, she hears a sour note that destroys any song of witness he may have given. The Christian called it evangelism. The waitress sees only selfishness, ingratitude. The driver of the car in front of you is in the uniform of the local children’s hospital. Passing, you see the glow of her cigarette and that fog of the smoke that fills the car’s interior. Incongruent. Yes, but what of the driver of the car with the fish bumper sticker whose road rage has filled and escaped his vehicle? Perhaps, as Christians we each should ask, “When people see my life, do they smell smoke? Do they hear a sour note? Do they remark, “Something is wrong with this picture?”
penetrating oil
Bro. Clifford Hurst 8/26/2018
The power of penetrating oil has often been a wonder to me. I was changing the brakes on my son’s vehicle. Things were going smoothly. The front brakes were completed. I had started on the back ones when things ground to a halt. I could not free the left brake drum to remove it. Oh, I had backed the brake shoes off, but the drum was rusted to the hub. “Seized up,” is how we used to describe such a thing. Taking the drum by opposites edges I tried to wiggle it side to side. Nothing. I pried at it. It wouldn’t budge. Using my ball-peen hammer, I banged the drum side to opposite side and even traced the circumference with blows from my hammer. Nothing gave. Although I didn’t have the exact puller needed, I made an attempt to remove the drum with the one I did have. Nothing relented. (Mechanics, please, indulge me by overlooking what I should have, could have, done.) Frustrated I sat on a stool catching my breath and angrily staring at the stubborn drum. It’s being stuck and unwilling to let go of the hub was holding everything up, devouring any hopes of a free, relaxing evening. I began contemplating a blow torch when I thought of something I should have thought of from the start: Penetrating oil! Retrieving the oil from my work bench, I squirted it all around the hub where it was wedded to the drum. It left a dark ring as it soaked into the rust. I went into the house, for a drink—lemonade, that is. Just a few minutes later, not expecting much after so short a time, I went back to the drum, and, sitting on the stool, I lightly tapped one side of the drum and then the opposite side. Just like that, the drum popped off the hub. So easily. Nothing to it. What had seemed impossible happened after the application of penetrating oil. The Bible often refers to the Holy Spirit as oil. I realize that the analogy of the Holy Spirit as oil was not a reference to its lubrication properties; and, never was the descriptive “penetrating” paired with “oil.” Yet, I do not think it inaccurate or sacrilegious to say that the Holy Spirit is Penetrating Oil. Words used to tout and advertise penetrating oil’s ability are “breaks lose,” “frees,” and “stops corrosion.” Those descriptive actions are in addition to the one in its very name, “penetrating.” All of these things the Spirit does; does when nothing else can. Leading worship services, I would have to describe some of them as I did that brake drum—seized up. Nothing is moving. Hearts are frozen hard. Worship is stiff. Things are just tight. The corrosion of bitterness has rusted fast the arms of worship. The oxidation of apathy has welded the lips of praise. Prayers are stuck somewhere inside souls unable to escape. Once seated in the pew, the sinner cannot break loose to answer the Gospel’s call to the altar. The rust of sin keeps the wheel inside the wheel, from turning when the singing begins. The toes do not tap and neither do the hearts of worship beat. The build up of worldliness in the soul keeps it melded to self-centered thoughts instead of soaring heavenward with the crescendo of the music, the climax of the sermon, the exaltation in the worship. Then, God in grace and mercy begins to apply His Spirit. The prideful façade, the encrustation of bitterness, the corrosion of worldliness, the layers of sin, the rust of indifference are penetrated. God has moved past the exterior into the heart. Tongues are loosened and prayer and praise pour out. Arms break free and are raised in triumph, victory, surrender, and adulation. The singing comes unattached from a horizontal plane and begins to vertically ascend towards heaven pulling worshipers after it. The preacher’s words flow freely from his heart unimpeded, unstopped, unhindered. The corrosion of sin loosens its hold on the sinner, and, breaking lose from his pew, his past, his sin, he answers Christ’s call to salvation’s altar. The world doesn’t let go of the backsliding Christian; the backsliding Christian lets go of the world and weepingly wraps his freed arms around Christ in renewed love and dedication. People are moving. Prayers are going somewhere. The Word has free course. Worship is liberated. Yes, I would have to say the Holy Spirit is Penetrating Oil.
arrogance of the exception
Bro. Clifford Hurst 8/19/2018
America is changing. Recent primaries have revealed a growing support of socialism. The easiest response to this surging favoring, acceptance, and promotion of socialism is to attribute it to its youthful groupies’ just not knowing what it is they are desiring and espousing. We are likely to ask incredulously, “Don’t they know what socialism is?” followed quickly by, “Don’t they know that socialism has never worked?” In truth, I think many of them have at least a rudimentary, howbeit, utopian understanding of what socialism is. The leftist university professors and liberal theologians have made sure of that. I also believe that any thinking and honest ones among them must know that socialism has never, in the end, worked. Currently, Venezuela has been screaming to the world, “Socialism doesn’t work!” Yes, I believe they truly know what it is and that it hasn’t succeeded; I just think they are deceived by something they don’t have and something they do have: First, they do not have an accurate understanding of the nature of humanity. Second, they have what I call the arrogance of the exception: Human Nature: The socialist’s greatest faith isn’t in the idea of socialism. His greatest faith is in the inherent goodness of humanity. Socialism can only work if humanity is inherently good—and it is verifiably not. There is goodness in humanity, but humanity’s default setting is selfishness and every other bad characteristic that makes socialism impossible. Arrogance of the exception: Unless socialism enthusiasts convolute history, and many do, they must know that true socialism, wherever tried, ultimately does not work. How then can the enthusiasts still vehemently tout it much less believe it? The answer must be that they think socialism has not yet worked because the wrong people were in charge of its implementation. Now, if these neo, university indoctrinated, youthful socialists and their mentors were put in charge, it would work—or so they believe. They could do what no other socialists have done. This is what I call the arrogance of exception: Although the historical record has shown something has never worked, because I am smarter, more enlightened, more determined, etc., it will work for me. I wrote this about socialism because I was thinking of those who reject Christ to live a life in the world. These make the same mistake. Their faith is in humanity’s science, reason, philosophies, pleasures, ways, culture, and ability to satisfy the longing in their hearts. Recanting their faith in God, they place their faith in humanity. Cannot they see the wreckage, the emptiness, the hopelessness, the waste, the hurt, of that those who reject Christ to live a worldly life, a life in sin? Certainly, but they truly believe that it will go differently for them. Where others have failed, they will be the exception and succeed. They have the arrogance of the exception. Fornication has led to hurt, betrayal, disease and the like. But, it will be different for me. In all of history none have found true meaning and joy in sin. But, I will. I have seen this over and over as pastor. A young person has it all figured out. He rejects truth, Christ, and the Church. You give him examples of others who have done the same and recount how badly it turned out for them. He insists, “That won’t happen to me.” What I do know is that Christ will work in one’s life. What I can, not arrogantly but confidently, say is, there are no exceptions.
