Pastor's Desk

is it the cooking?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 04/25/2021
Harry Truman, while a congressman, supposedly said it when receiving complaints about the pace he was setting with his investigating committee. “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Probably, this expression came from the time before homes were climate-controlled, and kitchens could become brutally hot, especially in the summers. The gist of the saying is that if you can’t deal with the pressures and difficulties of the task in which you’re engaged, you should, rather than complaining, leave it to others. In years past, I have piously and condemningly said this of others who complained about the difficulty of their endeavors. Then, experience taught me something: Sometimes it isn’t that you can’t take the heat of the kitchen; it’s that no one likes what you’re cooking. Now, if folks don’t like your cooking, maybe it IS your cooking. Or, maybe it’s their appetite. Doing ministry, I am willing to admit, sometimes it is my cooking. One thing for sure, looking at today’s worship and word as a table Christ has prepared and spread, if I find it unappealing, undesirable, it won’t be His cooking. It must be my appetite.
if people were prepositions
Bro. Clifford Hurst 04/18/2021
Nerdish as it seems, I am enthralled with grammar. Many feel grammar is boring, useless, and, at best, a necessary “evil.” I think it’s spiritual. God chose to have His revelation communicated via written words, and written words involve grammar. I am particularly interested in prepositions—you know, that part of speech that shows relationships between nouns. My interest in prepositions is probably attributable to the role they play in the exegesis and interpreting of the Bible. Prepositions in Greek carry fuller and more nuanced meaning than in English. Teaching prepositions in an English class, I would use the illustration of a tree and a squirrel. A preposition was anywhere the squirrel would go in relation to the tree. Up the tree. On the tree. Around the tree. Under the tree. In Greek, the aspect of movement is more pronounced in the use of prepositions, yet I would use a much more mundane visual to illustrate them: I would draw a large circle to represent the stationary noun and then draw tangential lines, arrows, dots, dashes to represent a preposition’s relationship to the circle and label each with the corresponding preposition’s name. For example, above the circle I would draw a length of horizontal line and label it “huper,” Greek for above. Below the circle, I would draw a parallel line and label it “hupo,” Greek for below. Now, I’m sure, this has all been very tediously boring, but this week, my musing of this illustration of prepositions suddenly enlightened me to what is wrong with the increasingly popular modern approach to Bible interpretation. Think of the large circle as the Word of God. Think of parallel lines, the one above and the other below the circle, as people interpreting the Bible. Some approach the Bible from above. Some from below. There was a time when any honest student of the Bible attempted to interpret and apply Scripture from the below position. What does that mean? It means the interpreter saw the Bible as the absolute, authoritative, infallible, inspired Word of God. This student, as he grappled with understanding what the Bible said, saw that he must subject his own opinions, ideas, preferences, prejudice, etc., to the objective meaning of the text. The text was right, and he was wrong. The Word judged him, not he the Word. Contrarily, today, the progressive who approaches the Bible sees himself as above the Word. He can do this because he does not see Scripture as the absolute, authoritative, infallible, and inspired Word of God. He does not see Scripture as having objective meaning, unchanging and true for all, but as a text to critique, deconstruct, and then reconstruct to conform to his already-held beliefs. These above -the-Word interpreters see the Bible, not as the revelation of God, but as a collection of stories narrating past people’s spiritual journeys, quests, questionings, searches. These stories can be helpful in one’s own quest for truth. Thus, one reads the Bible and picks and chooses the parts he feels would be helpful to him in his own quest for truth and spirituality. The parts he deems suitable, he incorporates into the tapestry of his own self-concocted beliefs. In other words, he sits in judgment of what the Word means, what of the Word is true, and what of the Word he considers applicable or not applicable (useful or not useful to him). More dangerously, he is free to take the Word and reinvent what it actually means. He can redefine words and give them the meaning that would fit his contemporary culture. Interpreting the Bible from above is to treat it as text that is to be subjectively understood and applied. Interpreting the Bible from below is to treat it as text that has an objective meaning that is not to be tampered with but obeyed. For example, “Christians” who support same-sex marriage famously practice above-the-Word interpretation: They redefine words, reject parts of the Bible as being antiquated, impugn the character of the OT God, etc., and then say, “The way I read the Bible, the way I see it, there is nothing wrong with homosexuality or same-sex marriage.” They do not see it as wrong because of the way they read the Bible. They read it from above. They pompously subjected the Bible to their own convoluted designs by imposing their ideology upon it. Through this lens of their own thinking, the Bible is twisted to fit the template they force upon it. To interpret the Bible from below is to seek the literal, objective, intended meaning of the text understood in its literary, cultural, and historical context. Having as closely as possible ascertained that objective meaning, one then conforms his thinking, life, attitude, etc. to the application of a text’s meaning. He is below, under, the Word. He subjects his life to the Word and refuses to subject the Word to his own way of thinking. So, with the circle being the Bible, are you the preposition above or below it? Is your approach to understanding Scripture huper or hupo?
a rant revealing my road rage
Bro. Clifford Hurst 04/11/2021
My road rage ranting has more to do with what is along the road rather than on it. I loathe seeing litter along our roadways. I do not know if it is true, but, to me, it appears that there is recently more trash than ever before along our streets and highways. My wife concurs as she shakes her head and says, "It looks like a third-world country." It’s worse. Third-world countries may not have the funds for an infrastructure of trash collection. We do. My wife and I might be correct about the increase of roadside trash; an article in today's paper (Thursday’s) noted that our county is spending more money than ever trying to keep up with litter collection along our roads. Trash along our roadways disturbs me, not just because litter is so unsightly, but because, I feel trash along our roadways increases in commensurate correspondence with the growing deterioration of the morality and values of America. I archaically hold to generalized axioms such as a cluttered desk indicates a cluttered mind. Thus, it’s not difficult for me to believe that trashed public places indicate the moral and spiritual uncleanliness of Americans, their homes, and their nation. My horrified revulsion at the sight of litter along our roadways is initially about aesthetics. Litter makes ugly. Litter along our roadways is like graffiti on our edifices. Secondly and more so, it’s about a chafing at folk’s irresponsibility. No one should have to be responsible for another's trash. A sign of a child's developing maturity is that he controls his bodily waste functions. He does not require another to change his diaper. Littering is a sign that the litterer isn't mature enough to take care of his waste. Worse is that the litterer does not consider that another will have to pick up after him. Selfish. This increase of litter in America comes during the greatest push ever for going green and saving the planet. I cannot believe that only those politically conservative litter. In fact, many conservatives are Christians who believe that God has mandated our stewarding the planet. No, many litterers are of the same political persuasion as folks who scream about climate change and the need to save the environment. Yet, these green grenadiers throw their trash right out there in the environment. Hypocrites! Yet, to be fair, I know that many who claim to be Christians and to hold the moral and spiritual high ground, also hypocritically litter. I was riding down the road once with a fellow minister who was castigating me for having a different theological view that he deemed more liberal than his. As he opined that I could not be spiritual and adhere to such a liberal position, he rolled down his window and threw out the wrapper from the candy bar he was munching. I may not be spiritual, but to me, his spiritual high ground went out the window with his candy wrapper. I know there are unspiritual, immoral, and hypocritical folks who don’t litter. Yet, I still believe that all this litter lining our roads is an indication that something is bad wrong with America’s mores. As we travel the roads haranguing about the trash, I enquire rhetorically of my wife, "Do these litterers treat their houses like this? Do they just throw their trash down on their living room floor?" If no, they are selfish narcissists who would never trash their own space but will another’s. They throw their fast-food wrappers out the window to keep their car clean while trashing the environment. Or, their littering does indicate the way they treat their own home. My wife concurs on this latter as she answers, “Yes, many of them live that way at home.” Whatever the case, I see the presence of litter as evidence of deep psychological, political, moral, and societal illness in America. People aren't "right" who litter. Something is deeply wrong. And, a country whose roads are so littered is not right. Not right politically. Not right morally. Not right spiritually. But I have ranted long enough about others. I must bring this home. I may be wrong spiritually/morally and not litter. But I cannot be right spiritually/morally and litter. One thing for sure, I do not want my heart and mind littered with what should not be there, with what trashes my life and soul. Two scriptures come to mind: First, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” (Pro 4:23). Second, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psa 51:10). Often during our ride-along-road-rants, my wife will say, “I just want to get out and start picking it all up.” That’s a noble but impractical solution. There’s far too much for one person to even make a start. Yet, I could start with my own heart. There are some things there that could be picked up and discarded correctly. I should probably start with my road rage against litter.
the passion week, easter sunday
Bro. Clifford Hurst 04/04/2021
HE IS RISEN! The women have spent the evening gathering and preparing spices to go and anoint Jesus’ body as soon as the Sabbath is passed. They fitfully snooze intermittently awakening through the long night. It is still dark, morning not yet come, when one said, “None of us can sleep. Let’ just go ahead and go.” The others agree. They gather their tunics and spices and head into the darkened streets. They are alone as they trudge through the empty avenues. The birds are not yet singing. Only an early rooster falsely crows that dawn has come. As they walk, they begin to whisper the question that has plagued them throughout the night. “How will we get in? We can never move that huge stone. How?” As they leave the city, the eastern sky on their right begins to lighten. The birds begin to sing. Just as they enter the garden and approach the tomb, the first rays of the rising sun illuminate the rockface of the grave. The women abruptly halt, stumbling into one another, astonished. The mouth of the tomb gapes open; the stone pushed off to the side. Cautiously, timidly, they enter the sepulcher to an even greater shock: there is no body! Yet, the tomb was not empty. To either side of the stone shelf where Jesus’ corpse had been laid, are two in shining white array. Angels. They seek to calm the women. “Don’t be afraid. We know that you seek Jesus. But, He is, as you can see,” the angel points to the empty ledge, “He is not here! He is risen!” The other spoke, “Go tell the Eleven, and all His other followers.” Greatly amazed, trembling, the woman slowly leave the garden. Mary Magdalene in her haste is separated from the others. She is in a hurry. She searches for the Eleven, but finds Peter and John. At the news, those two rush away running at full speed. They leave Mary alone. She feels drawn to return to the garden. A question gnaws: “If Jesus is not in the tomb, where is He?” John is younger and faster. He passes panting Peter, and enters the garden ahead of him. He brakes at the entrance of the open tomb. Fear or wonder or the prospects of what he might find stops him. He only sticks his head into the door. His eyes begin to adjust to the dark. It is true. Jesus’ body is not there. Nothing is there. Except…except the linen, the shroud, with which Joseph and Nicodemus had wrapped him. He hears Peter approaching him. Peter pushes past John. John follows him. Then, they notice together not just the linen cloth but also the face napkin neatly folded, over to one side. Greatly wondering and beginning to believe, they find themselves exiting the garden as Mary re-enters. Mary stands before the tomb. The adrenaline of her wonder has turned to weeping. Blinded by her tears, she looks again into the sepulcher. The two angels have reappeared. “Woman, why are you crying,” they ask. “Because,” she chokes out, “They have stolen the body of my Lord, and I don’t know what they have done with it.” She turns away from the tomb and is startled by a man standing in front of her. She is half-turned away from this impediment in her way when He spoke. “Woman, why are you crying? Tell me for whom you are searching.” Not looking at him, she mistakes the man for the gardener and thinks, “Here is a man who may be able to tell me what they have done with Jesus’ body.” “Sir,” she pleads, “If you have had to move him, please tell me where. I will take his body off your hands.” There is a slight pause. Then, He speaks again. Just one word. Her name; “Mary.” As two questions collide in her head, “How does he know my name?” and “Why is that voice is so very familiar?” it begins to strike her who He was. She whirls around and sees Him. It is Jesus! Her voice shaking with wonder and love and relief, she too responds with one word, “Master.” Later, this day Jesus appears to the other women who, having left the tomb, are on their way to report to the remaining of the Eleven. That evening He will appear to the Eleven. Well, to ten. Thomas refuses the company of the others. Two other disciples had decided to get out of Dodge—Jerusalem. He will make an appearance to them. They will return to Jerusalem. But, first He had appeared to Mary. Only afterward, as others tell their experience of having seen the Risen Lord, does Mary realize she was the first! Jesus had appeared to her first! A woman! One who had been possessed with seven demons! One who had lived so wickedly! One who had been shunned by society! Today, I reserve my commentary to one note, a quote from Jesus Himself. No reflection on the Resurrection and all it ramifications could result in a more concise conclusion: “Because I live, you will live also!” --Jesus May we realize Jesus is truly risen from the dead. People today are still encountering the Risen Lord. If you have not, because He is risen, you could run into Him today. If you do, you will know it is He. He will have known where to find you. He will know your name. There will be something about how He speaks to you. If that happens, there is but one response, “Master.” Jesus lives! Scriptures: Matt. 28:1-20; Mark 16:1-20; Luke 24:1-53; John 20:1-25 Pastor Clifford Hurst
laying out the red carpet
Bro. Clifford Hurst 03/28/2021
This week, while studying the Triumphant Entry passages in preparation for Palm Sunday, my thought became ensnared by one integral detail of the narrative—the people’s taking off their outer garments and strewing them before Jesus on the path the donkey carrying Him would travel. What highlights their actions to me is two facts of that time. First, their garments were much to be valued. Check it out in Scripture how wealth was often measured in clothing in an era when textile material was handmade and rare. The second was the mode of transportation and the condition of roads in those times. Roads were not concreted or asphalted. They were dirt. The mode of transportation—donkey, horse, oxen, mule, emitted a form of exhaust that ended on the road and not in the air. Jesus’ donkey did not step off asphalt onto their garments but with hooves filthy from the dirt and animal “exhaust” of the road, that donkey stepped on the valued and needed garments of those who had strewn them before Jesus. They had blanketed Jesus’ path in keeping with the custom of the day of welcoming and paying homage to a coming King or conqueror. It was their laying out the “red carpet.” Some things struck me about these folks’ actions: First, they gave--sacrificially. They had no assurance their garments would not by ruined by hoof and dirt rendering them unwearable or unsightly. Worship cost them something. It still does. It always does. Worship happens when we give of ourselves. Second, they had to step forward out of and away from the crowd. The crowds of people appear to have massed around Jesus. To spread one’s garment in the path would have required pressing one’s way out of the crowd in front of the crowd. Worship entails stepping out from the “crowd,” out of one’s comfort zone, away from the pressure of what others think. Third, they had to bend over. A simple toss from a standup position would not have resulted in the garment’s being spread over the path covering it in a manner that would accomplish the purpose of the gesture. One had to bow down towards the path and, thus, consequently before Jesus. Worship still cannot truly take place without the bowing of our heart, a humbling of ourselves before God. Lastly, having bent down to spread their garment, they then stood back up to praise. And praise they did. Waving palm branches and shouting hosannas they praised Jesus as King and Savior. Standing up and waving and shouting they were conspicuous. The enemies of Jesus disgruntled by the whole proceeding certainly noticed. But, the people were thinking, not of themselves, but only of Him. True worship will be expressed by unashamed, demonstrative praise. It is noted that they got loud with all that praise. Perhaps, it would be well for us and bring honor to Jesus if today, this Palm Sunday, we would follow the garment layers' example in welcoming Jesus among us: Give, step out, bow, and stand up to praise. Layout the red carpet. --Pastor Clifford Hurst
helping the breath mint industry
Bro. Clifford Hurst 03/14/2021
We cannot begin to comprehend the severity and extent of the effects and consequences of the Great 2020-2021 COVID Lockdown/Shutdown. There are effects directly caused by the Shutdown that we would never think of. I was impressed by one of these when this week I read an article about Listerine. Now, this causality of the Shutdown on the surface is seemingly so trivial and inconsequential that I do not, by mentioning it, desire to in any way detract from or minimize the awful consequences such as deep depression, suicide, loss of employment, etc. But here it is: The sale of breath mints and breath strips and mouthwashes was down 40% during the Shutdown in one major company and 20% overall across all companies in the industry. That is huge—if you’re in or have an investment in that industry. Who would have thought of that? COVID hurt breath mint sales! Not coming together in close clusters with other people (and wearing facemasks too) meant not having to worry about halitotic breath. Not worried about bad breath means buying fewer breath mints. Of course, being a pastor, I always think of things in terms of the Church. During the Shutdown, the Church was often prohibited from gathering because of enforced directives and serious outbreaks. Also, some folks were reticent about gathering even if the doors were unlocked. That people did not gather together to pray, worship, hear the Word, and have fellowship, had to have had great consequential effects on them—all of which we are yet to discover and realize. I’m thankful for the role of Livestream during shutdown. It was a vital venue and connective link. Yet, I don’t believe anyone settled into his Lay-z-boy, cued the stream for his church’s service on his device, and then, just before the stream went live, grabbed a breath mint and inserted it in his mouth. Simple, I know, but you don’t need breath mints to watch a Livestream. Point is, there are other things, vital things, one needs, participates in, experiences, etc., in a live gathering that he never will over the Livestream. Of course, I am not dissing Livestream, nor those who have it as their only option. I am merely pointing out that there are extensive, wide-ranging effects, some we never have yet imagined, to one’s not gathering together with others in worship. No social gathering means fewer breath mints sales which means more stinky breath. Less involvement in worship means less_______________ which means more ________________. Whatever it is that fills that last blank, it is a negative for our life. I suppose that, if our bodies can have halitosis, so can our souls. But see, bad breath doesn’t matter much if you’re not around people. Likewise, there are many things that seem to stop mattering so much when you’re not coming to church. Things worse than bad breath. One thing is for sure, folks didn’t stop popping breath mints into their mouths because their breath had gotten better during the Shutdown. No. Their breath was as bad or worse--some gave up even brushing their teeth too. There just wasn’t someone around to point out to them that their breath stank. In life, there are those rude enough or kind enough to inform you when your breath stinks. A grandchild, when young, is unhampered in letting you know, “Grandpa, your breath stinks.” Spiritually speaking, whether we find it pleasant or not, in a gathering of the church, the Holy Spirit during worship, a brother or sister with loving concern, the minister by preaching the Word, someone, will tell us if our soul stinks. Hearing that, we know it’s time to pop in and suck on a spiritual breath mint. It’s time to pray. It’s time to repent. It’s time to pour out the abscesses of hurt, bitterness, etc., in our soul. Some have yet to make it back to their places of worship after the reopening of society. I would encourage you; get your vaccine (if you are so inclined), buy some breath mints, and come on back to the assembling of the fresh-breathed. Heart-rendered collective worship emits, even to God, a sweet-smelling scent. Who knew just how much coming to church helped us—and the breath mint industry?
not his job to make us happy but to get us there
Bro. Clifford Hurst 03/07/2021
“Life is a journey.” This oft-repeated assessment of life has become hackneyed, yet, still, folks, as if they had just experienced a great epiphany, are stating it like they are disclosing arcane, eye-opening, life-changing sagacity. Ironically, for all their insistence that life is a journey, they continue to act as if they believe that life is sitting on a beach gazing out over the ocean, enjoying sun and surf, separated from the buzz, activity, and responsibility of real life back there on the other side of the ribbon of sand. On social media, by far, folks post more photos of sitting on the beach than hiking through the mountains. They reveal they believe that life should be a happy place, not a grueling trek. Folks want, by instant translation, to find themselves in their happy place. There is a happy place, but it takes a journey to get there. These days, the prevailing philosophy is “I should be happy.” I should make myself happy. My family and friends should make me happy. The government should make me happy. The Church should make me happy. God should make me happy. Last night I completed a biography of Roald Amundsen, arguably the greatest explorer of the 20th century. He was the first to traverse the infamous Northwest Passage on top of the world. He was the first to stand at the South Pole. He was the first to travel across the North Pole from Norway to Alaska. Each of those journeys was marked and filled with the horrible misery and suffering which the harsh, brutal Arctic and Antarctic never fail to exact. However tough and loyal his companions were whom Amundsen led on these exploratory, excruciating excursions, however, tough their public persona and recounting, their private journals, letters, and conversations were filled with descriptions of how miserable, frustrating, hardship-filled, and tedious the days of these journeys were. Reacting to this, the biographer made this note: “It wasn’t Amundsen’s job to make his men happy, but to lead them to victory, alive.” It wasn’t Amundsen’s job to make them happy but to get them there. Intact. Life is not one big “my happy place.” Life is a wilderness of harsh terrain we must journey through and across. But, for the believer, there is a promised happy place at the end of the journey. The believer is not trekking aimlessly through life on a journey that leads nowhere, ends nowhere. He is following Jesus. People conceive that it’s Jesus’ job to make them happy, right here, right now. Jesus’ “job” is not to make them happy. Jesus’ “job” is to lead them to victory, to the ultimate happy place. Interestingly, Amundsen’s men, who journaled so melancholily and critically of how miserable and awful the days were while they were experiencing them, spoke and wrote fondly and warmly of those same days after the journey had been completed and victory had been secured. No journey can be that awful if it gets you to victory, joy, eternal life. Nursing homes and other care facilities began opening up for pastoral visits recently. Last week I visited three folks in two different assisted living facilities. Before praying before departing, I read the same passage at both places. John 14:1-6. “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God…I go to prepare a place…the way you know…” Both times, as I began to read the residents began to quote the passage with me as I did so. They did it reflexively and probably did not think to themselves why the passage so resonated with them. Yet, the conviction was in the atmosphere of our “two or three” gathering; there was a happy place, and they were headed there. That happy place was at the end of their journey. We certainly can just sit in our happy place--when we get there. And, Jesus will get us there. It’s not His job to make us happy, but to get us there. And could it be, that we too, when get there will reflect back fondly and gratefully on the rough days of our journey? P.S. Do you prefer beach-sitting or mountain/wilderness-hiking?
lopping off ears
Bro. Clifford Hurst 02/28/2021
"How are folks going to hear the Truth if we go around cutting their ears off." Memory fails me in quoting him verbatim, but professor and apologist John Lennox said something like this while making a passing comment about Peter’s slashing off Malchus' ear--Malchus, the servant of the high priest who was part of the party who arrested Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. This seminal, unique thought has been growing in my head for the past three weeks. I hate to say it, but I believe we Christians have too often been guilty of doing just that--lopping off folks' ears with the swords of our internet screeds, ranting posts, and ad hominem attacks on those with whom we disagree, particularly on political matters. I do not doubt folk's motives any more than I question Peter's. Odd thing is, Peter very probably acted out of deep devotion for Christ. Yet, acting out of devotion for Christ, he acted contrary to the nature of Christ. Many Christians act out of devotion, passionate patriotism, and genuine alarm. One says, “I posted that attack because I was devoted to my choice of presidential candidate and his conservative true-to-the-constitution convictions. I get it. But Peter was devoted to Jesus when he hacked off Malchus’ ear; nevertheless, Jesus rebuked him for it. It is futile for us to expect unbelievers to hear the Gospel we share if, prior to sharing it, we have hacked off their ears with our made-personal trolling of their posts and caustic comments. One’s beliefs may reveal the ignorance of modern thought. But the moment we call him a fool, we have lopped off his ears. Another’s political stance may embrace ignorance, but by calling him an idiot, we have severed his ear. And these are benign examples. Jesus, rather than lopping off folks’ ears, scanned the crowds looking for folks with them, “Who has ears to hear.” He wanted people to have ears to hear the Gospel. He reattached Malchus’ ear lopped off by Peter. It is doubtful that Malchus minus an ear, hacked off by a disciple, would have ever listened to the Gospel shared by a disciple. But, Malchus with an ear miraculously reattached by Jesus, I think, definitely would. He’d want to hear about this Jesus who’d given him back his ear. What does all this about this ear lopping say to us? First, Christians should have ears themselves: Folks are in bad enough shape without our lopping off their ears. Spiritually seen, most people are earless already—and, sadly, among them are many Christians. Imagine rising to speak to a crowd of people and each of them is earless. Grotesque indeed. But, not only are they earless, they have huge mouths—huge from use; all they do is talk, talk, talk. Perhaps, I should say, they have huge index fingers, huge from pecking at a keyboard. Allegorically, I say some people have no ears but huge mouths because they are quick and constant in spouting off but slow to hear. As Apostle James points out, this is the opposite of how a Christian should be: “Let every Christian be swift to hear and slow to speak.” I believe that the first step towards having unbelievers listen to our sharing of the Gospel is for Christians themselves to have ears—for Christians to show a willingness to listen to others before reacting with vitriolic vituperation. Second, Christians should fervently want unbelievers to have ears. It is not enough for a Christian that he has heard the Gospel that liberated him; a Christian desires that others hear it too. A Christian before going off on a tirade should ask, “Is it worth my lopping off this person’s ear with my political rant against him if it will leave him earless, incapable of hearing the Gospel?” It is funny but not funny how lopping off someone’s ear can leave such a bad taste in his mouth for the Gospel. Calling people names, insulting their level of intelligence, disparaging their character never put them in a frame of mind to hear the Gospel. Third, Christians should be circumspectly conscientious about saying or doing anything that would make them guilty of or complicit in lopping off the ears of those without the Gospel. The scriptural query, “How shall they hear without a preacher?” is a pertinently valid question. It is also a valid question to ask, “How shall they hear if we have lopped off their ears?” So many have no ears for spiritual things. We for sure don’t want to lop off the ears of those who do. It may be passion, patriotism, devotion, and zeal that lops off an opposing party’s ear. But it is Christlikeness that seeks to reattach the ear lopped off.
“can’t we have any heroes?”
Bro. Clifford Hurst 02/21/2021
Although it had been percolating for months, news of apologist Ravi Zacharias’ sexual improprieties, recently investigated and verified, has become ubiquitous. Discussing this apologist’s posthumously-revealed moral failures with a younger minister, I found myself expressing great sadness and disappointment with a rhetorical question: I asked, “Can’t we have any heroes?” I realized that’s an odd sentiment for an old preacher to express. But though I was feeling the loss, I was thinking of younger ministers everywhere. Not only had they lost another hero, but they will also have to live and minister under the stigma his failure has created. They don’t need my empathy, but I felt it nonetheless. It’s the same I feel during presidential elections when I say, “I feel sorry for new, young voters today; they don’t have a Ronald Reagan to vote for as I did when I came of voting age.” I was thinking of younger ministers because I was also remembering the time when I was a young minister and news broke of a major Pentecostal minister’s moral failure, news that shocked the classic Pentecostal world. Such letdown. Such disappointment. Such letting the air out of the ministry balloon. Such sucking of the oxygen out of the room of anticipation, vision, hopes, and dreams. But I wasn’t thinking of ministers alone. Many non-clergy Christians also held these Christian leaders in high esteem. Ravi and other fallen ministers were their heroes too. “Can’t we have any heroes?” I first answered my own question with “Maybe we aren’t supposed to have heroes.” If we don’t have heroes, we won’t be so often disappointed. But having heroes is inescapably human. We need folks to admire and emulate. We need to see the ideal embodied. We need to see excellence performed. Heroes inspire us and give us something to which to aspire. Second, I pondered, “Maybe having heroes is people worship.” Perhaps, we shouldn’t have heroes at all, not only because we are likely to be disappointed, but also because having heroes is akin to worshiping people. Since we are commanded to worship God only, maybe the really spiritual thing to do is to say “God is my Hero,” and leave it there. Yet, God doesn’t seem to think we shouldn’t have human heroes. He gave us a Bible full of choices of them. He filled the hall of one whole chapter, Hebrews 11, with portraits of heroes of faith. Admittedly, it is an error that many make; they worship their human heroes. Yet, we don’t have to worship heroes to be inspired by them. Next, I wondered: “Maybe we are not to have contemporary heroes only dead ones”—ones dead long enough that no posthumous revelations will discredit and tarnish the esteem we had for them. Maybe. But we need to see the exceptional modeled right now in our world, our times, our circumstances. Non-living heroes may excite and inspire. But so often we cannot relate to them. They’re from another time and another world. To believe we can model them, we also need heroes who live in our time and world, not just those from another time and world. My next thought seemed to be leading towards some kind of answer to our hero quandary: “Maybe we are looking in the wrong places for the wrong things in the wrong people.” Technology has brought the wider world to us. We have instant access to the stage of popularity across which parades those of exceptional talent, abilities, aptitude, and performance. We’re not even required to judge for ourselves whether these are worthy to be heroes. We are told they are by the thousands of followers of their channels, the tens of thousands that fill their venues, the millions of likes of their videocasts, and the hundreds of subscribers who share them. By acclaim of their popularity, these who become our heroes are those of extraordinary talent, charisma, and ability—their character is rarely a factor since it is unknown. In a sense, these heroes are but images of people and not real-life people. The Apostle Paul encourages believers to esteem the laborers and leaders among them. It is implied that they esteem them because they know them. (I Th 5:12-13). Though not sure-proof, personally knowing people in shared real-life experiences vets them far better than simply being impressed by their online persona. “Can’t we have any heroes?” Yes! But lest we set ourselves up for further disappointment when yet another hero fails, we must remember: Our heroes are only instruments. If they have/are doing something great in the Kingdom of God, God is the one doing that thing. Our hero is, in the end, only the channel, tool, instrument used by God when He does the thing. Our heroes, however well they perform, preach, or sing, are not the force that makes a difference in people. The force is in the message, the Gospel of Christ, that they share. Any lasting, eternal change does not come from their talent or personality but from the power of the Gospel itself. Our heroes are worthy of our following and emulating only in as much they follow and emulate Christ. He is our true Hero. He’s The Hero—I started to say “behind the hero”—ahead of the hero. Any hero we follow should be wholly following Christ. Our heroes are not best chosen from the popularity pantheon of the big names, the widely known, the exceptionally talented on the wider stage of the world, but from those faithfully consistently serving God in our own homes, churches, and communities. Don’t look for charisma. Look for faithfulness. That’s the metric God uses to judge the stature of a person. Certainly, we should judge our heroes as He does. For every well-known Christian figure who falls into moral failure, there are millions of faithful laborers in their hidden corner of the Kingdom who never morally fail, never violate the trust put in them, never shame the role they fill, never err from the truth. It may sound platitudinal, but we would be better served if our heroes were chosen from the faithful folks we know. The faithful mother of small children, the faithful elder who has never varied in his devotion to Christ, the faithful Sunday School teacher who has taught three generations, the faithful local pastor who consistently studies and preaches the Word, the faithful youth pastor, the faithful church-secretary, the faithful deacon, all serving us among us. These often unheralded, unseen, faithful servants of God, these are heroes we can and should have. Can’t we have any heroes? We do have them. We’ve just been looking for them in the wrong places.
makes me want to carry around some cheese
Bro. Clifford Hurst 02/07/2021
While eating a supper of sandwiches, the family was gathered in the living room watching a TV preacher raving on and on about his novel version of faith. One of the elderly parents, who was suffering from cognitive decline, could take it no more. She still had the facilities and discernment to recognize that what the preacher was spouting was poppycock. Removing the top slice of bread from her sandwich, she took the slice of cheese, rose, walked to the TV, and smashed the cheese on its screen over the babbling preacher’s face and said, “Now take that.” I didn’t smash cheese on his face. I didn’t want to mess up my iPhone on which I was watching him on YouTube. Instead, I sent a verbal volley at him, “You are such an arrogant dimwit.” I tried to mitigate my bad attitude--the frustrated disdain I felt--with an asterisk, “No, I’m not making an ad hominem attack on you. I’m just making an accurate observation.” My tirade had no more effect on him than the cheese on the preacher’s face. He droned on unaffected. The speaker had abandoned his faith in Christ and become an atheist because “the God in the Bible was such a horrible misogynist, cruel child abuser, despicable racist…” His tirade is easily disputed: First, his assessment of God was based on how he set up his declarations: God condoned slavery so He is racist. God encouraged polygamy, so He is misogynist. God ordered ethnic cleansing, so He is a racist. (These claims are demonstratively false—but there’s no space for that here.) Second, he was using God’s own standard of good and evil to judge God as evil. See, the man is an atheist. As an atheist, he is a naturalist, meaning he believes that everything that consists only of matter and energy. Therefore, there is nothing on which to base absolute morality. An atom cannot tell you whether or not murder is right or wrong. Yet, this atheist wants to declare that God is evil because He is misogynistic (which, of course, He isn’t). Even if God were misogynistic, the man has no basis for saying either God or misogyny is evil. He has no standard. He has no measure. He has only the mass of molecules, not a measure of morality. I really didn’t want to get into all of that but had to in order to get at what is really happening. Of course, the man would never concede he is borrowing God’s standard of morality to judge God. He would insist he originated and developed his own standard of morality, good and evil. He would adamantly proclaim, “I don’t need God to be moral. I don’t need God to be good. I don’t need God to have a standard.” He doesn’t need God because he thinks he has created his own superior code of morality. He has revealed the post-modernity contemporary mindset: “We don’t want or need God to tell us what is good and evil. We are capable of doing that ourselves.” (How’s that working out?) Everything about everything the man said, if traced, goes right back to the Garden and the first sin. Satan began by impugning God’s character. His strategy? Dis the Lawgiver, so you can dismiss His laws. Satan put doubt in Eve’s mind about God’s motives. “God doesn’t want you to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, because He knows when you do you will become like Him. God is trying to keep you subjugated so He can keep this God-thing all to Himself. God is oppressing you for His own selfish purposes to deprive you of your rightful place and pleasure.” In the end, the temptation was this: Why let God set the standard of good and evil? You humans should wrest that prerogative away from God and make it your own. Humanity’s partaking of the forbidden fruit was its declaration that “We will decide for ourselves what is right and wrong, good and evil.” We don’t need or want God. In a moment. It became so clear. The Christian-turned-atheist wanted to impugn God’s character so He could escape accountability to God. His tirade was like a parishioner, who, when confronted for his adultery by his pastor, begins to hurl depravations against the pastor’s character. The parishioner’s maligning of the pastor is his saying that the pastor cannot tell him his adultery is wrong because the pastor himself is morally flawed. With a pastor, being a human, there’s a possibility his character is compromised. With God, not only are the charges not true, they are poorly imagined. As the speaker droned on about what a horrible God Yahweh was, I had a mental picture: This man was standing before a judge’s high bench with God in the judges’ seat. The case had gone against the man, and the Judge was about to declared his guilt and sentence. In a frightful rage, the man climbed the stairs, raced behind the bench, grabbed the Judge, unseated Him, threw him over the front of the bench, and sat down in the Judge’s chair. He had switched places. Of course, this is only an illusionary conjuration. The atheist could not and would not be allowed to do this in the court of man much less the court of God. Yet, in his own deceived imagination, there he was: Behind the bench, sitting in the judge’s seat with God demoted to the low-floor standing before him waiting for the atheist’s condemnation and sentence. He was judging God. What arrogance. Yet, constantly today we see this. Folks everywhere are going on about how bad God is, how awful His laws, how antiquated His morality, how outdated His Word. They sit as judge of God as criminal. They’ve made their own laws, designed their own standards. These who are always hollering about not judging anybody feel they can pass judgment on God. What convoluted arrogance. What unmistakable hypocrisy. What willful deception. I know it’s a rebukeable attitude to have, but it makes me want to carry around some slices of cheese.
acetaminophen: you sure you want to take it?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 01/31/2021
It was the irony I could not escape: You take a pill to dull your pain, and, though it may, it will also dull your joy. Studies have shown that taking acetaminophen for one’s pain will not only blunt it but will also blunt his emotional responses—such as joy. See, acetaminophen lessens one’s pain and lessens his joy simultaneously. Less pain equals less joy. Go figure. This is the irony: Basically, we seek to remove pain from our lives that we might have joy. We see pain as the very enemy and supplanter of joy. Thus, we take acetaminophen to alleviate our pain not realizing it is also diminishing our joy. Perhaps, this is the very reason Jesus while suffering on the cross, refused the acetaminophen offered Him. Okay, it wasn’t exactly acetaminophen but the contemporary equivalent. As He writhed in pain on the cross, He was offered a mild anesthesia of a wine-myrrh mixture to numb His agony. He refused the “acetaminophen” because He did not seek to avoid nor alleviate the pain He felt. He knew the pain of the cross was necessary both to the joy of returning to the Father’s right hand having fully obeyed Him and to the joy of saving a lost people from their sins and eternal punishment. He willingly suffered the unalleviated pain for that joy. Had he removed the cause of pain, the cross, these joys would have not been experienced. Thus, “… Jesus … for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, ….” (Heb 12:2). Jesus also had forewarned His disciples that they would collaterally feel the pain of the cross but encouraged them they would also feel its joy. He used an analogy of a woman giving birth: A woman in labor experiences great pain. But, when her child is birthed, seeing him, she is so filled with joy, the memory of her pain dissipates. Jesus then applied his illustration. “Disciples, I’m leaving. You are going to sorrow at the pain of separation. But I am returning (from cross and grave). And when you see Me again, your hearts will surge and soar with unmitigated joy. (John 16:21-22). Now, if the disciples’ pain had been avoided by Jesus’ not leaving them, their joy would have been averted and denied as well. Thus, Jesus taught the joy of resurrection can only be known following the joy of crucifixion, as the joy of a newborn child can only be known following the pain of labor. There are some joys we will never know without preceding pain. The joy of reunion can only be known following the pain of separation. The joy of victory can only be known following the pain of battle. The joy of forgiveness can only be known following the pain of guilt and shame. The joy of a sunrise can only be known following the pain of a dark, stormy night. I am no masochist. I do not like pain. I hate it. Pain is just so, well, painful. I will avoid meeting it and, run from it if I do. Indubitably, when pain does manage to get ahold of me, I will seek to wrest myself away or squash it. I will jerk my hand away from the hot pan’s handle. I will take medication to seek to alleviate pain whenever I can. Yet, I must acknowledge the conundrum: We labor to eradicate pain from our lives thinking that is the secret to having joy. We seek to exterminate any political, financial, mental, emotional, physical, and relational pain. In all of these areas, we are unsuccessful in completely ridding pain from our lives. Worse, assuaging the pain does not bring joy. At best, it brings tentative relief; it may bring a measure of comfort, but dulls any ebullient joy. As I grow older, I find myself willing to sacrificing joy if it means mitigating pain. I opt for comfort over pain-joy. It is better to have nothing happening than something painful happening. Yet, I must still concede two realities: First, one cannot live without pain. Not in this world. And I’m not just referring to physical pain. There’s emotional pain. Mental pain. Relationship pain. Self-inflicted pain. Pain caused by others. Pain caused by impersonal forces. Second, the acetaminophen of life may mask my pain but will not touch the cause of my pain. Acetaminophen will not even touch the greatest of life’s pain—the non-physical pain—much less remove its cause. Notwithstanding these realities, understandably, we take acetaminophen to dull our pain. We spend our time, efforts, resources, seeking to escape the pain. This past summer I suffered a protracted stretch of the greatest physical pain I’d ever known. I found myself using a word to describe it when asked by doctors and others the level of my pain: “Excruciating.” Before experiencing this pain, I knew what I’m about to share, but it did not hit me until after my pain had finally subsided. Look at the word “excruciating.” Look right in the middle of the word. Look at the root. It’s “-cruci-.” That comes from “crucify.” Crucify comes from “cross.” Our word to describe extreme pain comes from “cross.” But, there is promise in that: As certainly as Jesus’ joyous resurrection followed the painful agony of His cross, by our being united with Him, joy will follow, if not arise, from our pain. I’m not suggesting you NOT take a Tylenol for your headache. But, as you know, it will not touch your HEARTache. Perhaps, you wouldn’t want it to. You might be averting the coming joy. Rather, in the worse of your pain, know Jesus has promised that after the pain of the cross is a coming joy of resurrection. That promise is better than the Acetaminophen.
where is god?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 01/24/2021
“Where was God on election day?” Since 2020’s presidential election, I have often heard this or some variation of it. Up to inauguration, I heard things like, “God’s going to pull this out!”—out of what appeared to be the inevitable installation of “that other guy” into the oval office. This pronouncement was augmented with speculation how the incumbent would at the last moment orchestrate a maneuver, pull a trick out of his legal sleeve, that would result in his maintaining office. Rather than facilitate such a hope, the storming of the Capital on Jan. 06, only dashed it. The questioning only increased. “Where was God during the certifying of the election results?” Then, last week, “Where was God during the inauguration?” I do not fault the fervor of folks who truly felt their candidate was God’s righteous pawn against such evils as abortion. I am sure this desire for righteousness is why 80% of evangelicals voted for the Republican candidate. I am not trying to wade into a political polemic or fray—that’s been done. It’s just that there seems to be a seismic-registering shaking of some folks’ faith expressed in their question, “Where was God on election/certification/inauguration day?” And, it’s not just presidential elections that produce the “Where was God?” question. Life is full of sharp disappointments, devastating loss, heart-wrenching betrayal, painful disease, and injury that spawn the question, “Where was God?” and, if one is currently living such calamity, “Where IS God?” “Where was God on election day?” I have another question, “Where was God on Crucifixion Day?” I’m not the first to ask it. Jesus did. “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying,… ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’” (Mat 27:46). We take this as Jesus’ awareness and declaration that the Father had abandoned Him while He hanged on the cross. However, I think there is real hope in realizing we may have gotten Jesus’ questioning all wrong. You see, I don’t think that for one second Jesus really thought that the Father had forsaken Him, abandoned Him, left Him alone, walled Him off from Himself, or exiled Him to a God-free alternate-universe. I believe, Jesus is revealing, not that He thought or knew the Father had abandoned Him, but that on the cross while bearing humanity’s separating-from-God sin and experiencing the wrath of God upon that sin, He FELT like that the Father had abandoned Him. It seemed that the Father had turned His back on the Son. He knew it was not true. But that is the way it appeared—to any observer too. However, the Father had NOT left Him! How can I say that so emphatically? Because, at the moment Jesus is asking the question, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” He is praying to the Father. Unless deluded, you and I won't continue to talk to someone who we know has left the room, the house. Neither did Jesus. Jesus was praying the words of Psalm 22 and, by doing so, pointing the observing crowd’s attention to that Messianic psalm which is full of prophecies of His substitutionary death that He was at that moment fulfilling. So much can be explored by exactly what Jesus meant by “My God, why have you forsaken me,” but, in the end, it cannot be supposed that God had actually forsaken Him nor that Jesus believed He had. The torture of the cross and the sin and wrath Jesus bore, made it feel as if God had forsaken Him. Perhaps, a little illustration may help: In flight, prior to 9-11, the door to the cockpit was often left open. The plane would hit successive turbulence that rocked and yawed the plane, and passengers would look up from their books, open their eyes from sleep, or turn their heads from the one with whom they were chatting and peer up the aisle toward the cockpit. There they would see the pilot in his seat, hands on the yoke, steadily and calmly flying the plane. Reassured, the passengers would return to their activities. Now, post-911, before takeoff, the door to the cockpit is closed and locked shut. Passengers will not see the pilot again until the plane lands. Hitting turbulence, the plane shudders as it rocks and yaws. The passengers look up the aisle towards the cockpit and see nothing but its door. They cannot see the pilot. For all they know, the cockpit is empty. Or the pilot has had a heart attack. Or the pilot is a malevolent terrorist. There is no reassurance. In fact, it feels like, it seems, it appears, that there is no pilot at all, no one controlling the plane. Perhaps they never articulate the question, but in a storm, the passengers are asking, “Where is the pilot?” It definitely feels like there is no one. Or, that he’s away from the controls. Often in the turbulence of life, God’s presence, involvement, and voice are veiled from the eyes of our experience. The cockpit door is closed. With each roller-coaster bump and jerk, we ask, “Where is God?” It feels He is no longer around. Often, in a storm, there is nothing but silence from the cockpit. The pilot, busy with controlling the plane, says nothing to the passengers. But, flying the plane out the other side of the storm, the pilot suddenly speaks over the public address system announcing that they are through the rough storm and assuring them that they had been safe throughout their experience. One thing for sure, when the plane has safely landed on the tarmac, chocked at the terminal, the cockpit’s door is opened. The pilot appears, standing outside the cockpit, and the passengers receive his greeting as they exit the plane. He had been there all along. We often doubt God is there; doubt that He is piloting our plane. But, if not before, when this trip of life ends and this plane of faith lands, the cockpit door of the temporal and visible will be opened. We shall see the Pilot has been there along as He greets and welcomes us to eternity’s terminal. Then we will concede, in the roughest of times, it only felt as if He were not there—He always was.