where scriptures are engraved
Bro. Clifford Hurst 8/12/2018
We flew over Washington D.C. looking for scriptures on monuments, buildings, and anywhere we might find them. Well, by virtual simulation that is. Leaning on angled supports with manufactured wind blowing in our face, at super acceleration we sped towards some distant landmark. Descending as we approached the ever-enlarging building, we slowed slightly as we entered through the magically opening doors into the interior, entered as if we were a drone and our eyes its camera. We paused only long enough for our virtually controlled eyes to zoom in on an inscribed phrase, a painted word, or embroidered letters on the scene before us. At each stop the unseen, narrating guide would read those excerpts. Over and over this was repeated as we traveled around the city from site to site. In each case, the detail, zoomed in on and highlighted, was a scripture, portion of scripture, or language extract from scripture. Ubiquitous across our capitol city, mostly unnoticed by the bands of tourists were portions of Scripture, the Word of God. Carved in the wood of a door, chiseled into stone, embroidered into a tapestry, brushed into a painting was the Word of God. From the Capitol building, to the Lincoln Memorial, to the Washington Monument, and to the other edifices along the way we went from scripture to scripture. One example, among the many is the Washington Monument; there are many Scriptures inscribed on the memorial blocks of its walls. But, what impressed me was that on its 555’ apex, on the east side engraved in its aluminum cap are the Latin words translated, “Praise be to God.” Who ever sees it? Yet, it’s there. I was totally fascinated by all those scriptures in all those places throughout the city of our government. Two thoughts began to drown out the narrator as I struggled to keep my balance on the yawing and roller-coastering of the flight: First, those scriptures were inscribed in all those places because the Word of God was once engraved into the moral consciousness and social fabric of our nation. No more. They remain on our edifices but not in our hearts and minds. Those scriptures in our Capitol not only go unnoticed by most tourists, they are largely no longer even considered, mused, perused, or employed by those who now govern in the city and buildings we toured. Second, oh, it is nice that the Scriptures are written in so many places in our Capitol, but, how desperately we need God’s word written in our minds, engraved on our hearts, and imprinted on our souls. What if on our every thought somewhere was engraved the Word? What if somewhere imprinted in our emotions was the Word? What if stamped indelibly on our conscience was the Word? Is this not what God was instructing when He told the people of Israel, “Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, …And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy gates:” (Deu 11:18-21). It is the Word that is missing. It may be engraved on our nation’s monuments, but it is missing in our thoughts, our conversations, our rationalizing, our debates, and our decision making. If a virtual tour were taken through the inside world of our lives, the inner domain of our homes, the walls of our places of worship, would we discover there God’s Word, ingrained, impressed, imprinted? What the teacher instructed his son to do with his commandments, “… write them upon the table of thine heart.” (Pro 7:3) we need done to our hearts and minds. Reliving the virtual tour as I type, I hear the words of the old hymn, “Tell me the story of Jesus, write on my heart every word…” I’m glad fragments of God’s Word are engraved on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial. But, I really need the Word engraved into the walls of my heart, embroidered in the fabric of my mind, and painted on the canvass of my soul.
why did daniel open the window?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 8/5/2018 1
Hey, all you fellow introverts, I may just be chatting with you this morning. This past week, reading on FB of a craftsman, who, while working in a house, became overcome with fumes and hospitalized, I recalled times I had used oil or lacquer based paint or combustion-power equipment inside an enclosed space. I remember well that awfulness of being overcome with the accumulating vapors. The instinctive reaction is “I have to open a window.” Although especially true of melancholy introverts, I suspect it may be true of all folks. What? The fact that, when we inwardly are troubled by things, wrestling with a dilemma, hurting from an offense, struggling with temptation, doubts, or weakness, agonizing over a decision, mulling a perplexity—whatever--, the fumes of inner turmoil build, the distress thickens, the despairing thoughts fog, filling our inner being, choking our joy, fumigating our faith. Before we are completely overcome, we must open a window. Sharing what you are feeling, thinking, agonizing and despairing over, or struggling with, is an open window that dissipates the increasing fumes that suffocate the soul intoxicating it with hopelessness and despair. Fortunate is that one who has a spouse, a friend, or a confidant with whom he can share the deepest conflicts of the enclosed room of his inner being. That one, who will listen and love and provide a place to lean, is a true open window of the soul. Usually, we first think of windows as the aperture through which we let something in. “I’ll open the window and let in some fresh air.” But, windows are also the opening through which we let something out. We burn the bacon. We say, “Open that window. We got to get this smoke and smell out of here.” The Psalms are so loved, I believe, because they are an open window to our souls. The Psalms are unique in the Word of God. The other books of the Bible are the Spirit-inspired Words of God to humanity. The Psalms are the Spirit-inspired words of humanity to God. The Psalms give us an inspired way to express the deepest emotions of our soul to God. Many are a window to let the fumes of the troubled mind out. Our prayers need a window. Without an open window our praying becomes our circuitous talking to ourselves and not to God. The Psalmist admonished us to “pour out your hearts before” God (Ps. 62:8). Put another way he said, “Open the window of your heart and let out the fumes.” Today, we call it venting. The need to vent is a need for an open window. To entrap Daniel as he practiced his devotion to God, the decree had been authored and enacted that a person who petitioned anyone other than the king would be thrown to the lions. Knowing this, Daniel went home and prayed at his usual time and in his customary manner—facing an open window. He would not close the window to escape detection and incrimination; he did not leave it open in ostentatious defiance. Why, then, did Daniel “open” the window when he prayed? Biblically, it had something to do with an unimpeded trajectory to Jerusalem. But, could it have not also been because he needed to let out some soul-suffocating fumes through his prayers to God. Perhaps, it was because the room was stuffy. But, maybe his soul was choking. He had to open the window.
how fast is prayer?
Bro.. Clifford Hurst 7/29/2018
Several of us were ziplining, and, bringing up the rear, I had plenty of time to observe. We were sandwiched between two instructor-guides. One would lead the way zipping down to the next platform. When each successive member of our group arrived at his platform, he would give the cable a quick shake to signal the guide at the previous platform to send the next traveler. His whipping the cable sharply up and down sent an undulating wave traversing the length of the line. One platform on which we were perched was 1,500 feet from the next, which, hidden by trees, was not visible. Although the distant guide was unseen, soon I could see the jiggling of the near end of the cable as the signaling wave arrived. I don’t know how fast the wave traveled along the cable. There was a delay of a second or so between the sending and receiving the signal. But, what if the cable had been a long, rigid rod without the sag, and the guide had have pulled or pushed the rod held by the other guide on the previous stop? There would have been no delay between the sending and receiving of the signal. The communication between sender and receiver would be almost immediate slowed only by the time it would take for the sensation to travel the receiver’s nerve path and be processed by his brain. That’s fast communication. Just think. The sun is 93 million miles away. Nothing is supposed to travel faster than light, which travels at 186,000 miles per second. At that rate it takes eight minutes for light to travel from the sun. However, supposing the sun would not incinerate him, let’s say Joe stood on its surface holding one end of a rigid rod, and Bill, standing on earth, held the other end. Now suppose that Joe gave the rod a sharp jerk. Would not Bill immediately feel the movement? Would not Joe’s signal have traveled faster than the light leaving the sun? Physics may debunk this thought experience, but it is still something to contemplate. I don’t know how far away heaven and the Father that abides there is. Perhaps, the “far” between us and God isn’t linear but the distance between dimensions—or between relationships. However, far, I know of something that travels faster than light, and even faster than the movement of the rod between Joe and Bill. It is prayer. Heaven must be further away than the sun—dimensionally or linearly. Faith is the connection between our hearts and God, and prayer is the signal. Prayer is immediate. I pray; He hears. Let me tell you how fast prayer travels. Prayer gets to God before we even utter it. He knows what we have need of before we even ask. As distinctly as I saw the signals traveling along the zipline cable arriving from the other side, so God takes note of our prayers from our end directed to Him. That’s one distance I wouldn’t want to zipline.