i’ll probably never get asked again
Bro. Clifford Hurst 01/17/2021
Really, I’m honored; it’s always elating when folks inquire after one’s opinion whatever the subject. Recently, different ones have forwarded to me links of another gone-viral video message from a political prognosticator or some prescient prophet. The link’s attached to the question, “What do you think of this?” Some of the most recent feature a monologist citing an imminent takeover of the United States. His message, urging the stockpiling of supplies of food and ammo, intimates that the incoming administration will extend an invitation to foreign communist forces to assist its crackdown on conservative dissidents. Any flattery I might feel at being asked about my opinion is quickly displaced by the awareness of the alarm people are experiencing over these “prophecies” and by my desire, not just to get my opinion correct, but to do so in a manner that does not dash people’s faith in the very real and certain prophecies of an apocalyptic end revealed in God’s Word. Before sharing any observations intended to mitigated folks’ fueled apprehension and misplaced passion for such sound-the-alarm messages, I want to affirm that I believe Jesus will come again, there will arise an Antichrist-led world government, and, proceeding both, anti-Christian sentiment and attacks will increase. I also, personally, believe we are likely to continue to see the decline and transmogrification of America. I do think that every family must often presagingly respond to real and pressing approaching calamitous threats (for an unrelated example, an approaching blizzard) by taking the necessary precautionary measures that may include stockpiling survival supplies. However, I think we must remember something about these monodramas which layout a conspiracy-based, apocalyptic scenario of imminent doom and then urge stockpiling, etc. It is this: How many times through the years have we heard things like this? I became aware of such prophetic predictions in the later 1970s. In more recent history, the doomsday-induced anxiety raised over Y2K serves as a prime example. Folks are quick to forget. When another of these heralders rises, we forget that the last one’s warning, dream, or vision, of the imminent end never happened. This cycle has transpired again and again. Alarm. Nothing. Alarm. Nothing. Alarm. Nothing. Despite all the “facts” the “prophet” laid out based on all the information secret to others but privy to him. I do not doubt the sincerity; at least not of all of them. I do not doubt all the supporting information; some of it’s accurate. I do not doubt adversarial forces are at work against the U.S. and against Christians; there are--both from outside and inside our country. My concern arises from the result of these apocalyptic-trumpet calls. After the scenario doesn’t materialize the aftereffect is often one of two: First, some are kept in a bipolar state of yo-yoing of emotions; their emotions become hyper-inflamed, followed by a huge let-down when the events don’t happen. Again. And again. Second, some quit listening to and believing that there will be an apocalypse in the world’s, the U.S.’s, their future. “Wolf” is cried over and over, until, when someone declares, “Jesus is coming!”, these “Wolf”-weary folks quickly dismiss that Biblical prophecy with, “We’ve heard all that before.” Of course, these apocalyptic occurrences will one day come upon the world. The Antichrist will arise. Hard times and persecution will come to believers. All these could be just around the corner. Yet, Scripture never urged believers to prepare for the Antichrist’s coming but for Christ’s coming. We have been urged to “occupy” until Christ comes with our eyes, not on secretive, conspiratorial political machinations expecting doom, but on the sky, expecting redemption. We have been urged, not to have our hearts enflamed with alarm, but to “let not your hearts be troubled.” Folks need to be adjured to get their hearts right with God over and above to get prepared for a communist takeover. And if our hearts are right, we need not fear. Yes, the alarm should be raised. However, I think that these Paul Reveres should be galloping across the social media with, “Jesus is coming, Jesus coming, Jesus is coming,” rather than with “The Antichrist is coming, The Antichrist is coming, The Antichrist is coming.” Of course, the Antichrist’s coming is a part of the end-time message and should be taught and preached. My point is What predominates? It is the Gospel, the good news, that should predominate. Not the bad news of the machinations of evil forces. I have often noticed and been concerned by this: A preacher can declare what the Bible says about the end and the signs that Jesus gave of its coming, and folks tend to be little moved. Yet, someone can share in a post a scenario, patching together things happening in our government, in global organizations, because of billionaire shakers and movers, etc., and folks become tremendously moved. For example, the preacher can share that Jesus said that one of the indicating signs of the approaching end is that “iniquity will abound,” (Matt. 24:12) and there’s little response. Someone on social media can say, “Bill Gates is trying to insert a chip in people via a vaccine,” and Christian folks become inundated with heightened alarm that the end is coming. Perhaps, this is a bit simplistic, but to me, it seems that the Bible couldn’t move them but a social media post could. I do believe we ought to apply the Bible to the contemporary world. But, to me, it’s a matter of which direction we are looking. Are we looking from the Bible to the world or from the world to the Bible? Put another way, are we using the Bible to interpret world events or using world events to interpret the Bible? I really don’t see a Scripture that urges stockpiling as we see the end approaching; I do see one that urges our continued and increased faithful assembling together for worship, Word, and fellowship (Heb. 10:25); we should head for the Assembly and not for a cave. Perhaps, we should be storing a few more memory verses instead of a few more boxes of ammo. Now, I’ve done it. I’ll probably never be asked again.
why he took the two pennies
Bro. Clifford Hurst 01/10/2021
John D. Rockefeller was the richest man in the world. In today’s valuation, he was worth billions. On a voyage by ship across the Atlantic to Europe, this man who was deemed the monstrous, reclusive ogre of business, gregariously engaged with and entertained fellow voyagers. The night of the captain’s dinner, Rockefeller dressed in a harlequin’s outfit and delighted children with his antics. One of the young boys impressed by Rockefeller’s entertainment, while chatting with the tycoon on a subsequent afternoon up on deck, reached on impulse into his pocket and took out two pennies. He handed them to Rockefeller and insisted he take them. The richest-man-in-the-world, with greater wealth than many nations, very seriously took the two coins and put them in his own pocket. He then reached down, picked up the lad in his arms, stood, and looked out silently, contemplatively across the ocean. Constantly today, I hear and read from student and professor, from theologian and philosopher, from liberal “Christian” and new atheist, that God, if He exists, is petulant and petty to demand humanity’s worship, praise, adoration, and love. They ask, “What kind of narcissistic, psychotic sociopath is God to desire our affection and attention---to not just desire it, but demand it?” They just don’t get it. They see God’s demand of our complete love and allegiance, His insistence that we worship Him alone, as evidence of His deficiency. They see it as His NEEDING our devoted adoration. They just don’t get it. God is complete and whole. He is self-sufficient. He doesn’t need our worship. He needs nothing from us. Nothing we could give Him, however much, would add anything, not even minutely to Him. Nothing we would withhold from Him would leave Him deficient of anything. Simply put, God does not need our love, worship, or praise. He needs nothing from us. At all. Think about the heartwarming story above. Why is it heartwarming? Because the child gave his two pennies—a lot for a kid in those days? Perhaps. But really, it’s moving because the millionaire graciously took the two pennies. Only the malevolent mind would say Rockefeller took the pennies because he greedily wanted more money and would stoop miserly to snatch the child’s copper. Only the ignorant mind would think that Rockefeller took the pennies because he needed them. He didn’t. What would two pennies mean to a man of millions? They would be indiscernible. No, Rockefeller didn’t take the pennies for his own sake. He took them for the sake of the child. It meant something to the child to give them, and he would not offend, injure, or disappoint him. It was good for the child to give unselfishly. The child’s heart was in his gift. There are many other answers to the above-mentioned assault on God’s character and nature because He demands that we worship Him and Him alone. But, this story of a millionaire and a boy’s two pennies is enough to totally debunk its foolish claim. God needs our worship no more than Rockefeller needed the boy’s pennies. God insists we worship Him, not for His sake, but for ours. It does Him no good. It does us tremendous good. God delights in our worship, not because we give it because He has commanded it, but because we willfully, affectionately, offer it to Him. He will take it. And when He has accepted it, He will stoop down, put His arms around us, and embrace us with the love, grace, and mercy of His presence. Two pennies for His arms around you is a small price to pay.
failure to thrive
Bro. Clifford Hurst 01/03/2021
Then he said it. I felt something akin to a shockwave go through me. My nagging, reflexive hunch had been accurate. I’ll explain: The preacher was sharing an enumeration of collateral damage done by the COVID virus, particularly by the restrictions imposed because of it. He noted things like the tragic exponential increase in suicide rates (In Japan, more have died of suicide in one month than the entire time of COVID). Then he said it: “There’s a new cause being given on death certificates for non-COVID related deaths, ‘Failure to thrive.’” That’s when the shockwave went through me: This past summer my father, a resident of a nursing home facility passed away. We had been told at the time that the reason was “failure to thrive.” I remember my reacting with “I haven’t heard that for deaths of the elderly before. Usually, you hear that given as a cause of a child’s death.” Child deaths from congenital or environmental causes of malnourishment are often described as “failure to thrive.” (I surmise that this reason was listed as a cause of such adult deaths prior to COVID but became more frequently and noticeably employed since.) When I later received my father’s death certificate, there it was “a. failure to thrive.” I blog about this, not to fault any worker or facility, not to affix blame, not to attribute causes, but because I am moved and disturbed by the thought and have been personally, deeply affected by it. What I share is just the reality—anecdotally and statistically; thousands have been dying in nursing homes and not just from COVID, and not just from usual causes at usual rates. It is estimated that for every two COVID related deaths in nursing homes that there is one death from either neglect or despair attributable to the isolation brought on by restrictions and quarantine measures taken because of the virus. It must be noted that even before COVID hit many of these facilities were understaffed, with workers already plagued by being overworked and underpaid. COVID only compounded these problems—at the expense of residents. The COVID-necessitated shutdowns precipitated contingent problems one wouldn’t have imagined. For example, as a rule, dentists were not allowed into the homes. Consequently, dentures could not be adjusted nor natural teeth repaired. Residents with dental problems could not eat properly and became malnourished. Hugely contributing to residents’ health was the dark mental state brought on by the shutdowns. Isolated from family members and others, residents were plunged into mental despair, hopelessness, and despondency from a lack of stimulating interaction. Again, without alleging or assigning blame, the new conditions and demands of the shutdown and care of patients with COVID frequently led to the neglect of the basic needs of non-COVID patients. Because of these factors, these residents began to die. The reason for their deaths was often documented as “failure to thrive.” These deaths are tragic and sad—as you might understand--in a particularly personal way to me. My melancholy over these “failure to thrive” deaths reminds me we are not a creation with only biological life; we also have potential of spiritual life. At this point I’m shifting from the grieving Son of an aged father who passed away because of failure to thrive to Pastor who has seen the same thing happen spiritually to folks. Their spiritual life ended because of “failure to thrive”. I reveal my theological underpinnings, but I have seen those who were born-again fail to thrive. They had nascent spiritual life. Or, perhaps, they had matured spiritual life. Either way, that life ended. Failure to thrive. Jesus spoke of failure to thrive in His parable of the Sowed Seed. That sown on the wayside never really germinated on the hard ground. It was prime picking for the birds. Spiritual life was precluded. That which was sown in rocky soil germinated life. Short-lived life. It never put down deep roots. The sun was hot. The trials hard. It died. Failure to thrive. The seed among thorns, it germinated and grew. It appeared to thrive. But, so did the thorns close around it. The thorns thrived more. They, the thorns, the cares of this life, the deceitfulness of riches, choked the plant sprouted from the seed. The plant died. Failure to thrive. Now the seed sowed in the good soil germinated. Grew. Thrived. No failure there. I cannot venture into an exegesis of this parable, but I simply cannot accept a predestinationist interpretation of the life from the seed not thriving. In application, I cannot believe, if the soil is the condition of a person’s heart, that a person has no choice in the state of the condition of his heart, of his response to the Word. Also, I cannot ignore the possible larger environment of the soil, which is the climate around the soil--the individual’s heart. There is the condition of one’s heart itself, and there’s the environment in which one’s heart dwells. In reference to the former, one can be in an environment conducive to thriving spiritually. He can attend a good church with vibrant worship, poignant, truthful Word, loving fellowship. And, yet, not thrive. He chooses not to partake of the available nourishment. In reference to the latter, if one finds himself willfully existing in an environment not conducive to his spiritual life, he should choose to get himself out and away from it and to an environment where he can thrive. If getting out of such a climate not-conducive-to-life is impossible, say, it is his home, his school, his work, God is able to make him thrive even there through compensatory grace. In the end, because of the prevailing, proffered goodness and grace of God, there is no reason for one’s spiritual life to end. There is no need to put down the cause of the death of the spiritual life of one’s soul, “failure to thrive.” Not in God’s house. Not in God’s care. Not in God’s presence.
the faith of the silent one
Bro. Clifford Hurst 12/20/2020
There is a main character in the Nativity that gets less attention than the magi or the shepherds. Joseph. Probably, we never hear much about him because we never heard anything from him. I’m sure that Joseph was not mute, incapable of speech. But, in the record of Scripture, he doesn’t say anything. He’s silent. In our carols, even the “cattle are lowing” in the nativity. But, Joseph’s saying nothing. The absence of any quotes attributed to Joseph only accentuates his faith. He said nothing. He just did as instructed by God! This is a great expression of faith. Perhaps, the greatest. When it became evident that his fiancé Mary was expectant, Joseph was asked to accept the fact that she had not been unfaithful to him, that the embryo growing in her had been conceived by the Spirit of God. Joseph was instructed to proceed with marrying her. Joseph said nothing. He didn’t argue with the angel. He didn’t quiz Mary. He didn’t protest, complain or express his doubts—which he had to have had. He said nothing. He just did it. He married her. That took a lot of faith. Or, his doing so brought a lot of faith. Or both. After the magi’s visit, when warned in a dream to depart immediately for a foreign country in the opposite direction of home to protect his wife’s child from impending infanticide, again, Joseph did not argue with the angel, protest, complain, or express doubts and misgivings. He just got out of bed in the middle of the night, got his family up, packed the donkey, and, started down the road the many-days’ journey to Egypt. The holy family became settled after dwelling there three years or so. Again, in a dream an angel told him it was time to move, to get up and go all the way back home. Once again. Joseph said nothing. He just got up and did it. I am convinced that much of our struggle with faith comes from simply not doing our faith. We struggle. We question. We complain. We begrudge. We opine. We dialogue. We monologue. All to no avail. We struggle with our faith. I believe Joseph discovered the secret: When struggling with your faith, when assailed with doubts, when plagued with questions, when discouraged to believe, just do your faith. Do the will of God. Live the Word of God. The child of Joseph’s wife, when grown, codified this truth: Jesus said, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine ...” (Joh 7:17). The way to really “get” truth is simply to do truth. You’ll get it if you do it. It is not wrong to ask questions—even out loud. It is not wrong to discuss struggles of faith. It is not wrong to wrestle verbally while trying to reconcile realities that seemingly conflict with spiritual truths. Not at all. But, in the end, so much of the struggle with our faith comes from not doing our faith. We, who believe in salvation through faith alone, shy and shirk from any mention of “doing” (works). We aren’t saved by doing. Faith saves us. But a faith that saves is a faith that does something. It’s the doing that brings expression to faith, gives it a voice, and confirms its reality. Modern Christianity no longer brings up this matter of doing because then it must bring up the matter of obedience. But in the end, it is our obedience to truth that chases away our doubts of the truth. As the old hymn notes, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” Obeying doesn’t just bring happiness; it brings a settledness and certainty of faith. I’ve not been asked, but for all who may be struggling with their faith, search the Word. Yes, definitely! Talk about it. Find a trusted spiritual advisor who roots his counsel in the Word and talk it over with him. Discuss it. Debate it. But, if you really want to still your doubts and let your faith speak loudly, there’s a time to stop talking about it and to just do it. Do the Truth. Follow Joseph’s example. Just do the Word of God. Just obey. People doubt much because they do little. I have not been completely honest with you about Joseph. Scripture does record Joseph’s saying something. One thing. One word. In an indirect quote, not a direct one. The narrative notes that when Joseph named the child he named him “Jesus.” Even then, Joseph was doing what the angel had instructed. Yes, Joseph is to be commended for his faith. He just does what he’s asked. He is silent. Except when saying the name of “Jesus.” Pastor Clifford Hurst
communion: not a game of telephone
Bro. Clifford Hurst 12/13/2020
Our monthly communion is one thing I miss most about COVID-era worship. Jesus stressed upon His initiating the ordinance--“This do in remembrance of Me.” Communion is about memory. This week I learned something about memory I never knew. It explained so much. Recent research on memory has turned knowledge about our head on its head. Here’s how we’ve formerly thought of memory. Say, I had a remarkable experience at age five--I got the bike with a banana seat I wanted for Christmas. That pleasant experience that day left an indelible memory in my mind. So, when at age six I remember that experience, my mind goes back to that memory stored in my mind at age five, takes it off the storage shelf, looks it over, and puts it back. Same when I remember that Christmas at five when I am sixteen, thirty-six, or sixty. When I remember getting that bike, my mind takes out the memory made on that day at five and gives it another look over. It appears what I just described is not true. When I remember a memory, I don’t remember the original memory of an experience; I only remember the memory I last had of the memory of the experience. Or, the memory of the memory of the memory. Say I remembered the bike I received for Christmas at five when I was six. The next time I remember that Christmas is at ten. At ten, I don’t remember the original memory I made at five, but I remember the memory I had at six of the memory I made at five. So, if I had a memory of being gifted the bike when five at ages six, eight, ten, sixteen, twenty-eight, thirty-five, and fifty, I’ve had a memory at fifty of the memory at thirty-five of the memory at twenty-eight of the memory at sixteen of the memory at ten of the memory at eight of the memory at six of the original memory at five. The memory at fifty was the sixth rendition of the original memory made of the experience. This is much like the old game of telephone. In a circle of many participants, the first whispers a tidbit in the ear of the person next to him who relays it to the next, and so forth until the last person just before the originator speaks it out loud. If you’ve ever played this game, you know the amazement of the comparison between the original statement and its latest repeated version. The same thing happens when we over the years mentally relay our original experience from one memory to the next to next. Not capable of going back to the original memory each time, we have played telephone with our memory. For you woodworkers, this is like cutting multiple pieces that are to be identical. You cut the first from the pattern. But then you use the first piece as a pattern for the second, and the second for a pattern for the third, etc. Big mistake. What do you discover, then, when you compare the tenth piece cut with the original template? Come to think of it, I’m not sure if it was Christmas or my birthday—they’re only days apart--when I got the bike. I can’t even be sure it came with the banana seat, or if we switched out the original seat later. This explains a lot. With the passing of our parents this summer, my siblings and I have spent a lot of time with memories of our childhood—especially, as we sort through things at the old homeplace. We discover that our memories of the same event can differ widely in occasion, date, participants, causes, outcome, etc. Truth is, none of our minds is going back to the original memory we formed. Each of our three original memories could have been identical, but when we each, had a memory of the memory of the memory, etc., our individual recall of an event evolved to become very different. Similarly, I have often noticed how school classmates that continued to live in the area of my hometown have far more memories of school days and more reliable and accurate ones than I do, having moved away soon after graduating high school. I attribute this to the fact that they encounter things in the hometown that more frequently jogs their memory. It doesn’t actually jog their original memory. It jogs their minds to think of their last memory of a memory of an experience. Their memories of the memory are closer together and more frequent. Going back to the game of telephone, imagine keeping the circle the same size, but removing every other person, or leaving only every third person. Now play the game with each whispering to the next using the same volume he would have if a person were still seated at his elbow and not two seats away. When the relay has completed the circuit, the outcome will be even further from the original. What does all of this have to do with communion? Jesus knew we would forget His passion and all it entailed. So, He gave us communion. When we sincerely by faith partake of communion, we are not remembering the last communion during which we remembered the communion before that one, and so on, back to His Passion. When we partake of communion, we are remembering the original experience. Each communion is only one step away from the Passion. Each communion is only one increment away from Jesus. Communion is not a game of telephone. Communion just a step away from the Original. And that’s why I miss it.
the christmas light
Bro. Clifford Hurst 12/06/2020
My wife and I have been commenting and chuckling about it every time we go past. They have to be in a competition. Two blocks away, to exit our plat on a corner we must pass, there are two houses adjacent to each other but on perpendicular, intersecting streets. Each time we pass them, we note that there are more Christmas yard ornaments on display. One yard will have an increase of another ornament or decoration one day, and the neighboring house will the next. Day after day. The assortment is growing and filling their lawns. One will add a snowman, and the neighbor will add a Santa. One yard newly sports a sleigh, and the other will display a nativity. Day after day. More and more ornaments. (I believe a popular author once wrote of such a saga of Christmas-light competition between neighbors.) We only notice the competing growth at night. We notice at night because each displayed ornament comes with lights. That’s the whole thing about Christmas yard ornaments—their lights. When we think of Christmas decorations—inside or out—we think of lights. In fact, when we think of Christmas, we think of lights. Going and see the Christmas lights was a big thing when we were children. This memory surfaces each year. We lived less than a block from Main St.—in those days in its prime--and always noticed when, some days before Thanksgiving, city workers at each intersection of Main were stretching Christmas decorations across Main St. from traffic light pole to traffic light pole. We’d start getting excited. Soon we would get to see the Christmas lights. In our household, anything Christmas was anathema before Thanksgiving. But, Thanksgiving evening, we would load the Christmas music albums in the stereo, listen to Christmas music until dark, and soon after pile into the family car to drive up Main and see the lights. Big deal that was. Later, in the Christmas season would “go see the Christmas lights.” This time we didn’t head for Main St. but for the parts of town where “rich folks lived” and the “fancy houses” were. In parts of town like where we lived, folks didn’t seem to have the extra funds for any type of significant view-worthy Christmas light displays on house and lawn. So, off we would go to see rich folk’s Christmas lights. Whether intentional or not, I think it is fitting that Christmas decorations are thought of as “Christmas lights.” It seems almost universally true. I noted this year as I plugged in our Christmas decorations into smart plugs which can be controlled via Wi-Fi, internet, and voice, that as I chose an icon for the plugs, the one provided was a string of Christmas lights. That string of lights was emblematic for all electrical Christmas decorations one might plugin. Yes, Christmas is all about lights. Literally. Christmas is the celebration of the Savior’s entrance into our world. Our world was dark. Pitch black, dark. Jesus came as light. As the prophet put it, “the people that sat in darkness saw great light.” Jesus is the original Christmas light. Not a decoration. Not a symbol. Not an analogy. The real deal. The real light. Shining into darkness more oppressive than earth’s night. And that’s the thing about Christmas lights. They’re really only seen at night. As mentioned above, my wife and I only notice our competing neighbors’ growth of decorations at night. That’s also why I set a schedule on my smart plugs for our Christmas lights to come on at night and go off at day. Lights are made for the dark. Jesus was “made” for our dark. He became human to become the darkness-piercing Light. In the words of John when Christ came, “the light shined in darkness.” This is not true just about the universal, wholesale darkness of conglomerate humanity. This is true individually. Once a lady of our community called me when I was in my study at church. She was so depressed and distressed that the phone seemed to become heavier and heavier as she poured out her despair. I could feel the darkness that was on her side of the line. At some point, I said, “Listen, let’s pray right now.” I fell to my knees at my chair and began praying as she wept, trying to pray with me. At some point, I found myself repeating over and over, “Jesus, let Your light shine into her darkness.” Over and over. I don’t know how long we prayed, but all of a sudden she began to shout, “It’s gone. It’s gone. The “darkness” is gone.” The Light shines in darkness and the darkness cannot stop it, repel it, prevent it. No darkness has ever overpowered even the smallest light and, for sure, not the Light of the World. I don’t know who will win our neighborhood light competition. But I do know who has won over all darkness. What a Light He is! The Ultimate Christmas Light. Between The Light and darkness, it's no competition at all.
oatmeal and un-thankfulness:
Bro. Clifford Hurst 11/29/2020
Originally, I wrote this for Thanksgiving 2016. As I read over it, it seemed to fit our 2020 times even more closely: Blame my wife for this one--she had oatmeal for breakfast. I saw a study once that concluded people who ate oatmeal for breakfast developed cancer at a far greater rate than those who never ate oatmeal. Wait, before you trash the Quaker, oatmeal doesn’t cause cancer. The explanatory missing fact is that most people who eat oatmeal for breakfast are elderly folk who for other reasons develop cancer at a greater rate (not that my wife is elderly.). This illustrates that some things are correlative and not causal. There is no connection between cancer and oatmeal; it doesn’t cause cancer (causal). It is just that the demographic group that most frequently gets cancer also happens to eat a lot of oatmeal (correlative). In Romans 1, when Paul describes reprobate humanity that had once known God but had become worshippers of creation, idolaters, homosexuals, adulterers, thieves, murderers, etc., he prefaces what they had become with this: “when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful;” I had always taken “neither were thankful” as correlative (a descriptive trait of a reprobate) instead of causal (a contributive factor in his becoming a reprobate). Now, I’m not so sure. Can it be that being unthankful actually causes one to become sinful, evil, dark, and even perverted? Think about it: If people were truly thankful, would there be sin in our world? If Eve had been thankful that God had given her a garden full of trees including the Tree of Life from which to eat, would she had ever eaten of the forbidden tree? If David had been thankful for all the family, fortune, and fame God had given him, would he have ever committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband? If Judas had been thankful Jesus had chosen him as one of the Twelve, would he have ever betrayed Him? If Demas had been thankful he had heard the Gospel, would he have ever forsaken it for love of this present evil world? If the violent protesters in the inner cities were thankful for the service of policemen who protect them day and night, there would be no burning, looting, and killing cops. If the students were thankful for the republic in which they live, there would be no complaining, crying, and maligning the very system that allows them to protest. If society were thankful for the gift of life, there would be no advocating for abortion. If the leftists were thankful for the founding fathers and their giving us the best government and most blessed nation ever in history, there would be no complaining, revising, and trying to destroy the fabric of America. If the media were thankful for the freedom of the press, there would be no using it to distort, lie, malign, and promote misconceptions of reality. If believers were thankful for the freedom to worship, there would be no missing services, half-hearted worship, lack of joyful praise. If believers were thankful that Jesus had included them in the church, there would be no complaining about the church. If believers were thankful for having heard the truth, there would be no abandoning what they had been taught for the deceptive philosophies of the world. If believers were thankful Jesus had died to set them free, there would be no worldliness, love of carnal pleasures. If men were thankful for their wives, there would be no looking at pornography, adultery, or wife-abuse. If wives were thankful for their husbands, there would be no haranguing their husbands. If children were thankful for their parents, there would be no disobedience or disrespect. If parents were thankful for their children, there would be no abuse or neglect. If I am thankful Jesus gave His life for me, there will be no complaining of how hard it is to serve Him. If I am thankful God specially created me and has a plan for my life, there will be no living only for myself and letting Satan have his way with me. I am certain there will be no evil, sin or darkness in heaven. I am also certain that there will not be one unthankful person in all of heaven. You can say the connection is correlative. I say it just might be causal.
mercy and, well, ahem, toilet tissue
Bro. Clifford Hurst 11/22/2020
The advent of a precipitous spike in COVID cases and the consequent new barrage of orders and directives in our state this week resulted in our once again being greeted with the disturbing sight of empty shelves in the store—the shelves where the toilet paper should be. I do not want to offend sensitivities by using such an analogy. The item is so mundane its moniker seems too crude to use in parallel with a spiritual truth, but there really isn’t a more sophisticated, polished synonym, well, perhaps, toilet tissue. Tissue sounds a bit more refined than “paper.” But, I digress. In danger of further insulting your genteelness, I must note that the aforementioned is a daily needed essential. That we deem it so is evident by the run on it in times of crises. Like mercy. One of the most beloved portions of Scriptures that gives us so much encouragement is this one: “It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” (Lam 3:22-23). How often have we taken heart by proclaiming, “His mercies are new every morning”? Perhaps, it is just me, but in the past, I visualized this passage like this: The storehouse of heaven’s shelves are completely replete with God’s mercy. During each day I required mercy for my sins, difficulties, weaknesses, dilemmas, crises, etc. As I ask, God takes the needed mercy off the shelf and gives it to me. Sometimes, I don’t even have to ask Him. He sees my need for mercy, and He takes it from the shelf and sends it my way. Because of my constant drawing on His mercy throughout the day and His constant sending it to me, by day’s end, I imagine, I have depleted the shelves of it--at least the shelf designated and dedicated to the mercies allotted to me. But, thank God, while I sleep, God or his angels restock the shelves with mercy. By the time I awake the next day, the shelves are again abounding with mercies for the day to come. Like this: Imagine one evening during this COVID crisis, you grabbed the last package of toilet tissue off the shelves of, say, Kroger’s. It won’t be near enough for you and your family in the days to come. As you turn from the empty shelves, you wonder what you will do. Later, at home, you pray for a new shipment to come in during the night. It does! While you sleep, the employees restocked the shelves. The next day, going back to Kroger’s, you exhale with relief at seeing the shelves again loaded with toilet tissue. This was my concept of God’s mercies being new every morning though it was always nebulous in thought and I never articulated it. Yet, thinking of toilet tissue during the COVID crises, it occurred to me this was NOT how it was with the mercies of God. However often in a day that we require and received God’s mercies, even if it amounts to truckloads of them, we do not tax, diminish, or deplete the mercies of God in the least. He still has just as much at the end of our day as He did at the beginning. His mercies are eternal. His mercies are inexhaustible. His mercy is always greater than my need. Today. Every day. Then, how are they new every morning? I think the answer is in ”morning.” What happens in the morning? The sun comes up, and we call it a new day. The sun was not depleted the day before and then recreated for the next. The sun in the morning greets us when and where and how it did the previous day. Thus, it’s a new day. God’s mercies are new every morning, not because more of them were generated and produced during the night. God’s mercies are new because they greet us the sun at the start of a new day. A new day brings new need for mercies because a new day brings new dilemmas, new foibles, new faults, and even new sins. Every morning, there is mercy yet again for that day’s developing necessities of it. The same ole sun displays a brand new sunrise. In a sunrise, the orb may manifest itself in a more spectacular fashion on a particular day. We marvel, “What a beautiful sunrise today.” Yet, there was nothing different about the sun. The reason the sunrise appeared more spectacular was due to something different about that day’s atmospheric conditions. The unique brilliance of a day’s sunrise could even be contributed to a coming storm. Sometimes because of the conditions of our day, God’s mercy can seem particularly more marvelous. His mercy was always so, but there was something we encountered, dealt with, struggled with, that made His mercy seem more particularly remarkable on that day. The sun’s shining throughout the day does not diminish its radiance nor heat in the least. Not at all. It will have the same brilliance and heat tomorrow. His mercy received throughout one day does not diminish it for the next. His mercies are new every morning. Tomorrow’s new day with new problems. But, rest, assured, there will be mercy available. Hearing the news of a possible shutdown, people make a run on toilet paper. There are times we need to make a run on mercy. All of us at once, sensing our need, rush to God crying out for mercy. Even that moment of mass demand never depletes God’s abundance in the least. It diminishes it not even imperceptibly. I cannot promise you that tomorrow the shelves will have been restocked with toilet tissue. But, tomorrow there will yet be mercy. The same mercy, yet so refreshingly new.
a basket to put all your eggs in
Bro. Clifford Hurst 11/15/2020
Do kids grow up learning clichéd axioms anymore? I miss hearing some I grew up with. We picked them up from our parents and elders. We didn’t understand their etymology; yet, when our seniors spouted them, they sounded like sage dispensers of great modicums of wisdom. The witty truisms seemed to us like easily gripped handles to tote around perspicuous truth. We felt smart when we later repeated them to our schoolyard friends. I’m talking about aphorisms like “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Or, “You’re going to cut off your nose despite your face.” Sometimes they came as observations in question form; for example, of the barking dog chasing a car down the road it was remarked, “What’s he going to do when he catches it?” But it is the “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” that I keep coming back to when reflecting on many’s expressed dispirited dejection following this past election. I suppose the thought of that proverb has been around as long as agrarians have been keeping chickens and gathering their eggs and taking them to market. But it was popularized in Don Quixote back in 1615. Not putting all one’s eggs in one basket captured the reality that it is unwise to risk all of one’s capital on one venture. If that venture fails, one has lost his all. I do not fault, lecture, or sententiously berate anyone. However, it seems to me, that so many are so keenly disappointed, discombobulated, discouraged, by the outcome of this month’s presidential election because they were so invested in it; they had put so much stock into it. Understandable. Doing so is even commendable. So much was at stake. But I am not talking about the investment of resources, time, emotional energy, interest, etc. I’m talking about the investment of hope. Too many put all their hope into the Nov. 03 basket. I’m not encouraging you or anyone to resolve not ever again to get your hopes up, get excited about, get involved in, anything ever again because you are sure to be disappointed, chagrined. Truth is, anything, anyone, any cause, that we put our hope in has, will, or has the potential of failing and disappointing us. Except One. Christ. Hope placed in Him will never be disappointed. He will not fail. He will fulfill. He will vindicate. Although this truth has been inculcated in me in my walk with God through the experiences of life, it was driven home poignantly this past July as my dad was transitioning from this life to the next. Because of COVID restrictions at the soldiers home where he was a resident, during his passing we were only allowed to be with him twice a day for an hour each time in the isolation of the facility’s chapel. Being in the chapel was fine. It gave us privacy. Its ambiance for that moment seemed more fitting than a hospital room’s. The last time we were with Dad, just before our last prayer with him, we sang one last song. Our younger son led us singing, “All My Hope Is In Jesus.” That’s the way to depart from this life. That’s the way to live this life. That’s the way to face eternity. That’s the way to face today. All one’s hope in Jesus. This is the one great exception to the axiom above. Faith in Jesus is one basket into which you would be well advised to put all your hope. No disappointment in doing so. Not now. Not ever. Before Don Quixote there was the wise man who said, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Pro 3:5-6). Addendum: Oh, I just remembered another inherited axiom. My maternal grandmother used to say, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” I will resist refuting that aphorism too by saying, God can! He can take the messed up life and make it a new creation.
bad things turn out good
Bro. Clifford Hurst 11/08/2020
Since the pending but apparent outcome of last week’s election, there seems to be a black pall hanging over a huge red swath of America—like dark, black crepe over a 19th-century funeral bier. Although there was far less consequence attached, it reminded me of another time I felt that hanging pall. I had been preaching a revival at a church in a state that heavily invested and engaged itself in its college’s football. The church was full of fanatic football fans. During that meeting, the church took Saturday as a rest night. Some were relieved for that; they could watch that night’s football game. But, their team lost. Badly. An important game. I remember the morning after. I was standing outside the church as people began to drive on the lot for Sunday morning worship. They got slowly out of their cars as if they were especially encumbered with burdens. Their eyes were downcast. I remember one brother who had been exuberantly and ebulliently talkative the previous services. He barely returned a greeting and was cloaked in silence. This morning, I sense a darker cloud thickly draped over conservative believers in the aftermath of the past week. More than heavy despair, there is frustration, anger, and even doubt of God. From the conservative Christian perspective, things have turned out bad. And since things have turned out bad, as someone asked me, "How can we possibly believe that God is in control?". How? Because when things turn out bad, God is still sovereign. Before we get into that, there is a reality that backward reflection brings: Things turning out good have often, in the end, turned out bad. And, things turning out bad have often, in the end, turned out good. We often say things have turned out good when they turn out the way we want them to, the way we desire or think they should. Conversely, we say things have turned out badly when they do not turn out the way we desire or think they should. But there is something in play other than what we desire—the sovereignty of God. We make the mistake of assuming God isn’t in control because the outcome was not what we so vehemently desired. This fallacy can only lead to despair and doubt. Believing in God’s sovereignty is to believe that however bad things appear to have turned out that God is still in control. God’s being in control indicates God has a purpose in everything that happens. One simply does not control something without a purpose for doing so. God’s having a purpose indicates that God has a plan. Even when things turn out bad, God still has a plan. In fact, things turning out bad works right into His plan. Fortunate for us, God’s plan is always for the good of His people (and, inseparably, for His glory). Thus, God is not only still in control, He is still working all things according to His plan towards the fulfillment of His purpose. We are told this in a familiar story in the Bible’s first book. There’s no space for the details, but things kept turning out bad for Joseph until the bad things turned out good. Of being sold into slavery by his brothers to being left to rot in prison—bad things all—Joseph said, “You planned these things for evil against me, but God used those plans for good.” Bad things turned out good. Even when the bad things are happening, God is in control. The last book Revelation is really about this very thing. It’s not about all those minute prophetical details folks like to put on an eschatological chart. It’s about God’s being sovereign. God is in control when things are bad, at their worst—as they one day will be. Here’s what we see in Revelation: “The dark forces will advance so far, but no farther.” “Horrible times will go on this long, but not longer.” “Many will die, but no more.” “The enemy has this much power, but far less than God.” Everything happens only within the parameters God has allowed. Everything turns out the way God has it planned and says it will. I’m not saying that bad things are good. I believe with millions of others that what’s happening in our country is bad, horrible for America. Yet, this is all a part of God’s larger plan. Something good. I have no space to get into the theodicies but had there been no horrible Holocaust, there would be no state of Israel, the safe home of millions of Jews today. Things may not have turned out as we would have planned. But they have just as God planned them. There are times when it appears that evil is victoriously advancing and good is dismally retreating. Yet, God is in control. Things are not as they seem. Think of this rough illustration that we see in scripture and throughout military history. The army of the good guys sets up ambush forces on opposite sides of a narrow valley leading to the enemy's entrenched position. Then it sends a small force to engage and attack that enemy. It fights for a period of time and then begins to retreat as though defeated. The enemy, assuming they are winning, abandons their fortified position of safety in pursuit. The good guys retreat in an apparent panic until the pursuing enemy force is completely in the middle of the valley flanked on both sides by the hidden forces of the good guys. Then the retreating good-guys battalion whirls and faces the enemy as the good-guy forces hidden on opposite sides of the valley rise from their cover and close in upon the enemy like the jaws of a shark. The enemy is annihilated. The point is this: Things looked like the enemy was winning. The enemy thought they were winning. It looked like the good guys had been routed and would soon be squashed and massacred. But, all along, the good guys were in control of the field. Everything like clockwork took place as they had planned. It may look like evil is winning. It may appear that good is in retreat. But, in the end, all things are working exactly as God has planned. He is fully in control of the field. Bible readers, remember Haman ended up swinging by the neck on the gallows that he built for Mordecai. Things rarely work out the way we plan and would have them. Things always work out just as God plans them and would have them. For His glory. For our good. This "game" will be won! Bad things will turn out good.
tweet or post?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 11/01/2020
My prevailing writer’s block is evident in this line I’ve just typed. I am writing about my writing. What I write each week was never originally intended as a social media post. At some point, after the launching of Facebook, someone suggested I begin posting the Pastor's Pen article I've written each week for our church bulletin for close to thirty years. Recently, I’ve been intent on shortening what I write. My wife kindly but candidly coaches me with, “Nobody wants to read something that long.” I respond, “I can’t help it. I can’t write short stories, only novels” (speaking analogously). But I hear her. I desire and have determined to write more pithily, briefly. I am handicapped by two personal hang-ups: First, I always want to analyze every angle of my thought. I want to examine it from every point of view. I want to reconcile it with other truths and opinions that seem contrary to it. I want to fully explain what I mean, leaving no stone unturned. I want to tell the whole story—and thus, the “novel” thing. Second, although I appreciate a clever turn of phrase, I have an aversion to one-liners, or, as I call them, jingles. These can be put on colorful backgrounds and even accompanied by some nice music. People love them. These aphorisms seem to share such wisdom (and some do). They appear and sound so nice, so uplifting, so prescient and poignant. But mostly, they are popular because they are conducive to rapid consumption. They fit nicely in one small frame; no scrolling required. The reason I do not like them so much is that one reads them and assumes he has been given such a handle on the topic. Yet, there are no qualifiers, explanations, and reconciliations with other realities. The slogan is a postcard of the truth. I want the documentary. Speaking of media modes, this reminds me of something I’ve heard about the impact of the different mediums of social media—the impact both on the sharer and the viewers. When one tweets, he tends to be impulsive and volatilely emotional. His sharing is an outburst. When one writes a personal post on Facebook, he tends to ramble on and on and ends up sharing what reads like a first draft of a writing assignment. Why the difference? The length. Twitter limits each tweet to 280 characters. Facebook doesn’t seem to have a limit. At least with my lengthy meanderings, I’ve never reached it. The length determines the expression. Those who’ve read my past blogs know what I do. I share a thought about life and living from history or contemporary events and flesh it out for most of the blog’s duration. Then, I finish up with an application of a spiritual truth that I’ve really been addressing all along. Today’s is no different. I have often spoken and written about expressing our innermost thoughts, feelings, desires, musings—and the benefits and dangers of doing so saying, “Before there were Twitter and Facebook, there were the Psalms.” (Did I just pen a one-liner?) Humans need to express themselves and their innermost thoughts and feelings. There can be real understanding and relief in doing so. This is exactly what the Psalms are. They are the inspired sharing of human emotions and thought and struggles and frustration, etc., to God—for us to use in expressing ourselves. In the Psalms I notice that, analogously speaking, we have both Twitter tweets and Facebook posts. We have the short, impulsive outbursts, and the long analyzing musings of folks sharing their innermost being. We have the Twitter tweet-sized Psalm 117 (156 characters) and the Facebook-post sized Psalm 119 (12,322 characters). In both, the human heart was expressed. So, I guess the Psalms show us we humans need both the short tweets and the lengthy posts. Readers have profited from both. Well, as you can see, if you’ve made it reading this far, my first attempt to write more briefly has miserably failed. But, you know, not that I’m saying what I write is inspired or profitable to readers like the Psalms are, maybe I’m just not a Psalm 117 writer. Maybe I’m a Psalm 119 writer. (In my defense. This post is only 3,473 characters long, only ¼ the length of Psalm 119. Whoops, adding that trivia, I just made my post longer.)