what both conservatives and liberals should want
Bro. Clifford Hurst 7/15/2018
Please, don’t stop reading after the next statement. Unlike many conservatives, I do not desire our next Supreme Court Justice to be one who is chosen simply for meeting the criteria that he thinks Roe v. Wade should be overturned, and, thus, the legalization of abortion ended. I think such a desire is as wrong as the liberal who says he wants the next Supreme Court Justice to be one who will uphold the ruling. To me both expectations of a Supreme Court Justice are wrong. Both appeal to the possible justice’s views, desires, and personal intentions. No. I think we should desire a Supreme Court Justice who is knowledgeable, skilled, and honest in interpreting and applying the Constitution and laws according to their literal, contextual meanings and according to the intention of the authors. Although it is impossible for a person to divorce and divest himself completely of his ideology, we should not desire a justice who would bring his ideology to the Constitution and would interpret it according to that ideology. If it is wrong for a liberal to do so, it is wrong for a conservative to do so. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, it shouldn’t be because justices want to overturn it, think it should be overturned, or simply because they are against killing babies. It should be because the Constitution clearly protects life, even the life of the unborn. It should be because murder is murder whether it takes place inside or outside the womb, and the law has declared that murder is wrong and punishable. The liberal reveals his disdain of the literal, intentional interpretation of the Constitution by joining the brouhaha protesting that a nominee for the Supreme Court must “want” to uphold Roe v. Wade. If the liberal believed a literal, contextual reading of the Constitution supported a woman’s right to abort, he would be unafraid of a nominee who has sworn to interpret the Constitution literally and apply it faithfully. The liberal’s panic over a Constitutional literalist nominee reveals that he must know that a woman’s right to kill her unborn is NOT in the Constitution. If it were there, the liberal would also desire a nominee who would literally interpret the document. It is this realization that the Constitution does not allow for abortion that drives both the vitriol against a literalist, constructionist, nominee and the push to get the public to see the Constitution as an antiquated document reeking of historical prejudices that is incapable of addressing our times. Again, if the right for a woman to end her unborn’s life was protected by the Constitution, the liberal should be unafraid of and even desirous of a nominee who would literally interpret the Constitution. Likewise, the conservative should not succumb to thinking a nominee must be found who is driven by an ideology that says Roe v. Wade must be overturned. The conservative should desire that the nominee literally interpret the Constitution. A literal interpretation would protect the unborn and, ultimately, when challenged, overturn Roe v. Wade. A faithful jurist will interpret the Constitution even contrary to his personal ideology and desires. We should desire this of the conservative as well as of the liberal nominee. The same is true of the Bible. The desire should be to interpret it contextually, literally, honestly, and faithfully—even if it goes against one’s preconceived ideology and desires. If what we believe is really in there, we should be unafraid of its literal interpretation. Too often both liberals and conservatives take their ideology to the Bible rather than from it. In the end we would all have to agree with Mark Twain. “It’s not the parts of the Bible that I don’t understand that bother me. It’s the parts I do.” Neither the Bible nor the Constitution are really that unclear or hard to understand. It is what we want to find or not find in them that muddies the water.
feelings, the constitution and the bible
Bro. Clifford Hurst 7/8/2018 1
My wife warns me, “People don’t like it when you say that.” She is right. However, I cannot but believe my observation is correct. Here it is: “When people in the church argue against traditional, Biblical standards of righteousness, invariably they resort to the same kinds of arguments that recently were used in our society to bring about same-sex marriage, legalization of recreational marijuana, etc.” One of those arguments is “Well, times have changed.” The unspoken subtitle of such a statement is, “so, we must change our understanding of the Bible to accommodate the things time has changed.” In fact, the Bible is rarely even consulted in these arguments. The Bible is rarely brought into the discussion because with post-modern thinking, the ultimate determiner of my truth is not some absolute principle or precept or precedent from God’s Word applicable to all, but the determiner is some subjective opinion morphed from what I think, how I see it, what works for me. Although the Bible is rarely consulted or referenced, when it is, how it is treated is lock-stepped with how liberals treat and view the Constitution of the United States. There was a time that the Constitution was viewed as a uniquely profound fixed document to guide free people in self-governance. What its authors had penned must not be detoured from, altered, second guessed, manipulated, or twisted by personal interpretations. Now the Constitution is viewed as a “living document” that must be manipulated, however contortedly, to agree with contemporary liberal consensus. If it cannot be so contorted, it must be declared hopelessly antiquated, incapable of speaking to our day. In other words, wherever the Constitution disagrees with modern sentiment, the Constitution and not modern sentiment is wrong. Much of neo-Christianity treats the Bible no differently than liberals treat the Constitution. We used to take how we feel about things from the Bible. Now we take how we feel about things to the Bible. We used to form the beliefs that governed our lifestyle from study of the Bible. Now we study how to form the Bible to fit our pre-determined beliefs that justify our lifestyle. The Bible used to be the set, unchangeable Truth. Now the Bible is clay we shape by our customized interpretations to fit what it is we have already determined to do, to believe, to practice. Few are alarmed of the violation done to the Bible’s context and intent. Intent. That is the thing that is missing from the discussion of the Constitution or the Bible. What was the authors’ intent? The only intent that matters today, is my intent—what I want the Bible to say. One liners that capsulize what appeals to the flesh, the pride, the ego have replaced the contextual truths of the Bible the may run through many verses or even chapters. A preacher’s one liner holds more sway and weight than a complete quote from the Bible. One preacher gets before an audience and froths out with high-pitched volume a one liner jingle, and folks go emotionally wild. Another preacher gets up and expounds the Truth of Jesus’ teaching, and those same folks yawn and complain about the preaching being lifeless, boring, irrelevant. If the Bible is quoted, phrases that can be packaged as one liners are redacted and extracted, severed from the context that gave them meaning. Thus, we have even infidels appealing to Jesus’ authority with the one-liner, “Judge not.” In the end one’s feelings become the determiner of what one accepts as truth. “Do your own thing,” “Follow your heart,” has become the drum beat of liberality in both church and nation and the guide for interpreting Bible and Constitution. Why would one trust his fickle emotions to be the decider of Truth? Why would one not rather desire an unchanging, absolute, dead-on correct document of unchanging principles and precepts to govern his thinking, decisions, and life? The answer is because the unchanging document may go against what one wants to, feels like, doing, thinking, being, etc. If we are going to bring this down to feelings, there is another feeling that following one’s feelings can never give—the feeling of certainty, security, hopefulness. That feeling comes from recognizing what the prophet said: “Forever, O Lord, thy Word is settled in heaven.”
Bro. Clifford Hurst 6/24/2018
Optics. It is a word heard constantly today. Especially in the news. Especially during this current debacle about child immigrants being separated from their parents. As photos of caged children are flashed on the screen you have probably heard a commentator, either bemoaningly or gleefully, depending on his political leaning, say, “The optics are bad, really bad. Bad for Republicans.” Truly, in a world where we get our news from a screen—and screens are everywhere, screens of smart phones, tablets, televisions, computers—life has become all about optics. For sometime I have noticed while reading or hearing political commentary that optics are the first, the primary, and the overarching consideration. Whatever the issue, the analysis will be, “The optics are bad,” or “The optics are good.” There is almost no commentary of whether the issue itself is bad or the issue is good, only the optics of the issue. Understandably, optics are a powerful thing. Optics are about perception. People’s perception can completely govern their opinions, emotions, thoughts, judgment. There was a time when people knew perception could be deceiving. They wanted to get beneath the perception and find out the reality of the thing, the truth of the thing. Today, not so much. The issue, the reality, has become secondary to the optics. In our postmodern age, only perception matters. The liberals know, if conservatives are perceived as heartless, it will not matter that conservatives by large percentage are the most compassionate, charitable givers of any political block; thus, the orchestrated optics show conservatives as cruel and heartless, and the public believe it. Admittedly, optics truly do matter: A house, wonderfully laid out and structurally strong, can be on the market. How it is staged can be a deciding factor on how quickly and for how much it is sold. The food can taste the greatest; yet, how it is presented on the plate can determine whether it is desirable. A job applicant can be the most qualified, but how he dresses, sits, expresses his countenance can be the deciding factor on his being hired. But, optics aren’t everything. Optics can be dangerous. The house can be masterfully staged in a manner that camouflages its structural unsoundness. The food can be salmonella laced and yet look beautifully appetizing on the plate. The candidate can be corrupt, a con, a criminal and yet appear to be an ideal prospect for a position. Whatever the optics, what something really is, that is what truly matters. “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” (Pro 14:12). The way that seems right? The optics are good. They’re great! That way has a beautiful, wide, inviting gate. It is such a broad, straight, level road. Look at all the people traveling down it. There are so many. They all appear to be so happy. What are the optics on the option, the other way? What an unpretentious, restrictively skinny gate. Look how narrow, curvy, and often precipitous steep the path is. If it is so great a way, why are there so few on it. That’s the optics of the two ways. The reality is that the first ends in destruction. The second ends in life eternal. Perhaps, one of the most dangerous things one can say is, “It looks good to me.” Optics are not all they appear to be.
peace or bed rest?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 6/17/2018
I want President Trump to succeed in negotiations with North Korea. I want North Korea to de-nuke. I want peace with North Korea. I want there to be world peace. What I want is insignificant and of no import to anyone; I just stated things that way to qualify my visceral reaction to this past week’s news about the summit in Singapore, a reaction that grew more strongly after President Trump’s tweet that “everybody can now feel much safe... . There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” My reaction came in the recall of a scripture: “For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.” (I Thes 5:3). Unlike most of the media, I am not rooting for Trump’s efforts at peace with North Korea to fail. I genuinely desire for them to succeed. It’s just that considering this verse and North Korea’s historic deceptive machinations, peace seems a really farfetched possibility. For two days I could not think of the summit without thinking of Paul’s end of time admonition about not being misled by great, swelling promises and predictions of peace. When prospects for peace seem most promising, unprecedented destruction will crash down upon planet earth. This morning (Thursday) it suddenly hit me: What if I were wrong? What if North Korea did de-nuke? What if the U.S. and that country did sign a peace treaty? If so, it would be great to be wrong! However, as I thought again of the verse, I find it still applicable even if apparent peace comes to the peninsula and the world. Paul said that the destruction at the promise of peace would come as “travail upon a woman with child.” This is reminiscent of Jesus’ listing end time events and then labeling those things as the “beginning of sorrows.” Jesus’ word translated “sorrows” and Paul’s word translated “travail” are the same word—birth pangs, labor. The analogy is of an expectant mother going into labor. Jesus (Matthew 24) highlights the reality that the arrival of birth pangs does not mean the child will immediately be birthed (“… the end is not yet come.”). It could be, but usually not. But, although the arrival of birth pangs does not indicate immediate birth, it does indicate inevitable and imminent birth. The first birth pangs, labor pains, signal that the child is on its way. The labor may be too early. It may be Braxton Hicks. That does not change the reality that those pains inform that birth is inevitable. So, to my point: There are times after labor begins that for the development or health of child and/or mother, it is not advisable to allow labor to continue. To stop or slow the labor, the expectant woman is often put on bed rest. Bed rest may temporarily slow or stop the labor, delaying the birth, but that child is still coming. Peace may be apparently achieved with North Korea. I hope so. But, if so, considering the scripture, the world has only been put on bed rest. The “beginning of sorrows” has already commenced. This or that particular effort, break through, or negotiation may bring temporary respite, a bed rest, that slows or temporarily stops the rush towards the destruction, but that destruction is still coming. Just because the labor pains temporarily subside dos not mean that full-scale labor will not soon return. Ultimately, there will never be true peace until Jesus comes. I doubt He will tweet after He has brought peace, but that is one tweet on peace you will be able to believe. It will not be premature.
taking the knee
Bro. Clifford Hurst 6/10/2018
I want President Trump to succeed in negotiations with North Korea. I want North Korea to de-nuke. I want peace with North Korea. I want there to be world peace. What I want is insignificant and of no import to anyone; I just stated things that way to qualify my visceral reaction to this past week’s news about the summit in Singapore, a reaction that grew more strongly after President Trump’s tweet that “everybody can now feel much safe... . There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” My reaction came in the recall of a scripture: “For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.” (I Thes 5:3). Unlike most of the media, I am not rooting for Trump’s efforts at peace with North Korea to fail. I genuinely desire for them to succeed. It’s just that considering this verse and North Korea’s historic deceptive machinations, peace seems a really farfetched possibility. For two days I could not think of the summit without thinking of Paul’s end of time admonition about not being misled by great, swelling promises and predictions of peace. When prospects for peace seem most promising, unprecedented destruction will crash down upon planet earth. This morning (Thursday) it suddenly hit me: What if I were wrong? What if North Korea did de-nuke? What if the U.S. and that country did sign a peace treaty? If so, it would be great to be wrong! However, as I thought again of the verse, I find it still applicable even if apparent peace comes to the peninsula and the world. Paul said that the destruction at the promise of peace would come as “travail upon a woman with child.” This is reminiscent of Jesus’ listing end time events and then labeling those things as the “beginning of sorrows.” Jesus’ word translated “sorrows” and Paul’s word translated “travail” are the same word—birth pangs, labor. The analogy is of an expectant mother going into labor. Jesus (Matthew 24) highlights the reality that the arrival of birth pangs does not mean the child will immediately be birthed (“… the end is not yet come.”). It could be, but usually not. But, although the arrival of birth pangs does not indicate immediate birth, it does indicate inevitable and imminent birth. The first birth pangs, labor pains, signal that the child is on its way. The labor may be too early. It may be Braxton Hicks. That does not change the reality that those pains inform that birth is inevitable. So, to my point: There are times after labor begins that for the development or health of child and/or mother, it is not advisable to allow labor to continue. To stop or slow the labor, the expectant woman is often put on bed rest. Bed rest may temporarily slow or stop the labor, delaying the birth, but that child is still coming. Peace may be apparently achieved with North Korea. I hope so. But, if so, considering the scripture, the world has only been put on bed rest. The “beginning of sorrows” has already commenced. This or that particular effort, break through, or negotiation may bring temporary respite, a bed rest, that slows or temporarily stops the rush towards the destruction, but that destruction is still coming. Just because the labor pains temporarily subside dos not mean that full-scale labor will not soon return. Ultimately, there will never be true peace until Jesus comes. I doubt He will tweet after He has brought peace, but that is one tweet on peace you will be able to believe. It will not be premature.
don’t interrupt when i’m interrupting
Bro. Clifford Hurst 6/3/2018 1
One of the ironies of our modern society is how outraged people can be over someone's words or actions while they themselves are guilty of the same. It has been discovered that some of the male leaders of the #MeToo movement, who were among the loudest voices in decrying those who abused women, were themselves abusing women. In recent days commentators have taken great umbrage at tweets that have described individuals with offensive language and terms. Yet, many of those very commentators make a practice of lobbing haranguing insults at those who have opposing views. Winston Churchill surrounded at the table with his guests and family always instigated debate on various topics after a meal. Following one meal, Randolph, his son, was trying to make his point. Winston broke in to argue against it. Randolph tried to continue by over talking his father. Churchill barked at him, "Don't interrupt me when I am interrupting." At least he was honest. Although never admitted, confessed or articulated, this is the attitude of those of post-modern society: "Don't judge me when I am judging you." "Don't infringe on my freedom of speech (heckling) when I am violating yours (giving a speech)." “Don't demean my faith (subjective unrealities) when I demean yours (orthodoxy).” “Don't label me for who I am when I malignantly mislabel you.” “Don't point out my real hypocrisies when I erroneously paint you as a hypocrite.” “Don't call me mean-spirited when I condemn you as mean-spirited simply for disagreeing with someone's views.” “Don't call me racist when I call you racist simply because you have white skin.” No, you will never hear these confessions. Yet, this is the blatant hypocrisy that permeates our society today. All of this comes from making the individual autonomous. Each is the creator of his own truth, definer of his own terms, and judge of his own actions. He judges himself by his own truth. He judges others by another standard. There is one standard for himself (the subjective one he designs for himself), and another standard for others. Yes, Churchill’s "Don't interrupt while I am interrupting" is an honest, though proud and, perhaps, unintended confession of hypocrisy. Yet, in the Lord's Prayer I find the same kind of pattern but used in a positive way that could have a transformative effect both on the one who sincerely enunciates it and upon the society in which he lives. Here it is. "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us."