a bugle? a bible?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 10/11/2020
A bugle? A valveless musical instrument? Who would ever imagine it as a lethal weapon of war? But it was--in the hands of Corporal Adolph Metzger, a 5’ 5” tall immigrant and veteran of Gettysburg. Adolph became honored and famed, not for masterfully playing the bugle, but for wielding it as a weapon in a fatal battle. Even his enemies that took his life honored him as a brother warrior for his bravery with the bugle. Adolph died in Red Cloud’s War when a U.S. military contingency from Fort Phil Kearney in Dakota territory was lured from the fort by a coalition of Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe native Americans. The U.S. force of infantry and cavalry, of which Adolph was the bugler, was ambushed where the trail was flanked by precipices. Over 1,500 warriors rose from the gullies on both sides. By some estimates over 40,000 arrows were fired, along with many bullets, at the 78 soldiers. All 49 infantrymen in a short time were slaughtered. The dismounted cavalry soon would be likewise. As his fellow cavalrymen fell around him, Adolph continued to fire his rifle until he was out of ammunition. As the native Americans surrounded and closed in upon him, Metzger grabbed the pipe stem of his bugle and bludgeoned the attacking enemy with its bell. He clobbered Indians in the head until the bugle was a twisted piece of brass. Wounded over a dozen times, Adolph finally fell to the ground. Overly impressed by such bravery, the Native Americans did not mutilate, carve up his body, and scalp Adolph as they did the rest of the fallen. Instead, they cut a cross on his chest to indicate that he died facing the enemy and honored him by covering his body with a buffalo robe as they would have done for one of their own heroic fallen. A bugle as a weapon? Who would have thought? Several years ago, I came across this story while reading U.S. western history. Recently, as I read it recounted by another author, I could not help but think of Samson of Israeli history, surrounded by Philistines, caving in heads with the jawbone of a donkey. Then I thought of Jesus. In the wilderness surrounded by wild beasts and demons, He is tempted by Satan. Never has there been such an onslaught massed against just One. Yet, that One, surrounded by darkness, like Samson surrounded by Philistines and Adolph by American Natives, took a unique weapon in His hand and wielded it against His attacker. This One, Jesus, wielded the Word of God. Colloquially put, he brandished not a bugle but the Bible. Successfully. Victoriously. Satan sulked whimpering away. We too, as believers, may find ourselves surrounded by the enemy as the three I noted above. Apostle Paul indicates we will. Our foe is the spiritual forces of evil, dark cosmic powers. We are attacked soul, mind, body. Our belief. Our faith. Our hope. Our very way of life. “Don’t run,” the Apostle admonishes. “Stand your ground. Don’t capitulate, armor up. Fight. Take in your hand your weapon, the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.” In my mind’s eye I see each surrounded by a menacing enemy: Samson silhouetted against a blue sky his donkey’s jawbone raised high; Adolph, his bugle. I can also see a badgered believer with his Bible raised high to defend himself against attack. As the enemy closes in, I feel like shouting to the surrounded believer, “Slash, parry, thrust, whack, smite. Wield the Word against the Wicked One.” The accuracy of the blow is determined by using the specific passage which best answers the attack made. The beleaguered besieged believer’s story will not end as Adolph’s. Unlike Adolph with the bugle, no believer has ever perished wielding the Word. Even if they physically were killed, they, completely victorious, immediately entered the presence of God to live eternally. Adolph’s bugle became a mangled mess; the jawbone, Samson tossed aside; but the Word of God is unaffected despite the many times it’s been used to dispatch and devastate the attacking enemy. The Sword of the Spirit’s edge is still razor-sharp. The enemy IS attacking. Closing in for the kill. “Take the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Eph 6:17). Wield the Word. Remember Samson. Jesus. Adolph Metzger. What’s that in your hand? Not a bugle, but a Bible. It was said of Adolph Metzger, “He never once turned his back on the enemy.” Stand firm. Stand tall. Stand your ground. Fight bravely. The enemy, not you, will fall.
what i got from the 1st presidential debate
Bro. Clifford Hurst 10/04/2020
Thinking of the raucous presidential debate last week, I had an absurd thought: If you watched it, you know that it was not a clash of ideas but a clash of vitriol. No punches were thrown, but plenty of mud was. Each was declaring the other the worse scoundrel ever. Each was vehemently insisting the other was wrong. Not just wrong, but dog-lyingly wrong. My thought is this: What if in the middle of that brawl, one of the candidates had stopped and contritely said, “Wait a minute. I AM wrong. I misspoke. I shouldn’t have said that. My attitude has been substandard and unacceptable.” And then, in a step further, to follow “I’m wrong,” with “And, you’re right!” If that had happened, there might have actually been two seconds of silence in the debate. There would have been plenty of shock in that auditorium and in living rooms across the nation. There might have even been some folks choke on their popcorn or fall over in a faint. But there would have been something else. If the one hearing the first’s confession thought he was sincere and heartfelt in his repentance, at least for the moment, there would have been a way across the great divide that separated the two—and I’m not talking about the COVID mandated social distancing, nor the political difference. I’m talking about the divide of personal animus. Whether on the debate stage, in personal conflict, or family feud, the divide between two can only be removed when someone admits he is wrong. But, to admit one is wrong requires the hardest thing possible--surrender. Surrender of one’s pride. Surrender of one’s need to be right. Surrender of one’s obstinacy and obduracy. It’s not just presidential political opponents that are divided. It is a husband and wife. It is two estranged, formerly best friends. It is two siblings. It is two sisters in the church. It is a parent and an adult child. In every case, the divide is there because neither will surrender. The worse divide of all is that between Creator-Redeemer God and the individual human. In the divide between humans, either, taking the initiative, can surrender and concede he is wrong. In the conflict between human and God, although the human can say, “I’ve been wrong,” God cannot. He has never been anything but right. Between humans, when the first has sincerely conceded and confessed, “I’m wrong,” the other often will break and reciprocate responding with, “I’m wrong too.” Between human and God, God cannot respond, “Me too.” He isn’t wrong. There is only one in that conflict that needs to confess. The human. In the conflict between humans, the one confessed to may choose not to accept the other’s humble penitence and, refusing to allow the divide to be removed, continue to be hostile and belligerent towards the repentant. When any human is genuinely repentant to God, God has never refused his repentance. Every time the repentance is accepted and the divide is removed. Wonderful things can happen in relationships when someone is willing simply to say, “I’m wrong.” But that confession takes surrender of self, which is, perhaps, possibly the hardest thing for any to do. Yet, surrender, is the divide remover, the divide crosser, the divide closer. Surrender. If there is a second debate, the podiums may, because of COVID, be further apart and the two standing behind them politically, relationally, and personally, even further apart. Don’t wait with bated breath for one to say mid-debate, “Wait, I’ve been wrong. I’ve wronged you.” But, do something. Remember that old hymn, “I Surrender All”? Sing that through several times in a prayerful manner. See if it doesn’t narrow some divides in your life. Especially the one that matters most. Not the one between presidential candidates. The one between you and God. That’s what I got out of the 1st presidential debate—the need and power of surrender.
solo or choir?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 09/20/2020
Inexplicably, yesterday morning shortly after awakening I began thinking of an incident that happened years ago in a church I was attending. It was quite unremarkable, really. I happened to notice in the service a visiting family of unbelievers. Their faces looked trouble. It seemed apparent they had come seeking help. It was not a given they were there to surrender their lives to Christ, but they did seem like they were searching. Right behind them sat two young-adult age young men. They had been raised in the church, their fathers both in leadership there. They both claimed to be Christians. Yet, I watched as throughout the whole service they paid no attention to what was going on from the platform. Neither did they did participate in the worship. The whole service they talked to one another, joked and goofed. I could tell it was distracting the unbelievers seated inches in front of them. Yet, the two young men seemed oblivious to the impact they were having on the unbelievers and, in reality, the whole service. My reaction was not so much an alarm at their inattentive talking, nor even at the distraction they were being to the seekers near them. It was that I was incredulously flummoxed how these two could have been raised in church and be so oblivious and uncaring of the effect they were having on those around them, and, thus, on the church service too. Lost souls sat inches away, and those two were selfishly unaware and uncaring of the effect they were having on them. In the end, this revealed how they really thought about a church service and the church in general. Too many Christians today think only of themselves when it comes to their participation in, attendance of, and belonging to a church. Everything about church is viewed through a narcissistic lens. They think of Church, its services, ministries, and activities only in terms of Do I like it? Do I get anything from it? Does it focus on me? Am I blessed by it? Does it facilitate my inclinations, talents, desires, etc.? They do not think in terms of how they and their choices may influence, affect, help or hurt the Church. Making a decision about attending or not, participating or not, staying at or leaving, they think only in terms of themselves and not in terms of the effect of their decision on the Church. A person decides to leave a church based on his subjective whims, desires, preferences and never gives thought to how his leaving will affect that community of the Church. Not thinking of the Church, he gives no consideration to all the ways the Church has ministered, helped, blessed, contributed to him. He gives it no consideration in his decisions because he does not even think of it. He thinks only in terms of himself. Not thinking of the way the Church has helped him, he does not think of the effect of his decisions on the Church. And that’s just the thing. If he thinks of the Church at all, he thinks of it as an “it.” The Church, his church, is not an “it”. His church is a community. A community is people. Church is not an “it,” an institutional impersonal entity that cannot be hurt. Church is a community of people that are hurt by the individual’s rejection of them. The community of the Church is a family of people. I could go on and on about this individual vs community thing but must restrain myself. I will rather point to Jesus, the Great Example; He lived His life for the community. He did nothing for Himself but for the community of His followers. He announced that He did not come to be ministered to but to minister. He illustrated this by His washing of the disciples’ feet. That church service was not about Him but about the community. They had dirty feet; Jesus washed them. Lest someone point out that putting the community’s need before one’s own was something uniquely limited to Jesus, it must be noted that Jesus followed that foot washing with, “I have given you an example that you should do as I have done to you.” Not wash each other’s’ feet specifically, but to put others' needs above one’s own—of not being served but serving others. In a rough analogy, the Church is not about a solo but about a choir. In reality, there are humble soloists who bless others. But, I’m speaking in an analogy. Church is not about each showcasing his singular singing ability in a solo. Church is about joining the choir where each blends his voice with others in a unified harmony that produces a melodious blessing to all who hear. One who is a part of the choir must realize if he makes his decisions based only on his own caprice, desires, and perceived needs, it will hurt the choir. His simple choice of showing up for choir or not will affect it. His choice to quit or join choir will have an effect. If he decides he will not sing unless he has a solo part, if he decides he wants to sing a different song than what the choir is singing, or sing in a different key, or not sing his part but someone else’s---all these hurt the choir. And the choir being hurt does not minister as it could. Individuals are needed to make up a choir. But, individuals must make their choices based on what is good for the choir. He must not forget that he himself is blessed by singing with the choir. Not because he has found a place to sing by himself and do his thing, but because he has contributed to the community. In being a blessing he is blessed. Today we gather as a choir. We unify and blend our voices and hearts. We think of the good of our community, our Church. Still speaking analogously, I even have a suggestion for what song we sing, “Revive US again!” Pastor Hurst
our country could use some marriage counseling
Bro. Clifford Hurst 09/13/2020
When I survey the volatile landscape of America, the divisive verbal vitriol lobbed back and forth, the raucous partisanship, the explosive tension between protestors of different groups, I think of marriage. (I know, right?) Not that the above describes marriage in general, but, that it reminds me of something I always stress in pre-marital counseling. To the dismay of the eager couple, I drain a lot of the mystique of romance from finding the “right one” by telling them whether they have a successful marriage or not comes down to how many compatibilities they share. It’s scientific. It’s mathematic. The more compatibilities they have, the greater the possibility they will have of a successful, lasting marriage. I prophesy that in their marriage they will inevitably have conflict, disagreements, differing opinions but emphasize their marriage can survive all of those if they are compatible. It is then that I point out that there is a hierarchy of compatibilities. After a mutual faith experience, the most important compatibilities are values and beliefs. The two may lack compatibilities of temperament, tastes of food and music, preference of auto vehicles, etc., but however hampering their differences may be, however fierce and frequent their argument over these, they can make marriage work if they are compatible in values and beliefs. Put simply, the couple may have differences of opinion, but their marriage cannot survive if they have differences of values--at least in no wholesome, happy way. There has always been bitter political conflict in America, rancorous, fierce disputes in Congress, disagreement in the market, streets, and homes, rowdy debate in places of learning. But something has changed in America: The argument used to be largely about differences of opinion, not about different values. Both sides shared common values—the values of the Judeo-Christian western world. That does not mean they were all Christians. It does not mean they all went to churches. Some went to synagogues. Some went nowhere. It does not mean they were all a part of the same political party. It means they shared unifying values. Values such as the worth of the individual, the preeminence of freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religion, the necessity of private ownership of property and law and order, etc. They shared the values our society had derived from Scriptures, the values enshrined in the constitution, the values that hundreds of thousands died fighting for in the Revolutionary, Civil, World I & II, and subsequent wars. The row over opinions was rowdy, rambunctious, belligerent, and bellicose, but it was a family fight. The blood of values was thicker than the water of opinions. No more. This is no longer a family fight. This is not a husband and wife disagreement. This is a bitter war between two sides that have two completely antithetical sets of values. Though the conflict today is nationally internecine, it is no different from the cold war conflict between then free-market America and communist Russia. With no shared values there are no grounds for possible disagreement of opinions. With no shared values those of opposing camps with differing opinions become like two without a shared language trying to debate. They end up shouting at each other simultaneously louder and louder since neither understands the other. In America where there are no longer shared values, folks are not having debates, they are not discussing the issues at hand, they are just screaming at those they know disagree with them. Those that speak their language hear them and applaud, but they never hear the other side; nor the other side, they. This “marriage” cannot survive. Personally, I think the real danger of implosion in our nation isn’t that the two “sides” now have different values, but that one side now has no true values at all. Not values based on objective, absolute principle, and precept. They have only ever-evolving, capricious contrived causes, faddish relativistic based outrages, and ill-made subjective conclusions drawn from gobbledygook postmodern philosophies. When a married couple has conflict, in counsel, I always take them back to values. Those are found in the Bible. No value can originate in or be derived from the individual. True values are not uniquely discovered values that I have custom created. They exist outside of me. They are mine only in the sense that I choose to make them the values by which I live my life. If we go to a common source for our values, we will have shared values. Having shared values, we can survive the difference in our opinions and preferences. With shared values, a marriage can survive—our country can survive. Our country could use some serious marriage counseling along these lines.
uprooting crabgrass
Bro. Clifford Hurst 09/06/2020
It’s that time of year again--the time when invasive crabgrass exponentially grows and splotches lawns like stains of past spills on a nice carpet. It lies low growing mostly horizontally radiating lengthening tendrils that bend desirable grass over and smother it like a flat octopus with a hundred tentacles. Crabgrass drives me mad. I find myself seeing it when I close my eyes at night. I arm myself with my weed deracinating tool and spend hours on my lawn trying to free it of this blight. Yesterday, I was doing just that. I straightened up to rest my back and to wipe sweat from my forehead. Portions of the lawn caught my eye. They were parts of the lawn where I would NOT have to uproot any crabgrass. Thankfully! But, why? Why is there no crabgrass on those parts of the lawn? It is this simple. The sections of the lawn without crabgrass are those where the good grass is most healthy. The grass is healthier there because it receives more runoff from the rain, is shaded parts of the day from the brutal August sun, grows in more fertile soil, and has received the best care. I concluded what lawn specialists try to preach: The best deterrent of crabgrass or any weed is healthy grass. Healthy grass comes from good lawn care. I realize as my pile of pulled crabgrass clumps grew, that I really wasn’t helping those parts of the lawn infested with it. One good clump can produce multiple thousands of seeds that can lie dormant in the soil months before sprouting. In fact, I was probably hurting those sections of turf. However careful I tried to be, I uprooted good grass along with the crabgrass. All of the above flashed through my mind in a second’s time followed by the thought, “This is instructive of both one’s individual life and one’s ministry to others.” Foibles, faults, failures, and sins can sprout and create ugly splotches on a Christian’s soul, cancers on his heart, unhealthy toxins in his relationship with Christ. He can worry, jerk on, seek to exterminate these. But, the best prevention of blights in one’s relationship with Christ comes from keeping one’s heart spiritually healthy. If my lawn is not healthy, I cannot keep crabgrass from growing nor successfully purge my lawn of it. If my relationship with Christ is not healthy, I will be unable to keep sin, unhealthy desires, bitterness, jealousy, covetousness, discouragement, doubt, fear, and a host of other weeds from growing. I will fight a failing battle trying to get rid of those weeds once they manifest and mature in my heart. Myself being one, I know that out of concern for folks’ souls, a preacher can become as alarmed by the evident sins, failures, and faults in the lives of people whom he loves and ministers to as I am of the crabgrass on the lawn. He wants them, for their own sake, eternal souls’ sake, to be rid of those things. So, he attacks those “weeds” verbally in a campaign much like I wage against crabgrass. He zeroes in on a thing, grabs hold, jerks, pulls. Yet, he soon realizes, he cannot tell his efforts have yielded any difference at all. It is a liberating revelation for the minister to realize the best way to handle the weeds is to provide from the Word the sunshine, rain, nutrients, that will make the heart healthy, inspire good desires, and enable fruit to grow. This is all true in society too. The reason the splotches of ugly leftism have grown in our society and of destructive socialism in our universities is that our culture is not healthy, the home is not healthy, marriage is not healthy, and education dispensers are not healthy. We can rail against the crabgrass of our culture, yell and scream, and jerk at it. But, only a healthy heart, home, church, and society will be free of such crabgrass. Of course, any who take care of their lawn know there is still a time a weed must be pulled, weed killer must be sprayed, and the lawn treated for invaders. Yet, that does not change the fact that focusing on making the good grass grow is the single most important requirement to a weed-free lawn. Endeavoring to have a healthy lawn results in far fewer weeds than resorting to the singular campaign of pulling weeds. I have rid areas of my lawn of crabgrass by jerking it out with my deracinater. But, those areas have brown divots where the weed has been removed, and there are, despite trying to clean up, strands of shriveled weed lying about. Those areas are ugly. A person’s best efforts to rid himself of weeds of sin and lust, leave his soul and life ugly. God can make his soul a healthy, beautiful lawn; one that both is rid of weed and prevents them from growing to begin with.
a tribute to sunday school teachers: sis. ervie lee hooten
Bro. Clifford Hurst 08/30/2020
Recently, when in my hometown for my father’s funeral, my wife and I walked the few blocks from the house where I was raised to the church of my childhood. As I stood on the front steps of the church, tidal waves of memory inundated me. Those waves rose and came from fifty-plus years ago, from my childhood experiences in and around that stone church. Among them were many reminiscences of Sunday School. I thought of my childhood Sunday School classes and teachers. One teacher dominated those thoughts—Sis. Evie Lee Hooten. She’s the one who stood me in a corner for tying some girl’s dress’s bow to the back of her chair. She’s the one who got on to me for talking in class. And, she’s the one who impacted my life in a most powerful way. I cannot remember anything in particular she taught. I do remember the passion for Christ in her voice. I do remember her weeping while giving a testimony. I do remember the fervency with which she prayed and worshiped. And, I remember her interest in me. After a pause, we walked on past the church. It took only a few steps to be again reminded of Ervie Lee Hooten. She had lived next door to the church. I halted again as another spate of memories about her washed over me. Ervie Lee Hooten had not only been my childhood Sunday School teacher; she had been my father’s too. He too had memories of her getting on to him when he did not behave in Sunday School. Having taught both me and my father means she taught for a long number of years. She was 96 when she died. I never knew until I read her obituary online that she had attended two state universities and a Bible college. The obit also reminded me that she had devoted several years of her life to working in an orphanage. All I knew as a child was that she was a tremendously spiritual woman who always made me sense the presence of God. Above, I said I could not remember anything specifically she taught. I do remember two things she told me. When I was a young adult, she shared with me about a revival she had recently visited in another part of the state. The way she told it created a deep hunger in my heart to see God move and awaken churches. Another thing I remember was a story she told in Sunday School when I was quite young: As a teenage girl, having recently gotten saved, she went to a “picture show,” a movie. She told how, as the movie began rolling in the darkened theater that she started to feel uncomfortable about being there. Suddenly, she felt a tap on her shoulder. She twisted around in her seat, but no one was seated behind her. Facing the screen again, she soon felt another tap; again, whirling around, she saw no one. The third time she felt the tap, she jumped up and ran out of the theater vowing to God that she would never go to “that worldly place” again. Now, this had to have taken place sometime around early 1930s. Just how bad could the movie have been? Yet, that was her heart—serve God all out. As her obituary put it, “She lived a life devoted to God.” Such devotion had its impact—to which I testify by finding myself writing of her. After I had gone into full-time ministry, each time I returned home and visited the church, she was one of the first to bee-line to me. She had dibs on me. She was my Sunday School teacher. One of the first things out of her mouth was, “Are you preaching tonight?” Her face would brighten if I was. After all, I was one of her Sunday School kids. Not long before she died, during a visit to my hometown, I stopped by her house just to thank her for the impact she’d had on my life as my Sunday School teacher. I never knew that would be the last time I would see her this side of heaven. For over forty-one years I have preached the Gospel. If my ministry has been beneficial in any way to anyone, I must allocate a huge portion of the credit to the impact of a Sunday School teacher, Sis. Ervie Lee Hooten. Just thinking of her makes me long for another move of the Spirit and to live more devotedly to God. Sunday School teachers make a difference!
the unclouded day comes after this one
Bro. Clifford Hurst 08/23/2020
The sun was shining. Yet, in a solar eclipse, the moon dimmed the sun’s light. I remembered how eerie it was that while the sky was clear, and it was near noon, the sunlight seemed darkish, diminished. What should have been a perfect day bringing joy became shadowed with solemnity and melancholy. COVID and the subsequent nation-wide protesting and rioting have eclipsed the bright summer sun. It has eclipsed the light in our lives, our holidays, our church services, our family gatherings. This present reality that has overcast our lives with a dark shadow has brought from the dusty archives of memory a song we used to frequently sing when I was a child, “The Unclouded Day”: O the land of cloudless day, O the land of an unclouded day, O they tell me of a home where no storm clouds rise, O they tell me of an unclouded day. But, notice, the unclouded day is not one in the run of human events as we know it. It is not a day of the here. It’s not now. It’s at the end of things. Our hope is not ultimately that this day will get better, but that a new day is coming. A day that can and will never know the dark shadow from a cloud or eclipse. My attempts at encouragement during COVID are so laced with realities as to be discouraging. Why? Because, although God does shine light into this darkness of the now, though there are bright days here and there, though there are blessings and victories in the present, we have failed in recent Christianity to pinpoint when where our hope is realized. We have put much emphasis on a hope in this life. Things are really bad, but our hope is that something wonderful is going to come from this trial—something soon. Something in life. Ultimately, our hope is not in something now, or something before the end. It is not a hope that things won’t end. Our hope is a hope after the end. Jesus died. That was the end. Then, He resurrected. The hope comes after the end. This world will melt with fervent heat. The end. Then, there comes a new heaven and a new earth. Nature is analogous to this fact that hope comes at the end: The tree browns. There’s no hope of new growth. There’s no hope things will be reversed. There’s no hope of new buds for the year. The leaves fall off. The limbs are bare. The end of growth. The end of that season. The hope comes after the end. It looks like it’s over for the tree in December. But, come April, or May, the tree is bursting with brilliant colors of its blooms. The hope was for after the end. People put too much hope in the here and now. They can’t ignore the shadow but they think, “Things in America are getting really bad. But, there is going to be a reversal. Reason and righteousness will rule again. Leftism will be defeated. Marriage will make a comeback. Families will be nuclear again.” “Folks are jettisoning their faith in unprecedented numbers. Our youth are becoming atheistic at unbelievable speed. But, there will be a great revival and their hearts will turn back to God.” Maybe. I pray so. Thank God, there is the pendulum swing principle in politics, economy, fads, and fashions—and faith. Thank God there are revivals that reverse, recalibrate, return. Yet, we must not forget. Our hope is really about after the end not before it. I am not preaching the end of hope. Never. I’m not preaching give up hope; I am preaching we can hope to the end because our hope is after the end. Praying for brighter days ahead? Yes!!! Me too. But, ultimately, we are looking for the Brightest Day ever. The New Day. The unending Day. A day uneclipsed by death, disease, debt, debauchery, duplicity. Oh, they tell me of an unclouded day. The uneclipsed day. God is light and in Him, there is no darkness at all. With Him, there is no variableness nor shadow of turning. “In the City where the Lamb is the Light” was another oft sung song. Jesus is the uneclipsed light reflecting off the Crystal Sea, streets of gold, walls of gems, and gates of pearl. There are no shadows in that land. There are no eclipses of that day. That’s our hope. That’s the Unclouded Day--a day that come after this shadowed one.