the word and weed & feed
Bro. Clifford Hurst 5/13/2018
It is probably rather peculiar on Mother’s Day to write of Milkweeds instead of Moms. I figured there will be such a plethora of well-deserved posts on mothers that I would leave mothers to those more poetically inclined. Since moving into a plat, lawncare has become something completely new to me—and competitive. Our new home has a yard neglected for some time. Our adjacent neighbors’ and most lawns in our plat are immaculate carpets of weed-free green. In contrast our lawn looks like a worn, patched, and dirty swatch of work clothes. You get the idea from talking to owners of the perfect, carpet-like lawns that having dandelions on your yard is like having measles on your face. It isn’t just that your face looks bad, but people are afraid they will catch what you have. The lawn-manicuring neighbors are justifiably panicked over the real possibility that the seed of your dandelions will infect their lawn. Such disease spreads quickly. I feel the pressure. Not wanting to spend on professional lawn care, I am determined to transform our lawn via do-it-yourself means. I have discovered Weed & Feed. Naysayers and environmentalists notwithstanding, it seems to me a wonderful idea. In one bag are a mixture of components some which kill weeds—watch out dandelions—and some which feed grass. How clever. I emptied the bag into my new broadcaster and began pelting my lawn with the sleet of Weed & Feed. Days later, I began to see some effect. The weeds, namely those invasive and feared dandelions, were beginning to curl and shrivel. The grass seemed greener and taller. I began to muse how those two drastic, polar results had come from the same bag, the same broadcaster, and the same application. Unsummoned thoughts began to compel me to see what I had done to my lawn with Weed & Feed, is what I do when preaching the Word to a congregation. I fill the broadcaster of my heart and sermon notes with the Word of God. As it takes time to cover the yard, preaching, I take the time to cover the ground of needs that the material of the message addresses. Back and forth. Up and down. Going over the areas missed or in need of more coverage. Here is the amazing thing. Same bag (the Word). Same broadcaster (the message, messenger). Same application (the service, time, place). Yet, the results are often drastically different. Unlike my lawn, the congregations to which I minister consists of far fewer “weeds.” Over and over I have watched the response to the same message. One responds with a flourish of open, grateful hunger. Another shudders and sours. One looks stronger afterwards. Another looks hardened. One is vibrant and full. Another is shriveled and dry. One leaves with new life. Another leaves with the onset of spiritual death. Each was exposed to the same Word. The difference was in the nature of the hearer who responded to it. Simply put, Weed & Feed kills weeds but feeds grass. Jesus said His Word would either give life or condemn. Over and over as He spoke, some sprung to life and some shriveled in anger, refusal, and hardness of heart. Interesting, not just a congregation but each’s heart, including my own, can have its share of dandelions among the grass. Thankfully, His Word weeds not only a congregation but each heart. His word will bring growth to the things in my heart that are good and death to the things in my heart that are bad. I don’t know how my lawn will turn out, but I sure desire my heart to be a carpet of green and growth; thus, I will welcome and keep applying the Weed & Feed of the Word.
Bro. Clifford Hurst 5/6/2018 1
Historical revisionism, political correctness, and pseudo-theology have successfully flipped perceptions resulting in people’s thinking things are the opposite of what they actually are. There is a perception that Democrats have always been against the violation of civil rights and that Republicans have always been the violators of them. Truth is, not one slave holder was a Republican and most were Democrats. Every law of segregation in the South was passed by Democratic legislators and signed by a Democrat governor. (Please, this is only an example and not a call for debating political party legitimacy.) Nationalists are equated with and maligned as radical-conservatives, as if no liberals are nationalists. Truth is that Hitler was a socialist, as was Gandhi, Mussolini was arguably a Marxist, and Castro was a communist; all were extreme nationalists. Such flipped misconceptions exist in the Church world as well. Christians who espouse applications of Biblical principles in a way that result in a conservative life-style are labeled legalistic Pharisees, thus, equating conservatives with Pharisees. Actually, Pharisees in their day were considered liberals; that, because the Pharisees took the liberty to go beyond the Biblical text in the formation of all their traditions and demands. Churches that utilize only the latest contemporary genre of music, the latest songs, are considered open-minded, and, thus, leading edge. Churches that still employ hymns as a part of their worship are considered closed-minded, and, thus, stuck in the mud of the past. Truth is a church that only endorses and embraces a single genre from the small slice of time of the latest contemporary music is not very open-minded. A church that sings songs from a multiplicity of Christian genres, songs published over the spectrum of centuries isn’t closed minded at all. The first church only serves one dish and all others are castigated as old and unfit. The second serves many dishes judging each on its own merits of being conducive to worship. My point is we live in a world where folks are emotionally reacting to each’s perceptions (actually, preconceptions) and little attention is given to ascertain what the reality of the matter is. Read the post and counter-posts in a Facebook “debate.” The bulk is emotional, opposing reaction to someone’s perception. Most often, the reaction itself is a perception. Objective truth is not often even considered. Folks will not agree that the circle is round and then disagree whether round is good or not. No. One says, I like circles because they are triangular and another says I dislike circles because they are square. If a geometry expert points out that all circles are round, the one that doesn’t like them will only say, “Well, to you they might be round, but to me they are square.” Sadly, often when people debate an issue in Christianity an observer does not hear, “But, the Bible says,” or, “But, this Scripture means…”. The observer would only hear, “Well, I think…,” “To me it means…,” “In my experience…,” “In my opinion…,” “The way I see it…,” “For our times it means…,” Unless rooted in the intended meaning of Biblical texts, all those are simply perceptions. They may be correct. But, they may be actually flipped.
believe your beliefs; doubt your doubts
Bro. Clifford Hurst 4/29/2018
Via YouTube I watched a debate of a Christian with an atheist. The atheist was brilliant. Perhaps, the most brilliant atheist ever to debate. In his closing statement he said something that has haunted me ever since I listened to it. Part of the reason it so disturbs me is that the atheist was dying at the time. He knew it. Any could see it. It showed in the countenance of his face and the loss of hair from treatment. What he said, as I recall it, was, “Some like me are not constituted to believe. I cannot believe.” Hearing that, I felt a tremendous sadness. It seems to me that if the predestinationists, secular or Christian, are correct, then his statement is very well accurate. He is just one of those who were not meant to believe. Sad, but, that’s just the way things must be. The secularists would use the atheist’s word, “constituted,” and the predestinationist Christians would use “created,” or “destined.” However, something Jesus said stands all that on its head. Twice Jesus told people, “You WILL not believe.” Jesus never said that they COULD not believe, were not CONSTITUTED to believe, or not DESTINED to believe. There is no hint at not being chosen or elected to believe; just, simply, WILL not believe. Some would argue that Jesus was saying “You WILL not believe” because as God He knew it was not ordained that they would be enabled to believe. I think not. The double negative construction implies that under no circumstances, by no means, would they believe. If it was meant that these should not believe, then why would Jesus rebuke them for simply doing what they were destined to do—refusing to believe. No, it appears that this reveals that belief is a choice, self-determined and self-expressed. That belief is a choice also seems illustrated and confirmed when people are commanded to repent or to believe. Paul told the Philippian jailer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” That is an appeal to the will, an appeal to choice. Now, I am not just trying to haggle over a theological point. To me this is an encouraging note—that belief is a choice: Very often even Christians live in a miserable conundrum because they doubt their beliefs. Worse, they even believe their doubts. Instead of doubting our beliefs and believing our doubts, we could choose to believe our beliefs and doubt our doubts. By default from my fallenness I can doubt my beliefs. By choice I can doubt my doubts. I confess that God must enable my belief. I also am aware that Satan assists and encourages my doubts. But, to be held morally responsible for whether I believe, in the end belief must be my choice—and doubt too. The distressed father of the demon-possessed child implored Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.” This appeal can only be taken that the father was experiencing both belief and unbelief. He makes evident which he chooses by his appeal to Jesus to help his belief. He wanted to believe. He could have chosen his unbelief. You and I may be assailed by all kinds of doubts that arise from our flesh, our fallen minds, the world around us, the whisperings from the realm of darkness. We can choose to listen to, give credence to, and entertain those doubts—believe them. Or, we can doubt those doubts and believe our beliefs. Interestingly, when the atheist declared that he was not constituted to believe, he evidently had chosen to believe that. Accustomed to doubting things, he could have doubted that.
something smells
Bro. Clifford Hurst 4/22/2018
Be forewarned: My writing today stinks--more so than normal. I love reading history, not just for what I learn from the narrative of the event or the unfolding of the biography, but also for those tidbits of trivia I come across. Recently, while reading a biography of Winston Churchill, I read, “The poor reeked which was why they were unwelcome in Victorian churches.” How condemnable. How understandable. For centuries, people of all classes infrequently bathed, but especially the poor—and most were poor. Most had only four changes of garments, one for each season. Clothing was worn for days without being changed. Often, it wasn’t even removed at night. People slept in the same garb in which they had labored and sweated in throughout the day. I hate to take any romance out of a wedding, but has any paused to think why brides carry bouquets and grooms wear boutonnieres? The practice originated in this era when people didn’t bathe. People, and not just at weddings, carried or wore flowers to cover their body odor. Often, a person would carry a small bunch of flowers still called today a nosegay. The flowers were to make the nose happy. Thus, its name. Folks who come from the world to church still stink. I’m not talking about from body odor. Body odor comes from bacteria on one’s skin that break down the acids in sweat. There is also an odor that comes from the lives of people who may begin attending a church—an odor, mainly, from sin. Sin does have an awful smell to it, one of decay and death. Depression and discouragement have a toxic odor that causes others to avoid the one in despair. Addiction too has an odor. The psalmist noted that his “wounds” stunk. But, there are also odors that often come from those who have long been a part of a church. Hypocrisy, pride, unkindness, criticalness, and gossip have their own acerbic stench. We who make up a church should pause and think when we feel a revulsion at the odor of those who come reeking of the sin, habits, problems of a life without God. We too have things that stink in our own lives. A skunk doesn’t stink to a skunk. Often a person reeking with body odor does not notice his own smell unless it is by others’ response to him. Sometimes, a person who has an odor will remark and criticize another’s odor. In analogy this is also true: One can be highly critical of what stinks in another’s life and seemingly unaware that there is something that is literally stinking to high heaven in his own life. We should also note Jesus’ example (He, the Rose of Sharon, had absolutely no stench in His life.): When Jesus walked this earth, the poor massed around and pressed upon Him. Yet, we have no record that He recoiled in repulsion of their smell. His enemies meant it condemnatorily, but they actually complimented Him: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Most of the sinners that flocked to Him were the great, unwashed poor. I can never forget a pastor’s story of the homeless man who came to church and met him in the aisle afterwards. The pastor said that the man’s stench was so horrible he couldn’t stand it. He tried to give the man money just to get rid of him. The man rebuked him, “I don’t want your money. I want to know about this Jesus.” Chastened, the pastor began to weep and hugged the malodorous man. In his weeping he noticed that the man’s stench had turned into a pleasant perfume like smell. Yes, sin (and the rest of our faults, foibles, failures, hang ups, etc.) stinks to God. Yet, one’s brokenness, repentance, cries for mercy, confession before and to God, turn that stench into a sweet smell. If we would respond to others as God has to us, we would find that their stench too could turn into the most pleasant smell of a God-changed life. Something smells, and it’s not the stench of the unsaved’s problems. It is often the “saints”’ response to the stench of unsaved’s problems. But wait! Something smells!
commitment to church
Bro. Clifford Hurst 4/15/2018
Concerned that they would become established and grow in Christ, Billy Graham would always give his new coverts four directives. He noted that, as he shared the first three, the new converts would nod their heads and smile in agreement: 1. Read your Bible. 2. Pray. 3. Share with others your witness of what Jesus has done in your life . But, as he shared the fourth, he observed, the smiles disappeared, the nodding stopped, and he could feel the pull back. What was the fourth? 4. Find a local church and faithfully attend. Why the loss of smiles? It is inherently understood that being involved in a local church requires faithful commitment. It is a commitment to a way of life. It is commitment that requires giving of oneself, sacrifice. (There goes doing what I wish on Sundays, for example). Today, beyond that individual, inherent resistance to commitment to church, there is an all-out attack against the church. When the Church is not openly maligned, it’s importance is minimized and belittled. Some of this comes from disgruntled former members. Some comes from the narcissists of the millennial mindset (One will never appreciate the Church if he thinks only of himself). Quite a lot comes from church leaders who have built their megachurch/ministry, sold a lot of books, made a lot of money off the church but now preach that one can be spiritual without attending church. All of it comes from the “Gates of Hell,” Satan. None hates the church as he does. Why? Not just because he knows the “Church” is the one entity on earth that does the most to help humanity. No, it is because Satan, hating Jesus, knows that the church is Jesus’ Church. Jesus claimed ownership: “I will build MY church.” The Church isn’t Jesus’ just because He built it. It is His because, Apostle Paul says, Jesus bought the church with His own blood. There is another thing Paul stresses: Jesus loves His church. He built it. He bought it. He loves it. Think of that. Then think how people malign, criticize, disdain, avoid, and devalue the Church. The brains will insist that what Jesus built, bought, loves, is the universal, invisible, global, ageless Church one is automatically inducted into upon his being born-again, converted, regenerated. Oh, that is exactly right. But, Scripture is clear that the universal, invisible, global, ageless Church is locally made manifest, visible, and tangible . The Bible is clear: There is The one and only Church of Jesus Christ. But, the Bible also clearly notes that The Church is made manifest as the Church at Corinth, the Church at Ephesus, The Church at Philippi, The Church at Philadelphia, and even the Church at Laodicea. Despite all their faults, failures, and foibles, these were still the local manifestations of the invisible, universal Church. My bank is a corporation that exists on paper. But, less than a mile away, there is a local branch. The corporation, regardless of however many states it extends, would be meaningless, purposeless, without local branches. I cannot cash a check without a visit to the local branch. The Church is universal and invisible. But, The Universal Church does not lay hands on the sick, counsel the distressed, cook meals for the grieving, mow the widow’s lawn, give an invitation to a sinner, exercise the edifying gifts of the Spirit, hold a prayer meeting, and on and on. All of that is done by the local church. So enough of this, “I love Jesus, but hate the Church.” There is so much to be said about that, but suffice it to be said that in the end, I love Jesus only as much as I love His Church. And, I love His Church only as much as I am involved in its local expression. My commitment to Christ will reveal itself in my commitment to His Church.