you don’t have to quit—the challenge
Bro. Clifford Hurst 08/16/2020
Life can become unbearably hard in its struggles, temptations, and trials. Being a believer does not exempt one from these. Often holding to faith intensifies them. I never minimize one’s personal difficulties. They are too real. Just because I don’t feel what another feels doesn’t mean that one isn’t hurting. Just because I don’t struggle with what another struggles doesn’t mean his battle is not fierce. Yet, through the years of pastoring, I have put forth this challenge: “If you are weary walking this way, wrung out running this race, fatigued fighting this fight, don’t quit. Consider this: If you could go to heaven for a visit right now, right in the middle of your present crisis, if you would chat and interview those believers who have already made it, you would discover that they, while on earth, had faced the same battles, struggles, and storms that Christians quit over every day.” They faced them. Yet they didn’t quit. Some even faced coliseums, burning at the stake, the rape of their female family members, the theft of all their property, the tearing down of their homes, long incarcerations, and horrible beatings. But, they did not quit. Things, for many, may be rough right now in so many ways exacerbated and inflamed by COVID, economic conundrums, and unrest and uproar in our streets. But, we do not have to quit. It is not a cheap shot. It is the same challenge the writer of Hebrews gave to those who were facing persecution for their faith. “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” (Heb 12:4). In modern speak, “You may be having it rough for your faith, but you have not been martyred for it.” We have to understand the context. The writer had just mentioned those who were mocked, beaten, incarcerated, stoned, sawn in two, tempted to give up their faith, pierced with a sword, made homeless and country-less, and brought to abject poverty (Heb. 11:37-38). But, they made it! In fact, the writer says, they fill the seats above the race we run in testimony, witness, and encouragement, that if they made it, so can we. Then, the writer calls our attention to Jesus. Though He faced the worse of all deaths—the Cross, He was not only victorious over its awfulness and the death it brought, He not only endure it, He did so to blaze and mark the trail for us. He has already walked the way we walk, run the race we run, and fought the battles we fight. So, during your hypothetical visit to heaven, talk to Jesus, talk to those of Hebrews 11. They faced even worse than we face. Again, I minimize no one’s conflict, consternation, crisis, or conundrum. I’m just saying “You and I don’t have to quit.” As Pastor Weirsbe said, “It is always too soon to quit.” As Churchill said during the Nazi Luftwaffe’s blitz and bombardment of England, “Never give up!” As the Native American believer said, “Go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on!” As Paul said, “Press towards the mark.” As Jesus said, “He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.” Take my challenge. Ask. There’s a multitude that’s made it that say so can you. You don’t have to quit.
when truth is used to tell a lie
Bro. Clifford Hurst 07/19/2020
Undeniably, the COVID-19 virus is real. Understandably, those who love their families are fearful of it. Rightfully, at every level, folks are inquiring what leaders are going to do about it. However, I believe a more urgent question should be what the opportunists are going to do with it. I am speaking of opportunists more dangerous and threatening than scam artists who take advantage of calamities to con the vulnerable of their money. I am speaking of how the COVID virus is being used by those in the political and spiritual realms for their own nefarious destructive designs. When political leftists openly taunt that they never let “a crisis go to waste” for political ends, do we think that the master strategist of evil machinations, Satan, is going to let a crisis go to waste for his spiritual ends? Think of this: While Wal-Mart, Kroger, and Lowes were full, churches were empty. Blatant inconsistencies, contradictory directives, disingenuous inflated reporting, and every-changing reasons for alarm, must leave one suspicious that things are not as they are being portrayed. Again, I believe COVID is real. We have had three immediate family members contract it. That COVID is real is not a reason to dismiss that something conspiratorially is going on, it is more of a reason to suspect it. I have never been attracted to or espoused conspiracy theories. But, with COVID, the biggest conspiracy is the insistence that no conspiracy is happening. That COVID is real is even more of a reason to believe a conspiracy is afoot. You will be disappointed if you read on with the expectation that I will unveil the exact earthly conspirators. You may expect me to finger China or the Leftists. I won’t. My point is whoever is involved and however they are involved, and even if there are multiple uncoordinated conspirators involved, there is a master conspiracy and conspirator behind it all. Satan. Back to COVID being real. The realness of COVID lends legitimacy to the conspiracy. Perhaps, you’ve heard the aphorism, “an excuse is the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie.” True. If I could tweak that saying a bit: When you listen to folks mandate, demand, and make all these changes based on the COVID virus, the reason for it all is “the skin of a truth stuffed with a lie.” The Corona is microbially small, but some many lies have many stuffed into it. Satan has always worked this way. I was told as a child that Satan never came to us with bald-faced lies. He comes with a partial truth. We recognize the partial truth and accept the whole package. In accepting the partial truth, we accept the whole lie. I’ve noted this in theology as well. I’ve never encountered a false doctrine that infiltrated true Christianity that did not have some amount of Truth in it. If it were blatantly false, few would fall for its error. Apostle Paul notes “We are not to be ignorant of Satan’s devices.” We shouldn’t be. But often are. We should understand that however much truth he uses on the bait trigger, the trap is still there. However real the virus is, it is being calculatingly used to promote lies that are destroying both nation, economy, and visible church, all targets of politicians and Satan. Do not doubt for one moment that there are devious, designing minds orchestrating the responses to the virus. Believing in absolute truth, I do not think we should doubt the findings and conclusions of verifiable, observable, and repetitive scientific method. If results are truly a product of such methodology, adequately controlled, then they are true and real. Yet, math yields true and real results as well. From the first announcement of governmental directives, I immediately got out my calculator and did the math. I still read a newspaper. Almost every morning I have done the math with the reported numbers of cases and deaths in state and county. During this time, I have heard almost no one talking about doing the math on the percentages. I’m not talking about reporting the numbers of cases and death. I’m talking about doing the math. Let’s do the math for today, 07/15/2020. Before we do, let me make clear that every death is a tragedy and unimaginably painful for the family of the victim. People really are dying because of COVID. I do not minimize that loss in the least. Horrible. Anecdotally, that any die is reason for alarm and concern. But, let’s do the math. Today, the number of cases in our state was .57% of our state’s population. Rounded up, that’s all little more than ½ of 1 percent of residents who have contracted COVID. Now, deaths, each one tragic: Deaths in our state from COVID have been .026% of the populace. That 26/1000’s of a percent. Here’s what it is for our county: Contracted cases, ½ of 1 percent. Deaths, 6/1000’s of 1 percent. To give perception, these percentages on their face are minuscule. Now consider something else. This is not the percentage of cases and deaths for that day. These are the percentages of cases since tallies began! The totals have never been reset. Thus, the percentage of those per capita who currently have COVID is incredibly small. Yet, draconian measures (some necessarily) have been taken based on percentages that are minuscule in light of other dangers we routinely live with daily. But things are actually worse than just utilizing truth to tell a lie. We have reached that stage of idiocy and debauchery where, as the prophet said, they will call evil good and good evil. It is evil to go to church. It praiseworthy to in protest burn one down. It is wrong to have our college-age children in school but noble that they riot in the streets. It is wrong to sing unmasked in church but wonderful to shout slurs in the streets. No, I am not a conspiracy theorist. I am not even a prophet. I am just pointing out the worse danger of all--when truth is used to tell a lie.
where is america in prophecy?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 07/05/2020
There are those who, however peripheral they were to an event, however minor a role they played, make themselves the hero of the story—even if they have to embellish or stretch things to fit themselves in. I am a lover of our U.S.A. and would like to make our nation the hero of every story. She has been the hero of many stories. WWI and WWII are examples. However, as much as I would like to make America the hero, the central actor, the focus of cosmic attention of end-time events, I’m not sure that is possible, however much we embellish or stretch things. During this constant barrage of bizarre crises roiling across our land, I have folks constantly asking me how this and that happening in America fits into Bible prophecy of end-time events. I am slightly flattered to be asked but overwhelmed by my inadequacy and inability to tell them how America or what is happening with and in her fits into prophecy. Others apparently easily find Bible prophecy everywhere happening in America; yet, I cannot find America happening anywhere in Bible prophecy. I do see Bible prophecy in America; for example, “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.”(2Ti 3:13). Yet, I still don’t see America happening in prophecy. There is a difference. I try to answer folks when asked how America fits in but must admit I’m flummoxed. If I look honesty at Scripture, I really do not see the U.S.A. as a government and world power in Biblical eschatological prophecy at all. There are a few Scriptures that one could pretzel twist to foist America into the end time fray, but those are very limited and require some finagling divergence from good exegesis to read America into the text. Another complicating difficulty is that the U.S.A. is increasingly not looking like The U.S.A. at all. Perhaps, she appears in Bible prophecy in a new transmogrified form. The U.S.A. is used to playing a major, really, THE major, role in world events. I would be quick to remind her many internal haters that the role America has played in the world has largely been a benevolent one, rescuing and building nations, promoting freedom, and responding overly-generously to world calamities, etc. But her past, powerful and prominent role in world events is no promise of her playing a future one. As I prepared this morning’s message, a sermon involving the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a statue representing the successive rise and fall of world empires, I came to the reference of the final Kingdom--the Kingdom of God; it then occurred to me: “I don’t see America anywhere in that train of empires.” History has borne out Daniel’s interpretation. As I went through the procession of nations, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, Revived Rome—great empires all, I noted that however mighty each became, they each in succession declined from being a world power. Each empire gave way to the next. Indubitably the USA is The World Power of today. Although I didn’t expect to see America in the Biblical parade of the sequence of empires, I couldn’t keep from asking, “What nation, what kingdom, what world power, will follow America? See, no kingdom has ever lasted. Not one. I think there will be at least two after America: First, there will be the New World Order, the One World Government of the Antichrist. Following that will be Christ’s Millennial Kingdom. Sad as it is, the U.S.A. will not fail to follow the meteoritic trajectory of every other world power. She will decline and be replaced. Without exception, every other empire in turn has been supplanted and replace. Except the last. The last world power will have no successor. No ending. And the last is not the global government of the Antichrist. The last is the Kingdom of God ruled by Christ Himself. I am grateful to be a citizen of the U.S.A. But I am also a citizen of the Kingdom of God—the Kingdom that has no end. That Kingdom I do see in Bible Prophecy. All through it. I may not be able to know where America is in Bible Prophecy. But I can know where I am. I am in the Kingdom that lasts. What a role that Kingdom is going to have. There’s no need to exaggerate or embellish that.
losing our heads
Bro. Clifford Hurst 06/28/2020
Statues across our land are losing their heads. There is talk that Mount Rushmore may possibly lose its four. It may keep its heads, but, living, breathing Americans across our land are losing theirs. Of the former, only Rushmore has mainly just heads. Statues and Americans have chests too. Chests represent hearts. Yes, Americans have hearts as well as heads. They always have. But, it’s not the chests, the hearts, of the statues that are being removed. It’s the heads. The heart represents our emotions, our feelings our passions. The head, reason, rationale, thinking. I don’t believe many Americans have lost their hearts, but many have lost their heads. Rioters rope and topple a statue; it hits the ground, and at the impact, its head breaks loose and rolls a few feet. Statues of past Americans are losing their heads because contemporary Americans have lost theirs: Rioters claim they’re razing statues as a statement against racism--then, they topple the statue of an abolitionist who spent his life fighting slavery. Even if they claim a whoops moment, they have only admitted they’ve lost their heads. Two things: First, I justify no man for his support or participation in slavery or its accompanying racism. Racism is a horrible sin. Second, there are some whose hearts are filled with agony of loss of a loved one and the pain of being a victim of discrimination. Their anger is justifiable and their hatred understandable. One must not dismiss or demean such heart. However, many who have lost their heads claim they are acting from their heart, a heart of solidarity with those who have lost a loved one, a heart of empathy against racism, a heart of repulsion at injustice. In fact, they do not have hearts like that at all. Such claims are only ostensible. They, without heart, beat store owners, terrorize those passing through their rampages, burn small businesses, and spit on innocent bystanders. They are not showing solidarity with the victimized. They are showing their own selfish, out-of-control lusts and passions. They are not grieving over racism; they are reveling in their lawlessness. They actually smile, laugh, taunt, in their looting, pillaging, and terrorizing. They have not only lost their heads, but they also have no heart; only base, animalistic impulses, and lasciviousness. But, for those who do have hearts, something apologist Josh MacDowell said of the Christian experience is so fittingly applicable to our contemporary crises. Referring to Jesus’ admonish that each should “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart…and with all thy mind” (head), MacDowell commented (I paraphrase from memory), “Both head and heart are required to love God. However, the head must control the heart and not the heart, the head.” I am not arguing for the eradication of the heart. I am arguing that we must keep our heads. Just contemplate where we are in America: The Minneapolis City Council this past week voted overwhelmingly to dismantle that city’s police force. One can understand the denizens of that town’s animus against police brutality given what happened there. But it is incomprehensive how a city can exist without police. Not even considering things like burglary and murder, just think of traffic accidents, etc. You can point out all the heart in such protests. But, there is no head in it at all. What is most shameful is many of those that incite and inflame passions with falsities and contrived narratives and inflammatory remarks are often those who should be the “heads” of our society—leaders of cities, states, and the Federal government. Where are the statesmen? Where are the leaders who would calm and lead? We have lost our heads. Yes, the sad thing about statues losing their heads (if they represent reprehensible individuals, there is a legal way to have them removed other than by mob vandalism), is that the manner in which they have lost them is indicative that many American have lost theirs. The frightening thing is that it is not inconceivable that if Americans lose their heads figuratively, one day they could lose them literally. History shows that, when citizens lose their heads, ruled only by “heart,” it will not be only heads of statues that will roll in the streets; it will be those of its compatriots. Whatever is happening in our country, we who are not only Americans but also followers of Christ must remember that above all we must lose neither heart nor head in loving our God.
a father’s day card: the last time
Bro. Clifford Hurst 06/21/2020
Buying cards for folks has always been difficult for me. As a choleric, I rush into the store with a task--grab a card and get out of there as quickly as possible. As a melancholy, I tarry over each card--I cannot purchase a card if the message inside does not accurately say what I honestly would say about or to that person. I read the message inside a card and ask, “Do I really feel that way? Would I really say that to (the recipient)?” This Father’s Day, what the card said was not the difficulty. It was the buying of the card itself. And not because I was short on cash. As I stood looking for the “Father” section of the rows of racked cards, it struck me, “This could very well be the last Father’s Day card I ever purchase.” Dad, who lives 900+ miles away, had had a rough two weeks. He’d had two trips to the emergency room after falls. He had begun having trouble swallowing hampering his doing one of the two things he still found enjoyable—eating. Dad may fool us and live for a long time yet. He has some genes for it; his aunt lived to 104. I mused on that as I browsed through the cards. “Yes, I may purchase a card next year. But, would he with his increasing dementia even be aware enough to know he had received it much less read it?” I amended my original thought to, “This could be the last time that I purchase a Father’s Day card that Dad could read and know he’d received.” I didn’t even know if he will understand this time. The “last time” can be a very impacting and unwelcomed epiphany. It’s a penetrating pondering that permeates all one thinks and does in regard to whom or what the “last time” entails. I contemplated: “What if we prefaced each thing of our life with that thought, ‘This could be the last time.’” I really don’t intend to cast a pall over Father’s Day. I really don’t want to sound or make folks feel morose. I just couldn’t keep from musing: Do we not in the constant, dulling routine of the cyclic seasons and grind of life do things simply because it is time once again to do them? What if we reflected before each that this could be the last time? I cannot say that the awareness that I might be buying my Dad the last Father’s Day card influenced what card I bought, how much I spent, or even what I wrote in it before signing it. But it did affect my absorption with and the significance I attached to doing so. Back to my musing: What if we prefaced to any act of our life, especially those related to relationships, the thought “this could be the last time.” Would it not affect how we kissed or hugged a family member good-bye before the separation mandated by the day’s routine? Would it not mitigate how we answered someone when we were miffed? Would it not alter how we responded to co-workers? The examples are endless when we consider the web of myriad interactions we have with folks. But, being a pastor, I had to wonder: What if folks prefaced each church gathering with “this could be the last time.” We couldn’t have known to then, but what if we had prefaced the last service before the three-month COVID-dictated hiatus with “this could be the last time”? Doing so would go something like this: This could be the last time I get to go to church. This could be the last time I get to see my brothers and sisters. This could be the last time I hear the music and join the congregational singing of “Amazing Grace.” This could be the last time I hear concerted prayer and feel its dynamics inspiring my own. This could be the last time I lift my hands in adoration and wonder of God. This could be the last time I clap my hands in accompaniment with others in applause of the greatness of God. This could be the last time I feel that holy moment that God is speaking to me through the time-consuming, stumbling of the pastor’s (me) homily. Please, lest you think me morbid, I am not saying this is the last time. I am asking what if you knew it were? Would we not give more absorbed attention to those things? Would we not attach more significance to them? Thankfully, for those of faith, there is an asterisk to all of this. *For the believer in Christ, the last time is not the last time. It is just the last time until. There’s been a lot of last times with Dad recently. Like the last time I had a real dialogue with him. Like the last time on Skype when he shared a memory. But all those last times were simply until… Until heaven. There will be no last times there.
me and my malodorous mask
Bro. Clifford Hurst 06/14/2020
First, I must warn you that there is a gross factor in today’s thought. You may not want to read it: I had kept a face mask in the consul of my vehicle for when I visit establishments that demand one. I had worn it several times. Once I forgot to return it to my consul after visiting a facility, but, rather, stuck it in the back pocket of my jeans. Afterward, I exercised and worked soaking my clothes with sweat in the humid air of a hot day. I needed some materials from a home improvement store. I had forgotten that the store demanded a face mask; otherwise, I might have gone elsewhere. Parking, I exited my vehicle and began walking to the entrance of the store. It hit me, “They insist on a face mask here.” Remembering I had one in my back pocket, I was relieved I didn’t have to return to my vehicle. Covering my face by attaching the mask’s loops on one ear and then the other, I was then aware of this awful smell. I subconsciously thought, “Why does the air stink so badly? Did they spread fertilizer on a field nearby? Is there some factory whose putrid smoke is being blown in this direction by the wind?” I walked on across the lot and entered the store. I smelled it again. Though people were the magical six feet away, I still wondered. “Is that smell coming from one of them? Has one of them being laboring hard and needs a shower? Phew! That’s bad. Can’t they tell they have BO?” I strolled to the aisle where I hoped to find what I needed. As I browse, I smelled that same malodor. “No, it couldn’t be one of those folks back there. It has to be in the store. Maybe some product on the next aisle got spilled.” As I shopped my way to another, more distant part of the store, I realized I still smelled that offensive odor. “Wait, it couldn’t have been on one of those aisles”. Noticing the huge doors of the garden center opened to the main store, I concluded, “That’s it! It is something in the garden center. Maybe some bags of fertilizer, bone meal, something, broke open and the draft is wafting that smell inside throughout the main store.” But, as I walked away from that section yet still smelt the same odor, it hit me. It was my mask. The smell was coming from my mask! Worn several times, dampened by sweat, the mask must have had bacteria build-up on it. What I smelled was coming from bacteria. Yes, that’s gross. To me, a germophobe, it’s really gross. Later, I thought of my experience. I confess that the bacteria build-up did make me wonder about the safety of masks. I can’t be the only one who has worn a mask too many times. However, I’m not writing to argue the safety of wearing or not wearing a mask. I am writing because of the irony of what happened. I was blaming the smell on everyone and everything else and the whole time the source was attached (via ear loops) to me. The mask I wore tainted my perception, conclusions, opinion, etc., of everywhere I went in the store and of the folks I encountered. The outside air stank. People stank. The aisles stank. The whole store stank. Or, so I thought. The whole time it was something about me that stank. Life. Work. Church. Home. Wherever we go. Whomever we meet. We find ourselves criticizing. Finding fault. Being aggravated by. Frustrated at. Lashing out. Haranguing. Caustically commenting. Jibing. We “smell” something bad wherever we go, whomever we meet. Always something wrong with it, with them. At some point, we must have the epiphany I had in the store. The reason I find so much wrong with so many people, so much of life, lies with me. I have the wrong attitude. Wrong spirit. I have bitterness. I have a grudge. Something in my craw. A resentment. That thing is tainting all else in my life. I know that there are bad odors in the environment. I know that there are bad odors in buildings. I know that, frankly, some people stink. But, for me, the bad odor was all in my malodorous mask. I know there are some bad odors in society. I know that there are some bad odors in institutions. I know that there are individuals that just stink. I know racism exists. But, can it be that very often when one claims he “smells” reprehensible racism in the air that the smell of it is coming from his own mask? As soon as I’d made my purchase and exited the store, I reached up and jerked that mask off, and began to take gulps of fresh, unfiltered air. It never smelled so good--the same air I thought had smelled bad when I first stepped out of my vehicle. The problem of everything smelling bad because we have a bad attitude is a private matter between us and God. And what we need is a private moment with Him. One where God graciously shows us that the problem is us. He shows us where, what, and why. He moves upon us. That thing that had tainted our perspective, He removes. He creates in us a new heart, a new attitude, a new outlook. We gulp lung-fulls of fresh air, thankful we no longer breath through that impeding, malodorous mask, and then we sing, “It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, Oh, Lord, standing in the need of prayer…Not my brother, not my sister, but, it’s me, Oh, Lord…”
moloch, abortion, and george floyd:
Bro. Clifford Hurst 06/06/2020
An Apology IS In Order It is so unimaginably reprehensible one shudders to think of it: Child sacrifice. The Bible roundly condemns this heathenistic practice of idolaters, and, in doing so, forever links the killing of children to the worship of Moloch the idol. My knowledge of Moloch and child sacrifice proceeded that evening’s devotions in the men’s dorm in Bible school, but its horror became indelibly imprinted on my mind that night. The speaker was a quiet student, so we were immediately a bit shocked by the bellicose boom of his baritone voice when it was his turn to deliver the devotion. He read his text, and then came out from behind the half-wall we used as a pulpit in full-blast, prophetic bellowing against Moloch and sacrificing children to him. His finger was pointing; his eyes, bugged; his face, red; and his passion unmistakable. That he was a humble fellow only increased the starkness of his denunciation. Some of those fellows in the men’s dorm could be quite rebellious and rowdy, but I doubt any of them were Moloch worshipers. Were any of them so, I’m sure they fell on their knees in repentance that night. Yes, the child sacrifice associated with heathen idol worship was indeed horrifyingly repugnant. At the time of this Moloch message, abortion was THE prevalent, hotly-argued hot-button issue of the day. I remember both hearing other preachers and being the preacher who compared the contemporary abortion of babies with the child sacrifice of idolaters. It went something like this: “Idolaters sacrificed their children for their gods of wood and stone. Today, people kill their babies for their gods of pleasure and materialism.” In short, by our comparison, we proclaimed that child abortion was as evil as child sacrifice and the one who aborted no different from the awful, heathenistic, idol-worshiping child-sacrificers. It was only yesterday that it hit me. Preaching that, I had insulted the pagan child-sacrificers. Abortion isn’t just as bad as child-sacrifice, it is far worse! The agent of abortion isn’t just as evil as a child-sacrificer; he/she is far eviler. Let me tell you why: (First, however, let me say that I am not saying that every woman who has had an abortion is evil. The indoctrination of modern/post-modern relativism has been so successful that many have been conditioned and deluded into believing they do no evil in having an abortion, that they have not taken a life. I feel sympathy for these in their later grief and pain when their conscience catches up at the awareness of what they have done.) Why, in the end, is abortion far more reprehensible and eviler than child-sacrifice? Here’s why: When an idol-worshiping parent sacrificed a child, the whole point was to appease the idol-god by offering the best, most valued, most loved thing one had. The best, most valued, most loved “thing” parents had was their child. Evil though the pagan culture was, I cannot imagine the pain a mother felt watching her child bound on an altar and then slaughtered and burnt with fire. She loved that child. She valued that child. That was the whole point: You sacrificed what you valued. This is why abortion is more wicked and reprehensible: The child is not valued. The child is not loved. The embryo is called tissue. It is not deemed valuable, lovable. It is deemed a burden, an undesirable, an inconvenience, a pesky invader of the mother’s body. Removal of a fetus from a mother’s body is considered no different from the removal of an unsightly mole. Both are unwanted tissue. This is why abortion is far worse than child-sacrifice. In both cases, a child dies. In child-sacrifice, the child is valued, desired, wanted. In abortion, the child is devalued, not desired, unwanted. This is why it is difficult for me to believe that the rioting we see over the tragic killing of George Floyd is really about the loss of his life. Those who blathered the ideologies that are inciting the rioting are almost entirely those who promote abortion. They do not value life. The rioters who beat store-owners, shoot police, and strike non-participators do not value life. If we do not value the life of the most vulnerable, the child in the womb, we will not value the life of a human being at any stage or point in his life. The killing of George Floyd was reprehensible. But, any that support abortion should hold their tongues unless they speak to confess their hypocrisy. I can’t believe I’m saying it, but it appears we should apologize to the worshipers of Moloch for comparing today’s abortion to their child sacrifice.
talking that gets through
Bro. Clifford Hurst 05/31/2020
Dad lives nine hundred miles from me; I too infrequently get to see him. I went and picked him up to take him to Mom’s funeral. COVID restrictions had kept me from seeing him for months. I would have him alone for close to two hours for the trip to the service. We would talk. I’d find out how he was really doing. How he was feeling, thinking about things. We’d have a heart to heart. I would get to talk to Dad--and he to me. We couldn’t on the phone. Dad at eighty-eight is practically deaf even with hearing aids. And, not just deaf. He suffers from dementia. Dad’s dementia is as debilitating as his deafness. Now, in the car seated right beside him, I would get to talk to him. Only it wasn’t to be. Oh, we talked. Tried to. I tried. He tried, a little. Soon, a silence settled in the SUV. I felt that heavy-black-frustrated despair I’ve often felt before with him, and with others--even with those who have excellent hearing. I couldn’t get through to Dad, nor he to me. I felt we were shut off from one another. Dad was sitting right there beside me. Yet, he seemed still a thousand miles and ten years distant. I kept trying, but, I only succeeded in communicating with the shell of Dad, not Dad. There was the shape of Dad, the flashing, feigning and vanishing glimpses of him, the shadow of fleeting familiarities. But, not Dad. There was no rapport. No clear flow of sharing self. I just could not get through to Dad, nor he to me. I couldn’t really talk to him, thus, I couldn’t really know him in that moment. Psychology and philosophy have struggle with this. In the best of times, health, relationships, and circumstances we really do not connect with one another in a way we can really know one another. Sin did this. It caused this alienation. This gulf. You can live a lifetime with a person and in an unexpected moment glance at them and that one appears a stranger. You think, “I don’t really know him. What makes him click. What he really thinks. What he really feels. Where he hurts.” And, then we look in the mirror and realize that we don’t really know ourselves much less others. If we do not know ourselves, how can we hope to know others? Somehow, we realize that language is our best hope, our best chance of knowing and being known. And so we talk. There are ephemeral flashes of epiphany with talk, but, usually, talk doesn’t get through. As wonderful as language is, using it to reveal ourselves to one another is as successful as using hieroglyphics to explain Einstein’s theory of general relativity. As pastor, I have attempt to get through to someone who was in real trouble and whom I wanted to help. Perhaps, they were tormented. Perhaps, they were rebellious. Perhaps, they were hurt. Something cried out from within me. Sometimes it escaped through my lips: I would call their name, “___________, I’m trying to TALK to YOU, the inside you, the deep you, the real you.” I couldn’t get them to share themselves to me even though they were chattering away. Conversely, I have tried to share what I was really thinking, feeling, struggling with, to those close to me. In the process, I realized I might as well be on a video call with my audio muted. They could see my lips moving, but they just weren’t getting it. Not their fault. I just couldn’t get it out in a way they could get it. Yes, though talking is our best chance to know and be known, it fails miserably. Even if we truly listen to the other and he, us. There are just too many filters, façades, feignings, and language is simply to inadequate. I have painted a pretty dark picture only to emphasize how wonderful the reality of God is. See, God knows us. The deep us. The inside us. The real us. Others may not know us. We may not know ourselves. God knows us. Intimately. Completely. Totally. Not the façade. Not the postured us. Us. (Psalm 139). Knowing us, He communicates to us. He gets through to us. He talks to the real us. And knowing that He knows us, we talk to Him. We share with Him. We pour out our hearts to him. To another what we are saying still may not convey who we are, what we feel. But, then again, God can interpret our groanings that cannot be uttered. Oh, wonder! A God that knows us. A God that can communicate who He is to us. A God to whom we can talk and He gets it. He gets us. The real person God is and the real person we are communicate, and, communicating, we know, truly know one another. Try it. Talk to God. He is right there beside you. That’s talking that gets through.
consider my lilies
Bro. Clifford Hurst 05/24/2020
Just outside the window of my study, where I now sit typing this, is a flower bed with four lilies, not yet blossomed, green against the dark mulch. I’ve watched these four in a soldierly line push up through the ice-glazed mulch, endure late frosts and freezes, and grow under mostly gray skies and blanketing fog. They all emerged from the ground at the same time, but now they stand like four children, siblings of varying ages, lined up according to height to have their photo taken. The one furthest west is the tallest; the second, shorter than the first; the third, shorter than the second; and the last shortest of all. Each successive lily is proportionately shorter than the prior one. If you are wondering why, the answer is obvious. Close to the last is a tree. The lilies resurrected from the cold ground before the tree had yet budded and leaved. Thus, the sun equally shone where each lily grew. But, soon the leaves on the tree appeared, blocking the rays of the already infrequent Ohio spring sun. The tree is so situated in the trajectory of the path of the after-spring-equinox sun, that in gradation each successive lily in the line up receives significantly incrementally less sunlight. No light no growth. Little light, little growth. Much light, much growth. Thus, the mystery of the succession of the shorter and skinnier lily to the taller and fatter lily is solved. It’s all about the time of exposure to the sunlight each received. A once frequent concern, theme of song, and topic of lesson and sermon in the Church was “growth.” Not self esteem. Not having your dream come true. Not health and wealth. Not emotive experience. Growth. Of course, that is the theme that runs through the NT epistles. We get saved; we grow. We are born-again, but not perfect; we grow. We are rooted in love; we grow to produce fruit. We have hang-ups, hang-overs, hang-ons from our old life; we grow. We are immature, selfish, petulant; we grow. On and on. The message is that we grow. We grow because we feed on the Word. We grow because we are planted in truth. We grow because of the atmosphere and climate of the community of the saints. We grow because we are in the Light. Indisputably, growth is the will of God for our lives, the possibility which He has provided, and should be the heart’s desire of every believer. Growth. And, growth is simple. Like the lilies it has to do with exposure. Exposure to the Word. Exposure to Biblical teaching, preaching. Exposure to the presence of God. Exposure to the fellowship of God’s people. Certainly, one can be exposed to these things at home—in his everyday not-at-church existence. To a degree. Just like a potted lily could get some sun inside a house. But, the lily outside is much more conveniently positioned to be watered and to receive sunshine. And there, the one situated to receive the most sun has the most growth. If we were to line up Christians according to exposure to the Word, presence of God, fellowship of the saints—all other factors being equal—the ones with the most receptive, consistent exposure would be the ones with the most growth. That kind of comparison with others is not fair. So, just consider your own life in different amounts of exposure. No church attendance. Sporadic church attendance. Frequent church attendance. Much church attendance. Envisioning that, you would see yourself like my four lilies. I know that there are so many other factors to consider. So many qualifications, variables, etc. But, in the end, it’s the exposure to the sunlight that brings growth. Much light, much growth. Some light, some growth. Little light, little growth. If you took a look at my lilies, you’d know what I meant. Hhhhmmmm. Heard that somewhere before? “Consider the lilies…” Consider my lilies.
why do bad things happen to good people?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 05/03/2020
This question was asked me this past week. And many other times before. I get the question. I get the perplexed sentiment in it. I get the consternation and confusion that compels it. In fact, I’ve asked it myself—many times. It is the Christian’s rendition of the problem of evil. The world asks, “If there is an all-powerful, loving God, how can there be suffering in the world?” Christians ask, “If a person is intently serving God, why would his God allow bad things happen to His servant, a good person.” I have spent much time in ministry trying to answer that question. Then it occurred to me that there is something very inherently wrong with the question itself, and I don’t like seeing what’s wrong with it. No one does who sees the error. The question seems so valid: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” What is wrong with the question? It makes the erroneous assumption that there are “good” people. (Don’t read further if you don’t want to be upset). To talk of “good people” is like talking about round squares, short giants, and nice-smelling skunks. I told you we wouldn’t like it. There is suffering in the world. Undeniably. God is good. Unalterably so. But, are people good? Many people are moral. They adhere to a moral code. Many people are polite, even apparently kind. A whole bunch of them are altruistic and caring. Why, yes, I can say there are many moral, polite, kind, nice people. That is certainly how it appears. But, are they good? Evidently not. Not intrinsically. Not at the core. The Bible x-rays human nature and reveals this: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer 17:9); “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.” (Rom 3:10-11). If you really want to be dismayed, read the verses following the last one. To think we are good because we are moral or kind is to make the same mistake as the rich, young man who came to Jesus wanting to find the way to eternal life: He addressed Jesus as the “Good Teacher,” and, immediately got a lecture from that Teacher: “Why do you call me good?” There is NONE good but God.” Of course, the young ruler was still correct. Jesus was God and, thus, good. But, that is not the point. The point is that no one except God is inherently good. No one. The young man then makes his worst mistake: He begins to try to refute Jesus’ declaration that only God is good by declaring, “No, I’m good too.” He insisted that he was good because he had kept all the commandments that had to do with treating people “good.” The rich young ruler wasn’t the first nor last to make this mistake. I just heard the pastor of the largest church in America say, “Ninety-nine percent of people are good. They have good hearts.” Really? No wonder he does not preach the true Gospel. If people are good, they don’t need a Savior. Jesus Himself noted this. He said, “I didn’t come to save the righteous, the good. I came to save sinners, the bad.” The point is, the good don’t need Jesus. The bad do. When we are contemplating why “the good” get suffering, should we not also be contemplating why the bad get Jesus? What greater blessing could one get than Jesus? There are lose ends to tie up in all this. There is the fact that each human is created in the image of God. That’s good in us. There’s this that the born-again bear the image of Christ. That’s good in us. But that's the point: If people see good in us, it is the God-good they see--not our goodness. There is only one truly good Person, and He suffered most—and for our badness. Jesus on the cross is the only One to whom the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” applies. In fact, a good question is “Why did the worst of things happen to The Best of Persons?” But, back to the original question: Why do bad things happen to good people? The question is dangerous because it concludes that we should not suffer because we are good. This implies that if we are good, then we deserve not to suffer--being good, we don’t deserve to have bad things happen to us. This is the converse of the truth. Actually, being bad, we don’t deserve good things happening to us. But good things do happen to us. There is a better question. Instead of “Why do bad things happen to good people,” what about “Why do such good things happen to bad people—like me?” Good things like God’s mercy, grace, and love. Things like salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life. Things like the many blessing, benefits, relationships, etc., He heaps upon us. “Why do such good things happen to bad people?” is the better question.
jesus' pouring from a vial
Bro. Clifford Hurst 04/26/2020
Seen it, I haven’t; I’ve just heard of it, a satirical meme that’s circulating. It shows Jesus with a vial of COVID virus in His hand turning it bottoms up and pouring it out on planet earth. It is an attempt to saddle God with the problem of evil during this pandemic. It purports the assumption that, if there is evil in the world, God is evil—in this case Jesus. Jesus, who is God, is the immediate, direct agent of COVID, and, thus, He is responsible for the evil and is to be blamed and disliked. I will resist responding to the fallacies of such an argument. I wish only to point out some ironies: First, the meme got the three elements right in the “cartoon;” Jesus, the vial, and an evil disease. The irony is they have them in the wrong positions. The vial is not being turned upside down by Jesus over the world. It is being turned upside down over Jesus. Jesus is not the source but the recipient. The evil is not from Jesus, it is poured out on Jesus. The evil poison is not COVID, it is sin. What people need to know is that, when Jesus was on the cross, the vial of all sin, wickedness, suffering, etc., was poured out on Jesus. “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” He drank the bitter vial, cup. Second, the fashionable pseudo-tolerance of our times renders people incapable of even considering or investigating that humans—not God--may be responsible for this COVID virus’ being unleashed. I do not know if it will be proved true, but there is a real possibility that this virus is the result of human error, if not, intent. I am certain that the artist of the meme of Jesus with the Vial would not even begin to countenance any evidence of the human instrumentality of the COVID pandemic much less consider it credible. Yet, those thus minded are quick to blame God for such evil. Third, the “artist” and those who would approve of his work, do not know how correct they are. Two thousand years ago an apocalyptic revelation was given of the end of this age and world. And, the picture the Revelator gives is of God, using angels to do so, pouring out a vials of judgments on planet earth. In summation, folks should remember that it was Jesus who had the vial poured upon Him—so we wouldn’t have to have those end-time vials poured on us. Those that insist that it is not fair that people suffer should consider that Jesus’ having their sins poured upon Him is not fair either. It’s mercy. Perhaps, it’s time for a meme of mercy not a meme of blame. Now mercy is something Jesus pours out on us.
the passion week: sunday:
Bro. Clifford Hurst 04/12/2020
The women have spent the evening gathering and preparing spices to go and anoint Jesus’ body as soon as the Sabbath is passed. They fitfully snooze intermittently awakening through the long night. It is still dark, morning not yet come, when one said, “None of us can sleep. Let’ just go ahead and go.” The others agree. They gather their tunics and spices and head into the darkened streets. They are alone as they trudge through the empty avenues. The birds are not yet singing. Only an early rooster falsely crows that dawn has come. As they walk, they begin to whisper the question that has plagued them throughout the night. “How will we get in? We can never move that huge stone. How?” As they leave the city, the eastern sky on their right begins to lighten. The birds begin to sing. Just as they enter the garden and approach the tomb, the first rays of the rising sun illuminate the rockface of the grave. The women abruptly halt, stumbling into one another, astonished. The mouth of the tomb gapes open; the stone pushed off to the side. Cautiously, timidly, they enter the sepulcher to an even greater shock: there is no body! Yet, the tomb was not empty. To either side of the stone shelf where Jesus’ corpse had been laid, are two in shining white array. Angels. They seek to calm the women. “Don’t be afraid. We know that you seek Jesus. But, He is, as you can see,” the angel points to the empty ledge, “He is not here! He is risen!” The other spoke, “Go tell the Eleven, and all His other followers.” Greatly amazed, trembling, the woman slowly leave the garden. Mary Magdalene in her haste is separated from the others. She is in a hurry. She searches for the Eleven, but finds Peter and John. At the news, those two rush away running at full speed. They leave Mary alone. She feels drawn to return to the garden. A question gnaws: “If Jesus is not in the tomb, where is He?” John is younger and faster. He passes panting Peter, and enters the garden ahead of him. He brakes at the entrance of the open tomb. Fear or wonder or the prospects of what he might find stops him. He only sticks his head into the door. His eyes begin to adjust to the dark. It is true. Jesus’ body is not there. Nothing is there. Except…except the linen, the shroud, with which Joseph and Nicodemus had wrapped him. He hears Peter approaching him. Peter pushes past John. John follows him. Then, they notice together not just the linen cloth but also the face napkin neatly folded, over to one side. Greatly wondering and beginning to believe, they find themselves exiting the garden as Mary re-enters. Mary stands before the tomb. The adrenaline of her wonder has turned to weeping. Blinded by her tears, she looks again into the sepulcher. The two angels have reappeared. “Woman, why are you crying,” they ask. “Because,” she chokes out, “They have stolen the body of my Lord, and I don’t know what they have done with it.” She turns away from the tomb and is startled by a man standing in front of her. She is half-turned away from this impediment in her way when He spoke. “Woman, why are you crying? Tell me for whom you are searching.” Not looking at him, she mistakes the man for the gardener and thinks, “Here is a man who may be able to tell me what they have done with Jesus’ body.” “Sir,” she pleads, “If you have had to move him, please tell me where. I will take his body off your hands.” There is a slight pause. Then, He speaks again. Just one word. Her name; “Mary.” As two questions collide in her head, “How does he know my name?” and “Why is that voice is so very familiar?” it begins to strike her who He was. She whirls around and sees Him. It is Jesus! Her voice shaking with wonder and love and relief, she too responds with one word, “Master.” Later, this day Jesus appears to the other women who, having left the tomb, are on their way to report to the remaining of the Eleven. That evening He will appear to the Eleven. Well, to ten. Thomas refuses the company of the others. Two other disciples had decided to get out of Dodge—Jerusalem. He will make an appearance to them. They will return to Jerusalem. But, first He had appeared to Mary. Only afterward, as others tell their experience of having seen the Risen Lord, does Mary realize she was the first! Jesus had appeared to her first! A woman! One who had been possessed with seven demons! One who had lived so wickedly! One who had been shunned by society! Today, I reserve my commentary to one note, a quote from Jesus Himself. No reflection on the Resurrection and all it ramifications could result in a more concise conclusion: “Because I live, you will live also!” --Jesus May we realize Jesus is truly risen from the dead. People today are still encountering the Risen Lord. If you have not, because He is risen, you could run into Him today. If you do, you will know it is He. He will have known where to find you. He will know your name. There will be something about how He speaks to you. If that happens, there is but one response, “Master.” Jesus lives! Scriptures: Matt. 28:1-20; Mark 16:1-20; Luke 24:1-53; John 20:1-25
who will step behind the microphones?
Bro. Clifford Hurst 03/22/2020
It has been a daily specter during this Corona Crisis to watch a leader step up to a waiting bank of microphones flanked by authorities and task force members. At times, it has been a mayor who has stepped up to the microphones to address his city’s denizens. On many other occasions, it has been the governor who has stepped behind them to give further, more restrictive and drastic directives to the residents of his state. More frequently, it has been our president. He steps up to the waiting microphones to address and calm the citizens of our nation. Recently, the cameras were trained on the empty podium, its anterior bristling with the microphones of scores of news agencies. Eyes of reporters and viewers everywhere were riveted on the empty lectern waiting for the president to step up behind it to address the nation on the pandemic that is spreading fear and ravaging the market. All were waiting. Waiting for answers. Waiting for help. Waiting for calm. Waiting for a way forward. It was then that it became so presciently clear: One day in a moment of world crisis, like the present one, it will not be a mayor, governor, or president that will step behind the podium; it will be the prophesied Antichrist. The Antichrist will be the one who appears behind the waiting microphones and addresses, not only the inhabitants of a city, state, or nation, but the inhabitants of the world. He will mesmerize with calming words. He will amaze with solutions and answers. He will impress with unsurpassed intellect. Women will swoon with infatuation. Academics will stare with gaping mouths at the luminosity of his ideas. Politicians will concede the superbness of his plans. Reporters will rave at his brilliance. Stock markets will ascend, as he speaks, to unprecedented heights. Skies will appear to brighten with hope, peace, and prosperity. Muslims will shout their Al Mahdi has come; Jews, their Messiah; nominal, ecumenical Christians, their Jesus. It will happen. Perhaps not this pandemic. Maybe not a following crisis. But, soon, in the throes of world chaos that will make all previous crises pale, the cameras will be trained on the empty podium, the reporters, sitting silent their pencils poised over their pads—fingers hovering over their devices keypad--the crowd, silent, barely breathing. All waiting. Waiting for answers. Waiting for hope. Waiting for peace. Waiting for The One to speak to them. Then, the Antichrist will step behind the microphones. This is not disconcerting for we followers of Jesus Christ. We do not look for the one who will step up to the bank of microphones but for the One who will step down on a bank of clouds; not for the Antichrist, but for The true Christ. When He does appear, may we each be in that number flanking Him, coming with Him. He truly will bring peace.