what makes the cook better
Bro. Clifford Hurst 4/8/2018 1
Sitting and waiting for my food in that restaurant with the wonderful atmosphere of the smells of southern cooking, the warmth and scent of a wood fire, and the décor of nostalgia, I found myself contemplating a framed advertisement for a gas range. I’m guessing the ad was written to appeal to those who at that time still used wood burning ranges. I took note of it, not because the idea of a gas range appealed to me, but because of the ad’s title: “Miraculous New Gas Ranges Make Women Better Cooks.” Aside from how such an ad today would be considered stereotypical and discriminatory of the female gender, I was struck by its use of a widespread misconception: A better range will not make a woman a better cook. Oh, no doubt, the meals might turn out some better. But, the credit would have to go to the range’s being better, not the cook’s being better. If she were a bad cook with a wood-burning stove, she would be a bad cook with a gas range. Humanity has continually deceived itself with that misconception, that, if it can but improve its world, humanity will be better.. It cannot believe that there is something wrong with humanity and not just its world. Thus, humanity believes that advancements in education, technology, science, medicine, economy will make people better people. Yet, for all the advancements, people are still broken, flawed, damaged, and sinful. A better guitar will never make one without talent a good guitar player. The problem is not humanity’s environment, lack of knowledge, need of money, etc. The problem is humanity itself; each human him/herself. Humanity is fallen. Humanity is a bad cook and no amount of improving the range will improve it. Now there is something that can make a human better. A change: A change, not of the equipment, but of the cook herself. A change of heart, nature, mind, life. Open the NT, begin reading, and soon you will run across this announcement: “Miraculous New Birth Makes One a Better Person.” That I can believe.
living link or linked to the living
Bro. Clifford Hurst 4/1/2018 1
Loving history, I find any living connection to the distant past intriguing. As a child, I did not appreciate the oddity of a great aunt of mine that I would see when she came to visit my grandparents. Because of events I will not take the space to share, her father, my great-grandfather, left her to be raised by his father, my great-great grandfather, then a septuagenarian. Later, as an adult, I marveled that I had known someone raised by someone born in 1808 a year before Abraham Lincoln. I had experienced a living link to one who lived 210 years ago. I thought that was something until today: Having read about the presidents for years, I’m not sure how I missed this. Just minutes ago on the phone a friend asked me if I had heard that there are two grandsons of our 10th president (1841-1845), John Tyler, living today. That sounded like a myth to me; I had to check it out. It’s no myth. It’s true. It’s amazing! John Tyler was born in 1790! John Tyler’s thirteenth child, Lyon Gardiner Tyler was born in 1853. Lyon had two sons born in the 1920’s. They are alive today: Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr., born in 1924, and Harrison Ruffin Tyler in 1928. If it could be arranged, you and I, 228 years after President Tyler was born, could talk and visit with his grandsons. What a living link (via their father) to someone born so long ago. Let me share something even more unique and amazing than that. Let me tell you about experiencing, not a living link to someone born long ago, but about experiencing someone still living who was born long, long ago. This is incredible! We can experience someone who was born 2,018+ years ago. He is still alive. Oh, to be honest, He did die in 33 A.D. But, He didn’t stay dead. He rose from the grave! He is alive. We can have, not a living link to this One; we can have a link to this living One. He lives!
“hosanna”: plea or praise?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 3/25/2018
Today is Palm Sunday. Hopefully, at church, you will hear a lot of Hosannas. Look up “hosanna” in a dictionary, and you are likely to find the definition “a cry of adoration, praise, or joy” --or a close variant. That’s unfortunate. Why? It doesn’t convey the whole story. Hosanna was not first a praise but a plea. Many do not know or easily forget that etymologically “hosanna” originally didn’t mean “a cry of praise” but “a cry for help, salvation, rescue.” Wait! On the day of the Triumphal Entry, Palm Sunday, did not the people shout “Hosanna” as a cry of praise and joy? Yes. But, two things: First, Hosanna was a word of their language. For them it did not need translating. What those that day heard in their minds, when they cried or heard others cry “Hosanna,” was the same thing we English speakers hear when we cry, “Save us.” The meaning of “Hosanna” was “Help!” not “Hallelujah.” Second, prior to that day, these Jews had been crying “Hosanna” as a prayer and a plea. In the OT Scriptures “Hosanna” is used as a plea for salvation, help, rescue. For generations this people had groaned under the tyranny of conquerors with only brief respites. For generations they had cried “Hosanna,” praying desperately for deliverance. On that first Palm Sunday, when suddenly it seemed apparent to the people observing His miracles--including raising Lazarus from the dead--that Jesus was that Deliverer, that Savior, they did not discard Hosanna, a plea word, for some other word, a word of praise. No. They only changed their tone. The word was the same, but the emotion and reality behind it had changed. They had pled for salvation, and the Savior had come! The plea for salvation had become the praise for the Savior. “Save us” was no longer a plea for the Messiah to someday come, but, praise that the Messiah had come and would do just that “Save us.” The emotion behind the word “Hosanna,” not its meaning, had changed. But, the plea word had become the praise word. That is as it should be, and it is all well and fine, as long as we don’t forget that Hosanna IS a plea word and has only become a praise word because the Lord has answered the plea. Today, I would love to hear the church resounding with shouts of Hosanna in praise of the Savior who has come. But, knowing the needs and lost-ness of so many folk, I would love to hear the church also filled with the cries of Hosanna as a plea for saving, rescue, help. One’s Hosanna as praise is empty, ritualistic, dead, if it is not a response to the awareness that only Christ can and does meet one’s deepest needs. The people that first Palm Sunday had turned Hosanna from a plea to praise. After the fact that the Savior has historically come to save us, it may be impossible for us now to say the original word “Hosanna” as a plea and anything but praise. But, we can still plead with God. We can use the English, “God, save us.” Knowing the shape of our country, our churches, our families, I sense our need to turn Hosanna from an empty praise to a heart-felt plea. If Hosanna were truly our plea, it would soon become our praise. Our Jesus responds to our Hosanna as a plea in such a way we cannot but soon change our Hosanna into a praise. Hosanna!!!
time to talk back
Bro. Clifford Hurst 2/25/2018
Mystics have often pointed this out about prayer: We spend too much time talking to God and not enough listening to Him. That is a point well-taken. However, I find the opposite is true when it comes to Satan (and to self). I believe we spend too much time listening to Satan and not enough talking back to him. Satan is always trying to tell us something. I am amazed how readily people just listen, give credence to what he has to say, and accept it. Oh, for certain, often he uses a proxy mouthpiece. He has plenty of imps, cohorts, both those who wear flesh and bone and those who don’t. Satan also finds a ready voice and messenger in our flesh. Sometimes Satan uses an accusatory voice; sometimes a tempting voice; sometimes a taunting voice; sometimes a wooing voice; sometimes a condemning voice. Often Satan speaks disparaging remarks about us, and they harmonize so completely with our own voice we fail to realize it is he. He speaks, “You are a failure. You are worthless. You are a loser. You will never make it. You will never amount to anything.” Sometimes He talks to us about other people. “They are laughing at you. They don’t like you. They don’t care. They are better than you. They are hypocrites.” Sometimes he talks to us about God: “God doesn’t really love you, care about you. God has rejected you. God won’t work in your behalf. God’s not going to answer your prayer.” Satan can’t keep from talking this way. His very name means “Accuser.” He speaks these accusations to you. If he doesn’t speak accusatorily, he does temptingly: “It’s ok to do that. It’s not really sin. You are the exception. It won’t hurt you.” Other times his is the voice of doubt, “You aren’t really saved. Maybe, all that about Jesus isn’t really true. Surely, there are other ways.” The above are only a sampling. You know what Satan speaks to you. Whatever it is, talk back. Satan talked to Jesus. Jesus didn’t just listen. Jesus talked back. He talked back, not with cute jingles, platitudes, or Confucian aphorisms. He talked back with Scripture—Bible, we evangelicals would say. When Satan starts talking to you, talk back. Give him some Bible. That’s why it is important continually to be imbibing your mind and heart with the preaching, reading, studying, and memorization of Scripture. When Satan begins talking to you, there is nothing more effective than having a Scripture immediately coming to your mind and heart with which to respond. You then answer Satan, talk back to him, with that Scripture. Last night (Wednesday) in church a sister who has been under heavy attack shared a poignant testimony. She talked about a prolonged period of sickness and failures into sin and how Satan had told her God would not forgive her. Suddenly, Peter’s question to the Lord of how often he should forgive his offending brother and Jesus’ answer came to her. “Seventy times seven, Peter. That’s how often you should forgive.” Her response to the voice of Satan, the voice of doubt and despair, was Jesus’ word followed by, “If God told Peter to forgive that often, will not He Himself also forgive that much?” That’s the way to talk back. Just one thing: Remember that you are speaking to Satan and others don’t necessarily need to hear--kind of like when you talk to yourself; you really don’t want others to hear you. As a preacher, I know what it is for Satan to begin talking to me even while I am trying to deliver the message of a sermon. When young, I would talk back out loud. As I preached, he would begin to harass my mind with things like, “Nobody wants to hear that.” “You’re such a fake,” etc. Somethings he would say were just bizarre. There were times, when the congregation was responding to something I was preaching with worship, I would take the opportunity to move the microphone away from my mouth and say, “Leave me alone. Shut up and get out of here.” One night I forgot to move the microphone. My talk back to Satan boomed over the PA system: “Leave me alone. Shut up and get out of here.” The congregation sat stunned. Ten people got up and left. Well, ok, ten didn’t. But, Satan did. In the past down South, children learned one could get slapped for talking back. But, Satan’s not your authority, and you’re not his child. Talk back.
what honor and dishonor reveal
Bro. Clifford Hurst 2/18/2018
Surely this has already been pointed out by others, but this past week I saw it highly ironic and the height of hypocrisy that some of the very ones who lauded Colin Kaepernick for taking a knee in protest against America at NFL games castigated Vice President Mike Pence for sitting in protest against North Korea at the Olympic games. Let’s get this straight: They honored Kaepernick for dishonoring America but dishonored Pence for not honoring North Korea. No country has championed human rights like America, and no country has violated human rights like North Korea. But, Kaepernick is a hero and Pence is a villain. I have no desire to get into the interpretations of these events involving these two figures or the political arguments surrounding them, but, just taking things as they appear, there is really no other way of interpreting them; if the impressions left by main-stream media are extrapolated, America is to be dishonored, and North Korea is to be honored at “games.” To me, this is but systemic of a deeper problem: Increasingly, in our country what should be honored is dishonored and what should be dishonored is honored. It is all so reminiscent of the prophet’s prescience of a people who “…call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness;” (Isa. 5:20). The most alarming aspect of all of this is that a person’s heart is revealed by what he honors. So is a country’s. There is such a paucity of the use of the word “honor” that I pause to define it: To honor is to regard or treat someone with admiration, respect, and, thus, to give that one special recognition. Take a look at who is honored with airtime, awards, accolades, and applause in the pop media. Next, take a look at who is dishonored. You have just observed the true state of America. As a minister, I have had something happen a few times after speaking: Someone has approached me with the program for the evening, the notes for the meeting, or his Bible, and ask for my autograph. Because of my temperament, that makes me feel more uncomfortable than flattered. Signing the inside cover of a Bible has always impressed me as being a possible violation of the sacred. However, I have autographed the Bible (not claiming to have written any of it) all tense, half-expecting a lightning bolt. That’s just me. I am glad however, that one father explained his request to me. He said, “I want your autograph for my children, because I want them to have ministers, men of God, as their heroes.” I get what he got. It matters who and what we honor. It both molds and reveals our hearts. Take a look at the face of America—it’s movies, music, manipulators of education: Honor is given to filthy talking, filthy living immoral Hollywood stars and ridicule and dishonor to any who attempt to live a Biblical Christian life. A debauched music star overdoses, and his life is portrayed as artistic, accomplished, to be honored. Yet, almost every preacher portrayed as benign, weak, hypocritical, dishonorable. The college student that lauds communist leaders such as Castro is honored. The college student who voices his belief in intelligent design is ridiculed. One who explores his sexuality by mutilating his body in gender modification attempts is honored. A single who professions his/her commitment to remain “pure” until marriage is mocked, ridiculed, dishonored. A gay pride parade in Washington is planned, and the media praises it. A military parade is planned, and the media lambastes it. Jesus pointed out, when vehemently attacked, that all He had ever done was honor His Father; His enemies, on the other hand, had not ceased to dishonor Him. Simply put, they honored and dishonored the wrong things. To Jesus, what they honored and dishonored revealed their hearts. It still does.
i am’s in two different keys
Bro. Clifford Hurst 2/4/2018 1
Last week I noted how, if one truly listens to the intended meaning of Scripture and then listens to the popular Motivational Gospel of Self-help/Self-esteem, one would find the Motivational Gospel as out of key with Scripture as a saxophone playing in G while a piano was being played in Eb. Take a message of one of those most famous American preachers today and listen to it next to a message of Jesus. Someone is out of key—and it’s not Jesus. Let me give you a specific example: One part of the Motivational Gospel is an encouragement for people to confess and declare—in exaggerated positive terms—who they are. Congregants at church are encouraged to go through a liturgical litany of “I am” statements. Listen to what the motivational preacher prompts people to say: “I am blessed. I am prosperous. I am successful.” “I am victorious. I am talented. I am creative.” “I am wise. I am healthy. I am in shape.” “I am energetic. I am happy. I am positive.” “I am passionate. I am strong. I am confident.” “I am secure. I am beautiful. I am attractive.” “I am valuable. I am free. I am anointed. I am accepted.” “I am approved. I am prepared. I am qualified.” “I am generous. I am excellent. I am equipped.” “I am empowered. I am well able.” Notice this is a kind of lying. A person is encouraged to declare these things whether or not they are in reality descriptive of that person. But, that’s not the point I’m making. The point is to take these coaxed self-declarations begun with an “I am” and followed by all those positive, elating, self-commendatory descriptions and listen to the music of that message. Now, as that music is playing in your head, listen to the music of the I am’s of the people of God in Scripture: “I AM not worthy of the least of all the mercies…Thou hast shewed.” (Jacob, Gen. 32:10). “I AM the least in my father’s house.” (Gideon, Jdg. 6:15). “I AM undone, a man of unclean lips.” (Isaiah, Isa. 6:5). “I AM not worthy [to unloose His shoe strings]” (John the Baptist, Joh. 1:27). “I AM a sinful man.” (Peter, Luk. 5:8). “I am the least of the apostles.” (Paul, I Cor. 15:9; note also Phi. 3:1-10). “I am a worm” (Psalmist, Psa. 22:6). Now, honestly, was the music of the I am’s encouraged by the motivational preacher even remotely in key with the I am’s of the people of God in Scripture? A qualifier is important: I am not saying one should declare negative things about himself. If a person is saying things like “I am so dumb. I am ugly. I am nothing but a failure. I am worthless. I am #@%*#@,” that is not right nor in tune with the Good News of the Scripture. Never is such a sadistic fixation on how flawed I am right, healthy, or God prompted. Those declarations come from my absorption on my own brokenness, flaws, lack, etc., or are suggestions from satanic voices, or are impressed upon me by some abusive, controlling, or bullying person in my life, or are symptoms of some mental illness. They are just wrong. Never is cutting oneself down right. Neither is it genuine humility but often a form of pride, self-fixation. The difference between such and the examples I quoted above, is that the people in the Bible by stating, “I am____” were responding to how they actually appeared when in the presence of and compared to God. It was the reality of who they were. The music of the motivational message’s I Am’s leaves me wondering, “If I am so good, why do I need Jesus.” The music of the I AM’s of scripture reveals to me just how badly I need Jesus. See, when I am united with Jesus, God looks at me and sees, not my sin, flaws, twistedness, disobediences, etc.” He sees the righteousness of Christ (and begins to make me like Christ). What joy. If I declare all the above I Am’s of how great and whole and complete I am, what need or joy is there in being clothed with Christ’s righteousness—a very inherent ingredient of the True Gospel. What joy in singing, “He is all my righteousness, I stand complete in Him and worship Him.”? In the end, it is not a matter of who I am, but who He is. There is only room for one “I AM.” (But, that’s another blog.)