Bro. Clifford Hurst 03/08/2020
The lady seeking to enter MacDonald’s just in front of me—I was not close enough to act the gentleman-- took the time to pull her jacket sleeve down over her hand before grasping the handle to open the door. By that time I had stepped just behind her, and she, seeing me, commented on her action: “I don’t want to catch that Corona virus. You never know who may have it.” I laughed and confessed my own germaphobia, “I’m the same way.” What the lady had feared was a carrier of the disease having touched the handle before she had. The disease originated on the other side of the earth. It came to America because someone carried it here. This morning I read where a cruise ship off the California coast was being denied docking. Why? The fear of a carrier. Weeks ago, our President closed our borders to any coming from nations of the origin of the pandemic. Why? Fear of a carrier. Carriers are feared. Not for who they are but for what they spread. The lady made me think all of this about carriers because I had just recently heard “carrier” used in a whole new way, a positive way. I had been listening to revival historian Matthew Backholer recount about the spread of the 1857 revival in New York across the U.S. and then to Ireland. Doing so, Backholer said, “Some folks were carriers of revival.” Revivals—seasons of God making His presence known to reinvigorate the Church and reach a community—do spread; and, it’s carriers that spread it. Some carriers have experienced revival at their home location and then travel to another place sharing their experience. Others hear of revival at another place, go there, and carry their experience back home. In the 1906 Azusa revival, folks made the pilgrimage there from all over the U.S. and the world, experienced that revival, and carried it back home. At Ausbury College in 1970 in February, revival struck during a Tuesday morning chapel. The service continued unceasingly for days. As the service continued, students and others, as they were led of God, left the school and traveled many miles by ground and air to share at other colleges and churches. They carried the revival. A virus in the body can be carried. Evidently, so can a revival in the soul. Both seem infectious to those susceptible to them. We need carriers of the move, presence, and experience of God. Not carriers to traverse the continent to another town or carriers that would cross the ocean to come to us. We need carriers that come from the back bedroom where they have sought God and bring their renewed spirit to Church. We need carriers who will come from the Church’s prayer room and bring the moving of the Spirit they feel in their hearts into the sanctuary for the worship service. And we need carriers who will carry the Gospel and experience of God from the sanctuaries of our churches to the lost of workplace, school, home, places of business, etc., of our communities. If the fear of a potential spread of the Corona virus via its carriers can cause such upheaval, change of behavior, concern, if it can have such affect on everything from the stock market, to schools, to the venues of healthcare, to the halls of government, what a powerful affect an actual visitation of God on His people would have on this nation as its carriers spread it through the networks of their lives. Such are carriers to welcome and not fear.
i have nothing to say
Bro. Clifford Hurst 03/01/2020
Traveling home with the week drawing to a close, I realized that time was running out on my self-imposed goal to write a blog for our church bulletin every week. But what was more exasperating than the panic of running out of time was that I found myself thinking, “I have nothing to say.” Now, I don’t want to be like the one asked to share to a group who begins with, “I don’t have anything to say,” and then commences to ramble on and on and proves it by voicing whatever stray thought that meanders erratically through the ether of his gray matter. But I got stuck on the thought that “I have nothing to say.” Then, I saw a cartoon of two personified worms. One says to the other, “I have nothing to say.” The other responds, “You should blog about it.” Cartoons inspire me, so I will blog about it: What is going on when people say, “I have nothing to say”? Some say, “I have nothing to say,” because that is precisely where they find themselves. They’ve drawn a blank. They have no thoughts, opinion, etc. Others say “I have nothing to say,” because they are afraid of making any comment that will incriminate them. They know they are in the wrong. They don’t want to give any proof by saying anything. Then, there are those who have been hurt. The perpetuator of their pain tries to engage them in conversation. They respond, “I have nothing to say.” They either don’t want to or feel they can’t reconcile. Some’s “I have nothing to say” comes from the observation that those who have been speaking on a subject have already exhausted it. There is nothing to add. Sometime folks say, “I have nothing to say,” because they either have no interest in joining a conversation or they have disdain for it or those engaged in it. Some exclaim, “I have nothing to say,” because they are so surprised, overwhelmed, left speechless over an act of kindness, generosity, or thoughtfulness done for them. For others “I have nothing to say,” is a dismissal: “The thing is done; nothing I say is going to change things.” Then there are those who say “I have nothing to say” because, they already said what they wanted to say. It may be shocking, but I believe that God is one of these. God is saying, “I have nothing to say,” but, He would add, “other than what I have already said.” And what has God said? “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, …” (Heb 1:1-2). What has God said? Jesus! God has spoken via nature, prophets, poets, singers, and the voice of the conscience. But, His final word, His greatest word, His loudest word, is Jesus. Truly, there is nothing more to be said. Not by Mohammed. Not by Joseph Smith. Not by an angel. Not by any who would offer a new revelation from God. Jesus is what God has and is saying to us. Why isn’t God saying something about what is going on in the world? Why isn’t God speaking today? He has already said what He is going to say. He has left nothing more that needs to be said, that could be said. He has spoken Jesus. I am not a cessationist. I’m a Pentecostal. I don’t believe that God is silent. I am not saying God no longer speaks. I am saying He has nothing to say but what He has said by, through, and in Jesus. Yes, God uses people to reiterate what He has said. He gifts people to share it in a way that is refreshing, poignantly applicable, precisely addressing of circumstances and needs. But, if it is truly God saying it, what will be heard is “Jesus.” Nothing said will be different or in addition to what is in the Bible and the Bible is our source of all we accurately know about Jesus. So, I guess that, although I spent a lot of space saying I have nothing to say, I truly have nothing to say other than “Jesus.” That’s enough. Jesus says it all.
god didn’t buy our vote
Bro. Clifford Hurst 02/23/2020
For the last two days, I have been thinking about Michael Bloomberg—not about voting for him but about what his opponents are saying about him. They are charging him of trying to buy the nomination for the presidency. Billionaire Bloomberg has been spending hundreds of millions in an attempt to become his party’s candidate. Even if I were a member of that party, I would have no problem with that. Why? First, I do not believe that spending millions on campaigning is buying an election. Buying an election is in some way giving money to voters to purchase the assurance of their vote. I must explain: Bloomberg can spend billions on advertising and still not buy voters’ esteem, favor, respect, or love. The advertising may deceive them. It may even persuade a few of them to vote for the guy. But, with rare exception, it will not get them to like the guy or elect him. Now suppose he really did buy the nomination and eventual presidency. Suppose he, at least by proxy, was able to meet each voter before he went into the voting booth and promise him $10,000 dollars to vote Bloomberg. I believe a huge number would do so. Of course, in reality, many voters would, after voting for another, take the $10,000 knowing they could say they voted for Bloomberg and there would be no way for him to ascertain their truthfulness. But, hypothetically, most would take the money and vote for him. Bloomberg would buy the election. But, what he would NOT have purchased would be the voters’ respect, love, and admiration. Money is power. And, in our scenario, Bloomberg’s power assured his election, but not the love of those who voted for him. You may be asking what all of the above was about. It is really about this: In the modern push to extirpate God from people’s belief, the ancient problem of evil is ubiquitously being pushed upon people. In simple form it is this: You believe in an all-powerful, loving God? But, there is evil in the world that God does nothing about. Therefore, there can be no all-powerful, loving God. If your God exists, He either has the power to do something about the evil and suffering but doesn’t love humanity enough to do so, or He loves humanity and wants to do something about the suffering but doesn’t have the power to do so. I believe the Bible provides real, though difficult, answers to this conundrum. However, that is not my point today. My point is this: God’s response to suffering isn’t the exercise of His power but the demonstration of His character. God is all-powerful and could immediately eliminate all evil and its consequent suffering. So why hasn’t He? Because if God used His power to immediately and completely eradicate all evil, He would have to force people to stop hurting other people, make humanity stop sinning. He is powerful enough to do that. But, when He got done ridding the world of suffering by forcing humanity to be righteous, He would have not have gained people’s admiration, affection or love. That cannot be “bought.” They would not look at God and say, “How wonderful, loving, and holy God is. I just love Him.” They would not even credit Him with solving the problem of evil. They would say, “He bought the election,”--in the terms of our analogy. God has done something about evil and suffering; He entered into our suffering and bore our evil on a cruel cross. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” God has made the problem of evil about love not power. Folks cannot honestly look at what God has done about suffering and evil through Jesus’ hanging on the cross and not love, admire, and have affection for such a God. God didn’t use His power. In fact, He laid aside that power to give Himself to the evil hands of His crucifiers. We do not buckle under the power of God in coerced subjugation. We note and then surrender to His great love in the crucified Christ. It was the love of God, not the power of God, that solved the problem of suffering and evil. God has not bought our vote. He has earned it.
hugging a porcupine
Bro. Clifford Hurst 02/16/2020
Had it not been Valentine’s Day, the day of love and hugs, when I was hiking the mountainous Cochise Stronghold Trail, I probably wouldn’t have thought of it. High on a mountain ridge I veered off trail to get to the escarpment’s edge to take in the view of the valley below. Intent on the vista instead of where I was walking, I found myself suddenly, exclaiming, “That hurt!” as I jerked my foot back. I had run into the sharp spines of what I believe was some species of spiny agave. It was then I remembered something I used to say to our children when they were young: Sometimes, if one of them were in ill-humor or had just been disciplined and I tried to express love to them by hugging them, they would pull-back, scrunch their head down against their shoulders, and grimace with a pouting, stuck-out bottom lip. It was evident they didn’t want to be hugged. It was evident they wanted no part of an expression of love. I would then say to them, “It is hard to hug a porcupine.” Their attitude and rejecting body language were to them what quills are to a porcupine. Quills keep porcupines from being the prey of predators. Shrinking back, grimacing, and spouting contemptuous words keep others from being hugged by those who attempt to do so. When told they matter to others, some people remonstrate with protests that no one loves them or tries to show they do. They do not realize that others do attempt to show them love but they respond by pulling away, striking out, and reacting with caustic words. As a porcupine, they stick and stab whoever tries to hug them. Paradoxically, they pine for the very love and affectionate demonstration that they repel when efforts are made to express that love and affection to them. Sad. If only they would allow themselves to be loved, and, literally and metaphorically, hugged, they would receive the love they crave and need. In the end, we all are porcupines when it comes to God. God attempts to show His love and affection to us, and we so often respond with rebellion or bitterness or doubt or pride or, well you get the point, and so does God. We repel, draw back from, and reject His show of love; but that never stops God from demonstrating that love to us. Rather, it never stopped, I should say, God from demonstrating His love to us. Jesus, God in the flesh, a flesh with which He could hug, one day opened His arms wide to embrace all people with love, grace, and salvation. And He got stuck. With the thorns of a mock crown on His head and the sharp spikes through His hands and feet. Porcupine or no porcupine, who would reject love like that?
ripping the script—ure
Bro. Clifford Hurst 02/09/2020
At first, my mind could not register what I was seeing. Over the left shoulder of the President of the United States who had just given his state-of-the-union speech, I saw the lady in white, the Speaker of the House, ripping up the script of the speech he had just given. Vehemently. With gritted teeth. With exaggerated motion. I don’t want to disappoint anyone, but I do not write of this to deify the President and demonize the Speaker of the House. I write because as she ripped the script, I thought of what many do to the Scripture. Actually, in the Speaker’s actions I saw something I once did:. Decades ago, when I was a young preacher I did, perhaps, an unwise thing. It did shock people. Behind the pulpit, I took out my pocket knife and began to select certain pages of a Bible* and cut them along the spine, pull them out, wad them up, and thrown them on to the floor in front of me. You can see why the specter of the Speaker reminded me of this. Before you deem me blasphemous or lunatic, let me explain what I was doing: I was illustrating a scene from the Bible. God gave a prophecy to Jeremiah of the judgment He would bring on His people and other nations and instructed him to write it upon a scroll. Jeremiah called in his secretary Baruch, dictated the prophecy for him to copy down, and, since the prophet was restrained from going himself, sent Baruch to the Temple to read it to the people. Some governmental officials heard the prophecy and sent for Baruch to come read it in the convened cabinet meeting. It so disturbed them that they sent Baruch into hiding, put the scroll in cabinet member’s safe, and sent word to the king. The king called for the scroll and one to read it to him. He was in his winter quarters before a cozy fire. As a few columns were read, the king cut them off the scroll with his knife and threw them into the fire. Soon, the scroll was read, but nothing remained of it but ashes on the hearth. I was illustrating the king’s disdain and mutilation of God’s Word. My application that day was that when folks dislike, disobey, disdain, demean, a part of God’s Word, they are in essence doing the same thing as the king did. They are saying we don’t need this part—cut it out. This part doesn’t apply—tear it out. This is outdated—rip it out. And thus, they dismiss God’s word from their lives. The people that day were likely appalled at my actions. Understandably so. Yet, I made a further point. People were horrified that I would treat God’s Word so disrespectfully yet do not read, study, memorize, or comply with its instructions. People feign great respect for the physical medium of God’s Word, the Bible. They would never rip a page out of their Bible. Yet, when the Word of God runs at cross-purposes of how they want to live, what they want to believe, instead of doing what is necessary to align themselves with the Word, they want to get rid of the conflicting Scripture. They relegate it to another time and culture. They mutilate its intended meaning, bending its words into pretzel shape to accommodate their convoluted opinions and rebellious behavior. As the king dismissed, cut each just-read section off the scroll and threw it in the fire, bit by bit he burned the Word from God until nothing was left. Or, so he thought. He could no more get rid of the Word of God by destroying it’s medium, than the Speaker of the House could get rid of the President’s speech by ripping it up. The President had already given his speech. His message was out. It was heard, recorded, and written down. God has spoken His Word. There is no getting rid of it. As, the psalmist declared, “Forever, Oh Lord, thy Word is settled in heaven.” God’s word is permanent. Nothing I can do can get rid of it, erase what it says. One can try to rip up God’s Word, but will only succeed in ripping out his place in the Book of life. (Rev. 22:19). The Speaker ripped up the President’s script. Many rip up God’s Scripture. In both cases, the message lives on! *In the days before computers and word processors I would acquire inexpensive Bibles from which I would cut verses to paste into my sermon notes. I believe it would have been one of these Bibles.
helping folks
Bro. Clifford Hurst 02/02/2020
There is something that I presented in our annual department head meeting that, when shared later in private conversations, seemed to resonate. Perhaps, they were only being kind, but those with whom I shared told me it was helpful. Having a mind blank of anything else to blog, I decided to rehearse it here. Although it was originally packaged specifically for folks serving in ministry in the church, it seems applicable to anyone who engages in trying to help folks whatever the venue might be. Of perhaps any other endeavor, ministry is the most difficult to gauge its effectiveness. The temptation is to use quantitative metrics: How many? How large? How often? How far? Those metrics may work for a business, but not so much for ministry. Because of this, one can become discouraged trying to help folks. I have found that there is a digressing disappointment of seeking to help folks and not seeing the anticipated results. In the first-person expression of any who would experience it, the digression is this: 1. “I am not helping people.” Despite my intentions, efforts, and desire, I am not really being effective, making a difference, accomplishing anything. 2. “People do not want to be helped.” This perception permeates and then solidifies as it appears people are not responding to, listening to, cooperating with, or appreciating my attempts to be helpful. 3. “People cannot be helped.” At first the thought is “if people don’t want help, they can’t be helped.” Then, I begin to believe that folks can’t be helped because their needs are just too great. I see the depravity and dilemma of folks, how messed up their lives are, what Gordian knots their sins have tied into their existence, and, from human perspective, they simply cannot be helped. 4. “I no longer want to help.” This last perception in the digression is really the worst and the most paralyzing. By “I no longer want to help,” I don’t mean I no longer want to help people, but that I no longer want to go through this thing of trying to help people only to be disappointed. It becomes too despairing, too painful, too frustrating, too exacting. All that may seem melancholically morose, but it is a reality. I probably need to wait on next week’s space to answer each of those respectively and individually, but for now, feeling for those who find themselves somewhere on this spectrum, I submit a general response: The Apostle Paul said, “Let us not grow weary in well-doing.” I often read that at appropriate moments and then query in an exaggerated tone, “Now, why in the world would Paul write that?” There is but one answer: Because we get weary in well doing. There has never been a farmer, prior to today’s age of air-conditioned, computer-driven, robot-loaded equipment, who has not become weary plowing and planting and weeding. Not, if he was really plowing, planting, weeding, etc., and, especially in the context of his experience of recent droughts, storms, and attacks of pests. Paul follows with why we should not let weariness win, “for in due season we shall reap if we faint not.” We shall reap! We have something to do with the plowing and planting; but, we cannot bring about that which will be reaped. There will be a harvest, but, it will be God that brings it about. And, only He can. Since autumn, I have noticed nearby fields recently prepped and plowed by farmers. Yet, here it is winter, though an uncommonly mild one. Thing is, not one of those farmers who have done all that work expect a harvest right now. It’s the wrong season. Yet, the harvest, when it comes, will be the ultimate result of their efforts in a season when nothing was growing, a season of no inspiring green, only old dull, discouraging browns and grays. Weariness must not win; not with a promised harvest coming. We usually have plucked the promise above out of Scripture as a quick prescription to ingest. And, that is fine. We rarely, however, note the following verse: “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith. (Gal 6:10). “Therefore,” in conclusion, keep trying to help folks. Start with those right there in your church and work your way out from there. You ARE helping folks! Weariness must not win!
trail magic on the snt
Bro. Clifford Hurst 01/26/2020
One of the genres I enjoy for my recreational reading at night is memoirs of long-distance hikers, particularly those of thru-hikers of the Appalachian (2,200 mi) and Pacific Crest (2,650 mi) Trails. I would love to hike those trails but am cursed with being a magnet to mosquitoes and being an insomniac. I can’t sleep in a comfortable bed and can’t begin to bear the thought of trying to sleep on the ground with mosquitoes feasting on me. But, from my comfortable bed I can vicariously hike those trails. One thing that has intrigued me, as I’ve read these stories, is a phenomenon which each thru-hiker gratefully recounts—trail magic. “Trail magic” is the expression hikers use to describe occurrences of good fortune or acts of unexpected kindness they experience along the trail—something that meets a need, lifts their spirits, and inspires awe and gratitude. Trail magic can be unintentional, chanced coincidences; for example, the PCT hiker whose account I’m currently reading had lost his essential eating utensil and was miles from any place where he could purchase another. As he walked, discouraged by its loss, he saw a glint in the desert sand. Bending down, he uncovered an ancient camper’s eating utensil polished clean by decades of shifting sand. Like this example there is trail magic that just happens; however, most trail magic occurs intentionally and altruistically. Some comes from other hikers, for instance, one passing hiker hands another a protein bar or a bottle of water. But most trail magic happens because non-hikers respond with kindness out of respect for the hikers’ taking on the daunting challenge and, when aware of their needs, with empathy for what hikers suffer and require. Whatever the motive, they help the hiker further down the trail, closer to the goal. Examples of this intentional trail magic are trail angels’ (what those who provide trail magic are called) placing caches of water and food at strategic places on the trail, points too far from towns where hikers resupply, or, firing up a grill, where the trail passes close to a road or a picnic area in a park, and charcoaling hamburgers and hot-dogs next to a huge cooler full of ice-cold pop, all for hikers, or, their intentionally coming to ferry or extemporaneously stopping to carry hikers to town for re-supplying, rest, and restoration. Some trail magic happens when trail angels who have homes near the trail open them to hikers or allow them to camp in their yards, not only providing them shelter but a place to shower and home-cooked meals to eat. One morning, having fallen asleep the night before reading of trail magic, I rose to read my Bible, and there that morning were Jesus’ words about the Way that leads to life being “strait and narrow.” (Matt. 7:14). Perhaps, it is my spiritual deficiency, but I noted to myself that hiking the strait and narrow often gets tough and one’s strength gets depleted and his soul discouraged. Then, I thought, “Do not we hikers of the SNT (Strait and Narrow Trail) also experience trail magic? Do not we, in an exacting, tough stretch, laboring to put one foot in front of the other run smack dab, head on into a blessing God has cached on the trail?” It may be as simple as the very song you need to hear beginning to play on your car stereo. Or, it could be the Holy Spirit’s orchestrating someone to share in worship the very sermon, song, or testimony that addressed your inner turmoil. Do we not encounter trail angels? Yes, even on the SNT God uses trail angels to provide most of the trail magic: There is that unexpected, inspirational card that comes in the mail. Out of nowhere you get a text that says, “Thinking and praying for you.” You are praying at church and someone slips an arm around you and begins to pray with and for you. Rather than my listing more examples, why don’t you begin to think of the trail magic you have experienced in the SNT? Doing so, you will see there are true trail angels in your life--folks who are always encouraging, listening, praying, helping. We Christians rightly dislike the word “magic” because of its occultic connotations, and I mean no offense; but, using the term as thru-hikers do, I say to all us SNT thru-hikers, “Thank, God, for trail magic!” Perhaps, there is one thing more satisfying than being a recipient of trail magic—being a trail angel to someone who needs the magic.